The Kingdom Hearts series is an ongoing collaboration between Disney and Square Enix, and features characters from both the Disney and Square franchises. The latest in a series with increasingly bizarre names is subtitled Dream Drop Distance. I take up my trusty Keyblade to batter some enemies around and see what this game is all about.
When I started the game up, I wasn’t convinced that a handheld was necessarily the right kind of place for a game of Kingdom Hearts’ length and character, and I’m pleased to say that I was very wrong. Of course, if you have meatier hands, you might be better off playing the game on the 3DS XL, but that’s an aesthetic thing.
In Kingdom Hearts 3D, you play as both Sora and Riku as they, as in all the other KH games, jump from Disney setting to Disney setting killing baddies. In this case, they are The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a return to Tron and Pinocchio, the Fantasia setting, and the country of the Musketeers. The scenarios are beautifully realized, and evoke the Disney settings quite nicely, and this has always been one of the greatest strengths of the Kingdom Hearts series.
As much as the beautiful Disney settings are one of the strongest points of the game series, its greatest downfall is the story and plot. If you’ve not been following the Kingdom Hearts story quite closely, prepare to spend the game in a horrible state of confusion, despite flashbacks, flashforwards, and other such narrative devices. I’ve only played the first two games on the PlayStation 2 (ignoring the GBA and DS games), and since this is the seventh game in the series, I was only somewhat confused. I don’t expect it to be much less baffling for anyone who thinks that this game will make a good introduction to Kingdom Hearts, because it doesn’t. On the other hand, if you have more than just a passing interest in the series, you should still muddle through enough to make some semblance of sense from it.
Gameplay wise, the game is great fun. Battles are as awesome as ever, and the game introduces a couple of new mechanics to the series. One is the Drop system, which sees you alternating play between Sora and Riku. The Drop system is essentially a timer gauge that depletes over time. When the gauge is empty, you switch characters. There are ways of preventing the gauge from depleting, and you can also switch characters at will at certain points. The game also allows Sora and Riku to collect Dream Eaters to use in battle to even out the deficiencies in each character. I’m told that that game supports the Circle Pad Pro for controlling the camera, but I didn’t have one to test this feature out on. The last big change to the way the game plays is a system called “Flowmotion”, which allows you to use the environment to help dodge attacks and hit back with special attacks. It’s great fun, and serves to add a great strategy to the game’s realtime battles.
Overall, the game is great, if a little confusing to newcomers. The story here is the game’s biggest detractor, but don’t let that dissuade you from picking up a great little portable game. The battles are solid, and the Drop system works in its own way, allowing you to experience two stories in parallel. It’s certainly one of the better titles in the non-numbered series, and the Disney settings lend the game a healthy measure of charm that even grown-up gamers will enjoy.
Final score: 8.5 animated prawns out of 10
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa (Core)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Age Rating: PG