Al Unlocked Reviews – Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance

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After our adventure in the distant past of Kingdom Hearts, we move on to the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. As we keep going with this series, the titles just keep getting stranger. The first game to tackle in this collection is Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, a direct continuation of Kingdom Hearts 2 and Kingdom Hearts: ReCoded. It originally released on the Nintendo 3DS as the 7th game in the series in 2012, and it was then remade for the PS4 in HD in 2017. The remake sought to improve the UI over the 3DS version, and repurpose the gameplay elements that made exclusive use of the touchscreen so that they would work on a Dualshock 4 controller. I played the PS4 remake of this game, but I have played the 3DS version in the past and have some fond memories of it. I’m hoping to take a more critical look at the game since when I had played it before I hadn’t played a KH game since KH2, and now that I’ve been going on this marathon I can compare it to the rest of the series.

Want to see my first impressions leading up to this review? Take a look at my Progressive Looks series on Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance!

Premise

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In Dream Drop Distance we step back into Sora’s shoes, but he’s the lone Keyblade warrior this time either. Both Sora and his best friend Riku have been summoned to former Keyblade Master Yen Sid’s tower to undergo their Mark of Mastery exam. Their objective is to find seven Sleeping Keyholes in the Realm of Sleep, which is made up of worlds that were taken over by the Heartless but still lie dormant after being freed by Sora in Kingdom Hearts 1. If they succeed they’ll both become stronger and be named Keyblade Masters. Things quickly go wrong however, as they’re separated almost immediately and are stalked by some creep in a black coat. Will Sora and Riku pass their exam and make it home safe? Or will they get railroaded into a bad situation?

Presentation

Much like the rest of the PS4 Kingdom Hearts games, Dream Drop Distance HD runs very well with a stable 1080p 60fps throughout the whole thing. It visually looks on par with what Birth by Sleep HD was, so there’s really no surprises there. The character models are also much the same from older instalments, even the weird lifeless faces that you see during some story cutscenes. It’s pretty much the same visual style through and through with no improvements. As far as the music goes, this is the best soundtrack in the series since KH2, with a lot of tracks getting stuck in my head.

The story and characterization in Dream Drop Distance really fall flat for me. Right off the bat the game introduces the concept of time travel into the story, which just needlessly overcomplicates an already overcomplicated plot. The game tries to explain how it works and the limitations of time travel in the KH universe, but it just feels like a bad plot convenience and the story was fine as it was without adding time travel into the mix. I also don’t remember Sora being so braindead in the rest of the games. Seeing Sora fail to develop an ounce of skepticism throughout the entire game despite being led into a trap in the very first area of the game was infuriating. Thankfully Riku is much a much smarter, and bearable, character to follow.

Gameplay

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Dream Drop Distance continues to use the Command Deck system introduced in Birth by Sleep, with a few changes. Firstly, there’s the addition of party members in the form of Dream Eaters. Dream Eaters are the monsters you fight in the Realm of Sleep, and you’re given the ability to summon and fight with your own. On top of being party members, special attacks, fighting styles, and character progression are all tied to Dream Eaters. Special attacks and fighting styles are used by “linking” with your Dream Eaters; Link Attacks for Sora, and Link Styles for Riku. Link Attacks are good to use while in a pinch and involve Sora teaming up with the Dream Eater for some attack, like Sora mounting a fat cat and riding it while it belly flops your enemies. Link Styles, on the other hand, I found to be pretty much useless despite being really cool in theory. Link Styles involve Riku fusing with his Dream Eaters to augment his own physical attacks. This ties in with a bigger issue with Dream Drop Distance’s combat, but let’s save that for later. The second big difference this game has from Birth by Sleep is the addition of Flowmotion, a new movement option that allows you to use a ton of acrobatic maneuvers for both general movement and combat. Both enemies are environments are design with this in mind in Dream Drop Distance, with grind rails, poles, and walls everywhere to style off of, and there are even enemies you can trigger Flowmotion off of. The final big difference this game has from Birth by Sleep is the Reality Shift, a sort of mid-combat mini-game you can trigger after damaging an enemy enough. These mini-games were redone from the 3DS version so that they would work properly on a home console controller since they used the 3DS touchscreen before. They’re cool, but unnecessary in most circumstances. You’ll also be accidentally using a lot of your commands when Reality Shifting since commands are bound to Triangle and Reality Shift is bound to Triangle + X, which can really mess you up if you were planning on using a Cure spell and had it selected before Reality Shifting.

The feel of combat is slightly better than what Birth by Sleep offered, with Flowmotion giving you more movement options and being able to more easily combo physical attacks into commands. Unfortunately, much like with Birth by Sleep, physical attacks are next to useless in Dream Drop Distance. They’re slow, don’t deal much damage, and always feel unsafe to use in any situation. This also makes Riku’s Link Styles useless, as I said before. You’re pretty much stuck just mashing the Triangle button to use all your commands and avoiding damage until your commands recharge, which isn’t great. Character progression isn’t amazing in this game either, with all of your abilities and commands learned from levelling your Dream Eaters and spending points on their Link Boards, which are reminiscent of something like Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid. It’s not as fun as melding commands was in Birth by Sleep, and I’m not really a big fan of Dream Eaters themselves as they didn’t really feel that great on their own merit and were only necessary for the Link Board.

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There’s a few pieces of mini-game content to play around with in this game, with only one thing being mandatory. That one mandatory thing is Diving. Diving is effectively Dream Drop Distance’s take on Gummi Ship missions; auto-scrolling stages in which you dodge debris and attack enemies to accomplish some objective before your reach the end of the stage. They’re pretty unremarkable and I found myself just mashing the dive attack button to get through them as fast as humanly possible. The rest of the mini-games are okay considering they were originally done on the 3DS touchscreen game. The most notable mini-game out of these ones is Flick Rush, which is a card battling game using your Dream Eaters. Each card has a number and the player with the higher number deals damage, with the ability to stack cards to make higher numbers. It’s pretty much shot-for-shot how combat works in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories except you don’t actively control the movement of your Dream Eaters. It’s an interesting mini-game and there’s quite a bit to it, with a number of different cups and stages to go through.

Final Thoughts

Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance really isn’t as good as I remembered it being. I wonder if it was just because I hadn’t played Kingdom Hearts in so long or I had just purchased my 3DS and everything was awesome then. The story left me scratching my head at its best and angry at its worst. The combat, while improved over Birth by Sleep in some respects, is still repetitive and over-reliant on commands, and raising Dream Eaters is nowhere near as fun as melding commands was. I would only recommend this game if you really want to experience the story leading up to Kingdom Hearts 3. It’s not all bad, but it’s not worth the price of admission.

I do not recommend Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.

Total playtime: 15 hours, 49 minutes.

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