Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories HD - Review

Almost two years after the release and success of the odd Disney and Square crossover game Kingdom Hearts, a sequel finally hit store shelves. Although the original game, simply titled "Kingdom Hearts," as well as its enhanced "Final Mix" version were released on the PlayStation 2, this time around Square decided to try their luck with Nintendo's Game Boy Advance. This GBA sequel was titled "Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories," and it was a game that changed everything.

Due to the limitations of the GBA, the game had to be altered to fit a completely new style of play. To make up for its transition into 2D, Square decided to give the game a unique play style that would suit the mobile 2D game a better. While the original Kingdom Hearts made use of the PlayStation 2's four face buttons, four triggers, its D-Pad, as well as its left analog stick, the Game Boy Advance did not have the option to do so. The system only had two face buttons, a D-Pad, the standard start and select buttons, and an L and R button on the back. Since the GBA was unable to use the traditional style of combat (which used a menu that was navigated with the D-Pad), Square decided to use a new card based battle system instead. With this new card system, just about everything fans knew and loved about Kingdom Hearts was altered. The battle system, the over world, and even the story revolved around the use of these cards, and the result was a completely new unique game.

A few years after the release of Chain of Memories, and the PlayStation 2 title "Kingdom Hearts II," a new version of Chain of Memories went into the works. This version of the game was dubbed "Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories," and it was to be released along side the Japanese exclusive title "Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix +" in a single bundle. This version of the game featured updated 3D graphics, it made full use of the PlayStation 2 controller, and it also featured fully voiced cutscenes. Although Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix + was never released outside of Japan, Re: Chain of Memories did soon find itself making it to the west on its own. But how good was the game? Was it worth owning over the original Japanese version, and is it even that good of a game in general? Well... How about you decide?

The Story:

Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories picks up right where Kingdom Hearts left off. Sora, Donald, and Goofy had saved the day. The door to Kingdom Hearts was sealed, the man behind the events of Kingdom Hearts was defeated, and Sora was separated from his friends. After waking up in a field, and seeing the dog Pluto carrying a message from none other than King Mickey, Sora and Co decide to chase after him to see what the King had to say. As far as they knew the universe was safe, and their only goal now was to find a way to return to their home worlds.

As Sora and his friends chased after Pluto, they soon found themselves standing at some crossroads at nightfall. Although they didn't know where they were going, soon their next destination became clear. As Sora wondered away from his group on his own, he was approached by a man in a black robe. The main told Sora about a place down the road which held the answers he was seeking. The place was a castle called "Castle Oblivion," and to enter it, it meant also losing something very important. What would he lose? Sora was unsure, but he decided to press on with his friends; no matter what the risk.

Upon reaching Castle Oblivion, things began to change. Sora met with the man in the black robe once again, but this time he was given a gift by him. After "sampling" Sora's memories, the man gave Sora a deck of cards which held a memory of a location he had visited before; these memories were none other than that of Sora's first adventure in Kingdom Hearts. By using these cards, Sora would be able to open the door on each floor of the tower like castle, and then enter a virtual world of his memories. By going through each of these virtual worlds, Sora would then be able to advance from floor to floor until he finally reached the top; where something very important laid in wait for him. However; there was one catch. With each passing floor, Sora and his friends would lose a part of their memories. Will Sora risk it all just to reach the top, and who is this strange organization that seems to be running the show? What do they have to gain from all of this, and what is their connection to Sora? The only way to find out is to play the game.

Although many may pass off Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories as a GBA spin off that really doesn't matter, the truth is that it is one of the most important parts of the Kingdom Hearts storyline. It really is a chain that binds the rest of the series together, and the events of it continue to have a major impact on the story even today. The game introduced the "Organization XIII," it was the game that brought Kingdom Hearts over to the darker storyline featuring themes such as death, true evil, as well as the harsh reality of how the world really works. While the original game was a happy go lucky adventure across the worlds where almost nothing could go wrong, with Chain of Memories it becomes very clear that this fantasy world really isn't all that bright. As Sora and Co make their way through the castle, they come face to face with the reality of the past, as well as the darkness that has been lurking in the shadows.

