Well this is infuriating. We are 5 games deep into Kingdom Hearts, and I still don’t have an inkling as to what the hell is Kingdom Hearts. Like all the previous Kingdom Hearts games, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep once again skirts around the subject of this magical realm that absolutely nobody has ever seen. It’s like if the first Halo game doesn’t take place on the actual Halo but is instead on the other side of the galaxy from Halo itself.
The Kingdom Hearts series has successfully created an impenetrable lore that it seems no amount of games titled Kingdom Hearts will ever fully explain just what it is. Birth By Sleep takes place quite a few years before the first Kingdom Hearts, and instead of shedding some light on the origins and even motivations of characters we’ve come to know from the other games, Birth By Sleep just adds even more layers to an already convoluted story. Perhaps the biggest accomplice to this over complication, aside for the actual plot, is the dialogue.
Kingdom Hearts introduced something I’d like to call the Kingdom Hearts cheese. Although I’ve seen it in most other Tetsuya Nomura projects, I first discovered it in Kingdom Hearts, so I’m sticking with the name. Basically when a good guy speaks, he/she/it will either reference friendship and love somehow or talk about some invisible force that binds everyone together. When the bad guy talks, it’s either about the all-consuming power of darkness in some way shape or form or… no that’s about all they ever talk about. Aside from some occasional plot important lines like “go talk to her” or “go over there,” Birth By Sleeps dialogue is that typical saying lots of things without saying a damn thing. It was irritating back in Kingdom Hearts 1. It’s even more irritating now. It’s a wonder why I keep playing it.
Oh right. There is the small element of the actual game where you go around and fight stuff, and it’s good. Really good. Whereas most action games will settle with you dishing out as much damage in as little time as possible, Birth By Sleep’s combat system is more about how good you are at varying your attacks. You have the ability to choose what kind of attack and magic spells you bring into battle. These commands, as they are called, gains experience as you use them, and in doing so they can be fused into more powerful attacks and magic spells. If you use the right commands, you’re rewarded with a temporary transformation into a more powerful fighting style. Once you have achieved one of these transformations, you become a force to be reckoned with. These two work hand in hand with each other because they feed into each other. The more advanced commands are more powerful and make it easier for you to achieve your transformations. Combat is always a joy, especially the ones with more enemies. Each fight you’re working your way to transforming into a true badass and are rewarded by gaining experience for your attacks and magic spells. Play your cards right, and each fight is unique story to tell.
So where are we? Between the frustratingly dense story and the joyous combat system, what does a game with this kind of dichotomy deserve? That entirely depends on what you wanted out of your game, and I’ve always been on the side of mechanics when it comes to games. For that, and maybe only, that reason alone, I enjoyed the game. I sat through the cutscenes hoping to glean some new insight into this legendary Kingdom Hearts, but it never comes. Instead I enjoyed the hell out of the combat. It’s unique, and I do hope to see more of it in the future.
Note: I am unable to comment on the multiplayer because I was unable to find anyone to play it with, which I suppose is itself a comment on the multiplayer.
- Excellent combat system
- Addictive leveling system
- Impenetrable lore have just become more impenetrable-er (I know it’s not a word, but in this case, it ought to be!)
- Some bosses are a teensy bit too hard
- Nobody to play multiplayer with
Confused about our score? See our Ratings Guide.