Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Justin , 2012/08/09 01:53
Action Role-Playing Game
New Disney worlds, and the usual fluid Kingdom Hearts combat. Additional 3D effect is nice.
Reality Shifts can be inconvenient, and the Dream Eater engine too grindy.
The Drop System appears to only have the use of annoying, and frustrating the player since it's so easily ignored.
Ah, Kingdom Hearts. Never has there been a series that I've had such an unusual love-hate relationship with. On the one hand they are amazingly fun games to play with extremely satisfying combat mechanics. On the hand? I'm pretty sure the plot of the entire series was constructed on a napkin at some diner at 5am. For the uninitiated the series originated as this bizarre mash-up of Final Fantasy and animated Disney movies. You know, because of course somebody would have one day got out of bed and proudly proclaimed "Final Fantasy XIII would be a perfect game if only it had Hercules in it!" Since the first game that concept has skewed to also allow live-action Disney movies, as well as to just allow for any Square-Enix characters to rock up if they feel like it rather than simply limiting it to Final Fantasy. Naturally there are also characters specific to this series, and you'll likely grow to enjoy the three of them that actually manage to break out as memorable.
Since the inception of the series there has been exactly two "main" (see also: numbered) games. These are both on the Sony Playstation 2. There have been, including the 3DS one, five spin-off titles. To play these you'll need a Sony PSP, a Game Boy Advance (although a remake of that one was eventually released on the Playstation 2 as well), A Nintendo DS, A Japanese Cell Phone (they later released this one on the DS as well), and the Nintendo 3DS. The best part of that? In order to follow the plot of the main series you MUST play all of the spin-offs. Hell, if you didn't play Chain of Memories on the Game Boy Advance prior to the release of Kingdom Hearts 2 for the Playstation 2? You basically had no clue what the fuck was happening. Oh sure, you might come under the assumption that they'd explain it all in Kingdom Hearts 2 itself, but realistically they sort of just assumed you'd just go ahead and go with whatever they came up with.
Of course you might not have bothered playing Chain of Memories considering the fact that it plays entirely differently from the main series. In CoM's case this is due to the fact that the combat was augmented by this unusual playing card system. Each of the spin-offs have a different system for leveling, and even the combat itself. The main games are all a bit more straight forward (in other words you kill shit to gain levels which allows you to kill stronger shit without having to jump through hoops). The point I'm trying to make here is that if you want to even attempt to follow the plot of the series you're gonna have to throw down cash for multiple consoles (along with the games themselves obviously), and even then you're just as likely to either hate the spin-off's format or just plain not be able to follow the plot anyway. Trust me on this. It's a common trend. Even hardcore fans of the series can't explain this shit. Somebody tried to explain it via a simple to follow idiot proof flow chart, but its very simplistic and just makes the series look even stupider somehow.
But I actually like this series, and I went out of my way to buy a Nintendo 3DS (though Kingdom Hearts wasn't my only reason for it), so I figured I might as well review the damn thing since I've already beaten it. Now before I begin I'm gonna point out my reviews will work differently than Riv's. I tend to focus more on specifics of the game rather than just generally talking about it. If the concept of professionalism existed on this website this is gonna be as close as you get to it. I figure if you're going out of your way to click on a review post I may as well actually attempt to give you information about the game to determine if you'd want to buy it outside of me just making fun of the main character's shoes.
I've always thought this series needed a wigger.
Oh god. Where do I even fucking begin? That flowchart I posted earlier hasn't been updated to showcase the events of this game, so I'm going to have to use SPOILERS here. So if you're not looking to see them I suppose you can skip ahead to the next section. I mean, I'll be depressed about you just being so rude about it, but I suppose I'll survive. When we last left our cast King Mickey had just done some computer hacking via the use of a digital version of Sora (Kingdom Hearts Coded for the Japanese Cell Phone/Nintendo DS as "RE: Coded"). So naturally this game begins with Riku, and Sora preparing to go through a trial to become Keyblade Masters. See, I would figure swinging your key sword around for roughly 47 different games would have made you quite masterful at it, but lets just ignore that and follow along the shiny plot bread trail anyway. In order to be named Keyblade Masters they have to awaken the "sleeping worlds," using the magic of going into a self inflicted coma and fighting the darkness in their dreams. The fact I just wrote that, and its a valid sentence really pisses me off.
