Boktai: the Sun is in Your Hand – Staff Retroview

One of the more unusual games to be released for the Game Boy Advance, Boktai: the Sun is in Your Hand is an action RPG that has players relying on the power of sunlight to defeat their vampiric foes. Although Boktai has a lot of charm in visual design and sound, its plot and certain aspects of its combat system fail to impress. Despite these flaws, Boktai is a strange bird with some unique ideas, something that deserves credit in any medium.

The storyline of Boktai has to do with Django, a young monster hunter, and his quest for vengeance against the vampires of the world. While the idea of playing a young vampire hunter is oddly compelling, the story that Boktai serves up is built largely upon cliché. Django ends up facing everything from a long-lost brother to the “will of the universe,” just like every other two-bit fantasy hero. In the end, Boktai‘s gameplay is a great deal more compelling than the story, which is unfortunate, as there are some fertile grounds for exploration in the tale.

The game's isometric view produces a very interesting visual style.
The game’s isometric view produces a very interesting visual style.

But any discussion of Boktai has to begin with the solar sensor. The cartridge juts out about a centimeter from the lip of the GBA, revealing a black square set in amongst the circuitry. This sensor can discern the presence and intensity of sunlight, which affects not only the performance of the Gun del Sol, Django’s main weapon, but also the behavior and strength of the undead scattered liberally throughout the game. This extremely unusual brand of game mechanics is what makes Boktai such a fun game – running around desperately trying to find enough sunlight to destroy a vampire is a unique and effective way to draw players into Boktai’s world, making them take their own world into account while being drawn into the game’s.

By and large, the character development scheme used by Boktai only barely reaches the level of an RPG. Django does not level up or gain new abilities on his own, but must find them in the form of grenades, frames, lenses, and batteries for his Gun del Sol. And of those, only the lenses level up. The level cap for each lens is only three, but no information is given to the player about EXP gained or EXP required for the next level. The small amount of time required to level a lens makes the lack of information about it less of a problem, since it’s very easy to sit down and have a maxed-out lens a mere hour or so after gaining it, but it does mean that character progression is a much more minor aspect of this game than in most RPGs. Given the time to complete and the unique, almost pacifist mode of gameplay that Boktai often favors, such a limited customization scheme makes some sense, but it does limit the choices available to the player.

While the control scheme of Boktai is fairly easy to acclimate to once the strange isometric view is conquered, and while it does do a decent job of providing fluid access to multiple specialized techniques, there are portions of the interface that never quite work well enough. In particular, flattening against one of the many angled walls to avoid an enemy can take a toll on fingers. The constant switching of elemental lenses and grenades required in some of the later sections of the game really required a bit more streamlining, particularly given the number of Trap and Boss battles that require the player to switch around parts of the Gun del Sol on a moment’s notice.

The music of Boktai is passable if a bit strong on the beeps and boops, but what really shines is the voice acting. The game manages some fairly good quality voices despite the GBA’s less than impressive sound capabilities. The voices are largely of the high-pitched cutesy variety, but there’s some good variety to be had, and the voices never become annoying.

Some of the puzzles are a bit ridiculous, but they do a good job of challenging the player.
Some of the puzzles are a bit ridiculous, but they do a good job of challenging the player.

A very interesting and unusual thing about Boktai, though, is the disparity between the subject matter and the design. In the sound category, what you have is cute voices and ominous music, The visual style, though, is perhaps best described as Vampire Hunter D meets a box of Crayolas. While most of the areas are dark and sinister, particularly at night, the characters boast bright colors and surprisingly cute design. And this is the real dichotomy in Boktai – despite the game’s above average difficulty and the violent nature of the enemies Django fights, the game’s design leans far more towards cute. The practical upshot of all this is that there is a serious disconnect in parts of the game, but overall, the combination helps to highlight the differences between daylight and nighttime, emphasizing in a unique manner the battle between light and darkness.

A great deal of Boktai‘s difficulty comes from the unique combination of hide-and-seek stealth gameplay, and the focus the game puts on the time of day. In strong sunlight, in the middle of the day, Django will be at a distinct advantage, able to reload his weaponry quickly and easily. But at night, hiding and conserving power becomes much more important, as enemies become much more powerful. Django’s ability to go unnoticed by flattening himself up against walls is much more important at night, as the player will not often be much of a threat to powered-up zombies and ghouls. On the whole, though, the game isn’t particularly difficult for a cautious player, and only lasts about ten to twenty hours.

Perhaps because of this low completion time, Boktai includes a number of features to improve its chances of being replayed. Beyond a New Game + feature, Boktai has a series of emblems that unlock doors in the game’s optional dungeon, as well as a ranking system that provides a score, a rare item based on that score, and a lengthy password that can be entered at Konami’s website to obtain information about your game.

Looking back at Boktai, it’s fairly obvious where the developers directed their attention. The gameplay is absorbing, intricate and original, but it comes in direct opposition to the plot, which is lackluster, shallow and cliché. Boktai will be a bit of a disappointment to anyone looking for a good, complex plot, but the unique and absorbing gameplay goes a long, long way towards absolving it of any sins.


  1. Duke Gallison:

    This sort of seems like the kind of game that would be difficult to play even in the sun, since when I’m playing my DS when the sun’s bright near windows, I get horrible glare and can’t see anything.

  2. Derek "Roku" Cavin:

    Yeah, horrible glare. That was my biggest issue with the game, plus the fact that many parts are unplayable in partly cloudy days.

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