SummaryA good sign of things to come.
The GoodLet's start this review off by saying what every reviewer on earth has said about this game: "The gameplay is really special". It's fascinating to see a game like Re:coded exist in this day and age because it has a lot of different gameplay styles, varying from simple hack & slash to turn-based strategy. It's also shocking to see how everything actually works really well and some of these styles have a lot depth to them (like the turn-based strategy one). The constant switching might not always go as fluent, but at least it does a decent enough job to make up for the rehashing of the same, old stages again.
Something I haven't heard other reviewers point out though is just how awesome the Deck Commands are. Deck Commands are a bit like the Reaction Commands from Kingdom Hearts 2, during battle you can activate a special move by hitting a button and this breaks up the regular button-mashing gameplay. Unlike the reaction commands though, you can actually know when a deck command is ready because they have a cooldown-timer that is always visible. You can also level up and customize your deck commands in any way you like.
I liked managing every little detail about my inventory in 358/2 Days, but on reflection it was a little too much to bother with from time to time. The data chips in this installment though are a lot more user-friendly and more fun to play around with. Data chips contain passive bonuses (HP, strenght, magic and level-ups) that only work when you fit them in an open slot. You have a limited amount of slots and unlock more as you finish off worlds. Installing these chips is made a lot more visual and fun because the screen looks like a computer board and by taking certain paths with your chips you can unlock even more bonuses (connecting a path between your processor and a cheat console will allow you to tweak aspects of the difficulty, for example).
This game also takes up position next to 358/2 Days in terms of overall difficulty. The first console Kingdom Hearts game was way too hard for the average player, but Kingdom Hearts II on the other hand was way too easy. This game gets it just right and stays challenging without pushing the player too far past their limits.
One point where this game is better than 358/2, is in the cut-scenes. Aside from a few classic dialogue scenes with still-images of the characters in different poses, there are a lot of fully animated scenes in this title. You know what makes this even better? They are actually voice-acted. Professionally. In terms of graphics these scenes weren't that bad either and especially an early scene where Mickey cuts down a few hearthless looked really good for the DS.
The game is a lot shorter than most other Kingdom Hearts games, which is a real blessing. As I am going to mention in the "Bad" section of this review, a lot of the levels are revisited, so the length of this game also means we don't have to see ALL the levels again. The story only uses as much as it needs in order to tell its story and then ends, no padding, no extra levels, the game just ends. And that is really for the best.
Also in the story's favor is that, while been largely a remake of the first Kingdom Hearts game, the story does have a lot of twists to it that make sure you are in for a few surprises. This is where Chain of Memories fell short in my opinion, it was so obsessed with using the old levels as a tool to tell the overall story, that it literally demanded I replayed the exact same scenarios that I had played before. You can also return to finished levels if you want and complete additional challenges that result in even more twists and secrets.
To end this part of the review, I would like to clarify why I have been banging so much on this whole "Xion"-thing. I always felt like Kingdom Hearts seemed to have been written by multiple people, but they weren't communicating very well. Xion was a perfect example: We can assume 358/2 Days was in pre-production when Kingdom Hearts II was been worked on, seeing as how that game had Roxas in it and 358/2 was supposed to provide the back-story for him. Xion was however nowhere to be found in Kingdom Hearts 2, so instead 358/2 Days had to make sure she was arbitrarily taken out of the picture by the end of that game too. Why do I mention this now? Well because Xion is referenced in this game (hooray!) and the overall message seemed to be "Yes, we know we messed up. We are going to improve this". Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I just hope the series will move towards a brighter future with more test-reading.
The BadI have said it in my review on Kingdom Hearts 2 and I am going to say it again: "These opening songs are starting to get old". I don't care what this one was going to show and I skipped it. For the sake of this review though, I looked it up just as I am writing this and... well it did show a few scenes of Xion, which is cool, but the editing overall was really crappy. Here's a tip for you: You can't KEEP wrapping up your entire timeline in the opening cutscenes because by now there are like four games before this one, meaning that the scenes are so short that I had to pause constantly, just to see what was going on.
Normally I start talking about how good the story is in Kingdom Hearts, but for the first time so far, the story is actually pretty bad. The first and foremost problem is that the stakes don't seem to be all that high. As the opening cutscene ends, we see Jimini looking over his old journal and discovering a message. He then rushes the book over to Mickey and with the help of a computer they extract the data from the journal and create a copy of Sora to explore the content. I know it sucks when you lose a photo album, but this seems like an insane amount of work to save a freaking book.
Aside from not really containing anything interesting, the story is also needlessly complex. This is a problem with the series as a whole and the blame lies solely with Square Enix working in some really dumb plot-points. I can live with a copy of Sora exploring the contents of a book, but then Mickey and the rest are suddenly also in the book and then the book comes to life AND THEN... never mind, I think you know what I mean by now and I don't feel like spoiling any plot-twists.
Also: The first game and its story are really starting to get stagnated by now and it's not even the fault of that game. Kingdom Hearts 1 was really awesome and I would have loved to replay it, but then Chain of Memories did the story over again, then 358/2 Days used the same maps and characters and now Re:coded comes around and does this dance all over again. I have literally played through Agrabah four times since December 2011 until now, so I am sure you can all see how this stuff is starting to get old.
The Bottom LineA bit of honesty here: I did not finish Kingdom Hearts Re:coded and stopped somewhere along the line. The scenes I hadn't seen myself, I looked up on Youtube. I decided to do this because I seriously couldn't stand the story any longer, the gameplay was okay and usually fun, but the story was just so boring, so poorly written and so familiar that I grew tired of this game very soon. Had it used some new maps or contained a more intriguing story, then I would have gladly played through more of it, but Kingdom Hearts without a good story is like Macaroni without cheese. 358/2 Days also clearly proved that as long as the story can completely absorb the player, the gameplay can be as repetitive as it could possibly get.
If you haven't played a Kingdom Hearts game in a while, then this DS title will feel familiar and it may do a good job at getting you back into the series. However, if you are still playing the games, then you will likely find this title too familiar and easily grow tired of it. I also recommend a minimum age of 12 years or older because the story as a whole can be really confusing for younger players.