Review: That's the sound of the men... working on the chain.
I play a lot of videogames. As such, I'm always on the lookout for unique ideas, gameplay, and execution in the plethora of titles that are released. When the original Kingdom Hearts was first announced for the PS2 I took notice. "A Disney-centric role-playing-game?" I said to myself. "Square Enix must be either mad or brilliant." Turns out that, in the right hands, the Disney mythology fits perfectly into the RPG genre.
For those not familiar with the series, Kingdom Hearts is a bizarrely successful melding of Disney animation and Final Fantasy Role-Playing, combining the recognizability of the former with the playability of the latter into a whole that is greater than the sum of it's parts. Bridging the gap between the PS2 original and upcoming sequel, Chain of Memories continues the adventures of Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy. In search of their friends King Mickey (Mouse) and Riku, the three come across a mysterious castle that eats away at their memories. As they ascend through the castle, they find that their memories continue to erode and constantly fight their way through hordes of the heartless to find their friends, all the while travelling through floor after floor of classic Disney worlds.
Being that Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories is an extension of Disney's animated features, you know that the visuals in this game are important. They sure don't disappoint, either, as they bring a vibrant color palette and spot-on sprite-based characters to the game table. Each of the Disney characters are instantly recognizable and add a real charm to the game. Now, some players that have grown accustomed to the super-effects associated with spell and summon effects in Final Fantasy games might be disappointed by the limited dazzle that Chain of Memories generates with it's effects. I respectfully disagree with their disappointment as the overall crafting of the game does a great job at keeping the action flowing.
Speaking of action, Chain of Memories is full of it. Did I mention, "adventuring?" Chain of Memories is full of that, too. The game alternates between map-building adventuring and card-based combat. Each element begins as you collect cards by defeating enemies, opening chests, and breaking barrels. The cards add a welcome depth to both aspects of the title and, through their use, hook both collector nuts and strategy freaks.
I will admit that it took a while for me to pick up the nuances of the card battle system. For a long time, the sleight system escaped me and, because I was impatient and didn't read the manual, I wasn't able to take full advantage of my enemy cards (using the select button to access them... brilliant) for a very long time. A fact that probably did not help my early frustration with the game. However, once it began to make sense, the system really clicked and made the game a lot of fun. Overall, the system adds a depth to the game that I wouldn't have expected.