I remember the first time I heard the concept of Final Fantasy characters and Disney characters being crossed over into a new game. I also remember thinking it was the stupidest idea I had ever heard in my life. Thankfully, I was wrong. The magic created with the first Kingdom Hearts game is why the franchise has quickly become one of the beloved series Square Enix (at the time Squaresoft) has created. After all, who wouldn’t want to play as a spiky haired kid alongside some of Disney’s most memorable characters?
That magic is also one of the reasons, after the first title launched, people started clamoring for more. What they received was a Game Boy Advanced title that merely bridged the gap between the first and second titles in the series. Most people raced out and snatched up a copy of this title. Others, however, never bothered or were never informed about the existence of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories until it was too late. Now, thankfully, Square Enix has released the PS2 port of the game in North America, but how well does a GBA title port over to the console? One word – nicely.
As I said earlier, this title bridges the gap between the first Kingdom Hearts and the second. Sora, Donald, and Goofy are still searching for King Mickey and Sora’s friend Riku. Along their trip chasing Pluto, they find Castle Oblivion. All the companions, even Jiminy Cricket, think that King Mickey is in the castle. It is an odd sensation that only gets odder when a mysterious figure dressed in black appears. The figure speaks to them in riddles about losing stuff to find stuff. He also mentions that all their abilities, spells, and other skills have been conveniently forgotten. The dark figure also reveals how things work in Castle Oblivion. Cards are the key to attacks, items, allies in battles, and even to unlock doors. So it is up to Sora alone to go through Castle Oblivion using the cards in order to find his friends and remember why exactly things are the way they are. The great thing about this is it is completely up to Sora and his memories to progress in the game. You will experience levels you completed in the first title, but how Sora remembers them. This means you will revisit familiar spots, but the character interaction will be different than it was before.
This is actually one of my original complaints. The story is great for those who have played the first Kingdom Hearts, as it is more of a refresher and retelling, with a few progressive tricks thrown into the mix. However, if you have not played the first title before, you may find yourself lost amidst the confusion of the characters. Too often there is written text for you to read that you will wish you could go back and reread to fully comprehend what is going on. I am a fan of written text in games, don’t get me wrong, but even I found that, when meeting characters I had met before in the other game, it was confusing. They always seemed to say they don’t know Sora, Donald, or Goofy only to reveal seconds later that they know their names but nothing else. You almost need a flow chart at times.
Another area that the flow chart may come in handy will be the combat system. Since this is both an RPG and a card collecting game, at times you may find yourself hopelessly mashing the buttons and praying that you achieve a good outcome. During battle it seems simple enough, the red cards are for attacks and the numbers (0-9) on the cards are your way of playing WAR with enemies; the highest cards win, the only exception to the rule is the zero card. This is your trump card; a near unbeatable card, except when you use it first when engaging an enemy, this will usually nullify the power of the card, so you should always save it for last. The great thing about the combat system, aside form having to watch the card you have, is that you can easily use the same approach of slashing away at enemies like you did in the first Kingdom Hearts. One thing that this version of the game incorporates is the Reaction Command that was present in Kingdom Hearts II. This was a great addition to the combat, as it makes things a little simpler at times, though you will eventually have to learn the card system, especially outside of battles.
In the world of Sora’s memories, everything seems to be locked by a door that can only be opened by using cards. There are three types of cards you will need to be familiar with in order to set the stage for the next area you enter. This is called room synthesis and each of the card types have a specific purpose – the red cards decide the number and type of enemies you will face in the areas, the green cards affect the power of your deck during battles, and the blue cards affect whether there is treasure or a save point in the next area. This too will take some getting used to, since you will have to “spend” cards to progress in the game, and you will also have to use the cards in order to backtrack into areas you have already been. So at the beginning of the game, use every card sparingly and only go into doors and areas once. Otherwise, you will be fighting pointless battles, unless, of course, you are trying to level up Sora, then it is never pointless battling.
The experience points you acquire in the game are used exclusively for three options – Sora’s health, the Card Points, or learning a new Sleight (the abilities Sora has forgotten). The way these work is you have to “stack” you cards during battle. To do this you will have to select cards with the Triangle button. Depending on what is required to perform the Sleight, once you have assimilated your “stack,” you will hit the Triangle button again to perform the ability. This is a great way to both defeat your enemies quickly (in some cases) and to expend cards you have quickly, which can be a dangerous thing, since the cards are your way of attacking and healing Sora.
In addition to Sora’s story, you will be able to play as Riku through his one mode called “Reverse/Rebirth.” While this is not new to the game, there is a battle against Zexion that is new. Unfortunately, the “newness” of this port is not all that great. In addition to a few extra battles, the music has been upgraded from the GBA version. However, it is what you’d expect from the Kingdom Hearts games you have already played on the PS2. This is not a bad thing, as there are times you can tell when a track has been tweaked ever so slightly in order to say it is fresh and “new.” The real shining aspect as far as the audio goes is the voice acted cutscenes. In the original North American release of the game, the voice acting was reduced to simple grunts, laughter, and the occasional battle cry. Now there are full cutscenes with voice acting from the voices we have come to expect of the franchise – like Haley Joel Osment for Sora. But let’s be honest, having the voice acting and a few additional battles aren’t exactly the main reasons you’d want to pick this title up. It is for the graphic upgrade this title has received. Upgrade is sort of an understatement.
Using the same graphic approach as the first Kingdom Hearts, the characters models look great in nearly every instance. They are as vibrant and colorful as you remember, with similar animations they had in the previous titles. The environments look spot on when compared to the PS2 version of the game as well. Unfortunately, there are times that the environments don’t look finished. Whether this is due to the limits of Sora’s memories or a technical flaw I’m not sure – certain rooms capture a little “box” of the environment, and as you look around you will only see the darkness encompassing everything. It is safe to say though, this doesn’t detract from the experience of the game.
After what seems an eternity for news about the impending Kingdom Hearts III, most fans are willing to play anything with Kingdom Hearts attached to it. Thankfully, there’s no real reason to not experience this version of the Game Boy Advanced title. New battles, voice acted cutscenes, and beautiful upgrades to the graphics all make this title a great addition. If you have played the original there may not be as much there for you, but for those that missed out for whatever reason, there’s now no reason for you not to pick this title up. At 30 bucks, this is a deal, and it will help pass the time before the release of Birth by Sleep and 358/2 Days. Just bring your flow chart with you.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Fully realized in 3D is great for this port. However, the lack of fully rendered backgrounds throughout the levels really dampens the experience you’d expect. 3.1 Control
The card battle system works fine in the 3D setup, but for new players, it may take too long for you to get the hang of it. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is a typical ingdom Hearts score. When there is voice acting, it is nice to hear the familiar voices of the characters. 3.5 Play Value
The card battle system isn’t exactly fresh considering it was similar on the GBA, but for new players it will be a challenge they must experience. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.