The Good: Looks amazing, lots of commands, deep combat, fun boss fights, easy to follow story
The Bad: Level grinding, exploration is boring, terrible camera, technical issues, command board is not fun, the world is Disney in here is a bit on the bland side
The mash-up of Disney and Final Fantasy set fan boys squealing and shook the gaming world. It was like a huge tsunami of awesomeness that no one could have predicted. Thus the first Kingdom Hearts was born with lots of charm and character, but had a lot of problems with combat, and had one confusing story. The second game came out and really added depth to the game and was fan-freaking-tastic. Birth by Sleep is a prequel to the first game, and you really get a lot of stuff that was answer-less in the last two games. You play as Terra, Ventus, and Aqua who are three keyblade wielders trying to stop the darkness spreading through the worlds and within themselves. While the story works and is a lot simpler than past games it never feels like it really goes anywhere and isn't as emotional as the other games.
With that aside the next biggest thing is combat. While it's a lot deeper it's also a lot more confusing and can be daunting to understand especially to new comers and younger players. You have a command deck that allows you to swap out abilities and there are a lot of them. You can eventually equip up to 9 commands, but flipping through them is tedious and not so combat friendly. Using the D-pad to flip through commands can really kill you especially during tough boss fights. Having to move from the analog nub to the D-pad means you stand still while switching. This leaves you vulnerable, and can mean life or death if you have one hit left.
You can use a shot lock command which is like a special attack that requires focus. You go in a first person mode and lock on the target for a few seconds and it unleashes a pretty devastating attack. Summons are no longer available instead they are replaced with the less spectacular D-links. As you beat worlds Disney characters can be selected, and basically you just have a different set of commands to choose from. Your health replenishes, but this doesn't seem as exciting as seeing the character fighting with you.
You can meld commands together and add boosts to create new commands. This can be really interesting and you can make commands you can't normally buy or find. Other than this the menus are the usual with character bios, documents and what not, but once you get used to the menu you will have no problems. The biggest issue with combat is the stupid camera. Relying on a camera is critical with PSP games due to the lack of a second analog nub, but this camera is stupid. Locking on seems like a good idea until the lock on breaks for some unknown reason and you lose sight of the enemy. This is really irritating during highly intense boss fights because you lose sight of them and can walk right into their traps. The camera likes to flip flop around constantly and fighting enemies above you is like down into a swirling toilet with needles stabbing your eyes. It jitters and jutters and spasms and it feels like the game is having an epileptic fit.
Despite this it's manageable and you get so used to it you just deal with it. Exploration is still the same yawn fest, but even more so since most of the environments aren't as active or lush as KH2. The worlds are super short and you can get to each boss without even fighting a single enemy, but if you return they re-spawn and this is only because of the irritating amount of level grinding. No matter what you do or what level you are bosses can kill you in just a few hits. At level 25 I was still getting my butt kicked by a boss late into the game. This leads to each character's story completion time to about 10 hours. The worlds just don't feel alive and as exciting as in KH2 and just seem like bite sized samples of what they should be. There are a few original worlds which is a nice touch, but they could have made the game so much better.
There is a command board game that is so complicated and boring that you may not even care about it. You move around a board trying to collect new commands, and it's overly complicated as all Square mini-games are. This is more like a mini-mind meltdown than anything else and co-op doesn't make it any more fun. The game's best feature is it's technical achievement being one of the very few games that push the PSP to the max. You could easily mistake this game for a PS2 game, but there is some frame rate issues and if you don't install your data to your memory stick you are most likely going to experience horrendous load times. The voice acting is a bit iffy, but the game looks amazing. The enemies are pretty boring and generic and they could have been a lot better.
Overall Birth by Sleep is a great start and I hope this isn't the last KH on the PSP. If they improve the game's many flaws we are looking at the best portable game ever made. What the game really needs is a re-boot because this formula is tasting a bit stale in 2010.