I have a one-eyed cat. Whenever I'd plug Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories into my Game Boy Player, he'd jump up on the television and watch me. As I hacked my way to the final boss, he rolled over and fell...right on the Reset button. I can't blame game developers for an "act of cat." But that act forced me to look at the problems in this new Kingdom Hearts—problems that I kept shoving out of my mind because the rest of the game was so much fun.
In many ways Chain of Memories surpassed my expectations. When I learned that this new Kingdom Hearts would have card-based combat, I was skeptical—meaning that I banged on things and shouted, "NOOOO!" The original real-time action game has an I-have-one-second-to-cast-Blizzard-or-else intensity that I've always masochistically liked. What would happen to that intensity if I had to deal cards, Yu-Gi-Oh style? Not a thing, thank goodness.
Chain of Memories takes place after Kingdom Hearts ends—immediately after, it seems. Sora, Donald and Goofy are grieving for their friends who are trapped in the Darkness. They meet a cloaked figure who says that they can save their friends if they go to Castle Oblivion. The catch? This castle sucks the memories of whoever steps inside it. As our heroes go deeper into this creepy place, they remember less and less about the friends they're saving.
Kingdom Hearts purists have nothing to worry about There's no turn-based battling here. Play an attack card, and Sora swings his Keyblade. Play a magic card, and he shoots lightning or a fireball. Summon cards beckon anyone from Jack Skellington to Aladdin's genie to kick some bad-guy butt. Even Sora's special moves seem familiar. By pressing the L and R buttons simultaneously, the player makes Sora stack up to three cards, with which he can execute combos. Depending on the types and values of the cards, Sora can also perform special attacks called "sleights." These attacks involve anything from super-powered magic to throwing the Keyblade like a boomerang. In fact, many of these special moves I remembered from the original game.
Chain of Memories is still the same game we know and love. It's got the same weapons (Oathkeeper, how I've missed you!), the same enemies, the same Disney-themed worlds. Even the bosses are the same, and players use the same tactics to defeat them.
Wait a minute.
Is this a sequel or a remake? I wondered, hacking through very familiar Heartless. After revisiting Traverse Town, which I knew well from the original Kingdom Hearts, I once again saved Alice from the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland. Then I helped Aladdin re-rescue Jasmine from Jafar in Agrabah. Ariel was still disobeying her dad, and Pinocchio and his dad were still stuck in Monstro's stomach. Yes, the game's déjà vu fits with its story: every world that Sora enters is an illusion created from his memories. But should he have to fight the same people in the same way, and in virtually the same order?
Then, thanks to a cat with no depth perception, a chunk of my progress disappeared. For three hours I re-fought dogs with shields, pirates, magicians, and shadows. I did the same things I'd been doing since this game started, things I remembered from its PlayStation 2 parent. Why should I pay to play Kingdom Hearts all over again?
Because Chain of Memories has a good story, that's why. Its memory-sucking castle raises some intriguing questions. Are our memories nuggets of truth, or do we subconsciously make them into what we want, like sculptures of our lives? If we construct our own memories, how do we know what's real? Can forgetting help us remember? The game explores these questions with such subtlety that I kept playing, just to see where the story would lead. The plot so fascinated me that I'm still playing. A completely different story is unlocked once the game is finished, and darn it, I want to see how it turns out.
But a good story isn't enough to make me pay $30 for a videogame. And as a videogame, there's not much in Chain of Memories that I haven't seen before...except card breaks and room synthesis. Each card in the game has a numerical value, from zero to nine. If Sora plays a card with a number that's higher than the card his enemy plays, then the enemy's attack is cancelled in a "card break." There are also map cards that Sora can use to open doors within the castle. These cards determine a room's nature. Should there be lots of enemies? Sleepy ones that are easier to strike first? Maybe a shop or a save crystal? Room synthesis means that each room, like our memories, is what we make it. Nevertheless, there's only so much I could make Chain of Memories into.
Maybe I'm being too hard on this game. Its developers never intended for it to be a genuine sequel. Chain of Memories provides a narrative bridge to Kingdom Hearts 2, and the title's narrative is certainly where it shines. The game underneath is solid, almost as solid as it was in the original. I'm even glad that I own Chain of Memories. Would I pay $30 for it? No. I wouldn't let cats near it, either.
According to the ESRB, this game contains: Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
Parents have very little to worry about with this game. There's no gore, sex or nudity, and the "mild language" is very mild, indeed. I found only one "hell" very late in the game.
Disney fans, rejoice. Where else can a person find Winnie the Pooh, Maleficient and Jack the Pumpkin King in the same game? Smart alecs who've just answered, "The original Kingdom Hearts, duh!" are absolutely right. Chain of Memories features few new worlds or characters. However, the card-based battle system and "room synthesis" do change the gameplay up a bit—just not enough for a full-priced purchase.
Gamers who've never played Kingdom Hearts for the PlayStation
Deaf and hard of hearing gamers should know that some bosses announce certain attacks by chuckling, coughing out "Ha!" and the like. Auditory cues are especially important in the battles with Vexen and the final boss. However, the story is told in text.