My favorite Disney-movie is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. While I do not think it is a perfect or even one of the best movies by Disney, it really is my favorite due to touching upon mature themes, such as the power of religion. I say this because I had a discussion with my sister in 2011 what worlds we wanted in the next Kingdom Hearts game. We both immediately said The Hunchback of Notre Dame as it seemed like a perfect fit and behold: Dream, Drop, Distance even teased with a trailer showcasing the bells of Notre Dame. At this point, I had not the best knowledge about Kingdom Hearts and did not experience the games in chronological order. Now that I am older, wiser, and there have been two years since I last played 3D, I am excited to see how well it holds up.
Illogical and symbolic, like a dream
Due to the fear of master Xehanort’s possible return, Riku and Sora are sent out to take on the Mark of Mastery exam by Yen Sid to become true keyblade masters. Their test will be to wake up seven worlds from their sleep by unlocking seven keyholes. However, this will not be an easy task as these places have been inhabited by Dream Eaters, creatures that feed on dreams. Most are nightmare-versions that are a threat to the keyholes, but the “spirit” ones are there to support our heroes against the nightmare. I suppose you could say they are different beasts that are either good or evil. Riku and Sora set out on their mission, but as soon as the first world, they notice that there is more to this test than they anticipated.
The story might sound simple, but I really wish it was this time. What is the biggest problem with this story is the new lore added. Sora and Riku will visit the same places, but within their own parallel timeline and world. This concept of two alternative worlds affected by someone’s dream is on a level of Inception or Paprika, but never explained well. They try to elaborate on it, but the exposition leaves a lot to be desired as it comes of as incomplete. How do two versions of the same world exist, why are Riku and Sora in separate parts of it and yet can reach borders that separates the two worlds, and why does time fly differently? It comes up with so many questions that I wonder why they made it so complicated.
Surprisingly, this big issue is the only one I have. Even if the new lore is hard to be fond of, the actual progression of each area is enjoyable as well as the overall plot. Riku and Sora will have their own story-parts in the same worlds, which either complement each other’s actions or have completely different adventures. This makes the two perspectives more interesting and the story themselves have some nice morality to them. The overall theme throughout the story is connections, which goes well in a game with heart in the title. They also address some questions I had from previous titles, and I was surprised how well they were implemented. The smaller stories from each world can be rushed, but have at least progression to make them clear and showcasing their reasoning for their theming. Our main duo and the side-characters like Goofy, Donald, and the people we meet inside the worlds, are likable and charming like a Disney-movie should be. They all present a good personality and the villains are great additions, with Frolo being a personal favorite. It can be cheesy, but it is hard to not enjoy it at the same time.
The worlds themselves are intriguing and follows the movies really well. I also love the cameos in the first world, with them being cool inclusions to the story. It really feels like an adventure through Disney-worlds and while it is fun, I, unfortunately, have so many questions in the end and the lore really did not need to expand anymore. Speaking of which, for those who haven’t played the previous games or have not watched the movies, which I would recommend doing both (at least for the most part), you will be given either a flashback- cutscenes, or novels on what has happened previously, making it easy to catch up. It is not necessary to enjoy the story, but it is there if you should need it.
Story Score: 6.5/10
Destruction, drop and Dream Eaters
Kingdom Hearts 3D follows the footsteps of Birth By Sleep, by being an action RPG with worlds to explore and fast-paced combat. You take control of Sora and Riku semi-alternative, which we will get back to later. Both sport a three-hit combo, dodge and block-moves, jump, and the ability to cling on walls. These are the basic parts, but their movement will expand with the returning ability- and skill commands. Since this is a combat-heavy game, let’s start with the skill commands. Here, you will equip different attacks in the order you want them to appear, with plenty of magic-attacks, combat-moves, combinations of both, and potions to discover and use, making it easy to create your fighting style. All except for potions will need to recharge to be used again, similar to how it worked before, so normal attacks and dodging will be important. You activate skill-commands by simply pressing X and can move between them with the D-pad. However, you can’t fuse attacks to make them stronger anymore. Instead, there are a couple of new additions to the battles.
One is the adorable Dream Eaters you can create by mixing materials together. These are AI-controlled creatures that can provide a boost in your stats, fight alongside you, and provide you with new attacks. You can only have two alongside you, with one more to switch out on the go, and with how many there are in the game, it can be quite a time consuming to find the three right for you. They can level up similarly like you with battling enemies for XP or you can play with them and feed them to make them grow. This is actually simple, but fun as it uses the touchscreen well for mini-games where you bounce back balloons or fling them around in an Arkanoid-style game.
