Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories Hands-On

Sora and his friends go on a journey through muddled memories in this Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories remake.

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Creating an entirely new franchise using popular characters from the Final Fantasy series mixed in with Disney's animated musical cast was a move that made some fans skeptical, but the end result was one that paid off well. The Kingdom Hearts series has been met with much success, enough to warrant a new game, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, which is on the horizon for next year. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories originally appeared on the Game Boy Advance and bridged the story gap between the first Kingdom Hearts and the second. In March of last year, the Japanese release of Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix + included a second disc, which was a remake of Chain of Memories on the PlayStation 2. It now, finally comes to North America, where Disney and Final Fantasy fans alike can relive this tale in full 3D, or play it for the first time. We reviewed the GBA version so for more details--you can check that out here.

Use your cards to summon friends into battle.
Use your cards to summon friends into battle.

Fans will feel right at home once the opening cinematic starts, where you see a young, pre-Kingdom Hearts 2 Sora and other familiar faces in a series of flashbacks from the first game. Hikaru Utada's catchy "Simple and Clean" plays during the opening credits as you're swept back into the Disney-themed world of Kingdom Hearts. The story of Chain of Memories picks up immediately after Kingdom Hearts ends. If you've never played the first game, it would be confusing to start here because the game begins with Sora and his companions, Donald and Goofy, looking for their friends. The GBA version had an excellent full-motion video at the beginning, but being able to play it on the PS2 means that key cutscenes will be voice acted (Haley Joel Osment and David Gallagher reprise their roles as Sora and Riku, respectively), and Yoko Shimomura's playful melodies will sound much better.

From what we've played, the game is more or less the same from the GBA counterpart. Sora and his companions are led to Castle Oblivion by a mysterious man in a sinister-looking getup. In this castle, the group discovers that they're powerless, and they eventually realize that their memories are being toyed with. The rules work differently here, and in order for the trio to continue their search for their lost friends, Sora must learn to use cards that have special abilities within them. You play as Sora, who will explore alone for the most part, calling upon Donald and Goofy with cards. As the group ventures up the many floors of the castle, you will explore familiar locations, since they're all within Sora's memory.

Battles here feel longer than in the GBA version, because there are more enemies (heartless) that appear and you have a lot more space to work with. Since you have the freedom to move around, you'll also have to deal with the camera, which doesn't follow you unless you lock-on to an enemy. One noticeable improvement is that when you catch and use Goofy cards, the chances of him hitting an enemy are greater. This might have to do with the fact that there are more enemies onscreen and he spins in a wider circle. In the GBA version, unless you called on him right in the middle of the enemy, he could wander off the side of the screen and without hitting a single heartless. It's also easier to maneuver and dodge attacks on the PS2. The fights feel similar to those of previous Kingdom Hearts games; the only difference here is that you're using cards, which are tied to each move you make on the field. Cards are numbered from zero to nine, and you're hoping that you'll use a card with a number greater than the enemy's so that your attack goes through. This unique system provides you with an incentive to do some collecting and exploring before moving forward in the game. Heartless will appear as you're exploring familiar places like Traverse Town and Agrabah. Once you make contact, you are taken into a battle arena to clear out all the heartless. To gain an advantage over the heartless in battle, ensure that you whack them first with your keyblade before they touch you.

Sora will travel to familiar locations in his memory to try and locate his friends.
Sora will travel to familiar locations in his memory to try and locate his friends.

You'll pick up a variety of cards that can be classified into two categories: map cards and battle cards. Map cards are used to synthesize rooms, so there are a variety of cards you can get from enemies that will generate a certain type of room. You can create a room with a save point, a Moogle shop, a treasure chest, or a room full of heartless for you to hack away with your keyblade. Rooms that advance the story are accessible when you find the corresponding card, but other rooms can be resynthesized with any card so that you can have access to more treasure or more heartless to level. You can create up to three decks where you have attack, magic, and item cards at your disposal. In a fight, once you go through a deck, you'll have to shuffle, rendering you vulnerable for the amount of time it takes for you to reload your cards. A bit of strategy definitely goes into making your deck, considering you are limited to what you can put in. Each card has a "card point" value, and as you level you can increase your CP to include more powerful cards in the deck.

The card system isn't as complicated as it might appear to be--the game is still very much a button-masher. The only difference is that you don't have an unlimited amount of moves without worrying about reshuffling. The fact that the game is on the PS2 will allow for more information to be displayed onscreen, such as the description of a card or the type of room you're in, which wasn't always readily available on the GBA. Rearranging your deck is also easier because you can insert cards anywhere in your deck, whereas before it would dump it at the end of the list, and you'd have to manually move cards around.

As you travel through the castle, it'll feel like an extended version of Kingdom Hearts since you're exploring the same locations, like Atlantica and Halloween Town. However, the areas are actually a mishmash of rooms with the same theme of the original area, so they don't have the same layout. Familiar tunes will remind you of which area you're in, from the soothing melody of Traverse Town to the more heroic theme of the Coliseum.

Cards are the key in Chain of Memories.
Cards are the key in Chain of Memories.

If you're wondering how Sora passed the time before the start of Kingdom Hearts 2, Re: Chain of Memories is a great opportunity to get caught up. New minigames have been added to the 100 Acre Wood area, and there will be 13 new cards that were previously accessible only in the Japanese version when you had a completed Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix save file. Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is set to be released on December 2.

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