It's a safe bet that Bastard!!, based on the manga by Jump Comics, won't be made available in the United States anytime soon - or anytime at all except as an import. Set in a future where technology is all but extinct, Bastard!! relates the tale of the chaotic, hedonistic warlock Dark Schneider (or DS for short) in his quest to slap some sense into his former companions. It's mature stuff, chock-full of violence and tear-away clothing, and it's now the premise of a PlayStation role-playing game. With its hideous 3-D engine and screens upon screens of non-interactive Japanese text, Bastard!! doesn't exactly scream mass appeal.
The story unfolds through an attractive animated sequence that fails to establish any sense of plot or character. Bastard!! assumes you are already familiar with the setting, and if you're not you'll have a difficult time getting up to speed. After trucking through several pages of Japanese text, you find yourself staring at a gnarly landscape that is insultingly bad compared to the PlayStation norm. Unrealistic movement and a bogged-down frame rate (that falls to 10 FPS at times), coupled with drab texture maps and an overall lack of anything interesting to look at, make this one of the most unpleasant 3-D engines the PlayStation's ever had the misfortune of hosting. Fortunately, when you're not being tortured by the 3-D, you'll be treated to scanned static images both from the pages of the graphic novels and some original art. There's next to no animation to be found in the game proper - just about every character you'll encounter in the game is represented only by his shouting mug shot. So between the 3-D and the stills, you're left with a strange mix of visuals that's obtrusive at first, but somehow grows on you after a while.
The combat system seems just as out of place as everything else in the game, but it's pretty interesting nonetheless. You're presented with a tactical grid where your party members (up to four characters at once) are positioned strategically on one side while the strange, mutant bad guys await on the other. You can move, attack, or cast a spell in one turn. If you line up your characters next to one another and combine their powers, certain special attacks become available. The turn-based combat in Bastard!! is interesting and more strategic than your average RPG, but you'll be running into so many battles throughout the game that the fight sequences, and even the cool battle hymn, will try your patience. Between the many random encounters and the ungainly 3-D maneuvering, you've got yourself an RPG with a very padded play life. There just isn't a lot to do in this game outside of fighting and moping around.
Don't even think about delving into Bastard!! if you're not fluent in Japanese, unless you're an import masochist who likes to blaze blindly through a title. Though the play mechanics are simple enough to figure out, the game's plot - a major component, to be sure - is completely text-driven. This is a decidedly alien game and, at the very least, an interesting example of the sort of stuff that they dig overseas but wouldn't last a heartbeat over here. Bastard!!, with its awful 3-D, strong cinematic soundtrack, distinctive battle system, and wearisome storytelling truly defines the term mish-mash.