Sora and pals have advanced to the second floor, and Jiminy Cricket is worrying over what Axel said about “You may no longer be who you are?” Besides driving home the point that Jiminy is the only one paying any fucking attention, this only serves to make it seem as though this is Episode 2 of an ongoing TV show, despite being only five seconds after the last scene. It serves my retrospective perfectly, but did the game really need a recap of what happened not one loading screen ago?
The discussion then turns to Hollow Bastion of all things. This isn’t as random as it seems, as Hollow Bastion was the last time the group was in a castle together. But there’s a problem: only Goofy can remember ever being there, and even he can’t remember Hollow Bastion’s name. The others tease him for making it up, but he’s adamant he hasn’t.
(This section is more confusing than I’m making it sound: Goofy can’t remember Hollow Bastion’s name, so unfortunately the game has no way of telling the player what he’s talking about. He insists on describing Hallow Bastion as the castle with “all of those contraptions.” Hallow Bastion had elevators, some purely decorative gears you might not have even noticed, and the basement gears you only visited with Beast, but that’s about it for “contraptions.” You may as well say that Traverse Town, Agrabah or even Disney Castle had “contraptions.”)
After the fight with Axel, you were left with five World Cards like the one you used to form Traverse Town. With the help of these cards, you can create five more worlds, which will be permanently assigned to the floors you give them to. As I said previously, the layout of each floor is the same no matter what world you put there, as is the statistical strength of the Heartless and bosses you battle. As far as I can tell, new Map Cards are introduced on set floors as well. Only the type of Heartless you encounter, as well as bosses and prizes, are tied to the world you assign, rather than the floor.
What this means there’s a lot of strategy involved in the order you approach the worlds, mixing and matching specific enemies with certain difficulties, especially once you know what you’re doing. At the same time, it’s also quite unfair to a new player how the game will screw you over if you don’t know what you’re doing. For example, if you take a world with a hard boss on a high floor, the difficulty will be multiplied, and you’ll have no idea what you’re getting into. On the other hand, you could also take a hard world on an easy floor only to discover Sora’s deck or your skills aren’t up to the task yet! I can’t understate the number of ways this could and has gone wrong for new players, leading significantly to this game’s often awful reputation.
The first set of worlds includes Wonderland, Olympus Coliseum, Agrabah, Monstro and Halloween Town, the first few worlds Sora visited in KH1. By this point, Deep Jungle was no longer an option for the development team, though it appeared in a few preview screenshots for this game. (Also pictured in those early screenshots was the Dive to the Heart, which also does not appear.) We’re going to take these worlds in the order I took them for the Retrospective playthrough. This is partially for variety compared to the KH1 retrospective, but I do have my own strategic reasons. Some broad advice:
- The Enemy Card you get for beating Halloween Town is very powerful and the boss not very strong, but the Heartless in the world can be tough if you let their stats rise. Those factors combined make it a good world to visit early.
- The boss of Wonderland is more powerful than it has any right to be, but it’s not the worst one in this set. Many players go here first just to duplicate the world order from KH1 and so never realize how hard the boss can get. It’s not a bad idea to do the same and take Wonderland as early as possible.
- The world with the hardest bosses for me is Olympus Coliseum, with not just one but two human-sized bosses. It also gives you a powerful Summon card in the GBA release. Take this world as soon as you feel ready so they can’t overwhelm you with higher stats on higher floors. Unfortunately, on one’s first playthrough, the game you won’t know what it means to “feel ready” for this kind of fight, but make your best guess.
- Monstro and Agrabah are both pushovers for me. The guaranteed Enemy Card from Agrabah is useful in all situations, and Agrabah also unlocks Ethers, so feel free to go there if you aren’t ready to take a hard floor. Monstro, on the other hand, has nothing worthwhile, so feel free to put it last.
Typically, I go for Halloween Town first, so that’s where this retrospective is going.
Sora and gang appear in Halloween Town, where Jack Skellington jumps out to scare them. After he finishes (re-?)introductions, he tells the trio that there’s trouble in Halloween Town: the Heartless who appear as if on cue. Sora and the others fight them off, and then accuse Jack of summoning them, even though he helped in the fight! Like most of the KH1 allies, Jack appears as a Friend Card in CoM. He’s just as useless as Donald thanks to random spells, but they can’t all be winners.
Naturally, Jack didn’t really summon the Heartless, and he suggests you go to Dr. Finkelstein’s, aka the Room of Beginnings, to find out what’s up. Sora and friends could probably tell Jack why the Heartless are there, but I guess we have to start walking for some reason.
