Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep: review

It’s a very easy thing to brush off the quality of game present within the Kingdom Hearts franchise, thanks to the merger with numerous Disney characters. It remains an extremely strange choice, especially when mixed with Final Fantasy and the plethora of unique characters as well. Nevertheless the Kingdom Hearts games have been extremely popular, almost despite the odds, and though the latest game is on PSP and doesn’t have the suffix ‘3’, Birth by Sleep is in no way just another spin-off.

Acting as a prequel to the original game (set roughly ten years before), the player is placed into the roles of Terra, Aqua and Ventus and sees the same story from three different angles as someone manipulates them from the shadows – and sets them all on a course to a very unhappy fate, originally hinted at by the secret ending in the second game. Playing like the main games in the series, players roam around worlds in a third-person hack and slash style with deep RPG mechanics going on in the background.

While the worlds visited within each character’s story are the same, the order and events in each differ. They don’t, however, offer many different locations and it’s safe to say that around 70% of a world will be the same no matter who you are playing as. There is still incentive to play through each story though, as the real finale can only be played after finishing each, and they all deal with a slightly different angle or sub-plot as well. Each individual story will take around ten to fifteen hours, with more scope after that should you decide to aim for Lv99 and the secret bosses.

It is obvious from the off that the PSP has limited the scope of the game somewhat. The number of different worlds is very small and none are particularly large when compared to either of the first two games. Square Enix has almost successfully made up for this fact by including Ad-Hoc multiplayer, co-operative play, and an in-depth levelling and skill system. The multiplayer modes aren’t tied directly to the plot at all but do allow you to level up alongside friends as you race, battle or duel.

A deck system is in place whereby the usable spells or skills you can choose from while fighting can be customised, as well as “ShotLock” finishers for hitting multiple targets numerous times and basic traits such as blocks and counters. You can also meld mastered abilities to make stronger versions or get rare mutations to give you powerful attacks, and they can be levelled up outside of combat via a Mario Party style Command Board mini-game.

These features all replace the need for MP, with spells and skills simply having re-use timers and ShotLocks needing a focus bar to be filled by defeating enemies. There is also the D-Link system whereby you can select a person in the story you have formed a link with, and temporarily gain their skill set.

While combat can technically be boiled down to pressing the attack button until Unversed genocide is achieved there is a skill needed in balancing abilities, and the finer points of combat such as when to dodge and when to block. Even on the standard difficulty it can be very easy to be taken out by even basic enemies, should you stumble blindly into one of their more devastating abilities.

The voice talent on offer is of a reasonably high standard. Without going into specifics regarding spoilers, many actors who leant their talents to previous games have returned in one way or another. The Disney characters are still often voiced by sound-alikes rather than the ones who did the various movies, but it was also great that once again James Woods voiced Hades. Of the brand new additions the best is by far Leonard Nimoy, who lends his talented vocal cords to Xehanort and provides a far from phoned-in performance.

It’s a little disappointing that the two weakest voices happen to be two of the characters you play as. Aqua is clearly channelling a futuristic android sent back through time to save John Conner and Terra is Anakin Skywalker incarnate.

There are two other brief down points that need mentioning. The first is for PSP-Go users as Square Enix has controversially stated that the game will be UMD only. The second is that even if you do the full 512 MB install for the game and up the processor speed from within the menu, it still strains the PSP and loads quite slowly (not to mention devouring battery life – keep your charger handy). Things can sometimes get choppy when too much is going on at once as well.

As a PSP game on its own merits, the amount of content given to the player for the going RRP is very high, which alone places it high in the list of the best games available for the handheld. More than that though, it doesn’t feel like yet another Kingdom Hearts 2 spin-off and is a good scene setter for Kingdom Hearts 3, assuming it appears in our lifetime.

Perhaps we are wrong in assuming that the Disney fluff and Mickey Mouse being on the box would put a lot of people off, but if you do fall into that category then we would urge you to look past that. If we could coax you with one more thing (which is a mild spoiler) it would be that within one of the character’s stories you will get to beat up Peter Pan and his smug, child-endangering face.


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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.

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