Kingdom Hearts 3D : Dream Drop Distance Review
Game: Kingdom Hearts 3D : Dream Drop Distance
Developer: Square Enix/Disney Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Available on: Nintendo 3DS Only
The Kingdom Hearts franchise celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, ten years that have spawned seven of the super successful Disney-Japanese RPG mash ups. On the surface it seems like an odd mix, but once you step into the world of Kingdom Hearts it soon becomes apparent that the formulae is a stroke of genius. The Kingdom Hearts success story has lead us to game number 8, Kingdom Hearts 3D : Dream Drop Distance, the first all new adventure in two years, and the first on the 3DS. How does Kingdom Hearts 3D stack up against its established peers? Does it do anything to fill the rather black hole that is the 3DS’s summer line up?
STORY: Kingdom Hearts 3D : Dream Drop Distance follows familiar characters Sora and Riku as they embark on a journey towards eventually becoming fully fledged Keyblade Masters, with a view to countering the return of the evil Master Xehanort. If none of that makes sense to you, don’t worry, a little light reading online will get you up to speed in no time. Sora and Riku are depicted in this game as their younger selves, similar to the characters we were first introduced to us back in the 2002 original. After an early face off with Medusa (as depicted in The Little Mermaid), Sora and Riku are pulled through a whirlpool and separated off into different worlds, worlds that have been destroyed by the Heartless that have since been restored, though now they exist in a sort of deep sleep that disconnects them from other worlds. The worlds Riku and Sora each occupy appear identical, but the events that each of them experience differs slightly. Basically, there are a lot of evil guys out there, and the story progresses like a JRPG version of Groundhog Day, as you play through similar stories with each of the characters. The worlds have been inhabited by Dream Eaters, creatures you must defeat in each world in order to free them and allow them to go on their merry way. Of course, the main story dips into that of some Disney classics, and in this tale we take trips to Paris as seen in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The worlds of Pinocchio, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Fantasia and my personal favourite, TRON: Legacy.
GRAPHICS: I feel I should start from the top on this part on the review, the top being the opening cut scene which, as we have come to expect from Square Enix, is a joy to behold, and is probably the best thing I have seen on the 3DS’s screen (in terms of actual 3D) to date. Of course, all of this is pre rendered, but it serves as a good reintroduction to the cast of Kingdom Hearts, so don’t skip it when you pick this game up, ok?
The actual game comes out looking like a polished PS2 or Gamecube title, as has become the norm with 3DS titles. Of course this is no bad thing, a Gamecube quality title in your pocket? Yes please. When you remember that everything is being rendered twice, once for each eye, you can forgive any visual faults you may find with Kingdom Hearts 3D. Not that you will that is, the whole game is put together very well, its heavily stylized artistic look coming across loud and clear in every scene. The Disney worlds it seeks to replicate have been lovingly recreated, a fact you notice when walking up to Notre Dame for the first time, if you saw that film as a child it’s amazing how many memories this game brings back. The visuals are helped along with a large dose of crazy Final Fantasy style particles and set pieces, that really bring the battles to life and keep things feeling fresh. Throughout the game you will encounter many large scale battles against the Dream Eaters, with many enemies on screen at once, I didn’t notice any slowdown at all during even the largest battles.
AUDIO: Kingdom Hearts 3D features a wide selection of orchestrated tunes, each of them tailored for the environment or situation they accompany. The music does a good job of building the tension when in battle, and conveying emotion when things get a bit soppy. One thing to note is the that music loops are often fairly short, so you end up hearing the same piece of music dozens of times before leaving one world for the next. I minor annoyance but I did end up muting the sound at one point.
The musical score is accompanied by a bounty of sound effects that do the job of making the battles feel a bit more visceral. Dialogue is voiced well, something that is often a bit dodgy when it comes to JRPG conversions. You won’t find any Shenmue style Engrish here.
GAMEPLAY: A number of new gameplay additions have been brought to the table for Kingdom Hearts 3D. As alluded to earlier, the game allows you to play as both Sora and Riku throughout the game, control of which is rotated via use of the Drop system. Each character has their own stats, items and abilities, so it feels a lot like you are playing the same game twice through at once, as you must journey through the same part of the story (or at least very similar) with each character. Sora and Riku both have a Drop gauge that lets the player know how close they are to dropping into the other characters story. From my experience, the drop gauge takes about 20 minutes to empty, longer if you get into lots of battles, and a bit shorter if you just leave Sora or Riku to their own devices; you can, if you wish, drop at any moment from the pause menu though. This even works mid battle, as the game remembers almost exactly what situation Sora or Riku was in when the other character drops, so when you rejoin the action with the other character, you haven’t missed anything and don’t have to retrace your steps. It is a system that takes a little getting used to, but works rather well once you get your head around it.
The command deck system, first seen in the PSP’s Birth by Sleep, makes a return too. The command deck operates a bit like a deck of cards, with the player able to swap different abilities and items into their ‘deck’ for use in battle situations. You swap which card is active with the D-Pad and use the item with the X button. Again, this is a system that took some getting used to, and it was a while before I really knew what I was doing. However, it is quite an intuitive way of doing things once you get used to it and makes good use of the 3DS’s real estate. You pick up cards for your command deck by defeating enemies and progressing in the story, and the game allows you to ready several different command decks for different situations. One gripe I did have with the system is that it does not allow you to change your deck mid-battle, so if you go into battle without some sort of potion or heavy attack armed, it makes things very difficult. You can leave a battle if things get a bit much, but I found that the game can send you back quite far, even if, for instance, you only wanted to get some more potions.
Sora and Riku are both accompanied throughout the game by their own Dream Eater companion, a cute character that you are able to put together (via the collection of Dream Eater pieces), level up and look after. The Dream Eater companion isn’t just there to look cute, though, and can be used to aide you in battle. Sora and Riku are able to team up with their Dream Eaters and combine to deliver some devastating attacks.
MULTIPLAYER: There is no player on player multiplayer to speak of in Dream Drop Distance. There are the usual street pass options however, which allows players to swap details of their Dream Eater companions and stats info. The lack of any major Multiplayer component isn’t too much of a surprise, as this genre of game doesn’t often lend itself well to Multiplayer gameplay.
LONGEVITY: There is about 20 hours worth of solid gameplay in Kingdom Hearts 3D, and a lot more if you want to see and collect everything. The addition of customisable Dream Eaters seems a bit gimmicky at first, but it soon becomes apparent that making the most of these guys can make getting through the game a lot easier; which is an important point, as I played through the game on Normal, and found it to be very challenging at times, beating the game on the hardest difficulty will require a good understanding of the games vitals. Are you up to the challenge?
VERDICT: Kingdom Hearts 3D : Dream Drop Distance is a welcome addition to the 3DS’s somewhat lacking 2012 lineup. It’s huge story, great boss battles and epic customisation options all get the thumbs up. While things might get a bit repetitive, there is enough here to keep fans of the series very happy indeed. However, newcomers to the series will most likely get the most out of Kingdom Hearts 3D.