The Kingdom Hearts series is such a tangled mess of semi-sequels, deviations from the main narrative and interweaving time-lines, that it's hard to explain exactly where Re:Coded fits into things. In simple terms, it's a DS follow-up to Kingdom Hearts 2 – but there's more to it than that. This is a remake of the episodic Coded games that hit Japanese mobile phones back in 2009; a re-jigged compilation of story arcs unified with gameplay borrowed from Birth By Sleep and 358/2 Days. It's probably worth pointing out that it's also very buggy - teeming with glitches, broken lines of code, and opportunities to 'exploit' the game. Interestingly, it's supposed to be like this. Allow me to explain.
The trouble begins with Jiminy Cricket - the little fellow in the top hat who sits on the shoulder of compulsive liar, Pinocchio. It transpires that, after the events of the first two games, he took it upon himself to chronicle the adventures of Sora, Donald and Goofy in his journals. On the fateful day Re:Coded picks up from, however, the words from one of these journals – the one that details the events of the first Kingdom Hearts – simply disappear, with a mysterious line of text appearing in their place. With the help of King Mickey, the pair digitise the journal, creating a virtual world based on the story, and also a virtual Sora to send in and sort the problem out. It's kind of like The Matrix, except without the bullet-time and wooden acting from Keanu Reeves.
The setup allows Sora (or, I should say, a virtual being that thinks he's Sora) to return to locations from the first Kingdom Hearts game, including Traverse Town, Wonderland and the Coliseum. Leaving aside the fact that the graphics have been scaled down to fit the comparatively small DS screen, each environment is slightly different to how it was back in the PS2 era. The beaches of Destiny Island, green gardens of Wonderland and streets of Agrabah are all littered with black and red blocks (or blox, as the game insists on calling them) which have appeared alongside the troublesome Heartless. These blox are in fact the 'bugs' I referred to at the start of the review. They're tangible glitches that must be purged from the code in order to save each world from the clutches of an unknown evil.
Your efforts in this regard mostly take the form of bashing Heartless over the head with your trusty Keyblade, although there have been some additions to combat since the original episodic offerings. Re:Coded employs the command deck system used in Birth By Sleep, allowing players to customise their roster of directives by mixing and matching techniques in the menu screens. This can be ignored for the most part, however. All you really need to do is hammer away on the A button to launch Sora into a flurry of furious swings, pressing X every now and again to roll out of harm's way. While the option for more depth is always available, it's rarely needed.
Most of the strategy comes from developing Sora himself. The fact that the game takes place in a simulated environment gives rise to a rather unusual progression mechanic. The Stat Matrix (think Sphere Grid, or Crystarium, if you're a Final Fantasy fan) offers an interesting slant on levelling and character growth. By placing 'Chips' you've collected in battle on a circuit board, you can improve your attributes and learn new abilities. After accumulating enough experience in battle, you'll acquire Level Up Chips, which must be fitted to the circuit board before they have any effect. I was particularly impressed by the dual processing chip, which allows you double the effect of chips on the board that are placed between two processors. Making sure all your strongest chips are used to connect one processor to another is vital for building a strong character.