[Japanator Games Week may have ended last week, but there were a few entries that went through some delays, so let's give a welcome to these late contenders.]
For a good while, people would go into a deep shock whenever I tell them that I have never played a Metal Gear game in my entire life. While I may have missed out Hideo Kojima's tactical covert ops series, I did get to play the Zone of the Ender series with the exception of Fist of Mars for the GBA. There is also one more series that I have played by the great Kojima-san, which is one that not many people got to play during the GBA's lifespan.
Today you shall learn about the Boktai series aka the only video game series that requires you to hunt vampires outside in the scorching sun. So join me below as I take you into Hideo Kojima's stealth vampire hunting series.
Known as Bokura no Taiyo in Japan, the first game was released in Japan on July 16th, 2003, North America got the game on September 16th of the same year, and Europe received the sun's blessing during the month of May 14, 2004. Localized as Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand, the game covers the perilous journey of a vampire hunter known as Django as he travels through the city of the dead known as Istrakan to battle the evil vampires that go by the title of Immortals. Following in his father's footsteps, Django arms himself with his trusty vampire killing weapon known as the Gun del Sol, which is Spanish for the Sun's Gun. Just like the title says, this weapon is able to convert the sun's rays into blasts that can cripple the blood sucking vermin. However, this is where the playing outside segment of the game comes into play.
Unlike most GBA cartridges, Boktai is built in with a special sensor that can detect sunlight. If you think that you can fool it with any other sort of light, think again. You could say that Boktai was part of Kojima's grand scheme to get gamers to play handheld games outside instead of being cooped up inside all day.
In order to capture the realism behind hunting vampires, Boktai has a built in clock that is based on the time set by the player. Just like any game with a built in clock, Boktai is a different beast when you are playing at night time. Luckily, the game has special devices where you can store sunlight, so that you have extra reserves for any sort of situation. But don't think that you can escape from the great outdoors, because there is a special mechanic that is required to finish off the game's bosses. Calling on the aid of the sun's messenger Otenko, Django summons a special device known as the Pile Driver. This device allows Django to use the power of giant solar lenses that focus their energy on the remains of the Immortals or bosses that you defeat, which requires you to be under the sunlight when this happens.
The fun doesn't stop there as there are other purposes that the solar sensor can perform. For example: there are parts in the game where there are platforms that are only visible when the sun is out. If the sun is gone, then these platforms will disappear. There were so many instances where I died becuase of a random cloud that decided to cover the sun at the wrong moment, which leads to nature being one of your biggest obstacles to overcome.
While I was so busy talking about the solar sensor, I forgot to mention the gameplay elements that make Boktai such a fun game. If you have played a classic Zelda game and/or classic Metal Gear game, then you will feel right at home with Boktai's gameplay. Django is not much of a tank, so he has to use his stealth skills to outsmart the creatures that live in the dark. Walls will be your best friend since you can tap them to trick you foes, or slide across them to be sneaky. Just like the Zelda series, the realms of Boktai are riddled with puzzles that require full use of your mind and weapons.
Speaking of weapons, you have the option to customize Django's gun by switching different parts which affects the elemental properties and firing style of the gun. Besides giving you different ways to fire your gun, most of these features act as tools to help you in most of the puzzles that you encounter. These elements also carry over to the rest of the series, except that the next game goes through a few changes.
Continuing on the legacy left behind by the solar sensor, Zoku Bokura no Taiyo: Taiyo Shonen Django aka Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django arrives in Japan on July 22nd, 2004 with a western release that is soon to follow. Released in North America on October 19, 2004 and Europe on June 10, 2005, Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django continues Django's adventures after his victory over the Immortals in the first game, except that the Gun del Sol gets stolen early in the game. However, Django gets a new weapon known as the Vice de Sol, which is a solar gauntlet that allows him to enchant any weapon with the power of the sun. Since Django now uses melee weapons, Boktai 2 introduces a weapons and armor crafting system that lets you use the sunlight to improve your gear. While the first game was more of a stealth action game, Boktai 2 introduces RPG elements and equipment to the series. Before you begin to worry about the new changes, the stealth features remain unchanged in the second game, except that you have to be more sneakier than before against enemies.
Instead of relying on the elemental shots of the Gun del Sol for puzzles, Django will get to enchant other elements into weapons such as swords, spears, and hammers. Each weapon serves its own use in each area, so it is important to upgrade each weapon. Hammers break things, spears grant you extra reach, and swords are well... you know, swords. As for what weapon you want to specialize in, it all depends on your playing style.
Another change from the first game is that Django is interacting with other characters since the game takes place in San Miguel the city of the sun. Django's former rival Sabata returns and he plays a different role in the quest to reclaim Django's gun, which will act as a great surprise later on. Since the main setting is San Miguel, the main parts of the game take place in the territories that surround the city, whereas the first game had you progress through the outskirts of Istrakan.
