Unlike North America, Japan has had a booming market for cell phone games for several years, and many popular RPG series have had mobile installments on Japanese phones. Kingdom Hearts: Coded was one such game, originally downloaded to phones in monthly installments. Fortunately, there is a trend to release some of these games on mobile gaming platforms like the DS and PSP with improvements in graphics and pre-rendered videos. This, in turn, brings us to Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, a prime example of how to use a handheld’s accessibility while maintaining the feel of the original game
The Japanese keitai market is interesting in and of itself. Even though mobile phones are ubiquitous in Japan, there are competing carriers that split the market. Therefore, even in Japan, a significant portion of the population will not be able to play games. For this reason, cell phone games tend to be less integral to the overall story of a series. This is somewhat problematic for Kingdom Hearts, a series known for meting out story in small helpings to build a surprisingly large and deep narrative. This leaves Re:Coded in a conundrum, as on its own the game is very fun to play and has ample story. However, as a Kingdom Hearts game, it adds little to the overall story of Sora and the timeline that all the games have been building. This may leave some fans wanting, but the game is enjoyable enough that most players will probably be satisfied anyway.
|And that’s when the team discovered that Riku had spent all their munny on derivatives in 2008.|
Everything starts when a mysterious message appears in the journal Jimminy Cricket recorded for Sora during the events of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Due to events in that game, the journal is erased, with the exception of a message for Sora to thank Naminé. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new message appears that no one remembers writing. “Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it.” To solve this mystery, King Mickey builds a computer to analyze the contents of the journal. He discovers that while the things Jimminy wrote have been erased, the book still contains the data from the journey, but it has somehow become corrupted. Because the book was written about Sora, there is a virtual Sora within the pages. Likewise, there are digital versions of all the worlds that Sora, Donald, and Goofy visited in Kingdom Hearts. Mickey asks the digital Sora to explore the journal’s ‘datascape’ to clear out the bugs infesting the data and solve the mystery of the message.
Because this game involves Jimminy’s first journal, this means that players will once again be controlling the digitized version of Sora from the first game. He will also be going to the same worlds as the first game, and meeting the same people, which, for those keeping score at home, marks the third time players have been there. Fortunately, the story of each world has been almost completely scrapped, and in its place, the characters from each world will be investigating the appearance of “bug blox.” This doesn’t eliminate the fact that you’ll be going to the same versions of the same worlds as in the original Kingdom Hearts, but it at least makes the scenario different.
Combat will be familiar to anyone that played 358/2 Days. Digital Sora works very similarly to Roxas with a few minor changes. The L button no longer moves the camera; instead, it allows for picking attacks in your command deck. Sora also does not yet have the ability to do limit breaks at low HP. He does have something called the Overclock Gauge. As you hit bug blox and heartless, a gauge fills, granting access to stronger attacks, more munny drops, elemental attributes to your attacks, and others. When you completely fill the gauge, you get to do a powerful attack. Most effects are minor, but the better keyblades have impressive abilities that make some of the challenges significantly easier.
|I’m telling you guys, there’s totally a sailboat in there. You have to, like, cross your eyes or something.|
The main attraction in this game is the Stat Matrix. It is sort of like a mixture of the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X and the Panel system of 358/2 Days. Essentially, you have a circuit board with processors, ability chips, and cheat sliders. You collect chips that have effects ranging from nothing to increasing one of the following stats: current level, magic, HP, strength, magic resistances, magic proficiencies. You get chips from prize bug blox, as rewards from System Sectors, or by meeting specific conditions like getting enough experience to earn a level up chip. The Stat Matrix has several paths, and you move along them by placing chips in sequence to form circuits. If you connect to an ability circuit, you will gain that ability. If you connect two processors, all the chips directly between the two processors double in value. Connecting to Cheat Sliders allows you to tweak battle stats similarly to the system seen in The World Ends With You. You can vary the game difficulty at any time, make the Heartless stronger in exchange for more item drops, or multiply total HP values of enemies and Sora alike by any number between 0 and 1. Any change comes with a cost and a benefit, and it can make the combat more fun. The only catch is that once you put a chip down, you can never take it off the board entirely. You can, however, swap it for another chip in your inventory. This helps keep important chips like Level Up chips in spaces that count double while relegating less important chips to spaces that have no multiplier. Every world unlocks another section of the Stat Matrix, so you can never simply power level through something, and you always have new goals once you finish a world.
