If it feels like Square Enix is overdoing it on Kingdom Hearts games, then you're not alone. This brand new Nintendo DS game (a remake of a mobile phone game only released in Japan) marks the third portable Kingdom Hearts game to be released in the last 16 months. And don't look now, because development is in full swing for a Nintendo 3DS game (Dream Drop Distance), another PSP outing (Birth By Sleep Vol. 2) and, if the rumors are true, the large console release of Kingdom Hearts III. That's a lot of Mickey, Goofy, Donald and the rest of Disney's lovable cast of characters. After playing through Re:coded, I'm starting to think that maybe it's too much Kingdom Hearts.
As I mentioned before, Re:coded is the Nintendo DS remake of Kingdom Hearts: Coded, a Japanese cell phone game from a few years ago. This 2011 release updates the graphics, adds some multiplayer functionality and offers English dialog. It has all the components to be another winning entry in the Kingdom Hearts franchise. But it's not. This is the first game in the franchise I've actively disliked. It's marred by the worst camera system imaginable, horrible pacing and a storyline that is laughably bad. Re:coded is what you get when you try to make too many games at once.
The set-up is simple enough: One day Jiminy Cricket (the character tasked with chronicling all of the keyblade exploits) notices something strange about Sora's book. It turns out that it's empty; wiped of anything resembling an adventure. This troubles Jiminy, as it would any author who just saw their manuscript erased with no known back-up. He alerts King Mickey and together they come up with a plan to add the text back. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to scan the book through a computer and force the written version of Sora to, well, re-code the story. It's an unrealistic plan, but I have a hunch that it's going to work out in the long run.
Silly concept aside, this gives the player a chance to join Sora on yet another grand adventure. And since this game takes place after the events in Kingdom Hearts II, we're technically seeing a glimpse of the future. But don't get too excited, because this side story is nothing more than a lot of busywork connected by a long, yet shallow storyline.
Much like past Kingdom Hearts games, Re:coded has our hero jumping from one Disney-inspired world to another. We see Wonderland, Agrabah and Hollow Bastion, all of which are worlds we've explored in numerous other Kingdom Hearts adventures. In fact, much of this game has us replaying levels from the 2002 original. I know I sound like a broken record when I say it, but it's always a little disappointing to see the same familiar places and faces repeated for the umpteenth time. Is it too much to ask for at least one or two brand new worlds? I fear that they're saving the good stuff for the inevitable console sequel.
We may fight through the worlds of Kingdom Hearts 1, but at least we're doing it with the modern combat engine. The one thing these portable prequels and side-stories have done is refine the basic combat. That's good news, especially for those of us who remember how archaic the first game was. The game's auto-aim makes fighting the Heartless a breeze and I had a great time with the leveling up mechanic. It's also nice to be able to counter-attack and roll out of the way. The different powers are also pretty cool, especially as Sora becomes a high level character. There are also different weapons to use, each with their own powers and abilities. Throw in some magic and you have a fun combat mechanic that almost makes this game worth playing.
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