Upon booting up Bayonetta 3, one of the first things that you’re greeted with is the option to activate “Naive Angel Mode.” The feature was seen as controversial upon its reveal, as it covers up some of the more “mature” elements so you don’t feel crippling embarrassment when your mom or significant other walks into the room to see a sexy witch dancing naked killing unspeakable amounts of foes. Many internet commenters decried it as censorship, but I always saw hope in the mode for one reason — it could be comic gold.
Indeed, when Bayonetta 3 presents the Naive Angel Mode option to you, it offers an example with a side-by-side of the shopkeeper Rodin smoking a cigar. In Naive Angel Mode, the cigar is replaced by a sprinkled stick of chocolate. If the entire game had childish and tongue-in-cheek quirky humor like that, count me in! Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. See, Naive Angel Mode itself isn’t bad because it doesn’t make the game more tolerable for a wider audience. It’s bad because it doesn’t go far enough.
After beating the opening stages normally, while I was going back to track down any missing collectibles, I decided to turn on the mode to see if there were any substantial changes. I knew that Bayonetta would be more clothed (or as much clothed as a witch who uses hair for her outfit can be), but I wanted to see if there were any more little moments like Rodin’s chocolate stick mixed in there to make me laugh. Or how much effort they put in to hide some of the violence and foul language at play.
After a few cutscenes, there was nothing. Words like “hell,” “bullshit,” and “damn” were still in play, and all of the grisly action was still present. Granted, a lot of the death in Bayonetta 3 comes in the form of people being crystallized, but the Homunculi, angels, and demons all still get their gruesome ends. The only times I could tell there were genuine efforts to turn down the sexiness were when Bayonetta would lose her clothes — they just turn up the bloom on her character model. It’s the laziest possible way to censor content because it doesn’t change any core character models or anything. It’s just a special effect.
If Bayonetta 3 were going to censor its content to make it more family-friendly, then Naive Angel Mode should have gone so far out of the way as to make it a parody. Make every single time a bad word was said have a cat sound effect or a sexual moan. In the former instance, the word is censored in a way that’s cute and quirky given the series and its focus on cats, and the latter does indeed censor the naughty word but arguably makes it even more uncomfortable.
This is an M-rated game after all, so make it family-friendly — but as if you had wished on a monkey’s paw. I would have even loved it if, during super intense sequences, it put a sign up that said the content on screen was too violent for children and you just hear all of the awesome action taking place, complete with chibi drawings of the character.
There was one time I do think the premise was well executed, and that’s when Bayonetta tries to summon a gigantic demon to fight her foes. This takes place at the end of every three chapters or so and features an over-the-top incantation that climaxes with Bayonetta ripping her heart out. I was super curious how this would play out in Naive Angel Mode, and I was not disappointed. Instead of Bayonetta ripping her still-beating heart out of her chest, she pulls out a tomato. Minimal blood, no gore, she’s just holding a tomato now. That’s so stupid it’s brilliant. At least she’s keeping healthy, I suppose.
That’s what the mode should have been. A comical critique of censorship that still makes the game enjoyable because it makes the act of actively censoring a series like Bayonetta into a farce. I’m reminded of the PR puppet show for Resident Evil Village that poked fun at how scary the games were and toned it down to absurd levels. That’s the level of censorship that the game should have gone with, being so sanitized that there’s no way to view it other than as a parody.
Of course, it’s impossible to censor Bayonetta, but Naive Angel Mode as it is now is a weird half-measure. Sometimes it’s laughably stupid that I love it, but other times it feels like a lazy attempt at it and a selective one at that. PlatinumGames can’t have it both ways. Unless the cutscenes, dialogue, and gameplay change drastically, there is no way to censor the Bayonetta series in a way that makes it family-friendly, and Naive Angel Mode only proves that point.