Review: Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep (PSP)September 26th, 2010 | Written by Josh Schwartzman | Topic: Reviews, Sony PSP, Uncategorized
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is a marvel of a game and perhaps one of the best entries in the already long-running series. As a standalone title, Birth By Sleep excels in giving players a glance at events leading up to the original Kingdom Hearts, as well as shed some light on various events that were only briefly talked about in each of the games. There is something about Birth By Sleep that really sticks with you, as the three characters Ventus, Terra and Aqua share a striking resemblance to the three stars everyone knows and loves: Sora, Rikku and Kairi. Birth By Sleep pulls together an exceptional battle system and a gripping tale to give fans plenty of reasons to replay the game multiple times.
The story in the Kingdom Hearts series is best described as engaging, yet convoluted. Various characters are connected to one another; numerous forms of individuals become Heartless and Nobodies and the dozens of Disney and Final Fantasy characters that sprout up within the story as well. It’s a complicated storyline that will take numerous playthroughs to even understand everything fully. But Birth By Sleep’s story, although slightly confusing, is worth engaging as it shows the story of three friends who will stop at nothing but to protect each other at all costs. It is slightly jarring that you have to play through each character’s story arch separately to get the full experience and storyline, but Birth By Sleep has perhaps the best cast of characters in any game since Kingdom Hearts 2.
From the start you are given the option to choose to play as any of the three characters: Terra, who relies on brute strength in combat, Aqua, who uses plenty of magic and Ventus who uses a balanced mixture of both. While all three characters set out on their separate paths with their own goals, Ventus and Terra clearly have the most enjoyable stories, with Aqua mainly spending her time just following the two to try to bring them home. That’s not to say Aqua’s story is meaningless, because you get to meet some characters only through her storyline, but her adventure is not up to par with the amount of action and excitement you would otherwise enjoy with Ventus or Terra.
The three storylines all meet up at the same conclusion, but their paths taken to that point differ completely. For instance while visiting the Dwarf Woodlands, Ventus might spend his time rescuing Snow White from an Unversed enemy in the woods while Terra spends his time talking with the Queen and listening to her motives. It is often amusing to see how some of the storylines differ from one another in each of the worlds, but it really is quite repetitive where after the second time, you find yourself doing meager fetch quests in the beginning just to get the third side of a story where you already know how it ends. The idea is great, allowing players to create an emotional bond with all three characters to better understand the complexity of the story, but when all is said and done, one time is really all you need to enjoy Birth By Sleep’s tale of love and betrayal. One of the highlights of all three stories are perhaps the many characters for which you will meet, and many of the Organization XIII members are shown in their human form throughout the game, with Axel, Saix, Xigbar, Vexen and more that make appearances through all of the playthroughs, further enhancing the story you remembered from 358/2 Days.
Perhaps the best part of Birth By Sleep is the engaging battle system which has been refined from the system Kingdom Hearts 2 used. A command board on the left hand side shows a rotating drop down menu that displays your given skills. Skills can be used at any given moment once they are fully charged, after which you must wait for them to recharge and appear for you in the command menu. Each character has their simple attack button (X) that allows you to whack away at Unversed and doing so fills a command bar located at the top of the attack menu. When this command bar fills, your character unleashes a special Final Attack which can help turn the tide of battle in your favor.
These Final Attacks are quite effective if you know how to properly execute them. Since there are numerous amounts of Final Attacks, ranging from simple Keyblade rampage to Firestorms, the way in which you activate these Final Attacks is part of the fun of understanding how to effectively use the combat system to your advantage. A command board allows you to equip certain skills or items which can help you during battle. These skills are triggered with the triangle button and can include magic based spells, items or unique Keyblade attacks, such as Ars Arcanum. Using these triangle attacks raises your command bar as well, but you can utilize these special attacks to create unique Finishing Moves. For example, using fire skills to raise your command bar will activate Firestorm while using Blizzard moves will activate Diamond Dust, a powerful finishing move that lets you blast all enemies with shards of ice.
There really is no limit to how you can stack your command deck to your liking, and with numerous amounts of Finishing Moves and skills available to you, there is plenty of fun sure to be had with you experimenting the many different ways to defeat the Unversed. A new mechanic, called the Meld Commands, also allows you to take two skills and meld them together to create one bigger, more powerful skill, thus opening up your options even more. If you want to try a new change of pace, you can always activate D-Links, or Dimension Links, that you collect after visiting each world. These D-Links act as Summons, where a certain character helps you in battle complete with their own specific skills set. For example, Snow White has three of the Dwarves to cast Sleep, Berserk and Heal on you during battle while Mickey gives you faster attack speed. They are incredibly fun to use but tend to fall by the wayside in the later parts of the game since they are much weaker than your given skills. Still, they are always available if you want to spruce things up a bit if you get bored with all the battling.
Visually, Birth By Sleep is perhaps the sleekest and beautifully created game for the Kingdom Hearts series yet, rivaling that of only Kingdom Hearts 2. Every world you visit shines in originality and the combat never faltered once during our entire playthroughs, with enemies constantly attacking you and spells and magic devouring the screen at will. The attention to detail in Birth By Sleep has to be noted specifically for the various Disney-themed worlds and how much they resemble their respected material. Even subtleties, like hair flowing when you fight and the presentation of command and menu boards is done exceptionally well. The voice acting is great, especially with Leonard Nimoy as Xehanort and Mark Hamill as Eraqus, but the three main characters all sound broken and sketchy throughout. Still, the Disney characters all sound legit enough for you not to take notice and with the sheer size of characters within this game, some small stutters might occur.
As it stands, Birth By Sleep is a solid entry into the Kingdom Hearts franchise and rivals only Kingdom Hearts 2 as the best title in the series. A stellar combat system, gripping story and dozens of hours of gameplay will have you hooked the minute you first meet Ventus, Terra and Aqua. With so many characters revealed and many interesting plot points discussed, Birth By Sleep is a definite play for any Kingdom Hearts fan looking to shed some light on some of the more confusing aspects of Kingdom Heart’s massive storyline.