The Kingdom Hearts series has always had impressive openings that give you a glimpse of what’s to come and what’s important to the game—what events lead up to the current game, how the beginning of the game came to be, what other games in the series are important to understanding this one, and so on. Kingdom Hearts 3D is no different.
It was with excitement that I saw events from every other installment, from the original Kingdom Hearts to Birth by Sleep nicely tied together in a gorgeous and fluid (perhaps even understandable) animation. (In fact, even Re:coded gets a mention later, during the game itself) However, I was also a little hesitant because, although I’m a fan, I can’t say I remember all the events crystal clear to this admittedly convoluted series.
In true Kingdom Hearts fashion, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance introduces yet another angle new to the series. Sleeping worlds are just what they sound like—worlds locked away in dreams. There, they are safe from Heartless, but instead are plagued by beings called Dream Eaters. These come in two varieties. Nightmares like to feast on happy dreams, while Spirits like to munch on Nightmares for snack.
Since Sora and Riku have to go through their Mark of Mastery Exam but no one’s around to mentor them, Yen Sid proposes they kill two birds with one stone. In place of a traditional test, the two are to wake up the sleeping worlds while searching for “the Masters wandering in sorrow and slumber”. This brings the two through several worlds—in parallel, so although they visit the same worlds, they never see each other—we’ve never seen before as well as some that have only been mentioned.
KH3D’s focus seems to be not only moving the series past the events in Kingdom Hearts 2, but also to link all the games together, as the opening hinted. It’s almost like the game is gearing up for a great climax by reminding players of what’s happened thus far as well as bringing all actors to the stage. I didn’t really need to worry about getting lost either, since the game does a great job bringing players who’ve skipped a game or two in the series up to speed. When events from one of the other games are mentioned, an optional “Chronicle” appears and you’re given the option to read a clear and concise summary of the events in that game.
Optional content like this isn’t just limited to previous Kingdom Hearts games. Previous events in the Disney worlds—those that take place before either Sora or Riku arrive—are also detailed. I really liked this feature, even though I didn’t use it. The ability to skip the video sequences would probably save a lot of time on replays, and it also has the side effect of making these videos replayable at any time from the menu. (In fact, I used them to bring myself up to speed about the picky details on the sleeping worlds and the Dream Eaters!)
Like with other games in the series, I enjoyed playing Kingdom Hearts 3D. Battles are a constant flurry of action, but don’t degrade into mindless button mashing. The battle system follows a deck system similar to those found in the previous portables (where you move with the analog pad but use the D-pad to select special commands), but there are three new features to KH3D that bring new strategy to the game.
The first is the Reality Shift. This move is unlocked when you stand near certain items or after you’ve wailed on the enemy for a few combos and can be used either to find hidden treasure chests or deal enormous damage. The fun part about these is that they change with each world. In Traverse Town, you get to fling the opponent or barrel you’ve targeted at other objects. In the Three Musketeer world, you follow a set of directions shown on the comic strip on the bottom screen. In the Fantasia world, you follow the instructions on the bottom screen to a mini rhythm game.
Some bosses require this move, too, so while it isn’t my favorite, I had to grow accustomed to using it. The only trouble I had was with activating Reality Shifts, since Sora and Riku seem to have to stand still for them to be used.
Even more dynamic, though, is the Flowmotion, which is a versatile feature that can be used both for combat and for quick travel across areas, allowing you to slide along ziplines at rapid speed, or battle. All you have to do for the latter is press the A button after bouncing off a wall or swinging off a lamppost. This is in fact the easiest way to win fights—it’s so powerful that it may make the difference between a challenging game and one that’s far too easy.
(I’ve taken to trying to fight battles without Flowmotion, since zooming around the map with it makes you an almost indestructible force. The only time you can’t brainlessly spam them is with boss battles, and even then, you may get away with it if you’re lucky. Just… don’t try it on the Tron: Legacy boss. I learned that the hard way.)
My favorite part of Flowmotion, though, is that you can also use Flowmotion to explore your surroundings, further than you could ever before. Previously, you could only walk left or right, jump up platforms, perhaps glide from one tall platform to another. (In a few rare worlds you could swim or fly, but those were few and far between) Now, though, you can also jump as high as you want by using Flowmotion to link jump after jump. Platforms that seem to high to reach or are hidden in nooks and crannies high above camera reach, exist aplenty in this game, dotted with treasure chests common and rare. While none of this exploration is necessary to finishing the game, it is satisfying to find a large treasure chest with a rare Dream Eater recipe that you previously would never have reached.
