If there was ever a video game series that would benefit from a rhythm game, it would most definitely be Kingdom Hearts.
The series music, composed by the legendary Yoko Shimomura, has garnered acclaim from critics and fans for it’s numerous tracks filled to the brim with soothing atmosphere and energetic bombast, while retaining the charm and distinct style you would hear from classic Disney locales.
So, with Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, the excitement for the series first action rhythm game could not be more palpable. And after sinking 10-15 hours into the game thus far, I have found so much enjoyment in the game, in spite of it’s simplicity.
The game’s main campaign, the “World Tour” mode, will be your main attraction in unlocking various songs from throughout the series, from the original Kingdom Hearts, all the way to the recently released Kingdom Hearts III. Over 140 tracks from throughout the series are present and playable, many of which being incredibly varied in tone, allowing for a diverse amount of sounds throughout playing the game. That said, there were a handful of memorable tracks that sadly didn’t make the cut, which makes Square and director Tetsuya Nomura’s comments about the game not having any future DLC sting all the more, as additional music packs could have been a welcome addition.
When it comes to actually playing the game, Melody of Memory’s gameplay is very simple to engage with. For the majority of the game, you will placed in “Field Battles”, a running track with your preferred team, where you attack approaching enemies to the beat of the music. Sounds simple enough, though many of the game’s stages offer plenty of challenge depending on what difficulty you decide to engage the specific music track with. And I mean no hyperbole when I say that many of the tracks in the game on Proud Mode offer a seriously packed challenge that makes these fun, if not brutal at times.
There are also two other gameplay styles that are used throughout the game. “Memory Dives”, for example, in which your trio is flying through iconic scenes while hitting the notes in succession. This was a fun way of allowing some moments like the CGI opening numbers or the graphically heavy moments of Kingdom Hearts III to be experienced in a way that wouldn’t be too game-breaking. Although, there are a handful of places from Kingdom Hearts III that are featured in the game as de-made stages for typical field battles, which begs the question of why certain worlds from the game, such as those from Toy Story or Tangled, couldn’t receive the same treatment.
Alongside those two modes, certain songs are accessed through Boss Stages, where your trio face off against one of the series villains as you attack them to the beat of the music. These stages are incredibly fun, at both mimicking the typical Kingdom Hearts combat in real time with the music, while also being a fresh change of pace from the typical field battles. However, these stages are VERY few and far between, with only 4 stages in the game utilizing this mode. Which is a massive shame, considering how many excellent boss tracks are within the series, and which iconic baddies you could fight against in this mode had they used it more.
After unlocking songs in World Tour, you are able to re-access these songs in the Track Selection to try again, with an additional two other modes to try these songs with alongside the usual difficulty settings: One Button mode, made for ease to play all of the songs with all the prompts reduced to just one button, and the Performer mode, which throws in more button prompts to add more flair to each song you play through. These modes offer a substantial amount of replayablity, specifically the latter mode, which offers an exceptionally big challenge to many of the songs, especially if you decide to play on Proud mode.
The replayablity for this game isn’t just limited to having the ability to replay these songs at your leisure, though. Completing certain missions and achievements through the game allows you unlock several different bonuses that can be featured in the game’s Museum, ranging from story screenshots, Keyblade and character cards, a theatre mode for all of the cutscenes, and bonus songs that can be synthesized and played. Not only that, but every song unlocked is also playable in the games two different Multiplayer modes: VS Battles, where you take on opponents head to head while trying to distract the other with various “tricks” to win the stage, or Co-Op, where you and another player team up to preform a song together to get through the stage. Both modes offer different ways to engage with the game online, which makes for tons of fun playing against your friends.
Finally, this of course wouldn’t be a Kingdom Hearts game without something resembling a story. While Melody of Memory mainly stands as a recap of many of the series major moments through song, the final stage of the game’s World Tour mode does present a new narrative, continuing the story from where Kingdom Hearts III’s Re:Mind DLC left off. While I won’t give away the story’s major moments, I will admit that I did walk away from it slightly underwhelmed. While it delivers on a few strong scenes, including a particularly awesome set-piece, with some interesting plot points to push the series’ new story arc forward, I’d be remise if I didn’t mention the unfortunate circumstances that came with it, particularly the treatment of Kairi. While series protagonist Sora, as well as Riku, have been given plenty of time in the limelight, Kairi has continuously been pushed to the side in spite of the character learning to use a Keyblade herself, and having a memorable playable moment in the Re:Mind DLC. While we do get hints that this won’t remain the case going forward, it’s a shame that the character who adorns the front of this game’s box art isn’t given a lot to do or have as much importance as would be preferred.
Overall, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is fun romp through the series many memorable moments, with excellent music and simple but diverse gameplay to keep this title as replayable as possible. While the story lacks in some places, it continues to offer interesting tidbits for the series ever expanding lore, and creating an awesome idea of where the series story is heading in the future.