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   Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories - Reader Review  

Re:Cycling
by Harrison Gallen

PLATFORM
PS2
BATTLE SYSTEM
4
INTERACTION
4
ORIGINALITY
2
STORY
2
MUSIC & SOUND
3
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Hard
COMPLETION TIME
20-40 Hours
OVERALL
3.0/5
+ Card battling/room customization can be fun.
+ Good control.
+ Rebirth/Reverse mode.
- A bit difficult, even on Beginner mode.
- Infantile plot.
- Recycled music and graphics.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Square/Square-Enix, during the Playstation 2 era, developed a nasty habit of releasing enhanced special editions of high-profile releases such as Final Fantasy XII but then keeping them in Japan, despite calling them "international" versions. Among the most recent recipients of this treatment was Kingdom Hearts II, with its “international” version including a full 3-D remake of the Gameboy Advance interquel Chain of Memories. Over a year after the special edition's release, some genius at Square-Enix's American branch thought it would be cute to localize only the remake, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories, which regardless is an improvement over the GBA version, in spite of plenty of rehashed content.

   Cards are the name of the game in Re:Chain of Memories, with the player, after the opening sequences, receiving a number of World Cards allowing them to choose which area from the first game to revisit in between floors at Castle Oblivion. Each world has a certain number of rooms that require special Map Cards, gained from winning battles, to open. Map Cards are numbered 0 through 9, with locked rooms requiring certain card numbers to access, and these cards customizing these rooms, having effects such as providing the room a save point, doing preemptive damage to all enemies before a battle starts if Sora strikes a wandering Heartless first, and so forth.

   Depending upon the type of Map Card used to unlock a room, Heartless may or may not wander about, and coming into contact with them will take the player to a separate screen for combat. If Sora strikes a Heartless first with his Keyblade, all enemies will be temporarily stunned (and can take preliminary damage with a certain type of Map Card), but otherwise, foes will be instantly ready for action. In Re:Chain of Memories, Sora battles Heartless with a deck of cards the player can customize outside battle, and which come in five different types: Attack Cards, Magic Cards, Item Cards, Friend Cards, and Enemy Cards.

   Sora has two main stats: his HP, representing his health, and CP, which indicates how many cards he can have in a deck. Cards are numbered 0 through 9, with Attack Cards representing Sora's different types of Keyblades, and likely seeing the greatest use. The player can string together Attack Cards into combos of up to three strikes, with enemies also using cards of their own numbered 0 through 9. If Sora is using a card of a higher value than the enemy's card, then the enemy's card will deflect off of Sora's, although a higher-valued card will "break" his card and cancel his attack, with cards of a lower value he uses also deflecting off the enemy's card.

   However, cards with a value of zero can break any card, although zero cards themselves are vulnerable to breakage by Sora and the enemy. In defense against enemy breaks, the player can "stock" up to three cards and execute them in a combo called a Sleight, although after doing so, the player will lose use of the first card in the Sleight for the rest of the battle. Many bosses will make notable use of Sleights, though fortunately, zero cards can break through these as well. If the player runs out of cards in the heat of battle, Sora will need to stand and "charge" for some time to replenish his supply, with subsequent charges taking longer.

   In addition to Attack Cards are Magic Cards that, true to their name, let Sora cast various types of magic, and sometimes even let him cast summon spells. However, since summons tend to have long animations and are easily broken by Heartless, it's usually a good idea to use them in Sleights, which can actually help clear large sets of enemies easily late in the game. Item Cards, furthermore, provide various effects such as instantly reloading specific types of cards (or all of them, in some cases), and have one-time use in a battle.

   Friend Cards randomly bounce around the battlefield, allowing Sora to summon Donald, Goofy, or a world-exclusive companion into battle for a certain effect, and which, given their recurring appearances, can be useful in Sleights. Enemy Cards, mainly gained by defeating bosses, and which, unlike other card types, don't have numbers, can provide temporary effects such as increasing Sora's attack damage. Attack and Magic Cards, moreover, can come in Premium varieties, requiring less CP to use in a deck but only having one-time use in battle, unless the player uses them as the second or third card in a Sleight.

   When Sora kills a Heartless, it drops crystals that give him experience, allowing him to level up occasionally. After leveling, the player can choose to increase Sora's maximum HP or CP, or have him learn a new Sleight if one becomes available. Outside battle, Sora can break boxes and other objects for HP-recovering balls and Moogle Points (which the player can acquire in battle thanks to a specific Friend Card in one world), the latter of which players can use in Moogle Rooms created with special Map Cards to purchase new battle cards.

