By Iris the Keyblade Master
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is one of those games that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does. The first game in the series was this big, epic adventure, involving Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy traveling all over the universe to stop Maleficent and meeting all kinds of Disney characters along the way. Kingdom Hearts II was another a big, epic adventure that continued Sora’s quest. He searched for his lost friends, befriended more popular characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Tron, and fought an evil organization.
Chain of Memories limits the adventure to one castle made of illusions. Every floor that Sora visits is designed to look like a Disney world from his memories. So almost all of the levels that you complete are areas that you’ve already explored from the first game. (Little did we know that this would be a recurring problem in future games.) It’s not necessarily what a person would have in mind if you told them to check out the sequel to Kingdom Hearts.
However, I love the story of Chain of Memories, so it’s probably the entry in the series that I replay the most apart from the first game. It picks up where the first game left off, with Sora, Donald, and Goofy on the trail of their lost friends, Riku and Mickey. They come across a castle inhabited by a mysterious organization that claims to have something- or someone- that Sora wants. Sora takes the bait, only to find as he progresses through the castle that he’s losing his memories.
First, the story’s fantastic. It’s one of two games in the series that involve a group of villains trying to trick Sora into working for them, and this one executes the idea much better. The other game more or less saves the mind-bending shenanigans for the final level. In Chain of Memories, it’s a steady progression of Sora forgetting his previous adventures and becoming increasingly obsessed with rescuing Naminé and Riku from the Organization. Sora’s been previously established as somebody who cares deeply about his friends and the promises that he makes to them, so his change in personality makes complete sense. The new characters are also well-written. It’s the game that kicked off Axel’s popularity, and it’s easy to see why. Naminé is wonderful too and a good example of a well-written “damsel in distress.”
I thought I would hate the battle system when I learned that it would be card-based. Every attack that you make and magic spell that you cast is limited to the number of cards that Sora has in his deck. However, I found that it was very manageable and does force you to strategize a little. You can only carry so many cards in your deck, and the powerful ones are more expensive than the weaker ones. You can also create special attacks called “sleights,” where you load three cards and use them together. But the first card that you load for the sleight will not reappear for the rest of the battle. So spamming sleight attacks will only take you so far.
Oh, and Donald gets to be just as useless in this game as he is in every Kingdom Hearts game. Only this time, he doesn’t just fail to heal you. If you don’t watch it, he can heal your enemies. Yeah. You read that right. You’ll be desperately fighting Axel or Hades, who both use Fire spells, and he’ll happily hit them with Fire spells that bring their health back up. Try to avoid using him in a fight with a magic-based enemy.
I also find it interesting how the difficulty level of the bosses and the usefulness of certain cards did change in the GameBoy Advanced version and the PlayStation 2 version. See, the GBA obviously has a small screen, so big enemies aren’t hard to fight and Summon cards have a wider reach. Cloud Strife was my favorite card in the GBA game. All I had to do was summon him and he’d wipe out enemies with two slashes of the Buster Sword. But the PlayStation 2 remake puts you in a bigger, three-dimensional area, so it’s a matter of getting close to an enemy, hoping that enemy stays put as you summon Cloud, and hope that Cloud moves in the right direction to slash said enemies. If you’re in the wrong place or facing the wrong way, he’s completely useless.
All in all, I think this game was much better suited for the GameBoy Advanced over the PlayStation 2. It has a smaller story and the levels are mostly the same as the first game. In a way, it’s kind of impressive. In terms of world design, it plays like a GBA remake of the first game. Yet it has its own unique story, which supplies a reason for why you’re playing through the same locations again. If you play the PlayStation 2 remake without that context, it comes off like a cheap, lazy sequel.
Nonetheless, I love playing the PS2 remake due to the improved graphics and voice acting. Sora’s character arc and his relationships with his friends go to interesting places. The series got two new fabulous female characters. The soundtrack mostly rehashes the first game, but Yoko Shimomura composed some beautiful new tracks, i.e. “Naminé” and the final boss battle theme, “Lord of the Castle.”
Although it’s not an entry in the series that you absolutely must play to understand the rest of the plot, I highly recommend Chain of Memories.