What We Already Know:
I have a love/hate relationship with the Kingdom Hearts series, relishing an opportunity to explore interactive versions of my favorite Disney worlds (running around Halloweentown fromThe Nightmare Before Christmas was a particular highlight), while scratching my head at the increasingly convoluted storyline — and this comes from a person who obsesses over all the small details in an episode of Lost. The Disney connection always draws me to the nextKingdom Hearts game, for better or worse, which is how I approached Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep.
What We’re Seeing Now:
This one doesn’t continue the storyline after Kingdom Hearts 2. Square Enix is keeping that one happily dangling for the future. As a prequel set 10 years before the events of Kingdom Hearts, however, there’s a terrific opportunity to help make the other games make a little more sense. You can play three different characters — Terra, Aqua and Ventus — and while playing through all three campaigns is necessary to understand the whole story (each campaign looks at the plot from a different angle), Square Enix told me you’ll get the gist of by only playing one character.
I loaded up the Aqua campaign, set within the Cinderella universe. With moments, I’d run into Cinderella and her posse, providing me a moment of pause while staring at the PSP screen. Even though Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is running on a PSP, you could easily confuse it for Kingdom Hearts 2. The art style established in the Kingdom Hearts games continues to impress and works incredibly well on the PSP. Hey, I might not know what’s happening duringKingdom Heart‘s cut-scenes, but that doesn’t make them any less aesthetically pleasing to watch.
There are two main additions to the combat in this outing: D-Link and Focus. You access Focus by tapping one of the bumper buttons, transforming Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleepinto a violent first-person shooter. Well, not really. The perspective simply switches into first-person for more precise aiming of a bubble gun that can lock onto a single enemy a whole bunch of times or multiple enemies on the screen. It’s a powerful weapon, but since you can’t move, you’re suddenly extremely vulnerable. D-Link provides character switching on the fly, so while your primary character might not have the tools to combat a particular boss, maybe someone you’ve met has. You become a swiss army knife of Keyblade destruction; that’s welcome for variety’s sake.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is not a reinvention of the established Kingdom Heartsformula. Given how well the series continues to sell, fans aren’t giving Square Enix much reason to rethink their approach, and while BBS addresses criticisms of the traditionally stiff, button mash-heavy combat by giving more options to change up the combat options in real-time, at the end of the day, it’s still very much Kingdom Hearts. Your mileage may vary.