Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Review — Disney’s Star Wars Before The Buyout

Try playing this game without comparing it to Star Wars. I dare you!

  • Birth By Sleep is a prequel to the acclaimed crossover between Disney and Final Fantasy that was originally on the PSP, and thus I never actually played it when it came out. I knew it was necessary to understand the still unreleased Kingdom Hearts 3 the same way you had to play Chain of Memories to understand the official second game, but I wasn’t going to buy a handheld for just one game, and the concept of a mobile Playstation unit never really appealed to me as a kid.
  • Of course, since then, the game has come out for PS3 on that 2.5 Remix thing, so now I can play it. However, my opinion of Kingdom Hearts in general has also soured over the years. Even if you discount the constant milking and increasingly stupid title names, there’s no getting over how the series in general are just low-rent Final Fantasy games where Disney characters guest-star in badly abridged versions of their own films, and every Square character delivers the most atrociously written dialogue I’ve seen since Garzey’s Wing. So by the time it got announced, I wasn’t really interested.
  • However, I’ve been making a concentrated effort to review more anime games this year, and since Kingdom Hearts is one of the big ones whose gameplay I can actually tolerate, I’m sort of obligated to play that 2.8 thing coming out this month. As such, I bought the re-released versions whilst being carried by the small promise that Birth by Sleep actually fixes a few of the series’ problems, and after playing through the thirty hours required to complete it, I can confirm that it fixes some problems. It just doesn’t fix enough problems.

Anime waifu vs. Gantu. Who will win?

  • For starters, I’ve got to say that I’m a big fan of the new combat mechanics introduced in this game. They got rid of MP in favor of individual commands that you stack in a deck and allow to recharge over time after they’ve been used, meaning there was never a time when I was stuck in a position where I had to run away from enemies in order to hide in a corner as long as I stacked everything right. Plus, the ability to combine multiple skills into a new skill after you’ve leveled them up allows for all kinds of unique moves that I admittedly had to use a strategy guide to make the most of once I got to the last third of the game.
  • The ability to borrow powers from other characters from the various Disney princess to the other playable characters is also a welcome feature, although the finishing moves for most of them go on way too long for very little damage at times. Cinderella’s finishing move in particular was a load of shit whose only real contribution is to give invincibility frames that may or may not be helpful. So make sure you’re low on health or really want some of the benefits before doing a D-link.
  • Also, there’s a bug where when you pause the game with no enemies, you instantly cancel out of a special mode. I honestly have no idea why that never got fixed, but it was helpful in regards to not wasting my D-link meter at times.

Aqua, Terra, and Ventus…but you can call him Ven.

  • You switch between the perspective of three different characters in this game: a moody muscle-man named Terra, a hotshot kid named Ventus, and a fragile magic user named Aqua. It’s recommended you play the game in that specific order because their travels across the various Disney universes intersect with each other, typically starting with Terra causing trouble and Aqua cleaning up the mess. Also, Terra is sort of like the beginner’s character to use while Aqua is the fucking boss once you’ve mastered the gameplay.
  • Once you’ve beaten the game with all three characters and gotten all the secret reports (which really annoyed me because the game gives no hint that this is a requirement and some of the reports are in semi-obscure places), you unlock the true ending where everything is explained and a thousand more questions are asked in its wake. And just for the record, you play as Aqua for the final mission, so it might be best to jump into that route coming off a character you haven’t practiced with in a while.
  • Platforming is still a bitch, but once you get the ability to air dash or glide or whatever, it’s made pretty bearable. Combat is fast and fun as it’s always been, although Terra’s slow speed can make it a chore at times. All in all though, the only times I didn’t like the gameplay were when I had to escort a princess character who can’t stay fucking still because the ball is just so important, or when I went to Disneytown and Horace forced me to play that fucking volleyball mini-game. Which you win by continuously spiking, I might add.
  • Writing-wise though, Birth By Sleep continues Nomura’s horribly conceived storytelling methods in that a lot of the plot pretty much exists just to have an anime waifu fight Gantu from Lilo & Stitch or Mickey to prove that he can stand toe-to-toe with Bleach characters. And while it’s fun in a surreal sort of way to watch a shonen protagonist discover how strong Captain Hook can actually be when he’s serious, it has that superhero movie problem in that once it’s over, you ask yourself what did this have to do with the story?

Come Snow White. You must not open your heart to darkness.

