Kingdom Hearts CoM – Go Fish

Note: As of the launch of Kingdom Hearts 3, the KH1-BBS Retrospectives are being “locked down” and will no longer be updated to account for new content that might be relevant to those particular games. For example: if KH3 or an interview explains a KH1 plot hole that I mention in this Retrospective, I won’t be updating the Retrospective to say so, adjusting my opinion, etc. We’re already several KHUX updates out-of-date as-stands. For similar reasons, comments for these games will be closed, though original comments will be preserved. Enjoy your read!

For anyone who’s forgotten things from nearly 300 fucking pages ago, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was originally released on the Game Boy Advanced in 2004, developed by Square Enix’s associates, JUPITER Corporation, who would later make The World Ends with You. It was released two years after the original game (the first KH game officially under the “Square Enix” banner). More notably than anything else, it was the first game in the series with a scene-skip (hold Start), making it a saint among Square games. Oh yeah. I’m leading off with that. That’s right up there with release date, developer and publisher. If you ask me, scene skips should have been everywhere since their invention, so I’m more upset at KH1 not implementing them than I’m happy about CoM and KH2 getting around to it. The thing is: the feature was so rare in GBA games that CoM still looks better than its contemporaries.

As a saint, this game was later re-released on the PS2. When it was released on the PS2 is more… complicated.

The original release of the PS2 Re:Chain of Memories was bundled with Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix+, for free! It’s a remarkable thing to see, that they just up and remade an entire game as a bonus feature. This version went unreleased outside of Japan until 2008, when it was released in North America, and only North America, as a budget title. Yes, the formerly free bonus game was now going for about $30 USD. It never came to Europe or Australia, not until the whole package was ported to the PS3 in the 1.5 HD collection.

A funny thing about CoM is that both the 2D and 3D versions are valuable in their own ways. That’s not to say they’re equally good: they both have different flaws, but they also have different positives, and it balances out. I prefer the 3D, thanks to a few new segments and one particularly big fault in the GBA version that it fixed, but this Retrospective is going to do an extensive comparison. I know that many players have only played one version or the other (or perhaps even neither), so I hope to provide a detailed level of insight. You’ll see that it can be a close race. The GBA version does have multiplayer, but like all GBA games, you’ll need multiple carts and most people these days own the game on the PS3. It’s not very impressive to begin with. We’ll talk about the multiplayer towards the end.

I should caution any buyers that the PS2 version of the game has a serious bug in the first world when played on backwards-compatible PS3s, so unless you have a genuine PS2 or are willing to download a save file to get past the glitch, you’re better off getting 1.5HD.

Because of the numerous version differences in this game, I made extensive use of these scripts to track down a lot of the minor details. Full credit to the creators, who have helped this giant wall of text to prosper.

GBA CoM script, compiled by David Wald:

Re:CoM Script, compiled by Ryan Parisen:

This retrospective’s 2D screenshots come from RickyC’s longplay of the GBA version of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories at World of Longplays (YouTube), while 3D screenshots come from BlueGator’s longplay of the 1.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories at Temple of the Azure Flame (segmented version).

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

BlueGator skipped the opening montage, so here’s a shot from a few seconds later, recapping the KH1 ending. It will be important later.

Just like last time, there’s a difficulty selection in Re:CoM, though there’s no difficulty selection at all in the GBA version. Wary newcomers should probably take things one level lower than their typical action game difficulty. I know, I know, pride is a serious thing, but this game isn’t so much hard as it is weird, and takes a lot of getting used to. I find most folks aren’t really comfortable with CoM until their second time through. There’s no secret ending and so no consequences to playing at a lower difficulty except to your experience. If you’re going for all the Trophies, you’re going to have to play Beginner eventually, because the damn things still don’t stack.

While the GBA Chain of Memories skips the traditional pop music opening cutscene and cuts straight to business, its 3D remake begins with an opening video set to “Simple and Clean.” To my surprise, the GBA eventually does play Simple and Clean during the end credits, even with its awful speaker! And it’s not nearly as bad as it should have been! I’ll tell you, I was impressed back in the day.

For the record, all these opening cutscene shots come from the 3D version, just for the quality.

But back to Re:CoM’s new opening sequence. The remake’s opening is my most dreaded kind of Kingdom Hearts opening: the video collage. There are three video collage openings in the series to date (Re:CoM, Days and coded), and while each takes a different direction, they’re all still pretty much junk. Re:CoM’s video collage provides a recap of the events of KH1, and just comes off as hurried. You can tell the collage was made for a budget remake.

