Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
July 31st, 2012
Ten years ago an oddball crossover game between Disney and Final Fantasy was released to the masses. Now the Kingdom Hearts series is one of Square Enix’s most beloved franchises. Dream Drop Distance has just a bit of every single game before it and so much more. With high expectations as the bridge to Kingdom Hearts III, will Dream Drop Distance be able to hold up these expectations or crumble as just another cash in?
After receiving a letter from King Mickey, Sora and Riku find out they will need a great power in order to fight an impending threat. Both heroes report to Master Yen Sid who says that the only way to obtain this power is to prove themselves as true Keyblade Masters by passing the Mark of Mastery exam. To pass this exam both Sora and Riku must journey into the Realm of Sleep and unlock the seven Sleeping Keyholes. Sora, having proved himself before, is not too interested in taking the exam. On the other hand, Riku wants to take the test in order to prove to himself that he is fit to wield a Keyblade. Upon hearing Riku’s reasoning Sora also agrees to take the test. Yen Sid warns them that they will be facing a new type of entity known as the Dream Eaters. Some Dream Eaters are the evil Nightmare types that devour dreams, and others are the good Spirit types who devour the Nightmares. Yen Sid says that the Spirit types will aid the heroes by fighting alongside them and showing the path to each Keyhole. Sora and Riku drop into the dream of the first world, but are separated upon entry. The Mark of Mastery exam quickly takes a turn for the worst when a mysterious young man begins to follow Riku and Sora with his own sinister scheme for them.
Dream Drop Distance’s story revolves around the delicate balance between light and darkness. I really liked how they showed that even the deepest darkness can become light while even the brightest light can fade to darkness. It’s a difficult theme to portray, and the story does get complicated towards the end, even by Kingdom Hearts standards. I had to take a look and read the summaries in the journal just to make sure I understood everything. What I really liked about the journal is that it also summarizes all the past games. If you are a first time player these will help in understanding the big picture, but don’t expect to fully grasp all of the lore.
Dream Drop Distance has some of the best graphics on the 3DS. The opening movie is breathtaking; Mickey even participates by directing the flow of the scenes and music from the bottom screen. From the character models to the worlds, everything has so much color. Every spell, special attack, and even the Dream Eaters ooze with artistic beauty. The worlds have the biggest environments in the entire series. In total there are seven worlds to explore which are all brand new to the Kingdom Hearts series. Even some lesser known properties like Disney’s Three Musketeers and Square Enix’s The World Ends With You have been included, although the latter takes place in a revamped Traverse Town. It’s fun to just walk around and admire the unique design of each area you visit. Exploring has its benefits since there is treasure hidden in every nook and cranny. Sora and Riku do visit some of the same areas, but they also have spots or events that are exclusive to one another. For example, in The City of Bells Sora is able to explore the town and a graveyard dungeon while Riku has to chase enemies through town to the outskirts of the city. Each Disney locale looks like it was ripped straight out of its source material. The Grid based on TRON: Legacy even looks like they took the real Jeff Bridges and crammed him into the game.
The graphics look great even with the 3D turned on. During fights it is really neat to see each of your Keyblade attacks pop out at you. Spells like Balloon float out to you before exploding your enemies in a colorful fashion. It’s especially fun to watch the cut scenes in 3D since the most dramatic moments have a whole new level of depth.
It wouldn’t be a Kingdom Hearts game without the top quality music. Most of the music is brand new except for parts of Traverse Town and the main theme by Utada Hikaru. One of the most impressive uses of music in any game I have played is the Symphony of Sorcery level that is based on Disney’s Fantasia. When you enter, no music plays, and all you can hear is the sound of your footsteps. Suddenly The Nutcracker Suite Op. 71 begins playing and you are about to be rushed down by Dream Eaters! Each strike of the Keyblade does not ring its normal sound, rather its strings of instruments being played. Your character and allies are mute; everything flows along with the music.
Voice actors from the previous games reprise their roles with outstanding performances. Haley Joel Osment voices Sora, David Gallagher voices Riku, Richard Epcar voices Ansem, Quintin Flynn voices Axel, and Leonard Nimoy returns as Master Xehanort. I also admired Jesse McCartney’s performance as Ventus and Roxas since he voices two similar looking characters but gives each one their own distinct tone. Roxas sounds deep and saddened while Ventus has a lighter, happier voice.
The combat system for Dream Drop Distance is surprisingly deep. The Command Deck from Birth By Sleep makes a return. The Command Deck allows you to set a limited number of spells and Keyblade sleights on a list that you can use in battle. While you are fighting you can press X to use each command, or scroll through the list by using the directional pad. Every time you use a command from the list, they will go into a cool down period until you can use it again. You can save up to 3 different Command Decks which comes in handy since you can have a deck for waves of enemies, a boss, or whatever other load out fits your situation. On top of the Command Deck there is a new way to traverse and fight called Flowmotion. Flowmotion makes Dream Drop Distance the fastest paced game in the entire series. By rolling or jumping near an object in the environment your character will start to glow and have one of three options. You can click the B buttton to make a superjump into the air, click the Y button to gain a burst of speed to traverse long distances, or click the A button to launch a special Flowmotion attack. Each of these choices can be combined to create the fastest way to travel or attack. For example, if I need to wait for Cure to return from its cool down then I could dash away from wall to wall, heal, and dash back and come swooping in with an attack. If you favor head on attacking then you could bounce off a wall then use a Flowmotion attack to hit a group of enemies and keep repeating. Whatever object you activate the Flowmotion on will give you a different attack. For example, if I’m swinging around the light pole I will lift enemies in the air and attack with a horizontal slash. If I just bounce of a wall then my character will turn into a spinning bullet to land multiple hits and end by causing a shockwave on the floor. During Flowmotion enemy attacks will not disrupt your techniques, but they can still damage you. One minor problem with Flowmotion is that it locks you off of an enemy or the camera will sometimes spaz out. Although this does not happen too often, it can be annoying when it does. Its also a little tricky trying to use Flowmotion and cycle through your command list since you have to move the control pad and directional pad in turns. Every second makes a difference when you’re trying to reach a certain command like Cure or Zero Gravity.
