Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Review
It may not be KHIII, but Kingdom Hearts 3D blows all previous titles out of the water.
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There's a fluidity to Kingdom Hearts 3D's movement and combat that was severely lacking in previous Kingdom Hearts games. 3D effects grant this title incredible depth, though clever level design implements height in ways we never knew we wanted. Worlds are no longer broken up into ten or twelve smaller areas, but rather each world features four or five massive playgrounds for main characters Sora & Riku to explore.
While the over-arcing story may seem unnecessarily complicated, anyone who can tell a DuckTale from a Goof Troop will have a blast exploring the seven worlds exclusive to KH3D.
Systems, Systems, Systems
Kingdom Hearts 3D features more systems than you can shake a Keyblade at, and most of them are presented within the first few minutes of the game. In just two hours players are exposed to Diving, Dropping, Flowmotion, Link Portals, Commands, Dream Eaters, Reality Shifts, Spirit Linking, Flick Rush, & Forecasts. Consequently learning how to manage each system is as vital as learning the system itself. Once you're settled in, the rich and varied gameplay is yours to enjoy.
Flowmotion is why Kingdom Hearts 3D is as fun as it is. In fact, the "Distance" in Dream Drop Distance represents the distance you'll be going with this new power. Using the Y button to dash, you can attach to environments and then spring off of them. You can use this speed boost to launch into another object or enemy without stopping. Maps are bigger in KH3D, but with Flowmotion players can traverse them in no time.
Every environment has been designed with Flowmotion in mind. Maps are littered with lampposts and bars designed solely for swinging on. Tougher big enemies can be thrown around like basketballs—an immensely satisfying activity. We found a few invisible walls—always a problem in games—but with the amount of freedom you're given in each world we weren't surprised. Flowmotion takes an already great series and makes it so much better.
The new system does take a lot of getting used to. We were extremely frustrated with the high learning curve. If players can stand the initial embarrassment of taking twenty foot falls and missing crucial attacks, they'll soon find that Flowmotion is a powerful tool when used correctly.
Fear not, Flowmotion is fully equipped to handle tremendous Keyblade attack moves. Flowmotion attacks are nothing short of devastating. Attacking while dashing turns characters into spinning drills. Attacking while jumping will send them flying like a meteor towards enemies. Our personal favorite involves attacking while rail-grinding. Sora or Riku will vanish and reappear in front of an enemy to wreak havoc.
While all these moves are fun to watch and pull off, Flowmotion attacks tend to cheapen the game a bit on Normal difficulty, but we imagine you'll need plenty of them to survive on harder modes.
Magic points always limit the amount of special attacks players can use. If MP is a point of frustration, you'll be glad to know that Kingdom Hearts' magic system has been replaced with Commands. A Command is a catch-all term for items, magic, and special attacks. You'll need to combine them with Flowmotion to get the most out of your combos.
Inspired by panels in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, you're given a number of slots that you can fill with whatever you like. This allows for some strategic arsenal-building. Do you prefer to use all magic? Should you have potions on hand instead of a ranged attack? The more you play the better Commands you can find. It's yet another step in streamlining the combat of Kingdom Hearts.
Dream Eaters & Spirits
Dream Eaters are the cutest little gang of bad guys to flop into Kingdom Hearts. While they're clearly inspired by Pokémon, we think they beat Digimon any day.
There are over fifty types of Dream Eaters, and every one of them (save for the enormous bosses) can be made into an ally. Previous Kingdom Hearts titles gave you Donald Duck and Goofy as battle partners, but Dream Drop Distance allows for far more customization. You'll start with a recipe: choose different amounts of spoils dropped from enemies to make your own friendly Dream Eater, or "Spirit". The more items you give them, the higher their stats will be. Then it's simply a matter of grabbing up to three and taking them to battle with you.
You're limited to two Spirits at a time. Some will have ranged moves, others will take hits for you. Eventually, their "Link" meter will fill up, and you can team up with them to activate an extremely powerful attack. They will also grant you passive abilities, although these abilities don't make too much difference in battle.
Included with the game are physical AR cards, which you can use to "play" with your Spirits in real life. Completely optional, but a cool trick in 3D.
Kingdom Hearts 3D tells two stories in tandem. Heroes Sora & Riku will each visit the same worlds but have vastly different journeys. They never meet up (there's a story reason for that), so you'll have to alternate between stories one at a time. With the "Drop" system, you never know when that time might be.
