Birth by Sleep
Developed by Square-Enix
Published by Square-Enix, Ubisoft, Disney Interactive Studios
Available on PSP, PS3
Hey, we haven’t talked about Kingdom Hearts in a while. So let’s talk about my favorite franchise and its mastery of the long form game.
Kingdom Hearts has a way of telling complex stories that produce more questions than answers. As such, Kingdom Hearts games tend to run long. With the minor exceptions of Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days, each of the games has managed to build a strong fan base that continues to pine for Kingdom Hearts 3 (Before I die Square Enix, that’s all I ask–before I die). The longest game to date is Birth by Sleep, which clocks in at a healthy 45 hours of gameplay that purely moves the plot forward. That does not include any time players might spend mucking about with meld commands, building command decks, playing mini-games, or fighting in the arena. Players are willing to invest so much time in Birth by Sleep because although Birth by Sleep failed to pick up where Kingdom Hearts 2 left off, it provided players with new game mechanics that improved gameplay tenfold, and it presented three unique perspectives on the events that lead to Kingdom Hearts.
There are typically two sides to every story, but Birth by Sleep presents a third road for players to go down. In the prequel to the Kingdom Hearts franchise, players have the option of choosing between three different characters: Aqua-who favors magic, Terra-who favors physical attacks, and Ventus (or Ven as he is more commonly known)-who favors speed.
Aqua is best friends with her fellow keyblade wielders Terra and Ventus. She is the first student to pass the Mark of Mastery in many years and is immediately recognized as Master Aqua. Not long after earning her new title, Aqua is sent to watch over Terra as he attempts to complete a second Mark of Mastery exam, and to retrieve Ventus who recklessly ventured out into the Lanes Between after Terra’s departure.
Terra has a healthy rivalry with Aqua and dreams of becoming a keyblade master. Though he fails the Mark of Mastery after the darkness in his heart manifests during the test, Terra is still determined to fulfill his dream. Unfortunately, the path he is sent down by Master Xehanort does not grant him control of the darkness, but instead allows the darkness to control him.
Ventus (or Ven as he is more commonly known) is the youngest of the group, and has no memories of his life before arriving at the Land of Departure. Ven is very protective of his friends, so when a mysterious figure appears in his room hinting at a tragic fate for Terra should he travel to the Lanes Between, Ven reacts accordingly. Upon hearing his best friend is in grave danger, Ven tries to warn Terra but is too late. Left with no other choice, Ven leaves home in search of Terra. Of course, Ven’s departure is all part of a larger plot to forge the X-blade.
There is no right or wrong way to start this particularly epic journey into the Kingdom Hearts universe. Players are free to choose which character they would like to be and which lands they would like to visit first. At a moment’s notice, players are able to switch between characters. So if you get tired of kicking major butt with Aqua’s incredible magic, you can switch to Terra, and pummel the universe into the ground, or you can swap for Ven, and slice and dice your foes before they have time to blink.
Each character leads players into a scenario that makes up a fraction of the over-arcing story, and each individual scenario requires at least 15 hours of gameplay. Throughout the game we see characters cross paths, misinterpret the others actions, and fight side by side. It’s actually a lot of fun to run through a world with all three and figure out which person arrived first and explore how Terra’s actions for example, effect the events that surround Aqua and Ven.
Of course, playing straight through is also an option since Aqua, Terra, and Ven have separate endings that are set in stone. Nothing you do during Aqua’s playthrough will change how Ven’s story comes to an end, and playing as Terra is not essential to the way Aqua’s journey comes to a close.
Yet playing only one character arc will leave players wondering what the other two keyblade wielders were up to. Birth by Sleep taps into the players curiosity and dangles the answers just out of reach. Is Terra responsible for the unfortunate events in the Enchanted Domain? What memories are locked away in the depths of Ven’s mind? Does Aqua truly believe that one of her closest friends has fallen into darkness? The only way to find out is to play through all three stories.
Seeing three perspectives isn’t the only perk of course. Completing the story will unlock secret footage and a boss battle with an unnamed baddie. Talk about incentive.
Whether players are looking for full completion, or simply enjoy swinging their keyblade at armies of unversed, Birth by Sleep crafts an intriguing world that easily warrants further investigation.