The sleepless worlds consist of five Disney worlds, a Square Enix town, and one town that is meant to be the evil lair of the bad people. Traverse Town is your first world, and you've been here in virtually every game in the series so why stop now? Except in this game you won't find any Final Fantasy characters here. In fact, there isn't a single one in the entire game. Instead this world features the characters of semi-obscure Nintendo DS RPG "The World Ends With You". Why? Because fuck you. That's why! The plot of TWEWY is only barely mentioned, and the character that ends up being the main villain of the game is just sort of a side character here. In fact, you'll find the actual world's barely have any sort of concrete story. In fact, I would go as far as to say that 90% of the games in the Kingdom Hearts series tend to barely any actual plot development until the last world you go to in which they try to cram an entire games worth of information into your head within the span of five minutes. What do you do for the rest of the game? Extremely abridged versions of the Disney movie plot lines.
The abridged nature is even worse in this game. I could have sworn at least one of the levels took me roughly ten minutes to complete. Hell, you don't even meet half the characters from the movie. For example, one of the worlds is based off The Hunchback of Notre Dame. You never once meet the leader of the gypsies, whom in the movie is at least minor implied to be the narrator of the entire story. That's cool though. Because you got to see Esmeralda for roughly two scenes, followed by about seven scenes of Judge Frollo coming off as inheritance racist. I mean, I know "gypsy" isn't a race, but you can't help but get uncomfortable when Frollo says stuff like "we should take all of those gypsies and burn them at the stake. What with their beady eyes, and sloped foreheads."
3DS Jeff Bridges is shockingly realistic. That's just like my opinion, man.
The reason these worlds are unable to awaken is due to the fact they are being infected by a new form of monster known as a Dream Eater. These things are so evil and terrifying that your entire battle party consists of the Dream Eaters you've collected. Essentially your team in this game consists of Sora, Riku, and their Pokemans. I'm sure they attempted to explain why the evil Dream Eaters are helping you while also attempting to destroy the world, but I can't for the life of me remember. Honestly, I might have stopped caring midway through the dialog. I'm sure it was something clearly bullshit like "these are the other kind of Dream Eaters. You know, from the good side of town. Where they have high real estate prices." I'll go more into these guys later.
So you go into these worlds and fight the evil Dream Eaters, so you can lock the worlds waking them up ...eventually? Then you repeat the process until the seventh world, which is half dream and half real and then a bunch of bullshit happens that you won't, and probably won't even want to bother trying to, understand. The end. Look, I'm just gonna go ahead and simply assume if you're playing this game you just like the combat engine, because you'll find more satisfying storytelling in your average porn. Even the kind of crap Riv watches.
Not pictured: Me calling the countdown clock a cunt for existing.
2. The "Drop" System
This game introduces a couple of gimmicks designed specifically for this one spin-off. Because you can't simply have the spin-offs play like the main games. That would make too much sense. The first of these gimmicks is what the game calls the Drop System. Basically you alternate between playing as Sora, and as Riku with their own unique version of each world. Typically this involves one of the two getting the actual legitimate level, and the other getting a really short footnotes version of it. Hell, in Riku's version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame you see Quasimoto thanking Riku for helping him discover the true power of his heart. This is all very touching until you think back and remember that this is the first time Riku and Quasimoto have ever met.. Later in the game they imply that Riku's dreams are actually Sora's old dreams, while Sora is actually visiting the dreaming world's themselves. As to why Riku can apparently explore the dreams of Sora for worlds he has never actually been too? Stop trying to put logic into this series and just hit shit with your key.
