It’s been ten years since the original Kingdom Hearts landed on PS2 in 2002. Now, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance on Nintendo 3DS is continuing the story. As the seventh and the most chronologically recent entry in the series, 3D bridges the gap between Kingdom Hearts II and the (hopefully) future Kingdom Hearts III. It also brings up the question: can you have a true Kingdom Hearts experience on a handheld?
It Was All a Dream…
Kingdom Hearts 3D sees Sora and Riku beginning their Mark of Mastery exams, which you may remember from Birth by Sleep as tests required of a Keyblade wielder to become a Keyblade master. To prepare the duo for the future, Master Yensid has them venture into “sleeping worlds.” By unlocking these worlds, Sora and Riku will “wake” them from their darkened state. If this all seems like JRPG nonsense to you, it is. However, the game offers many flashback scenes that summarize events of the previous games. Newcomers will still be thrown into the deep end of the lore pool, but they’ll be brought up to speed in time.
A Whole New World
KH3D offers all-new worlds for players to explore. While seeing these new worlds is great, there’s a large range of quality among them. The clear standout is country of the Musketeers, a world based on the straight-to-DVD The Three Musketeers, but the Tron: Legacy-based world, The Grid, is very uninspired and frankly boring. While having new worlds is a plus, there aren’t many of them overall, though this can be attributed to the fact that the game is on a handheld.
The biggest misstep here, however, is the lack of any Final Fantasy influence. Zero FF characters are present in the game; considering the origin of Kingdom Hearts was to fuse Final Fantasy and Disney, the lack of any FF presence is terrible. Sure, Square threw in some of The World Ends with You‘s cast, but they only appear for the first world. After that, the Square properties disappear, and that’s sad.
The three “d’s” in KH3D are not just an excuse to have “3D” in the game title: they are the central mechanics of the game. The first “d” stands for “dream,” a reference to the game’s plot. The second “d” is for “Drop,” which refers to the ability to switch between Sora and Riku during play. Each has his own objectives in each world, making two separate campaigns for players to enjoy.
Unfortunately, the Drop mechanic is the absolute worst part of the game. Sora and Riku each have a Drop meter that constantly depletes while they are being used. When this meter runs out, players are forced to play as the other character. The stupid part is that you can also manually Drop anytime you wish: you can immediately switch back and continue the plot you were working on. You can even obtain bonuses and use items to reduce the Drop meter’s depletion speed, and on top of that, you will always resume exactly where you left off – no progress lost between Drops. It’s like the developers knew the mechanic was bad, so they added some buffers to make it suck less. At its core, the Drop mechanic is an unnecessary and annoying break from the action.
The third “d” is for distance, which can be covered easily using the game’s Flowmotion mechanic. Using Flowmotion, players can wall jump, glide along the battlefield, and perform crazy acrobatic attacks and manuevers usually reserved for cut scenes. Flowmotion is the perfect addition to the series’ typical action-RPG combat. Combined with this is the touch-based Reality Shift mechanic – special attacks unique to each world. Much like the worlds themselves, the Reality Shifts also span the range of good to bad. The Hunchback of Notre Dame‘s La Cite des Cloches uses the Faithline Reality Shift, which allows players to dash around the battlefield in a connect-the-dots pattern, and it complements the action nicely. On the flipside, Traverse Town’s Slingshot is an unsatisfying break from the action.
Technically, KH3D has a fourth “d,” which stands for “Dive.” Sora and Riku must make a Dive the first time they visit a world, and these sections play like a typical fall-from-the-sky moment. As players fall, they must dodge debris and take out enemies; prizes and health can be collected along the way. Each Dive also has an objective, which the player must complete in order to land in the new world. These range from collecting a certain number of prizes to taking out certain enemies. Every Dive is also ranked, so revisiting them for more prizes and a better score is welcome.
The other big addition to KH3D is the presence of Dream Eaters. They’re not Heartless or Nobodies, but they fill the cannon fodder role very well. Dream Eaters players battle are known as Nightmares, but players can also create their own Dream Eaters, called Spirits, and add them to their party. As party members, Spirits can be used for special attacks with Sora or for special combat styles with Riku. Making Spirits involves combining a wide range ingredients, found in chests and dropped in battle. Recipes can also be found for Spirits, but experimentation is welcome – you never know what kinds of creatures you can create.
After synthesizing Spirits, players can spend time nurturing and training them. This levels them up, netting Sora and Riku abilities and combat bonuses. Petting Spirits via the touchscreen strengthens you bond with them, and it sometimes changes their disposition – KH3D‘s version of a class. You can also use Spirits in the game’s Flick Rush mode, which – for lack of a better term – is a dog-fighting ring for Spirits to engage in 3-on-3 battles. A fast-paced, card-based system similar to Chain of Memories allows Spirits to battle, and victory means more bonuses for the little guys, and in turn more buffs for Sora and Riku.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is truly a mixed bag. Having new worlds is a great concept, but a small number of offerings and few standouts is a letdown. The Flowmotion and Dive mechanics are fantastic, but the Drop mechanic is utterly terrible. Tipping the scales toward the good are the Dream Eaters, whose Pokemon-like collectible quality will add hours of playtime to the game. 3D is a solid entry in the series, and it sets up Kingdom Hearts III to be something truly grand. Die-hard Kingdom Hearts fans will love the game (as I do), but there have been much better entries in the series.