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Get Keys to the 'Kingdom' — KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep

The latest title in the KINGDOM HEARTS world takes a step back to where it all began.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep

Since 2002, KINGDOM HEARTS has been entertaining game players of all ages, allowing families to conquer evil together. It combines a role-playing experience (a la Final Fantasy) with beloved Disney characters and worlds based on animated Disney films — all while promoting the message that love and goodness can and must defeat the bad guys. The sixth installment, KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep, will have kids grabbing their keyblades again this September and is a prequel to the popular first game.

KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep introduces players to friends Terra, Aqua and Ventus, apprentice Keyblade-wielders who are training under Master Eraqus to become Masters themselves. However, another Keyblade Master, Xehanort, and his apprentice, Vanitas, aren't too happy about that and will do everything in their power to stop the trio. Other characters from the previous games, such as Sora, Riku and Kairi, have cameos — though their characters are younger and less prominent.

Like previous versions, KINGDOM HEARTS is an action role-playing game, meaning you become the character you are playing, and you see what they see. This time, a few elements have been added to make it a different experience from the other games in the KINGDOM HEARTS franchise. There are now three playable characters instead of one, each with his or her own scenario to play through (and they only share a story for about 10 minutes at the beginning of the game).

While the series has female (Aqua) and male characters (Terra and Ventus), the personality of the character might be more of a draw for your child than the gender: Aqua is calm and mature, Terra is driven and Ventus is exuberant and carefree. Also, exclusive to the U.S. release, is a difficulty level called "Critical Mode" (that's for the KINGDOM HEARTS experts and those who like a challenge). Or you can just enjoy collecting crown-shaped stickers during the game for in-game rewards.

For the Disney fans who have loved going on adventures with King Mickey, Donald and Goofy, there are new Disney worlds to explore. KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep includes new areas such as Cinderella's Castle of Dreams and Stitch's world — while a few are revisited and fleshed out more (Hercules' Olympus Coliseum and Peter Pan's Never Land). And the game also reveals more about the character's backgrounds, like we learn more about Stitch's (aka Experiment 626), before he came to Hawaii. It might not help your score, but familiarity with the Disney titles and characters that are in the game will probably make playing it even more enjoyable.

The good news is that you and your kids will meet his or her first Disney character within the first hour of play. Depending on the hero you pick, you'll encounter different Disney characters — Terra, for example, meets up with Disney villains such as Maleficent and Hades.

With new heroes come new enemies, though. Just like the Heartless in KINGDOM HEARTS and the Nobodies in KINGDOM HEARTS II, this time we meet the Unversed, who feed off of negative emotions. However, the Unversed aren't necessarily more or less evil than the Heartless and Nobodies; the Unversed are this installment's representation of darkness. What makes them different comes out during the playing of the game.

Moms and dads who already play video games will be able to ease right into this one, but even those who aren't as familiar with these types of games will pick it up fast (and you can always ask your kids). There are several multiplayer modes giving parents and children the choice of playing against each other or playing cooperatively. Even though KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep is a prequel to the KINGDOM HEARTS series, you don't need to have played other titles to enjoy and understand the game, but if you find you can't get enough of this one, you might want to go back and play the other titles in the series, too.

The game is rated as E10+, mostly for fantasy violence (though the storyline might also be a bit complex for younger audiences). Even if your child picks up games pretty easily, you might want to hang out, at least during the first time your kid plays the game, since there is some reading involved. The game is being sold exclusively for the PSP, and another installment, KINGDOM HEARTS Re:coded, will be out on the Nintendo DS sometime next year.

Ultimately, the game is meant to bring those who love KINGDOM HEARTS into a new story, and to introduce those who've never played into a world where love conquers all — with the help of Disney magic.

To see a preview of KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep, check out our trailers page. Click here for more information on KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep.

KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ with Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes.

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