Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories in an action RPG developed and published by Square Enix for the PS2 in 2007 and later ported to PS3 in 2012 and PS4 in 2017. It's a remake of the GBA original from 2004 and serves as a sequel to the first Kingdom Hearts. Here, Sora, Donald and Goofy venture into Castle Oblivion in search of their friends and fight against a mysterious organization of baddies on the way.
The plot of CoM consists of two parts. There's the main story, where our heroes are guided and challenged by the organization as they slowly lose their sense of self while making their way through the castle. And then there's the other half, where we're subjected to regurgitated Disney filler from the first game.
You see, it only took them one sequel to render the Disney half of this Final Fantasy/Disney crossover property undercooked. I'm almost impressed. Hell, the FF crew also get the shaft. Original characters reign in this castle.
The name of the game is memory. As such, it's the perfect time to reuse the Disney worlds from the first game (save for Tarzan, cuz licensing money) and have you go through Sora's memories of them, except with small alterations that feel like alternate scripts from KH1.
The plots are all themed around memory to some degree, but still follow the same plot beats and end with you facing off against the same disney villain as before. Only, this time you know that it's all fake, the villains are already defeated and this is a waste of time. I just can't endure the Disney scenes any more, especially since they're of the same quality as the voiceless budget scenes from the first game. I recommend skipping them, even on a first playthrough actually.
But what about the actual story then? I think it's pretty spiffy!
The game is more or less both a deconstruction and reconstruction of the themes of the last game. We saw Sora as a ”Big Good” character in the first game, which is something the organization plays up in a fun way.
They play the part of conniving mustachioed (Note: None of the organization members that show up in this game actually have facial hair. Tragedy, I know.) villains who trick him into going further up the castle by being extremely mysterious and pissing him off.
The end goal being to strip him of memories, piece by piece until they can replace them with memories that'll make him their minion. It's pretty dark stuff (especially the shit Larxene does). And once Sora starts to change, you can clearly see that he has some issues with impulsiveness, owing to his age and shonen hero qualities. Something the organization hoped to exploit.
Of course, the power of friendship shines through in the end and yadda yadda yadda Sora is the messiah. Still, I find it amusing that the villains assumed the universe wasn't as hoakey and compassionate as it is. It's kinda cute in a way.
I should slap myself for that one. I won't. That's a big owie. Ain't no one got time for that.
As told by the first member of the organization you run into, Castle Oblivion is all about cards. As such, you can't just fight stuff like in the first game.
Instead, you need to build a deck with attacks, and play them in order to make a move. It's a weird system with some really interesting ideas to it.
Every card has a value, and only one card can be in play at one time. Once a card is played, it can be broken by a stronger card, or a 0 which breaks everything, but can also be broken by everything. This changes the combat from proactive to reactive, as offensive play will just get your deck broken. I'm thinking this is why so many can't get into the game.
Cards can be stacked to form a combo, but what you're really after is a sleight, which is a combat ability that can only be activated with a specific combination of cards. Cards used normally can be reloaded by charging, but cards used in a sleight are gone until the end of the battle, or until you use a high-tier restoration item.
It's very complex when compared to KH1, but there is a nice flow to things. Sadly, fighting regular enemies gets boring fast, as every world only has a a few setups of enemy groups and you have to fight them a lot. There really isn't anything else to the game besides fighting, as traversal challenges and puzzles are either non-existant, or insultingly simple. The game forcing you to pick up and potentially miss exp from defeated enemies also sucks.
Bosses is where the game's system shine a bit, as these encounters are longer and require more strategy. The duels between floors especially, as organization members can be devious when it comes to constructing decks. But with the proper setup, you can just negate anything they throw at you, which is pretty fun.
As one would expect, building your deck is a big part of the game. But man, is it a pain.
You don't get cards from battle (save for rarely dropped enemy cards used for buffs), instead you pick them up randomly from objects on the field map and buy card packs from Moogles. The first sucky thing is that the value, type and nature (normal or premium) of cards is completely random.
