Clamoring for Kingdom Hearts 3? Well you’ll have to hold onto your britches for just a little longer as Square Enix teases its fans with Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep for the PSP, a prequel that follows the latest trend and keeps the series appearing on the handhelds. You can rest easy however, as the latest small screen entry is much better than its predecessors.
The story takes place 10 years before the events of the original Kingdom Hearts. Focusing on three playable protagonists — Terra, Ventus and Aqua — Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep presents a storyline for each one of them. Terra and Aqua are both candidates to become Keyblade Masters, yet only Aqua succeeds due to Terra’s prevalent darkness in his heart. Creatures called the Unversed appear and Terra decides to run off due to the circumstances to find Master Xehanort. In return, Ventus chases after him and Aqua is sent to protect Ventus — thus we are provided a story through each character’s perspective, giving insight on their emotions and motivations.
Like in previous iterations, you will guide the three characters through various Disney worlds, many that make an appearance for the first time like Dwarf Woodlands from Snow White, Neverland from Peter Pan, and Mysterious Tower from Fantasia. Other non-Disney worlds make their debut such as Radiant Gardens and Land of Departure.
Upon first glance, Birth By Sleep looks like the first two games, scaled down to a small screen. While it’s true that you’re essentially playing a portable PS2 game, numerous gameplay changes have been made to ensure that the experience is fresh.
Magic points (MP) have been completely taken out. Instead skills and magic have a cool down, or use a Focus meter that eventually fills up throughout the battles. Each skill and spell also level up and are then able to be melded together, forming an even more powerful spell. Summons have also been cut from the game, and in their place are now Destiny Links, or D-Links. Upon meeting and forging a bond with a new character, a D-Link will form, which let’s you gain their skills for a certain amount of time during battle. Unleashing your inner-Snow White, as funny as that sounds, was tremendously helpful in the time of need.
Besides the main quest, players can spend time playing the various Command Boards. Think of it as a Kingdom Hearts styled Monopoly game. Rolling the dice will move your character, and once landing on an unoccupied square, you can purchase it, which makes any other players who land on it, pay a fee. The main reason for this board game is to level up your skills and acquire new ones. It’s a fun diversion and a worthy time investment that will power-up your characters.
Players can also dive into competitive and co-operative multiplayer in the Mirage Arena. Banding together to defeat waves of monsters, gaining different rewards, or going head to head and settling who is the true Keyblade Master was an enticing diversion. Multiplayer is limited to local AdHoc however. It’s a shame, especially since online is something of a standard these days. If you’re going through the trouble of including a multiplayer mode, why not just make it WiFi enabled?
Disappointment does set it when it becomes the lack of Final Fantasy characters becomes noticeable. Kingdom Hearts as a series always prided itself on fusing the two universes together. This time however, the only FF cameo we see is Zack from FF VII and Crisis Core and Moogles; though it’s fitting that Zack is there, since he also appeared in his own prequel on the PSP. In addition, even though the controls worked fine during navigating the worlds and platforming, battles were often awkward due to the requirement of switching between the analog nub and the d-pad to issue orders. Sure it was the same thing on the PS2, but holding a controller versus a PSP makes quite a big difference in the long run.
Small screens aside, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is an amazing title that every KH fan must play. Providing a great background to the world of Kingdom Hearts, it was obvious starting out that it wasn’t going to be easy to create a title that was not only easy to comprehend, but also attempted to deliver a great adventure. Now excuse me while I got write my 358th letter to Square Enix, to create Kingdom Hearts 3.