It seems to me to almost be a sick joke on Tetsuya Nomura's part to name a game "Kingdom Hearts 3......D", considering the now eight-year wait we players have endured for the third true installment in the Kingdom Hearts saga. You hear those words "Kingdom Hearts III" and suddenly your heart leaps - we've passed the handheld needless complications and weird experiments and we're finally back on track - then the rest of the title creeps in: "...D: Dream Drop Distance". There you go, three meaningless words alliteratively strewn together to piece together a desperate pun. I guess as titles go we cannot go deeper into the pretentious rabbit hole of crap as "358 divided by 2 Days" but "Dream Drip Dissidia" is definitely a good run for its money.
Since "Dream Derivative Dissonance" is now the sixth or seventh Kingdom Hearts game I've played, one cannot help but feel the deep scourge of "haven't we done this all before?" These games have made their innovations here and there in the esoteric battle systems, but the combat engine for "Kingdom Hearts I", "Kingdom Hearts II", "358/2 Days", "Birth by Sleep", "Re:Coded", and now this are all the same. The only game that feels especially different is the 2D "Chain of Memories", which thanks to an ill-conceived and barely playable 3D remake, can also play exactly the same as every other Kingdom Hearts game. "Dirty Dog Dirigible" offers a few additions like a Pokemon-esque support team and the opportunity to play in parallel storylines with Sora and Riku. It also has the best graphics of any handheld Kingdom Hearts game yet. But ultimately, it all plays like a measurably worse version of "Birth by Sleep", with a rougher camera, a smaller game, and unnecessary crap getting in the way of the game. You can never really go too far wrong with a Kingdom Hearts game (unless you play Re:Coded") but "Dancing Dark Dolly" is about as bad and mediocre as this series gets.
Where "Birth by Sleep" had you play as three Keyblade masters from before the beginning of the Kingdom Hearts series, "Kingdom Hearts 3D" instead focuses upon just Sora and Riku. Rather than building the game as two completely separate campaigns involving Sora and Riku, which you play consecutively, the game decided to intertwine the two adventures by bouncing back and forth between the characters as you move onwards. This is known as the "Drop", thus explaining one part of the title. The reasons this happens is because both characters are walking through a Dream (another part of the title explained) and as you move on, they eventually doze off, and the other character's adventures are happening in some kind of very confusing double Inception. What this means is that basically every time you play as a character, you have a time limit. Run out of time, and suddenly you play as the other character. It sounds like a creative and innovative way to create structure, but in actuality it is--
The combat system is built entirely from the "Birth by Sleep" system, using the same Command deck idea. However, Command Decks really are not the focus this time. You get them, they are extremely useful in battle, you can and should use them, but we've lost the ability to fuse Commands and finding the best ones is extremely difficult. The real focus is in an entirely different realm, this involving a race of monsters. Rather than Heartless, Nobodies, Unversed, or Glitches, we have Dream Eaters, an especially colorful brand of cute animal monsters whose existence and exact meaning is never properly explained. There are good Dream Eaters and bad Dream Eaters. Square Enix was all about collecting monsters to fight for you last year, they introduced an identical system in "Final Fantasy XIII-2". Its almost like--
--really distracting and comes at the most inconvenient times.
I almost feel silly damning this Drop system, considering it on-paper sounds like a fascinating way of structuring out a video game. I feel like this concept could have worked, as it feels like a way of forcing two stories to coincide in a really interesting way. Almost a dual-worlds system, allowing the continuities to intersect in a naturalistic manner. Even though the story is muddled, it actually works in a kind of 90s Indie Tarantino-esque style. You can at least follow the storyline even when its chopped up into tiny pieces. Unfortunately, as far as game pacing goes: it just does not work, because at the best of times it interrupts the flow of your--
The Dream Eater business sounds somewhat interesting at its core. Kingdom Hearts as a series has some of the best and most memorable enemy design of any modern RPG series - its definitely superior to the mounds of techno shit you had to use in "FFXIII-2". However, you can't collect the classic Kingdom Hearts monsters, you have to use these new Dream Eaters, who in all likelihood will never come back in the series. Donald and Goofy are returning for "Kingdom Hearts III" , we won't need these inferior scrubs. Yeah, you get a cute dog and a T-Rex, but it just doesn't feel as substancial as having real characters follow you--
--sentence and makes the entire adventure story really difficult to follow. You can be plowing along at a decent pace and suddenly, out of nowhere, your character will Drop and now you have to play a vaguely different game. Its extremely annoying, since you just want to play through the Sora or Riku adventure, not have your own characters step on each other's shoes.
