Since around the early half of 2000 Kingdom Hearts has taken Disney in the one hand and taken Final Fantasy in the other, and then furiously rubbed its palms together until the two could fuse into a lump of franchise characters. The novelty universe had managed to become one of the best examples of a thoughtful, twee environment in mainstream RPG games but eight years of it and even the loveliest twee-land feels slightly haggard. Despite the fact that the series has had an uncanny ability to develop engaging and iconic settings, almost a decade on and it still hasn't felt like it's brought much more to the table than a pile of likeable worlds.
Now we have a new addition to the series on PSP, Birth by Sleep. BbS' character roll-call includes Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, a fistful of dwarves, Cinderella, Snow White. You get the Olympic Coliseum from Hercules and Deep Space from Lilo & Stitch. You get Moogles and some face time by FF's own Zack Fair.
The game takes place ten years before the original Kingdom Hearts, with characters Terra, Ventus and Aqua serving as your main protagonists. You might vaguely recognise them from back in Kingdom Hearts 2 where they had been briefly featured but now you get a slightly more thorough idea of their characters.
The three are a trio of close friends and apprentice Keyblade-wielders who are essentially in the process of fighting darkness. The game takes you across multiple worlds and storylines featuring the usual Disney fair, but even with the plot being as extensive as it is, you have to ignore it for the most part. At its best the game squeezes out a set of completely standard storytelling traditions. The gist of the plotline revolves around the standard JRPG imbalance of light versus darkness. Darkness is bad, negative emotions are bad, and monsters called the Unversed feed on that negativity. Cut to monsters popping up around a moping, depressive Cinderella sitting in a ripped gown and you get an idea of how Disney lore gets fed into this as a plot device.
At worst it's just a bit baffling. Take the introduction where you first meet Ven, a grown teenager wrapped in bed linen next to the sea like a giant, wet, adult baby who then plummets into the ocean wrapped in his linen body-nappy and swims through the watery depths like a kind of man-seal. But beyond the usual set of confusing plot elements the three-way narrative is surprisingly well constructed.