Should I Buy? – Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

This was reviewed here before by a friend of mine, and you can find the original by using that pretty little search bar up there if you fancy, but there are things I want to say about this game and so here goes.

Kingdoms Hearts Birth Sleep is the sixth game in the franchise to be created but takes place first canonically. Kingdom Hearts itself at first looked like some cutesy cross between Final Fantasy and Disney but has grown into a surprisingly complex and difficult series of Action-RPGs master-minded by long time Square Enix artist turned writer/director Tetsuya Nomura.

The series has a rich internal mythology mostly concerned with the balance of light and darkness, the intangible power of the ‘heart’ as some spiritual force and the result of losing said heart. By now the series contains creatures that technically don’t exist, and one who now never existed in the first place, causality be damned. Luckily, you’re not required to know any of this to play Birth by Sleep.

The game itself takes place ten years before the first game and is basically an origins story for the series recurring protagonist told through a trio of young Keyblade Wielders, apparently the last heirs to this ancient order. Each one of these wielders gets their own playable storyline, and playing all of them is necessary to understanding what’s really going on.

First is Terra, a quiet and brooding older boy with great strength and will but troubled by darkness in his heart. Next is Ventus, a cheerful and friendly young boy with an incredibly pure heart who’d do anything for his friends. All you Kingdom Hearts fans should be picking up the obvious links by now. Finally, there’s Aqua, the blue-haired magic specialist who, unlike most girls in this franchise so far, doesn’t depend on the protection, love or approval of a man and instead kicks all kind of Unversed ass.

On the franchise’s gender politics, I never felt that there was any real sexism on the part of the developers but when your dramatis personae is drawn mainly from old animated Disney films, and the strength shown by characters like Jasmin and Belle tends to be overshadowed when Sora and Beast are tearing through hordes of Heartless. Luckily, Aqua’s here to show that the woman of this universe kick just as much ass as the men.

Those of you who’ve played a previous Kingdom Hearts game will be familiar with the basic setup here, though there’s been a lot of tweaking and stremaling to make everything faster and better balanced.

Now your menu of all your learned spells and all your items is replaced with the Command Panels. You can equip panels that you buy and find into the limited slots in your menu, and then simply move between them with the D-Pad and cast with Triangle. This may sound limiting, but it’s much more efficient. As you use these abilities, they level up and you can fuse two panels to create a new one, allowing you to explore new attacks and play styles.

Also up is your ability to Shotlock, which can make some bosses pretty much trivial. There’s also the D-Link, where you can fuse your with the memories of characters you encounter to unlock sets of Command Panels based around them and powerful Finisher moves.

Finally are the Command Styles. By using moves of a certain type, like a Fire move, you can enter a Command Style. These are themed around whatever you just used and later in the game you get the ability to use advanced Styles that can entered from a previous style. These are a great addition to the combat, allowing you to change things up on the fly and use powerful attacks to decimate even the toughest of foes. Unfortunately, a boss’ attack patterns can mean that these styles are difficult to enter or maintain just when they’d be most useful.

All of these new options (added with the fact that every single damn Command Panel, Style, Shotlock, D-Link and Finisher is really useful if used right) mean that the combat is much more varied than all the previous incarnations of the series, which is a good thing because there’s bugger all besides.

The worlds feel empty, even moreso than before. Only plot essential characters show up, and a good deal of them disappear when there’s not a cutscene for them to be in. Take Cinderella’s Ball, there’s only her, the Prince, a servant the wicked stepmother and the ugly stepsisters there. I understand that UMD isn’t the best format for large crowds, but come on Squeenix, really?

This also means a lack of sidequests. There’s exactly four minigames, one set of collectible items and once non-storyline location. And even that’s just an arena used for multiplayer. I want to forgive the game this because the plot and combat work so well, but I can’t help but feel that this game is pretty damn bare-bones. Birth By Sleep would need to include at least a special Boss fight mode for this problem to be addressed.

As for the characters themselves, a few will be familiar to fans of the franchise. Mickey, Yen Sid, Pete, Maleficent and others return. The Final Fantasy trappings have been further demoted to the character of Zack and the Moogle shopkeepers. The Disney worlds seen here are based mainly on the earlier works of Disney, and these don’t really lend themselves well to great characters. Fortunately, the original characters and returning players bring enough to cancel this out.

Terra plays as a slow moving bruiser, and is essentially the game’s easy mode as he can take most hits in his stride and his high strength means you don’t have to worry much about all the different types of magic. Ventus is the fragile speedster type, though unfortunately so much so that his basic combo can’t kill the very first enemy. Aqua’s the most difficult to use, but by far the most rewarding. Magic is incredibly useful in this game, and she outstrips everyone with it.

Oh! I forgot to mention the Command Board! This monopoly like minigame is strictly optional, and can be played against friends or the computer and lets you gain and level up all sorts of different Command Panels, including a few only found here.

I’d also like to give a special mention to the villain being played by Leonard Nimoy and your Master having Mark Hammil as an actor. That is awesome.

But ultimately, should you buy it? Yes, fans of the franchise should. If you’re looking for an entry point, this is probably your best shot outside of the original. But if you’re just looking for a really good PSP game, this certainly fits that criteria, though you might object to the price.

Price: (CEX) £18


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mitch Allan
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 21:37:57

    I kept trying to put my finger on what felt funny about BBS, and you’ve just doen it for me – the worlds are so empty of characters. I never believe that anyone lives there. Not even Radiant Garden.
    I wouldn’t so far as to say BBS disappointed me – because I loved the combat, and the protagonists, (and Lord knows that Command Board minigame is addictive as hell) – but that did make me wrinkle my nose a bit.
    I laughed at Cinderella’s Ball…it just felt awful.
    Not to put anyone off, because parts of it are AWESOME. But it definitely felt a bit off to me in places. You play three characters stories, but it still feels rushed :/


  2. Trackback: Should I Buy? – Kingdom Hearts II « buythatgame

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