The last DS Kingdom Hearts game, 358/2 Days, was a bit of a let down for me back when it came out. As you can imagine, I approached Recoded with some apprehension, but thankfully it is a pretty big improvement on it's predecessor in technical and gameplay terms, but there are still a number of problems here that get in the way of it being a genuinely great title.
Seemingly taking place after KH2, the story (nonsensical as it is) revolves around Jiminy Cricket's journal charting Sora and company's adventures which was wiped clean at the climax of GBA KH title Chain of Memories. King Mickey, Donald and Goofy discover an ominous new message/warning in the previously mostly blank journal and decide to do what Mickey Mouse does best: Digitise the journal by using a supercomputer to break it down into data and have a computer generated copy of Sora travel into said data and uncover both the meaning behind this new message and why the journal ended up being wiped clean originally. What follows is more or less the same thing as Chain of Memories as a memory loss suffering Sora relives a watered down take on the events of KH1, with occasional snippets of central plot used to break up the repetition. The plot is both convoluted and at times confusing, falling into the same pitfalls that have plagued this series since every game after the first one. It would be one thing if this story had a satisfying payoff at the end, but it doesn't even have that. The plot and how it is presented is this game's biggest failing.
Thankfully, the gameplay is a different story. The combat is a slightly stripped down take on KH2, with fast, button mash heavy battles that are mostly well put together but hampered by the usual KH camera issues and a deeply annoying lock on system. The levelling up system and special move set up could have done with being a bit more intuitive and simply laid out, but overall, the combat element of the game is pretty solid. Exploration is also pretty well handled, as rather than try to create large areas to explore, the game emphasises instead smaller, puzzle/challenge driven areas (With an unusual fetish for blocks and block based puzzles) occasionally broken up with completely new gameplay elements (You could even call them mini-games if you must) that see some areas take the form of homages to games like Mario and Space Harrier. These serve as interesting breaks from the normal gameplay and are well enough put together, so again: solid stuff. There is an intense amount of repetition in here though, and there is a real lack of actual side quests and additional content, and the controls can frustrate alongside THAT camera also. You have been warned.
Visually, the game is a big improvement on 358/2 Days, with smoother performance and slightly better texture work. It's still quite jagged and bland in places, but it is still an improvement, with the trade off for the graphical improvements seemingly being much smaller play areas. Whereas 358/2 Days had several huge open areas to explore, Recoded has nothing of the like, as mentioned above. The soundtrack is again a series of reused tracks from KH1-2, with the bare minimum of voice work in game, spared for the rare FMV cutscenes. Nothing new on this front to be honest.
It smacks very much of a game made on the quick to cash in on the KH name, with the whole experience feeling like so much aimless filler in what it accomplishes. It's great Square-Enix put the effort in to refine the technical aspects of the game, and it IS fun to play but I was left feeling deeply unsatisfied by the end of it. I think by this stage, I for one am pretty sick of the constant 'beating around the bush' of the KH spin off games and would say it's long past time Square-Enix started working on KH3 already, but seeing as there is already yet another spin off title coming for the 3DS this year, and it sounds like ONCE AGAIN it's premise involves retreading the events of KH1, I fear that they're likely to run this series so far into the ground before the actual threequel arrives that no one will care when it eventually does.
I mean, when there are three times as many spin offs in a series than actual installments, it is taking things a bit too far, isn't it?