If there’s anything you need to immediately understand about Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, it’s that it was created for pre-existing fans. It’s by no means going to entice, let alone captivate, those that have little-to-no interest in Square-Enix & Disney’s polarising lovechild. This review, in an overtly binary fashion, simply isn’t for those that aren’t particularly au fait with this well-worn franchise – it has absolutely nothing to offer you. No, this is, largely, just an innocent trip down memory lane – as the name would strongly imply – and its strong, nostalgia-infused, rhythm-based gameplay celebrates the storied melodies that we’ve all come to love over the nearly-19 year history. The proverbial icing on the cake, though – and certainly the not-so-secret factor that’s sure to excite – is the additional mainline story content found at the latter end of the story campaign, lining up the next instalments in the years – or potential decades if previous waits between core titles indicate – to come.
My own journey with Kingdom Hearts, like many, started back in March 2002 upon the release of then-Squaresoft & Disney’s collaborative triumph. I’m able to recall the moments I purchased every subsequent release of a sequel, prequel, and re-release with perfect precision; with this taken into consideration, it’s no wonder that I found great pleasure in reminiscing via the gameplay loop found in Melody of Memories’ World Tour, with it being somewhat akin to Square-Enix’s Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. As you traverse (town) through the entirety of the Dark Seeker Saga – the storyline that started upon the first release and concluded with 2019’s Kingdom Hearts 3 – you do so from Kairi’s perspective as she retells past events to help uncover Sora’s present location – something that has been unknown since the revelations of both Kingdom Hearts 3 and its Re Mind DLC.
Each world consists of various tracks from past entries, in which you aim to sync up button presses with the on-screen prompt that coincides with the differing melodies heard throughout. You’ll want to target achieving either Excellent or Good timing-based presses, as too many misses will inevitably cause your health to deplete, thus failing the level should it empty in its entirety. These button presses are further divided up by single presses, multi-presses whereby a combination of A, L or R need to be pressed together, and ability attacks that require the X button to be pressed. Jumping over choreographed attacks with the B button, as well as flying to collect a train of notes by holding B, rounds off the controls for the vast majority of the stages present, incidentally known as Field Battles.
The other two types of tracks available are Memory Dives and Boss Battles, both of which are similar in their own right to acting as more cinematic, stripped back affairs, at least when compared to the aforementioned Field Battles. Memory Dives, in particular, focus wholly on CGI video sequences, adding in the utilisation of directional inputs via the analogue sticks. Boss Battles, as the name would suggest, are stages – akin to Memory Dives in terms of controls – where you fight against an iconic boss from the various Kingdom Hearts games on offer, with certain sections marked out for a defence-orientated phase through which the amounts of notes hit in said phase negates the potential maximum damage sustained at the end of the section. Both of the rarer types of tracks offer something similar to a circuit breaker – the inevitable monotony can creep in after prolonged gameplay sessions – but it’s a shame that so much focus has to be placed on the foreground; missing the glorious spectacle of the music video-like showcases shown behind, an element that has always been strong in Kingdom Hearts titles.
Nostalgia aside, all this would be for nought were the music not delightful. Yoko Shimomura’s many expertly composed tracks stand as proud and glorious today as they did upon release, and all the emotions of the various events they were known for – Xion’s death in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, I’m looking at you – come rushing back to the surface. Honestly, having enjoyed the many soundtracks for nearly two decades, as well as having seen Yoko Shimomura herself in 2019’s “World of Tres” concert series live, it’s a testament to the music that it never manages to lose the sheer gravitational pull on my emotions it had on its first impact. This being said, the annoyance of having occasionally-apparent tracking issues – whether it be just on the odd track not feeling right, or general lag – manages to irritate beyond measure, more often than not ruining the music immediately. Whilst the inclusion of BGM Timing settings would alleviate any issues with lag, it only presents itself as a solitary slider – no onscreen indication as to whether it’s fixing the issue, or only adding a further delay between on-screen indicators and the music itself. A simple and not-so-clean omission.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory £49.99
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a celebration of the Kingdom Hearts that has come before, and a tease at what it next has to offer, albeit not in gameplay form. Addictive, nostalgia-inducing rhythm gameplay is at its fullest in this cohesive and chunky package.