Disney meets Final Fantasy once again in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. You may have played the PS2 version but this GBA title is no small change. Chain of Memories kicks the story back into gear. Midway through I forgot I was playing this on the tiny handheld system. It's full of depth, adventure and whimsy. It's not important that you be familiar with the original, in some respects it may be better since you visit the same places over again. There are new characters and missions and the storyline will keep you intrigued and entertained.

Donald, Goofy and Sora find themselves locked in the Castle of Oblivion. They must explore all of the rooms to find items which in turn will gain them deeper access to the castle so that they can locate and free Mickey and Sora's friend, Riku. A group called the Organization is tapping into Sora's mind, giving our heroes the illusion of exploring other worlds when in fact they are just inside Sora's thoughts. The Organization wants to trick the trio into doing their evil bidding.

I don't want to give away any of the surprises to newcomers, but there are a number of famous characters and locations that you will encounter. If you've played the original you've already met them. I only say this because I don't want you to get your hopes up and be disappointed with the game. A PS2 sequel is in the works and that one promises to have a host of new characters and locations.

Combat is performed with a mix of real time and card battling. The Heartless are the thugs in this world. Many times you can avoid them but when you want to mix it up you're going to need some cards to empower you.

Cards can be collected from enemies, found through exploration or earned from performing tasks. Although you will have a deck of cards you can only see four at a time. The highest cards are the most valuable, as the highest numbered card wins an attack against the other player. It's in your best interest to stack your deck with the highest cards possible, in order, starting with the highest. Cards are worth anywhere from 0 to nine points. Zero is unique. If you play it after an enemy attack it will be reversed.

Battles rage on even when all your cards have been played. Then it's a matter of re-shuffling the deck. This takes time and leaves you vulnerable to attack. It's possible to play two cards at once and unleash devastating combos but that will result in the first combo card being taken out of circulation. You'll have less in your deck which means more re-shuffling which in turns opens you up to more attacks.

The bosses use combos a lot. If you can manage to keep from getting pulverized, you can attack the boss when he's re-shuffling. It's a bit of strategy that will keep your mind engaged while your fingers are busy causing your character to run and jump around in the battle arena. There's a lot going on and things can get intense. It does get tiring after a while since there is an element of luck to the battles which reduces your chances to develop killer skills. There is some violence in this game, but since Disney is involved, it's been toned down to "parent-approved" levels.

As one may expect, the animation and graphics are great. There are some 3D animated scenes which look good enough to spawn a cartoon series. Occasionally you'll hear some voice samples but all of the important dialog is text-based. Every different attack has a different sound effect. The background music is impressive with the main theme surfacing in different variations. The effect is one of cohesion as opposed to repetition.

Chain of Memories may not be the definitive RPG but it's got enough character to be in a class all by itself.

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System: GBA
Dev: Square Enix
Pub: Square Enix
Release: Dec 2004
Players: 1
Review by Shelby