Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance Hands On

At PAX East 2012 we got some hands on time with Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance.

Fans who are frustrated that this isn’t Kingdom Hearts 3 may be a bit more frustrated with some of the new mechanics in Kingdom Hearts 3D. The game isn’t bad by any means, but players will have to get used to a few new mechanics and features.

We got hands-on with a japanese build of the game and only played as Sora in one of brand new levels for the Kingdom Hearts series revolving around the Tron: Legacy movie license. Combat is the same as previous incarnations; however, Sora and Riku now have a wall bounding ability called “free-flow.” Just by running at a wall and pressing the Y button sends that respective character up and off a wall. It’s basically an extreme wall jump that is designed to get Sora and Riku out of tight situations.

This ability takes some getting used to as it can be difficult to jump where you aim – due to the camera. However, once players get this down they’ll free-flow away and towards enemies with ease. Multiple jumps then accumulate into a powerful final attack.

One of the main mechanics in the game is actually in the title. “Dream Dropping” is a feature where the player switches between Sora and Riku about every 20 minutes. There’s a timer at the bottom of the screen that continuously counts down. When it reaches zero the character you’re playing falls asleep and the next character starts at the last point in their respective story. For the majority of the game you will play as either character in their own story lines, which is something that was hinted at last year during an early gameplay trailer.

The mechanic adds this sense of urgency to the levels and it’s something that players may not notice until the timer gets near the end and starts flashing. Not only is the timer always counting down but enemies have attacks that can make the counter drop faster. I was also told there were “poison fog” areas of the game that can also make this timer countdown quicker.

Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance Creatures

Dream dropping can be activated manually, however players will want to continue until the timer runs out to get the best score. Getting a high ranking at the end of a segment leads to more skill points, which can be spent on temporary buffs for the next character.

This system sounds interesting, but it’s odd that Square Enix didn’t just have the game play-out like a traditional Kingdom Hearts game and have the stats apply to the current character. It’s possible Square wanted to create a new experience for the Kingdom Hearts franchise. It can also be perceived as a way to limit the game time to smaller increments – something that could work well for the 3DS. It’s too early to tell how this system will play out for the entire game so we’ll just have to wait for the final release before passing judgment on it.

Another aspect of Kingdom Hearts 3D are the companions, or lack there of. Donald and Goofy are absent from this outing and in their place are, Pokemon? Sora and Riku will acquire materials to create their own companion creatures. Players can have two creatures to assist them in combat and can combine with Sora and Riku in different ways to create super powerful attacks.

Each creature has gauge at the bottom of their portrait that increases during battle. When it maxes out these special combo abilities can be activated, and the results a different depending on the creature/character combination. Sora tends to jump on his creatures and ride them for devastating charging attacks. Since we were unable to play as Riku, we were told that he absorbs his creatures resulting him alone executing special attacks.

The creatures players can create range from the super cute to more menacing dragon-like creatures. We were informed that players can choose their creatures based on cosmetic looks alone and be successful at the game, which is great for those who don’t like cutesy creatures, or would prefer companions that suit their personal tastes. Recipes for these creatures can also be exchanged via the 3DS Street Pass.

In the end Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance will be a good appetizer for the eventual main course that is Kingdom Hearts 3. Now if only the cooks over at Square Enix prepare the meal a bit faster.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is due out for the 3DS on July 31st.

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