Kingdom hearts birth by sleep is the newest title in the seemingly long line of games that accompany the franchise. Spanning multiple games over multiple formats the game recounts the tales of the Keyblade wielders and the endless struggle between light and darkness amoung them.
The Keyblade is exactly as it sounds, a giant key that also acts as a sword that can unlock more then just your front door. It's repertoire of use also includes peoples hearts, and doors to light and darkness, of course.
This particular game acts as a prequel to the first kingdom hearts, adding a new group of characters to the mix, a girl, boy, and boy man. Named Aqua, Ventus and Terra. The game assumes you have have already played though the previous titles, so any newcomers to the series would be wise to stay away from starting here as they will have little to no clue as to why you are doing what your doing, and why you should care about it at all.
However any followers of the series will be in for a treat as birth by sleep retains all the wonderful charm and emotional connection the series has become famous for, along with one of the best musical scores of the series to accompany it, in my opinion.
You play through each of the 3 characters stories individually uncovering their own portion of the tale as you go, it all coming together as you play though each character and filling in the pieces of the puzzle until you have the whole picture. The characters have their own distinct style of combat to ensure varied enough play while the combat system is arguably the best the series has offered to date. There are a wealth of spells and abilities many of which have to be discovered via melding two abilities together and hoping for the best, but very satisfying when you manage to land a rare and powerful ability to wreak havok with.
There is a new drive system that fills up as you attack enemies and will change and alter your form depending on the combination of attacks and spells you used, Granting you new powers. Summons have been replaced by 'Dimention Links' which allow to you basically use set commands suited to the chosen linked character you have encountered while playing through the story, and some unique ones only to be found by D-Linking.
For example linking with Snow White will allow you to use spells named after the 7 dwarfs.
Sleepy, will cast the sleep spell.
Grumpy, will make you throw your keyblade at the enemy.
And Bashful, strangely enough, will cast an instant death spell. But you get the idea. All in all the combat system is rich in complexities that should keep you entertained enough throughout the whole game.
Story has always been the driving force of the Kingdom Hearts games and birth by sleep is no different. I found myself caring about the characters and wanting to quickly get through the parts un-associated with them to find out what happens next.
The soundtrack for the game is moving and beautiful, grand and orchestral.
The title screen music in particular, a beautiful yet sorrowful track that I could listen to for hours. The effort that must have gone into making sure the soundtrack was of quality and appropriately moving the for the story cannot go unmentioned.
Graphics are very impressive for the PSP system, on par with the PS2 I would say. While therein the shortfalls of the PSP are revealed in it's lack of analog sticks for camera movement, so it relies on the shoulder buttons instead which is generally functional but in the heat of battle it can be a nuisance to operate. Along with an unpredictable lock on system that can sometimes leave the camera at an angle that puts you at risk.
Do not think that because this this is a PSP release that it is a half baked game, however. This is very much a complete Kingdom Hearts title with plenty of depth both in story and size. Upon writing this I have sank over 55 hours of my life into this game and there is still plenty to left accomplish, it should be noted however that I played on the hardest difficulty mode only, so to increase the challenge and longevity and to forfill my masochistic desires for punishment!
If there is one complaint, it is that the developers seem to be weaving an extremely tangled web of characters and linking them all together through different time lines and events that is becoming quite hard to follow for the average fan.
Whether this is to milk the franchise as much as they can, or that they actually had all this planned from the get go, (the latter being unlikely) I can only hope that they now stop adding more twists and focus on building upon the great tale they have already created.
I personally find it charming going to different disney worlds and catching up with old favourites I spent many hours glued to the TV watching as a youngster. Although some may find this somewhat of a childish pursuit, it is enitrely up to you...
All in all however, Birth by Sleep is a must have for any KH fan who owns a PSP, an unmissable addition and hopefully a taste of what more is to come.