Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: December 2, 2008
I think Kingdom Hearts is slowly replacing Final Fantasy as my Square Enix role-playing game of choice nowadays. I enjoyed the original, really dug the GBA title Chain of Memories, and absolutely loved the sequel, despite its flaws. Needless to say, when I heard that they were working on a remake of the GBA title for the PS2, I was pretty excited. It's odd in that I've never had a great childhood affection for Mickey Mouse and crew, but something about the formula of mixing the Final Fantasy world with the Disney one just meshes together really well. Of course, it also helps that the soundtrack and visuals for each game are pretty stellar.
If you're unfamiliar with the series, I'll try to get you up to speed and let you know where Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories fits into the franchise timeline. The original game, and every title after, puts you in control of the main character Sora, as he bounds across various worlds or dimensions that are based on Disney films or other locations populated with characters from the various Final Fantasy franchises, like Aeries, Cloud, Squall and so on. Sora is trying to search for his lost friends, and along the way gets mixed up with some much bigger dealings that threaten all the worlds he's traveled through, including the one he calls home. The first game has him searching for his friend Riku (not to be confused with Rikku from Final Fantasy X), and he slowly starts to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the Heartless (the bad guys), while also fighting against the evil Disney sorceress, Maleficent.
This title, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, is a remake of the second game, Chain of Memories. CoM initially debuted on the Game Boy Advance and featured a pretty big departure from the gameplay of the original PS2 title, which was mostly an action-RPG. Chain of Memories introduced a card system, where you would still mash a button in battle against enemies, but your ability to deal damage was dictated by the various cards you inserted into a deck, which would then auto-shuffle and compare against your enemy's cards to tell you whether the attack would be successful or not. I'll delve into that a bit later in the review, but it was definitely different from the more simple mechanics used in the original Kingdom Hearts. The other change from the previous title came in the story itself. In Kingdom Hearts, Sora was simply traveling from world to world, but in Chain of Memories, he finds himself trapped inside of a strange castle that emulates the various places and people he's come across in the past. It also introduces him to the mysterious Organization XIII members, who end up playing a prominent role in Kingdom Hearts 2.
With the remake of Chain of Memories on PS2, not a whole lot has changed from the GBA title, at least as far as the story and gameplay are concerned. Obviously the biggest changes come in the form of the 3-D graphics that replace the 2-D sprite work of the GBA title, and while the visuals here are definitely in line with the previous PS2 titles, I don't think it looks quite as polished as what we saw in Kingdom Hearts 2. It's very interesting to see the game from a new perspective, and for those who prefer to see a more cohesive game style, this version of the game will definitely please you. Along with the updated visuals, there's a surprising amount of voice work that's been added, with most of the roles being reprised by their original voice actors from the previous titles.
The gameplay is still largely the same, though, and it still works well in the 3-D realm. The battles are played out by hitting (or allowing yourself to be hit by) the various Heartless that populate the castle; hitting one will begin the battle, taking you to a small arena where you'll fight against a mix of enemies. This is where the card mechanics come into play, and the game gets a little more confusing than the other KH titles out there. As you advance through the game, you'll collect various cards. There are a few different types, including your basic numbered cards that range from zero to nine. There are friend-based cards, usually depicting Goofy and Donald (think of these as magic attacks), and the Disney-themed ones act as a sort of summoning spell. Finally, there are the Heartless cards, and then the key cards that are generally used to open a few of the doors within the castle.
The basic numbered cards are what make up the meat of most fights, and you'll be populating the majority of your deck with these. The number value doesn't really dictate how hard you're hitting an enemy; instead, it's there to tell you whether or not you'll actually be able to hit someone. Say you've got a number eight card showing in the deck at the bottom left of the screen, and the enemy you've currently targeted is showing a six. When you swing, you'll automatically score a hit, since your card is higher. However, if your enemy also had an eight, the hit would be deflected, and likewise, if the enemy had a nine, the enemy would counter and subsequently destroy your card for that round. It doesn't sound too involved at first, and most of the normal enemies don't require much strategy, but the various boss fights will have you shuffling through your cards, trying to select the correct card for the situation. It's a far better system than what is used in Kingdom Hearts or Kingdom Hearts 2, and it definitely requires a bit more thought than those two titles. I kind of wish the developers would readopt this system for the eventual third entry, though; that's how much I enjoyed the battle mechanics in this title.
There's so much more stuff to the battles that I'm just going to leave it up to you to discover as you play, like the reshuffles, magic attacks, heals, and so on, but it can be a pretty involving system. Altogether, it makes for one of my favorite entries into the series, and the PS2 remake doesn't disappoint in the slightest. The controls feel right at home on the pad, and the visual upgrade fits the room-by-room setup of the various stages and areas. The battles are easy to follow, the camera doesn't cause too many issues, and the lock-on system for enemies works really well. It can be a bit challenging to make some of the attacks connect, in particular anything that's ranged, but after a couple of hours of playtime, you'll get used to the system and be able to figure out how to make things work well for you.
Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories for the PS2 is definitely worth checking out, especially if you haven't yet played the GBA original. The story here is essential to getting the most from the tale told in Kingdom Hearts 2, and it's not something that should be missed by the fans of the series. If you've been put off of the Kingdom Hearts titles in the past, particularly with the somewhat-simplistic combat mechanics, then it might be worth your while to check out Re: Chain of Memories; it uses a completely different combat system than the previous entries, and it's much more rewarding because of it. Be sure to pick up this one; at $30, it's nearly a steal and definitely worth playing for the fans.