I’d imagine that given my propensity towards fanservicey anime-esque games with sexy women involved, that it comes as a surprise that I haven’t played Bayonetta until recently. The major reason I haven’t played it until recently is because it originally released back in 2010 when I didn’t have a PS3 or 360. I actually acquired a copy of the Wii U version of Bayonetta 2 back around 2014 or 2015, but I never got around to playing it or many of the Wii U games I owned in general due to the fact that depression hit me pretty hard around that time, and before that I was in a phase where I was only interested in JRPGs.
I actually decided to play and review the first Bayonetta as a result of a poll I held on my now suspended Twitter account, and it was held to serve as a milestone to me gaining $50 a month through Patreon. That was over a year ago, and I am just now getting to that review. Yes I know, I am very slow. And Bayonetta is fucking amazing!
Bayonetta is not the first Platinum Games title I have played. I have previously played Madworld and NieR Automata, the latter of which I also reviewed. While NieR Automata had the best story of the three, Bayonetta easily had the best gameplay and there were points where I had trouble deciding which of the two I enjoyed more. That being said, I still consider Automata my favorite Platinum title thus far, and I plan to address that soon. First I need to go over the positives of Bayonetta, and this game certainly gives me a lot to work with.
Bayonetta is most known and most praised for its gameplay, but I would like to start with the story. Fanservicey action games aren’t usually known for their stories, and at first glance one might assume Bayonetta is all style and no substance. I’ve been known for giving fanservicey titles more credit than most critics do, and that’s because I owe a lot to these types of games. Titles like Senran Kagura and Hyperdimension Neptunia do have a very special place in my heart (and my panties for that matter), but something like Bayonetta is a bit different from those two.
I would describe Bayonetta as more “cinematic” than Senran Kagura or Neptunia, as opposed to the more comedic slice of life oriented elements of the latter to. I had a much greater attachment to Senran Kagura and Neptunia’s characters, but Bayonetta is significantly better at actual story telling and subtlety. While the base narrative of Bayonetta fighting against the literal army of the heavens and the creepy, old possibly pedophilic priest… oh I’m sorry… “sage,” that leads them is entertaining in its own right, I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t the multiple layers of feminist subtext that really makes this game for me.
And I don’t even mean “feminist” in the boring neoliberal Hollywood sense of “anything that says ‘traditional 1950s conservative gender norms are bad’ is feminist,” but more so in the sense of “those familiar with feminist theory will get more out of this game than those who are looking for a standard popcorn flick-ey action game.” I’ve actually considered writing a piece on Bayonetta similar to that of my feminist analysis of Euphoria, but I’ll save that until I’ve played the 2nd and possibly 3rd game.
To quickly explain the feminist subtext, I’m going to post a quote from Andrea Dworkin. You thought I was done with those after the Euphoria piece didn’t ya?
“Here the definition of woman, in common with the pornographic definition, is her carnality; the essence of her character, in common with the fairy-tale definition, is her malice and avarice. The words flow almost too easily in our psychoanalytic age: we are dealing with an existential terror of women, of the “mouth of the womb, ” stemming from a primal anxiety about male potency, tied to a desire for self (phallic) control; men have deep-rooted castration fears which are expressed as a horror of the womb. These terrors form the substrata of a myth of feminine evil which in turn justified several centuries of gynocide. The evidence, provided by the Malleus and the executions which blackened those centuries, is almost without limit. One particular concern was that devils stole semen (vitality) from innocent, sleeping men — seductive witches visited men in their sleep, and did the evil stealing. ” (Woman Hating, 125)
And suddenly, Bayonetta’s sex appeal and personality makes a lot more sense when one considers that “witches” was a concept created by the church to justify the persecution and genocide of millions of women who worshiped the wrong God or didn’t conform to traditional gender roles. Contrary to the beliefs of sexist men everywhere, the witch hunts did not occur because people were stupid back then, it was nothing more than an excuse to dispose of whoever did not uphold patriarchal, Christian norms. And when viewed with that lens, Bayonetta’s story has a whole new layer of depth to it.
For those who say that it is a stretch to connect the real life witch hunts to this game because the main character is a witch, keep in mind that the “witch hunts” are referenced by name several times within the game’s story. Add to this the fact that the villains consist of the armies of heaven who frequently show themselves to be just as evil as the demons they claim to protect us from, and instead mask their true, ugly nature with lavish and opulent gold plating.
