Review by avataR_Keyblade
"Repetitive Aspects and Reused Plotlines Drag Down One of the Lesser Installments in the Kingdom Hearts Series"
I've been with the Kingdom Hearts series since day one, and I've played all of the games in the series save for the original Coded. Despite largely negative feedback about both the original and the DS remake, I decided to give it a shot to see for myself.
The Kingdom Hearts series is among my favorite ones. It's the story of a boy named Sora who leaves his island to search for his friends, and along the way discovers themes of friendship, clashes between light and darkness, his newfound responsibility in wielding the Keyblade, and overall, what's truly important in life. Now that may sound like a typical RPG or even a generic teenage hero "coming-of-age" story. However, I've always found the action-RPG style gameplay both unique and engrossing, and the story charming and, in the way that only Disney could achieve, magical. However as the series progressed, some of that magic and luster has faded. While the gameplay has steadily compounded and improved, the same cannot be said of the story, and unfortunately, Re:Coded is the latest to follow that pattern.
The gameplay of Re:Coded is, as generally agreed upon, really good. Re:Coded builds on the traditional Kingdom Hearts formula of Keyblade melee, magic, and combos. Like Birth by Sleep before it, the game uses Commands to grant Data Sora various attacks and moves, ranging from the usual magic we've seen before, like Fira and Aeroga, to KH staples, like Strike Raid and Zantetsuken, to entirely new attacks, like Gravity Drop, Exo Spark, and Chain Rave.
If the Commands weren't vast enough, Keyblades are revamped as well. Re:Coded uses the same Keyblades from KH1, but adds a twist to them with the Overclock gauge. Through continual usage through fighting, Sora unlocks abilities from his Keyblades until he reaches a final ability. When the gauge fills up completely, Sora can use a powerful finisher, after which the gauge empties and he returns to his initial ability. In this way, Keyblades become a lot more varied and distinct. This system is a welcome innovation to the concept of Keyblades having abilities, which was initially presented in Kingdom Hearts 2.
The leveling system in Re:Coded is also new and improved. Building upon the panel system used in KH: 358/2 Days and using concepts from FFX's Sphere Grid, Re:Coded's Stat Matrix has the player progressively adding chips to a large grid, which contribute to Sora's level, stats, and abilities. Sora's Strength, Defense, Magic, HP, and Level, as well as his abilities and element proficiency, can be voluntarily increased or decreased by the player at will.
Combining all of these gameplay aspects produces quite an engaging game in theory, and technically, it does. The combat flows very smoothly, and fighting is pretty much a fun experience. Unfortunately, it can eventually get repetitive. While Commands are really fun, without the Summons, Drive Forms, or even Shotlocks that previous installments had, the combat system can get bland after a while. This becomes particularly evident later on, when Sora has extremely powerful Commands in his possession. In this way, Re:Coded is similar to Re: Chain of Memories in its repetitive gameplay.
Outside of the combat, Re:Coded offers specific world gimmicks, with shooter, side-scroller, and turn-based gameplay in various worlds. While these are initially interesting, and some of them really stand out, most if not all lose their value quite quickly. They take far too long, and they don't provide variety within them; for example, the shooter has you just mashing the attack button repeatedly for more than three stages. In short, while these world gimmicks were a good idea in that they could have broken the repetitive nature of the gameplay, they instead grow to become too dragging and eventually boring.
There are also System Sectors, which are areas in worlds where Sora has to evict the bugs that are invading. This is perhaps the least appealing part of the gameplay. Environments are bland, enemies are recycled, challenges and goals are so reused, and overall aren't really something to look forward to. Sure, the challenges could provide some kind of variety, but the Sectors as a whole are no real fun.
Overall, while the gameplay is remarkable and fun in several areas, it is far from perfect. While the game offers many new gameplay aspects, most of them can get very repetitive and unappealing.
Re:Coded is the most recent both in terms of release and chronologically in the KH series. After the events of KH2, upon returning home to Disney Castle, King Mickey and Jiminy Cricket discover a line in Jiminy's supposedly blank Journal, a line that he never wrote and they cannot comprehend. So Mickey decides to digitize the entire contents of the Journal to find out what's wrong. In doing so, they discover that the Journal has been corrupted with a widespread amount of "bugs," in the form of "blox." To clear out the Journal so that they can discover the truth, Mickey creates a data version of Sora, the hero of the KH franchise, to explore the Journal's contents and rid it of the bugs.
