Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
PlayStation Portable
Reviewed: 8/25/2010

As someone who highly enjoyed the first Kingdom Hearts game but feels the series took a nosedive afterward, I was not looking forward to Birth by Sleep. I’m glad to say I was wrong with this one, as Square Enix pretty much rocked my bitch ass.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep tells an excellent story for those who don’t automatically roll their eyes at Disney and/or Tetsuya Nomura. Yes, it uses metric tons of KH jargon, but at the same time, the player is always able to follow what is going on, why so-and-so is a bad dude, and who needs a keyblade to the back of the head. Three separate but connected stories, each starring a unique protagonist, are playable in the game. Playing through once as either Terra, Aqua, or Ventus will show just enough of the story to get the gist and take 8-15 hours, depending on how much side stuff is done and which difficulty level is selected.

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Players interested in the whole story, however, will need to play through with all three characters. Doing so is by no means a chore, even though all of the characters go to the same places in very similar order.

While its story splitting may at first make the story sound overly difficult to follow, Birth by Sleep handles it rather well. Here’s a hypothetical example: in one certain location, the player might take Terra in, play through the expected story sequence, dungeon, and then boss fight. But let’s say Ven shows up at the end of Terra’s boss battle and some story stuff goes on, concluding with Terra flipping over a table and leaving in a hurry. When the player plays that world as Ventus, he’ll play a completely different dungeon, encounter different characters (or the same characters at different points in the timeline), and fight a different boss with Ven. Then Ventus will show up, see the overlapping scene with Terra, but instead of the scenario ending there, it might continue on and show the player what went down after Terra’s departure.

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Playing that same world with Aqua could have some crossover points, or might be something completely different. It’s all woven together very well, and playing through with all three characters is a great pleasure.

Working against BbS, for the casual player, is that an important part of its best asset is buried. It’s nice to reward the diligent with secret endings, but really, the individual character endings solve nothing, and the requirements to see the secret ending are such that most casual gamers (which isn’t you, since you’re reading this website) won’t go after it. Why keep the awesome ending a secret? That sucks, because the secret ending is quite a lot more satisfying, yet clearing the story isn’t enough.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep takes advantage of one cold hard fact of life: Mickey Mouse is a badass. Moving on….

Gameplay is once again the action RPG styling one would expect from a Kingdom Hearts game. This time around, spells and special moves are equipped sort of like items and the developers have ditched MP in favor of each move having its own amount of required recovery time. So after Aqua fires a shot of Blizzara, she’s going to have to wait a while to use it again, but the next spell in the queue will pop up (though the player can also scroll through the equipped abilities manually).

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Those who don’t opt for the 600MB data install option are in for some serious, serious loading times when changing areas, between cutscenes, and even in battle. Another drawback, at least for some players, will be the forced completion of certain minigames in Disney Town. Each character’s story requires winning a different minigame at some point. This note is included because the reviewer has absolutely 0 musical talent and struggled greatly when Ventus had to get the high score in “It’s a Small World Ice Cream Rhythm Whateverthehell” in order to advance the story. It didn’t seem relevant at all, because it wasn’t.

KH: BbS is visually stunning, especially considering that it almost always favors the in-game engine over CG. The game’s audio serves quite well too, with high-quality music and voice acting.

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It should be said for those that didn’t see the news, Zack from Final Fantasy VII is the only Final Fantasy character in this game. While there are Kingdom Hearts series originals and Disney cameos aplenty, the only FF hero to appear is just there riding his wave of Crisis Core fame, which might upset some gamers.

This is the best Kingdom Hearts game since the original. It has fun gameplay on par with the PS2 titles, a good story told in a very interesting way, and atmosphere and charm to spare. I fully expected to detest Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep before I played it, but I was met with a true gem of a game.

-Heath Hindman

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Excellent
Graphics Legendary
Sound/Music Very Good
Replay Value Great
The Verdict: Great