Review by AllegrettoCain
Square Enix's on Mark Of Mastery
By far one of the most endearing series created by Square Enix to date, Kingdom Hearts has shown its strength through the past ten years through its various entries, and this 10th anniversary game continues to impress me as the background is created for Kingdom Hearts 3. When it was released back in 2002, Kingdom Hearts featured a host of nostalgic factors that continue to shine through into today. From the cast of Disney characters, the settings of the Disney universe, the unique and fun game play and quirky (and at this point very confusing) story, this game has held onto me for the releases throughout the years. And I have to say Dream Drop Distance (or 3D), shows its marvelous new features that brings new breath to the game and sets a good foundation for Kingdom Hearts 3.
The story: 9/10
3D picks up right where Re:Coded left off; Riku and Sora are on their way to becoming Keyblade Masters, however, they must first complete the Mark of Mastery exam in order to prove their worth as Keyblade users. In order to do this, Master Yen Sid has tasked them to awaken 7 "Sleeping Worlds." After accepting the challenge, they are dropped off onto the Destiny Islands, and then find that they have been separated after the quick battle tutorial. This is where the first of the many new game mechanics come into play. Instead of having to beat the game as one character in order to play through the story of the other, you are given the Drop system, which allows you to play the story through both the eyes of Riku and Sora. Though they will be walking on the same worlds and interact with the same characters, the game keeps it refreshing by handing them different situations. As you explore the 6 new worlds (Traverse Town of course must make its return), the story progresses, giving you Flashbacks, Chronicles, and hints about previous events that took place sometime in between the narrative of Re:Coded and 3D. Unfortunately, this, along with the Drop system (which I'll be discussing later), can lead to some very confusing plot. While it is nice to be able to play both the Keyblade wielders, the constant switching between makes me wonder about the story all. Different revelations for each character hints towards a new mystery, and the completion of each world means a cut scene of what happened, what is happening, or foreshadowing to what could happen next. In short, the story is all over the place and there are many things left to the imagination until the end.
This is where Dream Drop Distance really shines. Like all previous Kingdom Hearts installments, 3D tries to make its own while still using the very fun and very classic open-world action battle system. There are so many changes to the gameplay are so ridiculously numerous that this game might just be in its own category.
Progression: The Dream Eaters are more than Nightmares
The biggest (and by far most fun) change is the new enemy entities known as Dream Eaters. No longer do you contest with the Heartless or Nobodies, but instead fight against adorable cartoon-like creatures known as Dream Eaters. However, they don't only act as foes; through gathering recipes and ingredients, you can form Dream Eaters there are called Spirits, friendly buddies that will help you grow through the game. Instead of Goofy and Donald trailing you through your adventures, you now have these lovable animals that will act as both your partners in battle AND your method of progression.
You see, as you advance through the game, the Dream Eaters will grow with you. You must feed them, pet them and all around care for them. In return, their Ability Boards will become opened to you. After building a strong bond with them, you will gather a multitude of spells and skills that boost up your character. Each pet has their own special ability, known as a Link, which can give you a strong edge in battle. Thankfully, Riku and Sora have their own uses for each Spirit, giving them a different playstyle as you go along. Sora will link with his pets and keep them on the field, often times riding them or using them as living ammo (don't worry, I think it hurts the Nightmares (evil Dream Eaters) more than the pet), while Riku fuses their abilities with the Keyblade, allowing him to perform cool aerial dynamics or devastating combos.
There are plenty of mini games to keep your pets feeling more like pets; you have several training toys and a fun multiplayer (you can face AI if none of your friends are around) card-type battle called Flick Rush, where your party of 3 Spirits will face off against an opponent, and the goal is to wipe out the enemy team faster and with more remaining health.
The Drop System:
As I mentioned before, the story is heavily reliant on the Drop System, where you will play Sora and Riku through their adventure. As luck may have it, the worlds are "split." Each one sharing the same backgrounds and characters, but Riku and Sora seem to appear in them at different times--think of it as a parallel universe mishap. There is a newly added "Drop Gauge" that times how long you have before one of your two characters fall asleep. While the idea is cool, the story can be confusing. Thankfully, Square Enix thought ahead and added a manual Drop button, which will allow you to return to whatever you were doing on the other character. (Be warned, that if you don't have enough Drop gauge, you might be thrown out of an important battle, such as a boss fight). There are ways to increase your Drop intervals, namely picking up the Drop-Me-Not item and Drop Decelerator from the Drop Reward Screen.
There are a host of new worlds for you to visit, although the favorite Traverse Town must make its return. Even though it is making its appearance for the millionth time, Traverse Town has been upgraded and there are new areas, making it feel fresh and new. Whenever you first enter a world with each character, you will be challenged to handle a Drop Dive, which is kind of like the original Gummy Flights in the first game. Essentially, you jump into the world and go through a portal to enter it. Here, you are tasked with completing something before the portal opens and you can enter a Sleeping World. It provides a good challenge, especially because each one is different from the previous encounter and you can repeat them for higher scores and bragging rights.
The Combat System:
Uh-oh, I bet you're saying. Could the combat really have changed so much that there has to be a whole sub-section dedicated to it? Well, yeah. Yeah it has. For anybody that's seen or read any other reviews, you know that one of the biggest changes in the introduction of the Flowmotion system. With this new system, you can hurdle from wall to wall, across huge gaps and other spectacular acrobatic feats. Not only does it add a new element to traveling (no more having to take hours to backtrack in order to enter and exit areas), but you can also use it to whiz about the battle field to avoid attacks and use special attacks of your own. These attacks provide a nice bonus to your skills and spells.
Next, you have the introduction of the Reality Shift system, where each world has their own special touch-screen based attack. In Traverse Town, you can pick up and hurl objects (and enemies, when you've done enough damage to them) at another cluster of enemies and watch them explode in health orbs, light and munny. Each world hosts its own unique Reality Shift, quite fitting for each and every one.
The last major change to the combat system is the Command Deck. Instead of having to select spells and abilities from a menu or from cards, etc., you are given a deck of cards that you can use throughout the battles. Not like the one from Chain of Memories, but from Re:Coded. After short cooldowns (you can reduce the intervals between each spell usage through the Pet progression), you will be able to cast them again. This can cause some hysteria during boss fights if you aren't careful, as everything has a cooldown except for items, so surfing through your commands carefully is a must, or else you'll drain your Cure before you need it. There is an option however to skip over regeneration spells and items, so customize to your liking.
Sounds and Visuals: 9/10
The voice acting is of course, spot on. The memorable voice work is fantastic and the lovely music will always stick with you, as previous installments have proven. There are a few sound effects (namely the walking. It's almost like Square Enix wanted you to only Flowmotion through a stage) that I didn't particularly like, but for the most part, it's good.
The visuals are nice and impressive for the system. It's good to see the old art style, although it would have been nice if the backgrounds of the worlds were a bit more detailed. The use of the 3D on the 3DS adds a nice "pop" to the cutscenes and major boss fights, so there's not else to complain about here.
Kingdom Hearts 3D is the backdrop for the next installment, Kingdom Hearts 3. If you're looking forward to completing the Mark of Mastery exam with both Sora and Riku, then this game is a must have. It's impressive combat system, updated mechanics and ease-of-use controls offers a good refresher for those of you who haven't played a KH game in a while. Even though the story can get confusing with the constant Drops and the reviewing of previous plots, it becomes bearable as you play.
I highly suggest picking up this 10th Anniversary item. Especially if you are a true fan of the Keyblade wielders.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (US, 07/31/12)
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