After defeating Ansem, Sora, Donald, and Goofy resume their search for Riku and King Mickey. Along the way, they come across a hooded figure who leads them to a mysterious castle with the words, “Ahead lies something you need but to claim it, you must lose something dear.” What is it that Sora needs and what is it that he must lose?
Let me warn you that this review is spoiler heavy. So, if you want to go into this game fresh, you might want to skip to the second to last paragraph. First, let me begin with a huge reveal for the entire game. The hooded figure is Marluxia from the Organization, and he is lying to Sora in order to lure him into a trap. As for what the Organization is, the game doesn’t reveal it and, instead, shows a few members to give you a hint for the villains for the next game. The members they show are Axel, Marluxia, Larxene and Vexen for Sora’s story. After you beat Sora’s story, you get to play as Riku and, in his tale, Zexion and Lexaeus make their appearance. First, I want to say that this is a PlayStation 2 remake of the Gameboy Advance game, so these characters now have voice acting and I learned that I have been pronouncing most of their names wrong for years. Second, despite not telling us what the Organization is, these characters play a key role in the story. Marluxia and Larxene team up to erase Sora’s memory, particularly his memory of Kairi, and replace them with memories of Namine and only Namine. I’ll explain who Namine is later, but I will say that, after all that’s left of Sora is memories of Namine, Marluxia and Larxene want to use Sora as a puppet to eliminate their superior and rule the Organization. I remember reading that Marluxia and Larxene were originally supposed to be the only women in the Organization. Then the makers realized that having the only two women in the Organization murdered by the men for trying to gain power would be unfortunate implications. However, instead of changing some of the other characters to women, they chose to change Marluxia into a man and left Larxene the only woman in the Organization. Yet, for a long time, fans either hated Larxene or they thought she was the only capable woman in the games before Aqua came along. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of thinking that too and I do enjoy Larxene’s character. She’s the sadistic one, the one who takes delight in other people’s suffering. Marluxia’s partner in crime for overthrowing the Organization and the only one to remain loyal to him until the end. Vexen is the scheming scientist who wants to sabotage Marluxia and Larxene’s plans. Unfortunately, his method of sabotage is not quite subtle as he tries to make Sora aware of Roxas, a character who plays an important role in Kingdom Hearts II, right in front of Marluxia and Larxene. Zexion and Lexaeus, while never seen talking to Marluxia and Larxene, try to stop them by using Riku as a pawn similar to how they plan on using Sora. Lexaeus acts as the muscle while Zexion acts as the schemer from the shadows. Axel is the wildcard. Like Vexen, he wants to stop Larxene and Marluxia’s plans. However, unlike Vexen, he is more subtle in his methods as he takes advantage of Marluxia’s absence at one point to give Namine a chance to escape. Axel murders Vexen on Marluxia’s orders to eliminate the traitor yet, later, goes after Marluxia and taunts him with his own orders. Axel claims that his motives are to obtain power within the Organization but his conversation with Sora hints that he’s actually trying to save his life. Axel even goes as far as to turn against Zexion just to save Riku. However, despite all the mentions of the Organization, we don’t find out exactly who these people are until the next game.
Like the last game, the central focus of this game is Sora. He’s the one who’s lured into Castle Oblivion by Marluxia and travels up to the top floor in order to find Riku and Mickey. During his journey, he uses cards that resemble the worlds Sora’s visited to form each floor. The only one missing is Deep Jungle for some reason, but not really important.
