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Bujingai: The Forsaken City (PlayStation 2) artwork

Bujingai: The Forsaken City (PlayStation 2) review

"Bujingai is about Gackt, the androgynous Japanese pop star. But since this is a pre-Guitar Hero-era game, musician was not yet thought to be a viable game role, so instead you play as Gackt, the androgynous, immortal Chinese sword master. He has a different name in the game, but why bother with the pretense? This is Gackt merchandise, an arbitrary cash-in on his popularity in Japan. Some misguided individual in publishing must have been blown away by all the fancy, dancing swordpla..."

Bujingai is about Gackt, the androgynous Japanese pop star. But since this is a pre-Guitar Hero-era game, musician was not yet thought to be a viable game role, so instead you play as Gackt, the androgynous, immortal Chinese sword master. He has a different name in the game, but why bother with the pretense? This is Gackt merchandise, an arbitrary cash-in on his popularity in Japan. Some misguided individual in publishing must have been blown away by all the fancy, dancing swordplay in this Devil May Cry clone and thought it deserved to see the light of day on American and European shores.

Gacktís game avatar is as much dancer as martial artist. After literally falling out of the sky, he enters an extravagant display of martial prowess. With a large, flame-shaped saber in his right hand, and smaller broadsword in his left, he twirls, pivots, pirouettes, while streaking the air yellow and blue, and finally poses to the sound of a gong. His gimmick, besides looking like a woman, is that he automatically parries all frontal attacks, be it blade, fireball, or Megaton Minotaur Punch. I say automatically because this is done with literally no player input.

Your first opportunity to test it out is in the obligatory ďprologueĒ that serves as one of the many testaments to just how preposterously full of itself this game is. Itís a small, enclosed demo level populated by a handful of underpowered filler enemies, played on a time limit. After a minute, the play session is reproduced as an unskippable cutscene, the camera following and zooming in on Gackt whether you fought, ran pointlessly up walls, or even stood stock-still Ė all the while flashing company logos and cast information. The prologue can later be edited and saved for replay, with such editing choices as enemy color and enemies with hats or without. I just wish I had friends to show it to!

Itís every bit as easy as it sounds and the game is incredibly shallow because of it. As Gackt wades through a bamboo forest, scales a snowy mountaintop, or runs down the ruined streets of the titular (and completely underwhelming) Forsaken City, so-called demons materialize out of the void for Gacktís chop-dancing delight. Though they have names like Forsaken Berserker and Undead Knight, they do not actually look like zombies, skeletons, humans or anything you can possibly think of; they are simply bodies with limbs and a weapon. If they ever raise their blades with the intention of cutting Gackt a new orifice, he will automatically parry up to five hits Ė ten when fully upgraded Ė before you have to worry about taking any damage. Simply press square before his defense gauge runs out (plenty of time) to counter with Gacktís powerful and elaborate-looking Square^10 combo: he slashes, spins and jumps, the 19th and final hit finishing with him standing on one leg, the flamesaber extended out in front and the broadsword over his head. You might as well be invincible.

If the automaticity of this system were not enough to make Bujingai shallow, then the fact that it is hardly even necessary surely does. The bulk of the opposition is too much the stereotypical fodder that games of this type are often criticized for. Slow-moving and non-threatening even when in groups, they are more targets than opponents. You can always walk straight up to them and start hacking long before they will do anything. I once stood still next to one of them without attacking, but I ran out of patience after twenty seconds of waiting and rearranged its nonexistent face with the trusty old Square^10. They might as well be dead on arrival.

To be fair, there are a few enemies that parry back, but it isnít even hard to wear down their defense gauges by just attacking. Alternatively, you can choose side-dodge or jump-over after a parry instead of reversal and unleash a combo while they are still in theirs. Though slightly more interactive, Gackt is still barely vulnerable and you rarely have to fight more than one at a time. End-of-level bosses canít even parry and also provide opportunities for a magic counter: no less automatic and easy than the physical kind, the reward can be up to forty percent of unblockable damage.

The game moves at an even pace of blandness until the seventh and final stage, where the emphasis shifts from action to platforming. After spelunking through an underground magma cave, Gackt finds himself thousands of feet above solid ground, where wooden and stone platforms float among the clouds. Some are long, guard-railed planks, others are moving circular rocks, and still others are walls for running on. The platforming controls are downright clumsy, especially the glide and the wall run, which will frequently send you plummeting into the bottomless pit below. Though ridiculous in concept, these are fortunately not bottomless pits of death, but rather bottomless pits of ten percent health reduction. In spite of this, the unwieldiness of it all will still cost you more lives than the entire rest of the game combined.

