While Square Enix lacked any big surprises for Kingdom Hearts fans at E3 2010, they did at least bring a fully translated version of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep with them to the show floor. We checked up on the Square Enix booth to get some more hands-on time with Birth by Sleep, as the last time we had played it was Tokyo Game Show 2009, shortly before the game's Japanese release.
While gameplay feels exactly the same, we were however presented with a choice to play through new segments of Ventus' story, Aqua's story, or Terra's story, and of course, it was all voiced in English. Kicking things off with Ventus' story segment, Ventus is in the middle of chasing down a huge squid-like Unverse (the "new heartless" for Birth by Sleep) through some sort of space worm hole. Ventus is clad head to toe in his knight suit, atop a space surf board of sorts, assumed on a mission to take down the Unverse.
The cutscene becomes gameplay as Ventus attacks the Unverse, allowing the player to dash around on the board as Ventus, slicing and slamming into it. With lock-on it's fairly easy to beat the Unverse, but to little surprise when the screen turns white, the Unverse gets away. Ventus, still chasing the Unverse, winds up in a giant space ship in the Deep Space world, home to Disney's Stitch, of Lilo & Stitch. Stitch is there, but has been captured at gun point, and is being held when Ventus arrives on the ship; when the Alien who captured Stitch leaves the holding area to check up on the new arrival (Ventus), Stitch breaks outs.
The game is heavy on the cutscenes before Ventus is back in the player's hands, but being Kingdom Hearts, it's just what fans will love. The English voice acting is of the high quality Kingdom Hearts fans have been spoiled with so far, with both Ventus and Stitch sounding just as expected. It's still amazing to see the sharp world of Kingdom Hearts running on the small PSP screen, especially in the fully voiced cutscenes, complete with properly synced lip movements to the English words.
We didn't finish Ventus' demo as we also got some hands on time with Aqua and Terra's story segments. Aqua's story segment lies in the Castle of Dreams, where she searches for Ventus after hearing that Ventus was looking for Terra there, as well as investigates Cinderella's family when she senses darkness from them. Terra's story segment takes place in the Olympus Colosseum, where he saves Young Hercules after Herc fails to beat waves of baddies in the colosseum. Hades also makes an appearance as he encourages Terra to join the colosseum games, and embrace the strength of darkness.
Gameplay feels almost exactly like that of Kingdom Hearts II, minus a few changes to how battle abilities work. In Birth by Sleep, players set up a 'deck' of abilities, like blizzard or cure for example, that they can bring into battle. During the E3 2010 demo, there were about seven open slots with spells and attacks already set in, but players can mix those around. The key to the system is that if you don't equip the proper abilities for battles, you can't access abilities you may have, but aren't equipped to the deck. There's no MP necessary too, as abilities auto-recharge when used, a much welcomed change.
It can be argued as a return to form to Kingdom Hearts II's battle system, or simply reusing a system that otherwise already worked fine, with few innovations to enhance it. The battle system is no less still very fun, and works just as well as players would expect. Fans will likely appreciate the system, where as casual players of the series will at first feel like they've used this system a lot already. With new characters, abilities, enemies, and minor enhancements to the system, it should ward off any feelings of being a copy, however digging into the full game is needed to really say that with confidence. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is still looking very promising for fans and PSP junkies alike, and being the AAA PSP title it is, unless you don't enjoy games with heavy emphasis on story, this is a game to consider picking up upon release for anyone.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep releases on September 7th in North America, and September 10th in Europe.