Firstly, I’d like to defend myself in that I’m not quite the apt description of what it means to be a filthy casual gamer. Not completely anyway. While I don’t see myself investing a lot of time in casual games, and a lot of first-person shooters are coming to mind, I have been known to subscribe to the notion of playing games that require a low level of commitment. I mean I work full time, I try to get an hour of exercise in at least five days a week, and I need to cook and clean, and, otherwise, do life. And yet, the Kingdom Hearts series has long been a gaming venture I’ve been wanting to undertake. My “Everest” of a game series you could even say.
I had only played the first game in the series many years past, but I got caught up in the hype of the release of Kingdom Hearts III. I have a copy of the game that I still haven’t played. That’s because I made a promise to myself that I would like to experience all the build-up to it. I want to see what all the fuss is about so that, when I do complete Kingdom Hearts III, it will appear to have the trappings of a long, satisfying, albeit confusing, journey.
I had asked some good friends of mine, who are also big fans of Kingdom Hearts, what the best order I should play the games in could be. I had answers ranging from the order in which the series’ timeline unfolds, to skip on some certain games, and to just play them in the order they originally released over the years. I decided on the latter. I thought a bit of mystery suits Kingdom Hearts best because my friends would regularly speculate about what could unfold in the final entry in the Dark Seeker Saga. In fact, writing this right now, I have more questions than answers. That’s okay with me. I began the story to Kingdom Hearts Re: coded as of last night, so I’ll share my thoughts on the plots for Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix and Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days in separate entries.
That said, I have already written a Kingdom Hearts piece with my thoughts on the original game. So I won’t touch base on that one again. This new “Filthy Casual” series from me will begin with Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories as that is the next game in release order. Now, I make no claim to completely understand the story, or the overall plot of the series, but what follows is merely a collection of my thoughts and interpretations of the events I saw unfold before me, among other things I enjoyed about the game. I hope you enjoy reading, and thanks for indulging me on this journey with some amazing games that I should have experienced a long time ago.
I feel it should be noted that I am playing through the PS4 exclusive, Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far collection, so games such as 358/2 Days have been turned into cinematics, and I am experiencing them as is. Perhaps one day I can track down their original formats but, for the purpose of experiencing the story, I’m sticking with the collection. Finally, spoilers are ahead for Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories.
Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories obviously picks up where the original game left off. I recall that Sora, Donald, and Goofy were walking along a path in a wide-open field when King Mickey’s dog, Pluto, had a letter from the king clenched in his maw. The gang gives chase only to be halted by someone in a black cloak. That’s when a mysterious place called Castle Oblivion appears, and this cloaked individual gives Sora a card that gives him access throughout the castle.
Traverse Town is back, though Sora, Donald, and Goofy are surprised to see that Leon, Aerith, Yuffie, and Cid have no memory of them after the events of the first game, but they do remember their names, however. Okay… that’s weird. Thus we are introduced to the unique gameplay of Re: Chain of Memories and… I think it sucks. At this point, I can see why it was suggested that I maybe just skip on this entry in the series. That’s because the action JRPG-hybrid gameplay of the original Kingdom Hearts has been thrown out the window in favor of card-based gameplay. I’m not going to bore you to death explaining how this game works because I was bored after playing for 15 minutes. Instead, I decided to watch all the cinematic segments of the game. Sorry, I just felt the card gimmick was a little too tedious and unlike what you come to expect from a Kingdom Hearts game.
Still, I feel that I came away from Re: Chain of Memories with the meatiest bit you can get: about three hours of plot. The most prominent thoughts on my mind had to be where Sora was, and who or what are these figures in black, like the one calling himself Axel? And why are Sora, Donald, and Goofy experiencing distortions in their memories with each floor of Castle Oblivion they explore?
Well, I guess that’s all the machinations of a royal pain in the ass called Marluxia who seems to be pulling the strings of a young girl named Naminé. By distorting Sora’s memories, Marluxia and the other cloaked individuals conspire to turn Sora and the Keyblade’s power to their own cause for some reason. That’s not all the trouble that Sora experiences because it turns out that there’s another Riku trying to undermine him again.
Okay, perhaps one quality of a good rival is how annoying they can be, and Riku from the original Kingdom Hearts came off as a pouty child who was jealous of Sora’s call to greatness. While he did kind of learn his lesson towards the end of that game, and made a noble sacrifice, the real Riku appears to be making a come around with the help of King Mickey. Turns out he said no to remaining in the Realm of Darkness seen at the climax of Kingdom Hearts and finds himself, also, within the walls of Castle Oblivion. Riku struggles coming to grips with a part of Ansem that still festers in his heart, a part that wants Riku to continue playing host to Ansem.
