I’m pretty detailed when it comes to providing hands-on impressions of a particular game or gadget so action RPGs have a disadvantage on the E3 floor. Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for the 3DS requires some time to really sample the comprehensive battle system and the story’s timeline. The game is the seventh installment in the bestselling Kingdom Hearts series. Set after the events of Kingdom Hearts Re:coded (which appeared on DS and a number of smartphones), the game focuses on Sora and Riku’s Mark of Mastery exam in which they have to protect parallel words in preparation of the return of their enemy Xehanort.
In the hands-on demo, I really didn’t delve too much into the actual story of the game since I was pressed for time but I did get a chance to check out some of the new interesting approaches to the battle system. While the main character, Sora, still has the slashing combo mechanics from the Playstation 2 game, you can now team up with Dream Eaters. Dream Eaters are essentially the new enemies in the game and there are two types: Spirits and Nightmares. Nightmares “plant nightmares” while Spirits “eat dreams” and between the two classes you can recruit over 50 different types of Dream Eaters who can help provide Sora and Riku with abilities as well as aid in combat. Additionally, the colors of your party’s Dream Eaters can be customized. Nightmares and Spirits work in such a way where they serve as extreme counters to each other. Think Fire vs. Ice. Etc. You get the idea.
In the game you can have up to 3 allied Dream Eaters and 2 of them can help you in the middle of battle. You can change them in real-time based on the battle situation and switching is as simple as dragging Dream Eater icons into an active 2-slot box. On top of the new Dream Eaters team, you can perform Linked attacks based on the active lineup and a full “Link Gauge”. The move basically lends the Dream Eaters their power to Sora and the attack is spellbinding to say the least as it deals damage to either a single enemy or an area of attack – again, all based on your lineup.
One of the other new moves in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is Reality Shift. This requires the stylus to attack after pressing X+A when a pink marker shows up on the touch screen. The effect can feel a little clunky when you have to bust out with the stylus after pressing face buttons but fortunately using your fingertip is more than good enough. The Reality Shift is dependent on the stage you’re in. So moves like “Slingshot” and “Holy Rope” can only be accessible at Traverse Town or La Cité des Cloches respectively. “Wonder Comic” turns the world into a comic book in Country of the Musketeers. The effect is interesting yet jarring since the Reality Shift really changes the environment to something so esoteric, you’re wondering if there is a metaphor between the powers and the stage itself.
Sora also has a couple of new moves too. Flowmotion is accomplished by doing an Air Slide with the Y button and doing various actions depending on the environment. This allows Sora to kick off walls, spin on polls and use different parts of the environment to deal damage on the enemy.
Camera management is a bit weird. Tapping either the L or R triggers twice turns the character 180 degress and centers up the camera view while holding both triggers while moving the stick turns the camera around. Locking on a target involves tapping both triggers simulateously. Fortunately, you won’t have to deal with the camera as often since the game is intelligent enough to redirect the camera based on enemy attacks. Additionally, you also have a map in the touch screen that doubles as a radar for your surroundings.
The game feels like there is strong learning curve as you’re introduced to a variety of tutorials and tips when you’re progressing through the stages. Despite those negligible points, the big notice here are the boss battles. In the demo, the boss battle took place on a caravan and the boss creature fills half of the screen. What seemed to look like a flaming large “dog” was shooting fireballs from its mouth from a distance while closing in every so often for a melee attack. In 3D, the effect looks really cool as it shows off the sense of scale the boss has as well that helpless feeling you get when encountering such a creature.
Eventually, I beat the crap out of the boss thanks to a bevy of Flowmotion moves, combos, and Link attacks. Graphically, the game harkens back to the Playstation 2 days but the 3DS’ 3D abilities give the game scale and will probably make the summons magic that much more impressive. Overall, the game seems bent on delivering the de facto Kingdom Hearts experience on portables and we’re hoping to see more from the finished product.