To say that the wait for the third instalment of the Kingdom Hearts saga has been painful for fans would be quite the understatement. Since the second game's release on the PlayStation 2 back in 2006, Square-Enix seem to have more-or-less migrated the Disney-Final Fantasy crossover to the handheld space, with no less than four titles either released or planned before any news on the third mainline game. Whilst Nintendo DS has already played host to the multiplayer-focused Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, a remake of Japan-exclusive mobile phone game Kingdom Hearts Coded, is the first of the four handheld games to take place after the plotline of Kingdom Hearts 2. After 358/2 Days' widely criticised gameplay structure, does Re:Coded rewrite the code script, or is it a mere Trojan?
Re:Coded's storyline picks up right where the second game ends. After defeating Xemnas and the rest of Organization XIII, Sora and Riku remain at Destiny Islands, and King Mickey has returned to Disney Castle to resume his rule. Upon inspection of the two journals he used to keep a record of the main adventures through the worlds, though, Jiminy Cricket finds a mysterious new line written in the first book. After showing this to Mickey, the journal is digitised to investigate the reasoning behind the line, and the Sora entity residing in the journal is guided through it to eradicate the bugs that have popped up. As such, the Sora you take control of, and the primary worlds you explore, take on their Kingdom Hearts 1 appearances.
Like 358/2 Days before it, Square-Enix has seemingly pulled every last drop of power from the humble DS to provide what is easily one of the system's best lookers. Cinematic cutscenes are up to the series' usual high standards, with full voicework, together with regular character-cutout scenes that provide extra depth and emotion for the characters thanks in no part to the range of poses they use. The music as a whole is in familiar territory, with each of the returning worlds bringing with them their original theme, albeit with little differences to suit the sound quality of the DS. The newer tracks are primarily based in the game's newer exclusive areas, the Datascapes; they’re mainly remixes of popular Kingdom Hearts tunes, but are still a welcome change.
The Kingdom Hearts series as a whole is notorious for reusing the same assets and worlds in newer games, though not as directly as other franchises may, owing to that reuse properly fitting in with the plotlines. Re:Coded continues this stance and, although most of the worlds have identical layouts to their original depictions, Square-Enix have done a considerable amount to ensure that only the bare minimum of the game feels like padding or unnecessary backtracking, mainly by playing on the computer coding aspects of the game.
Each world you visit is completely digitised, so the bugs within the system create new Datascape floors to explore and clear via special backdoor entrances, with the aim being to fix the errors that are blocking current passage. These provide challenges for each floor, upon which you can gamble a percentage of your Sector Points to attempt to net many more back. These tasks, which are in no way too demanding or unfair, add a much needed spice to what would otherwise be a simple search and destroy task, and ensure that a daring player can reap the rewards with a high points count.
Although the worlds have the same environmental structure as the first game, Square-Enix have mixed up how you play them in select parts, for bosses in particular. For example, you may find yourself suddenly going through a sidescroller in the streets of Traverse Town, or a third person air-based shooter in Wonderland. A couple of worlds even use a completely different battle mechanic, be it a turn-based role-playing battle system, or just throwing commands at friends to battle in your place. These changes greatly help to justify what are largely the same environments recycled for a third Kingdom Hearts game.
Re:Coded makes use of a levelling and stat development system that takes inspiration from both 358/2 Days and PSP entry Birth By Sleep. The overview of the system, the Stat Matrix, is like a circuit board, with nodes activated by collecting chips, each containing a power up effect like strength or luck boosters. This system is highly reminiscent of the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X, and works just as well, providing a highly intuitive board that can be edited and customised to your liking. Abilities and magical attacks obtained in the field or in the Moogle shop can be equipped on the relevant sub-menu, and when given enough Command Points - gained by fighting and defeating Heartless enemies - they can combine with others and evolve into stronger abilities.
The control system in the field also takes note of Birth By Sleep's strengths. You have your primary jump and attack functions, mapped to B and A respectively. Then you have extra commands like block and dodge roll through the use of the Y button, obtainable from Circuit Board power ups. That leaves X, which takes care of all the special attacks, magical or otherwise, through a scrolling menu on the side of the game screen. Using this together with the L trigger ensures a quick and responsive selection method for the abilities you equip, and is a vast improvement on the cumbersome way of previous games, that would distract from the battle at hand. Touch is scarcely used, save for switching the levelling evolution paths of your equipped weapon - Overclocks - on the fly, but for a fast-paced game such as this, buttons are the wisest choice.
Re:Coded has another unique accolade to its name, in that it is the most platforming-focused Kingdom Hearts game yet, primarily due to how the Dataspace worlds are set up, and the locations of the Bug Blocks scattered in the worlds. The DS has proven before, with 3D roaming games like Rayman and Mario 64, that the D-pad's eight-way control isn't an ideal substitute for the 360 degree freedom of an analogue stick. Yet here, guiding Sora's movements with the D-pad works better than you'd think, thanks to tight camera control with R, and an automatic jump option that bridges gaps between leaps extremely well. It's not perfect, but is more than an effective substitute for a stick.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded has the least number of worlds to venture through in the series, though most last much longer, even without taking the Datascape floors into account. Square-Enix have shoved an impressive amount into this package, with an achievement-like trophy system for accomplishing certain goals in the game, and an avatar menu that is completely separate from the main adventure. This mode lets you create your own caricature out of parts from many Square-Enix characters, and with the Tag Mode feature, you can pass other players and challenge them to clear Datascape floors you have set up. This is a nice little extra, if not one likely to be widely used, and an effective insight into what could be offered through 3DS’ StreetPass in future titles.
Tight-but-not-quite-perfect controls, fully featured, although recycled, worlds, and a varying amount of genre styles make this possibly the most diverse game of the franchise yet.
Easily one of DS' best looking games, with environments and techniques pulled straight from higher-spec instalments, and numerous high-quality cutscenes.
A good number of familiar tunes, coupled with effective chip-style remixes in the newer areas. The purely new tracks, few as they are, don't stand out too much, but add onto a solid soundtrack.
Initially a low playtime when breezing through the game, but to see everything Re:Coded offers would easily rival any of the meatier RPGs.
Thanks to its familiar settings, independent storyline, and range of gameplay styles, Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded works well not only as an introduction to the series, but also as a continuation of what is most likely the zaniest storyline in gaming today. Building off of earlier instalments of the series, and utilising a computer-based theme that gives the game an identity of its own, Re:Coded treads familiar ground, but ensures that this is one program you won't want to wipe.
Had a blast with this one. To me it was more fun than 358/2 but I really didn't complain about that one when I played it start to finish over a three week period.
Well that's the thing, I loved 358/2 as well and didn't get all the complaints from people. That would have been an 8/10 for me, so 9/10 for this improved successor is spot on in my eyes. Good review, Shane