First Shot: Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
After loving last year’s canonical Kingdom Hearts prequel, Birth By Sleep, on the PSP I’d recently tried my hand at 358/2 Days on the DS. Unfortunately, I barely had the drive to push through the highly repetitive and limiting gameplay of the Roxas-centric Kingdom Hearts II side story. I didn’t finish the game because of my dislike of the gameplay (though I’m told the story’s quite good), so I was hesitant to play another side story on the DS.
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is a remake of a Japanese cell phone game (named “Kingdom Hearts: Coded”, no “re”), which takes the Finish moves from Birth By Sleep (which I liked) and the panel system from 358/2 Days (which I hated) and swirls the gameplay into a delightful cinnabun that more closely resembles Kingdom Hearts II with a Final Fantasy-esque stat upgrade grid. The results are quick action and easy-but-deep leveling that works well on the go.
While 358/2 Days had a good story and weak gameplay, Re:coded is fun to play but after four hours and three worlds I’m still not sold on the set up. After the events of Kingdom Hearts II Jiminy Crickit, who had recorded his adventures with Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy in his journal, discovers a line he didn't write and all other pages blank. King Mickey (Mouse) decides to examine the journal's data in a computer to recover the pages but finds that it's corrupted, so they recreate a virtual Sora to investigate from the inside. But though they're supposed to replay exactly what Jiminy had originally recorded (think Assassin’s Creed's DNA sequences), they notice changes in the data that misrepresent the previous games’ events, so the digital Sora is told to investigate that, too. This allows the events from Kingdom Hearts I and II to be re-explored with major changes, as Sora is tasked with fixing the digital bugs that are causing these changes. Sora ends up not only fighting the Heartless but debugging each world as well and tailing a hooded figure, and remains one dimensional all the while.
The story’s set up is overly tech-oriented for what the Kingdom Heart series has established itself as, especially obvious by the stat board: an upgrade grid in which you install computer chips into a motherboard to powerup Sora and unlock various abilities.
Despite the questionable premise, the production values are great. Animated cut scenes, while clearly a low frame rate, are fully voice acted and occur after completing each world. The graphics are a bit of an improvement from 358/2 Days and the camera feels easier to control -- especially with auto-jump turned on, however important dialogue is done between what look like side-by-side cardboard cutouts occasionally changing expression.
I’m engaged most by the varying gameplay, which ranges from the series’ standard third person action to 2D side-scrolling platforming to sneaking through a hedge maze, with each world asking Sora to help with different glitch-related activities. Though I’ve had a fair amount of time with the game it remains to be seen whether the story will become canon or Re:coded will simply be fun side story with a virtual plot. Keep an eye out for my full review for the answer.