Should I Buy? – Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Those of you who know the name Sid Meier, it’s probably as the creator of the Civilisation series, in which you take your chosen civilisation from the Stone Age right up to the present day. Pirates!, on the other hand is something quite different.

Pirates! was originally created in 1987 for the Commodore 64, and yes I review some fairly old stuff sometimes, don’t worry I’m not going that far back. Instead, the old version that was still being ported to newer systems right up until 1991 was remade back in 2004 to allow a new generation of gamers to to experience the incredibly fun and influential game.

The premise is simple, you are a pirate in the Caribbean. More correctly, you’re a guy with a ship that has no official allegiance to any nation or company. When you start the game, you can choose which decade to play in, which itself changes the number, wealth and power of settlements and the traffic therein. There’s also the ability to pick your nationality (which doesn’t change much of anything) and your special skill, which will make one aspect of the game easier and your difficulty.

It’s when you start that the game’s most glaring omission becomes apparent. There’s no tutorials. Things aren’t too hard to pick up, but you’ll have to learn how to sail your ship in and out of combat, which goods are worth buying and selling, when it’s prudent to change ships, how large a fleet you should amass and everything else by yourself.

This isn’t nearly the trouble it sounds like it is, because the interface is well designed and the gameplay is simple in operation, but diverse in execution.

You see, outside of a vague overarching story of rescuing your family members from imprisonment, the entire game is a sandbox of free choice without any mission control or morality system to worry about.

You’ll still carry the consequences of your actions though, get overzealous and attack a War Galleon or Blackbeard and you’ll get your buckle considerably swashed. If you antagonise a nation too much, they’ll put a price on your head and send privateers after you. On the other hand, attack a nation’s enemies and protect its interests and become a privateer in their names, gaining titles and land in the process.

They're not fighting for loot, they just can't decide if Batman would beat Captain America in a fight

The core gameplay lets you sail your ship around the Caribbean to do as you see fit. Individual elements such as sword duels, ship-to-ship combat and charming a Governor’s daughter are handled with minigames. Some are simple cases of pressing the right buttons at the right time, others are more complex. They all work well, with nicely increasing difficulty for more complex matters.

Your ship itself is another major factor. Obviously, you’ll want to keep it in good condition, but what upgrades should you get? What class and model should you use? You’ll have to capture a ship in combat to get a new one, so you’ll probably try out plenty of different combinations. But still, if you’re a merchant, should you go for a big fat cargo ship that can carry over 100 tonnes, or something more nimble in case you come up against pirates?

And if you’re gearing up for combat, do you want a big slow warship with 250 crew and 80 cannons? That’ll cost you a lot in food, and you might sink any ship you try to take with a volley. What about a little 40 crew sloop? You can’t carry much loot, and you can’t take down big combat targets. What approach do you want? Where’s the right middle ground for you? The answer’s in their somewhere, and it’ll be a lot of fun finding out.

Unfortunately, there’s really not much that can be said about the actual gameplay itself. It all works through being simple easy enough to get a handle on, its only through playing the game, exploring what’s possible and deciding what you want to do with your time that things really get interesting.

Sailing on the big, blue wet thing

What I can talk about is the refreshing charm of the game’s visual and auditory design. The brightly coloured people act talk Sim-like gibberish and act in a nicely exaggerated fashion, and the music is simple and cheery with everything looking like an indealised, romanticised version of pirates. There’s nary a rape or murder to be experienced, instead they prefer to ‘arr’ at you with a cutlass in hand and hoist the Jolly Roger.

You’ll eventually reach a point when you’ve done pretty much everything a character can do, and the game nudges you in the direction of starting afresh by making your character get stiffer and less responsive in combat and dancing as you get older.

Pirates! is a timesink, and one that’ll reward the time you put in with fun and unique experiences rather than repetitive grinding of the same actions. It’s much more The Sims than World of Warcraft, but with pirates instead of wacky careers and cannon fire instead of interior design.

I highly recommend this game though there’s a technical point to be made before I do. It’s designed to be played entirely with the number pad of a keyboard if you get the computer version, which of course laptops lack. Instead you’ll have to use the slightly awkward combination of mouse pad and direction keys. Play this on a home computer if you can, or failing that try to scrounge up a USB or wireless keyboard for your laptop.

Not that it’s unplayable with a laptop, just fiddly.

