Review by: Night Ninja

Fantasy Violence
Mild Suggestive Themes

PlayStation Portable
PlayStation 3
PlayStation 4
Action JRPGSquare – EnixSquare – Enix

The PlayStation Portable, I would have never seeked it out as hard as I did, if it weren’t for the prequel game “Kingdom Hearts -Birth By Sleep-”. It was a game I desperately wanted to play, as the story kept building after 358/2 Days expanding on the current story, this was just giving me even more excitement with how much new was here. At the time, before we officially had Kingdom Hearts II +Final Mix+ available worldwide, some dedicated fans translated the game for those that want to desperately import it, and the extra things such as the empty armor boss, and the eventual secret ending that teased the next game. The intrigue with this instalment in the series was quite high for me, and just accentuated my desire to play it with the new worlds, the new gameplay that was quite fresh at the time, and it eventually released to fanfare as the Kingdom Hearts community enjoyed it and is considered people’s favorite or second favorite game in the series. But what do I think? It’s very clear others have enjoyed the game and praised it to hell and back, and I have my own praise to give, but.. For those that looked at my post for 358/2 Days, that is my 2nd favorite game, with II still being the king of the series in my eyes. I’d consider this game actually my 3rd favorite, with enough differences to stand out from the other games, but not everything is something I’d prefer over Days or II even.


This game is as stated above, a prequel that takes place about 10 years before the events of the original Kingdom Hearts on the PS2. You follow a trio of training Keyblade wielders: Terra, Ventus, and Aqua. The trio themselves dream to be keyblade masters of their own, and share this ambition with pride amongst one another, but after a “Master Xehanort” oversaw Terra and Aqua’s Mark of Mastery exam to be named “keyblade master”, a plot brews as new dark creatures made of fledgling emotions called Unversed is released into the worlds, some threatening the princesses of heart. After the exam as Aqua is named master, and Terra failed to keep the darkness within him in check, they are both sent by their Master Eraqus to venture into the worlds, and find a now missing Xehanort as things transpire, with a masked boy manipulating Ventus to venture out with Terra, in fear that something terrible may befall his own friend.

This is the best I can do to condense this plot and not spoil too much(besides the obvious), as it splits into 3 roads for each member of the fan-dubbed “Wayfinder Trio”, as they all visit the same worlds, but traversing different areas of the world, and each other’s actions causing an effect on the other’s visit to the world. Now some of this story isn’t half bad, as a matter of fact, can feel fairly well pulled off, but there are some things that can ruin this, especially as Kingdom Hearts fans who knows certain things already. Such as Xehanort, the same who eventually becomes Ansem the Wise’s apprentice and splits himself into the self-proclaimed “Ansem: Seeker of Darkness” heartless half, and the nobody “Xemnas”. To say you can easily tell Xehanort is one shady mother fucker, is the understatement of the century. The game doesn’t try to hide from you exactly when he is an evil bastard, or even play up any intrigue, you know he is connected to the Unversed, you know he is connected to the masked boy that troubles Ventus and Aqua through their paths, and you know that he just plays Terra like a fucking fiddle! I’m sorry, but Terra’s story is the most painful of the 3 to go through, not difficulty wise, not structurally through exploration even, but because he is so easily manipulated and he feels just… not very bright. Almost each world he visits, he interacts with that place’s villain and is played like a fiddle by them as well, to even respond to a request from the Evil Queen in the Dwarf Woodlands: based off of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, being to “bring her Snow White’s heart to her in a box”, only to respond with “I don’t understand”. So much of his playthrough made me want to bash my head into the wall, and you’d THINK he would wise up and have trust issues with the next villain and the next, but he DOESN’T! It gets so repetitive and mind-numbing that you just can’t help but say that his spirit animal is a fucking rock, because he has the intelligence of such.. Sorry Terra, but you should have been more on your toes.

Yes the story isn’t perfect, but for what moments it does do good, it does really good. If there is one moment with Terra I enjoyed, was his visit to The Castle of Dreams, where he helps a broken down Cinderella not give up on hope for getting to experience the ball, and her leaving a positive impact on Terra to keep it up on his own dream to be one day named keyblade master himself. I honestly would have preferred that the characters try to leave a positive impact on him, rather than interacting with every Disney villain like a total dunce, blindly trusting each, after each burn he gets for doing so. I much preferred above all, Aqua, as she was more active and on focus with what she needed to do, and lead her narrative to be the most solid to me. Ventus or Ven as his friends refer to him as, just wants to make friends and try to follow Terra, as he fears for what may become of his older brother figure at the end of this journey. In the end, it’s not the worst narrative, but could have used some work to improve it. When it came to Kingdom Hearts II, you didn’t know the hooded Ansem Seeker of Darkness was actually Riku helping you from the shadows, it played that up to you, it also didn’t let you know what the Organization was using Sora and his keyblade for, until they reveal that each heart was collectively becoming Kingdom Hearts for the group to use. There just isn’t enough to lead you on, and can mainly serve to annoy you in the case of Terra and how painfully obvious things were turning out to be. The best moments, are the ones that connect the story together, and shows the trio interacting with Sora, Riku, and Kairi in their youth.