The other new feature is System Sectors. These hidden mini-dungeons are the only real new areas to explore. They range from two to thirteen floors in depth, and each floor has a challenge. At the beginning of a System Sector, you are given 1000 SP, the currency of the dungeons. Before starting each floor, you are given a challenge. Examples include miss no more than six times, spend no more than 45 seconds on the ground, kill 10 enemies at MAX Overclock, etc. Before you start the floor, you must wager 10, 30, or 50% of your current SP. If you complete the challenge, a given number multiplies your wager. This means that by successfully completing challenges, you can rack up large amounts of SP which is then used to buy prizes, EXP or munny at the completion of the dungeon. A given system sector will always have the same challenges, prizes, and number of floors, but the layout changes with each trip. Though they eventually get repetitive, they present the most challenge in the game and are the best way to power level, especially post-game.
As mentioned before, the game was originally a cellphone game. In order to make the game work on such a tiny screen and on a platform that isn’t made for gaming, some of the worlds have been altered, and those changes remain in place with the jump to the DS and are the most fun parts of the game. When you enter a keyhole to fight that world’s boss, there is usually a shift in gameplay. Most worlds either contain a 2D platforming section or a game similar to Space Harrier, where you run away from the screen and shoot at enemies with your keyblade. Olympus Coliseum has also been changed to a turn-based RPG with action commands similar to the Mario and Luigi series. These segments are sadly pretty short, but they break up the traditional ‘mash B to win’ gameplay.
|Ever wonder what the bottom of Donald’s Xbox avatar’s shoe looks like? BAM!|
Graphically, Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded is on par with 358/2 Days. This means that the worlds will be lively and colorful, but it is based on an older graphic engine. The game does have some impressive pre-rendered cut scenes, and major plot dialog features full sprites that almost feel like reading manga.
Aurally, the game hasn’t changed at all. Every world has the same music it always did, and the voice acting is what you’ve come to expect. There is some limited voice work, and it features all the same actors. I happen to like most of the Kingdom Hearts music, but it’d be nice to hear a few new tunes. Agrabah, Traverse Town, and Wonderland are starting to grow stale. If you’ve played a Kingdom Hearts game, you’ve heard every song in Re:Coded.
The game is also very easy to finish. Kingdom Hearts was never a difficult game, but with the exception of some of the post-game System Sectors, none of the game will pose much difficulty. And the only difficult part of the system sectors is completing the challenges. It can be hard to miss or avoid being attacked no more than four times in a floor. Players that just want to finish the story will have no trouble wrapping things up in 15-20 hours. After the game’s conclusion, several system sectors open up that can take some time to finish with scores high enough to win awards like the best Keyblades or Overclock finish moves.
The plot is decent. Everything makes perfect sense, and you could more or less pick up the game with minimal Kingdom Hearts knowledge and be ok. But this game offers almost no new information to the Kingdom Hearts world as a whole. Series diehards will be disappointed, but the truth is, the game would be better if it were not called Kingdom Hearts. As such, players expect more than Keyblades and Heartless; we expect some deep revelations into the nature of Organization XIII, or what happened to Riku during just about any game other than Chains of Memory. This game offers very little, and most of the revelations at the end are revealed at the end of Birth by Sleep.
Ultimately, you have a fun action RPG. The individual aspects of the game are fun, but rather than add up to something greater than the sum of its parts, the game adds up to somehow less than it should. Anyone that plays it will probably enjoy it, but anyone expecting something epic will be sorely disappointed. Were this game anything other than Kingdom Hearts, it would be hailed as something impressive, sadly it just can’t stack up to all of the other amazing games in the series.