Is Kingdom Hearts Re:coded worth playing?
Ask Kingdom Hearts fans about their favorite game, and you’d see strong arguments for a few entries in the series (usually Kingdom Hearts 2 and Birth By Sleep). Ask Kingdom Hearts fans about the worst game, and you’ll get a near unanimous answer: Kingdom Hearts Re:coded.
In a way, it’s not that surprising. Re:coded is the Nintendo DS remake of Kingdom Hearts Coded, an episodic mobile game. It’s a similar in theory to Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, which also faced harsh scrutiny from fans. Still, calling it the worst Kingdom Hearts game is a comparative statement nonetheless. Is Re:coded just low on the Kingdom Hearts totem pole, or is it straight up a bad game period?
Let’s take a simple and clean look at how Re:coded holds up today.
How Re:coded misses the mark.
First things first, Re:coded has a garbage story.
On paper, it’s inoffensive. Re:coded primarily takes place in a fictional recreation of the first Kingdom Hearts game, and it similarly stars a digital version of Sora called Data-Sora. It’s an unimaginative setup for sure, but if you don’t want the game to impact the series canon, going the “but it was all dream!” route isn’t the end of the world.
… Except the game does impact the series canon.
Yes, it adds barely anything to the Kingdom Hearts lore. But because 1% of the game technically kinda moves the story forward, it’s required to fully understand the Xehanort saga. If Re:coded didn’t exist, these plot details could have been consolidated to about 10 minutes of any other Kingdom Hearts game. What we have now just further complicates a series that already hides more lore in spinoff games than numbered titles.
This is on top of Re:coded strictly retreading levels we already played in the first Kingdom Hearts. Again, this might not be bad in isolation, but the Kingdom Hearts series is already guilty of recycling worlds way too many times. Seriously, we’ve been to Agrabah enough now, we don’t need a carbon copy of its Kingdom Hearts 1 iteration. For series newcomers playing the games in their order of release, Re:coded will feel repetitive before you hit the two hour mark.
What Re:coded does right
I acknowledge that I’m about to say something controversial – nay, blasphemous even. So I don’t ask every Kingdom Hearts fan to agree with me, but I do ask you to hear me out.
I enjoy playing Re:coded more than some other games in the series.
Admittedly, much of Re:coded‘s success is owed to how many systems it borrows from Birth By Sleep. The Command Deck system makes combat frantic while adding a smorgasbord of skill customization. On top of that, Re:coded makes leveling fun with its upgradable weapons and genuinely innovative skill tree. I love how Re:coded gives you the option to tune up the game’s difficulty in a ton of different ways that yield better rewards in return. I’m a sucker for any game that encourages you to push your skill level to the limit, and Re:coded absolutely nails this.
On top of that, despite how much it recycles from past games, Re:coded injects some welcome and unexpected variety into the series. Seriously, fighting through Olympus with Hercules and Cloud in turn-based combat? How cool is that!? Not every innovation here is a winner, but they work well enough to make Re:coded fascinating to play.
If we’re comparing Re:coded‘s gameplay to its DS cousin 358/2 Days (which I love, by the way), there’s no contest here. Re:coded is more fun and more responsive in every way. There’s even a fun endgame that challenges the player to replay each world in a ton of different ways. I acknowledge this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but Re:coded gives you a lot to sink your teeth into if you’re into it. Whereas I can only play 358/2 Days until its story ends, I was motivated enough to 100% Re:coded before I was done with it. It ain’t perfect, but I still like it.
The truth about Re:coded
Despite my praise for Re:coded, I absolutely understand the hate it gets. Its attempt at series significance is unnecessary and practically detrimental to the franchise. Plus if you’ve played Kingdom Hearts 1 within, say, a year, you’ll feel immediately tired of replaying these worlds. The endgame of then replaying these worlds will also feel like a slap in the face, especially when you need 20 trophies to unlock the game’s secret movie.
I was able to enjoy Re:coded so much because I hadn’t actually played Kingdom Hearts 1 in a number of years at the time. So for my frame of reference, the recycled content was a fun nostalgia trip. It was a new twist on an old classic, and all of the refinements to the battle system sweetened the pot for me. When I finally did get around to replaying Kingdom Hearts 1 again, I found myself missing a ton of features I took for granted in Re:coded.
In other words, Re:coded needs to be treated as what it actually is: a filler game. If you want to recap the series to prepare for Kingdom Hearts 3, give Re:coded a pass. What little it adds to the lore can be gleamed from its movie version in the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix compilation. But if you’ve already played every game in the series – or it’s just been a while since you’ve played Kingdom Hearts 1 – you might be surprised by how good Re:coded actually is. In other words, it isn’t really that bad.
Much like Data-Sora himself, it’s meant to do its job but not be remembered in the long run. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Now if only I could remember the name of that weird puppet Roxas was friends with for a while…