Review by: Night Ninja

Fantasy Violence

Nintendo 3DS
PlayStation 4
Action JRPG
Pet Simulator
Square – EnixSquare – Enix

The actual last Kingdom Hearts game, up until the 29th, or technically since the II.8 collection that includes Birth By Sleep 0.2 -A Fragmentary Passage-. Nonetheless, back in 2012, we were treated to Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance on the Nintendo 3DS, yep, they couldn’t help but jump to yet ANOTHER damn console. At this point, the only stuff that would be based in the past would be the X(Chi) games that are free to play on mobile, so now it was fully moving forward, you were back in the shoes of Sora, and now Riku is coming back and sharing the spotlight with his best buddy again, and early trailers showed off this new technique called “Flowmotion”. Not too much was clear story-wise, but its first unveiling was with Traverse Town as the location, with Sora and Riku dishing out pain against standard Heartless, the usual stuff KH is known for with the command deck returning yet again. Now that’s all fun and good, but as time went on, the game had more added to it, Sora and Riku are looking younger again and in new outfits, visiting “sleeping worlds” and taking on their own Mark of Mastery exam, to become masters before Kingdom Hearts III. But on top of all this, new worlds, and a new monster type called Dream Eaters, coming in two flavors: Spirits which help our protagonists throughout the worlds they travel to like party members, and Nightmares which oppose and threaten.


Now this game’s story is presented very much out of order past the gameplay segments, so I’ll try and keep this chronologically to better explain the setup. After the events of Coded with a data version of Naminé telling Mickey and the data Sora that the spikey haired chosen one is the key to helping the Wayfinder trio from Birth By Sleep, and even the Sea Salt Trio: Roxas, Axel, and Xion from 358/2 Days. Mickey at the end relayed all this to Sora in the letter he had sent at the end of Kingdom Hearts II, also acting as an invitation to Sora and Riku for the Mark of Mastery exam. Master Yen Sid informed our heroes that due to both Xehanort’s heartless Ansem Seeker of Darkness, and nobody Xemnas being defeated, that the corrupt keyblade master will return to a whole being. In preparation for the bald evil bastard’s return, Yen Sid has Sora and Riku conduct a more hastily, yet drawn out exam. Whereas Aqua and Terra just demonstrated their efforts against corrupted balls of light and sparred together, Sora and Riku must not only travel back into the past to their homeworld before it was taken by the darkness, but dive into the realm of the sleeping worlds, where none of these places were fully restored at the end of the original game, and was stuck in a limbo state: where it lives in a never-ending dream that will even put back inhabitants who are supposed to be there, and things play out as they should, until the world is given a good wake up call by unlocking their sleeping keyholes.

The issue with this story is mainly how many concepts are introduced and almost hastily so, time travel, and dream states being part of it. Not only does time travel have some interesting rules, but it more so leaves you confused with it as it’s used more heavily throughout the story, producing quite the revelations plot-wise, but can take quite a bit to keep up with. The dream state only serves to do away with the traditional enemies and give us new ones, on top of helping to write off some not so great inconveniences otherwise. Such as two whole worlds where Mickey is present in, yet both times doesn’t know Sora and Riku yet in the times he was original in the worlds now under slumber. It throws you for a total loop, even further when the likes of Jiminy and others are introduced in a similar fashion and leads you to just feel somewhat dumbfounded as to how it makes sense. By no means will this plot be easy to digest, even now I think back to make sure I understand what I had gone through, it can be entertaining, can have some amazing character moments too, but this game expects you to keep up with this mind-boggling story that confuses you at first, and then later tries to fix some of the confusion for you via “flashback” cutscenes and more drawn out glossary entries on certain subjects in the series. I made that beginning, make as much sense as I could, from what aspects the game chooses to, later on, expand on and explain to you. It’s sloppy, this game could have heavily benefitted from a more straight forward story experience like Kingdom Hearts II, the only “flashbacks” ever happening from when the game hadn’t started yet, therefore you or Sora is learning this for the first time. But this game, you’re only filled in on segments of Yen Sid’s beginning speech before the beginning of the exam, about how they get back to Destiny Islands and into the sleeping worlds, why they may see people there that they recognize, but don’t remember back, to all other aspects that should have been established at the beginning of the journey, not 2/3rds into it!

