HIGH Beautiful visuals from the entire series.
LOW There’s no meat to the story.
WTF The Frozen song.
Kingdom Hearts, the franchise combining Square-Enix RPG elements and Disney characters, has become a staple of the action-RPG genre with a grand following. With a legacy that spans nearly 20 years, its imagery and music are everywhere in gaming culture — it’s easy to see why something like Melody of Memory would be created, but focusing on only one part of that equation was a fail for me.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is one of the few in the series that is not an action-RPG. Instead, players are treated to a rhythm game where hitting the notes of songs controls series staples Sora, Donald and Goofy as they battle enemies and destroy obstacles. Missing notes causes enemies to hit the team. When the player’s health reaches zero, the song ends as the character is defeated.
As players complete songs, they can earn or create items that will automatically heal them if they get low on health. Players can also craft items like character art, new songs and videos, or concept art using some of the resources they will earn during play.
In the story mode, each song offers a mix of notes to hit and enemies that will appear, and these patterns are smartly changed up each time players go through a section of a song. The first time, the pattern is simple and easy to follow. The next time through adds a bit more, and then a bit more after that. While the sections remain the same, players may be hitting the notes of a different instrument or playing more notes than they did the last time.
Outside of the story mode, players have a free play mode to practice songs or can play in “Performer” mode which increases the enemy count and requires specific button combinations instead of single-button notes. Melody of Memory also offers a multiplayer mode where players can co-op through scenarios, play against computer players, or battle each other.
So where does it fail? At certain points of the story mode, series heroine Kairi will give a “the story so far” lore dump with scenes from the entire series. On one hand, these dumps are a digestible way to understand a huge, sprawling plot that’s overflowing with backstory and ulterior motives for a pantheon of characters. The problem? It’s just a recap.
In essence, this mode sends players through the entire story of the series without adding any new content of its own. I had personally been hoping for a few revelations, especially knowing that Melody of Memory takes place after Kingdom Hearts 3, but I didn’t get anything fresh until the final 20 minutes. As someone eager to get more from this franchise, realizing this was essentially just one huge retelling was a disappointment.
While the script was a letdown, at least the music is good, right? To a point it is, but I realized something — other than sections featuring a specific Disney song, all of the music in Melody of Memory was background music.
The loop for most songs is about 30-45 seconds, and players will end up playing through two or three loops of each song. I was able to complete most in one or two tries — not too bad — but some of the harder songs had me banging my head against the wall because I was hearing the same bars of music over and over again. The story mode unlocks more interesting songs for free play mode, but why are the story selections so dull?
Melody of Memory also takes a weird left turn when it comes to the boss battles. During play, a circle will surround a note as it gets close to the player’s characters. The closer to the note the circle is when players hit the button, the better. however, in boss battles these mechanics are thrown out the window as notes move in a wide arc from left to right and players have to hit notes when they line up with a specific bar. This type of play is never used outside of boss battles, and it’s a needless change that just confuses things.
I knew Melody of Memory was a rhythm spin-off before I started it, so I kept my expectations fairly low, but it didn’t even clear that bar. The music isn’t awful and the visuals are beautiful, but it gives players almost nothing substantial in the main story. In light of this, I can only recommend it to those who really love rhythm games or the music from Kingdom Hearts.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Square Enix. It is currently available on PS4 and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. About 1 hour was spent in multiplayer
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Fantasy Violence and Mild language. There’s one use of the word “damned” in the game, and players will attack enemies which explode into sparks and smoke. Nothing too troublesome here.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Text and voiceover are in the game, but the text is not resizable. Playing with no sound doesn’t hinder gameplay since each note has an indicator on when the note needs to be hit. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable controls: This game features no remappable controls, and no control diagram. Players can use X, R1, or L1 to hit notes, and may need to use a combination of all three. Players must use Triangle to hit ability crystals, and use circle to jump over hazards, reach airborne enemies, or hold to glide to hit strings of notes. Performer mode will also have players using directional inputs and most other buttons on the controller to hit specific notes.