Kingdom Hearts has been around for 10 years now. Wow, writing that makes me feel old. What once appeared to be an excuse for two large studios to collaborate and cameo their iconic characters, is now a fully-fledged product, with its own characters and memorable story.
Sora, Riku and Kairi, with their idyllic beginnings on Destiny Islands. Aqua, Ventus and Terra, true Keyblade masters. Roxas, Axel and Xion, with their sea-salt flavoured ice-creams. The Heartless, the Nobodies, Naminé and the enigmatic Organisation XIII. If you are confused at this point, might be best you step off, and go buy Kingdom Hearts 1.
Donald and Goofy are sadly absent from your party in DDD. To make up for this, you will learn how to create Dream Eaters. These lovable, sometimes dorky little Pokémon… er, Spirits not only help you in combat, but give you access to their skills. Spirits can provide you with anything from a passive health boost up to the Final Fantasy staple, Zantetsuken.
Off into sleep
Sora and Riku get sent on their Mark of Mastery exam, which will involve them helping worlds that are trapped in a dream state, while relearning the powers of a Keyblade. Sadly, they get separated, ending up in alternate versions of the same world’s dreams. The game makes use of a drop timer, which runs out as you quest. Killing monsters can help slow down the process, but it will draw inexorably nearer. When you run out of time, the character you are controlling will succumb to the dream themselves. At this point, you will switch to your other character and try to solve the issues of that version of the sleeping world. Sometimes, the tasks done in one world will have an effect on the other, so are they truly apart?
Besides recruiting Dream Eaters, Sora and Riku have learnt much better ways to get around, in and out of combat. The Flowmotion system allows them to use walls, streetlights and rails to jump higher and move faster than normal, giving the exploration a bit more freedom while making it feel like less of a chore. Flowmotion also allows the use of powered up attacks, making it useful not only for evasion, but a critical part of combat too.
A long, winding road
After KH 1 and 2, seeing the other games, all of which were on handhelds, filled me with vitriol. I wanted the sequel now and they looked like pointless cash-ins, in a climate where making a quick buck has become the norm. The portable renditions of Kingdom Hearts, however, were not just cheap, quick clones. Dream Drop Distance ties the story together into one massive quilt, story arcs and characters locking together in such a way that several times I had to pause for a while to consider the massive amount of planning that went into these titles. The attention to detail and the revelations and conclusions are staggering, with one of them making sense of something that happens in the first few minutes of Kingdom Hearts 1. While avoiding spoilers, let me say this: Play all of the Kingdom Heart games before you play this one. I cannot overstate this. The sheer volume of content you will miss out on will definitely detract from your overall experience.
The game does provide useful chronicles, tiny summaries of previous games at relevant points in the narrative. These are great to jog your memory, but don’t provide the emotion or intricacies that playing the game would provide. If the games are forever out of your reach, due to whatever reason, check out Wikipedia and YouTube, or find a good friend and invest some time in this wonderful realm.
Along with the chronicles, the game makes use of flashbacks to flesh out the story even further. These sequences allow you to see parts of the story that the protagonist wouldn’t be able to witness, as well as providing extra information for the current scenario.
Instead of using characters from the Final Fantasy series this time around, DDD features some characters from The World Ends With You, a Square Enix DS-based RPG. While it isn’t required in any way to have played this game first, there is definitely something special about seeing some of your old characters in a new place.
Pushing the machine
The graphics in this title are amazing. Confused, because it’s all cartoons? Wait until you reach Tron Legacy’s world and you meet Flynn. You will not believe that Jeff Bridges is inside your 3DS. Also, despite my complete hatred of 3D technology, I used it for (brief) periods in DDD, as it was done extremely well. The graphics really push the 3DS, with lag visible in some scenes when playing in power saving mode.
While I love being able to grind while in a queue, or when I attend to my bowels, I find it hard to understand the motivation. This game is long, which is the hallmark of RPGs and the reason I love them so, but it is on a device that battles to last three hours. While I understand not everyone is prone to long gaming sessions, I found myself attached to a wall socket, a mockery of the idea of portable gaming. I would also appreciate the game a lot more on my home television. Hopefully the next title will finally be on current-gen consoles.
Better with Circle Pad Pro
Not only does the right stick take control of your camera movement, but the game is programmed to automatically use zR to lock onto a target, something which normally requires pressing L+R. Just remember to take your stylus out beforehand, as the game does need some stylus input.
But isn’t this is a kiddies game? I mean, look, there’s Mickey Mouse!
This could not be further from the truth. While wrapped in the innocent trappings of Disney characters and cartoon styled graphics, make no mistake: the story is more intricate and involved than you might imagine at first glance. If, however, your child can understand time travel, the splitting of people into multiple beings based on their psyche and the literal and metaphysical power of the heart, and dealing with the darkness within, then be my guest! Kingdom Hearts has grown much in the 10 years since KH1.
At the same time though, the Dream Eaters system seems rather childish. Using AR cards, petting them, playing games and giving them names and coats of paint all feel slightly out of place. While they definitely do grow on you, some might be aversive to how damn cute they are.
Flowmotion makes exploration feel less like a platformer, with less penalty for missing a jump or falling from high places. Dream Eaters allow for lots of character customisation and improvements, even if they sometimes feel a bit useless in a fight.
Design and Presentation: 8/10.
Despite visiting each world twice, the levels have many changes, keeping everything fresh. From exploring different areas to having chests appear in different places throughout the level, that feeling of “I was just here” is neatly avoided. Some levels, like the town areas, feel a bit bland, with towering rectangular buildings and neat edges.
I finished the game in 21 hours, at which point it told me I had completed 48% of the game’s content and that I only collected a measly 16% of the Dream Eaters. This game is long by console standards, and really pushes the envelope for portable gaming. Add to this a New Game + mode, as well as extra difficulty levels and you have a really, really long game.
DDD feels more like the console games, which is a good thing. Lots to do and achieve, coupled with a great story and fun fighting system makes for a really fun game. The story also develops to a point which (I hope!) points towards Kingdom Hearts 3. Finally. If you played KH1&2, as well as the other portable games, this really is the crowning moment of your experience.
Last Updated: August 8, 2012