Now that Boktai has undergone a new evolution in gameplay, it was obvious where the next step in the series is going to go. Shin Bokura no Taiyo: Gyakushu no Sabata aka Boktai 3: Sabata's Counterattack combines the gameplay elements from the first two games and creates a lovable infant that will please both sides of the hemisphere as it awakens on July 28, 2005. The Gun del Sol is back, melee weapons and armors can still be equipped to Django, and the solar crafting system returns with a vengeance. There are also some new elements such as a motorcycle segment where Django uses a solar coffin bike to reach the areas in the games while blasting enemies that get in your way. Boktai 3 also introduces an trance system that grants Django new abilities when the special gauge is full.
As for the story, the game begins with Django being sealed away as Sabata betrays him to join a group of Immortals that are trying to resurrect a doomsday creature that resides in the moon. Luckily, Django gets freed by a character from the future who has set out to save his own timeline.
If there was one feature that was taken out from the last game, it would be the way how the melee weapons function. For one, you don't have the Vice de Sol, so you can say goodbye to the enchantment. Hammers and spears are replaced with two other types of swords, which now makes it that you have regular swords, great swords for heavy attacks, and rapiers for thrusting. While the melee weapons are not as useful, they can serve as a backup to attack your foes when you are low on solar energy. Unfortunately, the entire world has been reduced to selectable areas in this installment. However, the areas are still fun to explore and you can also attempt a time attack challenge in any of the areas that you have cleared.
Unfortunately, Boktai 3 is the only Boktai game that never got localized in North America and Europe. Which is a bit of a bummer, since Boktai 3: Sabata's Counterattack takes the best aspects out of the first two games and improves upon them. However, this is not the last time that we hear from Kojima's gun-slinging hero. In an attempt to reintroduce the series to a new audience, Konami decides to localize the next game as Lunar Knights in February 6th, 2007 for North America, March 30th 2007 for the European region, and April 13, 2007 for Australia. While it was originally released as Bokura no Taiyo: Django & Sabata on November 22nd, 2006 in Japan, the two main characters featured in this game are different from the original duo that was present in the first three games. As part of the western localization, the two characters are changed to Aaron and Lucian.
In this installment, the premise is rather similar to the first three games with the whole story having to do with vampires ruling over society, except that the game takes place in a futuristic setting. This time around, you get to play as two different characters. Aaron specializes in using projectile weapons that use solar energy and Lucian is a close-range fighter that uses melee weapons that use lunar energy for special attacks.
While Lunar Knights shares many similar elements to the first three Boktai games, there were a few key elements that were lost in the new title. The most important element that was taken out was the solar sensor, which is replaced with the ability to restore energy from the game's world instead of the real world. Gone are the stealth and puzzle elements of the game, which makes Lunar Knights more of a hack and slash dungeon explorer. Instead of having the Pile Driver in the game, you have a spaceship that transports the defeated vampires into space where they are obliterated by a giant solar cannon that is shot out of a space station.
Lunar Knights is no where near a bad game, it's just that the game feels like a step backwards in the progression that was made throughout the first three Boktai games. Perhaps there was a bit of an issue in trying to add the solar sensor to a DS cartridge, or maybe not many people were too fond of playing handheld games outside. Whatever the case may be, it is a shame that this system was put to rest after the third game. But at the very least, Lunar Knights acts a decent attempt to capture the experience of managing a specific energy source without the use of a special sensor.
Taking advantage of the new feature, the game allows you to have complete control over the weather. Depending on the climates that you set, you can alter the elemental properties of enemies, open up new passages in levels, and affect the difficulty of gathering solar and lunar energy. If anything, the games biggest weakness was abandoning the stealth and puzzle elements that gave the first three Boktai games their charm.
Switching the elemental properties of your weapons returns as it is still as effective as it was in the previous three games. Since Lunar Knights is more of a action hack and slash, you do get a shield that lets you reduce the damage taken in battle. Despite the hack and slash-like gameplay, you will have to be ready for any sort of attack unleashed by the swarms of enemies in each level.
Now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense why they wanted to reintroduce this series to western audiences, since Lunar Knights feels like a whole different game. They even went as far to remove the link feature that it shares with the handheld Megaman games. In case you haven't noticed, Boktai has been referenced in a few of the Megaman Battle Network games since the debut of the fourth game in the series. This doesn't stop as references present in both titles, because both games can be linked up together. By doing so, you can obtain Battle Chips and power ups based off of the Boktai games, whereas you can obtain Megaman related items in the Boktai titles. As for the reasoning behind linking a Capcom and a Konami game together, I think it might have to do with Kojima and Inafune being good friends.
It's unfortunate that Lunar Knights was the last game to come out of the series, since there is plenty of potential that can be taken advantage of with the Nintendo 3DS and the PS Vita. With Kojima having plans on developing a new Zone of the Enders game, I do hope that he oneday returns to the Boktai series. If he ever does, I hope that he considers returning the series back to its roots instead of the hack and slash elements found in Lunar Knights. While the solar sensor might never make a comeback -- I assume that not many people would like the idea of playing video games outside in the sun, I guess I could do with them improving on the in-game method of gathering energy that was used in Lunar Knights. However, if it were to ever come back, then I would gladly welcome it and set aside some time to bathe in the sun as I hunt down vampires with the Gun del Sol.
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