Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory Review (Switch)
I see it was too much to ask for a playable Kairi in a rhythm game that has her on the cover.
Available on: Switch/Consoles
Publisher: Square Enix
I love rhythm games. It certainly helps that most of the time it’s songs that I enjoy so why not play a game where the whole thing is wrapped in the music and you feel the music and hit on the note to score. Granted, I could never go for the hardest difficulties, but I really do enjoy listening to the music and seeing how well I can score. Even possibly getting no missed notes. When I heard Kingdom hearts was getting a rhythm game I was both excited and skeptical. The Kingdom Hearts is one game series with the best music out there (just being behind the NieR’s music for me), especially the music that opens and closes the games (which I totally didn’t restart the KH1 and 2 just to hear the opening song multiple times), but I was a bit skeptical on it as I personally find the rhythm games for Persona pretty boring. But when I tried out the demo, I was hooked and I had to get it. Fast forward months later and I finally got to it. So how did it turn out?
If there is anything else that Kingdom Hearts is known for is its unnecessary complicated story and the side games aren’t actually side games at all as they all matter somehow. Making those that wait for the main numbered series seriously confused as they didn’t play the side games either because they assumed it wouldn’t be needed to understand the main games (like any other series) or they just didn’t have a DS or Vita to play them on. I myself didn’t play some of the side games and I was a bit confused myself (and hey, maybe I can get all of them completed by the time the next KH game comes out). For Melody of Memory, the story is pretty disappointing. For one, there’s no opening past playing Simple and Clean before throwing you in, which feels so weird and wrong. With the story segments basically being a so-so retelling from Kairi (with some perspective change in the dialog) and the last world being where all the story is.
One of the available modes available is World Tour, or story mode. Taking inspiration from how you would usually travel between worlds in the main numbered games, World Tour is a whole map of worlds connected together with you traveling between all of them in your trusty Gummy Ship. Each world has 2 songs for you to play, with the song being what was played in that area and the game being highlighted, with some worlds being cast in shadows and only having 1 song. There are 3 difficulties you can choose from right away, and I went for the middle ground Standard difficulty for every song in my playthrough. You can choose what items you’ll be going in with, which are the basic potions, EXP boosts, and a Mickey summon, and pick your team. You start with the classic Sora-Goofy-Donald team, but you’ll unlock 3 more as you progress. On the actual song cards, you can see the 3 missions tied to them and completing them will reward you with a star. These stars are then used to unlock most of the gates here, which either unlock after completing a specific song, your overall star count, or your star count in a specific area route (which will have a matching color to the stars needed for the gate). It does seem like you’ll be able to complete the game without going out of your comfort zone, but some missions do require you to go on different difficulties or racking up a number of kills or note hits to get the star.
Once you get into a song, it’s like any other rhythm game. Here, you’ll have your team running on a staff with various locals in the background and the notes being represented by Heartless (the enemies in Kingdom Hearts) with the occasional barrel thrown in. The Heartless will also vary, switching it up depending on what world and what game the song appeared in. Each Heartless and barrel will have a outer ring as a timing guide to help you out, with the closest you get being the better score (the best being a rainbow excellent). You’ll mainly encounter Heartless that only requires one hit, but there will be those that require multiple (which you’ll know how many hits you need to defeat them), those that require you to hit an ability crystal, and those that require you to jump to reach (which is represented on the staff by blue arrows). In addition, there are Heartless that will spew a projectile at you, which you’ll need to jump over to be safe (represented by red arrows). Aside from the Heartless, there are glide notes, which you’ll need to glide along it’s path to hit them, though luckily the team leader you play has a pretty decently wide wingspan so you can hit notes close together without moving. If you miss a note, the Heartless will attack you. And once you run out of health, you fail the song.
Oh, and in certain worlds, you’ll even get a guest character to join your team. Like Peter Pan when you’re playing Neverland songs or Ariel when playing Atlantica songs. They’ll basically just take the place of one of your regular teammates and will have these friend orbs spawn in so you can get a point bonus.
