Hope the Weather’s Nice
Death has lost its meaning due to some powerful Immortals that have begun to fill the world with the undead. Boktai begins with the hero taking up his father’s quest to defeat the undead that have begun to appear in the world and the Immortals that control them. While it may sound like an average undead-hunting action RPG, Boktai features some very interesting and unique gameplay due to the solar sensor that is built into the game cartridge. The hero uses the Gun del Sol, a gun that charges itself using solar power, to assist him in his quest.
As the solar sensor is an integral aspect of the game, some explanation of its effects are in order. The solar sensor registers the amount of light hitting it and displays the level of light on the screen for easy reference. As the meter doesn’t react to most forms of artificial light, solar effects can only take place during the daytime, outdoors or by a window, and in good weather. This puts a serious restriction on when players have access to the game. While it is possible to play at night and in other poor conditions, gameplay will become more difficult and the Gun del Sol will quickly run out of energy. There are also a number of places that are impossible to complete without sunlight. It is quite common for there to be a lot of glare on the screen while playing in the bright sun as well. The bad aside, the solar sensor allows for some unique visual effects and gameplay variations. The environment reacts to the level of sun, but it’s more than just night and day. For example, if there is a puddle on the ground, a large amount of light will cause it to evaporate. Not only does this look cool, it has effects on gameplay as well. Running through a puddle will cause splashing and will alert enemies sensitive to noise of the hero’s presence, but he is free to run through these areas easily without fear when the sun is shining brightly.
Despite the complexity of the Gun del Sol and the power of the solar sensor, normal battles are very plain. Generally, the hero will simply hide in the shadows and shoot an enemy in the back in order to stun it. The player will then either fry the enemy with the full power of their gun in hopes of gaining an item, or they will conserve precious solar energy and run away. In addition to this, there are only a handful of enemy types found in the game which makes it very easy to consistently outsmart them. Thankfully, there are Traps and boss battles to liven things up. These involve more action and are far more enjoyable. It is possible to obtain a large variety of items and grenades to make these battles even more interesting. Sadly, battles like these are underused and greatly overshadowed by monotonous normal battles.
Difficulty can be adjusted, but battles are easy regardless of the difficulty setting, provided there is enough sunlight. Attempting to play for extended periods of time at night etc. causes the difficulty level to increase far more than selecting a higher setting. It’s also possible to adjust the difficulty of the puzzles, but most of those aren’t very hard either.
The solar sensor alone brings a tremendous amount of originality to the game. In addition to the sensor, the Gun del Sol itself offers quite a bit to originality as well. The gun is almost fully customizable, as nearly every component of the gun — from battery to lens to frame — can be hand selected once the proper attachment has been obtained. Even the shape of the gun’s rays can be chosen. The gameplay itself is also unique. Rather than taking on the undead directly, the hero has to conserve energy for the greater powers that are controlling the undead, thus the hero often has to hide in the shadows and outsmart enemies. For example, it’s possible to hide behind a wall and make noise until enemies venture towards the player’s location then run to the area they were guarding while they are investigating the source of the noise. While these tactics have appeared in other genres, they are fairly new to RPGs. After defeating a boss, players must also drag the coffin out into the sun in order to dispose of the corpse once and for all. While that’s not much fun, it’s certainly original. The only part of the game that isn’t original is the rather cliché story.
In addition to being cliché, the story is very short and serves only to give some meaning to the hero’s actions. The entire story takes only a couple minutes to tell and doesn’t come anywhere close to reaching the potential the GBA has.
The interface itself is quite good. Everything the player needs appears on the main screen or can be easily accessed from the menu. The menu is organized into several parts and it’s quite easy to find what one is looking for. The play controls are also quite good with one exception: the button used to fire a stun shot is also used to fire a solar burst. The difference is only in how long the player holds down the button. This can lead to the occasional misfire. The localization isn’t bad either, but it doesn’t stand out either due to the lack of dialogue.
The game itself is very short. Only stages with bosses take more than a few minutes to complete, and that’s usually due to the fact that the player must actually drag their coffin through the entire level and into the sun in order to completely defeat them, a tedious and time-consuming task indeed. In addition to this, lesser stages aren’t linear and it’s possible to skip almost half of them entirely. If the player skips these, it’s possible to complete the game in as little as six hours, but if the player enters these levels as well in order to collect powerups and/or spends quite a bit of time growing items in their garden, it’s more likely they will spend about ten hours instead. Luckily, there is a type of New Game+ feature, but it only slightly changes a few things.
Despite being very short, the music still manages to become repetitive by the end. The boss and trap tracks are good, but the rest aren’t anything special. The sound effects, on the other hand, are much better, but they aren’t particularly amazing either.
The visuals, sadly, are the best part of the game. Each enemy has a wide variety of animations and actions which helps make up for the large amount of palette swaps. In addition to this, bosses are usually large and extremely detailed. Taking the game out of the sun and putting it back in will also create some great visual effects such as ice melting and reforming, or puddles evaporating and refilling.
Boktai‘s gameplay is unique and fairly enjoyable. There are exceptions to this though, such as having to slowly drag a coffin at the end of every level, or a boss regenerating some of its power because a cloud is passing overhead. While the solar sensor is original and spices up gameplay, it is still fairly gimmicky and can make it difficult to actually play the game if the weather is bad or the player is busy during daylight hours. While it has a lot of original ideas and bits of interesting gameplay, they can’t completely make up for the monotonous battle system and severe lack of story,