Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep review
A very average addition to a great series


Coffee and salt, beer and milk, women and driving, Justin Beiber and vocal cords. Some things just shouldn’t be put together, ever. Other things do work well together; Coffee and sugar, beer and pizza, women and iro… flowers, Justin Beiber and Sledgehammers, Disney and Final Fantasy. Who would have thought that the combination of the world’s most lovable animated characters would gel so well with the world’s favourite RPG icons? Over ten years ago, Kingdom Hearts worked, and as a result, sold millions of copies. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, many years on, attempts to refresh many of the aspects that made the original so popular. As a huge fan of the original, I’ll admit that I found a little enjoyment within the most recent instalment, but the magic just wasn’t there.

The game is set ten years before the original game. Early in the game, main characters Terra and Aqua are sent to investigate the mysterious appearance of the Unversed. This narrative follows a very unconventional structure in that it is split into three separate stories driven by three different characters. These three stories directly, and heavily link together and I’ve seen this structure work extremely well in the past (Suikoden III) as it allows for separate POVs and perspectives. However, in KH: BBS, much of the plot was repetitive. Each of the eight worlds are visited by each character, and while each narrative branch has different bosses and slightly different locations within the worlds to explore, it did feel quite repetitive at times. In the end, the story never grabbed me. I didn’t boot up my PSP to see how the story would unfold and this was a disappointment considering how engaged I was with the original story. I could probably put this issue down to the poor characters in the game.

The story of KH:BBS is told through the adventures of Terra, Ventus and Aqua. Unfortunately, these characters are all quite poorly developed, very annoying and full of cliché one liners. I never once gave a damn about what happened to these characters and this was an issue for me. To make matters worse, there was only a single Final Fantasy character compared to the dozens from the original couple games. I remember how much fun it was to watch my favourite FF characters in a new context and this very important aspect was almost completely neglected. Below is an image of the three main characters.

While there was a serious lack of FF characters, there were quantities of Disney characters which was good to see. However, the environments in which they come from is a totally different story. The sceneries looked the part, but they were absolutely lifeless. A fine example of this was Cinderella’s ball. The castle and scenery was quite beautiful, but there were only a few characters at the actual event. A huge event with only several attendees just took away the magic. Most of the worlds were like this, linear paths, with little to no interaction. The only town, Disney town, was not much better, presenting the gamer with a few characters scattered around the large town. I put it down lack of effort and budget, but regardless, it’s not something I accept from a Kingdom Hearts game.

If a game is going to make you go through the same are three times, fighting similar enemies, the gameplay better be pretty bloody fun. Fortunately, it is, or at least most of it is. At its core, it’s very much a button masher. You can jump, you can strike, you can dodge, you can block, and you can use abilities. The unique variation comes from using certain abilities at the right time which will enter your character into a command style mode. This only lasts for a while but your combat power is significantly increased. In addition to this, there is a D-link option allowing you to ‘summon’ the abilities of allies. I was very disappointed with this system as it didn’t seem to offer any benefits. In the end, the gameplay was good enough to engage me throughout the three stories, but was still far from extraordinary. Below is an image of a boss battle.

What do you know? I just thought of something else that works well together; that being One Direction and a stairway to hell. Oh, spells and abilities are also pretty groovy. In addition to levelling up your characters, you can level up the abilities that your characters have equipped. After a certain point (depending on the ability) you are then able to merge two different spells to create an entirely new one. For example, merging two level 3 FIRE spells will result in a FIRA spell. This system was the games strongest point in my opinion, as it allows for loads of different combinations. The feeling you get when a new, powerful ability is created is something worthy of praise. Additionally, you can attach skills to these abilities (such as HP +10%) and to mix things up even more, each of the three characters have access to several unique spells. This system generates great motivation to fight enemy after enemy in order to create the strongest ability set possible.

Birth by sleep offers quite a range of extras. Players can take a break from the main story and enter the Mirage Arena quite early in each story thread. Here, they can fight through a series of battles for prizes, line up against opponents in a race car style mini-game, or try their luck in a totally new, original board game. The rewards offered here makes it worth the time and you can even connect to other PSPs and face your friends (something that I’ve never been able to do). In addition to this, there are a few sub-par mini-games in the lifeless Disney town, but I was never interested enough to return here once I was able to leave.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep has some great things going for it, but it falls short in so many areas, just as I feel the company itself has done over the past 10 years. The days of the PSP are over, and I wouldn’t recommend dusting it off to play this game unless you’re a hardcore Kingdom Hearts fan, in which case, give it a go as it will slightly expand the KH universe.

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MarchtheBurg Apr 8, 13
I have to agree with several of your points, especially the characters aspect.

Remember the final fights, all in the Keyblade Graveyard?

Remember how desolate and alone that felt?

Well, the whole game felt that way.
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