When I was younger I was in love with Disney. I owned every single animated classic on VHS and I even saw the Lion King when it premiered at a Nestle event over in Los Angeles. There was a day when I would dream of how good a Disney video game could be, barring that it was placed into the right hands. Two years ago that dream came true for me when Squaresoft released Kingdom Hearts
, an epic adventure starring a kid who was out to find himself with the help of some of Disney’s most beloved properties. It unleashed the inner kid in me yet at the same time tugged at every single adult fiber in my body. To me, it was one of the most beautiful games ever crafted and it ranks highly amongst the best video games I have ever played.
One area that left me unsatisfied was the ending. The end of the first Kingdom Hearts was left wide open and there was a certain sense of emptiness brought forth by it. Games are supposed to bring a sense of closure and there was any thing but at the end of the game. Though Sora had overcome the Heartless, two of the primary characters were separated from the rest of the cast which left the door open for a sequel. And indeed, a sequel is in the works that will continue the saga, but what happens in all that dead space between the Kingdom Hearts games? Square-Enix answers that very question with Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
, an RPG for the GBA that adds some unique twists to the franchise.
Chain of Memories picks up right where the first KH left off, with Sora, Goofy and Donald running through an endless grassy field. I was taken aback when the game suddenly opened with a full motion video that looked very similar to the one found on the PS2. There wasn’t any audio but the video was gorgeous and free of any compression or errors. After a bit of running the trio runs into a mysterious hooded figure that transports them into Castle Oblivion. He gives them a long spiel about their memories and how neglect causes them to forget the ones they love. After that he hands them some cards and thus our adventure begins as our heroes try to discover the truth and escape the castle.
The castle is a self-contained entity but it houses all of the worlds that appeared in KH. You’ll be hobnobbing with the likes of Aerial, Belle, Peter Pan, Pinocchio and others as you visit them in their worlds. Interacting with the various Disney properties is both the game’s strongest and weakest suits. It’s fun to revisit all of the old Disney worlds and see what problems plague our favorite characters. The designers worked hard to try to recapture the feel and tone of the worlds, featuring the full likenesses of the characters and some recognizable musical tracks. On the downside the worlds are self-contained and have little to do with the game’s overall plot. You get all of the pertinent plot information in an intermittent world after
you exit the Disney world. This is where you’ll run into the mysterious characters and other familiar faces.
Chain of Memories takes you back through the events of the first PS2 game but there’s a twist. Everyone still retains some memories of the events that had transpired but their memories are a bit cloudy. When Sora runs into Leon in Traverse Town he calls him by name but Leon insists that he doesn’t know him. Only after Leon responds by telling Sora to back off does he realize that something is amiss. It seems like only Sora, Goofy and Donald retain any clear memories about what happened while the others are able to remember after some minor coaxing. It turns out that the towns are just illusions created by Sora’s memories and that his heart is broadcasting them to the others who come near him.Kingdom Hearts on the PS2 was built in the action-adventure mold with combat taking place in real-time in the game world. This could have been done on the GBA but the designers opted to take a different route. Battles no longer take place on the field and instead, are initiated when you run into an enemy on the map. Afterwards you will be transported to a contained field in which the battle takes place. Combat still takes place in real time and you will have two primary functions available to you; jump and action. Every action you perform will require the use of a card; cards are found all across the landscape and are often dropped by foes defeated in battle. Every card contains an action of some sort, a melee attack, a spell, a defense or even the ability to summon Goofy or Donald into the fracas. As the tutorial soon tells you each card is precious and is in no way expendable. You will have a limited amount of cards available for each battle and when that stack is used up, you will have to perform a charge maneuver in order to recoup lost cards. This comes at a huge disadvantage; however, as the charge move will require you to stand still in the midst of the battle, leaving you vulnerable to attack.
