Despite being created for the home console, Kingdom Hearts has become a predominantly handheld franchise, with games finding release on the Game Boy Advance right through to the 3DS. While the majority of these titles have managed to progress the story, none have been truly able to capture the quality and presentation of the numbered titles in the franchise.
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance (DDD) takes place directly following the events of Re:Coded and sees Sora and Riku undertaking the Mark of Mastery exam under the request of Yen Sid. As always, something goes wrong and the planned travelling through the seven locked worlds doesn’t go as planned, as Sora and Riku find themselves separated in sleeping worlds that are being attacked by Dream Eaters. There’s more to the story than that, but good luck trying to keep up with all the flashbacks, missing cinematics, and readable recaps of previous games.
The intro for DDD really sets the scene, with one of the most outstanding pre-rendered cutscenes to hit the 3DS. Square Enix fans would undoubtedly let this intro instill in them an excitement for the quality cutscenes that are likely to be littered throughout the game, anticipating them with every load screen. Sadly, it’s a standalone cinematic which only serves to excite the player and nothing more. The in-game cinematics are still superb, but they’re not Square Enix pre-rendered superb.
Once the game kicks into gear, and Sora and Riku find themselves in different versions of Traverse Town, we’re introduced to the first non-Disney, non-Final Fantasy characters the game has ever had: the gang from The World Ends With You. As Kingdom Hearts fans are accustomed to, every character is treated and crafted with love, and before too long you can’t help but have formed a bond with this new team of characters.
Another great entrance into the Kingdom Hearts franchise is the update to the Tron world; Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, and Garret Hedlund all look and sound fantastic, despite graphically being a stark contrast to the rest of the game.
Sadly, the seven unique worlds aren’t all filled with seven unique sets of characters. It becomes painfully obvious that the dev team only had enough for a certain number of voice actors. After having new worlds and characters to enjoy for the first half of the game it becomes a bit weird for each world after that to just be a Mickey Mouse variation. It’s understandable why it had to happen, but if you have limitations it’s best to hide them as best you can. If they had been interspersed between the other worlds it would be less noticeable and far less jarring; they’re not bad worlds, it just serves as a reminder of the limitations in game development.
DDD mixes things up a little this time through; while still incorporating the deck system some of the more recent KH titles have had, it also introduces a “flowmotion” mechanic which enables Sora and Riku to utilise the environment and even enemies with a press of the Y button. The biggest addition here is the creation of Dream Eaters. Despite being the enemy of the game, you’re able to find recipes to create your own. Once created, you can choose which ones you want fighting alongside you and, in between fights, train them up to unlock more moves. The incentive here is that any move you unlock for them can be assigned to either Sora or Riku as well, giving you an arsenal as big as your patience for monster creation.
As in every Kingdom Hearts, levelling up is an important part of the experience and, while there are no side-missions to be found, you’ll want to make sure you don’t just rush through, as easy as it is to do. The game isn’t overly challenging so it’s likely that you’ll be entering and passing through worlds at a lower level than you should be. However, DDD suffers from the same thing FFFXIII-2 suffered from: an incredibly hard, final stage of the boss fight. While you’re never explicitly told to go and level up before reaching the end, if you haven’t got the levels to back you up, you’re going to be incredibly annoyed. You’ll need to cancel out of the fight, grind for a while, and then come back through the many phases of the boss fight just to see if you have what it takes.
What may surprise people the most with DDD isn’t the fact that it supports the Circle Pad Pro -- and it really is a joy to play with -- but that it just isn’t required to get the most of the game. DDD has possibly one of the best in-game cameras this gen with very little need of manual adjustment. Don’t be surprised to find you end up using the Circle Pad Pro just to have the extra triggers at your disposal.
Graphically the game looks to be on par with the PS2 titles, but what makes DDD shine above the rest is the 3D. Nintendo have tried to promote the whole glasses-free aspect of the 3DS all along, and some games have made it seem worthwhile. DDD makes it seem necessary. Assuming your eyes have adjusted to viewing glasses-free 3D by now, you just won’t want to go back to standard gaming after seeing what DDD does. Maybe it’s the colourful worlds, or maybe they tweaked the virtual cameras to perfection, but the 3D experience here is unlike anything else seen on the 3DS. It truly needs to be seen.
Handheld gaming has truly evolved over the last 5 - 10 years and it’s becoming harder and harder to allow minor errors to be given a free pass simply because “it’s a handheld game”. Where once it didn’t matter if a character magically appeared in a new location, in this day and age -- where handheld games look like console titles -- a missing cinematic is noticed. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance has many of these moments and, despite it affecting the flow of the story, doesn’t stop this from being a title all 3DS owners should check out.