Kingdom Hearts games that aren’t part of the main trilogy have generally been a disaster, sans Birth by Sleep. Those concerned Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance might follow the pattern, you need not worry.
Even though it isn’t technically part of the main series, there is so much story and importance packed into this game. Pair that with solid gameplay and great visuals, and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance becomes worth checking out.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance tells the story of Sora and Riku taking the Mark of Mastery exam. Those familiar with Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep will know this exam well, as it sparked the rest of the game – and arguably series – into motion.
Through this exam, our protagonists will be tested to see if they are worthy of the title, keyblade master. They’re sent on a quest to awaken the seven sleeping worlds and unlock a new power, but complications arise and the two are separated.
Like all Kingdom Hearts games, the story seems simple enough at first, but then it throws you into a deep well of over-complication. I won’t go into detail, to avoid spoilers, but Kingdom Hearts 3D is the most complex of the series.
That being said, Square Enix does a wonderful job of recapping you with short journals recounting past games. Unfortunately, the depth of this information becomes overwhelming and as much as I love the lore of Kingdom Hearts, the story has gotten out of hand. Players shouldn’t need an encyclopedia just to piece together a game’s narrative.
At the heart of Dream Drop Distance is the same battle system we’ve come to know and love. Running around, bashing enemies with your keyblade is as memorable as it’s ever been.
One prominent change is the split control of Sora and Riku. Players switch between characters when the drop bar runs out – which happens through battle. This will transpire whether you’re running around, fighting enemies or are even in the middle of a boss fight; so plan ahead. While it’s fun to play as a new character with separate abilities, it often feels like you’re playing through the Disney levels twice, and the switch can come at inopportune times. Thankfully, the story becomes more diverse as it continues.
The Kingdom Hearts series truly hit its stride with Birth by Sleep and its revised gameplay. Dream Drop Distance borrows a great deal of that design by maintaining the cool-down mechanic for spells and omitting the lengthy tutorials. But some of Square Enix’s additions are more gimmick than improvement, namely the flowmotion system.
The biggest issue I have with flowmotion (Kingdom Heart’s flashier version of parkour) is the inability to heal after entering the mode. The trigger to enter flowmotion is hair-thin and since the button to dodge away from enemies is the same as the one to trigger flowmotion, it will occur accidently – and frustratingly – on a regular basis.
Speaking of frustration, for a game based almost entirely in the Disney universe, Dream Drop Distance is brutally difficult. Near the end of the game, regular encounters and boss fights become endeavors of perfect timing and luck. At no point does the game stop being fun, but be prepared for a challenge.
When surrounded, it can be a real challenge to follow what is happening on such a tiny screen. Square Enix does its best to eliminate the issue by reducing the HUD size and moving the map to the lower screen, but it’s not enough. It’s a shame, because the series has never looked more stunning.
Graphically speaking, there isn’t much difference between the PlayStation 2 versions and this newest game, but the art direction of Kingdom Hearts 3D makes up for it. Color is used more liberally than any iteration previous. The most notable example is the new enemy, the dream eaters, who look like they belong in Viva Piñata more than Kingdom Hearts.
Furthermore, the implementation of 3D is the best on the 3DS to date. Square Enix has outdone itself as the 3D effect really improves the experience. The most impressive display of this is the game’s opening cinematic, which is at its best, visually speaking.
The game is littered with other cutscenes – which won’t be as detailed as the opening scene – but are also choice moments to engage the 3D function. As far as gameplay goes, it still looks good, but I prefer to leave it off as it’s hard to keep the 3DS in that3D sweet spot.
Music is one area of Kingdom Hearts I would usually praise for perfectly capturing the tone and emotion of the game. While Kingdom Hearts 3D occasionally reaches these moments with specific tracks, I found myself dissatisfied with some of the game’s soundtrack.
Some of the stranger musical choices occur during boss fights, which are more whimsical than ominous. This makes it hard to get hyped for a fight when you consider the bosses look like stuffed animals covered in Froot Loops.
These problematic choices continue as I was never drawn to the music presented in any of the worlds. While the majority of the tracks are not as catchy as previous installments, that’s not to say that all of the music in Kingdom Hearts 3D is dull. Character themes and anything produced by Utada Hikaru are still compelling masterpieces. The soundtrack is great, just not for a Kingdom Heart’s game.
Much like the game’s music, the voice acting is a mixed bag. The actors themselves are an assortment of pop singers, talent from cult-hit T.V. shows and every oddity between.
Kingdom Hearts doesn’t necessarily rely heavily on voice overs, but it seems to be working toward making them more prevalent. Some lines are delivered well and work to pull you into the story while others carry loads of awkwardness and make you cringe. Overall, it’s an improvement on previous games in the series, but more work needs to be done.
Overall - 3.5/5
As a fan of the Kingdom Hearts series, I judge the titles harshly rather than appreciating them without question. While there are some bad games in the series, Dream Drop Distance isn’t one of them. Whether you’re a longtime fan or someone wanting to get into Kingdom Hearts, this game is a great place to start. While not perfect, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance will leave you craving more.