Nestled next to the health bar is the Drop meter—a bar that is constantly emptying out. When that bar depletes your current character will fall asleep and you'll be given control of the other character. It doesn't matter where you are or what you're doing (minus cutscenes), you will be forcibly removed from one story and put back into the other. This allows you to have Sora & Riku in two different worlds doing completely different quests.
This feature is a lot less frustrating than you would think, and is also pretty lenient: nothing is stopping you from doing a manual "drop" from the menu and getting back to the character you were just playing. However, your current character is granted bonuses based on your previous character's performance. By defeating enemies, opening Portals (more on that later), and collecting "Droplets", you build up currency that can be used to give characters temporary attack boosts, items, etc. when you next drop.
Tied to the Drop system is a Forecast menu, which is never properly explained in-game. We had a lot of trouble deciphering what it meant, but apparently collecting an item featured on the menu will earn you extra droplets. It also posts a shadow of what enemy you'll encounter at the Secret Portal (again, more on that later). There are also modifiers that can affect all Dream Eaters (yours and theirs), but won't require any change in strategy. Dropping is such a unique game element that Forecasts seem like an unnecessary addition.
Want to know why it's called "Dream Drop" Distance? You'll be doing exactly that: dropping into a dreaming world. It's less of a drop and more of a high speed dive through a maze littered with enemies and prizes. On your first visit to a new world, you'll descend from outer space down to ground level, dodging enemies and obstacles themed after each world. Fantasia has nets of music notes you'll need to weave through, while the world based on Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers has comic book pages that must be avoided.
Each Dive has its own condition, usually to collect a number of "stars" before a timer runs out. The stars aren't hard to collect, and you collect more by destroying enemies. Some conditions require you to fight a challenging boss enemy. The game will provide you with hints if you get stuck, so no worries about being barred access from the world of Pinocchio.
What we love about Diving is the imagery. The scenery helped us to get a feel for the mood of each world, and the score-based system made us come back to try and collect the most stars we could. We just learned not to ask how anyone could survive like that.
Portals are quick, thirty-second challenges that are accessed through pink portals on the touchscreen's mini-map. Portals pit you against tougher enemies and ask you to fulfill extra conditions, like "Pull off 3 Flowmotion attacks". These extra requirements are optional but net you extra spoils.
Some Portals will replace your team of Spirits for a short while. While this is may seem cool, these Spirits only help you for about two minutes before they vanish. Why put them in if they aren't going to stick around?
Using StreetPass, you can also leave Portals for other players to find and use. We like to set Portals full of helpful Dream Eaters, but if you are a misanthrope there's nothing stopping you from issuing someone a challenge to defeat your battle-hardened Dream Eaters.
Each world has its own special themed counterattack. If you pull off a substantial combo an enemy will become vulnerable. The action on the top screen pauses and the enemy is sucked into the touch screen. From there, it's a matter of playing a short minigame to pull off the attack. A lot of the Shifts are quick and fun, but they can get very repetitive. They're also a bit too potent: Using a Shift on Normal Difficulty guarantees death for any common foe. They may be overpowered, but we're glad to see the touchscreen being implemented seamlessly into combat.
We'll preface this section by saying we didn't need the Circle Pad Pro at all. Using the L and R buttons to control the camera as well as targeting feels as natural as any console controller. If you want to dedicate the L button for camera use and the R button for locking on to enemies, the game also offers that option.
Managing all four buttons face buttons can be a little hectic (especially to those unfamiliar with games of this caliber), but luckily the first few areas of the game are forgiving. We recommend running around the first world to really get a feel for the Flowmotion. After a few failed jump attacks the controls will fit like a white cartoon glove.
Touchscreen attacks can easily be executed with a thumb, removing the need to hastily take out/replace your 3DS stylus.
Like any RPG, there's quite a lot of replay value to be had in getting the fabled "Lvl 99 Char." If grinding isn't your thing, KH3D still offers plenty to do when you've beaten or grown tired of the main story. There's a fully fleshed out card game (covered in our Multiplayer section), three difficulties, and plenty of Spirit breeding. Spirit breeding was touched on earlier, but we'll mention here that there are a lot of mini-games to play in the Spirit breeding menu. There are sets of toys that can be found and used to train your Spirits, most of which are mildly entertaining. It's quite the challenge to try and catch all the Spirits, as well. Sorry, did we say catch? We meant train. Or breed. Whichever isn't a Pokémon term.