Halloween Town features a few unique elements on the overworld: Guillotines that can harm you if you’re stupid enough to hang around them (the structure of a CoM world makes it incredibly easy to avoid anything that isn’t shooting at you), and (speaking of things that shoot at you) there are fountains that spit acid at you from a distance. Nothing all that menacing, in fact it’s quite easy to move across the rooms to find the Gold Rooms no matter what floor you’re on, but getting around isn’t your only aim here. There are other things to find if you put in the extra effort.
There are plenty of things to interact with on the overworld, if by “interact with” you meant “destroy like a bull in a china shop.” You spend a lot of time breaking objects in the overworld, causing the broken objects to drop Health Orbs or special red orbs you later learn are called “Moogle Points.” The 3D games introduced a few items you have to break with a combo finisher instead of a regular attack, so you’ll want to hit every object type at least three times to get a measure of them. In addition to Health Orbs and Moogle Points, broken stuff can also drop fresh attack cards for your deck, which is what you’re really looking for. These can be any card you’ve previously unlocked, though they have a high chance of dropping the card associated with the local Keyblade instead, which is unlocked immediately upon entering the world (in this case, the Pumpkinhead). Sora’s Keyblade never transform in this game, but the Keyblade cards change the amount of damage you cause or how quickly it swings or recovers. You’ll want to retire most of your Kingdom Key cards over time. Destroying obstacles is hardly the most efficient way to get new cards, but it is handy.
There are also the Heartless on the overworld. The Heartless behave very differently on the overworld between the GBA and 3D versions. In the GBA version, they appear nearby you and swoop in. They don’t so much exist in real space prior to encountering you, so to speak, as pounce at you out of nowhere. They’re relentless, but eventually run out of troops as you take them out one by one, depending on the room you happen to be in: cards like Tranquil Darkness have very few Heartless, while Teeming Darkness is just the opposite. One downside of the GBA version is that there are only a handful of Heartless sprites available to represent enemy groups – only four. You’ll be attacked by Red Nocturnes, Large Bodies, and Shadows on the overworld for almost the entire game, even on worlds that don’t have Large Bodies or Red Nocturnes in combat (don’t worry, you can still stun Large Bodies from the front on the overworld!). Atlantica uses Sea Neons for variety. It’s a costly side effect of the isometric perspective, since the developers didn’t want to have to redraw every enemy in isometric perspective for the overworld. I understand the decision, but that doesn’t make it any less of a costly mistake. Surely you can imagine what these repeating overworld sprites do to a game with so many other tedious repeating elements?
The 3D versions have all kinds of enemies in the overworld. That’s the advantage of reusable 3D models. Enemies in the 3D games exist in defined locations, either patrolling until defeated or spawning when you get nearby. You have to really hunt them down if you want EXP. I feel this is the better of the two systems, but it’s also clear that some features were designed for the GBA’s system and just weren’t accounted for in 3D. For example, the Looming Darkness room: a room where the GBA version had you running for your life as Heartless spawned and chased after you pell-mell, a real panic. The 3D version is much less engaging, as it just has them spot you at greater distances. Oooh, I’m shaking.
Of course, with all these obstacles and bad guys, we have to talk about one of the 3D version’s major downsides: Sora the nincompoop will sometimes swing out of control to attack an obstacle instead of a Heartless! His targeting priority is whatever object is closest, even if there’s a ravenous monster one step further away. Oh, and some obstacles never fully break or go away, so you might be trying to attack a Heartless only for the hero of the Keyblade to bank hard right and swat at an invulnerable flagpole. Worse: in both versions, if you get caught by a Heartless, you lose any HP Orbs, Moogle Points or cards that were bouncing around on the overworld, so this “swatting at flagpoles” problem might just cost you valuable resources. Budget title, you say? Released for free with Final Mix+, you say?
At Finkelstein’s Lab, you find that the good doctor is blaming himself for the Heartless attacks! It seems he’s invented a special potion, designed to restore someone’s “true memories.” He then drops what is probably the most important line from the Disney sections in Chain of Memories, so I’m going to quote it: “Our hearts are full of memories — but not all of them reflect the truth. The heart isn’t a recording device. Even important memories change with time. They warp or fade, leaving us with but a shadow of what we hoped to remember.” Sora asks if that’s what’s going on with him, with all the allusions made by the cloaked figures, and Finkelstein confirms that “It happens to everyone […] If we could recover our true memories, the world would seem completely different.” Unfortunately, once Finkelstein had developed his potion, so much as smelling it caused the Heartless to appear, and the potion has since vanished.
I’m going to be honest with you: while I do think Halloween Town is a good place to start for gameplay reasons, I also wanted to start the Retrospective here because Halloween Town is hands-and-above the best Disney sequence in Chain of Memories. I know, that means it’s all downhill from here, but I have a feeling some folks weren’t going to believe me when I said there’s good stuff in CoM’s “repeat” Disney sections if I didn’t lead with a strong first world. This game has a bad reputation, but look at what we’ve got in front of us: Halloween Town directly addresses the main theme, and it advances the main plot as well alongside its own.
