The DS is no stranger to the Kingdom Hearts series, having previously seen Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days back in 2009, which proved to be a rather enjoyable adventure. Now we have Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, a remake of Japan only mobile-phone title Kingdom Hearts Coded. Taking place after Kingdom Hearts 2, Jiminy finds a new, mysterious message inside his journal of their first adventure so with the help of King Mickey, Donald and Goofy, they decide to digitise the novel and discover the meaning behind this message. Unfortunately, the digitised journal is corrupted with bugs and glitches that prevent further analysis so they call upon the data version of Sora inside it to eliminate these bugs. Boasting a rather unique style of gameplay, it’s a fun entry in the series but it’s not without a few faults.
The storyline loosely follows that of the original but it isn't a simple rehash of the first Kingdom Hearts story, largely branching off into an almost completely different story due to the data corruption within the journal. That said, it's still annoying to see worlds such as Agrabah and Wonderland appear yet again, although due to the nature of the story it's slightly less irritating this time around. However, while it's certainly a rather engaging storyline and one that'll keep you interested to find out more, it only makes very marginal advancements on the overall storyline of the series. This won't please fans who have grown tired of these side-stories and simply want to see a fully fledged sequel in the form of Kingdom Hearts 3.
For the gameplay, Square-Enix has decided to take a very different direction to previous entries. The worlds here often feature special gimmicks, such as one where you can play over the same scenario to get three different potential outcomes and another where you can only battle using Donald and Goofy, making for some unusual twists to the usual KH gameplay that help keep the experience varied and fun.
However, it still retains several aspects seen in previous entries: you travel across the different worlds as Data-Sora and fend off the creatures of darkness known as the Heartless. This time around, your primary aim is to destroy all the bugs and fix the glitches between the worlds instead of defeating these Heartless.
There are several new changes here to normal battles. One example of this is the “Clock Gauge”, in which you attack enemies or break blocks to fill up your gauge by several levels and when it reaches maximum, you can unleash a special, powerful attack against the enemy by pressing A, similar to the Limit Break attacks seen in 358/2 Days, which is useful in a pinch.
The biggest change though to normal battles is the new Deck Command system, first seen in the recent PSP entry Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, with which you can scroll between the commands you wish to use by pressing L and using the X button to attack. This is a lot easier to navigate through and makes it easier to focus on battling as opposed to looking through a menu to choose a command. Commands can be levelled up through command points (CP) which are earned during battles and you can also couple two of them together to create another command. Once two coupled commands have been maxed out, they can be permanently converted into a more powerful command, such as with two Thunders making a Thundara.
There's also the Stat Matrix system, which is similar to the Panel system seen in 358/2 Days, with additional areas being unlocked whenever you complete a world. With this you can improve your abilities through chips that get integrated into the system, such as ones to increase your health or strength, and you can also activate special abilities and new command or accessory slots by reaching them along the line. There are special chips pre-installed on the board that have a more significant effect on gameplay, such as one that will increase prizes you obtain but lower your total HP. There's also one such chip on the board that allows you to change the difficulty of the game whenever you like, which can be extremely helpful whenever you are stuck on a certain area.
The glitches can also impede your progress in a number of ways outside this, such as by blocking off an area you need to access. When this occurs, it is then up to you to locate a backdoor into the “system sectors” and debug them in order to fix the glitch in that part of the world. System sectors are a new addition to this game, comprising a varying number of floors; each floor has a set objective you must reach in order to advance to the next floor and complete debugging the sector.
A lot of these system sectors also include Challenges, in which you bet either 10%, 30% or 50% of your current SP total and attempt a challenge. If you succeed in the challenge, you'll be rewarded with as many as quadruple or more SP points, which varies from sector to sector. Once you complete them, you can pick up “Sector points” which can be redeemed for munny, experience or other items once an area is completely debugged. It's fun at first and a nice new addition to the gameplay, but while the challenges help make things more interesting, it begins to feel repetitive over time.
Once you’ve gone through most of the world, you’ll eventually come across a keyhole. Keyholes will lead to bosses, who are generally the source of a world's glitches. These boss sections usually comprise of a couple of levels before reaching the boss and the gameplay takes a drastic change. For example, one boss area plays out like a 2D side-scroller while another turns the game into an on-rails shooter. It's just a shame that these sections are limited to boss areas as it's here that make Re:coded becomes much more interesting.
However, despite all of this, Re:coded is often let down by the camera. Unlike 358/2 Days, you can't rotate the camera with the L and R buttons, you have to stop and hold down R to turn or use the touchscreen, which are both rather annoying. Fortunately, camera settings can be adjusted so it lines up behind you when moving which makes it a bit easier to control, though it's still not perfect.
Graphically, the game makes a couple of improvements over 358/2 Days, a game that was already rather impressive by DS standards but these are rather marginal. The soundtrack is largely recycled from previous games again, unsurprising considering it's largely based on the original Kingdom Hearts but still rather disappointing.
Over time, fans have slowly begun to run out of patience with Square-Enix and these series side-stories while they wait for a fully fledged sequel, and Re:coded does little to remedy that. For anyone willing to overlook this, it's a highly enjoyable game with unique gameplay and an engaging storyline, and is worth a try for fans.