Kingdom Hearts 3D: The Reasonable Fan's Perspective
I like to consider myself a reasonable fan when it comes to the Kingdom Hearts. This means I have played every game in series, know the intricacies of the multi-game plot and even own all the music soundtracks. However, it also means that I am not blind and I am willing to find faults with the games where they exist.
I found Days had some cool ideas like the panel system but the story was dragged out too much and that same panel system was more limiting then what I wanted out of a Kingdom Hearts game. Re: Coded was a mess of a game, which had a terrible combat system, too many different types of gameplay, and an unnecessary story. That said Birth by Sleep was easily the best entry in the series so far. Its storyline challenged my perceptions of what could be done in Disney product and the revamped battle system finally solved the problem of the games making you feel too over-powered or too underpowered. Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (which admittedly is a really stupid name) is the next game from the Birth by Sleep team, so you can imagine my expectations were very high for this game. Well I was mostly left satisfied by Kingdom Hearts 3D, but it is far from the near perfect experience that Birth by Sleep was.
Kingdom Hearts 3D takes place after both Kingdom Hearts II and Re: Coded. Sensing a new threat on the horizon, Yen Sid calls Sora and Riku before him so that they can undergo the Mark of Mastery exam to become Keyblade Masters. To accomplish this they must enter the Realm of Sleep and find seven keyholes of worlds that are asleep and unlock them in order awaken them.
The story from there can be hard to follow at times, even if you are up on the mythology, due to fact that you are switching between both Sora and Riku in a single campaign (More on that later). This can lead to a situation where you are playing as, say, Sora trying to change Rinzler back into Tron, and you switch to Riku, and now you are trying to get Sam Flynn and Quorra to the portal that leads to the outside world. When you return to Sora, you can be asking yourself, “Alright, what was I doing?”
Your patience with the story will be rewarded though. Without giving away what happens, one gets the sense that Square Enix wants Kingdom Hearts 3D to be the Empire Strikes Back-style twist that brings on the finale, presumably in Kingdom Hearts III. While it is not literary the same twist from Empire Strikes Back, it is the same idea in that it makes you throw out mostly everything you thought you knew about Kingdom Hearts.
Of course, there is another group that has to be considered when talking about the story in Kingdom Hearts, those with whom this is their first Kingdom Hearts experience. As mind-blowing as the story is, for those in the know, if you don’t have that background of the other games, the story is probably going to be lost on you.
The developers have provided glossary pages that explain terms in the Kingdom Hearts world, and text summaries of the previous six games. Knowing that stuff and reading through what they have provided, they seem to do a pretty good job at explaining the subject it is written about. Yet, I have to imagine coming at the stuff for the first time, it must seem incredibly overwhelming. I almost wish for the summaries they had done a montage of cutscenes from the game in question. Plus, the glossary pages and summaries are unlockable as you play through the game. So it is backwards system of you have to play through the game you don’t understand to unlock the thing you need to understand the thing you have been playing. If this is your first Kingdom Hearts, you might have a better experience if you just skipped past the cutscenes and just played the game.
As for Disney nostalgia, the game features much of it, but it takes a while to get to it. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are seen in early cutscenes but are not heard from until half way through the game. Yen Sid is the only Disney character you hear from at the beginning and he is talking about the main plot. The developers were hoping that Traverse Town, a Kingdom Hearts original and the first world you visit, being filled with characters from the much loved DS RPG The World Ends With You would make up the difference. It is definitely cool to see those characters again but I think Square Enix is over-estimating the recognizably of those characters.
When you do get to the Disney in the game, you will find five worlds worth, which are played from the perspective of Sora and Riku. The world selection is bizarre with worlds based on Tron: Legacy, the direct to DVD film Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers, Fantasia (a film I really like but a film that doesn’t really have a plot per se), and more. In this case, the selection of worlds in the game works for me in weird way. Maybe it is because all five of the worlds based on Disney films are brand new to the series. This treatment makes the films they are based on seem cool even if my recollection of certain films used was that the film in question wasn’t good.
