Review by corran450

"Corran450's Review Series Vol. 16: Kingdom Hearts Re:coded"

The product of a chance meeting in a Japanese elevator, the Kingdom Hearts series has emerged as one of the most popular video game franchises of the last decade. Combining the video game quality and story-telling prowess of Square Enix with the production values and back catalog of Disney, this mutant franchise has spawned multiple games across multiple platforms, selling millions of copies, and creating a whole new universe with a compelling mythology for gamers to play in.

"Kingdom Hearts Coded" began life as a mobile phone game issued in a series of downloadable chapters. In the interests of making the game available to more players (and thus, earning more money, naturally), the game was re-assembled and released on the Nintendo DS as "Kingdom Hearts Re:coded". Many find this game's story lackluster while adding nothing of value to the series, to which I must respectfully disagree. While it is true that this entry carries more of a 'side story' feel than previous entries, I feel like it sets up future entries rather nicely, and the fact of the matter is, the game is so much fun to play that you don't really care either way.

Gameplay
The gameplay is still largely unchanged from previous entries in the game (barring the regrettable card-based dynamic in "Chain of Memories"), although some of the window dressing has changed. Naturally, you still fight heartless with the Keyblade, with RPG trappings like experience levels, HP, and magic. In keeping with the 'computer program' motif, leveling is managed using 'stat chips' that are 'installed' on Sora's 'Stat Matrix'. This is kinda like the Sphere Grid from "Final Fantasy X", or the License Grid from "Final Fantasy XII". Linking processing cores with stat increasing chips improves Sora's stats, like HP, strength, or defense; it also unlocks abilities and 'cheats' which can be used to alter the game in your favor.

Some chips are 'command chips' which can be installed in the 'Command Matrix' to give Sora new commands to fight the Heartless and Bugs which infest the 'datascape' of Jiminy's Journal, like magic or special Keyblade moves. These can be combined with other command chips to create new, more powerful commands. They can also be leveled up, which improves their efficacy.

For some reason, this entry felt much more fun to play than the previous DS installment, "358/2 Days". Maybe because I played it on a Nintendo 3DS XL, which I highly recommend, because the thumbstick feels much more natural than the D-pad. Either way, this was a fun, if not overly challenging entry in the Kingdom Hearts series.

The series' trademark wonky camera is in full effect here. I wonder if they'll ever get it right. The problem with the DS is the limited buttons compared to a PS2 controller. The camera, therefore, is controlled by the right shoulder button only, which can lead to some frustration. Using the lock-on function to zero in on enemies mitigates this problem a bit, but can make it even worse in large groups of enemies.

Story
The story picks up immediately after the main storyline of Kingdom Hearts II, but before the scene at the end where Sora and Riku receive a letter from King Mickey. In fact, this particular story divulges the contents of that letter, and it's implications for the future...

It all begins when Jiminy Cricket, upon reviewing his mostly empty journal from the first game, discovers two cryptic messages. The first, "Thank Namine", refers to the Nobody of Kairi, whom erased Sora's memories in "Chain of Memories", only to restore them before the events of KH2. The second, more mysterious message reads, "Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it". After bringing it to King Mickey's attention, the king decides to get to the bottom of the mystery by encoding Jiminy's Journal into a computer to decipher the cryptic message's meaning. Upon doing so, they discover that the journal's data has been corrupted by "Bugs", and infested with Heartless.

King Mickey creates a digital version of Sora to enter the 'datascape' and clear up the bugs. Sora visits the worlds from the first game, bashing bugs and solving glitches, while trying to understand the mysterious message. His adventure leads to a startling revelation that has vast implications to the real world...

The main complaint people have about this game is that this story seems fairly irrelevant to the overarching mythology of the Kingdom Hearts series. All of the worlds Data-Sora visits are from the first game, with no original worlds for this game. Players found this repetitive. Maybe because it's been years since I played the first game, I found this game nostalgic, not derivative. I also liked the story, which as I've stated, while trying to remain spoiler-free, will influence further storylines in the Kingdom Hearts saga, especially the secret video (acquired by obtaining trophies for accomplishing various goals). Maybe the main storyline is nothing more than a fun little side-quest, but mark my words, the meaning of the cryptic message will be the basis for Kingdom Hearts III.

