The Kingdom Hearts franchise is a bizarre entity in my life. Disney was a major source of inspiration and imagination during my childhood, and Final Fantasy offered much of the same throughout my youth. I’ve played every game in the franchise at one time or another over the past ten years. And that brings me to Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, the game Nomura has called the bridge between Kingdom Hearts II and its long awaited sequel.
The inciting incident of KH3D was speculated for quite some time / eventually confirmed by the secret ending of Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded. Sora and Riku are summoned to participate in the Mark of Mastery exam, in order to prepare for a returning evil. But rather than have the Mark of Mastery examination last for a few minutes like the one in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, this one has so many twists and turns that they needed a whole game for it! Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I’m going to get straight to the point before I analyze all the pieces and parts that make this game work. Series veterans anticipate a Kingdom Hearts game for a couple of reasons: 1) the Disney-inspired worlds that make up the backbone of each entree in the franchise 2) the juicy bits of story featuring Sora, Riku, the “main” Disney characters, and sometimes other Final Fantasy / Square-Enix characters. Come for the Disney, stay for Tetsuya Nomura. I imagine since the franchise has gone on for so long, those two priorities may be reversed for some. But for me—it’s always been about the Disney-inspired goodness.
And I’m extremely happy to report that most, if not all, of the games worlds are extremely fun. Yoko Shimomura is certainly at her best in Kingdom Hearts 3D; her compositions are whimsical and joyous; they offer the perfect ambiance for a lot of the worlds that definitely don’t take themselves seriously this time around. But there are a fair share of worlds that do seem grim at times as well. The world inspired by The Hunchback of Notre Dame has very little humor outside of a voice-over cameo from Jason Alexander and the like. Some parts of Traverse Town and Prankster’s Paradise re-use assets we’ve seen a thousand times from previous games, but I can forgive that if most of the content offered is new and polished.
But beyond all shadow of a doubt, the world that takes the cake for me is the Symphony of Sorcery—the one inspired by Fantasia. I’m devoting an entire paragraph of my review to this world because I feel it’s worth the price of admission to experience this world alone. Playing through it was an ethereal experience for someone like me, who has much respect for both music and video games. I don’t even want to spoil the tiny details of this world for you all. It’s absolutely perfect, and in my humble opinion the single best “world” of any game in the franchise, bar none.
You folks waiting for the “Nomura” parts of the game won’t be kept long. After completing each world as both Sora and Riku, the game offers a peek at what’s happening outside of the “dream world”, and how it all relates to Sora and Riku’s latest quest. And of course, the final world of the game has enough revelations to make both Sora and Riku say “That’s nuts!” or “That’s ridiculous!” to the folks doing all the revealing. A lot of reviews have called the game’s story labyrinthine or extremely hard to keep up with. I’m not going to go that route in this review, surprisingly enough. I really don’t think this is the game for introductory players (although I have to give them props for trying to summarize the narrative of every game in the franchise through a series of ‘Glossaries’), I will say that. But at the end of the day, despite all the crazy—I understand you, Kingdom Hearts 3D.
Now onto the features that make this game unique—most of which I could have done without!
I’ll start with something positive: Flowmotion is actually a fantastic catalyst into the Kingdom Hearts formula. For all who are unfamiliar—this is the stuff that makes Sora and Riku like glowing ninjas in the trailers, grinding on rails and bouncing off walls like they’re nothing. Zipping around the worlds, into enemies, and dancing gleefully out of range as bosses desperately try to attack you, is fun, entertaining, and epic at times. The mechanic evolves as you make your way through the game to the point where it’s almost broken, allowing both Sora and Riku to sort of continually jump ‘till they reach the ceiling of the world they’re in, provided there’s a wall to volley off of. It made exploration a little easier / a little more zany in the later portions of the game.
I could say the same thing about Reality Shifts. In every world, there are things you can interact with that bring about a unique Touch Screen mini-game. These “things” can be pieces of the world that help you to progress farther, or the very enemies you fight in each world. It’s a little cumbersome to keep my stylus around when most of the game is controlled without use of the touch screen, but—I’ll give them credit for trying, because it’s not something that detracts from the feel of the game.
Read on to Page Two, where the going gets tough.
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