PAX East 2012 Hands-On: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

PAX East 2012 Hands-On: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

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Square Enix continues the story of Kingdom Hearts on the 3DS with a tale of friendship, duality, and Jeff Bridges.

With Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days, Birth by Sleep and Re:coded, the portable spinoffs of Kingdom Hearts now outnumber the main series games two-to-one. While Sora and his supporting cast have spent a lot of time fleshing out side-stories in-between main installments, Square Enix seems ready to advance the overall plot once more in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. While Dream Drop Distance is definitely not Kingdom Hearts III, the game faithfully recreates the frantic combat, distinctive visuals, and occasionally bizarre movie tie-ins of its PS2 predecessors. By taking control of series protagonists Sora and Riku, players will travel through a number of new Disney worlds and encounter some surprising Square Enix characters along the way.

The hands-on demo begins in the world of Tron: Legacy, which may feel familiar to series fans who already guided Sora through the world of Tron in Kingdom Hearts II. While a tutorial in an earlier level will bring new players up to speed on the basic principles of combat, series veterans will feel right at home. Sora, aided by two AI-controlled party members, swings his trusty Keyblade (for the uninitiated, this weapon is exactly what it sounds like) in fluid combos that differ depending on a player's position, timing, and proficiency. At first, it's easiest to just mash "attack" and slowly chip away at an enemy's HP, but as enemies emerge with shields, flight, and teleportation, players will learn how to get around enemy defenses, perform mid-air combos, and monitor the often-chaotic battlefield around them.

While the fundamental mechanics remain unchanged, Sora's party looks a little different than before. While Disney mainstays Donald Duck and Goofy previously accompanied the teenage adventurer, Sora can now choose from a variety of benevolent critters known as Spirits. These Spirits are colorful, somewhat amorphous entities that fill traditional RPG party roles, such as healer, mage, or melee fighter. While some fans may be disappointed that no humans join Sora's party this time around, the monster collection element to party creation may help salve the wound. Players can recruit a wide variety of Spirits and level them up as they see fit. Furthermore, Sora has a unique special attack with each spirit, which means that collection and experimentation are key.

Sora and his two companion Spirits make their way through the blue-white digital landscapes of Tron: Legacy with a combination of battles and platforming. As is the case with previous entries, Dream Drop Distance involves a fair amount of vertical level design, and Sora will be required to make some tough jumps during his quest. In order to aid players, Square Enix has implemented a "free-flow" platforming system, which allows Sora to manipulate the environment to his advantage. For example, in the demo level, Sora can race along red grids, launch himself off of walls, and propel himself upwards from a standstill. While the system helps considerably with platforming and combat, its implementation leaves something to be desired. The camera can be unwieldy when Sora turns and jumps rapidly, leaving players traveling in the wrong direction or directly into a wall.

After getting the hang of the free-flow platforming and fighting a number of Nightmares - a motley, colorful collection of enemies that serve as cannon fodder and mirror the Heartless and Nobodies of earlier games - Sora and company arrive at the level's first major cutscene. While the demo was entirely in Japanese, the general concept was easy enough to grasp. Sora meets up with the main cast of Tron: Legacy, including a spectacularly rendered Jeff Bridges, as he introduces himself and becomes intertwined with the movie's plot. The character design and facial detail in this section were especially striking, as the digital avatars captured a good deal of nuance in both the appearance and mannerisms of the original film actors. Jeff Bridges appeared with particular fidelity, from his piercing blue eyes, to his bristly beard and impassive gaze.

However, graphics aside, the cutscene proved problematic. The characters spend a very long time trading exposition while standing almost still, and the scene drags on for minutes without any player interaction whatsoever. By the time Sora and the Tron: Legacy cast have explained their respective dilemmas and the scene has shifted to show the stage's villain creating an imposing new Nightmare, a good five minutes have disappeared into the void without much plot progression to show for it.

