Sora is back in this port of Square Enix's 2008 mobile phone game. While there's plenty of Disney and Final Fantasy fan service, the fact that it's little more than a rehash of Kingdom Hearts with an inconsequential story that might drive away even ardent fans.
- Plenty of Disney and Final Fantasy
- Varied gameplay challenges are a welcome break from the hack-and-slash grind
- The return of the "command deck" system from Birth By Sleep is very welcome
- Highly inconsequential story
- Find the backdoors into system challenges can degrade into pixel hunts
- Basically a rehash of the original Kingdom Hearts
Kingdom Hearts: Re:Coded Review:
Kingdom Hearts fans can be forgiven for getting a little tired of spinoffs. After all, there hasn't been a true numbered sequel since 2006. Square Enix has kept their cards close to the vest with this franchise, probably because it's one of the few surefire megahits they have left in this post-Final Fantasy XIII world.
The latest spinoff, Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded is a port of a mobile phone series that was released only in Japan (and yes, it shows); however, despite being something of a quick and dirty money grab, it's truer to its roots than Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, and even manages a few flashes of ingenuity along the way.
Return to the Beginning
It's appropriate that KH Re:Coded opens with a string of highlights from the first two console games, because that's basically what it is: a highlight reel. Specifically, a highlight reel of the very first game.
The locales should be familiar to Kingdom Hearts fans, as they were almost all present in the original game and in order no less. The difference is that the story is presented as a kind of simulation in which a digital Sora is tasked with unraveling the mystery surrounding a number of messages that appear in Jiminy Cricket's diary. It's a cute excuse to revisit previous assets, but it's still very much an excuse: after exploring Wonderland for the umpteenth time, Kingdom Hearts fans will undoubtedly be wishing even harder for a true sequel.
Moreover, while the story ties into the PSP's Birth by Sleep, the conclusion really isn't that consequential in the grand scheme of things, as it really only covers a minor plot point from the mythos. And somehow, it just doesn't feel very Kingdom Hearts-like to be running through digital representations of the various magical kingdoms and destroying computer glitches (represented by the Heartless and lots of glowing red boxes). It's certainly not on the order of the Legion of Doom-style conspiracy of Disney villains from the original game.
In short, the story and the premise makes Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded makes it feel like the minor mobile phone game it really is.
Follow the White Rabbit
Being the port of an episodic mobile phone game does have its benefits though. Take some of the gameplay challenges, for instance, which at least have the benefit of being extremely varied.
Each world typically has its own set of unique challenges, which is a welcome break from the typical hack-and-slash action for which the series has become known. As an example, the final section of Traverse Town features a 2D platforming section that is actually pretty fun. True, it's very much in the mold of a simple cellphone game, but the jumping and combat mechanics are solid enough that it secretly makes me wonder if Kingdom Hearts should have been a 2D platformer all along (I kid, I kid).
Also appearing are "system challenges," which periodically pop up throughout each world. In these areas, the world reverts to something faintly resembling Tron (no surprise, given that Tron is one of Tetsuya Nomura's favorite films), and a certain number of glowing enemies must be defeated to continue. The inclusion of individual side challenges -- kill twenty foes, beat it in 200 seconds, and so on -- are a nice touch, but I often felt irritated when the system challenges appeared. Apart from the fact that it's sometimes very difficult to find the well-hidden "backdoors" into the system, they represent one element that does not mesh especially well with the world of Kingdom Hearts.
I ask Kingdom Hearts fans why they enjoy playing this series: is it for the simplistic combat? No, the reason this series has become a crossover hit is because it does a good job of staying true to the Disney license while introducing elements of Final Fantasy. The system challenges completely remove that element from the equation, and combined with the pixel-hunting aspect of finding the "backdoors," they're probably the weakest part of Re:Coded.
Message in a Bottle
Nevertheless, given the choice, I would still rather play Re:Coded than the most recent DS iteration: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.
My problem with 358/2 Days was that the Disney characters too often on the periphery, and that the Final Fantasy characters were absent entirely. That's not a problem in Re:Coded, which features regular appearances by characters like Cloud and Hades, and just generally feels more like a true Kingdom Hearts adventure. More importantly, it doesn't have the intensely boring collect-a-thon missions found in 358/2 Days, which often brought the pace of that game to a grinding halt.
I should stress that Kingdom Hearts fans looking for a decent story will be very disappointed, as Re:Coded is really little more than a "greatest hits" highlight of the original game, with the Castle Oblivion thrown in for good measure. It's a relatively minor entry that can probably be safely ignored by all but the most diehard Kingdom Hearts fans.
At the end of the day though, it has two of the ingredients most critical to a successful Kingdom Hearts game: plenty of Disney and plenty of Final Fantasy, with a few interesting challenges along the way. It's obviously no Kingdom Hearts III -- it's not even a Birth by Sleep -- but as an appetizer for better things to come (like the forthcoming 3DS game), it will suffice.