Just in time for the new round of Twitch DMCA concerns, Square Enix have given us a Kingdom Hearts game full of licensed music to play. Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is another crazy spin-off entry that wouldn’t work in most franchises, but KH simply isn’t any ordinary IP. The story so far — that only has three main entries somehow — is so convoluted that a new game which just recaps the events so far is a needed refresher. This is done, however, while focusing on the incredible music of composer Yoko Shimomura and other artists, which sounds like a welcoming distraction. Simply being in the KH family doesn’t guarantee that Melody of Memory will be a classic, but what does it offer for those like myself who barely know the difference between Roxas and Rockso the Rock and Roll Clown?
Melody of Memories doesn’t work as well as I would have liked in the story department, though. As someone who has only played the first game and got lost early on in the second, I was hoping that reliving these memories would give me the understanding and inspiration to try the most recent main entry, but it still feels disjointed and confusing. There were many times when visiting the worlds of various characters that I was curious to know what happened while Sora was there, or just unsure of how some of these events connected with each other. The new material at the end just befuddled me more and the whole experience felt oddly paced. Going back and watching all of the cutscenes together didn’t help too much either.
I doubt it will be hard to convince diehard fans who’ll want to eagerly claw their way to the ending to get those extra minutes of new story details. These supposedly point to the direction of KH past the third game’s recent DLC. Players relive all of the pivotal events from each game through cutscenes in between songs, but it isn’t explained early on why this is happening. This lack of a framing device from the start makes the gameplay feel less important, but otherwise the game doesn’t feel like it was just a cash-in and handled like a proper Kingdom Hearts title.
What’s thankfully not confusing is the gameplay. The tutorial at the start does a decent job of explaining what buttons attack, how to dispose of multiple targets and tougher enemies, and then throws in some jumping for good measure. After the basics are done, players can decide if they want to make these encounters easier, harder, or add extra objects to hit in the name of being stylish. Playing can be fun, if a bit repetitive and even a tad frustrating at times, but overall it handles well and is easy to get into. The issue here is that Melody of Memories isn’t like Guitar Hero or many other games in the genre where the player feels like they are creating or performing a song, but more like someone who is fighting against the living embodiment of that tune and the events in the story it represents. This means the game stands out a bit in its genre, but makes me wonder if it could have gone anywhere without the Kingdom Hearts name.
The game eventually gets more complex with item use and crafting, the changing of teams, as well as cameoing characters. Guest characters like Hercules, Aladdin, and Peter Pan seem neat at first, but all they actually do is provide additional targets that can either help or hurt the combo counter and tease a cooler involvement that never happens. Boss fights change things up from the normal field encounters with new commands and mechanics that bring variety without being jarringly different. It’s still enough to be slightly confused the first time a player encounters these fights and it took a couple times before I realized I liked them. They’re exciting, unlike the Field Battles after a while. I enjoyed the different setup and wanted to pay attention to the active and flashy backgrounds of these fights, but couldn’t risk it and with everything going on, it’s easy to miss because of the distraction. The same could be said about the Memory Dives, which operate on a similar system and focus more on specific events in the various worlds, but there aren’t enough of either event in my opinion.
Melody of Memory looks fine, but it could be better. Most of the game consists of Field Battles where the characters run away from the screen on sheets of music, but the enemies will get repetitive and many of the backdrops for this action are bland. The stages offer poor depictions for the classic worlds they represent. I remember being excited to see the Tron stages when I unlocked that world and was quickly disappointed. Tron should never be visually dull. On top of this, not all of the cutscenes have the same quality and I may have just expected too much from the presentation after seeing clips from KH3. Most people are coming here for the music, fortunately, and I can promise that will be stuck in plenty of heads for a long time. It happened to me and I wasn’t even that familiar with many of the tracks. There are over 140 tunes to indulge in, but the songs most people will want to hear have to be unlocked or crafted.
The main attraction, and where things will need to be unlocked, is in the World Tour mode. Players will fly the Gummi Ship around to various worlds and perform to get stars. Simply surviving the song doesn’t mean much in most cases, as there are three objectives for each song and completing those is how stars are earned. There are different types of doors, stars, and rewards, meaning that eventually, the player will have to go back and replay songs or be very meticulous when doing it for the first time to try and nab everything. Later on in this mode, many stars are required to get through the doors and the branching paths will become necessary to explore. The game isn’t necessarily hard, but some stars can only be obtained on the higher difficulty levels, making the process annoying for some players.
I felt cheap using the items at first, but it became important later on. There are craftable health potions, XP and item boosters, as well as one that summons King Mickey on a song to provide a small amount of help. Getting rewards from songs gives players the materials to craft new items and levels up the Kupo, who can then make better items. This is also important for anyone who wants to unlock all of the collectibles in the museum. As stages became harder, I found myself leaning on these items more to help with my bad timing. Every now and then, I’d miss one or two enemies and it would be tough to get back on track, which was less to do with my lack of rhythm and more finding that sweet spot the game wanted me to hit. How skillful you are may determine how much you enjoy Melody of Memories, but the tools are there to help.
The cynic in me worries that the extra scenes at the end aren’t enough to warrant a new game, even for dedicated fans. It feels like a set of tweaked mechanics to fit into the world of KH that couldn’t stand up too much on its own without the power of Disney and the previous fan base; a long stick with a tiny carrot at the end. I’m also not up on the behind the scenes stuff with the series and know that there are multiple companies involved in the decision-making process here, but it sucked not seeing more Final Fantasy representation in the game.
With that said, Melody of Memories is still somewhat enjoyable and the IP it represents is doing the game a lot of favors. Fans will be able to sink several hours into it and I think it is better played in short bursts anyway. I’ll definitely fire the game up again for that couch co-op — even though both parties have to be at the same difficulty level — or to play against my wife or AI to see more of the mechanic that lets the player throw extra hurdles and tricks at their opponent. It isn’t the best game in the rhythm genre (that’s Gitaroo Man), but Melody of Memories is going to entertain a lot of people, make a ton of money, and get fans playing through the whole series again.
A PS4 code was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Kingdom Hearts offers another eclectic spin-off with one of its best elements, the stellar music, in the form of a solid rhythm game.
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