Impressions: Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded

Kingdom Hears continues to capture the imaginations of Square Enix and Disney fans everywhere. Though its lore may be a little convoluted, you certainly can’t argue with the fact that both companies know how to cater to series loyalists. The adventure continues in Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded, another handheld DS entry, this time a remake of a formerly mobile phone (and Japanese)-only installment. It’s obvious that some of the more “hardcore” elements have been stripped away, making this one of the most accessible entries for gamers who may stray away from the RPG genre. And while it isn’t exactly a giant step forward for fans clamoring for more insight on their favorite characters, it’s still an entertaining addition to any Kingdom Hearts fan’s library – even if it is occasionally riddled with issues.

Jiminy Cricket’s journal is also having some issues itself, and it’s up to Sora to exterminate the many virtual bugs that are causing the magical artifact to malfunction. The best way to do this, according to our heroes, is to create a digital image of Sora to infiltrate the journal and get to the bottom of things. What unfolds is a trip through various strange, seemingly Tron-inspired locales, amidst locations that will seem overly familiar, especially to fans who have stuck it out through each of the series’ installments.

Restoring Jiminy’s pages requires a hefty amount of backtracking through now decidedly overused worlds like Agrabah (Aladdin) and the Olympus Coliseum (Hercules), and it’s painfully obvious that this departure is chock full of recycled locations and characters as seen in prior games. Even so, Re:coded manages to be engaging, perhaps stemming mainly from the fact that each location offers a different and unique spin on gameplay. In fact, if you didn’t know the Kingdom Hearts series is actually a set of action-RPGs, you may begin to think this adventure is a hodgepodge of platforming, real-time strategy, and even shoot-’em-up segments. Half the fun lies in uncovering what the next world is going to offer.

Core Kingdom Hearts mechanics remain firmly in place – real-time, frenetic combat is still emphasized here, as well as character customization. There’s one caveat, though. Since Sora isn’t a real boy, and as a digital representation of himself, rather than traditional abilities gained via leveling, he collects microchips. These are in turn placed on his motherboard, which results in newly acquired skills and abilities for use in battle. Similarly, Sora’s trademark Keyblade (different forms according to the choices you make at the game’s beginning) may be upgraded as well. Aside from upgrading Sora’s keyblade and motherboard, you can also upgrade moves, many of which can be combined for newer, more powerful versions. It’s entertaining to see how many different combinations you can make, and a surefire way to keep the game feeling fresh amongst the samey environments. Gameplay variants known as “cheats” (how appropriate!) are also unlocked via the microchip menus, allowing you to choose rewards in battle such as more items or more munny, all in return for harder enemies or perhaps less XP.

Unfortunately, platforming issues and camera troubles plague this otherwise decent entry into the series. The camera will not focus on your objective in the distance, meaning you’re forced into centering it over and over again by way of the R-button. If you’re right in the middle of a vicious brawl, as you can imagine, this does not often bode well. It can be a crippling hindrance, especially for newcomers to the series. As far as the platforming segments go, you’ll often suffer some brutally unfair deaths, abrupt at that, as it’s tougher than it should be to judge the distance between point A and point B. Recent revival Splatterhouse suffered from a similar fate, and it’s disappointing to see an otherwise capable game marred from the same types of issues.

Though thin on tangible story that will mean anything real in the eyes of series devotees, camera woes, and decidedly jarring platforming segments, Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded is still a formidable RPG-lite that should just tide fans over until the next entry…if they’re willing to overlook its many shortcomings. Fans of the long-running series will probably enjoy being able to finally experience this previously Japanese-only mobile phone release, and while it’s good to revisit familiar faces and dilemmas, one can’t help but wonder how long Square Enix intends to do so before picking back up where they left off with Kingdom Hearts 2. Memories (and nostalgia) may be integral to the crossover series’ vibe, but they can only take you so far.

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