Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories review

  • Finally knowing the whole story... sort of
  • Feeling that familiar KH magic
  • Playable Riku
  • Card system makes battle much harder
  • More dungeons = less longevity
  • Plot develops more slowly than in main games

It's hard to believe in this age of shameless annual sequels to everything, but there have only been three games in the mega-successful Kingdom Hearts franchise since it began in 2002 (we're not counting the weird V-cast game). Kingdom Hearts captivated PlayStation 2 gamers clear back in 2002, juxtaposing beloved Disney icons like Mickey Mouse and Peter Pan with a dark, epic role-playing story filled with equally revered characters from publsher Square Enix's games. Kingdom Hearts II followed in 2006, and we're still waiting for the next chapter.

But there was something in between the two - a Game Boy Advance dungeon crawler with the subtitle Chain of Memories, released in 2004 ('05 in Europe). It explained what happened after the first game ended, but before the second game began. However, being on the Game Boy Advance instead of PlayStation 2, many players never got the chance to experience it. Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is the long overdue PlayStation 2 remake of that game, and it is simultaneously very similar to and completely unlike the previous games in the one-of-a-kind series.

Visually, although the production values aren't quite the same, this looks quite similar to Kingdom Hearts II. And although the "levels" are quite a bit smaller, the locations themselves are based upon places you've seen in the first Kingdom Hearts. The musical themes will be familiar, as will most of the characters and a big chunk of story, considering we've already seen the before and after chapters. As returning heroes Sora, Donald and Goofy – as well as Sora’s corrupted former best friend, Riku – you're exploring a magical tower whose various floors resemble Agrabah, Pooh's woods, and so on. And you'll reunite with characters from KH and also meet new folks who stuck around through KH II. It's like reading The Fellowship of the Ring and Return of the King, then going back to the book in the middle, The Two Towers. Kingdom Hearts II's early story sure makes a lot more sense after playing this though, which is nice.

So, what's unfamiliar exactly? The gameplay, which is as different from combat in the other KH games as boxing is from poker. See, the old Kingdom Hearts games featured real-time battles which you won by repeatedly clobbering the bad guys over the head with your fancy keyblade or shoving magic spells up their wazoos. That's still the case, but with a twist; it's not just nimble button fingers and a deft thumb on the analog stick that'll win the day. You also need to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, because everything you do is enabled by a deck of magical cards.

Wanna slam that shadowy-looking dude with your keyblade? Cycle through your deck with the shoulder buttons, and if there's a keyblade card in there, press X and Sora (or Riku, depending upon where you are in the game) will thump him. Want Donald to cast a Fire spell or Goofy to charge some baddies? They're not with you, but they can be summoned to pop in for a special attack if you have a card for it. Out of cards entirely? Hold X to reshuffle your deck.

You’ll need to pay attention to the numbers on the cards as well - if an enemy plays a card against you with a higher number, your attack will be deflected. Luckily, if your cards are too sissy - say, an enemy has all 9s and you've got all 5s - you can "stock" up to three cards and play them all at once, even mixing up attacks and magical spells.

Even the dungeon's population is dictated by your cards. According to the game, the tower is constructing each level based upon your memories - which is a clever way of letting you choose what you're going to see on the other side of most every door. Is it a save point? A room filled with a specific strain of enemy? Or perhaps typical enemies, but twice as many as usual? That all depends upon which card you play at the door. Sure, some doors require a certain card (end-of-level door that lead to boss battles, for instance), so there is some structure in place. But there's a nice bit of leeway for you too, and having some input helps stave off the feeling of tedium you'll eventually get after slaying your millionth darkness minion. More than the other KH games, this is a pure dungeon crawler, so things get stale more quickly than they did before.

Things also get tough. Getting the most out of this card system requires a ton of controller speed, awareness, and constant tactical judgement. This is especially true as things get complicated and you start to unlock fancier cards, swap cards in and out of your deck, and learn "sleights" - special attacks you can trigger by stocking and playing the right combination of cards in the right order.

Because of this - and perhaps also because you don't have Donald and Goofy to help soak up the damage - Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is far and away the hardest game in the series. In fact, it gets downright brutal in a "did it really need to be this sophisticated and inelegant?" kind of way. The battles unfold at the same speed as in other KH games, and the added complexity of having to clumsily shuffle through cards in the midst of battle isn't always welcome.

And yes, we should mention that Japanese players got this game ages ago as a free bonus for buying the fanciest, schmanciest version of Kingdom Hearts II. So, if you're the type to feel indignant about that, go ahead. But then remind yourself that this is the long lost middle Epi/Prologue chapter of your beloved Kingdom Hearts saga, the one you've waited years to play on a system with a screen bigger than two inches across, and bask in the fact that this is still magical and there's still nothing else like it.

Dec 9, 2008

More Info

Release date: Dec 02 2008 - PS2 (US)
Available Platforms: PS2
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Jupiter Corporation
Franchise: Kingdom Hearts
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Fantasy Violence
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending


  • Th3_Gr1m_Re4per - December 11, 2008 7:59 p.m.

