The Bouncer was the very first game I played on the PS2 that my brother and I had received for Christmas. Since it was the first game I played on the new console, I may be highly biased with my nostalgic thoughts toward this awesome development from Squaresoft.
The Bouncer was released in Japan in December 2000, in North America in March 2001, and in Europe in June 2001. Although the publishing company on the main cover is Squaresoft, the game was actually co-developed by Squaresoft and DreamFactory. The producer for The Bouncer was Shinji Hashimoto, famously known for his executive roles in the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts series. Fans of the aforementioned series will also know Tetsuya Nomura as he was also the character designer for The Bouncer.
The overall story plot allows you to fight with three different bouncers who rotate shifts at a bar called Fate. One night, the Mikado Group, a solar technology megacorporation owned by main antagonist, Dauragon C. Mikado, captures Dominique Cross, a staff member of the bar and close friend to the three bouncers. The 3 main characters set out to rescue Dominique from her captors, and the plot is revealed differently depending on which character the player chooses throughout the different game missions. Only one character’s fate is changed depending on who you play and that is Kaldea Orchid.
As a young boy and disciple, Sion studied under his master, Wong, in Chinese kenpo (martial arts). When he was 14, Wong mysteriously vanished. Two years before the events of the game, Sion cuts off emotional ties after being told his romantic interest, Kaldea Orchid, died in an explosion at Mikado. After working at the bar for a year, Dominique’s innocent and playful nature slowly cracked the shell he built for himself. After she is taken by Mugetsu, a psychotic ninja that seems to never give up, Sion vows to never lose anyone again. He stops at nothing to rescue Dominique after she has been taken.
Once a street thug, Volt Krueger is definitely a muscleman and uses wrestling-style combat. After gaining attention as a thug, he drew the attention of the original Master Mikado of the Mikado Group. Volt became one of his most loyal bodyguards, but his jealous partner, Echidna, framed him for the murder of Master Mikado. Volt fought off the security forces attempting to gun him down and escaped. He washed up on shore where he was found by the caring Boss of Fate. After recovering, he wore piercings and other accouterments to hide his wounds. Boss offered him a job as a bouncer at Fate.
A surprising twist of a character, Kou is an undercover government agent spying on Dominique due to her connection to the Mikado Group. Dedicated to his role, he was ordered to get a full-body tattoo to help with surveillance on Dog Street. Even though Dominique is his assignment, he uses every agency resource available to rescue her since they became friends during his time at Fate. Cocky, talkative, and smart-mouthed, Kou can dish out some real pain using his superior Tae Kwon Do training.
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Before I jump into the combat experience, one of the most vivid memories I have of The Bouncer is always stressing about finding a keycard within a short period of time on the train car. This keycard would end up saving you so much hassle in the next mission because it would avoid the water sequence where you risked a game over by not reaching the emergency shutters in time. Also, after the water sequence, you would have to fight enemies alone. If you found the keycard, you avoided the risk of the water sequence and your party would fight enemies together. My thumbs trembled and begged to open the last box for the keycard. Out of everything I love about the Bouncer, the stressful relationship with the keycard is something I hold dear to my childhood memories.
There was also a specific part of the game when Kou Leifoh is disguised as an enemy guard, and there are sequences during the mission that have you copying these ridiculous poses in order to stay undercover. Of course, I loved the insane poses and thrill of staying undercover. I love stealth games like Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed, etc., so this part of the game was very interesting to me. If you failed any pose sequence, you would just beat your way through the guards in usual bouncer-style fashion. I always wondered why the developers put what seemed like such a random portion of stealth/undercover mechanics into the game since it was 98% beat ’em up. It took me a long time to realize it was included in the game because Kou IS an undercover agent.
Moving onto the combat, each character’s style was unique. Sion had a mixed balance of power and speed. He used punches, kicks, throws, and sweeps. Smallest among the three, Sion fell short in the length of his attacks. The enemies usually are taller and have longer arms than Sion, so sometimes this would be a challenge if surrounded.
Volt was the powerhouse, the big brawn that was slow to punch, but you felt the impact like a cannon. Most moves consisted of wide hooks and heavy throws where he could chunk an enemy into a group, knocking all of them down. Speed was his weak point, and any boss that strikes faster would bring a lot of bruises.
Kou whipped out leg kicks like nobody’s business. Master of Tae Kwon Do, he always kept his distance in a fight and could rack up a combo chain with multiple hits to an enemy. Because of his faster speed and limb reach, the power of his attacks is lackluster, and enemies that like to be up close and personal will be harder to deal with.
But wait, there’s even more combat fun! There was a versus mode on the game where you could play as many more characters! They all have their own combat style too. Playable characters are Sion, Volt, Kou, Echidna, 4 versions of Dauragon, 2 versions of Mugetsu, PD-4, Dominique, Kaldea, Wong, and Leann. Some of these characters required special requirements in the main playthroughs to unlock them for versus mode, and it was absolutely amazing to play as the character, even if it was just to kick some tail out of the original bouncers. Mugetsu version 2 and Kaldea were my absolute favorites to select for a brawl! Mugestu was just crazy which I oddly enjoyed, and Kaldea transformed into a panther, making for the most unique combat style created for the game!
On the first playthrough and being an excited kid with my first game on the new console, I loved the opening cinematic experience. Each character was detailed and unique with their individual personality and emotions. If you are like me and enjoy story elements in video games, learning the backstory of all the characters during three separate playthroughs filled me with joy. I needed to soak up the lore and cherish each part of Squaresoft’s fisticuff arena.
The overall sales led to a commercial failure, and the game had mixed reviews upon release. A few of the mixed reviews were results of the clunky angles during some fight scenes, which is understandable, and noted that the combat styles were nothing to mention. Despite the reviews, it has been one of my favorite video games that I have ever played. The camera angles during some fight scenes were annoying, but I easily look past that when I think about all the reasons that I do love the game: character design, professional high-quality cutscenes, storyline and plot development, hidden unlockable characters, hidden unlockable outfits, and there was an under-valued level-up system in place to learn more combos and fighting techniques for each character.
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Now that Square Enix has been very successful with recent launches into action-based combat versus turn-based roles, I would love to see inspiration drawn from The Bouncer for a remake, or at least a game that plays like the previous action beat ‘em up! I know it is a long shot, but one day I hope to see a successor to the proud game that I have loved for over 2 decades—The Bouncer.