Saturday, 14 July 2018

Review No. 142 Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Final Mix - PS3 (12+)

Strong Points:
Great battle system
Intricate deck building...
A large adventure which demands to be seen as a whole rather than three stories
The Final Mix adds even more story and battles
A nice selection of worlds
Great voice acting from most...
Helps to fill in gaps from the wider KH narrative
Music is brilliant
Mirage Arena is a fun experience
Lots of little collectables...

Weak Points:
...which is slightly at ends with the original portable design of quick play sessions
...Although the three main characters could do with a bit more expression
The three stories mean the overarching narrative isn't filled in until the end, so remember to read up on what you've done before
Slightly barren worlds
Not enough Unversed bosses
...Which aren't really explained as to why they are there
Music sometimes loops too often - Cinderalla's World especially
D-Link takes too long to load

PS4 photo due to sharing option

In-depth Review:

Release Dates:
Japan: October 2nd, 2014
North America: December 2nd, 2014
Australia: December 4th, 2014
Europe: December 5th, 2014

Left Analogue Stick: move character
Right Analogue Stick: move camera
X: confirm/basic attack/talk/open treasure chest
Square: use action commands such as dodge and air slide
Triangle: use deck commands
O: cancel/jump (can double tap to double jump or hold to jump higher if unlocked)
D-Pad: (up/down) cycle through deck commands/(left) shortcut menu/(right) D-Link menu
L1: switch menu screens/tap to change lock on targets
L2: scroll down through deck commands
R1: switch menu screens/lock on/(hold) Shotlock
R2: scroll up through deck commands
R3: reset camera
Start: open and close menu/pause
Select: toggle first-person view

I missed Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep when it was first released on the PSP. Being a staunch Nintendo fan when it comes to handhelds, I look into getting a PSP, although I did almost relent for this title's original release. Overall, I couldn't justify it, especially with Re:coded being released the same year but for the DS, meaning a trade-in wasn't an option (besides the fact I couldn't due to the Pokémon releases). So, I've had to wait until the PS3 release to finally unlock the backstory of Kingdom Hearts. And I'd say it was worth the wait.

Birth By Sleep is set 10 years prior to the events of the original Kingdom Hearts. Just like the original Kingdom Hearts and 358/2 days, BBS revolves around another trio of people, this time being Ventus, Terra and Aqua. All three struggle against the darkness and what is being asked of them, something I won't go into too much here to avoid spoilers. While this is a prequel, I'd play the games in the order of release still - BBS benefits greatly from a general knowledge of the series, although it can be played on its own.

The characters in BBS are decent enough, with enough variety from earlier instalments to keep them fresh. Xehanort and Aqua are standouts, with the latter coming into her own in the final two episodes of the game (which I won't spoil here). Disney wise, the characters and worlds that were chosen were nice to see, especially with us finally being able to visit the classic Disney Princesses worlds. I'm hoping for a return to Lilo and Stitch in KH3, if only to hopefully make it to Hawaii with the new graphics engine. Also, Zack and his lunges were a sight to see.

While Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 were content with 1 character to play as and Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories and the later Dream Drop Distance allowed you to play as two characters, Birth By Sleep goes one step further with 3. After finishing the tutorial, you are given a choice to play as either Ventus, Terra or Aqua. You then play through the entire game as one character before you play the next one. Each character has around 12-15 hours of gameplay in Critical mode if you don't dabble in the Mirage Arena and Command Boards. This, along with the extra episodes after clearing the first three total around 45-50 hours of gameplay, which is plentiful. The game actually gets more enjoyable as you play on, as the stories start to connect and help explain each other.

However, as, by the third episode you will be retreading on information you haven't seen since 30 hours ago, the game can get confusing. To help there are timelines unlocked once you complete each character which help to place where everyone is at any one point and there's also plenty of journal entries which can help to explain things. I'd recommend playing either Ventus or Terra first and second, leaving Aqua last. She's the one always catching up to the others and so is used to explain their motives. She's also arguably more important for the later games and you'll want her story to be fresh in your memory for the final episodes.

Combat is slightly different from the other games in the series, although not quite as large a departure as CoM and Re:Coded were. You utilise a command deck, with everything from Sliding Dash to Cure and Potions being equipped to this system. To unlock better versions of the basic spells and moves you have to meld commands. Melding them with other items also add extra attributes such as Leaf Bracer which allows you to cure without danger of an attack cancelling it out. Sometimes when melding you can unlock a rare command, which will act slightly differently to basic commands.

