Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded preview: re:ally familiar

Within the span of a year, Kingdom Hearts fans are experiencing three different games in the series: 358/2 Days, Birth by Sleep, and now, Re:Coded. While each game continues the franchise's penchant for high production values, we can't help but wonder if the series is overstaying its welcome.

Re:Coded isn't a new game per se, but it's the first time American fans will be able to experience this side-story (minus the few of you that own a Japanese mobile phone). The revamped DS version bumps up the graphical quality considerably, matching the fidelity of 358/2 Days, while throwing in a number of new features, such as an leveling up system and Tag Mode. However, the side-story origins of Re:Coded are still very clear. This is not the Sora you've played as in Kingdom Hearts 1 & 2. Instead, it is a digital copy of Sora that traverses through an infected "datascape." The demo felt entirely disconnected from the canon, and the lack of any voice acting makes its low-budget cell phone roots that much more obvious. (Cutscenes are instead shown as conversations between character portraits.)

Gameplay is what you've come to expect from a Kingdom Hearts title: an accessible, RPG-inspired hack 'n slash. Those that have played 358/2 Days on DS will find themselves in familiar territory here, with the controls being nearly identical. However, the infected dungeon I played through wasn't particularly inspiring. There were only two enemy types to fight against, and the blue and green color palette of the stage wasn't very attractive. The dungeon design wasn't interesting, either, with Sora simply having to bash through various boxes to progress forward.
Unfortunately, the New York Comic Con demo doesn't showcase the more clever and unique aspects of Re:Coded's gameplay, like its side-scrolling and shooting levels. and the Final Fantasy-inspired turn based battles (seen above). New to Re:Coded is a Tag Mode that also allows you to trade customizable avatar profiles and playable maps with others -- but that's not really a feature that can be tested until the game's released in January.

Re:Coded promises some exciting new content for fans, but the demo I played was just a bit too familiar, and a bit too stale. Re:Coded definitely has polish, but I hope it can become more than just a well-crafted spin-off.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.