July 30, 2012
This time around, Sora and Riku are both protagonists, their stories intertwined with the "Drop" system. As a gameplay mechanic, it works fine, but Square Enix didn't do a whole lot to keep the stories from being a bit confusing.
Basically, Sora will play through one bit of one world and go through some story sequences, but then Riku will step in, and you're introduced to the same world pretty much all over again. The reason why the game plays this way is because Sora and Riku's worlds are running together almost simultaneously in alternate universes. It's a plausible reason for the mechanic's existence, but that doesn't necessarily mean it works.
Riku and Sora frequently encourage each other to finish worlds and even at times receive help from the other in completing a world. But one character might not have finished that world yet, so the dialogue just feels a bit strange. Also if you finish a whole section and the other character hasn't, there's no real guidance on what to do next. In those instances you're forced to either grind a ton or drop to continue the story.
One of the things that originally made Kingdom Hearts so interesting was the incorporation of Disney characters and Final Fantasy characters. Although the Final Fantasy characters didn't nearly enough screen time, fans of the game were willing to put that aside for most of the Disney worlds offered just the right amount of fan service. In Dream Drop Distance, it's just a further departure away from the original game as the Final Fantasy characters are completely missing. Instead they are replaced with characters from The World Ends With You, another of Square Enix's properties.
Not only are there no Final Fantasy characters (except the Moogle), the Disney worlds offer very little magic. The dialogue is pretty poorly written in these instances - the characters seem to spell out everything they're doing as if to suggest we don't have the capability to figure something out for ourselves. Considering most of the original Kingdom Hearts audience has now reached either late teens or early twenties, it seems a bit odd that they'd try to lessen the dialogue to attract younger ones. And even if that's what they are doing, teenagers aren't that stupid.
The story's saving grace, is actually all of the Kingdom Hearts original content. There are some interesting twists and turns within this one along with growth between the two heroes, Sora and Riku. The World Ends With You parts were well written as well, but it's unfortunate that they were confined to one world and that they didn't play a huge part in the action. Their cameos are well-welcomed though, so any fans of the game should have some well-deserved moments.
Aside from story, gameplay plays a huge role in Dream Drop Distance. Director Tetsuya Nomura has said in the past that these handheld titles were made to try out new things and there are quite a few new things to play with in this title. Combos have been changed up a bit to include "Flow Motion" which allows you to jump from walls, fly, and swirl around telephone poles like there's no tomorrow.
The gameplay is a lot faster than any other game in the series. Action commands are a bit annoying in this game though. The original title offered a small box to the left of the screen with "attack", "summon", and "item" options to choose from. Now players must select the items they think they might need beforehand and scroll through them in the box. The issue with this mode is that after you use a skill/item it'll automatically sift through to the next option. So while in the past you'd like to keep your select bar on Curaga, you need to instead re-highlight it and wait to be able to use it once more. Having said that, there's absolutely no mana in this title, which actually is pretty nice.
Completely new to the series are the Dream Eaters, which are basically little animal guardians who you can create as you go through the game collecting dream pieces and recipes. They range in ability and strength, and can be leveled up through either fighting along side them or through you giving them bunches and bunches of cuddles. They offer a bit of help in battle, but since they don't necessarily shout out their spells like Donald and Goofy it's a bit hard to really understand what they actually do in battle.
If mini games and Eyepets aren't necessarily your thing, this whole Dream Eaters element will completely disinterest you. Also, it's now the Dream Eaters who fight on your behalf in the Coliseum - unlike previous installments where you fought yourself. It's such a different setup as well since instead of simply fighting, you fight with cards. If you're determined to get the secret movie, you will need to win some of these tournaments so mastering this mini-game is key.
Dream Drop Distance can be played without the mini-games, but it's just more difficult. Obviously, the better your Dream Eaters, the more they can help you, so offering them some love is good, but Dream Eater management can get a bit trying. On the bright side, if you find you like a group of three Dream Eaters specifically, you can use the same ones for Sora and Riku and share their ability links (stats) as well - as long as you have the materials to make them on both Sora and Riku's side.
Reality Shifts are also new to the series and actually are different in every world you go to. In Traverse Town, you can reality shift into Nightmares (or Evil Dream Eaters) or barrels and then use them as sling shots into other enemies. In Hunchback, you can glide from enemy to enemy taking out each one along the way. They work for the most part but sometimes can be a bit fickle. One that comes to mind, sees you needing to break open a chain by sliding your stylus across the screen. A lot of the time it doesn't catch and you end up failing the reality shift. Still, it's a very nice addition to the fighting system since it could mean taking out an enemy easily when you're low on health.
Dream Drop Distance offers the traditional Kingdom Hearts graphics. That is, when you're not playing with the 3D on. The music is also of a decent quality. Some of the songs offer really nice throwbacks to previous games, like Traverse Town's theme, but some of the music in the new worlds featured offer no relation to their original tracks. It makes some of the more emotional scenes in the Disney worlds offer next to no heart.
Replayabilty is pretty high with this title since once you beat the game, you unlock a new difficulty mode, and of course, there's tons of Dream Eaters and abilities to collect. Also if you weren't successful in getting the secret ending the first time around, perhaps a second playthrough would do you well - it's worth it.
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance offers some great new gameplay mechanics and serves as a nice vessel to further the Kingdom Hearts lore. But that's not to say it does everything right. Quite a lot of the story is rather bland and if you don't like pet games, the whole Dream Eater mechanic might become rather tedious. Still, it's a strong addition to the Kingdom Hearts franchise and the secret ending at the end shows that it still has a long way to go.