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SummaryTaste the rainbow.
The GoodGackt? In a Wuxia-based swordplay hack-n-slash? Count me in.
Bujingai is an under-the-radar action game that came out in 2003. Starring famed J-Pop artist Gackt and featuring some pretty swordplay graphics, I just had to get it after seeing a segment of it on TV.
The story follows as such: In the distant future, humans tinker with nuclear power which soon goes awry and annihilates 70% of the human population. This somehow opens gateways to demon worlds. It is now 679 M.A. (Martial Age) and Lau Wong returns to one of the last few human cities to defeat the apparent source of the demons, his former friend Rei Jenron.
Ok so the story may have not been the thing that attracted you to the game. It most likely was the pretty graphics and gameplay. Indeed that's what hooked me. Lau's weapons are a pair of swords and each swing leaves a pretty trail of colors behind. In fact, most things (other than running and jumping) leave a pretty color. Dashing, gliding, kicking, they all leave pretty colors. How you get to witness these pretty colors is all the more fun. Gameplay is broken down to four parts. There is the weak slash, jump, magic, and a spinning slash. The spinning slash is out of the ordinary since most action games like this usually have a strong attack. I liked that a move that I would expect to have to do a weird combination could be executed by a button. You are given the traditional lifebar, but in addition you also get defense points. Defense points determine how much damage you can take blocking before you are completely open to attacks.
You can promptly murder your enemy in a barrage of straight slashes, but why would you do that? One of the key points in this game is that its based on the Wuxia genre of Hong Kong Cinema. You know, those movies where gravity doesn't exist. This means that Lau can launch his enemy into the air and he can make them stay there by hacking at them mid-air. How you launch an enemy into the air is part of a set of three potential actions. By attacking normally and then pressing "Triangle" gives you a split-second decision on what you want to do. Pressing "Triangle" again spin-slashes, while pressing "Circle" uses magic and "Square" sends Lau kicking away. Again, all leaving pretty colors in their wake.
In a fantastic cinematic display, you can also engage fighting sequences. When you attack your opponent, they may also attack at the same time which triggers a scene in which you duke it out with your enemy with bright colors swirling around everywhere. These get especially more intense and beautiful on later levels when your opponent will either jump into the air and you can follow to engage a mid-air jousting match or counter your moves with his own. You still have the option to attack until one's defense points are all gone or you can just jump out of the sequence. It is definitely worth doing just for the beauty of it.
Magic is also usable here. They are found in boxes scattered around the different levels. You are given a diverse array of spells of varying levels. They could be used as offensive, defensive, or enhancing (I seriously never thought I'd be using those three terms again in a review so soon). Spells range from a giant fireball, a missile-shooting attack, or defensive swords surrounding Lau. Each spell takes up a piece of a Magic Gauge. Lower level spells take up less space while higher level spells take up more. You can choose different spells from a menu opened by pressing "Select".
As for the main game itself, you are sent to eight different lands on different missions while having a temple as sort of your recon point. You will be sent to cities, temples, and eventually the moon. Here you face your enemies. They come in all shapes and sizes and you will encounter plenty. Enemies are all of different variety and have different ways of causing harm. The sub-boss enemies are where the fun lies. Enemies called Overlords are the aforementioned enemies that grant longer cinematic fights. These guys are just awesome in which their stats usually match yours and so do their moves.
The missions themselves are very straightforward. Point A to Point B and annihilate what's in-between. The earlier missions are easy to breeze through, but around the third or fourth mission is when you feel the difficulty slowly increase. It soon builds up to the almost unforgivable level of the Cloud Sea.
You are able to level up your different stats. Your enemies drop orbs which can be used to upgrade health, attack, defense, power of magic, and length of magic meter. What I liked a lot was that each upgrade was reversible. It gave a lot of freedom to tinker around with what it was like with a full attack upgrade and whatnot.
The amount of unlockables and what is unlocked is amazing. You are given interviews and movies featuring the cast of the Japanese version. Seeing each actor talk about themselves and their experience with the game is something I think more games need. There is also an unlockable costume, cutscene viewer, and the ability to view every single character in the game. How you unlock these is by collecting gold coins scattered throughout the lands.
The different difficulties give more reason to play through. Not only do they rearrange the levels, only a certain amount of gold coins are available in a difficulty. Therefore, to completely unlock everything, you must play through all difficulties.
