Review by Crono09

"An easily skippable game in the series, but still fun to play"

It has been years since the release of Kingdom Hearts II, and during that time, Square Enix has released a number of intermediary games to hold us over until the conclusion of the series. The latest of these is Kingdom Hearts RE:coded for the Nintendo DS, a remake of a Japanese cell phone game that was not released in the United States. While further developing the story and filling in a few plot holes, the game falls short of doing anything revolutionary for the series.

This game takes place almost immediately after the events of Kingdom Hearts II. As chronicled earlier in the series, Jiminy Cricket's journal that detailed the events of Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was erased except for the message, “Thank Namine.” However, while looking through the empty journal one day, Jiminy noticed another cryptic message: “Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it.” He brings this information to King Mickey, Goofy, and Donald. Believing that there is significance to this message that must be investigated, Mickey has Chip and Dale digitize the journal and upload its contents into a computer. They discover a number of bugs in the journal that are corrupting its contents, preventing the information from being revealed.

Someone must enter the digitized version of the journal to destroy these bugs. Mickey creates a virtual version of Sora that they call Data-Sora to perform this task. This Data-Sora must travel through the worlds chronicled in the journal and destroy the bugs, which appear as various blocks called Blox. The Heartless that were recorded in the journal are also in each world, and many of them have been affected by the bugs. Defeating the source of the bugs in a world will correct some of the corruption in the journal. Throughout this process, Mickey and the other people in the real world learn of the significance of the artificial life that they created within the datascape and find out how to mend the hurt of those mentioned in the journal.

Instead of using non-traditional gameplay structure such as the card system of Chain of Memories, coded sticks to the basic action RPG control system of most of the Kingdom Hearts series. However, as a result of its mobile phone roots, gameplay has been greatly simplified. There are eight worlds in the game, and Data-Sora progresses through them linearly. While each world has its own set of goals that must be completed, all of them have at least one System Sector. These are semi-randomly generated dungeons where Data-Sora must locate certain bugged Heartless and defeat them to go to the next level of the sector. Once all of the levels are completed, a bug in the world will be fixed, allowing Data-Sora to progress. System Sectors also include challenges that allow players to gamble System Points (SP) for more if they are completed. At the end of the System Sector, SP can be exchanged for items, commands, experience, or Munny. Many rare items can only be obtained this way.

Although the card system of Chain of Memories is missing, a loose element of it returned in the form of Deck Commands, which were adapted from Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. Data-Sora starts with just three Deck Command slots in which he can place Keyblade techniques or magic. When a command is used, the next command is queued, although you can also sort through them manually. After each use, it takes time for a command to recharge. Additional Deck Command slots can be opened through the Stat Matrix, and new commands can be found, purchased, or created by combining them with other commands. My only issue with this system is that every command (and there are a lot of them) has a level, and you can only increase its level by combining it with another command. Getting your commands up to higher levels is a tedious process that involves most of the micromanagement of the game.

There is an interesting take on the level-up system that I was very fond of due to its relevance to the digital theme of the game. Data-Sora gains experience and levels as in most games, but gaining a level does not automatically increase his level. Instead, it gives him a Level-Up chip. These must be placed on the Stat Matrix to increase his level. Other types of Stat Chips can also be placed on the Matrix to increase HP, Strength, Luck, elemental resistances, and other stats. Stat Chips can only be placed next to existing Stat Chips, allowing Data-Sora to progress down different paths of the Matrix. Certain nodes will grant Data-Sora additional abilities or cheats that can alter the game in various ways. Stat Chips cannot be removed, but they can be exchanged for other chips. It felt like a cross between the grid system of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and the Sphere Grid of Final Fantasy X, and I liked swapping chips around on the Matrix.

The fact that the game was original made for cell phones really shows. The graphics are weak compared to even the earliest Kingdom Hearts games. Most of the dialogue is shown through static 2D images of the characters rather than animations. The play control is often frustrating. The camera has to be controlled manually, making battles even more awkward. Getting lost is easy in the System Sectors where everything looks the same. The game is very unforgiving when it comes to jumping and grabbing ledges. While this isn't an issue in most Kingdom Hearts games, this one has a lot of platforming elements involving Blox, especially in System Sectors, and the poor controls only acerbate you even more. While there were some obvious improvements made for the DS version, particularly with some well-done FMVs, there should have been more done to adapt the game for a better system.

A variety of Disney and Final Fantasy characters make it into the game. Unfortunately, nearly all of them are repeats from the first Kingdom Hearts. We see worlds from the films Alice in Wonderland, Hercules, and Aladdin as well as the return of some original worlds found in Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories. For the most part, these worlds look the same as they did before except for the addition of some Blox. Even worse, the last two worlds consist primarily of segments or characters from the earlier worlds, creating even more repetition. We've already reenacted the events of Kingdom Hearts in Chain of Memories, so it felt redundant to do so again. Since Data-Sora is recapping the events found in Jiminy's journal, this reiteration makes sense in context, but I did get bored of seeing more of the same worlds in this game.

One interesting variant in each world is that most of them have a change in gameplay at some point just before the boss. This manifests in one of three ways: a 2D side-scrolling level, a 3D rail shooter level, or a turn-based RPG. While these could be annoying detractions from normal gameplay, I found them to be fun diversions from the rest of the game. They're short enough that you don't get tired of them, and they let you take a break from the normal 3D action elements. I did take some issue with the turn-based RPG since it slowed down the game and lasted a very long time, but there was nothing wrong with the concept itself.

The story is quite possibly the weakest of the entire Kingdom Hearts series. In fact, it has so little impact on the series plot that you can probably skip it entirely without missing out on much of the story. In spite of this, the story within the game isn't bad, and it addresses some aspects of the universe that have yet to be seen within the series. There are some interesting developments in the plot, and since everything takes place in a computer simulation, the characters can do things that would not be possible in the “real world.” In particular, it addresses the matter of hearts in an artificial world, and it allowed Donald and Goofy to become friends with Sora all over again. Even though the story wasn't the best, I was still engrossed in it.

In addition to the main goals of the game, you can also acquire trophies by completing various optional objectives. These trophies aren't just for show; they provide Trophy Chips, which provide better stat bonuses than any other type of Stat Chip. Furthermore, there are many optional System Sectors to complete, and these are longer and more difficult than those in the main game. Finally, returning to completed areas will let you obtain quests from characters, each of which have their own rewards. For the most part, these optional objectives were nice additions to the game, but some of the trophies require completing worlds multiple times, which involves more repetition in an already repetitive game. However, you will still want to do so since acquiring 20 trophies unlocks a secret ending that adds more to the story than the entire rest of the game.

Kingdom Hearts RE:coded is an imperfect game, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it. The controls can be frustrating, and many of the levels feel like more of the same, but it has just enough distinctive qualities to make it fun. It doesn't excel like most of the Kingdom Hearts series, but it doesn't have many flawed mechanics that bring it down like Chain of Memories. This is not an essential game in the series, and if you're not obsessed with Kingdom Hearts, you may want to just skip it. However, hardcore fans of the series will still find the game worthwhile to play.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/27/12

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

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