Review: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

Keeping track of the number of spinoffs from the Kingdom Hearts series is becoming as difficult as keeping track of the actual storyline from the games. Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is Square Enix’s bid to stuff one more handheld game in before returning to a main numbered title. Does it mimic the surprise success of both 358/2 Days and Birth by Sleep? Despite the return of Sora and Riku as playable characters, the answer is a little more complex than a simple “yes” or “no”.

Kingdom Hearts 3D Box Art

Are these guys ever NOT falling?

Birth by Sleep was an important prequel that exposed the true villain of the series while also fleshing out backstories and motivations for Riku and Sora in Kingdom Hearts proper. 358/2 Days served as a parallel story to Chain of Memories and filled in some holes in the plot while telling one of the more touching and haunting tales in the Kingdom Hearts universe. Both games added more layers to the series’ complex story, but it was all congruent with the laws of the Kingdom Hearts world.

Dream Drop Distance stands alongside Re:coded as an unfortunate example of creating a needlessly complex layer of universe laws to justify a whole new game that is able to have new enemies and hurdles without eating into the intentions of the eventual Kingdom Hearts III.

The game eventually reveals relevant and exciting plot points, but they are essentially separate from the entire premise of the rest of the game. Specific plot details are under embargo at the time of this review’s posting date, but it can at least be said that Kingdom Hearts 3D sets up a labouriously complex plan hatched by the game’s villain. It is a plan that is very hard to believe – even for a Kingdom Hearts game – and yet it is also a plan that is apparently okay to live on until the third title despite its precise timing being foiled in this game.

The complexity of the series was always forgivable because – if studied – it eventually made sense. Kingdom Hearts 3D asks for far more forgiveness from its fans than before.

However, not all is lost for the game’s story, despite a wildly disappointing plot. The game is – somewhat surprisingly – Riku’s story. It is refreshing to see his character fleshed out and given proper attention. The tactic also makes Sora more relatable in the process. The plot that the characters are involved in may be bogus, but the characters themselves remain as endearing as ever.

This level of connection is helped out by the game’s very impressive production values. Dream Drop Distance is fully voice-acted and despite some exceptionally cheesy dialogue – the series’ trademark at this point – the voicework is largely excellent; even from the supporting cast.

Sora and Neku

One emo kid. One happy-go-lucky kid. Both supported by good voice acting.

In the vein of good production values, the cutscenes are well directed, plentiful, and the game is easily one of the best-looking on Nintendo’s under-powered handheld.

The most pleasant surprise is the game’s music. Recycled tunes are kept to a minimum and the new and remixed tracks combine for one of the strongest scores in the series. And while Disney movie music remains painfully absent, there is one world in particular when it is present, and it is one of the most joyful parts of the game; hindered only by the low quality of the system’s speakers. Headphones are recommended.

Ever since the watered-down worlds, difficulty, and RPG elements of Kingdom Hearts II, the spin-offs have been thankfully back-pedalling to mimic the more complex experience of the original game. Kingdom Hearts 3D is no different. Setting command decks, exploring the new Tony Hawk-esque “Flowmotion” system, mastering mini-games, and searching for treasure chests make a lush gameplay experience out of the handheld title. And this is nothing to say of the Final Fantasy XIII-2-esque monster collecting system that adds alchemy, Tamagotchi, and even Chain of Memories battle system elements together in a surprisingly cohesive fashion.

Top it all off with an impressive and well-localized in-game glossary, a gamer is looking at a respectable twenty hour experience if she rushes, and double to triple that if she takes her time exploring all the additional elements to the game.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance lives up to its incredibly ridiculous title by providing an incredibly ridiculous plot that unfortunately leaves behind one of the more emotionally hollow games in the series. However, with completely fresh-feeling Disney worlds, exciting and rich RPG gameplay that is controlled tightly on the Nintendo 3DS, and beautiful graphics and music, Kingdom Hearts 3D is still a worthy entry in the series, even if fans end up hoping that the game’s plot hook is swept under the rug going forward.

Full disclosure: the author was provided with a free copy of the game for review purposes.

29 Comments

  1. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 04:43 | Permalink

    “The Kingdom Hearts series has outdone itself with its most silly subtitle to date, but that did not stop 358/2 Days from being a great game”

    No, the fact that 358/2 wasn’t even an adequate game is what stopped it from being a great game, not its subtitle…

  2. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 04:44 | Permalink

    Also, Birth by Sleep was awful!

