Review by SilentWanderer

"Join Sora and friends as they find the key to decode one of the biggest mysteries yet."

By now, any RPG aficionado is familiar with the Kingdom Hearts franchise, Disney and Square Enix's strange collaboration that surprisingly took off well. For the past ten years or so, creator Tetsuya Nomura has spun and woven an epic tale that, while it has told so much, has yet to explain much more. Enter Kingdom Hearts: Re: Coded, a remake of Kingdom Hearts: Coded, a Japan-only game for cell phone devices. With this weird background in mind, let's take a look at Kingdom Hearts: Re: Coded.

Story

Sora's adventure has long been concluded. The world (or worlds for that matter) has/have been saved from the threat of Organization XIII and since then, there has been some peace. One day, Sora's old archivist and keeper of the journal, Jiminy Cricket is looking through the old pages of the journal when he comes across a cryptic message: "Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it." Other than having an admittedly nice rhyme, this message is of great interest to Jiminy as he doesn't recall writing said message. Upon telling King Mickey of this peculiar discovery, our beloved mouse gathers together a crack team of assistants, such as Donald, Goofy, Chip and Dale, in order to decipher the message and fathom its meaning. To do this, they decide to digitize the journal's content into data by using a machine. (just go with it) Then comes the crisis du jour: the journal's data has been corrupted by bugs and glitches. These prevent Mickey and the rest from finding out the journal's secrets. So what do they do? Mickey decides to use some of the data to digitize a clone of Sora and task him with the job of going through the glitched facsimiles of previous worlds in order to get rid of the big bad bugs. And so, a new quest begins.

Frankly, I wasn't expecting an amazing or well-told story. In fact, this game didn't come up on my radar until a month ago. I will be blunt about it, the story isn't that good. A huge part of this stems from the fact that Re: Coded is a KHI rehash and by rehash, I don't mean that it's a full-on KHI remake. I mean, there is an original story in there somewhere. No what I mean is that you will visit the same worlds from the first game. Then again, Chain of Memories did this but whereas that had new worlds, there are none to be found here. So for the umpteenth time, get ready to re:visit (and yes, I promise this will be the only "re:" pun I'll make) Agrabah, Wonderland and Olympus Coliseum. In addition, Re: Coded's story just lacks that emotional and gripping intensity that other installments in the series had. Yeah, you fight heartless but no matter how you look at it, the villainous force in this game is data. Not as epic or menacing as fighting the denizens of the darkness. As a result, the story doesn't leave much of a memorable impression.

Okay, it may be a bit presumptuous to actually compare this game's story to other titles in the series but since it is a "new" installment, it is justifiable. Nonetheless, the game's story on its own is...average at best. The premise of the plot isn't all too impressive as it revolves around decrypting a confusing message. What should have taken a few hours and a few minutes gameplay-wise is padded out into a full-story, recycling story elements from the previous games, namely KHI. But, like I've said, there is an original (and I tend to use the term "original" loosely at times) story in there somewhere as well as a few plot twists here and there, at least one of which caught me off-guard. For instance, there is a stranger wandering around, donning the Org. XIII robes, seemingly causing the bugs to appear. However, it is revealed early on who this stranger is and it doesn't help that the box art gives away the ending. (Well, not exactly, there is more to the truth than that) Anyways, the very weak and simplistic build-up and minor twist(s) don't matter too much as the plot gets hijacked by another plot thread, which entails taking over the datascape. Considering the insidious masterminds behind this sub-plot, it's actually a bit embarrassing as it seems like a scheme your average textbook cartoon villains might pull off. This reinforces the belief that Re: Coded's plot is just a filler plot and it pads out the story even more. Donald even remarks that they still haven't figured out the message's meaning, which of course is the main plot. This leads us to the game's denouement. Without spoiling too much, I felt that it was a tad rushed. Ultimately, the game does arrive at its conclusion and explains the message. The ending does make some sense and a few things click although not everything is explicitly explained so that the audience is left to interpret some of the game's more subtle mysteries. Still, the ending might still make you go "What?" and the big twist at the end is rather weak as it only confirms what fans have speculated since KHII's end.

