When people hear the name Kingdom Hearts, most would likely think of the convoluted plot line involved across the franchise’s many games. Since it’s so easy to get swept up, Square Enix and indieszero’s Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory opts to focus on cleaning up and clarifying the narrative, and rightfully so. Given the relative lack of Kingdom Hearts titles on Nintendo hardware over the years, Melody of Memory provides an excellent entry point into the franchise for newcomers, while simultaneously welcoming longtime fans through its celebration of the series’s 18-year history.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is an action rhythm game developed largely by the same Square Enix and indieszero staff that developed the Theatrhythm series. As such, Melody of Memory plays out somewhat similarly to those titles. Featuring over 140 songs, tracks are classified into one of three types. Field Stages see your team run along a path attacking enemies in time with the music. Memory Dives find your team flying along a path as a cutscene plays in the background. Lastly, Boss Stages have your team facing off against a boss, with attacks and dodging relying on your ability to hit notes. The actions you take closely synchronize with the rhythm presented via the music, which really helps the entire experience come together. A variety of difficulty options help customize the experience to suit the player as well.
The main mode in Melody of Memory is called World Tour. Starting at the beginning of the original Kingdom Hearts, you’ll travel throughout each game, playing a few select songs from each world within. Each song has three missions associated with it, and completing these earns stars, which are used to unlock more areas as you progress through this mode. I would’ve liked to see a bit more variety in stage type here, as the vast majority of these songs are Field Stages, with the occasional boss fight thrown in. Memory Dives are present in this mode, but not until you reach Kingdom Hearts III at the end. This mode took me about six hours to get through, but completing all the missions takes much longer than that.
As you progress through World Tour, you’ll occasionally come across cutscenes that serve to recap the plot of the games up to that point, which is great for catching newcomers up on the most important plot points. It also prepares players for a bit of brand new story content at the end of World Tour mode. It effectively gets all players on the same page for whatever the next Kingdom Hearts game may be.
Outside of story progression, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory offers a lot to unlock in World Tour mode. As you complete songs, you’ll earn experience to level up your team. This increases the amount of damage you can take before failing a song, decreases damage taken from attacks, and increases your strength in order to potentially stun enemies. There are four total teams you can play as, and though there are no gameplay differences between them, your stats don’t carry over between them.
Completing songs also earns victory points and items, which you can use to synthesize other items including profile cards, art, and playable songs in the free play Track Selection mode. These additions help retain some of the more RPG-like elements of Kingdom Hearts, which fans will likely appreciate. Lastly, every song you play will unlock it within the game’s music player.
World Tour and Track Selection modes are single-player, but there are assorted multiplayer options as well. The competitive modes play out the same as in single-player, with the addition of tricks. The better you perform during songs, the faster you will inflict tricks upon your opponent. These tricks include tightening the timing on notes, throwing in fake notes, or launching attacked enemies into the screen, making it harder to see. A mode called Free for All is exclusive to Nintendo Switch and allows up to eight players to compete locally in a Field Battle for the high score. There’s also a cooperative mode that splits the playing field in half, with each player being responsible for their portion.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory also does a solid job in its performance. I never experienced any problems in this area, which is always good, especially for a rhythm game. Graphically, Melody of Memory looks just as I’d expect from a Kingdom Hearts title. For example, I’ve recently been playing through Birth by Sleep Final Mix. The corresponding areas in Melody of Memory look just about as good as they do in the actual game. If anything, they’re a little out of focus, but I’d imagine this is intentional so as not to distract too much from the gameplay.
That said, it is worth noting that Birth by Sleep is an older Kingdom Hearts title that shouldn’t have any problems running on Switch. Perhaps a comparison to Kingdom Hearts III would be more appropriate. However, that’s not a comparison I can really make. As mentioned earlier — Kingdom Hearts III is where the game leans heavily into Memory Dives. Since these are essentially videos with gameplay over top of them, Melody of Memory effectively sidesteps the issue of tackling PlayStation 4-level graphics, which is honestly pretty clever. There are a few non-Memory Dive Kingdom Hearts III songs, though these are set in areas that, while stunning, are largely empty, making it hard to truly compare.
There’s really not a lot to complain about with Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory. As mentioned earlier, World Tour could’ve seen a bit more variety in stage types, though this is a relatively minor complaint, given the variety of songs and worlds to explore. I also would have preferred that item synthesis unlocks be limited to things you don’t already have. There’s a ton of items to unlock as is, and the fact that you can get duplicates makes going for the full completion more tedious than it should be.
My biggest complaint is that I only got about two hours of play out of handheld mode on the original Nintendo Switch model. While this is generally enough for my needs, it could be a problem on long trips, especially given the inclusion of the music player.
Though I still think it’s a bit strange to put Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory on Nintendo Switch, given that there are currently no plans to bring others in the franchise over, there’s almost no better home for it. The short bursts of gameplay mesh well with the pick-up-and-play nature of Switch. No matter whether you’re a longtime fan of Kingdom Hearts or a newcomer looking to get in before the next main game, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Melody of Memory. It may not be the Kingdom Hearts game we wanted, but this is one love letter that definitely deserves to be read.
A review code was provided by the publisher.