Bouken-Ou Beet: Vandel VS Busters
Once upon a time, the DS sucked. It was a strange-looking contraption. It was not as sleek or stylish as its PSP rival; it was a gray, clunky piece of metal that had some questionable ergonomics and lacked compactness of its GBA predecessor. Though it promised Wireless Internet capabilities, it initially only provided a chatting program with a range of a hundred feet. But worst of all, its launch titles were some of the most substandard gaming garbage ever released on a handheld. For a few months, it looked as if Nintendo’s latest foray into the handheld market would end in disaster. However, the DS was saved by a never-ending march of quality games, each one adding something fresh, original, and downright fun. Today, the DS is enjoying an unprecedented amount of success, with a solid selection of games plenty of quality titles still waiting to be released. But for each of all the Metroid Prime, Mario, and other mainstream titles, there are other excellent games that will never get the same kind of attention or popularity. Case in point: Bouken-Ou Beet: Vandel VS Busters.
Things aren’t going too well in the Twin Islands. A bunch of super-powered freaks known as the Vandels have started wreaking havoc on the innocent, murdering people, summoning monsters and just being a pain in the world’s collective ass. Enter Beet, the typical teenage protagonist with the heart of gold. He’s enlisted himself as a one of the Vandel Busters, an elite fighting task force whose mission is to eradicate the Vandels from existence. Utilizing his incredible swordsmanship and magical Saiga powers, he’s on an adventure to smite the Vandels and restore peace to the world!…In the anime, at least. In this game, he’s only one of many character cameos and backup fighters. The majority of your time in the Twin Islands will be spent with some unnamed protagonist, a young pirate that survived a shipwreck and looking for work. After showing off a few dual-sword wielding moves of his own, he’s recruited as a Buster and sent forth to bring justice back to the islands.
However, such a daunting task can’t be completed just like that; every hero has to start somewhere. Most of your first hours playing this game will be spent volunteering for a series of missions acquired from the local Busters office. Usually you’ll have to destroy a certain amount of enemies, find an object lying around somewhere in the forests, and a few other simple things. At least, simple if you can read Japanese. If not, you’re going to have to go trial by error, meandering around the world map and hoping that you’re on the right track to accomplishing your mission. Once you have succeeded (and this can be checked by the oh-so handy Touch Screen menus), you can go back to the office, talk to the guy behind the counter, and be justly rewarded with cash, level boosts, etc. Should you feel like taking a break from work, you can go exploring and get acquainted with the layout of the terrain. In order to progress and unlock later areas, you’ll have to complete certain tasks, such as acquiring an item, saving the right person, or defeating a boss. The islands are overrun with wild monsters that will battle you at random intervals. Sure, your character has some great sword attacks and a wide variety of magical spells, but he’s still no match for even some of lesser initial baddies. You’ll have to wander about, engage in a battle, and level up until you’re strong enough to demolish anything that gets in your way. Once you’ve had enough, you can trudge wearily back into town, rest up at the inn, and go back out for more.
Of course, not even this young Buster can handle the adventure alone. After you’ve done enough adventuring and tasks, you’ll discover a fair amount of characters willing to aid you on your quest for the Twin Islands’ salvation. You’ll get to choose among Kung Fu fighters, axe and knife wielders, warrior women, gunslingers, and plenty of other interesting people. You’ll be able to build up and customize your own party, finding the right combination of warriors to suit your fighting preferences. They will also benefit from participating in battle, which will help them level up and get them access to better weapons, armor, etc. Having a good party will make the difference in the gameplay experience; the battles in Bouken-Ou Beet are in real-time, hearkening back to the combat system found in Tales of Symphonia and its predecessors. There’s nothing quite like overpowering your enemies with an onslaught of swords, spears, bullets, hammers, and half a dozen magic spells at once. Considering the sheer amount of party customization and detailed character stats and abilities at your disposal, it’s a fair bet that you’re going to be busy.
Unfortunately, the language barrier might keep you busy as well. There’s nothing hard to understand about the combat system, but you’ll need to know a fair amount of Japanese to understand the dialogues, important details, mission objectives, and everything else. The menus themselves are easy enough to understand with a little testing, including character stats, items and equipment, party building, a list of completed missions, and even a fully detailed beastiary. But if you feel too bogged down with all the confusing text, take some time to enjoy the beauty that this game to offer. All of the characters, from the main hero to Beet down to local barkeep, are portrayed with excellent 2D sprites and animation. All of the attacks and character movements have a fair amount of detail as well. Sadly, there is a little slowdown during the battle sequences, especially if you’ve got a lot of characters on the screen. That still won’t stop you from seeing a sword being smashed into the nearest mutant rat, or watching a yeti being slammed back into the nearest rock. Even the surrounding areas are a sight to behold, letting you see the snow piled up in the icy wastelands, the lush green canopies of the forest, and even the gray stones that make up the streets and buildings of the local town. Combine that with some decent background music and wide variety of sound effects, and you’ve got the makings for presentation worth admiring.
Bouken-Ou Beet is a great game. It’s got a wonderful cast of characters, a solid combat and leveling system, and as much customization and freedom that you’ll ever find in a handheld RPG. The sheer amount of potential parties, challenging enemies and items to acquire ought to hold your attention for quite a while. Aside from the occasional in-battle slowdown and text-heavy dialogue, this game is definitely something to consider. RPG fans and import-savvy gamers should give this game some attention the next time they’re looking for that next great title to add to their DS gaming library. So give Metroid Prime: Hunters a rest, quit snaking in Mario Kart DS and leave your Animal Crossing town for a while. While this game may never leave the shadow of those more popular games, it’s still an unappreciated gem that is on the brink of obscurity.