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Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
is a true sequel to Kingdom Hearts II
and a huge improvement over its predecessor, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
. However, the game does not deserve the excessive amount of hype it received and does more harm to the series than good.
The plot of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, while a step up from that of Re:coded, is quite weak in comparison to the plots of past games like Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep or Kingdom Hearts II. Because the antagonists technically win this time around, it is disappointing to see that they had very little time on-screen. The plot sometimes loses its focus because of the Dive System, and the constant jumping around between Sora and Riku's stories can easily leave the player confused if he or she lacks the insight required to understand how the events of one character's journey influences the other. While Flashbacks are a great way to expand the plot itself, the notices that pop up inquiring if the player would like to watch them seriously interrupt the story's flow. The events depicted in the individual Disney worlds don't do the films on which they are based justice and lack story relevance. On top of this, the delivery of the major plot twist that occurs in the game's final chapters relies too heavily on the open-mindedness of the player and is a perfect example of Tetsuya Nomura disregarding everything the story of the series as a whole has established so far just to incorporate his newer ideas. One might even go as far as to compare the ending of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance to a well-written fanfiction. In the end, the story is rushed and leaves many of the concepts it introduces poorly explained. Worst of all, it does not leave the player anticipating Kingdom Hearts III and desperately tries to do so through a crude teaser in the end credits.
While they are some of the series' best and can almost be viewed as an apology from Square Enix for its poorly-developed plot, the new gameplay elements introduced in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance are not entirely flawless. First off, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance serves as yet another appearance for the fun and easy-to-use (verging on overused) Deck Command system that debuted in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. Battles become very dry and repetitive early-on in the game because of this. The new and highly-interactive Flowmotion gameplay element adds even more cool attacks to Sora and Riku's arsenal, but this can get in the way of dodging and leave them vulnerable to enemy attacks if the player isn't careful. Reality Shift, an alternative way of interacting with the environment and finishing off enemies to the classic Reaction Commands of past titles, is rather useless and is easily neglected. Battles that make succeeding at Reality Shift mandatory to obtain victory can turn into hours of frustration if the player has yet to master the tactic. Also, rather than making the player fight alone as he or she had to do in Birth by Sleep and Re:coded, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance shakes things up a bit by giving the player Dream Eaters, the enemies faced in normal combat, as allies rather than "human" characters like Donald or Goofy. While the Dream Eaters serve their purpose, the entire concept of being able to tame them in the first place is much too similar to the monster recruitment system from Final Fantasy XIII-2, which, coincidentally, was developed alongside Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. While raising Dream Eaters is a nice way for the player to blow off steam amidst the chaos of regular gameplay, the fact that so much of Sora and Riku's own growth is dependent on and limited to them is a great hindrance. The Drop system that debuts in this game not only serves as a clever way to progress through the story, but it also makes everything from battles to regular travel fast-paced and exciting. The fact that dropping in the middle of a boss battle forces the player to start it over from square one can be a tremendous annoyance, but at least he or she is given the ability to drop manually at any time and can receive special rewards and upgrades through drops to compensate for this. The Dive system introduced in this game is an interesting new way to approach travelling from world to world and makes sense when one considers the nature of the story, and it's fun to see the many differences between Sora and Riku's dives for each world. Along with a card-based battling mini-game called Flick Rush, dives are the only mini-games in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, a nice change of pace considering past titles were usually crammed with them. Lastly, as in all Kingdom Hearts games, there is a noticeable lack of things to do during post-story play aside from refight bosses through Secret Portals, improve dive scores, or collect any treasures the player might have missed during the main story. Once the player defeats Julius, the game's sole secret boss, the world of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance becomes considerably smaller.
To discuss the Dream Eaters in greater detail, there are over 50 different species the player can battle and create to fight alongside him or her. While the idea of having two different versions of the enemies (benevolent Spirits and malicious Nightmares) is interesting, their overly exaggerated designs and color schemes make them look they belong in anything other than Kingdom Hearts. Compared to the Heartless, Nobodies, and Unversed designed by Tetsuya Nomura and featured in past titles, these creatures, while interesting to look at, take a while to get used to. Lastly, Square Enix was quite lazy when it came to naming the Dream Eaters during the localization of Dream Drop Distance. For instance, what was once known as "Tatsu Horse" in Japan is now known as "Tatsu Steed" in the English release. While some names are quite creative, usually containing a pun like "Meowjesty", others make no sense whatsoever, particularly with creatures such as the "Zolephant". If Square Enix was not going to put in the effort renaming the creatures players would be forced to cope with for the entire game, it may as well have retained the Japanese names altogether.