However, to the story's credit, it does do a few things well. The game does a decent job in developing Data Sora and makes him seem much more than data, although remember, this is the same Sora fans of the series have grown accustomed to. Nevertheless, I must be honest and say that it has elicited some emotion from me. Another shining point is the dialogue. From a personal standpoint, the dialogue is pretty amusing at times and has made me chuckled a bit. Like with the other games in the series, the dialogue showcases and preserves the characters' personalities and is very slightly downplayed by the sparse amount of voiced dialogue. A notable example would be Hades, god of the Underworld. As you would expect from him, be it from the previous titles or Disney's "Hercules," his dialogue is just rife with quirky humor as well as his penchant for trying to ruin Hercules's (affectionately referred to as "Wonder-boy") day. Other characters have their own moments although a few lines can be awkward at times and trust me, you'll know what I mean.

Overall, the story is by far the weakest and greatest flaw of this game. There is very little build-up and the payoff isn't too great and mildly underwhelming. The plot isn't too memorable and doesn't match up to previous games in the series. On the other hand, it is meant to bridge together the events of KHII with future installments, so I suppose that's a plus.

Gameplay

This section will be very long so let me just say that gameplay is simply complex and astounding. On the outside, gameplay is mostly the same as it reuses the same RPG elements. You encounter heartless, you bash them with your keyblade and/or commands, you level up. Well, there's more underneath the surface.

First off is the stat matrix. Taking its cue from other KH games, namely 358/2 days, Re: Coded's stat matrix uses a chip system that resembles 358/2 days's panel system. The stat matrix is a grid-like board where you can install chips (remember, this game has an emphasis on technology) that augment Sora's stats and abilities. Throughout the game, you'll pick up chips that make your fire spells stronger, chips that will increase your health, etc. And like 358/2 days, leveling up is also determined by the stat matrix. Anyways, as you install these chips and start to fill your stat matrix, you'll unlock useful abilities such as the essential Dodge Roll. Furthermore, placing chips between two CPUs enables dual processing, which doubles the effects of chips that were installed between the CPUs. For example, if there were six slots between two CPUs and filled them with nothing but level up chips, you will receive six free level ups. Of course, whether or not you choose to do this is up to you. That doesn't even tip the iceberg as you will eventually have access to cheat tuners, (which I will discuss later on), bonus command slots (also to be discussed later) and bonus accessory slots. (yeah, this gag is getting a bit old, don't you think?) After you clear each world, a new area of the stat matrix will be unlocked, allowing you to continue using your chips freely.

Secondly is the command matrix. Re: Coded's gameplay features a wide array of commands that will serve as the necessary tools to tackle even the most intimidating of enemies. Simply put, commands are auxiliary attacks that mix it up so that you don't necessarily have to always use your keyblade to annihilate your foes. This games features classic staples such as the Fire series of spells or new commands like the all-powerful Judgment Triad. Much like Birth By Sleep, you also have the ability to synthesize your commands. For each command, (initially you can only use three commands at a time, but you can unlock more command slots as the game progresses) there are two slots where you can equip two commands. There will be another command in a third, red slot. This command is the synthesized product. However, you can't freely use it as you must synthesize that command first. Consider it a test drive of sorts. Now how is it that you synthesize commands? You need to fully level up the commands that you want to synthesize. In order to do this, you need to defeat heartless. As you defeat the heartless, you'll gain CP, a type of experience point system that will level up those commands. After you gain the max amount of CP, you will receive a message saying that you have maxed out your CP. After both commands have received the max amount of CP, you can finally synthesize commands. The synthesized command will be at a higher level and as you may imply, higher level means more damage so it would behoove you to regularly level up your commands and constantly synthesize commands together. Furthermore, you can synthesize one command with a compatible command. (marked in yellow) This will result in an entirely new command different from either command. In fact, the more unique and powerful commands can only be synthesized in this fashion. Don't fret though, as the command system is easier than I'm making it out to be and as you play through the game, synthesizing commands will be so intuitive that it will be second nature. By the end, you will go strutting around the game, armed with the most catastrophic commands. Surprisingly, leveling up and synthesizing your commands can be fun. Perhaps it's the satisfaction of having these high-level commands to obliterate your foes.

