The next installment to the Kingdom Hearts franchise came as a bit of a surprise to fans, as no one really expected Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory. Fans should know ahead of time that this is not Kingdom Hearts 4, but it does provide a distinct experience that is uniquely in line with the franchise’s quirky history. Though some fans may have been skeptical about the rhythm game setup, it handles that classification surprisingly well in a way that is both familiar to veterans of the genre and newcomers alike. It may have seemed strange at first, but for many, the music of Kingdom Hearts is the best part of the franchise, so in a way this is the next logical step.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory will have players slashing their way through familiar locales of the franchise like Traverse Town and Wonderland, all while defeating enemies to the beat of the music. There’s a huge variety of content, with three difficulty levels, three gameplay styles, and over 140 songs, ensuring that fans of the game will not run out of things to do anytime soon. It should be said that the demo was limited, so there may be some content in the full game not covered here.
What makes Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory so beginner friendly is its dynamic difficulty system. Before starting a track, players can choose between three difficulty levels that have appeared in nearly every Kingdom Hearts game: Beginner, Standard, and Proud. This is reminiscent of any other rhythm game’s easy, normal, and hard modes, but Melody of Memory takes things a step further. Players can also choose between one of three different styles, either one button, basic, or performer. These simplify or complicate the gameplay to match the player’s skill level.
In basic mode, players have five buttons to keep track of. Three are used to attack oncoming enemies (X, R1, and L1 on PS4), one is used to jump and glide (Circle), and the final button activates special abilities (Triangle). One button mode simplifies the gameplay, allowing players to perform any action they need to with any button in the game. In this style, players can use the X button to attack enemies, glide, activate abilities, or jump over attacks so that they only have to focus on the rhythm aspects of the game. Players that are unfamiliar with the controller or that just want to focus on the music and rhythm will make great use of this.
For players that want a little extra challenge, the performer style adds extra button prompts to each level, using the rest of the buttons on the controller. Hitting these is optional and missing them won’t affect the player’s score, but they give skilled players a way to increase their score and challenge themselves. Styles and difficulty levels can also be mixed and matched, so a player with good rhythm might play on Proud mode but with the one button mode, while another might opt to play on Beginner but enable the performer style. More may be added in the future, in a similar manner to how Critical Mode came to Kingdom Hearts 3 after its release.
As the name implies, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is just as much about nostalgia as anything else, and although the demo only had the track select mode, there is also a world tour mode. More likely than not, this will take players through the various levels in Kingdom Hearts history in order, potentially separated by game. The world tour mode will also introduce players to some of the RPG mechanics that were teased in the demo, including new characters, a leveling system, and items.
Melody of Memory will include over 20 playable characters, presumably with their own strengths and weaknesses. What’s more, it also features a leveling system and stats that will help to keep things fresh and differentiate it from other rhythm games that rely solely on the player’s skill. Finally, in the full game players can use items to help them on particularly difficult levels, and from the looks of it, there will be no shortage of difficult levels for players to challenge themselves with. Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory contains over 140 songs from the series, and given the number of combinations of difficulty modes and styles, there’s a lot to do.
From the perspective of a Kingdom Hearts fan that isn’t sure about getting into Melody of Memory, the game has a lot of charm and carries that signature KH style that fans know and love. It has enough familiar elements so that players new to the rhythm game genre will still feel comfortable, and many of the features will help ease players in. For those that have an intense rhythm game background and are wondering how the game holds up when compared to others in its genre, the answer is “surprisingly well.”
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory isn’t groundbreaking in any way when it comes to the rhythm game genre. It has some features that aren’t present in others like the afore-mentioned RPG aspects, but for the most part, it falls in line with genre staples. What really sets it apart is its music though, as that is one of the frequently praised things about Kingdom Hearts as a whole. Most rhythm games feature rock, techno, dubstep, or sometimes piano music, but few have the sweeping orchestral suites that Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory does. There’s also a ton of variety to be had within the soundtrack, as cutesy songs like Wonderland’s theme song contrast greatly with powerful hits like the game’s boss battle music.
There is also a co-op mode, making Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory one of the few Kingdom Hearts games with multiplayer. Unfortunately, the co-op mode strips most of the challenge out of the game, since players are only in charge of their one avatar. That said, it does feel great when running side by side with a friend taking down hordes of heartless, and there are some interesting interactions such as cure spells that aren’t available in the singleplayer mode.
The short demo of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory did not enable the versus mode, but in the full game players will be able to go head to head. It’s unclear exactly how this will work, but it seems likely that players will run through levels side by side, perhaps hitting enemies onto the other’s track or sabotaging each other in some way.
In truth, it’s difficult to find something wrong with Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory. As a rhythm game, it seems more than serviceable, and as a Kingdom Hearts game, it seeks to provide the single most comprehensive look at the Kingdom Hearts series as a whole through the lens of one of its best traits, the music. Whether or not the full package will be worth it likely depends on how much players enjoy rhythm games, but Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory definitely cements itself as a worthwhile addition to that genre.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory releases on November 11th for PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.
MORE: Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory’s Trophy List Has An Interesting Addition