Speedrunner Interview – Finding the Rhythm of Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory

Kingdom Hearts is a one-of-a-kind franchise, boasting a diverse array of qualities, making it a long-standing object of scrutiny and appeal. The series also has an infamous reputation for being cumbersome for potential beginners to get into. While the complications of the collective narrative are definitely overblown, it is certainly intimidating. However, with a series as massive as this, some find themselves lovingly entangled with it in their own unique ways.

One of these individuals, PreferredWhale6, is one of the most unique cases of a Kingdom Hearts fan that I have encountered due to her love for the franchise stemming from speedrunning one of the most unconventional titles one can run, Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory.

I had the chance to interview Whale on her history with the Kingdom Hearts series, what exactly compelled her to get into it, and how speedrunning Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory has been the gateway to meeting all kinds of fans.

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OJ: What is your history with the Kingdom Hearts franchise before you played Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory?

PreferredWhale6: Yeah! So before I played Melody of Memory, I played the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II as a kid but never really understood them. I tried playing Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories but didn’t get very far before I just put it down and never returned to it.

Then as an adult, I played Kingdom Hearts III and thought it was gorgeous, but that was it; I couldn’t grasp the story at all. My fiancé, WaterKH, tried getting me interested by playing Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, and it was so cool, but I had no idea how any of it even linked to the wider KH story.

OJ: What compelled you to play Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory?

PreferredWhale6: Actually, it was all kind of by chance, WaterKH was talking about how hyped he was for Melody of Memory, and the demo was free, so I downloaded it.

I remember being excited to be one of the first to play it because of New Zealand time, hahaha. What compelled me, though, was when I was just jamming out to the demo and got an All Excellent without even trying. I was legitimately hooked from then on. I mastered all the demo songs and thought, “I should upload my high scores somewhere.” And then WaterKH was already a streamer, so I was like, “Why not stream it?” and have all my scores recorded online. Then yeah, I really enjoyed the road to mastering all the songs in the main game, despite learning most if not all of them just through practice and repetition.

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OJ: As a direct follow-up to the last question, what made you want to speedrun Melody of Memory? Did a certain, pivotal moment entice you, or was it more of a gradual build-up of desire that you can’t quite pinpoint?

PreferredWhale6: For me, I was just so taken over by the game that I really wanted to be one of the best at it. So before the main game even came out, I tried speedrunning the demo, doing Proud/Performer, and aiming for All Excellents. I got All Excellent on 3/4 of the songs, and literally, one good (my one good curse) meant I got a Full Chain on one song, so that was a lot of fun!

Then when the main game came out, I saw Violin do a speedrun getting All Stars in World Tour, so I did the exact same run aaaand was a lot slower because he used a PS5, and I have PS4 Pro, haha. Then when speedrun.com added the leaderboards, I knew that I had to have my name up there.

OJ: How difficult is it to muster up the motivation and consistently run a game as unorthodox for speedrunning as Melody of Memory? It is, after all, a rhythm game, which leaves out a lot of the routing one would expect from a more standard type of speedrun.

PreferredWhale6: Actually, up until very, very recently, it wasn’t difficult at all; knowing I could easily speedrun the different categories was motivating enough. I had done speedrunning before (doing Call of Duty zombies easter eggs), so I knew what I was in for when I’d attempt them.

In terms of the rhythm game aspect, there are still ways to improve all my times right now – getting a PS5 would be the only way I could challenge the Any% and All Stars times on console – but also actually doing worse on the songs means you get fewer rhythm points, saving time on menu-ing, which ends up being crucial on console. It would be down to seconds and perfect inputs for the entire run – but what else is a speedrun but perfect inputs?

But yeah, now that I’ve done my best on all the speedruns, I’ve started to feel a little burnt out, so I won’t actually be attempting another Melody of Memory speedrun unless I get a PS5, have one of my times beaten, or I reach a Twitch bit incentive to speedrun the platinum trophy haha.

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OJ: How has this game impacted your desire to play the rest of the franchise? You are likely one of the very few players who has actually played this game and was not really a fan prior. I don’t think many, if anyone, can say that Melody of Memory pushed them into the series.

PreferredWhale6: Yeah, it’s funny for sure. I’m still learning where each song originates from (whose boss battle, or which world’s battle music, etc.). Still, because of my experience with Melody of Memory, I’m completely convinced to play through all the Kingdom Hearts games I haven’t finished yet and especially learn where all the songs originate.

