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Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories Developed by: Square-Enix Published by: Square-Enix ESRB Rating: E For: Game Boy Advance

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is essentially \'Kingdom Hearts 1.5\' in the series that started with the impressive RPG for the PlayStation 2 in 2002. According the Square-Enix, the developer of the series, Chain of Memories serves as the bridge between the storylines of Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. As the story goes, Sora and his friends, Donald and Goofy, have discovered a mysterious place called Castle Oblivion. A strange man, cloaked in a hooded robe, tells them that it is named that because the further you progress in the castle, the more memories you forget. Also, he says, you will gain new memories. Sora must discover the true meaning to this riddle and the intentions of this man and the strange group calling themselves the Organization. Along the way, Sora discovers truth and light with hidden and special memories of his long lost friends. He discovers things about himself that he did not know before.

GAMING EXPERIENCE: Gameplay:

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (hereafter referred to as COM) is pretty much an action RPG, good for 25-30 hours of gameplay. You don?t really play in a party of characters like you did in the first game. Granted, Donald and Goofy are there, along with other characters who join you for stretches of the game, but in this particular game they they are more or less summonings by a different name. Unlike the original Kindgom Hearts (KH1), the game environment in COM revolves around a card system. From the main world, you have the option to access different worlds by selecting a ?world card? at the beginning of each. Each world represents Sora\'s recollection of the events of KH1, and each of those worlds contains multiple \'rooms.\' To advance to each new you use a ?map card? at the appropriate door. Cards in this game come in three different categories: red (enemy-affecting cards), green (your own cards), and blue (various things like treasure and save points), and each one has its own face value (zero through nine). To open a door you must meet that door?s value (and sometimes color) criteria, with zero being a wild card for the face values. Unfortunately, searching out and finding the correct card for the correct door can be pretty tedious.

The battle system, which also revolves around the use of cards, is a cross between Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy. Enemies you encounter can be seen on the main adventure map like before, but when you run into them (or ambush them by striking them with your keyblade), the game transitions FF-style into a combat screen. While in combat, Sora is not limited to a single space; he can run around while executing commands. Combat commands are given by selecting a card from your deck. Each card (attack, magic, friend, and summon to name a few) has its own separate function, most similar to those found in mainstream RPGs. So while the control is different from before, it will end up looking very similar mostly. There are also sleights: combo moves used by selecting the required cards (never more than three) by pressing L and R then again to perform the move. It?s really quite ingenious, although it can turn into a button masher at times.

When you finish Sora?s story (which is the main game), you unlock Reverse Rebirth, which is essentially a mini-game (not in the traditional sense) that is the side-story to the main game. You play Rikku, and you also discover his personal story during the COM main events along with his inner struggle with good and evil. It?s puts another four to five hours on top of the main game?s 25 or so. It?s not quite as in-depth as Sora?s story, but it is still very entertaining nonetheless. In Reverse Rebirth, Riku finds himself tempted by the darkness in his heart, which in turn is fueled by the Organization and Ansem. Riku, along with the help of the king, fights a battle against the darkness, valiantly proclaiming that he will not surrender. Unfortunately, he was an uphill battle ahead of him. Where it will lead you?ll have to find out.

Graphics:

Considering COM is a GBA-only game, the visuals for this game are really just astounding. The level of detail and variety found in everything is extremely impressive, and all of the characters and many of the environments are very colorful. The main cutscenes, where the story advances, are all nicely done. You see the characters on the adventure screen like normal, and a dialogue box appears at the top or bottom of the screen. The character?s portrait shows up next to what they are saying, wearing one of four different expressions (normal, anger, shock, and cheer). The mouths on the portraits move with limit due to the GBA?s power, but still in accordance to the words, and lip-syncing is still fairly convincing with a bit of imagination. While talking the characters on the main screen will also sometimes gesture or move emphasize a point. Also, when the characters are surprised, confused, or thinking, an anime-style speech bubble will appear with the appropriate symbol appearing in a simple animation (!, ?, and ...). But the most impressive part of all I?d say are the four FMVs featured in the game. All of them are animated much like the ones in the original PS2 Kingdom Hearts. That Square-Enix was able to fit such high-quality video into a GBA game is astounding.

