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January 25, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Re:coded (Part 2)

I spent the previous part explaining the different mechanics of the game as well as the basic idea of the plot, then I went through Destiny Islands. Go read it here to know what’s going on!

Sora – or, rather, a virtual re-creation of him within Jimini Cricket’s journal plugged to the castle’s computer, don’t question it, your head will hurt – has been sucked into a hole and wakes up in Traverse Town. Data-Sora meets Cid, who asks about three kids, triplets, who went on an errand and haven’t come back. The kids are none other than Huey, Dewey and Louie, Donald’s nephews. I guess that’s the way Disney found at the time to keep them with Donald, as parents in old Disney movies had the sad habit of falling dead or being evil witches. The triplets went to investigate the sudden appearance of the blocks but haven’t come back, and as you may guess, it’ll be Sora’s duty to bring them back.

Heading into the second sector of Traverse Town, Data-Sora quickly finds Huey cornered by Heartless. They get quickly defeated, and as a reward Huey hands Sora a strange glowing yellow piece, then says his brothers are in other parts of the town; Dewey is in the alley. Sora hurries there and finds Dewey, who also had a strange glowing yellow piece to give to Sora as a reward, but somehow lost it. Dewey drags Sora back to the previous zone of the town.

You know, since this Sora is just a piece of data and not the real deal, I should find him a nickname. What do you think of “Sorta”? It’s sorta Sora, but it’s not Sora.

You can't snake past this one.
In that part of the town, they’re attacked by more Heartless, and the blocks start disappearing into a hole in the ground. Investigating the place, Sora finds a System Sector and completes it; inside was waiting a snake made of blocks. Sounds like an uncreative boss, but hear this out: The blocks transform as the snake goes around! Incredible, isn't it? Wow, so much creativity. It's so impressive. I would have never thought of that myself!

I can't tell, those non-animated
cutscenes have basic character
designs... How can I say if he
is alright?
Upon returning, Sora meets Dewey again; the triplet retrieved the piece he had lost, which he promptly hands to Sora. The two go back to Cid, where he is waiting with Huey. The only one left is Louie. When Data-Sora heads back to the second sector, but the door has been replaced by… a glitch brick wall? Sora looks for the entrance to a System Sector, enters and fights through its three floors; this Sector presents another type of block, the green blocks that appear and disappear, thus not providing a sure ground for Sora to stand on. When this Sector is debugged, the door reappears and Sora goes to the second zone of the town, then finds his way into the third zone. There, he’s attacked by stronger Heartless, which he defeats, and then encounters the cloaked figure, which escapes to the first zone of the city. When Data-Sora follows, the figure goes through a door, and everyone who was in that zone has mysteriously disappeared, including Cid. Sora finds another System Sector, completes it, and finds everyone has returned to their place.

However, the troubles are not over, as the second zone is now covered in black bug-blocks and viruses. Louie is trapped on a building that disappeared because of the bugs. Data-Sora finds a System Sector, debugs it, and “repairs” the building, which allows him to save Louie. The triplet has found a third glowing yellow piece, and the two return to the first zone of the town. Sora encounters the cloaked figure again, but it vanishes, leaving behind a fourth glowing piece. The four pieces mesh together, forming a keyhole taking him… to the boss fight!

I mean, it's just a quick, unexpected change of gameplay I am
absolutely not prepared for, nor will I be in time to face the
new challenges! What could go wrong?

Well… No, actually. See, there’s never a single goddamn thing simple in Kingdom Hearts. Here, the keyhole turns this 3D game to a 2D platformer, and Sora has to fight through two levels before he can reach the boss. The platforming levels aren't too difficult (if you don't mind the airborne level having really annoying sections), and thus we get to the boss… A giant living suit of armor??

Tssk. Seen it!

