The Bouncer Bounces Forward

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Squaresoft and I have not had a peaceful relationship. The reason is two words: Final Fantasy. I’m always asked why I hate this series so much, and I explain every reason. Maybe it was because I find that being hit by random encounters every step is a complete pain. Or then again, maybe I hate having to sit through countless scenes of poorly animated FMV with mute, dorky-looking characters with hands bigger than their faces (we all know what THAT means, right Zidane?) Or more importantly, having to deal with a cumbersome command interface fast enough to avoid seeing 20 "Super Nova" spells in a row!

Not only that, but is it me, or does EVERY Squaresoft ad have to show extensive FMV clips with virtually NO gameplay footage? It wasn’t just for Final Fantasy, but for Chrono Crap (uh, I mean Cross), Parasite Eve, you name it. What is it they have to hide behind?

As the launch of the PlayStation2 arrived, and pics of the Bouncer started popping up, and yes, once again it started looking like typical Squaresoft FMV, even that which they claim was the in-game engine. This I found to be laughable (and this was even after I saw the amazing Metal Gear Solid 2 trailer), and when I heard these backgrounds were meant to be fully interactive, I started an immediate "B.S." chant.

The import reviews started coming out, and initial opinions were bad. All that I said about typical Squaresoft fare was coming true: non-interactive backgrounds, too many cut scenes, and very little gameplay. It was because of this (and my revenge against Ken Urben for his anti-Dreamcast, anti-Shenmue attacks) that I wanted to review The Bouncer.

Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened.

I actually like it!

Yes, that’s right, the game I was originally planning to trash turned out to be somewhat enjoyable for the short time that it lasts. Even when you consider the strange story line about a 15-year old girl named Dominique, who is a resident visitor of the Dog Street Fate bar. First of all, why is a 15-year-old girl hanging around bars anyway unless she is a hooker?

Obviously she goes there to hang around with the bar’s three bouncers – Volt, Kou, and Sion, whom Dominique has feelings for. From the outside, she seems like a normal girl (aside from being a 15-year old barhopper), but an organization called the Mikado group and its head, Duaragon, sees her to be a special person, and breaks into the Fate bar to abduct her. What follows is a straightforward beat-em-up leading right to Mikado’s headquarters and beyond.

The way the story progresses is basically watch a cutscene, which can last several minutes (in typical Squaresoft fashion), select one of the three bouncers, fight the enemy, then watch another cutscene. It gets to be quite annoying at times, but the fighting isn’t half bad.

Each button on the control does an attack (X for low, square for medium, triangle for high, and circle for jumping), the R1 button blocks, and the L1 button works in tandem with the other attacks to utilize special attacks earned in battle. Yes, characters are powered up in typical RPG fashion, but this still is all fighting. In addition, the R2 button can be used to either taunt your foes, or when a teammate gives the signal, can be used for a triple-team attack. It might not be as complex an engine as Tekken or Virtua Fighter, but it is acceptable.

Once again, Squaresoft uses graphic flash to promote its product, but for once they are doing something different. Granted, there is FMV, but because the PlayStation 2 is a DVD-based system, FMV finally looks decent. Even better, all the characters actually speak instead of pointing and staring like dumb mimes, and the voice acting is surprisingly good.

But I’ll have to give Squaresoft some credit for actually using the in-game engine for some of its scenes, especially when you see the voice acting, and how each character’s mouth is in sync with what they are saying.

As for the in-game engine, it is quite good. A lot of reviews say the image is blurry, but I played on both an RF connection and an S-Video connection through a VGA monitor. On RF, the blur isn’t bad at all, but it is noticeable in VGA, especially in the first few stages. Rumor has it the blur is intentional to hide the aliasing common in early PS2 titles, and if that’s true, it does a good job.

The Bouncer would have been a much better game if it weren’t for one thing – it’s too damn short! A fighting game expert can beat it for the first time in 90 minutes (I beat it in 1:43), but to see the true ending, the game must be completed three times, which would be close to 5 hours. That to me doesn’t truly warrant a purchase; it is more of a rental at best.

But lastly I want to commend Squaresoft for (slightly) diverting themselves from their comfort zone of FMV-induced RPGs, and also for FINALLY producing a commercial that actually shows in-game footage. Hell might not have frozen over, but it is getting flurries.

Just for that, and the fact that some enjoyment can be found in The Bouncer,

I feel that the game does deserve 3 GiN Gems. Squaresoft still has a long way to go to win my appreciation, but this could be a start, albeit a small one.

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