As much as I’d like to be writing an in-depth preview for Kingdom Heats 3 on the PlayStation 3 right now, I suppose I can live with checking out Birth by Sleep for the PSP. The hardcore fans still await this beloved franchise’s return to Sony’s flagship console but in the meantime, they can look forward to this portable entry, which is looking better than ever after putting smiles on the faces of many Tokyo Game Show attendees. The latest demo they had running at the show, according to those who sampled it, is both crisp and fluid and not surprisingly, the visuals are downright stunning for a handheld title. As for the rest of the details, I’m gonna fill you in right now; you can’t remain in the dark, despite the fact that we still don’t have a US release date for this one. For those of you who fell in love with the colorful action/RPG style that debuted in the original Kingdom Hearts back on the PS2, you’ll be happy to know that such smooth, stylish combat will indeed make its triumphant return.
The game will feature two modes – the Story Mode and Arena Mode – plus several different main characters who will tackle a variety of missions throughout the adventure. The most familiar character is Terra, as he has appeared in most of the media and demos we’ve seen; he returned in the TGS presentation, wielding a specially modified keyblade and blasting through legions of Heartless. One of the other characters is Aquas, who actually participates in a quest involving Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which is a new fairytale setting for the series. But regardless of where you are, Story or Battle, the controls should let players gain a firm handle on the battle system: because we’re dealing with the PSP, Square-Enix has mapped movement to the analog nub and camera control to the L and R triggers. You use the d-pad for switching between your available skills, X jumps, Square attacks, and Triangle unleashes that particular character’s special power ability. Oh, and you can tap L and R together to lock on to enemies, and here’s where things start to get interesting…
If you tap and hold the two aforementioned buttons, you will quickly move into a first-person view and then use the analog nub to manually aim your slashing attacks. This is a new feature that is designed to make combat that much more dynamic, and to add to the fun is the special charge meter that will let you launch a sudden flurry of massive attacks. If you stick around a particular enemy long enough (a boss, we’re thinking), the Charge meter will start to fill. You can press the Circle button at any time to start the slaughter but the longer you wait, the more devastating it will be; if you wait until the meter is maxed, you’ll get the most powerful assault of all. Terra, for instance, fires a stream of projectiles at the enemy while Ventus transforms into a roving ball of energy and zips around the screen, mauling anything in his path. If you executed the full-power special move, you’ll even get the benefit of one final attack after the volley of insanity is over, so it behooves you to be as patient as possible. Our only concern with the lock-on is that L and R are also attached to camera control, so…
But perhaps that charge meter is for special situations; the Triangle button will also execute a special skill, and you can use this more often. Once used, you’ll have to wait a bit for it to become available again, but you’ll be able to fill it by simply landing strikes against foes. This meter is also multi-functional as it becomes a specific bonus at a certain time during the gameplay, although I’m not sure if this applies to each character or if it’s team-related. I do know that each fighter will have his or her own set of combos, which should definitely add to the overall flavor of the combat. You’ll just have to keep a close eye on absolutely everything that’s happening on the screen, as you won’t want to miss the kick-ass opportunities as they arrive. As for the rest, you can expect the Story Mode to be similar to campaigns you’ve embarked upon in the past, and we’ll be interested to see how many new areas will be on tap. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs must mean we battle the wicked queen at some point, right?
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is supposed to launch in Japan before the year is out, and if it does, here’s hoping it won’t take much longer to reach American shores. At this point, we’d like to think it could arrive as early as March but…well, we’ve got several other massive titles that are currently scheduled to drop in that month, so how’s about a little sooner, Square-Enix?
9/29/2009 Ben Dutka