Review by KeyBlade999

"It is *not* Kingdom Hearts III ... But I'll take it!"

~ Review in Short ~
Gameplay: Fairly complicated and reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts II and (Re:)Coded, but fun.
Story: Typical to the series, and deeply connected to other entries. Focuses on Sora's and Riku's Mark of Mastery examination to prove that they are Keyblade Masters.
Graphics: Absolutely amazing, in both 2D and 3D. Perhaps the best on the 3DS, and maybe the series.
Sound and Music: The remixed tracks are excellent for old areas, and amazing for new ones. The quality is amazing; akin to Kingdom Hearts II!
Play Time: About 30 hours for normal playthroughs; around 100 for comprehensive ones.
Replayability: Moderately high. The game is fun, lasts the right time, and a bit non-linear.
Recommendation: An absolute must-buy for any veteran of the series. I must strongly note that those who have not played every entry in the series will be somewhat confused, so I will tell you that you must also play the other entries or comprehend on-line plot synopsises. The in-game summaries aren't very sufficient.

~ Review in Long ~

Kingdom Hearts 3D is the newest entry in the crossover series of Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts originated back in the early 2000s as an odd crossover, to say the least, of the Final Fantasy series and various Disney characters. The series managed to get a crowd of fans, me included, over the years despite the oddity it is.

Of course, even the best of series have their low points. The Mario series had Super Mario Bros. 2 (in Japan) in my opinion; the Final Fantasy series, still another opinion, has its Crystal Chronicles side series; MegaMan X had about half the series; and even Kingdom Hearts had Chain of Memories, one of the worst thought-out concepts and games I have ever played.

After all of the good supplemental entries release for the series since Kingdom Hearts II, has Kingdom Hearts hit a low point...?

GAME HISTORY:
Kingdom Hearts as a series originated around 2002, and was developed by what is now known as Square Enix. It was released for the PlayStation 2 and had, as I have said many times throughout the years, one of the strangest possible crossovers. The relative maturity of Final Fantasy mixed with the childishness of Disney just seems to mix together like gasoline and fire - not well at all! And yet, this one game sparked off an immensely successful chain of games.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories came out sometime around 2004 or 2005, I assume, and was released for the GameBoy Advance. That one thing just said it was no good to start with - going from the big screen to the small screen? They did, at best, fairly bad with this entry into the series. They did remake this around 2007 as Re:Chain of Memories for the PlayStation 2.

Kingdom Hearts II came out in 2007 or so for the PlayStation 2. It continued off of the plot ties left from the previous two games, and really has shone as one of the best games of the series thus far. And it is here that the entries into the main plot really ends.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was released for the Nintendo DS sometime around 2009. This entry into the series focused on one of the big players in the later games, sort of: Roxas, a character with deep ties to Sora, to say the least, and his time in Organization XIII. Its plot placement was about 3/4 of the way through Kingdom Hearts all the way to the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep was released around this time for the PlayStation Portable. This game focused on three characters who had previously never been mentioned in the series, and yet seem to have some deep connection to the main character of the series, Sora.

Kingdom Hearts Coded came along as an episodic series for the iPhone, and was remade in full as Kingdom Hearts Re:coded for the Nintendo DS in 2011. This game took place after Kingdom Hearts II and was sort of a look back on prior events in the story, even the unknown ones, and contained a secret video of some importance.

Finally, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance has made its way to the newest Nintendo console, the Nintendo 3DS, and on the tenth anniversary of the series. It is no Kingdom Hearts III, make no mistake about that. It takes place directly after the events of Kingdom Hearts (Re:)Coded and Kingdom Hearts II so Sora and Riku will be made to show the Mark of Mastery...

GAMEPLAY: 9.5/10.
Battle and Level-Up System:
One of the key features in a good RPG such as this is a good battle system. Like most of the other entries in the series, you'll take real-time battle system. For those who don't know what I mean, imagine it like real life, but with a pause button to stop the fighting. That's pretty much it.

The battle system takes one of the big elements in (Re:)Coded: a command deck. This command deck handles some magic, some special attacks, and some items. Whenever you opt to use one of them, you often have to wait for it to recharge back before it can be used again. So there is no more of the MP system like in Kingdom Hearts II.

Combat in itself seems to a little devoid of strategy early on, though you get gradually worked into it; more slowly than other Kingdom Hearts games, too. Most of the early fights consist of hack-and-slash (and sometimes burn), though things often get complicated later on. Hacking-and-slashing eventually becomes a two-way street.