The way they have you alternate is that you switch between the two. Now, I don't mean one after the other. I mean you have timed segments playing with each person. After the timer runs out your character will suffer from narcolepsy and pass out, forcing you to be switched to the other who just randomly wakes up from his own coma. They have items that can increase the duration of these timers, but you have to give up a technique slot to use them. Also you can just press start and drop to the other character at any time, so right out of the box the timing system is fucking pointless. If it were just pointless that'd be one thing. Instead it goes right for inconvenient in the fact that if the timer runs out during a fight, or boss fight you WILL drop right then and there. Don't worry though, as the Dream Eaters won't take advantage of their foe PASSING THE FUCK OUT MID FIGHT and murder you in your sleep. Instead you'll simply have to start the fight over again. This is especially magical if you were two hits away from killing a boss with like ten life bars, and you get to start all over again from 100% health. Good call Square!
Normally I'd try to come up with something positive to say about the system, but I really can't for this one. The system is absolutely useless, and even hurts the game outright. Because you're forced to split your time in each world between two characters there was virtually no time to even attempt to follow the plot of the Disney movies. I'm talking abridged to the beat of "Minnie has been stolen by Pete. Go one room over, and now she is saved! Roll credits!" So you can't really connect to either character or what is happening to them through the game. The fact you can drop whenever you want makes the timer pointless, and just seems to be there to inconvenience you. I'd go as far as to say this is probably my least favorite of the spin-off gimmicks.
Keep track of your Pokemon, for when you absolutely have to be the best like no one ever was.
3. The Dream Eater System
In the main games your team members always consist of Sora, Donald, and one character designed to fit the theme of the world. For example, Aladdin will be available as a party member while you're running through Agrabah. In this game that isn't the case. Instead you have to learn how to create Dream Eaters using items dropped by murdering other Dream Eaters. Sora and Riku share the same pool of crafted party members and may have two in their active battle party, and one in a support slot so you still get the benefit of their passive abilities. They can even have the same creatures active for them at the same time. Through these monsters you learn your skills, as well as get your stat upgrades. How do you level up the Dream Eaters so you can earn link points to unlock these skills? You can feed them, you can fight along side them and use their special "link attacks", you can play mini games with them, or you can ...uh ...pet them.
Essentially your battle party consists of 100 versions of Nintendogs. You have to improve their mood to unlock secret abilities in their leveling trees. So expect to spend a good couple of hours gently brushing a weird duck-looking thing's crotch so he'll have a minor happiness upgrade. Also they get minor traces of experience from this. I feel like they missed an opportunity here by not referring to these experience bonuses as "trauma points." Look if you have to deal with a dude with spikey hair and a giant key rubbing your balls all day you'd need therapy too. Also you can use AR Cards in order to get a couple of the monsters for free. In fact if you use one of the AR Cards and constantly let the Dream Eater get killed you can collect some items that allow you to craft the most powerful Dream Eater in the game, as well as earn one of the most powerful skills, before you've even battled the first boss of the game. Naturally this is cheating and I don't support that ...so here is the scanable AR Card image of the one you'll need to do it!
All in all the system is alright. The Dream Eaters do seem to help out a bit in combat, though that obviously does vary depending on which ones you've had out. I had at least one instance where one of them healed me right before I was about to die. However you'll find that you're doing the majority of the damage yourself (though I seem to recall this trend with Donald, and Goofy as well in the main games). Leveling the little shits can be a pain in the ass though. There is way too much micromanagement here. When I buy a game I want to play, and enjoy the game. I want to experience the combat, and follow the storyline (or at least attempt to). I do NOT want to spend two hours of my time rigorously massaging a catdog's buttocks. If you can excuse the grindy nature of it you'll find you can exploit it extremely easy and essentially become unkillable on even the highest difficulties in the first area of the game. Despite the fact the system is a bit broken, and at times annoying I found it wasn't anything too offensive though, and you'll pick up on how it works without too much trouble. Plus I suppose you can't bitch too much about needing to grind in an RPG. They all do it.
Not pictured: Enemy screaming "wwwwwooooaaaaah" when they fly away after this.
