Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is the only Kingdom Hearts game released on the Playstation Portable. It was then re-released on the Playstation 3 and 4 in the Final Mix collections. There are three playable characters: Terra, Aqua and Ventus, who have a considerable role in Kingdom Hearts 3. In fact, Aqua’s story continues in Kingdom Hearts 2.8.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep takes place ten years prior to the original Kingdom Hearts and follows three trainee Keyblade Masters: Terra, Aqua and Ventus. They all reside with their teacher Master Eraqus who along with Master Xehanort assesses Terra and Aqua for their Mark of Mastery exam. Whilst Aqua is worthy of becoming a Keyblade Master, Terra is unable to stop himself from succumbing to the darkness in his heart. This attracts the attention of Xehanort, who encourages him and Ventus to succumb to their darker urges throughout the game.
After Yen Sid, a former keyblade master, requests for Eraqus and his pupils to investigate the darkness that has been corrupting the different worlds. This presents a new opportunity for Terra to impress him and gain his Mark of Mastery. Meanwhile, Ventus continues to meet a mysterious masked boy: Vanitas, who works with Xehanort to get Ventus to leave Eraqus and the others. Thus, Ventus finds himself going after Terra whilst Aqua, under Master Eraqus’s orders leaves on her mission with the added tasks of watching Terra and ensuring that Ventus returns home.
During the game, Xehanort manipulates Terra into tapping into the dark powers within him. Aqua believes that Terra is stronger than this however, Ventus fears that Terra is changing. Terra discovers that Vanitas is the dark half of Ventus’s heart and that he was the former pupil of Xehanort prior to his heart being split in two. This is done so that Xehanort can gain the all powerful keyblade known as the χ-blade, which can only be unlocked through Ventus and Vanitas, and it is the only keyblade that can summon the door to Kingdom Hearts.
Terra and Aqua swear to protect him, however it appears that in the end Xehanort succeeds with his goal. He temporarily gains the χ-blade and Terra finds his body possessed him. Meanwhile, Ventus falls into a deep sleep after battling Vanitas to seal the χ-blade, and Aqua, in a bid to save both of her friends finds herself trapped in the Realm of Darkness.
This will immediately tie-into Aqua’s story in Kingdom Hearts 2.8, and expands upon the original trio’s backgrounds and how they all had the ability to summon the keyblades.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep has a significant similarity to the main games in the franchise when compared to the DS spin-offs. Undoubtedly, this was due to the use of a Playstation system instead of relying on the Nintendo DS systems. The controls are therefore easy to use, and it doesn’t take long to get through each worlds. You have the option of three characters to play as. Although the narrative suggests that each will go to different worlds depending on the character you choose, this doesn’t happen but merely changes the order of the worlds that you travel in.
I found that the combat system was easy to use, with the shotlock system introduced to make it simpler to battle a large number of enemies. Compared to the other games, there’s a command board game that enables you to level up your commands and abilities by pitting you against the other keyblade wielders. On this, you can obtain new abilities and level these up by running around a board to obtain a certain amount of points. It makes it feel less like a grind than it felt in the DS games. However, although easier to use, I found that it did have its flaws as a slip of your finger could find you wasting supplies or even wasting attacks on weaker enemies. I praise the story for its originality but it did feel like an expansion on world-building and Xehanort’s background than anything else.
The gameplay felt similar to the remainder of the games in the series with experimental aspects thrown in to test the waters for Kingdom Hearts 3. Overall, Kingdom Hearts: Birthy by Sleep does a pretty good job as a prequel that doesn’t feel too forced into the franchise.