Price: (Steam) £5.99


Gaming on a budget

Now the point of this site is to provide advice to those who’re, well, gaming on a budget. I have always tried to keep the games I review at under £20, and I don’t review more current games because well, I can’t afford them. I’d be no good at it, but I’ve been playing games since I was a child and I’ve never had much money. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from all that, it’s that gaming can be both cheap and rewarding.

Play Free Games
Too obvious? It goes without saying that nothing is cheaper than something with no cost, and James of Extra Credits once set himself the task of playing games with zero cost for a whole week. There are casual games like Farmtown, little Flash ones, social ones like Echo Bazaar and a wealth of demos on services like Steam and XBOX Live.

Just last night, I tried half a dozen demos from Steam, and its only by loving the demos for Tiny Bang Story and Bastion that I bought the full games.

Even more than that, there’s an increasing number of free-to-play MMO’s that you can choose to spend money on if you want, that will give you some nice extras features if you decide you want to splash out.

Team Fortress 2, one of if not the most popular online shooters, is now free-to-play and the excellent point-n-click classic Beneath A Steel Sky is available for free at And you strategy fans, try out Battle for Wesnoth, a free turn based strategy game with an open source code and strong modding community.

For that matter, are you aware of mods? People work to create custom campaigns, challenge maps or characters/factions for many PC games to increase the challenge or simply include a bunch of fun stuff. You’ll need to be a little tech-minded or willing to read a fair amount of FAQs to install one, but a good mod or two can really increase a game’s lifespan.

Own decent consoles
Not every console has a great range of games, and is it really worth buying one that’s only got half a dozen titles in its entire catalogue you care about? If you’re stuck between buying two consoles like say a PS3 and an XBOX 360, look at the exclusive titles and think about what you’re interested in and what genres you want to play.

Personally, I think the cream of the currently available crop is a decent laptop that’ll let you play stuff from Steam, a 360 (I prefer it over a PS3 because it, DVDS rather than Blu-Ray and the games are cheaper, and I prefer the 360 exclusives over the PS3 ones), a Nintendo DS and a PS2.

Between them they can cover pretty much any genre you care to mention, sometimes with the best stuff available in that genre. And hey, if you’ve got a smartphone that has access to gaming apps, there’s a cheap way to turn your phone into a console.

Buy good games
Again, this seems too obvious to be worth mentioning, but there is just so much junk out there. Whether its derivative, bland, repetitive, a multiplayer focused title disguised as a single player epic, a lazy cash grab or simply overpriced is something you can discover before you buy it.

Read reviews, ask your gamer friends, talk to the guys in the game store. And when you do these things, don’t just here what’s being said and take it at face value. If someone says they hated the timed platforming sections, don’t assume the game is bad, ask yourself whether you mind that.

Gamers might seem elitist because you’re not playing ‘classics’ or the hottest new thing, but don’t let that put you off. Some gamers will be like that, and if you’re having fun with Super Smash Bros Brawl, don’t let some insufferable jerk with no life tell you how it sucks because its more ‘casual friendly’.

Don’t get caught up in fads
The reason everybody and their dog and their dog’s grandma bought either a Wii or a DS is because it was a fad. Halo was a fad. Even my beloved Professor Layton was a fad. No matter how big these are, that doesn’t always mean they’re good or that they’re right for you. It doesn’t mean its something you should get into after the fact because its the only thing you know about.

The Wii does have some really fun games, but it suffered from poor third party support (translation: good games not made by Nintendo). And yes, fad titles like Halo or Professor Layton didn’t wholly undeserve their hype, but instead of Halo, why not try Bioshock or Fallout 3? And instead of Professor Layton, there’s always Monkey Island, Ace Attorney, Broken Sword and Ghost Trick that’re equally fun and readily available.

Look, if you want a game in a certain genre, you can buy it without breaking the bank. Don’t be afraid to take risks on strange or obscure titles if the price isn’t too high. Don’t jump to get Final Fantasy XIII, ask a few fans what they think. Consider Kingdom Hearts or Crono Trigger instead. Not because Final Fantasy XIII is a bad game, but because you should know your choices and put some thought into your purchases.

You’d be pretty pissed if you paid £15 for a terrible film or book, so don’t spend £15 on Grizzled Macho Brown Shooter 5: The Bloodening of Space Death.