We start out the game knowing nothing about Bayonetta’s character other than that she’s a witch, she likes to kill angels, and she likes to show off her body in a lot of seductive poses. If one only played the first few levels, you’d come to the same conclusion as a few hack critics who say that this game is misogynistic because “oh no, tits scary!!”
A recurring character in the game is a young girl named Cereza, a child who bears a striking resemblance to Bayonetta and who she serves as a mother figure for. Throughout the game you see a contrast to how Cereza is small, vulnerable, and cute compared to Bayonetta who is dangerous, sexy, confident, and eight feet tall.
There is a fairly predictable twist later on that Cereza is Bayonetta as a child and was brought to the present time by the game’s main villain for plot reasons. The contrast between Bayonetta’s past and present self is something I found especially poignant as a trans woman who needed to shed a fuckton of emotional baggage to become the woman I am today.
I can tell you from experience that a lot of people who look confident and badass from the outside looking in, the types of people that many of you idolize or may even have a fanatical devotion for, most of them started out just like Cereza; fragile and vulnerable. I was like her as well. I spent most of my life with no confidence in myself even before I came out as trans, and the first few years I was out as woman I basically thought I was worthless and weak, and that no one would ever look up to me.
That’s no longer the case now as I am now a total babe and all the ladies wish their boyfriends were like me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t FEEL like I’m that way and was nervous about even making that joke. I have heard so many people tell me that I’m an inspiration to them or that I’ve helped them in same way, and I get caught off guard every time because no matter how many times someone says I’m beautiful, compassionate, smart, powerful, or inspiring, I never feel like I am. And the reason for that is because I’ve known myself as weak or powerless more than I knew myself as strong and powerful.
One line that stuck out to me in particular was when Cereza first encounters the angels and recoils in fear, to which Bayonetta replies with “Don’t worry, it’s always scary the first time you seem them.” With just one line of dialogue, one is told that Bayonetta was not always as powerful and confident as she is and that she only got this way after a number years of fighting for her life. For fucks sake, the final boss has an attack that will revert Bayonetta into her childhood form where she is more vulnerable to attacks. What better way is there to portray the reality that no matter how strong we become, any one of us could regress to helpless childhood state of fear and helplessness in our darkest moments?
I know fully well that I likely didn’t give a full enough explanation on Bayonetta’s feminist symbolism to those who know fuck all about it, but as I said, I’m saving that for a later piece. Besides, I need to talk about the other stuff one of these days.
One of those other stuffs is this game’s presentation. In the process of playing this game, I noticed that it looked better on the Wii U gamepad than on my TV, which leads me to believe that my TV is kinda not good. It could be either that, or that 7th gen titles relying on a realistic aesthetic like Bayonetta are better suited to smaller screens. Either way, I can’t go into the graphics too much aside from saying they serve their purpose.
What I CAN go into is the absolutely superb musical score! The first battle theme you hear is an arrangement of “Fly Me to the Moon” that sounds like something you’d hear at a strip club, and I don’t think a better track could be used to contrast Bayonetta’s alluring sex appeal with her deeper personality and backstory. Granted the track itself isn’t something I listen to on my own that much, but the grand and majestic orchestral pieces used for the game’s various boss fights is a whole other story.
There is a common tendency for some critics to overly fetishize orchestrated music to the point that they consider “being orchestrated” to be significant praise in and of itself, while ignoring the fact that a lot of your generic film/game score tropes risk sounding like dull fluff that goes in one ear and out the other. Being orchestrated does not mean that a soundtrack is amazing, but when an amazing soundtrack is orchestrated, HOLY FUCK is it AMAZING!!!
The tracks “You May Call Me Father” and “The Greatest Jubilee” are rightfully considered among the highest tier of video game songs, and the more that is said about the breathtaking opening theme “One of a Kind” the better, but there are also a ton of amazing tracks overshadowed by these. Yes, there will likely be a large number of Amazing VGM pieces for this game.
And it is only fitting that such a stunning soundtrack is used to enhance a game that turns spectacle into an art form! That first showdown against Fortitudo was one of the most intense and breathtaking fights I’ve encountered in gaming. Fighting such a divine and colossal creature in a multi-tiered battle across a backdrop that most games would consider overkill for a final boss, only to realize that you’re only a quarter of the way through the game and the bosses get bigger and more ridiculous from then on.