So safe to say, I’m not the biggest fan of this story, by all means it has some decent moments and can be a joy to watch unfold, but structurally, and pacing-wise, it could have fixed those issues, and it would have been executed much better and turned out a lot more interesting and intriguing. The gameplay however may… Both make fans happy, and frustrated, let’s start with the positives. Rejoice fans of the command deck as it returns, even though it already did for Re: Coded, I guess Square-Enix was just that happy with the battle system for handhelds… The game looks beautiful, about on par with Kingdom Hearts II visually, but in some areas due to lighting, it could have been improved, with the 3D depth the handheld version gives, only adding to how much of a beautiful game it is to look at. So not only keeping with Birth By Sleep’s solid combat system, but even being a step up from the PSP title visually, which isn’t half bad. Even back on the 3DS, this was considered very promising, especially once the 3D effects ARE taken into consideration.

It adds to things with the new dream eaters as companions and enemies, the variety to face off against is nice, and that only adds to when you make them for your party. It allows for a good pair to complement a playstyle you have, with a 3rd being able to be switched in at any moment. With any 1 or 2 dream eaters, if fought with well enough, you can fill up a gage and link with them, either performing a limit or ultimate attack with Sora, or a command style from Birth By Sleep with Riku, in addition, to help dish out the pain, you have world specific special attacks called “reality shifts”, to turn the tide on an opponent when damaged enough. The issue with reality shifts is that it was originally designed with the 3DS in mind, from just a simple down swipe on the bottom touch screen on the original hardware, to having to press both triangle and circle at once.

This has lead to me activating a move when I didn’t want to, or even worse, still triggering the reality shift with the command ACTING as if I used it, causing a cool down period. Most of the concepts from the original version of the reality shift has been either translated fairly, taking away fluff it didn’t need, or overly complicating things from the lack of a touch screen to begin with. Take the reality shift for The Grid: its a hacking mini-game that involves touching the highlighted words to spell out what you want to gain from your hacking, spanning just giving a simple prize box, to hijacking the enemy and using it as a makeshift suicide bomber against its former friends. Now when you translate that concept over, not only is there no touch screen for the input of the random highlighted words that shows up, but now you have to use a face button instead, this wouldn’t be so bad if the words didn’t disappear quite as fast as they do on the 3DS version, where you can BARELY see the face button and press it in time.

Easily, this game has very creative additions to the gameplay that Birth By Sleep started, but with that, you also have flowmotion: a system for movement where you can kick off of walls, dash around, swing along poles, grind rails, and even attack with the system, on top of being able to throw around the bigger enemies. It makes for good crowd control and can make some exploration not quite as tedious. It looks cool, can feel good to use, and has some of the more smooth mobility you’d want, almost as smooth feeling as II’s combat, but can have its moments of stiffness, make no mistake. But on the occasion, I do enjoy using it to kick off of walls and around corridors, until it’s all you do during exploration, more on that later…

To top it off, we have dive mode, where you are kind of falling from the sky into the world, and completing some sort of end goal while getting there, not as bad as KH I’s Gummi Ships, but definitely a step down from what II at least tried for, but at the very least, it’s a one and done situation to get onto the rest of the game. So its optional in the same sense as II’s Gummi Ships, but it has more missions and a ranking system, with a keyblade behind it all. Yes, it looks cool like the rest of the game, but it also used the 3D depth in the original version to help position yourself, and without it can make it not… quite as easy as before. At least the gummi ships had proper depth to them, despite how indifferent I am to them as well at times, they at least had something to enjoy from the custom shipbuilding, and the upgrades you earn for it over time. You at least felt some accomplishment when your ship was bad-ass and got shit done. This just is beyond simple and not so interesting, making me wish for it to have been less in the game and maybe used more sparingly like the endless-runner styled levels in Re: Coded, and not overstay their welcome and show how shallow it is.

To say that all this doesn’t have tradeoffs is a big understatement. To say this game has neat ideas, but something to make it not quite as good as it COULD have been, its just easy to feel underwhelmed when this happens. This game has issues, it’s almost such a mixed bag that I would only barely prefer it over Chain of Memories, a game I am not very fond of, due to the card system and RNG of the game itself. This game can have aspects I find far better than Chain of Memories gameplay as a whole, but there is so much that can ruin this game’s potential outside of its story not serving info in broken up nonsensical chunks and the pacing being all kinds of too fast. Firstly, this game loves its floaty combat, and it feels worse here than it did in Birth By Sleep, although you’re not chained to the ground to perform a strike raid and blitz like move, it still feels awkward to just normally hit enemies in the air. “So use flowmotion”, someone may say. It’s mostly the way to win, as you can forever scale walls, and in some cases can be completely fucking broken! But it just adds onto frustration when you automatically line up with a wall after only dodging away from an attack, it takes you out of the defensive and forces the offensive. I can not count how many times this fucked me up, as much as the new button mapping for reality shifts, but this was a problem in the original too, oops… It could have used some tweaking in terms of making sure it was harder to activate on purpose, like a button to hold down and use to activate it.