By leveling them up, they can both increase in stats and unlock new skills in a skill tree, which can create grand results and be expanded if you take good care of them. If that wasn’t enough, as you fight with them, you will gain more “link” in a bar under the animal’s health. When it is filled up, you can use that animal for special attacks. Riku will absorb their powers for different fighting-styles, while Sora will fight alongside them or use them. For example, Riku can absorb the dog-creature for a huge light-sword, while Sora will ride on it and bounce on all enemies in your way. You can also combine two of them for a stronger attack if you want to, which can create unique results. Should it be too hard to choose companions, you can also borrow from other players via Streetpass, making it easier to experiment before committing.
The other element is the reality shift. Whenever an enemy gets stunned or is low on health, you can swipe down on the touchscreen to initiate a finishing-move. These are different for each world, both in minigame and in what they will do. In the world where the Hunchback lives, you will create lines between your enemies and grind on them, and in the world of Tron, you will hack enemies and combine words to make them do different actions. These are fun finishers as they can affect multiple enemies and even manipulate objects in the world, which helps for both traversing and exploration.
And you are gonna need all of them, as the enemies can be tough. They all sport different attack-maneuvers, magic, and ways of approaching, with all dealing heavy damage to you. You have a lot of help already and even more we haven’t covered yet, but all enemies will be dangerous and can kill you if you don’t remember your more defensive moves, as well as normal attacks. This also goes for the boss-fights as some are massive with different attacks, some have a more unique way of fighting, and the last couple of fights will test all the skills you got. All are varied and fun to fight.
I suppose this makes it a good time to talk about the other aspect: ability command, which leads us to the platforming. You will acquire a bunch of different acrobatic skills, but unfortunately: most of them will be useless. This is because 3D goes all parkour with superhuman skills on you. By dodging or dashing into a wall or any environmental object, you will start to instantly move fast with your next dodge or dash, as this can make traversing levels a breeze. You move at a high speed, jump incredibly high, dash great distances, and you can use this at any time you would like as long as there is a wall or a vertical object nearby. It basically won’t stop unless you want it to. This is incredibly fun and can even be used for attacks against enemies or clever ways of traversing through areas. Some levels make great use of it, with my favorite being a factory with plenty of grind rails and alternative paths. But it makes any other non-combat ability almost worthless, which is a shame, despite it not being a focus. That being said, when the levels take advantage of your skills, with huge buildings to explore and grind rails for secrets, it’s all great fun.
As you might have noticed, you will play as both Sora and Riku. They both will visit worlds inspired by Disney and some familiar with the Kingdom Hearts series, with each having their own story-paths. However, unlike BBS, you switch between the characters by dropping into sleep, which happens if either a bar by your health-meter empties or if you do it on command at either the save-points or the overworld map. This might sound eerie annoying, but it is well implemented. You can use potions to extend your time using a character, both share the same Dream Eaters and access to skills (despite some being for certain characters only), and when you drop, you can use the score you earned by doing side missions and amount of drops you collected by fallen enemies to boost the other character. Should you drop in a fight, however, the battle will be reset when you come back and you must play as the other character. Save-points are set before the boss-fights, so I never found this a chore, more like a fun concept in changing it up the game slightly.
One element I did not expect, was entering the stages through a new gameplay mechanic. If you remember Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, both had gummi ship-missions that I could not stand, but this one has another interesting element. You will dive towards the worlds and have to either collect a number of stars, fight enemies, or kill a boss to venture further. These sections are simple, but entertaining as you can control the speed of your dive, attack by ramming downwards and use magic if you fill up a meter. It also helps that each area brings tons of rings to fly through, creative obstacles and enemies to be aware of. They are also short, so these segments never became a chore, but a fun distraction.
There are 7 worlds in total, and while you will go through as both Riku and Sora, they all are generally short, even if the entire game clocks in about 15-17 hours. Because of this, it does not feel repetitive and they do get some differences in the level-designs, some unique bosses, and their own unique abilities to make them slightly different, but also close enough to be easy to jump from one character to another.
I really love how much focus has gone to the clear combat, instead of just stat-upgrades. This can also be shown by the fact that you can only equip different keyblades, but have plenty of other means to fight due to the many attacks. The concept of two characters and changing between them, are a fun extra and works well, despite being an odd inclusion. The platforming is fast-paced and incredibly fun, but makes other abilities forgettable. Still, it is by far some of the most enjoyable fighting mechanics I have had in the series so far.