Even watching people’s streams/speedruns of the other Kingdom Hearts games like the SuperSpikeGhettiBros and YamYanity, I recognize songs from Melody of Memory. I honestly think it helped me relate more to the characters, too. Now I’ve warmed up to Sora (who I previously just thought was kind of naïve and bratty). I now see Sora as cute and a lot less annoying.

I fell in love with Dark Aqua – cosplayed as her even – but it wasn’t until Melody of Memory that I realised, hey, maybe I should experience all the games for myself before I just completely write them off as too convoluted for me. Though, I’m also currently adding to this Word document things that Kingdom Hearts and the KH community say that are just completely wild and hilarious to me, for example, “And then he turned into a Keyblade” or “Riku Replica forces Dark Riku out of his Riku replica body.” Once I play all the games, I’m hoping to reopen this document and be like, “Ah yes, it all makes sense now.”

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OJ: How have your interactions with not just the Melody of Memory speedrunning community but Kingdom Hearts speedrunning communities been overall? For instance, aside from the general treatment between runners, is there regular intermingling between runners who speedrun different categories or different titles altogether?

PreferredWhale6: Hmm, I’ve had particular interactions with the general KH speedrunning community, but what I have experienced has been overwhelmingly positive. I briefly mentioned them earlier, but I watch the SuperSpikeGhettiBros and YamYanity speedrun Kingdom Hearts III and Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, respectively, and they watch my speedruns too. They’ve even offered to help me if I ever wanted to speedrun their games seriously, which is very generous of them.

I also watch speedrunners Violin and Ninten (I love his cat Pumpkin) now and then. I’ll usually lurk whenever my streamer friends do Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix randomizer races. (although I guess those aren’t strictly “speedruns,” but they are as fast as possible attempts)

Violin actually followed me on Twitch recently and jumped into chat, so that was really surprising. I lightly interrogated him about how he managed to get All Excellent on a few of the harder songs in Melody of Memory, haha. Also, the moderators for the Melody of Memory speedrun leaderboards have been pretty cool, answering all my questions, helping me when I submitted a run to the wrong board, and even tried to help me sort out a load time remover for speedrunning. (I couldn’t figure it out in the end, though)

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OJ: Would you encourage others to try speedrunning if they feel even just remote curiosity? If so, what are some tips you would provide?

PreferredWhale6: Heck yeah! Of course! If you are at least curious, just jump into it! Chances are, there will be guides up on speedrun.com for the game you want to speedrun. And, if there aren’t any guides, then YOU are the one pioneering the speedruns, so you can be the first to even attempt it!

For Melody of Memory specifically, there are so many categories where it’s just little ol’ me all by myself, so even if it took you all day to get through a run, you’d be 2nd in the world! You just need the recording – you don’t have to stream it, nor do you have to be a streamer. I’ve submitted a run that I did off-stream, and it’s still the fastest IGT (In-Game Timer) so far. I’ve seen a speedrun by Lucien15937 be accepted, and he was streaming it straight from his PS4, no timer even.

I will suggest getting amongst the community, joining any speedrunning Discords that are relevant to the game you want to speedrun, or even just the game’s general Discord because it’s fun to chat with other people who are passionate about the same games. It’s extra motivating if you get a competitive group. Streaming the speedruns helped me get to know other Melody of Memory fans and speedrunners, which has helped me achieve my speedrunning success.

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OJ: Is there any subject matter regarding Melody of Memory you would want Square Enix to hear so they can better players’ experiences?

PreferredWhale6: The biggest one: Versus custom lobbies. Being able to face off against our friends and do matches would greatly revive Melody of Memory. I think – if Square Enix were worried about people boosting, my suggestion would be to remove the rating experience from custom lobbies. I know so many people and communities that want to do things like Melody of Memory tournaments, but with how matchmaking is set up right now, there’s no guarantee any of it could consistently work.

There are a few broken notes throughout some of the songs that need fixing (such as Radiant Garden). In our Melody of Memory Discord, we even have a Google document with BGM offset suggestions that seem to result in more accurate song scores. But other than that, Melody of Memory is exceptional; well done!

OJ: Do you have any final bits of discussion you would want to bring up and talk about here at the end?

PreferredWhale6:  Yes! I would just like to thank all of the Kingdom Hearts community who have welcomed me with open arms and made my experience of getting to know KH better a true joy. I really would love for anyone interested in speedrunning Melody of Memory to give it a go and check out the guides on speedrun.com or get in touch with me if they have any questions! Thanks so much for the interview OJ, all the best!


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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual. Fan of JRPGs, Action, Platformers, Rhythm, and Adventure titles.