Game Guys review - Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

10:42 PM, Sep 17, 2012   |    comments
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  • Square-Enix's 'Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance' for 3DS.
  • Square-Enix's 'Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance' for 3DS.
    

Square-Enix's popular Disney themed RPG series Kingdom Hearts may be a decade old, but it's brand new as far as 3D games are concerned.  Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance was released for the Nintendo 3DS earlier this Summer and the game holds up well to expectations.

Dream Drop Distance features a number of Disney worlds for the player to visit.  Some are new (ie: 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame') and some familiar.  Even the familiar, though, have new elements to them as the return to Traverse Town (the first world visited in this and many of the previous KH games) proves.  The game also introduces a new enemy race:  Dream Eaters.  The Dream Eaters replace the Heartless and Nobody enemy hordes of past games and can also double as companions for protagonists Sora and Riku.

New locations, new takes on old locations, and new enemies are great for new franchise entries for any game series; but these elements aren't the most important new item Dream Drop Distance adds to KH mythos.  That honor is given to the game's new "Drop" system.   Dream Drop Distance is broken into two intertwined storylines:  Sora's story and Riku's story (NOTE:  It's not required to have played any of the previous Kingdom Hearts games to understand the stories, though it won't hurt either).  The drop system allows for the player to experience both stories more-or-less simultaneously.  Consider it like this:  You're playing as Sora and can play as much as you want until the Drop timer falls to zero -- at which time Sora's story suspends and you transition to Riku's to do the same with him, transitioning back to where you left off with Sora upon the expiration of Riku's Drop timer.

As a game mechanic on its own, it's an interesting concept by making it so the player can experience both storylines at roughly the same pace.  In practice, however, it doesn't always work as well as one would like -- a fact that becomes painfully obvious should one transition during a boss fight.  Rather than resuming the battle where it had left off once the player transitions back to that character, the entire boss encounter restarts.  The same happens with the game's optional challenge rooms.  This is simply frustrating and is a major flaw with this otherwise well-designed mechanic.

Something else new to Dream Drop Distance is how characters traverse from world to world.  In previous titles, players built up a Gummi Ship to soar from one world to the next.  In Dream Drop Distance, however, players literally dive head-first -- an experience that looks great in 3D -- collecting items and dodging obstacles along the way.  These sequences are quite brief compared to world-based gameplay, but they can be rather entertaining and can be re-played at the whim of the player.

As mentioned earlier in this review, the main enemy type is the Dream Eater.  There are two types:  those out to hurt Sora and Riku; and those willing to help them.  These helpful types are created by the player by blueprints found throughout the game and take the roles that Donald and Goofy played in most of the previous KH titles.  These new sidekicks can have their skills upgraded through the expenditure of earned EXP and can also be played with as if they were pets.  Honestly, the whole Tamagotchi element could have been omitted from the game, but it does add some cuteness that some players may appreciate.  The only true downside one can see with this new companion system is the fact that each world's iconic Disney character(s) cannot join the player's party as they could in most of the previous KH games.

The final bit of newness worth mentioning is Dream Drop Distance's "Freeflow" system.  It gives Sora and Riku ninja/Jet Set Radio/Tony Hawk Pro Skater-type moves and abilities.  The characters can grind up and down rails, walls, lightposts, and the like not only to quickly get around but also to deliver potentially devistating early-game attacks to enemies.  While the attacks wane in comparison to the characters late-game abilities, Freeflow still serves a purpose as a means for transportation once the attacks lose their oomph.  

One key weakness the franchise as a whole has suffered from is its often cheesy dialogue and average voice acting.  Honestly, the voices in this game are rarely what one might consider better than average and there are some phrases that are just so bad it hurts.  The visuals and soundtrack do save things presentation-wise, but players should expect to roll their eyes at much of what the characters say and how they say it.

Stacked up against the rest of the titles in the popular Kingdom Hearts franchise, it would be difficult to rank because everybody has their favorites and one person's opinion might be completely different than another's.  In fact, just about every Kingdom Hearts title has proven to be good or great (depending on who you ask).  Honestly, that's probably why the series is still going strong ten years after the PlayStation 2 original Kingdom Hearts title came out in 2002.  Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is no different.

Final Game Guys grade: B+

(Square-Enix provided a copy of this game for review.)

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