Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory Review

November 18, 2020

As long as there are stars in the sky, and long soliloquies to be made about the eternal struggle between light and darkness – there will be Kingdom Hearts. The series, which crosses the worlds of Disney with Final Fantasy and has been going now for almost two decades, has so many games, side-stories, prequels and spin-offs that the recent so-called Kingdom Hearts III was actually the twelfth installment in the franchise. That’s a lot of Kingdom Hearts, and the latest game, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory on PS4, Xbox One and Switch, is intended to be a celebration of everything up to this point, by focusing on the series’ memorable music, composed by game-music maestro, the legendary Yoko Shimomura (among others). Transplanting rhythm game fun onto the action-RPG series, Melody of Memory is a cute walk through memory lane for Kingdom Hearts mega-fans.

There’s a pretty staggering number of over 140 tracks in Melody of Memory, drawing from all the major entries in the franchise: Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts II, Kingdom Hearts III, Kingdom Hearts re:Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, Kingdom Hearts re:Coded, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance and Kingdom Hearts 0.2: A Fragmentary Passage. Most of the tracks are field and battle music from the many worlds across each of these games, from Traverse Town to Olympus Coliseum to The World That Never Was. However, there are notable omissions, like the lack of any tracks from the Pirates of the Caribbean or Winnie the Pooh worlds. There’s also no ‘Face My Fears, the headline track from Kingdom Hearts III by Hikaru Utada and Skrillex. I have to assume there’s licensing and legal issues behind their absence.

The main way you’ll experience these tracks is through the ‘World Tour’ mode, which sets them out in much the same way as a world map from any of the Kingdom Hearts games. You can fly your little Gummi ship between worlds to tackle their songs, unlocking more worlds as you collect achievement stars, progressing from the first Kingdom Hearts game to the latest, in what becomes the biggest Kingdom Hearts world map I’ve ever seen. Earning EXP in tracks levels up your characters and also nets you bonus items you can use to heal yourself during songs, or components to synthesise more songs (like actual Disney tracks like ‘The Circle of Life’).

The actual rhythm gameplay is fairly simplistic, trying to mesh Kingdom Hearts’ action gameplay with rhythm timing. Your party of characters runs along a sheet music highway, where you have to hit enemies in time with the music. Most attacks can be performed with (on PS4) X, L1 or R1, with occasionally a jump and glide with O required, or a spell with △.  It kind of works, but if you’re playing on anything other than Proud difficulty, it feels insanely easy, especially if you’re accustomed to rhythm games. While the rhythm on certain tracks can be quite well-matched, in general your actions feel a bit removed from the music itself – you’re not splicing in instruments like, say, Amplitude or Rock Band, and the music won’t play any worse if you don’t perform well. You’re really just focused on beating down on enemies and your own health. You can run through levels as one of four ‘teams’ of characters, including Sora’s group, Roxas’ friends, the Birth By Sleep gang and bizarrely, Riku and two random Dream Eaters from Dream Drop Distance, who just confuse gameplay by blending in with the bad guys you’re meant to be hitting.

Your enjoyment will largely depend, I suspect, on your fondness and nostalgia for the Kingdom Hearts library of music. While there is a large volume of tracks on offer, they are beat for beat the same tracks you remember, orchestrated in the exact same way. While there are a small number of inclusions from other piano and symphonic releases, I do think that including more re-arrangements or re-orchestrations would provide a bit more of a reason to advance and play on. The only real new track is a new jazzy arrangement of ‘Dearly Beloved’, which serves as Melody of Memory’s theme – and it’s really great! More of that would have gone a long way, for me at least, in holding my interest throughout the campaign.

There are other modes, ‘Memory Dive’ sequences and Boss Battles, which resemble more standard rhythm music gameplay, by just having you hit notes and introducing more varied elements including analogue stick swipes. Having more of these, or expanding on their gameplay could have helped vary the game up a lot, as right now it has very few Boss Battles, and they don’t always represent the fights fans want to see, in the way you’d want to see them. In the entire game, you get Ansem, Xemnas (but with no cool Reaction Trigger moments), Maleficent and the final boss. There’s no Lingering Will, Sephiroth, or even any of Organization members. In a series renowned for its boss battles, it’s just very underwhelming.

Across Switch, Xbox and PS4, Melody of Memory uses assets from the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 + 2.5 remasters, which means it’s essentially presenting a cleaned up version of the PS2-era art style and graphics. This is cool for nostalgic reasons, but it does make the whole game look rather dated. It also means that sequences from the more recent Kingdom Hearts III have to be presented using pre-rendered ‘Memory Dive’ videos, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, just notable.

Series’ creator and mastermind Tetsuya Nomura has stated that despite Kingdom Hearts III‘s relatively climactic conclusion that the series will march forth with a new storyline, and you do get a little indicator of what that will be here. 90% of the game is plotless, with the only story content being occasional vignettes that bullet-point the major events in each game, managing somehow to be simultaneously too detailed and not detailed enough. It’s only in the game’s final 20 minutes that you get some context for why the game is even happening, and some teases for what’s to come in the future – it’s nothing earth-shattering, and many fans will already have guessed at what the future held anyway. It moves the story ahead marginally, and it’s not worth buying the game for by itself, when you could easily sit through its content on YouTube in a lunch break.

Outside of the main World Tour, you can also play through tracks at your leisure through a selection on the main menu, as well as engage in online play. The online can actually be pretty fun, although you never seen your opponent, you can each induce status effects on each other to confuse and disorient them, like making targets unclear on invisible. There’s also a collection aspect to the game, as you find profile cards and some cool art which you can view in the main menu’s museum.

For Kingdom Hearts fans, Melody of Memory is a nice dose of nostalgia for your own memories of the series’ score. While it’s a basic rhythm game, and has some notable musical omissions, it’s a pleasant way to revisit the series’ “Dark Seeker Saga”, that’s not too challenging and has some neat online play and a collection aspect. It is rather impenetrable for any Kingdom Hearts newbies though, as the cutscenes don’t do a very good job of summarising or contextualising the utterly off-the-wall series’ storyline. However, buoyed by Shimomura’s lovely score, Melody of Memory is still a pleasant playthrough of the past.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.


-Kingdom Hearts does have very lovely music, and you get to experience a lot of it here
-A huge list of tracks to play through
-Gameplay in Proud Mode and Online gets pretty fun


-Basic rhythm gameplay that doesn't take advantage of its most interesting moments, like boss battles
-Some notable omissions from the soundtrack, possibly for legal reasons
-Outside of the game's new theme, no new arrangements or original tracks
-Dated graphics, wheeling out the PS2-era assets yet again
-Only moves the story ahead a tiny fraction

Overall Score: