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REVIEW: Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory is a harmonious additon to the franchise



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Oracle Spockanort

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Back in January of this year, Kingdom Hearts fans were coming off of the heels of Kingdom Hearts III ReMind and there was a sort of jubilant energy that had settled into the community. Fans were eager where the series was going to go after the events of that installment. Hardly anybody imagined that nearly nine months later they would be getting their answer in the form of Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory. I certainly had no expectations of a new game releasing this year, but this year has been a plot twist every single day, and, to be frank, Melody of Memory is certainly one of the more pleasant ones I have experienced thus far.

Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory is a rhythm-action game developed by Square Enix and Indieszero, a Japanese developer best known for their work on Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. This project came to fruition after years of discussions between Kingdom Hearts series Executive Producer Ichiro Hazama and Melody of Memory Co-Director Masanobu Suzui. The game had even been planned to be another Theatrhythm game, but after a lot of planning and discussions with Kingdom Hearts series director Tetsuya Nomura and Disney, they finally nailed what they wanted to create and Melody of Memory came to fruition.

When you first launch Melody of Memory, it throws you right into World Tour which serves as the game’s story campaign mode. You initially take control of Sora, Donald, and Goofy as they battle their way through different levels featuring music from iconic Disney worlds. As you play through various levels and complete missions, you collect stars that unlock pathways to new worlds spanning the scope of the entire series, and also unlock new three other teams that feature Roxas, Axel, Xion, Terra, Aqua, Ven, Riku, Komory Bat, and Meow Wow. Interspersed throughout these levels are recaps covering events from past games with Kairi, voiced by Alyson Stoner, serving as the narrator. 

The addition of these scenes in Melody of Memory makes for a perfect introduction to the series for any newcomers hopping in after Kingdom Hearts III and also serves as a great recap for long-time fans who get to relive their favorite moments. New and old fans will have plenty more to enjoy once they finish exploring the entirety of World Tour’s massive map. Brand new cutscenes play once you finish World Tour which sets the stage for the 2nd Phase of the series, and even though I cannot discuss the details of what goes on in these scenes, I can say that there is plenty to experience that will have fans debating and theorizing for months to come. Despite what these scenes mean for the future of the series, the fact that they are back-ended in Melody of Memory might upset some fans, but the story is not the crux of this game.

The heart of Melody of Memory is in its massive library of music and the rhythm-action gameplay paired with it. The first type of stages are Field Battles where you play as your chosen team and fight against Heartless, Nobodies, and other enemy types in time with the music. These battles are the most common type in the game and can range in length depending on the song. 

The second type of stages are Memory Dives where you time button inputs to the music as the team glides through cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts. The cutscenes played behind these special stages can be viewed again in the Theater section of the Museum without having to play through battles. 

The third type of stages are Boss Battles and there are only four of them in the game. The unique aspect of these boss battles are Dark Zones, segments of the battle that require the player to input the right commands in order to guarantee the team’s survival from a special attack from the boss. These dodging sections play out on screen without any button inputs so you may observe if you succeeded in dodging the boss, which makes the gameplay a bit clunky and less engaging than the other stage types. It is also a bit jarring that there are only four of these Boss Battles considering the wealth of enemies to be found in the Kingdom Hearts franchise.

After playing through a song in World Tour or synthesizing them in the Team Menu, these songs can be accessed in Track Selection mode. It is through this mode that you can experience a completely new way to play the game by changing your input style: Basic for the standard button input, One Button for a single button input, or Performer which adds additional targets that boost your scores as you play.

Players can also play through VS Battles which allow you to compete against opponents online or you can face off against COM opponents which progressively get harder as you climb the ranks. In this mode, special moves called Tricks are triggered that can confuse or trip up your opponents, but beware—opponents can also use tricks on you as you progress through a song. Online Battles features random matchmaking based on your combat preferences and your online rating which changes depending on how well you do in a match. 

The disappointing aspect of Online Battles is that there is no way to choose who you wish to go up against if you are looking to play with friends. This seems like a basic function that should have been included from the start, especially considering the fact that people are looking for more ways to interact with friends during the midst of the global pandemic. 

