Fashioned as the bridge between the original Kingdom Hearts and its sequel, Chain of Memories continues the story of Sora and company’s search for King Mickey. The introductory moments reveal a troubled hero struggling to distinguish reality from illusion as he ultimately must journey into his subconscious in order to escape a mysterious castle. The events undoubtedly will hook players into expecting an epic, unique adventure, but progression quickly reveals locales and events that seem all too familiar.
This revelation will be especially evident to fans who will discover Chain of Memories recycles a great deal of content from the original installment. To some extent, the game can be likened to what Final Fantasy X-2 was to Final Fantasy X. Personally, I am not against the idea of reusing characters and locations, provided that there’s some logical significance for their presence.
The card battle system, the biggest departure from the series, is exceptionally remarkable and involving when played correctly. Grafted onto the button-mashing battles, players must scroll through a deck of cards to unleash standard attacks, cast spells and even call an ally to their aid. At first, the system will feel awkward, especially if you’re typically used to the conventional action RPG mechanics. And since the battle system is high on the tactical end, some strategy is required, particuarly during the more advanced areas.
Ultimately, you’ll need to learn the nuances of constructing a solid deck, lest your encounters will be swift and frustrating. Although I’ve grown accustomed to the new hijinks, I wish the game didn’t rely on the card element so heavily. For example, reaching new areas require players to collect a specific number of cards or a particular “magic card”. This leads to an excessive amount of battles killing enemies, which can take up to 20 minutes or longer, in the hopes that they’ll eventually leave behind the card you seek. It’s an exercise that one could easily deal without, especially with the high frequency of enemy encounters. Want a break? Better hit the pause button.
Nonetheless, credit must be given to Square Enix’s excellent job for its inclusion of CG footage during pivotal moments. Visually, the game overflows with detail and stellar animation, making it unquestionably one of the best looking handheld titles this year. The soundtrack is also exceptionally rich, but fans will be somewhat saddened to discover the game lacks voice samples of any form; (at the very least, their inclusion during cinematic sequences would have inarguably been a nice touch). All told, if you’re willing to look past the undeniable traces of déjà vu, Chain of Memories qualifies as a solid RPG that sets the stage for the next epic chapter.