There are plenty of hidden goodies scattered across every world. We cover most of them in other parts of the review, but here we'll outline a few other achievements. The main achievement system consists of trophies, which are pretty standard to unlock: Beat the game on a harder difficulty, beat X number of enemies, etc. One achievement requires you to find every single chest in the game, and considering there are a full set of chests for both Sora and Riku's worlds, that should prove to be a challenge for any collector. Unlocking enough trophies might even yield a secret down the line....
Pacing & Flow
Dream Drop Distance felt incredibly short, but after reflecting on twenty solid hours of gameplay we decided to credit the game's pacing. Square Enix took the brevity of a handheld game and mixed it with the quality of a console title. You'll never outstay your welcome in any one world (considering you'll visit them with two characters), and the action-cutscene-action formula couldn't be a better fit for the game. There are no sidequests, no item-hunting, just straight combat and story. While this might have detracted from any other action game, KH3D's combat is fast enough to ensure players can always reach the next battle.
Our favorite part about Dream Eaters is their "set it and forget it" attitude. Once you've cooked up a Spirit and upgraded them, they take care of themselves. In combat, they'll either sling attacks or back off when they get too damaged. We never found ourselves frustrated with our partners, and found them to be the least stressful part of combat management.
Dream Drop Distance is deceptively cute, and has a surprisingly compelling (yet needlessly complicated) story. Mix that with a full cast of Disney voice actors, some incredible character modeling, and you've got a game series like no other.
For a game marketed on its use of Disney characters, you'd think the story would be a little more kid-friendly. Instead, Tetsuya Nomura decided to add in time-traveling, dreams-within-dreams, and resurrection. Only those with an insane mindset and extensive knowledge of Kingdom Hearts lore could even begin to make sense of this nonsense plot. Plus, if you didn't play that one PSP game that was a system exclusive, nothing will make sense.
After certain events of previous games are referenced in Dream Drop Distance's story, you'll unlock a "Chronicle". This "Chronicle" is a quick text recap of each past Kingdom Hearts title. We're glad they included these, but after reading them we were still just as confused by KH:3D's story (and we played most of the other titles). We'll give them credit for trying.
Each world has its own Disney-themed story to tell, although these stories are much shorter (and lighter). Based loosely off of Disney films, you'll help main characters like Quasimodo and Jiminy Cricket put a stop to a few Disney villains. When the main story arc frustrates you enough to make you tear your hair out, you'll be glad to jump into a few Disney worlds and just relax.
Along with the Chronicles, a summary of each level can be accessed from the menu. KH:3D will please everyone: With complicated ridiculous plots for longtime fans, and lighter, cognizant stories for newer fans.
The funny thing about Kingdom Hearts is that the actual human characters from Tron look goofier than the anthropomorphic musketeers. The models for each character could have come straight from their CGI sequel, no doubt having to meet Disney's quality tests. During battle, characters flow just as well, moving from jump to attack without awkward delays. Big bosses and most smaller Dream Eaters look about as believable as giant neon crabs could look.
Although Jeff Bridges does not voice his own character in the Tron world, most of the original Disney cast has returned to reprise their old roles. Christopher Lee even makes a guest appearance to voice one of his past characters. Square Enix's partnership with Disney Interactive Studios gave them full access to Disney's assets, pushing the production value sky high.
Every character gets their moment to shine. One of the least recognizable worlds, based on the film Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers, became our favorite level due to the performances of Mickey, Donald & Goofy. There were genuine laugh out loud moments and some classic Disney slapstick. The characters filled the world with enough emotion to pull us into every story.
This is a game that understands its role as a handheld. Cutscenes are usually quick and dirty, save for a few climatic scenes where nothing is held back. There are some Tron disc fights, Keyblade clashes, and plenty of teary moments: everything you'd expect from a Kingdom Hearts title. Even though Goofy & Donald won't be joining your side, you'll still see plenty of them as the game bounces back to their adventures with Mickey every level or so.
There are new cutscenes called Flashbacks, designed for when you're in a rush on the train. These cutscenes are completely optional slices of backstory, and can be watched at any time from the menu. Some are little conversations between Disney characters, while others help to explain exactly why our main characters are on the quest they're on. The option to skip and come back later is a necessity for any game you plan on taking outside with you.
Graphics & Atmosphere Overview
Each piece of KH:3D's overall design fits together snugly. A Disney theme runs through each world and character, tying radically different worlds together. The soundtrack, taking full advantage of the 3DS' sound capability, helps to solidify the feel of each world, making them come to life visually and aurally.
