When Square Enix and Disney announced Kingdom Hearts would be getting its own rhythm game, you probably imagined something along the lines of their Theatrhythm franchise. The developers had other ideas and Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory has instead taken its own direction. In our hands-on preview, we saw traditional Kingdom Hearts 3D visuals combined with familiar enemies, combat, and a forward directional pathway more akin to Rock Band or Guitar Hero.
Sora, Goofy and Donald are the trio first tasked with once again ridding the kingdom of Heartless. The dark universe surrounding the path is broken up solely by beautifully patterned stained glass windows and ribbons. Despite the emptiness of the seemingly eternal darkness, there’s plenty of familiar enemies to take down along the path.
Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory Hands-On Preview – More Heartless to Defeat
Each attack is triggered by a single button. The basic attack that we’re using against Shadows can be performed by one of three buttons. When there are multiple enemies to take down at once, the three pals can combine their attacks. After dodging a fireball from a Red Nocturne, a jump attack makes short work of him. Those enemies truly out of reach, like the pesky Darkball, can be vanquished by activating ability crystals that appear along the pathway when needed. Outside of combat, there are also chains of notes to be collected by gliding above the path.
All of these actions need to be performed to the beat of the music. Everything is put to the test in a set to the familiar tutorial theme “Dive Into the Heart -Destati-.” There are Soldiers, Creeper Plants, Crescendos, and more Heartless to take down, including larger enemies that need to be hit multiple times. Only after this short battle are we let loose to really test our mettle.
Melody of Memory will feature over 140 songs from the franchise, but our hands-on demo featured just four songs. The easiest of these is “Welcome to Wonderland.” Unsurprisingly the battlefield is Wonderland from Kingdom Hearts. The fight begins in the house of the White Rabbit and travels through the Lotus Forest, Tea Party Garden, and Queen’s Court. Every missed enemy knocks some HP off the bar. Finish the game with some HP left and your score will reflect how accurately your attacks matched the beat of the track. Lose all of your HP and you’re starting the track again.
The remaining songs bridged different environments and games. A quicker Kingdom Hearts song, “Hand in Hand,” takes place in the streets of Traverse Town. “The Rustling Forest,” taken from Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, travelled through the Enchanted Dominion, while a Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep Fragmentary Passage took center stage in “Wave of Darkness I.” Each track featured enemies specific to the game from which it came, but we didn’t see any specific to the environments. There were no Card People in Wonderland, for example, but maybe those will come in other tracks.
Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory Hands-On Preview – A Rhythm Game for Everyone
The game tries to be accommodating to as many gamers of different abilities as possible. Not only are there three different difficulty levels — Beginner, Standard, and Proud for the most advanced rhythm gamers — but there are also three different play styles. The Basic style is the standard gameplay style. For those just wanting to experience the music without having to worry about which button to press, there’s a One Button mode. On the other hand, for those players with far better coordination than I could ever muster, there’s Performer mode. This adds in extra button prompts between enemies. Missing these won’t take any HP away, but stringing these prompts together will add a massive boost to your score.
If you feel like swapping your AI buddies for a real person, co-op mode allows a local partner to take their place in specially adapted gameplay. Whereas losing all HP would be a death knell in single-player modes, it’s possible to carry on in co-op mode despite making a complete hash of things. Both players’ scores are added together for a final total. Losing all of your HP will make a significant dent in your score. Meanwhile, Versus Battles see players compete against each other.
Not shown in the hands-on preview was the World Tour mode. Here players can go through iconic moments from the entire narrative of the Kingdom Hearts games so far. Other trios will be made up from a selection of 20 characters. None of the tracks we played would be available for quick play until they’ve been beaten in this mode. There will be more varied stages too. The trio flies through Memory Dives, responding to button prompts throughout a cutscene video instead of vanquishing enemies. Boss battles are the closest the game gets to traditional Kingdom Hearts gameplay, but prompts still need to be hit in time to a beat.
Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory will be released in North America on November 13th. Purchasing the game from the PlayStation Store before December 31st, 2020, will unlock a bonus theme. Don’t make any preparations for DLC, though. There are no plans for additional content, meaning you’ll be getting the complete package on launch day. A demo should be publicly available soon.
Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory Hands-on preview code provided by publisher.