Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bujingai: There's a reason this game has "Forsaken" in the title.

I've dubbed my first week of gaming in this new year "Disappointment Week 2011". I've surprisingly managed to finish 3 games (admittedly, they were either at or past the halfway mark), and all of them were let downs in one or more departments. Bujingai, while not the first of the titles that marked DW2011, is nevertheless the most timely post, considering David's post on Devil May Cry 3 (a game also on my backlog).

David's post covered one of the greatest action titles on the PS2. While my colleague was still reveling in the glow of Dante's excellent adventures, I was playing a game much like Devil May Cry, which similarly involved trekking through 3D environments slaying a variety of demons and other monstrosities.

You see, Bujingai is a lot like Devil May Cry: Except for the fact that it's much more shinier and fancier with the sword play. Oh, there's also the part where there's less variety in enemies, stages, and weaponry. There's also the part where it's a lot shorter, considerably less challenging, contains considerably less depth, possesses a plot that makes DMC2 look like a work of classic literature and. . .

Ok, aside from the fact that it's a 3D action game with sword fighting, it's really nothing like Devil May Cry.

On top of that, it also has Gackt.

This man has no place near the design of a game. EVER.

And no, the above is not the game's saving grace. It's far from it.

Read on for some background on the game, the (laughable) story, my experiences and observation on the gameplay, and my overall consensus of the game.

Long Forgotten, Long Forsaken

I first heard about Bujingai through my friend Fei, who back then, was one of my key people when it came to evaluating import games. Of course, the extent of the conversation went to the effect of:

Fei: Ever heard of a game called Bujingai?
Me: No.
Fei: It's sort of like Devil May Cry, but it stars Gackt.

Obviously I'd heard of Gackt, and even heard a few of his songs, but I wasn't the biggest Visual Kei fan, and the thought of a Visual Kei star in an action game didn't exactly appeal to me. Either way, Bujingai was filed away from my mind until I came across it once again while working at Gamestop. Seeing it repeatedly on our preview trailer made me come to the conclusion that the game did look solid graphically and the gameplay looked fun. Of course, as this was months before I moved away to grad school, I soon lost track of most new releases in the game world for close to a year.

Fast forward a year: I'd finished my first year of grad school and ended my self-imposed console game exile (mostly due to a lack of a TV and delaying the shipment of my PS2), and I was wandering Fry's Electronics with my grandparents. I'd spied Bujingai sitting alongside Star Ocean 2 (the latter which hit greatest hits status, and the former which was priced low enough to be greatest hits status). My grandmother, feeling generous, noticed me looking at the games and offered to by both: Who was I to turn it down?

To my credit, I actually did play Bujingai shortly after my purchase. While I had some reservations about Gackt being the model and voice main character, I withheld judgment, ignored the fact that the intro had Gackt flying through space and Wushu (..I'll get to that), I played through the first stage, deemed it mildly entertaining and simplistic, then put it aside for something more interesting.

My stint with Bujingai came far before my foray through Crisis Core, thus subsequently before a number of my friends (well two), coined the term "Gackt ruins everything". Had I played through Bujingai earlier, I very well may have adopted that tone sooner.

A Nonsensical Narrative

Rather than sum it up myself, I'll borrow a summary from Gamefaqs user The Shadow of Auron, who wrote his FAQ for the EU version of this game:

In the year 22XX a rain of nuclear fire ended the age of A.D. and from there the Martial Age (M.A.) began. The world suffered immense radiation which resulted in the spawn of demons. A man named Lau Wong was born on Kenkisoukentou, an island greatly affected by radiation. When Lau was very young, the demons killed Lau's parents, and soon he met with Master Naguri, a sensei who has reached the ultimate level of swordsmanship and Wushu. Lau became Naguri's pupil and attained a great deal of power from the skills his sensei taught him, enough power to take on even the greatest demons. Training with him was a man named Rei Jenron who was a great friend to Lau. One day a woman Rei loved was killed by demons, and Rei swore revenge, even if it meant he himself became a demon.

2600 years later Rei was overwhelmed by the demons, and indeed he did become one. Lau tried desperately to stop him but was beaten, and sent to a parallel dimension for 400 years. During these 400 years Lau trained hard to one day defeat Rei for becoming a monster and now he has been released from the prison dimension. The year is now 674 M.A. His duty is now to return to Kenkisoukentou and hunt down Rei Jenron
Look, I know we don't play these types of games for deeply engrossing and involved story. Titles like these having a halfway coherent plot is more of a bonus, rather than an expectation. But seriously, what? Even Devil May Cry's story, while not exactly a work of literary art, is more cohesive than this. I mean that tripe above, combined with the opening that involves space martial arts, is on the level of Axe Cop (which I do suggest you go read). And at least Axe Cop has the excuse of the story being conceived by a 5 year old.

If only Bujingai's plot was this involved.

Throughout the game you're treated to a rather disjointed narrative. You begin with Lau soaring through space (an event which prompted my friend and I to refer to this game from now on as "Space Gackt") Sure, Rei's girlfriend is dead but..wait, her..very corporeal looking spirit is dancing around in Lau's temple and opening portals? Lau's master was murdered but..wait, he's back from the dead and fighting his student as a final test? Wait, Rei's having a showdown with Lau on..the moon? Furthermore, Lau says all of two words the entire game, while communicating the rest of the time through interpretive dance.

Lau's master also trained him in the art of serving.

Admittedly, this would have irritated me more had I not played Crisis Core, where Gackt was also the design and the voice of (at least in the Japanese version) of Genesis Rhapsodos:

Everything he says makes me want to punch him in the face. Or chuck a dumbapple at him.

