Kingdom Hearts Debugged
Since first appearing in 2002, Kingdom Hearts has become a mainstay of the RPG genre. What was once seen as a nonsensical mash-up between Square Enix supermodel melodrama and Disney cute is now a hit franchise that could, theoretically, go on forever. Proof of that is the latest installment in the series, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, a DS-exclusive “RPG lite” aimed at the casual gamer.
The game starts in Disney Castle where King Mickey and friends are trying to discover the author of a mysterious message left in Jiminy Cricket’s journal, which was left over from the first Kingdom Hearts. While analyzing the journal’s data, they realize it’s been corrupted and is being slowly destroyed by bugs. Desperate to save the data, they awaken a digital version of Sora (the hero of the majority of the Kingdom Hearts games), who immediately begins his quest to debug the journal. Within the digital datascape, you set out as Sora, keyblade in hand, to once again save the universe of Kingdom Hearts.
If you’ve played any of the Kingdom Hearts games, the formula will be familiar. You run around adventuring, fighting, and talking to various Disney characters, but this time you also spend considerable effort destroying bugs that show up in each world as different colored blocks (or “blox” as they’re called). Within each location, your task is twofold – to eliminate the bugs and to confront and defeat the source of them. In addition to this new bug-stomping agenda, Re:coded has a slew of new gameplay elements on offer, and the first of these is finding and debugging system sectors.
Within these surreal, Tron-like rooms, your focus is to defeat every bug and collect sector points which can then be redeemed for combat commands, munny, and XP. These sequences also function as a teaching tool, introducing you to the different types of bugs you’ll encounter later in the game. Most importantly, once you complete these sectors, you restore bits of the larger digital world and recover pieces of the journal’s original data.
The second new gameplay element in Re:coded is the new RPG system. Represented as a cute, colorful computer matrix, it allows you to customize and level your character as well as unlock new combat commands and cheats by installing various chips. Of course, this is mostly window dressing since commands are still assigned, combined, and accessed much as they are in previous games. It’s fun though, especially the cheats, which allow you to choose between things like more loot in exchange for less XP or better prizes in exchange for tougher enemies. Third and last of the new aspects of Re:coded is the inclusion of classic game modes not seen in the series thus far.
At a few points in the game, you’re transported to a 2D side-scrolling world where most of your powers are taken away and you have to focus on basic attacks as well as jumping to avoid environmental hazards. At others, you’ll be tossed into a gauntlet-style shooting game where wave after wave of enemies and blox are thrown in your way. Finally, you and your AI allies will engage in a type of turn-based Coliseum combat you’ve never seen before that uses new kinds of group buffs called “licenses.” These new modes add a lot of life to the game, kick up the pacing, and keep things perpetually fresh.
While these elements build the game up, there are a few obvious flaws that bring the game down. For a start, the story is weak. While referencing events in other Kingdom Hearts games, it’s still comparatively thin and in the end, not as well-crafted and satisfying as it should be. Combat too fails to reach its potential due to an irritating, clunky camera that – more often than not -undermines what you’re trying to do. Even with chase camera on, you have to continually hit the R button to recenter the camera behind you, which is a pain in the neck both during boss fights and when platforming. Last at issue is the game’s length. While bandied about as an “RPG lite,” the only thing the game’s really light on is content. Clocking in at about a third of the length of other Kingdom Hearts titles, it falls short by a significant margin.
That said, Re:coded has a lot of good to offer. Setting the action within a virtual world opens up both narrative and gameplay possibilities, including the new system sector challenge modes. The new graphical take on the RPG system is also adequately diverting and replayability is good since you can revisit just about any completed world to fight new enemies and find new loot. It’s fun to see old friends and to revisit old locations like Wonderland, Traverse Town, and Hollow Bastion, and the new game modes create fun, unexpected twists within the narrative that prevent things from ever getting monotonous. In addition to entertaining gameplay, the game’s visuals and sound—barring some limited animations—are surprisingly in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from the Kingdom Hearts games. The cutscenes in particular are polished enough and occur often enough to provide a seamless flow between Re:coded and the rest of the titles in the franchise. The game as a whole is so well done that aside from a shorter playing time, you won’t notice much difference between the DS Kingdom Hearts experience and that on other consoles.
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is a respectable chapter in the Kingdom Hearts saga. While not as long as other titles in the series and suffering from a so-so story and less than perfect camera, fans of the franchise are sure to enjoy its virtual approach to familiar faces, gameplay, and locations. It mercilessly teases us with hints about where the story’s going in the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3D, thus preparing us for a painful wait until that game’s release. Even so, its inventive take on the Kingdom Hearts universe, fun, graphic spin on the existing RPG system, and variety of fresh new game modes make it a satisfying standalone title that both fans and newbies will enjoy.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Within the limitations of the DS, the game does a solid job of adhering to the Kingdom Hearts standards as seen on other consoles. 3.0 Control
Though generally simple and sensible, the controls are ultimately undermined by a finicky camera. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
For the most part, sound is as good as in previous titles with all the theme music, effects, and voice acting we’ve come to expect. 4.0 Play Value
Once again, Kingdom Hearts offers a slew of interesting changes to its gameplay system, providing a solid entertainment value. That said, it contains roughly a third of the content of previous titles. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best