What is important is the story in each world which is not the same as the stories in the original Kingdom Hearts. However, they bare some similarity to the original stories with the exception of Traverse Town and Hollow Bastion. Traverse Town serves as the starting point to explain to Sora and the player what’s going on using the characters of Leon, Yuffie, Cid and Aerith. Yet, before Sora leaves, Aerith warns him that everything in this castle might not be what it seems. Keep in mind that these are not the real people we met in the original game, but the memory Sora has of them. The way they existed in his heart. So, Aerith is Sora warning himself that this castle and the people inside are rather shady. In other words, Sora never trusted anyone here completely. Hollow Bastion centers around Beast rescuing Belle from Maleficent, yet Belle rejects the Beast’s help in order to save him. However, instead of abandoning her, Beast chooses to save her even though he thinks she hates him, which not only drives Sora’s determination to save Namine but helps him make his final decision in the end. Other worlds, such as Wonderland, Halloweentown and Neverland talk about memories. In Wonderland, Alice is on trial for stealing the Queen of Hearts’ memory. In the end, Alice is the one who lies to the Queen and says that she made them take care of the Heartless to prove themselves, causing the Queen to remember something that never happened. This is exactly what’s happening to Sora, Donald, Goofy and Jiminy. Their memories are being erased little by little and, in the case of Sora, his memory is getting replaced with lies while Donald, Goofy and Jiminy become blank slates who follow Sora. Probably not even remembering King Mickey or Pinocchio. In Halloweentown, Dr. Finkelstein develops a potion to unlock true memories only to be stolen and drunk by Oogie Boogie who becomes scared of everything around him. Perhaps this is Sora’s subconscious warning him about what would happen if he goes to the top floor of Castle Oblivion and unlocks the truth. Maybe Sora suspects that Oogie Boogie’s screwed up because he had a traumatic life as a child, or the potion showed him the truth of who he really is. In Neverland, Peter comes to rescue Wendy only to abandon her when she says that she wants to go back to London. In the end, Peter comes back for her and explains that, if she leaves Neverland, she’ll forget him. Not only does this show that Sora sees Peter as a jerk with a heart of gold, but he’s worried that Namine will be angry with him for forgetting when he finally sees her again. At this point, the lie has taken over. Agrabah and Atlantica both have similar stories about Aladdin and Ariel collaborating with the villain. In the case of Aladdin, his goal is to give the lamp to Jafar so that he would introduce him to Jasmine. In the case of Ariel, her goal is to steal her father’s trident and give it to Ursula to save Flounder. In the end, both battle the villain of their respective worlds and choose honesty over lying. Aladdin plans to show Jasmine the real him and Ariel plans to tell her father the truth about stealing the trident. While this might seem like a forced lesson about honesty, I think Aladdin and Ariel got to Sora which is why, in the end, he chose honesty over a lie.
Riku, on the other hand, starts out in the basement of that very castle with Mickey as his only ally. However, unlike Sora, Riku’s rescued from the other side of the door to darkness by an unknown person and brought to the depths of Castle Oblivion. His memory remains untouched, and his journey is more about conquering his inner demons. I mean that literally, Riku has to defeat a different villain on every floor. While Sora actually interacts with the people in his worlds, Riku has to conquer the villains that represent his darkness. When he meets Zexion, he tells Riku that it’s because the darkness has trumped his heart completely. However, I think it’s because, while Riku visited these worlds, he never really became part of them. He only visited these places briefly to follow Maleficent’s orders and then went back to Hollow Bastion. Sora, on the other hand, actually interacted with the people in these worlds. He teamed up with them to stop a common enemy and actually formed bonds with them. Riku, in his haste to see other worlds, never really became a part of them like Sora did. Though I wish that they had Riku interact with the villains in each world. It would have been interesting to know what his relationship with them was like.