So perhaps him not talking, given this information, is not a totally horrible thing.

I know, I know. I've already admitted that we don't play these games for the story. After all, we can forgive a horrid narrative if the gameplay and action are top notch, right?


Earlier I summed up Bujingai as a shinier, stripped down version of Devil May Cry. While perhaps, this is not the fairest comparison, it is nevertheless the one that should give most of our readers here a frame of reference. First off, let's talk weaponry: Lau has access to a pair of swords and a variety of magic spells (9 total, scattered throughout the stages). While you can upgrade the strength of Lau's weapons by collecting blue orbs (sound familiar?), they never change throughout the game. The lack of weaponry wouldn't be disappointing if it wasn't for the lack of variance in Lau's swordplay. There's a button for a light attack (which can be strung together for longer combos) and a button for heavy attack. That's pretty much it, unless you want to count mid-air attacks. There are no elaborate combos, nor special techniques.

A limited repertoire for an immortal martial arts master.

If you're counting on the magic system to be elaborate and helpful, then think again: Magic is only vital at a few key points in the game (the fire spell, Gouenken, is needed to melt the ice in one level). To add to the confusion, you'll often get the level 2 or level 3 version of a spell before you find the level 1 version: A boon if you've upgraded your magic level appropriately (you need to be at the right level to use the respective spell levels), but annoying otherwise.

Stick to swordplay, dude.

Therefore, what could be considered Bujingai's claim to fame in the combat system is "clashing". If you and your opponent attack at the same time, or you block an opponents attack and counter, the two of you will engage in a graphically impressive, tug-of-war battle of the blades. Said clash continues until either side's defense gauge is depleted, at which point the recourse is to evade (done by pressing X), or get pummeled. Furthermore, this system also extends to enemy magic spells, which if blocked properly, can be absorbed (filling up your own magic gauge), or reflected back at the enemy for critical damage.

Clash system in action; in motion, it looks even more impressive.

One other dubious "highlight" could be considered Lau's acrobatic tendencies: He can endlessly scale walls via his wall run ability, triangle-jump to gain additional distance, and even glide through the air in a style reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Ang Lee would be proud.

Unfortunately, the glide ability is problematic more often than not, as the exact instant he starts gliding is never consistent with the position of his jump (sometimes he'll glide just after descent, other times just before his feet touch the ground). Furthermore, these acrobatic techniques are marred by a rather horrid camera.

In reality, they made their way to Japan to do camera work for Kingdom Hearts, then Bujingai

Let me tell you, this became -extremely- frustrating near the end of the game, where the designers deemed it fit to throw in a platforming level that relied on your wall-running, jumping, and gliding skills. I'm all for a challenge, but this became more frustrating (as the unfortunate David was forced to endure me cursing the game) than fun. Whereas getting your behind kicked in DMC motivates, constantly falling off a platform in level 7 of Bujingai moved me to violent thoughts.

The Verdict

Bujingai is not a very long game at all. With 8 stages that are fairly short, you can easily finish this game in one sitting if you have a free afternoon. It took me a span of two days, with my final game time clocking in just under 10 hours, though I'm sure that a few of those came from me letting the game idle. There are different difficulties and other features (such as a movie viewer) unlocked upon completing the game, and other extras through collecting gold coins throughout the game, but they are rather uninspiring: Most of them consist of a character viewer. One of them allows you to change his costume so that he appears as Gackt:

If this doesn't motivate you for a second playthrough, then I don't know what will.

David asked me, as I trudged through the game, if this game was worth purchasing, considering that it was rather cheap at his local Gamestop. In my recommendation to him, as well as our readers here, I'm a little torn. I'll admit that my perception of this game is colored perhaps a little by my Crisis Core-inspired dislike of Gackt:

I hate this guy so much.

I'll also admit that, had this game involved a different music sensation, this post may have been more favorable towards the game:

In a perfect world, this game would have been Bonjovigai.

And amazingly enough, this game does have what I consider to be one of the cooler moments in an action game: During the last battle (..yes, that aforementioned epic battle on the moon), if you happen to plummet over the side, Rei will grasp Lau's hand before he falls to his death (or Jupiter), sneeringly states "Sorry old friend, but you'll die by MY hand!" and callously flings Lau back to the surface (taking a small amount of health with this gesture). Similarly, if you knock Rei off the edge, Lau will do the same, though minus a cool line.

Thus I hesitate to call Bujingai a completely terrible game, as some review sites have condemned it. It might be up your alley, if you're looking for a straightforward, pretty, mostly mindless action game with a somewhat cool defense system to it. However, I cannot even begin to call it an "okay" game. Sure, the clash and counter system is cool, but it's not enough to make up for the lackluster fighting system, the horrid camera, and the short levels. Sure, Rei's one line to Lau is pretty cool, but it doesn't make up for the rest of the gibberish spouted throughout the story. Heck, even the soundtrack to this game is pretty good, though the tunes do little to help the uninspired, and sometimes frustrating level designs. If you're looking for something quick and fu--well, something quick, then this might be up your alley. Yet I imagine that most skilled action gamers will exhaust the content of this game fairly quickly.

At $5.99, this might certainly seem like a deal. However, if your gaming situation is even remotely like ours here at The Backlog, then a purchase of Bujingai may be keeping you away from some other gem buried in your collection. Even if it is not, then trust me, there's no shortage of quality titles out there to better spend your time and money on. Relegate this game to a rental, unless of course, it's cheaper to buy the game than rent it.

But even then, that 6 bucks might be better spent on lunch.

Until next time my friends, keep playing.

Preferably, however, something that does not involve Gackt.

1 comment:

Michael said... does one fall off the Moon?