The “Kingdom Hearts” video game series: it’s either a silly blend of Disney and Japanese RPG-culture to some, or a fun, exciting, and epic journey for many others.
For me, the first three “Kingdom Hearts” games were among some of my favorite nostalgic games on the Playstation 2 and Gameboy Advanced.
The first game came out when I was in elementary school and I was immediately hooked. Their gorgeous anime styled graphics, complex storylines, quirky characters, colorful Disney-inspired environments, beautiful music and flashy hack-and-slash fighting mechanics always kept me coming back for more.
However, I haven’t been able to play some of the more recent installments and spin-offs since I don’t own the consoles they are on.
Luckily, a friend of mine let me borrow her Nintendo 3DS and copy of the most recent installment, “Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance,” and it was a great and innovative installment to celebrate this beloved game series’ tenth anniversary.
In this game you play as both Sora, the main character from the first three games, and his best friend Riku, who was once Sora’s fiercest rival but has since become a redeemed anti-hero.
This game focuses on them attempting to pass their Mark of Mastery exams and become full-fledged Keyblade masters that will aid in the final showdown against the main villain in the series, Master Xehanort.
In order to do this, they need to save parallel versions of seven Disney-inspired worlds from a dark threat known as the Nightmares.
While this game already follows the traditional “Kingdom Hearts” formula, it also has many new features to keep the series fresh.
One of which is Flowmotion, which allows the player to use the environment to jump and fly around buildings to find hidden areas and items and fight and dodge Nightmares during combat.
I was new to the Nintendo 3DS mechanics so this feature took me some time to get used to. However, once I got it down, I had a ball exploring the worlds and finding creative ways to defeat my opponents.
Another new feature, and the main reason for the title, is the Drop system, which allows you to switch between Sora and Riku’s intertwining storylines after your Drop meter for either character runs out. One drawback to this feature is that unless you have a Drop-Me-Not item, you can Drop and be forced to switch to the other character at any time, even during boss fights.
But it also serves to bring some excitement and urgency to the gameplay, and nicely intertwines the two characters’ storylines.
My favorite feature is the inclusion of a new set of allies, Dream Eaters, the friendlier counterparts to the Nightmares.
Aside from being colorful and adorable, especially the Meow Wow Dream Eater, these creatures can also team up with you during combat to deliver some powerful attacks on your enemies.
While I do miss fighting alongside Disney protagonists like Aladdin, Ariel, Jack Skellington, Donald Duck and Goofy, I feel like this mechanic works better in terms of gameplay.
And of course let’s not forget what “Kingdom Hearts” is known for: worlds inspired by famous animated Disney movies.
There’s Les Cite De Cloches, set in Paris and featuring all the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” characters; The Grid, which is inspired by “Tron: Legacy”; Prankster’s Paradise, which is “Pinocchio” inspired; and the “Fantasia”-inspired Symphony of Sorcery.
All the worlds are vibrant, immersive, and recognizable, but Symphony of Sorcery is my favorite in particular.
The world is beautiful and the music for it includes remixes of “The Nutcracker Suite” and “Pastoral (Symphony No.6).”
At the end of Riku’s part of the level, you even get to fight against Chernabog from the “Night On Bald Mountain” part of the movie.
This world is also different from the others because each time you attack an enemy, you hear the sound of a banging drum or cymbals. It’s a really small detail, but one that made that world all the more memorable and enjoyable.
Even with all that’s going for it, there are still a few flaws with this game. As mentioned before, the Flowmotion mechanic takes time getting used to, and the Drop system can be frustrating, especially if you happen to drop in the middle of a boss fight.
Also, like the other “Kingdom Hearts” games, the story can be pretty confusing if you don’t pay attention.
Without giving too much away, there’s also a big plot twist towards the end that will shock and confuse even the biggest “Kingdom Hearts” fans.
Whether this plot twist is good or bad will be up to the player, but for me it made the anticipation of the final showdown waiting in “Kingdom Hearts 3” much more intense.
However, once you get used to these new mechanics and figure out what’s going on, you’ll be able to really enjoy this amazing and unique spin-off installment to an epic game series.
It introduced a lot of new mechanics and took many risks, and they paid off for the most part. Like the previous games, the graphics, environments, music are breathtaking, the gameplay and battle system are a lot of fun, and the bosses are challenging but fair.
If you own a Nintendo 3DS, I highly recommend putting “Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance” on your Christmas list this year.