So here we have it: the seventh game released in the Kingdom Hearts series, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Released over 10 years ago, the original Kingdom Hearts was initially met with much scepticism as it attempted to fuse the very different worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy. However; the original game’s action-RPG gameplay and excellent use of characters from both licenses helped Kingdom Hearts become a hit and develop a strong (perhaps even rabid) fan base. Over the past 10 years various “sequels” and spin-offs have been released across a wide range of platforms seeing the Kingdom Hearts story grow ever more complex and difficult to follow unless you possess an almost fanatically religious love of the series. Having only played Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II myself, I only know the story of Sora and Riku and was relieved when first booting up Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (KH3D) to see that the story was focussing on these familiar characters.
While this game follows Sora and Riku it is set directly after the events of Kingdom Hearts: Re Coded and follows Sora and Riku on their quest to complete the Mark of Mastery exam to become Keyblade masters and prepare for the return of Xehanort. Needless to say, I was rather confused at first, having not played Kingdom Hearts II since release and never playing any of the subsequent releases. KH3D attempts to rectify this issue by way of “Mementos”. These optional cutscenes and tutorials provide key information about the history of Kingdom Hearts and allow the player to brush up on old and new gameplay mechanics. The fact that the Mementos were entirely optional was incredibly refreshing and would allow veterans to breeze through the usually lengthy Kingdom Hearts tutorial section and get straight into the action…
…and what gorgeous action it is. KH3D looks absolutely stunning on the 3DS. The character models are crisp and detailed as are the levels and textures. From memory I would be hard pressed to tell Kingdom Hearts II and KH3D apart from a graphical perspective. The worlds jump out from the 3DS’ screens and for a handheld game the level of immersion is unsurpassed. Literal hours would vanish while I was playing as I became more and more engaged in the story and the struggles and triumphs of the two main characters. The sound design also deserves special mention. The musical score is sublime and perfectly suited to the gameplay and surrounds, never becoming repetitive nor grating. As expected, the full voice acting of the cast is performed brilliantly and adds further polish to an already sparkling product.
As I mentioned, the story takes place sometime after Kingdom Hearts II and prior to the “frequently mentioned but yet to be seen” Kingdom Hearts III. Sora and Riku have been tasked by Yen Cid to complete the Mark of Mastery exam to prepare for the return of Xehanort. The exam sees the two protagonists sent to two seemingly identical but parallel universes. Within these universes are seven different worlds which are trapped in a deep sleep state and disconnected from the other worlds and must be reawakened by discovering the seven hidden keyholes. While the plots of Kingdom Hearts games are generally convoluted and a bit silly, they have always managed to inject some heart and soul and KH3D is no exception.
While playing, you really do begin to develop a strong connection with the characters and feel for them in times of trouble. It’s a testament to the ability Square Enix possess as story tellers that in a game populated by Disney characters, Moogles and kids wearing giant shoes and bashing things with giant keys, that we empathise and invest in the characters and the story. In previous Kingdom Hearts games, there has been a steady supply of cameos from Final Fantasy characters. Aside from the Moogles, which reprise their role as shop owners, Final Fantasy is largely absent from KH3D replaced instead with characters from The World Ends With You (TWEWY). These cameos work incredibly well and being fully voice acted for the first time, fans of TWEWY will particularly enjoy their appearances.
If you are familiar with the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts you will know what to expect whilst playing. For the uninitiated however, shame on you, go out and play some Kingdom Hearts immediately. No, stop reading, seriously, go play right now… Ok so, gameplay in KH3D is the familiar Action-RPG style of the previous games and marks a return of the command deck first included in Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. Your main actions are jumping, melee attacks, dodge rolling and using the command deck to create a list of actions mapped to the ‘X’ button including magic attacks, potions and special combos. Locking onto your target is as easy as tapping the right trigger making navigating battles a breeze. The first major change to gameplay and combat in KH3D is the “Flowmotion” system. Now by pressing the ‘Y’ button, not only can you perform a dodge roll, but allows you to utilise the environment to dodge enemies and perform special attacks. It takes some getting used to but once you have mastered Flowmotion you will be zipping all over the worlds and chaining combos together with such speed that you will question how you ever played Kingdom Hearts without it.
The other major addition to gameplay is the “Drop” system. As Sora and Riku are in separate, but parallel universes you play as both characters and switch between them by dropping. While you are able to drop at any point you choose an ever present countdown timer in the lower right corner of the screen, indicated the length of time remaining with the current character before the game will force a ‘Drop’ and switch characters on you regardless of where you are and what you are doing. At first I found the system heavy handed and intrusive, but as I progressed and was able to lengthen the amount of time spent with each character I found the thrill and suspense of the ‘Drops” kept the gameplay fresh and fun. It also ensures you give each character the equal attention they deserve.
If I were to find a negative in KH3D, it would be the absolute requirement for a circle pad pro. Without it, the game doesn’t flow and is far less fun, but this is really more of a problem with the design of the 3DS than of the game. It’s still very playable and still very fun without the circle pad, however if you want the most out of KH3D, you will really want to invest in the peripheral. As mentioned the story is quite complex and newcomers or even series veterans who haven’t played in a while might struggle initially to keep up with all the goings on. In the grand scheme though, these issues are rather minor and whether you are a fan of the series or just looking for a fun action game for your 3DS, KH3D is for you. It looks gorgeous and plays brilliantly. Square Enix have made a portable Kingdom Hearts game every bit as good as its’ console big brothers. KH3D is a must have addition to every 3DS owners game library.