Although Re:coded is the latest Kingdom Hearts game to be released by Square-Enix, it is actually a port of the fourth game, which was released in Japan as Kingdom Hearts: Coded. Coded was originally released on cell phones and like most cell phone games in Japan, it was destined to never see the light of day in North America until the DS version was announced. Not only does it take place after Kingdom Hearts II, it explores the mysteries of Jiminy Cricket's first journal, and the mysterious messages contained within. At least, that's what the game claims to do. Instead, it plays like a remake of the original Kingdom Hearts, with some Chain of Memories thrown in for good measure.
Pretty much most of the bosses are recycled in this game.
The game opens with Jiminy Cricket wondering about the lone message left behind in the first journal, the only reminder left that Chain of Memories happened. Except no one remembers it, of course, but that doesn't matter. What matters is, one entire journal has been completely erased. Or has it? Suddenly, a new message appears, as if conveyed to the characters somehow with the Doctor's psychic paper. So Jiminy brings the journal to Mickey and since necessity is the mother of invention, they invent a way to use what used to be written in the journal to figure out what the messages mean. Apparently you can connect a book to a computer somehow and suddenly everything that is or ever was stored within its pages can be instantly uploaded and rendered as pictures and video. If only we knew about this a couple years ago. All the time that Google spent scanning books in manually could've been put to better use.
Suddenly, the data stored within the book is filled with bugs, which means that either the technology itself is flawed, or there are bugs in the data stored within the book. Since untested technology created by a mouse and a cricket will obviously always work, the problems must lie within the data in the journal, but fortunately there exists someone who can undo all the bugs: Sora! Well, a data version of Sora, who is somehow not infected by the bugs infecting everything else. I guess, just like the darkness I mentioned in previous reviews, bugs only exist so that they can be destroyed by Sora. At any rate, data-Sora is brought into existence and sent out to defeat the bugs. How very Tron of them.
Oh my, starry-eyed surprise!
When you first start to control Sora, he is given a choice between three powers. Sword, shield, and staff. Gee, that sounds familiar, doesn't it? Although there are some differences in the plot of the game, it pretty much follows an abridged version of the original Kingdom Hearts. Once again, Sora didn't visit the Deep Jungle, and I'm beginning to realize why. Do you remember the huge copyright notice at the beginning of all of the Kingdom Hearts games? Well, I guess the copyright for Tarzan is still tightly controlled by the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs, so Disney is not allowed to use their own version of Tarzan however they see fit. By now, though, Tarzan should've been in the public domain considering copyright law originally only gave an author fourteen years of exclusive control over their characters. However, guess who's been getting the government to extend copyright over and over again every time the protection on Mickey Mouse is about to expire? The irony is delicious and moist.
I mention copyright because the notice at the beginning of Re:coded mentions Winnie the Pooh and usually this means that you get to visit him and his world. But I guess the notice is there so that they can show him for a half a second during the opening credits. It's like a bait and switch, and it sucks. In fact, all the opening credits do is remind us what happened in the first Kingdom Hearts games, as if we'd had our memories erased by Castle Oblivion. But speaking of the opening credits, this is the fourth time that Simple and Clean has been used as the theme song to a game in the series, and I'm getting a little sick of it. I can kind of see why it was used as the end theme of Chain of Memories, and I can also kind of see why it was used as a theme song for this game, but you would think that Birth By Sleep, being a numbered Kingdom Hearts game in everything except name, would've at least had an original theme song but I guess they didn't feel like asking Utada Hikaru to write one. I would hope that Dream Drop Distance will feature a brand new theme song, but I bet they're going to just recycle one of the two that they already have. I really hope that they're giving Utada Hikaru a fat royalty cheque for all of this.
Giving enemies some awful pain
When the spell reloads it's used again
It's a water elemental's bane
Cast it until you have gone insane
Anyway, I guess more worlds are being dropped from the series, because you don't even visit Atlantica in this game. Nor do you get swallowed by Monstro or visit Halloween Town. In fact, the only Disney worlds visited this time around are the three worlds that have been done to death in the series. Isn't there anywhere the characters can visit, other than Wonderland? It's not like we haven't been overexposed to it already, and not just from Kingdom Hearts. I don't know why a new Alice in Wonderland movie must be made every few years. We just had a made for TV movie featuring Whoopi Goldberg a few years ago and now we have a theatrical release featuring Johnny Depp. I've been told I look like Johnny Depp but I don't really see the resemblance.
