Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Developer: Square Enix Release Date: July 31, 2012
Publisher: Square Enix ESRB Rating: E10+
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS MSRP: US$39.99

Kingdom Hearts fans have waited a long time for a new title to bring forward plot progression for Sora and Riku. Ten years after the first game’s release and six years after Kingdom Hearts II, Square Enix has given us a true sequel with Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. However, is the game a worthy entry in this sprawling series?

Kingdom Hearts 3D follows Sora and Riku as they take the Mark of Mastery exam to become Keyblade Masters. As part of the test, Master Yen Sid sends the pair out to wake seven sleeping worlds by unlocking a Keyhole in each realm, and he hopes that they will return with new powers to help them defeat Xehanort. (Yes, he’s back. Are you really surprised?) Though you get to play as Riku and Sora, the plot is ultimately more Riku-centric than other games thus far. Riku definitely sees more development and growth than Sora, who remains the same naïve (but loveable) goofball that he has always been. This isn’t a major gripe, but while it was great to see Riku gain a more depth as a character, it would have been nice for Sora to mature a little too. A few of the plot twists also seem more contrived than usual, and they may push the boundaries of suspension of disbelief for some players.

This series has a convoluted story, but Kingdom Hearts 3D does try to be newcomer friendly. Whenever something references another Kingdom Hearts game, you will have the option to read a chronicle that summarizes that game’s plot. These chronicles are great for existing fans who need a quick refresher, and they may even be enough for someone completely new to the series to get their head around what’s happening. However, some parts are more meaningful if you’ve experienced Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, so I would still recommend playing those games first if you have time.

Kingdom Hearts 3D has some of the best mechanics of any entry in the series, but there is almost too much information to digest. The core battle system is a welcome holdover from Birth by Sleep. You have a command deck with a limited number of slots, and you can place a melee, magic, or item command in each one. During fights, you can switch commands with the D-pad and press X to use them. However, any command that isn’t an item will have a cooldown time before you can use it again.

Your deck is only one of many things to account for when planning your battles. One useful new element is Flowmotion, which lets you interact with the environment to pull off some spectacular attacks. Pressing Y while running at walls, poles, etc., will launch your character into Flowmotion so you can bounce around, slide along grind rails, and even throw opponents. The system is fun to use, but it feels a little overpowered. Even for some boss fights, it’s easy to spam Flowmotion attacks and forget the other available options. I would love to see this mechanic return in future games, but it would be better if it weren’t quite so powerful.

Kingdom Hearts 3D also adds Dream Eaters to the mix of battle options. Since Donald and Goofy are helping Yen Sid and Mickey supervise the exam, Dream Eaters called Spirits replace them as your party members. You can craft these strangely cute creatures using ingredients dropped by Nightmares, evil Dream Eaters that roam sleeping worlds in place of the Heartless. There are over fifty types of Spirits that you can create to help you through your adventures, and you’ll be able to make stronger ones as the game progresses. Outside of battle, you can interact with your Spirits to increase their stats, raise their affection for Sora and Riku, and earn link points. You can bond with your Spirits by feeding them, petting them, and playing with them using training toys. It’s also possible to change your Spirits’ colors using a paint gun, though that doesn’t contribute to any of their stats.

Petting and playing with your Spirits might seem silly at first, but interacting with them is actually fun. Plus, each Spirit has an Ability Link board that lets you spend link points to obtain abilities for Sora and Riku. You can equip new commands to your deck at any time, but stat boosting abilities will be unequipped if you remove the Spirit associated with them from your party. Sora and Riku can also link with Spirits in battle. Sora fights with his Spirits to become temporarily invincible and perform special attacks, while Riku absorbs them to grow stronger. You can only use link attacks when a Spirit has a full link meter, but they really pack a punch and are definitely a great addition to the game.

There is still one more battle-related element left to talk about. Every world you visit has its own type of Reality Shift, which you can use on both enemies and the environment. To initiate a Reality Shift, just swipe the bottom screen of the 3DS whenever a pink arrow appears there. For example, in La Cite des Cloches, you can use the Faithline Reality Shift to connect your enemies and ride along a grind rail to attack them. When you aren’t fighting, you can use Faithline on floating spheres to aid in exploration. Reality Shifts are a fun addition to the game, and I really hope they continue to appear in future titles.

