<div align="center"><img src="http://i572.photobucket.com/albums/ss162/dsdatabase/BBS%20Review/VenMovieFull.jpg" border="0" class="linked-image" /></div> After spending my entire week balancing between playing this and making sure I didn't fail my classes during the third week of school, I now bring you the review of Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep. Keep in mind this is my first time reviewing a <b>really</b> big title (I reviewed Zelda: Spirit Tracks, but that doesn't really count). Anyways without further adieu, here's the review: <b>Introduction-</b> Kingdom Hearts is a game series developed by Square Enix and features various disney themed worlds that the main characters visit. The main characters of every game in the series use a sword called a Keyblade, a special weapon which is the only thing that can defeat heartless (the main enemies of the series, there's other types of enemies too). The Keyblade can also be used to lock worlds to save them from darkness and can be used to unlock hearts themselves. The Kingdom Hearts series has been around since 2002 when the first game came out, and it got good and bad reception alike. People liked the unlikely blend of Square Enix and Disney. After the second game came out in 2005 many fans have had a hard time with the series as Square Enix has continued to stay away from console development, and instead makes their games for handhelds. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep was announced in 2007 (and has been in development since 2005) along with Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the DS and Kingdom Hearts Coded for mobile phones. The latter two have already been released and received from negative to "okay" feedback from fans and reviewers. Now Birth By Sleep is the last of the three announced and was just recently released. After waiting 5 years for a true successor to the Kingdom Hearts series, will this game answer fan's pleads for greatness? Or will the game fall short, leaving avid kingdom hearts players to wait another 5 years for a true sequel? <b>Story-</b> The story of Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is split into 3 different chapters, each chapter following one of the main character's experiences through the game. The three main character's in this game include Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, all aspiring to be Keyblade Masters so they can protect the world from any impending doom or reign of darkness. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is actually a prequel to the original Kingdom Hearts games, taking place 10 years before Sora gains his keyblade or heartless begin to make their move. All three main characters are very close friends and, similar to other Kingdom Hearts games, spend most of the game in search of each other. Each character's chapter shows their visits through previously used and new Disney themed worlds. The mechanic of splitting each character's experiences into a different chapter and showing it through their point of view adds a very great effect to how the story is told. Such as whenever you play through the game for the first time you'll be learning the story at a different pace than other people playing the game depending on which chapters you play in what order. Furthermore as the characters go through the different worlds they will each do smart parts that lead towards saving the world/disney characters or setting things right. <div align="center"><img src="http://i572.photobucket.com/albums/ss162/dsdatabase/BBS%20Review/TerraFull.png" border="0" class="linked-image" /> <img src="http://i572.photobucket.com/albums/ss162/dsdatabase/BBS%20Review/AquaFull.png" border="0" class="linked-image" /> <img src="http://i572.photobucket.com/albums/ss162/dsdatabase/BBS%20Review/VentusFull.png" border="0" class="linked-image" /> <i>From left to right: Terra, Aqua, and Ventus</i></div> Whenever I played through each character's chapter I had no problem with incentive to play through the next chapter. The story was compelling enough to where I really <b>wanted</b> to start back over at level 1 for the next character to see previously uncovered happenings and unexplained mysteries unfold. While this isn't the first time I've played a game with a story telling mechanic as Birth By Sleep's, it is certainly the first time I've seen the mechanic done so well. I was literally taken aback sometimes by how much the story changed from one character to another and the new information you are given, I just wasn't ready for it. One thing I loved about the game is how emotional it was and how much symbolism it included. After beating the game fully I had to go back to some early game cutscenes and watch them to fully understand what happened. There's also a secret ending which is probably the most symbolic and moving thing I've ever seen in a Kingdom Hearts game. This games story (including the just mentioned secret ending) gives you a completely different view on all the other games. The story in this game also, seeing as how it's a prequel, answered more questions than any other Kingdom Hearts game I've ever played. Questions we've been asking for 5 years were finally taken care of in a nice package with a bow on it. It even goes so far to answer questions you never really asked because said questions were thought to be arbitrary and just tiny details. My one complaint though is that the way the story is told isn't completely balanced. Terra and Ventus both have very interesting stories that you'll have no problem finishing. However if you do Terra and Ventus's stories first then move to Aqua, whose story is a bit dry in comparison, there will be a factor of disappointment when playing her story. Furthermore some story telling effects will only work, or rather they work a whole lot better, when you play one character's story before