Kingdom Hearts has been a beloved franchise for close to 20 years now, and with all of the spin-offs and expansions it’s crazy to think that there have only been 3 main entries so far. Square Enix has just released Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, a celebration of the music that’s been an integral part of the experience for all those years. It’s out for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch – we played it on the PlayStation, the original home of the franchise.
Being a rhythm-based game, Melody of Memory doesn’t have the usual multi-branch storyline we’ve come to expect from Kingdom Hearts, but it does feature plenty of fan service for those who have been loyal to the franchise for all these years. Not only does it feature a massive tracklist with over 140 tracks, you also get plenty of recurring characters (including Disney favorites Goofy and Donald) and even some cutscenes that will bring back memories.
The game comes with a few self-explanatory modes, from a world tour that takes you through a large selection of songs in a predefined order to free play and cooperative modes. You can also go online for some competitive multiplayer in versus mode. The world tour is actually a selection of different game worlds, and you go through these pretty quickly – each one has one to two tracks to complete before you progress to the next world. Within a song, there are special objectives that allow you to earn stars based on your performance, which is the main mechanic in terms of gaining access to more content (which only then becomes available in free play).
In terms of core gameplay, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a fairly straightforward rhythm game with a thick layer of Kingdom Hearts on top. Rather than just focusing on a bar and hitting the right buttons at the right time, you’re controlling three characters at once – each of which runs along their own track. You’ll automatically trigger the right character when you hit notes at the right time, and there are only three buttons that you need to use to do so – although you’ll sometimes need to press more than one at the same time in order to hit a combo of notes. In true Kingdom Hearts fashion, you’ll also jump and attack enemies, which makes for a unique blend on top of an otherwise simple enough rhythm game.
The rhythm-based gameplay could have used a bit more diversity, if only on account of the variety in the tracks that have been composed for the franchise over the years. Some of the more upbeat songs work great, but the more emotional tracks full of strings aren’t great ‘ram those buttons to the beat’ material. VR games like Synth Riders have a good approach to this, and I could also see elements from games like Elite Beat Agents working well with strings. In Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, the gameplay can feel a little off-beat, literally.
Ironically, the world tour mode has some interesting battles with boss characters that showcase exactly how this problem could have been fixed, with creative uses of your controls where you’re suddenly also moving your thumbsticks – which obviously feels like a far more natural fit for strings than beat-tapping does.
The game lets you play tracks on three difficulty levels, and when you go online with the versus mode it will feel a bit like a 2 player Tetris or Super Puzzle Fighter match, where hitting notes successfully sends modifiers/attacks towards the other player. This can turn them invisible or make it harder for them to hit the right timing on notes, for example, and I could see this being a good long term destination for players as it’s the most ‘game-like’ portion of the experience.
In terms of music-based gameplay, this certainly isn’t the next Guitar Hero. If you’re a fan of the Kingdom Hearts franchise this is great way to enjoy the musical portion of it and it offers a great walk down memory lane, but as a full price game it’s a tough recommendation since it doesn’t rise to the heights of (for example) Kingdom Hearts 3. That game was one of the best in its genre – Melody of Memory is merely an okay rhythm-based game set in the wonderful world of Kingdom Hearts.