Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] preview
Sora and Riku begin their keyblade training with a clean slate, as they quest to complete the trials of the Mark of Mastery exam in this, the latest entry within the enormously popular Kingdom Hearts series.
With the threat of Master Xehanort’s return, Yen Sid sends the keyblade-wielding duo to be tested for the mark of a true keyblade master. To do so, they must awaken six sleeping worlds infested by nightmares, all the while delving into short narratives alongside an array of key Disney characters. Such formula will prove familiar to those that have played previous instalments, and its charm long continues.
We initially find them setting sail aboard a raft amid stormy seas, soon finding themselves beset upon by a cackling, phantom version of The Little Mermaid’s Ursula, that, whilst defeated, summons a whirlpool that thrusts them into the murky depths.
Unlocking a conveniently placed keyhole, they make their way to Traverse Town and it is here that, through contact with key cast members from Nintendo DS cult classic The World Ends With You, they learn that they have been placed in parallel dimensions from one another, each having to progress individually in the hope of uniting later on in their journey.
For the most part this is the Kingdom Hearts adventure that you know and love, further refined and improved through the introduction of a range of new gameplay mechanics, the majority of which seek to streamline combat.
With Sora and Riku venturing separately, a new on-screen timer presents the new ‘Drop’ mechanic. Ensuring that character progression correlates between the two fairly evenly, this grants each a set amount of time in which they can continue through their own narrative before the player is forced to switch to the other. Whilst players can choose to ‘Drop’ at any point themselves, progression rewards characters with collecting Drop Points that can be converted to aid the other character. These include slowing the Drop Gauge, raising Attack Power, or even simply converting the points to Munny, for example, with stat bonuses remaining in play until you next switch.
‘Flowmotion’ proves a most rewarding addition, with players able to run along walls, swing around poles, and grind along rails, before leaping off to deal a heightened amount of damage to your foes. This does much to quicken the pace of combat, now using the environments to your advantage, whilst also opening up easier traversal for players to more freely explore.
Of further benefit are ‘Dream Eaters,’ benevolent spirits that neutralise their nightmare counterparts across the sleeping worlds. These, in effect, act as party members, but must first be created from recipes. Materials gathered from defeated nightmares are then fused along with a command skill, which provide a stat bonus, with an increased quantity of materials also boosting to a higher initial level. Players are encouraged to further bond with their Dream Eaters, which acts much in the same way as Nintendogs, where they can gather Link Points that may then be spent on the Ability Link board to unlock new deck commands and abilities.
Alongside this players can engage within activities with their Dream Eaters, a welcome departure from ploughing through the game’s lengthy storyline. These range in approach, ‘Balloon’ seeing players bashing the floaty inflatables back toward their enthusiastic pet, whereas ‘Water Barrel’ sees you gesture your Dream Eater toward bubbles to gather prizes whilst avoiding those with more explosive content. AR capabilities are also utilised, with Treasure Goggles seeing you move around and scan your locality for items, directing your Dream Eaters toward discoveries.
Similarly useful is ‘Reality Shift’, which positions itself as an optional device. Through use of the touchscreen, players can, for example, fling barrels to unblock paths, hack turrets to self-destruct, or link specified points to grind between. Whilst it may sound superfluous, it adds a great deal of strategy to an otherwise button-pounding combat system.
It doesn’t end there, either. Traversal between worlds is now performed by engaging ‘Dive Mode,’ a kaleidoscopic jaunt through a cylindrical obstacle course that does much to endorse the handheld’s stereoscopic 3D. As crazily colourful as the rest of the game, these are themed upon the world that you are venturing toward: the Tron-inspired ‘The Grid,’ for instance, using accented neon art styles and Recognizers acting as obstacles. As a mini-game of sorts, you must defeat enemies and gather prize bubbles to unlock the Goal Ring, enabling you to successfully arrive at your destination.
Those either new to the series, or for those who need to refresh their memories of its previous narrative, will find much reward from the ‘Mementos’ system. Here, players can view ‘Flashbacks,’ either of key cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II or providing extended background to the events of Kingdom Hearts 3D, or ‘Chronicles’ which provide a text-based summary of prior plots. Having regularly been scorned for its convoluted writing, these will prove to be of much use for those that wish to further understand the overarching storyline.
Looking almost certain to become the finest third-party addition to the Nintendo 3DS’ software library, Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] will release across Europe on July 20th and North America on July 31st.