It’s been a long journey for Kingdom Hearts fans. Starting as an elevator conversation two decades ago, the series ultimately evolved into an unprecedented crossover between Disney and Final Fantasy, helmed by Square Enix veteran Tetsuya Nomura.
Though Kingdom Hearts 3 wrapped up the “Dark Seeker Saga” last year, Nomura isn’t done with the franchise, and now we have Melody of Memory. Launching on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, this spin-off brings us a rhythm game not too dissimilar to Square-Enix’s previous rhythm game — Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy — and it pulls off the concept fantastically.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory Review — Simple But Clean Fun
One of Kingdom Hearts’ biggest strengths has always been its soundtrack, and Melody of Memory knows it, delivering 143 songs from almost every entry in the franchise.
Taking place after Kingdom Hearts 3 (more specifically, the Re:Mind DLC), Melody of Memory starts with a retelling of the Dark Seeker Saga, which covers everything from the original Kingdom Hearts to KH3. Melody of Memory is not particularly story-driven and benefits from this approach considerably.
You’ll spend most of your time with the game’s World Tour mode, a campaign that lets you visit each location via a world map. All of this map is explorable by way of the Gummi ship in a manner reminiscent of the PS2 Kingdom Hearts entries. From Destiny Islands to Toy Story, Melody of Memory provides a comprehensive look at the series’ history.
Progressing through the game isn’t simply about beating stages. Each song has three collectible stars, earned by hitting set criteria in each stage, like not missing a certain number of attacks or for reaching a particular score. With three difficulty options available, it’s possible to complete songs solo, and with such an emphasis on high scores, there’s plenty of replayability here.
One of Kingdom Hearts’ biggest strengths has always been its soundtrack, and Melody of Memory knows it, delivering 143 songs from almost every entry in the franchise. With the exception of Face My Fears, all of Utada Hikaru’s theme songs are present, as are classic tunes like Traverse Town, Vector To The Heavens, and The Other Promise.
Despite being one of the more prominent pieces of Kingdom Hearts music, Dearly Beloved features a new remix in the opening menu but as a playable song, it’s curiously absent. Overall though, fans will likely approve of what’s on offer.
Each stage is on-rails and comes in two forms, all explained through in-game tutorials the first time you play them. Memory Dives are less common but more cinematic, playing out to iconic cutscenes, and players need to hit the notes as they appear to progress.
Red notes only require a simple attack, yellow notes require a direction input while doing so, and green notes require an input be held down for a set period of time. It’s a simple approach, but the wider joy comes from reliving classic series’ moments, a sentiment that may be lost on new players.
Field Battle stages see you working as a three-person team with Sora, Donald, and Goofy, though some worlds include guest characters like Aladdin, Hercules, or Ariel. Your goal is to reach the end, earning EXP. That, of course, requires battling enemies as they appear in your path. When they do, two circles will appear on them, the outer one slowly closing in. Successful attacking comes down to hitting enemies as these circles overlap, and attacks are ranked based on timing.
Multiple enemies often align on each stage, letting you strike them all at once. Others launch ranged attacks for Sora to avoid by jumping, while some can only be reached during a jump. For larger foes or enemies out of reach, ability crystals appear that utilize special skills or magic. Some sections also feature green notes in mid-air to obtain, so Sora can glide into them as you hold down the jump button.
Missed attacks reduce some HP and to clear a stage, you only need to have some left (since it doesn’t regenerate over time). Though you can’t access them manually during a song, players can pre-set items before going in, so that, for example, potions automatically activate when reaching a certain percentage of health. Others take effect once you’ve beaten the stage, such as EXP boosts, and completion also rewards items. That includes materials like gems, which can be synthesized via a Moogle in your team menu.
By turning Kingdom Hearts into a musical experience, Square Enix has found a winner with Melody of Memory.
For the most part, Melody of Memory gets it right, combining some smooth gameplay with good enemy variance between levels to keep things lively. My only real criticism here is that it can feel a bit messy when multiple enemies emerge; getting flustered is quite easy. But, thankfully, their appearances are generally well-coordinated. Landing attacks in-line feels satisfying and better yet, the whole system doesn’t feel out of place for a Kingdom Hearts entry.
After the impressive visual update we saw in Kingdom Hearts 3, it’s somewhat baffling, however, that Square Enix has taken a step back here, returning to the visual approach we saw in earlier entries. Admittedly, there’s not much wrong with that alone, but the presentation here lacks the shine that KH3 brought us and feels underwhelming by comparison.
Why this is the case isn’t particularly clear, though, as a guess, it might be to invoke a sense of nostalgia, considering Melody of Memory’s premise.
Anyone looking to play with friends is in luck, though, as this entry offers a two-player co-op mode for field battle stages. Vs Battles are also included here, letting you compete against other online players or AI opponents. In this mode, where you lose points if you run out of HP, there’s a unique trick meter, letting you trip up opponents once the meter is filled, and since this is a battle for the highest score. It takes a little time to unlock since it’s reliant on World Tour progress, but it ultimately makes for an enjoyable multiplayer experience.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory Review — The Bottom Line
- A big celebration of the wider series
- Solid rhythm mechanics
- Excellent soundtrack
- Basic visuals
- A couple of key songs are missing
- Easy to get flustered with multiple enemies
By turning Kingdom Hearts into a musical experience, Square Enix has found a winner with Melody of Memory. Celebrating the wider history of this historic franchise, there’s a sense of nostalgia that will be lost on newcomers, but any rhythm game fans would do well to investigate it further.
Drawing upon a rich soundtrack that ranges from original songs to Disney hits, there’s a lot to love in this new spin-off, but don’t expect any major story developments.
[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory used for this review.]