With bosses, this can be “do or die”, as, yet again, revenge value is missing in the game. Some of these bosses are so badly designed, one boss is just a gauntlet of the first 3 Sora ever fights, but in the 3rd district of Traverse Town and it’s such a small enclosed space, that for once WASN’T designed for the spectacle of bosses there are! It would have been one thing if they were at least redesigned and smaller for the area, hell, maybe even moved slower. The shit part is most of them are bigger than the classic guard armor, and moves around way too fast, allowing NO ROOM TO BREATHE! Because every other room in the game is made with these fast moving and intimidating bosses in mind, but they reused Traverse Town with half of it being designed for a completely different game, with different bosses!! Do NOT get me started on the last of the game being like the worst from Birth By Sleep, just getting in potshots or using cheap tricks to take them down best you can! This only accentuates with dream eaters, sometimes I really dislike their AI, hardly any behavioral difference over the enemy variants, some I really don’t know how to manipulate for any healing either, and they are so closely tied in with a genre the game just decided to pick up for the 3DS.

A VIRTUAL PET SIMULATOR! Now look, it’s not a bad thing if you like pet sims, but to this games detriment, it is a requirement and not everyone will enjoy this mechanic in their action JRPG. So what do you do in the sim? Well, you pet them, feed them various sweets you collect throughout the world(and give them more diabetes than the Sea Salt trio achieved over the course of an entire year), play mini-games with them via a balloon, knocking them around in bubbles to collect chests and points underwater, or help find treasure. The issue is, you are forced to do all this very time-consuming stuff, but if you are not into pet simulators, this game will TEST you and your patience with something you may not like to begin with. The biggest part of this for me is how much worse it feels from the transition from the 3DS to the PlayStation 4. It’s not horrible, the game performs at 60 fps on a base console, but it certainly feels like it drags a lot more on the touchscreen-less platform that it was ported onto. It is clear that the game was ported over from a handheld that had niche controls, even more than 358/2 Days and Re: Coded that actually didn’t utilize the touch screen function often. This game thrived on it, not only was it so heavily tied to reality shifts and makes some of them flow in not at all the same way and having to pet a dream eater in the same way as using a touchscreen to do so, was just… awkward. Combine this with the balloon mini-game using a touchpad over a touchscreen for input and to know where you’re touching, and it is more difficult, then the water barrel being turned into awkward pinball, and from the AR used “treasure goggles” to find treasure turned into an awkward cursor moving FPS where you give dream eaters the correct colored candy… riveting… All of this and what for? In order to level them up outside of battling, and gain new commands and abilities.

Each dream eater has an ability board of sorts, where you spend points you accumulate from taking care of your spirit and battle successfully alongside them, so this wouldn’t be so bad if you could just get all the abilities you need and then just keep to what group of 3 you want in battle, problem is most abilities are tied to that specific dream eater. You HAVE to have the spirit in your party with the HP Boosts, Magic and attack hastes, boost and screen abilities elemental and otherwise, and blocks against certain ailment such as sleep even. The issue is, this game doesn’t tell you ANYWHERE, that you NEED these dream eaters in your party to reap the specific benefits from them, leading you to raise more and be selective as shit, whereas Birth By Sleep you just leveled up the command, and you kept the ability after. It’s needlessly convoluted for a system that was made to be a niche game for a touch screen device. Most of your enjoyment hinges on if you can enjoy pet simulation enough, to enjoy this aspect or simply accept it, along with its tediousness and repetition with the fact that it was awkwardly ported over from a Nintendo 3DS. But that… Still doesn’t compare to the absolute worst mechanic this game has, the drop gage.

See the meter next to the health and character portrait? Well for starters, this game doesn’t have a separate path for Riku story-wise, same save file actually for both of them, and this mechanic is why, upon it hitting 0, you are forced asleep permanently, and you use droplets, a form of currency you obtain by destroyed nightmares, that adds on buffs as you switch over to the other character, and the gage is reset. Not only can this thing be sped up and drained fast and annoyingly by sleep spells, but you can try to counteract it with items to refill the gage, or you can just manually drop at any time in the pause menu. It’s a mechanic that was used to allow for play with both characters in one game, but it is also made to force you to the other at any time, to where it can even be in the middle of a boss fight, where if you are about to get the final hit in, the gage drops to 0, and upon coming back, the boss has fully restarted on you. It more so serves as an annoyance, instead of keeping it in the player’s control at all times to AVOID such needing to be a thing. You’re given free control, yet you’re also not, it isn’t fun, it’s a chore to take care of in an action JRPG. Combine this with the sheer size of the worlds and their huge drawn out rooms to take advantage of flowmotion, or rather relying on it, and you’ll find this stress-inducing. Most of the worlds layout wise was confusing and not fun to travel around, most of this game’s rooms are as open and pointless as the few that were in Kingdom Hearts II that was used a few times for boss encounters, here its most of the game and a pain to navigate.

