Early on in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, the two controllable heroes of the piece, Sora and Riku, battle it out against Ursula, the sea witch from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. It’s a simple primer for the tone of the rest of the game, a mashing together of two universes in such a matter of fact way that you accept it without question.
This is the seventh game in the series, and whilst the plot has now become so convoluted that the uninitiated are going to need to do some serious Googling if they want to catch up, the story really plays second fiddle to the adventure.
Square Enix (and even going back to the time when it was Square without the Enix) have never been particularly good at telling succinct tales, but there are enough simple to understand tropes –the bad guy dressed in black, one angsty hero, the other naive and full of hope – that you can figure out what’s going on without too much worry.
The game is very much at the action end of the RPG spectrum, seeing you lead the two Keyblade wielders through a variety of Disney themed levels, as well as locations that any Kingdom Hearts veteran is going to be familiar with.
Battles are, as usual, in real time and at their simplest simply require you to hack out three hit combos, while blocking and sliding out of the way of oncoming attacks. The game does however slowly add new moves, take “Flowmotion” for example, which doubles up as super-speedy free running tool as well as a way to leap between different enemies during a scrap.
Fighting alongside you are virtual pets called Spirits, which are the light version of the dark dream eaters you spend most of your time trying to kill. These offer combo opportunities and link moves, which differ depending on which spirits you have in your party. You also have a command deck, scrolled through with the D-pad, which contains your special moves and potions, and is fully customisable.
During the game you’ll swap between Sora and Riku using the “Drop” system, which sees you falling asleep when a meter runs out. Defeating enemies and collecting certain items will keep the gauge fuller for longer and, once you drop, you can spend points you’ve earned during that play on upgrades. You can also swap automatically at the reasonably generously positioned save points that are spread around the levels.
After an opening world that introduces you to the mechanics of the game – and features brilliant cameos from the cast of Square Enix classic The World Ends With You – you’re thrown into the void and presented with a variety of possible destinations.
There are seven worlds to explore from two different perspectives, as well as “Dive” sequences between each that see you plummeting down a wormhole, collecting stars and defeating enemies. The Tron: Evolution level is particularly impressive, seeing you racing light cycles, and using your Flowmotion techniques to slide around the gorgeous, neon scenery.
Dream Drop Distance might not be the second proper sequel that fans of the series are clamouring for, but there is an awful lot here to enjoy. The action is quick, the characters that populate your journey funny and endearing, and the spectacle impressive enough to make you go ‘wow’ on more than one occasion.
Freed from the rigid constraints of the more traditional J-RPG, Square Enix have proven that they’re still a company with ambition, creativity and passion in spades; now how about that sequel?