All of you may have noticed that I've already done a prior review of the first Kingdom Hearts; in fact, it was the very first review I've posted here on NFF. Thing is, recently I've been replaying KH1's direct sequel, Chain of Memories (still haven't beaten it again, though). To be frank, opinions are very mixed about COM in the Kingdom Hearts fanbase; it is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it ordeal for fans.
Due to this, it definitely made it an intriguing property for me to try and review, due to the way the fans are split over whether it's good or not. What is my personal opinion of the game? Well... that's something you'll have to see.
What are you doing, fool?! Kill the Green Requiem!!
The most important meal of the day... dananana, gamer's way, bop!
Chain of Memories, while keeping a similar general feel to the first game for PS2 in terms of look, style, and more or less how the plot is set up, is very different with how it's played. It's basically even switched genres; while it still retains elements of the action/RPG hack 'n' slash play that KH1 contained, COM has a brand new focus; card battle.
This is by far the most heavily debated part of the game in terms of the "love-it-or-hate-it" aspect within the fandom. Players use decks of cards to do battle with enemies (whom also use decks of cards) in COM. Cards are made up of several types. Attack cards are basically card manifestations of most of the Keyblades featured in Kingdom Hearts. They're what you use to perform basic close-up hits with your Keyblade (which, no matter what Keyblade represented in the card, will always look like the Kingdom Key in the actual moving graphics). Magic cards can be used to perform several different magical spells from the original game (such as Fire, Blizzard, Cure, Thunder, Stop, etc.), and they function almost exactly the same as they did in KH1, just translated to more of a 2D plane. Magic cards also contain summons, and throughout the game you can allot summon cards for characters such as Simba, Cloud, Tinker Bell, etc. Item cards are a fairly small type, and they reload certain types of cards instantly; however, after they are used, they themselves can't be reloaded again. Finally, there are enemy cards, which you can obtain either from random drops from normal battles or from bosses. These utilize varying special effects that can have different impact on battle, such as slowly regenerating health or increasing attack power when at a point of critical HP. When the cards in your deck run too short, or just run out entirely, you can "reload" all of your cards; however, after reloading multiple times, it starts to take longer, so be wary. While Heartless enemies and bosses don't need to reload as they never seem to run out of cards, human bosses do and so must reload when this happens, just like you; and so this is a window of opportunity that can frequently be exploited in this boss battles.
The game also includes sleights; special combos that allow you to "stock" three different cards, and then unleash them in a fast-paced combo that can sometimes result in a special attack if you nail the right combination (although said special sleights can only be used by getting them as you level up). Both you and human-type bosses can use these. However, the first card used in a sleight becomes unreloadable afterwards, adding a certain extra layer of strategy to battles. Additionally, there are 10 different values to every card; from 0-9. When these cards clash with those of enemies, the higher value wins; the loser of these clashes ends up being pushed back for a split second, and this effect of defeating your opponent in these clashes is called a "card break". The 0 card is unique, as it will break any card or sleight the enemy puts forth, but any other card can break a 0 if it is put forth; these are highly useful, but should be used with care.
Every time you level up, you only get three options to pick from to increase; HP (Hit Points), CP (Card Points, which dictate the amount of cards you can put in a single deck; every card has a value that eats up a certain number of CP), and Sleights (which lets you add a new type of special sleight to your ever-growing arsenal). Overall, I liked the strategy of the card battles a lot, even if other players didn't. Even when the AI suddenly starts acting really dumb or the battle is going surprisingly fast-paced, a lot of the time, battles against enemies that are at least a little higher on the food chain than your painfully average Heartless fodder are tense battles of wits, where you have to be careful if you want to triumph with strategic sleight use and well-placed combos and attacks. It was very entertaining to me, and though some battles could get unfairly difficult, having insanely powerful sleights and/or having a completely unreasonable amount of cards, even when I had plenty of CP (one particular late-game boss made me want to tear my hair out), battles were still generally fun affairs, despite some minor frustrations. Also, there are basically zero of the first game's camera problems, as due to the nature of the battles, the camera was put on auto and never got in my way.
However, there are some issues with the overworld. Each world/level you go through is represented by a "floor". On every floor, you go through separate doors to go into separate rooms, which are parts of that world. There are normally several doors in a room. Pretty much all rooms are generic except for three different story rooms, represented through map cards, which are what is normally dropped by defeated parties of enemies. One must use map cards to open a door to a new room. Map cards have number values and separate colors, and have different effects on the room they are used to open. One map card called Teeming Darkness can give a large amount of enemies to battle, while another called Moment's Reprieve will give you a small, monster-less room containing a save point. The number values run from 0-9 much like battle cards, and the colors include red (which will have an effect on the room's enemies), green (which have an effect on your own cards), and blue (which will have an effect on the actual design and/or contents of the room, normally apart from enemies). When you try to use a door, the game asks you for a map card with a particular color or value; sometimes both combined together, and sometimes several cards with requirements attached to them. Additionally, sometimes the game asks you to continually feed the door the door cards until some higher number that can't be satisfied by a single card value (i.e.; 30) is met. At first this isn't bad, since you get loads of map cards from enemy battles and just that variety is enough to plow through a lot of floors. However, eventually the game starts asking for more and more ludicrous values and exact color and value combinations, and even level grinders have to run around across several worlds to find the exact one card you need to proceed. This gets really annoying, and I wish that Jupiter had employed a better system for this, or just made the map card system a little less demanding.