In terms of worlds the player can visit, it's a huge disappointment to see that these "brand new worlds" Nomura promised fans of the series are really just reimagined versions of past areas and are connected to past locations through either characters met or locations visited. A perfect example of this is Riku's version of Prankster's Paradise, in which he merely encounters Gepetto, Pinocchio, and Jiminy Cricket inside Monstro, the whale whose interior Riku is forced to explore for the entirety of the level. Worlds that hold true to Nomura's promise, such as La Cité des Cloches, are taken for granted by Square Enix's staff and often feel small and plain. Square Enix made a huge mistake when they made two of the seven playable worlds in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance based off of Mickey Mouse cartoons (Country of the Musketeers and Symphony of Sorcery). Ending the game with visits to two places that feature the same relative plot (Mickey, prior to his ascension to the thrown during his days in training, is in desperate need of Sora's help for whatever reason) right after the other in rapid succession is almost painfully boring. Had Square Enix spaced the visits to these worlds out, they just may have been bearable.
Compared to those featured in past games, the soundtrack of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is incredibly flat and one-dimensional. This is a major blow struck against the series as a whole, considering one of its best features has always been music. Recycled tracks are often misplaced or misused, and a majority of the soundtrack is comprised of the standard remixes of remixes, though some, such as "L'Impeto Oscur", are quite catchy. World field and battle themes all sound relatively the same, and some pieces, such as "Untamable", hardly convey the mood of the situation at hand. The one thing Yoko Shimomura does right in terms of the soundtrack is she took the themes played in Symphony of Sorcery straight from the movie Fantasia rather than destroying these masterpieces with her own reorchestrations. If only she would do this more often. There is, however, a substantial difference in the quality of music played in Symphony of Sorcery compared to the rest of the game, so sadly, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance serves as the debut of The World Ends With You in the Kingdom Hearts series. This is quite possibly the worst possible idea that could have been made during development, simply because it's just too late in the series to add yet another cross-over. While this comes as a good thing to those familiar with The World Ends With You, those who are not should still approach these characters with an open mind. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely the player will have an emotional connection to them due to lack of experience with their original series.
It seems that ever since Kingdom Hearts II, voice acting in the Kingdom Hearts games has continued to go downhill. Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance quite possibly contains the worst voice acting yet. One can hear the strain in Haley Joel Osment's voice as he tries to fit his more mature vocals into the body of 14-year-old Sora. David Gallagher does a great job as Riku (as usual), but some of his battle cries sound absolutely pathetic. Jesse McCartney still uses his new, annoyingly high-pitched voice when playing Roxas and Ventus, and some voice actors, such as Richard Epcar, weren't up to par as the have been in past titles. Actors such as Paul St. Peter and Quinton Flynn do an amazing job maintaining the sound and feel of their voices from Kingdom Hearts II, and after it was disputed for so long, fans will be overjoyed to hear Leonard Nimoy reprise his role as Master Xehanort. Likewise, fans will be disappointed to hear Corey Burton replace Christopher Lee yet again as Ansem the Wise, and his impression of Lee is much too similar to his "Yen Sid voice". Save for the essential characters, such as Donald and Goofy, almost every other Disney character appearing in the game is voiced through a sub-convincing impression and nothing more. Fans of the Disney franchise will miss hearing Tom Hulce as Quasimodo or Demi Moore as Esmeralda, just to give an example. Quite possibly the worst decision made in terms of voice acting, however, was replacing David Gallagher with Ben Diskin as Young Xehanort. Not only would retaining Gallagher have presented a nice case of irony story-wise between this character and Riku, but it also would have saved the arguably main antagonist of the game from a monotone voice that sounds like it has a cold.
In terms of graphics, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance needs to be experienced with the Nintendo 3DS's 3D capabilities on at maximum. This will not only make everything from cutscenes to normal gameplay breathtaking with the added sense of depth and feigned realism, but it will also save the player from having to sit through another flat, bland world of flat, bland characters and locations.
One must appreciate Square Enix's attention to detail in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Character voices are muted and replaced with musical instruments to preserve the nature of Fantasia in Symphony of Sorcery. Cutscenes were reanimated to improve lip-synching, a welcome sight considering many of the past games in the series merely featured English dialogue and text inserted over Japanese animation. Square Enix also makes a subtle attempt to maintain the feel of the various Disney worlds' movies of origin through the script. A true Disney fan instantly feels nostalgic when Kevin Flynn's line on the true nature of perfection is repeated word-for-word and the lyrics to Frollo's portion of the song "Out There" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame are spoken to Quasimodo with minor alterations along with several of his other iconic lines. Several scenes from the Disney movies are replicated perfectly in Dream Drop Distance, such as Frollo's death in Sora's story and CLU's attempt to obtain Kevin Flynn's identity disc in Riku's.
