One of the most unique games to see release in the last decade is without a doubt the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Who would have expected that a Square-Enix and Disney creation would become one of the most beloved titles to gamers of all ages? Whether it’s thanks to the whimsical magic of Disney or the master craftsmanship of Square-Enix, the Kingdom Hearts series has continually expanded by introducing new characters, new gameplay types, but still retains the same lovable, familiar characters and connectible new characters. It’s hard to understand the hardcore appeal of Kingdom Hearts, but if it had to be explained it would be similar to explaining why a grownup loves Disney movies; there is just something pure, warm, and welcoming about everything. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is the latest entry of the series and it sets the stage for all future Kingdom Heart titles.
With each new entry of Kingdom Hearts there have been new questions that remain unanswered. At long last many of those questions will finally be answered and it’s all thanks to Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. The origins of the keyblade are explained, the Heartless, and much more is answered with leads to new questions, of course. The linking storylines, new information, and characters are something diehard fans will appreciate, but newcomers will still be able to enter the game, play it, and after experiencing the epic tale that Birth by Sleep tells, the chances are high that newcomers will want to play the other Kingdom Hearts games.
This is lengthy title, but that’s not just due to a long storyline. Instead of telling the story of one character or splitting the adventure in two parts, Birth by Sleep has three separate storylines to be played and completed. Each storyline will shed new light on the situation going on in the game and the only way to understand the full tale will be to play all three stories and experience everything the game has to offer to the fullest extent. Each of the characters has their own unique personalities, moves, and abilities, so you’ll have your favorite character and will probably find one of them to not fit your style all that much – my least favorite was Ventus because he reminded me of Roxas too much. For the most part, though, each character is welcoming and taking control of them is fun, rewarding, and the story is quite gripping on all three fronts.
Though the storyline will keep you intrigued through the three character storylines, the gameplay is what will keep you playing for the full ride. Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s on a portable system, because Square-Enix was sure to deliver an experience that matches what you’d get out of a full console release and Birth by Sleep delivers just that: a console experience. There are new game mechanics, move sets, and you can see a slight evolution to the overall gameplay of the series. One of the most prominent changes you’ll have to deal with will be the combat system. Aside from your normal attack methods, you can purchase and earn special commands that you’ll need to assign to the d-pad for quick accessibility. Once you use the ability a number of times it will need a break and need to recharge before you can access it again.
The combat is further enhanced with the idea of leveling up your attack commands and even combining them with others to create new ones. During combat the better you do and the better the combo attacks you manage to execute, you’ll charge up a meter that will allow your commands to achieve a temporary increase in performance. All three characters also have access to abilities known as ‘Shotlocks’ and ‘D-links’. A Shotlock is executed in first-person mode and you’ll have to target enemies in a given time and then the character will perform a super attack that will either defeat all the enemies on screen or severely damage them. Shotlock is extremely useful when surrounded by enemies. D-links – Dimension Links – allow you to transfer abilities from one of the many supporting cast to your current character. It offers a slight change up in battle and keeps thing fresh and always interesting.
For the first time in the Kingdom Hearts franchise history, there is a full-blown multiplayer mode to be explored. There are four modes to be had here: Versus Mode, Mirage Arena Mode, Command Board, and Rumble Race. The obvious weakness of this mode is that it’s Ad/Hoc only, so you’ll need to know someone to take advantage of the features. These modes are fun and should be explored if possible. They aren’t selling factors, but the inclusion of them certainly sweetens the package.
As you can tell here the overall package of Birth by Sleep is quite impressive and Square-Enix certainly thrived to deliver a console experience on the PSP. However, there are some problems with the game and one is due to the layout of the PSP’s buttons and the other is due to limited horsepower. Birth by Sleep is plagued with tedious loading screens before and after battles. Although you can install game data to decrease the load times they are still rather lengthy and it makes the seamless flow of the game feel broken at key segments. The constant loads aren’t game breaking but they are annoying and will make you flustered over the course of the game. Secondly, the only real issue with the game will be the controls. The targeting system in place is completely broken and this is due to a lack of buttons and second analog stick. More often than not, I found myself targeting the incorrect enemy while the one of my desire was directly before me. This was more apparent in narrow battle locations and wasn’t as big of an issue in more open locations. Aside from the weak targeting system and occasional confusion with the L and R triggers use while in combat, the game controls really well on the handheld.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is a PSP game that shouldn’t be skipped over. The story, the graphics, and the experience are all something that should be taken in and enjoyed. It delivers a console experience and Square-Enix crafted another marvelous Kingdom Hearts entry. If you never played Kingdom Hearts before, this is the perfect place to start and if you are a series veteran you owe it to yourself to see how everything came to be. A must-play PSP title.
(Editor’s Note: A review copy was provided by Square-Enix. All three character stories were completed for review. A total of 67hrs was put into the game for reviewing purposes.)