Reviewed: September 26, 2004
Released: July 20, 2004
Thanks to BAM! Entertainment, gamers in the United States are privileged to play some of the best imported titles that would otherwise be unavailable to us. Now they are exercising their publishing muscle to bring us the hottest new fighting game from Japan, Bujingai: The Forsaken City.
As superficial as it may sound, the first thing that grabbed me was the stunning cover art, which is half logo and half cityscape at sunset. I really canít explain it but this game just leaps off the shelf at you. But what you donít realize is that inside this game box is a fiendishly clever mix of all of your favorite action-fighters from the past three years.
The genetic wizards at Red Entertainment and Taito have fired up their gene-splicer and combined Devil May Cry, Otogi, Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi and probably a few other titles I canít remember right now, and created one of the slickest fighting games to date. With a simplistic, yet expandable combat system, you will be pulling off the most stunning fighting moves and combos even before the opening credits roll. Speaking of the opening movie, close your eyes and imagine this scenario. The PlayStation 2 logo vanishes and you find yourself in a back alley facing a half-dozen demons. With no tutorial and no idea of what to do you start pressing buttons. In less than 30 seconds you have mastered the basic controls and are dispatching demons with the skill and flair that would have taken you hours to master in any of those other fighting games.
When the final demon falls the screen fades to black and the opening movie begins, but GET THIS! The opening movie is a replay of everything you just did. Thatís right. As the credits and energized soundtrack roll, you get to watch yourself killing those half-dozen demons from a variety of cinematic camera angles complete with fades, freeze-frames and other special effects. How cool it that? Iíll tell you. Iíve restarted the game nearly 15 times just to improve my performance and create the ultimate opening movie. Itís a shame there is no way to save the replays, but this remains the most outstanding concept for an opening movie in gaming history.
Bujingai takes place in the 23rd century, more specifically, an island-city called Kenkisouken. Centuries ago, it was a thriving metropolis and a marvel of modern technology. Nearly 700 years ago a nuclear accident destroyed most of the worldís population and those that remained found they were imbued with certain supernatural abilities and long-lasting life. They also found they were the new source of food for a nightmarish clan of demons who were now coming through a dimensional rift opened during the nuclear holocaust. Now this city is a ruined wasteland ruled by a Demon Lord and guarded by an army of sword wielding fiends and abominable creatures.
You play as Lau Wong, the ultimate swordsman Ė after all, how many warriors do you know that fly through space as a comet and crash to Earth to save the day. In the distant past, Lau studied martial arts under the tutelage of Master Naguri Tensai. What Lau lacked in skill, he made up for in pure courage. His fearless reputation and willingness to charge headfirst into battle gave him the reputation of being Ďinsane.í Now, driven by revenge and 400 years of daily training, Lau has perfected his martial arts techniques, learned how to defy gravity and wield an arsenal of magic spells. Lau Wong is a man who truly knows that actions speak louder than words.
Despite the strong backstory Bujingai is a game that focuses entirely on action. For the first several hours of gameplay you wonít really know why you are warping around to various levels slaying countless demons, but then again, you wonít really care. About halfway through the game the narrative picks up and you can then appreciate the subtle storytelling that has been going on all along.
Bujingai features the same gravity-defying martial arts stylings we have come to expect from movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and more recently, Hero. Itís certainly not rooted in any type of reality, but itís fun to watch on the big screen and a total blast to play as a videogame. The brilliance of Bujingai lies in its simplistic commands. You attack with the square button and do a more powerful spin-attack with the triangle while the X button allows you to jump. A second tap of this button allows you to glide and if you hold down the button you can run up or along walls just like Prince of Persia and Ninja Gaiden.
I was a bit disappointed with the video-only tutorial. They show you what to do but there is no place to practice these moves before being thrust into the action. I always tend to learn more by ďdoingĒ than watching or reading. Thankfully, the combat and combo system is intuitive enough that it didnít detract significantly from my overall enjoyment this time.
The combat is exquisitely simple and uses these basic building blocks to create stunning combos and chain attacks by mixing and combining the spin and basic attacks or prefacing an attack with a jump. With a bit of practice you can juggle your opponents and even perform complete aerial assaults without ever touching the ground.
Most of the time you will be outnumbered. Thankfully, there is a target lock system (R1) so you wonít lose track of your current enemy, even when you send him flying off the screen. You can just as easily switch targets (L1) if you need to reprioritize during combat. If too many enemies gang up on you a spin attack will send them all flying back. Itís not a damaging move but it will give you time to regroup.
There is a fantastic block and counter component to Bujingai, both for spells and melee combat. When timed correctly you can clash with your enemy and lock swords, then follow through with a powerful burst that will knock the enemy back doing massive damage. Block is automatic as long as you are facing your opponent and have sufficient power in your defense gauge. This gauge will deplete as you block and counter and fill back up during combat.
You can also counter incoming spells by ďcatchingĒ them then rapidly pressing the square button to fill your magic meter. This also depletes your defensive gauge but if you can absorb enough magical energy so your magic bar flashes you can then press circle to counter with an explosive retaliatory strike or merely stop the block with a full magic bar.
Despite the simplistic commands and combo system, Bujingai presents a significant challenge. Most gamers will walk through the first two levels fairly quick and easy, but I encourage you to master all the subtle arts of the combat system because when level three (and beyond) arrive, this game gets nasty.
Buried within all the swordplay and spellcasting is a token effort at some RPG character build-up. As you fight you will collect countless multi-colored orbs. Yellow orbs fill your health; red your magic, green is spiritual energy, and blue are experience points used to level up your character. You can also manually distribute these points into the areas of Health, Magic, and Defense giving you a bit of a say in how you develop Lau over the course of the game.
