Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is the fourth game I’ve played in the series, and I was honestly a little skeptical about it going in, but I figured I should get it out of the way since I owned the UMD and it would give me something to do while waiting for KH3. These are not the actions of a man with high expectations.
I knew up-front that it puts Sora completely on the back burner, not just the KH2-style “Here, play as Roxas for a few hours and then get back to busting up heartless with a gigantic improbable sword”. Sora’s kind of a dork but he’s the lovable dork that I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with, so I wasn’t really looking forward to a Sora-free game.
I also knew that it had three main not-Sora characters and that you needed to play through all three in order to get the whole story, which I usually associate with needless padding.
So uh. How to describe what I actually played, then?
Well, let’s see. Imagine being in a theater back in 1999 when The Phantom Menace came out, and watching the first ten minutes or so. Ignoring the rest of the movie, that opening shows you two Jedi who are, well, full-fledged Jedi who are accustomed to kicking arse and taking names, all the stuff that you got only glimpses of and allusions to during the original three movies.
Now imagine that the rest of the movie is actually just as awesome. That’s pretty much Birth By Sleep.
Sora, for all his lovable dorkness, is the Luke of the series. He’s from the sticks, he gets a magical sword and he travels from world to world with a kind of gosh gee whiz mister isn’t this neat attitude.
Terra, Aqua and Ventus, by comparison, are trained professionals studying to become Keyblade Masters. They’re coming in at the start of the story that we got the middle parts of in the first few games, and they’re pretty much treating it like just another job. Something’s wrong with time and space, they’re the guys you call to clean it up, dig? They run into Mickey, he’s not KING MICKEY, BITCHES, he’s just another yokel bouncing around the universe without really much of a clue.
At one point, you fight Cinderella’s carriage which has been turned into an evil pumpkin monster. I’m more of a New Disney guy and not really a huge fan of the classics, but that was pretty cool.
As an aside, Luke IS in the game. Well, Mark Hamill is, he does one of the voices. I confess that I didn’t notice until the ending credits rolled. Leonard Nimoy as the Big Bad Guy stands out a little more. But I digress.
Um, there’s also a game underneath all the story bits. It’s pretty good too. You run around hitting things with a series of improbable swords in worlds pulled out of the Disney Archives. Mercifully, there is no Aladdin world this time. You get XP, you level up, you buy skills and grind them up and combine them to make more powerful skills so yeah there’s no real surprise there. Thankfully the card nonsense from Chain of Memories never makes an appearance.
Playing through the game three times was something that I wasn’t looking forward too, but it turned out fabulously well. All three characters go to the same worlds, but they’re usually slightly before or after each other. When one of them screws up, another has to clean up the mess, and you get to see the results of THAT from both characters’ perspectives. It also meant that all the game mechanics I didn’t understand at all on the first story were a little more familiar on the second play-through and second nature by the time I got done with the full story.
Look, I appreciate that pretty much everything done since the first Kingdom Hearts has been tacked on after the fact, and that the game was originally just a “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we did something like Mario 64 but with Disney Characters”. On an intellectual level, I know this, but I’ll be damned if Birth By Sleep doesn’t come REALLY close to making me believe like the creators actually had some of this stuff planned from the beginning.
So the end result is, I’m seriously pumped for KH3 now. I’m also $199.98 poorer, because I found out that Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance is basically the Sora And Riku Go To Keyblade Mastery Boot Camp game and that was the thing that pushed me over the edge into buying a pink 3DSXL and a copy of the game. Thankfully my tax refund arrived the next day, which I am going to take as a sign that I was MEANT to do this, but I still feel more than a little sheepish about the whole thing.