Oh boy. Chain of Memories. I must say I wasn’t looking forward to replaying this one for the retrospective. Chain of Memories takes everything from the first game and throws it away in favor of a card battling system and an even more complex story than the first game. It first debuted in 2004 on the Game Boy Advance handheld, then was re-released as Re:Chain of Memories in 2007 on the PlayStation 2 as part of the Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix+ package in Japan and as a standalone in North America in 2008, then was ported to the PlayStation 3 in 2013 as part of the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix package, and then finally ported once again to the PlayStation 4 as part of the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 & 2.5 Remix package in 2017. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I will be going off the Re:Chain of Memories version of the game, as it is in full 3D and I preferred that over the handheld version. A lot of events referenced here were discussed in Part 1 of this retrospective, so be sure to read that before going any further.
Now, to begin, let’s go over the story. The game takes place immediately after the events of the first game, with our lovable trio of heroes (Sora, Donald, and Goofy) coming across a hooded man who leads them to a castle in the middle of nowhere. Honestly it’s never explained exactly where they are outside of being in a castle or how the hell they got to this world where the castle resides. Plot holes, they’re a pain in the ass. Anyways, the gang enters the castle (named Castle Oblivion, another word that pops up in this game countless times to the point of annoyance) and immediately notices they’ve lost all their abilities from the first game. The hooded man reappears and explains that the castle is built in such a way that the further they go inside, the more memories they’ll lose but also the more memories they’ll gain. Sleeping memories, as they’re referred to. Apparently floor one is the loss of abilities. It’s one of those cheap mechanics that reoccurs in a lot of games popularized by the Metroid series. It allows the player to start fresh and not be overpowered, and honestly this is one of the better ways I’ve seen it done as it ties into the concept of the castle. The hooded man hands Sora a deck of cards from the gang’s memories and explains how everything they do and see in this castle is gonna be based on said memories. I have a LOT to say about the cards, but we’ll get to that in the gameplay section.
Sora and the gang fight their way through each floor of the castle, fighting against other hooded people along the way in between floors and worlds (the worlds come back, but honestly they’re inconsequential to the story as the key points take place in between floors). These hooded figures belong to a group known as the Organization. We get bits and pieces of their story here, but most of it is explained in the next game so we’ll tackle them in greater detail then. The first one you meet is Axel, who you battle as a test of strength. He warns Sora that awakening these sleeping memories might cause him to no longer be himself, but Sora and the gang carry on despite this.
The first key plot twist happens here, as Sora begins to forget his friends. The first one he forgets is Kairi, but before he can short his brain out anymore the next member of the Organization, Larxene, appears. She forces Sora to remember his friend’s name, but it’s not Kairi. It’s Naminé. This is when shit starts hitting the fan as it’s hinted that someone is messing with Sora’s memories and putting some fake thoughts in his head to replace the real ones. You fight her, you win, you get more cards, we’re moving on.
You encounter Riku, except it’s not really Riku; it’s a replica. That’ll be explained here soon. The Riku Replica says he’s sworn to protect Naminé and will challenge you multiple times throughout this journey for the right to protect her.
Around the time you reach the tenth floor of this insane castle, you meet Vexen, another member of this organization. He tries to destroy you, but you emerge victorious and receive access to a new world. This is where the worlds you take on each floor actually becomes a storyline necessity unlike the previous ones. You enter a new place called Twilight Town, which we know Sora’s never been to but with the memories being messed with and rearranged it feels familiar to Sora. There’s a reason for this, but it won’t be explained in detail till a later game. This series has a habit of doing this, and it’s annoying as hell. Anyways at the end of this new world, you encounter Vexen again. You defeat him yet again, and Vexen decides to try and spill the beans on the plans of this Organization. But before he can say anything, Axel reappears and kills him to silence him for good.
A quick tangent, the Organization I’m referring to in this game isn’t the complete Organization. This is just a few of them, there’s thirteen in all though. The two in charge here, Marluxia and Larxene, have hatched a plan to overthrow the Organization and take control for themselves. Their plan is to have Sora’s memories changed and altered so he can become an unwitting pawn in this. It’s complicated and honestly I still don’t fully understand everything but that’s the gist of it.