That being said, I wouldn’t say that each of the major chapter bosses quite reached the initial shock of that battle against Fortitudo, but they ranged from slightly below the quality of this fight, to outright exceeding it in the end game battles! Bayonetta is a game that I enjoyed most on my first playthrough on normal mode, because as amazing as that experience was, some of the magic was lost when playing through on higher level difficulties.
I made sure to play through this game three times, one on normal, one on hard, and one on Nonstop Infinite Climax mode, and part of me wishes I didn’t. The reason being that while Bayonetta’s full picture had a few cracks in the initial experience, those cracks expand to the size of potholes on hard mode, and to ravine size on Nonstop Infinite Climax.
Like most Platinum developed titles, Bayonetta suffers from a pretty severe case of “the camera is fucking garbage” disorder. This tends to screw the player over the most during the platforming segments that really shouldn’t exist in games with shitty cameras. Thankfully the player can practice these until they git gud at them, so they only end up being annoyed if they were going for one of those elusive platinum trophies. On higher difficulties, it ends up screwing the player over because the level layout is unchanged aside from making enemies do a fuckton more damage and having “witch time” disabled, which means that those camera fuckups become a fuck ton more frustrating.
And I want to make it clear that my criticism towards the higher difficulties isn’t that they’re “too hard,” it’s the specific way they are made harder through artificial means. I will give credit in that clearing the game on higher difficulties is doable, and that if you do so, the normal mode levels will feel like a breeze. But instead, you have every imperfection expanding until they intersect with each other and create big gaping holes in the foundation of this game.
The boss battles remain absolutely amazing on every difficulty, but the normal stages are another story. If you are trying for those elusive platinum trophy, or anything that isn’t a stone trophy for that matter, then you will find yourself needing to retread lengthy stages multiple times because you lost huge chunks of health against those fucking boat enemies that you keep falling off because you have no room to move or dodge without taking damage. This isn’t even taking into account the fact that using healing of buff items deducts points, because Goddess forbid Platinum actually designs the game around the mechanics they created when they can tack on arbitrary restrictions and call it “replay value.”
And let’s talk about the post game content. After beating the game on normal, you unlock the angel slayer stage, a gauntlet of fifty battles in a row involving hundreds of enemies, a few of which include boss battles. If I put enough time into trying to beat this ridiculous level, I probably could have pushed myself until I beat the whole thing. Once again, the problem is that it’s just not that interesting. It is made up entirely of repeat enemies and doesn’t add to the lore or show any new interesting locations.
If this was something like Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door’s Pit of 100 Trials that actually introduced new enemies and concluded with a boss seen nowhere else in the game, then I may have been willing to put in the time and effort to beat this level. Hell it would have been nice if we finally had a reason to use those items, or to use the climax bracelet that does not allow the player to save their score at the end of the level if they use it anywhere else. It would have been nice to have a level where most players would NEED the climax bracelet to see the end of it as opposed to it just making players so OP that it takes away all tension.
To be fair, there is one superboss that can also be fought that does ad a slight bit of lore to the story, but I haven’t fought that one either because it requires a fuckton of money farming to do so, and I didn’t feel like doing that. While I can’t speak to the quality of the fight itself, I can’t help but admit that compared to multi-staged massive set pieces of the bosses in the main game, that this one doesn’t look quite as interesting.
But it must be stressed that even though the game was less fun on higher difficulties, it was still enjoyable enough for me to play through them once. I am also proud to admit that I have successfully found all the Umbran tears of blood (half of which are collectables, the other half are basically achievements). If I had only played the game on its highest difficulty, then I’d still recommend it despite its fault, but I would also advise a bit more caution.
It just goes without saying that Bayonetta is definitely a game worth playing, and that the vast majority of the praise around this game is fully justified, and that Bayonetta truly is a one of a kind experience.
If you would like to support me or this site, then please support my Patreon if you would like to see higher quality content with more resources to put towards it. If you don’t want to spend any money on me, then you can also help out by simply sharing my blog on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, or anywhere else where others will see it. You can also follow this blog if you would like to be kept up to date on my stuff, or you could follow me on any of my social media pages (listed at the bottom of the page) and could stop by The Guardian Acorn Discord chat if you would like to talk to me and my homies.