Boktai - Review

Our Sun
By: Michael Beckett

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 5
   Music & Sound 7
   Originality 9
   Story 2
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Variable
   Completion Time 10-20hrs  

Plant growth rates depend on how much sun your sensor gets.
Plant growth rates depend on how much sun your sensor gets.

   One of the more unusual games to be released in recent memory, Boktai; The Sun is in Your Hand is an Action RPG that forces you to rely on the power of sunlight to defeat your vampiric foes. Although Boktai has a lot of charm graphically and sonically, itís plot and certain aspects of itís combat system fail to impress. Overall, Boktai is a strange bird with some unique ideas, something that deserves credit in any medium.

   Any discussion of Boktai has to begin with the solar sensor. The cartridge juts out about a centimeter from the lip of the GBA, revealing a black square set in amongst the circuitry. This sensor can discern the presence and intensity of sunlight, which affects not only the performance of the Gun del Sol, your main weapon, but also the behavior and strength of the undead Django hunts. This extremely unusual brand of game mechanics is what makes Boktai such a fun game - running around desperately trying to find enough sunlight to destroy a vampire is more than enough to draw the player into Boktaiís world, to make them want to be intimately involved in the affairs of the young hero.

   Itís a pity, then, that Django doesnít have much in the way of affairs to be involved in. While the idea of playing a young vampire hunter is oddly compelling, the story that Boktai serves up is built largely upon clichť. Django ends up facing everything from a long-lost brother to the "will of the universe", just like every other two-bit fantasy hero. In the end, and although I applaud Hideo Kojimaís efforts in gameplay, the story should have been left to someone with more experience in writing.

   By and large, Boktai is only barely an RPG. Django does not level up or gain new abilities on his own, but must find them in the form of grenades, frames, lenses and batteries for his Gun del Sol. And of those, only the lenses level up. No information is given to the player about EXP gained or EXP required for the next level. The level cap for each lens is three, making it very easy to sit down and have a maxed-out lens a mere hour or so after gaining it. Given the time to complete - only 10 to 20 hours - and the unique mode of gameplay that Boktai offers - in many cases, the player is directed to avoid fights rather than seek them out - perhaps such a limited customization scheme makes sense, but it does limit the choices available to the player.

   Perhaps because of this low completion time, Boktai includes a number of features to improve itís chances of being replayed; beyond the New Game + feature, Boktai has a series of emblems that unlock doors in the gameís optional dungeon, as well as a ranking system that provides a score, a rare item based on that score, and a lengthy password that can be entered at Konamiís website to obtain information about your game.

800% interest! I think these guys are sending me to college!
800% interest! I think these guys are sending me to college!

   While the control scheme of Boktai is largely easy to acclimate to once the strange isometric view is conquered, and while it does do a decent job of providing fluid access to multiple specialized techniques, there are portions of the interface that never quite work well enough. In particular, flattening against a wall to avoid an enemy can take a toll on your fingers, and more than once I found myself accidentally firing off a grenade by a slip of the L Button. The constant switching of elemental lenses and grenades really should have been streamlined, particularly given the amount of Trap and Boss battles that require the player to switch around parts of the Gun del Sol on a moments notice.

   The music of Boktai is passable, but what really shines is the voice acting. Somehow, Konami managed to get the GBAís piddling little speaker to produce fairly good quality voices. Of course, due to the limitations of data storage, only one voice track is available; the English one. But it appears, looking at the credits, that this was the only one produced.

   Iíve said it before, Iíll probably say it again, the best localization is the one you donít notice. Despite a small amount of mixed Japanese and English in the voiced lines, the translation is nearly flawless. Lines flow naturally, with no obvious mistranslations or other errors.

   Boktai boasts an unusual visual style perhaps best described as Vampire Hunter D meets a box of Crayolas. While most of the areas are dark and sinister, particularly at night, the characters boast bright colors and almost Pokemon-ish design. This brings forward an unusual dichotomy in Boktai. Despite its difficulty and the violent nature of the enemies Django fights, the game is clearly marketed towards a younger audience.

   Looking back at Boktai, itís fairly obvious where the developers directed their attention. The gameplay is absorbing, intricate and original, but it comes in direct opposition to the plot, which is lackluster, shallow and clichť. Boktai is certainly not for anyone expecting to find the great American novel in a game, but if what you look for in a game is unique and absorbing gameplay, Boktai might just be for you.

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