The Kingdom Hearts series has always been an intriguing yet interesting series combining Final Fantasy characters and Disney characters all into one game. Needless to say this series has actually received a loyal fanbase along with much praise from critics. The series has also spanned through many systems such as the Playstation 2, Gameboy Advance, and the Nintendo DS. The newest title Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep not only reaches a new system, but it is also a prequel and not a side story as their Nintendo hand held cousins are. Now how does the newest Kingdom Hearts title live up to its console big brothers and their handheld cousins?
For those Kingdom Hearts fans that are keeping track of the story the game takes place 10 years before Kingdom Hearts 1. Birth by Sleep starts off with three Keyblade warriors Terra, Ventus, and Aqua training for their test to become true Keyblade Masters. After the test one of the keyblade masters, by the name of Xehanort, disappears without a trace and the warriors are sent to go search for Xehanort to warn him of an impending danger. This impending danger has brought mysterious creatures into the worlds known as the ‘Unversed’. These ‘Unversed’ creatures grow from negative emotions and are considered the “opposite of human life” and are the main enemies you will face in Birth by Sleep.
The story is told in three different viewpoints and the game allows you to play all three of the main characters. These characters can be chosen in any order but for those that wish to play it for the story there is a certain order to play the characters. Each character will visit different worlds as well as encounter different enemies and have a different story. This keeps the story fresh and with being able to play with all three characters and playing three different stories, no story is the same as each character goes through their own trials.
Since Birth by Sleep has three main characters, each with their own story, gameplay also varies depending on which character you are playing as. Each character has their own special skills and unique fighting style and will also encounter different worlds and bosses, allowing the game to stay fresh and not be repeated with each new story. All of these characters wield Keyblades, but with how they use the keyblade is what makes them unique and different in play style. Terra uses the keyblade to pull off powerful attacks and relies on his strength to overcome his enemies. Since Terra relies on his strength, he is not so powerful in magic abilities and his defense is also much lower than the other two. Ventus is the most familiar style in this title. Much like Sora, Ventus is agile as well as strong. The play style of using strength is near the same when comparing Ventus to Terra, but unlike Terra, Ventus relies on his agility to help him fight his enemies. Lastly, you have Aqua, unlike Terra and Ventus, she relies more on magic to help her in battle more than strength and agility. Aqua also has a completely different play style from Terra, Ventus, and even Sora which will give fans of the series a new way of playing the game as well more strategy then just blinding swinging around your keyblade. Of course all battles are carried out in real time, which is part of what made the series famous is the real time battles.
As character’s fight they fill up a Command Meter which allows them to unleash powerful attacks that deal heavy damage. Depending on how you fill up the meter will vary which command move the character will use. For example while playing as Terra and using the triangle special attacks to get the meter at its peak, it allowed Terra to use an attack called Surge, which allowed him to pull off devastating hits on enemies and then allowing him to charge up his final attack and do some real damage on the last attack.
As if that wasn’t enough players now have an attack that allows them to attack many enemies called Shotlocks. Shotlocks will take awhile to master, but when players finally master them they will prove to be very helpful in a pinch, especially when you have a screen filled with enemies.
Another new battle feature is the Dimension Link, or better known as the D-Link. D-Links are forged with characters that you will meet along the way and each character you forge a link with will have different attacks adding more variety in battle.
Birth by Sleep pushes the PSP engine to new heights. If you’ve played Final Fantasy: Crisis Core, the visuals are pretty similar to that. Beautifully rendered CGI cut scenes as push the PSP engine to its max often making players think yet again, they’re carrying a mini PS2. The actual game engine is a rich and colorful 3D environment. However similar to other Kingdom Hearts titles, the worlds you will encounter are also small and claustrophobic at times. However, you have just enough room to carry out battles and search for treasure.
If there is one thing that really and I mean really brings down this game, it’s the long load times. The time it takes to load up the next area ranges from about 30 seconds to almost a minute. This can really take away the drive that players are feeling when they get pumped up chasing enemies or about to encounter a boss. Now there is a way to slowly reduce the load times by installing the game on the PSP memory stick. The installation comes in three different sizes and the more you install on the memory card, the more the load times will be reduced in the game.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is a great purchase if you’re a fan of the series. The unique story and battle system will keep fans coming back for more and with a new difficulty mode, it will add new challenges to those hardcore players out there. However, Kingdom Hearts is still hurting with the problems that are still hurting this series since the original Kingdom Hearts was released. Small cramped areas and Disney stories that fall flat, generally because they really don’t have much do with the main story. However, more problems affect this title, such as the targeting system and the load times. Despite these problems, the game is still fun to play, especially for its story and the fact that you get to play as three different characters with different play styles. With the new Critical Mode difficulty this will give players more of a challenge and more replay value. This game is definitely a buy if you’re a fan of the series. Plus come on Leonard Nimoy as a villain it really doesn’t get any better than that.