Developer: Square Enix / Publisher: Square Enix / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Fantasy Violence) / Played on: DS / Price: $34.99
By now you pretty much know what to expect from a Kingdom Hearts game: Disney characters interacting with Square Enix heroes, oftentimes with lighthearted yet confusing storytelling, and a satisfying combat system. The formula apparently works well as the series has been successful for nearly eight years. That’s why it’s refreshing to see the newest game in the series, Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded for the Nintendo DS, do new things and learn from its predecessors’ mistakes. Originally an episodic cell phone game exclusive to Japan, Re: Coded on DS offers up new gameplay variety while utilizing enhanced mechanics seen in earlier titles in the series. While it’s not Kingdom Hearts III, Re: Coded is hoping to satiate the hunger of eager fans, one cameo at a time.
Re: Coded takes place after the events of Kingdom Hearts II. Sort of. Jiminy Cricket has been chronicling the adventures of Sora, Donald, and Goofy in the first two Kingdom Hearts games, but when he looks through his journal of their first adventure, the diminutive insect finds every page to be blank except one. The cryptic message warns of imminent danger, so Jiminy takes the corrupted journal to King Mickey himself. With help from Donald and Goofy, Mickey and Jiminy discover the journal has been infected with a computer-like virus, and it is threatening all the worlds Jiminy wrote about. The animated ensemble decides it is up to Sora to once again travel through the wonder worlds of Disney to find the source of the virus and restore Jiminy’s journal before something terrible happens. While Re: Coded is still one of the few games to prominently feature Sora and pals, the story comes off as the weakest aspect of the entire game. Not helping the fact is that all the worlds you visit are literally taken from the first game, down to the layouts and enemies in each. The virus has affected every world with unidentified cubes appearing in each location, the only original changes to the location layouts. As a cell phone game I would have been all right with the short episodic stories, but as a DS title the shallow storytelling is a low point for the entire series.
Following suit with other titles in the series, Re: Coded is a fast-paced action RPG. Sora once again wields the Keyblade as he defeats countless Heartless. Basic combat is handled with the A button, allowing Sora to link together physical attacks with his Keyblade. The Command Deck lets Sora cycle through a variety of known magical spells and abilities, and is borrowed directly from the PSP entry Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. Spells like blizzard and cure can be combined with Keyblade attacks like dash slides and rising slashes to create elementally infused attacks that deal a greater amount of damage. The Command Deck made combat in Birth by Sleep fluid and satisfying, and its addition in Re: Coded is an excellent choice that again makes battling Heartless both fun and easy.
Variety is the name of the game in Re: Coded. While the game is rather short, clocking in around 15 hours, each world offers up a new way to play the game. In Wonderland with Alice, Sora plays out an adventure game searching for clues all over the map. .Fighting with Hercules in Olympus plays out as a traditional turn-based RPG. An early boss battle places Sora in an 8-bit 2D platformer, while another boss battle is an on-rails shooter. Surprisingly all of these gameplay modes work well, and never last so long that you’ll get sick of them.
Rounding out the gameplay is the Stat Matrix. Instead of simply leveling up through experience, you’re given a screen resembling a computer motherboard in visual style. Sora will find stat chips throughout his journey that can be placed on empty spots on the board to increase abilities, like HP and strength, as well as magical abilities. You will also unlock non-combat abilities in the Stat Matrix, like jumping higher, equipping more items, and so on. Connecting two ability-granting CPUs will double the effect granted from each chip between the two CPUs, making chip placement even more important. The Stat Matrix, which reminded me of the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, provides you complete control over how Sora develops during the game.
Graphics and Sound
Square Enix improved the every aspect of Re: Coded in its transition from cell phones to the DS, and graphics were no exception. Re: Coded is one of the best-looking DS games on the aged portable, showing off graphics that are comparable to Kingdom Hearts games on the PS2. A few full-motion video cutscenes will make you think you’re watching a scene directly taken from the PS2 as they are of the same amazing quality. Gameplay looks solid with character models, backgrounds, and movements taken directly from the original games. In-game cutscenes are handled with non-animated pictures of each character, but still display engaging facial expressions and reactions. The game sounds just as good as it looks, with many sound effects and stage music coming from the PlayStation 2 games. First-rate voice acting accompanies the game’s few cutscenes. While Re: Coded looks and sounds phenomenal, it’s all things that you’ve seen or heard before if you’ve already played Kingdom Hearts I or II. It would have been nice to hear and see a mix of the old and new enemies and songs instead of recycled sounds and enemies. While I wish there were new tracks and enemies, it is hard to be upset with Re: Coded because what is present is still extremely good looking and pleasing to hear.
Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded is a good example of what a remake should be: an enhanced version of a previously non-released game incorporating the best elements from past games in the series. I’ll admit I had my hesitations, but I threw them all out when I started playing. The story isn’t the best but the variety of gameplay methods is great. While it’s not Kingdom Hearts III, it is still enough to quench the thirst of series fans.