Let's be honest. This entire premise of bugs and data is quite ridiculous in a fantasy and adventure series like Kingdom Hearts, and is in itself unexciting. However, that alone isn't what makes the overall plot unappealing. In-universe, this whole plot is drawn out and rather unnecessary. The fact that we're going through the same worlds as in KH1 is one of the primary reasons that the plot becomes old and unexciting. Although there are slight changes to each world's plotline, the worlds themselves are just fillers. In other words, the game's plot has terrible pacing. Important scenes only happen every now and then. What you do in particular worlds hardly hold any value on their own. You could rush to the end of the story and only take the initial cutscenes and the latter parts to get the game's story.
There's also the fact that majority of the characters here are made of data, including the main character himself. This is Data Sora and his ventures, not Sora's, so as a whole, these have virtually no impact to the overall plot of the KH series. Add that data character aspect to the fact that these worlds are recycled ones, and you have a largely insignificant story in a series.
One praise I will give Re:Coded's story though is the dialogue. Unlike some games in the KH franchise, Re:Coded has a pretty good dialogue between its characters. There are quite a few good lines and interactions. However, there are two drawbacks here. First, again these are as a whole unimportant. Hopeful promises and motivational advice given around through these dialogues are empty, because they are data and these won't affect any of the actual characters anyway. Second, the primary reason the dialogue is good in the first place is because the creators already had something to build on when writing the lines. Since the worlds and general plotlines are recycled from KH1, they only had to look back at those from the original game and look at areas for improvement. It's usually easier to write content when you have a basis, since you can look at those flaws and mistakes and fix or build on them.
But what if you're new to the series? Many of my previous complaints may be invalid for newcomers, but some of them still apply. The unappealing nature of data and bugs will still probably seem unappealing. But the bigger issue here is that several things are meant to be understood by those who've played previous games, like the whole concept of the Keyblade and the relevance of the Journal, and the "hurting" of the people referenced by the Journal, in the first place. Newcomers will probably be confused and unmotivated to trudge through.
In the end, Re:Coded's story is unremarkable and unexciting. The whole premise of bugs, data, technology, and whatnot is in itself not too interesting, but even more is that in conjunction with the rest of the series and the overarching plot, the game's story is just irrelevant filler.
Re:Coded's graphics aren't that astounding, but given that it's on the DS, there's some leeway involved given the console's limitations. The art is good enough, and the cutscenes are nice (but since there are so few, it's hard to be constantly impressed). Many of Sora's attacks are flashy, so many of them look impressive. The environments though are mostly rehashed from KH1, and most of them are blandly incorporated from the PS2. Any new ones, like for the world gimmicks and System Sectors, aren't enticing or appealing. As a whole, Re:Coded's graphics aren't incredibly outstanding, and they just get the job done.
Majority of the sounds and music are, like the graphics, reused. Same theme song, same enemy sounds, same background music. The good thing though is that these were good in the originals, so they're pretty good here. The down side is, again like the graphics, the new sounds and music like those for bugs or sectors aren't anything to marvel at, and pale in comparison to the reused ones, so that's not really a good thing. There's minimal voice work for voice actors here, and while they get the job done, it's really nothing great.
In Re:Coded, you can return to the worlds you've already been to. This includes, for the first time in the series (with the exception of the bland one in CoM and Re:CoM), Destiny Islands. You can either replay the story in those worlds, do quests for certain characters, attempt score attacks, or in general just look for enemies to level up with. This could've been great, but mostly backtracking to the worlds just involves doing more System Sectors, and as stated earlier, they're hardly fun. There are also certain prizes you can get from finishing worlds at high scores, if you haven't gotten those prizes yet. The problem here is, given the already reused nature of these worlds, you're punishing yourself twice over with repetition.
There's also the Stat Matrix and getting new Commands. In other words, grinding and leveling. This gets old kind of fast though, and since worlds are a lot smaller than before, grinding isn't something you'll be doing often.
= 6.5 + 2 + 5 + 4 + 4 = 21.5
The gaming experience of Re:Coded as a whole leaves you somewhat lacking. The game itself is somewhat short on its own. Majority of the content has been seen and gone through before. Many aspects of the gameplay are fun, but grow to become repetitive after a while. What new things Re:Coded tries to bring are mostly short-lived in terms of their entertainment. Overall, Re:Coded is unremarkable for newcomers, disappointing for veterans, and all in all, a somewhat lackluster game in the KH series and even on its own.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 03/14/11
Game Release: Kingdom Hearts Re:coded (US, 01/11/11)
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