During this game, there are only two worlds that really contribute to Sora and Riku’s stories, Destiny Island and Twilight Town. Destiny Island is the home of both Sora and Riku, where they are both manipulated and then accept the truth. In the case of Sora, he finds the people in his memories referencing a mysterious HER that he believes is Namine. Meanwhile, Riku sees the people from his memories disappear and has to face that he was responsible for the destruction of Destiny Island which, in all reality, was not entirely his fault. The Heartless were going to come to Destiny Island whether Riku helped or not, he just sped things up a bit. Sora finally meets Namine only for her to tell him the truth, she is not the one in his heart. Then he remembers Kairi. As for Riku, he gets attacked by Sora only to discover, with the help of Namine, to accept the darkness inside of him. This helps Riku realize that what he thinks is Sora is actually Zexion in disguise. Twilight Town, on the other hand, is different because this is the only world that we’ve never been to before. Vexen gave Sora this card drawing from the character of Roxas, who is connected to Sora, in the hopes of revealing Roxas’s existence. This is something that Axel puts a stop to for reasons we find out in Kingdom Hearts II. Yet, for Sora and us, this only brings more questions than answers. For Riku, this is the last world he visits before confronting Ansem courtesy of a mysterious man called DiZ. This is when Riku truly accepts who he is by not only defeating his replica, who I will explain later, but refuses Namine’s offer to have his memories of Ansem and the terrible things Riku did under his influence erased, instead confronting Ansem on his own. Like Sora, Riku’s chosen the truth over a lie.
Like how Namine replaced Kairi in Sora’s memories, she takes over what was originally Kairi’s paragraph in the first game. I know that, in my review of Kingdom Hearts, I called Kairi a plot device in distress who has no character of her own. So, while many of you probably expect me to tear Namine to shreds, I’m not going to do it. I’ll admit, when I was younger, I dismissed Namine as a weak damsel in distress and I really regret that now. Just because Namine doesn’t physically fight or talk back to her captives doesn’t mean that she’s not capable. First, I want to apologize for dismissing Cinderella as a weak damsel in distress in my review for the first game. Cinderella may not fight physically but she does have a strength of heart and, no matter how many times her stepmother and stepsisters try to bring her down, she doesn’t give up. Namine is in a similar situation where the Organization’s holding her hostage and she doesn’t have the power to fight back. All she has is the power to change Sora’s memories, which she uses for the benefits of her captors. However, I’d like to point out that she does fight in small ways. In the game, Sora recalls a memory Namine wrote into his head about how she was scared of falling stars and how he promised to protect her, even using the good luck charm Namine “gave” him as proof. In reality, Namine changed the good luck charm Kairi gave Sora and would later do the same with a replica of Riku. Oh, did I forget to mention? Vexen made a copy of Riku and tested him out on the original Riku before asking Namine to change his memories to think that he is the real Riku. However, Namine not only gave Riku the exact same memory, but she also changed the Destiny Island card to the exact same good luck charm she gave Sora. When Donald and Goofy heard that Sora and Riku not only had the same good luck charm but the same memory, they knew something was up. So, I wonder if that was Namine’s plan all along. There’s also another scene when Axel’s in charge of guarding Namine and he subtly hints that, if she goes to help Sora, he’s not going to stop her. Yet, at the same time, Namine had to know that Marluxia and Larxene would punish her for this. In Destiny Island, Namine is the one who helps Sora remember Kairi and reverts the good luck charm back to its original form. She’s also the one to save the original Riku by taking Kairi’s form and telling him to accept the darkness so that Zexion couldn’t kill him. However, there are times when they have a chance to delve further into Namine’s character and they don’t take it. For instance, the scene where Vexen and Larxene talk about rewriting the Riku Replica’s memories is more about R.R. not wanting to lose who he is than about how Namine feels about rewriting his memories. There’s also a scene between Namine and Larxene, where she taunts her and R.R. has the nerve to think he can speak for Namine. Though, after R.R. leaves, Larxene seems like she might be genuinely proud of Namine by congratulating her on rewriting the memories of Sora and R.R. Since Namine is ashamed of herself, she subtly talks back to Larxene though whether it’s out of defiance, sorrow or both is left to the player. In the end, she not only apologizes to Sora but offers him, Donald, Goofy and Jiminy a chance to have their old memories back in exchange for memories of their adventures in Castle Oblivion. However, Sora not only chooses to get his memories of Kairi back, he says that he’ll also meet Namine after he gets his memories back, and they can be friends for real. To Sora, there is no choice. He wants to remember Kairi while still being friends with Namine. However, when Namine gives a similar offer to the original Riku, he chooses not to run from the past and, instead, goes to the final floor to confront his own darkness in the form of Ansem. So, Namine, in her own way, does take action but, unlike Larxene, she does not physically fight or talk back to her opponents. Larxene is seen as strong because her way of fighting and taunting her opponents is more masculine while Namine is dismissed because she uses more feminine techniques. Unfortunately, our society holds the belief that masculine means strong while feminine means weak and, for a long time, I also held that belief. However, the portrayal of women in this game is not perfect. While Alice manages to gaslight the Queen of Hearts and Ariel helps bring Ursula down, Jasmine is still the plot device for the world of Agrabah. Belle, on the other hand, is a damsel in distress in her world but boldly fights Maleficent by being cold towards the Beast to sabotage Maleficent’s plan. In the end, Belle bravely sacrifices herself when the Beast refuses to leave. Yet, at the same time, we learn more about who the Beast is before Belle than we do about who Belle is before the Beast. So, I’d say the portrayal of women in this game is better than it was in the first but not by much.