There’s more than just random slashing and hacking in the game, using your cards wisely is the key to victory. In addition to containing an action, each card contains a numeric value that resides on the corner. That number determines how strong that maneuver is and will determine how much damage it does and the probability that it may be blocked by a foe. If an enemy uses the same maneuver, the person with the higher numeric value will win the battle. Playing the higher card will result in a “card break” and result in a loss of card for your opponent and leave them open for attack. As a nice twist, 0 is actually the highest number in the game but only when utilized properly. Cards with the number 0 on them cannot be defeated when used as a counter. You can also “stock” up to three cards at a time and play them as one hand instead of using them individually. This makes your attack stronger and more difficult to break. Realizing the proper time to use the “stock” feature is crucial to battle; especially since you’ll only have a limited amount of cards available to you at one time.
What’s most important to know about the battles is that they’re fun. They’re often hectic affairs filled with many enemies to whack and smash. And while the system mentioned above sounds complex, the designers lay it out to you in the very beginning in a manner that’s easy to comprehend. I haven’t had this much fun in an RPG battle system in a long while, it keeps you engaged, entertained, challenged and informed. It even tells you how many experience points you need until your next level, while you’re in combat. I know it’s not really necessary but it’s neat to get a visual representation of my progress while
I’m doing combat with enemies
Cards don’t just govern battles; they govern the dungeon-crawling properties of the game as well. In order to unlock doors you will need to hold the proper cards required to move on. Each locked door requires a card numbering in level from 1-to-9, you must use contain a card numbered equal to or higher than the one that is being asked for. The only way to gain these cards is through battle or by happenstance. Furthermore, the card that you use will determine what lies ahead for you in the next room.
Chain of Memories allows you to perform a quick save as long as you’re on the world map. This allows you to save your gave at any point and quickly resume playing without having to start up from a previous save point. In essence, it functions similarly to the sleep function of the GBA but there’s one notable difference, it actually saves the game to memory. This means that you can do a quick save, pull out the cartridge to play another game and still come back to your previous save point. With the sleep function you’re unable to play other games and must keep the cartridge in the system. Also, the quick save is especially functional in the off chance that you find yourself running low on battery. Even if the battery on the system dies you’ll be able to continue your game from the last quick save point.The game opens with a full rendered video that continues upon the end of the first Kingdom Hearts
. Even though the video lacks spoken dialogue, I have to admit that it’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen on the GBA. It’s amazingly crisp and there are no corruption or compression issues to speak of. Throughout the course of the game you’ll be treated to minor sprinkles of FMV that fits in well with the game without taking you out of the world. Speaking of the world, this game looks gorgeous, and the Final Fantasy characters that appear in the game are so detailed that we wonder why Square has decided to port one of its new-age classics to the GBA. All of the characters that you encounter, both from the Disney and Square side, look excellent and are instantly recognizable.
Up until now I haven’t encountered a GBA game worth pulling out the headphones for, but Chain of Memories has changed that. It features some superb audio, especially the musical samples that accompany you throughout the game world. I got a nice kick out of hearing “Under the Sea” as I was helping Ariel in Atlantica. All of the conversations appear in text form but there is a wide assortment of digital samples that play during combat. They're generally one liners that signify what's happening, like when Sora yells "Goofy" and Goofy hops onto the screen to do his thing. It's not amazing but the sound quality is definitely solid throughout the entire experience.
I was able to beat the game in around 10 hours but it’s doubtful you’ll want to put the game down that soon. Beating the game once unlocks a special surprise that will make hardcore fans want to play through the game all over again. If that’s not enough, you can hook up with another player and engage in a little bit of one-on-one combat.
It would be fair to call Chain of Memories a rehash of the original KH, but in another respect it would be selling it short as well. Yes, you’re essentially playing through the events of Kingdom Hearts in portable form, but there’s enough content here to make the experience seem new and fresh again. If you’re craving an RPG for your GBA but don’t want something too heavy or serious, you should pick up a copy of Chain of Memories.