Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep – lesserland review

Released in 2010 and delivered right when we needed it most, here’s the lesserland review for Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep //

Just as some parents are cooler than their kids, Birth by Sleep is cooler than Kingdom Hearts.

It’s never age that makes the difference – I mean, the metaphor breaks down completely if the children are in some way older than their own parents. Rather, it’s the context; the age they grew up in; the hard-edged childhood-through-adolescence that, by force and by weather, instilled in them a charismatic character that just cannot be replicated within a caring and loving environment. Sorry, kid – and by kid, I do actually mean the paradoxically older Kingdom Hearts.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Kingdom Hearts, and **I think you’ll find there’s literally nothing wrong with it at all, under any scrutiny, either shallow or deep. Redundantly, however, I continue in saying *Kingdom Hearts*, and *Kingdom Hearts II*, offer an air that is admirable – sure – impressive – yes – but cool – nay.

In their context, they’re well-loved children. Both games were released by one of the biggest video game companies, in partnership with one of the biggest companies full-stop, for the singular best-selling console in the world at that point; each scrubbed up good by taking a nice hot bath in molten cash and hence emerged simple and clean.

And yet that goes a little far, as the original games do have their own awkward charm. From their age they still hold an enchantingly quaint semi-mature flavour, acquainting literal cotton candy-safe Mickey Mouse with concepts like death, darkness, despair, and hubris. Kingdom Hearts was also made in a time when games were still primarily designed to be games, rather than cinematic have-all-be-alls. So to the twee-and-poison mix, we add hardcore Devil May Cry-lite acrobatic enemy-juggling key-shaped swordplay action.

Birth by Sleep has all those things too, but sheds the bloat that comes inherent to a mainline RPG from the studio that made Final Fantasy. There’s a standard that must be upheld there for the mainline Kingdom Hearts games – golden, gummi ship-shaped handcuffs. In its place, we get an action-first command list, converting an exhaustive list of executable combos and custom abilities into mere single-button presses.

It’s the sort of system that could so easily destroy the flow and challenge of a less thoughtful game, but Birth by Sleep had a rough father figure in the form of the PSP, and it learned quick that sometimes things are just easier if you keep your hands out of your pockets and your haircut neat. Out goes large-scale chip damage-inflicting enemy barrage battles, and in its place enters flow-breaking enemy variants. Some foes need hit from specific angles, others make perpetually fighting on the ground a non-option until they’re cleared, forcing you into positions where you have to prioritise targets within your array of attackers.

The flow of combat is kept varied, forcing you to keep on top of your command menu until you inevitably figure out the best list of moves is just a fire dash or a thunder dash copied six times, plus one healing spell. For most players, however, it will take quite a while to figure out the game is a little too forgiving with elemental stuns, and by then it’s a reward for staying on your toes so long.

Then just as your worst tendencies emerge, Birth by Sleep catches you by the ear and reminds you that it’s gone well out of its way not to treat you like its father treated them, but if that’s what it takes, you can expect a stone-cold boot up your ass to put you back in line. All this to say: boss fights in this game are real good, and there’s a lot of them. (The final bout in the real ending in Radiant Garden is a complete stand-out.)

Maybe it’s a little busted in the late game. Maybe it’s impossible to imagine someone playing this and enjoying it on anything below the hardest difficulty. Maybe it’s a little repetitive with its Sonic Adventure-style narrative forcing you to relive lacklustre events. Maybe its Disney Town area is the most insufferable world in the entire series, and yes that does include every Atlantis. Maybe I should’ve led this review with a metaphor of a kid being cooler than their parent instead of the reverse just because, narratively, Birth by Sleep takes place earlier.

Sure sounds like the kind of questions a kid with parents cooler than they are would ask though.



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1 Comment

  1. saurotitan says:

    It’s good to be able to admit that there are problems with nostalgic franchises we love. I know that there’s plenty of stuff wrong with the Beast Wars cartoon, but the stuff I love about it hasn’t changed a bit. Your review seems to say much of the same – you can see the flaws, but what you like is still there

    Liked by 1 person

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