Heads up: I’ll be talking about the ending of Bayonetta 3 pretty liberally so read at your own discretion.

I can’t help but think about the summer of 2010 in terms of formative media for myself. In that summer I managed to watch Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Gunbuster, and FLCL for the first time before heading into eighth grade and just having my shit rocked irreparably. Having examples of people tackling impossible odds and otherworldly villains in order to gain a better sense of self and bolstering of what’s worth fighting for was eye opening for a kid like me growing up in sleepy suburbia but also reckoning with how society wasn’t built for my family’s success. I bring this up if only because around the same time multiple people would have had their first introduction to the Umbran Witch we all love: Bayonetta. Bayonetta’s debut back in 2009 lines up with the surge of next-level optimism I found myself consuming in shows. I was already finding a connection in Noriko and Simon, but with Bayonetta her existence already became a topic of discourse as her intense sexuality was the ire of outside media, but soon the source of empowerment for many others who did end up playing the game or watching cutscenes. She doesn’t care what you think since it’s her life to live, and this example becomes all the more uplifting since you get to be the one in control of the hellfire she rains down on the armies of Paradiso. It’s surprising to think that over 13 years have passed since her initial debut as the other flagship title of then fledgling studio PlatinumGames, taking quick jabs at her predecessor Devil May Cry while suplexing angels and truly being on her Hot Girl Shit (Megan Thee Stallion, just saying that if you need cosplay ideas, here’s one pretty out in the open).

Screenshot from Bayonetta 3. A woman with an eccentric hairstyle and glasses looks off-frame, with a caption below her saying, "You know, I really love New York. But ill-behaved tourists can be quite a pain!"

Now eight years after its first sequel, Bayonetta 3 comes barrelling through for the Nintendo Switch after an initial surprise announcement just three months ago since the initial teaser in 2017. You know, in another universe I’d probably be talking about this game a lot sooner, and with more focus on just how good the experience of playing this game is. But instead, on top of being another part of a publishing deal with Nintendo that also prevented Bayonetta 2 from releasing on other platforms, the series was  hit with a massive splash of controversy regarding the former voice actor for Bayonetta, Hellena Taylor, not being paid properly for her voice work. This was followed with reports of potential lying, some Twitter accounts getting deleted, and the honestly ridiculous attempt to get “Bayonutters” going as a phrase. Pay voice actors wages that they’re owed, negotiate better union contracts for those in the video game and anime dubbing sectors of voice work, and unionize the games industry are the shortest points I want to make on that whole issue.

If that wasn’t enough, discussion around the ending started cropping up after the review embargo was lifted and people were crying in the streets over Bayonetta, the character made by local straight guy Hideki Kamiya, shouting her heterosexuality out loud for the world to hear just weeks after her former voice actress urged “Bayonutters” all over the world to donate to an anti-abortion charity. Look, I came into this game on the tail end of maybe the most annoying Twitter reactions I could see and to back my case up early: yeah the ending to this game sucks. I won’t call this series the pinnacle of story writing but what is there succeeds because of its commitment to camp. This is the series started by the guy who wanted to make an After Burner mini game in the first one and it’s shitty as hell while also being the coolest thing ever. I bring this up in particular because the first two games had a drive and a focus that helped one complement the other. Bayonetta 3, despite its continuation of a gameplay formula that is structurally solid, feels divorced from a lot of what makes the first two games special and, rather than being a pillar of what the genre of character action can be, ends up feeling more like an echo of gaming trends that are perpetuating across the medium.

We start the game in the ruins of New York, the former greatest city in the world. Bayonetta, as we know her in the first game, is on her last legs fighting against an unknown entity, on the verge of death and in a state so rarely seen. In her last moments of life she helps one young woman escape the crumbling reality of this universe and flee into the reality of our new Bayonetta as she goes for a shopping run with everyone’s favorite Italian, Enzo, in the middle of Manhattan (again, the greatest city in the world).