The game features the same real-time action combat the series has been known for over the years. I have always enjoyed Kingdom Hearts’ combat for how flashy and fast-paced it is. It has been criticized over the years though for relying too much on button mashing, and indeed early entries in the series were very button mashy. Yet, I felt that the moment that Birth by Sleep’s command system was implemented, was the same moment that Kingdom Hearts transitioned from a hack and slash game to an action RPG that had a great strategic bent to it. Instead of a menu filled with a ton of different options like Kingdom Hearts I and II did, the command system gives you only a few slots to put special attacks and spells. Then instead of MP governing uses of those skills, after use, the commands have a cool down before they can be used again. This great re-vamp of the Kingdom Hearts battle system, returns in Kingdom Hearts 3D, but instead of leveling commands in favor of new systems.
The new companion to the command system is the addition of Reality Shifts. Reality Shifts move the action to the touch screen, and by completing the touch-based mini-game when it appears, it allows Sora and Riku to unleash special attacks that deal massive damage. These mini-games are very smartly geared specifically to each world. For example, the touch-screen game in the Tron: Legacy world allows Sora and Riku to hack enemies in order to change their how enemies behave. They can also be used to open up new areas of the environment as well. Doing well at the Theatrhythm influenced rhythm game of the Fantasia world, for example, will summon rainbows and open up flowers with which Sora and Riku can proceed further on. Kingdom Hearts has had trouble making good use of touch screen in the past but I find the Reality Shift a really fun use of touch mechanics in an action game.
Much like how Birth by Sleep’s command system was a much-appreciated re-vamp of the combat system of Kingdom Hearts, 3D’s Flowmotion system solves problems people have had in the past with the platforming. Sora and Riku can now bounce off walls, grind on rails, and swing on poles in a flashy manner. Pressing the jump button from one of these actions gives the characters a massive high jump that can be used to reach high platforms. While there is a limit, I found rolling into a wall, jumping, then rolling back into the wall and jumping again, then repeating the process over and over again, a great way to easily climb tall buildings really quickly. Traversal has never been easier with Flowmotion, and by pressing the attack button off of Flowmotion will do a powerful finishing move against enemies as well.
As far as those enemies, Kingdom Hearts 3D introduces a new species called Dream Eaters to fight in both generic and boss form. Yet, 3D changes things up by also allowing you to befriend Dream Eaters. Defeated enemies will drop various types of ingredients throughout your adventure. By using recipes you find or just combining ingredients yourself, you can make new friendly Dream Eaters.
You can then proceed to raise them in order for them to level up and gain more link points. Link points can be used on the Ability Link board to get new commands for Sora and Riku. Fans of Nintendogs will find a lot of enjoyment out of activities like petting your Dream Eaters, feeding your Dream Eaters, and playing touch mini-games with them. While these activities can be beneficial to growing your Dream Eater, I personally wanted to mess with these activities as little as possible.
This is because your Dream Eaters are also your back up in battle. You can have three Dream Eaters in a party but only the first two are out in battle at a time. I found just having them as support in battle, they gain experience and link points much faster then playing those activities. Over time, a pink meter will fill and when it is ready touching it will link with your Dream Eater for special team up attacks. Waiting until both Dream Eaters’ meters are full will unleash even more powerful attacks such as your Dream Eaters causing a huge boulder to plummet on foes.
The unfortunate thing about them is how Dream Eater death is handled. Instead of just being knocked out for a time like Donald and Goofy were, when a Dream Eater’s HP runs out, a thirty-second countdown begins. You then have to run over and press A repeatedly to revive them, and if you fail to do this in thirty-seconds that Dream Eater is gone for good. When you are reviving them, you are personally open to attack. So you get into situations where your Dream Eater dies at a bad time and because you don’t want to lose said Dream Eater you have to rush over to start reviving it. Meanwhile, you are being attacked and sometimes spending the time trying to revive your Dream Eater ends up leading to you dying.
