Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory Review
There are many individual elements that make up Kingdom Hearts: its Final Fantasy roots, its Disney crossovers, its constantly-developing story, and its penchant for ‘side games’. Your affinity towards and of those elements might vary, but one thing that is almost universally agreed upon is that the music of Kingdom Hearts is beloved. For that reason, and the fact that Final Fantasy Theatrhythm made it look so fun, Kingdom Hearts fans have been wanting a musical experience like Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory for quite some time. It was worth the wait.
Beyond just being a great time of its own accord, I’d argue that Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory is the greatest singular celebration of the series that we’ve ever had. More than just a rhythm game, it feels like a proud showing of what the series has accomplished so far, before it takes off into a brand new chapter. For Kingdom Hearts fans it’s damn-close to the perfect celebration package.
Although this may be an unusual starting point, I know many Kingdom Hearts fans have been waiting for Melody of Memory specifically to see where the series is going next. For those hoping for substantial storyline developments, there are some cool details and hints at what's next, but nothing as concrete as the ending for ReMind or Kingdom Hearts III. For the first five or so hours, the only story content comes from Kairi recapping what’s already happened in the series. Since the demo had already shown me that I’d enjoy the gameplay, the one lingering question I had going in was whether or not the story content would be satisfying or not. Although the story execution is far from perfect, the end results are positive, and Melody of Memory manages to paint a clear and exciting future for the franchise with the small amount of story it has. I won’t go into detail for fear of spoilers, but a clear next chapter is established here, and there are some genuinely great scenes to sit through, which is exactly what I wanted from Melody of Memory.
However, I did mention that the execution isn’t perfect and that’s an understatement. As I previously mentioned, you won’t get any of the new story content until you’ve gotten to the end of the World Tour campaign, which will take you a minimum of five hours to rush through. The whole batch of new story content is chucked at you in a final hour when it feels like there were plenty of opportunities earlier to break it up and give the player something to go on. That makes that hour a really intense and fun one, but if you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for the conclusion then you might as well get comfy. It’s actually very reminiscent of ReMind in that regard, with most of the experience being a retelling of what we know, before coming out with some awesome last-minute content that makes it worth the wait. I’m aware that for the less-than-obsessed fan this pacing isn’t ideal though.
One of the big hopes going into Melody of Memory was that this would be Kairi’s first time to properly shine. To those like me who were really hoping she’d come into her own, I’m sad to say that her presence is about as strong as it’s always been. Having her narrate the events of older games is a nice touch, but that’s about as much as you get with her until some bits in the concluding scenes. She’s not even playable in her own game. Once again, I can’t really talk about it too much here but just know that whilst the future of Kingdom Hearts is exciting, the Kairi side specifically isn’t handled quite as well as I’d hoped.
Thankfully, I didn’t mind having to play a bunch of missions to get to that point because the gameplay is really good fun. You control a team of three as you run along a track playing music from Kingdom Hearts. As you move, you’ll have to attack Heartless to the beat, jump over attacks and glide through notes in order to get to the end and get the best score. It’s pretty standard rhythm-game stuff, but the use of actual Heartless and moves from the game create a pretty powerful illusion that you’re playing a mainline Kingdom Hearts title. It’s a really cool effect that’s made all the better by the fantastic music you’ll be playing through as you go. I was also very pleasantly surprised at just how difficult things can get ,but only if you want them to. Playing on Normal difficulty will challenge you just enough, but you can also switch it up to the much harder Proud mode and even further with the performer mode toggled. It's nice that there are so many options.
Although the main gameplay type is the field battles, there are also two other unique game-types. The first is called Memory Dive, and they’re the second most common type of mission you’ll do. In this mode, you glide along a line as clips from previous games play in the background. It’s a nice change of pace, but these feel a little cheap compared to the rest of the game. I get the intention of these is that there aren’t always battles that line up with songs, but they still feel a bit underwhelming and it’s sadly where you’ll see some really awesome songs locked behind. On occasion, the game will give you the normal track version of the song too, but it’s a shame it’s not done for all of them.
There are also the boss encounter stages, and these are a nice change of pace from the main style of gameplay. They control like the Memory Dives but instead have your team fighting a boss character and moving and attacking as if it were a real battle from the series. They’re a lot tougher than the usual missions too; if you aren’t hitting each note perfectly then you’ll take damage in-between phases. They’re used incredibly sparingly throughout the game though, with less than a handful that come to mind, which feels like a missed opportunity. There is a really cool one I won’t say here though!
You’ll experience all of this through the World Tour, which acts as the main campaign for the game. You’ll go from world to world, usually with two songs per world and each one has three different challenges attached that you earn stars for. Earning stars lets you progress further through the worlds, until you reach the endgame where there are some locked behind. Although I cursed it when I was trying to get to the story content as fast as possible, it’s a really cool way of getting you through the songs, and some of the challenges are really well thought out in encouraging replayability.
One element of Melody of Memory I almost completely missed is the presence of VS. battles. Although this is mainly the online hub (hence why I nearly didn’t bother), there’s actually an offline version of the mode that gives you the gist of how it plays. Basically, it has you playing like normal, but with some random trick effects thrown in to mix you and your opponents up. It’s a fun enough mode for a little bit, but the trick system gets annoying fast. Thankfully you can choose to do matches without, and you always get a reward whether or not you win the battle which I thought was a really nice touch.
Although I loved playing through the campaign and polishing up all my scores, by far the most impressive thing about Melody of Memory is how much content it packs. There are hundreds of art cards, stations of awakening, jukebox songs, and clips to watch that make playing it constantly rewarding as you watch your gallery fill up. It manages to capture the best element of the mobile games - the collecting - and put it into a main series game in a really successful way. Rest assured, even tens of hours in, I’m still going back to try and get all those Key Art cards. The impression here is that Nomura and the team don’t want you to just pelt through all this stuff in one go. Melody of Memory is made to last, maybe even until the next game in the series comes along.
Playing through the game is made so much more fun with how many little details are chucked into almost every facet of the game. As mentioned above, the game is a treasure trove to Kingdom Hearts, but there are also loads of references and little details. I loved that each track gave a guided tour of whatever world it was associated with, I loved the little chibi avatars and I loved how summoning Mickey would change his outfit depending on who was your current team. I had to laugh when I saw the Olympus Coliseum track was filled with boxes and barrels to smash as well as the Heartless associated with that world. It’s the little things that make this feel like such a loving collection.
Not everything is perfect though. By far my biggest complaint with Melody of Memory is its treatment of Kingdom Hearts III and beyond. There are only a few tracks from Kingdom Hearts III, and there are loads of missing ones. Barely any of the Disney worlds make it in, and there are only three original tracks that made the cut. More annoyingly almost all of them are Memory Dive tracks, which means that they’re just clips of the world rather than featuring any relevant background or Heartless.
Even though this is likely due to the graphical differences and how recent Kingdom Hearts III was made in comparison to the older games, it’s still disappointing to see considering how many awesome songs there are in that game and in ReMind. I’d even take more Memory Dives if that’s the format it has to be in, rather than them just not being there at all. Still, it seems incredibly petty to pick out some of the songs that aren’t in Melody of Memory considering how many are. For every Pirates of the Caribbean song missing, there are surprises like the TWISTER mix or the Piano medleys.
Although Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory might not be the story-focused experience many expect from the series, it arguably does something much more special. Not only does it set up the next chapter nicely, but it celebrates everything that came before it with some fantastic rhythm gameplay and abundant content that makes it feel like a loving send-off to the past 18 years of the franchise.