Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Review - Drop it Like It's Hot

Score: 7.5 / 10
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: July 21st, 2012

  • Classic Kingdom Hearts combat alive and well
  • Disney inspired worlds are true to their source material
  • Dream Eater mechanic is enjoyable for collectors at heart
  • More challenging boss encounters than previous titles
  • Drop mechanic does little besides interrupt your current session
  • Worlds can feel empty and closed off
  • Command List is tough to navigate on the fly to the ability you want
You know that feeling you get when you are playing a game, and you are completely in the zone but the batteries in your controller give out and the game pauses, interrupting the very intense fight you were just about to overcome? Square Enix decided to make a game based around that premise with Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. The fun of Kingdom Hearts combat is there, and the enjoyable atmosphere of classic Disney films are ever present; but all of that is tucked away beneath a game mechanic that adds little to the experience besides the continual glance at a clock, wondering how much time is left before your narcolepsy takes over and you are forced to live out the plot of The Hangover in piecing together what you were doing.

Careful with that sword Minnie!
Following the events of the second game, you pick up with Sora and Roku as they work toward their Master Class Training for Keyblade Masters. This is all to prepare for the events of the third installment. They must both "wake the ones who sleep" and dive into the dream world in order to complete their training. If you are new to the series, prepare to be overwhelmed by six games worth of backstory and terminology. If you are an active follower of the series...prepare to be overwhelmed by six games of backstory and terminology you forgot. The plot is an intriguing journey, but requires a lot of previous knowledge to truly enjoy. There are still the simple tales of each dream world you visit, playing out events of the movies almost shot for shot; but the overarching premise is the central focus of your mission. While new players can eventually piece it all together, those who have been committed to the franchise will have a true appreciation of how it all plays out.

The basis of the game is swapping between Riku and Sora as they fight their way through waves of dream eaters, ultimately facing a boss before saving the world and moving to the next Disney inspired tapestry. The primary drop mechanic is meant to intertwine these two tales, but ultimately feels like I am playing two separate save files of the same game. There are items to hold off from dropping and each time you drop, you can boost the other character depending on how much you gathered during your set time. Despite all of this, the mechanic does too little to have any real effect other than interrupting a boss encounter or story progression. Luckily you can drop at any time, so if you prefer to finish out a world you can drop immediately after taking control of the other character.

Please don't fall asleep at the wheel...
The worlds you explore are what makes Kingdom Hearts so memorable, and the variety offered in Dream Drop still leave you feeling a sense of childish excitement as the title card for each world lights up. The disappointing beginning worlds of Tron and Notre Dame left a lot to be desired with repeating hallways and textures, but soon the animated world of the Mousekateers or wonderment of Dumbo takes over and reminds you why you enjoy the series in the first place. Though fun to look at the worlds themselves feel less lively than previous games, with empty corridors and towns. There are a few open areas to encourage exploration and many chests tucked behind corners or tops of buildings.

Veterans of the series should feel right at home with the combat system. You vary between hacking away at enemies or abilities from your command list, which are automatically shuffled to your ability button while others are on cooldown. You pick from a wide range of abilities to put on this command list, with the potential to tailor it for bosses or multiple enemies. The issue is that it can be difficult to cycle to the command you really want, oftentimes trying to find a cure spell while being harassed by a boss. There is also a free-running component that allows Sora/Riku to grind rails or fly off walls, adding much more speed and ferocity to traversing the maps.

New to the series are the Dream Eater companions. Gathering materials from fallen enemies you can create a Spirit that acts as your second and third party member. Each Spirit is akin to Pokemon, with varying abilities and effects that grow stronger as you fight with them. There is also the ability to fight with your spirit in Flip Mode, an arena like mini game that allows you to battle AI controlled or player controller spirits using the bottom screen to play a numbers game to attack or defend. While an interesting concept, I miss being able to fight alongside the Disney characters, and the lost opportunity of fighting alongside the Three Mousekateers or the Hunchback of Notre Dame left me ultimately disappointed.

Snorlax and Snubbull, I choose you!

Dream Drop is a game that is constantly interrupted, but still enjoyable for fans of the series. There are a ton of Spirit customizations, treasure chests, and side collectibles to power and strengthen your team as you see fit. The worlds, though initially dull, soon become much more alive and unique. The lost potential is hard to shake off, but all in all, if you love Kingdom Hearts you are able to look past the bizarre outer shell to what makes the series fun.