Sunday, October 25, 2020

Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD

 Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD - Kingdom Hearts Wiki, the Kingdom  Hearts encyclopedia

Both Sides Now

Square-Enix and Disney’s joint Kingdom Hearts series has come along way since its inception in an elevator meeting between executives from both companies, although it would have a weird narrative direction where, between official numbered entries, there would be various side-games to fill in the storyline gaps between the titles, and it would be well over a decade before the “official” sequel received its conclusion in a “third” game. Among the games bridging the gap between the second and third numbered titles is Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD, its prior version originally released on the Nintendo 3DS, which provides an experience on par with other entries.

3D opens with Keybladers Sora and Riku’s summon to Master Yen Sid’s tower to take the Mark of Mastery exam to deal with the impending threat of the villainous Master Xehanort, which entails that both visit “sleeping worlds” that reveal a bit of backstory to the series. While the narrative is slightly more bearable than in other entries, the scenes with cartoony characters such as Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are somewhat excruciating, and given the inability to skip voiced text, the plot feels forced in the player’s face, and is middling overall.

The translation is mostly legible, with no visible spelling or grammar errors, although there is plenty of cliched dialogue involving hearts, light, and darkness, not to mention a bit of redundancy and loads of unnatural battle quotes such as Sora and Riku shouting the names of the spell elements they’re using, or in the former case say things such as “Faster!” and “Light!” However, the localization team actually did a fairly decent job of having voiced dialogue fit characters’ lips, with only some inconsistencies in this regard, but the writing itself is ultimately average.

3D evolves the franchise’s Keyblade-based combat, but not all for the better. In this entry, allies come in the form of Spirits, friendly versions of the main antagonistic Dream Eaters, which the player can create through raw materials gained from combat. Each Spirit has a development grid somewhat similar to, but not exactly like, the stat-increasing system of the tenth Final Fantasy, with Link Points obtained for the two active and one passive Spirits acquired through fighting. Some of these abilities can be surprisingly useful, particularly Leaf Bracer, which forbids foes from interrupting Sora or Riku’s healing.

Similar to Birth by Sleep, Sora and Riku each have command lists, with abilities consuming either one or two slots, and each ability needing to recharge after use. They can also primarily attack with their respective Keyblades, in addition to being able to utilize their environments in Flowmation abilities, but this can sometimes have adverse results, especially if the player is trying to get away from enemies to heal. The mentioned system also has occasional glitches, such as one I encountered that made one part of the final boss battles unwinnable and necessitate a reset. The gameplay generally does have good ideas, but the execution isn’t always good.

3D’s control also has an equal number of things going for and against it, with the former including helpful maps that the player can open and enlarge for once (at least outside battle) to get a better view of the area, and easy menus. However, dialogue during the many voiced cutscenes is skill unskippable, sure to alienate hearing-impaired players, and for some reason, the developers made the in-game clock more difficult to view, only when saving the game. It’s also annoying for NEW indicators to be flashing in the menus once the player gains new items or advances the plot, but things could have been worse.

One of the high points of 3D is its aural presentation, with the voicework largely being good and fitting the various characters, though the cartoony voices of characters such as Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, as with before, create a total dissonance, and the near-death alarm is still annoying, not stopping until the player is above critical HP. That each world has its own battle theme rectifies the typical JRPG issue of repetitive battle music is as with before nice, and the public domain music of the Fantasia-based world, Symphony of Sorcery, is nice. Ultimately, a decent-sounding game.

The visuals are by no means bad, but definitely have their rough spots. While the colors and environments mostly look good, aside from some occasional blurriness and pixilation when the scenery comes close to the camera, the framerate difference between the gameplay and narrative portions is very noticeable, the camera itself can be problematic at times in combat, and there are occasional reskins of Spirits and Dream Eaters. All in all, an average-looking game.

Finally, the interquel is just the right length, somewhere from at least twelve hours (if the player lucks out) to up to twenty-four, a New Game+ allowing for subsequent playthroughs with Spirits retained, although the slight frustration, even on Beginner mode, may discourage additional playtime.

In summation, Dream Drop Distance does have plenty of good ideas in combat such as the Flowmation mechanics, along with a good soundtrack and some lasting appeal, but the execution of the gameplay leaves something to desire, given the potential frustrations even on Beginner mode and rare glitch, not to mention the control issues, some of which 3D bequeaths from the game’s chronological predecessors, the inconsistent tone of the storyline, and the graphical presentation. It’s by no means a bad game, but as younger audiences seem to be the main audience of the franchise, the potential hiccups in the gameplay might alienate even them.

This review is based on a playthrough on Beginner mode of the version including with The Story So Far.

The Good:
+Keyblade combat and grinding Spirits can be fun.
+Good soundtrack.
+Visuals get the job done.
+Some lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Can be hard even on Beginner mode.
-Issues with control.
-Story has inconsistent tone.
-Graphics could have been better.

The Bottom Line:
Not bad, but not great, either.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 5.0/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 5.0/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 7.5/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 7.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 6.0/10

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