Overall, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is intended for veterans of the Kingdom Hearts series instead of newcomers. While the game's Chronicle system helps bring the player up to speed by summarizing the stories of every game in the series, it is still possible for those who haven't actually seen the events described with their own eyes to feel lost when playing. While it actually contains accurate information for the most part (there is a huge difference in saying "the Sweet Dreams Keyblade is obtained by clearing Flick Rush" and "the Sweet Dreams Keyblade is obtained by obtaining the gold trophy in every Flick Rush tournament") and is a huge improvement over the one released for Birth by Sleep, the accompanying BradyGames guide is rather useless, as it lacks essential information, such as where to obtain all the commands listed in the index and which Dream Eaters drop which Dream Pieces or grant which abilities. Post-story content is completely omitted from the book, so the player is often left to develop his or her own strategies and play through the game blind. In the end, the guidebook is all about looking pretty rather than helping the player.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance brings all the elements of the Kingdom Hearts series together to create a wonderful experience for the player. Kingdom Hearts 3D brings new unseen worlds, a story that moves the game forward and fast-pace combat to Kingdom Hearts. With one of the new things being Flowmotion,I believe that Flowmotion helps the player advance quicker, swifter and at a much faster rate than in older games were you had several or some abilities to your disposal, with the iconic Dodge Roll. Flowmotion was a much needed addition to Kingdom Hearts and should be in every game in the series from now on. Onto combat, I believe the Command system could've been given the leveling from Birth by Sleep but apart from that, I enjoyed combat a lot, more than I did with Birth by Sleep and especially Re:coded. The music is absolutely perfect, although there were some anomalies in my point of view ("Xehanort -The Early Years-" for example, was sort of a mix of a number of instruments at once, I would have preferred it had they removed the marimbas and made it fit better with the "modern" sound the percussion in it that it takes) but overall, Yoko Shimomura, along with previous composers, Takeharu Ishimoto and Tsuyoshi Sekito, presented the game with amazing pieces of music, even ones as miniuscule as "Victor's Pride", and those as big as "L'Apprenti Sorcier". And finally the story, the story was amusing and was well-told within the game, and the main story blended well with the miniscule stories of the various worlds, especially within Riku's part in Prankster's Paradise and Sora's in Symphony of Sorcery. The Mementos menu helps the player keep track of the happenings within the game and prior to this game, and the flashbacks add a little bit more backstory to the worlds's story. Overall the game shines brighter than any other in the Kingdom Hearts series, my only true complain would be the choice of console but apart from that, it's great.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
is a fantastic game for the most part, with its good parts vastly overshadowing its flaws. The game is a worthy addition to the series, and it is a must-have for all that have kept up with the story. The game's strengths include its gameplay, music, and graphics (to an extent), while the main flaw of the game include its selection of worlds and its story.
The gameplay presented in Dream Drop Distance is, without a doubt, the strongest yet shown in the series. The core gameplay remains the same; run through areas, destroying enemies that spawn along the way. However, Dream Drop Distance adds quite a few features to make the system still feel refreshing. Primarily, the command deck system from Birth by Sleep and Re:coded makes a return, and remains an excellent system in combat. Secondly, a new system called Flowmotion has been implemented, which basically amounts to the player character being able to perform fancy parkour skills, including wall-jumping and rail-grinding. The system, while having a slight learning curve, is expertly implemented into the game, and is useful for both combat and map navigation. Combat feels rewarding and, on Standard difficulty and above, all fights feel like battles where you could die at any time, without feeling excessively challenging.
As always, Yoko Shimomura does a beautiful job with the soundtrack. The new world themes are all brilliant, and even the music recycled from old games fit perfectly juxtaposed next to the new songs. The real highlight of the soundtrack are the remixes of previous tracks, displayed heavily in the final boss fights.
The game's visuals rank among the best of the system. The game is the closest 3DS game to a console experience. The graphics for most of the worlds are vibrant and beautiful, and each world has its own distinct look. Symphony of Sorcery, in particular, is the best display of graphics ever seen on a 3DS. Additionally, the 3D effect is well used, bringing the player deeper into the game. Even with the slider on full, the 3D never feels overused, and only enhances the experience.
