Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories turns 12 in 2020 and it is crazy to think that this late PS2-era remake of a Game Boy Advance game is available on modern consoles, specifically the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One though the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix collection.
While it may carry a subtitle, Chain of Memories is actually the very first sequel to the original Kingdom Hearts and is quite important in the grand scheme of things. Its remake on the PS2 was a surprising release for fans, and set the precedent for future sequels to come.
What Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories brought to the table was the continuation of Sora, Donald, and Goofy’s adventures after they defeated Ansem, Seeker of Darkness and found themselves in the mysterious Castle Oblivion. This then introduces us to Organisation XIII and some of their more devious members and sets the stage for Kingdom Hearts II.
This was also the first time we got to control Riku as a playable character, complete with his own moveset and darkness-based powers. His adventures with King Mickey is also noteworthy as it doesn’t end with Chain of Memories, and continues in 358/2 Days and Kingdom Hearts II.
The card-based action-RPG mechanics was flipped on its head when the game was remade for the PS2. In 2D, things were quite straightforward in how you move and play your cards. While in 3D, you have to think about proper positioning to pull off some of the more elaborate moves. It also provided a consistent aesthetic for the first three games of the series.
The card-based mechanic, on one hand, might be too complicated for casual players, especially those who are mostly into Kingdom Hearts for its story. Juggling between moving Sora or Riku around while shuffling between your deck of cards can be quite the headache Comparatively, the mainline games’ commitment to having an easy to pick up hack-and-slash battle mechanic was definitely more welcome.
Besides that, most of the game is a rethread of the first Kingdom Hearts since the plot revolves around Sora reclaiming his memories. So players will be going to the same worlds and traverse the same Disney worlds, instead of going to any new ones. Which is why it was so easy for Square Enix to remake this game for the PS2 using assets from the two mainline games.
This reusing of previous game assets will be a recurring theme within the franchise as a whole, with entire games being more of a way for new fans to catch up to the series, instead of pushing the story forward. These sorts of games include Chain of Memories, Coded, and the recently released Melody of Memory.
Memories to Come
Some of the elements that Chain of Memories brought to the table was stressing the importance of all Kingdom Hearts games, whether they are a numbered title or a “side” game. Each game adds new lore and context to the overarching story and is a great treat for diehard fans. Re: Chain of Memories also set the precedence for all Kingdom Hearts to be widely available through a single game console. This has since continued up to the aforementioned HD Remix collections.
This was also the first game to shake things up and brought the battle mechanic variance, deviating from the usual hack-and-slash while giving Sora and Riku access to deadlier spells and abilities. This deck-based battle mechanic was then perfected in Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance.
Lastly, what Chain of Memories did best was provide an original story that focused on original Kingdom Hearts characters and in a whole new setting. We have not seen anything of this scale just yet, but with what series creator Tetsuya Nomura is teasing with Verum Rex and Melody of Memory’s secret ending, it looks like we might have an upcoming Kingdom Hearts game that focuses less on the Disney elements.
Overall, Re: Chain of Memories is far from being the best or worst Kingdom Hearts game, but it does have its flaws. The contributions it made to the entire franchise cannot be ignored and is definitely worth a revisit if you’re willing to truly understand the card-based mechanics.