another. So you're view of the games story and it's mechanic of splitting the character's stories could easily be compliant of what chapters you play in what order. Another thing to note is that the game's cutscenes seem so much more planned out and artistic. They're so much more moving that you really get immersed in what's happening. One last thing to mention is that if you haven't played the rest of the Kingdom Hearts games then you should have no problem playing this game, as it is a prequel. Though you probably won't have the same experience because when things are revealed you won't have the same "Ooooooh!" moment that a person who's played the whole series would experience. <b>Gameplay-</b> The gameplay is truly where I think Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep shines. In previous Kingdom Hearts games your attacking styles were somewhat limited, for the most part you'd be hitting attack, occasionally using magic, and even more rarely using summons/forms/etc. Birth By Sleep spreads it's wings quite a bit more to allow you many more ways attack and figure out how to defeat your enemies. The first big thing to note is that you now have finishers. Whenever your build up your command gauge by attacking your enemies you will then be given the option to use your currently equipped finisher. Finishers are very powerful and sometimes involve QTE's (quick time events) and minigames to boost how much damage you. Such as one of Terra's finishers has a crosshair appear on the ground and you can move it around, every 2 seconds or so a sharp rock will come up from where crosshair is and hurt the enemies in that spot. Next is that you have commands instead of just a menu with your attack/magic/items. You must equip each command, selecting it with the directional pad and pressing triangle to use it. After you use each command it will take some time for the just used command to reload. Commands can range from magic to items to huge flashy combos. Commands can also have commands and QTE's like finishers, but for the most part won't last as long or do as much damage. Then there's shotlocks which are pretty interesting. Shotlocks are where your characters brings up a cross hair and you lock onto enemies that the crosshair crosses over. Then whenever you press X the shotlock activates and you attack all the enemies that were selected (how this happens depends on the shotlock equipped). Next up is command styles, these are essentially Birth By Sleep's interpretation of drive forms. Whenever you go into a command style your inflict considerably more damage than normal and have a special finisher and element to regular attacks. Once you use the finisher or once your command gauge goes down to zero you revert back to normal. To go into a command style your character must have already acquired the command style (ussually from fighting bosses) then must use certain commands that are linked with that command style. So using fire then filling up your command gauge would send you into the Fire Storm command style. There's many different command styles, many being specific to certain characters. Last but not least there's D-Links. D-Links, or Dimension Links, are how your character calls for help from friends while in a pinch. Almost all the friends you meet throughout the game (Disney and normal characters) will be accessible as a D-Link. Whenever you D-Link with a character you're given there commands, fighting style, and finisher. Using a D-link allows you to use many special abilities that normally would not be accessible. One example is when D-Linking with Mickey I get double experience and when I'm attacked I have about a 50% chance to teleport behind the enemy. <div align="center"><img src="http://i572.photobucket.com/albums/ss162/dsdatabase/BBS%20Review/Ven_Wingblade.jpg" border="0" class="linked-image" /> <img src="http://i572.photobucket.com/albums/ss162/dsdatabase/BBS%20Review/Dlink.jpg" border="0" class="linked-image" /> <i>Left: Ventus using his powerful level 2 Wingblade command style; Right: Using a finisher while D-linking with Experiment626 (Stitch)</i></div> Yah that's <b>a lot</b> of added mechanics. What's even better is almost everything is upgradeable/trainable. Commands can be leveled up and mastered, finishers can level up into new finishers (it's almost like a skill tree, doing this will get you a certain finisher, doing that will get you a certain finisher), commands can be melded into new commands and have items attached to the commands which grant abilities (like HP Boost, Second Chance, and Scan), shotlocks can be leveled up to allow you to lock on faster and do more damage, and even your jump/dodge/block/etc. commands can be exchanged and leveled up. So in this game you're going for a lot more than just your base level being high. Furthermore the inclusion of all these new battle mechanics in no way makes the game any easier. Birth By Sleep has it's fair share of hard, hair pulling, crying to yourself bosses. Each character will be fighting their own bosses throughout the story, and will each have their own final boss (each as epic as the other). On the topic of difficulty, Birth By Sleep includes 4 different difficulty settings. Beginner, Standard, Proud, and Critical. On Proud enemies and bosses are pretty hard, but on Critical your maximum health is halved and you're given the No EXP ability (for those who like to run through the game on level 1). Many fans have been asking for a harder difficulty for years now, and they finally got it. Onto the worlds! During my first chapter play through (Terra) I found most of the worlds I went to to be painfully short. I really didn't understand this at first, but once I got to the other chapters I remembered that I had only played about 1/3 (actually factoring in other things more like 1/4) of the game and they were meant to only