Other than the regular stages (Field Battles), there are also a couple Memory Dives and Boss Battles. Memory Dives are all the way at the end, in the Kingdom Hearts 3 section, but there are no enemies here, just the notes, and your team is actually gliding high above the staff and the background being a music video. As you’re gliding the whole time, slide and hold notes are added in. Slide requiring you to tilt the stick(s) in the direction the arrows are pointing and hold having you holding it and letting go at the end (and you can’t cheat at this by keeping it held to get a rainbow excellent). Memory Dives are alright, but some of them do have distracting bits or sections that make it hard to see the upcoming notes. Though unironically, the best Memory Dive is Let It Go. And then there are Boss Battles, which this game disappointingly only has 4. Boss Battles are where you’ll be going against a boss and is kind of like Memory Dives except you time is battling against a boss in the background and the staff is just with the notes on the bottom, coming in from the left to where you’ll have to press them to the right. As well as notes with dark auras appearing, which how well you hit them will determine how many of the boss’ attack you dodge or block.
Depending on your difficulty, it seems it alters how many notes will appear, how close they’ll be to others, how many will be connected (and if it’ll require you to connect a regular note with an ability crystal), and if you’ll need to do notes while gliding (and how many as well). At least on Standard and the few songs I played on Beginner and Proud, it does feel like the notes are places pretty well. Though, I found the game dropping my inputs at times, especially when notes are very close together like in Proud.
World Tour will also let you synthesis items, but really you’ll most likely get enough potions and items just by playing and the other recipes you’ll get are for Memory Dive sheets and the collectible cards (which you can view in the Museum section from the Main Menu).
Other than World Tour, you can also just go to regular Track Selection or VS Battles. Track Selection is just what it sounds, but it does add 1-button mode and Performance Mode, with Performance Mode requiring you to hit specific buttons to actually hit the Heartless and score. VS Battles will have you go up against someone locally or online where both of you will pick songs and the game will randomly choose which one to play. Then both of you will see who gets the better score, but there is a twist with Tricks. Each note you hit will also fill up your Trick meter and it’ll automatically send a trick to your opponent when filled. Tricks are meant to mess you or them up by either having the timing guide disappear, Heartless be super tiny, slam on the screen after being hit, show double timing guides, and more. You can turn Tricks off, but it seems like people online always want them on.
At least on Switch I’m not sure if Online is dead or not. On one hand, I was able to get 3 different people around 11pm, but the next day at 3pm and 8pm I found no one. Though the 3 people I did encounter were those that get rainbow excellent scoring on most, if not all, notes. I only really won 2 matches, the first because the person was obviously letting me win (possibly because I had tricks turned off) and the other barely winning by 600-odd points.
Though, there are aspects that I wish Melody of Memory improved on, especially since this is a $60 game. This does actually have a leveling up system, but I had no idea what it did until I looked it up (which basically was to survive longer and give a higher chance of stunning multi-hit Heartless). A surely missed opportunity was also not letting us have different costumes (especially for Sora since he’s stuck in his original outfit) that we can earn. Maybe even a few different keyblades that dictate the ability the leader uses rather than having it set to the team. Let us make up our own team without having predetermined teams only (like it’s really said just having Riku with the Dream Drop Distance Dream Eaters only). Also we could have used more Boss Battles.
Also no playable Kairi, other than two songs in the last story world (both being Memory Dives), in a game featuring her on the cover. Let me have the Destiny Trio as a party in one game.
Though, there is a lot of replayability here, just like for other rhythm games. You can get the best scores you can on every song on every difficulty, play songs on 1-button and Performance Mode, tackle the more tedious missions, and get all of the collectible cards (by either completing all with mix-matching rarities or getting all cards in both rarities).
In terms of if this is worth it, I’d say it is if you love Kingdom hearts music and like rhythm games, Melody of Memory will definitely appeal to you. Maybe just get it when it’s on a discount since this could have been better. While I wouldn’t say I regret my purchase, as I did find Melody of Memory fun to play, I do wish I waited for a discount. However, if this would be your first Kingdom Hearts game, I wouldn’t really get this unless you’re fine with being totally confused and all of the games being spoiled for you.
If you don’t want to be spoiled on all the previous games and/or you don’t really like rhythm games, just watch a quick video on Youtube for the last world’s cutscenes so you don’t miss the story-relevant information that was introduced at the very end.