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

Should I Buy? – Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions is one of those strange Gaiden games that the eye-wateringly popular Final Fantasy franchise has spawned over the years. It’s the first of three Final Fantasy game to bear the ‘Tactics moniker, though it’s not directly related to the other two. They’re all part of the underrated genre of ‘Tactical Role-Playing Game’ that you don’t see a lot of outside of Japan.

Is that a Chocobo?

War of the Lions was set in the fictional world of Ivalice, and told the story of Ramza Beouvle as he fought in the War of the Lions and is available now as a PSP port. The plot goes the way these all do, it starts with some kind of war between two factions or nations and escalated until the player’s cut a bloody swathe through the command hierarchy, only for it to be revealed that there’s some kind of world destroying magic or demons involved and then things become a more typical JRPG plot.

Now I’ve always preferred the political intrigue section, with the various factions having their different histories and motivations, the interactions and backstabbings of the leaders. Good stuff, the sort you don’t normally see. As for the ‘end-of-the-world’ scenarios, I’ve saved so many virtual worlds that my track record probably puts the Avengers to shame. This isn’t a specific criticism of War of the Lions, as this always happens. It’s a particular shame it happens here though, because the politics are such a dense interconnecting web of juicy plot that the simplification of all this that happens is made that much more noticeable.

In the game itself, you’ll have to control a group of fighters through the various maps while they level up and learn new abilities. These abilities are dictated by their Jobs. In order to unlock more of these, you’ll have to get ‘Job points’ to gain ‘Job levels’ in specific classes. Job points are also used to unlock a class’ different abilities, so you have to invest time in your Thief before he can swipe the enemy’s sword from their hands. All this adds up to a need to grind, as the story missions have a high difficulty. The grind itself isn’t too bad, but it is a long and laborious process.

Another thing is the way death is handled. Once a fighter goes down, they’ll lay there for three turns. If they’re not revived in this time, they die. Permanently. If this is one of your guys, it can mean that weeks of grinding and customising has gone to waste. Sure, you can restart the level if you miss the deadline but will you want to?

The story is enjoyable, the new script gives an arch-arcane dialogue style that’s quite amusing to read and the battles themselves are fun to play when they’re not teeth-gnashingly frustrating. The problem is that the game feels a bit poorly paced, as you don’t gain those Job points quick enough. Also, if you get bitch-slapped down by that boss for the umpteenth time you can really get put off. I’ve often put this game down for long periods of time because I couldn’t beat a damn level, only to got back and grind like hell only to get stuck at the next one.

These are all problems that would get addressed by the later Final Fantasy Tactics games. Its problems aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker though. Casual players need not apply, but real strategy enthusiasts and more ‘hardcore’ Final Fantasy fans love all that grinding and difficulty. In fact, it’s a prime candidate for self imposed challenges like only using the main character, or only using the Dancer class.

This is by no means a bad game, but do think hard about how committed you are to the challenge of a game, and trying to surmount it. Oh, and those of you who’re not that type, about halfway through you get a guy known as ‘Thunder God Cid’, and he’s as strong as his reputation implies. He’s a storyline character that utterly breaks the difficulty curve.

Price: £6 (CEX)

Should I Buy? – LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4

This is a rather special edition of Should I Buy, as it’s being written to commemorate the release of the final Harry Potter film. Still, you all know of J.K. Rowling’s seven book phenomenon, so I don’t need to reiterate the premise or other such details here.

I did review this game before, along with several other LEGO games from Traveller’s Tales. However, they really do warrant being talked about individually so that’s what I’m going to do here.

LHP is the result of the LEGO game formula being refined through its four previous incarnations. And that’s really tangible here. Instead of trying to shoe-horn in unnecessary combat or stray from the events of the books or films to create dramatic sequences to the extent that the LEGO Star Wars games did.

The game derives most of its gameplay through using your various magical abilities to manipulate your environment so you can proceed. While this is hardly new to the LEGO formula, they’ve clearly learnt from past mistakes. While it can still be unclear what you’re meant to do at times, the game cleverly changes the aesthetics of the puzzle enough so that you never really realise you’re only ever using the same dozen or so techniques.

Instead of the traditional hub from which you jump into any of the available levels, the game takes a more narratively structured approach. Once you’ve gone past the first level, you’re free to wander around Hogwarts Castle to your next lesson or level by following Nearly Headless Nick. Or you can simply explore the castle, looking for secrets and unlockables.

