Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] Review

The Kingdom Hearts series has been notorious for having one of the most ridiculously convoluted storylines and even more for improperly explaining the mythos. Though to be quite honest I didn’t find this until I played the three or so side stories on the DS and PSP, which really complicated things. Regardless, anyone can get some kind of fun out of a game that mashes together Disney’s greatest properties with some of Square Enix’s best too, which is something I’ve always respected from the franchise. Kindgom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is the latest instalment in the Kingdom Hearts franchise, and despite not being a numbered instalment, it’s certainly one that’s as important and relevant in the overarching franchise arguably as much as anything that has come before it.

Taking place chronologically after all previous games, specifically after the DS exclusive Kingdom Hearts re: coded, Dream Drop Distance tells a story that will no doubt be a crucial stepping stone between other games and the ever elusive Kingdom Hearts III. I won’t go into too much detail about the story as it’s much too convoluted to succinctly explain here properly. You play both Sora and Riku, who have been put through a “Mark of Mastery” exam in order for them to become fully powered Keyblade Masters (only special beings can wield the Keyblade). Once the wizard Yen Sid puts them into their exam, they are separated and put into “sleeping worlds” that have been disconnected from the rest of the world due to their destruction by the Heartless (the villains from the original game). Sora and Riku’s goal is simple – find the keyholes in these worlds, unlock them to “awaken” them and return in preparation to battle the series’ mainstay villain, Xehanort.

Dream Drop Distance breaks the mould by not just limiting itself to the usual set of Disney meets Final Fantasy goodness. In this iteration we even see characters from the DS cult classic The World Ends With You making an appearance. The Disney characters, as always, are as charming as ever though some players may be dismayed to see them being brought back only to spurt lines from their respective films and disappear. Still, the story is told well and very detailed accounts of each game (and even optional cutscenes) serve to further flesh out the story for any of those who may have missed any of the instalments in the past, which is well needed considering how convoluted things have become.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance looks great – it definitely looks better than the mainline PS2 games and it is up there with the other handheld iterations, including the PSP spin-off Birth by Sleep. The character models are incredibly sharp and smooth (especially those found in the TRON world, based off actual actors) and the environments are all colourful and have this exciting feel about them – especially if you’ve got some of that good old Disney nostalgia building up. Everything feels polished and authentic – though there is one major complaint that I have (which has been a complaint in a few games) the worlds are so big and so unpopulated by NPCs, which gives them this kind of “dead” feeling. I understand the story says that these worlds are sleeping but, sometimes you feel like that is meant literally.

The 3D effect works particularly well but comes with the rather annoying ghosting issue we saw with previous titles like Ocarina of Time. The game itself looks amazing with the slider turned up and framerate issues (while they exist) aren’t exacerbated by the 3D effect. Every single aspect of the game has obviously been crafted with careful attention to 3D effects with even small elements of the on screen menus being chosen to pop out. These small but subtle details all come together to paint a really cool fully 3D picture, with different elements of the screen all being layered at varying depths. A lot of effort has gone into the 3D optimisation for this game and it thankfully pays off – especially during the “dive” segments where the player appears to be diving into the screen. It all looks great and adds a lot of visual depth to the game’s environments.

Cementing Square Enix’s trademark eye for visual presentation, Dream Drop Distance also features a stellar soundtrack with rearranged and remastered tracks from other Disney films as well as the high quality of composition that we have come to expect from the franchise. The voice work is also superb, featuring series mainstays Haley Joel Osment and David Gallagher voicing Sora and Riku, as well as some other celebrity appearances too. Well, we can’t confirm if they are celebrities (the likes of Jason Alexander, Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund) but they sound just like them so we would not be surprised either.

But enough about the presentation, let’s go over the basics of Kingdom Hearts. The game is essentially a real time action RPG with a menu system slightly similar to Final Fantasy. One button is dedicated to attacks, while another is dedicated to other commands which can be added to a deck and shuffled through by the player. What this means is simple – only a certain number of abilities are usable in combat and there is no “MP” or “Magic” system, instead abilities merely have a recharge time. Targeting is handled with the shoulder buttons, and is fairly competent to the point where I have to wonder why anyone would bother with the Circle Pad Pro – which just complicates things as I never had a problem with the camera during battle or exploration without it.

Combat is not only relegated to your two playable characters either. Spirits are basically “good” versions of enemies that you can create using dropped components from your foes. These spirits can then be “nurtured” (ie. Rubbing them like in Nintendogs) to unlock points, which can be used to unlock abilities, stat bonuses and perks for your characters. The nurturing system is a bit annoying, though thankfully throughout the game the same abilities (though not stat bonuses) are available to purchase from stores. Each Spirit has a unique set of abilities which encourages the player to keep mixing up their party to unlock new spells and skills. This is much nicer than previous games that forced you to use the same party- I won’t lie, though, there were times where I missed walking around with Donald and Goofy.

But to be quite frank – I don’t really miss Donald and Goofy that much, as much of the combat system has been significantly reworked to be far more fast-paced and vary things up a bit. The flowmotion system allows Sora or Riku to latch onto poles, grind on rails and bounce off walls in order to move around the area or execute devastating attacks. These attacks don’t cost anything and are easy to pull off so it does feel a little bit cheap at times however. After landing attacks in unison with one of your spirits, Sora or Riku can also execute a “Spirit Link”. Sora takes said spirit and uses it in some kind of attack, while Riku takes the element of that spirit and imbues his attacks with it. It’s a simple system that adds a bit of variety between the characters.

The other major changes in Dream Drop Distance come from the way the game presents its stories. You dive into each world (which are on-rails Star Fox-esque segments) and then have to keep an eye on your “Drop” meter. The game presents two storylines – you will play through the same world with Riku and Sora but visit different areas and play different scenarios, as they are both in parallel worlds of the same universe. This means as you take damage or explore, the “Drop” meter will decrease and once it reaches zero, will swap you to the other character. This means you could get “dropped” halfway through a boss battle, which is somewhat infuriating especially if you are having trouble. Being dropped means you can endow bonuses and skill sets to the character you are swapping to, but the system does get a little bit distracting and quite frankly annoying – luckily there are items and skills that will reduce the drop meter’s reduction rate.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is by no means an incomplete package– with around seven worlds, both with one storyline each, you’ve got quite a substantial game here. Everything is voiced, and even optional content has voice work and the same production quality as the stuff you’ll encounter during the main game. It will take most players roughly 20 hours to complete the main story, though to complete everything things could easily extend to 30 hours roughly. Streetpass allows players to share their personalised spirits with anyone they have managed to communicate with during their off days, and while it’s a nice touch it’s nothing major.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is an exciting and relevant instalment in the franchise which does it’s best to change up parts of the franchise without alienating it’s original fanbase. This is a full on, completely original story that visits worlds the franchise has never seen before as well as revisiting a few for good measure.

On par with one of the mainline console releases, Dream Drop Distance is an essential game for any Kingdom Hearts fan and even more so for a 3DS owner looking for an original and meaty action role playing game. Despite all its strengths, some may not appreciate the essentially “timed” nature of the character switches, and this is something to warn players against although there are ways to get around it if you plan well enough. The new combat mechanics make it more accessible than ever, so why not jump in now and get yourself ready for the long awaited Kingdom Hearts III. Judging by the revelations in Dream Drop Distance, we are in for a hell of a ride

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About The Author
James Mitchell
Avid gamer since I was as young as three years old when I received my first NES. Currently studying full time and consider myself a balanced gamer. Enjoy games on all systems, from all genres, on all platforms. Sometimes feels like he's too optimistic for this industry.

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