Kingdom Hearts started on the PlayStation 2, allowing gamers to traverse the Disney set of characters via the Square Enix role playing game (RPG) set of mechanics. Seemingly an odd mix at first, the combination worked remarkably well and ended up being a very popular franchise indeed - as evidenced by the fact that there are so many games in the series it’s now hard to keep count of them all.
Re:coded is not really the latest in the series, as it’s actually a DS remake / compilation of a series of games that were released on a particular Japanese cellphone between 2007 and 2010 (the final chapter was held back to prevent it spoiling the ending of Birth by Sleep). Chuck in some DS controls, split the action out over a couple of screens and tie the narrative together and you’ve got a standalone game.
With such humble origins, it would be easy to pass this off as a side story and something to not waste your time with. To do so would be a mistake. While not the very pinnacle of the series, Re:coded is a laudable tale with a great variety of gameplay between its nine chapters to keep things interesting from beginning to end. Various sections will have you performing side-scrolling platforming, open-world rambling and all manner of button-bash brawling. Each disparate chunk is nicely tied together with a robust combat system that improves in complexity as you progress, with hidden layers available to those who are prepared to tackle the obtuse menu system.
Yes, like every Square Enix game ever, the menu system is bizarre and re-invented with little care as to usability or even understandability. Still, once you get your head around the way the leveling system works (basically you get these little chips that you can layout on a board with some flexibility as to the overall effect), it’s a cool system with hidden depth.
The story follows typical Kingdom Hearts lines, with nasty glitches appearing within Jiminy’s journal which you, as the player, must get to the bottom of. Invariably, this means cruising around bonking things on the head with your key weapon. Sometimes this can be a bit awkward, due to the poor camera, but once you get to grips with its (many) eccentricities, you’ll find the combat rewarding and the experience a satisfying one.
Visually it’s a pretty decent 3D experience, even if the zones are rather severely restricted in size to enable it on the humble DS hardware. There’s good use of colour and shape to create a world which is both consistent with itself and also with other titles in the series, which appear on more capable hardware in most cases.
At no point in the adventure do you ever suspect you’re playing a cellphone game, nor do you feel like the experience is ever less than it can or should be. It’s fun to play with a cool (if formulaic and linear) tale to tie the various levels together. If you’re at all interested in Kingdom Hearts and have a DS, there’s no reason to leave this one on the shelf - just make sure you’ve played through Birth by Sleep before you do!