Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep PSP Review

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, the latest entry to the series, finally makes it to the European shores with lots of promises by Square Enix which could potentially be an Achilles heel to how the game will be received. The question is does it actually live up to the hype?

Birth By Sleep isn’t a continuation of the series per se, it is a prequel, taking place ten years before the original Kingdom Hearts. Set before the adventures of Sora, the game sets out to provide answers for all the unanswered questions in the games released thus far, even Kingdom Hearts 358/2 days. This it does admirably filling in the plot holes and removing any confusion found during the course of the other games.

The game begins in the Land of the Departure where Master Eraqus, Terra, Aqua and Ventus reside. We meet the game’s three main protagonists, who are all training to become keyblade masters. The threesome are a very close group of friends each specialising in certain area’s; Aqua with magic, Terra in power and Ventus with speed.

Before the test begins, you are allowed to choose your character with whom you shall play the game. Each of the story lines will cross over in different ways and each person will have differing responses by the NPCs that you come into contact with throughout the game. Tetsuya Nomura (the game’s director, stated the best order to play the game would be with Terra, followed by Ventus then Aqua. For reference in this review, I began with Ventus).

Shortly after the test in which all sorts of typical Square Enix-esque drama goes down, there is the appearance throughout the worlds of some mysterious creatures called ‘The Universed’. Master Eraqus demands Terra and Aqua to destroy the Universed and find the meddling Xehanort.

Thus taking you on a journey through various locations from Disney animation canon; from the Dwarf Woodlands from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Enchanted Dominion from Cinderella, to the Castle of Dreams from Sleeping Beauty. The game features many Disney areas as well as newly developed Square Enix levels that take inspiration from the preceding Disney worlds with added Square Enix flavour.

Navigation of the worlds is via a hub/overworld method, essentially you navigate space by a space ship and dock in each world to begin the adventure/story progression or even to go back after beating the evil there just to collect all the treasure you may have left behind.

So storyline out of the way,  how does the actual game play? Being from Square Enix you could be forgiven for thinking the game is your standard archetypal turn-based RPG, but if you know anything about the Kingdom Hearts series, you will know that it is far more of an Action-RPG. You are the one who controls your fighting, where you aim your hits (unfortunately not body-part context sensitive) and where you can run during a fight. This is the direction Square Enix has begun taking with its games over the past five years, there is more freedom in a battle to do as you will.

The game begins with a brief tutorial that introduces you to the controls. I will be the first to admit that when I played the original PS2 version of Kingdom Hearts, I tired quickly of the button-bashing combat and jerky camera. Maybe I was just jaded with RPG’s at the time, and it was so different to the regular Square Enix RPG formula, that it put me off. This is the first time I have played a Kingdom Hearts game since the first one came out and I will admit to being slightly apprehensive about whether I would like it… or not.

But I needn’t have worried. The controls are very quick and responsive. The combat although initially simplistic upon first approach is actually rather deep, with the ability to string together combo’s that incorporate physical attacks, magic and the combination of other characters skills through a system called D-Link. Now before you make a tired remark about ‘What happened to the A, B, C Link?’, the D in D-Link stands for Dimension Link which is essentially a summon incorporating the powers of someone from another world. In Birth By Sleep, the D-Link is connected to each main character after each mission. So the first two D-Links you get are from Snow White and Cinderella.

The camera is rotated using the two shoulder buttons, which works well for the most part, but I couldn’t help wondering how awesome the game would have been with two analogue nubs which could control the camera in an intuitive manner. The camera is rather unresponsive, just like the original Kingdom Hearts, but game works so well overall that no matter how intrusive the camera can be at times, I can overlook it and enjoy the experience for what it is.

Going slightly off point, I am also a fan of the three pronged storyline, fleshing out the game and exploring the world with different abilities is a great way to understand exactly what each character is going through. It also helps you to understand how they each react to different situations, providing a greater overall understanding of how The Universed, Nobodies and Heartless become to be such threats throughout the remainder of the series.

Graphically this is easily one of the best PSP games to have come out, full-stop. If it wasn’t for  Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, I would say this is the best looking PSP game hands down, but for a game high on the use of its colour palette and extremely beautiful  and detailed characters and landscapes, I have to applaud Square Enix on what they have managed to coax out of this six year-old system.

Characters are detailed in a way which I never thought would even be possible on the PSP, but it just goes to show that with a little love and care you can squeeze so much out of something so seemingly limited. I played around with the in-game settings and found that I could up the bit-rate of the colours from 16bit to 32bit and also the games clock speed to 333mhz, obviously these options run down the battery faster, but for the option to have a better performing game and better visuals makes me a happy camper.

Touching briefly on the game’s audio, Square Enix have put together yet another stellar cast. Greats such as Leonard Nimoy and Mark Hamill to name a couple,  perform exceptionally well, contributing to an epic feel of the game. The background soundtrack is also really well done and adds perfectly to the mood. This is definitely a game in which the audio adds considerably to the experience.

There is also a multiplayer facet to the game which unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to try in the review build, but having seen assets of the multiplayer sections and video clips, it is a portion of the game that probably deserves a review all on its own.

So to round up, conclude, finish and bid adiós to this already rather lengthy review. Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep is indeed a wonderful game. It’s lovingly crafted, features excellent visuals and is a perfect compliment to an impressive though often overlooked PSP video game library. It’s one that could convince new comers to fall for its charms, with a delicate and perfectly balanced storyline that is as epic as any Disney film. Sure it has its irritating elements, such as the sometimes clunky camera, irksome jumping mechanism, and the long loading times (which an install can alleviate somewhat). But considering the system this is delivered on, they can all be overlooked and the game can be appreciated for that what it is. An excellent addition to the PSP library and a purchase I recommend you go out and make as soon as possible.

9/10

by

Version tested: PSP

Developer: Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix

Genre: RPG