Remembering Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories (2004, Game Boy Advance)

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Chain of Memories is the very first portable adventure in the Kingdom Hearts series. This game explores old locations we bashed our way through in Kingdom Hearts 1 but with some fun new twists wrapped around an new story for Sora, Donald & Goofy to overcome.
A spike-haired boy wearing red clothes and yellow shoes, with a chain and a large key attached to his belt, holds a pack of cards. Said cards are mostly rectangular, with three spikes at the top. On the background are various cutouts shaped like the cards, featuring other characters of the game.
Noted as one of the more divisive games in the series but despite that Chain of Memories is a game that started the series portable run strongly. Through using an interesting combat system, great pixel art and a surprising decent story, this title is a new take on Kingdom Hearts that does a good deal right.

Memories of Development

The game started production not long after the original release of Kingdom Hearts and with plans for a console sequel, the team wanted to explain why Sora would be de-powered at the start of the next adventure.

The idea for an intermediary title was developed after director Tetsuya Nomura and his team had already begun to develop ideas for the second Kingdom Hearts game, which he had intended to be set a year after the original. Originally titled Kingdom Hearts: Lost Memories, Nomura changed the name to match the overall outline of the story, while still reflecting the theme of memories. Chain of Memories was developed to bridge the gap between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Like most sequels, Kingdom Hearts II was planned to have the character start from the beginning, ability-wise. To explain the loss of abilities gained in the previous game, Nomura had the story revolve around Sora’s memories getting corrupted and implemented the card battle system to symbolize Sora’s various memories.

In addition to this goal, they wanted to give younger gamers the ability to play a portable Kingdom Hearts title, as that was a request many children had after the release of Kingdom Hearts 1. Considering the series lighter tone compared to Final Fantasy and how the series had Disney icons joining up with you, its a natural fit for Nintendo platforms.

Sketch with a spike-haired boy holding a large key facing two black creatures with shiny eyes. One is humanoid, wears a body suit, clawed gloves, shoes that end in spiral toes and a helmet with a curled tip, which resembles the head of a monster. The other is a floating conical blob wearing a robe with a jagged collar and a conical hat with a curled tip. At the left are icons representing the player's deck.

Some interesting pieces of development history include the fact that the Tarzan world from Kingdom Hearts 1, Deep Jungle, legally could not appear in Chain of Memories as Disney did not own the rights to use the IP anymore (as its a public-domain IP). Another fun piece of development is that the core KH’s team wasn’t the only ones on board making this adventure; Jupiter helped out with development. They later worked with Nomura on the The World Ends with You, using a number of systems Chain of Memories implemented.

The game was shown off at various Japanese trade shows and was later released late 2004 across Japanese and North American markets, with a European release early 2015.

A Lost Story

Sora and Company are traveling down a long road on a quest to find King Mickey and Riku, as both were locked behind the door to Kingdom Hearts at the end of the first game. As they are walking, the see Pluto with holding an letter with Mickey’s face on it. Everyone runs after him but soon night falls.

Donald and Goofy are sleeping by a camp fire while Sora watches guard, and sees a cloaked figure taunting him. He tells him ‘If you want answers, come to the Castle’ and then vanishes. Sora and company continue traveling and bump into a white castle. This castle, is interesting for many reasons, as it has effects on people’s memories.

Sora and everyone enter the castle and the moment they enter, everything is off. Donald forgets all his magical spells, Jimmy Cricket who wrote the a journal collecting the adventures Sora and friends went on, is completely blank. Sora gets very aggressive and questions what the heck is going on but it tossed a card by another clocked figure having the image of Traverse Town.

He holds up the card and BAM, is in the world alone. This continues the story that goes in very confusing directions but it works very well for Sora. He gets more aggressive and angry toward the end of the adventure and seeing Donald & Goofy have more interactions with this agitated Sora was great.

But the biggest success of Chain of Memories was the Organization. These are original characters that we later learn in KHII are called ‘Nobodies’, beings without a heart. That is a bit dumb, considering how much personality they have here and in KHII but lets accept game logic at face value here. I loved Axel’s character and the other members bounce off of Sora very well.

The story had hints and connections to KHII in very clever ways and its highly recommended you play this before jumping into KHII. That doesn’t even mention Riku’s story, which while more lonely compared to Sora’s is still enjoyable and a great unlock when clearing Sora’s adventure.

