The Kingdom Hearts series has been known for its many spin-offs over the years, but none stand out quite like Melody of Memory. This fourteenth entry into the series is a massive departure from what fans have come to expect, as it's an action rhythm game that acts as one big celebration of the series. As well as featuring 140 iconic tracks, many Disney favourites also make a return, there's a Museum stuffed with concept art and other collectibles, and it works to recap the 18-year long saga through its World Tour mode.
Melody of Memory plays a lot like an endless runner, as in each stage you have to continue down a linear path and have no control over your movement speed or direction. You command a group of three heroes and have to hack and slash the approaching groups of enemies to the pulse of the music by pressing either A, L or R (on Switch). On top of these basic attacks, you'll also need to vault over projectiles, glide through the air to collect musical notes, and hit enemies with two or three characters simultaneously. For each hit, you'll receive a score of either good, great, or excellent, and your overall score is dependent on the precision of your swings and how many combos you can string together.
With so much flying towards you at once even on the Standard difficulty, it can take some getting used to, but the difficulty never felt unfair. Button presses feel precise and responsive and each stage, I found, could often be conquered after putting some time aside to practice. Something which I appreciated is that there's a range of different difficulty options present, which enables the action to be tailored to your skill level. If you're finding things too tough, you can try the One Button style, which simplifies the experience by giving you just the one input to worry about. If you're seeking that extra ounce of challenge then you can select the Performer style, which amplifies things by ten with additional prompts for you to follow.
To prevent things from going stale there's also special boss and scene stages that add in a few new mechanics for you to grapple with. There are no enemies in these stages and instead, you just have to hit the musical notes that approach you. Here you'll need to complete actions such as pressing and holding notes and moving the thumbstick in a particular direction. The scene stages see you playing to the music as an iconic scene plays in the background, and the boss stages see you take on a powerful foe from within the story. None of those two stages feel as refined as the core gameplay, but they only creep in on occasion to help spice things up ever so slightly.
The core mode within Melody of Memory is the World Tour, which sees you recap the entire saga by visiting its many Disney-inspired worlds in chronological order. Here, players navigate a spacecraft across a Super Mario-like map, and there's freedom to select any worlds that you have unlocked in the order that suits best. To unlock further worlds and progress the story, you'll need to gather a required amount of stars and these can be obtained by completing objectives in tracks. One objective, for example, might require you to earn a particular score or make it through a stage with a set amount of HP left over.
I found the World Tour to be a fun and engaging way to unlock tracks for the Track Selection mode, but I did find it to have a few shortcomings. First of all, whilst it does recap the story, I would not recommend this to be a starting point for those who are new to the games. I'm personally not up to speed with the overarching narrative, and the very succinct snippets of story that you can unlock only worked to confuse me even further. I also disliked how you are only limited to pre-prepared teams of characters, and icon Disney favourites such as Simba, Beast, and Aladdin can only join you as guests on certain stages.
Easily one of the best inclusions within Melody of Memory is the Museum. Here you can view concept artwork, rewatch past cutscenes, and listen to the entire catalogue of songs on the Jukebox. This creates a great incentive for players to keep playing songs as they'll begin to rack up points and unlock concept artwork for iconic scenes, enemies, and key blades. I especially liked that there was a music player here too, as during the action it can be tough to take in the music properly alongside the sword swings and character noises.
Alongside the World Tour and Museum there are also a few other minor inclusions tucked away within the main menu. Track Selection allows you to freely select and play any tracks you've unlocked within the World Tour and it's also where you can access the different play styles that I mentioned earlier. VS Battle, as you've probably guessed, is a competitive mode where you compete against other players both locally and online. Here the goal is to gather more points than your opponents, but you can use items to make things more interesting. When I played, a player used an item against me that removed on-screen prompts, so it was unclear when I should have been landing attacks on enemies.
Melody of Memory is a fun diversion for the series and manages to stand up as a solid rhythm game in its own right. Its action is challenging and addictive to master, and it features many call-backs to the series' past within its Museum mode. I don't, however, feel like it represents the most accessible entry point for the series, and it is a little confusing as to why guest characters are locked behind certain stages. Still, if you're a Kingdom Hearts veteran and are open to trying something new, I would say that this is an absolute must have.
Loading next content