By Drew D. / July 20th, 2017
|Original Release Dates||JP: October 29, 2009
NA: January 5, 2010
AU: January 7, 2010
EU: January 8, 2010
|Genre||Action, Hack and Slash|
|Platform||PC, WiiU, XBox 360, PS3|
There really isn’t a game quite like Bayonetta. While borrowing from different genres and other gameplay styles, Bayonetta manages to individualize itself as a very unique experience all on its own. Similarities can be drawn between it and other games in regards to play, tone, or pace, but this game has certainly stood out to the point of practically becoming its own class of game. Although almost eight years since its original release, Bayonetta has remained a highly discussed, relevant topic in gaming, mostly to highlight its accomplishments or to use as a gold standard for comparison. It has also recently seen a surge in popularity with the recent PC release and Switch port announcement. Eminently praised, invariably revisited, and ceaselessly amusing, Bayonetta is doubtlessly one of a kind.
Bayonetta at its heart is pure, impassioned action, yet it also possesses a rather engaging story. The game starts by introducing our heroine, Bayonetta, an Umbra Witch who has made pacts with demons of Inferno to utilize their dark powers in combat. Supposedly the last of her kind and trying to regain memories of her eventful past, Bayonetta is led on a journey through Vigrid, a European city once held in the utmost regard by the Umbra Witches and their light wielding counterparts, the Lumen Sages. Throughout her ordeal, Bayonetta is confronted by the Laguna, beings of light from Paradiso. She is also occasionally confronted by a woman named Jeanne, someone conspicuously familiar with Bayonetta and seemingly endowed with the same powers and abilities. What roles could Jeanne, along with a supporting cast including the young, innocent Cereza, the fumbling playboy journalist Luka, and a protective inner voice, all play in uncovering Bayonetta’s cryptic, perplexing past?
The actual story is told through several mediums throughout the game, each providing different tones and perspectives to the overall plot. The main plot is delivered via cutscenes that play throughout each chapter. These cutscenes are full of information, as they serve to move Bayonetta along her intended path while also providing a vividness to those moments when she regains portions of her memory. As Bayonetta relearns important points in her history, we too gain that insight. Along with cutscenes, much of the story and its more intricate details can be found in the journal entries of Antonio Redgrave. These entries convey the research and opinions of the Umbra Witches and Lumen Sages through the perspective of the uninitiated, yet they add a vast amount of backstory. It’s an effective method to introduce the more complex elements that add significant depth to the plot and its characters.
The most recognizable aspect of Bayonetta, and the reason this game is held in such high esteem, is its gameplay. This game is full of unmitigated, grisly, combo style combat. Frequently compared to Devil May Cry’s combo system, Bayonetta features a combo system utilizing speed, power, and weaponry to dispatch the many enemies of the game. Broken down into a series of punches, kicks, directional input, and timing, the number of combos is vast and learning how and when to execute specific combos is absolutely vital. The different weapons available also impact combat by varying power, speed, and duration of a combo. Combat itself is both fast-paced and incredibly immersive, making for a higher level of difficulty. Even after players have memorized a number of combos and have familiarized themselves with the enemies, the combat still demands full attention and preparation. In fact, some of the battles are so intense they may frustrate the more casual players, but achieving the victory in those moments is thoroughly worth the stress they may induce.
Along with the framework system of punches and kicks, other mechanics are employed to further distinguish combat and the results are genuinely remarkable. As an Umbra Witch, Bayonetta has made pacts with demons in exchange for powers and one of those is the Wicked Weave. The Wicked Weave is an exponentially more powerful attack that acts as a finisher to a combo. Represented by a massive demon fist or heel, these attacks can be a straight punch or kick, a heel stomp, or an uppercut. The type of Wicked Weave delivered depends on the combo and each has its benefits. Again, familiarizing yourself with different combos and how their Wicked Weaves are launched can turn a battle in your favor. Another ability that can turn the tide of a fight is Witch Time, a technique that is activated when an enemy attack is dodged at the last moment. Once activated, all enemies move in slow-motion, allowing you to take advantage of those extra seconds. Then there are the Torture Attacks, activated by pressing both the punch and kick together to initiate a small QTE against a single enemy. These do massive damage and can boost your combo score. Finally, there is the Climax, another type of QTE that finishes off a major enemy or heavily damages a boss. They function similar to Torture Attacks in that they deal massive damage, increase score, and add a ton of badass to the mix. These elements vary up our idea of a combat system extensively and the final product is just stunningly awesome violence.
