IGN Review of Kingdom Hearts: Re-Chain of Memories
There's no question that the original Kingdom Hearts was a tremendous success and captured the hearts of countless gamers. Combining the charming and often nostalgic worlds of Disney with the exciting, intricate style of Square Enix, Kingdom Hearts is still remembered as one of the best PS2 games around. However, many fans of the franchise were quite bewildered upon booting up the proper sequel because so much had changed from the first game and a good chunk of the story between the two titles was told in the GBA game Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Gamers that didn't have access to a GBA missed out on a wealth of important information that wasn't entirely covered in Kingdom Hearts II.
Fortunately, Square Enix is bringing the 3D remake of Chain of Memories (which was originally packaged as an extra in the Japanese-only Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix+) to the United States to help PS2 gamers brush up on their Kingdom Hearts lore. Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is an almost content-identical remake of the original GBA title except completely redesigned in 3D to take advantage of the PS2's hardware. Re: Chain of Memories is not only a highly impressive remake for Kingdom Hearts fans but also a fun dungeon-crawler for those newer to the series.
If you never kept track of Chain of Memories, the game picks up where the first Kingdom Hearts left off as Sora, Donald and Goofy head out in search of King Mickey and Sora's close friend, Riku. The trio arrives in the mysterious Castle Oblivion after being teased/taunted by a cloaked figure. Apparently, Sora can find what he seeks in Castle Oblivion, but at a price. Memories will be lost in order to gain new insight and Sora must work his way up through the castle in order to piece together the mysteries that plague his situation.
The overall premise is extremely enticing and a lot of fun, especially for those that missed out on the GBA version. At its heart though, Chain of Memories is a straight-forward dungeon crawler that reuses the characters, settings and assets from the first Kingdom Hearts and only adds a few new things along the way. But Re: Chain of Memories -- despite the familiar scenarios -- is a great blend of the original GBA content with the style and presentation of the PS2 games.
The battle system in Re: Chain of Memories is also different than the other Kingdom Hearts games because everything is governed by cards. Every single attack at Sora's disposal is a card with a numerical value. Although battles play out in real-time, only one action can technically be performed at a time, as only one card can be in play at a time. For example, just a simple swing of Sora's Keyblade requires one card to be played. Combining multiple cards together by stocking them into groups of two or three can activate a host of special abilities referred to as Sleights. These range from powering up spells to devastating (and incredibly cool-looking) moves that Sora pulls off in high style.
Explaining the game's numerous systems in full detail would require an excess of text, so I'll say instead that learning your way around Re: Chain of Memories takes time -- especially considering how technical the game is -- but things become second-nature after a few hours. There's no question that Re: Chain of Memories is a much more difficult game than Kingdom Hearts I and II because of the complexity of the battle system, but this is sure to give fans an appropriate challenge.
Re: Chain of Memories looks like its PS2 counterparts and playing the Chain of Memories content in 3D is great. Voices have been added to most of the Castle Oblivion sections, though there's really no voice work to be found during the actual Disney exploration sections that inhabit the game's dungeon crawling. On each floor of the castle -- as Sora ascends -- he can fabricate a world he's previously visited in the first game by using the images of his memories, but the worlds themselves are not the fully fleshed-out affairs of the original. Your exploration will take the form of room-to-room progression that was designed in the GBA version and the rooms are laid out in a similar, blocky fashion. Seeing the Disney worlds reduced to such clunky rooms can be a little odd for gamers expecting the same stuff found in Kingdom Hearts I, but for someone interested in good ol' dungeon crawling, there really isn't a problem.
The nice thing about Re: Chain of Memories is that you can build the dungeons as you go, customizing the experience to your liking. This is one of the most enjoyable elements of the Chain of Memories experience and it's still fully realized in the remake. Before entering a new room, Sora must synthesize the space that lies beyond the door. Map cards are used in these situations and each map card has a different effect on the room's content. For example, some map cards will increase or decrease the number of Heartless wandering about in the room, while others will give you a nice spot of treasure without an enemy in sight.
This is a great system, because if you start to tire of constant battles, you can pave the way with treasure and save point rooms just to lighten things up for a spell. Generally speaking, each floor (or world) has three story rooms that must be visited in sequence to progress the plot along and face bosses, so the experience is very formulaic but still entertaining, if you're content with said dungeon crawling.
Re: Chain of Memories also performs exceptionally well and is a testament to Square Enix's comfort on Sony's previous console. While the worlds aren't quite as easy on the eyes, Re: Chain of Memories runs smoothly and has wonderfully brief load times. The improvements don't stop there, however. Controlling Sora during enemy encounters is far more streamlined now, especially when you consider the difference in the controller. Players can now use the D-pad for jumping to a pre-designated shortcut card or you can skip right to your deck reload. This makes navigating your deck way easier, which is a welcome addition. You can even cancel stocked cards in case you stock one by accident. These features, along with a button devoted to dodge rolls and a way to change targets, makes battle a smooth experience.
And you're going to need that.
Re: Chain of Memories is really, really hard. I'm sure leveling up Sora makes a difference, but managing a full 3D battlefield while trying to keep track of your deck in real-time can be a real test of your prowess as a gamer. While most fights with normal Heartless and large monsters are manageable, facing off against an Organization member is bordering on insanity. You need to be on the freakin' ball in order to best your cloaked opponents in battle and some later boss fights might actually discourage casual fans from continuing on. Trust me: Re: Chain of Memories is not for the faint of heart. If you're expecting the "button-mashing" of Kingdom Hearts I and II, think again. This game is all about being aware of a real-time battlefield while simultaneously organizing and arranging your cards, tracking numerical values, managing HP and even compensating for cards lost during Sleight use. Be prepared, my friend.
While I had a lot of fun with Re: Chain of Memories, the game has its fair share of weaknesses. As I stated before, you have to keep in mind that this is a 3D version of the very isometric, linear Chain of Memories that hit the GBA several years ago and is different from its PS2 counterparts, both in terms of presentation and gameplay. I found that the "stories" in the Disney worlds were irrelevant and mere shadows of the events they're based upon, but this deficiency is more than made up for when you consider the proper Castle Oblivion plot, which is full of super cool characters and solid voice acting.
I'm also still a little bothered by the discrepancy in facial animation. Re: Chain of Memories, like the first and second games, uses two different types of facial animation: a standard, lifeless (almost zombie-like?) smile when the camera isn't close up on the scene and then a jaw-dropping, gorgeous animation that conveys all the subtlety and emotion of a real actor. The difference is like night and day, and while I understand that fully animating the characters' faces for every scene would have taken way too much time, it always throws me off when I see the blank stare of a character that hasn't been animated.
And as trivial as it is, Haley Joel Osment is starting to sound too old to be voicing "young Sora," but I suppose that won't be a problem anymore unless Sora stars in another prequel.
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