TGS 2011: Kingdom Hearts 3D hands-on preview

Have a care for the poor Kingdom Hearts fan. All they want is a true third entry in the series and all they get is a series of spin-offs and half-sequels on portable systems. That seems again to be the case with 3DS title Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, which takes place after KHII and stars Sora and Riku teaming up on a quest from wise mage Yen Sid to prepare for battle with returning Hearts baddie Xehahort. The demo build at TGS 2011 had one level each for the two leads of the game, and while the stages were brief, this felt more like a fuller KH experience than some side game.

Above: Sadly, Square-Enix has been very stingy with new screens, so you’ll have to make due with older stuff like this trailer

We started with Sora in a stage that seemed early in the game as he awakes in Traverse Town in some new clothes thanks to Yen Sid’s magic. Just as he’s wondering how he returned to the famous hub city and was shouting for his missing pal Riku, the most surprising moment of the demo happens as Neku from the DS RPG World Ends With You appears. It’s a pretty funny meeting, as Neku’s dour, fatalistic ennui can’t defeat Sora’s helpful nature. As Neku talks of “The Game,” meaning the life or death challenge he faced in WEWY, Sora immediately offers to help him and tries to start a friendship with the emo headphones wearer, though Neku tells him he’s odd for wanting to help total strangers. Neku then disappeared as fast as he showed up, leaving Sora to explore Traverse on his own.

Well not totally alone, as Sora is accompanied by two animal companions that are nearly as helpful, though not half as fun to be around as Donald and Goofy. One was a bouncy dog-like creature, the other a large panda-esque animal, and throughout the stage we found enemy versions of those guys, which tells us that there must be some system for making enemies team members, though our Square-Enix US representatives had few details on just how that system would work. Though your cute friends didn’t seem as deep as some of your previous partners, once you tapped their icon on the touchscreen they unleashed powerful co-op attacks with Sora, as Sora rode the dog as it bounced off the ground, hitting enemies in waves with each drop, while the panda swung Sora by his legs in a spin attack before launching him head first at enemies.

As we hopped around Traverse Town we ran into new KH baddies the Dream Eaters, beating the crap out of them for the green orbs KH fans hunger for. The combat used A to attack, B to jump, and X for magic, while the Y button unleashed flashier attacks dependent on where the character is in the stage. We saw Sora do a mid-air combo, bounce of walls to hit multiple enemies, and even swing around a light post when we used this command. Additionally, most areas had a special box that when you pressed X and A at the same time nearby, Sora jumped inside, initiating the Sling Shot attack as you directed where in the immediate area you wanted to fling Sora using the touchscreen.

After a short exploration of the world, we quickly ran into Sora’s lead enemy of the demo, a giant wolf creature. We had an involved battle on the glass roof of one of Traverse Town’s bigger buildings, as we put our team attacks to good use against the big bad. After crashing through the roof and with one last helpful toss from our panda pal, the villain was no more. In a flash of light that portion of the demo was over and it was time to explore with Riku.

Things start off a bit worse for Riku, as the white-haired youngster arrives in the troubled world based on Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame film from the mid-90s. The normally populated area in front of the famous structure is in disarray, with several buildings on fire, and a distraught Quasimodo holding a barely conscious Esmerelda (think they’ll get Demi Moore to reprise that role for the US localization?). They were just attacked by a giant, flying, demonic creature, one Riku intends to stop. The Hunchback world is hopefully the first of many new Disney-themed areas to be introduced in Kingdom Hearts 3D, though we’re a little surprised they chose one of the darker and less popular films of Disney’s 90s releases.

As Riku explored the famous cathedral to face the boss at the top, we noticed that his combat was a little more visceral than Sora’s, with his special Y attacks a tad fiercer. Riku’s two sidekicks were a bat monster and something akin to a deer, and their team-up moves were less playful, as both just seemed to enhance Riku’s Keyblade attacks instead of him working directly with the creatures. Also, Riku’s X+A attack on the touchscreen, Holy Rope, was more serious, as you drew a line between different points as Riku unleashed an attack when flying between them.

Once we began our boss battle at the top of the cathedral, we thought we’d had trouble as the enemy mostly just flew in the air and sent projectiles our way, though we soon found out Riku could fly with ease, so we engaged the baddie in a floaty airborne battle. It was fun, though at times we were wishing we had the new Slide Pad for the 3DS which is compatible with KH3D, as continually resituating the camera with the shoulder buttons to chase after the enemy wasn’t all that awesome.

Just as with the other half of the demo, once Riku’s boss was dispatched the gameplay slice was complete and we were left wanting more. Though the game has yet to be officially made official for a US release, we would be VERY surprised if we didn’t see it sometime next year after its Spring 2012 Japanese release. Though we aren’t sure just how long it will be, it certainly felt like a fuller KH experience, and one we can’t wait to see more of.

Sep 17, 2011

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