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Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (Nintendo 3DS) Review

Review for Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

It is quite amazing to think that ten years have passed since the first Kingdom Hearts appeared on the PlayStation 2, fusing together the worlds of Disney and the Final Fantasy series into what was an enjoyable, yet highly flawed, experience. The overwhelming success and praise for the idea of such a concept inevitably led to a much-improved sequel that expanded the initial story arc considerably and laid the foundation for a strong future. However, the third game never did, and still has not yet come to fruition. In its place, Square Enix and Disney Interactive Studios have littered the market with numerous spin-offs and side-stories, the latest of which is Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for Nintendo 3DS. Keep reading for Cubed3's final verdict on this newest adventure.

Remarkably, it becomes apparent from the offset that there is a distinct lack of characters from the world of Final Fantasy in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, apart from the odd Moogle here and there. Whether it was thought that a decline in fortunes for the flagship series of late would not benefit the adventure this time round, or if it was more a case of the development staff believing that for the sake of furthering the storyline it would be better to remove the previous constraints, is unknown. Whatever the scenario, though, this time it is time for the cast of The World Ends With You to shine. Returning for the first time since debuting in Japan back in 2007 under the guise of Subarashiki: It's a Wonderful World, are Neku, Rhyme, Beat, Shiki and Joshua, all now present in polygonal state and fully voiced, with even some remixed tracks from the game itself being included for good measure.

Whilst it may seem like a random inclusion, many members of the Kingdom Hearts team were in fact involved in the creation of The Worlds Ends With You on Nintendo DS, alongside external group Jupiter, who had previously worked on Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for the Game Boy Advance. The characters are split into two parallel dream worlds, some partnering with Kingdom Hearts stalwart Sora, and others with the other fan favourite Riku. The premise is that both Sora and Riku are bracing themselves for the return of arch nemesis Master Xehonart and agree to take part in a test set by the powerful magician Yen Sid (of The Sorcerer's Apprentice / Fantasia renown) to boost their mastery of the special Keyblade weapon that is the mainstay of the series. Thus, the tale continues from the happenings of Kingdom Hearts Re:coded and the two are separated and then thrust into worlds previously thought to have been destroyed by the old enemy, Heartless, but now restored thanks to the power of dreams.

Screenshot for Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Tests being tests, Riku and Sora certainly do not have an easy ride ahead, and the Mark of Mystery exam they are aiming to successfully complete pits them against creatures called Dream Eaters, of which there are two kinds; dark 'Nightmares' that are intent on causing mischief, and 'Spirit' ones that can actually be enlisted to work as party members for the lead characters. There are all manner of Spirit Dream Eaters to befriend, with them being looked after using the stylus in a nintendogs fashion before unleashing them into the melee to ease battle situations (they can even appear in the 'real world' at times thanks to the Augmented Reality feature of the 3DS). The more nefarious of the bunch, though, need to be despatched in the usual way; via the traditional Kingdom Hearts action-based battle mechanic. It has been a decade since the oft-painful button-mashing of the first game, with its headache-inducing swirling camera, and thankfully there are not as many problems with the fighting side in this, the seventh entry into the Action RPG line. Notice how the term 'not as many' is used there? Yes, Dream Drop Distance is extremely solid throughout, yet still has some minor negative nuances that it could have done without.

The basics are to simply run around using the Circle Pad and slash away with the Keyblade, whilst using the shoulder L and R buttons to rotate the camera accordingly (Circle Pad Pro owners can use their device for this aspect) or tap both L+R to lock onto a specific monster for focused attacks. On top of this, however, is a 'Command Deck' (something followers of recent Kingdom Hearts games will be familiar with) that allows for differing abilities to be tapped into, such as use of magic, healing potions, or specially triggered manoeuvres. The last of these come from using a new system called 'Flowmotion,' where the surroundings can be utilised to the player's advantage; spinning around on lamp posts or zipping quickly along railings in a Tony Hawks style, for instance, before jumping up and executing a devastating string of moves that will help to deplete enemy energy bars quicker than by merely standing around, dodging and hacking repeatedly. Sometimes the camera can get quite confused and attempting to use the lock-on feature makes matters worse when faced with a deluge of enemies; some choosing to chomp away whilst others are firing off magic from distance. Fortunately, the command-based input allows for swift switching between choices, meaning that magic, special moves, items, and so on, are accessible with the greatest of ease, alleviating some of the possible camera-related frustration that could quickly mount up.

Screenshot for Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

To assist with ensuring the non-stop action battling does not start to wear too thin in the early stages, other techniques can be applied, such as quickly swiping on the touch screen to access a slingshot-style approach where barrels can be launched at groups of monsters; specific code words can be input to disrupt a foe's flow; or even small enemies can be trapped in bubbles temporarily using the stylus to incapacitate them and affect others as well. The skirmishes never seem to abate, with new groups of combatants appearing around almost every corner. Luckily most can be ran past, but there is always the worry that characters will not level-up enough to increase their strength according to what is likely required for the next intense encounter. Boosting levels is imperative, as in any RPG, but the slant in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is that due to the concurrent team play, the story switches viewpoint not at certain junctures in the tale, as might be expected, but after a set amount of time. This not only forces the player to 'drop' into the parallel world to keep both teams to a high enough level, but also means that key explanatory elements are not bypassed accidentally.

