Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Demo Impressions

The Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance demo came out recently. Truthfully, I only found out about its existence from Penny Arcade, but that’s what Nintendo gets for not releasing quality software on their e-shop; I stop paying attention. Either way the demo is out and I’ve had a chance to play through it a couple of times. For those of you who don’t know, Kingdom Hearts is one of Square-Enix’s flagship series. It is an epic Action RPG crossover between Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy series and the Disney Universe. As weird as it sounds, the series works really well, providing a great sense of nostalgia and wonder, as well as a needlessly convoluted storyline. No other game combines an angsting Cloud, an equally angsting Simba, Sephiroth as a super boss, and the always hard to understand Donald Duck. What more could anyone ask for (Aside from asking that the Lion King 2 never happened)?

Kingdom Hearts: the most relevant Mickey Mouse has been in 50 years.

Fans of the series have been clamouring for Kingdom Hearts 3 for a long while, which we looked at in this post. The Kingdom Hearts series has been living on side-stories for a very long time now. Some of them have been excellent (Birth by Sleep), and some have been pretty bad (Re: Coded). These games have been released on a multitude of platforms, meaning that many gamers have been unable to play all of them, which is fine, because the vast majority of them have been completely unnecessary exercises in Square dragging its feet, while the creator in the series wastes his time on Duke Nukem Forever… I mean Versus Final Fantasy XIII. Fortunately, this is looking like it will change for Dream Drop Distance. According to interviews, it will be the last side-story before Kingdom Hearts 3, and the events of Kingdom Hearts 3 will pick up immediately after this game, making it very similar to Kingdom Heart’s first side-story Chain of Memories, which was a prequel to Kingdom Hearts 2. Also similar is that this game is bringing you back to the series’ main protagonist Sora and his friend Riku, so no more time with Roxas or Birth by Sleep’s Aqua, Terra or Ventus.

Who cares about Roxas? Nobody! Hahaha… you really have to know the series to get that… sorry.

But enough with the series talk, how does the game play? In short, excellent. Combat has three major components: normal attacks, special attacks, and freemotion. Special attacks can be cycled with the d-pad, and the word “deck” came up in the demo, making me think that we will be collecting ability cards to set in the special attack wheel. These special attacks are much, much stronger than regular attacks, but the caveat is that you can’t always use them. In order to unlock a special attack you have to fill its meter be attacking regularly, meaning there is a little bit of push and pull between the weaker and stronger attacks.

You’re damn right Tron is from Disney!

Freemotion was the star of the demo, however. Freemotion kicks in when you roll into a pole, wall, enemy or jump on a rail. When it activates, Sora will get surrounded by an aura and become super fast and airborne, where you can preform some interesting acrobatics. More interestingly is this can be used effectively in combat, as special attacks are usable depending on the type of freemotion you’re in. For example: if you roll into an enemy, your attack will spin around them and send them flying. If you role into a wall and jump off of it, you can slam into the ground creating a shockwave.

As usual, Riku has all of the cooler stuff

You seem to be accompanied by spirit companions at all times. In the demo these are a cat and a ridiculously cute hamster thing. You can preform a special attack with these critters if the conditions are right. I am sure there are multiple ones, but the one I used turned the hamster giant while Sora rode on it and stampeded the hell out of nearby enemies. A novel idea added into the mix of combat involves throwing items. By hitting buttons, or the touchscreen, Sora will jump into a barrel. At this point time will stop and you can aim it slingshot-style at groups of enemies. It is really fun to do and adds another layer of tactics to the game.

Look at how cute it is! Its name is Meow Wow… wait is it supposed to be a fat cat and not a hamster?

Overall the gameplay is extremely fast-paced. Sora and the enemies move very, very fast and locking on is the only way to avoid losing your targeted enemy. Fortunately, locking on works very well in this game so there aren’t major camera issues; although the camera placement is less than ideal. Mechanically, this game seems to be the deepest Kingdom Hearts I’ve seen, requiring and encouraging much more skillful play than past titles where mashing was the rule. There will clearly be RPG elements, but putting player skill at the forefront was a good idea. Kingdom Hearts has never shied away from being extremely difficult in its side-story games (Chain of Memories) and, from the demo, this game could shape up to have some tough fights.

This is Kingdom Hearts not shying away from a challenge.

Graphically, this game is easily the best looking game on the system. It isn’t realistic like Resident Evil: Revelations, but its charming, light visuals look excellent. It looks just as good if not better than the PS2 games, which is a feat for the somewhat underpowered 3DS. The 3D effect is excellently employed here as well. It really shines with the titles of new locations coming out at the screen, and the game never shies away from using 3D in a creative way. I can only hope more developers do this, as it is very refreshing to see a 3DS game with more than barely functional 3D. Sound-wise, the game is also great. While Sora’s voice bothers me, the voice acting is fine. However, the main star is the music. The themes are both new and unmistakably Kingdom Hearts. Fans will feel giddy at the Traverse Town theme or even the battle theme. Bringing old and new together is the hallmark of a great game, and Dream Drop Distance does just that.

This scene is either involving ice cream or contemplations of suicide

Not much is revealed about the story. The demo revolves around Traverse town and only has one story segment, where Sora encounters a confused Neku and he agrees to follow the socially awkward boy. This is significant as Neku is from the game The World Ends With You, which fans of mine may recall got my nod for best handheld game last generation. Kingdom Hearts has always been about all sorts of Disney characters and Final Fantasy characters coming together. Broadening the series up to non-Final Fantasy Square games is a fantastic idea. While I’m happy enough that The World Ends With You is getting more recognition, the thought of someone from Chrono Trigger or the like showing up in a future Kingdom Hearts game is exciting.

Why do I get that date rape vibe from this?

Demos can be misleading. I thought Resident Evil 5’s demo was excellent, but it didn’t show us some of its real flaws. If this demo is to be trusted, Square-Enix has a serious winner on their hands. Combining great combat with great visuals and a Kingdom Hearts story involving the main protagonist actually moving forward in the plot, Dream Drop Distance can be what so many side-stories fail to be, which is as good as the original PS2 games. At this stage, I would easily say that Dream Drop Distance should be a must own for all 3DS users, not just fans of the series, as what better place to get into a series than the prequel to the newest game?

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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