Card Show Down

The gameplay here is a great twist to the original gameplay systems found in KH, as rather then having a traditional system from that game echo into this GBA adventure, the team took that and expanded on it with a creative card system.

Everything in the game is controlled by cards and each card has a number. Each number has power over lower numbers and 0 numbered cards can cancel out both normal card attacks & combination commands. Combination commands are special abilities you get when you link special cards together, and you do this through matching three cards of a specific type or by a number. For example, by doing a special one with Keyblade Cards, Sora can throw his keyblade which flies back to him.

But you can jump, dodge roll and have a health bar just like the console games and you have full control over how you use your cards (pressing the A Button). You can reload cards by holding down a blank card until its charged up but the more you do this, the longer it takes to reload your cards.

So this system sounds very deep and hard, it is, but its a blast. I loved this combat system and I had a blast playing this on my GBA when I first got this. Chaining special commands, dodge rolling at the right time and unleashing great cards like Cloud and Simba summons were so rewarding.

Donald and Goofy, in addition to other Disney Heroes you meet across the adventure, pop up in the form of cards too, with you being able to chain them just like any other card. Only Donald and Goofy appear in most worlds, with characters like Peter Pan or Jack popping up in there respective worlds.

But you also have the boss cards, which you can use only once per battle and take up a lot of CP (amount of points you have to build your deck) but are great to have. You earn these from beating boss battles and the effects they have can be game-chaining. Running out of Curga cards? Use the Ooogie Boogy Boss Card and you can restore some health.

Riku is very interesting too, as it is the opposite of Sora. Rather then trying to build high number combinations and have a lot of control of your deck, Riku has pre-set decks for every world and you are pushed to use a more limited but powerful set of chain attacks. In addition, you have no healing cards outside of Mickey, so you using Boss Cards (which carry over into every world) is vital for success.

His gameplay is so unique compared to Sora, that it’s so much fun playing the game as him. But the game is hard for both characters, more so if you don’t level up enough (which is mapped to three sections; Card Combinations, Health, Deck Points for Sora for example) and I’m not going to lie here, I remember having far more trouble with this game compared to the original Kingdom Hearts difficulty wise.

Overall, the gameplay here is very solid and very rewarding.

Revisiting Disney Worlds….with Special Cards

So, you are visiting the same worlds again….this going to be a common thing for the series honestly. But the way you explore each world is different compared to the original; instead of exploring a 3D world, you are on a top-down isometric perspective and when you hit a door, you have navigation cards which unlock different kinds of spots.

Healing rooms, treasure rooms, shop rooms and more. Even special rooms that require combinations or special cards to access them. This gives exploration a fun twist and the PS2 remake of Chain of Memories blends the platforming from the original KH’s with this system.

Overall, exploring the worlds is fun and the Disney stories is a bit different compared to the original KH’s. But we get two new worlds; Twilight Town & Castle Oblivion. Both are big hints toward KHII and were great nods to the future of the series.

Kingdom Hearts: Sprite Edition

The original version of Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories is quite impressive honestly. The game has in-engine cut-scenes from the console games that pop up sometimes but the majority of the game’s story i told with sprites and they look great. Very expressive and full of the charm you expect from the KH’s series.

Every location looks like a great ‘What If?’ of the various Disney worlds were built in mind for the GBA instead of the PS2. I loved the look and art style of the game, but musically, its both enjoyable and a bit samey.

A lot of tracks from the original Kingdom Hearts got re-used for this game but this is the first time we hear them with 16-Bit composition. And, it sounds great. I really love the battle theme remixes for worlds like Traverse Town and the new world of Twilight Town. The emotional tracks still hit hard as well, so the game overall is a great package with its presentation. 

Vising a New World, A New Hero in the Future……

Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories is a game that many are mixed on, as some consider it a portable rehash of the original KH’s that was quickly made to tide the wait for KHII while others consider it to be a fun portable RPG on the GBA. I fall into the later camp, as this was my very first Kingdom Hearts title when I was growing up. I loved this game and this re-visit on the title had me respecting the game a lot more.

Taking the 3D mechanics from the console games and making the gameplay work on the GBA is very impressive and the game still looks like Kingdom Hearts. If you want a more 3D take on this game, play the Re: Chain of Memories version found in KH1.5 HD Remix but I highly recommend the GBA version too.

All music used in this article is owned under the copyright of Disney and Square Enix.

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