Enzo from Bayonetta 3 mentioning the emergence of the Hommonculi.

I’d go further into the events of the story but honestly that’s where my biggest hurdles are with Bayo 3. Each game does have its own faults when it comes to the writing, and this game series wouldn’t be as popular if people meticulously sought every piece of lore outside of the stuff that lets you know Bayo and Jeanne are into each other (we’ll get there). But at the same time, Bayo 1 and 2 complement one another in their narratives and themes. Bayo 1 focuses on Bayonetta remembering who she is while also emboldening her younger self while 2 allows Bayo a moment to reconcile with her past and culture in order to secure a brighter tomorrow for herself and those she cares about. A double helix of ideals, if you will allow me to retread the Gurren Lagann tangent earlier, that wrap into the selfish but selfless, confident but caring heroine we all love.

Recognizing that we basically have a full fledged character with no need for an arc, Bayonetta 3 at least wants to try different things. I don’t mind that honestly, and as Rose pointed out in her piece on the roles women have in games, Bayonetta’s willingness to be the mother figure to others makes these prior ragtag team ups believable and fun. The issue, however, comes in this game trying to justify all this with the use of multiverse theory, a trope that I’d already throw out the window if not for the fact that I am still excited for Beyond the Spider-Verse. As soon as we have our duo of Bayo and new character Viola trying to find the Alphaverse in order to stop an enemy known as Singularity, the game becomes a romp through multiple realities in order to collect Chaos Gears for reasons because we have no time to explain the plot.  Rather, Bayonetta herself gets glimpses of the could-have-been realities that her counterparts live through, from protecting the peace in Tokyo to commanding armies in China to gallivanting through the streets of Paris as a phantom thief. These alternate witches are interesting, but truthfully only the French detour feels fleshed out in terms of playing around with what Bayonetta could be in another world. Other levels introduce an alternate Bayo and then essentially have you count the minutes before they get taken by Singularity in order for the main Bayo to avenge their will. All the while you’re needing the help of an unseen doctor by the name of Sigurd while avoiding the entity known as the Twilight Wanderer Strider, whose identity quickly loses its mystery further into the game.

The gameplay, as usual, is the brightest part, but not without its rough patches. While 1 focused on the novelty of wicked weaves that would summon colossal fists and kicks to finish your combos, and 2 built on that with the Umbran Climax mechanic, 3 decides to be more vocal about its roots in Astral Chain development through its Demon Slave mechanic, which I’ll abbreviate to DS because it sucks to type that out. Pressing ZR on your controller allows you to summon one of three demons that you can then control and use with its own unique set of combos in order to handle enemies, solve puzzles, and add some oomph to combat while Bayonetta holds it down doing what she does best: dancing. Conceptually, I like this! It’s something that pays attention to the progression of demon use in the series and also folds in a part of the Bayonetta character often overlooked despite being one of the very iconic components of what makes her work. Each demon having its own, albeit shorter, moveset is an interesting touch and also lets them be separate from their associated weapon, although I’m sad at the fact the DS mechanic does mean they had to limit weapon switching to one weapon per set that you use on both hands and feet versus the more versatile system in 1 and 2 that allowed for more mixing of playstyles. It also would help with the sheer volume of weapons you collect throughout the story, and create more room for experimentation. I ended up beating the game with two weapons I wasn’t over the moon about, but did want to make use of whereas in the past, I could’ve kept my old standbys in even just one of the four weapon slots.

Bayonetta in a flamboyant pose in the middle of a combo during a combat sequence from Bayonetta 3.

