Kingdom Hearts: Re:Coded is set not long after the events of Kingdom Hearts 2. Mickey Mouse and his pals are checking out Jiminy Cricket's journal of the events that occurred in the previous games. While doing so, they discover a mysterious message that nobody remembers putting in the journal. The journal's data has been corrupted and filled with bugs and glitches, making it impossible to find the source of the strange message. To fix this, Mickey and pals create a computer program designed to mimic Kingdom Hearts protagonist Sora. Data Sora has to relive the memories of actual Sora and figure out where the corruption is coming from, while dealing with attacks from mysterious hackers who are attempting to further corrupt the journal from the outside.
Re:Coded's plot is rather pointless. The entire game is a lengthy repetition of the original Kingdom Hearts, only with the occasional "bug." Since almost all of the characters are just data copies of actual characters, it's difficult to care about them. Nothing that happens to the Data versions of any characters has any lasting meaning. The actual Sora never appears in the game, and the plot is basically pointless. You discover that the game is just a lengthy commercial for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance; the ending is literally an advertisement for it. Even Chain of Memories, which was just a retelling of the first game, introduced new characters and set things up for Kingdom Hearts 2. Even Kingdom Hearts fans don't have a reason to care about this entry for the story line, let alone people who can't keep track of the franchise's increasingly convoluted metaplot.
Most of the gameplay of Re:Coded is pretty much standard Kingdom Hearts. Re:Coded uses a slightly modified version of the combat engine from KH: Birth by Sleep. For those who didn't play the PSP game, you no longer have magic powers. Instead, you have a "deck" of commands that you can equip. When you use a command, it casts a spell or uses a special ability. You're then unable to use that ability again until it reloads. You earn new commands by finding them in stages or by defeating foes. You can also combine various spells to create new and more powerful abilities or level up the spells. This increases their effect and can even make them reload faster.
Much like in Birth by Sleep, this is a significant improvement over the classic Kingdom Hearts style of gameplay. It allows you to use a variety of interesting abilities and prevents the game from feeling quite so button-mashy. However, it also has the same downsides as Birth by Sleep: There are a ton of abilities, but some are so superior to others that it feels rather frustrating. I was able to make some insanely powerful spells by the second or third world, which carried me far into the endgame.
Like Birth By Sleep, there's also a super meter that you fill as you fight. It works differently in that each of Sora's weapons has a different set of "clock" abilities. As you fight, your clock level gradually rises. Each time it does, Sora gains a different passive benefit, such as increased magic damage, elemental boosts to his weapon, or automatic defensive abilities. Once you reach the maximum level, you can perform a powerful Finish attack, which resets your clock back to level 1 and removes any passive benefits you've earned. As you level up your weapons, you unlock different passive benefits for each level. You can only pick one benefit per level, but you can customize them to best fit your playing style, and you can alter the benefit at any time. You can also find and equip new Finish attacks to power up your final strike. The downside is that if you stay out of combat for too long, your meter drops back to zero. The benefits you earn don't feel as interesting as the super modes you could get in the PSP title, and once you get a good finishing move, you're unlikely to switch it for anything but a superior one.
There is one annoying addition to the engine. Unlike Birth by Sleep, your commands in Re:Coded take up system memory instead of slots. You have 100 system memory, and each command can take up a fair chunk — often 20 or more. Unless you're intentionally stacking your deck with weak attacks, this means you'll have about five commands available to you at once, leaving you with a bunch of extra command slots that are impossible to fill. It's a small annoyance, but it feels out of place. Birth By Sleep balanced powerful abilities by making them take more slots, but you could keep a fairly wide selection except for the most powerful spells. Here, even minor spells take up almost one-fourth of your inventory. The reason for the change seems to be limiting the power of your character more than in Birth By Sleep, but it doesn't work out. You're as powerful as ever, but you're more limited in your options.
Leveling up in Re:Coded is unusual because Data Sora is a computer program, so he doesn't level up naturally. All of your leveling is done by earning chips, which are found in combat as treasure or defeating enough enemies to earn a "level up" chip. You place the chip on your stat matrix, which is like a technologically themed sphere grid from Final Fantasy X. You gradually travel along a board, and each space you move requires you to place a chip. You receive the benefit of that chip and move to the next space.
When you reach certain squares on the matrix, you unlock new abilities, additional command slots or other benefits. As you progress, more of the matrix is unlocked. Later in the game, you'll find bugs that prevent you from accessing certain areas, so you must find debugging items to open the path if you want to advance and unlock useful powers, such as high jump or air dash. There are also CPUs scattered around the map. If you connect two CPUs, it will activate dual processing, doubling the effect of every chip between the two points. You can replace a chip at any time with another chip, so you can take full advantage of dual processing for maximum power.
Re:Coded has one of the coolest features in an RPG. Among the various things you can unlock in the stat matrix are cheats, which are special modifications that you activate to alter combat. However, every cheat you activate gives Sora a penalty in exchange. One cheat allows you to increase the item drop rate from defeat enemies by up to 16x, but it also decreases Sora's maximum health. At the full 16x drop rate, Sora only has 10 percent of his normal max health. These difficulty sliders are pretty heavily customizable, so you can turn them off or to put them to a midpoint where you feel comfortable. You may not want to drop your HP to 10 percent, but keeping it at 50 percent for a roughly 8x drop rate is a good compromise. The cheats make things more fun. If you want additional challenge, you can customize the game in the way you like. If you want to grind up new commands or earn some extra cash, you just fiddle with the cheats until you have a good setup. It's similar to The World Ends with You, but with a lot more customization.
