ILR – Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Logo

Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Boxart for the Sony PSP Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

Developer: Square Enix Product Development Division 5

Publisher: Square Enix

Platforms: PSP

Released: 9/10/2010

Verdict: Incredible!

Not every game can be at the top of our priorities list, and unfortunately that means some get passed up for a long while. These games aren’t necessarily bad, there’s just something about them that causes us to move on to other games. But these games still deserve their chance in the spotlight, even if it is incredibly late. The newest installment of the Incredibly Late Review brings us to the 5th release in the Kingdom Hearts saga, Birth By Sleep.

Like 356/2 Days, Birth By Sleep seeks to fill in some back story. Birth By Sleep takes place 10 years before the events of Kingdom Hearts, which makes this the first game in the series chronologically. Yeah, Kingdom Hearts is the Zelda of Sony in terms of it’s canonical timeline, but I’d have to rank it higher in the game play department.

Ventus, Terra, and Aqua from the Opening of Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

Furthering the development of the back story is where the similarities end with BBS and 356-2 Days. BBS enhances the old combat system with some new flourishes, brings back traditional experience and level ups, and introduces the Panel System for equipping and using skills and abilities. The removal of missions and a mission hub in favor of a narrative driven quest is a very welcome return from previous entries in the series. A mix of old and new combine with 3 playable characters, with 3 different stories, to make the best Kingdom Hearts game I have played yet.

The Panel System feels like a pseudo upgrade of the slot system used in 356/2 Days, but the changes here are so drastic that you may not even notice the similarities. Panels are skills, abilities, items, magic, etc. that the player finds or purchases throughout their travels. These can be equipped in limited active slots, starting with 3 and capping at 8, which allow their use during combat. There is also a subset of skills used for adding special commands like guard, double jump, and glide to your characters arsenal. These Panels are separate from your active panels, and do not count toward your total of combat abilities. Lastly there’s the Shot Lock Command that let’s you charge an ability and unleash a devastating attack on the field. There are multiple abilities to place here, each with their own charge time, lock on count, hit count, and addition attack quirks.

Aqua from Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep using Bubble Blaster

Every panel has it’s own level and experience. Most cap out at 3, some go as high as 6. Once they are capped out you can combine panels with others to make new panels with new skills and passive abilities. Once the new panel is mastered the passive ability is then permanently learned and forever equipped. So on top of gaining exp and levels up to get stronger, you want to make sure you’re combining panels to produce the most useful combat and passive abilities. It’s a quick way to make your character feel stronger a lot faster then allowed in previous titles. If you’re looking for a challenge you can deactivate any passive skills you learn at any time from the menu.

If the panels and shot lock commands weren’t enough to keep combat interesting then you’re in luck! Two more key systems help keep combat fresh, and engaging at all times. The D-Link system let’s you form a link with key characters you meet in the game. They could be enemies like Maleficent, or friends like Peter Pan. Once you activate the link you gain combat abilities this character has available. They may not always be unique, but they are often useful. During my play through as Terra, I found my self linking with Aqua a lot in order to heal myself. Until I found healing spells after the 3rd world.

Ventus fight the Unversed in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep

Lastly we have the Style/Finish system. You build up a style meter as you attack enemies. If you meet certain requirements then your hero might break off into a new combat style. For instance, if you use a couple fire based attacks then you could break into a Fire Style that allows you to blast fireballs at enemies, and send waves of fire at everyone around you. There are many different styles, each with their own unique uses. If you don’t manage to meet the requirements for a style, you will instead use a finishing move. One finish can be equipped at a time, and once the finisher is leveled up it will unlock another. These usually add a nice AOE or ranged attack, allowing more flexibility in combat.

It all sounds a little overwhelming, and it sort of is. It took me till my play through with Ventus, second play through, to realize that Shot Lock is a saving grace, not just a cheap gimmick. Once you learn the intricacies of each move, and when they best serve you, then everything just sort of flows. It’s a really well balanced, well developed, system. The only flaw I noticed was in the targeting. If the target charges you, and moves off screen, the lock breaks. This lead to a lot of confusion, considering the whole point of a lock is to keep the target on screen.

Terra, Ventus, and Aqua fight together in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep

At the outset of the game you’re given the option to choose to play as one of 3 heroes: Terra, Ventus, and Aqua. Each one brings something different to the table, but the basic break down is that Terra is the heavy hitter, Ventus is fastest, and Aqua is a master of magic. Each one has their own story to follow, although all 3 visit the same worlds in roughly the same order. By the 3rd play through everything will feel repetitive, but the pay off is worth it! Primarily because the end of the 3 campaigns can barely be considered an end. It’s the final episode that really makes the story of this game, and the entire series, shine! Literally everything ever is explained. It’s like reading the wiki without actually reading!

There is a multiplayer mode within the game. It pretty much amounts to a co-operative monster combat arena. I didn’t get to experience it with friends, but running through it alone seemed fun enough.

Master Xehanort trying to turn Terra to the Darkness in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep

All in all, I’d have to say this is hands down the best Kingdom Hearts game to date. There are an incredible amount of combat and character development changes in this game that make it stand out as one of the best purchases in the franchise, and on the PSP. There’s plenty of replay value with leveling up Panels, playing multiplayer, and multiple play throughs required to unlock the ending. If you have any interest in the Kingdom Hearts series, this is certainly worth checking out!

Tell us what you thought in the comments below!

is not a boss.

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