PREVIEW: KINGDOM HEARTS 3D: DREAM DROP DISTANCE

“Darkness did cover the world once, in legend. We know so little about the Keyblade War, only that it was just the beginning. Amidst that crisis a precious light was found. When the darkness falls, will we be found worthy of the precious light the legend speaks of?” – Master Xehanort, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep

A numberless suite, tucked into an unassuming floor of the Westin Hotel, attached to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, mid-afternoon on the first day of PAX East 2012. Outside the hotel suite door there is a sign on a short, silver presentation easel that reads “SQUARE ENIX” with an arrow indicating the looming portal to its right. My editor knocks on the slightly ajar door and I can feel the hairs on my arm standup. We’re greeted by a PR Representative and ushered into the darkened room. I imagine this is how they felt during prohibition, slinking into underground speak-easies. We were informed that we could take pictures of the posters arranged around the room, but of nothing else, especially gameplay.

Only picture I was allowed to take.

Only picture I was allowed to take.

There were four different games available, but I was only concerned with one, one that wasn’t available on the exhibition floor- Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. I took a seat on one of the couches and waited my turn. After a few minutes, i.e. an eternity, I assumed my place on a second couch and shook hands with the young developer who would walk me through the game. He handed me a Nintendo 3DS, which was setup for the demo and looking down I was rather surprised to find the game was still in Japanese. Thankfully, my guide was able to translate.

First of all, Dream Drop Distance is the direct sequel to KHII, while Coded, which does take place after events in KHII, is more of a side story. The plot here revolves around Sora and Riku undergoing the Mark of Mastery Exam, the same one introduced in Birth By Sleep. The venerable Yen Sid decides the pair of friends should go through the exam in preparation for the eventual return of Xehanort. Therefore, Sora and Riku dive into the “worlds submerged in slumber” to complete their quest. Dream Eaters occupy these worlds, some of which will befriend you and become known as Spirits, while others will oppose you, these will be Nightmares.

The demo I played was set in the world of Tron. Even though Sora has been to Space Paranoids before, this revisit takes place after the events of the movie sequel, Tron: Legacy. Otherwise, none of the Disney worlds in this game have appeared in the series thus far. During the interview, there was mention of two other worlds, those of Fantasia and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Throughout the game, the player will get to use both Sora and Riku employing the new Drop System. Each character has a Drop Gauge that depletes as they fight and act on the screen. Then when a character’s gauge empties, they “fall asleep” and the other character emerges. A function of this switch will allow the player to pass items and bonuses gained as Sora onto Riku, and vice-versa.

Every world the pair visits also has a unique “Reality Shift.” At a certain point, the player can activate this “Reality Shift” by either pressing A and X together or swiping down on the touch screen. When I performed this during the session, the bottom screen filled with a scramble of different letters and I had to pick out words, by tapping, in a certain order before the letters shifted, to activate the ability. The specific ability of my “shift” in Space Paranoids allowed me to possess a nearby enemy, which I promptly kamikazed in a massive explosion. Diving into the bottom screen in this manner will allow access to different abilities depending on the world.

The Dreameaters that Sora and Riku befriend, called Spirits, fight along them, also gaining levels and abilities. The player will be able to care for their spirits, helping them to grow stronger and this includes “grooming.” Although I didn’t see the process, I am imagining something akin to the old “NeoPets.” Each Spirit has a Link Gauge that fills up as they join along on the adventure. When the Link gauge fills, the player can activate a combo attack between Sora/Riku and the spirit involved. From what I understood, the player can have up two spirits accompanying the character at any time, and the Linking combination can include up to both spirits as well. As I played, I was able to combine Sora and one of his spirits, whereby Sora climbed on top of the spirit and together they bounded around the world smashing enemies. From what I was told, Sora and Riku combine for attacks in different manners and each Spirit will have their own unique link-combos.

Another great addition, as if all of this wasn’t already enough, is what they are calling “Flow Motion.” The player directs their character towards any wall and presses the Y button. This activates “Flow Motion.” Now the character can move along the walls, accessing new areas of each level. They can also jump from one surface to another while Flow Motion is active, say from a wall for a pillar. The player can also chain attacks to their Flow Motion through the A button. In my case, Sora leapt off the wall and drove his keyblade straight down through a pack of enemies and erupting on the floor. This not only gives the player another advantage during battle, but also promises to provide a fun set of moves to learn.

These were some of the more interesting changes I have seen in the series since the unique battle system in Chain of Memories. Playing this demo got me really excited for this series again (not that it was very difficult). Beside going back and replaying the rest of the series in preparation for the July 31st release date, I will also have to acquire a Nintendo 3DS. Which reminds me, this year also happens to be the 10th anniversary of the original release of Kingdom Hearts. In Japan, Square Enix released a Kingdom Hearts 10th Anniversary Box. Initially, internet rumors indicated that this box would come with a special edition 3DS. When the contents were revealed, however, they included instead a copy of KH: 3D, KH 358/2 Days and KH Re:Coded, the latter two for the Nintendo DS, a protective 3DS cover, a dozen post cards and of course the glorious box. I asked my host about this infamous box and whether we would see it here in the states. Unfortunately, the same commercial product will not reach our shores, but something special for the 10th Anniversary would be released, and that they were still “fleshing out” the details.

By the time we left the suite my head was spinning. I felt like I had just come back from some crazy clandestine Kingdom Hearts mission. Tantalized, yet somewhat satiated, I staggered down the hall, knowing my dreams that night would be filled with keyblades. There is a promise of a new English language build being ready for E3 this June. I guess I’ll have to wait until then for more.

“You’ve gotta just remember to be brave. Know that the darkness is there and don’t give in. If you do that, you will gain strength-the kind that’s unlike any other. You’ll be able to escape the deepest darkness-”     – Naminé, Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories

Written by Andrew

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PREVIEW: KINGDOM HEARTS 3D: DREAM DROP DISTANCE, 10.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

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