Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
March 29, 2012 (JP)
July 20, 2012 (EU)
July 26, 2012 (AU)
July 31, 2012 (NA)
Kingdom Hearts fans have it rough. It’s been six long years since the last numbered installment in the series, and we’ve yet to even get an announcement of the next. In the interim we’ve had to settle for handheld spinoffs and side stories, many of them (save for the stellar Birth by Sleep) being of questionable quality. Now we have Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, which, besides having a horribly confusing name, is supposed to lead straight into Kingdom Hearts III. But the question is, is the game any good, or just another filler entry to buy time until the main event?
Kingdom Hearts 3D sees the return of Sora and Riku as they try to pass their Mark of Mastery exam and become true Keyblade Masters. To do this, Master Yen Sid tasks them with waking up seven sleeping worlds in order to prove that they have the strength to defeat series antagonist Xehanort. Along the way, they’ll meet familiar Disney characters, battle hordes of enemies, and uncover an elaborate plot masterminded by Xehanort himself.
If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The game stays true to the series’ roots while adding new twists of its own to shake things up a bit. Combat is a pared-down version of the impressive Command system from Birth by Sleep, enhanced by a new system called Flowmotion. Flowmotion adds some parkour elements to the combat, allowing Sora and Riku to vault into enemies from walls, slide up and down rails, and even jump up buildings. It’s a natural fit for the series’ fast, flashy combat system, even though sometimes it reduces tough fights to “Keep rolling into the wall and jump from it.”
The other big addition to the combat system are Dream Eaters. These are the token random baddies, similar to the Heartless or Unversed in past entries, who infest all the sleeping worlds. You’ll fight thousands of evil Dream Eaters, called Nightmares, throughout your journey. However, friendly ones, known as Spirits, will also join you on your quest. Spirits can be crafted using materials dropped by enemies or found in chests and portals – many of them quite rare. You can bond with your spirits by using the stylus to pat or rub them, using the camera to portray them actually in the environment around you – a neat touch that’s good for a few “Aww, how cute” moments. All the Spirits are impressively designed, running the gamut from adorable to fearsome – even though there are some palette swaps along the way.
In battle, these Spirits serve as your party, attacking enemies, firing offensive magic, and buffing Sora and Riku with support spells. After your Spirit’s Link Gauge reaches max, you can link with the Spirit to perform a special attack. Battling and bonding with your Spirits earn Link Points, which serve as a type of currency to unlock abilities and commands for Sora and Riku. You can also train them and feed them using special toys and treats, as well as have them compete in Flick Rush – a competition between teams of spirits that’s reminiscent of Chain of Memories‘ card battle system. All in all, it’s an impressively executed system, even if the traditional party of Donald and Goofy is sorely missed.
The game’s other big new feature fares much worse: the Drop system. Since you’ll be playing simultaneously as Riku and Sora and exploring parallel versions of the same worlds, the developers have introduced a Drop meter that steadily depletes as you play. Once the meter depletes entirely, play immediately ceases as that character and you’re forcibly switched to the other. The gauge also has a multiplier – getting hit by certain attacks will make the gauge deplete at a much faster rate, but thankfully you can extend the length of your Drop and reset the meter by using special items.
If that sounds needlessly annoying, it’s because it is. I appreciate the need to keep Sora and Riku’s stories fairly parallel, but nothing is more rage-inducing than Dropping when you have a tough boss down to a sliver of his final health bar and having to restart the whole fight on the next Drop. I can’t help but feel there was a better way to implement this system – at least pause the gauge during boss battles.
The worlds themselves are some of the best-designed ones in the series. They’re very three-dimensional (how appropriate) and full of nooks and crannies hiding chests, portals, and more. On top of all that, they’re massive – most of them are much bigger than even the worlds from the PS2 entries in the series. There are even areas which can only be accessed during a specific character’s storyline, so they feel even more sizable than they are. There’s also an increase in platforming, thanks largely to Flowmotion. Most of them are worlds we’ve never seen before in the series, and they’re each unique and fun to play through – though the Tron world continues its tradition from KH2 of being a real stinker.