Look closely: Sora is remembering the events of Halloween Town in the first game, but in a way that isn’t identical, but a thematic parallel instead. If Sora and friends were forced to run around Halloween Town under the same plot, that would have been dull and boring. Instead, we follow a new thread that serves a similar purpose to the original plot while simultaneously showing how memory works in this castle. Finkelstein has once again invented something that could solve all of Sora’s problems in one swoop, just like he did in KH1, except now its primed to address the new plot. If you had to reuse plot (even though they didn’t…), this would have been the best way to do it. And take another look: Sora’s memory of the town has been distorted, just like Finkelstein said!
Finkelstein figures Sally took the potion, so you go off to look for her. She waits in the Room of Guidance, i.e. the graveyard, where she explains she was afraid of the potion’s ability to call the Heartless, which… yeah, that’s a fair thing to be afraid of. What is up with that, anyways? Why would remembering true memories summon the Heartless?
But we don’t get a chance to question that, since Oogie Boogie appears and steals the potion, hoping to chug it just to see what awful thing happens. He sprints off to the Key to Truth room, because we can’t resolve this on the spot. No, of course not, don’t be silly.
Since we’re approaching the boss, it’s probably in my better interests to explain a little more about combat, if only because the Oogie Boogie fight relies on a mechanic I haven’t explained yet. Remember how I explained the basics of combat, and it was already kind of confusing? And I said it would get worse once you had to deal with a live enemy? Well happy birthday and good welcome to you all, because enter the Heartless! As you’re going around trying to chop up some Shadows, they’re not exactly going to stand there and take it. The Heartless will attack back, 80s action movie-style: one at a time. This approach is for the best because if they hadn’t things would have gotten out of hand very quickly. But don’t mistake me: the Heartless are eager, and so as long as there are even a handful in play, you’re probably going to be under attack at all times. But what that means in terms of gameplay is more complicated than you might have expected.
You might remember from my previous entry where I said “you hit the button, the card is played to the bottom of the screen.” To be more specific: so long as Sora or his Summon is are performing their attacking animation, the card you used stays at the bottom of the screen, and unfortunately, the bad guys can mess with it. The reverse is true when the bad guys attack. In fact, there can only be one card in play at any given time: yours or theirs, and the stronger card will “break” the other and cause it to be temporarily discarded. Who wins out? Well…
Like the Map Cards, every Attack Card is numbered 0-9. If you play a card that’s a higher number than your opponent, your opponent’s attack is “broken,” and your attack goes through, even if you’re physically nowhere near the enemy. If you play a tie, both break. Sure, this mechanic was probably supposed to simulate you parrying a blow or something (likely developed when this was still a turn-based game), but don’t worry about what it’s supposed to mean and take advantage of what it is. Even if it means swinging your Keyblade at empty air in the opposite direction, you can stop a deadly attack in mid-animation just by playing a powerful card, and you’ll want to. Of course, the bad guys can do the same to you, but the Heartless are too stupid to do so deliberately (but hold that thought). A tie breaks both cards, though that’s not always so bad if you’re just trying to stop a boss from throwing a wave of fire into your face.
0 cards are different: 0s lose to everything on the defence, but they beat everything on the offence (except other 0s, that’s still a tie). This makes them invaluable. They’re also costly. I haven’t talked about deck construction, but 0s will make you pay through the nose. But I also wasn’t kidding about swinging Keyblades at thin air: since Keyblades are the cheapest cards in the deck, they’re also the cheapest 0s, and since their animations is very short, it’s unlikely that the enemy will catch your 0 with another attack in turn. You’ll want to use them more than any other 0s, maybe even to the exclusion of other 0s. Trying to break an attack with a drawn-out 0 Summon is just going to drop a Large Body on top of your head.
How do you keep track of all this breaking and fighting? Well, short answer: you often don’t. Or at least “shouldn’t.” As far as minor fights with Heartless are concerned, I still recommend you fight blindly and react to adverse situations only as they arise. Once a card is broken, for example, dodge roll out of the way of whatever attack is coming and then you get back on your feet with the blind attacking. But sometimes that’s not possible. Halloween Town introduces a new Heartless that drives that home immediately: the Creeper Plant. One of only a few new Heartless additions to CoM, the Creeper Plant is stationary, but makes up for it with high-value attack cards. These cards have such a high value that they ruin my blind attacking strategy, mere moments after I recommended it! There’s a lot of the time where you just won’t be able to attack just because a Creeper Plant played a 7 and you’re waiting for it to run out. If you’re smart, you’ll know where your 0s, 8s and 9s are waiting in your deck, or maybe you even constructed your deck so they’d be in a special place for emergencies, but this early in the game you don’t really have enough cards to pull that kind of intermediate-level play. Don’t worry friend. We’ll talk about intermediate and advanced techniques in the intermediate and advanced parts of the game. For now, dodging like a fleaman from Castlevania will serve just fine.
