Parent Talk: Most teenagers and children are likely familiar with Kingdom Hearts, the popular series that combines Final Fantasy and Disney characters with original personalities like Sora, Riku, and more. The PS2 games were extremely popular, inspiring spin-offs such as this one. Sora fights “Heartless” and other colorful foes in this lighthearted adventure with cartoon/fantasy violence.
Kingdom Hearts is extremely popular, though its canon is convoluted and complex. It all started with the simple, yet crazy idea: combine Final Fantasy with Disney. It has worked extraordinarily well, spawning sequels and several spin-offs. Re:coded is one of the more interesting releases, acting as a side-story and somewhat re-telling of the first game. Fans have demanded a western localization ever since it hit Japanese cell phones, and by a stroke of luck, Square-Enix acquiesced. Thankfully it’s an addictive and fun game, managing to be more appealing than previous handheld outings.
Familiar, but fresh. Kingdom Hearts Re:coded succeeds where other KH handheld games have failed. It retains original game’s personality and mechanics, while offering something new and different. The concept focuses on Jimminy’s journal, which has been corrupted by “glitches.” Essentially, the data regarding the first game is messed up, and Sora must fix it to restore proper order. h.a.n.d. managed to integrate the idea into the gameplay too, so this spin-off isn’t just a re-tread.
Each world from KH returns, but is “glitched.” In one world, this affects the fundamental gameplay, shifting things from action RPG to a turn-based battle game, a side-scrolling platformer, or a scrolling shooter. The new angles are interesting, making the game unique. Worlds also deploy hidden “back doors” that can be investigated. Passing through them not only fixes some “glitches”, but open fresh challenges.
+ Extra content. The main campaign spans about 20 hours, which is great for a handheld RPG. It can be finished briskly, since fetch quests and lengthy scenes don’t bog things down. Even after finishing, there’s plenty to return to and explore. Olympus Coliseum offers brand-new bosses and areas to explore, while other worlds contain additional “back doors” to examine.
+ Sora is back. The plot is tough to follow, but Re:coded is yet endearing, and for fans especially. The big payoff comes at the conclusion. Non-fans could easily enjoy the game regardless, but only the series vets can fully appreciate it. 358/2 Days and Birth By Sleep focus on other characters in the universe, but they’re frankly not as likable or iconic as Sora.
+ Gameplay tweaks. Re:coded follows the original game well. Sora visits a world, explores, speaks with characters, fights with his key blade, etc. However, h.a.n.d. implemented clever changes to emphasize the data system theme. The “stat matrix” allows you to upgrade Sora in a way similar to the “Sphere Grid” from Final Fantasy X. Attach plates to a grid for attribute boots such as Level Up +1 or Magic +2. By completing sections, new abilities and features [like “cheat” and “dual processing”] are accessible. Dual processing occurs when enough plates are installed to connect two “CPU” pieces. When that happens, all the pieces receive a bonus modifier. It makes grinding more interesting. Cheat abilities manipulate the mechanics in fascinating ways. You can choose to lower Sora’s maximum HP in exchange for increasing items’ drop rates. It’s an all-new dynamic.
+ Tight control. Kingdom Hearts started on PS2, and so the control was designed with the platform’s capabilities in mind. The Nintendo DS obviously lacks a DualShock 2’s input, thus playing a 3D adventure such as Kingdom Hearts is likely more difficult. However, by consolidating commands, Re:coded is a joy to play. Attacking is set to A, while magic and special commands are relegated to X. The L trigger is designed to cycle through other commands and special abilities, so other buttons aren’t used. This makes using successive skills easier. The camera is handled with the R button, and while there is stiffness, it’s an all-around solid translation on DS.
+ Awesome presentation. Re:coded simply looks slick…not significantly better than 358/2 Days, but the character models and animation are superb. Select cutscenes are fully voiced, making them resemble the PS2 games. Common dialog is shown with simple text boxes and character portraits, like the other handheld releases. The music is reminiscent of previous KHs as well, and there are many repeated tracks, like the obligatory “Dearly Beloved” title theme. There are unique scores too, and some reflect the sort of “techno” motif of the story, like the “System Bug Battle.”
– Stiff platforming. Jumping and camera control are awkward. It’s difficult to have Sora face forward in some situations, despite being able to ‘snap’ the view.
– Simple story. It’s great that the spotlight is back on Sora, and the concept is neat, but the plot is more bizarre than intriguing. Chain of Memories wasn’t as fun, but it at least contributed more canon-wise. Re:coded is a very fun, but only diehard fans will see the long-term value.
– Same worlds, different day. Re:coded does change the worlds significantly, but frankly fans have already seen Wonderland and Olympus Coliseum many times before. It’s tiring after a while. It makes sense here because the events are technically taken from the first game, but casual fans may be turned off at this point.
Re:coded is solid, addictive, and its gameplay is a step up from previous Nintendo handheld KH games.. Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days contributed much more to the overall plot, but Re:coded instead offers more compelling gameplay and clever design concepts.