Review: With Melody of Memory, Kingdom Hearts Takes an Undeserved Victory Lap

In the end, Melody of Memory is very much a fans-only affair.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory
Photo: Square Enix

The franchise equivalency of auto-fellatio, Kingdom Hearts features Disney and Final Fantasy characters as bit players in a contrived, bloated narrative revolving around saving the world through the power of friendship, pureness of heart, or some other nonsense. The common element between each game is that Kingdom Hearts is the greatest and you’d be a fool to think otherwise. In fact, the last thing the series wants players to do is think at all, lest they see it for the shallow, juvenile, incoherent blather that it is. And after last year’s disappointing Kingdom Hearts III, Melody of Memory serves as a wholly undeserved victory lap, a recap of the series’s major narrative beats baked into a mediocre rhythm game.

Melody of Memory features three types of levels across its World Tour campaign, all requiring you to press buttons when prompts appear: Field Battles, wherein a trio of characters (most commonly series protagonists Sora, Goofy, and Donald Duck) run down a floating path through a level from past Kingdom Hearts games and fight enemies; Memory Dives, a kind of interactive music video where the characters fly in the air as video clips from the prior games play in the background; and Boss Battles, wherein your trio circles a boss and attacks and defends until the fight ends, often unceremoniously. Completing levels unlocks cutscenes from each game, moving through the narrative of both the main numbered titles and its spin-offs.

After a bewildering interactive opening that Melody of Memory doesn’t make clear that you can even play, you’re introduced to the serviceable but unexciting basics of its gameplay—attack, jump, fly, and multiple attack—little of which changes or evolves from the start to the end of the campaign. But the game’s lack of variety is only part of its problem. The difficulty swings wildly throughout Melody of Memory, with the most difficult option, Proud, providing the most comprehensive experience, wherein the player has to press buttons in time to all of the beats in a song and misses are punished severely. Conversely, Beginner gives the player significantly fewer button prompts and frustratingly little to do, as playing the game this way doesn’t allow one to really maintain any sort of rhythm or even enjoy the music.

Better examples of this genre of game, like Harmonix’s Rock Band series, have found ways to not only give beginners a fun experience, but teach them how to improve, by, say, enlarging the timing window to hit beats instead of reducing the number of beats that you have to hit. Alas, Melody of Memory doesn’t even provide adequate feedback as to how the player isn’t hitting specific beats, making progress arduous. And while the game boasts a tracklist of over 140 songs, the arrangements often disappoint, with few orchestral versions of popular tracks and some notable soundtrack omissions from past games in the series, like “Scythe of Petals.” Surprisingly, the game also contains few licensed Disney songs, as more of them would have given Melody of Memory the opportunity for broader reach and appeal.

In the end, Melody of Memory is very much a fans-only affair. You will find no better proof of this than the banal narrative, which plays out as a “greatest hits” edit of the series’s overarching story, and in such patchy fashion that only those intimately familiar with the games will be able to make heads or tails of any it. Like Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece and its awful video-game adaptation series Pirate Warriors, truncating Kingdom Hearts’s overcomplicated narrative into fragmentary clips somehow makes the whole thing seem more incoherent. But the more cultish, nostalgia-fueled fans of the series will remain undeterred, which is ironic given that the more dedicated among them are the ones who should be the most frustrated with this gimmicky, transparently pandering product. (Imagine the backlash to a Just Dance: Dark Souls, or, heaven forbid, a Silent Hill pachinko machine.) Melody of Memory is less than the sum of its parts, a judgment one can fairly cast over the entire Kingdom Hearts franchise.

The game was reviewed using a review code provided by fortyseven communications.

 Developer: Square Enix  Publisher: Square Enix  Platform: PlayStation 4  Release Date: November 13, 2020  ESRB: E10+  ESRB Descriptions: Fantasy Violence, Mild Language  Buy: Game

Ryan Aston

Ryan Aston has been writing for Slant since 2011. He lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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