A Game Perfectly At Peace With Itself.
This game is pretty strange, but you don’t notice because it’s so comfortable in its own skin.
IGN’s Ranking: #34/100
You know those people who are undeniably weird but fully embrace their quirks? They should be the object of ridicule but instead avoid it all by being so at peace with themselves. That’s the vibe of Beyond Good and Evil.
At a bird’s eye view, the game is named after a book by philosopher Nietzsche, includes protagonists ranging from a pig who fancies advanced technology to a Daj-jo wiedling martial arts master, and boasts a story that includes paranoia, subterfuge, and rebirth. The central doctrine for this game is to be unapologetic for its eclectic characters and world.
The gameplay, however, is another matter. You infiltrate enemy bases with stealth like Metal Gear Solid, are tasked with taking pictures of animals for the purpose of furthering zoology (and your bank account) reminiscent of Pokemon Snap, and must solve puzzles to earn precious pearls similar to Legend of Zelda. The gameplay is simply an imitation of better works.
It’s a bit paradoxical. On one hand, you have such unique, vibrant people and places. On the other hand, bland and unoriginal gameplay. But just like in real life, it’s the people that count and Beyond Good and Evil is no different — they are the engine that keeps you going through the minutia and mundane.
Released in 2003, the game was well liked by critics but did not sell well. Considered a financial flop, the game was unable to compete with other more established brands. The marketing team reportedly didn’t think they did a good job of finding a target audience to sell the game to, and I could see why that would be difficult given the game being a new franchise/brand and not boasting a specific style/genre.
The story is quite the ride. Jade is meditating with her anthropomorphic friends when DomZ attacks and steals her buddies away. She leaves home to rescue her friends but more importantly finds out that the DomZ and their local government, The Alpha Section, are secretly working together to harvest souls.
This game is such a stew. I think it is best to start with what is the best — the people.
Getting to Know You.
As far as world building goes, Beyond Good And Evil has it figured out.
At every turn, you meet absolutely ridiculous human/animal forms that are up to some bizarre activity. There are rastafarian rhino mechanics who help build your hovercraft, a bipedal shark named Francis who plays a wicked game of air hockey, and Ming-Tzu the entrepreneur extraordinaire who happens to be a walrus.
Just typing this out seems so kitsch. However, these people are anything but. The game keeps rolling forward and never acknowledges just how strange the folks are. I think this was a grand move — breaking the fourth wall would have made us not take anything seriously. Instead, you accept everyone as they are.
Jade, the protagonist, is meant to be the every person’s hero. She’s likeable, brave, and the steady force throughout the game. Even though she successfully plays the part, she’s just as weird as the rest — she knows martial arts, fights with a Daj’jo, and has some supernatural abilities that are never fully explained in the game. Her character should give you pause, but instead she fits right into everything Beyond Good And Evil does.
Layered onto these characters is an eclectic soundtrack to match with a range of brooding, atmospheric bops like this one.
A Big Ol’ Stew.
While the game has excess spirit and originality in character and world, it has a complete dearth of unique gameplay. This game is an imitation of an imitation of other games that you have played.
The central game mechanic is the collection of pearls. Pearls are the highest grade of currency and collecting them allows you to make modifications to your hovercraft so you can explore more places. This, in turn, allows you to find more pearls for you to get more upgrades so you can go to more places to find more pearls…and so on.
You are rewarded pearls for almost anything in this game. You can find them in stores, get them from solving puzzles, or be rewarded them for completing quest missions. None of these challenges really raise to the occasion and remind me a lot of Mario Party mini-games. Most of them are cakewalks and don’t take any skill whether it is a stealth, racing, or serendipitous exploration “challenge.”
What makes matters worse, they start giving away these bitches like candy. Early on, it takes some effort to pry one pearl at a time from the clutches of the game. Halfway through, Beyond Good and Evil just deluges you with them where it all becomes nonsensical. With 88 total pearls advertised early on, you think you are in for quite an adventure. Then when you start earning 5 to 10 pearls at a time, you realize this game doesn’t have as much content as you think.
I beat the game in 12 hours leaving a fair amount of pearls behind. The game does not give you any reason to find all of them so there really isn’t a reward for continuing to grind. One of the more tedious tasks to get pearls is taking pictures of the wildlife on Hillys. Every creature needs to be photographed and cataloged but there really isn’t any reason you have to be too faithful to this side hustle. It’s just another half-baked mechanic taped onto the empty husk of the gameplay.
Unlike the characters and world, there is very little integration between gameplay mechanics. None of these disparate tasks really feed into one another. What if when you took a picture of an animal, you got some combat reward, and that combat reward helped you defeat a certain enemy that allowed you to get to an area, that then allowed you to take more pictures? There is no system or synergy; everything is just independent of one another.
Taking only half a day to beat, it is worth it for the music and the people. Don’t expect much from the janky gameplay however.
Other People’s Takes:
- Routinely Gaming: “The story seems short but only in time alone while It may have taken me 12 hours to beat it seemed longer than that. The game will surprise in many ways, not to mention make you wonder why there is no sequel.“
- Poor Man’s Geek: “Ask almost anyone who has played “Beyond Good and Evil” and you will almost assuredly hear nothing but praise. While I can understand the hype and following that surrounds the game, I can’t say I agree with it.”
- Predatour: “The first problem I have with this game is with its combat. Truth be told, it has about as much depth as a toddler’s paddling pool, player character Jade can either hit enemies with her staff, shoot them with a gyrodisc, or have a partner character stun them by using their special attack. That’s it.”