Kingdom Hearts Re:coded Review

I can't tell you why exactly, but I'm still a Kingdom Hearts fan. Playing through the original PS2 game is still one of my fondest gaming memories, and I've put the action RPG right up near the top of my favorite games of all time list (Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!! still holds the number one spot). The game had, for lack of a better word, a magic about it; the Final Fantasy/Disney crossover was a delight, especially with me being a big fan of both properties previous to that first groundbreaking game. The action was fast, the story was good… Maybe its just nostalgia, but I can't remember a single thing about Kingdom Hearts I didn't love. The sad thing is that after that amazing first title, the series has continued to disappoint with each and every subsequent release. Chain of Memories, Re: Chain of Memories, 382/2 Days and Birth By Sleep were all OK at best spin-offs from the main tale, but none managed to even come close to capturing what made the first game so great. Even the full fledged PS2 sequel, Kingdom Hearts II, ended up being weak, with none of the treasure hunting, challenge or RPG elements that worked so well in the first. And don't even get me started on Organization XIII, a shadowy group that seems to have originated in 1991, when putting an "X" in anything automatically made it cool. This group of weirdoes, along with a host of other missteps, made the continuing Kingdom Hearts story almost as incomprehensible as one found in the Metal Gear series. Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded, the latest Nintendo DS title and a remake of a Japanese cell phone game, is the latest spin-off, taking place directly following the events of Kingdom Hearts II. Does this one manage to break the mediocre mold left in place by nearly every Kingdom Hearts game to date?

As I said, Re: Coded takes place after the events of Kingdom Hearts II, though with a plot this bland and recycled, it doesn't really matter where in the series' timeline it falls. The setup is that some pages of Jiminy Cricket's journal have mysteriously gone blank, with only a cryptic message left in their place. To fix the journal, a digital version of the series' hero, Sora, is created and sent into the pages to repair them. This gives way to all kinds of computer jargon, with Sora fixing "bugs," "code" and the like. Really, the plot is just a clever way to make fans play through the exact same scenarios they have time and time again in Kingdom Hearts, Chain of Memories, Re: Chain of Memories and, to a lesser degree, Kingdom Hearts II. Also, can anyone explain why Jiminy Cricket's handwritten journal becomes a computer program all of the sudden? It must run on the new Windows: College Ruled OS. Anyway, the story was good back in the original Kingdom Hearts, with the various Disney worlds' stories playing out with Sora and friends sharing starring roles. Now it is a tired, worn-out mishmash of tales that have been beaten half to death, and running through all this stuff once again makes me wonder why I'm not just replaying the original PS2 classic.

Re: Coded does manage to succeed on the presentation side of things. The worlds from the PS2 game are recreated on the less-powerful DS in all their original glory, albeit with slightly rougher edges. Sora, the Disney characters and enemies are also surprisingly attractive, and you won't see too many framerate drops, even with multiple enemies, attack animations and plenty happening on-screen. The last DS title, 382/2 Days, had some rather major framerate issues during the bigger boss battles, but Re: Coded fixes all that. There are also a number of FMVs scattered throughout the game, and they all look and sound pretty good. The one drawback in this area is that most of the dialogue in the game is handled with the static portrait and speech bubble system, and it far past due for letting that antiquated gaming relic go into that good night. Overall, though, the game is pleasing to both the eyes and ears.

Another success is Re: Coded's gameplay, more specifically how varied it is. You'll still be mashing buttons to swing the keyblade and string together combos, but things are kept interesting by switching up gameplay styles between worlds. This isn't immediately apparent, as the first two stages, Destiny Islands and Traverse Town, are based on core Kingdom Hearts action, but when you get your first taste of the changes, you'll be hooked. Re: Coded tries, and mostly succeeds, to smash in as many different gameplay styles as possible, and the bases are covered well. There is 2D platforming, turn-based RPG-style encounters, a fetch quest adventure, some Space Harrier/World Runner shooting, a stealth segment and even some real-time strategy. This variety stands in stark contrast to the story; while you're snoring through the speech bubble dialogue and recycled encounters, you'll be equally entertained by seeing just what the game will throw at you next.