This review contains spoilers
Going into this game I fully expected to hate it considering how hated this game is within the circles I run in, but honestly I enjoyed thKingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance a lot. I can kind of see why people dislike this game but for me personally I just vibed with it a lot more than I expected too and I'd consider it as good, if not slightly a bit better than Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep.
To give a bit of context Dream Drop Distance, sometimes known as Kingdom Hearts 3D due to its title and also the fact that it was released originally on the 3ds, Follows the events of Kingdom Hearts 2 and ReCoded that sees Sora and Riku taking their Mark of Mastery exam to become keyblade masters. In order to achieve this they must travel to worlds that are stuck sleeping in their memories from before they were swallowed by the darkness and open their keyholes in order to restore the worlds to what they once were. Personally I don't have a problem with this set up and I think the execution and the direction the story goes in is pretty interesting, but before I get into that I do want to talk about how this game is to actually play first.
So the core gameplay of Dream Drop Distance is incredibly similar to Birth By Sleep's systems at first with several new additions to mix things up a bit. The game still has you use the command deck to cycle through abilities and spells like in Birth By Sleep but unlock new abilities this time around via the Dream Eaters, which function as the main type of enemy you'll face, your party members, and discount pokemon. You get the abilities by creating a link with the dream eaters in your party that give you points which you spend on their own unlock tree that gives different commands, abilities, and buffs in order to help Sora and Riku. A surprise bonus with this system this time around is that all dream eaters and ability unlocks are shared between Sora and Riku. This was a welcome change from how Birth By Sleep handled abilities where you would have to spend a good chunk of time regrinding for the same necessary abilities on each character such as once more or leaf bracer. That being said, I'm not the biggest fan of the method for unlocking these abilities this time around.
While I do like the Dream Eaters unlock system in theory it overall just feels a lot less fun than mixing commands to me personally. It is most likely because it takes a lot longer to grind out the ability points you need for each Dream Eater compared to grinding for command levels in Birth By Sleep, but it also makes getting new commands a bit less fun because instead of getting buffs and abilities such as once more as attachments to commands you have to unlock them separately which adds to the amount of grinding you need to do; and trust me when I say that late game you will need Leaf bracer, once more, and second chance or some bosses will just oblitarate you. It's not the worst thing in the world but it did arbitrarily add to the playtime it felt like to me personally. This feeling is amplified a bit by the fact that a lot of the Dream Eaters with the necessary abilities are locked behind finding hard to find dream pieces in order to form the Dream Eater, another thing you have to grind for just to get some abilities to help you play the game without dying.
One new addition that I thought was the best addition to the combat they've made since Kingdom hearts 2 is flowmotion. When it comes to movement in games I love going fast and being able to do cool things while moving fast, and flowmotion is just that but with an added combat flair to it. Flowmotion is a system where by pressing the square while next to certain objects you enter a sped up state and by pressing square again you can launch yourself around to other objects and just keep doing this in order to traverse the landscape as quick as possible. This ability can also be used for combat; if you press X instead of square after entering flowmotion you'll do a flowmotion attack on the nearest enemy. It's also possible to do flowmotion attacks on larger enemies by running up to them and trying to activate flowmotion. I really liked this ability because it just lets you bounce around super quickly when you need to get places as well as adding more options and choices of attack.
The game also returns the on rails shooter style of gameplay that was present in the gummi ship sections in 1 and 2, sort of, via the dive minigame. Every time you enter a world for the first time you have to dive into it, which is usually just Sora or Riku falling towards the world with some kind of objective to complete like beat the boss or collect 500 star points. They're not amazing but I had a surprising amount of fun with them, especially considering how little I care for the gummi ship sections of the mainline games.
As much as I enjoy this game it does have a bit of a weird relationship with bosses though I will say. It seems to frontload all of its pretty bad to not great bosses right up front but once you get out of the first three worlds after Traverse Town I think the boss quality picks up tremendously. I think the final gauntlet of Riku's story with the multitude of bosses he fights are legitimately incredibly fun and Sora's final boss is pretty great also I felt. They even brought back Churnabog from Kingdom Hearts 1 but made his fight one of my favorite in the game instead of just outright one of the worst bossfights I've ever played like in Kingdom Hearts 1. Neither reach the level of Kingdom Hearts 2 or BBS's final boss fights but I enjoyed them immensely either way.
