Review by fantasyrocks
"Birth By Sleep an exercise in how poor execution can kill."
This is a prequel to the entire series. It's where we learn how the dark deeds of the future take root. It's where we watch three new keyblade wielding protagonists named Terra, Aqua and Ven fall to different tragedies, and therefore the torch gets passed to the defacto mainstay so he can set things right. Despite all this though the game's story is the most boring and unemotional of the series.
Story- BBS takes place 10 years in the past. At the beginning of the story the worlds and its people are happy. As well as our three protagonists and their Master named Eraqus. The two oldest of the three, Terra and Aqua, are about to take their Mark of Mastery exam. It's a test to determine who will become master of the keyblade. An old Master named Xehanort is there to witness this exam as well. Five seconds after he leaves the worlds are apparently in trouble, and unimaginative, boring creatures named Unversed have appeared and are wreaking havoc. Master Eraqus sends Terra and Aqua to investigate this crisis, and to find Master Xehanort who was, again, just with them five seconds ago. Ven was to stay home,but since obsession means friendship in this series he runs away after Terra. You can play their stories in any order you like,but officially it's supposed to be Terra,Ven, Aqua. So that's how I will review them.
Terra's story is him battling the ever elusive darkness. In his MOM exam, against Aqua, it comes out and snowballs from there. He teams up with Disney villains in an effort to get rid of it. The problem with Terra is their is absolutely no reason for him to act the way he does or completely trust the people he does. He's story is just filled to the brim with contrived idiocy. It's pretty much Riku's story without the depth,character development, player emotional attachment, and a well executed reason why.
Technically cut-scene-wise we are introduced to Ven first. A character who looks and speaks just like another character in the series. Of course if you have no idea who that character is than that part of Ven's story is not going to mean anything to you. He sees Terra and Aqua take their MOM. He's excluded from the exam because of his youth. Then, as those two are getting their orders about the state of the worlds, he is getting a visit from a villain with some bad news about Terra. He then takes off after him.The first part of his story is him looking for Terra. The second part is him trying to make some new friends. The third is him finding out the truth about himself in all it's contrived glory.Neither of these ventures will be worth your time. He does have more personality than the other two so I guess that's something.
Aqua is the character who picks up the pieces of each story,but really though it feels like she's just there to even out the trio with a girl. She has no inner or outer conflict of her own. The main villain speaks to her a grand total of never. She's pretty much just there to give the series it's first human female, key-blade wielding badass and that's it. Terra and Ven stories were filled with wall-bang contrivances,but at the end of the day I'll take contrived over nothing at all. If it wasn't for something called Last Episode( a story mode that only Aqua can play) she would be dangerously close to being completely pointless. However, without even giving much thought, I came up with a couple of ways Final Episode could have happened some other way. Or not at all. Which brings Aqua's story, and it's point, down to zero.
You're also technically playing this game three times. There are some variations,but you really will not escape the repetitive feeling of 'yep I'm definitely playing this world three times'. This is especially noticeable in the cut-scenes they have together.You also get the same key-blades from the Disney worlds, and some of the commands they get are the same.
Also get ready to hear the over-saturated and ad-nauseum dialogue of darkness, light, friendship,memories, and connected. They're the series themes. I get that. However, show me them in action. I don't need to hear them, or some variation, coming out of the the characters mouths every 10 seconds. This very nauseating, cheesy dialogue shows up in Terra and Aqua stories the most.
Overall I just didn't care about Terra, Aqua and Ven. They are likable in a generic way, and on paper their stories seem tragic,but when it came to the actual execution in the game I felt nothing for them.All three characters lack emotional depth and their personalities are one-dimensional. Their personalities aren't even engaging enough for their lack of depth not to matter that much. Also to add to the problem Terra and Aqua's voice actor's delivery sounded like they just didn't care. MX's voice needed some work as well. They try to have the Disney worlds give some development to them,but this comes off very, very forced. It seems the Disney worlds real purpose was to just to say why yes Disney is in this game. The story also tries to sell you that TAV are friends. Best ones at that. You will have a hard time believing this. For the most part we are told they are friends, and then we're just supposed to take the plot at its word. There really is no show. The rare times they are together they felt like coworkers. Brothers(sister)at arms. Not friends. This game should have never had three story modes. The fact that they were away from each other, most of the time, hurt them as characters a lot. Flashbacks would have helped for development,but those rarely happened as well. More scenes of them together at their home world would have helped to,but this game seemed to be made with ADD proportions. It was like the developers thought lets get to the major story points quick with no thought to the actual characters. Alas though if I don't care about the characters then I'm not going to care about the story. I spent around 15 hours, 40 something overall, with these characters and I came out feeling absolutely nothing for them.
Gameplay-It pretty much takes Kh2 flashy attacks and reaction commands and mixes it up with the customization of Re:com. It also has the real time KH is known for. Since there are three stories then it stands to reason that you would have three different play-styles for each character. Terra is a powerhouse player. The tank. He fights with earth and darkness attacks. Ven is speedy. He hits fast. Wind and Light are his specialty.In a lot of ways he pretty much played like Sora and Roxas. Aqua was kinda original in how she played. She is primarily a magic user,but she can use just her key-blade well to.Either with magic or without she's a graceful and powerfully attacker. She's so graceful that amusingly her dash is a cartwheel. They each get special commands if you stack their attacks a certain way. These attacks are powerful and in Aqua's case mostly beautiful to see in action.
