Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bujingai: The Gackt City

Bujingai: The Forsaken City AKA The Gackt Game is something of an oddity. It is a 3D hack and slash action platformer sort of game for the PS2 developed by Red Entertainment, the company that made the cult hit Gungrave. It came out during the post-Devil May Cry rush of action games of the mid-2000's that ended up giving gamers quite a few good games, as well as some crap. Almost all of these games had different strengths. Devil May Cry was the technical one (just try to forget about Devil May Cry 2), Ninja Gaiden was the hard one, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was the one that had really good music, and I would say that Bujingai was the stylish one.

“But Bugle/Hawk'M,” you say, “isn't Dante from Devil May Cry the one that is always keepin' it stylish?” While it is true that Devil May Cry is a very stylish game in it's own insanely over-the-top way, I'd say that Bujingai relies very heavily on style, while Devil May Cry is a much more deep and technically thought out combat system that at the end of the day ends up looking stylish. The animations and use of color in Bujingai are definitely its strong points, along with interesting movement and platforming controls.

I'm in support of any game that lets you wantonly cut bamboo.  So basically just this and Bushido Blade 2.

It seems to me that Bujingai is often overlooked when people think about games in its genre. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one, it's not a great game. It's a good game, and it these days people don't want to put up with a flawed game that has some interesting ideas. Another reason is that it was not from a huge developer or part of a huge intellectual property. And mostly, it was just known as that game with Gackt in it. The problem with that is that there is probably very little overlap between Gackt fans and fans of hack and slash games. I happen to fall in the middle of that venn diagram, but I'm also a male Gackt fan, so that makes me an anomaly to begin with.

For those of you who don't know, Gackt is a huge rock star in Japan. The best equivalent I can think of is David Bowie. He's a sex symbol, but he's weird, and he's influenced popular culture in so many ways you can't really state it. If you don't think you've been exposed to Gackt or his influence, you are wrong. If you've ever seen a male (and sometimes female) character design by Tetsuya Nomura (see: Squall from Final Fantasy 8), then you've seen Gackt. So, as part of Gackt's plan for world domination, he had taken over music, movies, and television in Japan, so he decided to insert himself directly in the video game medium, which he had already influenced quite a bit without trying. You could get his dog tags in Metal Gear Solid 2, then you could play him in Bujingai, and now you can could see him play a part in those Final Fantasy 7 spinoffs.

I seem to have written all of this, but I haven't really stated what is interesting about Bujingai and why I think it is cool other than saying it is stylish. So, what makes it so stylish? The art design and use of color plays a big part. The levels are nicely varied and a great change of pace from the dreary castles of Devil May Cry and Castlevania. The combat is your basic light attack, strong attack, magic, jump, lock-on setup, but what sets it apart are the animations, which are flashy looking version of the sort of sword fighting you might see in a wire-fu movie.

Another interesting system is the blocking system. While blocking, your character doesn't just sit back and wait for the enemy to stop attacking, he actively parries and deflects attacks, after each of which you can launch a counter attack. This potentially broke system is kept in check by the defense points (those white things around the circle in the top-left corner of the screen) which is how many times the player can parry attacks before guard is broken and you start getting hit. These points are refilled by successfully landing attacks on enemies. The stronger enemies also have their own defense points do their own parrying and counter attacking, leading to some really nice looking back and forth fights.

Platforming and movement controls are also a strong point of the game. The player is given a lot of options for this, including wall-running, wall-jumping, triangle jumps, air-dashes, as well as grabbing ledges and swinging on posts. It all comes together with the fact you can continuously jump and run off the same wall, allowing you to stay of the ground pretty much indefinitely, giving you a great sense of control. At the beginning of the game, most of this isn't really used to great effect, but the difficulty of the platforming ramps up as the game goes on and by the end you find yourself doing really complicated series's of motions that make you feel rather accomplished.


It is weird that a game with such A-List talent is pretty much forgotten. Maybe it is better remembered in Japan where the names Gackt, Maaya Sakamoto, and Norio Wakamoto mean a bit more. More obscure, but also revered people involved were character designs from the character designer for Cowboy Bebop and writing by the writer of the Trigun television series. I think it is a shame that not so many people have tried the game, because I think it is quite neat, and definitely more worth your time than a lot of other hack and slash games.

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