Review – Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep

Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: Out Now

It has been one hell of a wait since Birth By Sleep was teased, and now it’s finally here. Ever since the secret ending for Kingdom Hearts 2, we’ve been left wondering the story of the 3 people in armour and now it has been revealed. The PSP now has a game that will get the handheld sales! Are you ready for the prequel to the Kingdom Hearts story? Hit the jump for the full review.

Kingdom Hearts games have always been very story driven, blending original content with a bit of Disney and a bit of Final Fantasy. The same formula applies here in Birth By Sleep, but the story is now separated amongst three characters. Aqua, Terra and Ventus are the best of friends, and all share the same dream. To become a Keyblade Master. As events unfold, the three friends end up on their separate ways, visiting various worlds in their personal quest. But all their efforts will lead them to the same place, where their fate will be sealed. Xehanort. The boy in the mask. The Keyblade Graveyard. Well to be honest, if you’ve seen the secret ending from Final Mix+ then you’ll know how it all unfolds. Not much surprise there, sadly.

First i’ll get started on the new gameplay additions. The main attraction being the ability to play through three separate stories. You have the choice of playing as either Ventus, Terra or Aqua, who all play very differently. You’ll experience the story through their eyes, and piece together the truth about the Kingdom Hearts story. The combat has been given a new flavour, with the introduction of commands. Commands work in a similar fashion to the card system from Chain of Memories and the panel system from 358/2 Days. Commands range from several different uses, including spells, attacks and items. Your commands level up the more you use them, increasing their damage and output. You can merge your levelled up commands together to create even more powerful commands, or even merge them with items to add-on certain abilities. Abilities can be learned by fully levelling up a command. So you can remove the command and still keep the ability. You’ll have a lot of fun mixing and matching commands to see what you can create.

Focusing more on the core gameplay, Drive Forms are present, but are activated in a whole new way. When you use certain types of commands in a row, you’ll activate a form, giving you new powers. You’ll gain even more powerful forms as you progress through the story, and trust me, they’ll prove to be helpful. The summon system has been replaced with a new link system, which gives you the abilities and assistance of the selected character. You’ll gain links from the many Disney characters you meet along the way, some useful, others not. ShotLock mode switches the view to a first person perspective where you can lock onto several enemies and release a barrage of magic attacks. You are invincible during the attack frames, so its handy if you’re in a tight spot. Carrying on to the old style gameplay, it all feels very much like Kingdom Hearts. Mashing the X button still kills nearly everything and damn it’s satisfying. You still obtain experience from enemies defeated, allowing you to level up and gain stat boosts.

Story events are still scattered throughout the worlds, consisting of group battles, defeating waves of enemies and playing several themed mini games. Most of them rewarding you with a nice bonus such as a new form or a stat boost. The worlds are quite short this time around, which is to be expected since it’s split between three characters. The missions can feel pretty straight forward and sometimes too linear. Not Final Fantasy XIII linear though, it’s not that bad. There are a few new worlds that make a debut in Birth By Sleep, such as the Dwarf Woodlands and the Enchanted Castle, representing Snow White & the Seven Dwarves and Cinderella respectively. Since there are no character exclusive worlds, the same formula of gameplay feels stale the third time around. A bit of variation would have been nicer.

Birth By Sleep displays some fantastic visuals, for a PSP game. I’d go as far as to say it looks better than Kingdom Hearts 2. The in-game visuals are a treat, and the cutscenes are just magnificent. I was very surprised to see the PSP pulling off such stunning graphics. As well as the visual flair to it, the soundtrack is top-notch. A lot of new tracks are present, with some old favourites creeping round the corner during a few events. Although, to be quite honest, I’m getting fed up of Simple and Clean being used as the theme song. How about a new one for once, Square? Or maybe use Sanctuary again.

The difficulty curve can be unforgiving at times. You have the choice of easy, normal, proud and critical modes. Easy being the, well, easiest, and critical being impossible. Even on normal you’ll find yourself in quite a number of tight spots. The boss battles will have you on the edge of your seat. Make a mistake and it’ll cost you, big time. It really tests your reaction and skills, and I like that in a boss fight. While the difficulty can be frustrating, it’s a welcoming challenge. The option to switch to easy for a boss fight isn’t present, so you’ll just have to go off and grind on some enemies if you want a better chance. I’ve yet to try critical mode but the thought alone scares me. Maybe one day …

Now comes the part I hate, pointing out the flaws. As I mentioned before, the worlds begin to feel like a bit of a chore after visiting them so many times. While there are a few worlds I can never get tired of (Deep Space I’m looking at you), I don’t like having to drag myself through the same locations three times for a different camera angle view on a story cutscene. My second complaint is the targeting system. While lock-on is handy for targeting enemies, it will sometimes lock onto the wrong enemy, more often the smaller ones. Even worse is that at times it will lock onto enemies or items off in the distance, so you can’t see the enemies in front of you. You’re safer not using it at all, to be honest. The previous games never had this problem, it’s quite sad.

Well, at the end of the day, Birth By Sleep is a fantastic game. It presents itself with a beautiful collection of impressive graphics, gameplay, soundtrack and voice acting. The story will keep your attention throughout the whole experience … experience referring to the first character you play through as. Not the best Kingdom Hearts game, but certainly better than most of them. Worth the wait? Yes, definitely. Despite the little flaws, this game is unmissable if you’re a Kingdom Hearts fan.

Final Score – 9/10

A few little nags here and there, but this is the ultimate portable Kingdom Hearts experience. Quite possibly the best game on PSP, and one of the best Action RPGs out there.

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3 Responses to “Review – Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep”

  1. YES! I totally agree probably the best PSP game yet. Personally, I never had much problems with the lock on. Also, something kind of sad to point out, while I was playing through Terra’s story, I played on Proud mode, and did just a little bit of grinding at the beginning, as soon as I could grind. But thanks to the command deck system, it’s fun to grind. Power up commands, them meld them with an item and see what you get. Anyway, I grinded for maybe as little as 2 or 3 hours, then I think about 30 minutes after each world as I went back through for treasures, and it seriously brought down the difficulty, almost to the point of feeling like I had cheated, even though it was on proud mode. So yeah, if you’re stuck, just do a small amount of grinding, then you’ll breeze through what you were stuck on.

    Also, critical was hard, there’s one battle that I honestly think’s impossible unless you start off with your shotlock command.

    Something you should add, Critical also has a couple new things too, like you start off with 2 more command slots than normal, and there’s two things to make it even more difficult. You start off with a “Zero EXP” ability (that you can thankfully turn off or on when you want), and your max HP that you can have is less, or at least for Terra.

  2. That’s the thing though, Terra is straight forward since he’s a power house. Ventus and Aqua play very differently

  3. Wow! This really is 1 of the most beneficial blogs I’ve ever occur across on this subject. Merely Amazing

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