Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance: Sweet dreams

August 16, 2012

Kingdom Hearts is one of the oddest collaborations in gaming. For a game that began through a chance encounter in an elevator, it’s become one of Square Enix’s most beloved games, and one of Disney’s most successful forays into the industry (despite a good track record). While the series has had a few ups and downs, it remains a clear example of how a collaborative effort can lead to great success, and this remains true in this first entry on the 3DS.

The overall story behind the Kingdom Hearts universe can be somewhat confusing even to its biggest fans, and the continual parade of handheld spinoffs can be tiring. Dream Drop Distance gives everyone what they’ve been asking for in this regard. Most importantly, it really sets the stage for Kingdom Hearts III, while still managing to feel like you’ve accomplished something by the end. I won’t go too much into the story of the game, but it feels less about just hopping from world to world and solving their problems, and more about working towards an overall goal. By the end of the game, it will be fairly apparent how the spinoff games that have released since Kingdom Hearts II tie into each other.

The game’s new Drop system, from which the game gets its title, puts you in control of two protagonists. You’re either Sora of Riku, each in their own version of the world you are currently in. Each version of a world has its own enemies, NPCs, treasures and bosses. Often, sections of a world will only be accessible by one character.

The trick here is time management. You only have a set amount of time before you are forced to “Drop”, which means you switch to the other character. You can trigger this manually, or let the time run out and the game will trigger it automatically. However, it does help to control drops; if you drop in the middle of a fight, for example, you will return to the middle of the same fight, which can leave you disoriented and open to attack. Fighting enemies also allows you to accumulate points, which are spent at your next drop to upgrade your abilities, including the ability to increase the amount of time between drops. As both characters play through a world at the same time, dropping back and forth, it can be important to plan when and where you drop.

The other main addition here? Dream Eaters. They take the place of the majority of enemies you will face, as well as your companions. They are “crafted” out of items found from enemies and from treasure boxes in the world to fight by your side. Functioning much like Donald and Goofy in the earlier games, they each have set abilities and will attack enemies or heal your character. Several have abilities which trigger based on your actions, for example, hitting an enemy at the same time. Dream Eaters also take advantage of the 3D Camera, allowing you to take pictures of them in the real world. (It’s not particularly useful or interesting.) The game comes with 3 AR cards, used to import Dream Eaters into your game. Right now there are three with every game, and two extra cards that were only included in the “Mark of Mastery” collector’s edition of the game.

As with any Kingdom Hearts game, the worlds the player visits are taken from various Disney properties, with a couple of exceptions. The new worlds are fairly well done, with a lot of characters and plotlines from their namesakes appearing. They did seem to be a bit shorter than the worlds in previous games. I feel this was a smart move, as you did end up traversing them twice, dropping between characters. Had they been longer, having to do each one twice could have become a bit tedious.

The controls are fairly standard, though of course only one stick is used. The game does support the fairly-uncommon Circle Pad Pro, and without it I did miss the two-stick control scheme from the console games (The PSP’s Birth By Sleep had the same issue.) Graphically, the game takes full advantage of the 3DS, though the 3D effect doesn’t add anything to the game. I found myself playing with 3D off, simply to avoid the need to hold the system in one position. Sound and music are great as well, everything you would expect from Square Enix and Disney.

Dream Drop Distance is a great game, and probably one of the best titles on 3DS right now. I’m really looking forward to Kingdom Hearts III, but I hope we’re done with spinoff games for a while.

Pros: Great lead-in to Kingdom Hearts III, lots of refreshing changes to the formula
Cons: Camera controls make the game feel like it’s designed for a dual analog layout

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.