Birth by Sleep is not the first prequel Square Enix has made exclusively for Sony's PSP. A few years ago the veteran developers brought us Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
, a prequel that is arguably better than the original. This year Square hopes to maintain their winning streak with this Kingdom Hearts prequel. Luckily fans of the series won't be disappointed, even if this game doesn't match the company's past efforts.
If you're trying to keep track of the Kingdom Hearts timeline, Birth by Sleep fits in right before the events of the 2002 PlayStation 2 game. Here we learn all about the world, the struggle between light and dark, and who Sora was before he set off on his epic quest. For fans of the series this additional information will help fill in some games, while new players will take part in a gripping story that manages to stand on its own.
This prequel is played out in three different stories, each involving a different character. There's Terra, a headstrong young man who is fighting back the darkness in his own heart. We are also introduced to a young boy named Ventus, who is a little too anxious (and whiny) for his own good. Rounding off the list is Aqua, who is not just the only female character, but also the only one that seems to have their head screwed on straight.
Each of these three stories involves the player going to the same group of surrounding planets, mostly based on popular Disney movies. Fans of the series will already recognize many of the Disney-themed planets, which include worlds based on Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Lilo & Stitch, Peter Pan and more. There is also Disney Town, which houses many familiar faces and popular mini-games.
The three stories help flesh out a larger tale, which involves dark characters taking control of dreams and potentially destroying the world. Or something like that. Even after seeing the events play out from three different points of view, the story is a jumbled mess that I quickly lost interest in. Unfortunately that seems to be the problem I have with all Kingdom Hearts games. The moment these unlikable characters start talking, I find myself wanting to tune out.
Thankfully there are a lot of reasons to keep coming back to this game beyond the convoluted narrative. The game is held together by an exciting combat mechanic, something that keeps getting better the further you go. Each character is given a standard keyblade attack, which can be used to defeat most enemies. However, if you want to pull out something stronger, you'll need to equip the many spells, items and abilities to deck command button (the triangle button).
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