Post-cutscene, the game proceeds much as it had before, with a mix of harder enemies, more challenging platforming sections, and increasingly labyrinthine areas. Some of the more open areas showcase the game's near-PS2 quality visuals and well-implemented 3D. Foregrounds and backgrounds are easy to distinguish, and Sora appears in a crisp, pleasant middle distance. Square Enix definitely designed Dream Drop Distance with the 3DS in mind, and the attention to detail shows. Unfortunately, these open areas also highlight the game's problematic camera. Without a second analog stick, players are left to the whims of an occasionally competent automatic camera, and the L and R buttons. In what is by now a Kingdom Hearts tradition, the camera is problematic without player input, and imprecise with it.

While the demo focused on Sora's story, this is only half of the Dream Drop Distance experience. As Sora adventures, his "drop" meter will gradually fill. When it reaches peak capacity, gameplay switches over to deuteragonist Riku, and the cycle begins anew. Each character has a unique story in each movie world, so while some locations will repeat, no two story segments will be alike.

Square Enix promises that the in-game tutorial and journal entries will bring new players up to speed on the Kingdom Hearts story so far, but Dream Drop Distance seems like a game directed very much towards existing fans. If the promise of new worlds, a modified party system, and a novel character-switching mechanic sound appealing, Dream Drop Distance probably merits a look. If not, you can wait for Kingdom Hearts III; just be prepared to wait a long time.

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Hey, Square Enix... I have a crazy thought that might do well when it comes to the Kingdom Hearts Franchise... Kingdom Hearts 3. You know, that series you began on the PS2, but have had absolutely NO system version of the game for the last 5 years? Just a crazy thought.

dragongit:
Hey, Square Enix... I have a crazy thought that might do well when it comes to the Kingdom Hearts Franchise... Kingdom Hearts 3. You know, that series you began on the PS2, but have had absolutely NO system version of the game for the last 5 years? Just a crazy thought.

Blame FF13 Versus for that. Something about both the lead creative director and combat programming teams that have worked on both console games being tied up with that. Then the creative director ordering a full artistic revamp of Versus just before release, thus throwing the game into development hell. Top it all off with an interview some months back where the creative director said he didn't even want to start thinking about KH3 until at least 6 months or so after finishing FF13 Versus.

Sorry, no sources on that but I know I've read articles both here and on other sites with that information in it. Fact checking is recommended but I do know for certain that there's no KH3 because of FF13 Versus.

OT: I want to buy this game, but I just can't condone the continued release of KH titles on handhelds. You want to make endless spin-off games to keep the franchise alive while the main team keeps dicking around with FF13 Versus, fine. I will willingly throw money at that if it means KH3 comes along at some point. But by Optimus' boot, do they all have to be freaking hand-held titles? (and did you have to make 358/2 Days? Good lord that game was awful and pointless)

Why can't they just make a friggin sequel finally instead of these countless psp spinoffs that pollute and complicate up the already tenuous mythos of a squaresoft/disney mashup universe

So is the camera still atrocious as it was in BBS? I liked that game but goddamn was the camera infuriating as all hell. Still not worth buying a 3DS for only this game.

Sounds interesting enough, but I do hope they have the decency to make a package with the 3DS included, seeing as I don't have one yet.

TsunamiWombat:
Why can't they just make a friggin sequel finally instead of these countless psp spinoffs that pollute and complicate up the already tenuous mythos of a squaresoft/disney mashup universe

Personally I found that Chains of Memories and 358/2 Days didn't really complicate the story, but instead just expanded on missing chapters. Before 358/2 Days we already knew Roxas was part of the Organization, but left for one reason or another. In 358 we however learned exactly why he left, what his relation was with the other members and how part of it tied-in with the events of Chains of Memories.

TsunamiWombat:
Why can't they just make a friggin sequel finally instead of these countless psp spinoffs that pollute and complicate up the already tenuous mythos of a squaresoft/disney mashup universe

This kinda is a sequel, though.

Obviously it's not on the PS2/PS3, but the story has been moving steadily since KH2 ended. This one actually takes place after KH2, so it's not a prequel or a side-story.

