Bounty Arms: Going Data West

Uh-oh. I haven’t written about Bounty Arms in over a year! That’s perhaps understandable, since an unreleased PlayStation action game from 1995 doesn’t exactly make daily tabloid headlines (like BANNED BOUNTY BABES BOUND BACK). Yet I, as the president and sole member of the Bounty Arms Preservation Society, remain dedicated to chronicling every new mention and detail about this intriguing and still partially lost game. 

The standard introduction applies: Bounty Arms is a canceled action game from the first year of the PlayStation, and it combined familiar genre staples as mecha enemies and stylish anime heroines with a unique multifunctional Relic Arm weapon. It looked neat and got as far as a bare-bones demo (which you can find here), but publisher Data West delayed and eventually canceled it, leaving Bounty Arms yet another intriguing and likely unfinished title. 

Data West intrigues me as well. They were yet another technology company that dipped into game development and pulled out when it stopped making them money, and they’re still around today. Their website offers some of their old games for sale, though only for Japan. That may reflect the fact that Data West’s games were seldom known on an international scale. Even today, a lot of people assume you’re talking about Data East. 

That brings me to the catalyst for this update: a nice YouTube video from F_T_B, discussing Data West’s history with an eye on their adventure games. It’s a reminder of just how much of Japan’s game industry remains relatively unknown in the English-speaking world. Series like The 4th Unit and Psychic Detective had strong followings in Japan yet no recognition in the West outside of some scattered and astute importers. And again, even today people might assume you’re talking about the unrelated Electronic Arts FMV game that was also called Psychic Detective.

The video refers to Bounty Arms as a shooter, however, and that is incorrect. As you can see from the demo itself, the game allows heroines Chris and Rei to wield their telescoping cyber-arms like whips, grappling hooks, bullet-deflectors, and spinning flamethrowers—but never firearms. That’s part of what fascinates me about Bounty Arms.

That aside, the video does a great job of covering Data West’s catalog beyond Brave Prove and the Rayxanber series. It makes one realize how graphic adventures like The 4th Unit were the company’s most abundant creations, and it makes the cogent point that Data West often backed the wrong horses when it came to putting their games on consoles like the LaserActive. 

In fact, that makes Bounty Arms all the more tantalizing. For once Data West was on a winning team, getting in at the ground floor of the PlayStation’s first year and, according to an interview with Yasuhito Saito, getting Sony’s earnest support for the game. By the time they canceled Bounty Arms and published Brave Prove in 1999, the PlayStation scene was far more crowded. 

So would Bounty Arms have succeeded back in 1995? It might have been overshadowed by other action games like Gunners Heaven, but there certainly wasn’t anything like Bounty Arms’ 2-D overhead approach and Relic Arm mechanics in the PlayStation’s early lineup. Would fans of arcade-style action games and traditional hand-drawn graphics have rallied around it, or would Bounty Arms have been seen as archaic and limited by critics who dismissed traditional games while feverishly lionizing many mediocre games with new 3-D visuals that would age as well as sour cream on the summer pavement? Could Bounty Arms have made it in a world where a magazine might fawn over the embarrassment of Toshinden while fobbing off such hand-drawn brilliance as Darkstalkers 3 and Guardian Heroes with banal three-out-of-five-star reviews? No, I’m not still bitter over that. Not me.

These are the things we might discuss at regular meetings of the Bounty Arms Preservation Society. Joining is free and confers nothing, but since the society has no vice president, treasurer, press secretary, minutes-taker, research assistant, or caterer, all of those positions are open to the first applicants. They’ll look sharp on your CV or resume.

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