|Dev: Square Enix|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: July 31, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Fantasy Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
It's been a very long time since Kingdom Hearts II, the last numbered entry in the Kingdom Hearts series. Since that game came out, there have been multiple Kingdom Hearts spinoff titles on current-gen handhelds, most of which have received mixed reviews at best. With Kingdom Hearts fans frothing at the mouth for a Kingdom Hearts III on home console and a poor track record on the Nintendo DS, can the series overcome those obstacles and provide a worthwhile gaming experience in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance?
It might help that Kingdom Hearts 3D is supposed to feature the "bridge story" that leads into Kingdom Hearts III, though anybody who hasn't played the series since Kingdom Hearts II (and probably quite a few who have, as the KH storyline isn't known for coherence) will probably be a bit lost. The game stars the ever-popular Sora and his emo buddy Riku, both of whom are controlled throughout the game. The two are undergoing a test to become full-fledged Keyblade masters, and of course there will be plenty of evil-doers attempting to thwart their progress.
Sora and Riku will experience separate stories and fight different bosses, but their stories won't happen in sequence. The game will instead have a meter that slowly ticks down, switching between the two characters automatically when it runs out. The meter can be refilled by attacking monsters and performing various other activities, and the player can switch characters freely at any save point.
Sora will be journeying at least part of the way with his usual sidekicks, Donald and Goofy, while Riku is likely to be a lone wolf, since that's the way he rolls. Either way, the two will be visiting a number of Disney-themed worlds that are either new to the series or have only briefly been visited in the past. These include worlds based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pinocchio, Disney's Three Musketeers, Fantasia, the Disney Castle, and TRON: Legacy. There seems to be a larger focus on Mickey Mouse and his friends than there was in previous games, with these "core" Disney cartoon characters featuring prominently in several of the worlds. Characters from Square Enix's The World Ends With You will also be in the game, although they will appear in Traverse Town rather than in their own world.
Perhaps the strongest point in Kingdom Hearts 3D's favor is that its combat system is built on that of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, which is often lauded as the best version of the Kingdom Hearts combat system. It will use the Command Deck that was introduced in Birth by Sleep, which allows the player to customize a character's special attacks, then cycle through them while fighting. It's a fun, addictive system that adds a lot of interest to the game's basic action combat, especially as characters become more powerful and gain powerful final attacks which vary depending on how the command deck is built. It should be interesting to see how Sora and Riku's command decks differ, allowing the player to use two different styles of combat whenever the characters switch.
Kingdom Hearts 3D has its own twists added to the combat system as well. Characters have access to a "Free Flow" acrobatics system that allows characters to bounce off walls and perform other kung-fu/parkour moves. They'll also be able to execute special "Reality Shift" moves in combat. Reality Shifts make use of the 3DS screen, allowing the characters to do things like slingshot enemies across the terrain and dash rapidly into all on-screen enemies.
The biggest new mechanic in Kingdom Hearts 3D is the recruitment of Dream Eater monsters who grant new abilities to Sora and Riku. Dream Eaters have two forms. Nightmare Dream Eaters serve as the game's enemies, replacing the usual Heartless as the primary enemies found in the game. Spirit Dream Eaters exist to devour Nightmares, and can be collected and raised, Pokémon-style, by the player characters. Dream Eaters all seem to resemble real-world animals and even the Nightmares feature an almost psychedelic color scheme. The player will be able to customize the Spirit Dream Eaters in various ways, including customizing their colors and combining them together to create new creatures.
Graphically, Kingdom Hearts 3D is about on par with the PlayStation 2 entries in the series, though looking a bit smoother due to being displayed on the smaller 3DS screen. The game will make use of the system's 3D effect, though as usual the 3D will be optional. The developers have said that the 3D will be used more often to add depth to the game rather than to cause objects to pop out of the screen.
Kingdom Hearts fans may be truly awaiting Kingdom Hearts 3, but Kingdom Hearts 3D looks like it'll be worth a playthrough. The series has found a winning combat system in Birth By Sleep, and is continuing to refine it in this new game. The Dream Eater collection system looks like it will be addictive, and there will be all-new Disney worlds to discover, not to mention the addition of characters from the cult favorite The World Ends With You. As long as gamers have patience with the convoluted, confusing main Kingdom Hearts storyline, Kingdom Hearts 3D should be a pretty fun ride.
Date: May 30, 2012