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Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep : TGS 2009 Hands-on

By Janelle | September 27, 2009 at 11:49 am

The Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep demo station had a very satisfying balance of content, and did a pretty good job of supplying a fun showcase of how the game will look, feel and play.

Before we get into scenario details, here are some system details. The basics haven’t changed much from other Kingdom Hearts games. The Circle button attacks, X jumps, and the Triangle button would execute whatever spell, item or ability was selected. In this game, the ability list can be cycled through using the directional buttons, and once a skill has been used, the list will automatically switch to the next available skill that’s fully charged, though it never seemed to default to items; those had to be selected manually.

The newest addition seemed to be a large Command meter above the action menu. It would fill as skills and attacks were used successfully. When it filled, several different things could happen, and it seemed to depend on what sort of skill was selected or used at the time it filled. Sometimes a fairly minor attack was used, but sometimes a sort of transformation would occur, and the regular attack would turn into something more special that seemed to vary between characters. Ventus would turn into some kind of speed-demon and would rush through enemies. Tera blasted fire everywhere. Aqua’s was called Magic Wish, and she would fly around shooting balls of light. Again, the criteria to fill the gauge and the successive increases of the power of skills weren’t clearly communicated, but special transformations, modes, and flashy things happened a little more often than I expected. A special attack probably shouldn’t be triggering in every single battle.

With that, there were basically four demos available to play: one multiplayer fest called Arena Mode, and three separate single-player campaigns in Story Mode (one for each main character). I didn’t get to play Ventus’s, which was a shame, since his was located in the Cinderella World and probably involved fighting that cat, Lucifer. I started with Aqua’s, in the Dwarf Woodlands, a Snow White-themed world.

It started with a scene of Aqua approaching the seven dwarves at their cottage, who were surrounding Snow White’s coffin in mourning. After some conversation, Aqua agrees to check out the castle and find the queen. Gaining control in the castle courtyard, I started fighting some Heartless-looking creatures. Aqua controlled pretty well, and her flashy attacks made quick work of the enemies. Moving deeper into the basement of the castle, there were mysterious magic jars that changed color, and seemed to have different effects when they were shattered. There were also a few simple lever puzzles to open gates.

Abruptly, in the third room of the dungeon, it was cutscene time. Aqua was alone in the Queen’s room, and the menacing purple mirror suddenly sucked her in. Was this the battle shown in the new trailer? Yes, it totally was, and since that was one of the better parts of that particular trailer, I got excited. It was time to fight the Magic Mirror, and the battle wasn’t easy. The Mirror would use illusions, like duplicating itself, and I had to find and damage the real one. Sometimes the real one was identifiable because it was smiling, but sometimes not. Mirror faces were spinning around in circles, and sometimes lined up in two infinite lines, trapping Aqua between and peppering her with magic blasts. When the Mirror was alone, it would shoot blasts that confused Aqua, making her run the opposite direction that I steered her. The biggest problem was that Aqua didn’t have a move for covering a lot of ground easily, so sometimes reaching the mirror before it vanished was difficult. A healthy combination of different spells and abilities eventually won me the battle.

I had a little time left to play with Tera’s scenario before being ushered out of the booth. The difference between how the characters played was subtle, but Tera’s abilities seemed to tend more towards physical power, rather than the repetoire of magic that Aqua had. He appeared at Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and was shocked to find monsters there. Vowing to check out whatever was going on, Tera had to fight a series of battles with normal enemies before approaching the castle. Unfortunately, that was about where my single-player experience ended. But I headed back into the booth for a round with the multiplayer demo.

It turned out I was playing with two others, a boy and a girl, and was playing as Tera, except he was in super digital Power Rangers mode or something, with a weird costume. The arena campaign was three rounds of a free-for-all against various enemies, followed by a boss. We were working together to defeat the enemies, but also competing for points.

Arena mode was a great chance to get a better feel for how the combat worked, what kind of targeting and skills worked best, and so forth. I died once against the boss, who blasted me with fire beams so I couldn’t move. Player 1 revived me, which was nice of her. When the dust settled, it turned out that Player 2 swept the board. The three award categories were for “Damage,” “Friendly,” and “Style,” and then an MVP was chosen. He gained some medals as a prize, though it wasn’t clear what those medals could be put towards. There was time for another round, so I picked Ventus and we played the campaign again. Ventus was my favorite character to play as, because he was clearly the fastest, and had no problem covering large distances quickly, giving me an advantage for killing many individual foes and racking up damage. Sure enough, this time I took the top award for Damage, and second place for Style, and thus was awarded the MVP as well.

The Birth by Sleep demos were very well calculated. They had a great balance of story and gameplay, and I left feeling like I had gotten a good measure of how the game would play. And the opinion that I did take away from it was overall very positive. If I had two friends with PSPs and this game, I think the Arena Mode has lots of potential, but even the Story Mode alone will probably be able to carry the weight of the franchise.

Topics: Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, Previews, Square Enix, Tokyo Game Show 2009