Chances are you won't enjoy KH3 when it comes out if you played the first games for the story. You most likely won't understand it when it eventually comes out.

KeyMaster45:
Blame FF13 Versus for that. Something about both the lead creative director and combat programming teams that have worked on both console games being tied up with that.

You know, one of the only reasons I was ever excited about Final Fantasy XIII, was because I heard it had Kingdom Hearts folks working heavily on it. Folks who knew it was a good idea to add awesome platforming elements into a "jRPG" game.

But apparently, they didn't. What were they thinking?

LilithSlave:

KeyMaster45:
Blame FF13 Versus for that. Something about both the lead creative director and combat programming teams that have worked on both console games being tied up with that.

You know, one of the only reasons I was ever excited about Final Fantasy XIII, was because I heard it had Kingdom Hearts folks working heavily on it. Folks who knew it was a good idea to add awesome platforming elements into a "jRPG" game.

But apparently, they didn't. What were they thinking?

Versus XIII and XIII aren't the same game, the Kingdom Hearts team didn't touch FFXIII. That said, I still want my fucking sequel.

StarStruckStrumpets:

LilithSlave:

KeyMaster45:
Blame FF13 Versus for that. Something about both the lead creative director and combat programming teams that have worked on both console games being tied up with that.

You know, one of the only reasons I was ever excited about Final Fantasy XIII, was because I heard it had Kingdom Hearts folks working heavily on it. Folks who knew it was a good idea to add awesome platforming elements into a "jRPG" game.

But apparently, they didn't. What were they thinking?

Versus XIII and XIII aren't the same game, the Kingdom Hearts team didn't touch FFXIII. That said, I still want my fucking sequel.

This. Versus XIII (the one that hasn't been released yet) is apparently going to use combat so similar to KH3, that when they do work on KH3 they are just going to re-use the engine and the lessons they learned in making Versus.

XIII and XIII-2 were completely unrelated, other than Nomura designing some characters.

Eh, I already screwed myself over by reading the plot spoilers for the game. The same damn mistake I made for Birth by Sleep. I'll probably end up getting the game regardless, but I do wish I had more restraint.

Granted, all of the KH side games are surprisingly relevant to the series.

I still don't have a 3DS for this. I can't tell if it's worth buying one just for KH3D.
Dammit Square, just give me KH3 already and stop milking the series!

Bleh...Sora was bearable when I was younger but after being spoiled by Roxas, Axel, Zexion and Luxord as playable characters in 358/2 days I just want to continue on playing the Organisation XIII faction : /

Just putting this out there: KH3D is NOT a spinoff. It takes place after kh2, you play as the real Sora, not a clone or nobody or predecessor, the real him. It legitimately progresses the story. If you don't want to buy a 3ds for the game, thats fair enough, but if you're just completely ignoring everything that's not KH3, your going to be incredibly confused when that game finally comes around.

Meh...I love KH as much as the next guy. I really do. But even I am getting tired of all these spin-offs. I like to see how Sora and Riku and everyone else is growing up, but just give us KH3 once and for all.

Yes, I realize KH3 would mean the end of the series. No more talks and excitement about another KH game (I think). But there's such thing as overkill. Isn't that right, Assassin's Creed?

At any rate, I wonder if they're planning on releasing a game for every console or what. PS2, PSP, GBA, DS, 3DS...all that's left is Vita, Wii and 360.

...

Dear god...WHAT HAVE I DONE?!

Mahorfeus:
Eh, I already screwed myself over by reading the plot spoilers for the game. The same damn mistake I made for Birth by Sleep. I'll probably end up getting the game regardless, but I do wish I had more restraint.

Granted, all of the KH side games are surprisingly relevant to the series.

You and I both, mate. I still haven't watched the February trailer because of spoilers, but since then I've read way too much information I don't think I'm capable of forgetting before I get the game.

I can't wait for it, especially after seeing the opening scene. By all accounts it's hyping KH3 up something fierce.

 

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