Finally, we have the gear matrix. Here you can equip keyblades that you will inevitably obtain throughout your quest. Before going any further, I should address the clock gauge. As you whack your keyblade, (not meant to be an innuendo) your clock gauge will rise. The more hits you get, the more your clock gauge will rise to different levels. What this does is unlock additional abilities. Some abilities temporarily increase attack, others will add an elemental component to your keyblade attacks, such as fire or blizzard. When you hit your max level, (which isn't necessarily MAX level; it could be level 2 or 3 depending on your clock ability tree) you can then use a powerful finisher to really devastate your enemies. Finishers are essentially limit breaks. After unleashing your finisher, your clock level will be reset to level 1 as will any clock abilities above level 1. This, in turn prevents the game from becoming too easy as it limits the duration of clock abilities and prevents you from constantly firing off finishers. Throughout the game, you will obtain more finishers and you can swap out your finishers in the gear matrix to suit your tastes. One more note on clock gauge is that when you get a keyblade, you only have a limited set of abilities to use. As you upgrade your keyblade by defeating heartless, you will unlock more abilities. This allows for variety as you can change your clock ability tree to fit your preferences. Suddenly decide you would rather benefit from increased defense instead of igniting your enemies via blocking? Well, this is possible with the clock system. Another facet of the Gear Matrix is the liberty to equip accessories that will be a boon to your journey. Some accessories prevent you from being frozen, others will improve you blocking abilities and so on. At first, you can only equip one accessory, but over the course of the game, you can equip up to four accessories. Again, the choice is yours and you will find equipping different accessories to meet the situation at hand.

Now as I have complained about, nearly all of the worlds you'll visit are the same as those of the first Kingdom Hearts Game. To break the banal tedium of having to play through worlds most of you have already seen, the developers have introduced system sectors. Conceptually reminiscent of Disney's Tron, you have to break through the system of each world in order to restore glitched areas, which manifest themselves as uncanny occurrences in the worlds, such as a missing bridge or rapidly moving guards. At this point, you'll have to play a minigame similar to hide-and-seek. Using beeps and the color of the radar, you'll have to find the backdoor and as you near it, the beeps beat more and more rapidly and the radar glows red. After you find the backdoor, you'll be able to go through the system area. In these digital areas, you'll have to defeat the bug baddies, which are simply glitched copies of the heartless. After defeating the bug baddies of the system sector, the glitches will be repaired and you'll be free to continue through the level. However, most system sectors later on will have multiple levels and you'll have to clear each floor to debug the area. While your goal is to eliminate the bug baddies, your secondary aim is to collect as much SP as you can. SP is a secondary form of currency. At the end of each system sector, you will be able to redeem your SP for prizes and/or bonus experience or bonus munny. To get SP, you must defeat heartless and break bloxs. (which are, as you guessed, blocks) However, if you sustain damage, you will lose a portion of your SP, so take care. Later on, there are challenges or trials you must face. Each challenge will have you wagering 10%, 30% or 50% (or even 100% if there is a virus) of your total SP. If you complete the challenge, you will get the amount of SP you've wagered multiplied by a certain amount. If you fail, you will lose that amount. You can always replay each system area, so nothing is lost permanently. As for the challenges themselves, they are quite creative as they have you make use of your abilities. Some challenges will have you defeating a certain amount of heartless, some will have you clearing the level in a time limit. If you're not feeling up to the task, you can always play it safe and wager a small amount, but the rewards are definitely worth the risk.

One final area of gameplay are the various gameplay modes. Each level has a certain gimmick to it. For example, Traverse Town features a sidescroller minigame, Wonderland a rail-shooting minigame and Olympus Coliseum a turn-based RPG system a la Final Fantasy. This gives a much needed fresh antidote to the often stale style of gameplay. In addition, they are very well-executed (okay, I may have had problems with Wonderland's rail-shooter) and you'll pick up on the mechanics in no time at all. My only gripe with this is that this ultimately wasn't fully-developed as: 1) These gameplay modes are restricted to portions of the level and end rather quickly. (Olympus Coliseum is an exception) and 2) At the end of the day, there is a small variety of gameplay modes with some styles being repeated.

