Monday, 30 July 2012

Dream Drop Distance: In Your Dreams...

I've finished Dream Drop Distance now, and my opinion of it has changed from "massive disappointment following Birth by Sleep" to "A great game, but still flawed." Expect some repetition from my impressions post, as I wasn't completely wrong. I'll try not to make the impressions post completely redundant with this though!

The plot revolves entirely around Sora and Riku's Mark of Mastery exam, which took about 10 minutes in Birth by Sleep. Basically, the two have to enter the dream world to free seven worlds which were never restored properly from the darkness. Over the course of their exam, they encounter a mysterious young man who looks so much like another villain that I wonder whether it would be a spoiler to tell you who he is and, for some reason, Not-Ansem and Xemnas from the first two games. Their involvement in the plot is left to leaving Sora and Riku cryptic hints and just generally being trolls until the last world of the game, where everything goes tits up and the plot becomes one convoluted plot dump which reminds you exactly why the villain of the series is such a bastard.

Oh come on, as if this was a spoiler!
The plot is largely handled quite well. The story of each world is woven pretty well into the game; even if nothing of significance happens the theme of what does is usually related to either Sora or Riku. In a world based on the Three Muskateers, for example, nothing really happens but the theme of teamwork is ever present to remind Sora and Riku of their friendship. But like I said, it all goes to pot at the end, and the exposition gets pretty heavy. There's nothing that outright doesn't make any sense in the context of the series, in fact there's quite a lot of Fridge Brilliance, but the handling is nonetheless pretty clumsy.

The lack of any people who aren't critical to the plot in the Disney worlds is really glaring compared to the other games, particularly in Notre Dame where Quasimodo's relationship with the public was so important. Seeing the famous Festival of Fools scene with... absolutely no festival, or Quasimodo announcing "Sanctuary!" to no one is really.... weird.

In my impressions post, I said that the worlds in Dream Drop Distance are the biggest the Kingdom Hearts games have ever seen. I stand by this, but now I've been through them all to find treasure and explore, I've found they're not quite as overwhelming as I made them out to be. They're nowhere near as linear as some of the more recent entries in the series, but more in the sense that all of the areas are quite big and full of things to find rather than multiple paths existing. There are a lot more treasure chests hidden in the worlds and it can be a genuine challenge to find some of them because of how big and intricate the level design is. Not that it ever becomes frustrating; the exploration element is something I've always felt was lacking in Kingdom Hearts, and it's nice to see that aspect finally being realized.

While the worlds are seriously massive, there are only seven of them; far fewer than any other game in the series. However, Sora and Riku visit different areas of most worlds which the other cant access. Riku can't go to The Court of Miracles in the Hunchback of Notre Dame world, for example. This is taken to the extreme in some of the worlds, where Sora and Riku's paths don't cross at all. Whether this makes up for the lack of worlds or not is up to the player, but it's not something that really bothered me. It's not as if the game is particularly short or anything.

I've hinted at this already, but you control both Sora and Riku in this game. However, instead of choosing one scenario and getting through them individually, you 'drop' between each character. You can drop whenever you want, regardless whether you're in a boss fight, on the field or the world map. You have to complete a certain number of worlds with both characters before you can progress deeper into the story though. Nice system, right? WRONG! In addition to being able to manually switch, you also have a drop gauge which slowly decreases as you explore the game. It can speed up under certain conditions, and when it empties, you're abruptly forced to change to the other character. This system is annoying and thoroughly unnecessary. Did I mention if you drop during a boss fight you have to start it over again? It consistently imposes a rushed feeling on the player, which doesn't suit the massive worlds which attempt promote a sense of exploration. I did get used to the drop system in the post-game, where it just becomes more of a quirk than anything else; but while you're trying to experience a story, being dragged between two separate ones is disorientating and more confusing than it needs to be.

Unlike the differences between Terra, Aqua and Ventus in Birth By Sleep, switching between Sora and Riku doesn't require much in getting used to the way each character controls. This is because they're almost exactly the same. The only real difference is that they have access to a few unique deck commands. Late in the game, Sora gets the ability to glide while Riku gets the mostly pointless ability to double jump. Sora can use the light based Spark magic and the Tornado spell, whereas Riku can use Dark Firaga, Dark Aura, etc. Their counters and retaliation strikes are different as well. For most of the game, my decks for both characters were exactly the same because the more useful abilities aren't restricted to one character. They both have pretty much equal stats in terms of Strength and Magic and the damage and speed behind their standard attacks aren't especially different, so there's no reason to go for a physical-based deck with one of them. The rationale behind this is obvious, really: When you're being regularly forced to switch between them, you don't want to have to get used to the control every time. But the differences between them are so negligible, there's hardly a point in switching at all.

The major addition to the gameplay in 3D is the flowmotion mechanic. By interacting with certain objects, such as dashing into a wall or landing on a rail, Sora or Riku go into flowmotion mode, where they can dash and jump around at ludicrous speed. They can do this pretty much indefinitely if stick around the walls and rails, allowing them to navigate worlds with ease. They can also attack enemies while flying about, but it's not obscenely powerful and it fits into normal gameplay quite nicely. It can sometimes be a little difficult to control Sora and Riku at times and they won't always do what you want them to, but the flowmotion is a great addition to the Kingdom Hearts gameplay.

