PSP Reviews

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Review

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Developer: Square-Enix
Price: $39.99
Platform: PSP

Birth by Sleep has been a long time coming. It was first teased way back when Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix + was released in Japan and was officially announced soon after as a set of spin off’s to help expand the ever growing Kingdom Hearts universe. Unfortunately since the release of Kingdom Hearts 2 the franchise hasn’t exactly be on top form. We are a remake of the Gameboy’s Chain of Memories and the disappointing 358/2 days on the DS. Does Birth by Sleep bring back that spark of the original or does it put us all to sleep?

The plot is set 10 years before the events of the first game and revolves around 3 young keyblade wielders Terra, Ventus and Aqua. A new threat has emerged called ‘The Unversed’ along with a mysterious Masked Boy and our 3 heroes will have to find the source of the issue before it become a bigger problem. The plot is pretty standard for the series, but really hooks us in are the connections between our 3 protagonist’s and the events of Kingdom Hearts. It’s a nice bridge that helps solve unanswered questions that fans have been asking for. The idea works much the same as previous titles, you visit a number of Disney inspired worlds all of which have their own little sub-plots. The main hook this time is that you play the game under 3 different perspectives. At the start of the game you pick which one you want to follow. While every character visits all the same worlds and there is some back tracking to be had, each campaign plays out very differently. Most worlds have certain areas that only specific characters can enter. In Dwarf’s Woodlands for example Terra is limited to the castle and the surrounding areas while Ventus can only enter the woodlands and the nearby diamond caves. Each character has their own individual plot and while there are points the 3 stories merge, the 3 plots are varied enough that each campaign avoids feeling repetitive. Giving you more incentive to come back and complete the game as another character which helps you understand the overall plot.

The worlds in Kingdom Hearts 2 lacked the charm of the original and none of them had any real relevance to the plot. Making the game’s pacing all over the place and didn’t give you the feeling like everything is connected. Thankfully this isn’t the case in Birth by Sleep, the worlds have more of a significance to the overarching plot and that charm is back. This gave me a real feeling of immersion in the world with a nice combination of Disney stables and plot devices that would only make sense in Kingdom Hearts. Oddly enough the Square-Enix characters have had a major push back to only 1, Zack. Quite surprising considering how Final Fantasy heavy Kingdom Hearts 2 was.

Combat has seen an improvement incorporating the standard battle system with some influences from Crisis Core. Birth by Sleep using a deck based system, don’t worry it’s not card based like Chain of memories. Other than the attack button you can add a variety of magic and melee based moves which can be used by pressing triangle, instead of losing MP the moves will recharge. While they are equipped they will level up. Once levelled up the ability attached to will become permanent and will allow you to combine it with another levelled up move. This is where the game shines, when you combine moves you are given the option to add a crystal which will add an ablilty to it, what the ability will be depends on the moves being combined and what crystal you use. Abilities can’t be learnt by levelling up, only by certain points in the game and combining items can you earn things such as HP Boost, Last Chance or Treasure Magnet. This adds a great level of customisation making each character individual while also adds one of the most RPG heavy elements the series has seen which is a nice breath of fresh air.

Your character’s command style changes dynamically based on what commands you have used. If you used the fire commands you will change activate Firestorm which will add a fire element to your attacks and will end with a powerful finisher. These styles help make combat varied, give you the incentive to do more than just use attack, help you find your perfect deck and ultimately total destroy your enemies. In replace of summons due to hardware limitations we have D-links, you connect to change your command style allowing you to use their set skills and unique finisher, they also work as a nice health boost if a situation become dire. The more you use them you will unlock special perks when using that D-link, using Ventus’ D-link for example will temporarily gain the Haste and auto-counter skills.

While the 3 protagonists play some what similarly, each one has their own characteristics. Terra is a brawler who has powerful melee attacks but isn’t very fast, Ventus plays more like Sora and strikes fast and is very nimble and Aqua is very magic based which leads to bigger and more impressive array of magic commands later down the line. Guarding (or in Aqua’s case reflect) has also become a set skill rather than an optional extra. Guarding plays a much bigger role this time around become a vital tool in later boss battles. Speaking of boss battles they are easily Birth by Sleeps strongest feature. Most bosses require using tactics this time around, rarely can you just run in and tap X and expect to win. You will have to start predicting the bosses moves and block and attack accordingly. Though later on bosses can become cheap by being able to cancel all your attacks as they go to use one of their moves, but for the most part it’s a great step up from previous titles keeping that flashiness without losing the substance. Difficulty has also seen a bump up. Square Enix made sure that the western version will be harder overall along with a new difficultly mode Critical. I played all characters on Proud Mode and while I didn’t find it too challenging (save a few boss fights) I wasn’t finding myself breezing through the game, around the same difficulty as the first game.

Birth by Sleep really pushes the PSP to the limits and it shows. Loading times can be quite long, opening the menu takes longer than it should and using D-links, command styles and some spells can have long charging times making the action stop while the attack is preparing itself which takes away from the flow of the battle. This can be avoid with an optional install but for those with smaller memory sticks might be reluctant to part with almost half a GB. The worlds themselves are full of colour and look the part. Though they all feel empty and lifeless, partly to do with the fact you only ever see a handful of NPC’s in a world and some environments just don’t have much going on.

There are also a number of minigames. These include Rumble Racing, a music rhythm game involving ice cream, Fruit Scatter (think volleyball but with fruit) and the surprisingly deep Command Board a monopoly like minigame. All of which make nice distractions from the main quest with the Command Board being the meatiest of the lot. There is also an online component called in the ‘Mirage Arena’ you can take part in multiplayer races, arena battles and versus battles. I have unfortunately not had the opportunity to play with others, but they are nice additions to have. Along with trying to complete the Trinity report there are a lot to do once you have completed the main quest, this includes 2 optional bosses and to Kingdom Hearts tradition they almost require you to be a high level in order to beat them. Each campaign lasts around 10 to 15 hours each plus the time spent doing side quests you have yourself a long game especially for a portable title.

Birth by Sleep was a pleasant surprise, a return to form for the Kingdom Hearts series. It’s brought back what I love about the series while also bringing much needed improvements. It’s gone beyond what we expected from the Kingdom Hearts spin-off. It has it’s issues and it might not be for everyone, But if you have a PSP you might want to check it out.

The Final Word
Birth by Sleep is far from perfect but it brings the best the series has the offer and compacts it into a highly enjoyable portable format.

– MonsterVine Rating: 4/5 – Good

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  1. Pingback: Square Enix Adds Deus Ex Delay, Signaling Low Profit Margins | - Monster Video Games Coverage

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