Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
A confusing number of Kingdom Hearts games have released over the last few years, and by jumping all around the timeline, series mastermind Tetsuya Nomura hasn’t made it easy to keep track of the events. Re:coded is the first title to pick up after the end of Kingdom Hearts II and puts you in control of franchise hero Sora – well, a digital replica of him at least. The game originally released episodically on mobile phones in Japan, but Square tweaked and beefed up the title for its DS release.
Re:coded takes its cues from Tron, as Disney’s Mickey, Donald, and Goofy get sucked into a computer copy of overused worlds like Aladdin’s Agrabah and Alice’s Wonderland. They originally summoned Data Sora to deal with the bugs in the system to help decode a mysterious message, but eventually get trapped inside and need his help to escape. Aside from the rehashed areas, Sora ventures into new areas called system sectors, techno neon code rooms, to quash bugs plaguing the worlds. These futuristic dungeons are essentially the only new areas in the game, but it’s not long before layouts repeat and become as stale as the rest.
The devs thankfully spruced up these maps with new gameplay modes taken from other genres. For example, rather than serving as a battle arena, Olympus Coliseum is a refreshing turn-based RPG in the vein of the Mario & Luigi series. Other variants include a side-scrolling platformer, a Space Harrier-style shooter, and a battlefield command stage where Sora has to boss AI allies around rather than attack himself. The RPG segment is easily the best, teasing what a less action-focused Kingdom Hearts experience could be. The platformer plays like the auto-scrolling running games that are all the rage on smart phones. The only problem is that it relies on the standard movement set of the main game, which is way too imprecise to meet the needs of the genre.
Though Re:coded suffers from heavily recycled levels and enemies, at least Square Enix innovated on the character growth. The new leveling system replicates a computer motherboard where players place microchips to boost stats and unlock new abilities. It’s annoying that you don’t know what some abilities will do until you unlock them, but they all are useful in the end. I especially liked the “cheat” switches that allow you to tweak various elements of the game for a price. You can trade off your health for more loot, or increase enemy strength for more prizes. It’s unwise to slide things too far out of the ordinary, but it’s nice to have the option if you’re shooting for something specific like more money or faster leveling.
Re:coded allows players to revisit previously completed worlds for additional fetch quests and more system sectors, but only completionists should bother. Near the end of the game you’re going to have to run through all of these maps again anyway in a lazy move by Square to pad out the quest.
Despite the new gameplay types, Re:coded’s mostly recycled content feels too stale to recommend to anyone outside of the most diehard fans.