Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories – Staff Review

When Square Enix released Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix+ in Japan, the little extra bit that gave it the plus was a PS2 remake of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, which was originally released on the GBA.  Sadly, we never got either Final Mix in North America, but at least we get the remake of Chain of Memories as Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories for those of us that never played it on the GBA or just feel like going through Castle Oblivion again.

The game picks up right where Kingdom Hearts leaves off.  Sora, Donald, and Goofy are walking along a dusty road with Pluto, when suddenly they meet a dark robed man whose face is hidden by a hood.  He tells the trio that they will find what they are searching for if they go to Castle Oblivion. Upon reaching the castle, Sora is told that cards dictate everything that takes place within its walls.  Donald and Goofy are turned into cards, and Sora must play the cards to interact with them.  He is also told, quite cryptically, that finding is losing and losing is finding.  Sora doesn’t quite know what to make of this, but he is determined to scale the castle and reach its top.

As mentioned before, cards do everything in the castle.  This includes attacking and even synthesizing worlds and rooms.  At each floor, Sora uses a card to reproduce a world from his memory, and within those floors are empty rooms.  By playing cards at each door, the rooms are synthesized with various effects and relative amounts of heartless.  Some cards make the heartless in that room stronger or weaker.  Other cards power up Sora’s abilities, while a final class of cards produces things like save points and moogle shops through which more cards can be purchased by acquiring moogle points from breakable objects found in every room.  There are also key cards that progress the storyline, and typically, each world has three keys that follow the same order every time.  In most cases, the first two keys unlock story, and the third holds the boss for that floor.

In many ways, Chain of Memories is two separate games, each with their own plots and battle systems.  The first game follows Sora as he goes to the top of the castle, and once that is finished, the game can be replayed as Riku.

The characters differ somewhat in how they’re played, but regardless, some basic rules hold true for both.  Cards are numbered zero through nine, and higher cards break lower cards.  If two cards of the same value are played, the attacks on both sides are nullified. And lastly, a zero card can break any attack, which becomes more critical as the game goes on. Cards can be combined into groups of threes to form powerful moves called sleights, and most bosses have extremely powerful sleights that can only be stopped by a zero or a higher valued sleight.

During battle, any available card can be played at any time.  In Sora’s quest, the player can customize their deck to add whatever they want to it, provided there are enough card points.  This can include attack cards, magic cards, item cards, or enemy cards that produce special effects like making attacks unbreakable or absorbing health from striking the enemy.  There are no limits as to what can be placed in a deck, so players must strike a balance between cards for attack and healing in order to be successful.  A single card can also be selected as a shortcut, which can be crucial when one needs to play a zero in a hurry.

Riku has a slightly different approach.  His decks are picked for him, and they change every floor.  In order to succeed, the player must learn the strategy of the deck.  Riku can also duel enemies by playing a card of equal value.  Then, he’ll have a short time limit to break three, five, or seven enemy cards by playing as many as you like.  If you manage to break enough cards, Riku executes a sleight depending on the number of cards.  If you fail, you are left open to attack and will almost always suffer for it, but it’s a risk worth taking.  Since Riku does not get healing magic like Sora, most fights, including bosses, are made significantly easier by successfully dueling.

Riku also has another change. By breaking enemy cards, Riku builds his darkness meter, and when it is full, he uses the darkness within his heart to become more powerful.  There is no downside to this, and some of the decks seem to be built around activating his darker form.

Regardless of which character you are playing, the bulk of the game is the same.  You synthesize rooms in each world and initiate combat by making contact with any of the various heartless within.  This is one of the places where Re: Chain of Memories completely drops the ball and is most frustrating.  Starting combat by striking the enemy stuns all of the heartless that appear at the beginning of the battle, and some of the room synthesis cards provide further bonuses for initiating combat in this manner.  In each room, there are several objects that can be struck to give health balls or moogle points or extra cards in Sora’s quest.  The targeting system is, in a word, terrible.  So many times when you want to hit the heartless, your hero will lunge at the tree you have already hit.  While you are waiting to recover, whichever foe you were attempting to hit will blunder into you, thus negating whatever special conditions the card you played would have provided.  Sadly, this poor targeting system carries over into battle.  Suppose there is a strong heartless in front of you, and off to the side is a weaker heartless.  Charge at the big guy right in front of you all you want, but don’t be surprised when you find that despite your best efforts, you are attacking an enemy that is way off to the side, weaker than the intended foe, and so easy to kill that it never posed a threat in the first place.  Regular battles are by no means difficult, and this is especially true for Sora since he can cure himself readily.  But the poor targeting just makes things significantly more annoying than it needed to be.

