The lights are on
For years, fans have been waiting for Kingdom Hearts III. They have often scoffed at the many handheld installments in the series thus far. And while the more dedicated fans have found plenty of enjoyment in the most recent installments, most fans have just shrugged them off. But much like with Birth by Sleep, anyone who has enjoyed a game in the past of this series would be doing themselves a disservice to skip this game.
The game picks up right after the events of KHII - don't let the younger-looking Sora and Riku fool you. It wastes no time in presenting you with your main quest: to pass the Mark of Mastery exam and become a Keyblade master. The story also throws in many references to Birth by Sleep and 358/2 Days. Even if you haven't played those installments, though, no need to fret - this game features reports that summarize past games excellently.
The story itself is excellent, complete with many Disney characters as well as the original characters you've come to know and love. Sora and Riku really mature as characters, and whoever your favorite character is, they most likely appear at some point. A few plot twists exist, but for the most part they are easy to see coming. Nonetheless, they still add to the tension of the plot and really prepare things for KHIII. The voice acting is excellent as always - as to be expected from a cast that includes Leonard Nimoy.
The gameplay is the same action-packed fiesta as always, and really does a great job of improving on past mechanics while adding new ones. The Deck Commands from BbS return, and insure that your frequent casting of Firaga doesn't interfere with your need to cast Cura. Limits, combination attacks introduced in KHII, return with the new Dream Eater allies. The best part of the gameplay in by far Flowmotion, which feels similar to the Reaction Commands of previous installments, but allows you to walljump off of almost any surface in the game. Combat always feels fresh thanks to the large arsenal of attacks at your disposal.
The Dream Eater system works fairly well; it's nice to be able to customize your party to such a full extent. I became addicted to making new Dream Eaters and unlocking new abilities for myself through the Link system. It is somewhat annoying that this roundabout way is the only reliable way to unlock abilities and commands, but it's still fun even if it can be frustrating.
The graphic are absolutely gorgeous - you'll hardly notice the lack of Antialiasing on the 3DS. The 3D effect is nice, albeit not useful or necessary. In fact, the effect is sometimes disorienting during combat; as such, I tended to turn the 3D up only during cutscenes. The soundtrack is perhaps the best in the series to date; some tracks are jazzy while others are techno. Plenty of the tracks are reminiscent of older games, and the remixes of TWEWY songs are cool as well.
Ultimately, the game suffers from a few annoyances. For starters, the drop gauge always degrades too fast. While I like the idea of switching between Sora and Riku, the drop gauge tended to get on my nerves. Additionally, there are a few difficulty spikes at the end, especially on Riku's side - he's forced to fight three bosses in a row right before his two final bosses. The game does provide a checkpoint system between the battles in case you die during one of them, but if you find that you are too low of a level to successfully beat the later battles (like I did), you'll end up having to leave and come back later to fight all three bosses again. It's not the end of the world, but it sure frustrated me. Lastly, there isn't as much post-game content as is typical for these games, so the longevity isn't as good as it often is.
Ultimately, I would call this the best handheld entry to date, which is saying something considering how great Birth by Sleep was. In my recent blog, however (found here), I debated over which game in the series was the best thus far. Though there are many ways that Dream Drop Distance is better than Kingdom Hearts II, I would still say that the second console installment is the better game - its larger world, many extras, and compelling story make it hard to beat. Nevertheless, fans of any of the Kingdom Hearts games should pick this title up immediately - especially if they want to play the incoming Kingdom Hearts III.
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