There was a bit a fanfare, not overly big, when Square Enix announced the release of Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory in late 2020. It was exciting to hear that this game would celebrate the music of the Kingdom Hearts series in the last 20 years and not just Kingdom Hearts I, II and III, but its sequels as well. Fortunately, the game is a love letter to fans and contains some of the best tracks from the series. It contains approximately over 140 songs from the main series plus the spin-offs, including Birth by Sleep, 358/2 Days and Dream Drop Distance.
Gameplay: music to your ears
The main game is simple enough. You select a track and control three characters who traverse the battle track to the tune of your chosen track. Like most rhythm games, you will have to time your button presses at the right time and depending on your time, you will be rewarded with an excellent (for good timing) and excellent in rainbow (for perfect timing). While the Beginner and Standard difficulties offered some easy-enough tracks and button presses, I found the Proud difficulty incredibly frustrating when there were really close consecutive button presses, because I was bound to miss at least one or two of them and then ruin my chance of getting a perfect chain.
Melody of Memory has three types of stages, Field Battles, Memory Dives and Boss Battles. The Field Battles are the most common type of stage in the game. You play as three characters of your choice (depending on whether you have unlocked them or not), from the Classic Team with Sora, Donald and Goofy, the 358/2 Days Team with Roxax, Axel and Xion, the Birth by Sleep Team with Aqua, Terra and Ventus and finally the Dream Eater Team with Riku and two Dream Eaters. Aside from the aesthetics, I did not think there was any real difference between the three teams.
Each of the three teams are progressively unlocked as you play through the main mode, the World Tour. Once you have unlocked any of the teams, you can use them on any stage and can level them from level 1 to level 99.
The World Tour is the main scenario. You will move from world to world traversing in a gummi ship, but there is no gummi ship mode to play (so to speak). You start your journey from the very start of Kingdom Hearts with Destiny Islands and as you progress a lot further, you will have the ability to pick branching options. For me, even though I have finished the game, I haven’t play through all the Birth by Sleep worlds, because you can complete the game without having visited all the worlds. Having said that, you won’t get to the end until you complete all the worlds from the main title games, e.g. Kingdom Hearts I, II and III.
Each world will usually contain one or two tracks. On selecting a world, you can select your team, whether you want to activate items (such as summoning King Mickey as a fourth player) and choosing the difficulty that you want to play. Before hitting the stage, you should check what the Missions are and then aim to complete those Missions. For instance, a Mission may say you will get a star if you don’t use Items or on Proud Mode you need to hit all star crates and barrels. You will need to collect these stars to be able to open the various doors that bar your path.
The onscreen prompts (about when to hit the button) are necessary, but the screen can get overwhelmingly busy and hard to follow. You will need to practice several times to get the hang of the game, but even after eight hours, I felt like I was only just getting the hang of it on Proud difficulty.
Once of the accomplishments is to get a full chain, which requires you to hit every single note. This is really hard to do. (I wish you luck if you aim to get a full chain on all tracks, which isn’t required for the Platinum Trophy.)
Outside the World Tour, you can select all songs you have played in World Tour and also some other songs that you unlock by either purchasing through the Moogle store or unlocking by playing on and on.
On some worlds, one of your supporting characters will be replaced with the hero from that world, e.g. Simba, Ariel and Mulan can appear. I don’t think they make much difference, but they were a welcome addition.
Story: not much more than filler I am afraid
One of the big selling points for Melody of Memory are the unique cutscenes you can watch if you complete the World Tour. You can only enjoy these cutscenes and the associated tracks by reaching the end of the World Tour (again, you don’t need to complete every world). The unique cutscenes follow the exploits of Kairi at the end of Kingdom Hearts III. While these cutscenes provide some more story and context, I didn’t think they were mandatory watching. You could get away with watching the scenes on YouTube.
The story for Melody of Memory is mainly just a recapping of the events of all the games by Kairi. After certain worlds are completed, you can watch a short mash of scenes from the respective game narrated by Kairi. These short scenes were a nice summary of the game.
I was excited for some of the tracks particularly the Kingdom Hearts III field tracks for the Toy Story and Frozen worlds, but some of the tracks weren’t that nostalgic and I didn’t feel the same way as when I played Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. (It may be harsh to say given that the main Final Fantasy composer Uematsu Nobuo is a hard person to beat in terms of talent.)
I was happy with the overall experience and managed to get to the end of the game by completing around two thirds of the songs and within eight hours.
You can watch me play on my YouTube channel and I have uploaded several videos from this game:
Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory hits some of right notes. There is a lot of nostalgia with some beautiful tracks by Shimomura Yoko from field tracks, battle tracks to cutscene tracks. I love the cinematic Memory Drives, because it was nice to see Sora and company fly through the various moments in the game’s history, whether it was Simple and Clean or You’ve Got a Friend in Me (from Kingdom Heart’s Toy Story stage).
However, I felt the presentation of the game made it incredibly difficult to time my button presses. I kept missing button presses for really silly things. For anyone seeking the Platinum Trophy, I wish you all the best of luck. You will need a lot of patience, for which I was lacking.
Between Theatrhythm Final Fantasy and this game, I would still prefer Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. The music in Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is more for me and I think the use of a stylist on the Nintendo 3DS made the experience a heap better. If you like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, I think you will still enjoy Melody of Memory.
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