Cidolfas's RPG Reviews: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (GBA)
It should be noted that this is really two games in one; the main one, where you play as Sora, and a second version, Reverse/Rebirth (or R/R), which becomes available after finishing the first one, and where you play as Riku. The two games are different enough for me to make two different reviews here.
Chain of Memories
You Are: Sora, the island kid from the original KH.
Your Goal Is: To get through Castle Oblivion, in search of Riku and King Mickey.
General System: Cards. Everything is cards. For starters, you can do some levels in different orders (using "world cards"). In each world (or floor), you have a preset map. You can open up different rooms by using "map cards", which you win from enemies. Each map card has a value and a type, and can affect the rooms they create. In the rooms themselves, you can run into enemy fights a la Mario RPG games; you can also smash things to get battle cards, spheres to refill HP, or Moogle Points, which you can spend at Moogle Shops to buy more battle cards. You can quick-save to return at any time to where you are, and you can always continue, so save points are really just HP refilling spots.
Battle System: Sora fights alone against Heartless baddies. Every move he makes (besides moving around) requires a card; attacking, magic, summoning, and healing are all cards. You get battle cards from chests (or other breakables) or Moogle shops. Each card has a value and a CP count. You have a maximum CP (which you can raise as you gain levels), essentially saying how many cards you can carry at once. As for the values, it's like a game of War; if a card is played, a higher-value card can "break" it, a lower-valued one will be thrown away; and an even-valued one will break both cards. A 0-level card can break anything, but can also be broken by anything. When you run out of cards, you have to refill your deck (this takes longer each time you do it).
There are also sleights to take into effect; both you and bosses can store three cards to use in a combo, meaning you can have a card play value of up to 27. Some combos give special effects. However, every time you use a sleight, you lose the first card of it, and it can only be refilled by using item cards. Sleights can also be broken by higher-value sleights or a 0 card. There's also premium cards, which cost less CP but can only be used once per battle. Finally, there are monster cards, of which one can be used at once, giving various effects in battle.
Sora can raise his HP, CP, or learn new sleights when leveling up; only one at a time, though!
Graphics: A cartoony 2D redux of the PS2 version. It's also the first time I've seen FMVs in a handheld game, which would be neat if the FMVs were at all interesting.
Music: Also cartoony reduxes of the PS2 version. There are maybe four new tracks, the rest are all note for note from PS2 (with the exception of one remixed track). Even the ending song is just a low-quality "Simple and Clean".
Story: ALSO remixes of the PS2 version. Gak. Other than the overarching deal with the Organization (whose members are all utterly interchangable and unmemorable), each world is almost exactly like the PS2 version.
Challenge: Very Hard
Length: About 15-20 hours
My Thoughts: I was absolutely shocked by this game. I have never seen such a blatant attempt at making a game that has so little original content. Even the monsters and cards (read items) are identical to the PS2 version. I didn't like the fact that the original made so much use of the Disney movies it referenced; this is much worse. Other than the story, the gameplay is just ridiculous. The battle system is overcomplicated, and needs at least three more buttons than it has to make it enjoyable. If it wasn't a real-time action battle, it'd be one thing; but you have to keep so many things in mind at once that it's just completely untenable. When you have 30 cards, you simply can't flip through 15 of them to find the one you want before the bad guy blasts you. Speaking of which, the difficulty is just plain insane. I found it absolutely impossible to continue without cheating or spending hours leveling up, getting Moogle points, and hoping that I'd randomly buy a card I actually wanted. The map creation is a neat idea, but terribly implemented; if you need a blue 2 card, it can take you hours to get it. Randomness is generally a bad idea, but this is... well, a really bad idea.
Simply put, although I wanted to see what happened to Sora next, this just wasn't worth it.
Overall Rating: 2.5/10
You Are: Riku, Sora's old buddy from KH.
Your Goal Is: To find your way out of Castle Oblivion and get back on track again.
General System: Riku's game is Sora's game scaled down; something like the Richter game in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. However, since this is Square-Enix rather than Capcom, you do get quite a bit more out of this one. Anyway, Riku has a set card deck rather than Sora's constant collection, so you don't have to worry about Moogle Points or shops. The map creation is still there, though.
Battle System: Riku has exactly two kinds of cards: Attack, and High-Potion (which refills his cards and is rarely available). He also has monster cards as mentioned above. He does not have any refill time, which is nice. Unlike Sora, normally he can't use sleights. However, he has one more stat than Sora did: Dark Points (which, along with HP and Attack Points, can be raised at level up). When these fill up to his max (mainly by breaking enemy cards), he becomes Dark Riku, who can stun enemies, attack faster and stronger, and use sleights. However, each time a card is broken or Riku is hurt, his DP go back down until he loses his Dark status.
It should also be noted that Riku has no healing cards, so the only way for him to heal himself is to get HP spheres on the map, using save points, or by using the "friend cards" he can catch during battle.
Graphics/Music: See above.
Story: Even more abbreviated than Sora's version. It's really interesting to see the different storylines and how they mesh, though.
My Thoughts: Although much shorter, this is really a lot more enjoyable than Sora's game. For one thing, Riku is just so much cooler. 8-) He's also much easier to play, as his attack has both wider and longer range (and a satisfying "thunk" sound). There's much less strategy required, so it's more of an all-out attack most of the time, which is truer to the original KH and a lot more fun. Having said that, the final two bosses are still ridiculously hard, and the game really is short. It's nice, but there are much better games out there.
Overall Rating: 6.0/10