Anyone playing the PS2 version of Re:CoM outside of Japan would have been pretty confused by the inclusion of the scene with the Unknown from KH1 Final Mix in this opening collage. These scenes with the Unknown had already been canonized by KH2 at the time (not that western gamers were necessarily aware of that), but this should have been fair warning to the rest of the world that Square was up to something screwy. Square’s assumption that you’ve already played FM continues through the opening scenes.

After the collage, we unite with the GBA version with an in-game cutscene. Well, “in-game” in a certain sense of the word. It’s a low-res 3D cutscene in both versions of the game. The GBA’s ability to play 3D games was rarely used, so I presume that Jupiter cranked up the KH1 engine, plugged in the right scripts, and filmed the results as video for the original GBA release. The GBA could handle video well enough – for those who didn’t know: they actually tried to sell a few TV episodes as GBA carts back in the day!

Look at that green smudge. There actually are blades of grass in there, but the video compression and low lighting destroys them at most angles!

The scene starts with the final scene of KH1: Sora, Donald and Goofy chasing Pluto down the path through the grass. After this, we begin the first new scene and the visual quality plunges. One thing that’s immediately evident with all these scenes is the low resolution textures and the small number of objects on screen. Let’s just pretend Sora tripped and lost his contacts. The grass, which was made up of large individual blades in the ending of KH1, is now a smudged block of green, and the game makes use of careful camera angles to keep the ugly stuff off-screen, and to limit on-screen objects even further. And yet, ugly as this is, I can’t help but feel somewhat impressed. I’m not usually complimentary when the industry tries to outstep technology (especially when it bankrupts a company as it has so often done) but watching Jupiter try to create PS2 quality cutscenes on a device that was nothing more than a portable Super Nintendo is kind of admirable! The GBA was a sturdy little box, backlight or no.

Sora and the others have been chasing Pluto for so long that they’ve settled down for the night, which seems like a good way to lose him if you ask me (and like I said, we’ll never see that letter, so I suppose they did lose Pluto!). Nomura has occasionally hinted – and the manga seems to briefly hint along similar lines – that the trio has actually been on unseen adventures between KH1 and CoM. Months maybe. These events would never been mentioned again and have essentially been de-canonized. You can tell by taking a close look at KH:Days. If you can’t tell from the title, Days is obsessed with time, and it clocks exactly 26 days between Maleficent’s death and the end of Chain of Memories. It’s up to you to decide how many of those 26 days were eaten up by fleeing Hollow Bastion, flying back to Traverse Town, doing postgame content, defeating Ansem, and then beating this game. RPGs are awful at chronicling time and this is no exception. If you haven’t checked out my Final Fantasy 1 journal: Final Fantasy 1 assumes you travel the world multiple times, defeat multiple dungeons, and learn an entire dead language in something under a week!

Here’s a GBA picture. Like many GBA games, CoM is oversaturated to make up for the lack of backlight on original models… but I can at least see what’s going on in this version!

Right where was I? Oh! Sora sleeping through his only lead! Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen! Sora wakes up in the middle of the night, and walks to a crossroads, where he is met by another figure in the cloak of the Unknown. Of course, Sora doesn’t necessarily know this is a different person, save that this one actually speaks instead of using telekinesis. For simplicity’s sake I’ll cut out that particular mystery and just tell you that this is someone else. This puts you into the shoes of an international gamer, who may have had no way of knowing Sora met a cloaked figure during KH1 in the first place. Hell, there’s another problem with this sequence: when this character finally removes their hood halfway through the game, we have no way of knowing it’s actually the hooded figure from the intro, unless you’re playing Re:CoM and can recognize his voice! I have no way of conveying that unintended ambiguity to you here in the retrospective, so I’m just going to say it outright!

The cloaked figure decides this a fair time to introduce a refrain for CoM, which is that there is something Sora needs that he may be able to provide. “But to find it, you must lose something that is dear to you.” He then disappears down a road different to the one Sora and the others were previously taking.

Along with oversized anime swords, Square Enix also employs oversized anime mallets!

The camera then cuts away to a white room, with white walls and floors and furniture, where a set of pale hands work away at a sketchpad. Nearby hangs the the most blatant symbolism imaginable: a little doll of a pale blonde angel in a white dress, inside a white cage. This doll serves no direct purpose. It is not magic, it is not alive: it is only here to inform your opinion of the pale artist. Subtle as a Vegas billboard.