Sound:

The sound is appropriately done in COM. There are different sounds for each attack, and the characters in battle will often make their own individual battle cries, with the main characters (Sora and later Riku) making grunts, yells, and even taunts of sorts (?Come on!? ?My turn!?). There is no actual voice dialogue in the game, however. The music for each level is taken straight from the original game, and therefore is of course is very well done and very fitting for each environment... and is comfortably familiar for fans of KH1. A nice addition, too, is that at one point in the game the Kingdom Hearts main theme song (\'Simple and Clean\') is played out in full, vocals and all.

Control:

Not too complex, since this is for the Game Boy Advance, after all. However, Square has made good use of all of the buttons. L and R can be used to build sleights, and then to use them. A is to swing the keyblade outside of battle and to select commands in battle. B is used to jump. Select is to bring up the map. And of course, Start is used to pause and bring up the menu and the Control Pad is used to control movement. Pretty easy to use overall, and it?s efficient.

Stability:

The game plays at a good framerate under standard GBA standards, with only minor slowdowns during major battles.

APPROPRIATENESS ISSUES: Violence

- Killing non-human, fictional characters (-3.5 pts.) - No blood (-0 pts.) - No gore (-0 pts.) This is an RPG; however the battle system is structured more around an action game rather than a traditional RPG style. Most of your time will be spent killing the Heartless, an army of creatures who have more or less lost their hearts to evil. There is no blood or gore, and there is no maiming of characters, or anything like that.

Language:

- Minor Swear Words are used once or twice (-2 pts.) - No Sexual Dialogue (-0 pts.) One of the villains, Axel, says towards the end of the game, ?Give me one h**l of a show!? There is nothing else remotely close to a swear word other than this, nor are there any sexual jokes of any sort.

Sexuality:

- No Nudity (-0 pts.) - No Sexual Content (-0 pts.) There is no sex or nudity in the game. Sora treats all of the females in the game (except of course the ones that are villains) with respect and genuine friendship.

Occult Themes:

- Game takes place in an environment with minor occult references (-3 pts.) - Fairy Tale type magic used by player (-1.5 pts.) The Organization can give the appearance of an occult group at times. As Sora, you yourself use magic moves such as Cure and similar stuff from the original Kingdom Hearts game and the Final Fantasy games, along with summoning Disney characters (and occasionally a FF character) of which some with use fairy tale style magic. Again, some from the original KH and the FF games. None of the moves seem occult-related, instead fairy tale-related.

Cultural/Moral/Ethical Issues:

- No authority issues involved with this game (-0 pts.) - No prejudicial issues involved with this game (-0 pts.) - No gross humor in the game (-0 pts.) - Good value decision making is required to progress in the game (-0 pts.) Sora is respectful and helpful in every world he visits, and doesn?t approve of mean-spirited decisions, as you can tell through different cutscenes. In the 100-acre Wood, he voluntarily helps out Winnie the Pooh with finding his friends.

BONUS POINTS:

- This game shows the consequence of evil and/or messing with the occult (+3 pts.) - The story in this game delivers a good moral lesson (+3 pts.) The lines of good and evil are very clearly drawn in COM, with evil being portrayed in a thoroughly-negative light. The villains of the game - known as the Organization - and their somewhat-occult ways are also put into a negative light. The game seems to encourage respect and friendship, among other positive things. Also of note, the story in the Reverse Rebirth sidequest is in many ways a mirror of our lives as Christians. Riku accepts the dark, then rejects it, but the darkness in his heart is still there, and he must fight off the villains? attempts to bring it out in him. We pretty much willingly put darkness in our hearts by sinning. Then we accept Christ and reject sin (the darkness). However, sin still exists in us, and we must battle the temptations of the world to sin, just as Riku is forced to battle the temptations of the Organization.

Closing Comments:

COM is an entertaining game overall with some good moral lessons, and should give RPG fans (and really any gamer for that matter) a fun experience that you can take on the road with you. Very technically sound and featuring a emotional and human story, this game is very much a must-have.

Final Ratings:

Gameplay - 18/20 Graphics - 10/10 Sound - 10/10 Stability - 4/5 Controls/Interface - 5/5 Gaming Experience Total - 47/50
Violence - 6.5/10 Language - 8/10 Sexuality - 10/10 Occult Themes - 5.5/10 Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10 Appropriateness Total - 40/50
Bonus Points: +6

TOTAL SCORE: 93%

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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