It’s going the distance…
There’s something about the Kingdom Hearts franchise that makes me want to smack myself in the head with a keyblade. Just when the series does something I like, it changes it up. And I won’t even get into the frustration wait for a proper third installment, though I know many fans are right there with me. The latest installment, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance features quite a few changes, most of them enjoyable, if not actual improvements. It continues the series’ long and winding storyline and sets us up for—dare we even hope out loud—Kingdom Hearts III.
This outing finds series regulars Sora and Riku in pursuit of their Marks of Mastery. The Sorcerer Yen Sid (the one from Fantasia—read his name backward) pushes our heroes to this task to prepare them for the ultimate confrontation against the villain Xehanort. Along the way, they’ll explore different worlds based on Disney movies such as Pinocchio, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Tron.
For those unfamiliar with the series—and who don’t want to start from the beginning—Dream Drop Distance offers a fantastic in-game journal that fills in the gaps on characters, plot points, and more. It still won’t make complete sense—Kingdom Hearts rarely does—but it helps a lot.
The first major change most longtime fans will notice is the absence of familiar characters within your party. You’ll still meet and greet plenty of other characters along the way, but you won’t be fighting with them. Instead, you’ll gain Dream Eaters—Spirits and Nightmares that work with and against you respectively—adding something of a monster-breeding sub-game to the mix. Instead of catching the Dream Eaters, like you would in Pokémon, Sora and Riku must actually create these weird little creatures. Once you have them with you, the Dream Eaters act as AI companions and can assist you with some fantastic combo attacks. They can also teach Sora and Riku new abilities, making it worth your while to pursue new Dream Eaters to get the best abilities possible.
Where the Dream Eaters becomes annoying is the need to care for the little buggers. I didn’t enjoy playing Nintendogs, and I’m not too keen on the hitting the minigames to make sure my Dream Eaters are happy. Fortunately, it doesn’t take that much time, and a happy Dream Eater is a more powerful Dream Eater, so I dealt with it.
The other big addition to Dream Drop Distance is the Drop meter. In this story, Sora and Riku are off on their own adventures, and instead of taking turns chapter by chapter, you can switch between them at any time; however, when the Drop meter runs out, you must change characters. This can happen at any time, even during boss battles, and it’s more than a little annoying. While I enjoyed the concurrent storylines, I didn’t like getting pulled away from what I was doing because the meter ran out. Like the Dream Eater minigames, I kept with it, but there were times I just wanted to flip my 3DS off and walk away.
The strongest parts of Dream Drop Distance—the level design, graphics, and sound—are stronger than most other recent series entries. The worlds are well thought-out, fun to explore, and packed with secrets. You won’t mind searching every nook and cranny for the secrets that lie within. The graphics are crisp and work well on the 3DS screen; in fact, I’m looking forward to see how they translate to the upcoming 3DS XL, as I think a slightly larger 3D screen can only benefit the game. Finally, the soundtrack is rock solid, and the voice work is spot-on. I only play a few handheld games with the sound turned all the way up, and this is one of them.
Ultimately, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance won’t satisfy your desire for Kingdom Hearts III. It’s another handheld installment that seems to be thrown out each year to keep fans from marching on Square Enix headquarters. But this particular installment is very well done, and while I don’t agree with all of the new design changes, I kept playing through and found myself wanting to press forward more often than not. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some Dream Eaters to pet.
SUMMARY: Another handheld installment of the beloved series that brings Disney characters into a Japanese RPG aesthetic, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance introduces plenty of new concepts into the familiar conceit of hopping between Disney-themed worlds; players will create and attend to Dream Eaters, creatures who’ll help you through your many battles. Dream Drop Distance does have its share of annoyances, but the game works well overall, and it’s a nice addition to the franchise…even if it’s not the one fans are waiting for.
- THE GOOD: The world based on The Three Musketeers! Sure, it’s not a major Disney movie, but the setting fits in perfectly, and it’s a great chance to work with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.
- THE BAD: The Drop meter. Being forced to switch characters in the middle of whatever you’re doing ranges between annoying and infuriating.
- THE UGLY: The final boss battle reeks of JRPGs from the mid-’90s.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is a 3DS exclusive.