Overall, Re: Coded's game mechanics are excellent and the true beauty of gameplay lies in its deep level of customization. In regards to the stat matrix, you can install chips in any way you wish. You can give higher priority to level-up chips or you can choose to install nothing but magic amplifiers, your choice. You can also equip any commands that appeal to your style of play. Really, the possibilities are many, nearly endless. The game also caters to both ends of the difficulty spectrum. First off, you can always change the difficulty in the stat matrix from beginning to standard, proud or critical at any time. You can also manipulate cheat tuners to impose restrictions. For instance, there is the loot cheat, where you can increase the drop rate of items but at the same time decrease Sora's HP. You can increase the drop rate further but make enemies stronger as well. This balances things out as you are changing the odds in your favor but at the same time setting risky conditions. In short, you can choose to blast through the game easily like a cannonball through a paper mache wall or make the game extremely difficult and yes you could try a level one run with abilities turned off, no commands, 1 HP, 5x enemy strength, etc. although this is nearly impossible and if you are daft and fearless enough to get through the game under these conditions, I salute you. That being said, my only other qualm with gameplay rests with the iffy camera. Since Sora is set to automatically target the enemy, the camera will shift around a lot to center around Sora attacking his target. So get used to close-ups of Sora attacking...something. You can remedy this by tapping the R-button to rotate the camera but regardless, it gets quite frustrating not seeing where you're jumping or what you're attacking. Still, this is only a small blemish that fails to majorly mar what is otherwise a perfect gameplay system.

Graphics

Aesthetically, this game is similar to 358/2 days as some of the worlds look the same and even the font and some of the interface looks the same. However, there are some subtle improvements, primarily in the character models. 358/2 days's character models looked pixelated and weird. Re: Coded's models look a bit more smoothed out and refined. As for the worlds, they look very similar. To better elaborate, there is Agrabah, a world that seems to always be used, whether we like it or not. The layout is the same as that of 358/2 days. Granted, Re: Coded does change the layout a bit. For instance, Re: Coded's incarnation of the Cave of Wonders is completely different than that of 358/2 days. Nevertheless, it isn't enough to call these recycled words a complete overhaul. The biggest complaint in the graphics area are the cutscenes. Rather than using character sprites and portraits during cutscenes like in 358/2 days, Re: Coded uses cut-outs of characters. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if the cut-outs didn't move. Yes, these cut-outs have some animation. I get that the developers were trying to prevent having still cut-out but it's just that the animations are so sloppy and awkward that the movements can be visually jarring. And true, developers were probably staying true to the original, but in a remake, you are allowed the freedom to change minor aspects of the game, like how a character is represented during a cutscene. Thankfully, the game's cutscenes are interspersed with FMV movies that look absolutely stunning and amazing on the DS.

Music/Sound

The game's soundtrack is comprised primarily of recycled tracks of previous games. So if you loved Simple and Clean (understandable since I must admit that I am quite fond of that song) or the worlds' respective leitmotifs, get ready to hear them again. There are a few new tracks, notably the theme that plays in the system areas/sectors, which is fortunately catchy and fits the atmosphere very well. Unfortunately, much like the story, nearly all of the soundtrack is "been there, heard it before," so it didn't blow me away. Again, if you are a fan of music from Kingdom Hearts, you'll love the music here because it's the same. As for sound, the cast has come back to reprise their roles. I thought the voices sounded great, capturing the essence of their characters, at least from the Disney characters. I will admit that Mickey's new voice actor could use some improvement (RIP Wayne Allwine) but overall there are very little complaints from me. Still, it is kind of bizarre to hear Haley Joel Osment's 20+ year old voice coming out of KHI Sora's mouth.

Play time/Replayability

In terms of length, KH: Re: Coded isn't too long. You'll take at most 20 hours getting through the main quest, including leveling up a bit and synthesizing a few commands. You'll take longer if you hope to complete quests, optional system areas/sectors and getting 100%, which includes getting trophies. If you get 20 trophies, you'll unlock a secret ending, which really sets up the events for future KH games (KH 3DS and KHIII to be exact) very well. Much of the game's replayability comes from questplorations, in which you can take requests from NPCs and try to satisfy their demands. You can also replay episodes or levels in hopes of getting treasure you may have overlooked. There's also score attacks in which you can opt to just fight through bosses again in hopes of getting high scores and reaping all the rewards. Finally, you have Avatar mode, which is simply this game's multiplayer mode. I haven't tried it myself but it adds to your gameplay experience.

Final Verdict

Overall, KH: Re: Coded is actually a pretty good game. Despite a very weak and subpar story, gameplay can be addicting and fun. Coupled with some pretty good (albeit recycled) music, okay graphics and great replayability, Re: Coded is sure to provide an entertaining diversion that will last you a handful of hours. If you're not convinced, then borrow from a friend or rent it. It at least warrants a play through. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and synthesize a level 100 Zantetsuken.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/21/11

Game Release: Kingdom Hearts Re:coded (US, 01/11/11)


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