Kingdom Hearts - Chain of Memories Review by: 1sam234Innovation... Doesn't always work.
Kingdom Hearts has always been a great teller of stories and has sometimes been innovative when it comes to their games. BBS has the command decks, KH2 has Reaction Commands, etc. All of them also forwards their story and gives good transitions to the next sequels and midquels, and even make prequels that tie in well with the present story, even though sometimes, it can be confusing to follow if you don't follow EVERY game's story. This one is no different, the story is very well done and makes a good transition to KH2 and through 358/2 Days. But the rest of the game... Well, let's just take a look.
The graphics, while kinda well done for GBA standards, look a little bit wonky to me. I don't know why, but I always feel like there's something a little bit... Well, off. It's not the worst looking, and I can stand seeing these kinds of sprites, but they could've done a little better with it, including some of the animations. I know it's KH's first foray into the portable gaming systems, so they're bound to not get it perfect right off the bat, and the real-time cutscenes are also well-done. So, I'll give them a slight pass for that, for trying to be ambitious. But sometimes, the game just slows down so much when there's too many enemies on the screen and it flickers a lot too. To be expected, but it happens a bit too often, especially when there's so many of those flying, "named after music" Heartless. It cuts the speed and framerate practically in half and gets very slow and annoying. Other than that, it still worked out after some getting used to it. In Re:CoM, there are spots where the framerate actually is very high(World s
electing, etc.) and looked even more fluid than the rest of the game, like it jumped to 60 FPS over the usual 30. I found that impressive, but that's that game, not this one.
The sound is a different story. They recycled the sounds from the original Kingdom Hearts, which should be both a neat and quick way to get the game done faster, to avoid re-recording new lines. Maybe that's why the live-action cutscenes are silent. It's still a pass, and the sound effects are also mostly recycled from KH1, which were good to begin with. But the music, aside from the Organization fights, are not very peppy and can be repetitive. What happened to the fear "Squirming Evil" had to it? The excitement of "Shrouding Dark Cloud" and "The Deep End"? Not there in this new soundtrack, even in Re: CoM. It's, again, not the worst, but they could've done a bit better with it. Like really make an impact with the player and either get them excited or scared, if not slightly.
The game is one which you can't really put down for a while. They have so many cards to collect(Getting to those later) and rooms that, when opened with a treasure map card for the first time, have abilities to learn for later. Collecting and learning them all will take a while, but make the game easier for you, should you stay in your limit(Also getting to that later). There's another side to the game as well, after you beat the game as Sora, "Reverse/Rebirth", where you play as Riku. Not as many collectibles there, but you'll stay for the story, that's one awesome thing they kept. Doesn't mean it's not addictive, but it's not enough to make you play forever, which can be a good thing before you end up spending days and days on it.
The story is a really good one, as to be expected. It takes place right after KH1, with Sora and his friends, Donald and Goofy, following him. After a rest, Sora continues and finds a castle called Castle Oblivion, run by an Organization that wants Sora and the Keyblade's power. To do that, they have someone, Namine, which the game refers to her as a "witch", gradually erase his memories the farther he progresses, revisiting each world and fighting each boss from that world along with the Organization. By the end, Namine offers to fix what she mixed up in his head, taking a whole year to do it and setting up the start for Kingdom Hearts 2. The story is really well done and I found myself enjoying the whole thing, leaving mystery and questions to be answered in the sequel. The characters are likable and Axel can be really funny with his quotes, like he's having fun with his job in the Organization. This has always been the high point in Kingdom Hearts games, and this game still delivers when it comes to storytelling.
Now comes the depth of the game, and some of its most profound problems I found in this game.
