Ever since unlocking the “Secret Movie” in both Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix+, fans across the world have been heavily anticipating the prequel to all of the Kingdom Hearts games, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. After anxiously waiting four years for Birth By Sleep to be released, and with the hope that questions would finally be answered, one could definitely say that there has been a lot of hype built up around this game.
In Birth By Sleep, which takes place ten years before the events in Kingdom Hearts, you play through the stories of three Keyblade chosen, Terra, Ventus, and Aqua. Instead of having just one main story campaign where you would be able to play with all three Keyblade wielders, the story is instead broken up into three individual character arcs. Each arc can last anywhere from 10-20 hours, depending on whether you want to unlock the “Secret Movie” and what difficulty you have the game set on. You have the freedom to decide which of the characters’ stories to play through, but in order to understand the overall story, it is highly recommended that you play through Terra’s story arc first, followed by Ventus’, and then Aqua’s.
Without revealing too many spoilers about the story, Master Xehanort, who is one of the two Keyblade Masters, goes missing and you are tasked with the mission to search for him. If that wasn’t bad enough, strange creatures called Unversed have started appearing in all of the worlds, so it is up to you to free these worlds from the Unversed and at the same time find the lost Master.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Kingdom Hearts, every main character of any Kingdom Hearts game travels to different Disney worlds, like Never Land, Disney Town, or Olympus Colosseum, where they right what’s wrong, while at the same time working towards an overall goal, which usually involves anything related to “darkness.” Darkness is a big theme in this game, especially for Terra, who is struggling to keep the darkness within him in-check.
Birth by Sleep has the main characters traveling to worlds never seen before in any previous Kingdom Hearts game, such as Deep Space (which you can read about in our previous hands on look at the game), where you meet the infamous Experiment 626. Dwarf Woodlands, Enchanted Dominion, and even The Land of Departure, which is the world you start off on, are also completely new.
After finishing the game, I found the story of Birth by Sleep pretty hard to follow (and that’s coming from a guy who has beaten all of the previous Kingdom Hearts games and considers himself pretty knowledgeable about the lore that has been created over the years). Perhaps that was because the story is broken up into three separate character arcs, and only so much information is revealed in each characters’ story. I found that after completing all three story arcs, and even the final chapter, that I’m still really confused about what exactly was going on. Instead of having all of my questions answered, I feel I like I am now left with even more questions that I will have to ponder about until the next Kingdom Hearts games are released. However, Disney and Square Enix made a very good effort at getting you really invested in finding out what is going to happen to these characters, and learning why you really don’t see them in the following Kingdom Hearts games.
The overall presentation in Birth by Sleep can leave a little bit to be desired. As I moved through each world, the design felt a little bare and immobile. Nothing really seemed to move except for myself and any enemies that appeared on screen. This has been an underlying problem throughout the Kingdom Hearts series and it was one that I was hoping would be fixed. Still, Birth by Sleep is one of the best looking PSP games to date, and could even give its PS2 predecessors a run for their money.