There are also a few collectibles in the game, the most notable being the Hidden Coins scattered about the level that can be used to buy bonus features like alternate costumes or behind-the-scenes DVD extras in the options menu. Some coins are obvious and easy to collect while others will have you running up walls and performing wild acrobatics just to reach them.
Bujingai is divided up into several levels and you are graded on your performance in each much like Devil May Cry. Taken into account are your finishing time, max hit combos, orbs collected, damage taken, and even how ďstylishlyĒ you played the level. Yes, the game rewards you for looking cool while playing, so practice those combos and gravity-defying moves.
Using a portal system that centralizes around the temple where you initially train, you can revisit any previously completed level and try to better your grade or simply collect more orbs, find missing coins, or find a new spell.
There are nine unique spells scattered about the levels and even though you can have multiple spells in your book you can only have one ready to go at a time. These vary in power and effectiveness, so there is a bit of a learning curve in figuring out when and where to use these supernatural abilities.
As far as puzzles are concerned, there really arenít any traditional puzzles, but rather environmental obstacles or challenges. You might have to run up a wall, leap to a ledge, swing across a sequence of poles, then vault to a ledge to reach a coin or in the case of the bamboo forest, collect 100 green orbs to open the exit. The trick to the latter challenge is that the green orb meter is quickly counting down so you must furiously destroy bamboo, collect the orbs, and reach the exit before it goes below 100.
No matter what you find yourself doing in Bujingai, whether it be exploring, fighting, or attempting these challenges, it is always great fun and it looks fantastic.
Perhaps the best compliment I can give Bujingai is that this game looks every bit as good as any Xbox title I have seen. Iíd stack this game right up there with Ninja Gaiden, Otogi, Panzer Dragoon Orta or any other stylized action game. Frankly, I didnít think the PS2 could generate these kinds of graphics.
Anyone who saw this while I was doing the review initially thought it was an Xbox title then shook their heads in disbelief when I showed them the PS2 case. There is absolutely no shimmering, no jaggies, or any of the texture or clipping problems weíve come to accept from our PS2 games. Somebody really delved deep into the core of the PS2 to crank this game out and it will set a new bar by which all other PS2 games are measured.
Not lost in the subtleties are some excellent character and monster designs thanks to the creative work of Toshiro Kawamoto (Cowboy Bebop and Wolfís Rain). I would have preferred a bit more variety in the demons. There were only a handful of unique creatures, but it made me appreciate the new ones that much more when they finally did appear. Creatures range from the puppet-like demons of Devil May Cry to some truly hideous Asian-influenced monsters.
Lau has some excellent animation for normal activities like running, jumping, gliding, and running up or along walls, but his combat animation steals the show with sweeps and swipes and lunges, and everything is accented with colorful streaks and trails on his blade. All the while, you can watch his clothing flow and flap in the breeze. Itís totally fluid and very believable.
The levels are creative and stunning and while you canít smash everything like in Otogi there are plenty of environmental objects to break. The draw distance is pretty far but there is some use of fog or nighttime misting to keep the framerates at a silky smooth rate, even when you are fighting a half-dozen monsters complete with particle, lighting, and other flashy effects.
The game is fully 3D and you have complete control over the camera including a handy ďsnap-backĒ feature to center the camera quickly. The target-lock alleviates any potential for combat problems. Youíll appreciate the free-look ability when it comes time to track down those elusive coins.
The soundtrack for Bujingai is a thrilling mix of Asian infused rock, metal, techno, and even atmospheric tunes using authentic Eastern string and woodwind instruments. The music is constantly in a state of flux but subtle enough not to dominate the experience.
Sound effects include all of the traditional combat sounds you would expect to hear in a Hong Kong-inspired action title. Exaggerated swooshes of blades slicing through air, thuds of punches and kicks, howls and roars of demons, and supernatural sounds of spectacular magical attacks dominate while subtle sounds like wind blowing or the crack of a bamboo tree make just as much of an impact.
There is some localized speech and for the most part it works really well. These games are often best when left with their native dialogue and subtitled, but I didnít find any of the voices out of place or the acting particularly bad.
There are only seven levels in Bujingai but they are all substantial in size with plenty of enemies to kill and lots of secrets and hidden locations tucked away in areas that will require every ounce of skill you can muster from your fingers to reach.
If you arenít looking to unlock every last bonus item, secret costume, or DVD video bonus then you can probably run through this game in 8-10 hours. Iím betting (much like the designers) that you will quickly become hooked on the simple but addictive gameplay and keep replaying these levels over and over, not only to get a higher rank, but to find those hidden coins, and simply master the fine art of martial arts combat.
Thereís no multiplayer but the game is nearly as much fun to watch as it is to play so you can pass around the controller if you feel the urge to slay some demons while friends are over. Itís not a party game by definition but it can be just as entertaining.
Bujingai: The Forsaken City is a deceptively cool game in that it hooks you almost immediately with its approachable controls and intuitive building-block combos, not to mention the sheer artistry of the graphics and animation. Then once you are entranced the game gets harder, but by then your skills are more than up for the task.
Itís a perfect blend of increasing ability and level progression that jolts you around level three but ramps up smoothly until the end of the game. Taking Xbox games out of the equation the only real competition this game has on the PS2 is the Devil May Cry games, and to some degree I enjoyed this game more. Capcomís game may have had a better story and bigger variety of monsters, but Bujingai is pure action and total fun from start to finish.