Just how well you pull off stunningly awesome violence is measured by a scoring and rating system. Each major chapter is broken into verses and each verse is rated based on your combo score, time, and damage taken. A rating medal, from pure platinum down to stone, is awarded after each verse and the ratings are tallied at the end to give a final chapter rating. Players are encouraged to increase their scores by continuously stringing together combos to increase their score. Doing this in a timely manner without damage can net you a Pure Platinum rank, demonstrating mastery of the verses and chapters. This also serves to unlock several of the game’s hidden bonuses. So, it’s not just enough to complete a chapter; players are encouraged to improve their skills and earn top marks.
In terms of aesthetics, Bayonetta is dripping with style, from story to gameplay to the very look and feel of the game. Visually, the game carries this blend of modern and vintage, matching the story’s theme of past catching up to the present. The visuals also feature photography and film style aesthetics, as if you’re experiencing the game behind a lens. For many cutscenes, the devs implement a motion picture feel; still frames, keycodes, and sprocket holes abounding. At the end of every completed verse, and ending certain combos, snapshots are taken, perhaps to remind us of how photogenic Bayonetta can be. The audio is equally impressive, with a soundtrack that fits the visuals and solid dialogue throughout. Each track fits the events onscreen, from the light, airy music playing in Vigrid’s streets, to the faster, more desperate sounding tracks during the fall of the city and the boss battles. With the dialogue, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the dub. The English voice actors perform admirably and their delivery is never over or under acted. I was especially pleased with Hellena Taylor’s performance of Bayonetta, as she only helps to maintain her flirtatious, domineering demeanor. Speaking of our heroine, Bayonetta is clearly the definition of style. Provocative, seductive, and with an arsenal of attacks and poses full of her lustful charm, Bayonetta’s sexuality and sultry personality are on full display. Yet despite all of this outward sensuality, hiding underneath are glimmers of genuine kindness and concern for others. Voluptuousness with depth.
Unfortunately, Bayonetta suffers from a number of flaws that detract from the overall quality. In terms of build quality, the game suffers from noticeable lag, stuttering, and frame skipping in graphics heavy segments and during fights with larger mobs. This is painfully apparent in the PS3 version and many players have experienced similar problems with the PC version as well (although not to the extent as the PS3), despite meeting the hardware requirements for max settings. For PC, turning off v-sync or lowering resolution is an unfortunate must for some to run the game at normal speed and consistent framerate. Another build issue I found frustrating was the lack of control customization. While the defaults aren’t terrible by any means, having that choice to customize your controls, perhaps to mirror other games with similar control schemes, would have been an appreciated option. I personally wouldn’t have had to spend as much time acclimating to this new setup if I could have just copied the control scheme I use for DMC and similar games. Another minor complaint I have is with the auto-save in relation to cutscenes. If you are trying to earn Pure Platinum ranks, you will be exiting and restarting very, very often. If an auto-save occurs before a cutscene and you need to restart, you have to skip the cutscene every time. Unfortunately, the devs really like to start battles immediately after a cutscene, meaning that the very first move you make needs to be a dodge. All of this influences your timing and it can get annoying pretty quick if you are restarting often for perfection.
Finally, the most infuriating aspect of the game is the camera. For some reason, I’ve never had any luck with cameras and Sega games and this dates back to Sonic Adventure. The camera is mediocre at best, damned awful at its worst. So much so that it will absolutely interfere with battles and platforming. The camera has a tendency to zoom in too much when Bayonetta is close to the foreground or it repositions poorly during battle to get enemies on screen. The game is programed so that enemies will not attack when off screen, so the camera is always working to get everything in the shot. However, the camera is programed so ineptly that it tends to zoom or spin, becoming an unnecessary hindrance. The camera controls are also limited, as you can only spin it or zoom a finite amount. Especially with the zoom, as soon as you move, the camera will automatically start readjusting. Having the ability to lock a zoomed out position for battles would have helped immensely, but I would have settled for a camera that isn’t trying to constantly zoom in during the worst possible moments.
Despite its flaws, Bayonetta has far more good going for it than bad. Bayonetta is a stylish, adrenaline pumping, bloody rollick across the metaphysical. Brilliant combat, a surprisingly comprehensive story, and a curvaceous, deadly, yet developed main heroine, Bayonetta is worthy of the attention is garners. The reasons for the constant spotlight that shines on this game are numerous and most likely why Bayonetta won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.