When Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory was first announced, I had no intention of buying it, even though I’ve been a long-time fan of the series. I honestly wasn’t sure what it would have to offer. As a music rhythm game, it was never going to be a Kingdom Hearts game in the traditional sense. It seemed like an attempt to both keep us semi-satisfied until another real Kingdom Hearts game was released and to squeeze some more money out of us. It wouldn’t be the first time – despite having thirteen different entries in the series, only three of them are actually numbered titles. Not that I’m complaining – my favourite game in the series is actually Birth By Sleep.
I figured I’d probably pick it up eventually, likely when it came down in price, but I certainly didn’t have any plans to pick it up on the day of launch. Not until I tried the demo, at which point I promptly decided I’d pre-order the game.
Before I get into the main bulk of this review, I’ll say this: Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is without a doubt a game for the fans. If you’re new to the series, it’s unlikely that you’ll get anything out of it unless you’re a rhythm game fanatic, and even then the interwoven story elements might put you off. That is both the series’ strength and weakness. Each game adds something new to the story, and Kingdom Hearts has a very complex story. It’s not the sort of game you can just jump into mid-series and hope to have a clue about what’s going on.
It doesn’t seem to matter how many different renditions of Kingdom Hearts’ most popular theme –Simple and Clean – are released. I always get goosebumps, and that isn’t an easy task. Games often have great music, but in the case of Kingdom Hearts, the music goes a long way to making the series what it is.
From the opening themes, courtesy of Hikaru Utada, to the character themes and battle music, the music has always been a huge part of the series. This is why, in my opinion, the idea worked so well, despite my initial uncertainty. Melody of Memory features over 140 songs spanning across the entirety of the series, some of which you unlock through progression, while others you can synthesise as you would in a traditional Kingdom Hearts game. For someone like me who adores the music almost as much as the rest of the game, it was like being a child in a sweets shop. I have my favourites, of course, but it never felt like a chore playing through the others because the composers for the game have always done an amazing job of creating music that perfectly fits each individual world you visit.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a rhythm action game, essentially meaning you beat up baddies to music – sounds fun, right? It plays well, and you can adjust the music timing to correct for any lag you might face. Personally, I didn’t encounter any real lag, but the option is there should you need it. As for the controls, they’re simple enough enough, and there are three difficulties to choose from – Beginner, Standard and Proud. There are also three styles that alter gameplay. Basic is the default mode, but there is also “one button” – which, surprise, surprise, allows you to play the game with one button – and “performer”, which throws performer targets into the mix. All this variation means the game is suitable for both those who want a casual rhythm game experience and those who want more of a challenge.
Returning to the controls, I’ll be talking about the default mode since it’s what most players will probably be using. Three buttons are used for the bulk of the action, which is, of course, hacking and slashing the enemies as they get closer. A fourth button is used to unleash special attacks. Some enemies you will have to jump to either hit them or avoid their attacks. There are also opportunities for you to glide, much like how you can in the other games. Despite being a rhythm game, it still feels like a typical Kingdom Hearts game, from the hack and slash combat to the way each enemy moves – both small details that go a long way towards making it feel authentic.
There are a couple of different modes for you to play with. The first is the World Tour, which is almost like a campaign. Starting with those from the very first game in the series, you work your way through worlds and gain stars. Each song has three tasks to satisfy, each one yielding a star upon completion. Gathering a set number of stars allows you to open up new gateways and progress through the game, much like the way you need to complete certain worlds before moving onto others in the original games. Track selection allows you to play the songs you’ve unlocked along with any you have synthesised. Synthesis is how you unlock memory drives, and these were without a doubt my favourites – essentially character themes with a compilation of clips in the background telling their story so far. The only potential problem is that you might find yourself too immersed in the animation to pay attention to the buttons you need to hit. There are also two multiplayer modes – co-op, which allows you to play along with a friend as Sora and Riku, and VS Battles, where you can play against players who are much better than you from across the world.
With Melody of Memory, you’re able to pick from four sets of trios (Kingdom Hearts loves its trios) – Team Classic, Team Days, Team BBS and Team 3D, so you can choose your favourite, though it should be noted that you’re restricted to Team Classic until you unlock the others as you progress. The series is known for bringing Disney characters into your party – it’s a crossover game for a reason – and this game is no different. At various points throughout the game, Disney characters will take the place of one member of your trio, and you can even summon King Mickey to help.
This doesn’t add to the gameplay in any way, but completing worlds or meeting certain criteria unlocks various character cards and scenes, which can be viewed in the Museum section of the main menu. It’s only a small thing but a nice little touch all the same, and the opportunity to view some of our favourite scenes is no doubt something fellow fans will appreciate.
In all honesty, there isn’t much of a story to Melody of Memory. Taking a break from our usual protagonist, Sora, Melody of Memory is told from Kairi’s perspective as she narrates the events of the previous game up to where Kingdom Hearts III ends. With a storyline as convoluted as that of Kingdom Hearts, it was nice to have a recap of the story so far (even if Kingdom Hearts III had something similar), but it was somewhat disappointing to see how little new story content we were given. It felt like less of a new game and more of a recap, which, while enjoyable, was not what I was necessarily expecting.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a superb rhythmic adventure that allows one of my favourite aspects of the series shine through – the music. It manages to provide something entirely different from what we’ve been given before while still managing to both look and feel like a Kingdom Hearts game. While I was a little disappointed with the lack of new story content, the gameplay was enjoyable, and there is plenty to keep you occupied long after the story mode is completed. That being said, while the recap was newcomer-friendly, unless you’re already a fan of the series and music, it is unlikely those new to the series will get anything from it, so it is definitely a game for the fans.
Developer: Square Enix, indieszero
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: 14th October 2020