Dream Eater spirits are the third new aspect and by far the most expansive. Spirits are cute creatures clad in the colors of the rainbow (as opposed to their darker palette counterpart Nightmares). You can either create them by following a recipe or experiment with new combinations of items yourself. The items used to create them—Dream Fragments—are rather common drops from normal battles, so you won’t find yourself lacking. However, the more extra items you use, the stronger your initial spirit will be, so it’s encouraged that, even starting from here, you pour on the tender loving care and indulge.
Spirits require lots of attention, like any pet. You can poke and pet them with the touchscreen and enjoy their reactions of happiness and bliss, or you can play games with them. These earn you affection from your pet as well as the occasional EXP and LP. Affection doesn’t usually have a direct impact on your Spirit’s performance in battle, but when it drops down to 0, your monster starts throwing tantrums in the middle of battle and becomes very unhelpful.
LP (Link Points) are used in each spirit’s Ability Link Grid, where you can unlock special abilities that come equipped whenever you have that spirit in your party. There’s no other way to get these abilities, which include resistances to certain elements and Attack or Magic boosts, so Spirits are very important in both direct battle as well as support. In addition, as you get closer to your Spirits, they will change their disposition. Aside from turning their eyes very freaky colors and shapes, this changes the Spirits’ battle strategy and can occasionally unlock new routes on the Grid… so pet and nudge away! I think I spent about a fourth my playtime on this. Their reactions are so cute!
(Did I mention you can take pictures of your Spirits?)
As mentioned above, in battle, Spirits fight alongside you. You’re allowed two per party, although you can also enlist a third one as backup.This Spirit never fights but still gains EXP, which is handy for low-level Spirits. If you’re like me and created all the Spirits from recipes, then they will be very weak for quite some time. As you keep them in your party, you can fill the Link Gauge by attacking the same target at the same time as your Spirit. Once it’s full, you can execute a powerful attack that is specific to each Spirit.
Spirits can also spot hidden doors, which can be useful for advancing in a map. The doors are hardly visible otherwise, so it’s important to pay attention to the top screen where news announcements are made (“Your Dream Eater has noticed something!”).
There’s also the Flick Rush minigame, which are 3-on-3 battles between you and another team’s Spirits. There are tournament cups as well as a wireless battle option that you can have fun with. I really enjoyed the battles, which is like a strange version of Chain of Memories but laid out so that you see four cards at a time. Your goal is to use cards with higher values than your opponent, but you can combine cards to get higher values than before. You can also consume cards to defend yourself. In addition, you can switch out your Spirit on the fly for one whose deck is still untouched while the Spirits in your roster slowly recover their decks.
Finally, there’s the Drop system. Basically, after a set amount of time you will automatically switch between the two main characters, Sora and Riku. It can and will happen whenever the Drop gauge runs out, regardless of what you’re doing, whether it’s running through a field or bam in the middle of a boss battle. Usually this isn’t much of a problem, unless you’re really unlucky and are one hit from killing the boss when you’re dragged to the other character’s point of view. If this happens, you’ll have to start from the beginning of that battle again.
Drop honestly isn’t of much consequence to me. The enemies regenerate when you return to that point of view, but it’s not like you’re taking damage when you’re “unconscious.” There’s no penalty for dropping off in the middle of battle. Of all the different aspects of the game, this one affected me the least. I mostly looked to it as an excuse for a change of pace.
I did, however, find the way Sora’s and Riku’s perspectives were handled interesting. Like in Birth by Sleep, the events that happen in both are complementary. Only by watching both can you understand completely what’s happening (if you haven’t seen the movie before). In addition, because you might not progress at the same rate with Sora and Riku, you can actually have the two on different worlds. The worlds are grouped in sets of 2 or 3, though, so you can’t jump too far ahead.
All in all, I really enjoyed Kingdom Hearts 3D. I think the part that made me happiest, though, were my two favorite worlds—Traverse Town and Fantasia. The former is for its writing—for some reason (probably because there’s no pre-made script to follow), the dialogue feels much more natural—and the latter for its music. The Fantasia world comes equipped with complete 9-10 minute orchestral pieces from the Bulgaria Symphony Orchestra that rotate, and instead of the usual sound effects, you get the crashes of tympanis and cymbals and whimsical harp chords.
Food for Thought:
1. While KH3D has wonderful 3D, I tend to move the 3DS around a lot while playing, so I had to turn the function off after a while.
2. Instead of gummy ship travel, Sora and Riku dive directly into the different worlds. Each dive has a different objective such as “gather xX points” or “defeat this boss”. They’re fun, but I’m obnoxiously bad at them. Thank goodness you’re not required to do well in them. The one time I did get an A, though, I got an item as a reward.
3. While I am glad on some level that all the characters are gathering for what I can only surmise is a final showdown… I’m not sure I’m that happy that they brought back almost literally everyone. Doesn’t that cheapen their previous accomplishments? That’s just part of the Kingdom Hearts mythos, I suppose…