Your party members are not Donald and Goofy in this game; instead you make friends with the enemy of the game: Dream Eaters. Almost every Dream Eater comes in two flavours: Spirits and Nightmares. Nightmares are the guys you fight, while you can create Spirits using dream pieces you obtain by defeating enemies and find in treasure chests. Up to three spirits can be in your party at any given time and you can unlock commands and abilities using points you obtain from beating up enemies. Now I've had a change of heart since my impressions post, but I still find needing to have a certain spirit in your party to both level them up and benefit from their passive abilities is frustrating. The spirits you can get later in the game are objectively better than the earlier ones, but to effectively use them you have to give up all of the abilities you've worked hard to get for the other spirits. Building a team of Spirits is nonetheless a rewarding experience. There are lots to obtain and there are lots of benefits to nurturing them to their full potential. There is a little too much management involved for my taste, to the point where it does distract from the gameplay, but you could comfortably neglect the spirits if it really bothers you.

Spirits also have a link gauge which, when it is filled, allows Sora to link with the spirit to unleash a joint attack and changes Riku's attacks similar to the Command Styles from Birth by Sleep... A few of the link skills for Riku are exactly the same as the command styles, actually. I find Sora's link attacks quite fun to use and fairly powerful, but I find the changes to Riku's attacks to be pretty underwhelming.

Spinning a lion around is probably one of the less interesting ones...

The Command Deck first seen in Birth By Sleep returns and it's pretty much the same deal. You fill a deck of up to 8 slots with commands such as Fire, Cure and Magnet - What? MAGNET ISN'T IN THIS GAME?

Yeah, there's no Magnet. That annoyed me. There's another level of Zero Gravity which has a Magnet effect, but it's not obtained until near the end of the game, and therein lies the problem. Unlike in Birth By Sleep, where you meld commands to make pretty much whatever you wanted, the Deck Commands you have access to is limited by what you can find, purchase, or obtain from spirits, which are in turn limited by the dream pieces you have access to. If you knew what you were doing, in Birth by Sleep you could obtain spells like Firaga before the end of the first world. In this game you're simply unable to go much further than the game wants you to. It's an understandable change, I'm sure the developers don't want you to break the game, but it's still really annoying.

Some of the new Deck Commands are pretty cool though. The Balloon line of spells are particularly awesome. They all work a little differently, but they basically involve setting magic balloons on your opponent. The basic Balloon spell lays down a circle of balloons around Sora and Riku, like the Mine Square from Birth By Sleep. Balloonra sends a bunch of balloons at enemies, and Balloonga is like a combination of the two. A large balloon is set, and when it hits an enemy, it splits into lots of little balloons which home in. These spells basically destroy bosses. You can also finally use Dark Aura as Riku, and it's actually quite useful. Dark Firaga is back and now it splits into multiple fireballs, making it much more usuble. Zero Graviza (the new Magnet!) is frankly game breaking when combined with Thundaga. There are also the spinning slash attacks: Icebreaker and Shadowbreaker, which are also painful to shove up the ass of a Boss. There are some really cool new techniques in this game... It can just be a pain to find them!

Behold, the power of BALLOONS!!!
This game can be pretty challenging. On plenty of occasions I have been demolished by regular enemies; and unlike Birth By Sleep, this game was a consistent challenge. I'm willing to put this down to the slower access to more powerful commands, but it's also because enemies are a lot more powerful than they have ever been before. Many are able to inflict some pretty painful status effects or otherwise demolish you with attacks that are hard to dodge. The bosses are no slouches either, I'm sure many of them will find their way into the That One Boss category on TV Tropes. Some of the deaths can feel pretty cheap, particularly in some of the later boss fights with Trollanort and his posse, but it's nothing that completely ruins the experience.

Once you complete the game, a number of bonus bosses become available. Most of the bosses you fought throughout the game can be rematched using Link Portals you can find where you initially fought them. They come complete with much more aggressive tactics and a massive stat boost. There are also other Link Portals scattered in the worlds which pit you against Nightmares and you can get some pretty nice items if you meet secret conditions. There's also a secret boss in Traverse Town against something absolutely NO ONE was expecting. There are lots of challenges to keep you occupied in the post game, but it felt like they were holding back a little for a Final Mix release!

Unfortunately you can't rematch this guy. Also, Foe Yay! SUBMIT!
I'm going to retract what I said about the music in the impressions. I've actually fallen in love with La Cloche, Notre Dames field theme. The Fantasia World uses the Nutcracker Suite and Pastoral Symphony as it's field theme, which is really nice. The battle themes for The Country of Musketeers and Pinnochio's World are both really catchy. The World That Never Was field theme is really fucking creepy, and I have it on my YouTube favourites, the battle theme isn't bad either! Everyone seems to have fallen in love with the boss themes of Xehanort and his crew, but I don't really find them to be that memorable; the only one of them I really like is L'Impeto Oscuro, and I'm not spoiling who that belongs to!

I really like Dream Drop Distance. The core gameplay is probably the best the series has ever been; but a confusing plot, unnecessary mechanics like the forced Drop, and constant restriction on abilities let it down. I'm giving Dream Drop Distance an 8/10. If you have a 3DS, and I don't really see why you would, I'd definitely recommend picking it up. 


  1. Not bothering with 358/2 days???

  2. I've never actually played Coded and I completely forgot 358/2 Days existed! I'll do a small post on both tomorrow; A mini-review of Days and an explanation of why I never played Coded.