Kingdom Hearts Re:coded (DS) Review
I actually enjoy being sceptical about a game because when I get proven wrong it’s usually something good to be proven wrong about. After a good but flawed Kingdom Hearts game on the Nintendo DS, and a vastly superior product on the PSP, I thought that Square had perhaps put more effort and attention into the series on Sony consoles, from the which the series originated from. With the announcement of Re:coded, my scepticism only grew – a mobile phone game being ported to the DS? It seemed like Square weren’t even trying anymore. Thankfully, having sampled the full experience of Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, I can now safely say that it is not only better than the original mobile phone version but one of the best action RPGs on the Nintendo DS.
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is a semi-remake of Kingdom Hearts: coded, an episodic game released exclusively for mobile phones in Japan. Re:coded is an enhanced remake of the original coded game, although almost everything has been redone from the ground up to be drastically different from the game it’s based on. Graphics have been completely redone in full, smooth 3D and more content has been added to coincide with the up and coming Kingdom Hearts 3D. Overall the package is much more complete than its mobile counterpart and you’d have a hard time even remembering that this game was once on a mobile phone. This is more than just your typical port.
Re:coded is a bit of an interesting game from a storyline perspective. The game takes place after the events of Kingdom Hearts II, however it is largely comprised of areas from the original game as well as re-treads of familiar yet slightly tweaked scenarios throughout the whole game. This is a great endeavour; it means that essentially players will have the best bits of the original game plus more on a portable console. There’s a good reason for this re-tread, though. The game sees Jiminy Cricket finding an abnormality in the journal he kept about Sora’s (the protagonist of the main Kingdom Hearts games) travels, and to investigate this abnormality King Mickey digitises the journal and investigates. In his investigation, Mickey awakens a digital version of Sora, who discovers that all the areas from the original game have been corrupted in their digital transition and must “debug” them to bring them back to their former glory.
The story is a little bit flaky in areas but it provides a decent reason for the characters to all revisit the worlds and to shake things up a little bit. The story uses a mix of static scenes with character portraits and actual FMVs to tell the story, with all the FMVs being created specifically for this game. As you would expect with any Square Enix title, the production values on these scenes are equal with the presentation of the console based games. Thankfully, too, the cutscenes themselves are not too intrusive and you won’t have any boring overlong ice cream eating sequences like in the last Kingdom Hearts game on DS, 358/2 Days.
The game’s graphical presentation itself is still quite astounding for a Nintendo DS game. The graphics are almost on par with the PS2 version, and it’s much easier to recognise the environments from the PS2 version thanks to the greater graphical capabilities of this remake. Character models animate beautifully and fluidly at a constant 60fps and all your favourite Disney characters are brought to life in their respective worlds, which look a little barren (possibly to save system resources) but still do the job quite well. The only real disappointment here comes in the form of the static portraits, which cycle through expressions as on-text conversations are played out – it’s a nice style but it would’ve been nicer to see some proper cutscenes in its place. All in all, though, the game is presented quite well and may be one of the best look 3D games on the DS yet.
Generally speaking, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded plays quite similarly to previous games in the series. Sora must track down something “sacred” in order to defeat the enemies. The battle system itself has been slightly revamped to be more in line with the recently released PSP title, Birth By Sleep, and some new surprises have been thrown in here and there. The general controls are fine, one button to attack, another for abilities/magic and the shoulder buttons to lock on to enemies and scroll through abilities to use. The biggest problem with the controls we found were that the camera is manually controlled with the touch screen. This can be a bit problematic during some more intense sequences, and despite turning on the “Chase Cam” feature in options, which alleviated the problem slightly, it was still a pretty noticeable issue.
The battle system is constructed to be fast paced and despite being an RPG there is never a dull moment. Abilities can be scrolled through with the left trigger and when used induce a small cooldown charge before they can be used again. Chaining together attacks (both magic and physical) yields new abilities at each “level”. These new abilities can be as simple as the classic “Shell” or “Protect” spells that automatically activate, or increasing defense or strength. These abilities appear on the bottom screen as a kind of flow chart, and in the midst of battle players can select which path they want to take to choose the abilities that best suit their situation. At the end of the flow chart is a super “Overclock” move that is usually quite powerful and a life saver in some situations. This system is very versatile and gives a lot of opportunities for players to decide how to play their game, which is a great touch and adds an extra level of depth to a game that would otherwise be quite dull.
