Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Jupiter
Genre: Action RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 12/07/04
Japan 11/11/04

Graphics: 89%
Sound: 89%
Gameplay: 79%
Control: 85%
Story: 75%
Overall: 85%
Reviews Grading Scale
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That's right, rendered cutscenes on the GBA.
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All of your old friends return in Chain of Memories.
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Intense, card-based action takes up a good part of Chain of Memories.
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Card management plays an important role.
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Matt S.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Matt S.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is the intermediary sequel between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II for the PS2. Once again it stars Sora with his sidekicks Donald and Goofy. Since this game is on the Gameboy Advance and not the PS2, a direct comparison would be unfair. KH: CoM is a much different game, and can't be rated based on it's 3D antecedent. So how does is stack up?

Gameplay: 79%

The battle system is substantially different from KH. This is not only due to the new card system, but also to the fact that combat is instigated in a style more like Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter or Crono Cross. Heartless are visible and roaming around the screen. As soon as you enter a room, enemies begin spawning around you and then give chase. Battle is initiated when you touch a Heartless. If you hit one with your keyblade, battle is started with the enemies stunned. Since the battle-activating Heartless rush towards you, I found that the layout of the room was almost totally irrelevant. Standing by the door and smacking the heartless as they came by seemed to be good enough, and kept me near enough to a door to retreat if I left a battle with my health too low. Unfortunately, the only enemies you see in the room are the magic using requiems and shadows. These are not at all representative of what you will be facing once battle has begun. The enemies come in sets, and which sets you will be facing seem to be randomized with each battle, but are easily recognizable once combat has begun.

And on that note, we come to the meat of the matter: the much touted card system. If you have heard anything about CoM, you have probably heard about the card system that rules combat. Instead of simply swinging your keyblade, you play a card (and swing your keyblade.) If someone plays a lower card while yours is in play, it is discarded. If someone plays a higher one, your card 'breaks.' "Zero" cards are special in that they break any card they are played after, but any card may break them. Cards may be stocked (up to three) and their values are added. They can then be unleashed as a three-hit combo, or as special moves (called "sleights.") Sonic Blade and Ars Arcanum both have return appearances as sleights. Your deck of cards, their value and order, may be customized and expanded with won or bought cards.

While this appears to lend itself to a high level of strategy and customization, for me it never seemed to grow beyond the 'put high cards in the deck and mash the attack button.' Shuffling through the deck to find the right cards takes time that could be better spent dealing damage. Sleights that deal large amounts of damage can be easily broken by a Zero car,d which the bosses always seem to have on hand, and are not really needed against normal enemies. The other complaint I have is that the area during combat feels too small. This makes avoiding attacks difficult. Additionally, you can only attack left and right, though the area does posses an element of depth. This makes attacking aerial Heartless frustrating, since the only way you can tell where they land depth wise is by their shadows, which in the heat of combat are not always apparent. If you attack at an enemy that is farther back in field than you, your attack is wasted.

Overall, I found the card based combat to be flawed and rather frustrating. This is not to say that there is no value in the system. I did not delve as deep into the Sleights and enemy cards as I could have. It seemed unneeded to complete most of the game.

Graphics: 89%

Character images are bright, colorful and easily recognizable. Heartless are there in all their glory, attacking you in massive numbers. Considering that everything in the game is intentionally Disney-esque, the graphics are perfect. Ending the game are some FMV scenes that look incredible. My only gripe is with the noticeable amount of slowdown that occurs when striking many enemies at once; and with the large number of Heartless around, this can happen more than you may think. Despite that one sore spot, the graphics did their intended job well, without any glitch or issue that jarred me away from being engrossed in the game.

Sound: 89%

As with the graphics, the sound is serviceable, with moments of brilliance. The in-battle music is forgettable, but not jarring. Battle sounds are a mixed bag. Spells and keyblade sounds are easily identifiable for what they are supposed to be. Sora's cries during battle are also clear and sound much like they do in KH. The most notable thing about the music in CoM is that there is a pop song that plays during the credits. A pop song. A. POP. SONG. Full vocals. The works. Wow. Beyond that, the music does what I think music should do in a game, and stays innocuously in the background.

Story: 75%

I've heard CoM described as 'a side-quest.' This is probably the truest and saddest comment I can come up with about the game. I understand that not everyone who is going to play KH and KH2 is going to play CoM, but couldn't there be SOME development? On each floor of Castle Oblivion, there is the memory of the worlds Sora has been to, complete with the same 'in a nutshell' version of the Disney movies they came from. The only real story events happen between the floors as Sora interacts with the shadowy cloaked figures that reside in Castle Oblivion. The story, while it starts out interestingly, soon degrades to something of a cliche, and never really gains any depth. Sora ends the same way he began, all the while I kept thinking "haven't we done this before?" and "is this really all there is?"

The story might be a total loss if not for one thing: Riku. Through different encounters and hints placed in the game, we find that Riku has not been idle while you traipse through Castle Oblivion. His story, while not unique or wildly original, is INTERESTING, and it hooked me. Even then, the story didn't have enough depth to it, and I finished the game feeling entirely unsatisfied.

Control: 85%

The game control feels similar to KH. While this is a bit looser than I prefer, it doesn't really detract from the game. While dodge-rolls can sometimes be frustrating to perform in hurry, it never gets to the point where you feel like the game is fighting you.

Overall: 85%

I know that it looks like I absolutely hated CoM from some of the comments I have made, but that's not true. Part of the problem is that any discussion of what were the best parts of the game would be spoilers. The other part of the problem is that the game never engrossed me into the story. It always felt more like a challenge to overcome instead of a story to get wrapped up in. While unfortunate for an RPG, it isn't an invalid way to make a game, nor does it mean the game wasn't fun.

The game was enjoyable. Yes, I know I griped and complained, but the game was fun. However, if you are looking for a meaty RPG with a complicated and engrossing story line, this isn't it. If you are looking for a simple hack & slash with a unique combat system, this could be it.

...And it's got moogles in it. How can it be bad if it has moogles?


© 2003-2004 SQUARE ENIX CO. LTD.; Disney Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

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