Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Review

By Leah Jackson - Posted Jul 23, 2012

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance marks Sora and Riku's first adventure on the Nintendo 3DS. Whether or not you're a fan of Nintendo's latest handheld console, if you love Kingdom Hearts, this is a must-have title that's filled with fantastic gameplay, an intriguing story, and beautiful visuals.

The Pros
  • Combat system is top notch
  • 3D visuals really stand out, especially in boss fights
  • Tons of customization options for both your characters and your Spirits
The Cons
  • Level design is inconsistent throughout the game
  • Drop system is frustrating during boss fights
  • The story can be confusing at times

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Review:

As I lay my Keyblade down to rest, I think it’s safe to say that Square Enix and Disney have outdone themselves with Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. The seventh installment in the Kingdom Hearts series follows the events of Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded, wherein the heroic Sora (how has he managed to stay so freaking cute this long?) and his best friend, the stoic Riku, defeated Ansem and Xemnas, reviving the malicious Xehanort. It’s always one thing after another with Organization XIII, isn’t it?

Back to KH3D. This time around, the wizard Yen Sid’s decided that it’s up to Riku and Sora to become full-fledged Keyblade Masters so that they can defeat Xehanort. In order to do so, they’ll be separated from one another and sent to seven sleeping worlds where they’ll have to unlock the Keyholes hidden within them in order to restore the worlds back to the light.



A Whole New World … Of Dream Eaters

Even though Sora and Riku have saved dozens of Disney worlds in past Kingdom Hearts games, KH:3D manages to introduce new worlds that we haven’t seen before, like La Cité des Cloches from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and updated versions of classics, like fan favorite Traverse Town. However, before you can even set foot in them, you’ll have to go through a fast-paced “Dive” mini-game as each character.

In Dive Mode, you take down enemies and collect prizes while falling through the sky. Once you meet a certain goal, like collecting a certain amount of prizes, passing through a certain amount of rings, or defeating a boss, you’ll get to advance into the world. It’s basically the updated version of the Gummi Ship mini-game from Kingdom Hearts 2. Prizes constantly fly towards you and enemies throw blasts for you to dodge, which can be tough. But it’s quick, unique, challenging, and makes excellent use of the Nintendo 3DS’ 3D technology if you’re in to that sort of thing.

You’ll go through each world you visit twice; once as Sora and once as Riku. Yet even though the Disney characters you’ll interact with in each world are the same for each character, the storylines you’ll go through in order to find the Keyholes are different.

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In The Grid world from Tron: Legacy, Sora’s story follows the rise and fall of Rinzler, a character we didn’t get to learn much about from Tron: Legacy, whereas Riku’s story strictly follow the events from the film, line for line. I’m a huge Tron fan and was excited to see it in the game, but after playing through it I felt that the Kingdom Hearts characters looked a bit out of place in the ultra-realistic world compared to the other worlds.

Each world in KH: 3D had something memorable about it, but my favorite had to be the Symphony of Sorcery world from Fantastia. There, every Keyblade strike sounded like a drum beat rather than a sword clash, and the attention to detail blew me away. Seeing the characters from The World Ends With You in all fully voice-acted in Traverse Town was pretty awesome too. Other worlds, like the Country of the Musketeers weren’t as engaging and fell flat in comparison to some of the other, more creative, worlds.

Kingdom Hearts 3D

In Dreams, Anything Is Possible

To alternate between one spiky haired hero to the other KH: 3D uses the timed “Drop” system. Over time, your drop gauge drains and when it runs out completely you’ll be forced to switch to the other character unless you use an item to refill the gauge. This system is normally great and forces the player to spend an equal amount of time playing as both Sora and Riku, but it gets frustrating when you’re in a boss fight and your drop gauge runs out.

Several times I was fighting a boss as Riku and my drop gauge emptied, forcing me to immediately start playing as Sora, (or the other way around) and consequently lose all the progress I made in the boss fight because I didn’t choose to equip a drop gauge item in one of my precious command deck slots.

Aside from that one issue, the gameplay in KH: 3D--once you’re actually in each of the worlds--is downright spectacular. The combat system goes back to the fast-paced Command Deck system introduced in Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep where you install any commands (A.K.A. abilities) you want into a custom deck that you navigate through via the D-Pad.