Self-writing poetry: If that's the future of art, then
I don't want to see it.
Sora beats this tough boss, and then locks the keyhole, and restores Traverse Town entirely. As a result, Jiminy’s journal reveals a new entry: “There are more hurts than the one you have just undone. Undo the hurt to unbar the way.” Oh hey, waxing prophetic? Attempting riddles? I can do that too. “The site shall be revealed when the address is typed. There is more to your browser history than just what you have deleted. Cleanse thyne computer to free space.” Oh right, it wasn’t in Pseudo-Olde English. Anyway, as they wonder what this means, Heartless appear in the room, and Mickey, Donald and Goofy, although surprised, manage to take them down quickly. They also find out that they’re locked inside the computer room of the castle, and all they can do now is keep watching Data-Sora’s struggles against all the bugs. And howdy! Data-Sora just landed in Wonderland! If you thought the logic of this game made no sense, wait till they apply it to a world that already has no sense whatsoever!

Of course, because you cannot visit a world without encountering its main characters, Sora quickly finds Alice being attacked by Heartless. Sora makes quick work of them, but when he speaks to Alice, he finds out she’s lost her memory. She can’t even remember her name. The Cheshire Cat shows up to explain that the bugs caused everyone in Wonderland to suffer from memory loss. Data-Sora finds a light that turns out to be one of Alice’s memories, finally allowing her to remember her own name. Sora’s quest here is simple; find more memories scattered around Wonderland. Not just Alice’s, but everyone else’s.

Sora finds himself in the rose garden, shaped like a hedge maze; and the openings that lead from a “room” to another are glitches, so when Data-Sora crosses one, he winds up coming out of a different opening on the field. You can’t even trust the doors! Still, Data-Sora makes his way through this place and finds three memories. Sadly, none of them helps Alice, so off we go again to another part of this world! We step in a hedge maze guarded by red card guards, and Sora has to sneak his way through if he wants to get to any of the other openings. Sora does so, and finds the Tea Party. Sorry, mercury poisoning-afflicted demented hatter not included in this set. Brooding red-haired white-faced maniac not included, either; Kingdom Hearts' Wonderland doesn't follow the Tim Burton version.

After dealing with more Heartless, Sora does find the White Rabbit; his memories are all wonky as well, he just remembers he’s late to something. We can’t help him either, so we go back to the hedge maze and… Whoa, the card guards took Sonic Flash pills and are running like crazy all over the place! A bug must be causing this! Data-Sora ventures through the maze, avoiding the card guards once more, and finds a System Sector, which he clears from all bugged Heartless to bring these soldiers back to normal. He also finds a memory of a watch, which he can bring to the White Rabbit to receive a memory of a Trial. Afterwards, Data-Sora enters the Lotus forest, where a few more reminders can be found. Then, Sora finds yet another hedge maze and, while avoiding the red card guards, finds a way that leads to a gigantic living room. Sora clears the bugs in there and solves the problem of that famous talking doorknob. You know, I just realized that a talking doorknob must feel right at home in a game about keyholes and Keyblades. He also finds a few additional reminders there.

When Data-Sora comes back from the living room, he sees his path blocked by an army of black card guards. Card guards in spades, that’s for sure! You can guess what this means: Another System Sector to explore. Data-Sora does this, and the guards return to normal. Now that he has all the reminders, he can sneak his way back to Alice and help her retrieve her memories. He does so, and follows her to the Queen’s garden. If you remember that particular character from the Disney adaptation, you know something’s gonna go wrong. Believing Alice and Data-Sora to be responsible for the memory losses – and deciding that they are guilty – the Queen pronounces them guilty and orders a good ol’ beheading. Because of course, this wouldn’t be the Queen of Hearts without menaces of beheading.

"What does she mean, off with their beds? That doesn't
make sense! We don't have our beds around here!
...Ah, heads! Makes a lot more sense! Wait...

The keyhole is in a cage suspended near the Queen, but Sora first needs to pull it down using levers that he smashes with his Keyblade. When the cage is down, he gets to it and brandishes his Keyblade, entering the source of the bugs in Wonderland.

