Ten years ago, I was 10 and I had just started playing “real” video games. While watching Toonami late at night, I saw the commercial that changed my gaming life forever.
Now, after a decade of Kingdom Hearts games, how does the series’ latest installment hold up?
The Premise: Riku and Sora must begin their Mark of Mastery exam in order to become true Keyblade masters. Their exam requires them to go to 7 “Sleeping Worlds” and use their Keyblades to bring the worlds out of the darkness. While the plot sounds pretty corny, I was happy and relieved that KH3D was featuring the two (in my opinion, real) protagonists of the series- Riku and Sora. I got tired of all of this Roxas, Ventus, annoying new characters business. I’m glad to be back with the two characters from my childhood. Both Riku and Sora visit each world, fulfilling their individual ‘exam’ in parallel universes on the same planet (similar to the different perspective of the same story from each character in Birth by Sleep).
The Gameplay: This game was filled with a whole new set of gameplay mechanics to the Kingdom Hearts series. The first is the loss of classic support characters in favor of tiny, Pokemon-like creatures called Dream Eaters. Dream Eaters function as the enemies in the majority of your combat (think Heartless) but you can collect fragments in order to craft your own. Sora and Riku develop a relationship with their Dream Eaters, and in return receive abilities & stats boosts. The leveling system is done through the Dream Eaters. Some people feel as though Dream Eaters were a cheap way to get out of developing supporting characters that actually mattered – while this is probably true, I thought it was a different mechanic and it worked out fine in the end.
KH3D gets it’s full name, Dream Drop Distance, from the other new mechanic, the Drop Meter. As Riku or Sora goes around his alternate universe, exploring and fighting, a small meter runs down on the side of the screen. Hit zero, and your character falls into a forced state of sleep- no matter what. Even in Boss battles. This was Square’s way of ensuring you developed the plot of both universes in a world concurrently, and in some ways it makes sense. It can be a bit jarring to the story at first, but I essentially found that I just learned to incorporate the system within my play style of the game. By using “Drop-Me-Nots” (items that refill the meter) and saving & dropping before all major boss battles, I never found myself in the situation where I dropped in the middle of something extremely important. That said, I will be VERY happy if the Drop system (or anything like it) DOES NOT COME BACK FOR KH3.
The Command Deck is back, which is both a blessing and a curse. The major point of frustration in the command deck always comes with getting your heals in time during the Boss fights. It can often feel clunky and you will find yourself desperately dashing out of the way to get a Curaga in time.
My favorite addition to combat is the Flowmotion function. By timing a button press, Riku & Sora execute parkour-type moves in combat, tossing enemies across the room and doing serious damage. I thought it added a dynamic motion to combat & I enjoyed running up to and then jumping off a wall in order to take out my enemies. Riku and Sora can also interact with their environment in specific ways in each world in Reality Shifts – these were more like frustrating mini-games and I wasn’t that impressed.
The Look: KH3D is one of the prettiest 3DS games out there. The 3D works well, and unlike some 3DS games, I feel as though the 3D effect fits with the game. Some of the character rendering that strayed from stylized characters (Olivia Wilde as Quorra in Tron for example) looked a little odd in a universe filled with Final Fantasy, spikey haired heros. Each world has a distinct feel to it, although they are not very large or detailed.
The Plot: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance attempts the monumental task of tying together many of the lose ends in the series thus far. Overall, I feel as though the game does a good job of trying to bridge many of the gaps. Don’t worry if you haven’t been playing the other handheld installments of the series – the game does catch you up to speed. For example, I never finished 358/2 Days because I hated the mechanics (and Roxas) so much. Within about 6 hours of the KH3D, I discovered a full synopsis of that game, explaining to me everything I might have missed and filling in some plot holes.
These explanations, by no means, make the Kindgom Hearts plot sensical.They explain what has happened in this convoluted series as best they can. The characters DO tend to ramble on about plot points that don’t quite make sense (this series is more confusing then Lost!), but it finishes well and made me feel like I understood enough to go on and play KH3. (If you have every intention of playing KH3 when it comes out, I highly recommend playing KH3D & Birth by Sleep – these are the two handheld games that have the most important plot points.)
The Sound: This is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard on a handheld to date. Yoko Shimomura contributes original music (no Disney tunes here) and it’s quite elegant. Symphony of Sorcery, one of the last worlds you visit, has a beautiful soundtrack in particular. I actually plugged my earphones in to play this game in public. The voice acting is also spot on for the most part- it sounds a bit ridiculous at times, but that’s more from the script then the actual voice acting. Haley Joel Osment and David Gallagher return in fine performances as Sora and Riku.
Graphics – 9
Sound – 9
Entertainment – 8.5
Overall Score: 8.5
Despite some of the game’s issues, this was one of the few handheld Kingdom Hearts games I played from start to finish, enjoying (almost) every step of the way. As one of the best games available on 3DS, it deserves a purchase from Kingdom Hearts fans for sure. If you are looking for a great review on the game- check out Audrey Drake’s IGN review. I find she is a very fair/objective and well spoken game reviewer.