I... Don't like the card system in the game. Yes I know some people think it's a neat innovation, and I would agree too! But it's so frustrating to get used to and even when the game was done, I still have trouble getting used to it! I know you need powerful and high valued cards to make the fights with enemies and bosses easier, but: First you need to find them, then see if you have enough Card Points to add it to one of your three provided decks. If you don't, you have to either remove cards you don't need or level up your CP. There's no way around the limit, you need to raise it probably more than your HP. It's an endless cycle of fights and level ups and you need high value cards most of all to avoid them getting broken as much, but they add up CP and eventually to its limit. This makes me mad cause I have to spend so much time grinding because I keep getting cardbroken constantly by the later bosses. No matter how much you prepare, you'll be vulnerable after you're cardbroken and during reloading. Plus the bosses give so much damage, no matter what difficulty, especially in the late-game. And leveling up DOESN'T add to your defense, and you can't guard either. That doesn't help when even the normal attacks can take out a big chunk of HP. Sleights help with card value along with power, but even those can be broken with a 0 card from a boss or enemy, and the first card out of the 3 you used is lost for the fight no matter what unless you use one of a few set item cards to recover it. And guess what? Even THOSE one-use item cards can be cardbroken so you don't reload, are rare, and have a high CP cost! Honestly, no matter how much you prepare, you'll get your butt handed back to you!
So yeah, the card system has flaws to it, and you mostly end up feeling underpowered no matter what with Sora... But with Riku, it's a breeze! No need for planning, the cards are preset for each world and at least half of them are decent! Add that to being able to increase his attack power, Dark Mode, and the enemies and bosses become average to pushovers! You won't fear cardbreaking as often if you're careful, reloading is instant, and the game gets way easier from there, to near ridiculous. The only thing keeping you from rushing through the game within the day are map cards you need to get to progress, and they have to be the right ones that fill the requirements of the room you're trying to go in, otherwise you're stuck. If you don't have the right cards and you run out of enemies to fight, you have to use one of those room cards to reload the enemies, and if that doesn't work, leave the world to a different one and come back, but then you have to start over the world again because your progress had been erased! It's all a matter of luck whether you get the right map cards in 5 minutes or an hour of fighting. There's just a ton to keep track of, from map cards to cards you use in fights and your keeping in the limit and it's just a hassle. And your skill for preparation is really tested in the boss fights. Again, if you did a crud job with your cards, you're dead in minutes. In Re: CoM, it feels like it's worse because the bosses seem to deal even more damage than in the GBA version, and they're more quick with their cards.
Okay, now for the depth in the characters, now that the cards are out of my system. I didn't really care for a bunch of them, other than the main characters, Namine, and Axel. Some of the Organization members were expendable at best. Sure we get some hints that they were gonna take over the Organization by themselves, and they all have some small part to the story, but by the end, it leaves more questions to be answered in secret reports in Days. It DOES help, but one: You need to OWN Days to learn about them, and two: Do we really want a midquel answering most of the questions we had about them before?
I'm sorry for going on so long with the card rant, but it's the lowest point in the game, made even worse when the gameplay is centered around them. I have to get used to them if I have to keep going through the story, but is it worth it? Yes it is, cause not only does it set the tone for Kingdom Hearts 2, but it has Reverse/Rebirth when you play as Riku. Guess what? It's a HUGE relief in difficulty, and felt more satisfying in that mode than with Sora! So, we've got a difficulty spike way downwards once the Sora side is done, but for some, it's actually needed, and I treated it as a relief and a break once I got to it. Fortunately, the rest of the game balances that big flaw out. I still found it to be a tolerable game after a while, but for Kingdom Hearts standards, I don't know what they were thinking. I'm not saying that this is the worst game, or even the worst RPG or even KH game. I just think that the card system was a bad idea, and they knew it because I haven't seen it implemented in future KH games since. Luckily, the rest of the game, including Reverse/Rebirth, make up for it and save it. While innovation can be a neat thing, it has to work right. This didn't work right, or as right as I hoped it would. I still found it semi-enjoyable though, once I got past the learning curve with the cards, and trust me, that took a while. But it's worth it for the story, it's worth it for Reverse/Rebirth, and it's at least worth it for a discount price, or for free on Vizzed. It IS a unique game, but with some tightening up on the some of the big flaws, like with the difficulty on the Sora side, and easing up on the limit with the cards, it'd be an even more enjoyable game. To those who like it and think the card system is a good thing to mix up your strategies, then okay, I'm glad you do, and I'm glad you find it neat and cool. For me, it just seemed like it took longer than it should to learn about and use to its full advantage. Once I DID learn, it was fun to play and had a lot of abilities to do, even those that I haven't seen in other KH games, and they all were awesome. So take it as you will, I thought it was a hassle that turned into a semi-cool experience that still needed touching up on its execution. I just wasn't one of them, at least for a while. Overall, I'd still get this game, it'll give you quite the challenge, and it's worth it in the end. :)