I’m a huge fan of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, having played all of their games on the wide range of platforms they’ve appeared on. Seriously: before the recent collections released, it was a daunting task to play them all, ranging from the Playstation 2 original to spin-offs on the GBA, Nintendo 3DS and even mobile games. Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory aims to bring back memories of the entire history through one of the most powerful forms of nostalgia: the music.
Kairi, who you may recall from as one of Sora’s best friends from the very first game, guides us through this adventure. She starts by recapping everything that has happened so far and even teases a bit of what’s to come at the end of the World Tour. But rest assured, this review is entirely spoiler free.
This isn’t a typical Kingdom Hearts game with Action-RPG gameplay, but instead, it’s a rhythm game taking us on a wonderful journey through the many original tracks as well as the rare licensed excursion into Disney territory here and there.
There are three different types of stages, but they largely boil down to the same type of “press buttons on the rhythm” gameplay. The Field stages are the most common of them, taking up around 90% of the tracks. You have to press attack buttons (LB, A and RB on Xbox) to hit enemies, hit the occasional crystal for a special attack and maybe dodge a few projectiles or hit flying enemies by jumping first.
It sounds simple enough and that’s because it is. It takes almost no time to learn the controls and once you have the hang of it, it’s simply a matter of mastering the rhythm and keeping up with the fast button inputs* (on harder difficulties).
*I liked how there was a “single button” mode available for those who really need it. It’s an accessible alternative not just for those who want to focus only on the rhythm, but also a very welcome consideration for people with a disability or for younger kids.
Get the timing down just right and you’ll get an Excellent or a Rainbow Excellent, with the obvious goal of getting as high of a score as possible. Interestingly, this rating system seems to be a copy/paste of the one used in the Final Fantasy Theathrythm games, which I also loved.
It feels amazing if you can pull off a Full Chain by not missing a single note but getting the maximum score of 9.999.999 will also require you to get nothing but perfectly timed Rainbow Excellents and I have yet to pull this off on any track.
You’re also free to change the difficulty at any time and they each play wildly different. Between Beginner, Standard and Proud you can essentially triple your potential playtime if you so choose. And take it from me; there is A LOT of content: there are well over 140 different tracks to discover!
The best method to unlock most of the content would be playing through the World Tour. It’s a campaign in which you’ll travel from world to world in your gummy ship, unlocking doors to new galaxies as you beat optional missions.
For a completionist like me, it’s pretty addictive getting a “Complete” to show up instead of a simple “Cleared” on every world but some of these missions can get rather difficult, like getting a high score on Proud mode or not missing a single enemy of a certain type. There are even a few that will count your totals across each playthrough of a song, giving you an incentive to replay it.
Beating a song also rewards you with various items, from consumables like potions or experience multipliers to ingredients which can be used to synthesize collectable cards or even brand new tracks. There is a ton of stuff to collect in Melody of Memory and you’ll spend days, not hours, unlocking everything.
The gameplay can start to feel a bit repetitive after a while though, so I’m advising to play this game in short bursts in between other games, instead of binging on it from start to finish. There is some serious risk of burning yourself out on it if you don’t and while the Memory Dives and Boss Fights may be a welcome change of pace, they’re not really all that different: it’s still just pressing buttons at the right time.
What does bring something extra to the table are the multiplayer modes. You can either ask a friend to join you for some couch co-op or face off against each other in the (online) battle arena, where successive hits will activate Tricks to handicap your opponent.
Examples include hiding the enemies, shrinking them or hiding the circles around them so it will become harder to hit Rainbow Excellents. At the end of the track, the one with the highest score wins. (If you can’t find anyone online, you can also play this mode against the computer.)
Graphically, the game does not live up to the high standards set by Kingdom Hearts III. While that game melted your eyeballs with its gorgeous Pixar-like graphics, this one takes more after the KH1&2 remakes: it’s clean, it’s stylish and has a welcoming cartoony feeling to it, but it won’t blow anyone away in 2020 and beyond.
They also seem to have forgotten to take the brightness into account, it’s rare but I’ve sometimes found the input prompts to be invisible because of a bright white light (say that three times fast!) in the background obscuring them. It’s one thing when you drop a beat because of your own fault, it feels even worse if it’s because of the game.
The sound design, however, is excellent. And while the sound effects of hitting enemies may become annoying eventually, you can change their volume in the settings. (I chose to keep them available at all times as they help with getting the timing right.)
The tracklist itself is amazing for people like me who’ve enjoyed all the Kingdom Hearts games, but those looking for the Disney experience may be left hungry. Only a few of their licensed tracks made it into the game and even fewer kept their vocals intact. I sure hope there was more where this came from, as they were the highlights of the game, by far!
If you’re hoping to hear Final Fantasy music, I’ve got even worse news for you as I haven’t spotted a single song from the series yet*. I’m hoping this could still be added at a later point, just like Final Fantasy Theathrythm: Curtain Call added songs from NieR or The World Ends With You through DLC. *EDIT: One Winged Angel is in the game and it’s as hard as the boss-fight against Sephiroth!
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory offers a nostalgic trip through the greatest soundtracks the series has to offer with dozens of hours of content.
If you’re a fan of rhythm games, this offers possibly one of most content-rich experiences out there and if you’re into Kingdom Hearts, I won’t even have to sell you on this as you’re probably already playing.
*disclaimer: Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Copy provided by Square Enix.