At its core, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is a remake of the 2008 episodic mobile game "Kingdom Hearts coded," albeit rebuilt from the ground up for the Nintendo DS. While both games cover the same narrative threads, Re:coded benefits from new additions indicative of the DS hardware: better graphics, dual-screen content, and a significantly retouched combat system.
If you haven't been following the Kingdom Hearts saga, Re:coded isn't the best place to start. Don't get me wrong - it's a solid entry in a great franchise that successfully mixes the talents of Square Enix with the star power of several iconic Disney characters, but I'm not going to pretend the story makes any sense. It just doesn't. To be fair, the entire Kingdom Hearts plot train fell off the rails and over a bridge about halfway through Kingdom Hearts II.
Taking place shortly after Kingdom Hearts II, Re:coded begins when mysterious messages and pleas for help start appearing in Jiminy Cricket's journal. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy digitise the journal to analyse the corrupted pages, creating a "Data Sora" to debug the entries within the book's contents. What follows is a strange and baffling adventure that involves the Darkness in the "Data World" interfering with the real world, with the final events having no clear influence on anything occurring in the series' arc.
Of course, Re:coded is a spin-off, so it's not supposed to have much sway on the events in the "core" Kingdom Hearts titles, but at this point it feels like series creator Tetsuya Nomura is making this stuff up as he goes along. From beginning to end, every sequence of events in Re:coded is one poorly explained plot twist after another. At least previous series spin-off 358/2 Days tied up some dangling plot threads, fleshing out events in the time-skip between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. No such thing is done in Re:coded, due in large part to storytelling that somehow feels both rushed and strangely light on details.
While the convoluted narrative leaves much to be desired, the action is nonetheless at its best in Re:coded. The combat mechanics feature elements borrowed from the far superior Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, and advanced players can make things legitimately challenging thanks to the various tweaks the game allows you to make.
Data Sora's stats, items, and abilities are all managed via the "Matrix System," which also allows players to tweak in-game factors like enemy strength, drop rates of loot, experience rates, and so on. In addition, skills can be collected, leveled up, and merged to create all-new abilities, which helps stave off boredom after mowing down hundreds of old Heartless enemies.
It's almost diabolical how addictive the "Stat Matrix" and "Command Matrix" can become later in the game. Of the two, the former is represented as a large circuit board, where installing certain chips yields a calculated boost in Data Sora's abilities. For example, you can install "Level Up" chips anywhere in the Stat Matrix, but if you can line them up between two adjacent "CPU" chips, the computing power will double your level gain. Careful character management like this makes a huge difference in the long run - once I knew what I was doing, the game opened up dramatically.
Although Re:coded is essentially a retread of various Kingdom Hearts worlds you've seen multiple times already, it at least tries new gameplay styles. One of these levels includes turn-based combat, while another tries its best to mimic Space Harrier. However, most worlds are viewed from the same third-person perspective from the original Kingdom Hearts, complete with the usual drunken camera angles and stiff, imprecise platforming. For the most part, it's nothing that we haven't seen before, and for anyone who's faithfully played all the other games in the series, it will feel a little tired.
Overall, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is a polished game, and should be interesting for series fans who have managed to keep the story straight so far. If you tackle the handful of side-quests and extra missions, you'll be playing for 15 hours or more - just don't expect much clarity out of the narrative.
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