    I wish they'd just concentrate on making KH3 on the PS3. They could have the same good graphic they had in the cut-scenes for the entire game. Please Square Enix. Please make KH3!! In the meantime I'll probably play this.
  • white-and-nerdy - December 13, 2008 9:56 p.m.

    God I want this game... And I hope KH3 isn't only for PS3, because I don't have one.
  • animeman - December 16, 2008 2:21 a.m.

    I have the game boy advenced one but I want this one too.
  • theblobpeople1060 - December 17, 2008 6:23 p.m.

    i have played it and i personaly wish that i wouldnt have wasted my money i do have it for both GB and the PS its not all that worth it
  • mackk - January 4, 2009 1:30 a.m.

    is it even multi player?
  • Airsofter390 - January 18, 2009 10:25 a.m.

    I have this game and I've beaten Sora's part and I'm playing Riku's story now. If anyone wants any tips or is considering buying it and want to ask questions about it you can just ask me. It's an awesome Game!=)
  • officercake - January 22, 2009 11:42 a.m.

    I don't really care if this game has a card system or not... sure this makes the game harder but at least u get to know the story and i played the GBA game too ages ago but srsly that SUCKED in my opinion so if u ever consider buying it please buy this one because on gba the graphics are so bad u cant even recognize some of the monsters from KH and KHII but this game seems nice so im surely going to buy it (NOTE: this is my opinion no1 needs to react to this)
  • Awong - December 11, 2008 3:16 a.m.

    no gummi ship should be a pro
  • B-comp89 - December 12, 2008 11:01 p.m.

    I heard Kingdom Hearts 3 is coming out for the PS3 in 2010
  • key0blade - December 13, 2008 1:05 p.m.

    I like the GBA version, less buttons made the controls feel good and tight but IM GETTIN DIS HERE GAME
  • Blastotron - December 15, 2008 2:19 a.m.

    Did KH 2: Final mix ever come out in the USA?
  • kamikaz3e124 - December 20, 2008 3:56 a.m.

    Card system... why did they had to come up with the card system??? I want the old fight system back, but I want to know the story, so it's a one way street. (Besides, there's nothin' better to do...)
  • icelander3000 - January 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

    it's a fine game, except that you need certain cards to open doors. i'm one door away from the end of the game and i need a blue 1 card to open it. you get random cards as a reward from fighting enemies. so it's just luck, and i've fought hundreds of battles and haven't gotten the card to open the door. dumb. and now i'm way leveled up. so i'm done playing it. give me kh3.
  • mackk - January 4, 2009 1:29 a.m.

    man im just scared this one is going to suck thats y i want them to just make kh3 instead of all these side,but i do want to still play these side games like 358/2
  • OrganizationxMember - March 23, 2009 1:32 a.m.

    There Is No "KH3" All The Games Coming Out Are Prequels. 358/2 Days is coming out Summer Of This Year (2009) and Birth By Sleep Is Coming Out later this year probably Winter. 358/2 Days Takes Place right After Kingdom Hearts And Right Before Kingdom Hearts II. Im Pretty Sure Some Of The Storyline Takes Place During The Same Time As Chain Of Memories. Its For The DS, Which I KNow Some People Will Kill The Makers For ( BUT TRUST ME IT HAS PROMISE) Ive been researching the game for a while now and its going to look amazing. You Get to play as ALL of the Organization during Multiplyaer but not sure during the stroy line. Also there is a 14th Organization XIII Member YAY! The Oteher Game ( Birth By Sleep) is going to be out for the PSP and takes place 10 years before Kingdom Hearts I. Both Games look promising so im looking forward to it. And This Game is still AWESOME becuase of fighting the other half of the ORgainzation.
  • pierce000001 - May 7, 2009 6:28 p.m.

    YOU DON'T know nothing about Kingdomhearts i have beaten kindom hearts 1,2 on every difficulty and collected every thing inboth games. Then Kindom hearts chain of memories i have beaten on evry difficulty with sora and riku and collected every thing i know every single thing about those the kingdom hearts and i will know about the three other games that sora will be in like kingdomhearts 3 for playstation 3, kindom hearts 2 + and the kindom hearts vs mario games that they are creating i will beat and own all kindom hearts games and i will know every thing about kingdom hearts.I LOVE KINGDOMHEARTS WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING!!!!!!
  • thatTWINKY - December 9, 2008 11:09 p.m.

    1st man its been so long sence i played a kingdon hearts game....
  • Spidergonzo - December 10, 2008 3:01 a.m.

    Yeah I know how you feel. I remember the first time I played Kingdom Hearts... it was amazing :) And when i played the second one, I had an amazing feeling I can't even describe...yeah that sounds really dorky :P But yeah, I wonder when they're making the next chapter?
  • hybrid616 - September 24, 2009 9:42 p.m.

    wait... Re: CoM got released in the US!? is it out in the UK? if not, will it be out here at all?
  • mattdrew47 - October 24, 2010 6:37 p.m.

    i have this game and its kinda borin because u have to use cards to fight with

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