I wouldn't call Kingdom Hearts a deep action game – it's certainly nowhere near the level of an Assassin's Creed or a Devil May Cry – but it's still pretty big. Just the addition of an extra dimension, which must be constantly monitored during battle, can feel taxing when riding the bus. I've been picking up Dream Drop Distance
on and off for about a week now, but my sessions rarely last longer than 30 or 45 minutes. The fast pace of action, the smallish enemies and the dark levels just make my eyes hurt.
Admittedly, it's better now than it used to be. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
for the Nintendo DS was an admirable technical effort, but its raw blend of blurry textures and clashing colors made it hard to look at. By comparison, Dream Drop Distance
is very easy on the eyes – smooth textures, impressive models (an appearance by Ursula five minutes into the game really takes the cake), and solid pyrotechnics bring it closer than ever to replicating the look and feel of the PlayStation 2 games.
Kingdom Hearts, however, is a partnership between Square Enix and Disney. One trademark of classic Disney animation is its grandeur – sweeping vistas, complicated action sequences and lavishly animated characters (Pinocchio's escape from Monstro is still one of my favorite action sequences ever). The first two games were far from perfect, but they did their part in capturing that elusive sense of grandeur that is so important in Disney films through the mid-90s. It's not a feeling that is easily replicated on handheld screens.
Then there's the fact that by keeping one of its most important franchises on handheld, Square Enix has boxed itself in. Dragon Quest worked in part because of its classic format and its unique take on multiplayer. Final Fantasy has a million different permutations, some of which work really well on handhelds (see: Final Fantasy Tactics
). With the exception of Chain of Memories
though, Kingdom Hearts has always been the same. Thus far, Square Enix has declined to take the series in new directions, and a complete reinvention seems out of the question until a Kingdom Hearts 3
is developed. And Square Enix is definitely not going to put a true Kingdom Hearts sequel on a handheld (Dragon Quest IX
, as I've already mentioned, is something of a unique case).
Much as I understand Square's predicament, I don't feel like they're doing what's become a flagship franchise any favors.
Unfortunately, the net effect is that Kingdom Hearts is now stale. After multiple spinoffs, most of the pertinent questions from Kingdom Hearts 2
have been answered, and there's not a lot for Sora and Riku to do. In some ways, Dream Drop Distance
is the equivalent of Dagobah from The Empire Strikes Back
: Sora is off training and learning to be a Keyblade Master. That's great and all. Let me know when they finally get around to kicking off that war they've been hinting at for ... what? Two or three games now?
I suspect that the delays have something to do with Square Enix's resources being stretched by Final Fantasy XIII
and Versus XIII –
projects that have taken up their attention for some six years now. Under better conditions, I'm sure Square Enix would love to put Kingdom Hearts 3
on the PS3, Xbox 360 or the Wii U. But much as I understand Square's predicament, I don't feel like they're doing what's become a flagship franchise any favors; where the announcement of a new Kingdom Hearts might have once generated intense excitement, it's only garnering yawns now. It being basically the same in form as its original 2002 incarnation, and on a less-than-optimal platform to boot, is only serving to accelerate the malaise.
At this point, I think it's time. A return to home consoles would be good not only for Square Enix and its fans, but RPGs as a whole. It would at least partially reinvigorate one of the genre's most popular franchises – one of the rare Japanese-developed RPGs that has retained some level of global popularity. The time has passed for handheld ports and spinoffs. If Kingdom Hearts can't start anew, at least let it return to the platforms that it's best suited. Then, at least, Square Enix can begin looking to the future.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.