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Another Link in the Chain
By: Michael Beckett
Kingdom Hearts; Chain of Memories continues where the first Kingdom Hearts left off. Sora, Goofy and Donald are running down a long road, still searching for Mickey and Riku. KH;CoM takes some unusual departures from the first game, implementing a real-time card system in place of the straight brawling system, but the locations and character designs are all unchanged. The story does take the Kingdom Hearts series in an interesting direction with the appearance of a new enemy, but in the end, this game probably relies too heavily on it's predecessor for support.
The card combat system is an interesting and complex affair, requiring some study and creativity before a player can become truly efficient in it's use. The system works like this; Sora is given a collection of cards representing magic, allies, even Keyblades. The player is charged with putting these cards together into a deck which Sora will use to defeat his enemies. The cards each have their own unique properties - attack power, speed and a small number at the bottom right-hand corner. The numbers form a sort of priority system where playing a higher number card will cancel out any lower numbered cards, cancelling that move. This is called a Card Break. The only exception is 0 cards, which can break or be broken by any number card, making them either useless or indispensable depending on the situation. Further, these cards can be stocked, or set aside to be recalled later. The right combination of cards will result in a powerful special attack, or Slight. Of course, it isn't without cost; each Slight will remove a card used in that Slight from your deck until the end of the battle. The real trick is keeping all this straight while trying to dodge enemy attacks or trying to sort through your deck.
Most of the combat revolves around destroying large groups of enemies in normal encounters, odd because boss fights move in the exact opposite manner - most boss fights are one-on-one. In the end, it became necessary to carry two decks around, one for normal combat and one for boss fights. It isn't as irritating as it sounds, since most boss fights are telegraphed and KH;CoM allows for up to three decks to be held simultaneously. The system is an interesting combination of new and old, and I don't think I've ever seen a real-time card combat system before. It's an interesting idea, and a surprisingly well executed one, but it certainly isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. Reacting to so many rapid-fire events and relying on split-second tactics is sure to give the more traditional RPG players fits.
Overall, control is solid and responsive, though due to the isometric view the game uses it was sometimes difficult to tell Sora’s position in relation to his enemies. Translation was well done and without error, though the lines did occasionally come off as a bit clunky.
From a technical standpoint, what Square Enix has done with Kingdom Hearts; Chain of Memories is truly amazing. They've managed to pack a little GBA cart with huge sprites with long animations, rich color and detail, and then smashed some high-quality almost PS2 level CG sequences just for good measure. The sound is perhaps not quite as impressive, but cramming in a few lines of voice acting, some decent sound effects (I will note that Square really needs to stop using the little "dit-dit" noise with text, though), and the full version of Simple and Clean during the end credits deserves some credit. Although, and again, the style of KH;CoM does borrow very heavily from the first KH, it's bright colors and solid character and world design, to say nothing of the wonderful compositions of Yoko Shimomura, makes for some high quality art overall.
The story of the original Kingdom Hearts had to do with the nature of hearts and minds. Chain of Memories takes some of this and runs with it, but adds some musings on the nature of memories - forgotten memories, false memories, and so forth. It's not a terribly compelling story, though it is nice to see the characters up and about, and Square is doing a consistently solid job of meshing the worlds of Disney and Square. Also, it will be interesting to see where Square takes the narrative from here - the game ends on a highly ambiguous note. The plot moves swiftly - the game clocks in at only around twenty to thirty hours, though a unique replay feature exists which allows the player to take on the role of Riku, almost doubling the play time.
Kingdom Hearts; Chain of Memories is one of those games that is going to rely almost entirely upon the mindset of the person playing it to determine how much enjoyment they get out of it. If the player is willing to go through a bit of trial and error to construct a deck, and takes a flexible approach to their tactics throughout the game, KH;CoM will be a wonderfully enjoyable game. If not, it becomes an exercise in irritation. I will say that having a bit of experience in trading card games goes a long way.
In the end, Kingdom Hearts; Chain of Memories feels like a game Square Enix decided to release primarily to pad the time between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2. That might not be a bad thing, but it certainly hurts CoM's originality. Still, with a decent plot, good art direction and some very solid technical aspects, Chain of Memories fills the space between games without being entirely pointless or without merit. A good title for fans of the first game, or RPGamers who enjoy unique tactical challenges.
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