Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is the newest entry in the Kingdom Hearts franchise that takes songs across the soundtracks from various games in the series and gives them a rhythm action game makeover. But like many of the side projects released outside of the main numerical entries, dedicated fans might not want to miss out. What about everyone else though? Is there enough being offered in this dive into the past of the series to satisfy those aching for the next main game in the franchise? The answer is: yes, but with a few caveats.
Music is an integral part of each game in the series, and now it's being put front and center for the first real time in the series. Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a celebration of the musicality of most of the franchise. While this does result in some rhythm game fun, those looking for a more fulfilling experience might be disappointed.
Offering over 100 different tracks across many of the games in the series (with some notable absences), Melody of Memory tasks players with hitting select buttons to coincide with the rhythm of each song to take out Heartless and other enemies from across the series. Each stage is around two minutes or so and sees a team of three characters running along a musical track while being sure to hit corresponding targets at the right moments (as missing means you take damage).
Each stage is based on the various worlds introduced throughout the franchise and can be taken on with three different difficulty levels. To open more worlds and progress, you have to accomplish various missions in each stage such as defeating a certain percentage of enemies or making sure not to miss too many notes. When it works, it really does as Melody of Memory's music combined with the classic action sound designs of the Kingdom Hearts franchise can make each successful button press feel very satisfying.
But that's only when it works. As you might imagine from such a wide selection of songs, not every track is suited for a rhythm game of this type. Some tracks are more eventful than others, and some don't quite line up the downbeats together with button prompts as well as you might hope. It can even feel a bit messy at times because the harder difficulties throw more prompts at you in shorter increments, but the timing of the button press itself doesn't change. The button presses always feel just half a step or so off from the music, but it becomes far harder to adjust to when you need to operate faster.
Then there are two other types of stages to shake it up, for better or worse. There are Memory Dives, which see Sora float through an empty space while the button prompts fly toward the screen. But rather than the typical stage layout that takes players through a small tour of each world, these Memory Dives play out cutscenes from the respective worlds. This is mostly seen for the Kingdom Hearts 3 stages, which is a little disappointing, and a few other choice selections. Finally, there are a few boss battles.
These boss battle stages change the perspective once more and offer a more dynamic kind of feeling than the standard or Memory Dive stages. But the boss battles and Memory Dives change the button prompts from what you might get adjusted to during the standard stages. It can feel a little disorienting at first and even counterintuitive if you master playing the standard stages, but they do work after a brief adjustment period.
Although Memory of Melody isn't a long experience if you play it just enough to unlock all the worlds and get to the ending, there is a lot to dig into for those who want to do so. Unlockable tracks (which can be synthesized, just like the main games), art, and more are all offered for those who truly want to complete everything this experience has to offer.
Without giving too much away, Melody of Memory is indeed a Kingdom Hearts title. It's kind of like Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded in that dedicated fans might not want to overlook this one too much. Really, this is a game made for those fans anyway as it offers a fun way to re-experience the music of the series with some fun Disney extras. With bite-size stages that are easy to take in, it might help alleviate the pains of waiting for the next title just a little.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on November 13th. A PS4 code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a base model PS4.