Remember how I praised the game play of the first Kingdom Hearts? Well, I have nothing but complaints for the game play in Chain of Memories. For starters, both Sora and Riku rely on a card system, and it is frustrating. Sora can still fight with his keyblade and/or magic but every single attack is in the form of a card.
On each floor, you can form different rooms that either have enemies, moogles to buy from or sell to, or a save point. In the case of rooms with enemies, you have to attack the Heartless and you get sent to a separate scene similar to Final Fantasy where you have to fight the enemy. However, in Final Fantasy, the players and the enemies had to operate on a turn-based system so you could plan your attacks. In this game, the Heartless are constantly attacking you with their cards and, if their cards a higher number than yours, you’re screwed no matter how powerful the attack is. Sure, you can try to plan but it’s a little hard to think when you’re constantly being attacked. If you combine three cards, you can perform a sleight as long as the enemy card doesn’t break the sleight with a zero card. Not just that but, if the cards do form a sleight, you lose the first card you used after reloading the deck and, if you’re like me, you’re probably just using three random cards without thinking and didn’t even bother to memorize each sleight. You can even edit the deck to make sure that you have the right cards for the next battle but going through the deck can be rather frustrating. Oh and, just like the last game, you get to level the characters up but, unlike the last game, you choose the attributes you want to increase. Did I mention that both Sora and Riku fight alone? Sure, Donald, Goofy, Pluto and Mickey help them out but that’s if you gather the cards for them that bounce around the room. Unfortunately, since you’re so busy trying to stay alive, you may forget to collect them. The only world that doesn’t have any fighting is the Hundred Acre Wood and that’s only because it’s devoted entirely to mini games. Which makes sense because that was the one place Sora felt safe. Though, when I played this game on the GBA, you just helped Pooh find his friends, but I guess they gave this world an update for the PlayStation 2.
As Riku, you still have to depend on the card system, but the game automatically chooses the deck for him, so you don’t have to think as much. Unfortunately, unlike Sora, there’s no cure cards so, if your health is low, you have to wait around for a Mickey card to collect and hope for the best. Riku also can’t use sleights unless he changes into his dark form during battle and, while they are powerful, if you get too dependent on sleights for either character, odds are you could get stuck with two cards. Watch out for that because that’s happened to me more than once. Though, as I asked earliey, you can’t plan while a bunch of creatures are trying to swipe at you. The first Kingdom Hearts game understood that but I guess the makers of this game wanted to try something new and failed miserably. Riku also comes with a duel aspect where, if he plays the exact same card as the enemy, they draw until Riku beats the enemy in three to five moves in a limited amount of time and performs a powerful attack.
Whenever that happened, I just randomly drew cards until I won the duel, or the timer ran out.
The plot for this game is good but the game play is an absolute nightmare. I give it 6 out of 10; instead of playing the game, just find a collection of the scenes on YouTube. Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments and feel free to request one yourself in either the comments, to my email or send it to me on Discord at suburbantimewaster#8733.