Graphically, the game is a mixed bag.  The cut scenes are well done and look very much like those found in Kingdom Hearts II, which isn’t really surprising.  But fans looking for a new experience will be sadly disappointed. Granted, the worlds are taken directly from Sora’s memory, but it seems almost lazy that every regular enemy but one is taken directly from the first game, including attack animations.  The one exception is straight from Kingdom Hearts II.  Unfortunately, the carryover doesn’t end there.  Be prepared to fight the same bosses again, and with the exception of having to use cards now, you’ll be using pretty much the same general strategies you used the last time you fought them.  And when you play Reverse Rebirth, get ready to fight all the same bosses a third time.  They don’t change.

Even though the most of the boss battles are repeats from previous games, they are still a lot of fun to fight.  It wouldn’t be Kingdom Hearts without a certain extent of simply mashing the X button to win, but there is more strategy to it now. Building a deck requires careful thought, and it can mean the difference between victory and defeat.  Also, since the numbers of cards matter so much, you really have to pay attention to what’s happening so you don’t waste your own attacks.  In fact, with a good deck, you can pretty much negate every enemy attack in regular fights and a good deal of boss attacks.  Since battles are relatively fast paced, it can get a little hectic as you go through your deck to find your zero cards.  Getting good at Chain of Memories will require some twitch reflexes, and you will probably die a lot to bosses until you get their patterns down.  Fortunately, as with other Kingdom Hearts games, this comes with no penalty whatsoever.  Keep playing until you win, or come back after some leveling.  It’s up to you.

The music in the game is exactly what fans will expect.  Every world has its signature tune, just like they always have.  Most of the songs are pretty fun to listen to, so it’s not a problem that they loop endlessly when not in battle.  But you’d better hope you like Disney music a lot; some songs get grating after a while, Under the Sea in particular.

As was true with Kingdom Hearts II, the voice acting is top notch.  So many of the characters really come to life when compared to their GBA counterparts when they are voiced.  Larxene steals the show with her great blend of sarcasm and general cattiness.  Axel’s voice actor delivers another solid performance, and many of Riku’s lines in Reverse Rebirth are given so poignantly that it gives a few of the scenes a lot more depth than was found in the original text-only Chain of Memories.

The story is also a bit of a mixed bag.  In truth, there are three plots: Sora’s plot between floors, Riku’s plot between floors, and the utterly insignificant plot on whichever floor you’re on.  In Sora’s quest, most of the worlds pretty much rehash the plot seen in Kingdom Hearts, but even when the story is tweaked, there just isn’t much of it.  Every floor has, at most, three rooms where plot takes place, so you can pretty much skip all of it.  The real story takes place in the stairwells that connect the floors, and that’s where all of the fun is.  Fortunately, this is enough to drive the game.  In Riku’s trip through Castle Oblivion, there is virtually no plot within the worlds, so everything happens between floors.  This does have some negative effects on the general pacing, but suffice it to say, when Chain of Memories is actually telling its tale, it is definitely worth paying attention.

That said, unless you’re familiar with the plot of at least Kingdom Hearts, if not both numbered games, you will get virtually nothing out of Chain of Memories.  Some games require little experience with previous games, but this isn’t one of them.  The game doesn’t really recap the events of the last game, and if you don’t know such basic things as what the heartless are, Chain of Memories isn’t going to tell you.  If you’re curious about the Kingdom Hearts series, this is not the place to begin.