The first time you go to any of these worlds, you’ll have to complete a Dive. Fans who played the first two games in the series will remember the much-maligned Gummi Ship levels, and they’ll be right at home playing these Dives. Think Gummi Ship without the Gummi Ship – yeah, it’s just as bad as it sounds. Riku or Sora will dive through space, falling through random debris and attacking enemies with their keyblade while collecting points. The controls aren’t particularly responsive during these sections, and the scoring is almost entirely time-based. It’s not as bad as KH1’s Gummi Ship, but it’s not particularly fun either.
The game’s graphics are probably the most impressive the series has seen. The Dream Eaters are vibrant and colorful, the worlds are expansive, and character models are top-notch. There’s a noticeable lack of anti-aliasing though, so expect some jaggies. The 3D effect is also underutilized, and with all the action on-screen you’ll probably find yourself needing to turn the 3D off for a few minutes every so often to rest your eyes. Overall though, the game is one of the best-looking on the 3DS and edges over even the PS2 titles.
The music is stellar, as we’ve come to expect from the series. Yoko Shimomura’s Kingdom Hearts soundtracks are some of the best in gaming, and the score she has composed for 3D ranks right up there. Some of the battle themes are magnificent, and one late-game world will have you in awe of the fully orchestrated versions of symphonic classics. Most of the original voice cast returns, and the acting is mostly impeccably done, though some of the Disney characters grate and Haley Joel Osment is just sounding weird as Sora at this point – especially since Sora has apparently undergone a full lobotomy since KH2 and is even more ridiculously naive and idiotic than usual.
No one would ever accuse Kingdom Hearts of being a literary masterpiece, but KH3D’s plot is one of the most convoluted messes ever. It’s absolutely crucial to the plot of the series overall, so it’s not a side story or spinoff, but it falls into the trap of having no plot for 90% of the game, then trying to pile on plot twist after plot twist at the end. Even the most ardent fans will be scratching their heads going “Huh?” and trying to understand the villains’ master plan, which will be executed in the next game in the series – Kingdom Hearts III.
As has been the case in every game post-KH1, the Disney worlds and characters have almost no bearing on the plot, and the game feels more like its own story that just so happens to take place in Disney-themed worlds. KH3D also completes the trend of a decrease in Final Fantasy character cameos – the only one in this game is the shop Moogle. In their place this time are characters from The World Ends with You, and surprisingly they have a pretty good explanation for their appearance. Not to spoil things, but the plot of KH3D meshes quite well with the plight of TWEWY’s characters in their own game, and it’s nice to see Neku and the gang. The remixes of TWEWY music are great too.
All in all, Kingdom Hearts 3D feels more like an actual main series game than a spinoff. The combat is deeper than ever (though the command system is a step back from Birth by Sleep‘s), the world design is possibly the best in the series, and the game looks and sounds great. It has its share of annoyances that hold it back from greatness though – the Drop system is aggravating, the plot is needlessly convoluted, the Disney influence is becoming even more of an afterthought, and the Final Fantasy crossover is all but gone.
If you’re a fan of Kingdom Hearts, you definitely want to play this game. If you’re a newcomer to the series, the game gives summaries of the plots of all the past games, but you’ll still probably find yourself lost in all the jargon and plot devices. If you get past that, however, it’s a very solid action RPG and one of the better games on the system.
Now can we just have KH3 already?
Expands upon the combat system of its predecessors and incorporates some new elements to give it more depth.
Dream Eaters are well-designed and surprisingly enjoyable to raise.
Worlds are massive and greatly detailed, and the graphics and soundtrack are magnificent.
Drop system is one of the most aggravating things Square has ever contrived.
The plot is erratic and confusing, though crucial to the series as a whole.
Diving is wholly unnecessary.
It'll be confusing for first-time players.