The game employs a lot more digital themes than in previous Kingdom Hearts games, which allows the developers to toy around with the scenarios presented quite a bit. For example, every single level is meant to be a digital representation of Sora’s memory; however each one is corrupted by “bugs” which manifest as rather ominous looking red and black cubes. To clear each world, Sora must “debug” all bugs from the area and destroy the main abnormality causing them. These usually take the form of a boss that Sora has previously defeated too.
Throughout Sora’s journey he will encounter bugs and glitches that aren’t meant to be there – these can be as simple as a locked door that shouldn’t be locked or more elaborate like a level that’s been sped up to the point where it’s impossible to traverse. In order to destroy these bugs, players must find “backdoors” into the system by moving around the player and following a beep. Upon finding the backdoor, Sora must defeat the bugs causing the glitch in an abstract surrealistic environment. This is the place where most of Sora’s levelling will be done and points are earned which can be exchanged for chips.
For the most part, Re: coded is an action RPG but certain areas of the game, having been corrupted, allow players to experience the game through differing genres. Throughout the game we managed to sample a side scrolling level, a shooter level similar to Sin & Punishment or Space Harrier, as well as a whole world where the battles are entirely turn-based, similar to the classic Final Fantasy games. These genre bending inclusions are quite welcome and help make gameplay a little more approachable. Each world has a different objective or general style too, so there’s quite a bit of variety and it hardly ever gets boring.
The game’s levelling system borrows from the previous title, utilising a kind of “board” which is meant to represent a motherboard. Placing a chip on the board gives Sora the chip’s properties from then on. Linking certain larger tiles together (called CPUs in game) doubles the effect of the chips placed between them (rather cleverly known as dual processing). It’s a very robust and versatile system that encourages experimentation, which is great. Additionally, ability chips can be equipped in ability slots, with up to two chips being assigned to each slot. Combining chips gives the player new abilities to use, with the ability to merge two chips into one permanent chip later on. I found this system to be a bit hit and miss but it still worked pretty well overall. If I had to compare the levelling system to something else, I’d say it’s similar to 358/2 Days’ chip system crossed with Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid.
Generally speaking, the game will last you between 12-14 hours, though this number may vary greatly if you choose to revisit worlds. Revisiting worlds allows players to earn new abilities, meet new characters and explore new areas not available during the first visit. I did this regularly in the early part of the game but towards the end I lost interest, and this may be the same fate for others who play. Additionally, there is a trophy system and collecting these trophies unlocks a secret ending that will no doubt run into Kingdom Hearts 3D when that launches. Generally speaking, though, you’ll get no more than 25 hours out of this if you do absolutely everything. There is also a strange avatar system in which players can unlock bits and pieces to dress up an avatar and then “tag” with other players. We couldn’t try this system in real time but it looks like nothing majorly special.
The game’s soundtrack is stellar, incorporating all the tunes you’re used to from the original game’s worlds. The music is fun, frantic and generally uplifting especially in the more comic sections of the game. Voicework is also pretty well done, with all the original voice actors returning to voice their respective characters, although the static text based cutscenes are obviously put in to reduce the need to get the more expensive celebrity voices to return, so don’t expect them. Still, most of your Disney favourites are represented here quite well.
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is probably my favourite Kingdom Hearts game behind the original two games, although it’s getting a bit boring to re-tread the same environments and meet the same characters. Disney have a stellar back catalogue to work with and it’s a bit weird to see the same ones reused over and over. Hopefully a more original experience will come in Kingdom Hearts 3D. Still, Re:coded is a must own for anyone with a DS and a love for RPGs, Disney or both.
Some of the best available on the DS. Smooth, nicely animated and recreated very faithfully from the PS2 version. FMV cutscenes are very nice to look at too.
A revamped battle system makes Re:coded feel like a very fast paced action RPG. Levelling and ability systems are nice adaptations from previous titles, and feel almost refined to perfection. Annoying camera controls really bring Re:coded down from being perfect, though.
A great use of classic tracks from Kingdom Hearts I and II, however its a bit disappointing to see most voice actors who have celebrity status not returning to voice their main characters. The voicework for Disney character that are there though are great.
Theres quite a bit to do once youve completed the 12-15 hour campaign, including a lot of optional quests that bump the games length up to 20. That being said, the extra content is not going to be for everyone, and a lack of multiplayer is disappointing but missed but not entirely noticeable, although something does feel missing in the overall package.
Going in quite sceptical and coming out very surprised, its amazing to see what is essentially a game of similar calibre to a PS2 game pushed into a DS cartridge and made portable properly. Re:coded is the most fun Ive had with a Kingdom Hearts game and my DS in a while.