Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Review
Sora and Riku return in a new fun but flawed Kingdom Hearts installment that will undoubtedly lead us into the much anticipated part 3.
It has been 10 years since the release of the first Kingdom Hearts on the Playstation 2. A series built on one grand idea; combining the worlds and properties of Disney and Squaresoft. Now on its 7th game (but still not at part 3) we are given an installment that is leading us to the inevitable conclusion to the Kingdom Hearts trilogy. You control Sora and Riku in this game as they have to prove their worth as possible “Keyblade” masters. Things get complicated as the villain Xenahort puts his pieces on the chessboard, setting you off on your journey. As usual in this series, the plot is convoluted and a bit hard to follow when you try to put all the ideas together from all the other games in the series. Fortunately though, things come together a bit more cohesively by the end of the game. Despite the melodrama, there are still scenes of that genuine heartfelt wonder that comes from the Disney charm and Squaresoft teenage angst. I generally just like to think of it as a story of three friends doing whatever it takes to keep each other safe.
With this new installment, we are treated to a familiar Kingdom Hearts template. There are the Disney worlds to explore; Tron: Legacy, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Three Musketeers to name a few. Also, cameos from the Final Fantasy universe and the ability to break stuff with your keyblade as you solve that particular worlds troubles. There are a lot of new additions to this game, most notable being the Drop System. This system lets you play as both Sora and Riku in parallel. There is a limit to your playtime with each and as it runs down, your character will become comatose as you are then able to control the other. A great idea in concept, switching between parallel storylines and giving you a sense of urgency to the matter at hand, but its execution is flawed. Nothing is more jarring than being taken away from a boss fight because your meter ran out.
Also new to the series is the Dream Eaters. They are Pokemon type creatures that you create from raw materials (the spoils of your fallen foes). You can then care for them in minigames and build up their stats, in a sort of Nintendogs fashion. I did not spend that much time on them and mostly just stuck to the new combat mechanic; “Flowmotion”, a beautiful and chaotic mess at times. It allows you to bounce of walls, enemies, railings, etc until you build yourself up a special attack. The result is something that is sometimes balletic and other times like a dog chasing his own tail. Coupled with the usual assigned button slot moves with cooldowns, it is a fun and varied combat system.
Graphically, the worlds that are explored and the character models, especially on bosses are impressive on the handheld. I would rank it second to Resident Evil on visuals for the 3DS. There is still a bit of emptiness to some of the worlds, but ultimately the design and charm won me over. The sound design is great, impressive that Yoko Shimomura was able to capture the music of each world without their signature songs. Overall the presentation top notch as usual. Controls are a little clunky, but no more than any other Kingdom Hearts game, especially when it comes to platforming. There is also great use of the touchscreen/handheld features with some of the mini-games. I also ended up using the Circle Pad Pro accessory to help with camera. I generally feel that the 3DS is too small in my hands, so the pad definitely helps in my comfort.
This game is a bit of a mixed bag. There are changes that don’t seem necessary, but also do not completely destroy the experience. The drop system can create tense scenarios but can also have frustrating results. Creating your party of monsters can be engaging, but all that work can feel miniscule when you go into battle. The story as usual loves to go in circles, take u-turns and then go backwards before moving to its conclusion. Luckily the characterization is great and by the end, the events are genuinely captivating. There is also a lack of Final Fantasy/Sqaresoft in this game, the World Ends with You cast gets a lot of play, but some notable figures from that side of the mash up are absent. At least there is always a Moogle to count on in this new installment that welcomes the return of Riku and Sora in great fashion.