Kingdom Hearts has a convoluted history, borne of the bizarre partnership that can only come from sharing a buildingspace, the series has become a posterboy for the derision often heaped upon the Square side of Square-Enix's modern games. Its detractors arguing that it's an utter betrayal of the material that principally composes the background of its story. It's an unfortunate attitude to hold as those who can't shake it's grip long enough to try Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance (officially abbreviated Kingdom Hearts 3D) will miss out on an incredibly well designed Action RPG, a game with excellent combat, fun systems to plumb the depths of, gorgeous presentation, and even a decent enough story when the game puts its mind to it.
In fact, let's get that story out of the way shall we as it's probably the most controversial aspect of the series. A long convoluted tale about hearts, souls, and anime dudes who do or do not have them. I mused while playing this game that Kingdom Hearts has good writing but bad plotting. Individual scenes can quite competently pull from established series mythology when they need to, but it's hard to disentangle it all from a pool of people doing weird things for hard to comprehend reasons. Kingdom Hearts 3D is probably the first game in the series since the first that sets out to answer more questions than it raises. In a noble attempt to both justify and explain every tangential game ever released in the franchise, the game provides summaries of every game as information from it becomes relevant. Every major event in the series is touched on in some capacity despite the core premise (Sora and Riku taking their keyblade mastery exams( seeming like it doesn't really fit the idea. If you can stomach the confusion inherent to the whole premise, KH3D manages to make the whole story, strung along by generous helpings of charming and familiar Disney vignettes, surprisingly palletable.
Kingdom Hearts' gameplay is sort of split into two paradigms, pre-Birth By Sleep is traditionalist RPG mechanics mixed into an action setting, post BBS goes for a more flexible system, allowing the player to determine their characters' precise ability loadouts via a system called the Command Deck. The Command Deck has slots for individual commands that recharge on individual timers based on when they were last used. An early deck might consist of "throw keyblade, cure, fire, jumping downard strike". Naturally this allows for the player to create a character whose suite of abilities is very specifically tailored to the play style, while still forcing them to consider carefully what they want. My intensely close up style for Sora often times didn't mix well with the fact that I only allocated one slot for his healing spell. Mixed in with the command deck are spirits called Dream Eaters made from enemy drops and (sometimes) recipes. Dream Eaters can expand a character in a more under the hood fashion as each has a set of skills they can imbue on a character, anything from extending the length of a Sora and Riku's natural combos to granting immunity to certain status effects. This creates an interesting balancing act, individual spirits can be quite useful, but playing with a pat hand for too long will stunt character growth in other ways.
That's all before the actual fight starts though, in the heat of battle the games virtues and excellent production values show through. KH3D looks like an updated version of Kingdom Hearts 2 in the graphics department, running at a rarely stuttering framerate and filled with all sorts of gorgeous candy-colored effects. Afficianados of the franchise will notice levels that tend toward a more wide open and multi-layered style, while this would seem to slow things down, the new flowmotion system allows for incredibly quick traversal. In general the expansive level design just makes the whole thing more joyful to explore. Accompanying all this is a gorgeous score that is tonally fitting and fun.
I'm convinced that under the right circumstances, nobody is truly immune to the warm grip of nostalgia. Within all of us there's a sugar coated memory of a time we think fondly about. Divorced of any concerns we had at the time, we can still find an unabashed love for the things we loved so long ago even if our brain tells us that they're dumb or hokey. To me, nothing represents this virtue like Kingdom Hearts as a franchise, it's got its dumb aspects, but it's brilliantly designed and incredibly fun to play. If you've got a 3DS or any fondness for quality Action/RPGs, you'll find few better options than KH3D.
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