EGM’s High 5: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
For the most part, handing out assignments at EGM—or any gaming publication—goes a little bit like this: “Who here played the previous games in the series?” I’m not absolutely in love with Kingdom Hearts, though I did enjoy the first two entries on the PlayStation 2. But, like a lot of other players, I’ve spent six years waiting for the proper third iteration in the series—by which point I’d utterly lost interest. On the E3 show floor, though, I played through one full hour of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance and spoke with Square Enix product manager Raio Mitsuno to see if this 3DS incarnation (and direct sequel to Kingdom Hearts II) can bring back lapsed fans—and satisfy the die-hards as they continue to wait.
A Six-Year Wait
For a franchise that revolves around angsty, puppy-love-struck tweens wielding giant keys as they battle alongside an anthropomorphic duck and dog, the Kingdom Hearts tale is about as convoluted as game stories get—as a certain hilarious Google Document that’s been floating around the Internet clearly illustrates. But Dream Drop Distance cuts through most of the clutter and directly follows Kingdom Hearts II on the timeline, meaning that players who tried out the first two entries but skipped the bevy of bizarrely named offshoots like 358/2 Days and Re:coded can still jump right back in. “We know a lot of fans have dismissed the handheld entries while waiting for Kingdom Hearts III,” Mitsuno says, “but Dream Drop Distance is the direct follow-up to Kingdom Hearts II. It might be deceiving, since it’s on the 3DS, but it’s pretty much a console-quality experience in a small package.”
Oh, Dream Eater, I Believe You Can Get Me Through the Night…
Unlike in the first two Kingdom Hearts, the traditional duo of Donald and Goofy won’t be fighting alongside players. But, as with everything Kingdom Hearts, there’s a convenient storyline explanation; Dream Drop Distance revolves around protagonists Sora and Riku coming of age as they pursue Keyblade mastery in the World of Sleep. “Donald and Goofy have no place in a Mark of Mastery exam,” Mitsuno says. “It’s for Keyblade users to take up on their own to see if they have what it takes to become the best.” Thankfully, the World of Sleep offers ready-made party companions in the Dream Eaters, Pokémon-style beasties who will both accost and befriend the player. Just about every Nightmare Dream Eater in the game also has a Spirit counterpart—essentially a palette swap—that players will be able to recruit via special “recipes.” “Not only do the Dream Eaters get stronger as you fight with them,” Mitsuno says, “but you can play minigames with them and feed them; you really treat them kind of like your pets.”
A Whole New World(s)
Dream Drop Distance also sees the return of the traditional Kingdom Hearts hub interface of Traverse Town, from which you’ll head to the various requisite Disney worlds. But this won’t be a rehash of previous settings—the areas you’ll explore haven’t been seen in a Kingdom Hearts game to date. “You’ll go to a level based on Tron: Legacy, and you’ll also see areas based on Fantasia and the Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Mitsuno says. “We want to make sure it feels like a new experience, since this is the follow-up to Kingdom Hearts II.” While Fantasia and Hunchback sound like excellent, appropriately imaginative destinations for the Kingdom Hearts universe, the Country of Musketeers level is based on the obscure 2004 direct-to-DVD Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers. Eighty-nine years of Disney history…and that’s the best option they could come up with?
While Dream Drop Distance’s combat feels suitably Kingdom Hearts—complete with a camera that, yes, still has its share of hiccups—this entry adds a couple of wrinkles, including a touchscreen-triggered superattack that unleashes a “motion comic” particular to each level. Called Reality Shifts, these events are triggered by various elements in the environment. “The character will dive into the bottom screen, and the player will be prompted with a bunch of touch-based inputs,” Mitsuno says. “Each world has a different theme; for example, the Tron: Legacy level has a bunch of text that you’ll need to match up, and that plays into the whole digital theme of that world.”
Dream Drop Distance will also be the first game to feature Sora and Riku as joint main protagonists, and players will switch between them constantly—and at will—as they explore the various slices of the Disney universe. A “Drop” countdown timer ticks down in the lower-right corner of the screen, and when it’s empty, Sora will fall into sleep, at which point the action switches to Riku’s point of view. While the E3 demo focused on Sora and Riku exploring different parts of the Country of Musketeers, Mitsuno says that the duo can actually split off and explore two different Disney worlds later in the game. That’s actually a huge draw for me, because one of the more annoying aspects of the first two Kingdom Hearts involved getting bogged down in specific worlds as the plot ground to a halt—particularly in a certain area where a certain song by a certain Trinidadian crab repeated ad nauseum.
What do you longtime Kingdom Hearts fans have to say? Does Dream Drop Distance sound like it’ll satisfy, or does nothing less than a propered, numbered follow-up cut it for you guys?