Review by sonic_779
"Fun at first, but it gets old fast..."
I just want to start off by saying that I love the Kingdom Hearts series, and I've played every game in the series so far (except the the final mix re-releases of Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2). I've followed the series through it's ups and downs, and overall I have to say it's been one of my favorites. One trend I have noticed over the years though is that I've found that the games released on Nintendo consoles just seem to be inferior to games released on Sony consoles. Unfortunately, I believe that Dream Drop Distance continues this trend, and ultimately it ends up being one of the more lackluster titles in the series. This review may contain minor spoilers as I will be talking about several worlds found in the game. With that said, let's get started.
Kingdom Hearts games have always had an interesting, if somewhat difficult to follow storyline, and this game is no exception. The game takes place directly after the events of RE:Coded, focusing on Sora and Riku completing the Mark of Mastery exam in order to become Keyblade masters. They are sent by Master Yen Sid to find and open keyholes in seven "sleeping" worlds, but quickly become separated. There are a total of 7 playable worlds, though Traverse Town is revisited once making it one of the shorter games in the series. However, each world is also completed twice: once as Riku and once as Sora. If one character completes a world before the other, they are allowed to move on to the next world, but the "main plot" will not be advanced until both players have completed that world. For example, completing Traverse Town as Riku, but not Sora will allow you to move on to the next world with Riku, but you won't see any cutscenes that advance the main storyline until Sora also completes Traverse Town. The game also tries to bring newer players up to speed with flashbacks and chronicles, which fill you in on the events that took place before this game. Actually playing the other games in the series is highly recommended though, as it will give you a greater understanding of the story and characters that appear, and make the storyline in the game much more enjoyable. After all, who wants to experience an entire video game series by reading paragraphs of text?
Arguably, the most important part of any game and where in my opinion, this game falls flat. This section will be divided into several sub-sections for easier reading and better organization.
If you've seen any trailers for this game, you will have noticed the newest feature in the combat system: Flowmotion. Didn't that just look awesome in the trailers? Well, when you first start out, Flowmotion is extremely cool, it's used by pressing the "y" button to roll or air slide into walls, rails, poles, or large enemies and offers fancy, powerful moves that can really help in battle. Flowmotion is also very helpful (and necessary) for getting around large environments much more quickly than you normally could, finding secret areas, and attacking several enemies at a time. However, you'll also find that the moves you can perform are extremely limited and also much too "spammable." What I mean is if there is an object that you can activate Flowmotion with nearby, you can easily destroy everything nearby pretty easily by attacking while performing a super-jump (jumping after activating Flowmotion). I can't remember the name of the attack, but what happens is whatever character you're playing as cancels his jump, and slams the ground creating a shockwave and causing damage to all nearby enemies. All Flowmotion attacks can be performed as many times as you like within a battle as well. You see where I'm going with this? You can go into a battle, and constantly use nothing but this move to destroy everything near you. Why would you do this? Well, maybe it was just me but I found the enemies in this game to be really cheap (playing on proud mode, so probably brought it on myself). Many enemies here have an unreasonable amount of health since your ability to dish out damage is pretty poor due to cuts with abilities and command deck (more on that later). In addition, there are a couple of enemies (which coincidentally usually have a high amount of health) which can completely drain your health in seconds with a single chain of attacks. They just kit you once, and you're doomed because you can't get out of it since the conditions for using aerial recovery or payback attacks is ridiculous. It never seems to be able to activate when you most need it. You can be knocked upwards with one attack, your controls locked with aerial recovery equipped, and no matter how many times you press the "y" button, you just fall back down where you are immediately hit by another attack with the same effect. This cycle continues until you die. Because of this, you are basically forced into using Flowmotion since your regular attacks and command deck have both been gimped. Flowmotion attacks are much more powerful and make you much more difficult to hit, so naturally you favor them over your other attacks. The flaws in the combat system really become apparent in large areas where Flowmotion is not available, particularly the second world which is based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
- Dream Eaters:
Dream Eaters are literally everywhere in this game as both spirits (party members) and nightmares (replacements for heartless, nobodies, or unversed), which is not necessarily a good thing. Spirits have to be leveled in order to gain access to abilities (more on that in the next section) and there are several ways to do this. The first and most obvious is using them in battle and gaining exp. the old fashioned way. The second is to manually care for the spirit(s) by petting them and playing tedious mini-games with awful music. It's like a bad combination of Pokemon and Nintendogs, and it becomes one of the most repetitive and boring tasks in this game. Nightmares (perhaps the most ironic, yet accurate names I've seen) are equally annoying, as they have the same abilities as their respective spirit form, and they love to spam them. The Yoko Sheep for example (Not sure if that's the correct name or not) for example endlessly uses sleep abilities, which instead of putting you to sleep increase the drop multiplier on your drop gauge. When they gang up on you, your drop gauge can go from the lowest multiplier (0.4 I think) to 3.0 in less than a minute, forcing you to switch characters more quickly than you ever wanted to happen. Other nightmares like to cast spells like Zero Gravity, which works exactly the same way on you as it does on enemies. You're just forced to sit there and watch as the surrounding dream eaters destroy your life gauge, completely powerless to stop them. And if you survive the spell, you most likely will have gotten hit at least once, which makes you confused once you get out of it and reverses your controls making it one of the most overpowered enemy abilities. If you don't kill these guys immediately, they will completely screw you over.
