Luis studies Game Design and Development at the Savannah. Other than video games, he enjoys music, voice acting, and many other arts. One of this strong points is his 3D Art, which you can see (and maybe hire *wink* *whink*) on his portfolio website: http://www.luis-illingworth.com/
Weíve heard them all this far. Yes, it has a pretentious subtitle, yes this is a filler story still building up to the third main iteration, yes itís on a portable console and, yes, just give the fans Kingdom Hearts III already. Yet here we are with Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, a full-fledged title on the Nintendo 3DS. When I turned on the game for the first time, the logo celebrating the 10th anniversary of the series was the first thing to greet me, bringing back memories of the time Iíve spent with the series. Some of those memories I remember fondly, and others bring horrible headaches triggered by the heart-shaped brain tumor the games have left on my brain.
It is amazing how Dream Drop Distance manages to tickle both of those memories at the same time. For better or worse.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance // Platform: Nintendo 3DS Release Date: July 31st, 2012 Published by: Square Enix Ltd. Developed by: Square Enix Ltd. Retails for: $39.99 MSRP
The events Dream Drop Distance take place after Kingdom Hearts II and the mobile entry Coded. A great evil is looming, and preparations to counter it are being made. One of such is the examination of Sora and Riku, Keyblade wielders and the main protagonists of the game. Their abilities are put to the test in the form of the Mark of Mastery exam, a series of trials that, if passed, grants one the title of True Keyblade Master. Sora and Riku are then sent to the Dream Worlds, where they are to unlock the Sleeping Keyholes from each land inspired by Disney characters and stories.
In Kingdom Hearts fashion, the story has various themes of friendship and love thrown here and there. Itís a tale that at moments feels like it has been told quite a few times already. If youíre not caught up on your KH lore, which is already quite the feat, keeping up with the references and nods to all the other games might sour the experience for you. The game fills you in with extensive lore entries of past games as you progress through the 25 hours it will take you to complete the story. If you want to comprehend what is going on, these entries are required reading material, making story bits occasionally feel like theyíre just some sort of test in order to see if youíve done your school reading, or played the other games. The story throws some interesting twists which, admittedly, do make the plot more interesting, but only at the expense of making it even more unnecessarily complicated and set things up for Kingdom Hearts III.
The way Disney characters are presented is the moments where the gameís complex narrative stands out, bringing new worlds to the table like La Citť des Cloches, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This is done thanks to surprisingly good voice acting and cutscene direction, since most of the Disney talent has been recruited for the in-game voices. Curiously enough, no Final Fantasy characters are present in this game, which are instead compensated with the main cast of The World Ends with You, Tetsuya Nomuraís other creation.
In Dream Drop Distance, you alternate playing as both Sora and Riku, as they explore the worlds separately. To encourage switching between both characters, KH3D has a new Ďdropí system. Players now count with a Drop Gauge, which slowly depletes as you play the game, and your items and actions in combat can change the speed in which the Drop Gauge depletes. Once the gauge reaches zero, you enter a sleep state and the game changes characters for you. You collect Drop Points (or DP) which you can use to purchase temporary bonuses and perks for the next character once the change occurs. Itís a nice addition, and it allows for the player to feel like the change not only occurs to advance the plot, but also for improving combat skills with both characters. Plus, you also have the option to Ďdropí anytime and change characters.
Kingdom Hearts 3D also features a revamped hack ní slash combat system. Aside from the Command Deck the series has always used in order to cycle through your different actions and magic during combat, the two biggest integrations are Flowmotion and Reality Shift. Flowmotion is triggered by using the dash/roll button against certain objects or walls. The player is able to then move quicker throughout the game field, and jump from enemy to enemy much faster, not to mention also attacking in different ways other than hacking away with your weapon.
The other addition, Reality Shift, triggers with the Touch Screen or by pressing A and X together once the prompt appears, which is usually when you deal lots of damage to the enemy or the enemy is low on health. Once activated, players enter a sort of micro-game which is played with the Touch Screen. These micro-games vary according to the world in which youíre playing and can allow for the player to deal damage to enemies in a designated area. This works surprising well during combat, freshing up things and making it more interesting, while making boss battles feel flashier, since using Reality Shift on them triggers cool action sequences. While these two are great additions, Flowmotion is better used in open spaces. When in tight corridors and surrounded by enemies, you might want to roll or dash out of harmís way and end up unintentionally triggering Flowmotion; a problem that can end in a frustrating death quite a few times.