Local co-op is also available in this game through the Co-op mode. In this section, you and a friend can both pick up a controller and play through 21 different songs in Melody of Memory as Sora and Riku. While this mode is fun to play through with friends, it is yet again another mode that could have benefitted from an online option. 

As you progress through the various modes of the game, you collect synthesis materials, items, and collectibles varying from artwork to key moments from the series. Synthesis materials are used through the Team Menu to craft new consumable items like healing items, EXP Boosts, and Summoning Stars which allow you to call Mickey Mouse into battle. As mentioned earlier, you can synthesize new songs as well as materials, icons for your online VS Battle profile, and Collector’s Cards. 

Collector’s Cards can be viewed in the Museum which houses artwork, story scenes, Keyblades, and other collectibles that can be gathered as you play through Melody of Memory. As you collect more items, you can level up your “collector level” which grants certain bonuses like HP and EXP boosts to your team to make levels easier to progress through. The Museum also stores cutscenes from the World Tour, a jukebox to listen to songs from the game, and your records as you progress through the game. One notable section here are Feats, a list of 80 different goals to achieve as you play through Melody of Memory. 45 of these feats are linked to trophies you earn if you are playing on the Playstation 4, and the rest are additional achievements. This will certainly entice any completionists out there seeking a fun challenge to keep them occupied.

Everything is presented through the nostalgic and still gorgeous old style of graphics from the games before Kingdom Hearts III, barring the new cutscenes from the end of the game, and as I played I couldn’t help but smile at how much this game reminded me of playing through previous Kingdom Hearts games because of how charming the old style graphics are.

The greatest aspect of this game is the fact that Melody of Memory celebrates the beautiful compositions by series composers Yoko Shimomura, Takeharu Ishimoto, and Tsuyoshi Sekito alongside the wonderfully-crafted theme songs by Hikaru Utada. Whether it is the familiar sounds of “Hand in Hand” and “Destati” or heart-wrenching themes like “Ventus” and “Musique pour la tristesse de Xion”, there are over 144 tracks for fans to enjoy regardless of what game they started the series with. Melody of Memory even features a handful of original Disney songs like “A Whole New World” from Aladdin (1992) and “Circle of Life” from The Lion King (1994)—interesting choices for this game as fans know these songs are never featured in any Kingdom Hearts game. Sadly, there is a distinctive lack of tracks from Kingdom Hearts III compared to the rest of the series. Even though there are no plans for downloadable content, it feels as though Melody of Memory has a perfect opportunity to receive DLC down the line with an emphasis on Kingdom Hearts III now that the original soundtrack has released.

The entire package of Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory is not only a love letter to the music of Kingdom Hearts but to the entirety of this 18-year old franchise as a whole. This game is addictive to play due to its satisfying gameplay loop and the music and visuals all come together to create a delightful game newcomers and fans alike can play for months and years to come.

Played on Playstation 4 Pro

Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to KHInsider by the publisher.

 

General Information 

Developers: Square Enix, Indieszero
Director: Tetsuya Nomura
Co-Director: Masanobu Suzui
Executive Producer: Ichiro Hazama
Official Website: ENG | JPN
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: JP | November 11, 2020, NA/EU | November 13, 2020

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Chaser

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Great write up, a lot of my experience is the same as what was written here.

I loved the stages and playing through familiar songs and levels but I think I would have rated it a 6 based on the pacing (an introductory set up cutscene would have been nice) and the online component was a disappointment.

I’ve only completed half of the worlds in world tour as I rushed through to the end of the game but I’m looking forward to finishing off the rest of the game.
 

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Great write up, a lot of my experience is the same as what was written here.

I loved the stages and playing through familiar songs and levels but I think I would have rated it a 6 based on the pacing (an introductory set up cutscene would have been nice) and the online component was a disappointment.

I’ve only completed half of the worlds in world tour as I rushed through to the end of the game but I’m looking forward to finishing off the rest of the game.
I was more generous with it because the leak colored my impressions rather harshly, so playing it made me more pleased with the game than I expected.

Online was what dropped it down two points tbh.

Yeah, I agree. I also wish there had been an introductory cutscene...you know...something to show Kairi was asleep and maybe introduce her to the audience xD Not everybody is coming from ReMind into this, so it's a bit weird so play this entire game then BAM Kairi scenes.