4. Reality Shifts
In each level you get the ability manipulate the reality of the world to do various things. In Traverse Town you can fling objects, and enemies at other stuff to cause damage or uncover treasure chests. In Symphony of Sorcery you play a mini game similar to Elite Beat Agents in order to open up new paths, and damage enemies. The feature is neat, but it can be a bit jarring in situations where you have an action game that suddenly jumps down to being entirely touch screen controlled, only to jump back to barely using the touch screen at all. I feel the game would have been better off without these. The Tron level, in particular, becomes very annoying with the need to hack into turrets almost every other room. Sometimes multiple turrets in the same room. I've always hated the touch screen gimmick. It almost always feels uncomfortable, and I will never understand the need to work it into the games randomly simply because you're using the DS. I feel the same way about games that add little pointless sections to Wii games, or Kinect games that force you to switch to movement controls for five seconds in spite of the entire rest of the 60 hour game using the controller.
Seriously. It's cool guys. I'm aware you've made a game on the DS. I'm aware the console does, in fact, have the functionality for a touch screen. You don't really need to include a mini game where I have to touch an apple to find a bruise. The same effect could be garnered by simply having me rotate the apple via a joystick and noticing the large bruise on it. Thankfully outside of a few instances the need to use these Reality Shifts is lowered to completely optional. Still, I'd have rather they spent the resources making the levels larger so they can actually tell a story rather than doing this stuff. That being said, it did kind of work out well during the boss battle in Sora's side of Country of the Muskateers.
The 3D effect doesn't work in pictures, so I can't show that. Instead? Evil Jeff Bridges.
Seeing as how this is a 3DS game I might as well talk about how the magical 3D comes into effect. In this game the 3D is designed to more or less just add depth to things. They attempt to showcase the 3D via the use of these "dive" sequence where you're free falling through the ...uh ...stuff in order to reach each world. However, the entire game can just as easily be played with the 3D turned completely off. You will never have any difficulty seeing anything, or accessing any area with the 3D off. This game could have easily been released on any other console. Hell, that might have even been something they considered when designing the game so that it could easily ported if they ever wanted to release a collection of the games, or simply port it to the Vita at a later date. I doubt they will, mind you, since they rarely port any of the spin offs ...but you never know.
Normally you'd assume the lack of use for the functionality would bar a negative response. However, in this case I really don't mind. I'd prefer the games to not require the 3D gimmick and simply just use it to optionally add depth. Hell, I figure they added the 3D effect slider to the system for that reason (well that and a good chunk of people report massive migraine headaches when using the 3D effect for long periods of time). The 3D in this game is used for exactly what it should be used for.
Well after ten years with the damned things. Yeah, I kind of do.
6. Overall Thoughts
I'm going to assume a good chunk of the above comes off as negative, and that most people are going to assume that I absolutely hated the game. That isn't necessarily true though. Hate is a strong word. Disappointed would be a little more accurate. The game itself plays great. The combat is fairly fluid, although it will take you a couple of minutes to get used to the Rolodex method of how spells and abilities are listed. The Dream Eaters are easy to get the hang of, and only become frustrating if you're trying to power level. When I played through and beat the game initially I didn't really bother grinding them up too much. I was more just trying to get a feel for the game. Marion, on the other hand, has a longer game file than mine and has spent a good ten hours simply grinding up his Dream Eaters. Obviously on the harder difficulties you're gonna want to do a bit of grinding though. Unless you just exploit the AR card thing and become overpowered in Traverse Town.
The 3D effect is nice if you use it, but stuff like the Drop System, and the Reality Shifts just seem absolutely unnecessary and will potentially ruin your view of the game as a whole. The WORST thing, however, is simply the fact that the plot is not there. The majority of the story telling is done via the last world, and some of the Disney world's for one of the characters consist of what seems like four rooms. The game appears sloppy and not thought out because of this. Ultimately I would say the game is worth playing. If you're a fan of the series you're pretty much going to have to as it leads in Kingdom Hearts 3 (or another spin-off. Who knows at this point). But purchasing it might not necessarily be a priority. I'd try the demo on the 3DS shop before actually buying the game.
Final Score: 7 out of 10