Square Enix is no stranger to rhythm games. Over the years they’ve come out with the Theatrhythm series which carried on its back the likes of both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. These unusual entries in their storied franchises were met with a chorus of resounding success and so fans began to wonder: would Kingdom Hearts or other games get the same treatment?
Fast forward to the present and the answer is clear, though it’s arriving in a far expanded package. While the Theatrhythm games were created for the Nintendo 3DS’s mobile experience, Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory graces the current generation of home consoles on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and for the first time on Nintendo Switch.
Despite this evolution, the game is absolutely a rhythm game to its core. But how does it all work? And how does it fit into the rest of the often complex and increasingly convoluted Kingdom Hearts series.
Right from the jump, Melody of Memory opens with visual recap of the series along with a number of tutorials that help you ease into the game. Don’t be fooled: if you’re not used to rhythm games things can be deceptively difficult – the 3D presentation can be a little disorienting to navigate at first as well, or at least it was for me. The moving track loops and turns – it can be somewhat unnerving.
From the outset you’ll enter the game’s World Tour, in which you’ll spend the bulk of your time reliving the greatest hits from the Kingdom Hearts series world by world – through over 140 songs all total each with their own difficulty setting: Beginner, Normal and Proud. Segments are rounded out by narrated cutscenes that recap their respective games, peppered amongst several boss stages that play out like a traditional fighting arena. Completing worlds in the Tour will then subsequently unlock other game modes in the outer menu.
Unfortunately, the songs are pretty much stock as-in, how they appeared in the original games. This seems to be by design, which I suppose is fine, though it does leave me wanting. If you were expecting some fun remixes of the classics, however, there’s none to be had here. That and the suspicious absence of anything related to The Pirates of the Caribbean… but hey! You’ve got One-Winged Angel instead, how about that?
Selecting each world will let you pick from one or two songs depending, corresponding in turn to their own themed tour of each stage. The vast majority of which have you battling Heartless or other enemies from the Kingdom Hearts games. The enemy types change to match up with their themed locations.
The core of the gameplay, or the rhythm aspect, relies on a handful of key actions you’ll input during each song. On PlayStation 4, the version I tested for this review, you’ll press either X, L1 and R1 (sometimes a combination of up to all three depending on how enemy patterns work out) for each item that appears on screen. Green prompts that show up will have you hold down the button until the chain is completed and yellow ones demand you push the control stick in the indicated direction. Each of these can be hit by focusing in on an aiming reticule that pops up during gameplay.
Different from the usual rhythm fare, Sora and friends will deal out attacks, jump, fly and can trigger magic spells depending on certain triggers.
Each stage will have you sample just a portion of each original music track, you’ll earn Rhythm Points upon completion as well as items and levels. Materials can be sourced in the game’s Item Synthesis menu and can create helpful items such as Potions, Mega-Potions, Item Boosts, EXP Boosts and a Summoning Star that’ll bring forth King Mickey to heal you in battle.
But if the challenge of a rhythm game isn’t your thing, Melody of Memory does offer up a One Button Mode. Or if you want to turn the difficulty up, try the Performer Mode to add even more buttons to the chaos. No matter what mode you choose, however, the gameplay stays relatively the same. In that sense it can feel repetitive and unending, especially with the amount of time needed to get through everything.
When all’s said and done you can blitz through the main “story” content in about eight hours just to unlock everything and gain access to what most fans of the series came here for: the new content. Without diving into spoilers, there’s a number of scenes that are clearly there to say: hey this game is canon! It’s important! Just like every other entry, console, mobile or otherwise. That’s Kingdom Hearts for you though, I suppose. It’s something we just accept because it is by design.
Additional menu items include playing the individual songs outside of the World Tour, VS Battles, in which you can play multiplayer, and a Museum mode that lets you peruse collectable cards, songs in the Jukebox or view your game stats. They’re nice little add ons for those who just want to sit back and enjoy the music without attention needed to timely press buttons.
On the whole, Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory is a game for the fans. Newcomers to the series can also easily find enjoyment whether they’re simply here for the music or the brief recap of the existing series. It’s not a bad tool in that sense, though the time sink required is a little questionable and the full asking price does seem a bit steep for what amounts to very little in the ways of “new” content. The visual presentation is well enough and the music lovely as always. The game offers a fair “evolution” as it were of the original Theatrhythm formula and that I can appreciate. Maybe this can now be the template going forward should Square Enix want to venture further into the rhythm game genre. NieR… perhaps?
Disclaimer: A PlayStation 4 retail version of the game was provider to Nova Crystallis by the publisher.