Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Reviewed by Minna Kim Mazza
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2005-03-03 GBA RPG E (Everyone) Square-Enix

I put a blurb about Kingdom Hearts - Chain of Memories as one of our Holiday picks for this past season. I finally had a chance to get into the game a bit, and I don't regret putting that in my list one bit. The story basically picks up where the console Kingdom Hearts game left off, so be wary, if you have not finished the original KH, you may not completely understand some of the comments the characters make in this new story. But it doesn't really matter so much unless you are worried about spoilers for the original KH, as in a way the new storyline is somewhat of a "starting over" type of story, where all of a sudden the worlds you visited in the first KH are back with the familiar faces, as well as a few new mysterious characters that enter the picture.

The opening sequences are very nicely done and for a small handheld like the Gameboy Advance it's quite an achievement to have that level of detail in animation appear on the tiny screen. As the story begins, you find out that Sora, the main character, is at some kind of crossroads... literally. I mean they actually have him standing in a field in an intersection of two roads. Talk about metaphors that hit you on the head with their points! A large castle looms ahead and you get the idea that there's something fishy going on. So of course Sora enters in!

The premise of the game is explained right off the bat, though if you haven't played KH or know the story at all it might be a bit confusing. Sora's memories of his past adventures have been projected into this large castle, called Castle Oblivion, and each floor represents part of his memories. Basically each floor is one of the worlds that Sora visited in the original KH game, similar music and all. Obviously it is not quite as 3D as the original game, but this new game makes up for the lack of complexity by introducing totally new gameplay concepts.

The game revolves around cards that you create into a deck, which you "play" whenever you have an encounter with the Heartless. As you may recall in the former KH game, encounters were seamlessly integrated as you wander around the map. However in this game, they are separate events, similar to how Final Fantasy presents its monster encounters, except that you actually see the Heartless and trigger encounters when you run into them or hit them with your Keyblade. In each event you use your deck of cards, and in the beginning they comprise of mostly "Kingdom" cards, which represent an attack and are used whenever you swing your Keyblade. During the event you are fighting Heartless which move around the screen, so not only do you have to worry about the cards you play whenever you swing, but you have to actually worry about hitting the Heartless at all. It's entirely possible to waste a card on nothing if you don't aim right!

Granted you will find yourself kind of pushing the attack button a lot and not worrying so much about what the cards actually do in the beginning, since they don't quite explain everything off the bat as far as how the cards work in battle. As you get into the game however you have to actually pay attention more, because the Heartless also have their own decks and use their cards in their attacks, and the number values on those cards are important in how you succeed in attacking them. So while you get the upper hand because you can hit the attack button more often and thus hit more often, the Heartless will get smarter as you go up in levels. Also you can run out of cards, so you will have to re-shuffle them during battle, which takes a few seconds, and will take longer each time you have to reshuffle.

Navigating through the world map is basically the same as the floor map. Remember that each floor represents a world in this game. The world map is comprised of different rooms, but every door needs to be "unlocked" with a map card. These are cards that are separate from your battle deck, and each card has an attribute that affects the next room it unlocks. Most doors will have a minimum number value to unlock it, unless it is a special door that has a crown symbol above it. These are doors that are only unlocked with special story sequence cards, each are specified with a symbol, so you see the story animations unfold in the right sequence. Generally you obtain the next story sequence card when you finish the previous sequence. All other room cards you will obtain from fights with the Heartless in the rooms. Don't forget that you can hit and/or break objects in the rooms, like barrels or trees, because they may also produce a card. They also might spew out green or red bubbles. Green bubbles refill your HP bar (which doesn't get recharged before every fight), and red bubbles are what they call "Moogle" points, which you can use to buy new cards at Moogle shops. Moogle shops only appear if you open a door with a "Moogle Room" card, so use them sparingly when you get them!

You have the option to reset the level by going back to a previously completed level... which resets all the rooms so you have to go through and unlock them all again. At first this is probably not all that useful, but eventually there are secret rooms that you can access with special types of cards. Or, at least it appears to be that way (having not finished the game, I can't say for sure!)

You can have several different deck builds depending on the types of fights you encounter. Initially you will probably just build up one deck with a lot of Kingdom Key (attack) cards, some cure cards, and maybe a few spell cards. There are different types of keyblade attack cards other than the Kingdom Key, but Kingdom Keys are the first type you will see. There is obviously a limit to what cards you can put in your build - Sora has not only a HP (hit point) meter, but a CP (card point) meter, which can be raised when Sora levels up. The CP limits the cards you put in your deck. Better cards will be worth more CP and therefore you will need to balance the cards you have in your deck. Obviously you will want as many good cards as possible without feeling like you are re-shuffling your deck too often, plus you can also use 3 cards in a combo that they call a "sleight" to unleash a special, stronger attack. However when you do a sleight, those cards are discarded for the rest of the encounter.

There are several different types of cards in the game, where the game itself doesn't seem to explain them as well as they could. The mini-tutorials in some of the beginning stories give you some hints, but with all the other new things going on, they can be easily forgotten, so make sure you pay attention. When reviewing decks, there are ways to look through your cards and look at the tips to determine what they actually do.

It seems that there are many unique puzzles to solve aside from just hacking and slashing, similar to the original KH. For example, you need to figure out strategies of how to defeat certain monsters, such as the big blimp guys you can hit only in the back because they deflect all frontal attacks. So it does help to have played the original game, but by no means should you feel like you need that background.

Perhaps I've spurned the 1st person shooter types away from this complex game, as it's not just a knee-jerk reactionary game, but it requires a lot of thought to really succeed. However the storyline is quite compelling and interesting, and binds the original KH and the upcoming KH2 game together, so it may be worth your time. Trust me you will find yourself playing for hours and not notice the time going by, making some of us late for dinners.