December 12, 2013

That's A Wrap: Bayonetta

warning: may contain spoilers

Bayonetta is a game I think highly of, but haven't replayed in a really long time. This playthrough reminded me that some games are better appreciated from afar. Nevertheless, I persevered, and finished Bayonetta.

My first impression of Bayo is that it was a sort of girly hack and slash, with a healthy dose of fan service. It's hard to get a good immediate read on it for a number of reasons, the first of which: while you're acquainting yourself with the game, you're concentrating on executing combos and avoiding your enemies and you don't hear a damn thing the guy talking to you says. If you can tune in, or replay the level a bunch of times, you get an introduction to what is actually a really interesting game, with great twists on a lot of popular themes.

The thing that stands out most about Bayo is the concept: a hack and slash game with a lot of femininity; about a witch searching for her past and purpose while interacting with a cast of characters who don't seem to fit the puzzle. The game starts off with a look at religious juxtaposition, and introduces you to some shady characters that turn out to be your friends, so to speak. Joe Pesci... I mean, Enzo, is the first guy you meet and is the driver (literally...?) for the first segment of the game, but is virtually non-existent after that, save for a reprisal at the end. He does however, help you bring back your good friend Rodin, who is a sort of emcee in the game, teaching you things, and selling you stuff, but more on that later.
Bayo not only features great graphics, but a neat contrast between an often dreary setting and big pops of color. The cinematics are a little unpolished but the game has some years behind it so this is no big deal. The game uses a couple of neat motifs to convey information to you: sometimes proper "movies"; sometimes a series of stills shown as though they are frames of film; and sometimes a weird combo of the two.
The music in Bayo is so fun and terribly effective. There something about a quick paced piano diddy that just makes you want to kick some ass. Serious points to the team of developers for finding such a simple, tolerable method to add such a bang to their game. If you're a music buff, some of these tunes will sound very familiar to you!

The plot in Bayo starts off pretty weak. It's quite some time before you really know whats going on, you're mostly just left with this "search for your past" agenda which is surprisingly intense considering how little you know. The plot thickens considerably in the later-game and is added to by a series of books you find throughout the game that fill in plot holes and give you a few hints about what's to come. The biggest leaps are made by your interactions with Luka, whom I wish was a deeper character, but serves his purpose just the same. With these you learn of your involvement with Jeanne, who appears to be your token archenemy, and eventually Cereza, because OF COURSE THERE HAS TO BE A CHILD... and eventually the Lumen Sage, Balder, who I contest must be played by David Bowie if Bayo is ever made into an American film. With so few characters, and all so similar, I have no choice but to single out Bayonetta as the best character. I felt Luka and his relationship with B was sadly underdeveloped.

Bayo accomplished something very rare in gaming, in that the game's combat system is simultaneously very simple and very complicated. Essentially, you have three potential attacks: punch, kick, and gunfire; you can combine any of these with jump, of course. The gunfire is a pretty weak albeit continuous method of attack, while your punch and kick inputs can be strung together for innumerable combos, so at the end of the day, Bayo is simply a button masher. Additionally, you learn to dodge and activate "witch time" which is simply a frozen state in which Bayonetta can move at regular speed while everyone else is slowed. You can learn additional fun techniques by purchasing them from Rodin, and in time you're introduced to "beast mode" which grants you increased speed and jumping distance.
I find combat in Bayo takes some time to master. One of the things I dislike about many hack and slash games is that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to them, you just have to mash away and hope something useful happens. Some of the enemies in Bayo are quick and/or constantly attacking, so locking on and trying to execute a tactic is often a waste of effort. It also takes time to memorize your favorite combos so the early game is a mess. Combat as a whole is very fast paced and difficult to control. Also I have an inexplicable hatred for the camera in this game, it never does you any favors. Bloody nightmare.
One of the other major things that bug me about Bayo on the 360 is that the controller is right-side heavy. The attack controls, jump, dodge, lock-on buttons and camera are all on the right side on the controller, while your movement stick is virtually alone on the left. I'd have preferred the lock and dodge commands were on the other side so my right hand would be free to focus on attack input and my left on dodging, since that is one of the most important tools in the game.