Oh well. It's fun regardless. I'm honestly shocked I've gotten so good at this game (not like...good good. I'm still awful but I can do some Proud mode songs which is a feat for me)
 

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I think you meant "A Whole New World"? A tiny slip considering those songs both have the word world in them. :)
 

Oracle Spockanort

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I think you meant "A Whole New World"? A tiny slip considering those songs both have the word world in them. :)
YES. Thank you. I was thinking about the very awful KH2 rendition of "Part of Your World" as I was writing because it stuck to my memory but I couldn't find any reason to add it in. My subconscious wanted it in, clearly xD
 

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Yeah, I agree. I also wish there had been an introductory cutscene...you know...something to show Kairi was asleep and maybe introduce her to the audience xD Not everybody is coming from ReMind into this, so it's a bit weird so play this entire game then BAM Kairi scenes.
I haven't finished the game yet, I'm still pretty early in -- currently on the KH1 worlds -- so I'm not sure how the post-KH3 content will be introduced, but I think the reason for this I'm guessing is because Melody of Memory's formula is made with newcomers in mind. That could why it's not touching on anything Post-ReMind, because to newcomers, it might be jarring to have her come in and say "Oh yeah, we're going back in memories because something happened to Sora." And then you'd have people thinking "Okay, so something happened to Sora, but what?" Playing through the game with very minimal new cutscenes in context with that might not flow that well.

With the game's current format, you're going through the game like a proper recap, addressing necessary story elements when they come up. And since this game's mission seems to be "let's catch everyone up in the most simple, effective and fun way possible while keeping it all in contained game", you don't want to add anything too unnecessary too early, otherwise it might hurt the comprehension and pacing. That's my guess at least, but I'm still pretty early in, so it could very well change.
 

Oracle Spockanort

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I haven't finished the game yet, I'm still pretty early in -- currently on the KH1 worlds -- so I'm not sure how the post-KH3 content will be introduced, but I think the reason for this I'm guessing is because Melody of Memory's formula is made with newcomers in mind. That could why it's not touching on anything Post-ReMind, because to newcomers, it might be jarring to have her come in and say "Oh yeah, we're going back in memories because something happened to Sora." And then you'd have people thinking "Okay, so something happened to Sora, but what?" Playing through the game with very minimal new cutscenes in context with that might not flow that well.

With the game's current format, you're going through the game like a proper recap, addressing necessary story elements when they come up. And since this game's mission seems to be "let's catch everyone up in the most simple, effective and fun way possible while keeping it all in contained game", you don't want to add anything too unnecessary too early, otherwise it might hurt the comprehension and pacing. That's my guess at least, but I'm still pretty early in, so it could very well change.
See, I would have thought had they not recapped KH3 as succinctly as they did. It gets just as much time as the other games do in the recap.

I think this was strictly a technical and timing issue. MOM started falling into place during KH3’s development, so they likely didn’t have access to all of the music from that game. Demaking assets for these worlds would have also been a lot of extra work they probably didn’t have the time and budget for when they already had existing assets for everything else in the game.

Knowing this doesn’t make it sting any less. You’ll see what I mean when you get there.
 

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I've gotta say, I don't like what I'm hearing about the story segment all being backloaded. I was under the impression that you'd unlock a cutscene here and there as you play through the world tour. But the fact that nothing narratively happens until you actually beat the game makes the game itself seem superfluous and completely disconnected from the story segments.
Is it too much to ask from Square that we can get a Kingdom Hearts title that's both a good story and a good game? So far, the last three barring KH3 (this, UX, and DR) have all been either one or the other.
 

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I've gotta say, I don't like what I'm hearing about the story segment all being backloaded. I was under the impression that you'd unlock a cutscene here and there as you play through the world tour. But the fact that nothing narratively happens until you actually beat the game makes the game itself seem superfluous and completely disconnected from the story segments.
Is it too much to ask from Square that we can get a Kingdom Hearts title that's both a good story and a good game? So far, the last three barring KH3 (this, UX, and DR) have all been either one or the other.
What you unlock are the recaps by Kairi. Then you finish World Tour and the new content begins. It is disappointing, yes. SE did not clarify this until this weekend in a tweet on the Japanese account so I definitely understand feeling like you have been mislead.