That said there is a lot of strategy to which Dream Eaters you have in at a time. The Ability Link menu is also where you can get stat buffs for Sora and Riku. When support buffs like Combo extenders are installed you can keep those regardless of what you do. However, stat buffs like Status protectors and Magic and HP boosters once installed are only in effect as long as that Dream Eater is in your three Dream Eater party. In other words, if you if you have for example, an HP boost equipped from a certain Dream Eater and you take that Dream Eater out of your party, you will lose that HP Boost. At first I was taken aback that you could not equip every single ability like in previous Kingdom Hearts games, but I realized this new system adds a new layer of strategy to the game. By limiting essentially the number of abilities you can have, you have to pick what is most important that your specific character have equipped.
The most divisive feature about Kingdom Hearts 3D will be probably the Drop system. As I mentioned earlier you are playing both Sora and Riku in one campaign, and rather then the game pre-deciding when you are playing which character, you are kind of in control of when the switch happens. From the minute you begin playing as one character, the drop meter is counting down. When it runs out, the character goes sleep and you will be forced to switch to the other character.
Collecting droplets or completing side tasks will earn you DP, which you can put towards buffs that can be transferred to the other character. These buffs are how the developers try to justify the system to the player. I was personally won over by that and I didn’t personally time it but my best guess is that it lasts for about 20 minutes on its own. You can also extend the meter time with items or just drop whenever you want. However, if you are for example in the middle of a boss battle and you drop, then when you return to the boss battle you have to start from the very beginning. So I could see how the drop system could anger some people as well.
I found the game paced just okay. For most of the game the difficulty is reasonably challenging on the Standard Mode that I played. But then I got to the end, which ends a gauntlet of really tough boss battles. Sure I could have leveled up more, but considering I didn’t have a problem with it until the end, the challenge could have been adjusted better. Aside from the main story, there are plenty of other things to do as well. Hundreds of treasure chests to find, over 50 Dream Eaters to collect and raise, portals with mini-missions to attempt, are among the many pieces of side content that there are in the game. So, you will find a lot to do after you have completed the story.
The presentation is close to what the PS2 games were. You can tell the graphics had to be adjusted to work on the 3DS, but at a glance you wouldn’t notice a difference. 3D is not an important part of the game. You can see depth and some of the menu elements pop out of the screen, but you wouldn’t miss much by playing it in 2D. You might even want to play in 2D because there is the occasional slowdown while in 3D but really only when there are a lot of things on screen. I didn’t enjoy the base camera but I played the full game with the second analog stick provided by the Circle Pad Pro, and I thought it made it better but it wasn’t perfect.
Yoko Shimomura’s score is as wonderful as always and in addition to new pieces, she has created a lot of great remixes of notable Kingdom Hearts pieces from the past specifically for this game that I liked. She is also joined Tsuyoshi Sekito and The World Ends With You composer Takeharu Ishimoto. Of course Ishimoto does some great remixes of songs from The World Ends With You but he also does the field and battle music for the Tron: Legacy. His contributions to the soundtrack have made me an Ishimoto fan.
Kingdom Hearts 3D is an ambitious game both from its story and its gameplay. From the story perspective, if you are a long time fan (like me), this might be the best story in a Kingdom Hearts game, but if this your first Kingdom Hearts, I just feel the story is going to be over your head. The game’s action combat has never been better and Flowmotion is a great addition to the series. On the other hand, while I was ultimately fine with the Dream Eaters and the drop system, some people are going to think they are just the worst mechanics in the world. Even still, despite its flaws, Kingdom Hearts 3D is one of the better entries in the series. If someone asked me what is the one Kingdom Hearts game they should track down, I would still say Birth by Sleep, but they would not go wrong if they picked up Kingdom Hearts 3D either.