What this really means is that you have to play every World twice, once for Sora, and again for Riku. It sounds annoying, but then again, "Dusty Darden Dalaxy" isn't a terribly long game, so its not a serious inconvenience. Where it gets annoying is when you come against a Boss Fight. Yes, you can Drop even here. And guess what? GUESS WHAT? It gets better, it gets so much better. I sure hope you're ready for this: if you Drop during a boss fight, that means all your progress against the boss is lost. Forever. So then you get to fight the boss again! You might have reached the final life bar of one of these huge colorful Dream Eater menaces and suddenly - BOOM! - back to the start--
Its amazing how much work and complexity actually went into the Dream Eater system, considering how its ultimately unnecessary they are to the entire game. I hate to break this to Nomura and the guy who probably did all the real directing, Tai Yasue: the allies in Kingdom Hearts have never been all that important to the experience. Donald and Goofy mostly added flavor to the storyline, so that Sora didn't have to feel so lonely. But "Birth by Sleep" has proven that you can have a game without the allies and the combat will not feel any particularly different. The Dream Eaters get Sphere Grids and a Pokemon Aime game, minigames you can play, you can paint them, there's this whole massive adventure going on here with these creatures.--
--You're fighting the boss again! Whipeee! So let me repeat that: "If you Drop during a boss fight, that means all your progress against the boss is lost. Forever. So then you get to fight the boss again! You might have reached the final life bar of one of these huge colorful Dream Eater menaces and suddenly - BOOM! - back to start, you're fighting the boss again! Whipeee!"
As I mentioned previously the story this time involves Sora and Riku diving into Dreams in a mixture of Disney, Final Fantasy, and Master Christopher Nolan. I started worrying immediately, since it sounded just like the plot of "Re:Coded", which ultimately takes place in a pocket digital dimension and thus has no relevance to anything**. However, this time, the Dreaming takes place in mostly entirely new worlds with new characters. I can't really be sure of the continuity here, since some of these worlds might not exist at all, some seem to have taken place in the past - such as the two involving Mickey and friends, and the "Tron: Legacy" world has to be the future of Space Paranoids from "Kingdom Hearts II". The story really doesn't do anything with the concept of dreams either - its hard to become even more fantastic and frenetic than Kingdom Hearts is at normal - so basically you're just riding a rail of seven worlds to save, and a lot of new Organization XIII cloaked dudes to kill.
If you are thinking that "Kingdom Hearts 3D" was going to make the already bizarre and more than slightly embarrassing plotline of this series any less complicated, you are sadly mistaken. If things were weird before, they are a hundred times weirder--
--And they're entirely secondary, they are absolutely useless. I think you can eventually level up their AI if you bother to craft them properly and pet them enough, but who needs these creatures? Sora and Riku definitely do not.
The other major battle addition is a mechanic called Flowmotion. In this system, Sora and Riku now add to their already diverse and insanely colorful arsenal a new superpower where they can turn into energy beings by leaping against walls or the environment, giving them access to new homing super attacks. This is performed by leaping into a wall or a lamp, causing them to spin around wildly and eventually blast outward in a huge rush of power. It sounds and looks very cool from a trailer standpoint. The problem is that you dash with the Y button, so maybe you just wanted to dash. Y also blocks, so maybe you wanted to just guard, instead you've fallen into this pre-animated sequence that you didn't even want to start up. It gets worse when the Flowmotion is entirely automatic, you cannot actually direct your attack towards a target, and basically the battles have become even more muddled and--
--now. Xehanort is alive again thanks to some kind of bullshit Universe Law saying that heroes must kill the villain at least 900 times, and we've only killed him 873 times. And now - get ready - he's got TIME TRAVEL on his side! Yes, TIME TRAVEL! The details wind up becoming so massively stupid as to be beyond all description. I've had three-year-olds tell me more lucid stories than what Tetsuya Nomura has done. This series is started to fall into that really severe danger zone of storylines. We have omnipotent villains who are incapable of being destroyed, new super powers getting dragged out of nowhere without warning or explanation, time travel, the laws of the universe suddenly arcing out of their way to bring very very dead characters back to life. This is all starting to feel very familiar. I'm getting a really unsettling feeling like... oh no...