Players wonít be fighting their battles alone, since youíre now able to create your own party in Dream Drop Distance. As you fight Dream Eaters, this gameís version of Heartless and Nobodies, you collect different ingredients, which are used for creating Spirits; good hearted versions of Dream Eaters. You can set up to two of them to accompany you in battle, with one extra Spirit to switch on the fly with the others. Each Spirit has its own Link Ability path, which acts like a Skill Tree, and players use Link Points acquired during battle to unlock magic, attack skills, and passive abilities not only for the Spirits, but also for Sora and Riku. Link Points can also be obtained by feeding your Spirits treats, playing mini-games with them, and petting them in the gameís AR Mode. Itís great to see more customization in your party, since Goofy and Donald in other games did their own thing, but these abilities for your Spirits can become difficult to control. The partner AI can be very dumb at times, as Spirits will occasionally charge head on to enemies repeatedly when they are blocking, using a type of magic that has little effect against them, and not using healing magic on other party members when needed. Itís certainly a downgrade since the days of trustworthy partners Goofy and Donald.
When you enter a new world, a minigame in which you Ďdiveí into the world appears. The game turns into an on-rails shooter with different objectives. This can vary from gathering a certain amount of points before arriving to the world, to defeating a certain number of enemies, to defeating a larger Dream Eater. These parts are straight forward and simple to play, if not also enjoyable, and do not feel pointless like the building of ships in other Kingdom Hearts games.
As you progress through your travels in KH3D, you will do so in a semi-linear fashion. Players get from one point of the level to the next while eliminating Dream Eaters along the way in order to reach the next cutscene and, eventually, a boss battle. These creatures vary in scale and difficulty, but battling against them is always fun, rewarding, and implement mechanics of the game in ways that make the battle more entertaining. Often, the levels include different events that are tailored according to the story of the Disney world youíre visiting, such as protecting a cart, taking part in a lightcycle battle, etc. There is a small room for exploring in each level of the game, which is rewarded with the finding of treasures chests containing items, rare ingredients to create more powerful Spirits, extra commands, etc.
The areas often feature basic puzzle solving, platforming, and the discovery of hidden objects through Reality Shift attacks. Platforming has always been present in Kingdom Hearts games but it feels obsolete in Dream Drop Distance, since the Flowmotion lets you jump higher and move faster, making platforming feel more like a hassle than fun. When taking a break from the action in save points, a Moogle Shop is always nearby, where you can buy and sell skills, magic, Spirit ingredients, and assorted items. Almost every item found in the shop is also attainable through hunting of treasure chests so, if youíre feeling like not looking for them or want to get the better spells you missed, the shop is a good alternative to get these. Know that money comes in lesser quantities, so itís also more difficult to purchase expensive items.
The game also features some Street Pass functionality. While exploring the world, youíll bump into Link Portals, which allows you to undertake small challenges to be completed while battling a set number of enemies. Some of these include not getting hit as much, perform a certain number of counter-attacks, and defeat enemies using only Flowmotion attacks. Some Link Portals can also aid you by borrowing Spirits from someone else. Players are also able to customize their own Link Portals with challenges or Spirits which they can send to other players through Streetpass.
If there is a thing I can genuinely praise about KH3D, itís the presentation. The game is certainly a beauty to look at, and the vibrant display of colors in the character models and inventive environments alike is greatly enhanced by the 3D Effect. The cutscenes are rendered in real-time, boasting quality lip synching and animation. Orchestral pieces by series composer Yoko Shimomura greatly boost the tense action during battles. For Dream Drop Distance, Square Enix made sure to squish out ever last ounce of graphical power out of the 3DS and it shows.
Itís a shame that, from the moment you start the game, it seems like youíre going to also have to deal with some frame rate issues at times; particularly in battles. During fights, frame rate can drop at horribly low points when there are too many enemies on display, and visual effects from attacks certainly do not help the frame rate either. At moments, just having the 3D on can slightly affect the frame rate. These technical issues, luckily, donít appear as much, and if overlooked, you will be able to appreciate the visuals of the game more for what they can achieve from the 3DSí hardware.
Dream Drop Distance may not be the Kingdom Hearts III everyone is waiting for, but itís certainly an entry that does try to bring new elements to the table. The revamped combat with new forms of movement and attacks make the traditional hack ní slash feel fresh, agile, and an overall step in the right direction. The new worlds, characters, and quality cutscenes wash away that lackluster feeling that some portable entries had, and KH3D manages to feel like youíre finally progressing in the adventures of Sora and Riku. That being said, itís already too much work to try to keep up with the complex story. KH fans will dig in this game without a doubt, since it leads to the events of the impending KHIII. But if youíre looking to have a good time with a hack ní slash, be prepared to deal with frustrating partner AI, a couple of unfair deaths due to inconsistent level design, frame rate drops, and listening to characters speak the words Ďheartí, Ďlightí, and Ďdarknessí more than ever before.
All that being said, Iím just thankful this game is not 358/2 Days.