A lot of these can’t be found until you learn new spells though, which in turn require you to play through the game to acquire from the various lessons. This means that the castle opens up gradually to you as you play, and at certain times of the plot it’ll be covered in snow or soaked in rain as it was when the events you’re playing through took place.

Diagon Alley is a location that you can return to at any time, and serves as a more traditional hub alongside Hogwarts. Here you can buy characters from Madam Malkin’s, play secret levels at Gringotts, replay levels from the Leaky Cauldron and many more. All of these feel very characterful and shows how much attention was paid to LHP in the design phase. My favourite touch though is that if you want to switch your character while exploring Hogwarts to somebody with a special ability you need, you have to brew some Polyjuice Potion.

There are a few frustrations with the game however. I can understand that they needed a lot of characters for us to find in the huge castle and all the levels, but why would I want to play as a Milkman? Or Harry’s Dragon Task outfit as opposed to one of the six other outfits I have for him? This kind of ‘reward’ is anticlimactic and unsatisfying.

Speaking of which, the levels do suffer somewhat from the lack of external conflict. What combat there is is very simplistic, with all enemies but Dementors requiring only a spell or two to defeat. And even then Dementors only require one hit from an Expecto Patronum, which only certain characters have and takes ages to cast. They don’t show up often either which is something I praised earlier and indeed it’s not something they should have changed but the levels don’t ever feel tense.

They’re also rather short. If the puzzle or solution is not obvious, blow up everything in site until it does. They’re fairly fun and never really dull, but outside of the context of the story, they don’t have the same excitement factor or length that previous titles did.

Still, the game has bosses! Surely they must heighten the atmosphere right? To an extent. They tend to just be puzzles you have to solve while under attack. They’re not terribly complicated, and don’t feel like bosses in the way ones from a Final Fantasy or a Zelda game do. They’re not bad, they’re just not bosses like you’d expect the Basilisk or Professor Quirrell to be.

All that aside, I do still recommend this game. It’s fun, charming and slightly more cerebral than the other LEGO games, though not too much so that a child playing the game couldn’t figure it out with some patience. The only reason I’d say not to buy it is if you’re looking for a way into the Harry Potter universe. It’s taken for granted that you know what’s going on and that knowledge will come in handy. Sure I know to touch Quirrell to harm him, but the game doesn’t tell an uninitiated to.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then this is a great game regardless of your age. It has a real tangible affection for the source material and the trademark LEGO humour is as strong here as ever.

Price: XBOX 360: £18 (CEX)
PS3: £15 (CEX)
Wii: £12 (CEX)
DS: £15 (CEX)
PSP: £10 (CEX)
PC: £5 (CEX) £19.99 (Steam)

Should I Buy? – Dissidia Final Fantasy Duodecim

Man that title’s a mouthful. This may sound like some incredibly insular title aimed only at the most dedicated of fans. That’s partly true, this is another example of nerdy fanservice taken to the extreme. However, this title is far from excluding.

A basic knowledge of Final Fantasy is good as it’ll help you know who these characters are, why you should care and help ease you into a lot of the game’s systems. That being said, I’ve spoken to people who’d had no prior experience with the series who loved it.

This is the prequel to the original Dissidia Final Fantasy from 2009 which pitted a hero and villain from each of the first ten main Final Fantasy games against each other in a battle of good vs. evil. It was a love letter to the fans, and its return with Duodecim is bigger and better in just about every way.

The game introduces eight new playable characters to the original’s twenty two. I’ll list them here for Final Fantasy fans: Laguna, Vaan, Kain, Tifa, Yuna, Gilgamesh, Prishe and a super secret villain character.

The Dissidia game use a unique battle system that is basically a beat ’em up with huge stages and RPG elements. In battle you’re free to run, jump and climb all over the stages while the two characters unleash one of two types of attacks. You have ‘Brave’ attacks, which lower your opponents Bravery points and increase your own. These are the bread and butter moves of Dissidia. Then, you can use these points to launch HP attacks, more difficult to use moves that decrease your opponent’s health by your total Bravery points.

This system really differentiates Dissidia from other brawlers, and helps this game not feel like the clone of some other fighting game. The RPG elements I mentioned work because they’re entirely in the background. As you fight, you level up, learn attacks and support abilities and can equip better weapons and armour. Tweaking these makes your characters very customisable while still keeping each character’s unique style intact.