One of the more quirky things I liked was in the final battle if you attempted suicide, your enemy would save you so he could kill you and vice versa. Very nice touch.
The BadWhy oh WHY am I always attracted to games that have tons of potential, but don't deliver?
Let's start with the story. I've played this game many times and I'm surprised at how confused I still am with this game. Although very cool, why in the world is Lau flying a comet back to Earth? Where was he before? What the hell is the Martial Age? Again, cool sounding, but I thought this was in the future. I think I remember reading the manual about how the nuclear explosion granted everyone powers, but that still doesn't explain the M.A. to me. Maybe they blew themselves up so bad they had to revert back to ancient traditions?
Which brings me to another point. If I didn't have the manual, I would've been scratching my head. Would I have guessed a nuclear explosion in the future caused all this? No. Why? Because none of it is explained in the game. The game thrusts you into the story as if you knew all about it. Would it have killed to show the nuclear explosion or to at least see the portal pouring out demons? Like I said, it had tons of potential, but it fell flat.
Characters are uninteresting all around. Lau, despite his androgynous appearance, had potential to fit amongst the ranks of hyper-action heroes like Dante and Ryu Hayabsua, but he is just dull which is inexcusable. How in the world do you get someone like Gackt to be in the game, provide the motion capture, likeliness of the character, and not give him any dialogue to express any type of thought? Even Gackt expressed his shock when he heard he had no dialogue other than saying the spell names and grunting. This was the perfect opportunity and it was just washed away. You don't care about him because you don't know anything about him because the developers chose to go this route! For shame. Not to mention the fact that its Gackt. A musician. Yet there was no music composed by him. The only thing that could be used to sum this up is "Wasted Opportunity".
There are only three other characters. Lau's teacher Naguri Tensai is some master, but I didn't care. Yohfa is the mysterious woman who guides Lau to the different worlds. Rei Jenron is a non-scary villain who feels he needs to shout he's a demon too much. Sure they may have been a tad more interesting in the Japanese version, but the English dubbing didn't do any justice. Naguri sounded like he was trying to appear commanding but he instead comes out as if he's in pain. Rei wasn't all that bad actually, but his dialogue was horrendous. When you have to traverse a whole level with him in the background declaring his turning to the demon side over and over, you just want to slap someone. Yohfa was just unusual. She was such a calm woman which I don't mind. However, when a scary pale human-turned-demon jumps out of a portal and kidnaps you, I'd be anything but calm. Instead of at least trying to slap away the attacker, she calmly tells (not even beg in typical damsel in distress style) Lau to save her. She was just emotionless in everything she did.
Graphics are mixed. Levels are very gray and bland. Only three levels stand out to me because of their bright colors, something the other five severely lacked. Your enemies are just as ugly. Other than the bosses and Overlords, everyone needs to be hit with four different buckets of paint. They are either one or two colors, or gray. And that is simply a no-no to someone who is just attacking you and just radiating color. The four main characters stand out since they were obviously given more detail. The CG scenes are impressive. My only gripe was that Lau's hair looked like flaps of paper.
There aren't many bosses, but what can you expect from such a short game? There are only five bosses and you fight two (one including Rei) of them twice. There isn't much a reason why you fought them twice. They just reappeared for the hell of it. In fact, there isn't much of a reason for anything. Why send Lau to those different worlds? Where are they even located? Why in the world can you die of the cold when in the opening he traveled through space?
Combat gets repetitive quickly. It is mainly because the enemies are simply no match for you. Those cinematic battles? Don't do them with your common enemies since 100% of the time you win. Combat is saved by the upgraded attack which prolongs your combo, but soon even that gets stale. Why not have more weapons? I'd have loved to see all sorts of swords.
Magic collecting is...bizarre. You are able to get Level 2 spells before Level 1. Why? Some spells don't even have a Level 1. There is no point in using magic except for the one mission that actually requires it. Most enemies die by your awesome sword and you will most likely forget you have magic.
Lastly, its short. This game could've been expanded into a grand adventure and rival other hack-n-slash games, but it chose not to. Being Taito's 50th Anniversary, you'd expect something grand.
And I won't knock on Lau's androgynous look. However, I will say this: I would never have expected his paints to look like that and from the storyboard art of Lau, I didn't see any make-up anywhere.