10 Years of Bayonetta: A Closer Look at Our Favorite Umbra Witch

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Bayonetta is celebrating her tenth birthday. Between the latest release of the series on current generation consoles and the ongoing development of Bayonetta 3, let’s take a look back at arguably the most iconic of the PlatinumGames franchises.

The first title launched in Japan on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 first on October 29, 2009, with the game launching in North America a few months later on January 5. Bayonetta launched on WiiU in 2014, Windows PC in April 2017, and Nintendo Switch in February 2018.

A 4K remaster of Bayonetta is launching on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One systems next month on February 18. The Bayonetta & Vanquish 10th Anniversary Bundle will include the flagship title in the series alongside a remastered version of Vanquish, also developed by PlatinumGames.

Hideki Kamiya, director of the first title, previously worked for Capcom and Clover Studio before founding PlatinumGames in October 2007 alongside Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, The Evil Within), Atsushi Inaba (Viewtful Joe, Okami), and Tatsuya Minami (Mega Man, Resident Evil, Phoenix Wright). Kamiya is known for assisting in the development of Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil Zero, Devil May Cry, and Okami among other titles.

The team at PlatinumGames has carved itself a nice niche in the action games genre based on their combined development experience and the Bayonetta series was a great showcase of that fact, leading us to their more recent titles like Nier: Automata and Astral Chain.

“My inspiration for first creating Bayonetta came from a conversation I had with [Yusuke] Hashimoto, the [first] game’s producer, back when PlatinumGames had just been established. He told me that he’d love to see me make another one of my action games,” said Bayonetta creator and director Hideki Kamiya in a 2017 YouTube video detailing Bayonetta’s development by SEGA Europe. “And the last several games I’d worked on all had male protagonists, I decided I wanted to do something different for this new game, which naturally led to making this new protagonist a woman.”

In reviews of the first title (luckily still online!), players said that “it’s made abundantly clear that you’re entering a world of pure wonder and spectacle,” and that “developer Platinum Games’ crowning achievement is how it ups the ante at each turn, escalating the spectacle until it consumes the very cosmos itself.”

The protagonist and titular star of the series is known for her striking sexuality and immense power. Bayonetta is one of two surviving Umbra Witches, an all-female clan of witches known to be both overseers of darkness and one of two clans to oversee the history of the world. The Umbra Witches share the title of history overseer with the Lumen Sages, followers of light, in addition to viewing them as enemies.

Bayonetta’s witchy background comes as a result of the genre of the game she inhabits, the developer said. With her penchant for magic, it gave game designers a chance to get creative with her abilities and mechanics, utilizing unique weapons and powers to execute complex combination attacks.

“Someone had the idea that, if she’s a witch, maybe she should be fighting angels, since that would turn the tables on the typical good vs. evil scenario, and we all thought that was an interesting idea,” Yusuke Hashimoto, who served as producer and enemy designer on the first title and director of the second, said. “… In design terms, it was very challenging because we didn’t just want them to be stereotypically divine figures. We wanted them to have that sense of divinity of course, but we also wanted them to have a menacing auto about them as well.”

Other design elements were intended to add to the feeling of “strangeness and wrongness” of the angel designs, Hashimoto said, like the inclusion of human faces that are revealed as you break down enemy armor.

“The hardest part about designing Bayonetta was that she was the sole protagonist and a women,” said character designer Mari Shimazaki. “So we needed her to be a character that both men and women would accept.”

She said that the inspiration behind the fiery, spectacled witch came from some keywords Kamiya wanted the protagonist to embody and she worked to make the magic happen.

“I then took those seeds and tried to nourish them by studying lots of different images of fashion collections from outside Japan,” Shimazaki said. “I must have ended up looking at no fewer than 20,000 [images] and while I was doing that, I would have moments where certain images immediately stood out to me. … We decided that Bayonetta was the kind of woman who wouldn’t reveal her body so easily, so that was the guideline I worked under as I finalized her design. And when her design was finished a year later and we had established that she uses her hair in place of traditional clothing it meant that she’s essentially naked for the whole game. When I realized that, I remember thinking how ironic it was that we’d end up coming right back to that kind of design. Bayonetta’s unique hairstyle may resemble a french twist to some people, but it really came about as a way to try and capture the typical witch’s hat look, but for a modern age.”

The game launched to great success, with high marks from Metacritic, Eurogamer (9/10), Famitsu (40/40 and 38/40 on XB360 and PS3 respectively), Game Informer (9/10), G4 (4/5 stars) and more. The continued porting of the first game is also a great indicator of the franchise’s popularity.

At the time of launch, Bayonetta was named Game of the Year by IGN UK, awarded the titles Best Boss Fights and Best Original IP by GameSpot, Best New IP by GameTrailers and Best Debut by Giant Bomb.

Bayonetta 2 earned better ratings following its 2014 launch on the WiiU and the character gained even more notoriety following her inclusion as a DLC fighter in Super Smash Bros. for WiiU and 3DS.

(Bayonetta 2, unlike the first game in the series, is only available on the WiiU and Switch due to a publishing agreement between the two companies that was created after the first round of development on the sequel was canceled under Sega.)

Bayonetta 3 was revealed in 2017 and is currently in development. No release dates have been announced, but PlatinumGames president and CEO Kenichi Sato said that there is much to look forward to in the coming year.

“Last year, we promised that 2019 would be “the beginning of a new stage for Platinum Games,” Sato said in a Jan. 1, 2020, article on Inside Games. “It’s a bit late, but I hope you can get some big news early in the new year, so stay tuned.”