Jan 292011

imageAs of now, it is next to impossible to talk to a Kingdom Hearts fan about the series without them grabbing you by the shoulders and screaming, “WHY ISN’T KINGDOM HEARTS 3 OUT YET?!” Well, that is one question you and your rabid fanatical friends may never get answered. To hold off the imminent riot at the SquareEnix HQ, we have been thrown a bone in the form of Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, which is a port, update, and/or expansion of the cellphone game Kingdom Hearts Coded that was previously only released in Japan.

The Story
The story in Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is probably what will cause most people playing it to be left with a huge proverbial question mark hanging over their heads. Without giving too much away, Jimmeny Cricket is reviewing his journal of the events that transpired in Kingdom Hearts 1 & 2, when he finds a mysterious message he just knows he didn’t write. While most people’s assumption would be that they did one too many keg stands the night before, Jimmeny assumes a mysterious force is at work and is messing with his journal. This conclusion causes him to consult King Mickey, who then orders Chip and Dale to digitize the journal so they can further investigate it.

One would think that by scanning the journal, the engineering rodents would simply create a .PDF, but such is not the case. Instead, what they create is a completely visual and interactive version of the journal. There is even a digital Sora who is given the task of determining the source of the strange message. As stated in the First Impressions, this is a very odd and convoluted storyline, even within the context of the Kingdom Hearts universe.

Classic hack-n-slash, Kingdom Hearts style. Image courtesy of GamesPress.com

The graphics in Kingdom Hearts Re:coded are some of the best seen to date on the DS. The 3D character models are rendered very smoothly, and the environments from the first two games you’ll be revisiting, such as Twilight Town and Wonderland, are recreated so well you’ll probably find yourself doing a doubletake at your DS to make sure you didn’t pick up a different system by mistake. Even the video cutscenes, which have become somewhat of a staple on DS RPGs, have overcome the pixelated “YouTube look” that has previously plagued other games with the same feature. The music, sound effects, and voice acting (when present) are all crystal clear and well done. All of this is, unfortunately, in stark contrast to the dialogue scenes that occur between Sora and the scores of characters he encounters. These are all rendered using still images of the characters changing poses every now and then in an attempt to show a little expression. They are standing in front of static backgrounds, and all talking is done via speech bubbles.  It gets the point accross, but it doesn’t really match up to the standards of quality set forth by the rest of the game.

The art style of dialogue scenes seems out of place compared to the rest of the game. Image courtesy of GamesPress.com

Gameplay and Controls
Overall, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded draws heavily from the core action/RPG that the series has been built upon. There’s all the platforming, hack-n-slash, and spell casting action players have become addicted to. Also, newer aspects from other handheld Kingdom Hearts have made their way into this title. One such feature is the Command Matrix system from Birth By Sleep makes another appearance in Re:coded. The Command Matrix is basically a queue of spells, attacks, or items that you may initiate in battle by pressing the X button. You can put them in any order you wish and you can earn more slots for additional commands in the deck as you level up. If you are used to the more direct method of accessing Sora’s spells and special attacks that was implemented in Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, then the Command Matrix will likely take some getting used to, but it’s not so bad once you get the hang of it. The developers also brought back and enhanced the stat leveling system like the one introduced in 358/2 Days.

In regards to the stat leveling system, dubbed the Stat Matrix, deciding how to level Sora up was perhaps one of the most interesting facets of this game. Players are presented with a circuit board that microchips can be placed in. These microchips offer a boost to a certain stat, skill, or a level gain. There is a certain amount of strategy in deciding were to put the microchips because they will form a circuit that power up devices that allow you to modify certain game mechanics, such as the amount of loot that drops from slain enemies. This system is very similar to the stat board in 358/2 Days, just incredibly more polished and intricate.

A lot of time was spent on the graphical presentation of this game. Image courtesy of GamesPress.com

Unfortunately, there are a couple of pretty big flies in what would otherwise be a cool and refreshing jar of RPG ointment. The first one is the nearly unusable camera controls. You move the camera by holding the right shoulder button then move it with the d-pad, which means you can only reposition the camera when Sora is stationary. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the target lock feature was a little smarter. Instead of picking the enemy that is the biggest threat, it simply focuses on the closest target which usually isn’t the best choice. The other issue really holding Re:coded back is the auto-jump feature, which is supposed to keep you from having to manually handle the game’s platforming elements. It is too sensitive though, and will often cause Sora to unexpectedly leap to his demise at the most inconvienent of times.

It is definitely easy to look at Kingdom Hearts Re:coded as “more of the same”, which is okay because that seems to be what the development team set out to do. Much of the Keyblade swinging action fans have come to love has returned, and it has been freshened with just enough newness to keep it from seeming as stale as last weekend’s pizza. Game elements like the Command and Stat Matrix eventually feel like they were part of Kingdom Hearts all along. Unfortunately this experience is muddied by a very sensitive auto-jump and almost unusable camera. The story is incredibly zany and hard to wrap your head around, but it may be just what you need to hold you over until Kingdom Hearts 3. What kind of adventures will the gang embark on? Perhaps an android version of Sora will break into Mickey’s castle and slay Minnie with laser beams from his eyes?! Post your speculation for upcoming plot twists in the comment section below!

Kingdom Hearts Re:coded

Excellent visual and audio presentation, some good gameplay elements from previous titles make their way into this oneIt seems like very little effort was put into crafting the story, some of the controls were very poorly designed
VerdictKingdom Hearts Re:coded is a good game for veteran players of the series, but would not make a good entry point for people who have never played a Kingdom Hearts game before.

  3 Responses to “Kingdom Hearts Re:coded | Review (DS)”

  1. Hi. Long time reader, 1st time commenter. Just wanted to say keep up the good work!

  2. wow. sounds like a very good game to me. im a big kingdom hearts fan and i just might get this game. the only thing im wondering about is there any new villains or characters in this game. if so can you tell me. one more thing are u a fan of this series.

  3. The new Zune browser is surprisingly good, but not as good as the iPod’s. It works well, but isn’t as fast as Safari, and has a clunkier interface. If you occasionally plan on using the web browser that’s not an issue, but if you’re planning to browse the web alot from your PMP then the iPod’s larger screen and better browser may be important.

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