At the point when Re:Coded came out, I remember many fans asking “where is Kingdom Hearts 3?”. I could easily see why, since after Kingdom Hearts 2, we had gotten 3 side-games and 2 remakes, without hearing anything about the next numbered installment. Personally, I was more confused that Re:Coded was just a remade port of an episodic mobile-game from Japan and wondered who in the wild world would play a game with a numeric keypad? But to be fair, there have been some good mobile games before the time of Android, and Coded was heavily remade for the DS thanks to h.a.n.d, the developers behind 358/2 Days. This is perhaps the most controversial title in the series, and I was mixed about it the first time I played it. I honestly don’t know what to expect.
Like an empty book without a pen: worthless
There is so little to the plot, it is madness that there was even one included. A message has been written in one of Jiminy Crickets journals, which he never wrote. Examining it closer with King Mickey, they find out that the journal has gone haywire with glitches and it is up to a digital version of Sora to get rid of the bugs.
There is really nothing else to the plot besides this, as there is no solid progress for unwrapping what is really going on. The only real events that will take place is Sora getting through the journal, which means more worlds to revisit. Playing as Sora ones again, you will be taken to 3 familiar Disney locations and 4 regions from the Kingdom Hearts lore, but because of the shallow plot and development, this feels like a lazy copy-paste, since these worlds are based on the original Kingdom Hearts, with one taken from Chain of Memories. None of the worlds you travel to are interesting either, with no real stories, setup, or charming characters. How do you make Donald, Goofy and Sora unappealing? Despite how uninteresting revisiting the nostalgic worlds are, there is an incredible amount of dialog and a good handful of cutscenes, but you can skip all of them, and will have a much better time for doing so. There is absolutely nothing interesting to talk about here, which makes me confused as to why it was this adapted to a movie for the console-remakes.
Story Score: 1/10
Variation vs inspiration
Sora stars as our playable character once again, with action RPG being the gameplay this title has the most focus on. Inspired by Birth By Sleep, Sora has one button for normal combo-attacks and the returning command-deck where he can pick between special attacks, magic, and items he has equipped for direct use. He can change between them with the L-button and use them with X, and like last time, they will have to be recharged to be used again, with the exception being the items. You can level special-attacks and magic up and merge them to create stronger or different ones, such as combining a spin-attack with firaga to make a spinning attack with flames. This system works very well to make the combat fast-paced and interesting, so it is lovely to see it appear in this installment as well.
The equipable keyblades are much more interesting than before. Instead of having your stats simply getting stronger, each comes with different play-styles, such as providing stronger attacks with slower combos. Every keyblade can be charged to different levels by attacking enemies, where you will get a different boost by each charge. This can also be leveled up in itself to acquire more boosts for the keyblade, which is a creative idea. When you have charged it to the max, you will be able to execute a finishing command, and the meter will start at zero again. The different finishers can be equipped and come in many forms, such as one requiring DDR-inputs and another where it will simply explode around you. These are simple ideas, but interesting enough to make battles more engaging and intriguing.
Leveling up in general has also been altered. You will acquire chips for when you level up or by finding them, which can enhance your stats such as attacks, spells or defense. These must be put in a data-link to activate them, which consists of pathways that can eventually allow more command-options or give new abilities, such as air-recovery and dodging. This is a cool idea, since you will have to put them in and choose what powers you want to acquire. However, it would be nice to see what abilities you can activate beforehand to create a better strategy on where to put in the chips.
The enemies are varied and borrowed from previous Kingdom Hearts games, with some newer ones that are quite shallow. The old ones you will fight the most and all are varied enough to make the battles fast-paced and enjoyable. There are even some glitch-rooms you will have to visit to progress further in the game, which are basically small arena-segments where you can acquire valuable treasures. While the combat certainly is the main part and a focus, the game unfortunately threads in territories of older Kingdom Hearts games by offering different playstyles that aren’t always welcome.
First of, you will have platforming to deal with and while you have a good control of your jumps, the layouts of the hundreds of glitch-blocks in the world are not well designed to take advantage of your abilities. They can be creative and fun, but it is too easy to overshoot these jumps thanks to them not accounting for Sora’s stiff jumps. The game also has this uncomfortable auto-jump, which is only disorienting. Luckily, you can turn this off. The areas you visit will also have different concepts to make them more varied, but not necessarily fun. While some parts will have simple fetch quests that are unengaging and dull, there is a much grander variation than before that are more misses than hits.