And each character does have a completely different style. You could loosely define three types, ‘powerhouses’ that have great close range attacks but little else, ‘tricksters’ that are nimbler and weaker, but have special tricks to make up for it and ‘shooters’, characters with primarily long ranged attacks that rely more on tactics to use properly. The unique properties of each character is drawn from their in game personality and abilities, and really makes you feel like you’re fighting as that character you love, much like the Smash Bros. games.

There are also a few new features to the combat, like ‘EX Revenge’ and the ability to call in another character to assist you in combat.

Also, each of the old characters has been rebalanced. In some cases with completely new moves. I want to make special mention of Jecht, who gained the ability to fire lasers from his eyes and throw flaming meteors around, as if being able to backhand the final boss’ attacks away wasn’t enough. And all that time you spent levelling them isn’t wasted, you can start a new game on here with all those levels and skills transferred just as they were. The top level equipment though? You gotta get that again.

The story doesn’t measure up to the combat though. If you’ve heard of or experienced the legendarily great Final Fantasy plots, you’ll be disappointed. The voice actors do acceptable jobs (with Kefka again being the highlight, though Gilgamesh rocks too), but the script is really lacking. Then again trying to recreate, or in terms of the earlier story-lite games create, everybody’s character arcs in the few cutscenes they get in their story mode is probably too great a challenge for any writing team.

You should still play through the story mode, it’s just far from stellar.

Probably the best non-mechanic part of this game is the soundtrack. It’s got tunes collected from all the represented Final Fantasy games, most of which were composed by industry titan Nobuo Uematsu. Listen to this: for example, and this :

There are problems with this game, though they’re really just niggling complaints like I don’t like how they’ve restructured the equipment system etc. and fanboy bemoaning of favourite characters, stages and tracks that aren’t included. None of them should put you off of this.

This is one of the reasons to own the woefully lacking in quality titles PSP. Get this over buying the original, it literally has all the old content with more added. If you’re a fan that didn’t get the first one, get this one. If you’re not a Final Fantasy fan but want to try it out or just want a solid game for your PSP, give this one a look.

Just, it may not grab you straight away OK? It may take a few hours for it to really click. Give it that time. It really deserves it.


Price: £20 (CEX)



Guest Review – Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep

This is a special guest review by user suzukiwillow of Square’s PSP exclusive, Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. You can see the original at:

If anybody’s interested, I’ll do a counter-review that talks more about the gameplay and other such points that were kinda glossed over here. Hell, I might do that anyway.

The version shown here has been slightly edited for profanity, length and to keep it more in line with what I’m trying to do here.

It’s 3:15AM. Why am I awake, you ask? Well, I have just played two hours of Birth By Sleep (BBS) for the PSP. There are no spoilers in this.

Now, Let me first state before I go any further, I am not an avid Kingdom Hearts (KH) fan; but I have seriously been trying to like it for the past however many years. If you’re a fan, know this entry will end positively, if you’re not, enjoy my reasons for KH-hate.

I have tried to play KH1. I tried, honest to God, I tried; in fact, I’m still trying to play it. Every so often I’ll feel a bought of zeal like, ‘yeah let’s love this game!’ but omg. The battle system is horrid. The gummie-ship is a joke. The travelling-between-worlds-experience is the shittiest navigation system since Star Fox 64/Lylat Wars (except Star Fox was fun). The levels are stupidly, stupidly hard for simpletons like me who play RPGs for the, you know, role-playing and not constant hack and slash. And last but not least, I could not give a flying frack about any of the characters. Well, except Riku, but he’s not in it enough for me to want to keep playing.

Therein lies the biggest fault. Riku, Squall (his name is not Leon) and Cloud are the only ones I care about in KH1 – Cloud and Squall slightly redundant because I know and love them from Final Fantasy (FF) VII and VIII (here be the FF nerd). Also, Squall has hysterically dirty lines in KH if you read them wrong.

So moving on…

KH2, again, I’ve watched some gameplay because I thought: at least I personally won’t have to deal with the crappy battlesystem. Nah, I didn’t have a clue what was going on and I still didn’t care.

Which brings me to Birth By Sleep (cause let’s be honest. There’s no way I was going to, or ever will, touch Chain of Memories or 358/2 Days). I saw the trailers and thought, ‘well, it’s definitely pretty and the producers/animators have been watching gmvs for scene transitions, but there is no way I’m attempting to play it,’ when – hold on – ‘did I just see Zack Fair?’

