The first Kingdom Hearts is in need of debugging.
Everything lovable about the first Kingdom Hearts is present in Kingdom Hearts Re:coded—the excellent voice acting, the familiar Disney and Final Fantasy faces, an interesting and touching storyline, and even Utada Hikaru’s hit (“hit” meaning "my jam") “Simple and Clean”. That being said, with all the similarities I couldn’t help but feel at many points that it was time to put the DS down and turn on the PS2 instead.
[image1]Originally released as Kingdom Hearts coded in eight individual episodes for cell phones, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is just a fancier, more elaborate remake for DS that combines all the episodes. Knowing this before even picking up the glittering packaging instilled a fear in me of what gameplay might be like, and most obviously how everything would look. But everything looks fine—in fact, it looks awesome for the DS and is of consistent quality with its predecessor, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.
The majority of the time is spent visiting several worlds already explored in KH1, with few major changes save for the addition of “Bug Blox” and hidden “Backdoors” to explore. Exploring backdoors doesn’t sound like it should be the highlight of any Disney production, but what goes on in these can be actually entertaining.
The re-visiting of familiar worlds is explained as such: New entries appear in Jiminy Cricket’s journal that he did not write, and the journal is digitized by King Mickey in order to investigate it further. He then creates a Data Sora to enter the “datascape” of the journal to debug each of the entries/worlds; hence, the Bug Blox. In order to fully debug worlds, Backdoors must be located, via a brief and obnoxious game of hot and cold, and cleared of enemies and Blox.
Inside these “strange portals”, there are some puzzles and Challenges involving various kinds of Blox, but mostly just smashing and getting munny, experience, and occasionally items. Though there are “puzzles”, the words “challenging” and “solving” shouldn’t come to mind. Think more jumping and smashing, as well as a lot of patience if your klutziness carries over into gaming.
[image2]Depending on what you’re looking for in an action RPG - more action or more RPG - this can be either frustrating or delightful. If you’re more of a fan of complex puzzles and not so fond of button-mashing, this isn’t for you. However, if you enjoy platforming, this will keep you entertained. The challenges in the backdoors can be as simple as defeating all the enemies in a room or freezing an enemy three times. Other challenges—such as not taking damage—can become tricky, especially if you’re not great at blocking.
The repetition of debugging worlds (that you may have already visited in the first KH) and smashing Blox is eventually wearing. Ideally, a game should be turned off because the player can either no longer stay awake, or because they have life to attend to. Boredom really shouldn’t be a reason for pressing (or flicking, in the case of the DS) the off switch—but at times, it is tempting during the debugging/boss battle/new world routine.
However, there is always something just around the corner that pulls you back into Re:coded, whether it’s the Final Fantasy-esque turn-based battles in Olympus Coliseum or seeing Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty being a BAMF/fire-breathing dragon. At the end of each world, there is a mini-game with a different style of gameplay, and there’s a bit of something for everyone. These mini-games break up the routine and are charming additions. If you’ve ever wanted to know what a KH side-scrolling platformer or on-rails shooter would be like, you’ll get a small taste.
One satisfying addition is the Matrix System, which includes the Stat, Command, and Gear Matrix. The Stat Matrix is a much cuter version of the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, and “chips” are installed to increase Sora’s stats, abilities, and level. The Command Matrix is for abilities and items, and leaves a lot of room to play around—as abilities and spells are installed, they can be combined with others for sometimes surprising results. The changes aren’t permanent and abilities can be constantly adjusted. It’s something a guide would come in handy for, but part of the fun is mixing and matching them up as you go along. The simple Gear Matrix is for choosing which Keyblade to use and for accessorizing.
[image3]Speaking of accessorizing, the new Avatar Menu feature includes a customizable avatar, and wearable/decorating items can be acquired through the Avatar Sector and also in Tag Mode. Collecting items for dress-up can be pointless and very addicting (Gaia Online is probably the best example of this idea), but making an adorable avatar isn’t all this menu is good for. In both Tag Mode and the Avatar Sector, there are challenges and floors to clear just as in the Backdoors explored in story mode (as well as an occasional game with scratch cards)—the items acquired here carry over, as well as any changes made to your abilities. Completing Challenges outside of story mode is sometimes fun, but mostly worth it for getting loot.
Unless you’re emotionally invested in the series and the characters, this particular spin-off isn’t anything to get too terribly excited about. Played by someone familiar with n, this can serve as a fun portable refresher of some of the first installment (sans Gummi Ship… plus or minus?). For those unfamiliar with the series: If the thought of devoting hours to what is comparable to a Disney movie makes you want to tear your hair out, definitely steer clear. Conversely, if you feel the brief encounters with Final Fantasy characters make it entirely worth it anyway, just know you’re not alone.