Of course, Bayonetta is not the only character you play in this game. Viola’s playstyle is more akin to games like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance or Nier Automata. You have your katana which is also the demon Cheshire that accompanies Viola, but rather than control him, the DS function here has Cheshire roam free and auto attack while you beat through Homunculi with your bare fists. It’s cool in theory, however Viola’s witch time powers are linked to her ability to parry and block opponents with her sword which in itself is an issue. It’s honestly the biggest friction point with the game since you’re seeing the blending of two different character action ethos brush up against each other inelegantly. Multiple times I found myself struggling to time the parry for enemy attacks and would even have moments where enemies would miss me completely and, rather than still tick the dodge and gain witch time, I’d have to chase them over and pray they would try to hit me again. I don’t think this style of play is impossible to put in alongside Bayonetta’s playstyle but the other factor is that for all fourteen chapters of this game you play as Viola for only a handful of them, never really getting to put the time to learn her while also still lacking the ability to truly master all of Bayonetta’s weapons. There’s no consideration of how these two styles of play differ which is very apparent with how some enemies feel ten times harder to strike down when you’re trying to parry; Witch Time shouldn’t be a fun little bonus, it should be the glue that helps keep your flow consistent. Also, if you’re asking where Jeanne is in all this, don’t worry, because you spend 4 side chapters playing a faux Metroid Dread-inspired side scrolling stealth minigame in order to find the aforementioned Dr. Sigurd. These levels suck and can’t be over sooner despite having a hard 4-minute time limit.

Upgrading your movesets also works a little differently this time around. Rather than going to the Gates of Hell in order to purchase new moves for your extensive combos, each weapon has its own skill tree that also attaches to the demon it corresponds to. If the connections to Astral Chain weren’t already apparent, then this definitely denotes the overall shift right down to the UI. Alongside Homunculus Seeds (which serve as the new main shop currency), and the more elusive Angel Halos saved for purchasing figures, costumes, and concept art, you also collect currency to upgrade your skills that you earn through actual battles and your performance therein. While easy to obtain in the grand scheme of things, upgrading every single weapon and demon requires some effort and attentiveness as some abilities are locked behind use conditions (“Use X skill three times in order to unlock the final branch”). There’s also the fact that many of these skills end up bleeding over one another, acting more as general fodder. Every weapon has a launcher, every weapon has an After Burner Kick. The actual act of going through every skill feels superfluous, especially compared to the fact you used to get skills that Bayo herself would be able to make use of regardless of what was equipped. In a way, it feels like the demons are supposed to be of more importance than Bayonetta despite the narrative telling us just how important she is to the entire multiverse, which brings us back to the elephant in the room: this game’s shitty ending.

We come full circle after the series’ mandatory trip to the moon in the final hour. Sigurd’s evil — surprise, I guess — and wants to use the final version of Bayonetta, the Arch Eve Origin, for Reasons. We fight his final form various times until landing back to a set piece similar to our start, ready to see another Bayo die in real time. Luckily we’re saved by our former heroines — the Bayos from Bayonetta 1 and 2, respectively. You not only get to play as “Bayonetta 1” using her original Scarborough Fair moveset but you then get to fuse all three Bayonettas together and create this definitive final version of the baddest witch on the block. We do another big boss fight, get help from Strider Luka who now is able to control his bestial form and manage to win but ultimately lose Bayonetta as she is cast into her spectral form like Jeanne in Bayo 2, ready to be taken by Inferno but not before Luka sacrifices himself in the process, the two sharing a kiss as Viola is left alone again, to take up the mantle of Bayonetta for a new generation after a slog of a “secret” boss fight. Also Jeanne died, but not permanently maybe?

Dr. Sigurd, the villain of Bayonetta 3, commenting on Bayonetta and Jeanne's relationship. A caption at the bottom of the screen reads, "I can see that you are very close, but that's enough chat. You've brought me here for a singular purpose, yes?"

I am not going to sit here and say that this ending is good. It’s bad, rushed, makes no sense with who the characters are ultimately, and just doesn’t really have anything going for it. However, I can at least see where this could have been something more impactful, and it also sheds light on a lot of the “could haves” entangled with Bayonetta 3. Multiple sources have been reporting on the supposed plan of Bayonetta 3 as an open world game, and given the suggested depth of this story it makes sense, especially as the focus on movement comes up as well with various traversal options baked into each weapon. Unfortunately this doesn’t do much to save what feels like a removed supposition as to who these characters are.