Every so often, you'll find something that is out of place. It may be a door that doesn't open or a missing character or something that seems wrong. This is the result of a bug corrupting the data. To solve the bug, you have to find a backdoor into the system and manually delete the bug. This is done by searching hot-and-cold style for a gap into the programming. Once you find the gap, you enter a somewhat randomized dungeon to track down the bug. In some of the dungeon rooms are bugged versions of enemies, and defeating them clears the sector. Once you've defeated all of the bugged enemies, you progress to the next floor. Finish all the floors, and the bug is fixed.
The dungeons are made more interesting by the addition of prizes. Each of these bug-fixing segments has a list of prizes you can buy with sector points. At the start of every debugging segment, you're given 1000 SP. Defeating enemies and breaking open "blox" earns you more, and taking damage causes you to lose SP. Most of the prizes are so expensive that simply doing well in stages isn't enough to afford them. At the start of every floor, you're given an optional challenge, ranging from finishing the stage within a time limit to defeating enemies without taking damage. You're given the option to wager some of your earned SP on your ability to finish the challenge. Succeed, and you get a ton of extra SP. Fail, and you lose what you wagered. It adds an interesting challenge to the game by requiring you to do certain things to get the best prizes. The challenges are not particularly difficult, but the added variety is welcome.
Re:Coded has a very serious problem. The Kingdom Hearts engine has never been so hot at platforming. Aside from the first game in the franchise, the developers seemed to be aware of this and moved away from all but the simplest platforming. Games like Birth by Sleep had large, wide-open areas with very little precision platforming required, and even the hidden platform-heavy areas in Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix + are relatively light and simple. Re:Coded, on the other hand, jacks up the platforming by a ridiculous degree.
Almost every area in the game is filled with blox, which ask you to perform lengthy platforming sequences. In a game like Mario, these sequences would be simple. In a game like Kingdom Hearts, where the platforming is awkward and uncomfortable at the best of times, it is a chore. The platforming is so tedious that it sucks every ounce of fun from the game. Sora's jumping physics are awkward, so you have to fiddle with the game options so that controlling him is not a chore. He's floaty, and his ability to "grab" boxes to pull himself up is spotty.
On top of that, the camera is zoomed in and difficult to control, and it will almost never show you where you want to go. It constantly gets caught on walls, and when you zoom out, it seems to get caught on walls even more. Since it's a DS game, there's little precision control over the camera. You can use the touch-screen to move it around, but that's imprecise when compared to an analog stick. The game sometimes throws in a time limit, and those segments are the worst in the game, since you can't even take the time to compensate for the camera.
It even manages to interfere with combat. Since the levels are full of blox, which are used for platforming, the camera gets into the wrong position more often than in Birth By Sleep or Kingdom Hearts 2. It made some fights more annoying than they needed to be simply because the camera insisted on staring at a wall instead. This happened in other Kingdom Hearts games, but it felt more noticeable here because of the various handicaps you can give yourself. When half the fun of the game is imposing your own challenge, it becomes annoying to take hits or lose track of an enemy because the camera insisted on hugging a wall. After the previous games did such a good job of working around the spotty camera, it's hard to believe that Re:Coded went so far backward.
Every so often, the game twists up things a bit and goes into a different genre. This includes segments where the game suddenly becomes a side-scroller, rail shooter or even a traditional turn-based RPG. These segments are among the better parts of the game and represent some of the best new content available. The turn-based RPG segments are arguably more fun than the rest of the game. These segments usually take the place of a boss battle, although there are still some traditional boss fights in the game, and they can later be replayed for extra prizes and a higher score. I wish that more of the game was like this. While they're not flawless, these genre changes represent actual new content and interesting gameplay instead of a repetition of the Birth by Sleep combat without the matching level design. Toward the end, the genre changes are sadly forgotten, and most of the final areas are straightforward Kingdom Hearts gameplay, except a surprising last-minute 2-D stage. While they last, the genre changes are one of the game's neater ideas and keep things fresh.
Re:Coded is not a bad-looking game. The Kingdom Hearts visuals have been reasonably nicely adapted to the DS screen, so it's one of the better-looking 3-D DS titles on the market. It's difficult to ignore how much recycling is in the game. All of the game content is recycled in some fashion. Even the final boss a recycled fight from one of the Final Mix titles in Japan, and entire cut scenes are recycled. Most of the story is told through still portraits, although there are a few important cut scenes with full motion. The soundtrack is quite good, featuring a mix of older Kingdom Hearts tracks and some fun new music for some of the data zones. There is only voice acting for a few of the major characters, but it's the usual high-quality stuff you've come to expect.
Kingdom Hearts: Re:Coded is one of the low points of the franchise's history. The game has some great ideas buried within, but the execution leaves much to be desired. The awful level design and ridiculous amount of recycled content make it tough to overlook the problems, especially when the game constantly throws precision platforming at you. Not even fans of the Kingdom Hearts plot will find anything enjoyable here, as the small scraps of new content amount to nothing more than an advertisement for the sequel. Coming on the heels of the clever and well-designed Birth By Sleep, Re:Coded looks all the worse, with many of Re:Coded's best features having been done better in Birth By Sleep. Absolute die-hard Kingdom Hearts fans may find something to like here, but anyone else would be best to wait for the actual Kingdom Hearts 3 or the new 3DS title.
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