‘Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory’ review: a love letter to fans hidden behind a rhythm game

Square Enix lands a home run by vibing a rhythm game framework with an already stellar soundtrack

“Kingdom Hearts rhythm game” is a killer four-word pitch. It all but guarantees instant success with any fan in the know about the Disney x Final Fantasy series and its deep connection with music. This is why I wasn’t so shocked when I booted up Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory to find a game that’s easy to recommend to anyone with even a fleeting interest in this fascinating franchise.

Even if you’re completely out of the loop, Melody Of Memory is designed to get you up to speed. It’s an accessible rhythm game that carefully guides the player through the narrative of every major entry in the Kingdom Hearts series, complete with catch-up clips and singalong sojourns into the past. This will provide returning fans with heartfelt memories and newcomers with the bones of an incredible story that has been weaved over decades.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory
Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory. Credit: Square Enix

Inquisitive newbies might not know tear-jerking tunes like the iconic ‘Simple And Clean’ and ‘Sanctuary’, but there’s no way they won’t get a kick out of the toe-tapping Disney classics from movies like The Little Mermaid and The Nightmare Before Christmas. For the Disney fan who hasn’t yet played Kingdom Hearts, I can’t imagine the surprise you’ll feel as you open up each door of destiny to find new worlds based on stories and characters from the Pixar and Disney vault.

I kind of wish I could wipe the slate clean, Chain Of Memories-style, and relive the experience on my own terms. Alas, my naivety has been slain by my forum-diving, wiki-coddling teenage years, when I lapped up every last drop of Kingdom Hearts content I could find.

Even so, as a series nerd that’s all caught up on the content, there was so much to enjoy about Melody Of Memory beyond the slivers of extra endgame content.

The gameplay is simple but surprisingly effective. You get three buttons to tap to the beat of combat, but almost every combination has its quirks. You can glide through the air to catch notes, and leap and tag enemies with high combo health bars. It’s super satisfying and easy to get into.

I also never felt out of step with the music, especially with a good pair of headphones to help me keep time. With three difficulty settings, it’s easy to find your skill level. It’s the kind of game that’s great to dip in and out of, or to cool down in the evenings and relax with. Sure, there’s pressure if you need it, but it’s mostly about taking stock and having a mindful time with a soundtrack brimming with complex emotions.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory
Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory. Credit: Square Enix

Beyond the already successful base game, there’s also an interesting metagame where you’re earning craftable materials and using items to help you succeed.

To collect those, you’ll need to rack up those ‘Full Chain’ completion scores on songs and beat optional missions. You’ll also need to pick up crystals you can bunch up and trade for keys to new tunes and special collector’s cards, while your merchant Moogle will grow in power as you feed it with shards. You’ll complete levels in teams and level them up over the course of the game, while side characters can be swapped in to accent songs specific to their worlds.

For die-hards, getting to see official promotional and key art of Kingdom Hearts characters and locations up close via the collectables is a true treat, so it’s easy to spur yourself through the resource grind to complete the character sets.

The Kingdom Hearts series is renowned for its soundtrack, and there’s no better way to appreciate it than by playing Melody Of Memory. The score spans the entire gamut of emotions from uplifting boss themes to devastating piano ballads – returning fans will go through the roller coaster all over again.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory
Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory. Credit: Square Enix

Back in 2019, around the release of Kingdom Hearts III, I ended up at the Tokyo Skytree where there was a celebratory exhibition devoted to the game. A video medley of Kingdom Hearts songs played on a motion banner as I was looking out onto the neon-lit city skyline. I’ll never forget that moment for how it gave me such clarity about the importance of music’s memory-making power and how Melody Of Memory was core to that.

Many JRPGs live and die by their brilliant soundtracks. Kingdom Hearts is no different, which is why fans will consider Melody Of Memory to be such a convincing success. In the same way that Beat Saber turns music into a physical performance, Melody Of Memory elevates the music of Kingdom Hearts into something more majestic.

‘Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory’ is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.

Our Verdict

Kingdom Hearts: Melody Of Memory is a love letter to fans of this emotionally complex, miracle collaborative franchise. The rhythm game framework works well to coax out gripping gameplay, and you’d be hard-pressed to find such a varied score in similar games.

If you’re a newcomer, it’s well worth playing through all the games themselves. But if you can’t stomach the entire journey, then this is a brilliant summary to get you up to speed with the series’ ever-winding plot. For series veterans, this is a no-brainer.

Pros

  • Kingdom Hearts’ stellar soundtrack provides the backbone to this natural rhythm game spin-off
  • The catchy combat is full of clever quirks – it’s easy to learn but difficult to master
  • The copious fan service makes it the ultimate gift for a Kingdom Hearts fan

Cons

  • Complete newcomers could be overwhelmed by the story, even though it does its best to simplify the beats
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