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Kingdom Hearts Re:coded

Score: 78%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Multicard Wireless)
Genre: Action/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

In television, there's a phenomenon known as the "Filler Episode." Typically, Filler Episodes serve to advance one tiny idea about the main plot, or just keep viewers content for an episode while the show spins up its next big arc. Unfortunately, the idea has become associated with portable Kingdom Hearts releases. Though the handheld games have been, at best, solid experiences, they've done little more than stave off questions about the eventual release of Kingdom Hearts III. Kingdom Hearts Re:coded continues the trend.

It's hard to not be just a little impressed by what SquareEnix was able to squeeze out of the DS. Kingdom Hearts Re:coded looks really good, and may very well rank as one of the system's better-looking games. The artwork is great and makes the over-abundance of still images and dialogue more than tolerable. Re:coded is a complete and total retread of the first game, but it was fun seeing old friends - especially a number of Final Fantasy characters who've since disappeared from the series.

Each area is buffered by a set of brand-new movie sequences. I'm usually not a fan of the low-res video encoding used in DS games, but these manage to sparkle just a little brighter than what 358/2 Days offered. However, it's still a little off-putting to hear Mickey's squeaky voice discuss topics like "The Heartless" and "Organization."

As with nearly every other game in the series, Re:coded falls back on a number of old standards. With the exception of few remixes, nearly all of the music comes from the first game.


Gameplay:

Kingdom Hearts Re:coded's core "story" focuses on Jiminy Cricket's Journals, which he kept during both main Kingdom Hearts games. When one of the journals is mysteriously erased, Mickey and the rest of the crew decide to send a digital Sora through it's missing pages to repair the damage and help decode the strange messages that keep appearing in place of Jiminy's entries.

Similar to Chain of Memories, Re:coded is a retelling of the first game's plot. It does very little to advance the series' storyline, instead relying on a series of flashbacks to communicate its story. In all truth, Re:coded is something for fans only; anyone else will instantly lose their way through the game's labyrinthine lack of coherence. There are attempts to clue newcomers in, but to make any sense of it, you have to already know what happened.

The best feature going for Re:coded is the variety it offers throughout the adventure. Though most of the game sticks to the usual action RPG formula as other games, every world offers some new twist. Wonderland focuses on the adventure aspects, while The Coliseum introduces in turn-based combat. There's also a few side-scrolling areas, as well as a strategy RPG mechanic. There's no guarantee you'll like everything Re:coded tosses your way, but the good news is you're never stuck with one style for very long.

The number of play styles is fun, though in the grand scheme, its hard to shake the feeling you're just going through the motions. For fans who remember the first game, Re:coded only serves to tie together ideas from later games in the series into the first game's story. The changes are minor, though it does clear up Kingdom Hearts II's ending, which is something, I suppose. Still, after going through the same plot twice, it's time to move on.


Difficulty:

Platforming has never been one of the series' strong suits, yet a large portion of Kingdom Hearts Re:coded's areas are dedicated to just that. On the positive side, there are no bottomless pits to worry about. Yet, some areas are so complicated, a trip down a bottomless pit would be preferable to a forced retread.

To it's credit, Re:coded at least attempts to "fix" the always problematic jumping by offering a context-sensitive option. Once at the edge of an area, you'll automatically jump by pressing in the direction of the jump. Still, this doesn't always work; you'll still overshoot gaps with some frequency. In normal areas, you're able to skip jumping parts. You'll miss out on some items, but nothing major. "Coded" areas, on the other hand, are completely based on platforming and introduce some of the game's more frustrating moments.

Camera adjustments are both the only fix and cause of jumping issues. Switching the camera to "Chase" and using the touch screen to adjust the viewing angle are advised and will save you some frustration.

Beyond jumping, Re:coded is as easy or hard as you want. As part of the Stat Matrix (which we'll get to later), you can adjust the difficulty whenever you want. Combat takes some adjustment (again, the camera is the disease and cure), though veterans should be able to jump right in without any problems.


Game Mechanics:

The cleverest mechanic to grow out of Kingdom Hearts Re:coded's premise is its level-up system. Character progression happens via the Stat Matrix, which is sort of a take on Final Fantasy's Sphere Grid system. Rather than level up and earn skills by collecting XP, you instead find chips that you can place on the Stat Matrix. Depending on how you place the chips in the Matrix, Sora's attributes will change.

It's a lot of fun playing with the Stat Matrix just to find the right layout to suit your particular play style. The differences between two players aren't likely to be that extreme, but some control over your character's development is better than none at all. The real trick to playing with the Stat Matrix is figuring out a way to earn new combat slots or, more importantly, link powerful abilities to the Dual Core, effectively doubling whatever is attached.

The Stat Matrix is linked to Sora's combat abilities. Throughout the game you'll earn combat chips, which are essentially combat abilities from previous games. By unlocking new slots, you'll also gain the ability to link combat skills. After using linked skills in combat, they'll "Level Up." You can then combine them, creating either a more powerful version of one of the skills or a brand-new one.

Another neat mechanic that grows out of the Stat Matrix is the ability to cheat. You can adjust the difficulty level at any time, but if you want to, fiddle around with a special cheat gauge. You can cause better items to drop or alter how many prizes enemies drop when they're defeated. There is, however, a catch to using cheats, such as Sora taking more damage. I didn't use the cheat system that much, but similar to the Stat Matrix, just having the option is a fun addition.

Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is like the bread at restaurants. People who really like bread will can make a meal out of it, but a majority of the table will have a piece and wonder when their entrée will make it to the table.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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