Sora revisits Agrabah as well, and I think it's about time we just leave Aladdin alone. He hasn't been as overexposed as Alice, but he's getting close. No, the worst offender in this department is Hercules. I don't know why we must keep going back to that damn coliseum, but if Disney and Square-Enix can't think of anywhere else for Sora to visit, then I think they should just cancel Dream Drop Distance and III, and end the series right here. They only included three Disney worlds in this game and one of them was fucking Olympus! Are they even aware of how sick fans are of that world? Give us Atlantica instead if it'll mean we don't have to visit Olympus. The only thing that saved Olympus this time around was that it was so full of bugs that it altered the software itself and turned the game into a turn-based RPG instead of an action RPG.
I'm not kidding. Some areas are so full of bugs that Square-Enix used it as an excuse to experiment with other genres, kind of like what NieR did. Parts of Re:coded turn into a side-scrolling 2-D game, parts of it turn into a rail shooter, and as I already mentioned, a part of it turns into a turn-based RPG. Although it seems like a schizophrenic mix of genres, it seems to work to the game's favour, and I enjoyed the rail shooter portions of this game far more than the gummi ship in Kingdom Hearts I and II.
I was going to put a reference to Louie Louie here, but I doubt anything I put here will outdo Thunder Rain.
When it comes to stat growth, Kingdom Hearts games on the DS and the GBA tend to do weird things. For example, 358/2 Days featured a system where your levels were treated like items, and you had to equip them on a board in order to gain power from them. It's no different this time around, except instead of a board with limited space available for all your stats and spells and skills, this time you're given the sphere grid to work with. A version of it, anyway. Levels are still treated like items, but they're placed on a board along with chips that give Sora a bonus in a particular stat and eventually, various components are joined by these chips that can adjust the difficulty of the game in different ways.
It has taken six games for the developers to realize that gamers don't like running around after they defeat enemies in order to gather up their just rewards before they disappear. In Re:coded, goodies dropped by enemies automatically swirl around and gather themselves up for your convenience. What this means is that you no longer have to race against time to gain Munny from fighting, but on the other hand, it also makes it very easy to gather it from blocks that are perched upon floating platforms without actually jumping up to those floating platforms. Lightning becomes your new best friend. The spell, not the character. Never mind.
I think that political correctness has gone too far. Why, just ten years ago, that block would've been called "mentally challenged".
I am going to assume that there's a Law of Conservation of Mediocrity, for now that rewards don't disappear before you gather them up, the camera sucks again. Honestly, what the fuck? 358/2 Days had a decent camera. Kingdom Hearts II even fixed the camera in the first place. It's clear that these developers know how to program a serviceable camera. How can they go from having a good camera in 358/2 Days, also on the DS, to having an absolutely rubbish camera in Re:coded? Was this how the camera operated in the original Coded? Or since this is essentially a remake of the first game, did they decide that they would include awful camera controls for a completely authentic experience? At this point, I wonder if the DS really is the best system for a Kingdom Hearts game. I hesitate to wonder what Dream Drop Distance is going to be like on the 3DS.
Speaking of mediocrity, there is a lot of music recycling going on in this game, but that's not surprising. This is a series where music was recycled from earlier sources in the very first game, and Yoko Shimomura decided that was a good idea and then just kept reusing her own music throughout the series. It's not bad music, but it's getting worn out. Agrabah sounds the same, Wonderland sounds the same, Traverse Town sounds the same... I don't understand why Final Fantasy X-2 contained an entirely new soundtrack, but each Kingdom Hearts game seems dead set on using and reusing the same songs over and over and over. At least the game looks good. I have yet to play a Kingdom Hearts game that looks ugly. Even the graphics from Chain of Memories were decent enough.
I <3 you.
Re:coded is about twenty hours long if you don't do any of the extra stuff, of which there is plenty. But when all is said and done, the game upholds the pattern I noticed in an earlier review, where games released on Nintendo consoles don't really mean much to the series in the long run. This entire game could've been skipped entirely, and Kingdom Hearts III could've opened with a 15 to 20 minute video where Jiminy and Mickey analyze the journal and then send the letter to Sora and the gang which we saw them receive at the end of Kingdom Hearts II. Things could've been explained so that Sora and the gang would be able to go out and ease everyone's pain like they're apparently supposed to. But this game demonstrates that Square and Disney both realized a long time ago that if they build it, people will come. Kingdom Hearts games do tend to sell, so the more of them they can make, the more of our money they will receive. I would argue that if they keep on remaking the same game and pretending it's a new title, that one day fans will stop buying them, except that we both know that I would be wrong. Just look at how many times Square has managed to sell us Final Fantasy IV.
Screen shots and cover art from RPGFan.com