A young girl torn from her mother and raised in the forest by a powerful witch is called to adventure by the spirit of a fairy boy and the promise of enough power to rescue her mother from a terrible fate. It sounds like a fairy tale, right? Well, it is, but in this case it’s a Fairie Tale about Bayonetta, or rather, about the girl who will become Bayonetta as this is a story about Cereza’s first real adventure.
Utilizing the narrative framing device of a children’s picture book for its narration and character design styles, Cereza and the Lost Demon is set in the titular character’s childhood when she is in training to be an Umbran Witch under a strict but patient teacher Morgana. Cereza’s mother, Rosa, has been jailed for political reasons. The story begins with Cereza rushing to see her mother on the night she is to be moved to another prison far away where Cereza will not be able to visit her, only to fail to reach her mother’s cell before the transfer. It is then revealed that this was a dream, a recurring nightmare Cereza keeps having, before it is interrupted by the appearance of a mysterious boy.
When Cereza awakens, her teacher berates her for oversleeping and gets her to do her chores so the game can safely tutorializie basic movements and interactions. That night, Cereza attempts to summon and bind her first demon, succeeding at the former but failing at the latter, leading to her feeling useless. At this point Cereza recalls the dream from the faerie boy and his request to find him in Avalon forest (which is off limits to all witches but especially young ones) with a promise of enough power to save her mother once he is free. Thus filled with a head full of hope and no plan to speak of, Cereza heads into the forest with nothing but a jeweled brace and Cheshire, a stuffed toy made for Cereza by her mother. Almost immediately she is attacked by vicious faeries, forcing Cereza with no choice but to attempt to summon a demon again. This time she does so, and in desperation, manages to bind the demon to her Stuffed toy, Cheshire… with no knowledge of how to unbind the demon or send him home. This is how Cereza and her new demon ally – christened Cheshire after Cereza’s toy as it lacks a name of its own – begin their journey to the center of Avalon Forest to meet the mysterious boy from Cereza’s dream.
As you might guess from the storybook aesthetic of Cereza and the Lost Demon‘s title screen, character and enemy designs, and that extensive description of the opening of the game, this game is very story focused, much more so than previous games in the Bayonetta series. Cereza and the Lost Demon wants to tell you a story about the moments that led Cereza becoming the badass lady we know and love, rather than giving you those moments immediately. A lot of time is spent on her insecurities and her sense of failure at not being strong enough to save her mother, though just as much time is spent on her determination, wit, and loyalty. Cereza and the Lost Demon is as much a character piece about Cereza as it is about the adventure she goes on. It’s about how she gains the incredible unstoppable confidence that she displays in all the other games, bridging the gap between the Bayonetta and the Cereza we meet in the original Bayonetta. The story also introduces a new faction to add to the Celestial, Infernal, and Homonculean foes of previous games in the Faerie, who control the forest and whose lore is central to the plot and Cereza’s struggle. This faction was hinted at back in Bayonetta 3 with Viola”s super form, and a few characters and boss fights, and is much more fully fleshed out in this game with a long backstory that can be found scattered throughout the forest as you explore. Fans of Arthurian Lore might be intrigued and amused at both the parallels and divergences there.
The storybook aesthetic goes very deep. Not only do the characters look as though they are straight out of a children’s picture book, several steps have been made to emphasize that feeling. Cereza and the Lost Demon has a Narrator, who gives us insight into characters’ feelings and even provides the voices for several characters in the cutscenes. The cutscenes themselves use a more limited animation style, with characters moving only slightly, and then switching to a different pose that’s subtly animated. Subsections of cutscenes are divided by literal turns of pages, and the loading screens at the start and end are a ruffle of pages. Character and enemy introductions even get into the theming, with everyone being introduced with a character sketch on a page from a book. Even character animations get in on it. Cheshire, for example, has certain textures that remain static while he moves, giving him both an otherwordly air, but also making him look even more like his design is created by layering pages in a picture book. The game’s story is broken into chapters, and each one begins with the title on a blank page before fading into a cut scene or gameplay. The voice acting – in both English or Japanese – is excellent. Everyone puts in a command performance, especially the Narrator and the actress playing Cereza, but even the smaller roles like young Jeane and Rosa are excellent performances.
Cereza and the Lost Demon is a Platinum Game, so you’ll want to know how it plays. The answer is: very fluidly, but very unlike other Bayonetta games. For one, you are regularly controlling two characters at once, as both Cereza and Chesire are controlled by the same player. Cheshire has both a powered down “hug” form, as well as his active “unleashed form” and you will often need to switch between both to progress through the game’s explorable world, Tyr na Nog, and many battles. In exploration, you need the abilities of both Cereza and Cheshire to be able to interact with and manipulate the environment; Cereza’s Umbral magic and Chesire’s elemental powers are needed to open pathways, grow plants, move objects, and more, but Cheshire also needs to be in his plushie form in hug mode to navigate through smaller spaces or for Cereza to toss him to higher ledges. In dungeons, the two are often required to take different paths to manipulate parts of the arena to allow each other to progress, and each dungeon requires both characters to complete; Cereza revealing a dungeon’s core with Umbran Arts, and Cheshire destroying it with Infernal power. In battle is where it gets interesting. Both Cereza and Cheshire have health, but only Cereza’s “counts.” as Chesire simply reverts to hug mode when out of HP, whereas the game ends if Cereza runs out. The two also split roles, with Cereza providing debuffs and controlling the in-battle items to heal and empower herself or Cheshire, and deal limited damage, while Cheshire acts as both DPS and does things like removing enemy shields and barriers. Despite being slower paces than Bayonetta‘s usual combat, it can still be very intense as you have to control each character with a joycon each (so you could theoretically play this in co-op) or half of a controller. Later in the game you get access to a mode that doesn’t require two joysticks, but still uses the whole controller.
There are definitely three fights in Cereza and the Lost Demon that would qualify as end-boss worthy. Or more, depending on how you look at things like extra modes. Also, Cereza and the Lost Demon does continue the tradition of ending with a dance sequence, but you can rest easy, there aren’t any extra fights in the middle to be wary of this time. Though there are extras that unlock after completing the story, like costume variants and an extra story mode. I’ll also note that several boss fights in this game mark moments where the young Cereza begins to act like and gain the powers of her grown up self, even gaining access to the powers of witch time during a critical and climactic moment.
So, do I recommend Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon? Oh hell yes. I got this game on release day, and I played it the entire weekend, save a lovely date out, I did not put it down the entire weekend (my wife had other plans, so this was not an issue), even after I had completed the story mode.
Tim played Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon on Nintendo Switch with a review code.