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Review: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

by January 23, 2013

Back in 2001, no one would have thought that a Disney/Final Fantasy mash up would work, except Square Enix. Fast forward to 2012 and we’ve seen the series have two successful console outings and a plethora of handheld side games. Now the Nintendo 3DS has the honor of capturing newcomers and fans alike with Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. So, how does it fair?

If you’ve never played a Kingdom Hearts game before or have had a decent amount of exposure to the series, prepare to be super confused about all the events happening in the game. The story is horribly convoluted, especially so for newcomers. If you’ve invested time in the series and effort into understanding it’s nonsensical plot, you might be better off than others. However, by the end of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance you’ll be wondering what the heck it is that Square Enix is trying to do with the series. That’s not to say it’s all bad though, as the game does have a Chronicle mode that summarizes the plot of all the past titles. On paper this idea sounds great, but considering how complicated the story already is, it’s not very beneficial in practice.

The main draw of Dream Drop Distance as compared to the other titles is that it has you playing as Sora and Riku in their own campaigns. However, instead of playing them separately the game forces you to play them concurrently. This doesn’t really work out as intended due to the drop mechanic being poorly implemented. Take for example The Grid world, where Sora’s story arc was a lot shorter than Riku’s. Riku’s had two or three cutscenes and story heavy elements and Sora’s had none.

During the middle of your game as one character, you’ll be dropped out of that one, and into the other without the ability to save or complete whatever tasks, battles or boss battles you were involved in. If you want to continue playing as a certain character, you can always press the ‘drop’ button on the touch screen to switch back to the previous character. You can also use items called drop-me-nots which prolong your time with that one character.

Although these are nice features to have that make being dropped easier to deal with, it begs the question why the drop mechanic even exists at all. Instead of adding urgency and intensity to the game, it causes frustration, especially when you’re fighting a boss, only to be dropped out in the middle of the fight. Once you rejoin that character, be prepared to fight the boss at full HP once again.

If you’re not interested in the plot, the good news is the gameplay is pretty entertaining. The combat basics are borrowed from Birth By Sleep (the PSP prequel), with the game allowing for players to have a command deck that lets them customize the kinds of physical and magic abilities they want to use. For example, you might customize your deck with cure, fire and blizzard along with two or three physical attacks. The more you play the more slots you’ll unlock for these commands. Unlike Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, you aren’t able to level up Sora and Riku. Both the characters are leveled up automatically and your abilities are unlocked, based on how you level up your Dream Eaters.

Dream Eaters are your party members throughout the game. As you progress, you’ll unlock more items to craft more Dream Eaters. You’ll unlock recipes to find out what items you need to create different Dream Eaters. By creating more Dream Eaters, you unlock more abilities for your character. When you level up your Dream Eaters, you can unlock more abilities for them in their ability links menu. Doing this gives Sora and Riku more commands and abilities at their disposal. This feature adds an interesting bit of strategy to the typical Kingdom Hearts formula. You can also play mini-games where your Dream Eaters level up, one is a lot like Nintendogs which has you tapping on the screen and playing with your Dream Eater, another is called Flick Rush.

Flick Rush allows for you to use teams of three of your Dream Eaters against opponents. You can fight computer controlled foes or fight against people via a local wireless connection. You can exchange medals that you win from Flick Rush with the Moogle shop for prizes and for unlocking command deck items and abilities for your Dream Eaters.

Flow Motion is the new combat system mechanic introduced in Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance.

The game also introduces a new mechanic called Flow Motion, essentially it lets you grind and bounce off of walls to traverse levels faster and allows for more action oriented combat sequences. It’s pretty interesting at first, but as you keep playing you’ll find yourself just repeating the same set of moves, jumping off of a wall and pressing the A button to land an attack on the ground enemies. The problem is that enemies pop up too frequently throughout the game, making it easy to just use Flow Motion as a cop-out to mashing the A button.

If you’re looking forward to seeing lots of Disney worlds and Final Fantasy characters, tough luck. Neither camp is really well represented in Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance as compared to Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. Final Fantasy characters are absent from the entire game, save for the Moogle shops. Five Disney worlds make up the game – La Cite des Cloches (Hunchback of Notre Dame), The Grid (Tron Legacy), Pranksters Paradise (Pinocchio), Country of the Musketeers (The Three Musketeers) and Symphony of Sorcery (Fantasia).