   All in all, Re:Chain of Memories' battle system has plenty of variety and strategy, with normal fights typically being fast-paced and ending even more quickly if the player uses certain Sleights. Boss fights, on the other hand, are generally tougher (even on Beginner mode) and will end quickly either in the player's favor or the boss's favor. The experience system can definitely hurt the pace of combat, since experience crystals disappear if not collected quickly enough, but advancing through worlds isn't as much of a problem as in the original version, what with the addition of Random Joker cards that can fulfill any condition necessary to unlock a room.

   Combat is somewhat different in Reverse/Rebirth mode, accessed when the player completes the main game once. Riku fights with cards like Sora, although his decks are fixed and consist almost entirely of Attack Cards and Enemy Cards, with his battles requiring less strategy, and a special D-Mode greatly increasing his power. When he levels, the player can increase his maximum HP, Dark Points (indicating how long he can stay in D-Mode), or, when available, Attack Power. All in all, combat in Re:Chain of Memories can be daunting, especially on higher difficulty settings, but the endless variety and strategy can provide plenty of fun.

   Control in Re:Chain of Memories is decent, with easy menus and the always-convenient ability to pause and skip cutscenes. There is some issue during exploration of rooms, since Sora will automatically target the nearest object or wandering Heartless, which can make it hard for him to get the initiative against enemies. Otherwise, the remake is generally a user-friendly game.

   As was the case with the original Chain of Memories, the Playstation 2 remake recycles heavily from the first Kingdom Hearts. Most of the soundtrack, the graphics, and the plot come from the first installment, and even the gameplay, despite being card-based, can feel like something of a retread, given the return of most of Sora's abilities. The system of unlocking rooms through cards is also mildly reminiscent of the Virus Core system in the .hack games, although the customization of these rooms is somewhat inventive. Overall, Re:Chain of Memories is more or less the epitome of derivative.

   As the story mostly resembles that in the first Kingdom Hearts, it naturally bequeaths many of its shortcomings, compounded by those in this particular iteration. For one, a castle that inflicts amnesia unto all who enter is perhaps one of the lamest plot devices in RPG history, as is the fact that the main characters spend most of the game trying to remember what exactly took place in its predecessor. Most of the worlds and events from the first game recur in Re:Chain of Memories (except Tarzan's world, with no explanation whatsoever), with the appearances of the Final Fantasy and Disney characters being pointless cameos, adding nothing to the stories of their respective games or movies.

   While the game does interrupt the retreads of these worlds with scenes involving Organization XIII, its members end up being about as complex as Snidely Whiplash, and the constant attempts by Sora, Donald, and Goofy to try to remember the first game's events go to show how trite a plot concept amnesia can be. Riku's side of the story, though, is more interesting than Sora's (which really serves little purpose other than to tie into Kingdom Hearts II in the end), focusing far more on the game's original characters, but ultimately, the plot takes itself far too seriously, and clashes with the general comic nature of many of Walt Disney's beloved creations.

   The remake also recycles much of the first game's soundtrack, which is okay, if a tad annoying at times. New to the Playstation 2 remake, however, is voice acting during cutscenes between worlds; post-pubescent Haley Joel Osment reprises his role as Sora, and does a decent job, along with the other actors, despite many irritating awkward pauses in the dialogue, likely to make the voices match with the lips. It can also be somewhat odd to hear the voices of Donald and Goofy in a game essentially devoid of comedy, but the aurals still serve their purpose, if nothing more.

   Also recycled from the original Kingdom Hearts are the graphics, with the environments from most of the worlds in the first game reused, being a bit more repetitive in Re:Chain of Memories given the similar appearance of many of the customizable rooms. They've also aged somewhat poorly and don't look particularly good on an HD television, with the cutscene graphics, for instance, actually looking a tad worse than the gameplay visuals, with a general degree of fuzziness. All in all, since the Playstation 2 era is steadily drawing to an end, the game could have looked somewhat better.

   Sora's quest of Re:Chain of Memories is about twenty to thirty hours long, depending upon how much level-grinding the player needs to perform, although Riku's side of the story is significantly shorter, taking less than ten hours, with less grinding required.

   All in all, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories is an enjoyable remake, with its fun card systems in particular standing out, although it can certainly be daunting at times, and it recycles heavily from the original Kingdom Hearts. The added voice acting helps the remake feel more like the first game and its true sequel, but the rehashed plot in particular often makes it feel like a retread. As in the GBA version, Reverse/Rebirth is perhaps the high point of the interquel, though the game will likely only appeal to diehard fans of the series, and it's still baffling why Square-Enix decided to release it outside Japan as a standalone title instead of providing North American players the complete "international" version of Kingdom Hearts II, which would have taken less time to translate.

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