Finally getting a glance at the sketchpad, we see the artist has drawn Sora, Donald and Goofy arriving at a crooked, brass fortress on a precipice in the void, and we cut to the trio now standing in front of the same building in the real world. And wow, wow is this castle blocky. I’ll take a shot in the dark and say that the GBA might not have been able to display a more complicated building? This N64 level of detail looks even stranger when later games in the series flash back to this building, and I think, “Thanks, PlayStation 3. Thanks Nintendo 3DS. Thanks for showing me this visual barely out of 1996.”

There is one detail I will compliment. This scene is set on a precipice, and as the camera pans along, you can just catch sight of the castle’s basement peeking out from under the ledge! It looks more than a little unusual hanging out there in the void. It’s a good effect. If you don’t spot it, you won’t learn this place even has a basement until so late in the game that I worried the artist wouldn’t have gotten the memo!

Sora and the gang enter the castle, and find themselves inside of a white entrance hall, similar to the one we saw with the girl and the doll-cage. At this point, the GBA game finally switches to 2D, using isometric sprites for the overworld, the hall running bottom-left to top-right. Almost all the castle’s halls run in this angle. In fact: since many characters only appear on one side of these bottom-left-to-top-right halls, their sprites are only drawn facing in one direction!

The gang begins to chat, noting that they all have this lingering suspicion that they’ll find the King and Riku here. Yeah, I got the feeling we were at the start of a new video game too. Jiminy Cricket, the killjoy, says it can’t be a coincidence that they’re all thinking the same thing, and they realize something must be up. This game is Jiminy’s largest role in the series, which I feel is one of many all-around good writing decisions made on the part of the GBA team. Having Jiminy show up and speak lines is something a 3D game team would have avoided, since it involves dragging in the voice actor and setting camera angles for the tiny cricket, but in voiceless 2D it’s no serious bother once they’ve already drawn the sprites. Thanks to Jiminy’s inclusion, this is the game where the group actually feels like a quartet, where every other game in the series pretends Jiminy isn’t even there.

Sad to say, but Eddie Carroll, the voice of Jiminy Cricket, did his last bit of voice work here in the the NA release of Re: Chain of Memories, just prior to his death in 2010. Sadly, he isn’t the last Disney legend we’ll see take their final bow in Kingdom Hearts, but he’s certainly given the most extensive final performance. Mr. Carrol, it is as good to see you work as it is sad to see you go.

The quartet crosses the hall, where they are cut off by the mysterious figure from before, who appears from nowhere. The appearing-from-nowhere thing is a little peculiarity of CoM that’s maintained in the remake. KH2 brings back the portals of darkness that started showing up at the end of KH1, but the remake does this thing where they appear in an ovoid of grey energy and white jagged halos. This isn’t the only such lingering abstraction from the GBA version, but I’ve been holding off the tutorial long enough.

The stranger appears and, with unusual bloodlust, the party decides to attack him. You can see how this makes miles more sense if you’ve played KH1 Final Mix and have fought the Unknown, since they’re clearly mistaking one cloaked man for another. Or… do they? In the English version, Donald calls the cloaked figure a Heartless!

Donald tries casting some spells, which in this instance involves him shouting the name of the spells. Final Fantasy has a similar ambiguity about whether one says the name of a spell while casting it or not (FFTactics on the PSX, for example, has them clearly saying the spells’ names). But strangely, Donald’s spells all sputter and fail. The cloaked man explains: as soon as the trio entered the castle, they pulled a Metroid and forgot all their abilities. In the GBA version, our Hooded friend adds: “…though the forgetting does not end here.”

This is the first of many, many script changes between the original and the remake. You might not notice it if you hadn’t just played one version before the other, but the remake cuts a lot of the characters’ lines in the English version, while changing others. This is too bad, because Chain of Memories’ GBA text is some of the best writing in the series. It’s really clear how much the pressures of voice acting localization have screwed over the devs. The PS2 version cuts lines just to match with the lip synching, or maybe to increase the tempo, it costs the script a good deal of content. The writing is one of the best advantages of the GBA version, whereas the lip sync and voice direction is one of the worst aspects of the remake.

The versions sync with an important line: “In this place, to find is to lose and to lose is to find. That is the way of things in Castle Oblivion.” This is honest, but it’s also the bait to get the trio to stay in the castle, since the party could presumably leave this very second and regain their techniques with time and practice. The trio takes the bait once the unknown figure confirms that Sora will meet people he knows and misses here in the castle, Sora no doubt suspecting that the Unknown is talking about Riku and the King. The cloaked figure then walks through Sora the way the previous one did, and explains that he has just “sampled” Sora’s memories. This explains a lot about the KH1 incident, where the Unknown walked through you and memories popped up onto the screen, but is also your first clue that this is not the same person as the Unknown in KH1, since I can’t imagine the original fellow would have needed two separate samples.