Leveling up in this game is more akin to the roots of the series versus the panel/grid-style of the other DS entries. You defeat enemies, gain EXP., and level up, thereby gaining stat increases, and sometimes abilities. Also like Kingdom Hearts II, you can also gain bonus levels for beating bosses and such, and they often contain stat boosts, item capacity boosts, or abilities.

Flowmotion:
New to the series is the idea of Flowmotion. Like in the Matrix, the dream world has a set of rules that can be bent and broken, and Flowmotion seems to be a direct rip-off of that. But a good one. Flowmotion allows you to zip around the area at fairly high speeds and defy gravity, all of which helps to get certain out-of-the-way treasure chests.

Additionally, Flowmotion has a use in combat by allowing certain speedier and stronger attacks and combos. Of course, the backdrop is that you need a wall or pole to use it, or large enemies, so it is not always a viable strategy.

Reality Shift:
This is where Square Enix finally decided to take advantage of the Touch Screen in the series and stop letting it just move the camera or crap like that. Reality Shift activates in certain areas and situations, allowing you to bend the rules of what is possible, but not just speed or power like Flowmotion.

For example, you can find an object, like a barrel, and drag an orb on the Touch Screen to set a slingshot trajectory for it to hit various objects, or heavily damage enemies. There are other uses to it, as well.

Spirits and Nightmares:
"Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer" - a common, yet wise, saying taken quite far in this game. In the Sleeping Worlds where the game takes place, the main enemies are Dream Eaters, another form of darkness in these worlds that the Heartless and Nobodies cannot reach. There are, in fact, two kinds.

One are Nightmares. They feed on the dreams of the happy, and are the true darkness of this world. The other, the Spirits, actually fight the Nightmares. Therefore, Spirits are your allies. In fact, you can synthesize them up much like in other games to make them. You can have two as your ally for in-battle combat at any time.

However, their use goes far beyond that. Firstly, linking with them is quite beneficial. By linking, you raise their Link Gauge. Eventually, once full, you'll be able to really link with them, and boost your overall power tremendously, and it goes really high with a dual link.

Secondly, you can have them get abilities and commands via the Ability Link board. It is basically a charting of what you get when you have so many Link Points, gained by giving affection to the Spirit or by defeating enemies alongside it. Speaking of giving it affection, some of them are just darn cute when you end up petting them!

Dropping:
One of the more annoying features of this game - at least, to an FAQ author like myself - is that, at somewhat regular intervals, Sora and Riku will be forced to switch. Whenever you switch from one to the other, you do end up where they left off prior to the switch, and you can do this on command. So, what's the problem?

Mostly inconvenience. It is hard to try to keep up with two separate stories at the same time, and hard to try to figure out who needs to head where, when you're so used to just one. It does make the game a bit interesting, but it just doesn't seem to have any place in the game, nor a reason for it.

There is a potentially good thing about it, though. There are sort of "weather" conditions in an area that change with each drop (switch). For example, you might be able to get a lot of cash at one point, or it might be easier to find HP orbs to restore HP.

Another thing about drops is that you can get boosts in-between the drops. When you swap from one character to the other, you are able to use Drop Points that you grabbed from defeating enemies to buy, for example, temporal stat boosts or items.

Extra Stuff and Sidequests:
One of the lower points of this game is not its lack of extra stuff. There quite a fair amount of that, I'll give it that; but the quality is sub-par at best. You'll get some of the traditional stuff, including an extra boss, hunting down every treasure chest, and maxing out all of the diving and mini-game stuff.

But even that stuff is mostly tedious, rewardless work. The chests are menial at best, since I went quite far without even using even one tenth of the chests' contents. Diving and mini-games are mostly just play-time boosters, and the extra boss? Not exceptionally hard.

You also get a Pokemon-type quest where you must befriend every Spirit possible, which is extremely tedious as it is in Pokemon. You also get to perform partner attacks with each one, and there are a fair number of Trophies you can collect. But even the Trophies are practically meaningless - at least they had meaning in Re:coded.

Overall, there is a lot of extra content in this game, at least enough to bump your play up to seventy-five to a hundred hours, but it is basically needless and not worth it.

General Game Progression:
There is a fairly set path in which you go through the worlds. You'll begin by diving - diving is sort of the Gummi Ship routes of this game. You'll have to go along a path and meet a certain goal before going too far to reach the world. You'll end up getting rewarded for doing well.

In the world itself, you'll generally swap between Sora and Riku through drops, as explained earlier, to proceed. Often, the two have unconnected stories in the world, so it is more like playing two games and quickly swapping between the two. The actual gameplay differs little for the two; it is just mostly where they go.

After a boss fight, usually, you'll be able to finish the other character's part of the world. You can't unlock the Sleeping Keyhole otherwise, so you'll need to finish everyone's part. Then you'll go to the next world and it repeats across seven Sleeping Worlds and a little bit more.

