Friday, 20 July 2012

Kingdom Hearts 3D Impressions

As a few of you probably already know, my copy of Kingdom Hearts 3D arrived a couple of days early. While I'm still nowhere near finishing the game, I'm far enough that I can make a few comments about what I think of it...

The plot is strong and, again, is a constant presence within the game. Usually either Sora or Riku will go through a condensed version of the films plot when they visit a world and the other will just do something else, but they'll usually both encounter something from the main plot to keep things moving, which is good considering there are only 2 original worlds to visit in the game; the first and last one. The themes of each world, such as imprisonment and fear in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, are consistently reflected in the characters thoughts, so very few things are in the game just for the sake of being there.

Sora and Riku got a massive exposition dump from Master Yen Sid at the start of the game, but luckily you don't sit through it. Instead you experience his lectures as they become relevant to the plot via flashback options, which is a really nice feature.

Unlike Birth by Sleep, you don't choose either Sora or Riku's storyline and follow one through to it's conclusion. You switch between the two throughout the game using the Drop command. You can do this at any time, and I mean any time, even during bosses. Though if you do drop during any mission battle, you'll be sent back to the start of it when you return to using that character. You also have a drop meter, which slowly drains if you're anywhere but the menu. When the meter runs out, the switch between the characters is forced on you. Keep in mind that you reset any mission fights when you drop. So far I've been forced to restart a boss battle twice because I was forced to drop into the other character. It's annoying to be forced into a drop at any time in a world because you're always going somewhere with a purpose, and having no choice but to abandon that is a massive distraction and a detriment to my enjoyment of the game.

OMG! Notre Dame! I have been waiting for this for 10 years!
There are only seven worlds in the game, but they are easily some of  the biggest the Kingdom Hearts series have ever seen. After finishing each world for the first time, I had only found around 50% of the treasures. Aside from treasures, there are also battle portals where you challenge yourself against dream eaters for small prizes, portals where you can have rematches with some of the games bosses, and even just have fun mucking around in the intricate, expansive areas.... Or at least you could if the forced Dive mechanic didn't impose such a rushed and urgent feeling all the time.

To complement the new level design, you now have "flowmotion". Basically, if you slide into a wall or pole or  even larger enemies, you can fly and jump around the map like you're doing a fucking omnislash or something. You can go pretty much anywhere in the map with this, and it's certainly fun to do so. By launching yourself at enemies in this state, you can do spinning attacks and dive at the ground to create a fairly powerful shockwave. You can also throw yourself at things like lampposts and spin into enemies. It's a nice feature, but outside of the shockwave it isn't too useful for dealing with most enemies. Great for crowds and larger targets, though!

In some worlds, Sora and Riku will have access to different areas. In the Pinocchio-based world, Sora and Riku don't cross areas once; Riku stays entirely within Monstro, Sora mostly sticks to the amusement park. It's up to you whether or not this sort of makes up for the lack of worlds in the game, but I still wish there were a few more. I hear that Sora was originally going to go to a world based on the original Tron and Riku would go to a Tron: Legacy world, which would have been nice. Similarly they would have gone to worlds based on the two different Fantasia films, but that never really went through either... Oh well. At least what we got was pretty fucking beautiful!

Instead of finding and melding Deck Commands as you do in Birth by Sleep (though you can still find and buy some deck commands, just not as lucratively), you have to obtain them by levelling up Spirit Dream Eaters, who replace Donald and Goofy as your party members. You can have three spirits in the active party, and they obtain ability points you can spend on obtaining Deck Commands and support abilities like Fire Boost and Magic Haste.

I didn't have many issues with this at first, even though it did seem like a little too much micromanaging for my taste. As I progressed though the game though, I realized that it was just an irritating way of restricting the abilities Sora and Riku have access to because your pool of abilities is limited by the spirits you can create from synthesis items, which are themselves restricted by the enemies you are currently able to fight. In Birth by Sleep, if you knew what you were doing you could get spells like Firaga before the end of the first world, now you actually have to progress sensibly, which is probably what they were going for, but it's still a frustrating change.

They also never really explain that the spirits have to be in your party for you to benefit from their support abilities. It's fair to assume they don't have to be, considering you can use their deck commands at any time. This can also be frustrating, as you have to balance actually being able to kill things using abilities of developed spirits against leveling up other ones which could be more useful to you. Again, this stands in contrast with Birth by Sleep where, once you mastered a deck command with an ability, the ability was yours forever.
One of the cooler looking Dream Eater Spirits you can get.  Not exactly the best though...

The Command Styles are gone, the Shotlocks are gone... The only reason I can think of as to why they weren't included is to save it for when Aqua and the others are inevitably playable again in Kingdom Hearts 3. Maybe keep them as techniques that were taught exclusively by Master Eraqus or something. In any case, keeping the same battle system and not replacing features as powerful as these with something else makes me feel not nearly as powerful as Sora and Riku, which is only compounded by their rail-roaded access to abilities. Also, I'm nearly half way through the game, and still no sign of Magnet. WHAT THE HELL, GAME?! (It turns out magnet simply isn't in the game. A fourth Zero Gravity spell has a similar effect though, but it's not obtained until seriously late in the game...)

You do get reality shift, though. Sometimes you can... dive into the ground or something... and unleash an attack dependent on the world you're currently in. In Traverse Town, for example, you can catapult barrels and enemies into the air and cause a small explosion. It's certainly useful, but nothing particularly game breaking or even exciting to use.

This game is pretty hard! I decided to play on proud mode, and I've died quite a few times. Mostly against random enemies more than bosses, and that's because they have the uncanny ability to come out of freaking nowhere and stab you in the back. I'm not sure why this is a problem because the 3DS screen isn't THAT much smaller than the PSP screen, and I didn't have this problem in Birth by Sleep. For some reason, I'm just not as aware of my surroundings in this game as I am in the other Kingdom Hearts games...

The music is... meh. To be honest, I haven't found much of it to be that memorable, but that's something I'm willing to blame on the drop system forcing me to shut out everything but getting through the world! But seriously, the music is fitting for each world; Tron gets a nice techno sound, Notre Dame gets a seriously dark theme that would fit a ruined castle, Traverse Town is a light and dreamy remix of it's theme in the first game. But it just isn't that memorable. The only pieces that have stood out to me so far is one of the Dream Eater boss themes, "Majestic Wings", and the theme that plays in the Spirits menu, but that's only because I've had to spend so much time in that damn thing... Some of the later boss themes, such as L'Oscurit√† dell'Ignoto sound pretty cool though.

This is a good enough game that I've already played it for hours on end, but it really doesn't live up to my expectations following Birth by Sleep. The Spirit party member system is needlessly time consuming and intrusive, the Drop mechanic imposes a consistent sense of urgency on the player which doesn't fit the wide, open level design, and I constantly feel like my abilities are being limited. Excuse me while I go play it some more!


  1. Majestic Wings reminds me of the battle theme in Lost Odyssey and a little of the boss theme in Final Fantasy XIII. Were they done by the same person or something?

    1. I get exactly what you mean with the Lost Odyssey comparison... not really seiing Saber's Edge though.

      As far as I'm aware, Yoko Shimomura was responsible for this soundtrack, this time alongside Ishimoto Takeharu and Tsuyoshi Sekito. Lost Odyssey was composed by Nobuo Uematsu and Final Fantasy XIII was done by Masashi Hamauzu. So no, they weren't the same person!