Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Review
September 6, 2012, 12:59 pm
A great prelude to the inevitable Kingdom Hearts 3
When a new Kingdom Hearts game was announced for the 3DS, most fans were understandably upset. The series had found itself in a kind of limbo with most of its new games being released on portable systems and only the numbered games appearing on a proper console. But what makes it even more frustrating is each game has ended up on a completely different system with the seven games that make up the franchise appearing on five different systems. Though that’s not to say that they quality has decreased. In fact, with each new release the games have been able to iron out kinks in the gameplay and create truly fun battle systems. To this day Birth by Sleep remains my favorite Kingdom Hearts game. With the release of the Dream Drop Distance, it seems like the developers at Square-Enix are again experimenting with the capabilities of 3DS while laying the foundation for the inevitable Kingdom Hearts 3.
The story begins with Sora and Riku learning that in order to face the return of Xehanort they will have to become true Keyblade Masters. This is accomplished by passing the Mark of Mastery exam though theirs is significantly more involved than the one showcased in Birth by Sleep. They must enter the Sleeping Worlds, worlds lost in dreams and completely cut off from everything, and awaken their sleeping keyholes. Things go awry though when Sora and Riku discover that they’ve somehow been separated from one another since there appears to be two versions of each world. But things are never simple and the two soon learn of another plot that could put Sora in more danger than any of them ever realized.
Much like recent games in the series, the story is engrossing if a bit convoluted. This is especially true in the case of Dream Drop Distance because of how the story is told. Players are constantly switching back and forth between Sora and Riku with each having their own unique encounters. The revelation as to why this is happening toward the end of the game only serves to confuse players more though the twists and turns the story takes does make it memorable. The story does a much better job of integrating the stories of each Disney world into the stories of Sora and Riku wheras certain past games just felt like they were tacked on. The game also takes great steps in trying to welcome new players. Major terms and characters are explained and short recaps of all the previous games become available as relevant information is mentioned. I wouldn’t call it the most accessible story Kingdom Hearts has ever told, but new players shouldn’t be too intimidated by what’s going on. In fact, many of them could become intrigued as to just what happened in the previous games.
The gameplay probably has more new systems in place than any other Kingdom Hearts game to date. By far the most prevalent one is the introduction of the Dream Eaters. The Dream Eaters replace the Heartless and Nobodies as the primary enemies in the game though they come in two flavors. Nightmares are the ones you will be fighting against while Spirits can be created to fight alongside you. To this end, the game develops a kind of Pokemon flavor to it since each Spirit can be raised to become stronger, grant new moves, and increase the abilities of Sora and Riku. This is done by petting and playing with the Spirits in order to increase their affection and the amount of Link Points they have which, in turn, are spent to unlock abilities. Two Spirits can join the player at any one time, effectively replacing Donald and Goofy as party members, though there’s no way to directly control their actions. Some are more capable than others, but I never noticed them taking an active part in battles. They are at their most useful when their Link gauge is activated. This allows Sora and Riku to use their abilities for a burst of power. In Sora’s case, he uses the Spirit itself while Riku obtains new moves and combos. Overall, the use of Spirits is fun and addictive for those who enjoy raising digital pets, but I still prefer the leveling and melding of Commands from Birth by Sleep.
Before entering each new world, Sora and Riku must Dive into it. This puts the 3D to good use and tasks the player to either collect a set number of items or defeat a boss. Most of these aren’t too challenging, but the game does provide incentives for getting a gold rank in each world. Another system that I greatly enjoyed was the Flowmotion Combat. By dashing toward a wall, a pole, or even larger enemies, players can gain a greater sense of speed, jumping height, and special combat moves. It’s fast and fun, giving each world a greater sense of scale. This also applies to Reality Shifts. At certain times in the level and even during combat a special indicator will appear indicating that players can engage a Reality Shift. Each one is different depending on the world, but all of them help either with clearing enemies or getting past environmental barriers. All Reality Shifts make use of the touch screen but fortunately the game pauses until players first touch it. I can see how some players would be frustrated by the system, but I never had trouble reaching for the stylus and putting it back in time to keep fighting.
The combat in Dream Drop Distance is some of the best in the series between the Flowmotion Combat, Reality Shifts, and the Spirits. It even makes playing Sora and Riku feel different in the way they fight with some moves being exclusive to each one. The only problem with it is the Drop system. After a set amount of time has passed, either Sora and Riku will fall asleep even if it’s in the middle of combat. Control will switch over to the other one and bonuses can be selected based on the amount of Drop Points that were collected. This switching back and forth makes sense from a story perspective, but it can become quite annoying when the timer is counting down and you’re in the middle of a boss. It’s not a major problem though it does ruin the flow of the game somewhat.
Dream Drop Distance is the first game I ever played on my 3DS. I walked away impressed by both the graphics and the implementation of the 3D. The graphics are easily on par with previous games in the series, even the console titles, with each level becoming much more open. Some of the previous games almost seemed to funnel the player down a path, but the worlds of Dream Drop Distance are open, vibrant, and encourage exploration. Many of the new worlds are some of my favorites in the series and while they all seemed completely devoid of life, they still give that Disney feeling. Kind of like visiting the Disney Parks while they’re closed. The sound design is as good as ever with plenty of new songs to listen to. In fact, some of these may be my favorite in the series with one of the later worlds being a particular standout. The voice acting is also as good as ever with David Gallagher a particular standout as Riku and Fred Tatasciore as Kevin Flynn. Until I looked it up, I could have sworn I was listening to Jeff Bridges reprising his role. At this point, it’s no surprise that Kingdom Hearts looks and sounds good.
While Dream Drop Distance isn’t the longest of games (it clocks in at around 15-20 hours), it’s certainly one of the better Kingdom Hearts games released. One of the best new features of the game though is the inclusion of a New Game Plus. It and many of the other secrets provided give the game a great sense of replayability. The game also includes a multiplayer mode in the form of Flick Rush. Players use a team of three Spirits in order to battle another team until all of them have been defeated. It plays like a cross between Pokemon and card battles and is surprisingly fun. Flick Rush can also be played alone in order to earn medals that can be spent for new abilities and Spirits. While not the most in-depth of multiplayer modes, it’s not a bad way to keep you playing.
Though most fans would prefer if Square-Enix would just release Kingdom Hearts 3, Dream Drop Distance is a great game to hold them over in the meantime. The story raises the stakes, the gameplay and combat has been further evolved, and the graphics and sound are as good as ever. Whether you’re a fan of the series or not, it’s well worth checking out.
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Ever since finishing the Kingdom Hearts Timeline, I have been asked by many to update it to include Dream Drop Distance. While I do plan on doing that eventually, I feel it is too soon for me to completely spoil the story before most fans have gotten a chance to play. However, I do understand that many gamers are confused as to just what happened in the end. Because of that, I will do a kind of Kingdom Hearts Q&A. Feel free to ask anything about the series whether it's the old games, Dream Drop Distance, or something more general. Please leave your questions in the comments below, on the GameXplain Facebook page, or our Twitter account @gamexplain and I will answer all of them in a future article.