Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Review

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Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep

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A triumphant debut for Kingdom Hearts on PSP, Birth by Sleep's combat system is deeply addictive and its characters utterly charming.

We like

  • The incredible amount of attacks and abilities
  • The new additions, such as Shotlocks and Command Styles
  • The quirky enemy styles

We dislike

  • Having to backtrack across the same locations and fight the same Universed
  • The long loading times

See PSU's review on Metacritic & GameRankings

We’ve got the creative genius of director Tetsuya Nomura to thank for bringing the surreal mix of characters from the Final Fantasy universe together with legends from the world of Disney. It’s a match that really shouldn’t have worked, especially in the notoriously hardcore RPG genre, but against the odds Kingdom Hearts has become a franchise that has enchanted gamers young and old since its inception in 2002. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep becomes the sixth title in the series and the first time the franchise has made the transition to PSP.

Birth by Sleep switches focus back to events before the original game and introduces three new playable characters, all of whom made brief appearances in Kingdom Hearts II. Trained by the Master Of Light, these three young heroes; Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, seek to become Keyblade Masters in an unfolding tale of light versus darkness and loving friendships.

The feel good theme runs through the entire game and can get a touch overbearing at times with some sickly sweet dialogue, but overall this is an enchanting story where there’s kicks to be had from seeing familiar Disney characters from a whole new perspective. Told via the help of some beautifully produced cut-scenes, it’s hard not to get sucked into the fairy-tale world of Kingdom Hearts. It’s a testament to its playability that you can jump into the magical kingdoms for half an hour or so and soon find that you’ve spent hours engrossed in its mesmerizing combat play.

Gameplay follows an identical pattern to previous games; Birth by Sleep is largely about fighting hordes of enemies. After choosing your hero, you travel through various game worlds, most of which are based on Disney franchises. The likes of Peter Pan’s Neverland, Sleeping Beauty’s Enchanted Dominion and Snow White’s Dwarf Woodlands are all here to explore, and while there you’ll meet up with the likes of Minnie Mouse, Winnie The Pooh, Pluto and many more familiar characters.

In each game world you get involved in helping out Disney characters in a battle against darkness and the evil Universed that frequent each land. Part of the appeal of Birth by Sleep is the wide range of enemies that you face and the different strategies that you have to employ to beat them. In one mission, for instance, the Queen sends you to kill Snow White and bring back her heart, but being the good person that you are you end up instead in an entertaining boss battle against the Spirit of the Mirror, an evil mask that throws fireballs at you and replicates itself by conjuring up a corridor of mirrors.

There are many more great battles to look forward to against the likes of a psychotic band conductor, known as the Symphony Master, or the Pirate of Never Land himself, Captain Hook. Fighting the many Universed is also enjoyable due to the deep combat system and different enemy types. From the three-fingered, scrawny Scrappers to the bomb-like, obese Tank Topplers, there’s challenge to be had of switching strategies on the fly and fun to be had out of experimenting with the wide range of commands.

With any game that involves a lot of fighting it’s inevitable that the word “repetitive” gets mentioned. The same word applies to Birth by Sleep. The problem with bringing such an open world series as Kingdom Hearts to the PSP is that you’re restricted in what you can achieve with the hardware. You do a lot of backtracking across the same areas where the same Universed spawn in exactly the same places. Needless to say, things can get exceedingly repetitive. It doesn’t help alleviate the feeling of déjà vu either by the fact that the graphics aren’t the best looking on PSP by a long shot. Character design is superb, but some of the locations are really quite dull to explore.

Nevertheless, combat and the command system is where Birth by Sleep really shines. Like any good RPG the ever-evolving system is what really gets you hooked and motivates you to plough forward and want to level up your character. There’s a massive list of combos, attacking, defensive and finishing moves on offer and you can customise them to suit your play style, or switch ... (continued on next page) ----

A gamer since the days of the ZX Spectrum, Steven Williamson now works as General Manager for PSU. He's supposed to be managing, but if you're reading this, it means he's dipped into editorial again. Follow @steven_gamer
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