Now remember what I said about GBA characters only showing certain characters from one angle? The cloaked figure is now standing behind Sora. Well we can’t have him turning around, right? We don’t have enough sprites for that position, let’s not get crazy! To spare the art team the trouble, he teleports back – in Re:CoM, he teleports around in a shower of flower petals. Back at the front, the figure produces a large blue, crown-shaped card with a picture of Traverse Town on the front. He claims he produced it from Sora’s memories and says it’s the key to his promised reunion.

By the way, before I get any further, this character is voiced by Keith Ferguson, the voice of Bloo from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, being considerably more menacing. For the Disney connection, he’s also the spinoff voice of Lightning McQueen from Cars. Hell, he’s also Basch from Final Fantasy XII. I hear-tell that Basch is sometimes considered a one of the true main characters of XII? I’m a little confused on those details, but I think it’s interesting how Ferguson is the first actor in the retrospective who has played both a leading Disney roll (sort of) and a leading Final Fantasy roll (sort of). It’s like he’s the perfect Kingdom Hearts voice actor.

Cloaky tells Sora to hold the card up to the large door at the end of the hall, and Sora does so with limited input from the player. Through the door, Sora finds the impossible: he is standing inside of Traverse Town itself, and Donald and Goofy are gone.

Sora meets up with Cloaky in this room, wondering what on Walt’s green earths is going on. Jiminy is still around at least. The Unknown explains that the town is an illusion created by Sora’s memories on the card, with the strong implication that he is actually standing in a room of the castle that has been transformed to match the memory, either in Sora’s head or in real life. As for Donald and Goofy, the man claims that they’re “at the mercy of the cards now,” explaining that everything in Castle Oblivion operates on cards. Why? …I have no idea, even from a present-day perspective. However, the social game Kingdom Hearts X[chi] has opened an interesting possibility. You’re just going to have to wait until we get there. For now, let’s continue pretending it’s 2004 and you have to suck it up.

Since we’re here in Traverse Town, I should mention that its music in the PS2 Re:CoM is a new recording, and not a carry-over from KH1! This is true of all returning tracks. Naturally the tracks on the GBA are new chiptune mixes. I may not have the best ear for this, but I believe the 1.5 version of Re:CoM does share music with KH1 (the new re-orchestrated tracks) but the tracks were absolutely new arrangements in the PS2 release, to the point where the original Re:CoM’s soundtrack was released as its own OST in the Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack Complete. I’ll be talking more about the series’ OST releases after KH2, or maybe even towards the end of the Retrospective, when I can cover all the soundtracks at once.

Cloaky enters a battle mode tutorial, and in the GBA game, this means we enter side-view. This swap between isometric environments and side-view works well, but does have costs, like the fact that characters often require two full sets of sprites!

BlueGator’s longplay of the 3D version skips all the generic battles and tutorials, though there are still combat recordings of bosses. Until the bosses come around, the GBA will keep us company.

Remember how I didn’t finish Kingdom Hearts 1’s combat explanation for several entries? We’re going to do that again. We’re going to do that very deliberately this time, because CoM’s combat system is just too hard to explain without the game in front of us as we talk. There are two majors reasons for this. One, and it bears repeating up front: this is a complicated video game. It’s easily the most complicated game in the Kingdom Hearts series and was way out of step with what people were expecting after Kingdom Hearts 1. Concept sketches released for the game suggest that it might have, at one point, been meant as a turn-based game, which makes way more sense than what we got and would have given the player a much better grasp of the mechanics, but they turned it into a baffling action game to keep it more in line with its predecessor, resulting in a game that matched no expectations whatsoever. Explaining this game to the level I’d like to explain it is going to take a long time.

And let me make this clear up front: in a large way, that is indefensible. As great as I feel this game can be, a game shouldn’t be opaque about its own mechanics and, if it is, it should suffer the critical and public damage that comes from being opaque. But I want to get into the reasons the game is opaque, so that we can discuss why that sort of thing happens, and how to prevent it.