The worst offenders are the auto-scrolling, 2D platforming segments and the on-rail shooter segments. Both will have you move in one direction and make you acquire power-ups in the form of magical attacks. While both have some obstacles to dodge or jump on, none becomes engaging due to lack of interesting mechanics and level-designs, making these parts rather shallow. The same can be said for the stealth-parts as it was easy to outrun the guards. The most frustrating part, however, was when you could not use your keyblade and had to rely on your friends’ AI with simple commands. With an AI that can easily make your companions walk into walls for no reason, it became a terrible experience.
The only segment I was somewhat interested in was a turn-based RPG part, where you had context-sensitive button inputs for attacking and blocking. These were quite enjoyable at first, but unfortunately never had any interesting strategies to them, so they became quickly boring. You can’t even choose what enemy to attack first, and the items for boosting attacks or defense, which only appears for this segment, never became useful. Agrabah at the very least had some traps that were mildly amusing to avoid, despite them being easy to jump over.
The end-part also reuses all areas from the game, with most gameplay-variations being present. While the combat was the most enjoyable part, it too introduced some of the most annoying enemy-respawning that can happen, such as if you just paused the game. The bosses are mostly dull fights based on the gimmicks outside of the action RPG-part, but the 50% that takes advantage of the combat-system are enjoyable. Thankfully as well, for most of the game you will be fighting enemies, with platforming that is hit and miss. The different gameplay-genres could be a decent way to vary the game up as they don’t stay for too long, but they are too shallow to become interesting.
This is really not how I remembered it
While it is impressive to see areas from the first game being brought to the DS, it was not done with flying colors. Areas look incredibly flat with poor textures, making it all become lifeless. Even worse is that the areas consist of blocky layouts, such as the glitch-rooms with matrix-wallpaper. In fact, every area has plenty of different colored blocks to create new platforming-segments, or walls with numbers to create the illusion of a data-world. The character models are better, with both familiar enemies and the main cast looking decent, but heavily pixelated. The newer glitch-enemies however, are incredibly unimaginative and consists of squares in different colors.
The cutscenes range from using the in-game graphics from the PS2-version to 2D-images with text. While the PS2-scenes deliver great visual quality with nice voice-acting, the 2D-sprites are simply dull with no voices. The characters provide different expressions in these sections, but are lifeless and shallow paper-cutouts, with a huge amount of dialogue to them. No cutscene becomes intriguing, since the ones using PS2-quality are often used in only one room and no interesting events occur. The game’s only saving grace is the music that is, of course, taken from previous titles. All the orchestral and beautiful melodies are still fantastic, despite the lower quality. The newer pieces that take a more of a techno-approach, are a treat despite not being as impressive as the older ones.
Presentation Score: 5/10
There are plenty of elements to extend the replay-value of Re:coded. There are trophies that work like achievements, an extra ending to unlock, and you can revisit old worlds for finding more treasures, attempt score-attack, or do minor side-activities. However, none of these became interesting. The achievements are bland, the extra ending is not worth it as it does not elaborate on anything interesting, and revisiting worlds won’t give you anything when the game is over. The missions also are uninteresting, with some having focus on the gimmicks instead of the combat. New to this installment is the Avatar Menu, where you can make your own avatar and can send letters to other users through tag-mode, which is basically an early version of streetpass. I have no idea why this was included, as it does nothing to the game. Just find a book and draw instead.
Extra Score: 3/10
Re: coded can certainly be an enjoyable title for a short while, but has nothing to give to fans of the series when it comes to its story, and the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. It might be worth your time if you want fun combat and some variety without anything else, but you are better of with any other titles in the series and other RPGs for the system. Despite it being more fun to play than the original Kingdom Hearts, at least that one had heart put in the project.
- Combat is fun and up for good amounts of customization
- Easy to grasp and good variety in enemies
- The level-up system is engaging
- It is neat to see old areas from Kingdom Hearts 1 on the DS
- The old and new music-tracks are fantastic
- Platforming is stiff and awkward
- Tons of variety in gameplay with no substance
- 50% of the game is filled with unentertaining content
- A worthless story that makes visiting Disney-worlds dull
- No reason to come back as missions and getting the special ending are uninteresting
- Uninteresting Avatar-game
- The glitch-enemies and blocks are poor ways to make old areas intriguing
- Poor textures
- Cutscenes are a hit and miss in quality