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SummaryThe only truly bad game in the franchise
The GoodThe music is of a pretty good quality for Game boy standards, combine that with the the masterfully composed songs that come with every Kingdom Hearts games and your ears are in for quite a surprise. The list of songs contains some new tunes such as "Axel's theme", "the 13th dillema" and "memory in pieces", as well as a handful of familiar tunes like "Dearly Beloved".
This is the first game in the franchise where Organization XIII was introduced, this is a group of people who have lost their heart, but were able to live on. In my review of Kingdom Hearts 2 I made the point that they never seemed evil to me, but to Square's credit, they did throw the most evil members of the organization at us in this installment. Larxene especially is an unimaginable bitch that you genuinely want to kill.
The game is quite strong in terms of graphics too, sprites are very detailed and the environments look top notch. I also like how most locations genuinely get the same atmosphere as on the Playstation 2 across, it shows that with enough hard work, a game can still make the jump to handheld systems.
The BadInstead of the awesome real-time combat we had in all the other Kingdom Hearts games, we get a mix between turn-based and real-time this time around. During combat we take direct control over Sora, but at the same time you have to select cards from a deck in order to launch attacks. Now, I want you to try this: Go into combat and constantly dodge attacks from 6-8 enemies while simultaneously browsing through a deck of cards looking for the spell that you want to use. It's not fun, it's not challenging, it's just very tedious and awkward to control.
You don't have a dodge or block move in this game, instead all the aforementioned cards have a number on them. When you and an opponent attack at the same time, the one with the highest number on his cards wins and gets to do his or her attack while the other is stunned. It sounds like a clever system, but this demands that you constantly combine high-level cards for devastating attacks. The combat is however still as fast-paced as it was in all the other Kingdom Hearts games, so you are at the same time encouraged to button-mash the attack-command, creating a massive conflict that is present all throughout the game.
Cards are also used to open doors: each door demands a card of a certain level and to open it you have to give a card of that level or higher. The card that you choose affects what the room you arrive in will look like. This may seem like a novelty, but in reality this makes the levels boring because it demands that each room contributes as little to experience as possible or else the overall story wouldn't make any sense. That aside though, it also created the problem that you need to luck out in order to find shops, this meant that four levels into the game I was still using the starter pack of cards and simply couldn't win from a boss that only used level 9 cards.
Okay, so the card-system doesn't work at all. What else is wrong with this game? Well the story is pretty much a cut-down version of the first Kingdom Hearts game with a new overall narrative. Sora finds himself in a castle where he slowly loses his memory and to progress through the castle he has to revisit his memories. This means that you have to replay your adventures in Wonderland, Traverse Town, Halloween Town and many other locations from the original game, but cut-down to like one hour of playtime each. The stories there are mild variations on the ones we already know and mostly circle around the characters not knowing each other anymore. It carries no emotional weight anymore and that really hurts the experience, hearing Sora and Aerith exchange awkward dialogue in an attempt to remember stuff is boring and tedious and the fact that nothing of it is real saps all the urgency out of the game.
The stories in each world are also very bland and mostly follow the same route we walked before. In Traverse Town you walk around a bit, meet with the Final Fantasy crew, visit Cid, fight with the giant Heartless. It doesn't sound too bad and maybe the game could stand as a nostalgia-trip alone, but the story suffers from the gameplay that is put in between. Every major event and cut-scene is hidden behind a special door that only opens to a very specific card, you get one card at the start of each stage and the next one is always given to you in the cut-scene. This means there is no exploration at all, all you need to do is drag yourself from cut-scene to cut-scene to get the next card and everything in between is just needless grinding that you can do.
The lack of voice-acting really hurts the presentation and it's obvious that a Kingdom Hearts game can't stand up without it. The biggest problem is the long and drawn-out cut-scenes that involve lots of dialogue. The explanation given by Yen Sid early in Kingdom Hearts 2 was also long, but because it had voices, you didn't have to put any effort into reading any of it.
The Bottom LineAs you might have guessed: I am not the greatest fan of Chain of Memories. I first played it right after Kingdom Hearts 1 and didn't get any of it. The whole card-business is so needlessly complex and forced that it took me four hours of playing to finally understand what I was doing and after that I quickly grew bored of it. For the sake of completion I decided to replay it, which was not very entertaining at all. While a lot of work has gone into keeping the music and graphics at a high level, the gameplay clearly deserved more attention and has fallen to the point of it becoming unplayable.
With that said: Is this game worth playing? For the casual gamer this is most certainly not the case, the game is far too awkwardly put together to be enjoyable for more than a few minutes. The die-hard fans of Kingdom Hearts however, may be able to look past this and enjoy the story that does lead up to events of Kingdom Hearts 2 and later becomes a part of the masterful 358/2 Days.