Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep on PSP is a mix of Disney's charm and Square Enix's spiky haired melodrama

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Square Enix Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
  • Square Enix Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
  • Square Enix Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
  • Square Enix Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep

Pros

  • Production values are through the roof, combat's packed full of options yet remains surprisingly fluid, levelling up and merging abilities is compulsively addictive

Cons

  • The game's mix of mash-heavy battles and dodge-heavy boss fights quickly becomes repetitive, terrible dialog, voice acting that ranges from mediocre to horrible, the story's all at once derivative and nigh-incomprehensible

Bottom Line

While it's beautiful to behold, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep suffers from repetitive design, frustrating boss fights, and a badly executed storyline. It's a shame because its many flashes of brilliance seemed to hint at a title that could have been the best game in the series.

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Kingdom Hearts' mix of Disney's charm and Square Enix's spiky haired melodrama seemed like an odd combination at first, but it's turned into an RPG franchise so revered, every instalment is highly anticipated. Unfortunately, the latest entry in the series, Birth by Sleep, does a poor job of living up to expectations. It embodies both the best and worst aspects of the series, with the bad outweighing the good by a margin significant enough to ruin a potentially great title.

It's especially regrettable because of the things Birth by Sleep gets right. This is, without a doubt, the best Kingdom Hearts' combat has ever been. It's fast-paced and flashy in just the right ways, with spell effects functioning as delicious, colorful eye candy, while somehow remaining manageable. Once you wrap your head around the slightly confined control scheme, seamlessly flicking through abilities en route to super-charging an elementally powered final attack becomes second nature. On top of that, abilities level up with use, which encourages you to vary your arsenal instead of sticking with a few tried-and-true favourites. But that's only half the equation: Abilities that have been levelled-up can be combined to create new, more powerful skills and spells, forming the addictive shell around an already compulsively enjoyable core.

It's an undoubtedly fantastic foundation, but Birth by Sleep doesn't really build off it in any meaningful way. Despite its deep combat system, you can breeze through most of the game's combat scenarios by simply mashing the basic attack button; worse yet, the game's main foes, the "Unversed", are simply reskinned clones of previous Kingdom Hearts games' Heartless. Bosses, meanwhile, provide artificial difficulty through frustrating not-quite-one-hit-kill attacks that you spend most of your time dodging in circles to avoid. Sorry, Square Enix, but I generally expect to spend the majority of a boss fight actually, you know, fighting -- not cursing Tetsuya Nomura's name as I dance around until I get my token two seconds of attack time. And that's when the series notoriously awful camera isn't spinning you around like you're playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.

And that's Birth by Sleep's greatest fault: With the exception of a few minigames and puzzles, the gameplay devolves into a button mashing affair with no real sense of depth. There's very little impetus to actually use all the cool new tricks the game puts at your fingertips, and boredom quickly sets in as the game's repetitive and monotonus action begins to take hold. The story itself is a bitter pill to swallow, with the dialogue that's downright awful, voice-acting that ranges from terrible to merely mediocre, and a plot that seems to be taking most of its cues from Star Wars.

Birth by Sleep's sheer ambition is unquestionable: We're talking about a level of polish that rivals those of most console games, both in terms of breadth and cinematic flair. The game's fluid animations and crisp graphics really shine on the PSP's hardware, and the game's scope is positively massive, with three playable characters who each fight their own sets of bosses and experience the story from very different viewpoints. And that's why Birth by Sleep will prove so heart-breaking to its fanbase: with a few significant changes, it could've been a highwater mark for the series. Instead, it's a thoroughly middle-of-the-road entry that drips with potential but fails thanks to some deep seated faults.

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