While Sora makes his way to the top of the castle to reclaim what is important to him, his best friend Riku also appears. After helping Sora close the door to Kingdom Hearts, Riku finds himself laying in the basement of the castle. Although he isn't quite sure why he is there, he soon finds himself coming face to face with the darkness inside of him. After subcoming to the powers of darkness in Kingdom Hearts, Riku continues to walk the fine line between light and dark. As he makes his way to the bottom floor of the castle, Riku continues to encounter that which he had hopped to be locked away; the remnants of an evil man named Ansem. During Kingdom Hearts Riku had fallen for Ansem's tricks, and allowed his body to be taken over by him. Despite helping Sora take him down during the final battle of the previous game, Riku soon learns that Ansem will never truly be gone. He will always be in the shadows of Riku's heart, and this fact will continue to haunt him. Even so, Riku has chosen to fight back, and return to the light once again. But, will he be able to do it? The answer lies on the way to dawn.

The World Gameplay:

Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is not like Kingdom Hearts at all. Sure the game continues the storyline, and it does feature some of the same characters, but that's all it really has in common with the previous entry. The gameplay of Chain of Memories had to be altered to suit the Game By Advance, and them changes continue over into Re: Chain of Memories. Despite being in 3D, the game is still in fact the same as it was back on the GBA.

The first major change to the game players will notice is the world set up. Each floor of the castle contains a door, and that door will then lead you to a virtual version of a past Kingdom Hearts world. When you first walk up to the door, you are given the option to pick one of the world cards to use on it. Each set of floors contain their own set of world cards, but for the most part you are able to pick which world you want to visit, and in which order. Although there are exceptions with the first and final areas being the same no matter what, the rest of the game does allow you to freely choose the path you wish to take.

Once you have chosen a world to visit, you will then find yourself in what can only be called a maze. Instead of exploring large open areas like in the first game, Chain of Memories' worlds are broken up into smaller rooms. In each room there are a set number of doors you can open to progress, but each door holds many possibilities behind it due to the inclusion of "Map Cards."

Map Cards are special cards that can be earned from winning battles, and there are three types of them. There are red cards, green cards, as well as blue cards. Each of these cards will have a special number written on them, and each door of the room you are in will have a number as well. In order to open one of the doors and advance onto the next room, you will have to use a card with either the same number or higher on them; however, different color cards will have different effects. If you open a door with a red card, you are able to control how strong the enemies will be in the next room, if you open it with a green card, you can control how strong your deck of cards will be in battle, and if you open it with a blue card, you can actually transform the room into a special room (such as a room with a chest, or a room with a save point). Sometimes there are limitations on what color cards that can be used to open each room, but for the most part, the game does allow you almost complete control over the map.

In order to advance through the worlds, you will have to open up rooms, find the rooms that hold key events, and then get special cards from said key events which will then allow you to advance onto the boss room. Once you come across the boss room, you will then fight the world's boss, finish the world's story, and then gain access to the main hall once again. Once you reach the main hall, you will be able to continue onto the next floor, and then be able to repeat the process for the next world. Overall it really is a pretty unique system, but fans of Kingdom Hearts' open world may find the new set up a bit disappointing.

The Battlefield:

Although the original Kingdom Hearts featured enemies that appeared on the overworld, Chain of Memories actually makes use of an old RPG standard. This time around enemies will show up on the world map, and when you hit them with your Key Blade you will then be pulled into a battle screen. Depending on if you hit the enemy, or if the enemy hit you, you will start the battle with either bonuses or negative effects, and sometimes these effects can help turn the tides of battle. Even so, this is actually the only "standard" aspect of Chain of Memories, as the battle system is one that is completely unique.

In battle Sora makes use of cards to attack. There are cards that are simple Key Blade slashes, there are magic attack cards, there are partner summon cards, and there are even item cards as well as a few other special attack cards. Everything this time around is depended on cards, and there is no way around it. By going into the deck menu, you can build your own custom deck, and control Sora's fighting style in battle. Different cards allow Sora to pull off different attacks (such as fire allows him to shoot a fireball, while a Key Blade allows him to slash with his blade), and each one has its own pros and cons. However; there are some limitations on what you can or cannot do with said decks.

