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Wednesday 22/02/2016: Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink

January 22, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Re:coded (Part 1)

Long ago, I made a list where I discussed the twelve video game franchises I wanted to try. As time went on, I got to try one or more of those franchises. One such example was Kingdom Hearts, a series with absolutely tremendous popularity, a complex storyline – perhaps too complex, for some – and featuring dozens of famous Disney characters. Considering the popularity of Disney and the popularity of Final Fantasy, this HAD to be a record-breaking blockbuster- er, I mean, game.

As a result, I one day found this Nintendo DS game at a store, and decided I wanted to try it. I mean, I kinda knew the story of Kingdom Hearts was complex, but I thought I would still understand the plot, right? I told some of my online friends that I bought Kingdom Hearts Re:coded… and what is the first comment I get?

“Bad idea for your first Kingdom Hearts game.”


Oh well, I’m stuck with it now, I better play it.

Alright! So, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded originally started as a mobile game titled, well, Kingdom Hearts coded. Oh yes, that’s how it’s written, I’m not missing a capital letter. On a chronological standpoint, it is supposed to take place after Kingdom Hearts II, which means that if it references the previous KH games too much, I’ll get lost. Most of the story is a re-telling… of the first Kingdom Hearts… inside a virtual dimension of sorts…

Nobody likes being caught in the center of a mind screw.
I know Dumbo didn't like the Pink Elephants.
You know what, this game is gonna be extremely mind-screwy. It’s gonna be tough to explain. Grab some popcorn, try to follow me, this is one Hell of a ride. However, rest assured; although they do take cues from the plot of the first Kingdom Hearts game, coded and its remake Re:coded affect very little in the overarching storyline, aside from exploring in greater depth certain themes that have always been present in the series (the heart, the soul, the memories – yes, it’s that kind of story), and offer few revelations that add to the greater story in the end. This, coupled to the plot taking place mostly in the worlds visited in the first Kingdom Hearts, makes this game not quite right as a first KH game to play, but correct nonetheless to be introduced to this universe (Multiverse?) and its quirks.

Let’s jump right into this!

The animated cutscenes even have subtitles?
How useful. I won't need to decipher their speech.
When you start a new game, we open on Sora – who you absolutely know about if you know anything about KH – promising to go and rescue his friend Naminé. What follows is an excellent introduction sequence that encompasses flashbacks from the previous games of the franchise, with strange data symbols coming at the viewer. The real into to this game shows Jiminy Cricket, who has been collecting the stories of what happened to Sora and everyone else, suddenly worried as he finds his journals containing sentences he doesn’t remember writing. “Thanks, Naminé” and the enigmatic “Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it”. Somehow, he can connect this journal to the Disney Castle’s computer and watch the events described in it… look, don’t question it. I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation as to why this happens, but I’ll go with this ever-infamous sentence: “It’s magic. I don’t have to explain it.”

Well, theyt sure are block-ing the view.

The computer screen, however, shows the events described in the book as being corrupted with big black blocks of data decorated with red lines. Worried, Jiminy brings this up to Chip, Dale, Goofy, Donald and Mickey, who also see what’s wrong in the journals… but they can’t modify the data to clear out the bugs. However, Goofy suggests something: What if they asked for help from a character inside the journal? This could be done, right?

Such power, so tempting... I'll slice and dice.
I'll open my mail with this!
Apparently, yes, it can be done. And, therefore, Mickey decides to contact the Sora made of data who “exists” within these recreations of the original KH’s adventures, as he’s probably the only one who can do anything against these bugs. And thus, Data-Sora lands on a piece of world where we have a quick Tutorial on moving, using the buttons… then you have to make a tough choice for Data-Sora: He must pick between a Sword (representing knightly courage), a Scepter (magical power), or a Shield (spirit of protection). But then, after you’ve chosen, you must select one of the other two and drop it, as you will not be using it in the game. If you pick Sword, you must drop either Scepter or Shield. No getting greedy and picking all three!

When this is done, this means Data-Sora’s… um… data has been rewritten. He is now able to use the Keyblade! Okay, quick crash course: Keyblades are weapons of great power (although their design isn’t actually all that practical when you think about it, as a normal blade should hurt more than dents at the end of a stick, but hey, those things are magical and I haven’t followed the series much, so what do I know?). They’re also directly connected to their user’s heart, so while it is possible to disarm a Keyblade user, it’s still extremely difficult. And that’s before actual swordsmanship comes into play! After Chip and Dale solve another issue in the system, the screen shows Data-Sora meeting a black hooded figure, and in chasing this mysterious character finds himself surrounded by Heartless. What are Heartless, you may ask, if you’ve never heard of the series? It’s simply a little creature of pure darkness. Kill it, it is your duty as a hero! Two and five aren’t bad, but at some point a miniature army of them attacks, and we’re introduced to all the mechanics of this game.

