Ten Years after Kingdom Hearts’original release Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance was released for the Nintendo 3DS—today marking its 5th anniversary. This was the first time that a Kingdom Hearts game was released for the Nintendo 3DS and was also the first title to continue Sora’s story past Kingdom Hearts II, not including the digital Sora from Coded.
This is an important game as it is the first time that we see any formal Keyblade training for Sora and Riku as they embark on their mark of mastery exam. The reveals made in Dream Drop Distance also serve to pay off ten years of Kingdom Hearts storytelling and set up the premise for the final game in the Xehanort Saga, Kingdom Hearts III. Like with most Kingdom Hearts titles, Dream Drop Distance also wasn’t afraid of shaking up the formula a bit and changing a variety of aspects in the game, adding in Flowmotion and the Drop Gauge.
Flowmotion was a way of having Sora and Riku navigate the world using object like walls and lamp posts. Players could dash into them and use them to give an extra jump or boost off them again to reach far distances in a short amount of time. This movement also factored into combat allowing you to immediately dash from a wall into a combo, normally delivering more powerful blows than you would be able to with regular attacks. This feature served to speed up travel across the world and allowed you to deliver the kinds of attacks that you might expect to see in the cinematics of Kingdom Hearts more than in actual gameplay.
The other side of this is how broken the game can become because of Flowmotion. Any situation that would normally require you to use set objects to climb higher or travel a long distance were now pointless as you can endlessly chain the Flowmotion wall jumps; as long as a wall is still there, you can keep climbing. It is first noticeable in Traverse Town when you’re in the post office. Normally you’d have to use the rails to grind to each of the different exits, but you can find where you’re meant to go and then climb up to it. Even worse, in The World That Never Was when you’re climbing skyscrapers, you can end up breaking sequence in the game, which can lead you to get very confused when you find you can no longer progress. This system added speed and spectacle to traveling and fights, but the trade off was implementing a feature that breaks the game, which was small considering the fun that it added.
The Drop Gauge
The Drop Gauge, on the other hand, was a feature that had good intentions in its conception but in practice can leave players feeling quite annoyed. Dream Drop Distance has you playing as either Sora or Riku in parallel versions of each world. If you wanted, you could play through all of the worlds available to each character before even returning to play as the other character. A way to combat this is by forcing players to “drop”; this is the process of swapping characters. As you’re travelling through a world, the drop gauge is constantly counting down, and when it hits zero, you are forcibly pulled out of the level, travelling to where your other character currently is. The game does not account for anything in deciding when you drop; you could be half a combo away from finishing the final boss of a world, but if you time it just right, you’ll have to fight that boss again from the very beginning. This serves as a way to have players make sure that their two characters are keeping up with one another and that the story you’re experiencing isn’t too disjointed but can also prove troublesome and aggravating.
It’s great to see that a franchise that has been around now for 15 years (as of yesterday) is still able to change up the gameplay with almost every new title in the franchise. This has helped Kingdom Hearts as a series from not going stale and becoming too repetitive, the double edged blade of this concept though is that there might also be added features that might not become too popular.
What did you think of the Flowmotion and Drop Gauge systems introduced in Dream Drop Distance? Did you have a similar experience or was it something completely different?