Terra, Ventus, and Aqua are all in training to be keyblade masters, warriors of light that preserve the peace across the many worlds. This is something that had long been the dream of Terra and Aqua, with Ventus too joining them when he was randomly brought to the Land of Departure by the mysterious keyblade master Xehanort to train under Master Eraqus. They trained hard and quickly became fast inseparable friends. Terra and Aqua being ahead got to take the Mastery exam first simultaneously, with Ventus and Xehanort observing. Their are irregularities during the test due to some secret manipulations by Xehanort, and the test ends up getting more complicated than expected, which ultimately results in Terra being unable to keep the darkness inside him in check. Hence Aqua passes, but Terra does not. Terra is saddened, but also very confused about the darkness inside him, which confuses him further when Xehanort tells him the darkness is nothing to be afraid of, and that he should use its power. Soon afterwards he is called upon by Master Eraqus, who explains that there was a new threat facing the worlds, the mysterious Unversed, and that he wants Terra and Aqua to travel across the many neighboring worlds and investigate. Ventus meanwhile meets with a masked boy named Vanitas, who suggests that Terra would soon be lost to the darkness forever, and would leave him behind. Hence, when Terra goes off on his mission, despite being forbidden from leaving, Ventus ends up following him, which results in Aqua too pursuing Ventus to bring him home. All three of their journeys begin, sometimes crossing, delving deeper into the mysteries behind the coming darkness and the key blade.
Birth By Sleep is a prequel to the other Kingdom Hearts games dealing with characters that are already well established in the systems, such as keyblades, the war between light and dark, and various worlds, and hence it is incredibly different from the other games in terms of story. This game also sets the story for the rest of the games, taking the events that happened in the previous main line games and tying them together in new ways, as well as setting up the stage for whats to come in future entries. This involves three different characters acting independently and going to each world separately, which results in the player seeing only part of the story of each world with each play through. This is also where things start getting a lot more convoluted, and there are a lot of aspects that are quite confusing, but overall it ties things together pretty well. All of this ultimately results in a story that while still focused on the core themes of friendship, hearts, and light, is much darker, and comes to a conclusion that is far from a happy ending. Overall, while it was a pretty good story and told very well, in part due to how clearly it was just setting things up for other games and partly because of the tone, the story never felt as involved or magical as the main line games.
The game play is also tremendously different from the main line games. Combat is somewhat of an evolution of Chain of Memories in that there’s something similar to a command deck with abilities that you can combine into more powerful moves as well as something similar to a side deck with cards based on other characters, but ultimately it’s incredibly different. Normal attacks can be done at will, but any other attack, magic, or item involves using a battle command. These can be cycled through during battle and have cool downs after use. There are also action commands, that control things like movement and defending, and can be used freely. There’s also what’s called a shotlock command, that has a special focus bar that can be used for special moves. All of these commands are leveled up by doing battle while having them equipped, and when evolved enough can be used to synthesize new commands. There are also finishers, that are sometimes used when the command guage maxes out when certain requirements aren’t met. These are evolved in a tree like fashion with different requirements for each branch. If certain requirements are met when the command gauge fills up however, instead of using a finisher you can go into a command style, at which point if this occurs again you can go into a more powerful second level command style. Command styles change the way you move and your basic attacks, while also giving you a completely different finisher. Lastly, there’s also D-Links, based on friends you meet across your journey, that tremendously change your character, giving you different stats, commands, and finishers. Ultimately, the combat system in Birth By Sleep has tremendously more depth than any of the other games. These systems allow for a lot more variety in the moves you have available, and ultimately ones that are a lot more flashy, and far more facets of growth. And that’s not even getting into how there are three different characters that play very differently: Terra is a tank, Ventus does a lot of damage and is very fast, and Aqua is great at dodging and is good with magic. The enemies have a good amount of variety, though the boss battles are where things really shine. In critical mode regular combat was reasonably challenging and satisfying at first, but at some point it got a lot easier and more dull, in part because of how due to the great depth in the combat system, if you focus on maxing its really easy to end up overpowered. However, the boss battles stayed entertaining through out. I was very pleased that there was essentially no reuse of boss battles across characters with each getting their own set. Furthermore, while all the characters would go through the same worlds, they went to different parts of those worlds, and hence it didn’t feel repetitive in that sense at all. While there’s no gummi ship, there are a number of other mini games, predominantly the command board, essentially a very simply board games that gets tremendously annoying. There’s also racing, some weird fruit sport, and an ice cream themed musical mini game that was tremendously difficult and so annoying I was nostalgic for KH2 Atlantica.
In terms of graphics, it looked pretty good, and was crisp and ran smooth. It’s based on a PSP game, so it’s not the greatest looking game in the world, but they did a great job in the port and I never felt that the graphics were lacking. The soundtrack was also decent and had some great tracks, and of course it’s Shimomura so its obviously going to be great, though ultimately I don’t feel it was as memorable as the main line games’.
A very different Kingdom Hearts game that’s a bit rough, but one that keeps the core aspects of what makes it great and is still incredible.
For reference KH1:FM gets a 9/10, KH2:FM gets a 10/10
Also Aqua is seemingly the best character in this entire franchise. Looking forward to .2.