Friday, 10 August 2012

Kingdom Hearts 3D: DDD

“Another beautiful universe brimming to life with gorgeous visuals and lovable characters. Kingdom Hearts 3D is a worthy addition to an already beloved franchise.” 

There are very few video game franchises that even come close to mimicking the same level of magic and awe that Kingdom Hearts exudes. Marking this wonderful action role-play games’ 10th anniversary, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance arrives on Nintendo’s handheld as a direct precursor to the eagerly awaited and highly anticipated Kingdom Hearts III. While there are still apparent issues that continue to frustrate the series as a whole, there’s enough fast-paced combat, incredible visuals and a host of spectacular worlds to visit and characters to meet. As a result almost all of Kingdom Heart 3D’s problems are easily overlooked as you fall helplessly into another gorgeous adventure with Sora and his friends. 

Kingdom Hearts 3D’s first problem comes in the form of accessibility. With more than 6 interlinking games already out, only die-hard fans of the series will be able to really understand Kingdom Heart’s complex storyline. That’s not to say Kingdom Hearts 3D doesn’t try to recap but this is obviously more for fans who need a quick reminder of previous events as opposed to newcomers looking for a quick update of events prior. These recaps come in the form of memory videos and frustratingly long note entries – the former are visually impressive and do help bring you back into the world of Kingdom Hearts. 

If you thought previous instalments in the series were complicated, prepare for another dose of head scratching. Kingdom Hearts 3D tells the story of Sora and Riku preparing to take the Mark of Mastery exam, giving them unparallel knowledge and skill of the keyblade. Kingdom Hearts 3D has you playing as both Sora and Riku using a convoluted and frustrating mechanic called ‘drop’. Both characters traverse separate realities and game forces you in between their two quests. This becomes increasingly frustrating when you’re in the middle of something important and suddenly get retracted from that quest to continue with a completely different pace. Matters get worse when you eventually come back to the prior quest and you’ve forgotten what it is you’re supposed to be doing! Thankfully the game allows you to manually drop in and out of characters, giving you some element of control between them. 

So it’s apparent that Kingdom Hearts 3D’s story isn’t told or indeed played out in the most effective of manners. This really has been the series’ undoing for a long time now, but what it always makes up with is lovable characters and narrative. It’s very easy to omit the aforementioned problems when you begin exploring some of Disney’s glorious worlds. Famous faces such as Sam from the modern TRON, Neku Sakuraba from The World Ends With You and a whole host of characters including the return of Mickey, Donald and Goofy all help make this another beautiful adventure to partake in. A great set of voice actors also help bring these iconic figures to life. 

Things get even better when you get stuck into the action of Kingdom Hearts 3D. The classic action adventure formula is revisited here as you tackle worlds filled with the varied and highly decorative dream eaters. No longer is your main enemy the darkness, rather these fuzzy and deceiving monsters will take up most of your keyblade swinging skills. The dream eaters come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own sets of abilities and moves on the battlefield. This really helps make Kingdom Hearts 3D quite a varied experience, even if it’s possible to mash some of your better moves without any consideration for versatility of your own. You have a set amount of slots in the command deck that you can fill with spells and skills, creating an element of strategy and personal play style. However, the new flowmotion mechanic introduced for the first time in Kingdom Hearts 3D really makes combat that little bit easier. Flowmotion can be used to enhance your characters speed by letting them grab onto and bounce of walls and this can also be used in conjunction with devastating combo attacks that can take down groups of enemies in one swoop. These flowmotion moves have no recharge time like skills in the command deck and as a result you will find even the deadliest of enemies can potentially crumble at your power to spam flowmotion. 

The battlefield can become quite a lonely place and fortunately for you not all dream eaters are evil. Indeed you can create and forge your own dream eaters to help you on the battlefield. Uncovering and finding formulas and items can accomplish this during your adventures, which in turn reward you with more powerful monsters. Sora has the ability to link up with his dream eaters to perform tag-team like moves while Riku absorbs his creature to gain a particular burst of power or a special ability. This really helps enhance the combat system and keep things feeling fresh each time you uncover new dream eaters to partner you in battle. 

What is frustrating however is these companions require more than use in battle to level up and grow stronger. A Nintendogs-style game screen is available that allows you to interact one-on-one with your creatures, resulting in new abilities, stats and increasing the bond between you too. This becomes tedius very quickly and those of you not interested in this style of gameplay will no doubt see this as nothing more than a chore. 

While visually Kingdom Hearts 3D has absolutely no problems, from a technical perspective the controls can be quite frustrating. It does support the circle-pad pro, which makes moving the camera a whole load easier but those of you playing on a brand spanking new 3DS XL (which are awesome by the way) or don’t have access to the pad pro will find it does take some time getting used to the controls. What is particularly frustrating is the D-Pad manages and changes what you want selected in your command deck so sometimes you’ll find yourself dodging and weaving using the circle pad while trying to reach your hand over onto the D-Pad in an attempt to switch to a potion or healing spell. Moments like this convolute the whole experience unfortunately. 

Kingdom Hearts 3D leaves little room for exploration, which is understandable for a handheld game. Despite this omission, it is still a very big game. Large worlds are separated by quirky mini-games as well, including dropping into them through an on-rails like shooting game. Extra quirky content like light-cycle battling in the Grid also help spread out the gameplay. A lot of thought and effort was put into this games’ pacing and it is very much apparent. 
Ultimately it’s very difficult not to really enjoy Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance if you’re a fan of the series. There are some noticeable problems, but the magical aura surrounding the game really makes it very easy to look past such issues. A wonderful design and exciting gameplay makes this a worthy addition to the Kingdom Hearts series as we now sit and eagerly wait Kingdom Hearts III. 

7.5 | Gameplay | 
A few controller issues aside, the combat is versatile, varied, fast paced and a whole load of fun. With plenty of skills and spells to use alongside the new flowmotion mechanic, you’ll find it very difficult not to enjoy every second of Kingdom Hearts 3D. The creation of your own dream eaters and mini games spread out between each world are also welcome additions that help spread the game out somewhat. 

9.0 | Presentation | 
Every single Kingdom Hearts game is full of wonder and dazzle. Kingdom Hearts 3D is absolutely no exception. While the story is once again quite complex and really designed only for fans of the series, those who have been faithful are rewarded with another glorious insight into a majestic world. Never before visited Disney locations have been added alongside more lovable characters, making even the thought of visiting a new world incredibly exciting.

7.0 | Replay Value | 
Unlocking all the skills, abilities and creating the dream eaters is really the brunt of the content alongside a few little additions here and there, but Kingdom Hearts 3D is a long enough game as it is, so it’s not a massive problem if there isn’t lots of significant end game content. 

8.0 | Final Thoughts | 
If you haven’t gathered by now, I love Kingdom Hearts. As a result I’m the first to complain if there’s any sort of problems or issues. Fortunately apart from the complex story and occasional control hitches, this really is a wonderful Kingdom Hearts experience that does the series justice. Some nifty new additions including flowmotion help make this feel like more than just a revamp; indeed this is a glorious action adventure game and worthy to be released on Kingdom Hearts’ 10 year anniversary. 

Igor Kharin.

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