The Aesthetics of Excess in Bayonetta

An Analysis of Bayonetta

 

Tea: 5 Litres of black Assam Tea

 

Bayonetta is not only a stand-out character-action game, but also a tightly crafted experience. The game is, on a basic level, fun and over-the-top, yet there are clever decisions behind the game’s set-up and aesthetic choices that instil this feeling. What I am talking about is excess. The entirety of Bayonetta is a constant climax (puns inside and outside of the game wholeheartedly intended) that constantly keeps outplaying itself. How this is achieved in detail is what follows.

The game starts off with the action hook. A fight on a falling clock tower piece while the narrative of the lumen sages and umbra witches is told to us. This is mostly a scene to draw you in and mess around with the combat a bit, but it is worth noting that a lot of visual imagery is being presented here that will be used later on (Jeanne and Bayo’s positions for instance). The music in the background called “One of a kind” will also be used later on at a similar point with the same positions of both characters, thus giving this first step into the world an aura of recognisability the player can latch on to later and tying up the events nicely. After a fight on the graveyard during which the player is introduced to the game’s tone, the action shifts to a fight on a crashing airplane. The set-piece itself is not as impressively set up as the rival character Jeanne who seems to outclass Bayonetta, since she can basically perform on an equal level combat-wise but with a look of ease and elegance to it. Jeanne is thus both a rival and a point of reference as to how powerful the player can and will become. Should he play the game “right” meaning without taking damage and keeping a high style meter, the fights can look effortlessly elegant and deadly at the same time. The player, however, at this point will lack the skills both as a player and as Bayo to pull this off.

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– The difference is quite visible here: Jeanne assumes as more elegant pose while Bayonetta firmly plants her feet on the ground to hold her position –

In the town of Vigrid Bayonetta runs into a massive angel wielding a giant axe and as this thing appears a lifebar is visible at the bottom. Naturally a player would assume this to be a boss, since size and setting certainly match-up. This is the first time Bayonetta uses her infernal summon, this one called Gomorrah, to absolutely destroy the helpless foe. The question would now be: Why doesn’t she always do that? And here comes the underlying tone into the game that should push players further and further to get better and better. Bayonetta never seems to be in danger. Her laid back attitude towards fighting and unnecessarily arousing moves are not meant to be effective, but aesthetic. This is due to the fact that her power is beyond all of the other enemies, the only exception being Jeanne and later on Balder. Angels in every size are cannon fodder and nothing more than an opportunity to shine for her. Her weapon arsenal reflects this, often being unpractical only serving a stylistic purpose (guns on her heels, remember. Using a spear as a pole to dance). The first real boss – Fortitudo – only puts the previously thought-to-be boss into perspective. This is a drawn out fight with multiple phases and while Bayonetta may not think of the opponent as a serious threat, she at least changes her hair into a, let’s call it “Battlemode”. This tells the player two things: One, this is a challenging fight, but second that it is nothing unsurmountable and should be done with style. A test, basically and not a wall put up in front of one. The fight against Fortitudo and all the other cardinal virtues only underlines this absolutely boundless excess going on. Bayonetta’s strength is seemingly limitless as she effortless summersaults Fortitudo into the ground and rips of his heads (and similar scenarios appear in the other fights). At the end these angels are torn apart and disfigured, laying bare their true appearance underneath the marble skin.

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– Fortitudo after being slammed in the ground two times and having lost an equal number of dragon heads –

An exception to this overkill going on are the fights against Jeanne. Bayonetta feels challenged in these fights, not being so light-hearted and actually grunting with effort to keep up with her rival. It’s a battle of strength and style on both sides. Yet at the same time it puts the fights against the angels into a laughable perspective, since Bayonetta never has any difficulties and can just show off all the time. The final fight with Jeanne in particular emphasizes their relationship. There are several shots of them performing the same movements and after the first phase, Jeanne changes into a more traditional full-hair umbra outfit, of course white in opposition to Bayo’s black primary colour. At the end, Bayonetta is victorious and her character seems at her strongest, yet it is the exact opposite. In her mind, she has lost her two companions and thus is vulnerable after the fight with Jeanne. All of this leads up to the fight against Father Balder. The basic premise is similarly to the opening of the game: piece of architecture falling while fighting on it. Importantly to note, however, is that Bayonetta is alone this time. Balder himself is depicted as very strong and while he may be on the side of the angels, the usual method of disposing of the winged creates, i.e. infernal demons, fails two times. Both the dragon Gomorrah and the centipede Scolopendra get easily torn apart by him and only emphasise his strength. Just like Bayonetta, he does this with ease and an aura of smug confidence. To defeat him requires Bayonetta not to muster up more strength, but come to terms with herself, accept her role as an umbra witch (don’t fuck with one of those as she says herself). It is a simple yet elegant method both fitting for the plot and her character. A lipstick shot through a pistol right into the forehead, as Rodin would put it: “Beautiful!”

