Okay, let’s start with what Re:coded does wrong. First of all, the story is somewhat lackluster. Basically, Mickey, Donald and Goofy are trying to figure out what happened in Jiminy’s Journal from the first game and find a mysterious message and tons of bugs in it (yes, apparently Jiminy's journals are like computers, and no, it doesn't make sense), so they use a Sora created by the journal’s data to get rid of the bugs and find out what the message means. Then a bunch of stuff happens, and…well, you get the picture. It occasionally tries to evoke emotions, but really doesn’t do that good of a job when you know that a lot of these characters aren’t even real in the context of the story. Besides that, it isn’t that important to the franchise overall. If you were only going to buy this game so you could understand the story of the next major game, well, you may as well skip it.
In addition to that, you can no longer change the camera controls so that you use the shoulder buttons to move the camera like you could in Days. You have to use the stylus to turn the camera instead. You will get used to it eventually, but at first it will feel weird. Another flaw that the game has is that Sora automatically jumps every time you reach the edge of the platform or walk up to a ledge. This can cause annoyance in areas heavy on platforming, and besides that, I honestly don’t see why it’s necessary. I know where the “B” button is, thank you!
Once you get past those flaws, however, there is a lot of fun to be had here. First of all, the game uses the same combat system from Birth by Sleep, complete with Command Decks and finishers. However, combat is even faster in this game, and just as before, it’s a whole lot of fun. The game also uses a similar upgrade system, but with a few new additions. In addition to the moves gaining experience points, your Keyblades upgrade the more you use them. As your Keyblades upgrade, so do your Clock Abilities, which are effects that are activated as you fill a small gauge above Sora’s life bar. When the gauge is full, you can use Sora’s finishing move. Each Keyblade has a different speed, a different amount of strength, different combos, and different clock abilities.
Another cool new element added to the upgrade system is the Stat Matrix. The Stat Matrix is very similar to the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X and the Crystarium from Final Fantasy XIII. Throughout the game you will earn “Chips”. You can install these “Chips” onto blank spaces in the stat matrix to improve your stats. You can make these Chips form trails to mechanisms on the stat matrix that will give you new moves, activate cheats, unlock more accessory or command slots, or even power up the Chips you already have installed.
Above all that Re:coded does right, however, is the amount of variety in the game. Most of the game will be spent experiencing the simple joy of whacking away at Heartless with the Keyblade, although the game has far more to offer than that. Each world gives you something new to do. Wonderland features Sora searching for “Inklings”, the stolen memories of the world’s residents. Olympus Coliseum takes place in its entirety as a turn-based RPG. In Hollow Bastion, you must use your buddies, Donald and Goofy, to defeat enemies and perform other tasks for you.
Also, at some point in each world you are going to encounter a glitch. No, not the annoying kind that causes you to fall through an otherwise solid floor. These “glitches” are not flaws with the game. (You will understand when/if you play the game) When you find a glitch, you must find a hidden backdoor into a matrix-type place, where you must defeat all of the enemies that are causing the glitch. Before tackling each floor of these areas, you must wager a certain amount of points (which can be traded for EXP, Munny and Chips after you are finished with the area) to take on a challenge, such as taking damage no more than a certain amount of times or not letting an attack miss a certain amount of times. These challenges add more depth to these matrix areas.
Alongside all of this, there are some places where the gameplay changes completely. As stated before, Olympus Coliseum is played as a turn-based RPG. Attacking enemies involves a Paper Mario-style action command, in which hitting the “A” button at the right time allows you to deliver an extra blow. In addition, instead of using the commands in your Command Deck normally, you can combine them to perform devastating attacks. There are also areas that take place as a fairly simplistic 2-D platformer or rail shooter. In these sections, the Command Decks are done away with completely and are instead replaced with diamonds that store elemental abilities, which you can pick up to use with the “X” button. These alternate gameplay sections aren’t very deep, but they are fun nonetheless.
So What’s Good?
- Amazing graphics, some of the best on DS
- Very fun and satisfying combat
- Stat Matrix is a nice addition
- Lots of variety
…But What’s Bad?
- Story is uninteresting
- Camera controls take some getting used to
- Sora’s tendency to jump automatically at certain spots can cause annoyances
Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded is easily the best side game in the series. Lasting around 15 hours, the game isn’t exactly lengthy, but it should keep you occupied for a long enough time. Granted, all of the worlds are from the original Kingdom Hearts, and nothing in it is probably going to absolutely amaze anybody. However, if you need to scratch that Kingdom Hearts itch and can’t wait for 3D, (and Kingdom Hearts III, whenever that’s coming out) KH: Re:coded may be for you.