Disclaimer: The large majority of my reviews will not be on games that are brand new, but ones that have come out in this generation and can’t be classified as retro. Therefore, most of my reviews will have “Reheated” in the title to show that they aren’t brand new.
The Kingdom Hearts series has always appealed to me due to its fast-paced combat and enjoyable story. That being said, some attempts on the battle system have been lackluster at best, the worst of the iterations being the card battle system in Chain of Memories. When I first heard that this game would be using a modified version of that system, I groaned to myself. However, much to my surprise, Birth by Sleep turned out to be a highly enjoyable game that is only slightly bogged down by repetition and other small things.
Birth by Sleep is a prequel, and is set long before any of the other games in the series. You play as Terra, Ventus, or Aqua (each aspiring keyblade masters) whom set out on a journey to defeat the Unversed, monsters that feed on negativity. The story for Birth by Sleep won’t win any converts if you aren’t a fan of the series, but it does deliver for fans and offers a good starting point for newcomers.
Birth by Sleep earns accolades for having one of the most interesting and fun battle systems I’ve ever played in an action RPG. The system is built around commands you can equip in the menu and select in-game by using the up and down buttons to select an ability and the triangle button to execute it. These commands are leveled up through combat, and can be combined together with a crystal to form a new, more powerful command and an ability. These abilities can be health boosts, extra defense against certain attacks, etc. Once you master the new command, the associated ability will remain in your arsenal forever, allowing you to constantly produce stronger commands and more abilities.
While you attack enemies, a gauge fills up over the commands you currently have equipped. When it becomes full, a finish command becomes available (essentially a stronger version of a normal attack), which can also be leveled up through combat. Depending on what attacks you use, you may enter a “command style”, which essentially boosts all of your normal attacks (and looks extremely flashy to boot). There can be two tiers of command styles, meaning that you can activate an even stronger command style within a command style if you use the proper attacks.
In addition to all of that, characters will also accumulate “D-links” which allow them to temporarily use a different move-set and finish command. Shotlocks also allow players to enter a sort of first-person mode, where they drag a circle across targets to use a rapid fire attacks. The bottom line is that anything and everything can be leveled up, even things like jumping and blocking. All of these elements are combined into a fast-paced, addictive battle system with a good amount of enemy variety.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game is that each character has a separate playthrough. While paths occasionally cross with other characters, each character has a different story that won’t be completely revealed until you play as them. Playing as each character is also the only way to unlock the epilogue and the trademark Kingdom Hearts hidden cutscene. While this is largely one of the game’s biggest strengths (characters play differently and have different focuses in combat), it is also its biggest problem. By the end of the game, I definitely began to feel some repetitiveness in the environments and story. Still, I hope this style of storytelling is improved and implemented in a future game.
Graphically, the game is an absolute treat to look at. The character models are all designed well, and animate fluidly. In battle, particle effects dance around the psp’s screen in glorious fashion. Besides a few extra jaggies, this game looks every bit Kingdom Hearts 2′s equal. In fact, aside from the two God of War titles, I find this to be the best looking game on the PSP.
As always, the music is top-notch in Kingdom Hearts, although a portion of the soundtrack is from other games in the series. Still, the new music is quite a treat and a worthy addition to the Kingdom Hearts series. As far as voice acting goes, it’s quite good. Leonard Nimoy, Mark Hamil, and Jesse McCartney are especially great. My only gripe with the voice acting comes from Terra, who sounds horrible when the game starts but progressively gets better as the game goes along.
The Good: An excellent battle system, solid controls, a great story for Kingdom Hearts fans.
The Bad: A feeling of “been there done that” by the end of the third character, fairly long load times, some music is taken from previous games.
The Ugly: Terra’s voice sounds awful at the beginning of the game
Score: 9.25 out of 10