|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Square Enix||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Square Enix||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 7, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
When Kingdom Hearts II was released in 2005, tongues immediately started wagging about its successor, Kingdom Hearts 3. An impressive cutscene following the final battle convinced fans that the third game, in what was assumed would be a trilogy, wouldn't be far behind.
However, fans the world over were disappointed to learn this cutscene was part of a prequel destined for the PSP handheld. While it is easy to approach this title with some trepidation considering its history, if you skip this title, you are missing out. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep may be presented on a small screen, but that doesn't hinder it from a sprawling scope that is on par (and even surpasses in some instances) with its PlayStation 2 predecessor.
The game starts off simply by introducing the player to the battle system and the game's three main heroes: Terra, Ventus, and Aqua. However, after some plot points, the player is able to pick which character they want to play through the story as. Although each character's story takes you to the same worlds, the events change and your interactions and dialog will be considerably different. You could get a basic grasp of the story by just playing through a single's character's story mode, but in order to get the full grasp and scope of the events of the story, a single playthrough with each of the characters is recommended.
The basic storyline in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep revolves around three up-and-coming Keyblade wielders who begin as the best of friends, but become embattled as one realizes there is true darkness within him. The story is simple and can stand alone, but there are some nice continuity areas that tie the prequel nicely to Kingdom Hearts II as well as Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. If you are holding out hope for a proper Kingdom Hearts sequel, I would pay attention to the game's secret ending as there are some not-so-subtle hints about the franchise's future dropped in the ending.
Although the game's story does make allusions to events from other games, the core plot revolves around the three main characters as they search for each other across the game's universe. Although you will see familiar areas like Hercules' Olympus Coliseum and Sleeping Beauty's world, there are plenty of new areas to explore, including the Enchanted Forest from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and my personal favorite, Deep Space from Lilo and Stitch.
The story and the new worlds are enough to give any Kingdom Hearts fan enough incentive to dive into Birth by Sleep, but what clinched the deal for me was the improved battle system. While subtle changes and improvements have been made to Kingdom Hearts' battle system over the years, Birth by Sleep represents the biggest leap forward for the series yet. The game uses the same core menu-based system that has been the hallmark of the series, but there have been several new elements that have streamlined the gameplay substantially. Chief among these is the new combo system, which rewards players for favoring a certain "style" in their attacks. This style can come from a preference for physical or elemental attacks, and, when used, will induce a heightened state (based on your style preferences) in which attacks are more powerful and chained combos culminate in devastating finishing moves. This system rewards extensive combos, and helps solidify the action element of the game's action RPG battle system.
Also new is the combination system, which allows you to combine attacks to create all-powerful (or not) attacks that play to your individual strengths. Each character has their own unique battle attributes (Aqua is magic-heavy, Terra is the physical character, and Ventus is the well-rounded balanced fighter), but you can use the attack combination system to create attacks that fit your own personal fighting style as well as the overarching character-based fighting elements.