Overall, the problems with the overworld tend to hurt progression, and that brings down the entire experience a bit because you have to stall and sometimes spend hours searching for the single card you need in the later sections of the game. However, the battle system sort of redeems this, as though many fans were disappointed by the fact that a card system was put in place to replace the old hack-'n'-slash system, and I don't see how it would have been too difficult to input a simplified version of KH1's combat mechanics, but Jupiter should applauded for developing a strategic, fairly fun system that, for me, sufficed for the old one.
Oh look. Monkeys in a coliseum. *yawn*
What makes it look all purdy and stuff, dooooy!
Honestly, I'm really surprised by the graphical power this game manages to pull off. Once you start up a new game, you're welcomed with a pair of CG animated sequences; and yes, this game is for the GBA. A few other of these CG cutscenes show up throughout the game, although they are rather few and far between. Even though these sequences seem pretty blurry, none of the models or environments seemed blocky or overly-pixelated; in fact, I would argue that they were almost comparable to regular cutscenes from the original PS2 game. I really have to give credit to Jupiter and Square for managing to make these happen, as I thought they were a really nice addition.
Otherwise, the rest of the game plays out in your fairly average 16-bit graphics. They're designed well and everything, but they don't particularly stand out from other sprite-filled GBA games. However, the aforementioned CG sequences really help the game in this regard, pushing the GBA hardware to its extent and showing it was capable of quite a bit more than people gave it credit for, as a lot of people just passed the handheld off graphics-wise as a mini SNES.
Boys and girls of every age, wouldn't you like to see something strange...
Why are these sections always so short?
I don't need to elaborate much in this area. Shimomura is still the composer, and the music is still fantastic, though quality has understandably dropped a bit due to the GBA's lower processing power and slightly lower-quality speakers; though the difference is pretty negligible for the most part. However, I would say the game loses points here due to how many tunes it recycles from the first game, though I don't particularly blame the developers for taking an, "If it ain't broke don't fix it," philosophy to this. Additionally, the handful of newly-composed tracks (such as Namine's theme and the final boss music) are excellent. Sound effects are also fine, though I got a bit tired of listening to Sora shout, "HYU! HOO! HA!!" in every single combo.
Overall, the tunes are still great.
ZOMG!!! Mysterious hooded man!! :O
If these stay good, maybe we'll hear a little less whining from Roger Ebert. ...Bufahaha! Who am I kidding? He'll always moan over games.
A very interesting continuation to the first game is present here. The basis is that Goofy, Mickey Mouse's ever-faithful steed, leading Sora, Donald, and Goofy out to a strange path. As Sora is sleeping, he is woken up by a strange hooded figure who tells him some cryptic things before leaving. Sora finds a new path now lies open before him, and he follows it to a strange, enormous white castle. As he and the party enter, they encounter the hooded man again, and though they attempt to fight him, they discover they have lost all of their abilities from their previous adventures, which the man informs them of. He tells them they are in Castle Oblivion, and there, "to find is to lose and to lose is to find." He teaches them the system of cards, and gives them a card with which to enter the floor above them, which contains Traverse Town from the first game; and things get strange from there...
Perhaps I went on a bit too much there, but the story is intriguing as it progresses and layers are peeled back. The new villains, a strange group of cloaked people called the Organization (who are far more elaborated on in the series' next installment), are mysterious and interesting, full of dissension, traitors, and illusive intentions. However, you are kind of left hanging about a lot of the questions posed concerning them at the end of the game, and it makes the plot feel somewhat incomplete. Again, they are elaborated on in the series' next installment, but I don't find that all that good of an excuse to leave players with so many loose ends in this game.
A few other characters introduced are intriguing, such as Namine, the game's personal damsel-in-distress, as well as some other individual characters, such as Axel, an anti-hero of sorts whose true wants are almost impossible to discern, and Vexen, a tortured, villainous scientist who is constantly walked on by his younger peers. Sora also receives some interesting development in this game; I won't elaborate on this due to the possibility of spoilers, but I was pleased by some new insight into his existing character. Moment-to-moment dialogue is also as charming as ever.
But, one point in the game feels like it's suffering to me; the individual plotlines for the Disney worlds. This is a general personal problem I already with the series lately, as it feels like it doesn't give enough TLC to the Disney worlds, but it's particularly noticeable here. In the original Kingdom Hearts, plotlines from the original Disney movies were butchered a little so they could fit better in the game's framework; well, here, the same thing has been done, but it feels like instead of taking the raw stories from the original films, they took the stories from KH1, as all the Disney worlds here were seen there, and butchered THOSE to fit in THIS game's framework. It's essentially the effect of making a photocopy of a photocopy, and I often found myself wanting to push through all the half-baked drivel in the Disney worlds to get to the more interesting story content in-between the Disney worlds. Honestly, I feel like I shouldn't be feeling this way about these parts of the game. Everything should be enjoyable.
All in all, the game still has a beating heart and a well-weaved plotline to follow, but some weak points hold it back from the level of the original game.
So, what's the verdict? The game is interesting to me, because I feel like in almost all of its areas, it excels in at least one thing but lacks or just feels meh in some other portion of that area. Due to this, the game sags and feels somewhat inconsistent. This game's strengths lie in the strategic battle system, its ability to push your tiny GBA to the breaking point with things like CG cutscenes, and the great continuation of Kingdom Hearts. I would recommend this game first and foremost to Kingdom Hearts fans, and then to people that enjoy strategic gameplay like that seen in the card battling. To everybody else, I'd honestly skip this one.
Thanks for reading!