Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep
This is why RPG fans have a PSP.
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: September 9, 2010
Players: 1 (up to 6 for Multiplayer)
Releasing a prequel for a well-established franchise is a tricky task. Successful prequels are able to tie up loose ends and explain things that fans have been in the dark about for a while, but if they fail to accomplish this, it can be seen as a cheap way to cash in on a big name. Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep proves that it is not only an excellent entry into the well known Action RPG series, but also shows that a great console franchise can exist on a portable platform.
If you’ve never played a Kingdom Hearts game, you should do a little homework before popping in Birth By Sleep. The majority of the plot assumes that you’ve played through the main series at least, because every event links back to a number of plot points that the player should already know. Birth By Sleep tells the story of Terra, Ventus and Aqua, a trio of Keyblade (mysterious weapons shaped like a key, but function like swords) users ten years before the events of Kingdom Hearts 1. Each character has their own flavor to lend to the game, as the three of them were distinct enough to keep the game interesting. Terra is a powerhouse at the expense of being slow, Ventus is a speed demon, and Aqua excels at magic. Don’t let the familiar “roles” fool you, each of the three were powerful in their own right. Despite this, story progression is quite linear. Each character has their own storyline, which revolves around visiting worlds modeled after popular Disney franchises, like Snow White, or Peter Pan. While each hero goes to the same Disney locales, their missions vary, so it’s important to complete them all to get the full picture.
One of the first worlds, the Enchanted Dominion, plays out like this- Terra is the first to visit, and inadvertently helps Maleficent put Princess Aurora to sleep. Next, Ventus explores Maleficent’s castle, until he releases Aurora’s heart from captivity. Finally, Aqua rescues Prince Philip and helps him defeat Maleficent, who turns into a dragon, and leads him to Aurora’s bedside to finally wake her up, where the story ends. Overall, I felt most of these worlds were largely transparent, as the plot is always moving forward. Before you get too comfortable with any location, you’ll be jetting off towards the next destination. If you have problems keeping up with what’s going on, a handy time line is available after you complete the game, so you can see a flowchart of when each character occupied each world.
Birth By Sleep has by far the best iteration of Kingdom Hearts’ battle system. As an Action RPG, players freely move around, and battle in real time. While this hasn’t changed drastically between each game in the series, a few new additions do keep things fresh. You can assign various moves, such as physical techniques or magic spells onto a command deck, with a maximum of eight commands. As they are used in battle, they level up and get more effective. Like Modern Warfare 2, you’re constantly improving various aspects of your character, which makes game play really engrossing. Once you’ve got a couple skills maxed out, you can meld them with others to create newer, more powerful techniques! With over 150 different skills to choose from, customization and experimentation is highly encouraged. Being able to formulate strategies to take down specific enemies becomes very important as the game gets tougher, and this lends to the challenge as you get further in each story.
Kingdom Hearts has a specific graphical style, which makes it immediately identifiable. It displays very well on the PSP’s screen, with little slowdown or stuttering present. Birth By Sleep effectively recreates the same graphics that pushed the limits of the Playstation 2, while still being a portable game. It’s by far one of the most visually stunning games out for a handheld right now.
Controls are surprisingly well done, especially for a handheld. I was usually able to see all that I needed to, and all of the functions are mapped to the PSP’s button scheme. Targeting is still a bit wonky. In one battle, I was targeting a monster that moved too far out of my range, and when I tried to switch to a closer enemy, I would still be locked on to the monster I had no hope of attacking at the time.
If you’re looking for a break in the story, there are a number of mini games to mess around with. For instance, you can level up your favorite skills by playing on the Command Board, which is a lot like Monopoly, a sluggish go-cart variant called Rumble Racing, and a monster arena which pits you against waves of progressively stronger foes. All of these are playable with friends.
Experiencing everything the game has to offer will take about 40-50 hours. With four difficulty levels, those craving a tougher challenge will find themselves busy – unlocking every skill and completing every world will take quite some time.
If anything, it’s hard to realize that this is still a portable game. Sometimes, I had to notice everything that was happening was indeed going on in the palm of my hands, rather than on a television. Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep is an excellent Action RPG that will definitely keep you at the edge of your seat from start to finish.