| Bokosuka Wars is regarded by many to be the worst game ever. Indeed, if you tried to play it without any instructions, you'd probably agree. However, underneath the random number generating, choppy controls, and Atari-caliber graphics, there actually lies a strategy game whose sheer evilness caused it to fall tragically short of being great.
Upon hearing tales of Bokosuka Wars, I took it upon myself to get the ROM and try it out. At first glance, I simply saw what everyone else had; an almost unplayable action-RPG. Luckily for me, I didn't pass the game off at once. Rather, I decided to research the matter. Gamefaqs didn't have any walkthroughs for it, but I did find this life-changing review.
As it turns out, Bokosuka Wars isn't an action-RPG, but a fairly deep strategy game. You control an unnamed Hero, who must fight through 600 meters of forests, deserts, and mountains to reach the enemy castle and kill the king. However, you can't reach the castle alone. The Hero must use an army to avoid all enemy encounters, because if he dies, you have to start all the way back at the beginning (that is, after being simultaneously demoralized and amused by the infamous "WOW! YOU LOSE!" screen). When a battle occurs, a little battle icon will appear over where the two conflicting units are, and a winner will be chosen, based approximately 5% on the strengths of each unit, and 95% on sheer randomness. Rub a Buddha statue, wear your rabbit's foot, and eat a bowl of Lucky Charms, because you'll need all the luck you can get; it'll give you peace of mind when your whole army dies off and you realize that you have a 9 in 10 chance of having all of your progress taken away from you.
In order for the Hero to raise an army, he must collide with random trees. If he's lucky, he'll be able to use one of his 50 summon points to turn the tree into one of two types of units: plain, expendable soldiers and big powerful knights. All units, including the hero, gain strength while fighting (although only the strength of the hero is shown, next to the letter K in the bottom left corner); and after fighting a sufficient number of battles, soldiers and knights can be promoted to stronger, golden forms of themselves. Also, while soldiers are only used for combat, knights can be used to open jails and liberate more soldiers, while the Hero is needed to break down walls that keep the army from advancing, as well as to destroy large trees in some of the forest areas.
All strategy in Bokosuka Wars revolves around three major points. First, only your own units can initiate battles. If you stand still, enemies can try to block your way, but they can never actually fight you. By using this fact to your advantage, you can use your own units to wall in enemies, and run the Hero through without fear of attack. Of course, when you meet numerous enemies, you sometimes have to fight in order to get through, but it's generally better to avoid conflict.
Second, when moving units, you are forced to either move your entire army at the same time, or move all of one type of unit (you press A or B to cycle between who moves, and the selection is shown in the top right corner of the screen). Pretty much all of the challenge in Bokosuka Wars comes from this point. While the Hero can be moved on his own, and you usually don't have enough knights to make moving them around a problem, soldiers can take forever to get past snags in the landscape or to get into the exact positions you want them to be in. As a result, knights are best used when precision blocking is needed, and soldiers are most useful at blocking off a majority of large areas, as well as suicidally charging at large groups of enemies in order to break holes for the Hero and his knights to get through. At times, it's much quicker and easier to run your hero on through alone and leave your entire army behind, but doing so is guaranteed to result in the "WOW! YOU LOSE!" screen.
Third and finally, exploiting enemy behavior is often the only way to get the Hero through the area, and every enemy's behavior can be exploited. Jailors can be drawn away from the peasants they guard by the Hero, the purple soldiers will usually choose to move horizontally rather than vertically, and the orange and green soldiers come in huge numbers, but can usually be cut through by a suicidal soldier rush. Other enemies are trickier to get by. The magicians in the mountain forts can't be attacked initially, but when they Hero passes by, they summon a number of blue squid demons that home in on him. Beating them involves forming a wall to hold back the demons and then running the Hero by as fast as possible, or defeating the magician itself, causing all of the demons to self-destruct. However, by far the most fiendish of the enemies in the Bokosuka Wars are the yellow demons. These guys attack in droves when there are around 200 meters left, always appear in crowded areas, and can block pretty much any unit you throw at them with little or no casualties. It's more or less impossible to get through this part without being forced to fight with your hero, and, more often than not, a random battle with them will end up with you being chased back over 400 meters to the beginning.
Bokosuka Wars has some great strategy elements, but it's not perfect by a long shot. The shoddy graphics and sound are forgiveable, considering that 1) they don't really detract from the gameplay, and 2), the entire game seems to have been programmed by one guy (the infamous K. SUMII). The graphics are fitting for the game (especially the WOW YOU LOSE screen; I can't help but think of the name STRONG BADDS whenever I see that big blue thing). However, it's hard to manage your army when you can't tell exactly how strong each individual unit is. It gets frustrating that you can't scroll the screen to search for units that are lost because they've hung up on the landscape, though (you'll know what I mean when you play...). Also, the design is the same for every level: the only difference is that they put little instant-kill skull and crossbone squares later on. Not that you won't have your hands full with the first level, though.
However, all of these things are insignificant when compared to the one fatal flaw that makes Bokosuka Wars what it is: it's just plain evil. It makes you spend a huge amount of time passing half of the level, kills the Hero in a single, randomly determined battle, and laughs at the expression on your face when you realize that you have to play THE WHOLE FREAKING LEVEL ALL OVER AGAIN. This is no sissy-ass Minesweeper. If you die from an educated guess in Minesweeper, you lose about 4 minutes, tops. In Bokosuka Wars, you can spend a good half hour on the first level before getting killed in the last 50 meters. The sheer frustration experienced while playing Bokosuka Wars is brutal, and makes it a chore to finish (Then again, it makes winning a level all the more rewarding. "BRAVO! YOU WIN!").
The bottom line is that this game is in dire need of a remake. It has a great concept, but it desperately needs some tweaks to the gameplay. Save points, less randomness in the battles, anything, but the game just doesn't work as it is now. It's definitely not the worst game ever, it's misunderstood, and it has the depth and potential to be a great game, but Bokosuka Wars nevertheless is far from being playable. Great character design, though.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5
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