For example: Traverse Town comes back but with a 4th and 5th district and a post office underground, even a hugely drawn out alleyway, and its so easy to tell what rooms are from the original game, and what isn’t. To even a newcomer to Kingdom Hearts, the contrast will be damning. Instead of the traditional Final Fantasy cameos, you get characters from a DS cult classic called The World Ends With You, a game I am interested in, have played a bit, but don’t have much knowledge of. It was cool to see from the usual Final Fantasy representation, but nothing that made it feel that much of a worthy trade-off. The Disney worlds are La Cité des Cloches from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Grid from TRON: Legacy, Prankster’s Paradise with a returning Monstro from Pinocchio, Country of the Musketeers from that.. Three Musketeers musical movie with Mickey Donald and Goofy for some reason, and Symphony of Sorcery based off of Fantasia. Where I may enjoy what is essentially Notre Dame, Country of the Musketeers is too visually similar and came off redundant. The Grid was fun, but Prankster’s Paradise was far too much of a chore to explore, even inside Monstro as Riku. Aside from that world, however, Riku mostly has the more straightforward exploration and can honestly be more fun to me at times, but the best world was hands down Symphony of Sorcery, as musical pieces from the original Fantasia plays, and keyblade hits are replaced with random instruments, being easily the most visually breathtaking of the worlds as well.

But the overall best thing this game has, is its soundtrack, aside from a few songs that overstays their welcome, most of this soundtrack takes Birth By Sleep’s soundtrack style, and adds to it to make it more bombastic and epic as time goes on, the battle theme for Notre Dame is simply amazing, but it doesn’t lose its edge with more eerie tracks or even melancholic ones to set the mood proper. Great music can be featured in the drop stages for both the characters, Wild Blue being quite the favorite of mine in that regard. But downright chilling when you hear the theme for a Young Xehanort that gets involved in the plot and will return in III, who just comes off beyond eerie and creepy, making you wanna take him down even more.

In conclusion, I don’t hate this game, but god damn I’ve never felt so conflicted about a Kingdom Hearts game before upon revisiting it. It’s by no means completely bad, and if you can enjoy these aspects, then good for you, I don’t wanna ruin what enjoyment can be had from the dream eaters and the like. I do think though that this game has issues that could be addressed, and given what has been seen from Kingdom Hearts III trailers, and experienced from 0.2, its safe to say that what HAS worked, will be kept, as most of the flawed ideas or downright horrible ones, are dropped for what may be the biggest hodgepodge of the series best mechanics. Flowmotion will be nerfed and given less significance to put more focus on combos, spells, and the upcoming keyblade transformations. I’m glad I revisited this game, but it may be a while until I revisit it again.

Graphics 8.5 – 10 For graphics that had stuck with the series since its first title, the art style has still aged well, and with this game boasting some of the coolest worlds artistically, it can stand beside II, but could have surpassed it if the lighting was better.
Music 9 – 10 Although not all songs are AMAZING, most of this soundtrack offers great pieces all of its own, and a style that can be enjoyed, it’s just not like I can remember the melody from places like The Grid in both battling and exploration, while II nailed both with Space Paranoids based off of the original 82 film.
Gameplay 7.5 – 10 Birth By Sleep was better structured in this department and felt more balanced, even despite the lack of revenge value in both games. Not only are some commands like the balloon spells just overpowered, but too much experimental and required, instead of experimental and optional.
Dive Mode 6.5 – 10 I’m indifferent, it’s not bad, but it’s certainly nothing to write home about.
Story 7.5 – 10 At least Birth By Sleep was easy to follow at its pace, had some weird story ideas, but you could follow along competently.
Content 6 – 10 The only side activities are so closely tied to dream eaters, including a Colosseum to pin them against other teams, with Chain of Memories mechanics, there is a reason I’d only mention it here.
World Building 7 – 10 Yeah… it needed to not be so spaced out, it needed to be more appropriately sized and easy to navigate through.

7.5 – 10

I consider the original game better structurally, despite it has aged, but this game has certain aspects to enjoy, and aspects to despise. If you want to catch up for III, yet don’t like certain additions to the gameplay, just watch the cutscenes, this is for Kingdom Hearts fans, who may enjoy a pet sim in their game.