- Command Deck and Abilities:
I think this is where the game took the biggest hit. I was initially going to talk about how much the Command Deck was gimped, but after some consideration I realize that the Command Deck is actually pretty much the same as it was before. Instead, It's made obsolete by Flowmotion and further downgraded by the utter lack of abilities in this game. Say what you will about how you obtained abilities in Birth By Sleep, at least in that game once you were done grinding abilities you were able to keep them. In Dream Drop Distance, all abilities and some commands are obtained by leveling Dream Eaters, which is fine. What is not fine is that almost all of these abilities only remain active as long as the Dream Eater that you obtained them with is in your party, and you can only Have 3 Dream Eaters in your party at a time (2 in the field and one in reserve) and each one only has a couple different abilities. And since it uses the same "multi-install" system as in Birth By Sleep (need to magic haste 5 times to max out for example), you either end up with 3 or 4 maxed abilities or more common, 6 or 7 incomplete abilities. This forces you to choose your Dream Eaters really carefully, which you think would be a good thing, but causes a big problem on its own. Instead of command styles, you have the ability to "link" with your dream eaters. Riku fuses with them and gets limited access to what is essentially a command style while Sora simply teams up with the dream eater (think limits with party members from Kingdom Hearts 2) to use more powerful attacks. While I'm on this subject, I found that Sora's links just flat out sucked for damage output. Where I'm going with this is that I have not found a Dream Eater with both an Ability Board that I liked and a good link/combat skills. Most Dream eaters either have good abilities or are useful in combat, but never both from what I have seen (but then, I am far from collecting every Dream Eater in the game), especially for Sora. So what you end up with is either a moderately powerful character and useless Dream Eaters or a weak character and useful Dream Eaters, further contributing to your utter lack of power aside from Flowmotion.
Most of the worlds here are fairly well done actually, though none in particular actually stand out. Both returning worlds, Traverse Town and The World That Never Was, have had new areas introduced or gone through a redesign (latter), making them feel fairly fresh and new. They are all fairly large in size compared to past games because of the inclusion of Flowmotion, and have various secret areas that hold treasure chests for those that like to explore (although the usefulness of the items you find leaves something to be desired in most cases). Each world has a couple overlapping areas between the two characters, but generally Riku and Sora follow different paths making for less repetition. Sora's version of the world based on Pinocchio (can't remember the name) looks strangely like the Land of Departure from Birth By Sleep, which I'm not sure is intentional, coincidence, or just plain laziness while Riku's version takes place inside Monstro again. The Grid (based on the recently released tron movie) feels out of place though, much like Port Royal felt out of place in Kingdom Hearts 2 (or was that just me?) and starts off with a tedious mini-game making it one of the more annoying levels. The other being Sora's version of The World That Never Was, which starts you off in a GIGANTIC area (what was once 4 sections in Kingdom Hearts 2 is now 1, plus the place was entirely redesigned) so if you die you have to restart from the very beginning unless you managed to make it to the castle. I wasted my entire drop gauge (1x multiplier) exploring this area and when I died, I lost all the progress I made which was aggravating. Speaking of dropping, if the Drop Gauge (which controls how you switch between characters if you didn't know that) runs out during a boss battle, you are forced to switch to the other character against your will and when you return you have to start the fight over from the beginning, which I feel is unnecessary. Overall though, the worlds are generally enjoyable if you can get past the combat system.
Honestly, the graphics are probably the best thing in this game, all of the worlds are beautifully drawn, and while I dislike the redesign for The World That Never Was, I have to admit that it looks pretty good too. The game even looks better in 3D than it does normally, which is something that you can't say about a lot of games on the 3DS aside from ones made by Nintendo. Other than that there's not much else to say, probably one of the best if not the best looking games in the series.
What happened to the amazing soundtracks of the previous games? Many of the soundtracks here just feel unimaginative and fall flat when placed next to the beauty of Kingdom Hearts 1, 2, and Birth By Sleep. Symphony of Sorcery (based on Fantasia) is by far the worst offender here. Instead of the typical overworld and battle themes, the game plays orchestrated music from the movie (I assume, since I never watched it) that slowly changes based on the area you're in. It's actually a nice change of pace until you get into battle and discover that all your sound effects are replaced by various drum beats and other sounds from musical instruments. While I don't care much for the music, and can see someone else enjoying them until the music in completely ruined by all of the out of place musical instruments. I have no idea why Square Enix chose to this. Moving on, The two returning worlds here have also had their soundtracks remade, and while I like the overworld theme for Traverse Town, the Battle music is pretty mediocre in my opinion. The World That Never Was teases you by playing the original theme of the world during the first cutscene with Sora, then changes to something completely unrecognizable. It's not a bad theme per say, but it just feels wrong. After playing the through the travesty that was Symphony of Sorcery, I was really looking forward to playing through a world with one of my favorite themes in the series. Oh, and the main theme from Kingdom Hearts 2 is used again (its getting old). Overall, it's not that bad of a soundtrack, just not a good one in Kingdom Hearts Standards.
What it all boils down to is an utter lack in balance. Flowmotion overshadows all of your characters lackluster abilities and strength, and this combined with the other problems mentioned in the gameplay section make for an increasingly aggravating experience. It's a real shame, as I really wanted to like this game and had some better design choices been made it could been a really great game. It's a prime example of a game with really good potential, but poor execution. Anyway, Chances are if you are a fan of the series like me you have already purchased the game or will do so anyway, but for consumers with a more open mind, I would suggest playing the other games in the series, if not instead of this then at least first in order to get the most out of the story. Personally, I would suggest any game that is not on a Nintendo Console (with the exception of 358/2 Days, which I thought was pretty good), particularly Kingdom Hearts 1, 2, and/or Birth By Sleep (Which I personally consider to be the best in the series and highly recommend). Unfortunately, Dream Drop Distance continues the trend of inferior titles on Nintendo Consoles.
A game is only as strong as its weakest link, and Dream Drop Distance has a terrible combat system compared to the rest of the series.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 08/08/12
Game Release: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (US, 07/31/12)
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