Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Game Boy Advance
Reviewed: 08/31/2006

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is a side-story in the series, meant to tie the original into its true sequel, Kingdom Hearts II. It introduces new characters, a new story, and a new form of battling, namely one involving cards. These changes are meant to differentiate the game from the PS2 adventure, but they wind up causing more damage than they help.

The story picks up exactly where Kingdom Hearts left off, with Sora, Donald, and Goofy chasing after Pluto, who’s carrying a letter from King Mickey. As they wander, they met a mysterious man in a black cloak who tells Sora that up ahead “lies something you need, but to claim it, you must lose something dear.” Sora follows after the man, and comes to the ominous Castle Oblivion, a fortress with the strange power of causing it’s visitors to start forgetting, one memory at a time. This premise essentially sets up a method for Square Enix to copy most of the original Kingdom Hearts story, using almost the exact same details, even. The few bits of the story that are original, while somewhat engaging at the start, wind up being rather confusing and needlessly complex, with some bad pacing and a poor resolution that ultimately accomplishes little. On the plus side, there is a second character to play as upon completion of the game, and his story is a bit more refined.

Screen Shot
Sora tries his hand at UNO.

For this GBA installment, Square Enix decided to add another layer of strategy to combat, by adding a card based battling system. This system isn’t hard to use, but it’s a lot less fun. Combat basically is the same as Kingdom Hearts, moving around and attacking in real-time. Cards are used instead of actions, each card having a number on it, 0-9. Everytime anyone in combat does an action, be it friend or foe, it uses a card, which results in one of two possibilities: either the action is completed, or the card is “broken.” How a card is broken is simply by using a higher valued card in the middle of the opponent’s action, stunning them for a second, giving the opposition a chance to move in for a strike. These basic rules are how every battle in the game will proceed, from the very first, to the very last, with little change in strategy. Also, running around the various worlds are just as tedious, because the game prides itself on having all the rooms be randomly created by the player, which results in the same boring, typical layouts for all locations. And sometimes the vital card needed isn’t in the deck, so random battles are needed until a card matching the criteria needed is found.

Chain of Memories‘ strongest link lies in its graphics, but even those only shine at certain moments. Every character is animated well, and smoothly makes the transition from PS2 3D to GBA 2D, but the areas in which they explore are so plain, being random open room after random open room, and the backgrounds in combat are rather simply decorated, and uninspired. However, at key points throughout the game, select scenes are shown in impressive FMV, with quality equal to that of Kingdom Hearts, considering the hardware capabilities of each title. These scenes are few and far between though, and last for only about 15 seconds, just flashy enough to highlight the most important moments.

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Every now and then, cinemas of surprising quality are shown.

The sounds of Chain of Memories round things out on a mostly average front. Almost all of the music has been lifted directly from Kingdom Hearts, converted into MIDI, and been repackaged here. The few tracks that are new sound wonderful, as Yoko Shimomura generally does, but there’s just so few of them that it hardly feels fresh and new. Also, in combat, almost all of the characters have actual speaking lines, like in Kingdom Hearts; but, like the music, this is all just quotes directly brought over, so any repeated lines in the original that have grown stale will be just as lifeless here. Utada Hikaru’s “Simple and Clean” makes a return here as well, and once again does not disappoint, but it does it sound a tiny bit muffled, coming from the GBA’s speakers.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was created to bridge the gap between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, and it manages to do that fairly well. However, in its more important role, that of an enjoyable game, KH:CoM didn’t succeed as well. Too many new ideas were introduced, that pushed the game further away from it’s roots. Also, not enough reward was given for overcoming the challenges the game offered, and it wound up leaving things very anticlimatic. It might be worth a rental to understand Kingdom Hearts II more, but not worth a lot else.

-Joey Janowksi

Score Breakdown
Out of 10

See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Bad
Story Bad
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Very Good
Replay Value Offensive
The Verdict: 3