How Hard Is It?:
Like the first few Kingdom Hearts games, there is a difficulty setting in the game that is set in stone once you begin the game. You have Beginner, Standard, and Proud (Hard), much like Kingdom Hearts II.

Overall, I found the game to be fairly easy, except on Proud, of course. Once you start a file, you cannot change the difficulty, so you can't suddenly make it easier like with (Re:)Coded. The game also offers a Critical mode if you do a certain task, if Proud wasn't hard enough.

The game does get pretty easy early on, almost mind-numblingly, then it jacks it up way high near the end. It is almost like playing Final Fantasy VI Advance - you are expected to do some intense grinding and/or sidequests that you do not want to do. Even on Beginner, the ending will be intense.

Flick Rush:
Flick Rush is a minigame you can play using three Spirits. It is a Spirit-on-Spirit battle, and is pretty simplistic. You basically flick cards upward to attack, and downward to defend.

Each card has a value which determines its power. If your attack is more powerful than the opponent's, you'll deal damage; and the inverse is also true. The damage system is pretty much that, and Spirits will have new versions of HP to make the battles go by a bit faster.

It is slightly more complicated than that, though. This isn't a turn-by-turn thing like you'd expect with a TCG. This is still in real-time. You can group cards together to make attacks or defending stronger, and you can attack multiple times in a row, all due to the real-time system. This is one of the coolest features of this game by far: a real-time card-based battle system.

The neat thing about this mode is that it allows for local multiplayer between two 3DS consoles with this game. It is really nice to actually have a true multiplayer mode aside from the competitive system in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.

This minigame is not without rewards, however. You can win medals in this, allowing you to trade them in for rare items at the medal shop.

Portals and StreetPass:
Portals in this game are kind of like Spirit transfer pathways: you can either send your Spirits to battle someone (Battle Portals), or receive Spirits as temporal aid (Friendship Portals). Some of the latter are pre-installed at points in the game, and are of a great help.

Using StreetPass - a mode in which you can send and receive data between 3DS consoles, even if you are not playing this game - you can send and receive hand-designed Portals of any kind from other players. This can create a nice convenience at certain points, and also an annoying challenge. These challenges do not go unrewarded, though; if you meet certain conditions, you'll be able to receive various items, recipes, or even DP.

Wait, We Have to Memorize All of This?:
Thankfully, no. Within the game, you'll be able to receive hands-on tutorials when something becomes a viable option. For example, you aren't going to learn about Flowmotion before there are walls around to roll into. It really helps in learning and simplifying all of the information.

Additionally, the game will also keep tutorials and let you replay them at any time you wish. You'll also be able to find summarizations on various aspects of the game (Keyblades, Kingdom Hearts, etc.), previous games in the series, and even characters in the game.

So, What's Your Opinion?:
Overall, I find the gameplay to be a little complicated compared to previous DS Kingdom Hearts games, and it is about on-level with Kingdom Hearts II. I found that the drop system is completely unnecessary and worthless, and very inconvenient. Everything else, though, is either new to the series and something I'd hope to see in future entries (multiplayer, Flowmotion), or the same things that got me addicted to the series in the first place (battle system, interesting story).

Of course, to address the low points. I already mentioned the inconvenient and needless dropping system. There is a lot of extra content that is traditional to the series, but has less use than any of the games I've played. The fact that the game jacks up the difficulty intensely near the end is annoying, as if they want you to do the needless sidequests.

But, overall, the gameplay is pretty nice. It has a few kinks that really need to get worked out before the next entry in the series, but it works well enough.

STORYLINE: 9/10.
Kingdom Hearts 3D has very deep canonical ties to almost, if not every, other game in the series. I highly recommend having played each game at least once, or having read through a synopsis of the plot on Wikipedia or another site. Most games in the series can be played without having played many of the others with minimal confusion, but not in this case.

I will not summarize the pre-game storylines, as they are unlocked throughout the course of the game, and can be found on the Internet elsewhere.

So, what's in the game itself? This game takes place right after Kingdom Hearts II and (Re:)Coded. Sora and Riku have met up with Yen Sid, King Mickey, Donald, and Goofy in Yen Sid's tower in Twilight Town. There, Sora and Riku are briefed on their mission.

Their mission is to go into seven of the Sleeping Worlds - worlds who were not completely returned to the realm of light by Sora's journey in Kingdom Hearts I - and seal the seven Sleeping Keyholes in these worlds. They will face new enemies, for not even the Heartless can reach these worlds: the Dream Eaters, some of which are benevolent, but many are evil.

