Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Review
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On 03/21/2011 at 12:00 PM by Nick DiMola
What's a great battle system without good enemies and level design? (Hint: Worthless)
For Kingdom Hearts die-hards only.
I don't get it. I've tried–honestly, I've tried. But no matter how hard, I just don't get the Kingdom Hearts obsession. Until Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, I had never truly played a Kingdom Hearts game before, though I have been lightly exposed to the series in the past. After investing many hours into Birth by Sleep over the past few months, I just can't grasp what makes the series so unbelievably popular. I can only imagine the Disney fan service is what does it for most, because the one-trick pony gameplay definitely is not it. Maybe it's the pointy-haired, emo protagonists.No one can be certain. Whatever the case, I can confidently say that it isn't for me and no amount of time spent with the game is going to sway me otherwise.
From what I can gather after reading a variety of forums and other coverage on the game, Birth by Sleep is one of the best entries in the series. I cannot personally attest to this fact, but I can agree with why most feel it stands above the rest. The combat system is the shining star of Birth by Sleep and is unquestionablythe reason why people like the game more. I myself have enjoyed exploring the intricacies of this system and making use of it throughout the game.
At its core, the game’s combat is similar to the preceding games as it relies heavily on attacking with the key blade. After executing the attack enough times, players will perform a strong attack to complete the combo, which will improve over time as players learn new moves. In turn, each successfully landed attack will increase a gauge, which, when full, will giveplayers super strength and speed for a short span of time, making it easy to defeat the Unversed that surround them.
Players must also build a Command Deck, which is where the combat system really starts to become more complicated than what was found in past Kingdom Hearts titles. As players progress through the game, they will earn new moves that they can add to their Command Deck. This deck starts at a modest size of three slots, allowing players to plug in whichever moves they'd like to use during battle. Because the deck can only be managed when enemies are not present, players must choose wisely.
During battle, each move can be executed by pushing the triangle button, and chosen with the D Pad. Some moves perform magic attacks, others sword-based attacks, some are area of effect, and still othersallow players to heal themselves. After being performed, players will have to wait for the move to recharge before using it again. This prevents spamming of any given move and forces players to only engage them when they will be most effective.
Those who are unhappy with the contents of their deck can either buy new moves from the Moogle shop that exists in each world, or they can meld together extra moves that are sitting in their inventory. Fusing two moves with a crystal of some sort will produce a new move that may or may not be obtainable otherwise. Without some sort of fusion chart it's hard to know what will come of a meld, but with extra moves lying around, it never hurts to try to make something new, especially if you have a save file to bounce back to if things go awry.
Outside of the Command Deck, one additional special move exists in the game which can be activated by holding the L and R buttons and tapping the X button. While this move proved to be strong, it also took a minute to line up and execute, so I found myself rarely, if ever, using it.
Items are used in a non-traditional fashion, as they too must be added to the Command Deck ahead of time to be used during battle. This proved unbelievably frustrating at the beginning of the game because I often wouldn't know whenI'd be approaching a major boss battle, and if I happened to stumble in there without any healing items, I was a sitting duck. Thankfully, learning Cure and giving it a permanent place in my Command Deck completely solved the issue, but this too qs not optimal as it forced me to forfeit a stronger move that might have been helpful in an intense battle.
Believe it or not, there's still more to the combat system. D-Links are the last facet, and they allow players to channel the energy of various characters from within the story that have been personally encountered or assisted. Activating a D-Link will give players an entirely new Command Deck of moves as well as a powerful finishing move that can be activated upon filling the focus meter. The D-Link will only last for as long as the D-Link meter has juice in it, so players can both activate and deactivate them in a pinch to become stronger, or gain access to a critical healing move not present on their own deck.
This multi-faceted combat system was easily the best part of the experience and was leaps and bounds more complicated than what I've seen in past Kingdom Hearts titles. When you tie in dodging, air-dodging, jumping, and reflective blocking, things only become deeper and more enjoyable. While the system is great, it’s not capable of carrying the game on its own; however, Square Enix has forced it to shoulder the burden.
Summing up the gameplay in Birth by Sleep is quite easy–players encounter a world, battle the various generic Unversed creatures that incessantly spawn throughout the world, and make their way to the few checkpoints found there, each of which will force players to battle some more. The world typically concludes in a boss battle which requires players to truly exercise their brass with the battle system.
Traversal through these worlds can be somewhat fun at first, but before long, battling the same enemies in the same way over and over again grows tiresome. Without any other activities to break up the monotony, even the layered battle system becomes mundane. Given the enemies you fight most of the time, exercising full control of said system isn’t even necessary. Most of the time, you’ll be able to mash the X button and achieve success, much like the older Kingdom Hearts titles. But even when you do want full control, you can’t have it–the game's atrocious camera constantly gets in the way, and the spotty lock-on is equally bad. Most of the time players will need to battle the camera in addition to the enemies if they want to succeed in the game.
Worse than the camera is the poor usage of the Disney characters and the worlds that accompany them. Players will find themselves traipsing through completely barren worlds that do nothing to bring the game to life. When you do eventually run into some Disney character, the game makes no effort to showcase them outside of some shoddy cutscenes that won't attract much attention.
It's apparent some attempt was made to shake things up with the combat and racing portions involving the glider you use to travel between worlds, but performing moves in the glider and battling without it isn't significantly different. You can also take a break with the game’s Command Boards, but these are just like Mario Party without the fun mini-games that make the experience tolerable. Even worse, there are no real instructions given to you, so for the first few Command Board games you just fumble around trying to figure out what exactly you're supposed to be doing.
When it comes down to it, the boss battles are what really stand out, and are the only part that makes the game worth playing. Every single move in the player’s arsenal is critical to success and perfect execution is demanded. Unfortunately, most boss battles last a bit too long and can become frustrating, especially if you lose due to a misstep 15-20 minutes into a battle.
I'm not really sure what Square Enix was going for in Birth by Sleep. If they wanted to shut up haters of the series who focus on the simplified battle system, they couldn't have achieved that goal better. But it's like they forgot that a good battle system is a waste without a challenging set of enemies and good level design. If they could just take this battle system and drop it into a well thought-out adventure, I could see myself really enjoying Kingdom Hearts, but as it stands there's nothing about it that sets it apart from any other mediocre game on the market.