As far as the interface is concerned, it is relatively functional.  It is easy to modify Sora’s decks or switch between them at will outside of battle.  The only place where things could have easily been improved is when looking at map cards.  Every fight will yield a map card unless you are carrying 99 of them.  Like all other cards, map cards are numbered from zero to nine, and there are requirements for room synthesis.  Some rooms require a red card with a value of four or greater.  Some will require any card with a specific number value, and others require that several cards of any color that collectively add up to a certain number be used.  When looking at your map cards, you can only see one type of map card at a time.  You won’t be able to see all of your red cards at once to see which numbers you are missing, and when you have to delete map cards, something you will do a lot, you can only do it one at a time.  Also, unlike attack cards, map cards cannot be sold at moogle shops to get some much needed points early on.

Chain of Memories is essentially two games, and each has its own completion time.  Sora’s trip up Castle Oblivion is much longer and will take between 30 and 40 hours to complete.  Riku’s is about half as long, though he has roughly the same amount of story content. The worlds in Reverse Rebirth are just much shorter, so the overall story is more condensed and more fun.

Another thing that bears mentioning is that Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories can be a bit slow to get started.  Sora’s plot doesn’t pick up right away, and until you get some better attack cards, the battle system can be frustrating.  As the game progresses, the story picks up considerably, and you will be able to build more competitive decks.  Though it might not start off as well as one might hope, the game can and probably will grow on you by the time you get about halfway through Sora’s story.  By the time you start Reverse Rebirth, you will already be experienced with all the nuances, and since Riku’s story has a higher concentration of plot to actual gameplay, the overall experience improves exponentially.

In the end, despite its flaws, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is a good game and is really fun, provided that you have played other games in the series.  The plot between floors is very deep, and even though Chain of Memories is not a numbered game in the Kingdom Hearts series, its events are integral to the plot of Kingdom Hearts II.  The battle system is fun and boss battles will actually require strategy and planning.  If you skipped Chain of Memories the first time because you didn’t want to play it on the GBA, you should definitely reconsider it now.  Even if you played the original, there’s been enough polishing done to it that it’s still worth your time, especially since the whole experience is greater than the sum of the parts.


  1. Duke Gallison:

    I didn’t like the original Chain of Memories’ gameplay, and I can’t stand the idea of having to wrestle with the card system *and* a lousy camera. Plus the room customization system I thought was a bit terribly implemented since if you don’t have a card needed to advance, you could spend an eternity fighting enemies trying to get it. Eerily reminded me of the virus core system from the .hack games. And I don’t really think the story of these games has any artistic merit at all since they’re mostly rehashes of Disney films. I would have vastly preferred it if they *added* to the stories of those films and characters instead of rehashing them, and I felt Chain of Memories’ plot was a long rehash of the first game’s plot, with Organization XIII tied in and Tarzan’s world suspiciously missing (plot hole much?). Feel free to disagree, though.

  2. Jordan "J_Sensei" Jackson:

    I found that you always had plenty of cards you needed to advance. The rules rarely said the card must equal a certain number, and since you get a card for every fight, you end up throwing away hundreds of cards by the end of the game. I typically kept one of each number and color along with lots of the ones I liked. There was not a single instance in the game where I did not have a required card to create a room.

    As for the camera, I never had any problems with it. What I had trouble with was hitting what I wanted, but that’s not the camera’s fault. It’s systematic.

    As to your comment about the story, Chain of Memories actually has less rehash of Disney movies than the other two games. The plot portions of each world are quite limited, so pretty much the only story you get comes between floors, and that’s all original. And Tarzan’s world being missing, that’s not a plot hole. These worlds never ‘existed.’ They were created from Sora’s memories. They didn’t have to create every world from his memories if they didn’t want to. They could have created fewer, and it wouldn’t have impacted the story one bit.

  3. Cortney "Alethea" Stone:

    J is really on target. All KH games have some Disney rehashing, and CoM actually has the least Disney rehashing. As for adding to the stories of those films, they do that in KH2. CoM wasn’t responsible for Disney rehashing/building. CoM is a short game that ties KH and KH2 by setting up Organization XIII and Namine, and Reverse Rebirth gives Riku some much-needed attention.

    As for a lack of Tarzan being a “plot hole,” look at the definition of the phrase. It refers to contradicting story elements, characters behaving in a manner that doesn’t suit their established natures, and illogical action sequences or events. It’s just an omission, not a plot hole.

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