Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory Review – Music to My Ears

    Title: Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory
    Developer: Square Enix
    Release Date: November 13, 2020
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Genre: Rhythm

Kingdom Hearts is a series that has received entries for nearly the past 20 years. While it has largely been the story about traveling into various Disney worlds and saving them from embodiments of darkness, for all of that time, we’ve had the god herself, Yoko Shimomura, in the driver’s seat as the composer. Perhaps this has been long overdue, but Square Enix has adapted the soundtrack into a rhythm gaming experience in Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory. And I’m thrilled to be here playing it.

The story of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory goes a little something like this: This is a rhythm game; there is no story. It’s about the songs. The closest the game has to a “Story” mode is the “World Tour” option. In this campaign, you’ll jump between worlds, playing one or two songs each, unlocking them for free play. Occasionally, the character Kairi will recap the events of the games, but that’s all.

I’m no rhythm game aficionado, but I’ve played my fair share of musical titles, and this title has a unique style, and it looks fantastic. Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory has a team of three characters run on a track, with three basic attack buttons. No, they are not tied to any one character, but instead, you sometimes need to press two or three simultaneously.

Additionally, there’s a jump button for the lead, which can be held down to glide, and an ability button, which is used on crystals to unleash a fancy looking skill. This makes for a total of five buttons that can be pressed for prompts. It sounds quite confusing and can get extremely hectic on screen, but the UI is incredibly clear and concisely relays exactly what you need to do. Thus, making it “an easy to pick up” title for those less familiar with the genre. You can’t remap controls, but you can remove directional presses, and free play songs have optional “Performer” and “One-Button” modes. Performer adds extra prompts for you to press, whilst one button allows you to just play through a song pressing one button.

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You begin with the classic trio of Sora, Donald, and Goofy as a playable team, but unlock three others as you progress through the World Tour. These teams are the Birth By Sleep trio, made of Aqua, Ven, and Terra, the 358/2 Days trio, made from Roxas, Axel, and Xion as well as a Dream Drop Distance trio, which consists of Riku and two dream eaters, being a meow-wow and a komory bat.

These teams can be leveled up, which will increase your survivability in stages and how many points you can acquire. Points aren’t a big deal, though, as the main factor for your score on songs is simply how good you are at them. Not even the consumable items will impact that on a base level. These items can have various effects such as heal your party, boost your XP gain and drop rate or make it slightly easier to hit perfect notes.

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That’s right; you get items and experience for completing songs. To be more precise, you get collectibles and synthesis materials. Collectables are character profiles and fancy art pieces you can view in the museum, and synthesis materials are used to make more collectibles, consumable items, and more songs.

It creates a neat gameplay loop that encourages you to keep playing and master the various systems. Picking out your favorite songs and playing along with them brings back so many memories for me to expect the same effect for other long time fans. I even teared up playing Vector to the Heavens and The Other Promise. They’re just so good.

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There are two other gameplay modes for songs as well, Memory Dives and Boss Battles. Memory Dives are set against music videos and replace jump, glide, and skills with analog stick swipes and boss battles will have your characters duking it out with a boss to the beat. Unfortunately, the boss battle songs are underutilized. They’re really cool, but there are very few of them, which spotlights the missing tracks.

On that note, the songs included within Melody of Memory are some top class picks… until you get to Kingdom Hearts 3. The newest adventure in the numbered series was filled to the brim with fantastic tracks, and yet only about eight made it into the game, most of which were Disney world themes. There’s also the inclusion of tracks from other games, but even this comes up short with The World Ends With You receiving one track, but yet there are three Kingdom Hearts remixes.

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The story actually has a teensy bit more to tell, but it’s more disappointing than anything. No, it’s not the fact that it’s a tease for the next game or anything like that. Sadly, we see Kairi get shafted once again as she can’t even narrate a recap of the Kingdom Hearts games in peace without new plot beats to prevent her from even doing that. You were so close with the Kingdom Hearts 3 Re:Mind DLC; you were so close.

After the campaign, if you want to get your anger out, jump into the multiplayer. There’s also a local multiplayer mode, but you don’t want to be disclosing your emotions to nearby people for them to exploit, so that I would be recommending the online.

Online gameplay has an optional trick mode that, if turned on, applies a “Trick Gauge.” As you clear notes, you’ll build it up and send randomized stage hazards to your opponent. But be warned, they’ll be sending you some too. They can mess with the UI and obscure your screen, but they’re much more amusing than annoying.

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Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is an incredibly charming game that finally brings the stellar array of music from the series into the spotlight. Its various options and modes allow any Kingdom Hearts fan to enjoy, but it doesn’t completely make up for some of the missing tracks. Still, the memories that these songs hold are represented brilliantly by a competent and addictive rhythm system that you’d be hard-pressed not to love.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Pyre Kavanagh

Senior Editor - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so they can buy more murder mysteries. @PyreLoop on twitter