The Kingdom Hearts series has generally been about as hit and miss as a sniper shooting blindfolded, so it would be easy to come into this latest installment, Kingdom Hearts 3D, with some hesitation. The first KH outing on 3DS is the first in full 3D, but what does it bring to the table? Let’s find out.
The plot, at least as much of it as was comprehensible, tells of Sora and Riku after the events of Kingdom Hearts II. They talk to punnily named Master Yen Sid about becoming keyblade masters, then it’s on with the main story, which will now be rattled through with the speed appropriate for its astonishing complexity:
Riku and Sora are both travelling through the same worlds and helping out the inhabitants in similar ways, with occasional help from characters from relative Square Enix unknown game The World Ends With You, but while they can sometimes see images of each other simultaneously moving through these worlds, they can’t physically interact with each other and to complete a world both Sora and Riku have to complete their respective parts and it’s like they’re stuck in separate universes and oh Christ, this can’t go on, what the hell is happening?
Seriously, don’t go into Kingdom Hearts 3D expecting to know what’s going on at any given point unless you’ve played every game thus far and have a PHD in Kingdom Hearts from the University of Square. For fans it’s probably right up their street, but it’s hard not to feel like the stories of these games could be made a lot simpler. Endemic is the problem that characters and plot points are introduced and referenced without being properly explained first, which only works for people who are already familiar with them. It’s fine to throw in a couple of nods for the fans (after all, the basic premise of Kingdom Hearts is ‘What if Final Fantasy met Disney’, but it shouldn’t constitute the main part of your story or you’ll be forcing people to either read an encyclopaedia’s worth of information or, more likely, give up half an hour in.
The gameplay is rather cluttered too, though you can get past that one by simply not using half the features. Combat is handled similarly to the other games, with a small menu allowing the player to swap between any of the moves or items loaded into it outside of battle. Beyond that, you travel with up to three spirits (rather than Donald or Goofy) which are constructed with items collected through combat and exploration. It’s useful to have several different types at your disposal since you can customise your partners to focus on different aspects of combat, whether it’s healing you, soaking up damage or supporting you with ranged attacks. You can play with them using the touch screen and included AR cards, but it’s never very necessary for anything except unlocking new abilities through a Final Fantasy XII style grid system.
The combat and exploration both rely on an interesting system called Flowmotion. Eschewing the controversial Quick Time Events that made up so much of Kingdom Hearts II, Flowmotion allows the player to interact with the environment in a fluid way, swinging off poles, jumping off walls, performing special moves and generally flinging themselves around the worlds like Sonic the Hedgehog with a giant key.
It sometimes makes exploration a little simplistic when you can zoom across the ceiling while infinitely wall jumping to keep your height up, but you’ll regret dodging enemy encounters in the long run because of the sheer difficulty of the bosses. Level grinding is a necessity for all but the very skilled, since bosses tend to have attacks that can stun-lock you into a pattern of repeated death that can become very tedious.
The major mechanic (and the one mentioned in the title) is Dropping. This essentially means switching between characters, which you can do at any given point from the menu. The problem is that it also operates on a timer, at the end of which you have no choice over swapping and it’s almost guaranteed that at some point you’ll find yourself unintentionally character-jumping midway through a boss fight. What’s unfathomable is why this was included. A cynic might say that it’s so that they have three ‘D’ initialled aspects of the game to make the title work properly, but it’s more likely to just be a case of a developer getting too carried away adding features and forgetting to make things practical for the player.
After the negative tone so far, one thing to note about KH3D is that it does a rather impressive job of translating the console graphics over to the handheld. Were it not for the slightly lower resolution, one could easily be forgiven for thinking they were playing Kingdom Hearts II. Textures are all nicely done and in a game with this much depth, the 3D really does it justice, bring the colourful worlds to life and drawing the player into the experience. It’s best played with the Circle Pad Pro if you have it, since camera control can be a bit on the awkward side, but ultimately you’ll never need to and the world certainly is enjoyable to see.
The areas included vary, with old favourites like Traverse Town (with a fantastic new soundtrack to go with it!) and The Grid returning alongside new locales like the Cite Des Cloches from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s good to see new locations included and players should have a lot of fun exploring familiar Disney worlds of their own accord.
All in all, Kingdom Hearts 3D is a game that ultimately tries to do too much in too little space. With a little less complexity, a little more streamlining of features and a plot that was better explained, this could have been a must-have title for the 3DS’ library. Still, it’s a promising game that’s good fun to play for the spectacle and with a gap in the schedule before New Super Mario Bros. 2 comes out, pick this up if you have the money to spare. 6.5/10