Good. Heavens. Don’t get me started on how much I love Zack Fair, from Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. I would travel the world, steal the Enterprise, defeat the Cylons and heal all the Nobodies just meet Zack-freakin-Fair. My heart; it’s throbbing.

When I found out that not only is Zack Fair in BBS but that BBS is the prequel to the series (so I don’t have to know the KH plots) I bought it as soon as I could.

It’s amazing.

The scenes draw great parallels from the original games (mind-screw) and the artwork is super smooth. I guess this is even more enjoyable to die-hard fans because I can tell the game makes a lot of hints at Sora, Roxas and Riku, but I don’t know enough to appreciate these moments. Meh. Roxas: who? Ansem: never met the first one let alone the alleged others! But I digress.

As pointed out by my cousin (a die-hard fan), who watched me play the first 25 minutes over my shoulder, the music is slightly jazzed up but very nostalgic, which works well. My cousin left before the music got super good, but believe me, it has a bouncy, enrapturing quality. The boss battle music, so far, is hilariously J-Pop. J’adore.

The main characters themselves are, at first glance, an imitation of the original three; but! they are thankfully not the same after all. Sure, the same archetypes have been churned out and Terra is wanking on about the same tripe as Riku – but you know what, I care about him – and that’s all I’ve ever wanted from KH in the first place. I know there’s a good story to be told (somewhere) but who is Sora and why should I care? >_O

Aqua. Damn. Not only is she hot but she is A GREAT, NOT IRRITATING, FEMALE LEAD – OMGWHUT? Her voice actress, Willa Holland, is also fantastic. She has a real earthy, mature voice, which definitely helps.

Terra, on the other hand, geeeh… His voice actor, Jason Dohring, is not bad but I personally know amateur voice actors who could do a better job. Dohring has potential, that’s for sure. Ven, however…

Jesse McCartney voices Ventus. Well, I guess I got used to it. At first, I was concerned because his diction was so poor, but either I got used to it quick or McCartney improved between recording the prologue and the opening chapter. I’d like to think it was the latter.

The set-up is divided into three chunks so far, but I’m guessing it will eventually be four. You play each character from the beginning of their story to the end, no swapping in between, and then figure out the plot holes by slotting all three storylines together; which I personally love the idea of and am keen to amalgamate. I’ve started with Terra’s story because I hate, well, no, dislikeVentus and adore Aqua, so I’m saving her for last. Despite the familiar Riku-characteristics, I am becoming quite fond of Terra in his own right.

Onto gameplay: super fun. Enough said. I enjoy it, and that’s a first. Also, save points restore all health – YES! One thing though, I’m still confused as to how you are meant to level up, equip and ‘meld’ abilities. I feel they looked at Final Fantasy X and thought, “we can do that; but sleeker!” Well, it’s definitely shiny but the simplicity of the design was lost somewhere… Maybe I’m just a moron.

Travelling between worlds: freaking bliss. I gasped with glee at how clean, simple, wooshy and fun space travel is in this instalment. Good God, it’s wonderful. You can whizz around space storms for as long or as little as you like, and not get lost.

So to wrap this up: the battle system, like any game, requires a little getting used to but certainly works. Space travel no longer makes me stressed. The new enemy designs are familiar but nicely redone. The voice acting is as balanced with good and bad actors/lines as it ever was. The music is wonderful and the plot actually progresses. But best of all, I love the new characters; Aqua still at the top.

It looks like I’m not just playing this for baby-Zack anymore. Well done, Squeenix. It’s now 4:30AM.

Come back next time to see Willow kick herself in the mouth for everything she said in this amateur review! *thumbs up*

So there you have it, my new editor’s grand entrance. It is, however up to me to finish this review off by answering the question, should I buy this? Yes. If you have a PSP this is one of the richest games available on the tragically under-served system. You don’t have to be a Kingdom Hearts fan to enjoy this game, but it certainly helps and its my personal favourite of the series. This is an action-RPG that’s a bit on the pricey side, but definitely worth it as the story is very replayable and caps out at anywhere from 30-40 hours. And considering the amount of people that’ll pay full price for a shooter with an 8 hour campaign, I’d say the price is definitely worth it.

Price: £15-£20 (multiple sources)

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