For those of you playing all the games in the series, you may wonder, as I did, where this should fall in your order of play. I would put it after "358/2 Days" and "Birth By Sleep". I haven't played BBS yet, but there are a couple very minor spoilers for both games at the end of "Re:coded". The secret movie deals directly with BBS, and also sets up for "Dream, Drop, Distance", which I gather is meant to prepare us for Kingdom Hearts III.

Graphics
The in-game graphics suffer very little, in my opinion, from being ported on to the DS. I think they look a little better than the jaggy graphics from "358/2 Days", although, because this was originally a mobile phone game, the cutscenes are much simpler than the previous DS entry. Rather than full motion characters with pasted-on faces, the characters are rendered two-dimensionally, like cardboard cutouts. They don't move fluidly, just shift from one position to another, almost like panels in a comic strip. While it represented a step back, realism-wise, it didn't seem out of place in a handheld game, and allowed the graphical payload (so to speak) to be saved for the actual gameplay. There was a bit of a slowdown problem in later levels when the screen got crowded with enemies and projectiles and whatnot, but the DS's processor does a pretty admirable job on this one. I've always been impressed with how well the DS can handle some of these more advanced games, for a handheld system. Naturally, it's no PSP, but it still does a pretty good job on a graphically complex game like this one.

The game does contain FMVs, which are beautifully rendered and voice acted. There's just about one for each world you solve, so it's kind of like a reward for a job well done.

Sound
The music, for the most part, is derived from the soundtrack of the first Kingdom Hearts game. It may seem lazy to you, but I loved the soundtrack, and, as I haven't played it in a while, made me nostalgic for it, especially in Traverse Town. Some new tracks exist, mostly with an electronic feel, as befits the game's computer generated setting. The new tracks, unfortunately, are mostly forgettable. The "Space Paranoids" soundtrack from KH2 was better. I must say though, I'm getting kind of sick of "Simple and Clean", the pop theme for the majority of the series. I hope they write something new for future entries.

Not a huge amount of voice acting, except in the FMV cutscenes. All voices return from previous installments, so it's nice to have continuity. Naturally, the voice acting is top notch, in keeping with standard set by other games. Most of the sound effects return from previous installments, so you'll feel right at home here.

Play Time/Replayability
My play time clocked in at nearly 50 hours (!!!). To be fair, only about half of that was storyline related. I had the main story done at about Hour 23, but there is so much more to do once the game is completed. Naturally, the player makes their own decision whether to pursue side quests and secrets, but for me this was a no-brainer. I've never missed out yet on a secret ending in a Kingdom Hearts game, and I wasn't about to start now.

The other thing is that once finished with the regular storyline, I felt like I wasn't done playing this game. I didn't want to put it down, that's how much fun I was having. It was a unique experience for me, as usually once I get to the endgame, I'm ready to try something else. So for that reason alone, I'd give this game a high replayability score. The fact that it isn't crushingly difficult helps too. It's possible to increase the difficulty level at any point in the game, if you want a greater challenge. Or to decrease it if you just want to breeze through the story. Experienced KH players should be able to handle the higher difficulties without much of a problem. Some of the hidden side quests can get pretty hairy though.

Final Recommendation
Rent or Buy? "Kingdom Hearts Re:coded" is a lot of fun packed into a small package. I think the key to enjoying it is to know what you're getting. This isn't the epic storyline found in previous games. It may seem to some to be a rehash of the first game with tacked on bits to keep it interesting. But I thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and don't really see the problem that others have had with it. I thought the story was good, if not great, and featured a lot of foreshadowing for the future of the series, if you knew where to look for it.

I guess the real question is "Do you enjoy playing Kingdom Hearts?" If your answer is yes, you will enjoy this game. If playing Kingdom Hearts games is a means to an end for you (i.e. you only play it so you can experience the storyline), you may not enjoy this entry as much. It has neither the grandeur nor the emotional impact of previous games. But it is fun to play! Plus, it's less than $20 most places now. You could do a lot worse!


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/30/13

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


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