Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance Part 1

In case you haven't picked up on it, Kingdom Hearts is one of my most dearly beloved of franchises. When I found out the 3DS would be home to some of my favourite games, such as Paper Mario, and even a sequel to Luigi's Mansion, I predicted it would be a great system to buy. The fact that a new Kingdom Hearts was making its way there was icing on the cake! But how does it stack up? Let's take a look at the individual parts.

Kingdom Hearts is comprised of two flavours of meat, the cutscenes and the gameplay. People love or hate them for various reasons. In terms of story, Dream Drop Distance is fairly standard in terms of storytelling for the franchise, at least ever since Kingdom Hearts II. Expect your usual twists and turns, characters who look like other characters, but aren't quite the same. A notable addition is a mysterious grey haired youth (not to be confused with slightly less mysterious grey haired youth Riku, who serves as one of two playable characters in this game) who serves as a surprisingly cultured villain. In terms of pacing, quick frankly, it's quite poor. The bulk of the game revolves around longtime protagonists Sora and Riku attempting to retrieve a mysterious power from a realm of dreams, with some vague cutscenes helping to suggest that something more is afoot. Then things suddenly explode in the final level, revealing plot twists and double truths by the bucket full.
Honestly, I think Kingdom Hearts has started to revel too much in its alleged 'complicated' plot. What I've found, however, is that the story isn't really terribly complex, but rather, can't be explained without going through a rather lengthy set of steps. Sure, you could explain that the villain of the franchise is called Xehanort, but that wouldn't account for him stealing somebodies body, splitting it in two, changing his name, acting independently, fusing back together, then forming a group and... well, you get the picture. The filler of the Kingdom Hearts story has always come from the assorted Disney themed worlds that you visit, of which there are five in this game, an all time low for the franchise. They are fairly well produced, with top notch voice acting, excellent animation. Usual Square Enix stuff. However, the worlds themselves feel ridiculously empty (more on that later) and the story seems to rely far too much on your prior knowledge of the source material. This was especially bad for this game's adaptation of the relatively recent TRON Legacy movie, something I have not yet seen. Similarly, the relationships between characters is rarely explained properly, leading to things such as a sudden romantic plot point being introduced at the end of the world based on the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
All and all, I'd say the story is somewhat weak, a trend that continues with the music. Longtime series composer Yoko Shimomura returns, and her stuff is great, though not her best. The problem lies in the additional composers, whose music sounds largely bland and uninspired to me. This game by no means has a bad soundtrack, however, previous Kingdom Hearts games have spoiled me.
Graphically, there isn't anything to complain about, animations look good and models are excellently detailed. The locations have a habit of looking nice, but lacking any sense of life, however. It's Square Enix though, they can make things look nice.
But there's a lot more to this game than what I've covered here, come back next week for the conclusion.

This is the second game to feature both Sora and Riku has protagonists
The franchise's flashy combat returns

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