The game's additional content also holds up well. Portals provide an excellent postgame distraction, and raising Dream Eaters is incredibly fulfilling and is a very well-handled feature. Flick Rush might just be my favorite mini-game yet shown in the series. Treasure Chests are scattered in worlds, and finding them rarely feels like a chore, and is always rewarding.
However, the worlds visited in the game are one of its shortcomings. Many of the worlds, particularly La Cité des Cloches, feel barren and empty, and are quite boring to explore. Additionally, the world stories feel rather rushed and weak compared to previous games.
Of course, not all the worlds are bland; Symphony of Sorcery is a joy to explore, and is also an aural pleasure. All voices are muted, and all attack sounds are turned into beats of drums and crashes of cymbals, preserving the musical nature of Fantasia. Additionally, all the music from Fantasia is preserved, including The Nutcracker Suite and Night on Bald Mountain.
Finally, the story is another one of the game's shortcomings. While not necessarily weak, it is the most convoluted plot presented yet in the series. Close attention must be paid to everything said in cutscenes, lest the player be utterly baffled with the plot playing out before their eyes. The game is made for longtime players of the series, as nobody who is new to the series will completely understand the story. Luckily, the game gives you Mementos, which let you brush up on events and themes from previous games.
However, even with its shortcomings, KH3D gives you enough to like that you can have a good time. Depending on the player, the main story can range from 15-20 hours, plus a good deal to do after the story is completed. Again, the game is a must-have for fans of the series, and is also a must-have for 3DS owners, it is among one of the greatest games on the system yet.
For years, fans have been waiting for Kingdom Hearts III
. They have often scoffed at the many handheld installments in the series thus far. And while the more dedicated fans have found plenty of enjoyment in the most recent installments, most fans have just shrugged them off. But much like with Birth by Sleep
, anyone who has enjoyed a game in the past of this series would be doing themselves a disservice to skip this game.
The game picks up right after the events of Kingdom Hearts II - don't let the younger-looking Sora and Riku fool you. It wastes no time in presenting you with your main quest: to pass the Mark of Mastery exam and become a Keyblade master. The story also throws in many references to Birth by Sleep and 358/2 Days. Even if you haven't played those installments, though, no need to fret - this game features reports that summarize past games excellently.
The story itself is excellent, complete with many Disney characters as well as the original characters you've come to know and love. Sora and Riku really mature as characters, and whoever your favorite character is, they most likely appear at some point. A few plot twists exist, but for the most part they are easy to see coming. Nonetheless, they still add to the tension of the plot and really prepare things for KHIII. The voice acting is excellent as always - as to be expected from a cast that includes Leonard Nimoy.
The gameplay is the same action-packed fiesta as always, and really does a great job of improving on past mechanics while adding new ones. The Deck Commands from BbS return, and insure that your frequent casting of Firaga doesn't interfere with your need to cast Cura. Limits, combination attacks introduced in KHII, return with the new Dream Eater allies. The best part of the gameplay in by far Flowmotion, which feels similar to the Reaction Commands of previous installments, but allows you to walljump off of almost any surface in the game. Combat always feels fresh thanks to the large arsenal of attacks at your disposal.
The Dream Eater system works fairly well; it's nice to be able to customize your party to such a full extent. I became addicted to making new Dream Eaters and unlocking new abilities for myself through the Link system. It is somewhat annoying that this roundabout way is the only reliable way to unlock abilities and commands, but it's still fun even if it can be frustrating.
The graphic are absolutely gorgeous - you'll hardly notice the lack of Antialiasing on the 3DS. The 3D effect is nice, albeit not useful or necessary. In fact, the effect is sometimes disorienting during combat; as such, I tended to turn the 3D up only during cutscenes. The soundtrack is perhaps the best in the series to date; some tracks are jazzy while others are techno. Plenty of the tracks are reminiscent of older games, and the remixes of TWEWY songs are cool as well.
Ultimately, the game suffers from a few annoyances. For starters, the drop gauge always degrades too fast. While I like the idea of switching between Sora and Riku, the drop gauge tended to get on my nerves. Additionally, there are a few difficulty spikes at the end, especially on Riku's side - he's forced to fight three bosses in a row right before his two final bosses. The game does provide a checkpoint system between the battles in case you die during one of them, but if you find that you are too low of a level to successfully beat the later battles (like I did), you'll end up having to leave and come back later to fight all three bosses again. It's not the end of the world, but it sure frustrated me. Lastly, there isn't as much post-game content as is typical for these games, so the longevity isn't as good as it often is.
Ultimately, I would call this the best handheld entry to date, which is saying something considering how great Birth by Sleep
was. For fans of the series, Kingdom Hearts 3D
is a must have installment.