So the story isn’t bad, but isn’t amazing. I can, however, say that the gameplay makes up for this, by introducing some fairly experimental ideas, nowhere near as head-scratching as the inventory management from Days, nor the card battle system from Chain of Memories. For worlds, the game has Castle of Dreams from Cinderella, Dwarf Woodlands from Snow White, Enchanted Dominion from Sleeping Beauty, Disney Town, Olympus Coliseum from Hercules, Deep Space from Lilo and Stitch, and Neverland from Peter Pan. This game splits into 3 paths after the first boot up a tutorial that lays out the basics of the combat and lets you test out all 3 of the playable characters for a brief period. Terra is the brawn of the 3, he hits the hardest with his bulky ass keyblades, is pitiful at magic, but has a knack for darkness related moves. Ventus is more like Sora, fast on his feet, not the worst at magic nor combat, but when he gets fast, he’s almost unstoppable. Aqua is the mage of the 3, and just can become one of the best with some of the spells she can use, sometimes utterly obliderating the unversed without any mercy. The new combat itself starts off with the command deck system, where instead of individual techniques and spells being a core part of you, and spends resources or AP to equip, you now have a limited number of slots where you put in what spells and techniques you wish to use. From the traditional sliding dash, strike raids, blitz, and other physical moves; to the traditional spells such as fire, blizzard, thunder, even aero. There is nothing stopping you from activating these moves on the fly, except a cooldown period in turn for having no resource management for such. On top of this, you can meld two commands together, and produce a new command that can be even stronger, and you can unlock abilities this way. They can range from the classic leaf bracer, combo pluses, once mores, second chances, treasure magnets, to even abilities to increase elemental damage and resistance, and even reducing reload times for the commands themselves.

You use the commands in tangent with traditional attacks that can fill up a finisher meter, that can unleash any finisher you unlock and equip in an ability tree-like system, or activate another new addition being command styles, where you have new combos, sometimes elemental properties to your attacks, and they can be devastating with 2 layers worth of styles with their own finishers. But wait, there’s more! You can also use a new focus gage to unleash shotlock attacks, which can range from a volley of fast projectiles, charging at the enemy with whatever energy, and something more akin to Ragnarok with multiple projectiles at a time, that IS a shotlock itself. There is A LOT to find, buy, earn, or even craft out of normal commands, and if you are curious as to what makes what, there are guides that lay it all out for you with recipes and even finisher trees with the appropriate unlock condition for each one among it. For Android owners, I recommend the app Birth By Sleep Wayfinder, which gives an interactive app that can help you figure out what any two commands can meld with each ability you can earn, being possibly the best recommendation towards newcomers to the game, I used it throughout my whole playthrough and loved it!

But wait, there’s still more! You also have access to D-links, a system that gives you a specific deck of commands on the fly, with its own finisher all based around certain characters you meet throughout the journey, and with the chance of enemies dropping prizes that levels up the D-link with even MORE commands, active buffs that can go up to double EXP, and eventually an even better finisher. But wait, I’m not done yet! To top it all off with Disney Town as a mini-game world with a better rhythm game than Atlantica was for KH II at least(but with equally as obnoxious songs), some volleyball game with fruit(dunno why fruit..), and kart racing(no its no where near as good as your Mario Karts or even Crash Team Racing).

In addition to all of the mini-games you can play in Disney Town, you also get the command board which is essentially Fortune Street for leveling up your commands and getting more to upgrade your arsenal. What is Fortune Street? A weird kind of virtual monopoly like boardgame that goes on far too long at times. It’s not… bad really? Its also where you go to get specific shotlocks and commands exclusive to the mode, but combined with it being so luck based, and how long games can drag on for, its definitely a change of gameplay, but its certainly not something to write home about either. To top it all off we have the Mirage Arena, which was originally a hub in the PSP game for Olympus Coliseum styled gauntlet challenges against unversed, but was also multiplayer for the game. You can customize the color of your armor in the world and even put together a custom D-link to give to friends you play alongside with. It included the kart racing and command board for multiplayer fun as well, which I could imagine being fairly fun having ALL of that available to you, on top of a PVP mode! The sad thing is, the PS3 and PS4 versions stripped away all multiplayer components and we’re left with just a really challenging arena for enemy gauntlets and exclusive bosses. Some commands are also unique to the arena itself, but it just feels so empty compared to what it was supposed to be, if Square-Enix kept in the multiplayer and made it easy for people to play together, this would have been SO much fun and even MORE of a bargain on consoles.

