Kingdom Hears may or may not have one of the most convoluted storylines of a franchise ever, depending on who you ask. However complicated that is, there’s no denying that the game has produced fantastic music throughout the years. That being the case, the logical next step was quite clear – to gather the best bits of the musical score and produce… drum roll please… a rhythm game.
Yep. The latest Kingdom Hearts game to hit your screens isn’t an action-RPG, nor is it a mobile game, or even a *gasp* gacha game. Taking a cue from Final Fantasy Theatrhythm from way back 2012, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is the latest from Square Enix that takes us back to the world of Sora, Kairi, and the rest of the gang, allowing us to recall and relive our memories of the series while enjoying all of its iconic tunes.
A demo of the game was released early last month and while we thought that it definitely had something that fans of rhythm games and of the series should check out, it also seemed to be a very niche experience that might not appeal to a wider audience.
It has ‘Simple and Clean’
One has to note that Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is actually canon to the KH storyline, and this entry in the series happens after the events of Kingdom Hearts III. If you’re a Kingdom Hearts veteran, you should know by now that with this entry being canon, there is something important in this game that you will not want to miss, unless you want to mess up your understanding of the story thus far. A canon rhythm game, who would have thought?
The premise is simple (and clean) – Kairi is on the search for Sora and by searching through his memories, might be able to find a clue on his whereabouts.
Apart from the game bearing the title of this well known IP, one thing that Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory headlines is its collection of over 140 songs. Pair it with some of the most well known Disney tracks like “Let it Go” and “Part of Your World” and you’ve got quite the list. There are also various appearances from beloved Disney characters here, some of which will serve as your party member in during select sequences.
The game has a LOT of tracks for you to get lost in, spread out across “worlds”. Progression in the game is simple – you play a track, meet certain objectives, gain stars per objective met, and move on to the next track. It all feels very natural, with the difficulty progressing at a steady pace, giving you access to the huge library of tunes as you unlock each by playing through them. I almost never played through a track for more than once, which speaks to the mostly casual approach of this title. You’ll even get rewarded with collectibles such as art cards, character cards, and much more per track that you finish, which makes finishing everything pretty rewarding.
You won’t get to choose your favorite track right away, as you’ll have to earn them through various means. Nothing too complicated, and you’ll literally just play and play until you unlock the whole track list. This might be a turn-off for others, as some rhythm games will have everything unlocked from the get go, so you’ll have to work quite a bit to get to that track you’ve been looking out for.
I’m no genius when it comes to the ins and outs of the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack, but you can bet your Keyblade that your favorite track is included in the game. Yes, Simple and Clean and Sanctuary is also here, and it probably makes it a sure buy for some just because of those 2 songs. Sadly, no Japanese versions for both tracks, at least we didn’t find any.
What makes a game like this “good” lies in the strength of its library of tracks and needless to say, Melody of Memory makes a very strong case on that front.
’til your fingers cramp
As you may have seen from the demo, the game handles things differently from similar rhythm games as it tries to still replicate the feeling of battling with the Heartless, just in a rhythm game-y type of way. Controls are simple to pick up, but will eventually be tough to master once you get to the more difficult portions of the game, which is why it is well appreciated that Square implemented various modes and difficulty options to ease players in, whether you are a rhythm game veteran or not.
Controls first. You’ve got 3 primary buttons to use for your “attack” – L1, R1, and / or circle. You’ll need to press either one or a combination of two or three buttons depending on the number of enemies on screen. You also have Triangle to activate your skills, but only during certain prompts. There are also the usual rhythm game sequences of holding the buttons as well as using the analog stick for trickier portions of the game. Simply put, you’ll definitely be using the whole controller for maximum engagement, and while it can it be intimidating, there is a one button mode that will solve all your worries.
For the casuals who just want to enjoy listening to their favorite songs, there’s Youtube, but where’s the fun in that?
Again, for the casuals who just want to enjoy listening to their favorite Kingdom Hearts songs, there’s the One Button Mode, which let’s you play through the tracks using just… you guessed it, one button. It’s the easiest way to breeze through everyone, and while not everyone will want to go down this path, at least the option is there for everyone to use as needed. Not gonna lie, I used this a couple of times when my old hands couldn’t really keep up with some of the more difficult tracks, no shame in that!
Around the world
World Tour is where you’ll be spending most of your time in the game. As the name suggests, World Tour is kind of like the Story mode or the Campaign mode for Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, but there are a few things here that will make it more than worth your while.
Stating it again, Melody of Memory serves as a retelling of the Kingdom Hearts story thus far, as narrated by Kairi. Scattered throughout the world are movie sequences which you can unlock and replay that will give you a refresher in bite sized pieces. We’re not one to spoil, but fans who are heavily invested in the Kingdom Hearts lore will want to go through the game for some very surprising details, especially towards the end part of the game. In fact, the game has some pacing problems, as a lot of its exciting moments really happens towards the end. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too long to get to it, as a normal playthrough will see you spend around 6-8 hours depending on how you play.
You also have to temper your expectations, as some story beats will be left out due to the condensed nature of the storytelling, but since the game is really made for fans of the series, then it shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. Even if you don’t care too much about the story, Melody of Memory eases you in properly, making it a great entry point for newcomers.
To break the monotony, there are what’s called Memory Dives and Boss Battles. Memory Dives will let you replay a track, usually with vocals like Simple and Clean, with a cinematic backdrop that plays a bit differently, prompting the use of the analog sticks as part of the motions needed. Boss Battles stand out in particular, as these encounters will heavily involve skill activations and gameplay similar to Memory Dives. My only gripe about the Boss Battles is that the sidewards orientation makes it tough to time the button presses properly, so it might take a bit of getting used to.
What we liked:
- Massive song collection
- Engaging gameplay
- Good difficulty settings that will cater to all levels of players
- Tons of collectibles for the most avid of Kingdom Hearts fans
- Canon to the KH story, which makes it a must play for fans.
What we didn’t like:
- Rhythm games have a very niche target, whatever franchise you slap onto it
- Canon to the story, non rhythm game fans but KH fans will find it hard to splurge.
Verdict: Buy It
As a rhythm game, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory does the job and does it exceedingly well. With the massive library of tracks and even how it translated an action-rpg game into a whole new genre, the game succeeds at that objective. Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory offers a ton of content to burn through, even compared to similar rhythm titles, so there is no lack of activities to do and collectibles to complete in the game.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory has just enough storytelling to convey the events thus far, and sets up the next chapter of the game pretty nicely. Thinking about it, this game is actually essential for a fan of the series, I kid you not when I say this. There is more to this rhythm game than meets the eye!
While it is quite pricey for the type of game that it is, Melody of Memory has so much content for players to enjoy that could justify the purchase of the full price tag. Overall, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a game that appeal to non-fans of both rhythm based titles or of the franchise.
*Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory was reviewed on a PS4 Pro via a review code provided by the publisher.