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Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was a GBA game released back in 2004 meant to fill the gap between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. This re-mastered version for the PS2 was released in Japan with the Final Mix version of Kingdom Hearts II (for free). As the Final Mix versions of the Kingdom Hearts games will probably never come to the US, Square Enix decided to release it as a separate game with a $20 price tag. So, is it worth it?
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Kingdom Hearts: RE: Chain of Memories takes place directly after Kingdom Hearts. Sora, Donald and Goofy are still looking for Riku and King Mickey when they stumble across a strange castle, called Castle Oblivion. Upon entering they learn that they must forget in order to remember. The deeper they move into the castle, the more their memories slip away. The mysterious black hooded figures who run Castle Oblivion want something from Sora, but what is it?
The story is pretty interesting (and I'm not going to give away any spoilers). It is the same as the GBA version, and it really bridges the gap between the two games. If you try to play Kingdom Hearts II without playing Chain of Memories, you'll be pretty lost.
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Kingdom Hearts: RE: Chain of Memories' gameplay is unlike the other Kingdom Hearts games. The combat is not hack and slash, although it is still in real time. You see, the combat, like everything else in Castle Oblivion is controlled by cards. That's right. Cards. So, in order to do almost anything you need the cards. Want to open a door? You need a card for that. Want to attack? Card. Cast a spell? Card. Heal? Card. You get the idea. Even the worlds you travel to inside of Castle Oblivion are controlled by cards.
You start out with a basic deck and it will grow from there. You can collect cards throughout any of the world rooms in Castle Oblivion by either hitting random objects, defeating enemies, opening chests or buying them from moggles.
Since everything is dependent on cards you really have to build your deck with care. The cards all have a number and the higher the number the stronger the card. Since even enemies have to play a card to attack you, the high card wins. So if you play a 3 and they play a 5, they hit you. If you play a 9, you hit them. You can even do multiple attacks by stringing 3 cards together (or buy special attacks when you level up). However, the 0 is the most powerful card in the deck. It can break any card, including a 9-9-9, if you play it at the right time.
Entering rooms is also dependent on cards and their numbers. In each world (you go to pretty much the same worlds as you do in Kingdom Hearts) there are a number of doors. In order to get in the doors you have cards (with number values) that you must use. Each door has a number assigned to if and you'll need a card that corresponds in some way to open the door. Be careful though, because the kind of card you choose to open the door with determine what is on the other side. There are cards for lots of enemies, few enemies, moggles and so on.
While it seems like a lot to take in at first, it gets easier the longer you do it. It does remove some of the freedom of just pounding away at enemies with Sora's Keyblade, but it also adds a nice bit of strategy to something that could just resort to button mashing.
The control scheme is similar to the other Kingdom hearts games. You control Sora with the left joy stick and the camera with the right. The left and right buttons control your deck, X is jump and O is attack. It feels pretty natural after you get used to it.
Also, the game has a pretty high replay value, sort of. Once you finish it playing as Sora, you can play it in reverse mode as Riku. Pretty cool!
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Graphics and Sound
The graphics in Kingdom Hearts: RE: Chain of Memories are very similar to those in the first Kingdom Hearts. Sora is supposed to be 14 still, so he's back in the lovely red jumpsuit (does anyone else think he stole it from Mario?). Since the original was for the GBA, in all it's 2D glory, the PS2 version is fully realized 3D, but the worlds are a bit sparse. There isn't really much to look at as all room kind of mesh together.
Sound wise, we have been here before. Kingdom Hearts: RE: Chain of Memories has very few new songs. It just rehashes the ones from Kingdom Hearts. However, the music from Kingdom Hearts is good, so I can't complain. Voice wise, the same actors are back, but the voices seem out of place at times. Maybe it is because Sora is supposed to be younger but Haley Joel Osment was older while doing Kingdom Hearts: RE: Chain of Memories. Also, some of the Organization XIII members sound off. It could just be the localization, but a lot of the time the dialogue sounds forced.
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This is a matter of debate. I love the Kingdom Hearts games. I love the Zelda style fighting and the freedom to wail on enemies to my hearts content, and Kingdom Hearts: RE: Chain of Memories doesn't give me that. However, it offers up something unique and interesting. You actually have to think about designing your deck of cards and how you will use them in combat, and if you like that sort of thing you'll love this. The fighting system is unique and really fun, once you get the hang of it, and the story is a must for any Kingdom Hearts fan. I really love this game, if only for the innovation, and wish they would make others in a similar vein.
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$20 isn't bad for Kingdom Hearts: RE: Chain of Memories for the PS2. The game is long enough to keep you busy for a good 20+ hours and Riku's part is just as engaging as Sora's (maybe more so, depending on whom you like more). While it was free in Japan, I'm just happy Square Enix even released it over here. So, give it a try and go get your fill of Kingdom Hearts. You have to get ready for 358/2 Days on the DS, don't you?