Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
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Nearly a decade has elapsed since the release of the second main entry of Square-Enix’s Kingdom Hearts franchise on the Sony PlayStation 2, and information has almost just only begun to trickle in on the third primary and forthcoming entry on the PlayStation 4, with the company content to put out HD rereleases and spinoff games. Among the latter is the franchise’s first and thus far only entry on the Nintendo 3DS, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, which provides an experience on par with the better series entries.

The main storyline of 3D focuses of keyblade wielders Sora and Riku undertaking the Mark of Mastery examination under the guidance of King Mickey’s Master, Yen Sid, which necessitates the duo to venture into a series of “sleeping” worlds that reveal some backstory in the Kingdom Hearts mythos, particularly with regards to Mickey himself, his consort Queen Minnie, his chums Donald and Goofy, and his nemesis Pete. There are some minor instances of the game rehashing the storylines of the movies from which it borrows, mainly regarding the City of Bells, the world based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but otherwise the storyline is a nice diversion from the gameplay, with a long and rewarding ending having a bit of a twist.

3D features the franchise’s classic hack-and-slash gameplay using the system from Birth by Sleep of allowing players to assemble a deck of combat commands including consumable items, physical skills, and magic spells, with each having a recovery time after execution, though players can hack away at antagonists with Sora or Riku’s keyblade. A twist distinguishing the game from others in the series is the ability to create friendly versions of the antagonistic Dream Eaters known as Spirits from various materials purchased and/or gained from vanquishing foes.

Although one can easily forget the potential of Spirits, given the ability to take them across ability matrices similar to Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid system, doing so can grant Sora and Riku shared abilities, some of which can actually be the difference between victory and defeat, as this reviewer discovered when getting his healing interrupted by the daunting endgame bosses, the Leaf Bracer power mercifully protecting them during health recovery. There is minor issue with the camera and the game often not detecting the C-stick on New Nintendo 3DS systems, but combat is more than enjoyable and a main draw to the game.

There are, however, some issues with regards to the control, with unique field abilities necessary to advance the game easily forgettable by the player, in some cases driving this reviewer to reference a walkthrough, alongside the annoyance of the main menus to typically have a “New” indicator flashing whenever accessing it, not to mention the inability to scroll through voiced cutscene dialogue if the player doesn’t want to sit and wait for characters to speak their entire lines, not to mention the map on the bottom screen indicating not the camera’s direction, as well as the overly-long endgame. This aspect isn’t a complete writeoff, though, since it rectifies the common Japanese RPG problem of wasted gameplay time with options upon death to restart the current area of the world or exit a lost boss battle to the previous save point.

In spite of some recycling at times, music has largely been a high point in the Kingdom Hearts franchise, with 3D disappointing not in this regards, even containing remixes of tracks such as that in Traverse Town, not to mention classical music in the world based on the movie Fantasia, as well as superb voice acting including Leonard Nimoy’s final performance as Master Xehanort. The comical voices of characters such as Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, though, can certainly sound out of place in a game devoid of comedy, but the aurals don’t disappoint.

The visuals are some of the best to grace the 3DS, with superb character models (those in the Tron Legacy world being among the most realistic on the platform) and distinctive Dream Eater designs having minimal palette swaps, not to mention polished scenery with only minor textural blemishes, as well as nice use of the system’s three-dimensional capabilities.

Finally, depending upon the player’s grasp of the mechanisms, completing the game can take a little under twenty hours, although for a significant intervention this player forgot about Spirit abilities, thus upping his playtime to a little over twenty hours, with plentiful lasting appeal in the form of adjustable difficulty and in-game trophies.

All in all, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is another feather in the franchise’s cap, with its solid series gameplay having plenty twists, a narrative contributing well to the pantheon’s mythos, superb audio, and gorgeous graphics that look even better when the Nintendo 3DS is set to three dimensions. It does have quite a few issues with regards to interaction, among these problems being the drawn-out endgame, but those who can look beyond these flaws and have enjoyed prior franchise entries will very likely enjoy this spinoff.

The Good:
+Solid Kingdom Hearts gameplay with nice twists.
+Narrative adds nicely to series mythos.
+Great music.
+Nice graphics better in 3-D.
+Trophies and variable difficulties add lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Drawn-out endgame.

The Bottom Line:
On par with other games in the series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 8/10
Localization: 9/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 15-30 Hours

Overall: 9/10

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