PSP Review – Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep

Go ahead and admit it. When Square Enix and Disney first announced their creative ‘team-up’ in 2001, you had your doubts. Hell, even I did and I love the series. Who would have ever thought that Square Enix could pull it off? Low and behold, behind Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts is one of most highly respected series from Square Enix. The mix of Disney’s classic characters, cameos from all of your favorite Final Fantasy brethren and highly addictive gameplay; each new Kingdom Hearts release it a treat for the hardcore and casual fans of the series alike. Wonderful news! Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is yet another fantastic release for the series. Exactly why is that? Search deep within your heart, read my review and see why Birth By Sleep will help hold you over until Kingdom Hearts 3 hits – but at the same time leave you craving it even more than before.

One of the major attractions to the Kingdom Hearts series that has fans burning up the message boards until this very moment has always been the storyline. What is the true meaning of the Keyblade? Why is the Unverse threat becoming more and more prevalent? Where exactly did the heartless come from? What was with all of those thousands of Keyblades in the secret ending of Kingdom Hearts 2? Guess what?? Birth By Sleep answers all of these questions…and even manages to create a few new ones in the process.

The game features not one, not two, but three separate storylines that you’re able to play through and complete. The best part is that playing through each explains what exactly is going on in Birth By Sleep and the only way your going to know the full story is by doing so. Which reminds me, if you’re looking to obtain the game’s true ending, you must beat all three storylines. Thankfully, Terra, Ventus, and Aqua are three welcome additions to the Kingdom Hearts franchise, so completing each quest is quite enjoyable even if you traverse the same worlds during each tale.

Even though the storyline is one major draws of the game, the gameplay in Birth By Sleep is deep, enjoyable and an all-around blast to play. Surprise, even though Birth By Sleep is only available on the PlayStation Portable, that didn’t stop Square Enix from, ya know, evolving the series gameplay, adding new mechanics, moves, and overall increasing and improving the series’ gameplay moving forward. One of the newest additions by subtraction is the ‘Dimension link’ system, or D-link for short. Gone is the summoning system, as almost every major character you come across in the game grants you access to their link, which enables you to call upon their set of moves during gameplay AND also refills your health bar which comes in very handy during a heated boss battle. Calling upon various Disney characters in the past was way cool, but the D-link system comes in handy more often than not, seeing as how some of the bosses later on in the game can be a pain in the you know what.

Another small however useful command is the ‘shotlock’ move. Surrounded by an army of unverse? Hold both the L and R shoulder buttons, which switches the game into 1st-person mode, a snazzy green reticule pops-up, then quickly press square as fan as humanly possible to lock-on to as many enemies can you can and once it’s maxed out, press x to unleash a fury of energy bolts unto those foolish unverse scum.

One of the biggest surprises and newest, welcomed addition to the series of Kingdom Hearts titles is the multiplayer mode. Yes…you read right! Kingdom Hearts is the latest gaming series to attempt to capitalize on the multiplayer craze that has a hold on gaming. Featuring four different modes – versus mode for up to six players, arena mode, command board, and rumble racing – there is plenty to see and do along with your fellow friends or all by your lonesome self.

Of all the multiplayer modes available, the command board is easily the most original and the most useful in the game. As you clear each world of the unverse, you’ll open up the corresponding command board of said world which allows you to level-up your abilities in on the most innovate ways ever in a rpg…by playing a board game. Yeah, I know, it might sound a little strange too some of your who’re new to the series, but it fits the overall feel of the series so well, that I hope it returns in future installments of the series. The goal of the game is to accumulate a certain amount of GP, which can range anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 and hey…even if you lose, you’re still leveling-up your abilities, so it’s easily a win-win situation. Make sure you don’t overlook this mode during your adventures in Birth By Sleep.

So let’s take a peak at the checklist, shall we? Grand storyline? Check! Deep, fantastic gameplay? Check!! Graphics? Che..oh wait, haven’t talked about them yet, now have I? If any one developer on Planet Earth has been able to crack open the PSP and push it to its limit, it is none other than the team at Square Enix. Don’t believe me? Go play spend some quality time with Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 or Dissidia: Final Fantasy. It seems many of Japan’s greatest gaming developers, such as Square Enix, Konami, and Capcom know how to tap into this unknown power source of the PSP and fill their games with triple A graphics and production values. Terra, Ventus, and Aqua all come to life, beautifully animated and rendered in that now classic Kingdom Hearts look. There’s only one problem though, as great at the characters and enemies look, the background textures can be a bit bland and boring. Seeing these fantastically designed characters running around on such simple setting at times really makes you wish Square Enix would have spiced-up some of the classic Disney settings.

The best part about great graphics? Plenty of eye candy for your eyes to enjoy, but there’s one major problem: with great power comes great responsibilities. In the case of Kingdom Heart’s with great graphics comes atrocious load times. Seriously. No joke. The load times in Birth By Sleep are some of the worst I’ve seen in a while. As bad as Bayonetta’s load times prior to the install patch? No, but if you’ve played a Square Enix game since the PSone, you know how the pacing can be. 5 minutes of battle. Load screen. 10 minutes of cut-scenes. Load screen. This same style of pacing which has plagued Square Enix for years continues with Birth By Sleep and hopefully you’re like me and full of patience. The worst part about it all? The game features three different installs, with 600MB being the highest, which promises decreased load times  throughout game, but I could still barely tell a difference. You’ll regret going into the wrong section, seeing as how it will have to load, then after you exit the area, have to load as you go back into the original area you came from. Thankfully it doesn’t ruin the game by any means, it can just kill the pacing of the game during the most hectic moments.

I’ll be honest with you. Prior to 2010, my opinion was that Sony should have abandoned the PSP completely. Why? Simply because it pulled resources away from the PlayStation 3, which is still in third place despite 2009’s price cut and needs all the help it can get. However, titles like Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, along with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Valkyria Chronicles 2, and future heavy weight God of War: Ghost of Sparta make me proud to own Sony’s handheld that could. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is without a doubt one of 2010’s Best PSP titles to own. It is also a perfect starting point for those looking to join the legion of Kingdom Hearts fans. With loads of content to play, the addictive as always gameplay along with the enjoyable multiplayer mode, and three different storylines to play through, Kingdom Hearts fans can’t afford to miss out on Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

The Kingdom Hearts storyline starts here, answering questions and creating news ones

The always addictive gameplay has evolved, with multiplayer joining the fray

Disappointingly long loadtimes will try your patience

9 out of 10