Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a brand new spin-off rhythm action game taking place in the Kingdom Hearts universe. The game releases for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on November 13th, 2020. However, I recently had the opportunity to test out an advance demo of the game. Here are a few of my early impressions after taking Melody of Memory for a test run.
Four epic musical tracks
The Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory demo features four levels, each one a track from one of the Kingdom Hearts games. This includes two tracks from the original Kingdom Hearts (“Welcome to Wonderland” and “Hand in Hand”). Rounding out the selections are “The Rustling Forest” and “Wave of Darkness I”.
Each track weaves a path through the game level it draws from. For example, “Welcome to Wonderland” naturally takes a journey against the the backdrop of Alice in Wonderland. The finish line times up perfectly with your arrival in the “Drink Me” room where Sora & Co. take on the very first of many boss battles in the series.
Each track also offers a nice variety of challenge, with three difficulty levels available. Players can choose “Beginner”, “Standard”, or “Proud”, the latter being the toughest. The first track is fairly simple, and a great way to get your bearings. However by the final track of the demo (Wave of Darkness I), even passing on beginner level issues a fairly significant challenge.
An impressive hybrid of rhythm and combat
After spending some time with the demo, my initial impressions of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory are quite positive. What I really like about the game more-so than some other rhythm games in my library is the combat element. To me, it feels a bit more strategic and a bit less like simple quick-time events set against music.
For starters, the game doesn’t actually show the symbol of the upcoming button you need to press. I know other rhythm games take on this format, but I always appreciate when they do. When a rhythm game displays the corresponding symbols, it always ruins the immersion for me to an extent.
I much prefer simply needing to memorize which buttons to push in which situations. Especially when the rhythm corresponds to some form of combat on the screen. To me this feels more like I’m actually “attacking” my opponents in real time and less like I playing one endlessly long quick-time event.
A trio of attacks that can land from anywhere
I also like the decision Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory makes to not tie its three primary attack buttons to a specific lane. In the game, there are three inputs that will register an attack. On PlayStation 4, they are “L1”, “R1”, and “X” (cross).
There are also three heroes in play at a time. In the demo we see Donald Duck on the left, Goofy on the right, and Sora bringing up the middle. As such, you might assume that each character’s attack corresponds to their position, with Donald being L1, Sora X, and Goofy R1. However, this isn’t the case.
Instead, any of the three attack buttons will allow the hero nearest an enemy to attack. Similarly any combo of two inputs will work as well if two enemies are in range. This adds an element of personal strategy to the way you attack, and also makes things a bit easier early on.
Of course, it’s still ideal to follow a pattern that mostly corresponds with your fighters position on the screen. Still, it makes the overall experience a bit less rigid and (once again) less like a straight up quick-time event combat system.
Variety is the spice of life
There is a lot more to Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory than just attacks of course. There are obstacles to avoid and items to pick up as well. Occasionally the game prompts middle character (Sora for the demo) to leap in the air and hover in a moving line to capture musical notes high above the track.
This move is especially interesting on harder difficulties. Here the zig-zagging note path really takes on the shape of the music, mimicking the slightest changes such as the quick flourish of the violin. Now imagine trying to keep your line while simultaneously attacking enemies still coming toward the characters on the left and right.
All in all, the combos are very satisfying and the challenge is addictive. Increasing difficulty doesn’t just plop more enemies in your path. It also increases the skill requires to read the action on the whole.
For example, enemies move at different speeds. Some appear to be further away only to leap up and enter the fray ahead of a previously closer foe. Other shadows sneak up from the bottom of the screen instead of leading in from the horizon. Some enemies take multiple strikes to eliminate, while others are wide enough that they require two simultaneous attacks for a successful blow.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a promising rhythm game that packs in the action against an amazing soundtrack
I can’t wait to get my hands on more of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory. It probably goes without saying that of course the soundtrack is second to none. It doesn’t hurt to have a long history of outstanding Kingdom Hearts music to draw from.
What really excites me however is the addictive gameplay and intense combat elements. While other rhythm games often just fell like a glorified lengthy QTE, here I find it much easier to become immersed in strategy. The overall sense of “action” is captured very well.
The demo for Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory already has my focus set on extending my chains, honing my combos, and improving my high scores. I’m very interested to check back in and see what the full game has to offer, once not only more tracks but more game modes become available as well.