TGS 2008: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Hands-On

Kingdom Hearts continues its Renaissance with this prequel, and we got some time with a playable version on the Tokyo Game Show floor.

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TOKYO--Earlier this year, we got a brief look at Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep at Square Enix's DK Sigma 3173 event, and it looks like the demo available on the floor of the 2008 Tokyo Game Show was the same that we saw in August. But it never hurts to take a second look, especially when surrounded by throngs of press members eager to get their own mitts on the upcoming PSP game. Fortunately, the trailer for the game we'd just seen in Square Enix's Mega Theater had already whetted our voracious Disney-hungry appetites, so we were glad to take the game for a second spin.

Fatal mode, appropriately, delivers the kills.
Fatal mode, appropriately, delivers the kills.

The trailer showed several shots of Sleeping Beauty's wicked queen, Maleficent. She seems to be the game's main antagonist, but sadly, none of the playable demo showcased her wily ways. However, the first level we played took place in "Enchanted Dominion," aka The Enchanted Kingdom, which is Sleeping Beauty's world. Our own character was no princess, though: His name was Terra, and he's a newcomer to the Kingdom Hearts universe. The level began with a short scene in which the camera panned across a green meadow and focused on the spiked raven locks of our hero. From here, we pushed forward, eager to learn more about Birth By Sleep's combat system.

It didn't take long, as we quickly encountered a number of enemies known as unbirths; like the heartless and nobodies from the other games in the series, the unbirths come in a variety of types. The most common one was a beak-nosed blue foe with a sharply angular body. Other types we encountered were batlike creatures and winged cauldrons, but the main methods of attacking them were the same: By pounding on the circle button, you execute standard attack moves with your keyblade, while the square button lets you block and X causes you to jump. The triangle button initiates magic attacks or other actions, such as drinking a potion, and you can cycle through the options easily using the D pad.

The twist is that by landing enough attacks and filling your command meter, you can actually enter different combat states--and within those states, you can access different levels of attack power. For example, we entered "fatal mode," in which our attacks gained power the more we pummeled our foes; by the time we reached the third level of this mode, we executed a multihit attack followed by a fiery blast, all by simply hitting the circle button. "Fire blazer" was another attack mode we entered, and it caused, appropriately, a number of fiery attacks to emanate from Terra's blade. And in yet another twist, single-button quicktime prompts appeared here and there, which prompted powerful-looking aerial attacks.

The level was totally combat oriented, and ended with a giant mechanical boss that wielded a thin tractor beam of sorts on one arm, and rotating spiked wheel on the other. The energy string proved to be a bit tricky, since it would pull us inward and keep us from being able to attack, though another button-pressing event (hammering on the circle button) extricated Terra from its grip. Sadly, the boss went down quickly and we were met with a short blurb thanking us for playing.

No, this isn't Roxas, it's Ventus. Coincidental resemblance? Talk amongst yourselves.
No, this isn't Roxas, it's Ventus. Coincidental resemblance? Talk amongst yourselves.

Fortunately, there was more to check out. A second level let us play as Ventus, who bears more than a striking resemblance to series star Roxas (and the protagonist of the upcoming DS game, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days). This took place in Cinderella's Castle of Dreams, and included more platforming and puzzling elements. We did get a chance to pound on a number of enemies with Ventus' unusual-looking keyblade, however. Enemies included boots (yes, boots) hopping around, more winged cauldrons and beak-nosed blue dudes, flop-eared rabbitlike creatures, and our favorite, bouncing unbirths with jiggling bellies and demonic red eyes. Special attack modes included "speed race," a quick and dirty attack that was particularly dramatic on its third level. The quick-press attack we performed unleashed bolts of lightning on all nearby enemies. The most powerful blow we landed, however, was in "cyclone" mode. For the first time, we reached an attack level of four, at which point Ventus became, essentially, a whirling whirlwind of death, destroying every unbirth in his path for a few seconds.

In this particular level, Ventus had been shrunk to the size of a mouse, so in order to reach certain heights, we had to use the environments creatively. At one point we had to jump on a fork sticking out from the wall, which then propelled us to a ledge above. Sadly, we had to leave the booth, so we never defeated the end boss, Lucifer the cat. On the other hand, we got to knock around giant balls of yarn, so that must count for something. Regardless, we're happy to report that the game is lovely to look at, and we had fun with the limited amount of time we spent with Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. We'll bring you more information, including an exact release date, as soon as it is available.

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