Had Nomura stopped being vague about how the story unfolds, I think all of our expectations would have been put in check. Instead we had no idea what story would be shown. I think they would have been better off not having Kairi in the trailers at all and leaving her as a surprise, but I also know that would have been a detriment to marketing this game since Kairi is featured so prominently in the art.

As Chaser and I discussed earlier in the thread, the game could have used an introduction scene to establish Kairi exploring memories of the past to frame the story better.
 

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Had Nomura stopped being vague about how the story unfolds, I think all of our expectations would have been put in check. Instead we had no idea what story would be shown.
My guess is, if he'd been honest about that, most people wouldn't have bought the game. And he likely knew that.
Honestly, the little bit of story just seems like a marketing trick to get fans to buy a game that's otherwise completely irrelevant. It's clear from what you're describing that the game and the story have next to nothing to do with one another.
 

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My guess is, if he'd been honest about that, most people wouldn't have bought the game. And he likely knew that.
Honestly, the little bit of story just seems like a marketing trick to get fans to buy a game that's otherwise completely irrelevant. It's clear from what you're describing that the game and the story have next to nothing to do with one another.
For the most part, yes. They do integrate the gameplay into the new story, though, but yeah.

Honestly it is a sign to me that Kairi being the main character was a decision made during ReMind's development. As we know, Chirithy was going to be the narrator for this game before they decided to make it Kairi, and it makes sense considering he was also the narrator for the Memory Archives.

I think Chirithy being the announcer in VS mode is a carryover from that idea, actually...

But yeah, we know Kairi was a decision made later but from playing this it become clear that it was much later than we are meant to know.
 

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Cool and informative review, Spockanort. Now that I'm playing the game itself, I'm enjoying everything. Hearing about the KH3 segments doesn't sound too fun, haven't gotten to it yet, myself but maybe DLC? Anyway the game is super addictive. I can barely put my controller down to do anything else. Plus I'm learning the official title of these KH songs. I've found the story recapping pretty nice so far too. For me the major story bits being at the end of the game doesn't bother me that much, because I was more excited for the gameplay of this game then the story. This feels like it could have been a standalone recap game without new lore, but they wanted to hook you somehow so...new story. I'll say more when I finish the game.

Also Team Days is best team :p
 

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Cool and informative review, Spockanort. Now that I'm playing the game itself, I'm enjoying everything. Hearing about the KH3 segments doesn't sound too fun, haven't gotten to it yet, myself but maybe DLC? Anyway the game is super addictive. I can barely put my controller down to do anything else. Plus I'm learning the official title of these KH songs. I've found the story recapping pretty nice so far too. For me the major story bits being at the end of the game doesn't bother me that much, because I was more excited for the gameplay of this game then the story. This feels like it could have been a standalone recap game without new lore, but they wanted to hook you somehow so...new story. I'll say more when I finish the game.

Also Team Days is best team :p
Thanks! I'm glad you are enjoying it! It's very addictive.

The KH3 songs that made it in are fun but its just a small section and it doesn't even feature the best songs from the game.
 

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The KH3 songs that made it in are fun but its just a small section and it doesn't even feature the best songs from the game.
Honestly I wasn't expecting the shift from BBS/DDD to KH3 to be so drastic. It seems so odd to introduce a new play style so late into the game, but I assume kind of like making Kairi the narrator the decision to actually include those worlds was made later on in development.

That said this game has great gameplay and I do think the recaps are really well done. It's the new story content I personally am feeling very mixed about.
 

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Honestly I wasn't expecting the shift from BBS/DDD to KH3 to be so drastic. It seems so odd to introduce a new play style so late into the game, but I assume kind of like making Kairi the narrator the decision to actually include those worlds was made later on in development.

That said this game has great gameplay and I do think the recaps are really well done. It's the new story content I personally am feeling very mixed about.
Yeah, honestly I have no idea how much work goes into making stages for a rhythm game, maybe it takes longer or is more work than I'm thinking. But if this is the case I wish they could have delayed the game a couple of months just to add the KH3 songs, the game feels like it is missing something without them to end the world tour. And KH3 has such great music too.

Whatever their reasoning, however they decide to do it, I will keep hoping a DLC is released that adds these songs in. Right now, the KH3 segment feels like a commercial for KH3's worlds honestly.
 
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