Each card in Sora's Deck uses up "Card Points" if you want to have them equip, and that alone will limit you from using nothing but strong cards. To gain more Card Points Sora will have to level up, and then you will have to choose to increase his CP from the level up menu; at the expense of increasing his HP or learning a new special movie that is. Even so, if you want to be able to use stronger cards, or more cards in general, CP becomes very important, and you will quickly find yourself running out of it.

Although each card is unique, the type of card isn't really the most important aspect of it. Sure, you can fill your card with the strongest Key Blade cards you have, or strongest magic cards you have, but they will mean nothing if the card's number is low. One each card a number from 0-9 can be found, and just like with the Map Cards, the higher number always wins. Since enemies attack with cards as well, you will have to use your own higher number cards to counter them. For example, if an enemy is attacking with a card that is number 5, you will not be able to attack the enemy with a card that is numbered 1-4 until their attack is over. Your cards will break, and you will be left open to attack. Now, what if you attack with a card that is higher than 5? Well, you break the enemy's attack instead! The enemy's attack will end, and they will be completely left open for attack. This is a feature you must make use of if you have any hopes of making it through the game, and it requires a lot of strategy; however, there is more too it than that.

There are two other ways to break an enemy's card besides just using one of higher number. The first way to do so is to use a number 0 card. The 0 card is special, and it can actually break any card in the game; however, it can also be broken by any itself. The card is very useful to cancel enemy attacks, but it really isn't the best option when it comes to just attacking. As for the other option, it too has its pros and cons.

By using the triangle button to group cards together, Sora can add the numbers of up to three cards into one, and then use all three cards in a single combo. On a plus side, these cards will create a higher number card which enemies may not be able to break, but on the down side, you will lose one of the cards from your deck until the battle is over. On top of that, a special "Sleight" move can be used by combining cards as well. By mixing three specific cards together, Sora will be able to pull off a special attack for massive damage. These attacks are very useful, and can be seen as a "trump card" when fighting bosses, but these too will remove one of the used cards from your deck until the end of the fight. Use this feature too much, and you will be left with a single card, and no possible way to win.

On top of all of that, there is one other limit to the card system which you also have to learn to work around. Once you use a card in your deck, it will be removed from the field, and you will have no other choice but to reload it. To reload your deck, you will have to go to the last card of the deck (which appears as a blank card), stand still for a few seconds, and then charge it up. While reloading you are completely left open to attack, and because of that you really have to wait for the perfect opening. Until that opening comes, you will be left with no other choice but to dodge enemy attacks, and to try and run. Although you can use items to auto refill your deck in a split second, these items are limited use per battle, and because of that you cannot always rely on them.

Although it has been altered for Chain of Memories, the Party System makes its return as well. This time around all of Sora's friends have been turned into cards, and the only way to use them in battle is to actually wait for them to show up. As you fight heartless, and bosses, special party member cards will pop into battle, and you must then pick them up to add them to your deck. Each party member will have their own attacks to use, and they only last for a few seconds, but they are very useful. Not only are they a free card to use, but they are also strong. Other special type of cards will show up in boss battles as well, but rather than being attacks, they normally serve the purpose of being a switch. For example, in some boss battles you may have to do a set amount of damage to a boss or object before the card appears, and once you use the card, only then will you actually be able to harm said boss. This sort of system could be seen in Kingdom Hearts as well where enemies would require you to destroy a weak point before dealing damage to them, but this time that weak point just appears in the form of a card.

Riku's Gameplay:

After beating the game as Sora, Riku becomes a playable character for his own story. Although Riku plays a lot like Sora, he does have a few minor differences. First of all, Riku cannot change his deck. In each world Riku will be given a preset deck to use, and you have no control over using it; however he does have a few abilities to make up for this.