To be clear, I’m not mad at the idea of Bayo and Luka getting together, there’s plenty of material in the game that shows she has more than just a passing fondness for her little Cheshire cat. However, that doesn’t just mean you write out Jeanne, and that especially doesn’t mean you turn Luka into some critical plot point that removes the goofy parts that make him capable of hitting it. Honestly part of what also sheds some light into the hurriedness of everything is the fact there’s so little talk of Sigurd as a villain. He has no motivations outside of some general want for strength, and sure you technically deal with Baldur twice in the other games, but that at least has consistency and loops back into itself in a way that makes both games feel fuller. Five writers are credited for this story as opposed to 1 being credited solely as Kamiya and 2 being a work between him and Devil May Cry writer Bingo Morihashi, and it shows just how spread out a lot of these ideas are and to pin these faults solely on Kamiya, as many have, highlights the lack of understanding in regard to how game studios work.

A sequence from a Bayonetta 3 boss fight where you play a rhythm game

If I had to sit here and play script doctor, I feel like taking the Sailor Moon Chibi-usa route is maybe the best way to go. You establish the reality that Bayonetta is in fact dead, Luka is gone, and Viola in this whole quest is getting to have one last experience with her parents, and especially seeing the kind of goofball Luka was in comparison to the assumedly more put together adult he is in her eyes, before tying up loose ends and being a stronger person to take out the threat in her future. You make this threat some person managing to go beyond Paradiso and Inferno creating these Homunculi who mimic the angels and demons we know while being devoid of the parallelisms of the two as they are unleashed upon other time periods, thus roping in other Umbra Witches or, in the spirit of trying to make Jeanne more of a character, see what she’s up to while Bayo takes her initial 20 year nap. By no means is this a perfect rewrite of a shoddy script but it shows what could be there without needing something as bloated as multiverse theory and centers on the fact that the universe doesn’t give a shit about Bayonetta, but everything she cares about means the world to her and she’ll do whatever it takes should anything get in the way of that. Again from Rose’s article, her choice to be the mother figure as a response to her experience as a daughter while not sacrificing her sexuality or joviality in the process is the strongest thing about Bayonetta as a character, and to send that off and make that the torch to pass would have been fantastic and especially would have made the dance ending feel a little more worth it.

Overall, I don’t hate Bayonetta 3. I might go back and replay the game to see the hidden verses and maybe do the secret boss for once. The music, as always, is incredible. Moonlight Serenade is a great song to round out this trio of Sinatra covers and the theme for Bayo in this one, Al Fine, is calling my number with its blend of French Musette and jazz for whenever it’s time to kick ass. Viola’s theme is also a fun acceptance of pop punk cringe in the most positive use of the word. Enzo’s fit is ridiculous in this game and it’s funny to realize that he and Bayo probably hang out the most out of anyone in the cast. I think that for all the missteps and stumbles this game has, I am still optimistic for what the future of Bayonetta could be and what that means. To quote Bayo at the end of her introductory beatdown all the way back in 2009, “As long as there’s music, I’ll keep on dancing,” and Bayonetta 3, all things said and done, shows that the series is not willing to get off the dance floor just yet. Truthfully, I’m still gonna be on the side watching what’s to come.

Viola, of Bayonetta 3, posing at the end of the game signaling a continuation of the series with her as the lead.

3 stars

"The shadow's cast but its reach feels shorter"

For all the frustration both in gameplay and narrative, Bayonetta 3 is an addition to the series that you can't ignore. Bayo's new moves make for some of the most dynamic gameplay of the series while Viola is an interesting addition to the cast overall. The multiverse shows promise of intrigue but truly this shows just how removed the game is from Kamiya's more involved direction in the original and its sequel. All in all, I'm curious to see what's in store for the franchise ahead.

About Maverick

Hey it’s Maverick! He/him, living out here in New York. From video games to anime and more, I’m always eager to give some thoughts.

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