In fact, Dream Drop Distance excels in this particular field, guiding players through what could have easily been a confusing mess of a yarn due to the fractured userbase caused by games in the series being spread across the PlayStation 2, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and now Nintendo 3DS. In addition to the story being laid bare during the main adventure, there are numerous optional 'Flashbacks' to cut-scenes that fill in the blanks, as well as 'Chronicles' that act as an overview catch-up of events from past entries in the series. It all attempts to make this a true compendium of Kingdom Hearts, and one that can even smoothly integrate newcomers into the universe.

Screenshot for Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Playing through the seven worlds is by no means a brief affair, with each one containing a wealth of tasks, hidden challenges, plenty of special items to collect, and various other twists and turns that make coming back time and again, even to the overly familiar Traverse Town, a joy. More often than not, though, there will be times when travelling and playing that a 'Quick Save' would come in handy, but sadly there is no such feature, meaning that the sparsely spread out save locations must be remembered and dashed to when wanting to halt the adventure. As mentioned before, there is a 'Drop' system where play can switch from Riku to Sora and back again at save points, but also when the in-game timer falls to zero. Whilst the timer can be extended using items and attacking more enemies, the majority of the time play will be suspended right in the middle of an event in one land and picked up wherever the last world had been frozen. This certainly adds an intriguing challenge to proceedings, but can also lead to objectives being completely forgotten. Anyone wanting to quickly complete tasks at hand may have found this awkward, but a quick tap on the touch screen is all it takes to refresh memories of the latest objective.

After explaining the 'Dream' element of the game's title (the story and lands visited) and the 'Drop' part (switching between parallel worlds), there is the 'Distance' that stems from the lack of interaction between Riku and Sora throughout, despite the player being privy to both sides of the coin. It can also be attributed to the manner in which new worlds are approached, as the protagonists must take part in 'Dive' challenges, soaring downwards through the 'sky' to reach a gateway at the end, reaching set mileposts along the way (hitting triggers, achieving collection requirements, and so on). Whilst unusual at first, they ultimately prove to be a far more engaging form of transport between the likes of Pinocchio's land, the setting based upon The Hunchback of Notre Dame, that of the wonderfully dark Tron: Legacy, and others that are great to uncover at the player's own pace. Trying to unlock each world to restore it completely outside of its dream state is a real pleasure, rather than a chore, and the presentation levels throughout are stunning; this is definitely the finest package on Nintendo 3DS so far, both visually and aurally.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance features the normal slew of RPG features, such as gaining experience, using item upgrades, and interacting with those in the surrounding world to complete missions, but keeps the action light-hearted and free from the confines of slow pacing thanks to its intuitive battle system. Packing so much into one adventure can sometimes overload players, but the development team has expertly tied everything together to ensure that this is by far the most enjoyable Kingdom Hearts experience yet, and the perfect precursor for Kingdom Hearts III.

Screenshot for Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance on Nintendo 3DS- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

Righting the wrongs of yesteryear, picking up positive traits from the numerous entries over the past decade, and mixing in a few fresh ideas that add to the overall enjoyment -- Kingdom Hearts 3D is such a joy to play that a momentarily temperamental camera can be forgiven.

Graphics

The level of visual prowess featured here is to the point where it could have actually passed as a Wii release. Highly detailed locations, well created characters and plenty of action going on in almost every scene mean the eyes are regularly in for a treat.

Sound

Simply mesmerising, from the serene introductory music to the intensity of battles, and the marvellous recreation of familiar funky tunes from The World Ends With You. Add in some sterling voice work and Dream Drop Distance cannot hide how well presented it is.

Value

Seven large worlds are on offer, all of which have plenty of scope for revisits later in the adventure in order to bulk up the team and even just for the sake of exploring every nook and cranny of the intriguing lands from Square Enix and Disney's back catalogue.

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

About this score
Rated 9 out of 10

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is the culmination of several trial ideas tested across various formats over the years since the release of Kingdom Hearts II and succeeds in being the strongest of the side-stories so far. Bringing together high production levels, a wealth of story content, a tightly tweaked gameplay mechanic, and plenty of fresh ideas, Dream Drop Distance is the perfect warm-up for the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III and something any Kingdom Hearts fan should not be without.

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18.07.2012

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Developer

Square Enix

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (3 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

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Staff Member

Nice review, can't wait for this to pop through the letterbox in a few days. Smilie

Curious to see how this handles with the CPP though, had no problems with the default controls in the demo but would like to have seen what the extra stick and shoulder triggers would add.


