Publisher: Square Enix
Re:coded is an curious entry to the Kingdom Hearts collection. Coming across as a sort-of sequel to Kingdom Hearts 2, built from the ground up as a kind of remake of the episodic titles that only released on mobile phones in Japan, it's a mish-mash of game styles, storylines, characters and worlds from previous titles in the series. I'm not going to lie to you, it's a bit of a mess.
Things get suspicious when cries for assistance begin appearing in Jiminy Cricket's journal. Someone or something is pleading for help, reaching out from the pages that chronicled previous events in distress. To combat this, Mickey, Donald and Goofy digitise the journal and send in a virtual version of series protagonist Sora to go sort things out.
This provides an excuse for going back to a load of familiar locations - Wonderland, Traverse Town, Agrabah - though you'll find them all littered with blocks (or blox) - glitches and bugs that must be remedied. Cue some Keyblade action...which pretty much involves mashing the A button. It's worth noting that there are deeper tactical options that go beyond tapping X every once in a while to evade attacks - Birth By Sleep's command deck returns to let players micro-manage attacks - but by and large you'll be hitting that A button and watching Sora flurry about like a Tasmanian devil.
The real variety comes via Data Sora's Matrix System. From here you can tweak a veritable plethora of in game options from loot drops to progression rates to enemy strengths. It requires a little bit of tinkering, but if you're willing to play Setup Hero for a minute or two, it's possible to squeeze some real challenge from Re:coded that elevates it from the realms of banal snoozefests. Throw in a cracking progression system that allows you to collect, cultivate and combine new skills and you'll find a fairly surprising amount of depth here.
It's addictive too, making the Stat Matrix work for you will delight RPG fans who love a little bit of customisation. You charge up through the levels by isntalling certain chips into a circuit board, but if you've arranged the rest of the ability chips to allow you to place a Level Up chip in between two CPUs, it'll double the level gain. Sound complex? It's a little more involved than a simple stat raise, and all the better for it.
As with any Kingdom Hearts title, the games plays out like a schizophrenic overload of different game types. You'd think that variety, being the spice of life, would make for a rather nicely engaging game. But you'd be wrong. There's too much fighting, the endless waves of Heartless rapidly proving to be far more of a nuisance than anything else. It's so crushingly repetitive in that respect that what should be fun becomes an absolute chore.
Oh, and then there's the camera.
We're no strangers to games with wayward cameras, indeed the Resident Evil series made an early career move out of perennially irritating us with its awkward angles and visual persecution. But in Re:coded it's as if Sora is a gorgon and the camera is trying its very best not to get turned to stone by looking at him. The controls are such that moving the camera with D-pad or stylus results ins Sora getting smacked around if he's got anyone with a grudge against him nearby.
Re:coded doesn't bring anything new to the table, there' nothing here that you won't have seen before if you're a Kingdom Hearts fan, and actually it might just depress you slightly. Don't expect narrative fireworks from this one. You'll be left scratching your head and pretty unsatisfied and I'll say this now: this is a poor place to start for the series newbie too. Although more straightforward than the other games to bear the same name, there precious little of the charm. Aside from the broken camera and unfocused story there's nothing technically wrong per se with Re:coded, it's just nothing special at all.
- Good looking game for the DS
- The Matrix systems are fantastic
- Some gameplay elements really fun...
- ...but often marred by boring combat
- Diversity not always a good thing
- Criminally bad camera
The Short Version: Kingdom Hearts Re:coded isn't a bad game, in fact it's one of the best looking DS titles around at the moment and its character progression system is fun to fiddle with. But it offers nothing new for the fan and proves an unfocused mess for the newcomer. There's some enjoyment to be had here, but you'd do better busting through Birth By Sleep instead if you haven't done so already.