(2010) Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Birth by Sleep was probably one of the main reasons behind me getting a PSP (actually I ended up having to buy two) and, luckily, the game didn’t disappoint. Even though there was quite a long wait for it, I think it definitely is one of the best games for the system. Now, that may not seem like it’s saying much considering the PSP’s library, but I certainly felt Birth By Sleep was a damn enjoyable game and one that really helped the troubled handheld.
While it still did try to take the traditional gameplay of the series to a less than ideal system, Birth by Sleep made enough improvements to it that you couldn’t help but get a bit more excited for the future. The deck system didn’t overhaul the feel of the combat, but added an enjoyable sense of customization. And the three characters had enough unique perks that you would be able to fully explore all your options by the end of the game. And with those three stories to play through, there’s a lot of game to be had and realized a lot of the possibilities that came with the PSP
But that’s not to say it’s all perfect. With three parallel stories to play through, you get a ton of content, but you’ll also have revisited worlds loads more than you probably would like to. Also, being a prequel the story may be the most accessible to newcomers since the first game, but it still assumes you know a bit too much about this universe already, and proceeds to throw even more into the pot, including four major characters who aren’t really introduced until this game, one of them being the main villain.
Now, I think Birth By Sleep is great. I think the combat, as well as the soundtrack, are the best of the series. It has hours of entertainment in it (of which, a shameful amount came from the Monopoly-esque minigame for me), and the story still has my attention. I love the game, but I’ve been playing since the beginning. To absolutely anyone else, the series is a pretty big clusterfuck at this point.
And even as a fan, you have to notice the absence of actual story-progression.
(2011) Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
Unfortunately, the next game would probably be the most egregious halt for the series, and I made the decision not to pick it up. So I can’t speak to the puzzle-focused gameplay of this update/remake to mobile game (before mobile games were worth a damn). However, I did hear the nightmare platforming from the first game finally made its comeback, and that the worlds felt like empty shells of what they once were, which is rather appropriate when you consider game primarily takes place in a digital world where you play as a sort of Sora program. Maybe that sounds cool to some fans out there, but you have to consider the timeline for all this, as these were what determined that I would never play Re:coded.
As convoluted as the plot was by the time Birth by Sleep came out, a diehard fan could at least defend it to themselves. Every story for each game had a place in the timeline, and you could justify each game’s existence. The story still made sense, but by getting bogged down explaining things, you can end up killing a lot of momentum. Re:coded finds a hole in the timeline to fit a game into, but it wasn’t one that was really necessary.
The ending (not really a spoiler if you played the second game) involves Sora getting a letter that informs him of the people and the events of Birth By Sleep. How does he get this information? A secret message in a journal from a character whose every action pretty much defines the phrase, “How convenient!”
But rather than just get him the message and move the series to its conclusion, somebody decided that we needed a digital adventure! I’m not saying that it doesn’t have a place (and this game was certainly meant to be something more casual) but considering the games that have come before, they’ve exhausted every possible plot hole at this point and did it in too short of a time between each other. In filling these plot holes, they probably ended up hurting the story more than helping it.
And that’s unfortunately where we find ourselves going into Kingdom Hearts 3D. Over the years, the story hasn’t been carrying its load, leaving the gameplay to really be hit-or-miss depending on what type of systems they’re playing with. And, for as much as I enjoyed the gameplay of Birth by Sleep, I don’t know if taking it to the 3DS will satisfy the problems I had with it. Will it have the polish that these games really need to start delivering.
As for story, I’m relieved that Dream Drop Distance will finally be a step forward, but when you already know it’s only meant to be bridging the gap to Kingdom Hearts III (whenever the hell we’ll be getting that), you have to question how much progression there will actually be.
Story progression is really about all they can strive for, though. I honestly believe that any hopes of making this series accessible to new players died a long time ago. I believe the series probably has just about all the fans it’s going to get (not counting release some HD collection), and, with me as one of them, I want their focus to be delivering those fans a satisfying conclusion.
We already know Kingdom Hearts 3D won’t be that ending, but I hope it promises one that fans can get excited for. Even Tetsuya Nomura himself has said that after 3D, it’ll be time to take Kingdom Hearts back to a major console. And I have to believe that has to do with more than just technical capabilities.
I think the setting still has a lot of corners to play around in, and the series always takes some interesting twists with its gameplay. But after looking back on the games, I think this particular story is about ready to finish up. Admittedly, this puts Dream Drop Distance in a weird place when it comes out next week, but I do think there’s a potential to build back any lost momentum. We’ll just have to wait and see where things are going.Posted in Op Ed by Ben Matlock on July 24, 2012