Kingdom Hearts: coded is a game that was released only in Japan, for mobile platforms. It featured episodic gameplay and a story hearkening back to the events of the first Kingdom Hearts game, though with a twist. Eventually, all the episodes of the game were packaged together and released in the west as Kingdom Hearts Re:coded. While technically a remake of a mobile game, there is some solid gameplay within it, a few twists to the old formula, and additional content that even gamers of the original mobile title will have not seen.
Chronologically, the game takes place after the events of Kingdom Hearts II. Things seem to be normal, but Jiminy's journal starts acting strangely, displaying messages that shouldn't be there, and filling up with bugs and glitches (how this happens to a book is beyond me). To investigate the problem, Mickey and his gang in the castle create a digital representation of Sora within the journal, tasking him with hunting down the source of these glitches and saving the day/journal.
The story takes a surprisingly significant role in the game, though there's not a whole lot of new content here. You'll be revisiting a number of locations from the first Kingdom Hearts game (and one that isn't in there, but still isn't new), so don't expect to see too many new locations. That's not to say there isn't a bunch of new content though. New types of gameplay modes have been inserted into the game as score attacks such as platforming and a sort of on-rails shooter. The entirety of the Olympus Colisseum plays out like a sort of turn-based RPG, complete with special abilities and party attacks. And all the locations have new areas, called sectors and backdoors, to complete.
These sectors make up the bulk of the game, and represent the source of many of the journal's glitches. You hunt them down then enter them, submitting yourself to a multi-story dungeon filled with enemies and prizes. As you fight enemies and complete bonus objectives within the floors, you earn SP, which can be spent on special prizes once you leave them. While the areas are fairly repetitive (they all use the same tileset, and feel randomly generated), they do provide a decent distraction, as the prizes are often worth the romp.
The way you gain power and abilities differs greatly in this game, too. First, getting stronger doesn't just mean gaining a level. Using something called a stat grid, you can place down chips that raise stats and levels, following paths to unlock new abilities and powers. In addition, you can unlock the use of things called 'cheats', which make it possible to change variables in the game in exchange for something else. For example, you can raise the chance for enemies to drop items, but doing so costs you HP. Likewise, you can alter the amount of CP you gain, but at the cost of lower experience. These can be a lot of fun to play around with, and can sometimes be needed, especially when you want particular items to drop from enemies or you're finding yourself grinding far more than you should. The ability to equip stat-raising chips in various ways (certain placements will double the effect they give) also allows for a fair amount of customization, though the inability to unequip the chips without replacing them with something else is a bit of a bother.
CP, incidentally, is what you use to raise your abilities' strength. Instead of simply being given a couple spells to use, Re:coded follows a system similar to Birth By Sleep, in which you equip your abilities and level them up. Once two abilities have reached their full potential, they can be combined to a higher-level ability, sometimes one that is completely different from the two put together. Higher level abilities mean stronger attacks, and soon you're blasting your way through the battlefield. There's a bit of a feeling of grinding to this, however, since each time something reaches max experience it must be manually combined and them the empty combining slot replaced with something else. This has to be done for each and every ability, each and every time it hits its experience cap, for a maximum of 100 levels for each ability. It can get tiresome.
The game also features a very mild element of online play, though I hesitate to call it such. You can enter something called 'Avatar Mode', which allows you to customize a little paper doll and ping any nearby systems also running Re:coded in Avatar Mode, and send data to one another. When recieved, you get your the other player's paper doll, as well as a sector floor that you can play through for some prizes and a challenge. Beat the challenge, and you can get a piece of avatar clothing from the player, allowing you to customize your avatar further. In addition, you can store up a number of sector floors, replaying them to collect all of the clothing from their avatars, and turn in all the SP gained at the end for a number of valuable prizes.
Of course, if you're like me and don't actually know anyone with the game, you can just leave the DS on overnight, and it will collect randomly generated encounters, allowing you to still experience other sector floors and gain other avatar clothing.
The crux of Re:coded comes in its replayability. If you enjoy replaying the same area again and again with different goals (do it under level 15, complete the level within a certain time, beat the area with only 1 HP throughout, and so forth), then you'll find hours and hours and hours of gameplay available for you here. The story of the game can take a little less than ten hours, depending on how much exploring you want to do, but there are a wide variety of other tasks for you to set yourself upon to complete, and more treasures (including a sneak peak video if you do enough of them, much like Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep had). Fortunately, this kind of replayability works quite well with the strength of the DS as a portable system, and it makes it really easy to pick up and do one level for fifteen minutes or so before putting it down again.
The problem is that, even with the aspect of replayability, all the environments are those that we've seen before, and the story, except for perhaps the final five minutes, add almost nothing to the overall plot of Kingdom Hearts, and can be considered a throwaway plot to be ignored. This fact is doubled when you consider the fact that, since all of this takes place within Jiminy's journal, it's completely pointless and doesn't actually mean anything.
The game is also filled with a number of platforming sections, some short, some long, which the game's clunky movement engine is clearly not built for. It creates problems.
For your average fan of Kingdom Hearts, Re:coded is a pretty decent game. It gives more of the characters, gameplay, and worlds that fans enjoy. There are some serious issues with the amount of content, whether it's new or not, making the game feel more like a rehash with a twist, rather than a new title. The score attack minigames aren't bad in themselves, but feel really out of place with how the rest of the game plays, and they seem to go on just a little too long.
Still, if you want more Kingdom Hearts, or even just a decent action-RPG, by all means, this is the game for you. But if you want something deeper, whether it comes to Kingdom Hearts in general or the genre as a whole, then perhaps you might want to skip this one.