Platform: PS4, Nintendo Switch
Genre: Rhythm Game, JRPG
Good job, Square Enix. You’ve officially pulled an Atlas move. What’s an Atlas move, you ask? A rhythm game spinoff from a JRPG franchise isn’t anything new. Atlus has done it multiple times, which means that they must at least be selling pretty well.
Square Enix has followed in Atlus’ footsteps and given us a Kingdom Hearts rhythm game no one really asked for; not even the fans. Still, there’s always a chance that Kingdom Hearts Melody Of Memory could somehow justify its existence and turn out to be good, right?
Pulling An Atlus?
Kingdom Hearts fans are used to suffering through mediocre spinoffs just to get the next spoonful of story continuation. We’ve had a decent action card game hybrid with Kingdom Hearts Chain Of Memories, and weirdly enough, even a forgettable puzzle mobile game with Kingdom Hearts Coded. Fortunately, the franchise has yet to delve into the fighting game genre or other like Atlus’ Persona.
Outside of those two games (and the Kingdom Hearts Union χ mobile game, if you want to count that too), the games in the franchise has always focused on gameplay that features action combat of some kind. With Kingdom Hearts Melody Of Memory, developer indieszero attempts to translate the franchise’s flashy combat into a rhythm game format.
Does it work? The main bulk of content that players will be experiencing in the game are Field Battle Music Stages, in which a trio of characters (Sora, Donald, and Goofy at the beginning) battle enemies while going through a musical track.
Players have to press select buttons to coincide with the rhythm of each song. Just like other rhythm games, each successful button press will depend on your timing, ranging from Good to Excellent to Rainbow Excellent. Missing a button press, or wrong timing, will cause the players’ health to decrease.
In the game’s story mode, players go from world to world (which is a familiar experience for fans of the franchise) and play songs from that particular world. You progress by clearing the levels from each world and unlock more worlds, but there’s more to all that than simply completing levels.
You see, unlocking more worlds also require players to complete Missions; which are special objectives specific to each level. Every level has three Missions attached to it, ranging from objectives like reaching a certain number of chain combos (without missing a beat), beating a certain number of a particular enemy, or beating the level on a specific difficulty. Successfully completing a Mission will earn you a Star (of which there is a variety of).
While it’s correct to assume that these Missions are supposed to be optional, they’re actually not. There will be many points throughout the story mode that you must have a particular amount of certain Stars to be able to progress further. The game doesn’t tell you this, but endgame content is gated to a high amount of Stars.
If you didn’t bother to collect more Stars as you clear levels, you’ll find yourself having to replay levels just to grind out more Stars.
Thankfully, I had a hunch that this would happen, so I busted my butt trying to earn as many Stars as I could whenever I can. As a general rule, you should always strive to get at least one or two Stars on every level. That sucks, but that’s how the game works.
In addition, Kingdom Hearts Melody Of Memory tries to be different by shoehorning in JRPG elements into the rhythm gameplay. However, it comes with mixed results. You’ll earn materials, items and EXP from completing each level. There’s even a Moogle that you can go to in order to synthesize new items from your materials.
Since you’ll be earning EXP, you can level up your characters in Kingdom Hearts Melody Of Memory. However, these levels are apparently just for show. Your characters apparently have stats like defence, but I’ve never actually seen how they impact gameplay.
I noticed that my level 50 team of Roxas, Xion and Axel (Lea) doesn’t perform any better than my team of Riku and his dream eaters (who’s at less than level 10). How would that even work? Enemies don’t have health in this game, and there’s nothing for both levels and stats to factor into during gameplay.
Just like other rhythm games, how well you perform depends on your skill and mastery, not the levels and stats of your characters; which is why I’m dumbfounded why the developer decided to insert pointless JRPG elements into the game.
That’s not even mentioning the various items that you can set up your characters with before starting a level.
You have your usual healing items (which your characters will automatically use when your health decreases to a certain amount during a level), an item that doubles your EXP (again, what’s the point?, and an item that summons King Mickey to help you in a level (which sounds awesome, but is ultimately useless as well).
I went through 11 hours without using any of the items during a level, and yes, I finished every level on Standard Mode, if you’re wondering. That said, you’ll highly likely need those items to survive the gruelling Proud Mode, but they’re not essential to the core gameplay at all, especially if you just stick to Beginner and Standard.
I’m not a rhythm game enthusiast, but I can say that the gameplay in Kingdom Hearts Melody Of Memory has its problems, to say the least. I was initially worried that something like this would happen, and it did. I’m talking about the fact that the developer had to adapt existing songs from the franchise into the gameplay, and not the other way around.
A lot of the songs feel ill-suited to the rhythm game format. It’s like they don’t belong in a rhythm game. With more than 140 songs, of course, that would naturally happen, but more often than not, the rhythm and button presses don’t seem to meh well or feel natural, while others are the opposite.
As a result, there are some songs that feel like a blast to play through, but there are just as many that feels like a total mess. I’m no rhythm game expert, but in general, successfully pressing buttons to match the rhythm feels great and smooth, especially once you’re on a groove.
