Can somebody please announce Kingdom Hearts 3? Between the ending of Kingdom Hearts 2, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, and Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, there’s enough evidence of a third official game to fill several books. I can’t decide if the developers are being coy or if we’re in for another Half-Life 2: Episode Three. In the meantime Square-Enix found a way to keep fans busy in the form of a DS release of Kingdom Hearts re: Coded, which originally came out for mobile phones. The game’s phone origins cause it to translate weakly onto the DS and re: Coded seems more like filler than the previous handheld Kingdom Hearts games.
Phones don’t necessarily lend themselves to the most involving stories, just as God of War: Betrayal was scaled down from God of War: Chains of Olympus, and trying to bring re: Coded back up to DS caliber is where the game immediately stumbles. The story chronicles Jiminy Cricket, whose journal has been digitized and found to be corrupted by “bugs”, the primary antagonists. Mickey creates a virtual representation of Sora, who must travel through the journal, essentially living through a slightly modified version of the original Kingdom Hearts.
As gratifying as it is for the game to return to its roots, focusing on Sora and the ensemble cast from the main series, several factors make the story of re: Coded very weak. The game is basically just a cut down retread of Sora’s journey in the first Kingdom Hearts and while the game suggests that you’ll be experiencing bizarre alternates to the Disney worlds from the series you generally wind up running through the exact same locales from previous games with incremental tweaks and lower resolution visuals. Given that the original Kingdom Hearts came out in 2002, experiencing the same set pieces, music, and Heartless is starting to feel less like exploring familiar worlds and more like rehashing old territory to save time.
The biggest problem is that re: Coded accomplishes almost nothing in terms of story development. 358/2 Days and Birth by Sleep at least fleshed out the Kingdom Hearts mythos, but aside from the aforementioned hints about the not-officially-announced Kingdom Hearts 3 it feels like we’re just killing time. The fact that Jiminy’s journal has been corrupted has no bearing on the series as a whole, and no real reason other than an excuse to run us through several worlds hacking away at enemies. It’s a long game too, clocking in at around 20 hours, despite getting very little across other than even more hints of a future installment in the series.
One of the strangest parts of re: Coded’s presentation is certain cutscenes, which are a series of still screenshots with speech bubbles and corresponding gestures and emotes as characters converse. I can see this as acceptable for a mobile phone version of Coded but after the fully-rendered and emotive cutscenes that made 358/2 Days strong this seems like a step backwards on the DS or possibly a sign that the development team’s piggy bank was running low on funds. It’s perplexing because the actual game looks and runs crisply for the DS with the usual array of bright colors, detailed models, and imaginative Heartless.
Gameplay, on the other hand, moves the series forward in fairly interesting ways. Most of the slick, familiar combat incorporates elements from previous games like the command deck from Birth by Sleep. Combat has always been a central focus in Kingdom Hearts and as always the depth of the system continues to shine due to the frequently improvements. The now standard ability menu is also back letting you add additional skills to your attack roster including melee attacks or magic. Even scaled down for the DS combat hasn’t lost any of its luster and does a great job driving the game. In a nutshell, if you’ve played prior Kingdom Hearts games until now – and you’ll need to in order to have any semblance of what’s going on – the game keeps what works about the combat.
The Stat Matrix is the only real notable new feature of re: Coded. As you gain experience and complete challenges you earn Chips, which can be used on the Matrix to unlock effects such as level ups and stat boosts. The Matrix resembles a circuit board, and circuits can be linked in a specific way to double the effects of strength bonuses or even level-ups. It’s comparable to the stat grids in later Final Fantasy games in a good way, especially when you unlock special game-modifying abilities such as lower difficulty and causing better items to drop.
In a similar vein as Nier, a much larger variety of gameplay modes have been spliced into re: Coded beyond the series’ traditional hack and slash. Olympus Coliseum becomes a series of turn-based JRPG battles, Alice in Wonderland has a series of stealth sections to avoid patrolling guards, and Aladdin even has a real time strategy sequence. Different worlds even have side scrolling segments and rail shooter areas. These actually work really well together, which is why it’s a shame they’re so thinly spread. Each gameplay segment feels reasonably fleshed out within the context of Kingdom Hearts but we see them infrequently despite a new tutorial every time we’re introduced to a new gameplay mechanic.
This is the third portable Kingdom Hearts game, (discounting the original Coded) so problems that were mildly annoying before are now extremely annoying because there haven’t been any fixes. The targeting system still has no sense of priority, often locking you onto one of several weaker Heartless instead of the big boss you’re trying to attack when it isn’t just foregoing enemies altogether and locking you onto a nearby breakable pot. The camera continues its tradition of zooming in awkwardly or swerving to the side in narrower corridors, particularly during pitched fights when you need visibility the most. If re: Coded had taken steps to fix these problems for longsuffering fans of the series it could have been a huge step in the right direction.
I guess if you’re really desperate for a Kingdom Hearts fix until Kingdom Hearts 3 is formally announced then re: Coded might be worth a rental, but in terms of what’s worth playing, even for fans you’re better off with the far superior Birth by Sleep or even just playing Kingdom Hearts 2 again. The idea to mix up gameplay modes does have a lot of potential, but I’m not sold on why re: Coded even exists. It feels more like an excuse to test the waters for possible gameplay modifications to Kingdom Hearts 3 than it does a full-on game. The next step? Announce Kingdom Hearts 3.
The game looks a little fuzzy relative to other portable Kingdom Hearts games and the still shots used for character interaction feel like a step backwards
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In addition to the faithful hack and slash, the new gameplay styles and genres are interesting ideas but applied in shallow ways
Familiar sounds of combat particle effects, battle cries and ambient music are scaled down to an average if acceptable level
The game lasts a long time with around 20 hours of gameplay and a slew of bonus content but it all feels very padded
Kingdom Hearts re: Coded is the weakest of the series mostly out of a sense of just existing to kill time until the next 'actual' installment