Finally, you catch up to Oogie Boogie in Key to Truth casino-style deathtrap. Or… something that’s supposed to look like that? Obviously the square arenas in the GBA version would have trouble recreating a circular roulette wheel from KH1, but without the panache, it’s kind of hard to explain just what this room is supposed to be. There are flashy symbols on the ground and a cage separating you from Oogie.
Oogie taunts the party for a bit, but then finally does what he should have done rooms ago by downing the potion. His true memories hit him… and this portion of the story earns is right to call itself the best of the set, as whatever Oogie just revived starts him cowering in sheer terror, and he attacks you more out of response to the memory than out of any desire to hurt you. It’s equal parts tragic and intriguing. Remember: Oogie is part of Sora’s subconscious. It’s Sora, not Oogie Boogie, who’s come to the realization that true memories are buried for a reason, and it’s Sora who’s lashing out at himself for trying to revive them. Even if you don’t see Oogie’s actions as Sora’s subconscious, the implication about true memories is nevertheless very clear.
Thank goodness Oogie uses archive audio quotes during the battle, which make him sound perfectly happy and fine! Otherwise attacking someone in the middle of a panic attack would just be disturbing! Ha! Ha.
The fight against Oogie is easily the most complicated in the game if you play it straight, so my advice is that you not. Like in KH1, Oogie throws explosive dice and normal dice that summon traps and Heartless. If you break his attacks by playing high-numbered cards, the bars separating you from Oogie will lower, but that will take forever to lower them to the floor, so much so that I flat-out don’t recommend it, even to an experienced player. Instead, break his card while he’s rolling so that the dice will fall uselessly to the floor. At this point, you can attack the dice, which has a high chance of releasing a Gimmick Card. Once you use the Gimmick Card you gain a double advantage: the fence will drop the floor, and Oogie will be stunned. If you tried to play fair, Oogie would keep attacking and breaking your cards. Kingdom Hearts is here to remind you that cheating is the best way to succeed in life!
You defeat Oogie and he collapses into bugs like last time, dropping his Enemy Card. I know I still haven’t explained Enemy Cards, but the Oogie Boogie card is a treasure: it gives you regeneration for a set period, healing you without the trouble of having to get a Cure card past enemy defences. The only downside is that you can only have one Enemy Card in play at a time, so you’re giving up your precious healing if you have to swap to something else, but that’s not really so bad.
Back in Finkelstein’s lab, everyone is debating what went wrong with the true memory potion. While Sally figures the experiment went wrong, Finkelstein agrees with me, saying the experiment was fine and that true memories must “destabilize the heart.” He proposes that when Sora regains his own true memories (i.e., with the help of Castle Oblivion), things might be even worse. Nice guy. Before this all comes out, Donald and Goofy suggest Sora ask for what was left of the potion, but Sora chooses to keep his promise to Axel not to cheat, of all reasons. Finkelstein says that it’s too bad, since that would have been a great experiment. Considering what he thinks about what happened to Oogie Boogie, he really must be a nice guy!
Up to Conqueror’s Respite, back to Castle Oblivion, you get it by now. Back in the white-halled rooms, Goofy is still fussing over his disjoined memories of Hallow Bastion. While he still can’t remember the name of the place, he’s thought of another way to bring it to mind, and reminds the others that that’s where they rescued Kairi and Sora became a Heartless. Sora certainly remembers being a Heartless, but like Donald and Goofy in Traverse Town, his memory isn’t connected properly any more, and he can’t remember where it happened. In fact he doesn’t even remember it happening in a castle of any kind!
Finally, the quartet realize what they should have done ages ago: ask Jiminy Cricket to check his journal. Jiminy says he finished the first volume just before he got to Castle Oblivion. And this is going to sound really petty, but there’s a good reason for me to harp on it if you’ll just hold your horses a few games. Simply put: Jiminy is implied by later games to have been writing CoM’s journal in the same book as KH1’s. So… retcon right? The thing is, even this game implies he’s been writing this game’s journal at the back of the KH1 diary, since toward the end of the game, he takes out the first journal as though he didn’t have a second on-hand. There doesn’t seem to be any way to reconcile these lines of dialogue!
Unfortunately, when Jiminy takes out the KH1 journal, it turns out it’s gone blank! And wow, does Eddie Carroll sell how upset Jiminy is at losing all those hours of work! I feel really upset for the poor guy, so it’s great to see his friends upset as well. They proceed to the next floor, Sora openly questioning what kind of castle this is…
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).