Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix

Although the second main installment of Square-Enix’s Kingdom Hearts franchise saw its release in Japan in 2005 and in North America the following year, only recently has there been details and the rare screenshot of the third primary entry, with the company content to put out side-stories taking place in between and after the games. Late 2014 saw the worldwide release of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, a collection featuring the Final Mix of the second entry and that of the franchise’s first and only prequel game, originally released on the PlayStation Portable, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix, providing a solid experience.

Taking place a decade before the events of the original Kingdom Hearts, the prequel allows players to take control of one of three characters, each with different battle styles, Terra, Ventus, and Aqua, who battle adversaries known as the Unversed, given the absence at the time of the Heartless. Each can normally attack foes with their respective keyblades, although outside combat, players can outfit them with a limited quantity of items and/or skills executed by pressing the triangle button, physical, magical, or in between, and which players gradually level and ultimately master as they battle the game’s diverse enemies.

As each keyblade master attacks enemies, a gauge gradually fills, and when full, changes their current attack style, which is typically more powerful, the gauge gradually diminishing when a character isn’t landing hits, and used command needing time to recharge. When in an attack mode, players can continue to fill the gauge, and in these instances when it’s full, either an even more powerful combat style triggers, or the player can execute a powerful finishing move (which can also happen when a character isn’t in a certain style yet fills the gauge with attacks/commands that aren’t essential to triggering an alternate style).

Outside battle, players can meld two commands to create a more powerful command, during which they can attach a special item during fusion that will cause the created command to have an additional ability, such as increased finishing move power. Mastering commands with these added abilities will make it a permanent part of a character’s skill roster, with occasional upgrades for these innate effects. It is also possible, by holding the R1 button, to execute a Shotlock command where a character fires several projectiles at the enemy and can do more after shooting them, with a Focus gauge depleting with use of these abilities, restored with ethers or gradually by attacking enemies.

Throughout a character’s quest, they may also form D-Links with other characters, although these typically aren’t necessary to beating the game and aren’t nearly as useful as Shotlocks. The battle system works well for the most part with each character, the camera rarely posting a problem, although a few bosses may necessitate grinding, with levels luckily rising quickly, and when starting a different character’s quest, the player must start from scratch in terms of command decks. In spite of these flaws, the battle system is mostly enjoyable and helps the game far more than hurts.

The game interface is mostly adequate, with crystal-clear direction on how to advance, easy menus, skill management, and shopping, although each character’s quest has a mandatory minigame that may require several attempts, loading times can be bad at times during instances such as skipping cutscenes, and unlocking the Final Episode may necessitate a guide.

The Kingdom Hearts games have mostly been hit-or-miss in terms of narrative, although Birth By Sleep features one of the strongest storylines of the series, with the three primary protagonists decently developed, alongside many shouts-out to chronologically future games in the franchise, and each hero’s search for Master Xehanort actually seeming urgent at most points of the plot. There are some occasional peculiarities such as the fact that Donald Duck’s nephews, young in the original Kingdom Hearts, are about the same age in the prequel, but otherwise, the plot definitely serves the game well.

The same goes for the soundtrack, with plenty of enjoyable pieces, in spite of occasional recycling from other entries of the series, although the voice acting is top-notch, in spite of some occasional off lip-syncing.

The graphics look nice, too, with the framerate issues present in the PlayStation Portable version being absent in the HD port, although there are rare bland textures when viewed close-up.

Finally, Terra and Ventus’s quests can take from eight to fifteen hours to complete, with Aqua’s being somewhat shorter, the Final Episode taking but a few hours, and plenty lasting appeal through the various achievements and difficulty settings.

Overall, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix is for the most part a solid director’s cut of the original game, with solid gameplay, a great story and translation, nice music, and gorgeous graphics. There are some occasional issues such as the aforementioned mandatory minigames not to mention the loading times and the possible need to use a guide to unlock the Final Episode, but this Final Mix is another fine addition to its respective HD collection.

The Good:
+Solid action-based battle system.
+Great story and translation.
+Nice music and graphics.

The Bad:
-Some mandatory minigames.
-A few long loading times.
-Accessing Final Episode may necessitate a guide.

The Bottom Line:
A great prequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 9/10
Localization: 9/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 20-30 Hours

Overall: 9/10

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