The Kingdom Hearts franchise has a long history. Twisting and turning through a huge cast of characters and worlds, main games and spin-offs, you’d be forgiven for losing track of what’s been happening over the last 18 years. As such, Square Enix’s latest title in the franchise recaps the entire storyline so far. The catch is it isn’t the traditional RPG fans would usually expect. Instead, Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory is a rhythm music title.
This shouldn’t be a surprise given the franchise’s musical legacy. After all, the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra has performed concerts all over the world. The game has narrowed that legacy down to just over 140 songs, with a mix of Yoko Shimomura compositions, Hikaru Utada original themes, and instrumental versions of familiar Disney songs. Through all of these, familiar enemies have to be defeated to the rhythm of the music. However, don’t expect gameplay similar to Square Enix’s other musical franchise Theatrhythm.
Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory Review – Not a Theatrhythm Game
Melody of Memory is a 3D experience that tries to replicate the traditional Kingdom Hearts combat experience. It starts by throwing players in at the deep end. In the first Memory Dive level, Sora, Donald and Goofy glide through the air while a cutscene plays in the background. Button prompts appear in a stream but there’s no indication of what to do with them. Although I played a demo before the game’s release, there was no Memory Dive in it. I somehow made it to the end. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d be thanking my button mashing instincts.
The following tutorial featured the most common type of level where the trio runs forward into oncoming enemies and everything was explained. Basic attacks take down most enemies and can be triggered using X, L1 or R1. Multiple enemies mean two or three buttons need to be pressed at once. Sora, who always runs down the middle, can jump to avoid ranged attacks or hit flying enemies. Holding the circle button makes Sora glide through the air, often used to collect floating musical notes. Finally, there are ability crystals that trigger more powerful magical attacks against larger enemies.
All of these attacks are timed to the rhythm of the song and they’re cleverly mapped. Not once was a missed attack down to the dodgy placement of button prompts. Miss attacks by messing up your timing and HP is deducted from a finite bar. Lose all HP and the song fails automatically. At the end of the song, your score reflects your accuracy. If this all sounds complicated, there are three difficulty modes to suit all players—Beginner, Standard and Proud. You can immediately start on whichever difficulty you want. Items can make things easier for struggling players by restoring HP, increasing EXP, or even summoning King Mickey to help out, although purists will rarely use them.
Everyone begins in World Tour mode as this is the only mode available at the start of the game. Here the trio travels through familiar worlds, completing tasks to unlock more worlds. The Darkness are themed to the worlds and the game from which they came, such as the Magnum Loader who only appears in the Tron songs. There’s a great range of enemies to defeat. The only downside is sometimes the sheer number of enemies heading towards you can make the button prompts confusing. I did say my button mashing instincts came in handy beyond the first level.
Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory Review – Vanquishing Plenty of Darkness
Sora, Donald and Goofy aren’t the only team available. Three other teams led by Roxas, Riku, and Aqua can be substituted in. Aside from different magic attacks triggered by the ability crystals, there is little difference between them. There are also guest characters that sub in for Donald and Goofy in some worlds. During the guest levels, friend orbs become obstacles, although I’m still not sure of their purpose aside from unlocking a trophy. It was amusing watching Stitch’s little legs trying to keep up, though.
The third type of level in the game is Boss Battles, which make very few appearances through the World Tour. They’re similar to Memory Dives in how they play. Some button prompts represent the team’s attacks, while prompts surrounded in Darkness represent their defense against the boss’ attacks. Accuracy is most important here as even a full combo doesn’t guarantee finishing a battle with a full HP bar.
Boss battles are the only time you get to appreciate what’s happening in the background. These levels take breaks so players can witness the outcome of the battle. In other levels you’re too busy concentrating on the stream of notes to pay much attention to the themed worlds or the Memory Dive cutscenes. This is where the level demos come in handy. Possibly intended to show players how to tackle a level properly, they also allow you to ignore the action and pay attention to the content you originally missed.
As worlds are unlocked, a recap cutscene narrated by Kairi will bring players up to speed with the story. The mode takes players through the games in the story’s chronological order. As such, the new story content offered by the game doesn’t appear until the end of World Tour. Those solely looking for this may be disappointed that it’ll take at least 8-10 hours of playing to get to that point. The good news is that you can progress through the story on the most basic difficulty if necessary, although not all tasks can be completed.
Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory Review – More Than a Story Recap
Once tracks have been beaten in World Tour, they‘re unlocked in Track Selection. This is a freeplay mode with additional performance difficulties only available here. One Button mode reduces all button prompts to a single button, allowing players to instead concentrate on the music. On the other end of the scale, Performer mode adds even more button prompts into the mix. Failing to hit these won’t reduce the HP bar, but they do give a massive score bonus for those who can manage them.
Several tracks need to be beaten in World Tour before the multiplayer modes are unlocked. There’s a local co-op mode that gets two players working together to get a high score. There’s also a competitive mode that can be played against AI or real players. This mixes things up by introducing random tricks, like disappearing prompts or enemies. Tricks trigger automatically once the trick bar is filled and makes things more difficult for your opponent.
The multiplayer modes fit perfectly into a game that thrives on replayability and the drive to get full combos and high scores. There’s also over 1,700 collectible cards to unlock with character, keyblade and story artwork. All of these expand into larger windows to get a better look at them with the exception of the keyblade cards. Bizarrely, these are reduced to small images that don’t show off the artwork properly and seem like a bit of a waste. Collecting all of these cards will take time because of a seemingly harsh number of duplicates. Towards the end of the World Tour, I had a 50% duplicate rate even though I only had 25% of the cards unlocked. Completionists must prepare for a grind.
Melody of Memory is worth playing for both newcomers and veterans alike. While the game might not be an expected entry into the Kingdom Hearts franchise, it’s a competent rhythm title with a varied selection of music. The accessibility options mean it’s great for players of all abilities. Those who are then intending to play the RPG games for the first time may want to consider playing those beforehand unless you want the entire storyline spoiled. For fans, the extra content gives a fascinating idea of where the franchise is going next as long as you’re prepared to put in the time to get there.
Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information, please read our Review Policy.