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It’s been ten years since Kingdom Hearts first arrived on the scene to the critical acclaim of many and the fanfare of most. In that time there have been several follow ups with a direct sequel, several spinoffs and spiritual successors. It’s a franchise that has remained current yet not having played a Kingdom Hearts game in six years, Kingdom Hearts 3D feels and plays like a game that relies heavily on nostalgia for better or for worse. 

Kingdom Hearts 3D feels immediately familiar.  Think of it like an old buddy you haven’t seen in years but somehow manage to pick up right where you left off. In between that time there have undoubtedly been many stories told, friendships made and lost, and most importantly, personal growth and development. A nostalgic history alone is not enough to sustain the old friendship and new mutual experiences must be crafted to re-forge the friendship bond. Cheesy metaphor aside, this is exactly what playing Kingdom Hearts 3D feels like. It feels like you need to start the friendship anew because too much has happened in between and the two parties are in different places in their lives. But that’s all part of the fun or rediscovery. 

If like me, you haven’t played a Kingdom Hearts game since the sequel in 2006 and are concerned that you have fallen tragically behind with the story, don’t. The game does a great job of filling you in on all the previous games in episodes as you progress through the game. The question I ask you is, why do you even care about the story? Kingdom Hearts is known for many things, and good storytelling is not one of them. KH 3D has not changed that pattern of convoluted storytelling, if anything it’s the the worst in the bunch. Kingdom Hearts 3D takes up directly after Re:Coded, but it might as well have been KH 2 for all the difference it makes. That being said, this is probably the best time to play a Kingdom Hearts game because the ending leads in directly to the long anticipated Kingdom Hearts 3 which is surely the next game in line for the series, yes finally. 

Where the Kingdom Hearts series excels is in the presentation of the magical worlds inspired by mashups of the Disney and Final Fantasy Universes. KH3D continues with that tradition except that the worlds this time around seem third rate and uninspired. At this point, the most popular Disney properties have been used and rehashed in previous titles so finding original and compelling settings is getting increasingly challenging. However, there were a few exceptions. The Fantasia and Tron worlds were fantastic because they were used for more than just settings. The gameplay was directly influenced by the gorgeous environments which made them all that more enjoyable and memorable.  I wish the same could be said about the rest of the worlds. 

One of the biggest and most jarring changes in KH3D is the addition of the Drop mechanic. After playing with either Sora or Riku for a designated amount of time, the character is forced to drop from the game. It’s basically a timed turn base feature. So If I was playing with Sora and was dropped from the game, I would be forced to play with Riku for a period of time and vice versa. This change is unavoidable but it can be delayed. Sora and Riku have their own parallel story lines so it’s not like the player is experiencing the same content with a different character. And while it takes some getting used to, it’s actually a clever mechanic that keeps the gameplay fresh.  However, it doesn’t come without one major flaw. There were a few times when I was in the home stretch of a long and arduous boss fight and was forced to drop which was unbelievably infuriating. Especially upsetting because when you reenter the storyline you were dropped from, you’re forced to start that fight at the beginning. I should add that the boss battles, especially towards the end of the game, are some of the most challenging and unforgiving fights I’ve encountered in a very long time. There should have been some foresight about this issue. 

An odd yet prominent addition is the pet battle/companion feature. It takes the place of having Goofy and Donald as your companions, which admittedly, I really missed. A couple of Pokemon-like companions was not the same as having two characters with personalities as my allies. However, they had their role to play. You’re able to create Spirits, (companions), via crafting by obtaining random materials throughout your journey. They can range from painfully cute puppies to a fierce tyrannosaurus rex. Each Sprit has their own combat abilities and roles in which they assist you. And some have critical power ups that play crucial roles during boss battles or when overwhelmed with enemies. The Spirit system is odd in that a lot of time and resources were put in place to make what I think is the most superfluous feature in the game. Its so involving and complex that it could be it’s own stand alone game and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be in the future. It felt a little out of place in this world though. 

While Kingdom Hearts 3D might look a little infantile on the surface, its anything but a kids game. It’s a very complex and involving RPG that might be a little intimidating to players not familiar with the series but it’s forgiving and fair. And if you’re new to the series, you probably shouldn’t be playing this anyway.  The learning curve is steep,  but once the gameplay mechanics are mastered, its hard to put the game down. If there was ever a time to rekindle your friendship with you’re old friend, now would be the perfect time.