Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory Review — Speeding Past Memory Lane
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a wonderful catalog of some of gaming's best music, but it fails to inform new players about what makes the franchise special.
The Kingdom Hearts franchise is famous for its fantastic music and narrative — if you’re willing to devote yourself to it. While Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory has very little new in terms of story for returning fans, it is a perfect nostalgia trip–sending you back to most of the whimsical worlds that veterans of the series experienced throughout its 18-year life span. It gives new players a small taste of what can be expected when playing a proper Kingdom Hearts title and, despite having the DNA that fans can expect from any entry, it does not give first-timers the proper recap that they need to understand the narrative moving forward.
Taking place after the events of Kingdom Hearts III, Kairi dives into her memories to find a clue regarding Sora’s location following his disappearance. By traveling through several worlds, you are shown keystone story events that will make series veterans feel like it was just yesterday when they first played those titles, but this is not how people who are new to the franchise should experience the long-running Kingdom Hearts story. Each world is based on a location from a respective game, and after completing certain worlds, there will be a little bit of a lore dump, but it isn’t remotely as impactful as playing through the actual games.
Kingdom Hearts is a franchise more than most where what grabs you are the characters and their relationships with one another. Melody of Memory does not give those connections when summarizing the story. Additionally, for a franchise being consistently criticized for it’s “convoluted” narrative, I will admit that there is a lot when it comes to it, and someone new to the franchise will not get all the information they need as with the conclusion of the Xehanort saga and the beginning of a new arc.
Melody of Memory immediately jumps you into the main course; the world tour where you travel from world to world and game by game. This is the structure that most Kingdom Hearts titles are known for, but the problem with it this time around is that parts of it are optional based on the game’s star system. Each song has three challenges that reward you a star once completed. Players must earn a required number of stars to unlock paths, but the world tour doesn’t take you down one direct route.
There are forks in the road taking you to other games at certain points, so you can technically skip certain parts — losing the important narrative points that can be told. Even as a series veteran, I ended up passing sections by accident. It upholds the notion that Melody of Memory does not adequately give the introduction it needs to prepare players for the inevitable upcoming entries.
Completing tracks will also reward you with materials to craft (similar to previous entries in the franchise) including items, collectibles, and songs that can be played in track selection. Melody of Memory has a whopping 150 songs, so there is plenty of replayability for day one Kingdom Hearts fans. But it also thankfully has a music player where you can listen to every track down the line. It may not be as attractive for those playing on PlayStation and Xbox, but for the Switch being able to take Kingdom Hearts music on the go is something worthwhile.
In traditional Kingdom Hearts form, players hack and slash their way through various enemies from the series, but this time in rhythm with original tracks from the series and iconic Disney songs. What kind of stage you will be playing is determined by each track. Field battles are the most common and traditional form where enemies will come in waves where you must attack them on-beat to the track, but it isn’t that cut and dry.
Implementing abilities from the series, players can use magic against aerial adversaries and glide across the screen to pick up musical notes. Boss battles bring new tricks into play, as hitting the correct notes causes your team to dodge big attacks. Despite that, these moments don’t feel as challenging as any other part of the game. Memory Dive stages focus more on a specific moment or character in the series using similar mechanics as boss battles, but requiring a focus on hitting notes at the right time; it is hard to appreciate what is going on in the background.
For those that love Kingdom Hearts but struggle with rhythm games, there are healing items and experience boosts that will help your odds along with the ability to summon Mickey as the fourth member of your team who heals in tight spots and gives extra points to your score when he hops into the fray. Melody of Memory has the well-known beginner, standard, and proud difficulties, but there are additional styles to make the experience more accessible and engaging. Using one-button mode, all commands are dedicated to a single button for those who want to focus on getting the rhythm right. On the other hand, performer mode adds more buttons into the mix for those aiming to master the game.
Outside of the world tour, players can challenge both computers and players online in tracks. Computer battles have a ranking system having you start from the bottom and the easiest difficulty to later get harder as you progress. Battles use a trick system that gives a random status effect to the opponent. Battles are won by someone’s health falling to zero or having the highest score at the end of the song. Players can also team up with a friend in a dedicated co-op mode passing the baton to one another throughout the song and having each other’s back by healing. It is disappointing that this is only for local play and not online when having so many friends into the franchise.
Overall, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is great for looking at the past and reminiscing at the whimsical times with all the impactful music that came along with it. It’s a solid rhythm game that blends the gameplay that fans of the series know and love. However, for those new to the franchise, it would be better to play through the games and get maybe too much information that you might be wanting than not getting enough. Kingdom Hearts has a great story, but it is the characters that define it and have made early fans stick around for this long. Melody of Memory only has one piece of what makes the series special, and it isn’t what it needs to be for newcomers to feel that same love for the series moving forward.