So I was lead to believe, but then there’s this guy named DiZ who shows up and pretends to be Ansem as well, but only some of the time to test Riku’s willingness to give into darkness. Ohhh, my head. Whatever, the guy is voiced by the late Christopher Lee, so I’ll give that pill a swallow.
So, we have Sora, Donald, and Goofy moving through Castle Oblivion; Riku and King Mickey are elsewhere in the castle, Naminé seems to be at the mercy of these cloaked baddies, there’s an Axel, Marluxia, Zexion, Larxene, and Vexen who seem to butt heads, a Riku imposter, an Ansem in the real Riku’s heart, and a guy named DiZ who pretends to be Ansem. What??
Then I find that Sora is able to fend off several of the cloaked bad guys, defeats Marluxia and saves Naminé and wins over the fake Riku. By this point, I’ve grown rather curious as to why Sora has had his memory of Kairi completely wiped. The lucky charm that Kairi gave Sora in Kingdom Hearts has no meaning to him, and I found that to be rather sad. But then Naminé offers to restore Sora’s true memories, but it will cost him the memories he made during his time in Castle Oblivion. Sora, Donald, and Goofy accept these terms and go into these stasis pods and go to sleep. Before doing this, however, Sora and Naminé make a heartfelt pinky promise that, although Sora’s memories of Naminé will disappear, they would still make an effort to meet again and be friends… somehow?
But if that weren’t a punch to my feeling’s stomach, it turns out that the duplicate Riku fares off worse for wear. The fake Riku decides to reject any and all false memories planted in his head and would rather be in charge of his own destiny. This weirdo Axel shows up yet again and talks the fake Riku into taking out Zexion but, when the fake Riku does commit the act, he feels no better because of it.
Meanwhile, the real Riku is tasked by DiZ to seek out Naminé when he comes across his doppelganger. They engage in a duel, and it’s the real Riku that comes out the victor. So much for fake Riku marching to his own fife. But honestly, thank goodness, we only needed one malcontent Riku in this game. At least the count has been taken back to one.
Riku does manage to track down Naminé who also offers to adjust Riku’s memories to put an end to Ansem’s continuing harassment. However, Riku declines and decides to confront Ansem outright. He defeats Ansem but can’t help but feel that his dark influence, or some darkness, still gnaws at him. I’ll admit that I appreciated what the game did here in the conversation between Riku and King Mickey. Mickey believed that darkness was something to be nullified or dissuaded but, in spending time with Riku, Mickey has accepted the thought that it’s possible for light and dark to balance in a way that no one has seen before. The two decide to continue their travels together.
In the final scene of the game, King Mickey and Riku now don the same black cloaks as the baddies from this game. They travel a road, similar to the one Sora, Donald, and Goofy were on, under the cover of night. That’s when DiZ shows up yet again and ask if Riku would follow the path to light or the path to darkness. Riku decides to take the middle road that leads not to “twilight,” but to the “dawn.” With that, the credits begin to roll.
Yet, if the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t leave when the credits are over. Okay, so the things that really made me scratch my head were brief glimpses at the room where Sora is sleeping. Naminé is joined by DiZ when someone in a black cloak joins them but fades out before revealing their face. Is that Riku? Then Axel is eating an ice cream bar with a kid with short, spiky blonde hair. Uhhhhhh.
Okay, so Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories didn’t do it for me insofar as an enjoyable game to play, and I came away from the plot with a bunch of questions. To be fair, this is the second “game” in the series’ release order, so of course, it would make some effort to expand on the lore it clearly has so much of. I must be scratching the surface, aren’t I? What am I getting myself into I can’t help but wonder. The first game was about going to all these different Disney worlds and stopping these creatures called Heartless, but what I admire most about Kingdom Hearts is that it doesn’t have to lean on the Disney crutch for everything. I think that Re: Chain of Memories, although presenting a play style I don’t necessarily connect with, demonstrated that it’s capable of creating and standing on its own mythos and, better yet, allows gamers to interpret the events they see on-screen as they see fit. It feels like a series of puzzle pieces that we get to mix and match if we’re willing to take the time to patiently piece the bigger picture together.
It was also suggested to me that I experience Re: Chain of Memories before starting Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, as I do believe the themes introduced in the former are further expanded upon in this sequel.
I’m curious to see what happens next with Sora, Donald, and Goofy when they wake up to well… something I’m not sure what to expect. Do Naminé and DiZ resurface, along with Riku and King Mickey in some way? What about this Axel character and this new city with a clocktower? Not to mention that kid with an appetite for ice cream. What’s his story in all this? I’m anxious to find out and see if, at all, how Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix ties in with Re: Chain of Memories.
Thanks again for reading. Evidently, my next thoughts will cover the events of Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, and I’m optimistic to see where the story goes next. For more opinion pieces, news, and reviews, be sure to keep your eyes on Mammoth Gamers.