  3. Ethos
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 07:18 | Permalink

    I know you have distaste for KH:DumbName’s missions, but your preference doesn’t make it a bad game.

    And I think your criticism of Birth by Sleep is that it borrows some Star Wars plot elements? So…

  4. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 07:30 | Permalink

    No, again, the fact that it is a bad game accomplishes that well enough, and Square Enix did not solicit my preferences when making that awful game, so naturally you are quite right – my preferences can’t be cited as the determining factor for why 358/2 is a bad game, rather I think you will find that it is the repetitive mission structure that does for it.

    As for BbS – it is the Star Wars prequel trilogy as recounted by someone who is an even worse writer than George Lucas…

  5. Ethos
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 07:38 | Permalink

    Julian, you’re like an immature lover who can only call all his exes “crazy” when he’s been scorned. You talk in such definitive negative extremes about games that you wanted to like and ended up not liking that there is no point in discussing them with you.

    And the emperor comparison is certainly there for Xehanort (as well as a name comparison to Voldemort), but calling BbS an “awful game” because of that comparison when the game borrows little else is just as absurd.

    Tangentially, I’d argue that nothing is worse writing than the prequels. “I hate sand”? Or Padme’s “I deeply truly love you”? The latter is the prime example of “tell not show”. Kingdom Hearts is very cheesy, but it invokes emotion. The Star Wars prequels didn’t do that.

  6. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 07:56 | Permalink

    Basically, 358/2 had a fairly engaging story which I wanted to see all the way through, but couldn’t due to the sheer repetition of having to play through the same three room level five times in a row, etc.

    As for BbS, its writing was an extremely shallow knock-off of the already vapid Star Wars prequels, and much of its acting (especially fake Zack (I forget his name)) felt amateurish. The game itself was a rather rote hack ‘n slash action RPG, as indeed are most Kingdom Hearts games, but its levels tended toward the bland, and it didn’t really have anything of narrative merit to hold my attention.

    Both are ultimately missed opportunities and mediocre experiences. I was hoping that the return of Sora and Rikku might have righted the ship, but it sounds as though it is cut from the same cloth…

  7. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 07:57 | Permalink
  8. Ethos
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 08:05 | Permalink

    There we go!
    I don’t agree with your conclusions about Dumb Name and BbS and it’s too bad you didn’t like them, but I’m not going to tell you your opinion is wrong. I particularly disagree about the Star Wars criticism (the Kingdom Hearts writing has always been poor, but sincere with strong themes, I think BbS is no different). But I definitely agree about the levels lending themselves toward the bland. But I think the action RPG elements in BbS were the most fun and complex in the series. There was actually customization and you could actually die unlike in KH2.

    Yeah, I wish I could take the Disney worlds in Dumber Name (the best since the first game, I feel) and place them in Birth by Sleep.

  9. Ethos
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 08:06 | Permalink
  10. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 08:38 | Permalink

    At any rate, in an attempt to bring this conversation back to something approaching relevance – if this is the first Kingdom Hearts game to give pause to Ethan Pipher, then it could be very bad indeed. I’m already starting to regret giving it an impulse purchase. Indeed, this game could be an absolute bloody http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1_DdIxfpIU

  11. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 13:18 | Permalink

    Oh dear. :o

  12. Mel
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 19:31 | Permalink

    Lusipurr, look at these two quibbling. *pfft* How unbecoming.

  13. Ethos
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 19:44 | Permalink

    What? Oh no, that’s how Julian and I show affection. I guess we haven’t expressed our love as often since Riddlethos died. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqmORiHNtN4

  14. Mel
    Posted 2012.07.25 at 21:02 | Permalink

    NO! You were quibbling! That way my shitty tired joke still works!

  15. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.26 at 00:05 | Permalink

    Joke?

  16. 7thCircle
    Posted 2012.07.26 at 11:54 | Permalink

    Riddlethos died?! I thought it was like Schrödinger’s cat where if I didn’t check on it, it would maintain a state of living as one of many superpositioned states. DON’T LOOK IN THE BOX!

  17. Ethos
    Posted 2012.07.27 at 08:16 | Permalink

    It’s easiest to say dead.

  18. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.27 at 09:47 | Permalink

    There are worse fates (Reetin.com).

  19. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.28 at 03:26 | Permalink

    Initial impressions (after just finishing the City of Cloches):

    The drop system and Dream Eater management system are twin annoyances which regularly break the flow of the game.

