Saturday, September 8, 2012

Nintendo 3DS Recommendations: Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance

The Nintendo 3DS has been a rather large disappointment for Nintendo as a whole. After years of nearly controlling all of the portable gaming market, they are now faced with greater competition, from the likes of the ipad and PSVita. Add on top of that, a sluggish economy, a disadvantage in Dollar to Yen ratio, and an expectation that they have to keep innovating, after smashing sales records with the Nintendo Wii. The Nintendo 3DS was their improvement to the Nintendo DS. Sales where good at first - but quickly dropped like a stone. Nintendo was forced by retailers to sell the Nintendo 3DS at a discount, just so games and software would sell better. I was one of many who stood at the sidelines, waiting to see what happened - and hoping for a price cut. The price cut came (and will leave soon, BTW) - and I got my Nintendo 3DS. While it's not a perfect system, I was very pleased with it. With Super Mario Land and Mario Kart - it seemed like an overly ambitious, but successful piece of gaming hardware.

Then the waiting began. The 3DS' launch line-up of games was quite laughable - but it seemed to hurt even more a year later, when there was still a drought of games I wanted to play. I was planning on getting Kid Icarus - but was quite dissuaded by reviews about the horrible gaming controls. There where of course some decent games I could have gotten - but I really didn't want to resort to buying shovel-ware - a game to temporarily bide the time away. So my Nintendo 3DS languished, unused for a better part of this year.

The system, though, has sprung back to life for me - with 3 games I think are worth any 3DS owner's time. The first one I wanted to high-light is Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance!

The Kingdom Hearts series has been a true pleasure to be able to play over the last decade. Seemingly doing the impossible, smashing together Disney properties alongside Final Fantasy characters - what should have been a recipe for disaster turned out to be one of the richest and most heartwarming of game series. Kingdom Hearts, and Kingdom Hearts 2 - on the Playstation 2 - where incredible games. The series, though, has been in a holding pattern of sorts - releasing DS games, filling in background or side character's stories - while generally just retreading the same ground as the console titles. I skipped all of that -- Chain of Memories, released as a prelude to Kingdom Hearts 2, is the only side game I had played in the series. While having played Chain of Memories did give me a head-start on the story in Kingdom Hearts 2, it ultimately wasn't required to understand the main narrative. So I just skipped all other side-titles on the Nintendo 3DS - which were not only retreading the same ground as before, but wasn't advancing the narrative a single inch.

That all changed with Dream Drop Distance! This title, serving as a prelude (hopefully a soon-to-come prelude) to Kingdom Hearts 3, has not only given us new territory to explore - continuing the overall narrative of the series - but it also has managed to be what I consider the must-have-game of the Nintendo 3DS system. Gaming Systems always wait for the that one game, that convinces people to buy the system - and for the 3DS, if its not Super Mario Land 3D, then it definitely is Dream Drop Distance.

This game shows Sora and Riku going into a dream world - to pass their Mark of Mastery examination, to become true Keyblade Masters. Apparently the older DS games covered this area before - so it's an overused plot-device, but it works well enough to explain the new realm Sora and Riku find themselves in.

Going to various Disney Worlds, Sora and Riku fight Dream Eaters - and also recruit friendly Dream Creatures, to fight alongside and enhance the characters abilities. You can even use AR cards (which the games comes with 3), which allows you to use your pet monsters in augmented reality. You can also pet and interact with them, which helps them develops; which is quite a cute feature. While shoving in a Pokemon-like element to the series cries of desperation in most games, I've found myself quite engaged and pleased with the set up. The action is smooth to begin with, eliminating MP for a cool-down system - but the addition of the Dream Creatures enables you to focus on the high-paced combat, which is quite frankly more stellar than ever. I kept finding myself wishing that Kingdom Hearts 3 uses some of these game mechanics.

Sora and Riku fight separately, switching between each other as they both go through their own versions of the test. You have a "Drop" meter, which counts down to a point where the character you are playing if forced to fall asleep - and changing the game over to the other character's narrative. While it might seem annoying at first, it's actually quite a good way to make the game seem less isolating in it's narrative. Also, Sora and Riku both have different sets of abilities - with incredible action-packed fights to be found in each character's story. They both, however, have a new ability - they are able to activate it by jumping off of a surface, or a grind-rail - and launch devastating attacks. Moving through the sometimes narrow, or wide open spaces is made wonderfully simple with this ability outside of combat as well.

To make things even more fun - each world has a special ability you can use, on either the environment or on adversaries. This is, I swear, is useless-gimmick-101 -but it works! In the first level you can dive into a mode that allows you to either hurl a barrel of an enemy at foes or objects -- and it does this by switching the scene down to the touch-screen. Seriously, like everything about this series - this shouldn't work -- but its so smoothly executed, and usable during combat, that I can't help but smile that this gimmick-laced mini-game during combat actually enhances the whole experience! The transition from the top 3D screen, to the touch-based bottom screen, is utterly seamless!