Along with the Command Deck there's also Finish Commands and Command Styles. Finish Commands are basically a finishing combo which can allow you to stun enemies, gain extra items etc. These can be unlocked by playing and levelling up the previous command. Extra commands can only be unlocked if you follow the specific Finish Command paths so be sure to check back and make sure you are unlocking a new command. Command Styles appear if you use certain types of commands such as Fire spells etc. These can offer even more battle opportunities and you can even evolve your Command Style by incorporating different commands once the style has been equipped.

Finally, there's Shotlocks. These are the 'newest' mechanic in BBS. By holding R1 you enter a first-person mode which allows you to lock on and target enemies to fire at. If you reach the max lock-on, then the attack increases with extra QTE's allowing even more damage. The best thing about Shotlocks is that it leaves you invulnerable for the entirety of the attack once you've locked on. This helps you to get out of tight situations and finish off difficult bosses (the attacks also have homing).

Oh, and there's also D-Links which act as sort of summon. It allows you to take a Command Deck from a character such as Mickey or Snow White and use it to battle, as well as being able to use a character specific final move. These can be modded with items picked up in battle such as Auto-Teleport, allowing further variety. So, as you can see, there's quite a lot of depth to the combat system but it never gets confusing. The game clearly shows you systems and the tutorial menus are set out nicely, meaning I was never confused with the systems I knew I had access to.

With all of this depth in the command system, it's a shame the game doesn't encourage you to play with it much. I played through the entirety of Ventus's storyline without really touching command melding or different finishers, believing the game to be more linear with its abilities like KH1 and 2. By Aqua's playthrough (my final one) I finally did look into all the commands more and was pleasantly surprised by the depth and variety of commands I could create and unlock.

For example, I never knew until the last hour of or so of Aqua's branch of the game that there was even a Level 5 or 6 Finish Command, let alone abilities such as Once More, such was there little need to explore besides for the sake of it. This is, in part, due to the fast-paced, linear nature of the worlds. Each world only lasts an hour or two at best, which compliments its original PSP portability, but doesn't really allow you to stop and look at what needs upgrading - there's simply no time. The bosses push this further, with most of them requiring a deck full of Curaga's to survive, not allowing much in terms of experimentation (although Once More helped a lot). My advice is to force yourself to look at all the systems and play around with them - I found myself having a lot more exciting moments in combat after I did.

Besides the main story there's also a few side activities in BBS. While there's no push to complete these in the story, I would at least have a look as there are some decent rewards - including the Ultima Weapon. There's Mirage Arena which has you facing waves of enemies (it's only single player in the PS3 edition), a Sticker Book you can fill up by collecting stickers throughout the world and The Command Board. The Command Board is similar to the Fortune Street games and is notable as it technically keeps the 100 Acre-Wood still in the game as it features as a board.

Now, on to the technical aspects. Sound wise, Birth By Sleep matches the previous games. The music is clear and some of the orchestrations are brilliant, especially in the Secret Episode and the various Dearly Beloved alterations. While some of the Disney worlds have too short a snippet of their respective themes, and so rely on loops (I'm looking at Bibbity Bobbity Boo especially), it's still great to hear these giants of theme music. Voice acting is slightly more variable. The Disney characters are as great as ever (with a particular shout-out to James Woods as Hades), and Mark Hamil and Leonard Nimoy play the two masters with their usual vocal flair. The three main characters, however, don't have quite the range of emotions for the roles they are playing. While they are no means bad, some of the lines fall a bit flat. This is especially a problem in a game where cutscenesa usually just revolve around talking, with any action taking place off-screen.

The graphics are pleasant enough, with the classic art style of Kingdom Hearts still shining through. The animation, dips in and out of greatness, just like in KH1 and 2, with the mouths sometimes moving and sometimes not depending on the needs of the scene. One problem with the game being transferred from a PSP to the PS3 is that the lack of detail in the worlds now becomes glaringly apparent. With little to no NPCs around and basic level designs made to push you to the next encounter, you can't quite live and explore the worlds like in the console games.

Conclusion: While BBS does show its PSP roots and the three separate, but interconnecting stories take a while to get used to, in its heart this is another worthy addition to the Kingdom Hearts collection. Great for long-time fans and newcomers alike.

Rating: 86%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

Note: to unlock all content as quickly as possible, I'd suggest playing Critical Mode. Then all you have to do is complete the episodes and collect all the Xehanort Reports - 3 aren't automatically collected, one for each character

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