First Shot: Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
The PSP-only Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is actually three games in one, each weighing in between 10 and 15 hours depending on how much you level/ability grind. There is a short Prologue that shows us a curious relationship between Ventus, who looks remarkably like Kingdom Hearts II’s Roxas, and the infamous Xehanort on the familiar-looking setting of Destiny Islands. We flash to the present, where the young Ventus, the strong Terra, and the mage Aqua are honing their keyblade skills on the Land of Departure. You control Ventus (call him “Ven”, mainly because he tells everyone he meets that that’s what everyone calls him) as you chase Terra and Aqua through an obstacle course on the way to the sparring grounds. This is Square-Enix and Disney’s improved tutorial system that takes 15 minutes instead of the two-hour intro/tutorial grounds of past games that were spliced with plot cinematics before the game’s logo even appeared on the screen. It was a big relief to find that I could jump right into the game, and after completing a character’s storyline you can skip this entire sequence for the next playthrough.
After the sparring match, I chose to start my game with Ven. It seemed logical, as he was a major part of the Prologue and he was the one you controlled most during the tutorial. I was curious to see how his backstory played out, though after completing his story and beginning again as Terra, I found Terra’s story provided many more answers about the game’s world and would have been a far better starting story.
Ven controls like Sora or Roxas did. He is agile, quick, and balanced between strength and magic. His story begins when Terra takes off after taking the test to become Keyblade Master. Ven is visited in his room by a masked boy who looks straight out of Xenogears, who nudges him to follow Terra, saying Terra will not return as the person Ven knows. Ven becomes concerned for his friend, and chases after him in a story that will talk strongly of themes of friendship, light, darkness, and sinister plans to unlock the world of Kingdom Hearts. This path has a similar tone to Sora’s adventures, as it is mostly light-hearted protecting of Disney characters with thoughts of his two best friends pushing him through. His story unfortunately does not include much information about the game’s random enemies, the Unversed, until the very end, and as little about Xehanort’s true plan until the same point. This information is given early on in Terra’s story, though. For much of my 15-hour playthrough with Ven I was wondering what the things I was fighting were (since they were not Heartless), and in this respect Ven’s story is better left for the second playthrough.
You’ll have new interactions with Disney characters along the way and explore portions of Disney worlds that have not been seen in other Kingdom Hearts games. The beauty of the three storylines is that each one feels like a separate game within the story. You get different cut scenes, explore different parts of each world, and visit each world in a different order depending on who you choose to play as.
So far I’m enjoying Birth By Sleep, but even having completed one of three stories, I still feel like there’s a lot more for me to discover, even within the main plot.