my thoughts on kingdom hearts: birth by sleep // three characters, one story

Hi friends! I recently finished playing through Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep.

and boy, do i have a lot to say.

But first!! Explanations!! On the left I have the version that I played (the PS4 version) that has several games combined. On the right is the original edition of Birth by Sleep alone.

If you don’t know what Kingdom Hearts is, let me explain. You’ll be confused and a little frightened but those feelings are totally normal don’t worry. Basically, the first game follows a boy named Sora as he hunts through different Disney worlds with the help of Donald and Goofy to find his two friends who were taken from him when their world collapsed. Also, there’s a bunch of Final Fantasy characters and Mickey’s the king. In sequels, you get into a bunch of complicated stuff like Organization XIII and Nobodies, but don’t worry about that right now.

If you do know what Kingdom Hearts is (or if you read my description above and haven’t left yet of terror – good for you!) then let me explain what Birth by Sleep is about in particular. Basically, there are three characters: the slow but strong Terra, who struggles with darkness, the fast but weaker Ventus, who wants his friends to be happy, and the magical but physically weaker Aqua who wants to serve the light. The cool thing about this game? You get to play through each of their character arcs, which means you play through all the worlds at least once. If you end up completing all three, then you unlock a special secret episode with the final ending.

our queen aqua

The game is really well-thought out: despite playing through each of the worlds three times, it never really gets repetitive. Each character meets different characters, and tends to play a different role in each world. For example, in Snow White’s world, Terra has the bad luck of meeting with the Evil Queen and being tricked into helping her out. Ven arrives at a totally different place: in the dwarf mines. Finally, Aqua doesn’t arrive until much later, when she helps the prince and dwarves by going and confronting the Evil Queen. Their paths never cross in this world, they each have wildly different final bosses, and you get to explore and interact with various places and people depending on who you’re playing as.

Technically, you could play through one character’s arc and end it there if you wish. But you only get the full picture of this terribly tragic story if you play through all of them and the secret episode. I love the story in this game. I…gasped a lot. My jaw dropped so far that I’m still not sure if I’ve fully picked it back up. The themes of friendship and light and darkness and the juxtaposition of it all can be cheesy at times but overall, it just heightened the emotional intensity of the game as a whole. Which leads me to my other favorite aspect of this game…

the gameplay.

For this prequel installment in the series, the developers changed up the combat once again. This time though, there’s blessedly no cards*. For each character, you have certain stats depending on the character natural playstyle. You basically get a bunch of commands, and can attach abilities to them such as HP boost or Fire boost. Once these commands are maxed out (usually to level 3 or 4) you can meld two commands together to create a brand-new, usually more powerful one! For example, if you meld two Blizzards, you’ll get an upgraded version called Blizzara. There are also really cool moves too: my favorite happens to be in Aqua’s playthrough called Time Splicer. You basically stop all the enemies around you from moving and just spam the Triangle button to do a bunch of damage to them. If you’re playing Terra, you’ll want to meld strong physical attacks. If you’re playing as Ven, you’ll want quick ones. And Aqua’s kit works best with magic**. However, as fantastic as the variety is, the combat does suffer from being clunky. It especially hurts if you go into it from the smoother style of Kingdom Hearts 2. Above, you’ll also see they added two new features that weren’t there previously: D-link and Shotlock. D-link allows you to link up with characters who you have D-links to (for example: Zack from Final Fantasy VII, Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, or Cinderella from…well you know) to use their unique kits. Shotlocking is what Aqua is in the middle of doing and you basically go invulnerable and press X a lot to hit enemies. It uses up the Focus gauge.

*if you understand, just note: card gameplay? not a fan. i’m bad at cards irl anyways
**and then there’s me, who mostly used magical attacks…with all three of them. probably why i struggled with ven and terra so much smh.

I also love how they replaced the Gummi ship minigame* with new games! You have an arena called the Mirage arena where you can fight. You can do Rumble Racing (lesser Mario Kart) in Disney Town. And my favorite minigame was called the Command Board which is sorta like Monopoly??? But you also get to level up your commands and obtain new ones without fighting or buying so yay for that! Also, I very much enjoy beating Pooh Bear in a battle of wits and luck. It’s therapeutic.

*i don’t even liked calling it a minigame. it was more like “flying ship of nightmarish hatred and gummi block trauma that you were forced to do”

I should probably quit while I’m ahead but I just want to give a quick shoutout to Yoko Shimomura once again for composing an absolutely spectacular score. The music is so, so good, especially in the Keyblade Graveyard. She really does such incredible work.

That’s it! This is literally almost 1000 words and I did it in maybe 45 minutes. Meanwhile it takes me up to an hour to write 300 words for school sometimes…oops. That’s how you know I enjoyed this game! I’d give it a solid 8.5 or 9 out of 10. I’ll have to sit on it. Talk to me below!

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