The Kingdom Hearts games touched the lives of many gamers around the world and became an immensely popular franchise. To date the series has collectively sold more than 25 million units across all platforms that have included a game in the franchise. The recurring themes of friendship and self-discovery are what made the alliance between Disney and Square Enix into a successful collaboration.
Join me as I open the door to each game in the Kingdom Hearts series and explore why many gamers have so much for love them. This is my definitive retrospective of the Kingdom Hearts series. In case you missed it, check out Part 1 here!
The impact that the first Kingdom Hearts game had on me and the rest of the world was undeniably massive. After playing the game multiple times on my PlayStation 2 console like so many others, I wanted to see more. It wasn’t until two years after the original game released that I discovered news of a direct sequel coming out in December of 2004 for North America. I thought to myself I would finally be able to see Sora and his friends again in an all new adventure that would be just as good as the last game. However, this sequel to Kingdom Hearts was not how I had imagined it in my head at the time.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was a direct sequel to the first game, but was released on the Game Boy Advance instead of the PlayStation 2. The visual style was different than before, despite having cutscenes that tried to emulate those from the first Kingdom Hearts. When marketing for the game first began running in magazines and commercials, I was puzzled at the drastic changes to the game I had become enamored with two years prior.
A lot of changes were happening back then, including the rebranding of Squaresoft, which became Square Enix a year earlier after a big company merge. The Game Boy Advance was a great system that hosted a library of fantastic games, but was nowhere near as powerful as the PlayStation 2.
The biggest disappointments back then were changes to the core gameplay that everyone loved. The action in Chain of Memories was still done in real time like the last game, but was tied to a new card system that everyone hated. In the game, players could travel around maps and encounter enemies that initiate a battle sequence, much like random encounters in older Final Fantasy titles.
Once a battle started you could freely move and attack enemies, provided you had an attack card queued up within a customized deck of actions. This was the reason that fans became so turned off by Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. It felt like the freedom of action and flow from the previous game was gone. Without the proper attack or spell card in hand, you couldn’t execute the actions that you wanted at a specific moment.
The battle system was such a big change that many long-time fans wrote off Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories as an unimportant spinoff game. This wasn’t the case however when observing the game’s story. The events that transpire in Chain of Memories take place right after the ending of Kingdom Hearts, which also eventually would lead directly into the beginning of the big sequel that would come later on. Back then, I was one of the many hardcore fans that pushed through all of the gripes I had in order to see everything through to the end.
I felt that while the gameplay was completely not what I expected, this was still a Kingdom Hearts game in both storytelling and presentation despite being on the Game Boy Advanced. I furiously pushed through the annoying boss fights and confusing deck building in order to see all of the FMV cutscenes that looked similar to the previous game. The journey through Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was a huge headache for me, but well worth getting all of the plot points that would tie directly into Kingdom Hearts 2.
Years later in 2008, Chain of Memories would be remade on the PlayStation 2 in the form of Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories. The remake of the game went back to the aesthetic of the original Kingdom Hearts, but maintained the card battle system from the Game Boy Advanced version. This was two years after the release of Kingdom Hearts 2, which helped give the game more contexts into the series as a whole.
When I finally played RE: Chain of Memories, I didn’t have any more appreciation for what the game had to offer, despite the visual overhaul. The battle system was still the same as before, confusing and out of place for the series. I loved that the cinematic presentation of the story was back to how things were before, but that didn’t make the game any better or more fun to play through.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is mostly looked at as the outcast child of the entire series. Much of this was due to Square Enix trying new ideas to satisfy everyone before releasing the real sequel. The story in Chain of Memories is definitely important for fans, as many prominent characters from later titles make their first appearance here. Had the battle system of Chain of Memories been similar to original game, then the reception may have been more positive.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was not a terrible game, but its release was completely overshadowed by the growing anticipation of the next big entry into the series.
Remember playing through Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories? Like the PlayStation 2 remake better than the Game Boy Advance version? Leave us a comment below and tell us how you feel!