on August 24, 2013
One of the best things I can say about the 3DS is that the hardware is amazing, allowing for a handheld gaming experience equivalent to a slightly scaled back PS2 game. This all works in 3D's favor, as it provides fans with an experience not held back by hardware limitations like the DS games were, and provides a similar feeling to the original 2 games as well as Birth By Sleep.
The confusingly named Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance has to deal with a powerful goal: combining the huge cluster storm of a story that has been told in the previous handheld games, and somehow tie them all together, while setting up the highly anticipated third installment in the series, no matter if it has to use multi-layered storytelling, insistent terminology of its mythology, and ret-cons. Loads and loads of ret-cons.
3D takes place after Kingdom Hearts 2, and follows directly after the secret ending of re:Coded. Sora, Riku and the gang have to deal with the fact that (spoiler alert) Xehanort is coming back. To prepare, Master Yen Sid has Sora and Riku take what is known as the Mark of Mastery exam. Unlike the one seen in BBS, however, this is different. Sora and Riku must travel to 7 Sleeping Worlds, worlds that have returned after being attacked by Heartless but are still in a "sleeping state." In order to do this, they must enter a dream state themselves. Things get... complicated, to say the least, and eventually Riku and Sora are split up and they find themselves encountering old foes and an even bigger plan than they thought.
3D takes what was already a complicated story and makes it even more complicated. New elements are introduced to advance the story, but as a result end up complicating previous events in the story to make it work. The overall result is something very confusing. Luckily, the developers realized this, and they added flashbacks and journal entries that summarize all the previous games, just in case there was something you missed. For the most part, they're not bad, and they do an okay job, but the problem I seem to have is that they never really get into the terminology and definition of the previous games. What exactly are nobodies? Why are memories so important? What is all this talk about hearts and the X-blade? It does an okay job, and by the end I'm sure you'll understand, but it's still something worth noting. Furthermore, most of the important story exposition is reserved for the very end, meaning a massive amount of the story is spent trying to figure out exactly what's going on, and then the end is spent trying to make sense of all this new info you've acquired.
If I'm making it sound like I dislike the story of 3D, I apologize, as I actually really like the story, especially near the end, when everything comes together. It introduces new elements, advances and develops our protagonists in believable and natural ways, and makes the stakes actually feel severe, which is a problem a lot of recent (ex: re:Coded) Kingdom Hearts seemed to have. It gives a lot to work with for the third game, and makes me excited to see the path they go down.
Gameplay wise, there's very little to complain about. It's Kingdom Hearts. It plays like Kingdom Hearts. It uses a slightly simplified command deck system from BBS. Keyblade upgrades are the same. Kingdom Hearts 3D is different in two matters, however: Flowmotion and the Dreameater system.
Flowmotion is similar to the reaction commands from 2, but with more emphasis on movement and (as the name implies) flow rather than a button that just lets you do cool things. Flowmotion is an interesting idea itself, but I found that the more I continued playing the game, the less I used it. Getting stuck in Flowmotion makes you more vulnerable to enemy attack. It's main benefit is that it's a quick way to do some damage, but it won't do you much good if you get killed before you finish it.
The Dreameater system seems to be this game's replacement for Donald and Goofy, as well as a mix of a Pokemon/Nintendogs system. Basically, throughout the game you gather supplies and recipes to create dream eater companions, each with their own set of skills and inevitable cuteness. With these, they can fight with you, heal you, and do special limit attacks similar to the Drive forms from 2 in a way. Also included is a mode where you can play VR games and have a giant petting session with your Spirit Dreameater. They're very interesting ideas, and maybe it's just because I didn't play the game right, but it sort of seems superfluous in a way. I couldn't really see any benefit to participating in it, and for the most part I didn't have the desire to. My main focus in the game was Kingdom Hearts, not the Nintendogs system that comes with it. Then again, to each their own. I'm sure there's some that love it and really got into it, and it's really a rather well made gamemode, but it just wasn't something I was interested in.
Another change is the drop system. The game shares a campaign with both Sora and Riku as playable characters, but rather go the BBS route and have you play each character's story separately, 3D has you switch between characters while you're playing. I mean literally. Next to your health bar is a meter that slowly decreases over time. When it reaches zero, you switch over to the other character exactly where you are. The drawback is that this happens against your will everywhere. Even in boss fights. The aggravating thing about being dropped in a boss fight is that when you return, you have to start the entire boss over again. There was a time where I so close to defeating a boss, only to suddenly be dropped before I could get the final few hits. This ended up with me having to replay the boss fight 4 additional times past that fact. Surely they could have devised a way to either return you as you left off in the boss fight like they do everywhere else in the game, or turn off the drop meter as soon as you enter a boss fight.
Luckily, the drop system isn't all bad because of the DP upgrades. Throughout the game, as you slay enemies you get what are known as "Drop Points." The drop points are a currency that can be used to purchase temporary advancements, items, and slowing down of the drop meter when you switch to another character. This is a mechanic that can, with enough motivation, can be abused enough to where if you feel under powered in a boss fight, quickly drop, collect some DP as the other character, use the DP to upgrade whatever you want in the drop menu, and then face the boss as the original character.
The worlds of Kingdom Hearts 3D step the bar. It's refreshing that the 7 Sleeping Worlds (minus Traverse Town) are all based off of previously unused Disney properties, meaning that for those who have grown tired of Agrabah or Olympus Collesium can finally get some kind of change. All of the worlds are rather fun to play, each very interesting in its story and design. Special mention goes out to the levels based on Fantasia. The lack of sound and the use of orchestra music, as well as famous imagery from the film, makes it one of the best levels Kingdom Hearts has seen.
If I did have one gripe about the worlds in 3D, it's that they feel far too small. Most of the time worlds amount to a handful of separate areas where you simply go straight, fighting enemies along the way. The end result makes most of the worlds feel slightly repetitive. It would be nice to see some wider areas, or some more complex areas like Traverse Town. Although, to be fair, it is already pushing the limits of a handheld system, so I'll cut it some slack in the size regard.
Reading this you may get the impression that I think 3D is a very flawed game. While the game certainly does have it's flaws, I'm jmerely nitpicking it in comparison with the others. In reality, it's one of the best games available for the 3DS at the time being, and a very worthy Kingdom Hearts game. For the most part, it closes up the Handheld Saga well and gets everything ready for 3. Highly recommended.