The second issue that makes explaining CoM difficult is that CoM is so heavily mired in its gameplay. In KH1, on each new world I could talk about the unique features of that world, good or bad. Unfortunately, almost all worlds in CoM play identically. Why would Square Enix design such a flat game? Shouldn’t they know better? Welllll… bear in mind: Square Enix makes turn-based RPGs, and this may have been a turn-based game earlier in design. Let’s be honest with one another, turn based RPGs are pretty damn flat games. CoM is flatter than average, but I get a similar vibe from it. Like in a turn-based RPG (especially a dynamically generated one, which as you’ll see is the case for CoM), the variety in CoM comes from gaining and using new powers and strategies in functionally similar environments. Character and monster design over level design. This means I have to talk about the gameplay in-depth to be talking about anything at all, or this retrospective would be pared down to a few short paragraphs no more detailed than a wiki. Take a look at my Final Fantasy Marathon journals and see how long I spend writing about even the longest dungeon before personal anecdotes take over, and you’ll see what I mean.

In this entry, it’s probably best if I start with a rough outline of CoM’s gameplay, so that anyone unfamiliar with the game can get an idea of how a CoM Disney world works. The Unknown starts his tutorial by teaching Sora how to restore his combat abilities in a limited fashion through the use of “Attack Cards”: red Keyblade Cards, blue Magic Cards and green Item Cards that he plays in combat. It seems that Sora’s memories of how to fight are all encapsulated in individual, magical cards and he has to play them to attack, and it gets very complicated. The Unknown also shows how to summon Donald and Goofy from green “Friend Cards” (it’s weird that they didn’t give Friend cards a fourth colour, but it probably has something to do with a second deck of cards we’ll be seeing in a moment, which only needed 3 colours in the GBA). After Cloaky explains Friend Cards, Donald and Goofy return to you, and the fact that they’re trapped in cards will never be a problem again.

After the initial tutorial, Donald and Goofy try to explain where they were during their absence: they say they saw bright light as the door opened and the woke up in Traverse Town after Sora summoned them. We’ll never really get an explanation for what’s going on beyond that. The group seems to realize that Sora will have to do most of the adventure alone, but Sora’s up to the challenge. It’s good to see him grow up a little that between games.

The party talks about how this cloaked mystery person clearly can’t be trusted, but they’re too curious to back out. The player then gets a few tutorials from… the sky… and we set to business. This tutorial also includes a fight against some Heartless. Here, we learn that, like FFMQ, Earthbound or the Mario RPGs, the Heartless on the overworld represent whole groups of enemies. If you touch a Heartless on the overworld, you’re teleported into an arena to battle the group, though you can also strike them to enter combat at an advantage. The arenas in the remake are clever, designed to look like a platform within a working environment, instead of floating in a void (with a few exceptions).

With the Tutorial complete, Sora is loose in Traverse Town, so we have to talk about how a world works in CoM. Most of Castle Oblivion is dynamically generated, both in mechanics and in narrative. It doesn’t exist until you get there. This… this is going to take a moment.

How can I put this? If you wanted to get really rough, a typical story-driven Action-Adventure game can be portioned into three parts: story, the parts of the gameplay that descend from Action games, and the parts of the gameplay that descend from Adventure games. My retrospective of KH1 followed similar lines: get all the common gameplay out of the way early in the retrospective, and then define each part of the game by its unique story content, action gameplay content and adventure gameplay content. But CoM’s Adventure gameplay is dynamically generated. That means its basic gameplay is its Adventure content. As a result, I can’t shove gameplay out of the way, because until I get around to describing Adventure gameplay, we won’t have any Adventure content to talk about. I’ll spread it out as much as I can, both to take the load off these early posts and to fill the content in the later posts. As so many who have played CoM in the past have learned to their own detriment, this… is going to a while.

Oh CoM. Oh CoM oh CoM oh CoM. You have brought this on yourself.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 1 – Appendix and Tie-Ins
Next: Kingdom Hearts CoM – Ground Floor: Men’s Wear, Shoes, Map Mechanics

This retrospective’s 2D screenshots come from RickyC’s longplay of the GBA version of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories at World of Longplays (YouTube), while 3D screenshots come from BlueGator’s longplay of the 1.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories at Temple of the Azure Flame (segmented version).


  1. I prefer the GBA CoM script because, to be honest, they changed a lot of Sora’s dialogue in Re:CoM and I think they did it because it sounded better coming out of an older Haley Joel’s mouth than KHI Haley Joel. But I prefer to go with the idea, as did the GBA version, that Sora sounds exactly the same in CoM as he did in KHI and the dialogue better reflects that in the GBA version.

  2. I know the story in the game but I started playing this once I got 1.5 and the combat system just frustrates me[so much so I put it down for long while], when I think I got it understood I apparently don’t at all. I do enjoy It being different though, a new challenge is always nice.

      1. in the opening, where Sora is motioning goofy and Donald forward (about 14 seconds in) if you look at pluto following the path up the hill, his model isn’t moving, they just slid him in that direction without bothering to animate him!

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