Kingdom Hearts 3D

The combat itself is undoubtedly the best part of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. It can seem button-mashy, since you can constantly press “A” over and over to execute normal attacks. However, if you integrate blocking and your command deck into combat, that all changes. I was constantly using my commands for hard-hitting combos and only using my normal swing when I was linked with my Spirits (see below) or when my commands were on cooldown from use.

This made the combat fluid, fast, and engaging, as I had to constantly be monitoring my health and using my healing commands when needed, or my strongest damage commands when the enemies were vulnerable.

You can find new commands and items for your deck throughout the worlds in well-hidden treasure chests or you can purchase them from Moogles. By the end of the game I had an absolutely incredible deck of abilities on each character. My favorite command was Dark Splicer, which allowed Riku to warp around enemies and beat the crap out of them.

Kingdom Hearts 3D

I Shall Call Him 'Squishy,' And He Shall Be My Squishy

While the Command Deck system is well utilized in KH3D, what really makes the combat special is your Dream Eaters. These “ferocious” critters are the newest addition to the Kingdom Hearts franchise and I really hope they’re here to stay. There are two types of Dream Eaters in KH3D: Nightmare Dream Eaters, the evil ones who eat dreams and plant nightmares, and Spirit Dream Eaters, the good ones who eat nightmares and accompany Sora and Riku on their adventure.

Think of Spirits as a mix between your very own Kingdom Hearts Nintendog and a Pokemon. You can create Spirits from recipes and materials that you find throughout the game and they’re absolutely essential to your success in combat. Spirits range in rarity and there are over 40 to collect.

Each Spirit has their own disposition and you can train them in a variety of ways. Fighting with them, giving them tickles, and playing mini-games with your Spirits will earn them Link Points that can be spent on new abilities for Sora and Riku, as well as on stat boosts like more health or higher defense bonuses.

You can equip two Spirits to fight with you at a time, and as you and your Spirits defeat enemies your Spirit’s link gauge will begin to fill. Once it’s filled all the way, you can link with your Spirit and they’ll lend you their power for a brief amount of time.

Sora’s Spirit Links are hysterical; One of his Spirits, Drill Sye, a Rhinoceros-looking Spirit, turns into a spiky ball of death that Sora balances around on and the two of them flatten enemies into the ground. Riku’s Spirit Links on the other hand are purely power-based, allowing Riku to pull off ridiculous combos against his enemies.

I thought that the Spirit Links were a brilliant way to change the combat up between Sora and Riku, and once I found the combination of Spirits that I liked best I really grew attached to mine.

Additionally, the Spirit mini-games are all quick and a nice change of pace from the standard combat that you’re going to be faced with during the other 25 hours or so of the action RPG. Double-tapping on the Spirits while in the menu screen earns you a close-up view of them so that you can pet them and force them to make adorable noises. AKA tickling them! If you’re familiar with how much I love cute things, then you can probably guess how much it excited me to be able to interact with the Spirits. You can even customize their coloring via paint gun.

As if that wasn’t enough to do Spirits already, there’s also an intricate mini-game called Flick Rush available for you to play with your Spirits as well. Flick Rush is a card-based mini-game where you slide cards up or down on the touchscreen to have one of three of your Spirits attack or defend against one of the opponent’s Spirits. The mini-game can be played wirelessly amongst friends, but you can also play against the computer to earn medals to spend on new abilities for Sora and Riku, items, Spirit Recipes, and more.

Kingdom Hearts 3D

Bromance In The Third Dimension

Along with Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance’s exceptional combat and gameplay mechanics, something has to be said the game’s superb voice acting and its stunning 3D graphics. I’m one of the folks who really enjoys great 3D graphics, and KH3D made use of the technology brilliantly.

Not only was the 3D impressive during Dive mode, but during boss fights and other cinematic events I really felt as if stuff was popping out of my screen. All of the bosses in KH: 3D look like bright-colored Pinatas with little pieces of confetti flying off of them. Every time they tried to hit me I felt that their long arms were going to come right out of the screen, which made for an awesome effect.

Let Your Heart Be Your Guide

With its exciting combat mechanics, intricate Spirit system, and beautiful 3D graphics, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is definitely one of the best Kingdom Hearts experiences to date. Right up to the very end (which includes a secret ending) the game’s engaging and leaves Kingdom Hearts fans wondering what’s going to happen next in the series. And even with small things like the drop system occasionally hampering gameplay, after a few hours you’ll barely notice it at all and you’ll find ways to get right back in the action. As far as action RPGs go, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance isn’t one to be missed.