Beyond Good and Evil is one of those games that just didn’t sell well, despite its merits. Maybe it was under-hyped, or just got swallowed up in a wave of bigger titles over the holiday season. It’s unfortunate, really, because Beyond Good and Evil is a wonderful adventure title, complete with beautiful graphics, a compelling story, and charming characters.
You play as Jade, a freelance photographer (and in my opinion, one of the best video game heroines out there). Hillys, her home, is under attack by an alien race called the DomZ. The Alpha Section is the elite military force that apparently works hard to repel the DomZ invaders. However, they always seem to arrive too late to really help. Jade, who has taken in children whose parents were lost in DomZ attacks, can’t help but notice how ineffective they are. From here, it’s not long before she is recruited as a reporter by the IRIS network, an underground group working to show the citizens of Hillys that the Alpha Sections are not what they seem. Along the way, Jade uncovers a massive conspiracy and uses her skills as an action reporter to show the public the truth behind the war.
The plot, while not terribly original, is made extremely compelling by the quality of the characters in the game. There are three main characters that the player controls over the course of the game. Jade is the one that the player controls directly. She fights primarily using a dai-jo staff. Pey’j is Jade’s adopted uncle: a gruff but charming half-pig, half-human. Double-H is an IRIS operative and the stereotypical heroic type. I say stereotypical, but really he is more of a parody of the noble hero seen so often in sci-fi and fantasy works. The latter two are not controlled directly, but can be given commands and fight alongside Jade.
All three characters are extremely likeable and well-rounded. I found that I really cared about them, much more than I would normally care about a character in an action-adventure game. The side characters are also compelling, and each seems to have his or her own unique personality. Even Jade’s computer, Rinaldo, is funny and unique. As a result of the care taken with the characters, the world seems less like a flat, empty place to explore and more real.
One reason the world and characters seem so lifelike is the voice acting and sound in general. The music is a pleasant, eclectic mix that fits well with the situation, whether you are in all-out combat against a horde of DomZ or sneaking around in a prison. What really stands out as far as sound effects go is the voice acting. I honestly cannot think of a title that beats Beyond Good and Evil in this area. The dialogue can be genuinely funny, and the interactions between the characters feels natural. The voice actors pull off their parts just right and manage to convey the right emotions—something that is difficult to find in a video game.
Graphically, the game is gorgeous. The colors are vivid and the character models somewhat cartoony, yet in a moment all this can change and the visuals will suddenly seem much more sinister. The DomZ are creepy, and certain areas of the game are dismal and bleak. Despite the childish or cartoony appearance of some aspects of the game, the plot is dark, and many of the environments are creepy. All in all, the world is beautifully rendered.
Gameplay is probably the most important part of any game, and Beyond Good and Evil does not fall short. The controls are similar to the 3D Legend of Zelda games, with a lock-on button, a button for primary attack, and buttons to pull off special attacks or use items. It is a very simple control scheme, but a very clean one as well. Combat is not particularly deep, but it also doesn’t feel shallow. The enemies are varied enough that just hitting all of them will not work. Moving through the world is simple, and there are very few camera issues. All in all, a very tight and simple control system.
The gameplay is also varied enough to keep things interesting. There is a fair amount of combat, some time spent in a hovercraft (and another vehicle later in the game), and lots and lots of stealth. The actual amount of time spent creeping around will vary from player to player—in some areas you MUST be stealthy, while in others you can fight if you wish. The stealth puzzles are very well done, and rarely frustrating. The puzzle elements to the game are generally simple, and it might have been nice to see some more complex ones.
The one thing about Beyond Good and Evil is that it is a short game. It comes to its conclusion in about 10 hours, give or take. That said, there are always things to collect. For one, though pearls are used primarily for purchasing parts for the hovercraft, there are extras hidden in the world that one can collect. Also, since Jade is an action reporter, she can earn money by taking photos of animals. There are also some minigames to find. Even with all of this, it still will likely not take longer than 13 hours to beat. Despite this, the game does not feel as if it was cut off early. It would have been nice to have more time with Jade, but the ending does not feel rushed and it ends before any particular element can get tedious.
Overall, Beyond Good and Evil is a gem of an action-adventure title, and one of the best games of this genre for GameCube. It is available on all systems and won’t cost you much: the retail price is only $20. Really, it’s a bargain for a game this good. The storyline is compelling, the gameplay clean, and the characters likeable. One can only hope that, despite the low sales, Ubisoft will see fit to release a sequel.