Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep was released on the Sony PSP in 2010. The game was teased years prior through a secret ending in Kingdom Hearts 2, where three armoured Keyblade warriors face off against an evil, old wizard and his masked apprentice.
It was soon revealed that Birth By Sleep was a prequel set ten years before Sora, Kairi, and Riku planned their escape off of Destiny Islands on a raft, as well as before the invasion of the Heartless all over the worlds.
This game aimed to enrich the Kingdom Hearts universe, showing off Keyblade-wielders who existed before Sora, and a time before Heartlesses and Nobodies. This was further accentuated with the introduction of older Disney worlds based on Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.
The Journey of Three Hearts
Birth By Sleep puts you in the shoes of three protagonists, Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, who are all learning the way of the Keyblade until the mysterious Unversed begin to invade Disney worlds. Both Terra and Aqua investigate the phenomenon, with the pair recently undergoing the Mark of Mastery exam during which Aqua earned the rank of master instead of Terra. Meanwhile, Ventus is taunted by the masked apprentice, Vanitas, to go after his two friends across the universe.
This is the first Kingdom Hearts game that allows you to play three characters in story campaigns that run parallel to one another. Each character also plays very differently from one another, with Terra being the heavy-hitter, Ventus being fast and nimble, and Aqua being the best magic caster in the game. Birth By Sleep also introduced Master Xehanort, the villain and main instigator of all the events in the franchise.
Worlds and Wayfinders
As a prequel, the game portrays an age when being a Keyblade wielder was slightly more common. Instead of Sora’s haphazard progression, each of the main characters are well-versed in their weapon – which could be easily transformed into different modes – and casting devastating spells left and right. While the combat mechanics aren’t as smooth and fluid as that of Kingdom Hearts 2, the Deck Commands-style that was introduced in this game proved to be so good that it was brought back in subsequent games, like Coded and Dream Drop Distance.
The Disney worlds that were featured in Birth By Sleep were also set in a time before the Heartless invasion as well as new worlds on the brink of falling into darkness. Worlds like Neverland and Olympus Coliseum depicted a whole new aspect of a previously seen world, while the worlds of the Disney princesses were retellings of their movies. If anything, it was a great homage to the older Disney fables, as the two mainline Kingdom Hearts games tended to celebrate the Disney Renaissance of the 90s.
Is It The Best or Bloated?
To complete Birth By Sleep – especially the Final Mix version that is more widely available these days – means you have to play up between 15 and 20 hours of the game per character. Yes, you have to replay all three campaigns, fight the same secret bosses, collect the same skills and items three times. A lot of this tedium comes with the Arena Mode and Monopoly-like Command Board minigame, which are necessary for players who want to get the best skills and the game’s ending.
Another sort of “bloating” within Birth By Sleep is the lore and story themes that were introduced. From the history of Keyblade wielders to Master Xehanort’s final plan that came to fruition in Kingdom Hearts 3, these plotlines were all laid bare in Birth By Sleep. If one were to be confused with the story of Kingdom Hearts, it might have started somewhere around this entry.
Overall, Birth By Sleep is an important slice of the Kingdom Hearts series, and shouldn’t be missed out on if you’re looking to get into the series. Granted, some of the features and moment-to-moment gameplay is lost when it transitioned from the PSP to modern consoles. But nonetheless, one can’t deny its overall importance to the story and the impact of its mechanics and systems to the series overall.