REVIEW: At the centre of the universe is the heart.
Everything, everyone in Kingdom Hearts is driven by it, and allowing your heart to be consumed by darkness is the absolute worst thing you can do. Kingdom Hearts is about heroism, friendship and passion, all borne from a place inside Sora's chest. The first game, despite all of its cheese and childishness, was gut-wrenching at times.
But we didn't feel that passion when playing through Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. The emotional resonance that the franchise once had was just no longer there, and it seemed as if all the life had been sucked out of it. It's sad that a franchise that ties in so many magical worlds, like Final Fantasy, Disney, and The World Ends With You, doesn't have much magic of its own anymore.
Not that it's changed all that much - not really.
It's still an action RPG where you travel between worlds with your keyblade, encountering various Disney characters along the way. In Dream Drop Distance, main characters Sora and Riku are separated into different worlds - essentially parallel dimensions. Some of the worlds are exquisitely designed - the Fantasia world, Symphony of Sorcery, and the Tron world, The Grid, stand out in particular. The Fantasia world even works music into the combat - every time you hit an enemy, you hear a chime.
This time around, you've got a new way of both getting around and fighting - by zipping around in a mode called 'flowmotion' which allows you to bound off of walls and other objects to quickly explore the environment and use powerful attacks. But the flowmotion attacks are given to you early on in the game and are significantly easier to perform and more powerful than any other attacks or magic you've got, so you just end up using the same move, over and over.
You can switch between Sora and Riku at any time by 'dropping' into the other one, but you also have a timer - when that timer runs out, you're done. You immediately drop into the other character, no matter what you're doing. Almost finished a boss battle? Too bad, you're going to have to do it again when you come back to Riku, it's Sora time now.
That's an annoying mechanic, and it hurts the game, but it's certainly not the only issue. At the heart (ha, ha) of Dream Drop Distance's problem might be the fact that the playable characters don't have friends as companions this time around. Instead, you're required to train up and bond with 'spirits' - little purple-and-yellow, cutesy creatures. The spirits have no personality an don't feature in cutscenes. As a result, almost every cutscene you encounter - and there are a lot - involves a chat with a new character, which gives you no time to actually like any of them. That's with the exception of the characters from The World Ends With You, who show up regularly and are a little more fleshed out.
But the spirits cause further problems. To 'bond' with a spirit, you suddenly get torn out of the game and thrown into Nintendo's pet simulator, Nintendogs. We're not exaggerating when we say you have to use your 3DS's touchscreen to pet your spirits, play mini-games to train them, and feed them food you find around the world to up their stats. Not only does it totally break the immersion, it ignores the fact that most of Kingdom Hearts' fans are now adults. But if you want your spirit to perform better, you don't have an option - you have to do it.
As per usual for Square, the graphics are nice enough - very nice, given the hardware - and the pre-rendered cutscenes look simply awesome. The 3D effect is also great in this game, although we had to turn it down rather low to stop it from inducing queasiness.
You know that feeling when you really want to love a game but can't muster up anything more than a 'meh'? Dream Drop Distance manages to be pretty fun at times, but when it's not being fun, it's being unbearably frustrating. There are puzzles to solve, new things to explore, and if you're a completionist, there's plenty there for you to do once the main story is over. But frankly, all of the new ideas for game mechanics are really, truly terrible. Compared to other action RPGs it's a solid game. Compared to other Kingdom Hearts games it's not.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
For: Nintendo 3DS