The one gameplay thing in this game that I really can't say anything positive about though is the drop meter. The drop meter is essentially a timer that forces you to swap to whichever character you are not playing as when the meter hits zero. This is such an odd system to have for this game that really does not need to be there. It just forces you to stop what you're doing in the middle of a fight or traversal segment without really giving you a good reason as to why you need to switch other than that they want you to regularly switch between Sora and Riku. Which could have been achieved in a lot better feeling of a way if they just forced you to switch after each world or after key story points; something that already happens at key points of the story. That being said as annoying of a system as this is it is made a bit more manageable by the fact that there are extremely cheap items you can buy that just negate the drop meter entirely because it just refills it and changes the intensity of it back to normal so you don't lose the meter at a faster rate. I'm not sure why this system is in the game because it adds nothing to it, but at the same time you quickly learn how to work around it so its far from the worst thing this game could have done.
Now it's time to talk about the story, I will be spoiling a lot going forward so this is the warning if you have interest in playing the game but don't want to know what's going on story wise.
This game's plot gets a lot of flack for being stupid and too confusing but honestly I kind of found it pretty straight forward outside of one aspect which was just me forgetting a detail of Kingdom Hearts 1 since its been two years since I played it; there are definitely dumb moments in the story though I won't deny that. That being said, I do feel the dumb stuff was not as bad as it was made out to be before I played the game. The most prominent example of something dumb for me was Xigbar's "I'm already half Xehanort" line which while it did make me roll my eyes I kind of got what it was going for? It felt like an in character way for Xigbar to quickly say "Xehanort's heart fragment is already inside of me but its not the controlling force" to Sora who has shown up to this point to not be the brightest. It's a dumb line regardless but I do think there's some sense to it following the series's logic and how these characters act.
Though most likely the main reason people complain about this game's story is most likely the time travel aspect, which frankly I do not mind because I really don't have as much of a problem with time travel media as other people do. Especially in this case since it seems like there's pretty clear cut rules on how time travel is handled in universe so it's not just an end all be all to problems like it could be used to be. Them establishing that time travel exists, people can't just travel back in time to whenever they want, and that even if you mess with things it can't just change fate all being set up in one scene was a lot of information to drop within a ten minute timeframe but I do appreciate it doing that because it cleanly answers a lot of the questions raised by the introduction of time travel.
I also really enjoyed Riku being the more prominent main character of the game. Not only does he get a lot of time to shine throughout the story but he has some of the best boss fights, and he gets to be the one to finish the story and fight the final boss as well as being recognized as a master of the keyblade. This last part is something that I find really cool because it sort of completely's Riku's arc from the first game to now where he fell to darkness and lost his chance to be the keyblade's chosen weidler because of it, and then after being pulled out of the darkness and struggling with it continuously he managed to pull himself out of it and free himself entirely before coming into his own destiny as a master of the keyblade. It's such a great end to this character arc for Riku and I can't wait to see what he does going forward as a master of the keyblade.
I also was actually pretty okay with how they brought back a lot of the organization members into this. While I feel like the explanation is a bit odd, the idea that once both the nobody and the heartless that were spawned from the same body die they return to form themselves again does work within the series's own internal logic and hey it gave us more Axel/Lea so I'm cool with it. It does make me wonder which other members of the organization are back and whether we'll see them as enemies or foes in Kingdom hearts 3. We already know Saix/Isa is back as well as Xigbar/Briar, but I'm interested to see who came back fully and what characters are important to the plot going forward.
Outside of the actual main plot I have to say that despite not being a big disney guy I feel like the world selection in this game was kinda great honestly. I'm not sure why but I just heavily vibed with them using The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tron legacy, Pinnochio, The Three Musketeers, and Fantasia as their worlds this time around. Especially since the Dream Eaters played a roll in a number of the stories involving a good chunk of the worlds. Judge Frollo having a giant Dream Eater Dragon that he used to set fire to Paris was a really fun way to play on what I assume is something Frollo does in the movie, Fantasia being a chase through different shorts to get pages and then stop a Dream Eater from controlling Mickey, a giant T-Rex Dream Eater chasing the Princess's carriage in the Musketeers world, they all had really fun ways of integrating the Dream Eaters into the plot of each world instead of just directly making them repeats of the movie entirely like is something that happens in more than a few Kingdom Hearts worlds throughout the series. Also as someone who watched Fantasia for the first time only a day before getting to it in this game I have to say that was a lot of fun to get to play through the worlds of it in some sense.
As always with this series this game has some insanely good music. The Dread of Night, L'Emineza Oscura, the fantasia world music, The Eye of Darkness, and a few others are all great songs. As always, give the soundtrack a listen even if you don't play the game because it's great.
Overall Dream Drop Distance feels like a very underrated game to me, its far from perfect but I had a great time with it. The story has its dumb moments sure but I feel like overall the main idea/set up is cool; and at this point in Kingdom Hearts as a series dumb moments are kind of too be expected to some degree. Really good game that is definitely slept on too much in my opinion, definitely one to play instead of skipping if you're going through the series in my opinion.
Reviewed on Nov 27, 2021