    Aside from that, mechanically, visually, and aurally the game is (thus far) easily the equal of numbered entries (my feeling is that it slightly exceeds them). It has thus far been fun to play, and feels very slick in my minute to minute experience of it (and I was very impressed with Riku’s escape sequence from that dragon thing).

    Traverse Town is one of my two favourite locations in the KH universe (the other being Destiny Islands), so I was absolutely delighted to return there and see all of the spectacular renovations that the KH3D team have made to the location. That said, I was bitterly disappointed not to be able to enter the shops, houses, factory, and hotel which featured in the first game – it would seem that SE’s “we can’t render towns in 3D” game design philosophy has penetrated the SD arena now.

    I have played nowhere near enough of KH3D to judge it on its narrative merits, but my initial sense is that both story sequences and environmental interaction feel very cut down in comparison to numbered entries in the series. Disney story arcs in KH I&II were already necessarily truncated affairs, but here they feel positively emaciated (probably due to the fact that the drop system demands that two sets of extremely similar story sequences be created for both characters).

    Also, the fact that each world must be played out concurrently by both characters means that each setting is made to feel overlong, while at the same time leaving the impression that you haven’t really covered much ground (both literally and in terms of the story that unfolds).

    The only narrative element, thus far, which seems to have received the development team’s A-game is in the game’s attempts to explain the KH series history thus far – which is perhaps an indication that KH III will be developed for the 3DS. This hunch is strengthened by the fact that SE have bothered to get their KH engine looking so good on Nintendo’s handheld.

    All this being said, I have only played through Traverse Town and City of Cloches, so there is still plenty of scope for the game’s narrative to pick up steam.

  20. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.28 at 08:52 | Permalink

    ^^Also, the menu is oddly unresponsive to button presses.

  21. Ethos
    Posted 2012.07.28 at 11:31 | Permalink

    Maybe it’s your 3DS. I had zero issues with the menu.

    Oh right, the drop system. It was so inconsequential to me that I didn’t even mention it in my review. It didn’t add or take away at any point to me. It was a nothing system. I’d say the game is in the middle of the two numbered games visually and aurally, and along with BbS, it is superior mechanically. It continues to be that much fun to play.

    I also love Traverse Town, I was also annoyed at the no-shops, but that seems to be a handheld thing. The remixed theme was awesome.

    The environmental interaction is better than KHII’s garbage, but certainly not better than KHI’s level design.

    I staggered the levels (sent Riku to Tron, Sora to City of Clocks), so the settings never felt too drawn over. Especially because there usually is not a lot of level overlap. Sometimes that truth is taken to the extreme.

    The backstory stuff is really nice, but I think that’s to – understandably – alleviate confusion. I would bet a LOT of money on KHIII not being on the 3DS. KH games have always looked excellent for the system they were on at the time.

  22. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.28 at 13:46 | Permalink

    If it were my system then it should play up during more instances than in the KH3D menu alone. My system is perfectly responsive when playing every other game I own, and is perfectly responsive when playing KH3D outside of the menu screen – yet when I enter the menu the game will randomly ignore my button presses, usually within the first second that I enter a new menu screen, leading me to think that the menu has loading issues of some description.

    - I didn’t realise that I could send them to different locations, I shall also do that going forward.

  23. Ethos
    Posted 2012.07.28 at 13:48 | Permalink

    yeah, I thought of that comment after I posted. So weird. I always get annoyed at unresponsive menus, so I would have noticed.

    Definitely the better choice, I think. Pay attention to battle levels, because it’s possible to be a bit overrun. Also, I just found out there are post-ending bosses that are tough as nails, so the game has legs. Just ignore the plot.

  24. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.29 at 03:32 | Permalink

    Could it be the difference between PAL and NTSC versions? The menu in my version has likely been translated into about seven different interchangeable European languages, perhaps the PAL version is uniquely buggy?

  25. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.29 at 03:34 | Permalink

    *Make that three different languages: English, French, and German.

  26. Ethos
    Posted 2012.07.30 at 01:32 | Permalink

    Must be something like that. Triple-checked my copy after this conversation. Menu extremely responsive. Immediately after opening and any time after. Shame that’s not consistent across regions.

  27. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.30 at 09:29 | Permalink

    Luckily unresponsive menus are not something that greatly impacts upon my enjoyment of a game, though they do make it feel a little unpolished.

  28. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.07.31 at 01:13 | Permalink

    I’m really quite enjoying this. It’s shaping up to be my third favourite entry in the series, though that could change if things fall apart at the end.

  29. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.08.01 at 00:10 | Permalink

    Why are people talking about KINGDOM HEARTS?