Wow.
I played the demo and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was, but a 9? Really? Don't get me wrong, I'm happy about a New KH game scoring so high, but given their recent track record I didn't expect things to be so great. Maybe this is a case of Nintendo's tech finally catching up with the ideas they've had. This one seems more like the PS2 games and not stripped down like past entries on Ninty's portables.

Going to have to keep an eye out for this one now...

Rob64 (guest) 18.07.2012 08:04#3

Always thought this would be a 9. After all, it looks better than Birth by Sleep and that was a solid 8.5, I reckon. Can't fault 358/2 or Re:coded too much, either, though.

Thanks for keeping the review as spoiler free as possible! Smilie

Thanks for the review Adam, I'm going with your word and my experience of the demo on this one.

Staff Member

My copy of this just arrived, can't wait to play it. Smilie

Jake (guest) 18.07.2012 14:14#6

Did you see Metro gave it 4/10? All your positives were negatives for them! Smilie

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Instantly blown away by the quality of the title, as well as actually doing a decent job of making the plot relatively coherent for once.

Not sure how I feel about being forced to Drop after a certain amount of time though.. I'd prefer to just choose when to Drop.
Also not sure how to feel about the Spirit system.. these big stat building systems always confuse me and feel like they take too long to get anything productive done with. Smilie Still I prefer it to Birth By Sleep's Fusion system.

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery
AdamC3 (guest) 19.07.2012 17:39#8

What are people's thoughts so far?

Jake (guest) said:
Did you see Metro gave it 4/10? All your positives were negatives for them! Smilie

That review is so piss poor it's laughable. The combat happens to be the most fun aspect for me. I love chaining attacks by using the flow to link things together, and the camera is fine one you get used to it.


Loving it, easily the best 3DS game I've played so far.

Staff Member

The camera works great with the Circle Pad Pro, imo. I tried the camera with the shoulder buttons in the demo and I thought it was still good though.

Shivar (guest) 21.07.2012 21:40#11

Great review. I was irritated by how the reviewer in nintendo life only picked on a few things about this game that were trivial at most, such as the monsters,putting a sora and riku in a human like world: Tron legacy. In addition, it seems to me she was using information from the japanese ver to write that review whereas the English release was tweaked. For example, the boss battles. Jap ver had the boss regen its full health while the player was stuck whatever HP they had left. English ver got that tweaked. Instead of the boss regening, the player will be at full health when the player drops back into sora or riku, depending who was in a boss battle, and the boss will not regen at all. @Superlink they are items you can buy that can extend the time limit. It's only 40 munny and you can get it early in the game. Also, you can manually switch back to sora or riku through the save point.

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

I absolutely loathed the repetitive action and gameplayu of the first one, making me drop the franchise for good, but the gameplay seemed much improved in the demo of KH3D. So I'm completely torn on this one.

Is it easy to get into without having played the rest of the franchise, especially if I never intend to buy any of the other previous games ?

( Edited 22.07.2012 11:45 by RudyC3 )

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Shivar - thanks for the information. I actually didn't know about the tweaks to the boss battles, so that's really interesting to know. All I was aware of was that Square Enix was desperately trying to get the version without the bug in out in Europe...

Rudy - Yes, the game fills you in on the general story through flashback scenes, and also gives chunks of reading material to fill players in on events from past games if they want to see the full picture.

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

RudyC3 said:
Is it easy to get into without having played the rest of the franchise, especially if I never intend to buy any of the other previous games ?

This has always been a problem with Kingdom Hearts, despite having fun and easy gameplay the story is so bloody confusing and it rarely takes the time to explain what exactly is going on in plain words.

KH3D features a bunch of optional flashbacks as well as reasonably short plot summaries of most of (if not all of) the previous KH games. It seems to be something of an amalgamation of plots as well as actually moving things forward for once.

Still that's not to say the plot still isn't too complex for its own good, I think you'll be able to work out what's going on vaguely.
I've played every game in the series and as always I'm saying "what the fuck is going on" on every other cutscene, that's just.. how KH is.

(my personal opinion; it's a good type of 'wtf is going on' rather than a bad type, I do really like KH's plot despite it being way to complicated.)

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

I might well get this one then. I'm especially interested in seeing the TWEWY characters back, if anything Smilie.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer
guy (guest) 23.07.2012 19:35#16

awsome

Guest (guest) 23.07.2012 23:39#17

It's not a side story!! Great review anyways.Smilie

maia43 (guest) 30.07.2012 16:05#18

I am really looking forward to this game

maia34 (guest) 01.08.2012 00:49#19

just got the game today an its freaking awsome

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Really pleased to hear people enjoying this as much as I did. It's sales have been stronger in the UK than I actually expected - seems Nintendo is actually doing a decent job helping to push it for Square Enix!

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

got this game the day it came out thank goodness that I proder it I am loving this game

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Good to hear you're having fun with it Smilie Are you a long-term KH fan?

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

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