Jesus fuck, this is "Bleach"!
Its hard to look at all that happens in this storyline and get a warm, fuzzy feeling about this series' future. I have to remind the folks at home that Tetsuya Nomura was the primary writer for "Dissidia", a game whose storyline purposefully went out of its way to be as opaque and pointless as possible. And since every one of these new installments seem to only increase the nonsense and silliness of the events, its hard to see how all of this could possibly be combined into a happy whole with "Kingdom Hearts--
This is the first Kingdom Hearts game where at times I do not even feel like I actually have control over character movement. The gameplay is mostly solid adventuring, it still has all the charms of what you've come to expect from one of these games, but it feels so much looser this time. The "Birth by Sleep" controls were never all that great, they were built for some kind of mutant sewer creature with two thumbs on their left hand and not regular humans, and the camera is extremely slow and virtually useless. Worse, the camera is too far zoomed in for the most part, both friendly and enemy Dream Eaters seem to just ignore the action for long stretches, and then you accidentally Flowmotion a mile away from where you meant to attack. The final boss battles really get the tightness and strategy back into the game, though its far from the most challenging Kingdom Hearts by any means, but until then, most of the regular battles are hopeless slogs of punching buttons seemingly at random.
--III". Somehow the Nobody business, the Memory stuff, the alternate Sora, and the evil dark city secret movie was brought together into a harmonious whole with "Kingdom Hearts II", but now its so much more obtuse. We have potentially seven playable characters, at least thirteen evil villains, four Xehanorts, time travel, and eighteen Soras. Remember when Kingdom Hearts was just the story of a boy from an island fighting Disney Villains to save Seven Princesses? Wasn't that time nice? I so badly miss those days.
A lot of this review has been really negative, which is definitely unfair. I've focused upon the aspects of the game that work worse than a normal Kingdom Hearts game, because the vast majority of the game is just a perfectly serviceable action RPG of the style that you've come to expect from this series. You still have the impressive charms of wandering from World to World, meeting Disney characters, and fighting villains. And "Kingdom Hearts 3D" gets special extra points for including one of my favorite Disney movies ever, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", which I've been waiting for ever since the very first game.
Even when the story is badly muddled and shuffled, there's something you cannot deny that is definitely lovable about Kingdom Hearts, even at its cheesiest. There must be at least a hundred embarrassingly soppy speeches in this game where either Sora or Riku pronounce their love for their friends and express how important their loved ones are to their adventures. In another game or show, I would wrap my face in my hands and cry on the floor, but Kingdom Hearts seems to have earned that. These characters are so well-developed and iconic at this point, its hard to find much fault with whatever they do. Almost in spite of myself, I found "Droop Drip Drop" to be more and more fun as I went on. Intellectually I could name at least a thousand things wrong with almost every element - the worlds are too barren, the platforming is too loose, the camera is worse than its ever been in the entire series history - but then I would still suspend all that and still have fun.
True blue patriots of the Kingdom of Hearts will be able to ignore all problems, they might even be so delusional as to claim that the Dream Eaters and the Dropping mechanic were good ideas. I am not so far gone that I am blind to what are obvious problems the game and its design. Do not forget that this easily the second-worst Kingdom Hearts game ever made, by easy measurement. But its still a lot of fun, and I found myself unable to regret my purchase. The problems were bad, they story was awful, but you have to forgive that, because the core is still warm. Yeah, time travel and flat invincible villains is a load of bullshit, but that's not really the point.
Kingdom Hearts isn't about its labyrinth of twists and metaphysical babbling. Maybe it is to Tetsuya Nomura, but if it is, he is a badly misguided human being who will never understand what he has created. Its about a fun heartwarming romp through space from childhood memory to childhood memory to "The World Ends With You" fanservice. That's what makes this game playable and fun despite all of its many deficiencies. I guess I cannot bring myself to ever truly hate a Kingdom Hearts game...
...unless its "Re:Coded" because seriously, what a fucking rip-off.
COOKIES!!! Have some!
* Minus 1DS.
** There are a few token references to the events in "Re:Coded", probably just to assure consumers that their time wasn't wasted when they bought that game. However, trust me, you don't need to play "Re:Coded" to understand the greater Kingdom Hearts universe. You might as well watch the "Star Wars Holiday Special" to better understand "The Empire Strikes Back".
*** Speaking of which, I really do need to play that game one day. My list of games is quite insane at this point.