Sora hacks into the heart of the Kingdom Hearts matrix.
Nearly ten years ago, I became a big fan of Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series. It presented a surreal marriage of Square Enix’s epic storytelling and Disney’s unmistakable charm. Recently, I discovered Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep on the PlayStation Portable, and fell in love with the franchise all over again, despite the seemingly endless releases and confusing storylines. Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded may retread a lot of old ground, but still delivers a fun experience.
Originally a Japanese-exclusive episodic cellphone game, Re: Coded takes place at the end of Kingdom Hearts II. Jiminy Cricket is trying to solve the mystery of his blank journal from the original Kingdom Hearts. After it is scanned onto the computer, they realize that not only does it contain the original information Jiminy wrote is hidden within its pages, much of it is corrupted by an unknown being. It is up to the data version of Sora to solve the mysteries left behind. As promising as the story is, it focuses far too much in the events of the first game, even if at times it shows an alternative point of view. This means that for Kingdom Hearts veterans it will feel too redundant, while for newcomers it will be confusing due to overreliance on the player’s knowledge of the franchise. Regardless, it is still an interesting story that kept me playing till the end, just don’t expect as many revelations or as much character drama as in previous entries.
The handheld Kingdom Hearts titles are known for featuring different gameplay styles from the console games. They often bring a reinterpretation of the action RPG elements, like the card based gameplay in Chain of Memories for the Game Boy Advance. Re: Coded does away with this mechanic and places focus on the established battle mechanics. It borrows many elements from Birth by Sleep, such as the ability to mend and equip various commands, the opportunity to upgrade your attacks and weaponry, and the ability to equip several items for use in battle which may be the best thing about Re: Coded. Gameplay is very fast paced, and as you to experiment with commands and attacks, you will lose yourself in all the opportunities the game has to offer.
Re: Coded features a stat matrix, a character development system similar to the one in Final Fantasy X and XIII. The board is designed to look like a circuit board. Instead of automatically gaining new levels and abilities, you gain computer chips that hold said features and then place them on the board in order to equip them. When you connect circuits, those attacks and stats will level up. If you manage to connect the chips to a command circuit you can active that command in battle. The abilities can be enabled or disabled as you see fit. The combinations are endless, giving the player a chance to create a unique and powerful character.
A problem that has always been present in the Kingdom Hearts series is the camera. Re: Coded has limited camera controls, meaning that often you will be fiddling with it in order to find the best angle to work with. You can adjust to this camera system, but for the first few hours of gameplay it may be cumbersome on a new player.
The title does tries to add new gameplay segments to the foray; in some cases, Sora will partake in a turn based battle with Cloud and Hercules. In others, you get to play in a 2D, side-scrolling version of Traverse Town, and even a Space Harrier style shooting stage in Wonderland. At times, though, these levels can be tedious to navigate through as they repeat the same boss battles and there are no save points. Regardless, the ideas are very neat and make the worlds refreshing to visit for veterans of the series.
One problem with the game levels, though, is the glitch levels. On occasion, you will find that the world has been corrupted, and thus you must fix the glitch. To do this, you must find the source of the glitch, and then survive various floors and their enemies. These scenes happen often, and while Square Enix tried to add variety in the form of challenges where you can bet your experience points, it can become very annoying to do this many times while exploring the world.
As a way to extend the game’s replay value, you can go back to previous levels and explore them once more, or replay the whole level from the very beginning in order to obtain a better score or find any items you may have missed the first time around. In addition, Re: Coded features the Avatar mode, where you can collect articles of clothing as well as features to dress up your cartoon avatar. This mode also features a tag mode. If you pass by someone that has tag mode activated, you can receive more features for your game.
It wouldn’t be a Square Enix title without amazing presentation, and Re: Coded doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The graphics shine, replicating the look and design of the worlds just as they appeared in the first Kingdom Hearts game on the PS2. Sora himself is very detailed and expressive in battle, and despite some slowdown, the game manages to place many enemies on screen. The story is presented both via FMV sequences and well-executed character cut-outs.
The music in the Kingdom Hearts series has always been one of my favorites, thanks to both the talents of series composer Yoko Shimomura and J-Pop artist Utada Hikaru. Re: Coded’s soundtrack is solid, but it does re-use many of the themes from previous games, so while it all sounds great, the lack of original compositions is disappointing.
In the end, Kingdom Hearts: Re: Coded is an odd beast. On one hand, it tells a story that will be confusing to newcomers and too familiar to series experts, with some frustrating gameplay elements. On the other hand, the battle system remains as fun as always, the stat matrix is a fun way to develop your character, and the story does have its endearing moments. It’s a title definitely worth checking out as long as you keep realistic expectations.