Review: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Posted 20 Jul 2012 at 06:39 by Ashley Jones
One of the most unexpected video game concepts, the marriage of Final Fantasy and Disney, has proven to be one of the most popular in recent years. It has been ten years since the first Kingdom Hearts title was released and in celebration of this Square Enix has released Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for the 3DS.
If you’re a fan of the series you’ll feel right at home in Dream Drop Distance, although skippable flashbacks do help fill in the series-long ongoing storyline for those unfamiliar with them. The game, like many of Square Enix’s long-running franchises, however suffers from expecting you to know the series inside out. You can muddle through without having played any prior Kingdom Hearts games but don’t expect to fully understand everything.
Dream Drop Distance sees the return of Sora and Riku as they take the Mark of Mastery exam in hopes of becoming Keyblade Masters. The two storylines actually run separately but in a parallel fashion, connected by the new ‘Drop’ gameplay mechanic. During the transition between the two storylines you are quite literally in a freefall, collecting stars and avoiding obstacles as you go. It feels like a mini-game, but a cleverly integrated one at least.
A new addition to the series, the ‘Drop’ feature swaps who you’re playing as. This can happen at any time, whatever you are doing, and at first can catch you off guard. However, you can also swap when you wish or use the Drop-Me-Not item to extend your time. This new feature may be jarring at first, but once you become used to it it adds an extra level of excitement to the gameplay. Square Enix must be commended for providing two separate, yet connected, storylines that work so well together.
Anyone hoping to jump straight into the action may be disappointed to hear that the first hour of the game is dedicated to explaining everything to you. While you will have opportunities to try things out for the most part you stop and start, all the while having to read and absorb a lot of text. Persevere however and things will get much better.
Also new in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance are Dream Eaters, Pokémon-like creatures that exist in two variations: Nightmares and Spirits. The Nightmares are creatures that you do battle with, quite often too it must be said, while the Spirits can aid you in battle.
You can create, customise and upgrade Spirit Dream Eaters during the game and link with them in battles to unleash more powerful attacks. If you are particularly fond of your Dream Eaters you can even view and interact with them in the real world, thanks to the Nintendo 3DS’ augmented reality features.
Adding a touch of action, and parkour, to Kingdom Hearts is the new gameplay mechanic known as Flowmotion. Pressing the Y button increases your character’s speed and allows you to climb walls, swing on poles and even traverse on large enemies. It’s fiddly at times, especially when you spend most of the short burst of energy maneuvering the camera, but once you get into it Flowmotion can be a great trick to have in your arsenal.
Square Enix seemingly wanted to really go all out with new features, so they also introduced ‘Reality Shift’ in Dream Drop Distance. What happens when you activate the Reality Shift depends on your location within the game. The first time you use it will be in Traverse Town, allowing you to fling items using the touch screen. Additional areas see you transform the world into a comic book, play a rhythm game and even do some form of ever-changing crossword.
Kingdom Hearts’ unique selling point is, of course, the mixture between Final Fantasy and Disney - it seems like it wouldn’t work but somehow it does. Dream Drop Distance is lighter on the Final Fantasy elements than most of the other games in the series, instead using a lot of characters from the DS’ The World Ends With You. Given that the game was never a huge commercial success it is an odd choice, but it works well and provides some new material for eager fans of the original.
Of course there are plenty of Disney characters and locations within Dream Drop Distance. Films such as TRON, Fantasia and The Little Mermaid give Disney fans the chance to interact with their favourite franchises. Of course Mickey Mouse presides over them all and, though it takes some time for him to appear, he is certainly the star of the show.
This title is definitely heavy on the action side, with frequent encounters challenging you to frantically smash the buttons. At first the game can feel like a button masher but as you progress it evens out. You can make your way through Dream Drop Distance without paying too much attention to stats, Dream Eaters and upgrades but if you love RPGs you’ll be pleased to hear there is plenty to keep you busy.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is primarily played using the 3DS’ face buttons, although as previously mentioned there are some touch screen elements. The controls are simple enough: A to attack, B to jump, Y to enter Flowmotion and X to do a special attack, that you choose using the D-pad, while L and R rotate the camera. These controls are simple to pick up and thus don’t impede your enjoyment of the title, although they can be fiddly at times when in Flowmotion or Reality Shift.
The graphics are good and provide a suitable mixture between Final Fantasy and Disney, although it does lean more towards Disney’s colourful look. At times the areas can be quite dark and difficult to see on the 3DS if your screen brightness is low. Given that the game drains the battery as it is you need to find a good balance in order to extend your game time. Some corners have been cut on textures, providing rather simple designs for buildings and such, but you very rarely stand still long enough to notice. Given that there are so many characters and locations it is forgivable.
Square Enix and Disney are well known for their soundtracks and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance does not disappoint. The series’ regular composer Yoko Shimomura once again provides the alluring soundtrack, with The World Ends With You’s composer Takeharu Ishimoto providing some remixes of TWEWY tracks. The music is so well done that it is one of the few 3DS games that I actually listened to, unlike most games which get muted in favour of the TV.
As you can imagine, mixing the disperse worlds and characters of several different franchises makes the storyline a bit convoluted at times, often veering into the realm of unnecessarily complex in that charactertistic Square Enix way. Anyone who has been following the series will probably be enthralled by the ongoing saga, although newcomers are more likely to find themselves becoming disengaged. Credit must be given to Square Enix however. It can’t be easy to bring all these elements together and provide an enjoyable story, in spite of its complexities, but they have done.
Many of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distances most appealing aspects are also its flaws; many new features have resulted in an equal amount of introductory tutorials, an engaging storyline that you’re either going to be thrilled by or bored from and a focus on action that can result in a button mashing feeling.
In spite of these flaws, Dream Drop Distance remains incredibly playable and will keep you challenged for a long time. You can play the game in different ways, whether it is racing through the action, building up your Dream Eaters or exploring the different worlds, so there is a bit for everyone.
Of course in terms of the series this is meant to tide fans over until Kingdom Hearts 3, but as a game in its own right Dream Drop Distance is entertaining and certainly worth picking up.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is an entertaining title, although not without its faults. With plenty to do and explore it will certainly keep you busy for quite a while.
Plenty to keep you busy
Lot of new features
Great blending of different franchises
Takes a while to get into
Encounters become button bashing sessions