One of the down-sides to a portable version of a game title is that the graphics are never as good as their console brethren. Not so, here. While Kingdom Hearts 3 will no doubt have better graphics, the capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS more than match what the PS2 was capable of. There are limitations, like the PS2 had - there are no crowds in locations like Paris, in the Hunchback of Notre Dame level. Yet that is a minor complaint, and doesn't leave me any less impressed. What really blows the graphics out of the water is an equal combination of both vibrant color and the 3D effect. The Dream Eaters are colorful and bright - which contrasts nicely the regular settings. The colors, though, colorful and bright, never seem weary to the eye. As for the 3D effect, once again, there is no reason this should have worked - never mind working this well! I head heard about how many 3DS owners sometimes play without the 3D-Effect. While that's fine - it seems to laughably defeat the purpose of the system. Still, when the action is too quick paced - or its straining your eyes - turning the 3D off is expected. The battles in Kingdom Hearts have never lacked speed - so I thought that this might be a title where the 3D-effect isn't utilized as much. Wrong! The 3D Effect seems so effortlessly implemented here - that I'm still confounded as to how they made it work this well. When fighting - the action will literally fly in EVERY SINGLE DIRECTION. Somehow, someway, I'm quite able to keep the 3D on, despite the high-speed pace of the camera and action. The areas seem nicely enhanced with the 3D - and the cut scenes especially exude excellent examples of distance, with little bits like colorful pieces of a monster falling away, or flames encircling a scene. With the bright color pallet, it's simply quite gorgeous.

As for the story -- I haven't gotten all the way through, yet, but I'm quite pleased with the narrative. Having skipped the DS games, there are some moments where those plotlines are referenced or touched on, leaving me confused - but the main narrative thrust is never misunderstood. The Disney Worlds that where picked seemed quite well chosen - as it takes us more to the side of the Disney's stable of movie. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, while truncated, is nicely portrayed -- and its is nice to see a topic like racism not being ignored. (Though it obviously is watered down. It was in the film.)

The voice acting is nothing but superb, even at times bringing back the original voice actors from the original movies! Though not large roles, Jason Alexander reprises the stone gargoyle Hugo, and Pat Carroll reprises as Ursula. When not available, the voice actors do a more than decent job in imitating or matching voices. (I'd imagine they would have to be good, even on Japan's side -- getting Donald Duck to sound right in Japanese doesn't sound easy. But they do it.) Haley Joel Osment, who does the voice of the lead character Sora, was sort of grown-up with the series. He was much younger when Kingdom Hearts began, and years later when his voice had changed, Kingdom Hearts 2 made Sora a bit older. His voice sounds more mature since then -- but his voice still matches the character excellently.

Another world included in the game feature Pinocchio, taking place in two different locations; Sora finds Pinocchio at the theme park that turns disobedient children into donkeys. The game later moves down into the ocean - where unexplained, Sora can jump right into without fear of drowning. (You can attribute it to Magic, it being a dream world - but I think it was intentional, as in the film there was little cause for continued breath when Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket took a dive into the ocean.) The presence of Jiminy, and other characters already met in the other Kingdom Hearts games,  is explained -- adding nuance to the mechanics of the world. The other half of Pinocchio's world has Riku trapped inside the giant Whale, with a lot of surprising elements to the level.

Tron: Legacy, one of Disney's latest movies (Pirates of the Caribbean appeared in Kingdom Hearts 2) - this entry serves as a sort of sequel to Sora's adventure in the Grid during Kingdom Hearts 2.

Sora and Riku find a very different Grid, evolved since last it was explored - with tyrant CLU in charge, and pretty much follows similar events from the film. While the movie didn't do that great at the box office, I enjoyed it - and appreciated this semi-sequel.

Other Worlds include Three Musketeers and Fantasia. For the Three Musketeers, you are reunited with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy -- though only dream-versions; Mickey and company usually come from the Disney Castle World - so it's explained that this was a world Mickey must have visited once before, and within the dream land is being retold with Sora involved. Events outside the dreaming, with the real King Mickey and Company, face a kidnapped Queen Minni.

Fantasia promises to be a fun world - as it has various different locals to draw upon. Being a musical movie, there are suppose to be nice elements, like notes playing every time you hit an enemy.

I've read everywhere people complaining about the appearance of Transverse Town again (a hub-world, for the Kingdom Hearts series). Since I didn't play the DS games, seeing Transverse Town isn't as big an annoyance for me -- plus it has the appearance of characters from cult fan-favorite game "The World Ends with You". I've never played that Square Enix game - but it doesn't seem to be required knowledge. The characters from the World Ends with You sort of act like guides, explaining aspects of the dream world to Sora and Riku - one of the characters having the ability to cross-between both sides of the dream world.

Overall - if you've been interested in getting a Nintendo 3DS, but have been concerned wether there are any good games to play on it -- Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance is a game not to miss!


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  2. One of my favorite gadget is my Nintendo 3DS console system I bought some from Japan made in quality and best features.