The return of Kingdom Hearts in the latest adventure from the Square Enix and Disney Interactive Studio’s collaboration. Birth By Sleep continues the long and well-loved series of games for fans of the title everywhere.
Blending some of Disney’s classic characters with a variety of Square Enix cast members see’s a true return to form for the long-established Kingdom Hearts franchise. Come on a journey with GamesMediaPro as we take you through the picturesque realm created by the meeting of two of the gaming industry’s most creative minds.
At a first glance some outsiders, and indeed younger members of the gaming community, may be quite taken aback to see the logo’s of two of the gaming industry’s biggest development houses on the same game package. Not that this is an unusual occurence, there are countless collaborations out there between studio’s. It’s just that when you first see the Square Enix logo sat snugly alongside the Disney Interactive Studio’s trademark you have to do a double take to ensure that you eyes are not, in fact, playing a trick on you.
They aren’t, by the way. But what you have just stumbled upon is one of the longest established titles and collaborations in gaming, and most certainly one of the better and most successful. Kingdom Hearts in all its many variants and guises has been around the world of the videogamer ever since way back in 2002 when the franchise made its debut on the Playstation 2. Since that time the much-loved series has gone from strength to strength with each release in the titles catalogue and has shown no signs of stopping. Ever since we first spotted the characters of Ventus, Terra and Aqua secretly tucked away in the Birth By Sleep teaser trailer for the game in 2007 fan’s and devotee’s of the well established titles have been itching to get their hands on the latest addition to the stunning library of quality titles that make up the Kingdom Hearts franchise.
Birth By Sleep is the latest in the series and the storyline of the title revolves around three friends: Aqua, Terra and Ventus. Taking place a full ten years before the events surrounding the original title have taken place Birth By Sleep is set in the land of Departure, a beautifully created futuristic paradise that has been lovingly and painstakingly brought to life by the sheer genius and talent that lies at the heart of the two world leading development studios. To think that such stunning visuals are given such vivacity and vibrancy by the developers using the a handheld system is simply amazing, and truly a fete in itself.
The plot to the title takes on the form of three separate journeys as the player inhabits each of the main characters and develops their individual storylines until the trio converge during the deeply engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable cut scenes that run the entire length of the title. As described earlier this triple saga begins with the first of the young ‘KeyBlade Warriors’ commencing the tale as we fill the shoes of the Warrior Terra and the spritely young girl-Mage Aqua as the set about preparations for taking the test to become Masters of the KeyBlade. However as twists in the tale go there is an early inclusion here as the warrior Terra reveal’s a hidden ‘dark side’ to his abilities that leaves their Master Xehanort, and all round bad guy who is supremely voiced by Sci-Fi acting legend Leonard Nimoy no less, vanishing before they can discover if their tests have been successful, or indeed if the display of the Inner Darkness that dwells within the heart of the young warrior has doomed him to failure? As Aqua is assured her stature as a KeyBlade Master and Terra is left uncertain of his future, the younger Ventus, who is not yet of age to take part in the tests, has merely had to satisfy his thirst for knowledge by watching his two friends as they partake in their tests. But what lies behind the strange disappearance of the visiting Master Xenahort?
This is where the story truly begins to gather pace as the three young friends seek to discover the mystery that lies behind their quests. It is from this point in the titles storyline that the three friends go their separate ways, each destined to fulfil their own missions and destiny’s that will, however, ultimately all converge as the storyline unfolds during the gameplay.
To fully understand the game’s plot in its entirety one would be best served to undertake all three of the characters individual quests if any semblance of understanding of the title is to come through. But that in itself is a blessing seeing as there is a minimum of around 15 hours of solid gameplay to be experienced in each of the friends solo campaigns. In true familiar styling we played through as Aqua first, as in our experience whenever there is a female character involved in a title then without question she is bound to be tougher, better equipped and endowed with a far superior mission. Aqua did not disappoint in the slightest, but then neither did Ventus or Terra for that matter, and it would be fair to say that each of the missions was evenly balanced on style and content, being that they were all fantastically enjoyable and compelling throughout.
