When I first got my Nintendo DS in 2006, I think I was more excited about the fact that it could play Game Boy Advance games. I never had a GBA, but I knew it had a great catalog of games. So before I got my first DS game, I picked up several GBA titles, including and without hesitation, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (2004). I still had some keen but distant memories of the first Kingdom Hearts game, and I looked forward to revisiting Sora and the gang.
I’ll say **spoilers** here, but I don’t know if anyone cares at this point. Chain of Memories was not the most successful KH game, so maybe no one ever played it except in Japan.
As the title suggests, this game is all about memories, Sora’s memories. Sora was the main protagonist in the first Kingdom Hearts games, and Chain of Memories picked where that game left off. As Chain of Memories opened, Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy walked into a bar… hahaha…ha…ahem. They were walking along minding their businesses until they were stopped by a mysterious figure who directed them to Castle Oblivion (same place as the first game). Rather than invoke the “don’t talk to strangers” rule, Sora, et al, entered the castle, which was summarily sealed to prevent their escape. Because, of course. In the castle, the same mysterious guy told them that they no longer had any abilities and that the being in the castle affected their memories – the higher they go in it, the more memories they would lose. Mysterious Guy produced a set of cards based on the gang’s memories and explained that everything they saw, heard, and did in the castle was based on these cards and their memories. Sora had to use these cards, and collect others, to progress. The cards gave him abilities, better weapons, spells, items, and created the castle’s denizens, rooms, and levels (through, as the game deemed, “synthesizing”).
Cards? Really? Okay look — I liked Chain of Memories, and I enjoy a good challenge as much as anyone; but that part of the game, using cards, which made up just about all the game’s action, I really did not like. See, here’s the thing…
Cards could be gained through battles or just finding them hidden in levels, and there were three primary types. Attack Cards denoted the various Keyblades (Sora’s regular weapon) that could be used and the strength of those attacks. Magic Cards were used for, well, magic – unleashing spells, mostly. And Item Cards contained potions and such that could restore Sora’s health, or his Magic and Attack Cards.
At the beginning of the game, you could only hold something like five or six cards at a time. As Sora leveled up, the number of cards ain your “hand” increased. And it was up to you how you played your cards, so to speak, and you could place them in just about any order you chose. You could choose all Attack cards and pummel enemies senseless. Or you could throw in a few Magic Cards to mix things up a bit. But you always wanted to keep an Item Card or two in queue just in case. In a battle, you could play your cards in the order they appeared, or you could skip and move cards to play a specific card at a specific time. However, the longer you took to choose a card to play, the more vulnerable you were to attack. And if you took too long, you got a beat down. So it helped to have your cards in good order going in.
And that there that I just explained probably took me a good several days of play to figure out. Looking back on this, I see how the Chain of Memories card system wasn’t all that different from a regular turn-based RPG – choose what you want to do during a turn then do it. But at the time, I didn’t get it. For the vast majority of the game, I used mostly Attack Cards, because I thought they were the easiest to use and understand, and I generally prefer to beat enemies senseless whenever I have the chance. Sure, as I progressed, I got better at using the cards; but about halfway through the game, I realized I had a shitload of cards that I didn’t even realize were at my disposal. And so I tried to get fancy with things. (P. S. I’ve never played a card-based RPG in my life, so when it came to strategy, I had none.) I set up several different decks with all sorts of cards in queue just for the hell of it. And I started playing and I started sucking. Golly gee wilikers, was I bad at using different types of cards together. But I gave to the old college try, and I nearly gave my DS the old college heave into a wall during several boss battles. I eventually switched back to using mostly Attack Cards and I felt all horrible for wussing out. So yeah, I didn’t like the card system.
Still confused? This gameplay video from YouTube user souio might help explain better:
But beyond all that mess, the game was pretty entertaining. Most of the levels harkened back in one way or another to the original ones in KH, and most of Sora’s Disney and Final Fantasy companions were once again along for the ride (since they were all part of his memories, y’know.) Riku was back…sorta, a girl named Naminé came into play, and Sora had a new enemy: “The Organization.” I found the graphics to be a little choppy at times, but they were never so bad as to screw up the game entirely. I did that all on my own with the damn cards. Yay for me.
Years later, this was the first game I showed my niece to play on my (which became her) DS. I couldn’t explain it any better at that point beyond, “you pick a card to use and it tells Sora what to do.” I don’t know that she fully understood the card mechanics; however she made it to the first primary boss embarrassingly fast. Thankfully, she didn’t rub it in my face. She did, however, earnestly say, “I don’t think I get it.”
Me either, kid. Me either.