Even Dimentio would say this
boss looks ridiculous.
Guess what? Gameplay change! Now Sora finds himself in a shoot’em-up, always moving forwards while enemies appear in front of him, and can shoot projectiles. Sometimes, grey unmovable blocks get in the way and Sora must avoid slamming into them; sometimes it’s yellow blocks, which Sora can destroy. At the end, Sora has to fight a giant jester-like monster with a ton of HP. Because Shoot’em up, and because clearly jesters are a flavor of evil all to themselves. Could hjave been something else, I mean, we already had a jester at the end of Traverse Town! Whatever. When this one is defeated, we move to a second level of SHMUP, where things get tougher, and the same damn jester still awaits at the end. Then, guess what? A THIRD LEVEL, where not only are there more dangers on the way, the freaking glitches cause the field to move around, changing the controls; sometimes it’ll go vertical, on the left or the right, so Sora needs to use the Up and Down buttons to go left or right. This leads to the third and, thank God, final confrontation with the jester… wait, what’s that thing's name anyway? … …Trickmaster? That’s it? Are you kidding me? Sigh, fine. Data-Sora fights and defeats the Trickmaster once and for all, the bugs disappear in Wonderland and everyone regains their memories.

Before winding up in another world, Data-Sora encounter the cloaked figure again, this time chasing after him and somehow winding up… inside Disney Castle, in front of Mickey, Donald and Goofy watching the screen of the computer?


David Lynch, you’re not made for video game design! Stop it right there! No, wait... Hideo Kojima, get outta here!

As the four try to understand what’s going on, the cloaked figure appears in the room and pulls the cloak off to reveal… Riku? Okay, for non-Kingdom Hearts fans out there – which included me until I did a LOT of research for this review – Riku was a friend of Sora on Destiny Islands. The two kept a relationship as friendly rivals. However, the many encounters with evil spread across the multiple games in the series has made this relationship… complicated, to say the least. Now, I can’t pretend I know enough about the entire series to explain everything, and there’s a lot of going back and forth on Riku being either cloned, possessed, having an evil form, or having a doppleganger, so I won’t bother you with all the details and I’ll keep it to that. Besides… this isn’t actually Riku. This is the Riku from inside Jiminy’s journal, chosen by the greater entity that is the journal itself – you know what, don’t question it – to be the guardian of all of its backup save. So, basically, Data-Riku is a personification of Jiminy’s journal, in direct contact with the protagonists, a vessel of sorts for the memories contained within the journal.

Phew! And for a moment I was afraid this game’s plot would get any less complicated.

Yeah, um... I have a feeling your surprise virtualization
of the main crew is about to turn into something
horribly wrong in 3... 2...
Data-Riku admits to pulling Mickey, Goofy and Donald into the journal. Now, don’t ask me how the journal could do that, or if for some reason the mega-computer in Disney Castle came equipped with a virtualizer, I don’t know. This is a riddle for the ages, and I think it would be simpler to just pull out the “It’s magic!” card. Either way, we have three Disney stars from the real world into the journal’s virtual world now. However, the joke’s on Data-Riku, as a hacker from outside seems to be playing around. What’s more, that hacker has managed to lock the path between the journal and reality, and it’s only by clearing all the bugs in the next worlds that the path will be open again to send Mickey, Donald and Goofy home. Thankfully, Data-Sora is more than willing to participate in the clearing of these pesky blocks!

Although, this hacker thing raises quite a lot of questions…First, did it know that Jiminy’s journal could be plugged into the computer? Second, if that hacker did know, how did he or she acquire such information? Third, how come this hacker chose that particular moment to attack? Fourth, just who the Hell in the Kingdom Hearts world of magic and wonders would happen to have hacking talents? (The geniuses from Big Hero 6, set to appear in KH3, don't count.) Fifth, this seems to be a complex computer, would any lowly hacker be able to hack into this, what with the very “techno-magic” aspect of it? Sixth, taking into account that the hacker was just waiting for Mickey, Donald and Goofy to be away from the computer, leaving the journal plugged there like a bunch of idiots, then coming in to hack into the journal, just what would be the hacker’s motivation in erasing/changing/hacking whatever’s written in a freaking book originally created to collect the stories of Sora’s first adventure?