  • One of my big problems with Kingdom Hearts is that I don’t feel like the Disney universes of the West we all grew up with as kids actually add anything to the clearly Eastern-cartoon story that links everything together. They just seem to be momentary distractions that you need to have seen the original films to truly appreciate, and whilst I’m all for not making Shrek or anything of the sort, the writers are too afraid to mess with the original stories to the point that it comes off like one of those bad history films where the characters wink to upcoming events we’ve studied in school.
  • For example, when you have Terra visit the world of Cinderella, he runs into her as she’s crying over having her dress torn apart by her evil stepsisters. He then proceeds to deliver a (horrible) speech regarding how she shouldn’t let darkness into her heart, only for a bunch of token bad guys to show up just to give our anime-esque beefcake something to do.
  • After defeating them, the Fairy Godmother comes in and does her magic just like in the movie with no input on Terra’s part whatsoever. Terra then goes to the ball when the Fairy Godmother sends him there to teach him a lesson on what someone with as pure a heart as Cinderella is capable of, only to end up escorting her down a series of empty corridors when a bunch of monsters try to stop her from seeing the Prince. A scene that I’m pretty sure was not deleted in the making of the 1950 film, but then again I’ve never bothered to buy the special edition DVD. However, I sincerely doubt there were any deleted scenes regarding a monster showing up in the castle’s balcony and a Japanese kid running up there to stop it from bringing the fairy tale to an unexpected end.
  • After all that, Terra learns that there are hearts out there devoid of darkness, which is a pretty shit reward for all the trouble he had to go through. Cinderella’s story itself won’t continue until you play as another character, but even if you did…well she never really had an arc in any of the films, so why would you expect Square Enix to give her one?

I’m sure there’s fanfiction written about these two that I purposefully avoid.

  • You see, Disney’s storytelling (and most Western animation in general for that matter) tends to portray its characters as black and white, while Final Fantasy (and most Eastern animation) tends to portray its characters as all shades of gray. As such, the characters from Snow White never go through any character development of their own, only existing to teach our anime heroes how to lighten up a bit on their broody journey. Which wouldn’t be so much of a problem if they weren’t all sideshow attractions, but each world takes like half-an-hour to beat, and aside from detailing the origins of the seven princesses that lie square in the middle of this series’ lore, they contribute to nothing but shitty escort missions.
  • Kingdom Hearts’ barren environments that would make the sports festival in Mahouka look populated haven’t gone anywhere either. There are literally no random non-speaking NPCs anywhere in the game, even when the story makes it very clear that there should be. Aside from Jaq and Lucifer, none of the animals from the Cinderella movie seem to exist, let alone be around to fix Cinderella’s dress. When you visit Sleeping Beauty’s castle after the fairies have put everybody to sleep, you’ll find that the castle is devoid of everyone but Aurora. What the hell? Where did the king and all his servants go?
  • Then of course there’s the Hercules world where the game pretty much states flat-out that there are people watching the coliseum matches, and yet the stands are completely empty save for Zack from FFVII. And that’s only when he’s not fighting himself. C’mon, I’ve played Twilight Princess on inferior consoles. You couldn’t have rendered some nameless blue people to watch us or something?

These two are real chipper about a girl being stronger than the both of them.

  • As for the actual story connecting everything together, it’s pretty much just a Japanese version of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, right down to Terra and his bad acting going over to the dark side after striking down his master, only to get struck down by his other superior – except said superior has an extra X chromosome. And believe me, Terra’s voice-acting is terrible, especially when you see him converse with the Disney characters who either sound almost identical to their film portrayals or are portrayed by the same actors. Aside from Zack, you won’t run into any actual Final Fantasy characters here, but since all the original characters are pretty much at home with that universe itself, it doesn’t really make a difference.
  • Not going to deny I had fun with Birth By Sleep’s combat mechanics and overall gameplay once I had gotten used to it, plus it’s fun to give Peter Pan the beating that he so richly deserved. But everything else surrounding it is just stupid. Sometimes it’s stupid enough to make drinking games out of it like taking a shot every time someone says the word “darkness” and “heart”, or when Axel goes “got it memorized?” However, let’s not mistake Birth By Sleep for what it really is: another overcomplicated addition to one of the most impenetrable fictional lores I’ve ever seen in my life, as well as a failure to mix Western animation culture with Eastern animation culture in a way that benefits both sides.

Yes Riku. Take that key. Then give it to Sora when you act like a douche.

  • The fact that this game originally came out in 2010, and yet there’s still no Kingdom Hearts III to this very day is problematic in of itself. That upcoming 2.8 game is the first real continuation we’ll have of the Birth By Sleep characters’ stories, and last I checked, we’re curently living in the year 2017. Lots of people move on to something else in that amount of time, leaving the vocal minority who still abide by the law of Haruhi-sama to waste their lives crying angry betrayed tears on Tumblr.

Minor Quips

  • Admittedly, Terra’s voice-acting gets some emotion over time, but by then it’s too little too late.
  • I actually do have a Tumblr account where I post my stuff, but fuck me if I can remember how it works.

4 responses to “Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Review — Disney’s Star Wars Before The Buyout

  1. Never played this game when it came out. Now there’s like a million of them. Is the game stand alone like Final fantasy or connected with others?

    And honestly, I’m not surprised that this game’s story is convoluted. Basically every FF game since the PS1 is beyond ridiculous. Haven’t played 15 yet, but I’ve heard the story is a mess as well. It’s a shame that JRPG storytelling haven’t evolved much after all that time. There’s some decent ones, but they’re still the exception rather than the rules.

    Oh, are you going to get Zelda: Botw?

  2. Yep, pretty much over Kingdom Hearts’ complicated multimedia lore. The only time I played one of these past the 1st game and found it to function alright standalone experience 358/2 Days but believe me when I say the overarching story drags on that one.

    • I bought and beat 358/2 Days after bombing an interview my dad setup for me HARD to get over the depression and found the gameplay to be tedious. Didn’t stop me from finishing it though.

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