take about 15-30 minutes (30 minutes is pushing it a little). In any event you'll be visiting many new worlds and many old worlds. Since this is a prequel even the old worlds will have different settings and different characters (or younger ones) that keeps things fresh. You'll even be seeing some of Kingdom Hearts's characters in younger forms, for example you will encounter quite a few of the organization members before they became nobodies. There's also a world called Mirage Arena where you will be able to play multiplayer matches with other people where you can fight enemies and bosses together (which actually get pretty hard, each arena match has it's own special boss) or play other mini-games like racing. <div align="center"><img src="http://i572.photobucket.com/albums/ss162/dsdatabase/BBS%20Review/Joint_Struggle.png" border="0" class="linked-image" /> <i>Multiplayer match in Birth By Sleep's Mirage Arena</i></div> The one thing that bugged me the most about worlds is the lack of extra people in them. In Cinderella's world when you're at the royal ball there's this <b>huge</b> room where there should be a lot of people but it's just Cinderella and the Prince. And I know this is common practice for Kingdom Hearts to do this, it's just that these situations fit even less in these new worlds that have been added. Furthermore there's no young Final Fantasy characters besides Zack Fair. In fact, Zack Fair is the only Final Fantasy character in this game. These were just minor irks I noticed, and you or others may not even notice it (but you probably will now haha). Finally to wrap things up for this section let me say the controls are fairly good except the camera can be quite annoying at times. I also very rarely experienced slowdown and this was with my CPU setting set to 222 MHz and on a PSP 1001 and with 16 bit colors (explained later). The load times were also very quick for me, only about 2-3 seconds at max. However I must say I played my game off my microsd, so playing it from a disc probably would make the load times go up. Finally the game gives you the option to set the PSP's CPU clock speed (as mentioned earlier) from 222 MHz to 333 MHz as to prevent slow down, and you can also choose to do data install on your microsd to decrease load times. <b>Graphics-</b> Not much to say besides "awesome". The graphics of Birth By Sleep are really good, probably the best I've seen on a PSP game. I don't know how, but the game somehow captures and is able to have the same (or appear to have the same) graphics that the PS2 version have if not better. It could just be that the textures in the Kingdom Hearts series aren't all that detailed, I'm not sure. All I know is I had a wonderful experience with the graphics. And let it be known I played with 16 bit color settings, if I set it to 32 bit color I'd get an even better graphical experience. I know this may be a really cheesy line but I mean it: the graphics were so good I almost forgot I was playing on a PSP. I'm not trying to say this game surpasses PS2 graphics, I'm just saying it's awesome how it successfully emulated PS2 graphics with very little to none pixelation, slowdown, or anything else. The effects used when in different command styles and when using different commands are also pretty intense. <div align="center"><img src="http://i572.photobucket.com/albums/ss162/dsdatabase/BBS%20Review/TAV_Keybladegraveyard.jpg" border="0" class="linked-image" /> <i>Regular cutscene displaying the graphics in Birth By Sleep</i></div> <b>Music/Voice Acting-</b> The music in Birth By Sleep is a nice blend of music from older games, remixed music from older games, and completely new music, though most of the time you'll be listening to completely new music. While the new music isn't the best thing in the world it can be pretty catchy at times and really fit the moments it needs to fit. The voice acting isn't terrible, but it's nothing to applaud either. If you're like me and you watched a lot of the Japanese trailers you'll have a hard time going from the Japanese voices to the English voices. They just sound a little annoying in comparison. Though one upside is that many Disney characters have 5 times better voice actors in the English version (though I'd rather have better voice actors for the main characters). Overall the fitting music and good Disney voice actors make up for the somewhat irritating main voice actors, though I will take into consideration that I would probably have no problems with the English voice actors if I hadn't already heard the Japanese ones. One really major upside is like 95% of this game is all voice acting. The only time there's text is usually when you just need to make a choice moving on in the game or not. <div align="center"><object width="425" height="355"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/fkHefpAki60&rel=1"></param><param name="wmode" value="transparent"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/fkHefpAki60&rel=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" width="425" height="355"></embed></object> <i>Music played during one of the secret bosses</i></div> <b>Replay Value-</b> Birth By Sleep isn't a MMO or sandbox game, you won't get hundreds of hours of gameplay out of it. In theory you could, but it's very doubtful. Seeing how a lot of this game revolves around it's 3 part story telling mechanic, replaying won't be the same as playing it for the first time. However, if you are one of those people who likes to get everything possible out of their game you can get quite a bit of gameplay time/replay value. First you must think of all the different commands, abilities, and finishers that you still need to get. Getting all those for each character could take dozens of hours. Then there's the fact that there's 4 different difficulty modes, one of which gives you the option of running through