The gameplay is further spiced up with the use of a gliding mechanic and even tilting sticks.
However, tilting sticks only features during Boss Battles and Memory Dive modes. Boss Battles are intense, but unfortunately, there are only three or four of them in the entire game. Meanwhile, Memory Dives changes the typical Field Battle stage format for one where the prompts move towards the screen while a cutscene from Kingdom Hearts 3 is showing in the background. I say Kingdom Hearts 3 because Memory Dives only ever feature songs from that game, and that game alone.
There are also Vs Battles, where you can battle against other players online or AI opponents. This sort of reminds me of Guitar Hero, as both players rack up points and unleash Tricks (special attacks that disrupt your opponent’s gameplay) against each other.
I also encountered a bug that prevented any of my button presses from registering input during gameplay. It suddenly popped up, and it also disappeared as suddenly as it appeared. I encountered the bug a few hours into the game (only once in my 11-hour playthrough) and it never returned again, but it’s still worth mentioning for the purpose of this review.
The Equivalent Of A Bottle Episode
It’s time to touch on the biggest reason why any Kingdom Hearts fan would even want to buy Kingdom Hearts Memory Of Melody in the first place; the prospect of story continuation from last year’s Kingdom Hearts 3 and its ReMind DLC.
If you’re truly looking to buy this game just for that reason, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Why? Because you’ll be spending 90 percent of your time in this game (that’s nine out of 10 or so hours) simply going to the same worlds and rehashing the same story from all the previous games in the franchise.
You’ll hear Kairi narrating every story beat via cutscenes ripped directly from those games. There’s nothing new to appreciate here at all. There’s no new perspective or angle to the stories. It’s just Kairi recounting them in a by-the-numbers flashback fashion.
In fact, this reminds me of a conventional TV series bottle episode. To save money, showrunners resort to bottle episodes. In animated shows, they usually reuse existing older footage to make a new episode, by framing them as flashbacks or whatnot. That’s exactly the same thing that’s happening in Kingdom Hearts Melody Of Memory.
The only new story content in the game is at the very end, with some boring music tacked on for brief gameplay levels in between long cutscenes. This happens in the very last level and world in the game. Even then, it’s only worth about an hour or so of content.
You want to know if a single hour of new content is enough to justify going through nine or ten hours of rhythm gameplay and recapping stories? I won’t spoil anything but as an avid fan of the Kingdom Hearts franchise (who already wrote thousands of words predicting the future of the franchise last year after Kingdom Hearts 3 launched), here’s my answer:
It’s not worth it.
There, I said it. I would defend any Kingdom Hearts game with my heart and soul, but not this game. It reeks of a quick spinoff cash grab for fans who are hungry for the next morsel of new Kingdom Hearts story content. You broke my heart, Kingdom Hearts.
If the lack of worthwhile story content isn’t enough, let’s look at the game’s selection of music from the franchise. I’m sure every fan has their own favourite song or piece of music, but let me tell you right now; despite featuring over 140 songs, less than half of that is perhaps even a track that you remember from the games.
Simple And Clean, Sanctuary/Passion, and Don’t Think Twice are there, but Dearly Beloved isn’t. Some of the music are just remixed versions from multiple games, and what’s glaring is that out of the 140 songs, less than 10 are from Kingdom Hearts 3. Let It Go from Frozen is there if you’re curious. I just feel like most of the 140 songs are forgettable tracks, and there’ll probably only be a select few that I’ll truly even want to replay just for the fun of it.
Well, at least my favourite piece of music from the entire Kingdom Hearts franchise; the Roxas theme, is in there. It’s also worth keeping in mind that you’ll have to unlock almost all of these songs by clearing them in story mode first or in the case of the brilliant Roxas theme, synthesize them with materials through the Moogle shop.
Unbreak My Heart
If you’re looking for the continuation of dangling plot threads from Kingdom Hearts 3, Kingdom Hearts Melody Of Memory will just disappoint. If so, then who is this game for? This game is for Kingdom Hearts fans who are looking to relive their memories of past games.
If you’re not a fan of rhythm games, there’s nothing else to make this game worth its frankly expensive price, besides nostalgic value. It all just feels underwhelming for a full-priced game (it’s RM229 in Malaysia and US$60 in the US); as if you’re only paying for the music.
It’s harder to say if fans of the rhythm game genre, in general, will enjoy Kingdom Hearts Melody Of Memory, but hey, maybe it’ll be the gateway for them to try out the other major instalments of the franchise. Personally, I find that unlikely, but fandoms can sprout from the unlikeliest of places.
- Fun rhythm game action.
- Over 140 songs to choose from.
- Pointless shoehorned JRPG elements.
- Frustrating level-gating in the story mode.
- The only new story content comes at the very end of the story mode.
- Simply rehashing and recapping the stories of past games.
- Occasional gameplay issues and bugs.
Final Score: 40/100
A review copy of Kingdom Hearts Melody Of Memory was provided to us by Bandai Namco SEA, and I played this game on a PS4 Pro.