Since its debut in 2002, the Kingdom Hearts series has taken players on an unpredictable journey that includes everything from human replicas to time travel. But one thing has remained constant: star music. Composer Yoko Shimomura has stayed at the forefront of her playing, creating arrangements that are central to the series’ identity. The rhythm game Melody of Memory is the ultimate homage to this musical talent and offers a huge catalog of over 140 tracks to relive. The end result is proof that moving the headlamp onto this component was not unjustified. While not without its flaws, Melody of Memory is a refreshing way to look back on Kingdom Hearts’ long journey, and even offers fans just enough breadcrumbs to foresee what’s next.
Melody of Memory has no shortage of songs, and I’m impressed with how much content Square Enix has packed. Expect classic tracks that, along with popularity, are an integral part of the series’ identity (like “Destiny Islands” and “Hand in Hand”) Disney standbys (like “Let It Go” and “Under the Sea”). Even theme songs like Utada Hikaru’s “Simple and Clean” and “Sanctuary” are available. A rhythm game is only as strong as its library, and Melody of Memory provides a great track list in this department that puts you instantly at specific times. I can’t play “Lazy Afternoons” without thinking about Roxas’ summer vacation, or “Go for It!” without reliving all the crazy tournaments that I competed at the Olympus Coliseum.
Don’t go into Melody of Memory and expect gameplay that mirrors Square Enix’s popular Theatrhythm series. Melody of Memory is a 3D experience that attempts to recreate the stylish action battle of Kingdom Hearts in a rhythm game shell. To launch attacks, tap and hold the buttons to the beat of the on-screen animations and chain them together for an even higher score. It sounds simple, but adding a jump button to hit enemies in midair or avoid incoming attacks adds to the frenzy. You will see your attacks connecting to the enemies on the screen in real time, meaning the lanes are crowded, which can sometimes make it difficult to prepare in time or see prompts. I liked the level of detail of the enemy design, especially the aesthetic match with that of the world, but it’s always busy.
The main mode, World Tour, is the best way to unlock most of the songs. As you accomplish certain goals to unlock new worlds, Kairi recounts the defining moments in each game and explains the great insights from the first entry to Kingdom Hearts III’s most recent Re Mind DLC. I was disappointed that Melody of Memory doesn’t have many new scenes by the end, but as soon as I saw the final moments I had a new excitement for the series. Similar to the end of Dream Drop Distance, the finale provides clues and context, and determines where things are going in the future. It feels like a good reward going back in time.
The other bonus with the World Tour is boss fights which were my favorite part of the mode as they have a more traditional setup, clear the onslaught of enemies on the screen, and challenge you with more grips and multiple keystrokes that will determine the strength of your hits and when You dodge incoming attacks. The small number of these boss fights is a huge disappointment, especially since they have always been a big part of the series. Memory dives work similarly, but instead of intense combat sequences tapping the beat over scenes from specific worlds, the busy CGI can make directions difficult to follow. For some reason, all of Kingdom Hearts III’s levels are like this, which is disappointing as it would have been cool to see battles with the newer Heartless designs.
Even after completing the main World Tour mode (which took about eight hours), I still unlock songs, chase hi-scores, and find new ways to experience them in couch co-op and online versus mode. The only downside to co-op is that both players have to select the same skill level. So if your partner is not on the same level, one of you will stay on the lookout.
For those concerned about trouble, not only is Melody of Memory one of the easier rhythm games I’ve played, but there are plenty of options to tailor the experience to suit your skill level. Indeed, if there is something to knock on, more advanced players may not find much of a challenge even in Proud Mode. For these players there is an online versus mode in which they can compete against the best players. There are also additional challenges, such as For example, the possibility of you and other players using tricks to make enemies disappear, or putting false prompts on your opponent’s screen that they must ignore.
I didn’t know how much the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack affected me until I played Melody of Memory. As a fan of the series, I’ve always praised the score, but something about going back through different tracks and tapping the beats against familiar backdrops showed how powerful these songs were. Melody of Memory delivers great music and tons of unlockable items so you can keep listening.