And that’s not the only questions I have, but if I think about this any longer, I’ll suffer headaches too strong for good ol’ Tylenol to help.

Well, I guess I’m gonna move on. Data-Sora appears in the fourth world, the Olympic Coliseum, straight out of Hercules. Or Herakles, if you’re one of those upper-class mythology aficionados who hates that Disney bastardized the name of a famous Greek hero of myth. Data-Riku contacts Sora to explain that the previous worlds can now be re-explored at his leisure, and he can even choose to go back to those worlds at any moment he desires – although he can choose to replay through that world’s story, but he can also revisit the world, with slight differences, without having to replay through its portion of the story (something called Questploration). Good to know!

When Sora goes inside, he sees the satyr Philoctetes staring at an entrance closed by a whole bunch of black blocks. Talking to him reveals that this is supposed to lead to the Coliseum, but the place has changed in all kinds of bizarre ways. And if that was not enough, Phil’s champion Hercules hasn’t come back from there. Sora offers to go look for him, and proves he’s got what it takes by smashing the blocks out of the way, which reveals a keyhole. After a few words of encouragement from Phil, Sora enters.

"Kill. Every. Monster. ...No, wait, that's too many words."

Now, I’ll actually go through the plot for this world in the next part, as I have to explain how this world works; it’s a whole new genre going on here. See, while Kingdom Hearts always was an action RPG with more focus on the action, this world is also an action RPG with battles in regular RPG fashion. It turns out that the Coliseum has been transformed into a multi-floor labyrinth, and the portal that takes Sora from a floor to the next one is hidden under one bug-block in the area. Problem is, there are many bug blocks in the rooms of each floor. Some blocks are of the gray, indestructible kind, or worse even the yellow, dangerous kind, but destroying enough blocks turns them into regular black blocks. 

Tssk! No thanks. If I want fair, turn-based combat, I'll play Final Fantasy,
thank you very much.
However, the floors are also covered in enemies. The battles here are a simplified version of the turn-based combat we see in most RPGs. You don’t actually choose which enemy to attack, and Data-Sora is the only one that can use special abilities – mostly attacks derived from his Action Commands. Each turn, he can attack or use up to three Action Commands, which can let him do a great deal of damage to the many enemies in front of him. The allies he gains on the first few floors can only attack, and once again you do not choose which enemy they attack. Each character has his own attack combo that can be triggered at random and does a lot of damage to the enemies.

Another scrap of paper? You should be lucky scraps of paper somehow
grants you stat boosts. My papers never did that.
An additional mechanic unlocked a little later is the Hero’s Licence. Those are flashing orbs of light that Sora can get from prize blocks. Licences serve many purposes, and you can collect plenty of them, but each is a one-time use only, so be careful not to waste them. They’re basically Status Effects for your own team; one can increase the characters’ attack, another raises their defense, another increases their evasion, another makes them regain some HP each turn… the good thing is that you can play as many Licences as you want, but you cannot stack multiple times the same Licence by using more than one during the same turn. What’s more using these Licences doesn’t waste a turn, you can still do your special attacks during a turn you use Licences.

Last but not least, this turn-based RPG system also uses Action Commands – specifically, when one of the characters is about to attack, you can press A when the game indicates such to be able to attack again (max. 3 attacks for each character). They know about timed hits! It’s particularly useful against the larger crowds of monsters encountered on the later floors. Similarly, when monsters attack, you can press Y to either avoid the attack or lessen the damage received.

Well, that’s all I had to say about this one… Now, how about I go into the plot? …Oh, it’s too late?  Okay then, I've set the field for the Olympic Coliseum, we'll go through its plot next Friday. Alright, see you then!