Kingdom Hearts has been an unusual series for a while now. Whilst the first two games arrived on PS2 in fairly quick succession, there’s never been an actual “Kingdom Hearts III”. We’ve had a fair few titles attempt to become a Kingdom Hearts III of sorts, but none have ever actually succeeded. The DS has tried, the PSP has tried, even the Game Boy Advance had a go at one point and whilst the games were far from bad, we’ve still been left craving for a proper third instalment. Now we come to Kingdom Hearts 3D, a game that really could attempt to be Kingdom Hearts III, right down to the title (if we ignore the rubbish Dream Drop Distance subtitle). Its been out in Japan for a while now but it’s finally heading to the UK next month, and we got the chance to go hands-on with the first few chapters of the series’ 3DS debut.
What is perhaps most interesting about Kingdom Hearts 3D is that it actually tells two tales, each parallel to one another. One follows series protagonist Sora, the other his chum Riku. Each visits the same worlds as you progress through the game, but the stories intertwine in their own ways and presumably will ultimately culminate together. It does have to be said though that, in typical Kingdom Hearts fashion, the story can get incredibly confusing so be prepared to scratch your head and go along for the ride if you have no idea what’s going on.
Surprisingly, Kingdom Hearts 3D retains a lot of familiar content from the likes of Kingdom Hearts II but adds enough that’s new to make it original and, most importantly, enjoyable. The biggest new feature is the inclusion of Dreameaters, critters that you can create using materials you find whilst battling enemies. They’re effectively additional party members (no Donald and Goofy this time) that help Sora and Riku in battle. You can add up to three of them to your party and whilst they’re not particularly strong as individual fighters, the Ability Link that activates once you’ve bested enough foes activates various powers for your lead character.
Sometimes you’ll go into a slightly more frenzied variation of the Flowmotion Combat system (more on that in a bit) and other times you’ll actually use your Dreameater to attack. For example, the first Dreameater you unlock, the cat-pig like default named Meow Wow, can be ridden by Riku or Sora and will bounce around until the Ability Link session finishes. There are tons of Dreameaters to unlock and you can level each of them up through a special section of the menu which mixes Augmented Reality with a Nintendogs-style care system that lets you stroke them and feed them.
The aforementioned Flowmotion Combat system adds variety to the traditional Kingdom Hearts gameplay that lets your character get a little extreme by bouncing off walls, grinding on walls and even swinging around poles. Certain objects in environments can be interacted with by hitting the Y button and doing so will cause Sora or Riku to stick to them and start an animation. It’s during the animation that you can unleash new attacks for bonus damage. It’s a good idea but it’s easy to mess it up unintentionally just because your character didn’t fancy sticking to a lamp post or a handrail.
The last major new feature is “Dropping”. No, you don’t have to clean up after your pesky Dreameaters if you’ve fed them too much, Dropping is the act of switching between Riku and Sora at will. As the two stories run parallel to each other, there is a time limit that slowly counts down at the bottom right of the screen. When it hits zero, you’re thrust into the opposite character’s boots and into their game. It’s effectively the game’s way of making sure both characters get a turn in the spotlight but you’re more than free to drop in and out at will through the menu.
Visually, Kingdom Hearts looks fantastic. Sure, it lacks some of the polish the PS2 games had, but for the 3DS, there are times the game looks genuinely stunning; certainly one of the best looking 3DS games so far. Whenever you get cut-scenes that really focus on a character’s face, it’s as good-looking as its PS2 predecessors without a doubt.
With just a few weeks until Kingdom Hearts 3D finally hits UK stores, it’s looking fantastic. Although I got to play three full hours of the game, I only scratched the tip of the iceberg and the thought of getting my hands on the full title excites me more than Kingdom Hearts games have done for years. Definitely one to grab.