I don’t know why I thought I would, but I could not get into the new Kingdom Hearts game for 3DS, Dream Drop Distance. Maybe it’s the increasingly ridiculous titles Square Enix keeps saddling upon these games. Or the janky gameplay that fails to pull me in. Or the meandering mess of a story that’s been stretched out over too many spin-offs on too many different platforms. Maybe it’s… all those reasons. But whatever! These games are incredibly popular, so they must have something to them beyond being great fan art and shipping fodder. I just can’t see what that is yet.
The demo at Square’s booth this year started with a drawn-out cutscene between Sora and Musketeer Mickey Mouse. The writing quality and cutscene direction is as good as previous games in the series, which is to say, not very. These characters talk so much yet say so little. Does anyone at Square Enix vet the scripts anymore? And the camera just hovers around staring at these two mannequins as Haley Joel Osment and whoever voices Mickey read lines without any idea what they mean. Eventually I had enough chitchat and skipped the scene.
Thrust into combat, I quickly discovered that Dream Drop Distance is just like all the other games. Floaty and weightless. When Sora hits something with his keyblade it feels like he’s just whiffing and hitting the air. There’s no feedback or friction in the swing or the impact. It’s like the entire game exists in zero gravity. Jumping feels the same way. Sora goes up, hovers a bit and takes his sweet time coming back down. The camera was on the fritz most of the time I played, too, shaking all over as Sora convulsed around trying to hit enemies like he was blindly swatting mosquitoes.
Lock-on focused my attention on enemies farther away from Sora rather than the ones closest to him. The 3rd Birthday has the same issue. Apparently this is a problem Square still hasn’t ironed out in its action games. Using the L and R buttons to manipulate the camera and lock-on while moving, attacking and selecting abilities with the D-pad at the same time didn’t feel comfortable, either. The 3DS is too cramped and awkward a platform for a game like this. Its narrow screen doesn’t do it any favors either, and Allah forbid (Hey, an Aladdin reference!) you play a game this manic with the 3D on.
I really wish I could like this series. The inclusion of levels based on TRON: Legacy and Hunchback of Notre Dame piqued my interest in the game, but after my time with the demo I saw Square’s still disinterested in crafting a tight action experience or an even halfway entertaining yarn. I can deal with a dumb plot if the gameplay is worth it. I’m not sure if that’s the case here. Perhaps the final game will yield that magic Kingdom Hearts sauce everyone else besides me can taste.
Fans of Sora and Riku can look forward to their dream dropping on July 31st.