Generational Decay

Baroque has had three major releases: "Baroque" for the Sega Saturn in 1998, "Baroque ~Distorted Delusions~" for the Sony Playstation in 1999, and "Baroque International" for the Sony Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii in 2007. The latter two versions are often assumed to be the definitive versions, but this is a misconception based on the relative obscurity of the Sega Saturn original.

The initial port of the game, "Baroque ~Distorted Delusions~" makes some considerable changes - almost entirely to the detriment of the game. The most striking change is the total loss of the film noir aesthetic the original game was conceived around. Instead of stark contrast, heavy use of shadows, and bold lighting, the PS1 port settles for bright, uniform lighting with little contrast. The heavy use of red and black in the original has been replaced by a sickly green that permeates everything, completely destroying the original’s gorgeous atmospheric lighting.

The characters and Abnormals have also received noticeable downgrades, with sprites being stretched considerably. Even worse, several animations are flat out missing, such as the Hungones' swaying as it moves across the ceiling. Gone too are a huge number of sound effects and ambient noise that added variety and flavor to the soundscape of the Nerve Tower. Just to top it all off, the music transitions were cut entirely, so tracks now just abruptly halt at the end of a floor.

To smooth over the extremely shoddy port job, a couple of new features have been added - all of which serve to pad the game out into a buggy, joyless chore. The enjoyment of discovering additional dialogue lines exclusive to the PS1 port is swiftly curtailed when you realize that random lines of dialogue have been added to a "Scene List" that demands the player trigger nearly 250 lines of arbitrarily selected dialogue with NPCs in order to unlock material already available on the "Baroque Report CD Data File". This leads to hours of endlessly attempting various combinations to try and get NPCs to say the right thing - a frustrating endeavor that sucks all the joy out of the unique sense of discovery inherent in Baroque. Worse still, several lines you have to unlock early on are bugged, making them permanently missable - silently ruining your collection in a way you won't discover until it's too late. The new dialogue lines are pretty dire too, ranging from edgy dramatics to tasteless dad humor. The new dialogue also gives the Archangel new, contradictory character motivation (changing him from someone who hates distorted humans to someone who wants to avenge his distorted sister). This new backstory clashes with pre-existing Saturn dialogue that still exists within the port, with the concept ultimately originating from literal fan-fiction (selected by Yonemitsu as part of a Sting fan outreach program).

In addition, you can collect the hundreds of items in the game, transferring them one at a time through the Sense Spheres in a painstaking and completely mindless scavenger ‘hunt’. Even worse, the floor count of the Nerve Tower has been considerably padded out, so now every trip through will take far longer than is enjoyable. Other changes include a new NPC that stores your items (allowing you to endlessly farm upgrade materials to create ridiculously overpowered gear), and a post-game "Hell Dungeon" which is so absurdly artificially difficult that the game's creator admits to having never beaten it. The only way to realistically beat it is to partake in the aforementioned farming exercise, which is utterly disinteresting and reduces the 100 floor challenge dungeon to a tedious and unchallenging slog.

After the disappointing PS1 port, Sting made three more games with the Baroque IP. The first was a Baroque-themed reskin of Sting’s typing software (“Yuka Typing”). Because these two titles are virtually identical, cross-play between the two games was possible over the internet. To make matches fair, both clients had to be using the same set of dialogue to type out. This often led to the cutesy shoujo-manga characters of Yuka Typing saying the depressing, violent, and disturbing dialogue of Baroque characters. Sting also released the vertical scrolling shooter “Baroque Shooting”, which was a (previously self-published) fangame. Both are perfectly competent games but neither are particularly remarkable. On the other hand, "Baroque Syndrome" (Sting's extremely poor attempt to copy-paste Mariko Shimizu’s Baroque prequel stories into visual novel format) was a disaster. The player is given almost no meaningful choices, the small amount of new (ghostwritten) content is terrible, and it massively contradicts both the source material and Baroque. Read more about it here.

In 2007, "Baroque International" hit shelves and remains the only version of Baroque most people have played. It disastrously repeats all the sins of the PS1 port, further removing visual contrast while adding additional pointless collectathons and tedious challenge dungeons. The Nerve Tower's floor count has also been more than doubled, massively retarding the pace of the game and transforming the once nail-biting dash through the sanctuary into a muddy, anime-themed chore (complete with tension-killing savestates between floors).

The decision to double down on the unfitting anime aesthetic of the original games' promotional art transforms the Gigeresque original into cringe-inducing anime slurry. Even worse, the remake carelessly incorporates elements from the "Baroque Syndrome" visual novel without any regard for consistency, which confuses and even outright breaks gameplay clues necessary for piecing together the true nature of Idea Sephiroth/Baroques. The Abnormals in this edition only occasionally drop Idea Sephiroth now, which only the Baroque Vendor (aka "Baroquemonger" in the English version) can read. Instead your VT is restored by some kind of heart crystal, the presence of which is never explained. This makes no sense for many reasons, the foremost of which is that the Sentry Angel being able to read Neck Person's crystal is a pivotal event in the original story. Even worse, the whole point of the Baroque Shops in "Syndrome" was that they were a scam, only there to profit off of the mentally impaired. The people running the shops don't have special powers that allow them to magically ascertain the contents of the human mind. As Kitsune puts it, he's only there to write stories/epitaphs that make unimaginative people feel special. There's also some nonsense about the Horned Woman's "true identity" being a character from "Syndrome". These inclusions are purely fanservice over integrity - a design philosophy that summarizes most of the remake's design choices.

Amazingly, Sting completely reversed course and released a faithful port of the original Saturn version for the Nintendo Switch on November 12th, 2020. This is nearly a perfect port, with only minor control stiffness and small graphical glitches during some FMV sequences. However, the lag that cropped up on the Sega Saturn during hectic fights has been completely removed. This port also includes several extras, including the Baroque Report CD Data File for the Sega Saturn. As long as you're willing to put up with the sub-par controls, this is currently the best and most accurate way to experience the definitive version of Baroque (unless you have the cash to drop on a Saturn, 3D Control Pad, and a CRT).