At the start of the game, the first Keyblade, the Kingdom Key, has
few abilities. However, as you increase its level, you can turn it
into a formidable weapon. Still nowhere as formidable as the late-game
Keyblades... but still, a cool weapon.
First off, the Keyblade Clock Level. Each Keyblade starts at Level 1 and levels up in-battle as you smash your way through mooks, and each subsequent level – up to Level 4 – adds a new ability to your Keyblade. As such, it can pay to keep your Keyblade at Max Level, though it’s not always possible. When you get hit you lose some of the current battle’s "Clock Level" experience, and it also depletes with time, so if you don’t keep Sora-Smashing your way through, you could wind up with a Keyblade back to Level 1. When the Keyblade reaches maximum level, you can unleash a devastating special attack, at the cost of returning to Level 1. Plus, as you fight, the Keyblade also gains actual experience that can level it up, allowing you to unlock new abilities for it (and being able to switch between those abilities in the Menu), and making it overall stronger. Later challenges practically require leveled-up Keyblades at certain Clock Levels to be accomplished.

Three action commands? At first, that's more than enough.
In the endgame? You'll need at least 5 or 6. Healing spells, items,
Keyblade attacks, magic attacks...
Second, the Actions are a set of attacks and items that you can access easily. You set them in the Matrix Actions menu. You can set special attacks in these slots, but you can also use Items – and in fact, this is the only actual way to get to use a potion if you’re low on health, or an ether if you need to skip two Keyblade Clock Levels. As you fight, you can earn more attacks to set in these slots and combine two attacks to get a stronger one. Those need to be used frequently so that you can level them up and make them get stronger. Needless to say, the rarer the type of attack, the more powerful it is. At first you only have basic Keyblade acrobatics, but as you progress you’ll find ice-type moves, thunder-type moves, fire-type moves… Fun for the whole elemental masochistic family! Always remember to update your attacks and set items. In-battle, you can use them all at any time, and you can switch between them with the L button, although using one attack means it’ll need to recharge for a couple seconds before you can use it again. Thus, use them wisely, don’t waste them on weak enemies.

It doesn't look like much right now...
But in endgame...
After all the Heartless are defeated, Sora gains a Level Up status chip. This goes in the Pause Menu’s Stat Matrix, also accessible in the Start Menu. The Stat Matrix is where you place all the chips you earn as you play. See, instead of leveling up and having your stats increase at a steady rhythm, leveling up passes through this (with the Level Up chips, which also increase your stats a little) as well as other stat increase chips. This Level Up chip is the first one you get, and you get to learn how this thing works; by placing chips on the path, you link central units together and unlock new abilities that can save you in-battle. When two central units are completely connected with chips, these chips are upgraded and become worth twice what they originally were; thus, Level Up chips placed between those central units increase your level by 2. As the game progresses you should get plenty of chips for plenty of stat and ability upgrades, including some empty chips. After a while, the paths will branch out in the Stat Matrix, allowing to unlock more species abilities, and the trick is to decide where to place each chip so that you get a maximum boost from them once they’ve connected two central units. You can also access blue blocks that allow new Action slots, as well as green squares that let you equip some accessories to power up your Keyblade.

...In the endgame, THIS is what the ginormous Stat Matrix looks like.
Good luck filling all those empty chip slots.

It was so difficult to figure this all out when I started, I think I still need help having this all make sense. But if you ever buy this game, I hope this long-winded explanation of the mechanics will allow you to start the game with more knowledge than I had. 

As you progress through Story Mode, you can also access special programs on the Stat Matrix called Cheat Tuners that let you make plenty of modifications. The first one is a switch that goes between Beginner, Standard, Proud or Critical (increasing or decreasing the overall difficulty of the game). Other Cheat Tuners include:
-A loot cheat that increases the number of items earned, but reduces Sora’s HP;
-A prize cheat that increases rewards but makes the enemies stronger;
-A CP/EXP cheat that switches up how much CP (money) and EXP you get from battles;
-And an HP cheat that can let you decrease the HP of both Sora and the enemies down to a certain percentage, all the way down to 0% (where everyone, main character and all the enemies, have only 1HP).

All this to learn, and we’re not even thrown into the plot yet!