Next they have something called D-links. Basically they act like summons,and just like most summons in the other games they are pretty useless and unnecessary. You don't actually summon the character to you though. You temporarily use their power yourself. Which pointless as d-linking seems, in the grand scheme of gameplay, I guess if nothing else you can see how another characters power would look with the character your using.
There's also mini-games. One is called the command board. It's basically the KH version of monopoly. There's a board for each world you go to. Sometimes it will have three characters. Sometimes just two. Your characters are moved by throwing dice, and then moving to the spaces the dice land on. You set the GP limit(money solely for the CB),and when your character crosses the goal with that amount, or over, you win. Some spaces on the board are filled with traps that you can lose GP and others have ways you can get more GP. Sometimes a mini cut-scene will play for some of the spaces you land on. Which I thought was neat.
I also liked that the characters, especially TAV, say little phrases. These are one of the rare times that Aqua and Terra's voice actors didn't sound like they were phoning in their performances. The sayings get repetitive though since they say the same three to four phrases. This is also a quick way to level up some of your commands. Or get some rare ones. You can also just get some that you would get ordinarily get later in the story. There's also other little perks that I don't feel like getting into. However, the command board is a game that gets boring quick. Once you've played one board you've pretty much played them all.
Disney town-Basically this world functions as mini-game hub. It has three games, and they are Fruit-ball, Ice-cream Beat,and Racing. How I loathed it. Especially doing Ven's story where it was mandatory to play just right the hair pulling mini-game(Ice-cream Beat) to get on with the story. This world basically has no story importance whatsoever. Which isn't saying much since most of the Disney worlds didn't.
Mirage Arena- a place where you can play by yourself or through multi-player.You fight a lot of mini-bosses and then one super boss challenger at the end. It was basically a more souped-up Olympus Coliseum.
Ah, yes almost forgot that there's a secret boss. I've never fought it though,and don't want to.I just know of it's existence and I've seen it elsewhere. There's, I think, a couple of things you have to do to get to it though.
Overall you will probably hear how BBS's gameplay is pretty much like god himself had a hand in making it. I however wasn't impressed. It was just standard KH to me. Not a good thing. Not a bad thing. Just is.
Music-most of the tracks weren't all the memorable to me. Most of the Disney world music, in particular, was pretty irritating. The music for the original worlds didn't really do anything for me either. TAV themes were okay,but out of the three I mostly liked Terra's.
Visuals- my first time ever playing a PSP(or a hand-held at all) was for this game, and I was surprised at how nice the visuals looked on it.The worlds were huge(but empty) and everything mostly looked crisp and nice. I also liked how expressive the faces were. Then again this is Enix. For the most part they have always being good at graphics and making the characters have readable expressions. However, the fish face syndrome reared it's ugly head again, and seem to hit this game especially hard. This is very telling in Terra and Aqua's stories. I hated seeing no expressions on their faces, and their mouths just yapping like a fish. This wouldn't be much of a problem if this occurrence was rare,but it made to much of a noticeable frequency to be ignored. Also another small peeve was it was sometimes hard to look around or see attacks.I'm still not sure if that was the camera's fault or if the small screen was the problem.
-Gameplay- My mouth might not have been dropping to the floor at any point,but the game-play was okay. I mean I've never had any dire problems with KH's game-play in the first place so this was simply par the course.
-Music-Yoko didn't necessarily disappoint, and that's why this is under pro,but overall the music wasn't all that memorable.
-Visuals- fish mouth syndrome notwithstanding the overall graphics were nice.
-TAV in Theory-their poor execution aside it was still a bit nice to see how the series started.
-Theater mode- most of the cut-scenes are nothing to look back on in the first place,but it's nice that theater mode was there anyway.
-Seeing both the villains, and good guys, of later games just being innocent was a nice(if fan-service filled ) treat.
-very poor execution of the story and its characters. I came out not caring about them or their plight. The whole game was just emotionally empty to me.The villains could have done with more screen-time and depth as well. One in particular was a whole lot of for the evulz with no substance.
- The dialogue got on my nerves for the most part. It was very childish and inhuman more often then not.
-To much focus on the Disney inhabitants, and their problems, instead of the original characters and theirs.
- The Unversed- It's like no creative thought process went into them at all. They were so very contrived. They aren't even in the running when it comes to the more sinister, and better story integrated, creatures of the latter games.
- Three story-modes- Not only did the execution of this end up helping hurt the depth of the characters, especially where their friendship was concerned,but nothing really is going to erase that you are playing through the same game three times.
- The game just never gives you time to breath. To soak in a scene.
Overall whether you like Birth By Sleep is really going to count on one thing. What's more important to you in an RPG? If it's solely game-play then you'll have a lot to keep you occupied. However, if what you cherish is the story,and the characters in it, making you feel like it was all worth your time then you might want to pass on this one.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 02/14/11
Game Release: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (US, 09/07/10)
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