The Kingdom Hearts series has a rather strange history, both from its meandering, convoluted story and its numerous, non-sequential releases across various platforms. The two main entries came out on PS2 a generation ago, but the series has remained current thanks to the prequels, and side stories released on GBA, PSP, DS, and even Japanese cell phones. The latest entry, subtitled Dream Drop Distance, was announced alongside the 3DS and has made many strong appearances at various events and is finally nearing its July release.
With a demo from what can only be a near final build in hand, I can say that all signs point to Dream Drop Distance being an amazing experience. Previous handheld have entries been limited by their technology and/or have veered off into tangents and back stories that have added to the Kingdom Hearts mythology, but haven’t done much to further the plots and characters at the core of the franchise. While an E3 demo is never a great place to delve into story, Dream Drop Distance alleges to be a true sequel to the main plot.
Where the story ends up is anbody’s guess at this point, but plenty can be said for where the game sits right now from a design and gameplay perspective. All of the core elements will undoubtedly be familiar to long time fans, but Square Enix hasn’t been resting on their laurels when it comes to adding in new ideas while tweaking what is already there.
The demo featured two sections, one for each of the main characters, Sora and Riku. The two characters play the same way, so the primary difference between these sections is plot driven as the two move along separate paths to progress the story. The gameplay itself has not seen much in the way of drastic changes; exploration is mostly linear as players jump and fight their way from one plot point to another.
Combat, however, has seen a few tweaks. Goofy and Donald are gone as party members, and in their place are actually good versions of the baddies you fight. This means the final game will feature a much greater variety of comrades than previous games, and each features a unique link attack that can be unleashed to decimate enemies after a bar is filled up during the course of fighting alongside them.
The other big addition is an enhanced focus on mobility thanks to a highly useful and flexible dash move. Outside of combat dashing can be used along with polls and rails to create some spectacular acrobatic feats, which have been featured in trailers but were surprisingly excluded from this demo. However, in combat, dashing makes for some useful dodging but can be further utilized to link attacks and juggle enemies into the air where you can end with incredibly powerful, and cool looking finishing moves. Altogether combat just feels thoroughly smooth, fast, and fun.
And of course no Kingdom Hearts game would complete with console pushing levels of production values. Square Enix has crafted large, beautifully crafted environments filled with detailed characters and no noticeable hit to the frame rate, even with the 3D turned up to the max. And speaking of 3D, it is gorgeous; the additional depth further highlights the beauty of the environments, but the feature is at it’s best in combat, especially when the aforementioned link attacks are launched. The overall 3D experience of the demo was both immersive and visceral.
Put all the pieces together and you have a truly top notch demo, and given the fact that the game is out in Japan and hits US stores in a few weeks, it’s hard not to be excited for Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance. The game maintains the series’ top notch production values and the demo played better than any of the other entries I have played. Assuming the game doesn’t deviate radically from what this demonstrations, I can’t help but be very excited for Dream Drop Distance.