Review by WiseWarrior101
"An absolutely incredible game, and the best Kingdom Hearts to date"
The story revolves around three keyblade wielders; Terra, Aqua, and Ventus. Terra and Aqua undertake the Mark of Mastery exam at the beginning of the game, a test which determines if an individual is deserving of the title of Keyblade Master. Aqua passes, but Terra briefly lets his darkness get the better of him, causing Master Eraqus to fail him. Shortly after the exam Master Eraqus gets a message from Yen Sid that creatures known as the Unversed are wrecking havoc. He sends Terra and Aqua out to destroy them, giving Aqua the additional task of watching Terra and making sure he keeps his darkness in check. Ventus decides to follow Terra, and Aqua chases after him, thus beginning the adventure.
While the main plot revolves around the three keyblade wielders and their quest to vanquish the Unversed and unravel the mysteries surrounding them, there are also other stories for each world, based on classic Disney tales.
The various worlds, from Sleeping Beauty to Peter Pan, all consist of three parts. Terra, Aqua, and Ventus each have their own story, and they all visit each of the worlds once. You might play as Terra and begin a story, only to end it with Aqua, or to continue with Ventus only to see the very beginning later on with Aqua. This works very well, and doesn't feel tedious. The stories are well done and despite the main plot making the lesser plots feel insignificant at times, they generally blend well together. Also, each character's story has a different difficulty level: Terra's is the easiest, Ventus' is next, and Aqua's is the hardest.
The gameplay in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is fantastic. There's much less exploration than in previous Kingdom Hearts, focusing more on battling enemies. The combat system is much improved, with a system somewhat similar to that which was found in Chain of Memories, though better by a long shot. You'll be able to scroll through a deck of commands, ranging from powerful melee attacks to magic attacks such as fireballs and magnets that suck up enemies. Better yet, you can meld together attacks to form more powerful attacks, and by attaching crystals you can add abilities that boost HP, allow you to string together longer combos, and more. Each character has attacks unique to them, some of them powerful enough to wipe out whole groups of enemies.
While the deck system greatly adds to the game, it's still quite fun without it. You could go through the entire game using only the normal attack button. (Though you'd probably die a lot unless you chose the Easy difficulty) Mashing the attack button has never been so fun. You can chain together huge combos, switching from one enemy to another, until they've all been defeated. But mixing it up is what's the most fun. Battle off hoards of enemies with well timed dodges and blocks, ultimately countering and dealing a great deal of damage to them before using your most powerful attack and annihilating them all. Success! Critical Mode plus the ability Zero EXP is the ultimate experience, forcing you to constantly guard and meld abilities to prosper. While playing with Zero EXP gets extremely difficult and time consuming later on due to your low strength, it is a lot of fun through the first three worlds. You have to rely a lot on command styles, similar to the forms in Kingdom Hearts II.
There are various command styles in the game, each one triggered by using certain types of attacks. One may be triggered by Blizzard attacks, the other by guarding repeatedly. Once you change styles you become more powerful and eventually unleash an all-powerful finishing command. There are different levels of command styles, and while you always start with a level one command style, by fulfilling certain conditions you can change to a higher level command style, which is even more powerful.
Something I always enjoyed in previous Kingdom Hearts was the Olympus Colosseum. While it's been dumbed down in this game, there's a replacement called the Mirage Arena. Inside you can battle enemies, play on the Command Board, or do a racing mini-game. Each time you play one of the games you earn medals, which can be spent on some items ranging from Group Cure (For multi-player, as you can play with friends in Mirage Arena) to each of the melding crystals. You also can gain levels, whether by beating one of the games, or by getting a certain amount of medals. The higher the level, the more matches you unlock in the fighting section of the arena.
The battle section of the arena is at times even more fun than the rest of the game. In each match you'll battle hoards of enemies, before finally battling a boss. You'll encounter bosses you've fought previously in the story, and also a few exclusive to Mirage Arena. While not as hard as the secret bosses, the Arena-exclusive bosses can be quite difficult, especially the latter ones.
The Command Board is a Monopoly-like game where you put down different abilities on the game board in order to level them up. There is a certain number of points you need to win; you get these points by passing one of the four colored checkpoints, landing on a special space, having an opponent land on one of your spaces, or by passing start after touching all four checkpoints. It's very fun, though it doesn't play that much like Monopoly in the fact that you'll mostly just racking up points by going around the board, and you don't actually want your opponent to land on your spaces, because they can take over them, causing you to lose the ability. (This only happens when you select Command Board on the World Map, you're safe inside the arena, though you can't gain any abilities either)
Racing is one of the several mini-games besides the Command Board. It plays like a mediocre Mario Kart, though it can still be fun. The other games, a rhythm-based game, and a volleyball-like game aren't much better, but are still enjoyable.
Overall, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep has one of the fastest-paced and most satisfying battle systems of any game I've played. I've replayed the game several times (And I mostly only go through games once) and I'm still having a blast.
The music in this game is amazing as well. There are quite a few excellent pieces, namely the battle themes and the character themes. The Disney themes, while not as impressive, are still catchy and fun to listen to. "Simple and Clean" returns as the theme song, but even after being re-used several times I still enjoy listening to it.
Absolutely incredible. I have never played a game with graphics as good as these. The cutscenes are amazing, and so are the in-game visuals. The FMV sequences totally blew me away as well.
Each character's story lasts at least 10-15 hours, more so if you want to complete the game 100%. The Mirage Arena and the Command Board add time as well. I've played more than 80 hours and I'm not done yet.
The best Kingdom Hearts to date, Birth by Sleep is one of the best video games period. Even if you aren't a fan of the series, GET THIS GAME, you won't regret it.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 02/04/11
Game Release: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (US, 09/07/10)
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