For those who demand licensed Disney antics, fear not: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance still packs a white-gloved punch. KH:3D proves that the series has no shortage of classic cartoon pots to dip into, with characters and worlds ranging from top-tier to "Oh, THAT one..." You won't be spending long in the five new Disney worlds (along with two revamped KH worlds), but the vistas are diverse enough to give players a proper Tour de Walt.
There aren't any new characters (if you've played every other game in the series, that is), but there are sure to be one or two faces that you won't recognize immediately. The Disney characters are just as bright and colorful as their cartoons, while the Kingdom Hearts-specific characters are a little darker and more mature. This is KH's tenth year, after all - they need to get edgy. Not to mention the array of enemies, each with it's own design, color scheme, and attack animations. Each character brings something interesting to the table, even if what they bring is only light exposition.
To run a game as detailed as KH3D on the 3DS is a little crazy... but to run it in 3D is even crazier. With so many vibrant colors flying across the screen it's no wonder that the 3D effect can fall apart at times. The 3D shines in areas with less visual complication, adding plenty of depth and multiplying the flair of Flowmotion jumps and slides.
The 3DS has a lot of power under the hood; we only experienced lag or slow down a few times. When KH3D lags, it lags hard. If a gang of enemies appears and special attacks are performed, expect to see action slow to a crawl. Magic attacks are plenty shiny and have neat visual effects, but if you use any at the same time as an enemy, you're bound to hit some slowdown.
Cutscenes are impressive little slices of story, with hardly any jagged edges to be found. They're clean and well-scripted. Each character's lips match the voice acting exactly, which doesn't sound impressive until you realize that some characters don't even have lips.
There are only a handful of FMVs, but they are polished beyond belief. Square Enix has always provided top quality CG animation, and KH3D continues that trend. The opening cutscene (full of 10-year anniversary pride), set to Kingdom Hearts 1's main theme, is absolutely flawless.
Music drives the emotion of Kingdom Hearts' story. While not fully orchestrated, the soundtrack still features some great instrumental work. Headed by Yoko Shimomura (of Mario RPG & Legend of Mana fame), three esteemed Japanese composers worked together to create over three hours of music.
New worlds have their own Disney-based arrangements (save for Fantasia which uses many classical pieces from the original film), while original Kingdom Hearts—based levels have had their music completely reworked. A standout track is the field music for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with great use of strings. Each world's music feels different and distinct, and we've spent plenty of extra time in each world just walking around and listening to each new track.
We're glad to hear that in-game sound effects don't suffer from compression, something that many handheld titles are known to do. Every sound is crisp and loud, giving the combat a realistic edge. Each Spirit has their own set of adorable animal noises to make. Unfortunately, Sora & Riku only have three or four "battle cries", which you'll be hearing a lot. They can get tiring pretty quickly. Thank goodness Fantasia's world doesn't allow for talking.
Speaking of the different worlds, each one puts a slight spin on the standard sound effects. Fantasia doesn't allow any character to speak in battle, but the combat sound effects are replaced with percussion instruments: bass drums for big hits, hi-hats for lighter combos. The Tron: Legacy world slightly digitizes sound effects, as well.
As mentioned earlier, player interaction in the main game is limited to placing portals on the map. While you can use StreetPass to "issue challenges" to other players, you don't actually get to see any action.
Cue Flick Rush, the fast-paced card battling game exclusive to Dream Drop Distance. Available after finishing the first world, this completely optional game puts your Spirits in a battle with three other random spirits. Each Spirit is given a set of cards based on their type, level, and stats. Each card can be "flicked" up or down using the touchscreen in order to either use the attack written on the card or to defend. Flicking two cards in succession adds them together, and tricking your opponent into being countered is a big part of the strategy.
We had a lot of fun taking our main game team and sending them through a few tournaments, and we even made a few tournament specific players. More difficult tournaments are unlocked throughout the main game, and the prizes won are usually helpful items or special Spirit recipes.
Our one criticism of Flick Rush is the lack of online multiplayer. The 3DS is more than capable of handling full online matches, and it's a shame that this engaging side quest is stunted like this. You'll just have to settle for trash talking your friend's Meow Wow spirit while you're both in the same room.
A distance worth traveling.
While most handheld spinoffs restrict players, KH3D refuses to compromise combat, exploration, and customization. Players only need to master a difficult learning curve before entering this digital Disney playground. Some gamers may find the sheer volume of content overwhelming. For those that persevere, they'll find Dream Drop Distance to be a compelling and gorgeous handheld title. Just try not to get eaten by the story.
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