Back on topic though, Sora fights the Riku Replica yet again and finally meets Naminé. Here’s where the core plot twist of the game finally hits. Naminé was never part of Sora’s memories, and there’s another girl who he made a promise to. That’s Kairi, if you weren’t keeping up with everything, though I honestly won’t blame you if you’re lost. Anyways, Riku tries to finish off Sora, but Namine breaks the Replica’s heart with her powers. Larxene appears and reveals the Replica was a fake created by Vexen and explains Naminé’s ability to manipulate memories. She threatens Naminé which seriously pisses off Sora. You fight Larxene one more time, and this time when you defeat her you end up killing her. Moving on to the final floor, you finally meet Marluxia. He was the figure you met in the beginning that brought you here. Naminé explains that if you can defeat Marluxia, everything can be put back to normal and fixed. Elsewhere, Axel has decided he’s going to stop Marluxia from overthrowing the Organization and clashes with him. Marluxia threatens to use Naminé as a shield which makes Sora step in. For some reason, Sora fights Axel (he doesn’t die though) and then moves on further into the castle. You fight Marluxia (finally) and upon killing him Naminé tells Sora he can either keep his memories of this castle or lose them and regain all his former memories. This would also mean forgetting Naminé. Sora chooses the latter, and the gang are placed in special sleeping pods to rest while she does the fixing. Sora ends up remembering Kairi, which is the key for Naminé to begin fixing the memories.
That’s the end of Sora’s story, but now we’re onto the Reverse/Rebirth story featuring Riku as the playable character. This one is much shorter. Riku’s main plot point is he’s still fighting with Ansem inside of his heart after the events of the first game. He must fight off that remaining darkness. Along for the ride is King Mickey, who helps Riku throughout the adventure. Riku climbs up the castle from the basement as he meets members of the Organization. He first encounters Vexen, who uses their fight to gather the info he needs to create the Riku Replica in Sora’s story. You’ll confront this Replica soon afterwards, who retreats to go fight Sora. The next member you’ll meet is Lexaeus. Lexaeus appears to kill Riku, but Riku uses the darkness inside of him to revive and kills Lexaeus instead. You then meet Zexion, who tries to trick you with illusions. Riku breaks free of these illusions and defeats him, but before you can kill him he retreats. That doesn’t last long though, as Zexion encounters Axel and the Riku Replica, the latter of which proceeds to kill Zexion. Riku then meets DiZ, who gives him the choice between meeting Naminé and following Sora’s path into sleep or continuing the fight against the darkness inside of him. Riku chooses to fight the darkness and continues on. You clash with the Replica one more time and defeat him, causing the Replica to fade away. You move on to the final floor, confronting Ansem one last time to finally defeat the darkness. You triumph and meet DiZ once more who offers you two paths: a path to light and a path to darkness. Riku rejects both, choosing the path in the middle, the path to dawn.
With that, the story is over. And I can FINALLY bitch about the gameplay. It sucks. The card battling gameplay is horrible. You use cards to attack and heal and everything else, but it’s not turn based. It’s real time action RPG combat using cards. The cards can run out and then you have to replenish them. That takes longer each time, so you’ll end up getting hit during the recharge more likely than not. Each card also has a number, 0-9, and the higher number can defeat the lower numbers and break the lower card, negating the attack. The 0 card can trump all numbers, but it can be countered with any card if that card is played after the 0 card is played. It’s an entirely stupid mechanic and there’s really no redeeming factor to it. Sora can edit his deck and find newer cards to to make his deck stronger, meanwhile Riku cannot and gets a set deck throughout each floor. Riku has it easier, in my opinion, as you only have to worry about winning and not deck management. You can also combine cards (up to three at once) for a sleight, which replace the abilities from the first game.
During Sora’s adventure, he fights solo throughout the entire game. Donald and Goofy are limited to cards he can use to attack enemies. Summoning cards, if you will. Donald will do his random magic spells and Goofy will attack with his shield. You can also summon other helpful allies like Simba, Pluto, and Bambi among others. This gets even deeper when you combine these cards with other attacks for combos and special attacks, but that would take too long to explain. It doesn’t make the battles any better, and you will end up hating this trash gameplay. It’s frustrating, inconsistent, and honestly ruins the game for me at times. If it wasn’t for the story, this game would be entirely skippable just for that alone.
So how does Chain of Memories hold up? Honestly, just watch the story on YouTube. The gameplay is not worth subjecting yourself to. It’s a shame, because the story in this game is one of the best in the series to date. It’s dark, compelling, and gripping to the very end. It’s disheartening that the gameplay is such an absolute drag that brings down the entire experience.
Next time in our retrospective, we’re heading back to the gameplay of the first game with the true sequel, Kingdom Hearts 2. Until then though, I’ll see you next time!