Kingdom Hearts fans are a long-suffering bunch. After feasting on the highly polished Kingdom Hearts II, they have had to make due with half-hearted gestures intended to tide them over until something significant could be produced. First it was a PS2 remake of the card-focused interquel Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories that contained no new bits of plot, and then it was the highly disappointing DS interquel Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, the plot of which was basically made irrelevant by the second to last mission.
It's safe to say that, like the Star Wars Expanded Universe, almost every minute between the two main installments has been filled in and explained to the point of exhaustion. And with Kingdom Hearts III not even out of the conceptual phase and the Kingdom Hearts team dicking around in the development hell that is Final Fantasy Versus XIII, it's easy to see why many fans are beginning to throw their hands up, exasperated with the franchise.
And so we come to the US release of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. Tetsuya Nomura, the guiding hand of the franchise, promises that this installment, though unnumbered and burdened with another nonsensical name like the other spin-offs, is a true prequel, an "episode zero" if you will, that would exhibit all the qualities of a main series installment. No confusing card systems, no boring "kill X number of enemy Y" missions, this is posited as the real deal. Supposedly, the entire overarching story for the series gets its start right here.
Has Square Enix finally found the key to another Kingdom Hearts II? Or is this installment destined to fade into darkness? Hit the jump for our review.