This month, Square Enix and Disney have introduced the next installment in the Kingdom Hearts saga, KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory.
[A copy of the game was provided by Square Enix for review purposes with no restrictions on expressed thoughts or opinions.]
KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory is the first rhythm action game in the long-standing Kingdom Hearts series. It takes the player through an abbreviated tour of all the major events of the Kingdom Hearts games as they visit familiar worlds with old friends and new musical gameplay.
The bulk of the game is the World Tour mode, in which players fly their gummi ship (familiar from the previous Kingdom Hearts games) to various worlds where they are faced with one or two musical tracks to complete. They generally do this by hitting buttons to either attack, jump, or activate Ability Crystals in time to the music. The rhythmically inclined can successfully time their button mashing to the beat of the music, while the more visually-oriented can watch for targeting reticules to line up as the targets continually advance towards them.
There’s an impressive amount of detail put into each stage, as the backgrounds in each world corresponds to the environments seen when Sora and his pals visited them in the earlier KH games. Three characters are controllable at any given time, with the familiar trio of Sora, Donald, and Goofy starting out. The subsequent trios of Axel, Xion, and Roxas and Aqua, Terra, and Ventus are unlockable as the player progresses (the perpetually shafted Riku is on a team by himself, with just a pair of dream eaters for company.)
Although each character has their own fighting style and attractively animated attack moves, it’s all pretty independent of what the player is doing except for the timing. In some worlds, one of the team members is replaced by a Disney character (Aladdin, Ariel, Beast, Simba, Hercules, Stitch, and Peter Pan, to name a few.) Again, it doesn’t effect the gameplay so much, but it’s a fun integration of Disney in a game that surprisingly doesn’t use all that much Disney music.
A song track is cleared when you manage to survive to the end before too many missed beats deplete your HP completely. A world is cleared when all its songs are cleared, and it is completed when the three missions listed for each song are accomplished. Typically one of the three missions requires repeated plays, sometimes on different levels of difficulty for completion and while not finishing the missions doesn’t automatically bar you from continuing onwards, there are checkpoints where you have to have done a certain number of missions to pass through so you can’t blow them off entirely. As you go, periodically you are treated to a clipshow of parts of the earlier games with Kairi narrating the whole history.
Eventually there are a couple additional gameplay variants: Boss Battles and Memory Dives. In the Boss Battles, your success (or lack thereof) in timing button strikes and thumbstick tilts to rapidly moving symbols is directly reflected in an ongoing fight between your team and a Big Bad, which is usually some form of the villainous Xehanort. Memory Dives feature the same side-scrolling action as Boss Battles, but are accompanied by cutscenes summarizing an entire Kingdom Hearts III world sequence in the background. I found these to be a little like my experience driving down the coastline of California on Pacific Coast Highway: Beautiful, but I barely saw anything because I was busy making sure I didn’t die while it was all going by.
There are three different levels of difficulty, and on the beginner mode it took me about nine hours to run through all the World Tour planets to the end (I believe people with a normal amount of dexterity were finishing closer to five hours.) Even finishing, there is a large amount of repeatability as there are always missions to complete and harder settings to conquer. As with any KH game, you can collect items and create potions and boosts to help you survive any track giving you particular trouble. Additionally, once you finish at least ten Field Battle songs (the usual gameplay mode) you can participate in VS Battles in which you go head to head with either a computer or online opponent.
You can also go back and enjoy any of the over 140 musical tracks, most of which are from the great composer Yoko Shimomura. A handful of familiar Disney songs are represented such as “Under the Sea” and “Let It Go.” A Museum area allows players to revisit the various collectables they earn throughout the game such as pictures and video recaps.
I found the difficulty levels to be wide enough where “beginner” was just challenging enough for me to keep from being bored, while easy enough to be mildly relaxing, particularly on songs with a prominent beat. Periodically the songs were slow and melodic to the point where I felt like Steve Martin in The Jerk, trying to find the rhythm.
When you get to the end, your reward is a short cutscene that explains what’s been going on this whole time, why Kairi is your narrator, and some hints as to what’s coming next for the Kingdom Hearts universe. It’s brief and necessarily vague, but it does set up some interesting events and gives a lot to speculate about while waiting for the next chapter. If I had one complaint, it’s that Kairi continues to be pretty sparsely used–though this is nominally her story, she doesn’t have much to do until the ending, and even then she’s forced into a pretty passive role compared to Riku. She does seem to be continuing her keyblade training however, so there’s hope for the future.
If you’re looking for a nice encapsulation of the whole Dark Seeker saga from Kingdom Hearts (and for some reason don’t want to read the one I painstakingly wrote up: Kingdom Hearts Overview and Kingdom Hearts III Review,) KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory is a good way to start. It’s an attractive game that is flexible enough to appeal to people of varying degrees of gaming experience with all the terrific music that has always been a big part of the series. Players who have already played all the KH games will appreciate the nostalgia of revisiting the old worlds and characters, and those new to the franchise will have a comparatively easy jumping-on point to the story. The sequence of events will still be incredibly complicated and not a little confusing, but if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be Kingdom Hearts.
KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory is rated E10+ by the ESRB and is now available for $59.99 on the SQUARE ENIX store, the Nintendo eShop, PlayStation®Store, Microsoft Store and other select retailers. A free downloadable demo is available for all three platforms at http://www.kingdomhearts.com/mm.
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