I have a feeling I'd know you better in another story.
Now that the nuisances are defeated, a door appears. Mickey instructs Data-Sora to brandish the Keyblade to open the door, and Data-Sora enters, finding himself on Destiny Islands. Quickly we can see that these big black blocks have showed up on the island. Sora’s friend Selphie, standing nearby, doesn’t know what is going on. Wait a second, I just realized that Data-Sora knows that girl, despite having been created moments ago. I’m sure there’s a reason for that… Exploring further, Data-Sora finds another friend of his investigating the masses of blocks. He explains that, while most blocks are of the normal black type, there are other strange types of blocks, like the silver and yellow ones that conceal items. After we break the one on the beach and find a HP +2 chip for the Stat Matrix, Wakka informs Sora that another friend, Tidus, has been investigating but hasn’t come back. When we head to a higher piece of land, we see the cloaked figure go through a nearby wall…

Sora knows the key to asskicking; he has it equipped.
As it turns out, the bugs also cause portals leading to special debug zones, called System Sectors, to appear; Data-Sora has to find a System Sector’s entrance (using a radar-type signal, requiring to hear the beeps coming from the Nintendo DS), then go inside and clear out the bugged creatures on each floor of these sectors, in order to restore each world to its former appearance. The first System Sectors aren’t too complex, but as the game progresses, things get really tough. Also of note, the System Sectors have a type of challenge related to them; you start with 1000 System Points, and with each floor of the current Sector you can bet 10%, 30% or 50% of your current amount of System Points. In general, you should bet 50%, as the rewards multiply the amount you’ve bet (sometimes by a lot!) if the additional challenge on that floor has been completed. You earn some System Points (SP) also by smashing blocks and killing normal enemies, but nowhere nearly as much as you can get completing the challenges. However, these challenges are a double-edged sword, as if you don’t succeed at completing the challenge, you don’t get your betted SP back. Plus, sometimes those annoying bugs tend to glitch out the entire floor, so that you are forced to bet ALL of your current SP. If you fail that challenge, good luck getting your SP back… And if you die on a floor other than the first one, you can only use whatever remaining SP you had after you died to place your bet.

Ah, you and your dueling! Will
you ever think of something else to do?
So, Data-Sora steps in his first System Sector, cleans it up, and when he comes out a bridge appears leading to the little faraway island. Tidus is waiting there, and when Data-Sora comes up to him Tidus says he has a clue as to what’s going on… but refuses to tell Sora unless they duel and Sora wins. This is the first mid-boss of the game, so Tidus is rather simple to defeat. Tidus explains that he saw the cloaked figure near the waterfall, but it vanished in an entrance nearby. Data-Sora finds the entrance and goes inside… and the screen flashes a bright light on the computer in the Disney Castle, blinding everyone in the room for a moment. When the light fades, a new message appeared in the journal, lines about suffering, calming pain, and opening the way…

The hooded figure shows up near Data-Sora again and explains that the Destiny Islands are connected, like the rest of the world, and that Sora needs to look for the Keyhole, Thankfully, instead of bothering the player with endless searching around the island, the scene conveniently cuts immediately to Data-Sora finding the Keyhole, brandishing his Keyblade, and entering the new portal.

This takes him to the first boss of the game, a large black monster named Darkside! This thing has a hole in the shape of a heart on its belly… Gee, could you make it any less obvious? By this point, just have “I AM EVIL” written in red marker all over this guy’s torso, right over the heart-shaped hole! No wait, even better, imply that this is Chernabog’s data-brother! After all, when you decide to throw subtlety out the window, you make sure not to forget a single piece of it!

Huh, I never thought a "Rubik's Cube Of Evil" would ever
make its way on the list of bosses in a video game.
The fight starts off pretty simple, with the giant darkness monster punching the ground and keeping his fist there for Sora to hit it – common boss stupidity. When that part is beaten, the entity glitches and becomes a mass of yellow blocks with black thunder-like insignias on them. Those are a kind of bug block that hurts you when you touch it – and that includes when you hit it to destroy it. Those goddamn things… Now, when Darkside punches the ground, it sends a myriad of blocks your way, and you must break the three black blocks now forming Darkside’s arm, causing it to realize its own stupidity and slam its own head on the ground before you – doooey! – thus allowing you to attack said head. …What do you mean, his head landed because of how I hurt him? I don’t really care, my explanation is funnier. When that phase is defeated, Darkside transports himself onto the battlefield, where he becomes a whole bunch of yellow blocks floating and moving around a red and blue bug block. Your only chance to defeat this boss is to wait till the goddamn yellow blocks leave the red and blue block, then run at that block and hack and slash at it until it’s rubble. Or dead code. Or whatever, those virtual analogies aren’t my forte. Eventually, the block is defeated – what an odd thing to say. Darkside “ascends” into a hole that opens in the skies and vanishes, and Data-Sora is also sucked up by this sorta-white hole.

Next thing we know, Data-Sora wakes up from a face-licking by Pluto, the most confounding character of the entire Disney mythos, to realize he’s not in Kansas Destiny Islands anymore.

I’ll continue this in Part 2!