Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for the PS2 has been quite a long time coming. Originally announced as a pack-in extra for Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix in Japan, Chain of Memories was a complete remake of the GBA title released back in 2005. At the time the game had an interesting change of pace for the series, though the card management system was a little bit unwieldy, the game still did a good job of telling the story that took place between PS2 installments. Fast forward to today, the gameplay and story are for the most part intact. But something that was fresh three years ago, doesn't quite hold up as the PS2 reaches it's final days.
Chain of Memories takes place in between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2. The story follows Sora, Donald, and Goofy as they search for Sora's friend Riku and King Mickey. Their search brings them to Castle Oblivion which is a place where your memories can be lost and old ones can resurface. The story is presented in an incredibly straightforward manner, you play through a stage, and then there is some main story progress, then time for a new stage. There are the minor stories that take place in each of the worlds, featuring a myriad of Disney characters but a lot of them are retreads of the first Kingdom Hearts.
The most damnable aspect of all of this, the game is incredibly linear. Where as the original game you were pretty free on where you could explore, at any point in time, in Chain of Memories you are going through a very straightforward experience. You finish a level, and then you take a card that you received from a boss to create a new world, based on one of the previous worlds of Kingdom Hearts. These levels are for the most part identical to the original games and continues for about thirteen stages. Even down the character interactions the game is treading on familiar territory to the point of being obscene. The only difference now is that a lot of the characters are in Sora's memories, so they don't quite behave like they did in the first game.
The game looks as good as Kingdom Hearts can look, which is circa 2002 graphics, but incredible facial details. This is a game that really could have benefited from a progressive scan option, just to bring out some of the detail. Otherwise it's a blurry mess with a ton of jaggies. The character models still look good and the animation is fantastic. But overall the game looks a little plain, thanks in part to what appear to be low production values. There isn't a whole lot going on in the audio department either. The voice actors for the series return, but a lot of the game is spent reading dialog boxes as the acting is saved for only major plot points. And while Haley Joel Osment was great as Sora for Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, having his aging voice appear in the middle between games is a little off-putting. The rest of the cast does a fine job, however something that I found mildly annoying was the actors were constrained to the animations of the characters they played, causing some of their lines to come off a little awkwardly.
Chain of Memories is at times an absolute chore to play. This is largely due to the amount of grinding you need to do, and it never changes. At the outset of the game you are given a deck of cards. These cards represent your abilities in battle, and they are physical attacks, magic, items, and summon cards. Card are ranked from one to nine, and the higher your card the better, but it is also more expensive to keep that card in your deck. Then there is also a zero card that acts like a wild card, that can cancel any card, but only if it is used to counter a card, using it on its own is practically useless as any card can beat it. Leveling up allows you to increase the maximum amount of cards you can carry, or increase your hit points, or learn new skills called sleights. Overall I found the sleights to be useless as it prevented me from having more powerful cards in my deck in exchange for a move that was not always useful. Battle is a different affair from previous titles, rather than fight out on the field, hitting an enemy will bring out an instanced battle, which will trigger a transition to a small square arena where you'll fight waves of enemies. These battles at times can be either quick, or excruciatingly long depending on the card used to create the room. Every room is created by cards that are dropped by enemies. Confused yet? Couple that with frequent battles and you've got a game that adds up to homework fast.
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