The love child of Disney and Square Enix now has a new sibling. Developed by Jupiter in conjunction with Square Enix, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories will serve as a vital story link between its predecessor, the PlayStation 2 hit Kingdom Hearts, and its upcoming sequel, Kingdom Hearts II. In fact, the development team of this portable adventure includes those who are working to bring Kingdom Hearts II to life: producers Yoshinori Kitase and Shinji Hashimoto, director Tetsuya Nomura, and battle planner Yuuichi Kanemori.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories begins with a video sequence where Sora encounters a figure in a black cloak at a crossroads. This mysterious but helpful person tells him that just ahead on the path is something Sora needs, but in order to obtain it he must lose something. Soon Sora, Donald, and Goofy wander into Castle Oblivion, an enigmatic stronghold where they learn that they have lost their memories and skills gained through the events of Kingdom Hearts. Their only hope of restoring their facilities is to explore and conquer Castle Oblivion, which is divided into different levels. Each level will transport them to a memorable locale from Kingdom Hearts, ranging from Wonderland to Halloween Town.
The keys to Castle Oblivion are special cards; each one possesses a unique power. They can be found throughout the castle in chests, barrels, and the remains of enemies. While exploring, players use cards to open the door to the next room of each level; their choice of cards determines what sort of room lies beyond the door. They may create a den of monsters, where Heartless may be either alert and aggressive or peacefully snoozing as Sora creeps by. They may opt for a quiet room where they can collect treasure or save the game, or they may use a Moogle card to generate a Moogle shop where they can trade cards. Ultimately the goal of each level is two-fold; players should seek the keys to unlock the story room and the boss room.
Upon encountering a foe, Sora is transported to a separate arena where he must defeat all the enemies to escape. Cards also play important roles here. In each encounter, players are dealt a hand of cards from their preconstructed deck. They must select cards in certain combinations to execute keyblade skills or cast magic. Keyblade cards can be stacked to create elaborate melee onslaughts, while magic cards can be stacked into stronger spells. Other cards bestow bonuses, such as increased speed or health regeneration. Even though Sora explores the castle alone, he can use cards to summon Donald, Goofy, and other familiar faces to his aid in battle. Summons from Kingdom Hearts, such as Tinkerbell, Simba, and Dumbo, are also available in Chain of Memories. These summons can be boosted by attack and magic cards as well.
Naturally, battling requires a suitable arsenal of cards. As mentioned earlier, decks are custom built outside of battle. Players can stack the decks in their favor by building effective card combos into the pile. They may also wish to build themed decks that are strong in magic or melee. Up to three decks can be saved, which means players can have different types of decks at their disposal.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories calls upon the true strength of the Game Boy Advance to power its pivoting backgrounds, close-ups, and special effects. Early impressions indicate that filling the screen with friends, enemies, and exploding attacks does not cause the GBA to falter. The highly touted FMV sequences should also deliver satisfying eye candy throughout the game. Detailed and fully animated sprites also enhance the visual experience. Most of the dialogue is in text form and the FMV sequences are subtitled, but players should expect a few audible outbursts from the characters.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories promises to be more than a mere rehash of the original's storyline. Instead, it is a reshaping of past events and an introduction to what lies ahead.