On The LevelOn The Level examines one small part of a larger game.  

Paranoia is a perfidious foe. The truth is, it sticks because it’s rooted in our terrible knowledge that danger really is everywhere. The person behind you on the Macy’s escalator might actually be a murderer. That candy apple might actually have a razor blade in it. You don’t know. Prove it doesn’t! Paranoia may eat you up inside, but it is an effective ally if you want to be wary, to be prepared.

Suzuki Bakuhatsu, a long-lost deep cut from Enix that came out only in Japan on the original PlayStation, is a game about the secret dangers lurking in the world’s mundane objects and sights. It’s a paranoiac’s nightmare, but it’s also a lesson in how to keep paranoia at bay. No matter where or when you encounter exploding danger, you can rise to the challenge of dismantling it because life may be hard but it’s also beautiful. It’s a philosophy embodied in the game’s first level. Your breakfast, a juicy dollop of color born of the Earth, might actually be a bomb. Better take it apart.

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Everything, whether it sits in your kitchen or looms in the night sky, can be a bomb in Bakuhatsu. Beneath the flashy presentation is a simple, ingenious video game premise. Every stage comes in three parts. First is a freaky slide show of the game’s Japanese heroine in a seemingly simple situation. The photos are of real people mind you, with some goofy computer animations and effects thrown on top. These intros inevitably culminate with the discovery of a bomb hidden inside something familiar. Then comes phase two: dismantling said bomb. A timer winds down and funky, discordant electronic jazz plays in the background as you tinker with the explosive and try to find the right sequence of tools to take it apart. If you succeed, you’re treated to another photo sequence and an evaluation of your performance based on how quickly you dismantled it.

Where do the bombs hide? Everywhere, big and small. In her first challenge, Suzuki (let’s just call the main character Suzuki, for brevity’s sake) is peacefully snuggled up in bed when the doorbell rudely rouses her. Trundling to the door, she finds a delivery man with a treat: a perfect, symmetrical orange served up on a box. Still drowsy, Suzuki notices that the orange seems to be ticking. This isn’t produce. This is an explosive. The view shifts from the comedic grumbling of Suzuki to the staccato panic of the bomb itself.

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Waking up to the deliveryman when you’re sleeping in is the sort of moment where you’re at your most vulnerable, when you’re paying the least attention to your surroundings. The threat of the bomb inside your morning fruit feels surreal but clarifying; real danger is a whole lot easier to deal with than imagined danger. What are you going to do when you’re suddenly holding a bomb? Freak out and chase the guy who handed it to you or try to deal with it? There’s no time for fear—only action.

Along with a shift in perspective that embodies this newfound focus and calm, the visuals change from still photos to a computer rendering of the orange itself—blocky and abstract but also colorful and vivid. All you can do at first is turn the orange and observe. Eventually, you spin it to an angle that brings up a little targeting reticule, drawing the eye to a specific, curious point. In this case, the orange’s green nub where the tree stem used to be is hiding a screw. Once you zero in on a focus point, you can test your tools on it. Suzuki has just three personal effects in addition to her super comfy looking pajamas in the first stage: a screwdriver, clippers, and a magnifying glass. Unscrew the stem and the rind of the orange unfolds revealing the sturdy incendiary within. Calm, collected observation has led to progress and increased odds of survival. Eureka! But your fiddling has activated a timer and now you have just a small window to take care of the rest.

The bomb inside the orange is dealt with simply. A mechanism with two wires connected to it, one blue and one red, is inside a tiny glass cage. The red wire is tagged with a sign that has a plain message: DANGER. Two screws in plain sight connect the glass to its base, so all you need to do is take them out and heed the warning on the red wire. With the blue wire clipped, the bomb becomes harmless and Suzuki can climb back in bed.

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Simple as it may be, there’s still a thick smear of tension as you go through the motions. The music picks up as the one-minute timer clicks down, but even as the thudding beat and terse sound effects squeal when you start taking the bomb apart, that wacky low-pitched scat singing returns. Panic and fear are part of this process, but it’s also fun. The adrenaline rush of danger keeps you alive by making you feel good. That’s the lesson Suzuki Bakuhatsu reinforces: Taking action brings pleasure alongside its risk.

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Suzuki herself has good reason to be paranoid. No matter where she goes or what she does, someone’s trying to bomb the poor lady. Just hanging out in the elevator? Bomb. Trying to defend yourself with a handgun? Nope, it’s a bomb. Admiring the full moon? Better hurry it up because the moon is also a bomb. Of all the bombs she’s forced to dismantle, though, it’s the first that sticks in the back of your mind. There may be more moving parts that make each new threat harder to defuse, but at a base level, they’re all just like the orange. They just need to be dissected and unwrapped, piece by piece, to make sure that they can’t hurt anyone. There’s no need to be paranoid and no need to be wary after the orange. The bombs are waiting out there, sure, but it doesn’t matter. Even if the beauty of the moon can kill you, you can handle it if you stay cool and pay attention.