So if you want a level 7 Blizzard card to add to your deck, your chances are incredibly shit. I get that you're supposed to go with what you get, but certain sleights demand incredibly specific combinations to activate.
I find that I can't play the game without at least a good stack of zeroes to break the sleights of bosses. As such, I always go to Agrabah first in order to abuse Aladdin's special ability to grind for Moogle points. These aren't awarded in battle otherwise, meaning that if you don't do this, you have to scrounge up what you can from objects on the field if you want to buy packs.
And to make matters worse, as you open chests or simply progress, the pool of cards increases. So instead of Simba and Blizzard cards to chance between when buying magic packs, you can also have Aero, Gravity, Cloud, Fire and Thunder cards as well. Keyblade cards are even worse, as the later ones are incredibly pricey to equip, but only seem to be stronger when used in normal attacks, not sleights.
In order to equip cards, you need Card Points earned by leveling. And to make things more interesting, you're given control over whether to increase health or CP after a level, which makes it possible to do a sort of ”Danger Mario” build with loads of cards and no health if you choose.
I haven't researched all possible deck combinations, but I feel like you'll always gravitate towards two types of decks as you play and understand how the game works. The first type being a sleight-heavy deck used to burn through regular enemies who rarely have the zero needed to stop you, making you invincible.
The second type is one I use for bosses which is built on survivability, consisting of no sleights and loads of high level cheap cards for attacking and healing, including loads of zeroes. That way, you can counter bosses easily and thanks to high level cards, basically turn the game into an easier version of KH1 where bosses can barely attack.
You can go for sleights against bosses to rush them down, but they have so much health and so many potential zeroes that it's easy to run out of ammo before the battle is done. Consequently, breaking the restorative cards of bosses to make them run out of good cards is pretty fun.
Taking a page from Wonderland in KH1, every world you go to consists of square rooms arranged in in interconnected fashion and adorned with randomly generated items to stab for potential cards. It feels like the worst kind of randomly generated content, but it does have a fun system behind it.
In order to progress, you need map cards, which are your reward for winning a battle. These have a value like other cards and a colour denoting what group they belong to. Once you're done with a room, you go to a door and select a card to make the next one with. Depending on the card (which needs to be of a certain value or higher, depending on the card used for the current room), you can get a whole slew of effects, most of which are positive.
It's a cool system and makes sense for the limited space of a GBA game, but I would much prefer properly designed areas. It's also common to run into a battle while you're jumping after a bouncing card, which will make you lose said card. That sucks.
One nice extra in the game is Reverse/Rebirth Mode, where you get to play as Riku as he makes his way through the castle and fights his inner darkness.
The story is incredibly one-note, but it sets him up as a unique entity for the later games and gives him a bit more depth than he was allotted in KH1. His scenes with Ansem are pretty fun to watch, even if they bring up darkness more often than I talk about God Hand.
This mode feels like a bit of an apology to people who don't like the card system. Riku has set decks, no reload time and only a handful of sleights to his name. This means that you'll spend the majority of the game just fighting without thinking about the cards. And with the mode being so close to KH1, one has to question why they didn't just go all the way and remove the card play.
With the removal of cutscenes in the worlds, you can go through the mode surprisingly fast. It really dillutes the game to its core aspects and helped me analyze Sora's mode better.
Riku does have some mechanics to call his own though. If you match the card of an enemy, you can start a duel where you have to break a bunch of cards quickly, which earns you a free attack should you win.
But his central mechanic is Darkness Mode, which triggers when you break enough cards. This transforms him into his muscle suit/tutu form from KH1 which changes his standard moveset and movement controls, plus unlocks the use of his proper sleights.
It's essentially a Devil Trigger, but since you have to build up points from scratch in every battle, you'll only get to use it in longer fights. And even then, you can only keep it for as long as you have darkness points, which go down as you take damage or get your cards broken.