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– A character that need little introduction as the villain, yet still keeping with the basic style = power mentality –

The epilogue simply titled “Requiem” sets up a sinister tone, especially after the seemingly hopeless conclusion of the Balder battle. First the player controls Jeanne, now freed from the control of the Lumen Sage. To rescue her umbran sister from becoming the left eye of the goddess Jubileus, she drives a motorcycle up a rocket while ascending into space. The mere physics of this are so exaggerated one cannot help but love it. This is merely the introduction to the final battle. As Jeanne seemingly sacrifices her life to save Bayo, the final battle ensues. At this point Bayonetta’ character is finally fully developed. She is at a similar position as the Balder fight: Alone and the loss of a friend still on her mind faced with the biggest threat yet. This time, however, she faces the enemy with a smile.

Jubileus is a fight that breaks all proportions in size carefully set-up throughout the game. All bosses have inched slightly forward in terms of size and scale to develop a gradual build-up, but Jubileus is such a spike in these regards that the player cannot help but stare in awe at this fight. The battle constantly emphasises the drastic difference in size between the two combatants, showing an upward angle of Jubileus trying to punch Bayo into the ground. Entire realms are created for her to traverse and still she manages to scrape away the would-be God’s health. After dealing enough damage, Jubileus is ensnared by Bayo’s hair and she has to run up an upward spiral until coming face to face with her enemy, once more emphasising their stark contrast in size, but not in power anymore. Leading to the climatic finale of this fight.

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– Hard to spot: Bayonetta is that little black blur next to her cheek. I’d advise watching (or rather playing) the battle to get a feel for the proportions –

The grand ending that could only be delivered in a video game format for maximum impact. Bayonetta uses all of her incantations to summon – together with the power of Jeanne, hinting at her survival – Queen Sheba, a demon so massive in size it is truly and utterly ridiculous. The spike towards Jubileus was massive, but this is out of this world. The size of the Queen is incomprehensible and we can only put it into perspective since the massive Jubileus is about as large as her clenched fist which she will soon meet directly to the face. A last quick-time event power charge that, if successful, breaks the limits of infinity, beautifully underlining the absolutely boundless power present here and once more giving a brilliant example of Bayonetta’s aesthetic choices. With a big bang bonus the player punches Jubileus directly into the sun. The credits are about to roll with a dramatic and melancholic piece playing in the background, only this game won’t allow for such an ending. Jeanne is back from the dead and in a re-creation of the opening scene the two plummet towards the earth while destroying the body of the no-more Goddess Jubileus and, of course, the song playing is “One of a kind.”

What I was trying to show here, apart from the fact that Bayonetta is an outstanding game, is the game design choices that contribute to a very specific style of game. The brush is masterfully guided to create an astounding piece and more importantly one un-recreatable in any other medium. Only video games can lead to this profound feeling, since the movements, the style, and the effort all stem from the player and the aesthetics of excess only heighten this feeling.

 

 

Image sources in order of appearance:

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The Aesthetics of Excess in Bayonetta

  1. Alright, Bayonetta is freakishly strong (and just as stylish), however, I wonder: Who do you think would win, Bayonetta or Dante from Devil May Cry? He, too, defeats his foes with ease, plus, in contrast to Bayonetta, Dante is immortal.
    And although this probably isn´t the time, nor the place to write this: I think Bayonetta looks far better with short hair.

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    • Good question, even though somehwat irrelevant, since they both fight on the same side (theoretically). I don’t know whether Bayonetta is immortal or not. She has rested in a coffin for 500 years at the bottom of a lake, so…
      Of course YOU would think that, but I’d have to agree in this case, but look at Bayonetta’s Old Outfit from 500 years ago. Now THAT looks great an stylish.

      Like

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