The first three worlds mentioned above feel disjointed and bland compared to the last two. The first three worlds really lack that Disney charm and magic, where as Country of the Musketeers and Symphony of Sorcery both excel for different reasons. With The Three Musketeers, you get that sense of Disney charm with Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Pete. With Symphony of Sorcery, little touches like the disappearance of Sora and Riku’s voices in favor of musical notes as you bash enemies is a neat touch that immerses you into the experience even more. It’s unfortunate that these ideas weren’t implemented well into the other three worlds. You’ll also encounter The World Ends With You characters in Traverse Town, which was an interesting choice and blends in nicely to the Kingdom Hearts fiction.

It seems at this point in the series that the main draw is it’s own self-contained plot, rather than drawing from strong Disney stories and Final Fantasy characters. Both of those elements have taken a backseat to the Kingdom Hearts story itself. This is good news for Kingdom Hearts fans, but if your main draw to the series was either Disney or Final Fantasy, neither will be satisfied by Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Things don’t get very Disney until the end and even that is minimal.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance features a ton of boss fights, most of which range from fun to downright frustrating. There are a few occasions where boss fights just feel cheap and unforgiving, especially when they’re allowed to kill you with one hit kills unexpectedly. Other times, when they’re using Disney villains, the boss fights can be fun and charming.

The game features some of the best graphics to grace the 3DS so far. The 3D effects work surprisingly well, though it’s mostly just for visual pleasure rather than adding anything to the gameplay. The game is colorful and vibrant. Each of the Disney worlds are crafted with care and encompass the same magic as their movie counterparts, it’s just too bad that the tasks you accomplish in each of these worlds are fairly dull.

There’s a ‘drop’ mechanic in the game that can cause some frustration.

Dream Drop Distance does suffer from a few technical glitches. There are a few places where you might break through an invisible wall barrier, landing into an abyss of nowhere.

The game suffers from poor frame rate during intense battles with lots of enemies, though it seems isolated to three or four areas. It’s a very highly polished title like past entries. The music in Kingdom Hearts is fantastic and definitely captures the charm of the source material. It’s some of the best music the industry has to offer. The theme has remained the same for most of the games, so it would be nice to have a remixed version in newer entries.

Although Kingdom Hearts is a highly polished title, there are a few silly design choices that bring down the overall enjoyment of the game. The drop mechanic is more of an annoyance than a strategic element and the convoluted story has gotten to the point where it’s uninviting for newcomers and it’s a hindrance to the enjoyment of series fans. If you’re a passionate fan of Kingdom Hearts you’ll definitely enjoy the game. If you’re starting to grow tired of the franchise, the words ‘Kingdom Hearts III’ probably no longer excite you like they once did.

Why it may be helpful for people with anxiety.

  • Taking care of your Dream Eaters can be pretty entertaining
  • The mini-games are a nice get away from the main story
  • The music is pretty soothing during parts of the game

Why it may not be helpful for people with anxiety.

  • Tough, frustrating boss battles might cause more stress than enjoyment
  • The confusing story line might irritate players

Why you should be on the fence.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance provides enough fun experience for a casual play through, though if you’re a newcomer you’ll find a lot of things daunting, especially the story and mechanics. It’s also incredibly frustrating to fight certain bosses and follow the story, so it’ll only add to your stress rather than let you get lost in the game’s world, story, and Disney lightheartedness.

Review Note:
The game will be released on the Nintendo eShop sometime later this month as well. As of now, it’s a retail release only.

This review was based on the 3DS version that was provided by the reviewer.

Overview
Release Date

July 31st, 2012

Digital or Retail

Both

Platform

3DS

Developer

: Square Enix

Publisher

: Square Enix

Positives

Beautiful graphics, Entertaining combat, Dream Eaters add a new level of strategy.

Negatives

Horribly convoluted plot, drop mechanic is annoying, bosses are frustrating, Disney worlds are bland.

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Graphics
7.0
Gameplay
7.0
Story
6.0
Sound
7.0
7.0
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Haziq Agha
21 Year Old, Avid Gaming Fan, Technology and Open Source Junkie.

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