Another lackluster component in Bayo is the menu. Not terribly difficult to sort out, I simply don't love the way it's designed and accessed. It's unnecessarily difficult to navigate. When you crack open your menu - which is the "back" button on the 360 - you've got an equipment tab, in which you configure which weapons you want on which set (you get 'set A' and 'set B', which you can cycle through at any time with a click of your left trigger) and attach any accessories you've managed to acquire.
The next tab is your items, which are relatively minimal in this game. You can collect lollipops which provide you various benefits like health, a shield, a temporary power boost or a recharge of your magic meter; a couple of items which increase your meters permanently, or deal a bit of damage to your surrounding enemies; and fragments of items which can be mixed together to "concoct" any of the aforementioned with an alchemy-like component, also found on this tab. The alchemy exercise takes a bit of fiddling to figure out, but it's by no means impossible. You can also set items to be used later with your D-pad on this tab.
Your last tab is the file tab, which hosts various "books" containing information pertaining to the game, such as a bestiary of sorts; Antonio's notes - which more or less explain various details of the plot; magic techniques you've learned - which can be turned off so as to prevent you from accidentally using one instead of your intended attack; and book of achievements, essentially, both in-game - which net you new weapons - and on Xbox Live.

The levels in Bayo vary from dark and crowded to very manageable, and the monsters follow suit. With the many repeat attempts, some of the levels can seem pretty long. Others are quite short and consist of a single boss. There are usually long cutscenes in between, which is a much needed break from the button mashing of the previous level and of course, adds to the plot. It's virtually impossible to get lost in Bayonetta. The level design is straight forward and there aren't a lot of branches to explore and get lost in. You can basically explore everything as you're moving forward, and sometimes you can double back to find an Alfheim portal, but in the end, you'll always find your way. Even the puzzles in Bayo are exceedingly simple.
Some of the bosses remind me of Shadow of the Colossus, they way they seem to increase in size and it becomes more and more difficult to find their weaknesses. You sometimes have to climb the monster to begin to take it down. Then, you get a cute little one and think "oh, how small. This will be easy!" and then it turns out they're Grace and Glory and you spend your Friday afternoon being questioned by the police because your neighbor thinks you've murdered somebody…
And they can take Jeanne with them!
Jeanne is one of the hardest (recurring!) bosses ever. I found many difficulties in fighting her including trying to figure out whose weave was being whipped, keeping her in sight, and trying to achieve witch time. In the final battle with Jeanne I only managed witch time ONCE, and had to rely on close combat and counters for the win, which I found to be a poor strategy in previous fights. It only took me about 400 tries, but I managed to get a bronze award! (That's terrible, for those of you that haven't played the game...)

The awards system is a silly addition, basically to help you track your improvement (or lack thereof). Essentially, you get a medal for each fight in the chapter (which are broken into "verses") and these, combined with your damage taken, and how many items you used, nets you an award.

One of the many neat things Bayo offers is a useful loading screen. Yes, really! Bayo's loading screen is essentially a practice ground for learning combos and practicing your techniques. All of the combos you've discovered will be listed at the side, and you can scroll through and pick ones to attempt and see which you like best. Much more efficient than picking your nose. That said, if you're not a Bayo pro, you're going to be seeing this loading screen A LOT, and if you've rage issues like me, eventually you'll just spend this time yelling profanity at your console and mashing the gunfire or jump buttons, as if that helps…

A prominent feature in Bayonetta is the onslaught of mini-games and side quests.
Alfheims are basically hidden verses within each level, the portals to which are scattered throughout the mandatory chapters, but usually don't appear until you've completed the combat requirement or some other hidden "checkpoint." Completion of the Alfheim rewards you with useful items for your journey through the rest of the game. I chose to ignore the Alfheim sides this time around, and sort of "bare-knuckle" my way through the game.
You're also introduced to Angel Attack, a quick, between-chapters, arcade-style game in which you shoot enemies with a number a bullets calculated by how many "arcade bullets" you find in the main chapters. This is a nice way to break up the intensity of the game a bit and take a breather from mashing buttons. Higher score, of course, means a better prize. From your naughty friends at Platinum games…
There is also an entire level devoted to what reminds me of the motorcycle bit from Final Fantasy VII, and another which appears to be a sweet ode to Space Harrier. Again, a nice break from the usual and a great change of pace if you're blasting through large chunks of the game in once sitting. These levels are definitely some of the long ones.
If that wasn't enough fun for you, you can also unlock various costumes for Bayonetta, which can be purchased from Rodin, who will also sell you items, accessories, weapons and new techniques. Some techniques are a must buy, such as the air dodge and the breakdancing move which come in handy more times than anyone can count; others are less effective, like the bat technique - when triggered at the correct time, Bayonetta turns into a colony of bats negating the damage she would have taken otherwise. It seems like a mighty useful technique, but you really don't have time to concentrate on incorporating this into battle. You'll be too busy worrying about landing attacks of your own and dodging for witch time, but I suppose if you're lucky it will occasionally happen by accident.

