This frustrating and rather lackluster KH title is an extremely disappointing addition to the series.
The story begins with our friend Jiminy Cricket looking over the journals he wrote over the course of KH1 and 2. While flipping through he finds a mysterious message-one he certainly didn't write. It says, "Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it." Shocked and confused over the message, Jiminy brings the journal to King Mickey who suggests they put the journal into the castle's computer for decoding. Upon analyzing the data of the journal, it is corrupted in a flash by what seem to be on the monitor, dark colored blocks. To solve the problem, Mickey calls on the data version of Sora within the journal. Like the real Sora, Data-Sora is ever ready to help his newfound friends and sets out to vanquish the bugs and find the truth behind the mysterious message.
The overall plot of the Kingdom Hearts series is amazingly deep and touching. For me, it's just about the most important element of the games, and sadly, Coded is the first game in the series to seriously fall short of the mark. Since the game consists of Data-Sora going through a *journal* of past events, the game is largely a re-hash of things we already know. Obviously there are a few twists scattered in here and there, but barely any of them are significant in any way and mostly pertain to the Disney side of the game. There's barely anything new to learn in this game, and the plot is monotonous and, unlike all other KH titles, doesn't really encourage you to come back. The real only good part of the plot comes at the very end of the game. The last boss is unpredictable and quite a shocker, and the end cut-scene does indeed give quite a bit of insight of what may be to come in KH3. So is the plot of Coded useless? No. But I fear only the most hardcore of KH fans like me will be able to trudge their way through the rather unexciting fifteen hours of game to get to the rewarding ending.
Unfortunately, Coded's gameplay doesn't hold up very well either. The core gameplay of KH remains intact. Go to a world, and make your way through the various battles and quests to end up fighting a boss to end it all. There are some new twists in Coded that pertain to the fact that you're within a digital world, however. The worlds are all littered with all kinds of blocks (called "blox" in Coded) that represent the bugs and corrupted data within the journal. There are many blox that all serve different purposes. Regular blox are totally destructible and are used to make your way to higher heights and are broken to gain small amounts of munny and HP. Some blocks bounce you high in the air, some hold rare items, some explode on contact, some ghost in and out of existence, and so on and so forth.
Sometimes, Data-Sora will come across something in a world that prohibits him from moving on, like enemies moving way too fast to handle or a missing bridge. Sora, by using a sound based detector, can find cracks in the world called "Backdoors" which he can use to access System Sectors. The System Sectors are small areas that require Data-Sora to defeat enemies and debug the area in order to debug the world outside. While you play through System Sectors, you earn SP, a currency that you can use to buy items and upgrades at the end of a sector. You can even bet your SP at the beginning of a sector on certain mission requirements. For example, one might bet 1000 SP on the stipulation that they can defeat 20 heartless in three minutes. Missions might include things such as defeating a certain amount of enemies, not taking a certain amount of damage, getting through a sector within a time limit, etc.
Where Coded really crumbles is its battle system and camera. Square has made a noble attempt to bring the battle system of the legendary Birth By Sleep to Coded. Unfortunately, this doesn't work out so well. Frankly, the DS just doesn't have enough buttons to handle it. See, the first KH title for DS, 358/2 Days, pulled off its battle system well. It used the traditional KH battle system, and for the all-important camera, it used the L and R buttons-choices all too obvious for a camera system. In turn, one could be fighting and turning the camera in tandem-the way Kingdom Hearts is generally played. In Coded, the L button is used to operate the command deck. Like in BBS, you can earn abilities such as magic and attacks and place them in the command deck for use. This is all well and good, but with L taken up with command deck operation, R only is used for the camera. In order to move the camera, you can either stop dead in your tracks, hold down the R button and adjust it with the d-pad, or simply tap R at any time to center the camera in relation to where Data-Sora is looking. If your thinking, "That sounds awful," you'd be correct. Battles are a chore when heartless are pounding you from all angles and you can't adjust the camera correctly. The camera controls are pretty bad, and they not only take their toll on battles, but also platforming sections-Sections which Coded implements more than any other KH game before it. It's not a total loss, however. Once you get used to the camera, you can manage alright, but you'll never play as fluently as previous KH titles.
So does Coded add anything new to the battle system? Yes actually. The Data Matrix is generally an improved version of 358/2 Days' panel system. As you play through the game, you obtain "chips" which you can place on a grid called the Data Matrix. Chips do things leveling up would. Upped strength, HP, magic, agility, as well as level chips that you earn as you level up. Unlike 358/2 Days' cluttered panel system, there's room for all your chips here. The Data Matrix looks like a circuit board on a computer and you simply lay your chips down on pre-set paths. You can complete sets of paths, and connect different parts of the board together. For example, you could lay a path of chips between two "CPUs". Do that, and chips between the two CPUs will have double effect. You can also use "cheats" on the data matrix. These "cheats" are not really what they sound like, and are more or less a gamble. For example, you can make enemies weaker in exchange for less item drops, or use less HP for rarer items. They're all rather odd, and I frankly didn't mess with them much. Other players might enjoy experimentation however. The Command Deck also returns in Coded. Unfortunately, rather than being improved, the already great system has been slaughtered. Like BBS, you can earn abilities and place them within your deck for use, but this time around abilities are useless. They don't do anything. Abilities that are supposed to be big and bad take out paltry amounts of health. This time around, you can level up your abilities. But even high levels on abilities don't have any effect on enemies. You'll watch in utter dismay as Data-Sora smashes an enemy with a flaming keyblade and takes out a tiny amount of health. You'll resort to normal combos instead, and fill your deck with status effect-based magic, as well as cures and potions. Even melding commands is awful. If you were one of the people that complained about there not being enough melding combinations in BBS, then you'll love that there are even less in Coded-Much less. This all comes together to make another point. Coded is hard. Really, really hard. Now, given, I played on Proud Mode (the second to last difficulty), but I played the same difficulty on Birth By Sleep as well. It was hard, but not frustrating. Even though the last boss on Terra's story was possibly the hardest boss I've ever fought and took me a billion tries, I still kept coming back-It was fun. Coded's difficulty is just frustrating. A bad camera (especially in the many cramped spaces), weak attacks, and shabby platforming mechanics will send you reeling and make you want to throw your DS up against your wall.
Coded attempts to break up the monotony with some mini-game type sections. A turn-based RPG world, a sidescroller section, and an on-rails shooter are some example, but even these won't hold your interest for long and aren't that well done.
What can I say? Coded really isn't good. Everything about it frustrating, and, dare I say it, kinda broken. If you're a hardcore KH fan, it almost your duty to buy the game and get to the rewarding end. If you're not that into KH, please stay far away. Your money can be better-spent elsewhere, and not on fifteen hours of frustration. If you're really dying to try Kingdom Hearts on the DS, go grab 358/2 Days-a much better title. I want to say Square tried, but I almost wonder what the heck they were thinking on this one.