Another quick way of dispatching enemies is the new Reality Shift technique that implements the touch screen. When a pink cursor appears on an object or enemy you can slide down on the touch screen and a small mini game will begin. Each of these games will differ depending on which world you are in. In Pinocchio’s world a bubble gun will appear on the bottom screen along with the object absorbed. Pointing the gun at the object will encase it in a giant bubble that will go back up to the top screen for Sora to jump onto. Every enemy you roll over with this giant bubble will get absorbed into it until it pops to dispatch them all!
A new gauge has been added next to the character’s health called the Drop Gauge. The drop gauge decreases over time and once it has run out you will be forced to switch to either Sora or Riku. While this may take some getting used to at first it does have its benefits. Each time you drop to the next character a menu screen will appear that will allow you to buy bonuses to power up whoever you are dropping to. Every time an enemy is destroyed they drop a few, well…droplets. If you wait for the Drop Gauge to run out on its own then you will be able to earn bonus droplets during the last 30 seconds. The more of these droplets that are collected, the more bonuses you can buy when switching characters. These bonuses range from strengthening attacks, magic, defense, and more. Dropping opens a gateway for strategy since you can also choose to drop manually. Management of your Drop Gauge is key since you don’t want to be dropping in the middle of a boss fight or else, when you come back, you will have to start from scratch. If you feel you need more time on your Drop Gauge, it can easily be refilled by finding or buying an item called Drop-Me-Nots. They are extremely cheap in the store and completely reset the Drop Gauge time and rate of decrease. The Drop Gauge may seem like a strange addition but it really does add to the feeling that these stories are being told at a parallel time. I remember it was hard sometimes trying to recall what events each character did in Birth by Sleep, but the pacing feels fixed in Dream Drop Distance.
Remember earlier when I mentioned the Dream Eaters that aid Sora and Riku? These Dream Eaters are called Spirits and are a pretty important element in learning new abilities. You can have up to a total of three Spirits in your party, but only two will be helping you attack on the battlefield. The third one is a reserve that can be switched out at any time by using the touch screen. Each Spirit has an Ability Link board that lets you unlock special attacks and abilities for both Sora and Riku. In order to unlock said abilities you have to battle and nurture your spirits so that they gain Link Points. With Link Points you can buy abilities on the board which will open up more pathways to more abilities. There is a catch though; stat boosting abilities like HP Boost will only be in effect if you have a Spirit with it unlocked. This means if Spirit A has HP Boost unlocked and I switch him out for Spirit B who has nothing unlocked, then I will lose HP Boost. On the other hand support abilities like Second Chance and Leaf Bracer will always remain active as long as it has been unlocked in any of the Spirits’ boards. Choosing which Spirits to accompany you in battles adds to the depth of the party system since they also Link with you. Each time your character and Spirit land attacks at the same time, the Link Gauge under a Spirit’s health bar will increase. Once it reaches maximum capacity the Spirit will be able to do a combination attack with your character. For Sora this usually involves him being swung around or riding on top of Spirits. Riku uses them to switch to different fighting styles a la Birth By Sleep’s Command Styles. You can even fuse with both of your Spirits to unleash an even crazier and stronger attack. Similar to Nintendogs, you can pet and feed your Spirits so they gain Link or Affinity Points. The way you pet your Spirits will affect their disposition which in turn changes their battle style. Also the higher the Affinity level the faster the Link Gauge will fill up in battle. Playing mini games with your Spirits is a good way to let them warm up to you.
Dream Drop Distance will be able to keep even the most rabid RPG fan playing after the main story is done. Link Portals can be found across different areas which act as small challenges to get rare ingredients to create stronger Spirits. You can also create your own Link Portals that send up to three of your Spirits to either battle or help other players using StreetPass. Secret Portals allow you to refight all of the bosses from the main game, but with more HP and stronger attacks. There is also a versus mode called Flick Rush that uses three of your Spirits in a one on one tag team battle. Flick Rush plays exactly like Chain of Memories by using a card system to make your Spirits attack. You can combine two or more cards for a stronger attack to deplete your opponent’s health faster or make a defensive barrier. Flick Rush has its own single player tournaments to complete as well as local multiplayer. Unfortunately there is no form of Wi-Fi play which is a shame since they could have added so much more like trading items or playing Flick Rush.
There are also hidden bosses, rare Dream Eaters, and Keyblades to unlock. A mode of play higher than Proud mode called Critical Mode can be unlocked after finishing the story. In Critical Mode you can carry over all of your Spirits from a previous file and start the game all over again. You will have to be diligent though since two or three hits from an enemy is enough to kill you. If you want the difficulty cranked even higher, you can choose to never gain experience in battle. A list of trophies is also included in the journal with challenges that range from beating the game on various modes to collecting every single treasure box.
Dream Drop Distance is the perfect way to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the series. It combines an aspect from each of the previous games in the series while adding so much more with the Flowmotion system and Spirit companions. Although the story my feel a little overwhelming at times, the endearing characters and colorful Disney world will have you wanting more. Whether you’re a first time player or seasoned veteran Dream Drop Distance will drop you into a wondrous Action/RPG. This game has become my favorite one in the series because the combat and music rival those of a console entry. It is also the bridge towards the final entry in the series and does a good job of setting up the major events that are to come. Whether you walk the path of darkness or light, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance deserves a spot in your 3DS library.