Disney worlds in Final Fantasy style.
When the first Kingdom Hearts game made its way onto consoles nearly ten years ago, I must confess to being slightly underwhelmed. I mean, combining Disney with Final Fantasy was not exactly a match that I would have expected, or wanted. However, it was quite easy to become enamoured with the game, it had the gorgeous Final Fantasy visuals combined with simple yet enjoyable gameplay. What more could you want?
The game had a sequel, and then things went kind of sideways with the releases of various side-stories, and it became quite easy for all but the most avid fan to lose interest. Whilst the followers of the series wait eagerly for Kingdom Hearts III, the latest game in the series has appeared on the 3DS and although it is another sidestep rather than the sequel players are waiting for, it can also bring players who have passed on the previous titles up to speed with the story, if they can keep up.
For gamers like myself who have not dipped their toes into a Kingdom Hearts game for a while, Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] can be a bit confusing. Following on from Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, players take on the roles of Sora and Riku as they take the Mark of Mastery exam, which will involve waking up a bunch of sleeping Disney worlds. If you have not been playing the games, the story doesn’t make it easy to get into, but the game can still be enjoyed without prior knowledge. However, an appreciation of all things Disney will certainly make the game more appealing.
This is because fans of the Disney franchises will get quite a buzz from visiting the various worlds in the game and interacting with the numerous characters. I am not a Disney fan, but I can imagine that those who are would overjoyed at visiting worlds based on the likes of The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Tron. It will also be the fans of such franchises that will appreciate all of the positive sentiments expressed within the game. It’s all very sweet…
An interesting addition to the gameplay is the new Drop mechanic. Basically, for reasons that are explained in the story, players are working on a time limit with each of the two characters. Once that time limit is up, the current character is yanked from whatever they are doing and the player then controls the other character. Whilst this is perhaps a necessary mechanic to prevent the player from focusing too much on one single character, it is not exactly pleasing to be pulled out of a boss battle part way through.
Another new addition in Dream Drop Distance is Reality Shift. These are microgames that are unique to each of the different worlds and have the player using their stylus on the 3DS screen in a variety of different ways. Reality Shift is triggered by an on-screen prompt and dosn’t always have to be activated.
Combat within Kingdom Hearts 3D has been improved upon with the addition of Flowmotion. The emphasis is still on hacking away at the numerous enemies whilst dodging and using the occasional potion of magic. However, using the new Flowmotion ability will allow the player to interact with their environment for more devastating attacks which not only do more damage, but also look impressive and move the action on a bit quicker. It flows nicely – which could be why they called it “Flowmotion”. There is a certain amount of grind to be found in the game, thanks in part to the constant appearance of new groups of enemies around every corner. This necessary evil is essential to make sure that the player gains enough experience and levels up at the appropriate times, but the Flowmotion mechanic and other various abilities that the player will discover throughout the game do a good job of keeping the repeated encounters as fresh as possible. Then there are the enemies themselves…
Keeping in style with the rest of the game, with its Disney appeal to the younger audience, players will have to face off against the suitably un-threatening Dream Eaters. These creatures come in two different flavours; the evil Dream Eaters which the player will simply have to fight, and the Spirit Dream Eaters who can actually be befriended and become members of the players party. In an Nintendogs meets Pokémon fashion, there are loads of Spirit Dream Eaters to find and the player actively has to look after them like pets. In fact, if the player still has their AR cards around, these “pets” can even be projected into the real world, which is nice. Back to the gameplay, the Spirit Dream Eaters bring new abilities for the player to learn and a special attack, making them a worthwhile addition to the game.
The camera in the Kingdom Hearts games has always been somewhat “flighty”, and nothing has changed here. The camera is rotated using the shoulder buttons and players can lock on to an enemy by hitting both buttons together. However, with so much going on and with the new Flowmotion mechanic having players jumping around all over the place, the camera has trouble keeping up and will quite often lock on to the wrong enemy.
Visually, Dream Drop Distance looks absolutely stunning, showing off the 3DS hardware’s capabilities. There are the occasional framerate drops, especially when the 3D is turned on. But the 3D effect is not especially impressive anyway, so having it turned off will not have the player missing anything. As always, the cut scenes are the stars of the show and are polished to within an inch of their lives, making them highly enjoyable even to someone who doesn’t have the foggiest what’s going on.
Despite the various flashbacks and the other reveals of the past story, anyone who has not been following the series will still find it difficult to leap in at this point. Also, the frequent random encounters that hark back to JRPGs of old, and the epic grind of the boss battles, will frustrate the less patient gamers. The fans of the series will be used to the grind and know the story, but these issues do make the game somewhat inaccessible to newcomers.
Gamers who have been having sleepless nights waiting for Kingdom Hearts III are undoubtedly the target audience for this game. It will tick their boxes and set them up well for the main event. It is much more difficult to recommend the game for those who are new to the series, or who have passed on the last few games. If the story is not that important and the repetitive nature of constant battles is not a problem, then Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] may well be worth trying out.