So yeah, there is a lot to play, and completing this game would undoubtedly take many hours to do so, especially for all 3 characters. But there are some trade-offs, you see, Osaka team at Square-Enix was the team that handled Birth By Sleep, and eventually Dream Drop Distance, and they have some… aspects to their games that can stick out a fair bit, for one the combat doesn’t feel quite as flowing and smooth as Kingdom Hearts II, and feels more floaty in the air and in a sense awkward, having to get into the air to take out flying enemies just feels like a chore sometimes. Makes me absolutely LOATHE those flying enemies that swoop down and grabs the prize orbs, only to fly back up, and you’re just constantly hitting X until you finally connect a hit and knock it the fuck down for being so douchey to you. But probably one of the biggest mistakes is not implementing the traditional revenge value system from II that was what made the battles so engaging. Instead, some bosses are so poorly designed without the mechanic, that you have to just dodge for your life and occasionally get in some pot shots on the enemy, ever so slightly weakening them. It doesn’t make the post game content feel quite as rewarding to do as it was for II, instead, it feels like you must exploit every trick you can to take down the cheaply designed boss fights. Sure Terra’s Lingering Will in II was the hardest fucking boss in the whole series, but he wasn’t absolutely bullshit, and you can fairly beat him by dodging attacks that you memorize how to and punishing the openings he gives you, on top of knowing when to retreat after the revenge value kicks in. Birth By Sleep and fights like the Organization XIII cloaked man was just beyond unfair, looking back its easy to tell its paying homage to the boss in the original Final Mix, but he has no openings and will stun lock and fuck you up until you’re CRYING, it’s not fun, its fucking bullshit. It is a flawed concept when certain aspects from the earlier games, had handled things so much better. I believe, that if it was less floaty and you had revenge value for boss fights, it would be more structurally sound.

Speaking of sound, what about that music?? Probably some of the best work Yoko Shimomura has done for the series yet, having shifted the music to be more melancholic and even elegant in certain aspects, it definitely makes the spectacle during gameplay, and the emotional scenes, all that more impactful. The first piece I ever heard for this game, was Aqua’s theme, granted in Little Big Planet by someone who clearly had some connections in Japan to know the song to begin with so early, but when you hear that melody, especially during the moments where things really take a turn for the worst, you just wish that at the very least, things would turn out okay in the end for the Wayfinder trio. From fantastic overworld pieces like “The Silent Forest” from Enchanted Dominion, to the battle themes like “Mkaukau?“(Hawaiian for “Ready?” apparently) from Deep Space, on top of one of the best renditions of the title theme “Dearly Beloved“, the music is so fucking godly, you can’t help but wanna play and continue on.

This game can get dark, it can be challenging both fairly, and not so fair, but above all else… it’s a worthwhile Kingdom Hearts game, I’m not disappointed I got a PSP for this game, to begin with, if it wasn’t for Birth By Sleep, I wouldn’t have discovered Dissidia, Crisis Core, Assassin’s Creed Bloodlines, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and Peace Walker when it was new, Daxter, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Impact + Heroes 1-3, and many other great games. Birth By Sleep, can and will stand proudly with the rest of the system’s library, and without it, I wouldn’t have discovered such a great love for Sony’s handheld. Thank you Kingdom Hearts, I don’t believe I’ll ever say that enough.

Graphics 8 – 10 Although by no means looks bad, even jaw dropping on the PSP for the time, the age does start to show when uprezzed by the HD collections, like Ven’s hair having blank spots like a PNG file over a specific model shape.
Music 9.5 – 10 Dare I say, almost neck and neck with Kingdom Hearts II’s soundtrack, the only thing it could have benefitted from is using more original pieces over things like an instrumental of “Bippity Boppity Boo”.
Gameplay 8 – 10 It is VERY solid, but if just more polish went into certain aspects and the boss fights for a better balance, this could have been VERY close to Kingdom Hearts II’s masterful gameplay.
Story 8 – 10 If the story was polished just a bit more, and Terra wasn’t such a dunce, this could have been REALLY good.
Content 8.5 – 10 There is PLENTY to enjoy, don’t worry, you won’t be running out of things to do anytime soon, but considering some of the game just isn’t designed the absolute best for the later bosses, it just makes me wish the multiplayer was still built in for even more fun at the very least.
World Building 7.5 – 10 With more condensed world design, and less character interaction, it can be both great, and boring without much else than the visuals and music to que you into the world you are in.

8.5 – 10

It’s a very solid game, but if certain things were polished up a bit more, not only would the experience have been much more refined, but it would have been able to compete even further with the other entries of the series, handheld or otherwise! As it stands? Still easily one of the highlights of the series!