It is within this sea of clouds that the worst moment in the entire game occurs. The culmination of this clumsy platforming requires Gackt to more or less blindly perform an uninterrupted series of five or six wall runs, wall jumps and glides between walls at different angles. Itís excruciatingly difficult, requiring absolute perfection and foresight. Even the slightest mistake, such as a wrong turn or a horizontal wall run instead of a vertical one, whether at the first wall or the last, will cause Gackt to fall down, requiring him to start over entirely. It certainly doesnít help that all three of these actions are bound to the same button.

Shortly after is the gameís best moment: Gackt is whisked away to an alternate dimension for the challenging, but not unreasonable, penultimate boss encounter. The flying White Demidragon smashes through from underneath, shattering the ethereal glyph under Gacktís feet and hurling him a hundred feet to a lower level. Combining flying ice shards with vertical and horizontal tree-sized sword swipes, the dragon suddenly makes the possibility of having your defense gauge broken very real. Its chill breath can be magic countered, but the timing is surprisingly difficult because more ice shards threaten to interrupt you. The fight is in every respect Bujingaiís lone moment of inspiration Ė visually, mechanically, conceptually.

The game immediately falls back into its shallow rut just in time for the final boss.

I gave Bujingai the benefit of the doubt and started a second game on the newly unlocked hard mode, thinking the injection of difficulty might deepen and invigorate the experience. I also wanted to test a hypothesis that, if proven, would say a lot about the game. It passed empirical tests and became sound theory: literally over 90% of the combat can be bypassed entirely by simply running past enemies and to the exit. The disadvantage to this is not getting the orbs needed to upgrade GacktÖbut what do you need upgrades for when you can run past almost everything and still beat the game?

To my horror, the difficulty of the ridiculous walljumping sequence had been magnified to an unbelievable level: the walls had been reduced to about a third of their original square area. In the course of his adventure, Gackt is beset by cleaver-wielding underdemons, topples a magical minotaur twenty times his size and clashes flameblade to quadblade with a rival sword master who sold his soul to a demon for ULTIMATE POWER Ė but the hardest enemy you will ever face is a set of five walls. Ironically, itís one of the few things that cannot be bypassed whatsoever. I could only imagine how ludicrous this sequence would become on the gameís second unlockable difficulty.

For better or worse, I will never find out. On normal, the next section required you to float to the exit by aerial rave comboing floating gongs; on hard, they were removed. The only thing left is an enormous gap with no remotely discernable way of crossing it. I tried repeatedly using a magic spell that propelled Gackt forward, but when I ran out of magic power I wasnít even close. I checked walkthroughs hoping for an easy way out, but the only two I could find were horrible: worse than making no mention of the particular sequence, they did not cover hard difficulty at all. My last resort was to look for YouTube videos. Strike three. This was the moment I decided to never play this game again.

Bujingai is not ambitious or even competent, and yet for some inexplicable reason it believes that itís a good game that people want to play and know every detail about. As you run across walls and glide through the air, Gackt collects gold coins that unlock bonus materials. There is a second costume, which is just Gackt in real world attire, but seemingly of more interest are the videos, which include a press conference and interviews with the actors.

With what curiosity I had left, I started to watch the Gackt interview. He twice says that Bujingai is fun to play and he talks about how games are borderless because you donít even need to know the language to feel the story and the developersí emotions. The interview takes a turn from boring to stupid when he is asked about martial arts: he says that he thinks itís okay for kids to fight each other physically because these days kids fight each other with their hearts, that emotional wounds donít heal as well as physical ones, that this is the nature of bullying, and that the reason suicide rates have gone up is--.

This was the moment I turned off the fucking PlayStation and decided to really never play this game again. Playing it more had only worsened my opinion of it. The entire thing just feels like a bloated demo disc of miscellaneous content that no one cares about. Please Japan, take Bujingai back and give us Berserk: The Millennium Falcon instead.

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Featured community review by radicaldreamer (July 01, 2009)

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mardraum posted July 01, 2009:

cool review, I thought I was the only one who suffered through Bujingay.

well, I quit pretty early on, but I also bought it for like $30. $30 of money. $30 of money I will never get back.
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radicaldreamer posted July 02, 2009:

I think I only paid $10 for Bujingai. (But I was dumb enough to pay $40 for Dirge of Cerberus.) The first time I played it I thought it was kinda cool, but I'm often tempted to consider anything with wildly swinging swords cool. I think that's why developers often make games about them. I even liked DMC2 for a while.
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zigfried posted July 02, 2009:

This was a great review for a game that I always meant to purchase because it has GACKT. Especially now that it's cheap. However, after reading about the auto-blocking and the crazy wall bit, I will not waste even eight bucks on Bujingai.

You have influenced my purchasing decision! Reviews don't often sway me, so nice job.


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