Of course, Sora thinks himself already a Keyblade Master - for that is what the Mark of Mastery exam is for, to make one be a Master. Riku thinks different - after all, he walked the path of darkness, and is now a master of the light? He believes he should be tested, and, so, Sora also agrees to be tested.

To receive the Mark of Mastery would be a great benefit to the side of the light in the coming battles against Xehanort. But can Sora and Riku do it? Can they reawaken these "Sleeping Worlds" from the limbo between light and darkness and become true Keyblade Masters?

GRAPHICS: 10/10.
The 2D Graphics:
I was slightly mind-boggled the day I got this game and watched the opening sequences which showcased various scenes from previous games. I highly noted the Kingdom Hearts I entries. The graphics in those scenes was refined to the highest extent, far beyond the quality of a decade ago. It was beyond what I had expected of this game - hence, the mind-boggling.

We all have probably seen the sub-par graphics of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and Re:coded on the original DS consoles. That is what I could have expected with this game, but, as usual, I tend to be wrong! The graphics in the 2D are amazing, colorful, vibrant, and of the quality we had for Kingdom Hearts II, if not better!

The 3D Graphics:
And, honestly, the 3D graphics are even better. You know that little "pop-out book" effect you would expect out of the 3DS, having not played on it before? Well, in most cases, you just got more depth than that in previous games: Mario Kart 7, CRUSH3D, and so on. Of course, if something came up real close to the camera, then you get real 3D.

Anyways, you actually get the pop-out effect! It is absolutely amazing in those opening sequences when the letters of the title swirl in like in the first few games. It does get a little distracting in battle, though, so I mostly turn the 3D off. But, it is really hard to deny that these graphics are perhaps the best the 3DS has been able to give, be it 3D or 2D. Sure, you can't use the 3D easily in a battle, but it is still a nice effect for wandering around areas.

SOUND EFFECTS AND MUSIC: 9.5/10.
In this game, you do end up visiting other worlds you visited in previous Kingdom Hearts games. They have some slightly remixed tracks, which is nice after the relative monotony in music by repeating worlds across games.

The quality? It is quite nice, to say the least. The sounds are akin to Kingdom Hearts II, as far as quality. No static, no muffling, no dumbing-down of the music - pure, excellent, exhilarating background music fills the game to the brim. It honestly brought tears to my eyes hearing the familiar track in the opening sequence as great as the day I first heard it many a year ago.

Sound effects themselves are harder to speak for, because they're not something you can easily pay attention to. What you get is pretty clear and nice. You'll get some familiar tones from all across the series, from Sora attacking to the simple bleeps and bloops in the menus. All in all, the music is possibly some of the best on the 3DS, and perhaps even the Kingdom Hearts series.

PLAY TIME: 9.5/10.
After having finished the game in a semi-comprehensive manner, I ended up racking up almost thirty-three hours on the clock. All in all, that's a pretty fair length of time for a Kingdom Hearts game, right on-par with most of the other games. It is just long enough for the gameplay to not be boring and mundane by the end, and yet also long enough to let it last.

But a comprehensive replay would be needless for me to do. As it is, there are no real rewards that go for you in it. Not to mention that it could easily rack me up another seventy-five hours or more in needless, useless content. I wouldn't recommend fully comprehensive plays on this game.

REPLAYABILITY: 9.5/10.
Again, I haven't beaten or replayed this yet, but I make a fair estimate. There is a bit of the traditional non-linearity here, so that's a nice boost. You don't have to worlds in the same order time after time, plus the gameplay is mildly addictive.

One of the biggest boosts to the replayability of this game, despite the amount I've ripped on it, would have to be the drop system. As annoying as it is, it really helps because it is so hard to time when you'll switch characters, and it is like playing two games and switching between them at times. It is extremely unlikely that you'll follow the exact same path each game, and I wholesomely believe this game will be fun to replay.

THE END. Overall score: 9.5/10.
And so, you have received my fairly lengthy opinion on Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. What's the verdict?

Well, the game has nice gameplay, despite the drop system's annoyances, and those based on the game's late-game difficulty and needless sidequests. It is nice and complicated, reminiscent of the rest of the series, and fun. The storyline trends along the lines set by earlier games and has a similar type of story, if not just a bit more grave. The graphics and sound are absolutely amazing, and the play time and replayability, while potentially being slightly better, are good enough.

Overall, I would recommend you buy this game. It is worth noting that you at least look up the plots of the previous games on Wikipedia or something before actually buying this, if you haven't played the other games, because you will be likely to get lost really fast with this deeply-connected plot. Even so, it is a great game; an exceptional one.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 08/08/12

Game Release: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (US, 07/31/12)


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