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PSP Fanboy hands-on: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep

The Kingdom Hearts series was first born on the PlayStation 2; however, it has gone and spread its wings into other realms since then and now it carries a new bundle of joy in the form of portable PSP title Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. While the title radically takes the story aspect of the game farther away from the original setting with Sora and friends, this new game will focus on the three (slightly) new faces pictured above (from left: Aqua, Ventus and Tera).

Birth by Sleep was indeed playable on the show floor at TGS and we sunk in some time with the title. The playable build that was available let us try out both Ventus and Tera in battle. We decided to just go with trying out Tera's abilities and then go straight into the action. Tera's level starts off in a forest area which gets you into a fight right away. Kingdom Hearts vets will notice that the controls are incredibly familiar; they're nearly identical to the original console games from the past, though with slight differences due to the change in input interface (ie, shoulder buttons once again control the camera since there are no dual analog nubs).

As with the controls, you can also expect the battle system to play out in a similar fashion as previous KH games. However, gameplay does feel like a watered down experience in some respects when compared to the console games. The combat feels stiff often at times with awkward camera angles, and yes, you can change them but it does tend to get in the way. Also, the constant spamming of the attack button does get rather repetitive and boring after the first few minutes.

It's strange, I did enjoy playing both PS2 KH games in the past very much, but Birth by Sleep was by far an uneventful experience. It did, incidentally, make me want to ... sleep. Tera's area focused on a forced battle after forced battle which was getting tedious, not because of the quantity of the fights but because the system just wasn't any fun. After passing that area, I was taken to another place called the Enchanted Dominion which is apparently Sleeping Beauty's castle. We arrived on a really long bridge and had to make our way towards the castle. There were more battles, with typical heartless enemies: fliers, ground troops and those big fat guys you can only hurt from behind (though in BbS, the damage was apparently not penalized). Luckily, I decided to just rush pass these guys and head into the castle.

Once inside, I was greeted by a boss fight with a giant red spindle heartless which is obviously in line with the Sleeping Beauty mythos. As the boss fight went on, I noticed that the timed input events first introduced in KH2 are back. This is good as it adds a little more oomph to the otherwise tedious affair. Speaking of KH2 innovations or, in some cases, annoyances, bosses can't be defeated without using a finishing attack.

While there was still another half of the game to explore, we moved on elsewhere and left Ventus' half for another day. We did give it a quick peek though, noting that it takes place on Cinderella's world which is dubbed "Castle of Dreams." There wasn't any showing for the third playable character though there's always time for that next year as the game won't be out in Japan until sometime in 2009.

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