Review by Cyrus Maragrave
Not only an amazing title for any PSP owner, but a must have for fans of the series.
When I first discovered that the next big title in the Kingdom Hearts series was going to be a PSP release, I was excited to say the least. There is just something about this crazy mesh up of Disney and action RPG that is so easy to love and enjoy. Birth By Sleep is not only a great entry to the series, but probably the best one yet. There are many great things going for this game, with only a few small problems that hold it back from being perfect.
Birth By Sleep takes place before the first Kingdom Hearts game, and tells the story of three keyblade wielders: Aqua, Ventus, and Terra. You actually play as each character and see the story from three different points of view. For my review I played Terra first, followed by Ventus and Aqua. The characters themselves are not incredibly interesting, as the story seems to be more focused on setting up the events of the first Kingdom Hearts. Along with our three protagonists are Eraqus, a rather forgettable keyblade master who does not add much if anything to the story, and Xehanort, who plays a very large part in the events that unfold. The main problem with this game (and the others in the series) is that the visited Disney Worlds seem to be filler for the main story. For example, you go into a Disney World, play though a small condensed version of the original movie's storyline, then more plot for the main story is dumped on you in a big clump. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think it would have been great if Square-Enix found a way to weave these Disney character into the main plot of the game.
As usual Square-Enix does not disappoint in the visual department. The FMV sequences are absolutely beautiful, and really show off the power of the PSP. Not only that, but the in-game visuals look great as well. Returning from the previous titles is the great facial animation that is used during most of the cut scenes in the game. Instead of just dubbing over the character's mouth opening and closing, the developers actually took the time to reanimate the character's faces to fix the English words they are speaking. That is what I call great dedication! The environments are colorful, the character models are detailed, and the in-battle effects look great. It's blatantly obvious that a lot of effort was put towards making this game look absolutely fantastic.
Here is where Birth by Sleep shines above all other games in the series. The battle mechanics were vastly improved over the previous games, making a few very notable changes. The original system that required you to equip spells and abilities with "AP" points is gone and is now replace by the Command Deck. The Command Deck involves leveling up and "melding" of commands to create new and more powerful abilities. The great thing about this system is that your character can be as weak or as ridiculously powerful as you want. With enough dedication you can have your character blasting foes with Thundaga right outside of the first area in the game, or for added challenge you can keep your character weaker by ignoring command melding all together.
The battles also seem to have experienced a pretty decent increase in difficulty as well. I found myself shocked when the first boss in Terra's story managed to defeat me on my first try. You're no longer allowed to just mash the X button with the occasional Cure until a boss is defeated. The battles are fair by rewarding smart fighting and punishing reckless button mashing. Also added is the Command Board. This is a completely optional monopoly-style mini game which lets you not only level up commands you already have, but gain new commands as well! Normally I would write off mini games, but this one is surprisingly addicting due to the great rewards you can gain from it.
As always, some of the music on the sound track is excellent, with some of the music being absolutely terrible. In general, the really poor music is the background music for the various Disney worlds. For example, the music that is played while in Cinderella's world is incredibly frustrating to have to listen to. The popular "Simple and Clean" makes a comeback as the game's theme song, but I would have preferred a new original track, as I absolutely loved the theme songs to the first and second games in the series.
Voice acting in this game is mixed as well. For the most part, the characters are very well voiced. Particularly notable is the always awesome Leonard Nimoy as the voice of Xehanort. His voice is instantly recognizable and he really adds to the character. The Disney characters are as usual very well acted and sound like their original counterparts. The only really bad acting in the game came from Terra, voiced by Jason Dohring. His voice just felt too void of emotion to really make me feel for the character at all.
This game is great in many ways, but the small problems I mentioned above keeps it from being perfect. It is however an absolutely excellent game. If you've never played a Kingdom Hearts game, or love the series as much as I do, then I could not recommend this game further!
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (US, 09/07/10)
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