Tucked away on the Electronic Entertainment Expo show floor is a playable version of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, the Game Boy Advance follow-up to the popular action adventure game that combined Final Fantasy and Disney characters in one strange universe. Chain of Memories once again stars Sora, the protagonist of the original game, and also features many of Disney's ubiquitous characters. But we didn't get to see too much talk from what we played of this new Kingdom Hearts--instead, we concentrated on bashing a bunch of shadowy bad guys over the head with our key blade. Gameplay's what counts, right?
Chain of Memories is played from an isometric perspective, similar to old-school 16-bit action adventure games. And it looks really impressive given the GBA's technical capacity. Sora animates smoothly, as do his myriad shadowy foes, who can be seen melting into and folding out of the ground in their efforts to assault the good guy. Backgrounds, likewise, were colorful and good looking. The game even featured loud, clear speech samples of Sora's battle cries, and the music was clear and catchy, as well. So, don't expect much of a downgrade in the game's production qualities in transition from the PlayStation 2 to the GBA.
As far as the action itself is concerned, Chain of Memories seems like a typical action adventure--you can hammer on the attack button to repeatedly smack foes--but it actually has one decidedly strange twist. There's a card system, whereby each time you perform an action, you're actually using a card from a deck; then a new card is drawn, determining the potential of your next move. It's a strange system that we honestly didn't get an immediate intuitive feel for. Indeed, when we found ourselves suddenly unable to attack, it took several moments to realize that by charging the attack button, we could essentially reshuffle the deck and regain our ability to dish out damage.
Apart from just attacking with Sora's key blade, we tried out some elemental attacks as well as some healing spells, which work on the same card principle. The result of having multiple, card-based abilities to manage in real time is that Chain of Memories' gameplay feels pretty fast and complex, and it was certainly responsive already. Also, just as in the PS2 game, defeating those shadowy creatures causes a shadow of little collectible orbs to spill out, which is a satisfying effect. The game had other, cool effects as well, such as a nice between-screen wipe, featuring the Kingdom Hearts logo.
We didn't get to experience any of Chain of Memories' social aspects or get into its story, but we enjoyed what we tried of the combat. The basic feel of the game is solid, which is more than can be said for a lot of games playable at E3, so we're now more hopeful than ever about Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories' release later this year. We'll be bringing you more details on the game as soon as we can.