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”.
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.
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.