Good old Traverse Town. That’s the first area Sora and Riku explore in Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance], but that isn’t how the game begins. I won’t spoil the surprise, but the game opens from another character’s eyes in a first person perspective.
Then the game shifts to Sora riding a raft. Ursula emerges from the sea and attacks him, which sets up the game’s tutorial. You learn how to lock on (press L + R at the same time) by targeting Ursula’s tentacles and then casting fire to fry them. Kingdom Hearts 3D uses the Deck Command system from Birth By Sleep. You can switch commands by pressing up or down on the D-pad or if you mash X the game will automatically cycle through attacks. Sora starts the game with Fire, Blizzard, and a jumping attack called Aerial Break.
After you defeat Ursula, Sora is sucked into a whirlpool and the game shows flashbacks of him and Riku talking to Yen Sid. The sorcerer, sitting at the same desk from Birth by Sleep, explains the situation with Master Xehanort before sending Riku and Sora on the Mark of Mastery Exam.
Sora dives into the dream world, literally. Kingdom Hearts 3D has a mini-game where Sora freefalls. To open a gate, you need to collect a certain number of stars by floating through rings and body slamming enemies. Midway through the stage, Sora gets Megaflare and if you time it right you can hit a bunch of bats at once to release a ton of stars. When Sora lands, he realizes he’s back in Traverse Town and starts calling out for Riku. Instead of seeing his buddy, Neku Sakuraba from The World Ends With You who explains he’s caught in the Reaper’s Game and needs a partner. The always helpful and overly cheerful Sora offers to be his partner, but Neku turns Sora down saying he’s strange. Sora, believing Neku to be in trouble, chases after him. Sora sees Neku in the next room and he’s under attack by Dream Eaters. Neku properly introduces himself and summons Neko Cat, a friendly Dream Eater, but doesn’t help out in the fight. It’s up to Sora and his keyblade to subdue black and purple Wonder Nyans.
Kingdom Hearts 3D then switches into another tutorial explaining how you can create Spirits, friendly Dream Eaters that fight with you. Players need to collect Dream Pieces and Sora has just enough to make his own Wonder Nyan. This pudgy ally attacks hostile Dream Eaters called Nightmares on his own. You can also team up for a link attack where Sora rides Wonder Nyan and bounces on enemies as if he had a pogo stick. There’s one more tutorial in Traverse Town – the game explains how to use Reality Shifts. In Traverse Town you can jump into barrels decorated with stars and slingshot your character into enemies. When a Reality Shift is triggered, all of the action freezes so you can target where you want to shoot Sora by moving your finger on the touch screen.
The game then shifts to Riku who arrives in Traverse Town after you play the same diving mini-game. Riku calls out for Sora echoing the scene earlier, but sees Joshua also from The World Ends With You sitting on a ledge with a smirk. Joshua tries to talk to Riku, but Riku isn’t interested until he mentions Sora’s name. Riku then decides to listen. Riku meets more characters from The World Ends With You in Traverse Town like Beat who summons a Dream Eater and Shiki who is in trouble later on. Riku’s first Dream Eater is Bat Bat (or Koumori Bat in katakana) that spits sonic waves. Do a link attack and Bat Bat supercharges Riku so he does flips and somersaults when he attacks.
Traverse Town has more vertical depth than I remember it to have. Treasure chests are hidden on the rooftops and if you look hard enough you might find a path that leads you underground with a maze of grind rails…
Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] switches between Riku and Sora. You can do this by pausing the game and pressing "Drop" on the touch screen. Since Sora and Riku have their own stories, dropping doesn’t swap out one character for the other. The game continues wherever Sora or Riku left off. So, if you were in the middle of a battle that’s where the game will continue. Unfortunately, using Drop doesn’t save the game. Players will still need to find save points.
Before you change characters, Kingdom Hearts 3D tallies up the amount of drop points you earned. You can use these to buy attack boosts or magic boosts for the next character. There are a few items you can buy too like potions or you can exchange drop points for munny. This adds some strategy of when to drop because you can stock up on DP to mine items or power up a character before a boss fight.
… but the Drop mechanic can be troublesome too. The game automatically triggers a drop when the pink drop gauge runs out of energy. This happened when I was battling a fireball throwing nightmare with a dragon head in Riku’s Traverse Town arc. I held up against the boss fairly well using a mix of free flow actions where Sora bounced from wall to wall.
The Drop gauge started to blink (in 3D) and I only had a few seconds left to defeat the boss. I was in trouble and that wasn’t just because its giant hands picked up a tree to skewer Riku with. I couldn’t finish the boss off in time and the game automatically activated Drop putting me in control of Sora. I decided to switch back to Riku, but the game reset the boss fight. While the boss’ life bar was restored, Riku’s wasn’t and neither was the link meter than I used earlier in the fight. Lesson learned, make sure you have the Drop gauge filled before a boss battle begins.