For example though we undoubtedly always enjoy the girl character in a title, it was great fun when, as Terra, we teleported through to the castle of Sleeping Beauty to meet with the evil Maleficent. The Disney settings and characters are all brought to life with as much attention to detail and stunning graphical content that is afforded their Square Enix counterparts. Familiar faces from classic cartoons and blockbuster movies are lovingly recreated and given an additional spark in their eyes as they are given a new realm to play around in.
Seeing such favourites from your childhood brought to life in such settings is welcoming to say the least and not one of the characters disappoints as Disney do what they do best and sprinkle their own brand of magic and fairy dust over the proceedings with the inevitable spectacular results that we are all so very used to.
But familiar though the faces and settings may be there are some very obvious new additions to Birth By Sleep, and we are happy to be able to tell you that although they have been brought in at the expense of others, they all work with like clockwork. One particularly favourable new asset to the title was the all-new ‘Dimension Link’, or D-Link. This new combat system replaces the older format of ‘summoning’ and we have to agree with the developers that it is a far better proposition that is easy to use and very simple even for novice game players. Using the new D-Link System allows the player to call on the powers and skill moves of any of the major characters that they come in to contact with. It also allows for a refilling of the Health Bar which, as we all know, is a talent worth its weight in gold. So gone are the days when you could only summon from the Disney characters that you encountered during your quest, and in come s the D-Link with its Community Chest of combat moves for you to take your pick from. To say that it works well is far to understated.
Another of the biggest, and best, surprises that awaits the gamer in the Realm of Departure is the fact that Kingdom Hearts has gone multiplayer. Yes, you read that right. Birth By Sleep has indeed introduced a multiplayer mode for all players to enjoy. Bearing in mind that contained in the Multiplayer there are a further four other modes that allow the player to partake in everything from Rumble Racer, Command Board, Arena and Versus Mode. In the latter players face off against five other players in the six man free for all that will keep gamers entertained for many an hour online with their friends. Another great innovation in the multiplayer was the inclusion of the highly original Command Board mode that we can only describe a board game in the mould of Risk or Conquest in that it is a board game where you will be competing for a set target by dominating the area designated on the board. This game also helps you gather that ever important XP that also aids in the game world so we do advise that you do not pas up the chance to play this mode.
So when all is said and done have the two world-class development studio’s done it again with their smash hit collaboration? The answer has to be a resounding ‘Yes!’ Birth By Sleep is a stunning addition to the much-loved series of top quality titles and has to be a part of any PSP gamers library. If you like your gaming action to come at you in the form of the highest quality RPG gameplay for the handheld system, then Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is a must have game.
Graphics: You know that you are always in for something a little bit special when you see Square Enix and Disney logo’s nestling neatly on the game cover, and so it should come as no surprise then to fans of the best-selling series of games that Kingdom Hearts : Birth By Sleep is by far and away the finest RPG title ever to grace the Playstation Portable. Just beautiful. 10
Gameplay: Three separate quests where you play three characters for a minimum of 15 hours of the best gaming, couple that with the stunning graphics that highlight the sizzling game mechanics which offer a first-rate combat system. Then add in the four multiplayer modes and what we think you will find is that you have just purchased the finest PSP title to have been released on the system for this or many a year. 10
RePlay Value: Forty Five straight hours of the best gaming we have ever enjoyed for the Playstation Portable, and that was just getting the three main characters to the storylines crunch. Top that off with four cracking multiplayer modes that will have you coming back to Departure to meet up with Aqua, Ventus and Terra again and again for the foreseeable future. Genius. 10
Presentation: We really could have just wrote, ” See Above “ or ” Ditto! “ But that would not do the hard work and dedication that the developers, writers and designers have poured into this first class title from the opening scenes to the final credits. The entire game is quite simply top class gaming entertainment from start to finish and we cannot recommend this title highly enough. If you have not yet had the sheer gaming pleasure that is Kingdom Hearts, then do you and your PSP a favour and go out and purchase the finest title released for the system all year! 10