Upon leveling up, Riku can choose between increasing his attack power, he can level up his HP, or he can increase a stat known as "Dark Points." Dark Points get built up in battle as Riku takes damage or breaks enemies' cards, and the more he has in battle, the longer his special "Dark Mode" will last. Just like in Kingdom Hearts, Riku is able to transform into a special Dark Form which gives him improved stats. Although he cannot customize his deck like Sora, Riku gains access to powerful sleights while in this form, and it can actually be used a number of times in battle; depending on how long the battle lasts that is.

Overall, Riku's gameplay is actually a lot like Sora's in the original Kingdom Hearts. His combat is based around pure power and skill rather than strategy, and because of that you really can just button mash your way through his battles. Sure there is still some planning when it comes to breaking cards, but the game forces you to work with what you currently have, and there is really no way around it. Normally the game does prioritize attack cards rather than magic or items, but it really does depend on what world you are currently in.

The other major difference in Riku's gameplay and story is the fact that his rooms do not feature memories. Each of the worlds he visits are filled with nothing but heartless, and a boss, and all you have to do is make your way to the end each time. Because of this Riku's story is much faster moving, and it revolves more so around Castle Oblivion, and the Organization XIII than it does the past.

The Differences Between CoM and Re CoM:

When Chain of Memories was updated for the PlayStation 2, a few new features were added into the game. Besides the fact that the game was now fully in 3D, and featured full voice acting, the game had a few other slight additions as well. First of all, the game actually included a few new special attacks. Although these special attacks didn't add too much to the game in general, it was nice to see some new moves being added to the mix. Second of all, the game was also made a LOT easier. While the original Japanese version was a nightmare, the English version of the game decreased the difficulty by quite a bit. Now with Re: Chain of Memories, the difficulty was lowered yet again, and the AI isn't quite as smart as it used to be. While this is good news for anyone who struggled with the original, those who like a challenge may be disappointed by the change.

The final addition to the game is the inclusion of special abilities. Like in Kingdom Hearts, Sora will now learn special abilities from different points of the game. These abilities allow him to pull off higher jumps, glide through the air, as well as a few other actions that will help him progress through the levels, as well as gain the upper hand in battle. These new features really help add to the gameplay, and they can be very fun to use.

On top of that, there are also a few graphical changes as well. For example, when Sora goes to Halloween Town, his 3D model turns into that of his "monster" self. These costume changes were not featured in the original game, and it is nice to see them make a return.

Whats New in 1.5 HD:

With the release of Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD, Re: Chain of Memories is finally playable on the PlayStation 3 in HD. Although the game originally came out around the time of the PlayStaiton 3's launch, it was originally unable to play the game without issues. Due to a bug which prevented the game from progressing past the tutorial, the only way to get the game working on the PlayStation 3 was by using a preexisting save file. If you had no way to do so, the game could not be played. Now, all of that is a thing of the past, and the game now looks better than ever!

Although there really isn't anything new in the HD version, the game does look nicer. Textures have been updated, the game is in wide screen, and there is trophy support as well. Overall the HD version is just a nice update, and it is also one that finally allows PS3 only gamers to experience the game for themselves.

The Good and the Bad:

Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is a very unique game. It has a unique world progression system, the battle system is unique, it has a great storyline, it allows fans to play as Riku for the first time, and it is also the game that really set the Kingdom Hearts story in motion. Overall the game does everything it set out to do right, and there are no real gameplay issues to speak of. What it really all comes down to what you prefer. While some may fall in love with this unique style, others may hate it and rather just stick to playing Kingdom Hearts.

When going into this game you have to understand it is NOT Kingdom Hearts, nor is it any of the games that came after it. It is completely different, and it is a style that may take some time to get used to. This is not a huge adventure game, and you will soon find yourself in battle more than anything else. If you're not a fan of fighting based games, this one may not be for you, and if you want to just mash buttons and win, you may be turned off by the game's strategy based combat.

Considering what the game set out to do, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories really is a great game. It was originally released as a budget title in the west, and as a free addition to Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix + in Japan, so despite its Game Boy Advance induced limitations, you really can't hold the game back because of it. Yes the game isn't as big as you might expect, but it does what it needs to. It is a major improvement over the original Game Boy Advance version, and because of that I am giving the game an 8/10.

It is a fun game as long as you aren't expecting Kingdom Hearts I or II.

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