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Bikkuriman World: Gekitou Sei Senshi (NES) artwork

Bikkuriman World: Gekitou Sei Senshi (NES) review

"It showed me that, yes, RPGs can transcend language. Maybe none can as well as your average puzzle game. But BW has lots more fun trying and getting far closer than expected."

I didn't need to know Japanese to play and enjoy the enormous Bikkuriman World: Gekitou Sei Senshi (BW,) but after playing, I want to learn that much more. I've made goals like this before, but with a game this evocative, I just have to see what I'm missing. It's beyond "learning another language would be a suitable challenge." BW's a colorful tale about your Zeus-given quest to defeat his enemy Jyra. It leads through the underworld, then possibly Olympus, then some weird green place that defies traditional mythology. I have no clue what it's called, but it's mysterious and odd and forbidding in the right ways, and it jolted me out of my usual RPG-solving mindset into a weird world. And it showed me that, yes, RPGs can transcend language. Maybe none can as well as your average puzzle game. But BW has lots more fun trying and getting far closer than expected.

So how did BW keep me for the long hours needed to solve it? I suppose the partial translation unlocking the basics helped, but those could be figured logically. A Japanese YouTube walkthrough with frequent speedups (still ten hours) pointed out what my general logical muddling didn't quite grasp, as I talked to all the weird shrimpy beasts in hopes FCEU's debugger would cough up a breakpoint. No, that's too dry. I had fun running around, looking for someone crazy I forgot to talk to, pretty sure I hadn't seen everything. Combat and party inventory weren't there to drag me down. BW's turbo-combat option quickly became the default, allowing me to bail if things went sour. My only combat strategy beyond "bring it all during big fights" was not to put Alibaba (yes, the universal mythology in BW feels about right, too) in the back alone. Later, spells to warp between towns or dungeons whittled pedantry further.

Games, retro or not, usually don't have these amenities. Even the level-up hotspots seem cleverly constructed, not too obvious or hidden, with favorite punching bags from rats to cylindrical robots to even an angry Escher-stair. The game lets you have small nice things, too, like healing a party member's hit points and magic points when he gains a level. And instead of the usual silly broadswords and shields, the party has a small pool of healing and quest items. Your characters change physically with the game and acquire new spells. Who needs just-plain-stuff? And BW is certainly not plain. It avoids traps like palette-swaps, churning out monsters to the end, and the only pedestrian thing may be the boss fights: ask around about spell, acquire spell after hacking through enemies, use on boss, get to the cheery cutscene that's way more interesting anyway. This holds to the end, where you have some weird mechanical mouth that's more interesting than the final incarnation of Jyra, Zeus's enemy.

That's not the only time BW is productively straightforward. Your first companion and first Otasuke (rechargeable helper) are in a safe area, and the party-view screens pretty clearly imply there are a lot more. Exploring turns up other quests including stone statues that need defrosting or a town cut in half by fire. For the first one, it's pretty clear when you get the vial--and that sort of nudge helps keep the game from becoming oppressive and gives an idea of what to do later. Even with the stubbornest NPC, there's not that much trial and error, and from the initial translations, I can see how native speakers would figure things out quickly.

But then the big quests are largely wordless. Shaman Kahn, Zeus's deputy, hands out sticker books in each new area. Filling the books with pictures of angels or helpers you find is an obvious goal. These guys turn up everywhere, often needing all sorts of thing: a key, a magic orb, a cure poison spell, or even, in one case, a light to find them. This isn't trivial if you (like me) know no Japanese. But then, someone waiting by a boathouse is frowning, and there's still one island you can't get to, even after you've gone below the underworld and come back again. You know what you need to do, and once you have the boat, you have a new sort of maze--the bridges that helped you get around now block your boat. It's more logical, but not as fun or convenient as, the bird you get near the end. It does more than just save time, or magic points for a teleport spell, or help you avoid fights. It highlights the story's good bits.

Other quests make sense in retrospect--townsmen are hiding in a cellar, with a windmill a few squares away outside. Start the windmill, and they appear. Everything is sensibly pantomimed, and yes, I can't help but tell you there are many other cases of showing, not telling. Even allusions like Alibaba (unlock spell) and a Robin Hood character allow us Japanese-illiterates in on the fun, and I was able not only to find a hidden town on my own, but my maps told me how and where to summon an important sticker-angel, while my Japanese friend with the maps ran around confused for a while.

So I'll end with a humblebrag. I still know little Japanese beyond Hiragana and Katakana, but I had more fun creating the huge pile of maps than for many of the English NES games I wrote for. BW consciously steers you away from the boring stuff towards the goofy monsters and the magic of jumping all around the world to find that last not-so-annoying hideaway. I guarantee that the odd monsters and terrain will stay with you. Maybe even the puzzles, once you know what's going on.

I'm also confident that if I ever learn Japanese, and I come back to this game, I'll have a new and wonderful experience and probably realize some things I should've guessed. It'll be a blast either way. The only thing in my way may be hunting for other games nearly as fun. Maybe you will, too, or you'll just have fun with the game. The only reason I can think not to recommend it is if you're very busy, because the authors stuffed a lot of imagination in there.

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (July 29, 2013)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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