The first time I played Bayo, I'm pretty sure I beat the game on normal mode and I don't recall having any particular reservations about it, so this time I tried my hand at hard mode. Ouch. In addition to proving my skills incredibly rusty, this did lead to an interesting discovery about Bayo: the difference in difficulties is drastic. Since I couldn't handle some levels on hard, I switched to all the different modes at times to see what they were like. There is a "very easy" mode in Bayo, which is just that. I don't know who would play on this mode. Easy mode is a small step up from very easy, and both modes feature an "automatic" component which as far as I can tell just makes combat a little easier to control, is addition to the significant reduction in enemies and their defenses. Normal mode can be a bit of a challenge on certain levels (fuck you Grace and Glory…) and is generally a significant jump up in difficulty from easy. Hard mode is a jerk.
On either of the latter, it will likely take you a few tries to get through some of the tougher chapters and innumerable tries to conquer bosses. At times I found myself deliberately throwing battles if my intended strategy didn't work out because it seemed like nothing else would. These baddies are ruthless and this game is out to get you. Or maybe it's just me.
I must've clocked 18 hours in Bayo, mostly due to repeating levels, either due to difficulty or because I wanted to check something out or try it on another setting.

Hack and slash is not my favorite genre of game, but if you're looking for a quick change from something else, Bayonetta is actually a really great game. It's got a great, simple(ish) story presented in a beautiful setting with a lot of minimalism in the gameplay, yet you're always kept busy. The conquering of each chapter feels like a real accomplishment. If you're a hack and slash pro, or just need a brief change, I recommend Bayonetta, just be careful to choose the difficulty setting that suits you best.

LOTIPS
  • If you're a rager like me, it is VERY, VERY easy to get tired of this game. If you're going to play on one of the higher difficulties, consider playing in small doses.
  • The save system in Bayo is kind of confusing. The game asks you save manually between chapters, but also autosaves at various points in each level. However, I've found that every time I've quit the game mid-chapter (after auto-saving), when I return to the game later it forces me to restart from the beginning from the chapter, instead of my last checkpoint. Unless you can master this save system, I'd recommend completing each chapter before quitting the game.

SIDE QUEST
Bayonetta: Bloody Fate

All the attention surrounding the release of Bayonetta 2 brought to my attention the Bayonetta animated feature film Bayonetta: Bloody Fate. I've always enjoyed the story of Bayonetta so I thought I'd give it a looksie and provide this side quest update to give you an idea of what I thought!

The film employs a rather intense anime style, more on what I call the "grotesque" side. That said, the same exquisite design of enemies is present, and their acting is one of the few demonstrations that suited the characters. Interesting, when one considers that in the game, Angels speak an unintelligible language.
That said, I feel the characters in this film - chiefly Bayonetta - entirely lose their attitude and unique personalities (as I know them) in Japanese. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm simply not a fan of the Japanese cast. It just doesn't mesh well with the Bayo I know and love. It ruins the characters for me!
A further result of this: the story has really lost its sense of humor, which is one of the key factors to my enjoyment of Bayonetta.

The film clearly retells the story of Bayonetta for those who aren't familiar or haven't played the game, making this a great option for non-gamers. It does a good job highlighting the many battles with Jeanne - who is still a total badass, in fact I enjoy her a lot more in this film than the game - and even maintains the feeling of pointless repetition, which was a curious experience. You are, of course, also treated to a healthy dose of Luka and Cereza, and Rodin is also present a rather lot.

Carrying on the continuity, the anime also retains the same style soundtrack as the game, which I really love. The soundtrack to Bayonetta is one of its most outstanding features, so I was happy to hear the arrangements again in BF.

Pro, con, pro con; to be perfectly honest with you, I had to go back and re-watch parts of this film just to gather information for this write up. That's how bored I was, watching this; it really failed to hold my interest and I found myself easily distracted. I wonder how much of this was simply because I knew what was going on and could predict the next segment? In the end though, I can't say I'm terribly impressed.

I might recommend Bloody Fate to anyone who has not played Bayonetta and does not intend to. I feel it gives a relatively accurate telling of the story without all the anger-laced gameplay. Otherwise, I feel like some ignorance is key to enjoying this.

Bayonetta: Bloody Fate, released in 2013 by Gonzo Studios. It was directed by Fuminori Kizaki and runs approximately 90 minutes. Like the game, I would not say this film is suitable for children.

Have you watched Bloody Fate? What did you think? Do I need to give it another chance?


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