I came to the Kingdom Hearts franchise a little late, picking up the first title when it was already a part of the “Greatest Hits” line. At the time I didn’t know what it was, I just saw it was from Square Enix and featured Mickey Mouse and friends – for me, that was enough. The first game completely intrigued me, I couldn’t put it down and finished it all in rather short order. Since then I have played, I think, all the other titles in the franchise, enjoying some more than others. Released in the United States today, we now have the newest Kingdom Hearts game, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, a 3DS endeavor. Not to ruin the suspense in this review too much, but it is not my favorite title in the series.
The story focuses on Riku and Sora who are asked to take their “Mark of Mastery” exam to prove that they are as swell with a Keyblade as one would hope (there is apparently some great evil on the horizon). Forget where other games have already kind of shown us what the two can do with a Keyblade in hand—Riku and Sora mention that, but it’s quickly brushed aside—the real problems in the story lie elsewhere.
Well, maybe that’s not accurate, they kind of lie everywhere because the entire thing is rather… let’s say dense. It isn’t that there’s necessarily a ton to this story (although a lot does happen), it is much more that the attempts to give us moments from past games not only break the flow of what is actually happening here, but can be confusing even if you have played other titles in the franchise. I won’t say it’s best to ignore it all, but perhaps a glance at a wiki wouldn’t hurt as the cutscenes unfold.
As one would expect from a Kingdom Hearts game, you do get to travel to a bunch of different Disney-created worlds. This time out new worlds include locations from Tron: Legacy and The Three Musketeers (there are several more as well, but I won’t be ruining it for those of you who like to be surprised)
Hopefully you like those movies because you kind of get to play things twice as you have to control both Sora and Riku in various locales. I won’t get into the specifics of the dual facets of various worlds, but every so often the character you’re playing “drops” and you switch to the other who is in a different version of the same world. So, whatever task you might have been in the middle of as the one character gets completely set aside so that you can play as the other.
This can prove interesting, but more often than not it is actually exceptionally annoying. Picture this – you’re in the middle of a boss fight, one which you didn’t know was about to take place (you do get some warning before a drop so you wouldn’t want to enter a fight with a drop nearing). You’ve been going at the boss pretty hard and, despite your being nearly a goner, you have him just about defeated; victory is at hand. Sadly, however, your time as that character is up and poof, you drop and wake up as the other character in a different location. When you get to go back to the first character (after your next drop), you’re going to have to do the boss battle all over from the beginning. It becomes frustrating even when it doesn’t happen in the middle of a battle.
The bad guys popping up all over the place in the game—the ones which, in true Kingdom Hearts fashion, annoyingly regenerate at the same spot every single time you go into certain areas which you’re forced to enter over and over again—are called Dream Eaters. They come in a myriad of flavors, and offer you much opportunity to swing your Keyblade. You can even create your own Dream Eaters which fight with you and which you can play with and pet.
To me, that last bit feels like it shouldn’t be a part of the game. I have no desire to rub my Dream Eater’s belly so that he can be happy and gain more power. There are some really good pet-based games out there, trying to mix it in as a component of this title is just too much.
Going back to those Keyblade antics, they are pretty fast and frantic here (they would have to be with the number of baddies you’re going to see). Not only do you get to have the Dream Eaters fight along side you, but you can do some combo moves with them. There is also something called “Flowmotion” present. This allows you to bounce off things at super-speed and then perform some powerful attacks. It is a neat idea which is completely hampered by the visuals.
The game looks spectacular. It looks good in 2D and 3D, during regular play and cutscenes. But, during regular play the camera turns with the character (you can move it, but it’ll quickly wind up back at the default spot). The result of this ever-turning camera is that when you enter Flowmotion and start bouncing off things like crazy, the camera follows suit and starts turning like crazy. You don’t always know where your guy is going to bounce either so you can’t anticipate the camera move. Trying to orient yourself in Flowmotion takes a great deal of practice and ends up feeling like more effort than it’s actually worth. A new, static camera angle for Flowmotion moves would have greatly enhanced the feel of the game as a whole.
All of this isn’t to say that there’s not a lot of fun to be had in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Wielding the Keyblade is nice, there is depth to the game (even if it is rather linear with a difficult story/backstory), and the Disney characters remain as much fun as they ever have been in the franchise. As I said, it looks really good on the 3DS, and the music is excellent as well.
Even talking about the good though, I find myself feeling somewhat disappointed. The game has a lot of good, and reentering the universe is enjoyable, I just want more from the experience. Perhaps my problem is that I yearn for Kingdom Hearts to return to the console with a massive entry and the releases of so many different portable games in the franchise has caused my enthusiasm for the series to wane. The original game came out in 2002, Kingdom Hearts II came out in 2006 (in the U.S.). Since then we’ve gotten DS, mobile, and PSP games, but no Kingdom Hearts III which is what I really want to play next time I enter the Kingdom Hearts universe. So, maybe Dream Drop Distance not being KHIII colors my opinion more than it should, but I don’t believe that I’m the only person for whom that’s the case.
If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll find stuff to enjoy here. If you’re not already invested, however, it is a far tougher prospect. I can’t imagine people who don’t already have some experience in the franchise truly enjoying themselves – it just isn’t all that accessible. It is pretty, it sounds good, and some of it is fun, but I want more from this franchise which has proven in the past that it has a lot to offer.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence.