The lights are on
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is something that I have been interested in since its announcement at E3 in June. After devouring the joy that was September's Birth By Sleep, I eagerly awaited the release of this "lost" chapter in the KH saga, especially since it had only previously been lost to fans outside of Japan. The end product is certainly something that I expected more from, but at the same time I find myself seriously enjoying the game.
Tetsuya Nomura must have figured out a way to digitize cocaine, because every Kingdom Hearts fix only leaves me wanting more. As a huge fan of the series it is hard for me to find fault with Re:coded, if only because it is more Kingdom Hearts. Faults there are, however, and they must be addressed.
First of all, the 3D space of a Kingdom Hearts game is tough to navigate with a D-Pad. This was practically my only complaint with 358/2 Days, and it was obviously going to be repeated here. Birth By Sleep controlled so well, even with the PSP's bare-bones analog nub, so to return to this imprecision is slightly off-putting. On the plus side, it makes the future that is Kingdom Heats 3D seem that much brighter. The series' signature platforming suffers from the limitations of the D-Pad as well, with Sora's movements clearly limited in air.
The camera is another clear issue. The same system from 358/2 Days and Birth By Sleep is used here, so tapping L and R locks on to a target, while R moves the camera behind Sora and L cycles through the command deck. The problem here comes from the wealth of potential targets in any given area; boxes, Heartless, and bosses are all thrown into the mix, making for some frustrating moments where you would sincerely like to target the boss that is draining your HP, but the game would much rather send you whacking a harmless box.
The graphics are pretty good for the DS, but the switch to segments designed for Japanese mobile phones can be jarring, especially an early sidescrolling level at the end of Traverse Town. The backgrounds are so obviously recycled from mobile phones that it is embarrassing, really.
Of course, the worlds are all recycled as well, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on the player's tastes. For myself, personally, I don't really mind the re-use of these levels. The nostlagia connected to this series is the main reason why, as playing through these levels and scenarios cast in a new light are fun reminders of why I love this series in the first place. The debugging and glitch-removal adds a new dimension to clearing a world apart from the simple "lock the Keyhole" scenarios of the first game, and the debugging areas are visually interesting.
The storyline is pretty standard KH fare. To be honest, I have learned to take what this series throws at me with a grain of salt, and so I don't really have problems adjusting to the idea of scanning a journal into a computer to decode (or "recode?") the data hidden within, and I thought it was a cool way to wrap up the plots of the first 2 main KH games while simultaneously looking ahead to the future. I can't wait to see the secret ending.
As for what else the game does well, the graphics during the main sections of the game are pretty good, about the same as in 358/2 Days, maybe a little less detailed. The cut scenes are fully voiced and mainly feature Donald, Goofy, Jiminy Cricket, and King Mickey, but the graphics are great in those, which comes as no surprise in a Square Enix game. The music is the same stuff from the first game, essentially, but those tunes add to the whole idea of returning to the worlds of the first game to fill in the blank journal so it's not only nostalgic but appropriate. The combat also features a cool overdrive-type meter that fills up with each successful hit. Each tier of the gauge confers a buff on Sora such as a magic bracer, and upon completely filling the meter Sora performs a powerful finishing move.
The best part about this game, though is undoubtedly the Matrix systems. The stat matrix, which resembles a computer motherboard, works like a combination of Final Fantasy 10's Sphere Grid and the tile-placing system found in 358/2 Days. As you progress through the game, you collect various chips that can be placed along the ever-expanding stat matrix; these chips provide stat bonuses, level increases, and even unlock new abilities. By connecting two CPU's, the effects of the chips in between double, adding deep strategy to the placing of chips. The Combat Matrix works like the Command Deck system found in Birth By Sleep, allowing for placement of commands in the deck, leveling up of those commands, and also combining them to increase their effects. Lastly, the Gear Matrix is essentially your equipment screen, where you handle Keyblades, finishing moves, and accessories.
So, with all the problems, why does the game deserve an 8? In terms of pure enjoyment, the game satifies a Kingdom Hearts fan's fix. Newcomers to the series will be completely lost at this point, with this being the sixth unique entry in the series (not counting the Final Mixes and Re:Chain of Memories), so playing the earlier games is practically a neccessity. For fans, though, how could you pass up a new KH game? I eagerly awaited this game's release, and despite the disappointments it is still Kingdom Hearts and it is still fun. Sure, it might be the series' most unneccessary entry, but when the itch to play some new Kingdom Hearts overtakes a fan, how can you turn down Re:coded's offer to scratch it?
Great review, helped me decide to buy it r not :D