Review by Churro
"A Dream that Goes the Distance"
It's that time again: time for us pickup our Keyblades and prepare ourselves for the Mark of Mastery exam! This is the central focus in Square Enix and Disney's seventh installment of the Kingdom Hearts series, which celebrates the series' 10th anniversary with a special Mark of Mastery Collector's Edition that will be available in addition to the game itself.
The game picks up after the events of Kingdom Hearts II and Re:coded where Sora and Riku must take the Mark of Mastery exam in order to call themselves Keyblade Masters and prepare themselves for a showdown with Master Xehanort. To do this, they must drop into seven sleeping worlds and free them from their slumber and back into the world of light.
The sleeping worlds consist of several new Disney worlds to explore such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Three Musketeers, Tron: Legacy, and Fantasia. They also include old worlds with new areas to explore like Prankster's Paradise (Pinocchio) and Traverse Town. Sora and Riku travel to the same worlds, but each characters has a different storyline. For example, Sora's journey in The Grid has him trying to get Rinzler to remember his true self, Tron, while Riku's side reflects more of the movie's storyline. The inclusion of The World Ends With You's main cast is definitely a welcome treat with Square Enix keeping the trend of adding cameo characters from their other games.
Traveling to these worlds make use of the new Dive system that has Sora and Riku dive into each world. The concept is similar to the Gummi Ship navigation but the only difference is the inclusion of requirements for the dives of both characters. One Dive might require to defeat a boss while another will require you to have a number of points before the timer expires. Failing to do so causes the Dive to restart until you have met the requirements to access the world.
Unlike it's predecessor Birth By Sleep, where you played each character one by one, separately, you switch between Sora and Riku either on the fly or through a timer called the Drop System. It's a new way to tell both stories without having to complete a single side before the other. But at times, it can be a pain, as you'll find yourself trying to do all you can within the time frame you're given. If you're inflicted with status effects such as poison or sleep, that will increase the speed of the drop bar's depletion, but to balance them out, there are items that help refill the drop bar and reset the depletion speed. You always have the option of switching to the character you want to play as on the fly, but you'll have a chance to give more benefits (in the form of Drop Points which can be used to slow down the Drop Gauge or increase attack/magic) to the one you're switching to if you take your time with them. One of the biggest drawbacks of the system is dropping in the middle of boss fights, where you find that when you return, the bosses health (as well as your own) have been restored to full, essentially starting the battle over entirely as I've had that happen numerous times and it's quite frustrating.
Another addition to the battle system is Flowmotion. Flowmotion allows Sora and Riku to use the environment to their advantage. Whether it's walls, rails, poles, or even enemies, Sora and Riku can use virtually anything lying around to gain bursts of speed to reach rooftops, fly across areas in a second, or deal major damage to enemies. It definitely adds more to the repetitive button mashing that the Kingdom Hearts games are known for. You can also use Flowmotion to create strategies in defeating bosses or a group of Dream Eaters if you find yourself overwhelmed. The camera sometimes will have a hard time keeping up with your character when you Flowmotion around the screen especially when you're locked on to a target, and will sometimes lead to your doom if you're low on health.
The third addition to the battle system is Reality Shifts. Reality Shifts occur during special situations in combat on the bottom screen. Swiping down will initiate the Reality Shift with a special mini-game that is unique to every world. Successfully completing a Reality Shift will deal major damage to your enemies.
Finally, Link Portals are scattered throughout each of the worlds. They are challenges that you can partake in and completing them will reward you with rare Dream Eater materials. Some Link Portals have requirements you must perform in order to receive your reward. You can also use the StreetPass function to exchange Link Portals with other players.
What you'll also notice is the absence of Donald and Goofy as party members in this title. Instead, as Sora and Riku drop in to the worlds of sleep, they'll be accompanied by beings known as Dream Eaters. Some serve as the enemies that appear in all the worlds trying to stop Sora and Riku; these are known as Nightmares. At the same time, there are ones that you can create using recipes and materials gathered after defeating Nightmares; these are called Spirits,and they fight alongside you. The Spirit Dream Eaters are your key to making Sora and Riku stronger. During battle, they gain experience points the same way Donald and Goofy did, and in addition, they also gain Link Points, which you can use to unlock abilities and magic spells. Sora uses Link Attacks with his Spirits to team up with them and deal damage to the enemy, while Riku uses Link Styles, where he absorbs his Spirits to power up his attacks andcombos. You have the option to either link one Dream Eater, or you can link two and deal massive damage. Pre-ording either the normal edition or the Mark of Mastery edition will net you AR cards which the 3DS can scan and you will receive a rare Dream Eater than you can use as your party member. They are obtainable in game but are much more difficult.
Besides gaining experience points, taking care of your Dream Eater is also essential. For example, you can pet your Dream Eaters to make them bond with you and gain affinity points or change its disposition. Changing its disposition opens up new pathways in the Ability Link board. You can also feed them specific foods to help increase their attacks, defense, magic attack, magic defense, etc. There are also various Training Toys you can use to help them grow and a mini-game called Flick Rush which puts your Dream Eater team against either a computer-controlled AI team or a local/wireless human opponent. The mini-game is similar to the card battle system from Chain of Memories; you're given four cards with numbers on them that you flick upward, and if your number is higher than your opponent, you'll deal damage against them, or vice versa if they have a higher number than yours. If you and your opponent have the same number, a duel occurs where on the top screen, you'll see three icons, and on the bottom screen, you have cards, and the object is to match three icons with your cards before your opponent does. On the bottom screen of Flick Rush, you can see your Dream Eater's party health and stamina; flicking a card uses a portion of your stamina, but to restore it, simply tap and hold on the icon of your current Dream Eater and the recharge sequence will start. Once the gauge is full, not only your stamina will be restored, but your deck will be reshuffled. It is a truly an addicting side-game to get your Dream Eaters to level up or gain Link Points faster or simply just to take a break from the story.
Kingdom Hearts 3D is visually appealing, and the 3D effect is easy on the eyes. It's one of the few 3DS games that I can keep the 3D on for long periods of time. Kingdom Hearts has always been known to push the levels of the consoles and handhelds it's been on, and the trend continues here. Despite the worlds being smaller, the area's in the world are huge but at the same time they just feel empty and in some worlds feeling a bit bland while others have great detail in specific areas.
The music has always been my favorite part of the series and this game is no different. I always look forward to hearing some of my favorite Kingdom Hearts tracks being redone to fit the atmosphere. Yoko Shimomura has always done a fantastic job of making music for the Disney Worlds to give that catchy Disney tune you can keep in your head. With Takeharu Ishimoto joining in and adding his popular tracks from The World Ends With You gives off a vibe that makes you feel the cast just fits right in the game.
For fans just starting on the series with this game or unable to play all of the titles can look forward to the "Memento" system in Dream Drop Distance. Memento allows you to read in detail the story of the previous Kingdom Hearts titles to help catch you up to speed in the current story arc. It also includes Flashbacks that add more to cutscenes showing how a situation came to be and can be viewed again in case you have forgotten. The same can also be said for Tutorials and Game Help that can reteach you if you are unsure how a specific action is performed.
Even with it's flaws, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. This is a title that any and all Kingdom Hearts fans should pick up as it will tie into the long awaited Kingdom Hearts III. You can say it bridges the gap the same way Chain of Memories did for Kingdom Hearts II. From the new Disney worlds to explore to even the old ones with new areas to Flowmotion making the gameplay feel fresh and fast paced and even the development of the Dream Eater system to distract you from the main story to care for them makes it a fantastic 10th anniversary gift that shows it's appreciation.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/06/12
Game Release: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (US, 07/31/12)
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