Is KH: Birth by Sleep Volume II Just Another Spin-off? (Two Games, One Destiny – Part II)

Will KH: Birth by Sleep Volume Two be a worthy sequel for KH fans?

Breaking Down Birth By Sleep

The more I think about Birth by Sleep, the more convinced I am that Birth by Sleep Volume Two was an inevitability. Then again, I’ve had a good feeling about Volume Two since we received the trailer. But when you look at the development of the original Birth by Sleep back when it was just beginning, you’ll find that the game was originally slated to be released on a main console (see Famitus 2010), not the PSP. There’s also a lot of debate about where Square Enix was going to end the game and where exactly the fight in the Keyblade Graveyard would fit into the overall timeline of Kingdom Hearts. There was even some mention that the game creators had thought of starting the game off with that final battle at one point. The two together tells me that Birth by Sleep did not have the proper finish they originally had in mind for the game. Time considerations and other issues in development (including some experimentation with the gameplay system) moved the game onto the PSP and left it with the ultimate cliffhanger. The ending to Birth by Sleep plays on the tried and true method of leaving the game open for continuation while also having it ready to be dropped if the sales weren’t satisfactory–a tactic perfected by the original Kingdom Hearts. Clearly, the stats gave Birth by Sleep Volume Two a go ahead, so of course they went with it. Ergo, the developer’s reasoning for a sequel is simple: They’re just finishing what they started.

Come Play In Darkland, We’ve Got…..Gas Pillars?

Okay, that’s not entirely fair to Volume Two, but a lot of fans have raised the question: What sort of story could possibly be worth telling here? Birth by Sleep can be seen as a cliffhanger of sorts–a cliffhanger that is resolved by the rest of the series. What story could be so important to warrant another game?

With the final showdown with Xehanort to take place in Kingdom Hearts 3 (so we think), could Square Enix be setting up a new enemy to fill his shoes?

BbS Volume Two, with only the one trailer and not much exposition to draw from there, is indeed nebulous. But the end of the trailer we do have reveals that, whatever story there is, it’s a dire circumstance: Sora and Ventus disappear from their positions in Birth by Sleep. Sora is the agent of change and action in the series so far, and Ventus seems to be labeled as a prize, so the message I get is that the stakes are absolute victory or loss for either side. That alone, the make-or-break nature of that one little scene, already raises my interest. What could be so big that it would affect the future of the series as we know it? What’s the sacrifice?

But the bigger question we have to ask ourselves is what the developers are hinting at with the entire secret ending of Birth by Sleep Final Mix. Remember, Square Enix isn’t stupid, and a really bad mistake on their part would be to assume that their fan-base is stupid. They aren’t just going to have you running through the Dark Realm for the sake of it, and they certainly aren’t saying that Cinderella’s castle having two clouds floating over it like ominous eyes is just a reminder that the hearts of worlds will fall into darkness. No, they are subtly emphasizing something, presenting facts we know with a context of something more beyond it. That’s where the story lies, and with all that considered, I think that the developers are thinking beyond Kingdom Hearts 3 and into Kingdom Hearts 4. They’re likely setting something up here, creating the new conflict and the enemy to go along with it. Conspiracy theorists such as myself have our ideas of who will represent this upset and how the series will go on after Xehanort is finally vanquished, but given the focus on the dark realm and the scene of the darkness swelling up towards the light combined with the ominous presentation of Cinderella’s castle, it may very well be possible that BbS Volume Two is addressing what will be the growing problem of imbalances between the realm of light and the realm of darkness. Moving from a ‘mortal’ antagonist to the resulting forces of ‘nature’ is a grand step indeed, and in other stories we’ve seen this work (like the aforementioned Alan Wake). We just don’t know for sure, but I feel certain that Square Enix is using BbS Volume Two as some form of stepping stone to finish up the Xehanort Trilogy as well as introduce the next one. Which is good storytelling. Setting up the ominous nature of the new threat before it’s finally introduced more fully will increase the story’s effectiveness.

Shadows Hid By Mechanics

If a sequel to Birth by Sleep ends up happening, there’s no doubt Aqua will be playing a major role. She’s the only one not possessed or lacking a heart at the moment. Expect lots of new shotlocks.

That’s all well and good, but what about the mechanics of BbS Volume Two, you say? What advancement do we see there? Well, I don’t see them doing the same radical things they’re doing with 3D. In fact, in the interest of time, they’d probably just expand on Birth by Sleep’s system so as to keep the story fresh in our minds. Expanded commands, shotlocks and abilities are to be expected, alongside fixing any problems that the original Birth by Sleep might’ve had. That said, I think the actual gameplay is going to become more exploratory. In the Secret Episode, the results of your fights directly led to more terrain on which to walk and explore (the previously mentioned gas pillars become solid stone), which is a keen marriage between the two, becoming more engaging than simply dropping shields or what have you. Indeed, that can become a very clever trick so long as they play around with it as opposed to playing the same card over and over. This two-hit combo promises results due to what seems to be the main setting, the Dark Realm, which is enchantingly bizarre and disturbing. In a world like that, you need to take advantage of looking around and seeing the nooks and crannies. This exploratory aspect can also be used to augment storytelling, using the wide open spaces seen in the Secret Episode to emphasize the isolation of whoever you play as (most likely Aqua) or taking you into a narrower and darker area to induce stress and panic. While Square Enix hasn’t emphasized this style of thinking with Kingdom Hearts before, BbS Volume Two seems to be going in that direction, based on what I get from the Secret Episode. So despite what little we have on BbS Volume Two, the developers have shown, very subtly, some of the things they’re thinking about.

The Verdict

Overall, I’m one of those people who generally sits on the fence, undecided between the two issues. I can see what Nomura and the rest of the staff are thinking with these two games: it’s an opportunity for them to explore new ways to tell the story and enhance the gameplay while the people who really know Kingdom Hearts are preoccupied with Final Fantasy XIII Versus. And there is a lot I’m excited about in that regard. But at the same time, if these crews can produce games of quality, games that I’ll care about (unlike Coded, which still seems strictly like a time waster to me), then I don’t see why they can’t just work on Kingdom Hearts 3. It’s a hard game for Square Enix to justify to fans of the series, since even their best intentions still focus on the possibility of big profits.

Of course, the thing I think is most important is that Square Enix and the fans don’t owe each other anything. Square Enix doesn’t have to make games for us at all. In fact, they could call it all off right now and not suffer much as a business–and we don’t owe them anything beyond the money for the games, if we even owe them that. We obviously want more story, otherwise we wouldn’t complain about the fact that we’re getting side games instead of Kingdom Hearts 3 yet again or write our thoughts about these games. They want more as well, because they do apologize in small ways to the fans for their money-driven tactics and try to make up for it. But in the mean time, they’ll do what they will, and we’ll do what we will. And if we meet to enjoy their products and they to enjoy our cash?

Well, all the better then.

Your Thoughts

Arcane – What are your feelings on the possibility of a sequel to Birth by Sleep? Would you rather have Kingdom Hearts 3? Do you think Nomura is setting up a new enemy to succeed Xehanort? And what about the story for Birth by Sleep Volume Two? Is there really anything left to tell that would be as good as the first one? Give us your thoughts!