Gameplay Score: 8.5/10
Imagination in 3D
What a dreamlike game. Riku and Sora will travel through both familiar and more obscure worlds of Disney, such as the one based on the Three Musketeers and the inside of the whale from Pinocchio, with all having distinct colors and intriguing designs. The variation in artstyles each world holds are impressive, and you really feel like a part of each one you travel into despite how different they are. A favorite world of mine is Fantasia, giving wonderful colors, changes from spring to fall before ending with winter, and it is amazing. Even the chests and the dive-sections have designs that reflect the worlds you are in or going to.
The character models are fantastic, with plenty of characters that differ in designs, reflecting the artstyle of the worlds they are in well. It is amazing how realistic and cartoony characters can blend in a universe so well, but Kingdom Hearts has done that with great results before and it holds true here. The new enemies are inspired by real animals, and all are colorful plushies in all shapes and sizes that I simply want to squeeze. I almost feel bad for killing the nightmare-versions. The enemies from the movies are also well-designed, but I love the bizarre colors that give the new enemies quite abstract tones.
Music-pieces have been beautiful before in Kingdom Hearts games, and this one is no slacker with great attention to detail. Again with Fantasia, there is an eerie silence before you enter the world of music and it is all beautiful once you enter, with even your blade making sounds of instruments as you hit enemies and no form of voice-acting. Other tracks follow spectacularly, with old melodies redone, such as a jazzy version of Traverse Town, and new ones such as the intense battle-theme. All are fantastic, with a high focus on the world you are in and covering plenty of genres. The voice acting returns from previous games and some new faces as well. All lend their voices and are fantastic, making both the cheesy and the more serious moments work.
3D is, of course, possible and while it is good and gives us a clear depth, the framerate suffers greatly from it. Without it, the game still looks beautiful, but the framerate can drop when there are plenty of attacks on the screen, which is an eyesore. It is a shame when all the attacks are mesmerizing and filled with bright lights and attacks, but won’t be shown in full effect when there are plenty of elements going on. While there can be a huge amount of enemies on screen, some areas feel empty. The hunchback of Notre Dame’s version of Paris, has streets with no NPCs or even a reason for why there are none there except for the main cast from the movie.
Cutscenes return and feature some very impressive lipsyncing and very good animations to the characters, but I do wish the music blended in better. A couple of times, it simply ported over the music from the gameplay part and it did not fit the more serious tone of the scene, but luckily this happened only 3 times. Besides these issues, it is fantastic in its visuals and audio.
Presentation score: 9/10
Not tarot cards, but still pretty cool
New game plus returns, and extras like these are always fun. Transferring spirit and trophies (which are basically accomplishments) from one save to another, makes multiple playthroughs easier and more intriguing to experiment with new animals. But before you start the game, the difficulty modes doesn’t just make the adventure harder or easier, but also affects how easily you will acquire the secret ending. This is a good idea, but the ending is quite uninteresting and if you followed along this far, you should probably already have an idea on what will happen. Going out of your way to find everything, getting better ranks in dive-parts, and trying out different creatures are also great reasons for returning to this installment, so even if you take an easier road, the journey is still fun despite the secret ending being worthless and possibly something everybody saw coming.
Added to the game is a card-game called Flick Rush. Your three animals participate in a card game, where you are dealt 5 cards and have to fight the opponent in real-time, by either combining cards to attack or defend. This happens in real time, but you can’t just shuffle them out. You must take into consideration the action gauge, which limits the amount of cards to use and since cards reload slowly, you can’t just attack. It can help in-game and even includes multiplayer. While it doesn’t add much, it is a fun distraction nonetheless.
Extra score: 7/10
If you calculated, we are set right in the middle of 75 and 80, which should indicate that I’d recommend it in many regards, but when I start going between big numbers, I usually wonder what was the biggest focus in this game. And from what I see, it was the entertaining gameplay and the glorious combat. The lore is obscure and poorly told, and some of the extras aren’t worth going back for. But what is worth coming back for, is the journey itself. Meeting familiar characters, entertaining combat, mad parkouring, and all in beautiful presentation make it easy to recommend for anyone with a 3DS. There is a remake for the HD-consoles, but it oddly makes enemies slower, worlds have been stretched out to be bigger and understandably has multiplayer removed. It is, however, worth it, as it is essentially the same game, but the extra content alongside is forgettable. So the cheaper version for the 3DS is more worth your money.