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Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep is no distraction from the main series. It's a genuine step forward and impressive both in complexity of story and interplay with the Disney universe.
I hadn't really settled down to a Kingdom Hearts game since our second child arrived, which I realised today was a good five years. It's been that long since the last console iteration.
The other portable editions like Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days felt more like spin offs to me that a genuine attempt to move things forward. Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep happily makes good on some old promises.
What's more, my now five year old son is more than happy to watch me play the game - although there are one or two scenes where he needs a cushion to hide behind.
It's a prequel to the previous Kingdom Heart games that focuses on the Keyblade Masters - which are pretty much Jedi transported into a Disney universe.
Three apprentices are on offer to play, and you can tackle each in any order as they follow distinct interconnected stories. These combine to make Birth by Sleep something of a long game (around 24 hours in total) but there is enough of a story here to keep my son interested - and asking detailed plot line questions.
I know first time you come across the strange combination of Final Fantasy and Disney worlds it seems rather odd. But it's the sort of ill-advised mash-up that videogames excel at. What results is a more light hearted - although no less complex - rendering of a Final Fantasy style adventure. It's a cross over that is perfectly pitched for families.
There were times when I hit a real spike in difficulty, and as I went on I developed a pretty sore thumb.
As you play each character you work through the same Disney worlds. Certain sections have to be unlocked but if you play through each character you visit the same spot a number of times. I could tell this was becoming repetitious as my son would wander off during these sections and nestle down with his GBA.
Birth by Sleep adds some novelty for veterans of the series as well. You can now merge two spells and special attacks into combos. I ended up spending a good few hours trying out different mixes and soon found my favourites. It reminded me of Dungeon Masters spell combinations back on the Amiga - I lost days to those.
You can also borrow powers from the Disney characters you meet in the Dimension Link. Although this is like a Summons from the other games, the ability to take on these abilities works well.
There were times when I hit a real spike in difficulty, and as I went on I developed a pretty sore thumb. But the main problem I had were the loading times. PSP games are notorious for taking their time to spin up the UMD and get the data in, but Birth by Sleep was particularly slow.
It's probably testament to how much I enjoyed the game, that these negatives didn't deter me from playing through the game. Even my son, who is of an age where patience isn't particularly forthcoming, was happy to wait for the action.
Having been waiting for a new Kingdom Hearts since before he was around, it was special to finally get one I could share with him.
Having been waiting for a new Kingdom Hearts since before he was around, it was special to finally get one I could share with him. It's diminutive nature, and Disney setting means that although some scenes are a little 'full-contact' I was happily able to share the experience.
I had expected only the console release of Kingdom Hearts 3 to be able to scratch my Disney Fantasy itch, but Birth by Sleep has shown just how much can be accomplished on a handheld.
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