Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is light on new story, but it serves as a nostalgic celebration of the franchise as a whole.
With eighteen years of history, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a celebration of the series at large. Although Melody of Memory technically has new story content, fans shouldn’t go in expecting any earth-shattering revelations, but rather a game that lets them relive their favorite moments with fantastic rhythm gameplay that keeps things interesting.
Melody of Memory sees Kairi diving back through her memories looking for a hint that might help the crew find Sora after the ending of Kingdom Hearts 3. The main game takes place in World Tour, where players visit a variety of worlds from across the series, each of which has its own songs. There’s very little new story in Melody of Memory, and players actually need to get through all of World Tour, roughly five hours, before unlocking any new info. At that point, there are about fifteen minutes of cutscenes that provide some very minuscule hints about the future of the series, although they will be interesting for fans. Although the main game is built on the previous engine, the new cutscenes are still done in the Unreal Engine style of Kingdom Hearts 3.
While that might sound bad, the core gameplay of Melody of Memory is so good that it virtually eliminates any disappointment in the story. It’s clear that the game is meant as a celebration of Kingdom Hearts, and a chance for fans to look back on everything before moving on to the next step. Each song in Melody of Memory has players going through a Field Battle and having to hit commands in time with the music.
Each enemy is marked by a button press trigger that shrinks to denote the timing of the press in rhythm with a given song. The controls of Melody of Memory are all themed around the combat of the Kingdom Hearts series. Players can hit A, L, or R to do a basic attack, and at times these buttons will need to be pushed in combination with each other. Songs also have ability orbs that players have to hit with X, enemies players need to jump before hitting, and glide markers that require an extended button press. For anyone that’s played a Kingdom Hearts game the controls will make sense right away, and it’s remarkable how well the gameplay matches up with the music.
It’s clear that Square Enix put a lot of work into these systems, and despite each song using the same formula, every one feels different. Melody of Memory enemies are tied to the beat, making each song flow naturally, especially if players know the songs beforehand. At the same time, there’s a huge variety in terms of the enemies that appear and the backgrounds. Each song’s stage is built around the stage it’s from, so “This is Halloween” has players running through Halloweentown, while the “13th Struggle” navigates the corridors of Castle Oblivion.
Field Battles make up the bulk of the songs, but World Tour does shake things up with a few boss battles. Certain sections of the song represent the boss’ attacks, and players need to hit them precisely to successfully block. The third song type is Memory Dive, which has players gliding above a video that plays footage from the series. All of these combine to make up for a surprisingly diverse offering for what could have been a simplistic rhythm game.
Players have a lot of control over the difficulty of songs with Beginner, Standard, and Proud difficulties. Each song has a difficulty rating for each mode, and there’s a clear separation between each one in terms of speed and number of notes. There’s also a one-button mode that lets players only hit one button to do every action, which provides accessibility for a wider spread of players. This is only bolstered by the fact players can use a selection of items in songs, like Potions or a Summoning Crystal that brings Mickey in for support. Players can acquire these items by beating songs, or they can use the game’s simplified take on the Synthesis system to make more.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory has a massive soundtrack of over 140 songs, with a good variety of different types. Each world represented basically has the exploration theme and the battle theme, while other songs from across the series are thrown in. There’s also a nice mix of Disney songs like “Let It Go,” “A Whole New World,” “Up Where They Walk,” and more. On certain songs, Disney characters will join the party, adding in new objects and sounds.
Players start with the team of Sora, Donald, and Goofy but there are three other teams to unlock in World Tour. Each team levels up and gets stat bonuses, but ultimately it feels like this doesn’t make much of a difference. Outside of World Tour, Free Play lets players dive into any song they’ve unlocked, and a Museum Mode shows a wealth of cards, art, and movies that players have unlocked. There’s also a Versus and Co-Op mode that can be done with another player, and the Switch makes this super easy with just two Joy-cons.
Melody of Memory is a great rhythm game which is only bolstered by the fantastic music of Kingdom Hearts and Disney. The way the gameplay is tied to the diverse soundtrack is impeccable, and Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a nostalgic treat for fans. Even for those new to the franchise, however, its gameplay and style should be more than enough to warrant a look, even if the magic may be dimmed somewhat by a lack of familiarity.
Next: Kingdom Hearts’ Master of Masters Explained, and Where The Series Could Go Next
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory launches on November 13 for PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was provided with a Nintendo Switch digital code for the purposes of this review.
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