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PAX East 2012: Square Enix 3DS Titles

Square Enix brought some of the most hotly anticipated Nintendo 3DS titles to PAX East. I was able to spend plenty of quality time with Theatrhythm Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, both of which are slated for release later this year. Keep reading for all the details on these extremely promising titles.

KINGDOM HEARTS 3D: DREAM DROP DISTANCE
The time has finally come for a true successor to Kingdom Hearts 2, and it’s coming in the form of a 3DS-exclusive title on July 31st. We were able to sit down with a Square Enix rep at PAX East for a lengthy hands-on demo of the game and it was immediately apparent that this will be a must-play title for fans of the series. The demo took place entirely in the futuristic neon world of the Grid from the 2010 film Tron: Legacy. In true Kingdom Hearts fashion, the combat was fast, chaotic and utterly responsive. It felt a lot like Re:coded for the DS and Birth by Sleep for the PSP, complete with the “Command Deck” system that lets the player stack powerful attacks that can be cycled through on a whim and executed with the X button.
Kingdom Hearts 3D employs an all-new “flow motion” system that involves jumping off a wall and tapping the Y button to send Sora (or Riku, the other playable character) flying through the air and using the environment (poles, enemies, etc.) to navigate the level without ever really stopping. It was tough to get used to at first and it didn’t feel like it offered all that much precision, but when used in large rooms when surrounded by enemies it became an incredibly useful combat tactic to zip around, attack a “Nightmare” Dream Eater (no Heartless this time around) and continue on unscathed. There were also glowing red tracks on the ground that the player can jump on and “grind” at high speeds to get from one end of a level to another. They can all be seen on the map on the bottom screen and they proved especially useful for escaping powerful soldiers of the Grid. There’s the new “Reality Shift” feature which activates if and when the player swipes down on red arrows that appear on the touch screen at certain times; this brings up a mini-game that utilizes the touch screen and turns into a powerful attack, all of which are unique to each world.
Speaking of worlds, all of the Disney locales for Kingdom Hearts 3D are brand new to the series. Iconic settings from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pinocchio and Fantasia are among the most enticing. The graphics looked great and easily surpassed  those of the already impressive Birth by Sleep; animations were smooth and character models looked fantastic, especially those of real-life characters from the Tron film. The frame rate remained surprisingly solid, even with all of the commotion constantly on the screen.
Among the other new features of the game is the “Drop Gauge” in the lower right-hand corner of the screen which constantly depletes and eventually leads to the player taking control of another character. There are also “Spirit” Dream Eaters, friendly creatures that accompany the player in game world. These creatures can be captured and taken care of like pets, which will lead to benefits for the player’s characters. Another reporter in the room immediately made the connection to Pokemon (it was only a matter of time), which the Square Enix rep half-heartedly agreed with.

Kingdom Hearts fans can rest assured that this new title will more than tide them over until the eventual release of Kingdom Hearts 3. It has all the makings of a great action-RPG and the high  production values that are expected from Square Enix. With its new frenetic combat system, original worlds and the same great characters that we’ve all come to love, this will be one of the biggest 3DS releases of the year.

 

THEATRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY
By far the most exciting portable game on display at PAX was the music/rhythm game Theatrhythm Final Fantasy for the Nintendo 3DS. The line to play one of the four demo units on the show floor was always huge, but we were lucky enough to sit down with a Square Enix employee who was clearly as enthusiastic about the game as we were. Rhythm games on Nintendo’s handheld systems always end up selling gangbusters (Elite Beat Agents and Rhythm Heaven come immediately to mind), and Theatrhythm looks like it’s set to do the same when it launches on July 3rd.
Developed by Japanese company Indieszero and published by Square Enix, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy takes the standard RPG formula of the long-running series and turns it into a frighteningly addictive music game that has players tapping, swiping and holding their styluses on the 3DS touch screen in time with prompts on the upper screen. Every numbered Final Fantasy title from the very first on up to FF XIII is accounted for, bringing the total number of playable tracks to around 70. There are three main game modes, all of which we were able to try out.


The first was Field Music, which had an adorable little Final Fantasy character walking along a side-scrolling path from right to left while the player executes the necessary commands on the touch screen. The goal is to reach the end of the stage before the song ends; the more accurate the player is, the faster the character walks (I eventually turned into a chocobo when my combo got high enough for a speed boost). The most fun was when a long note had to be held and I needed to move the stylus up or down to match the curve of the line; it was incredibly accurate and pretty challenging.
Battle Music turns the top screen into an old-school Final Fantasy battle where a team of four fighters line up on the right side of the screen while a single enemy stands on the left. There are four different tracks to keep an eye on, one for each fighter, and it’s a blast to watch the battle rage as the music pumps (good headphones are an absolute must for this game– the beautiful music of the Final Fantasy series is not done justice by the 3DS speakers) and the cues fly across the screen. This is also where the 3D effect is the most impressive; the music tracks appear to float above the battle, making the illusion of two separate planes very pronounced.
Event Music caters to those who want to watch some beautifully rendered cinematics from past Final Fantasy games while tapping along to the music and following some more erratic patterns than are offered in the other two modes.
From what we saw of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, it’s going to be an absolute blast and a great way to celebrate the beloved franchise’s 25th Anniversary. The music from the Final Fantasy games has been renowned for its emotional impact and unforgettable melodies, and to have all of those tracks collected in one game is enough to warrant a purchase. The fact that players can interact with the music in a fun and addictive rhythm game only adds to its appeal.

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