As exciting as all of the new battle elements are in Kingdom Hearts 3D, there’s a bit of a learning curve to getting the controls to mesh well. Between mastering Flowmotion, linking with Spirits, and using Reality Shifts, there’s so much going on sometimes that fights can become pure chaos. Having the Circle Pad Pro does wonders for camera control, since otherwise you would have to use the shoulder buttons. However, it can still be hard to keep track of your enemies when you are looking out for Reality Shifts, keeping an eye on your Spirits’ link meters, cycling through your command deck, and trying to watch your HP all at the same time.

Once you conquer the basics of battle, however, Kingdom Hearts 3D really isn’t that difficult. You might die once or twice while fighting a boss or get overwhelmed sometimes when an unexpected group of Nightmares appears, but if you make sure you keep your health up and learn the bosses’ attack patterns, it isn’t too hard. There really wasn’t any need to grind until the very last world, where I noticed a considerable increase in Nightmare strength compared to the previous one. If you like to spend a lot of time grinding or hunting down secrets before you beat the game, you will most likely end up over-leveling, though.

Another thing to keep an eye on during fights is the drop meter. Whenever you want to switch characters, you can press the drop button, but you will switch automatically if your drop multiplier gets too high. Exploring and fighting Nightmares will increase the multiplier, and when it reaches a certain point, you will enter bonus mode. Nightmares give you drop points when you kill them, and in bonus mode, the number of points you receive increases. Your character switches when the meter empties, and you can spend drop points on stat bonuses for the next character. It’s important to mind the drop meter because if you aren’t careful, you can finish a drop in the middle of a boss fight. When this happens, even if the boss was on its last health bar, you’ll start over again at the beginning of the battle when you return to that character. Thankfully, there are potions you can use to postpone your next drop.

Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II had mandatory Gummi Ship levels that you needed to complete when you wanted to visit a new world. Kingdom Hearts 3D replaces that with dive mode, in which Sora and Riku fly between worlds, collecting prizes and defeating enemies along the way. Dive mode is nice because it gives you specific goals to accomplish so you know how close you are to the end of the tunnel. It is also a fun minigame, which might encourage you to go back and try to get perfect scores on all of the dives.

Speaking of minigames, Dream Drop Distance is full of them. The three training toys—a water barrel, a balloon, and treasure goggles—are all different minigames that level up your Spirits, but you must use up items to play them. There is also a nifty lightcycle minigame in The Grid. These are each amusing, but Flick Rush is definitely the best minigame in Kingdom Hearts 3D. It is a card battle in which you pit three of your Spirits against a team belonging to either the computer or another player. Each Spirit has a deck, and you have to try to break your opponent’s attacks by using cards with higher numbers than theirs. Unfortunately, to battle other people, both players must have a Kingdom Hearts 3D cartridge. Flick Rush is a blast, and it’s easy on your hands, making it a good minigame to jump into when you need a break from fighting hoards of Nightmares.

Dream Drop Distance also has some nifty StreetPass functionality. You can leave three Spirits at link portals anywhere in the game to fight other players or assist them. When you StreetPass another person with Kingdom Hearts 3D data, you will receive their portals and they will receive yours. Even if you’ve never StreetPassed any other players, you can still play computer-generated link portals named for Final Fantasy characters. There are also several special portals in every world that will reward you with rare Dream Eater ingredients or sometimes recipes for Spirits. A different special portal appears every time you drop, so you’ll have to check the worlds for new portals often if you want to find them all. Once you’ve beaten the game, secret portals also open up in each world that let you re-defeat the bosses for an extra challenge.

At least if you’re hunting for special portals, there will be good music to accompany you in each world. Even Traverse Town got an update to its original theme so that, though still repetitive, it isn’t nearly as grating as it used to be. The remix of Utada Hikaru’s “Simple and Clean” that plays during the opening credits of the game is lovely, and Yoko Shimomura’s “Dearly Beloved” is back again for another beautiful bit of menu music. The voice acting is also consistently spot on.

The graphics in Dream Drop Distance are gorgeous as well. The game looks as good as Birth by Sleep without the 3D turned on, and playing with the 3D activated actually enhances the visuals, especially during cutscenes.

Kingdom Hearts 3D isn’t perfect, but it’s an excellent sequel that adds tons of fun new gameplay. I highly recommend it to fans of the series, but if you’ve never played a Kingdom Hearts game, you might be confused by the story. I also recommend carefully pacing yourself when you play. The controls aren’t exactly clunky, but they are cramped, and it is possible to end up with sore fingers for a couple of days if you try to play too much at once.

Graphics: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Story: ★★★★★★★★☆☆
Gameplay: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Audio: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Balance/Difficulty: ★★★★★★★★☆☆
Intangibles: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Overall: ★★★★★★★★★☆

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