PAX impressions / Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep

Set ten years before the events of the original title, Birth By Sleep is the series’ first entry on the PSP, but don’t call it a little brother, as there’s nothing little about it. This is a full blown, big time Kingdom Hearts game on a small screen with all the bells and whistles of a home console entry. If you’re starving for Kingdom Hearts III, read on to find out if Birth By Sleep can hold you over.

The very first thing anyone will notice about Birth By Sleep is how drop-dead gorgeous it is. It is, without question, the best looking PSP game I have ever seen, and it’s nearly on par with its PS2 brethren. The backgrounds are exceedingly detailed, the animations are superb, and the highly expressive faces on the characters are leaps and bounds above anything else on the system. It also sounds fantastic, with fully voiced cut-scenes throughout to go along with another great score composed by Yoko Shimomura.

But it’s not just the graphics that make Birth By Sleep feel out of place on the PSP. Make no mistake, this is a console game on a portable device. The combat and exploration all feel much closer to Birth By Sleep‘s bigger brothers on PS2 than the other hand-held entries in the series. The product manager described the game as “highly involved” when asked how portable friendly it is, so it might not be the best choice for someone looking to play in five minute bursts.

Being a Kingdom Hearts game, you will once again be exploring famous Disney sets. One of the new environments included a spaceship set in the Lilo & Stitch universe, and the game also has a strong focus on the classic Disney princesses, so expect to visit locations from Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast, etc.

The two sections of Birth By Sleep that I played were both highly impressive. The PSP may have its problems, but it still houses the ability to create that “I can’t believe I’m playing this on a handheld” feeling, and Birth By Sleep releases that sensation in spades.

The game works better at home on the couch than on a commute, but Kingdom Hearts fans looking for a fleshed out experience should be very pleased when the game launches next week.