the game always at level 1. Then there's also all the stickers and treasures spread across the worlds throughout the game. Next there's 2 insanely hard secret bosses that you can re-fight over and over again. Then there's the secret ending which, depending on your difficulty, can take a very very long time to unlock (but it very very worth it to unlock). And finally, what would a game be without trophies? That's right there's also a section to unlock 8 different trophies, some of them requiring you to play for atleast 80 hours. Oh and there's all the minigames games scattered throughout the worlds, and the multiplayer could probably keep you going for weeks. All in all there's not a lot of actual replay value to the game, most of the things mentioned above could be done in your first run through. However, there's so many things that it gets to the point where's it's very unlikely for that to happen. More often than not you'll be going back to your save after the last boss to train your characters and unlock everything else. Heck, you may even just start a completely new game. <b>Conclusion-</b> Going into playing Birth By Sleep is like being a dog just returning home from the vet. You feel betrayed and scared at the fact that your owners would take you somewhere so horrible after promising it was going to be something like a walk int the park, and yet at the same time it's comforting to be at home where things are familiar. I really didn't like Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, I had to grit my teeth to even finish it. I just felt like Square Enix threw the game at us so we wouldn't get bored waiting for Birth By Sleep. After finishing the first chapter of the game as Terra I wasn't sure how to feel, Birth By Sleep is really one of those games that you can't tell whether you like it or not until very late in the game. I had a somewhat strong grasp of whether or not I liked the game by the time I finished my second chapter (Ven). And when I finished the game completely I was absolutely sure, nothing could change my mind. After waiting 5 years for a truly fulfilling Kingdom Hearts game, I can clearly say Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, in my opinion, is <b>not</b> the next great game in the series. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is my favorite game in the series. This game took everything I loved about Kingdom Hearts 2, added a more complete battle system, made it so much more fulfilling, had a much more compelling story that answered more questions than it made (for once), included multiplayer, great graphics, and wonderfully moving cutscenes. I have to say the 5 year wait was definitely worth it. If Square Enix makes us wait 5 years for the next good sequel/prequel/whatever I fully trust that they'll do a damn good job at it (although they have already shown us Re:Coded and KH3D ). <b>Rating-</b> <b>Story: 10/10</b> - Answers so many questions, including questions you never thought needed answering, cutscenes are played out very nice, and the mechanic of splitting the story into 3 sections definitely works. Instead of the story just being "Oh hey we got to stop the bad guy!" it's that mixed with things that give you a completely different view on the whole series and then sets you up for Kingdom Hearts 3. If this game doesn't have a good story then I guess I have no place reviewing games. <b>Gameplay: 9/10</b> - Square Enix took Kingdom Hearts's normal battle system and packed it with a whole bunch of customization that allows you to be more strategic and choose how you to go about fighting a hard enemy. The one big downside I still see is that you can still spam attack throughout the whole game and completely ignore everything else. While this isn't something alarmingly bad, it just takes away from the experience. Why use commands when I could just equip a strong keyblade and do more damage per second with regular attack? <b>Graphics: 10/10</b> - Birth By Sleep get's the perfect match of awesome graphics, little slow down, and small load times. I didn't even play the game using it's full graphical capabilities and I'm still pretty impressed by the graphics. Like I said before, it's like I forgot I was playing on a PSP. <b>Music/Voice Acting: 8/10</b> - This is probably Birth By Sleep's weakest point, and a 8 out of 10 isn't even considered bad. The music is catchy and fits, but is offset by some of the sub-par voice acting. While not the worst voices in the world, they annoyed me quite a bit and it took almost half the game for me to get used to them. However the bad voice acting is made up by the fact that so much of the game is voice acting, very little is text. <b>Replay Value: 9/10</b> - While there isn't much replay value added in specifically, you'll probably get more replay out of the game then was originally meant by the developers. With so many things to get and miss, it's nearly impossible to get it all on your first run. <b>Overall: 9.5/10</b> - Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is much better than I thought it would be, much better than anyone expected it to be, and much better than it really needed to be. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is my new favorite game in the Kingdom Hearts series, and quite possibly my favorite PSP game. All I need to tell you is that Birth By Sleep will be staying on my PSP for a long time, and it will also be played by me more than I probably should. And that's it! I hoped you liked it. Now excuse me while I go start a play through on Critical difficulty... If you want more information on Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep or the series as a whole you can visit the very big <a href="http://kingdomhearts.wikia.com/wiki/Kingdom_Hearts_Wiki" target="_blank">wikia page</a> (which is also where I got most of the screenshots for this review).