Why has “Beyond Good and Evil” remained in the memories of many a gamer? Almost certainly not for its gameplay, which tended to be serviceable and forgettable. There was a reasonable diversity of things to do: racing, combat, picture-taking, stealth; but none of these would really get one’s blood pumping. They gave us stuff to do, but they were not the reason why we played.
Was it the story? I want to say: certainly not. The story, too, was fairly paint-by-numbers and predictable. This story lacked a memorable villain — I don’t even remember whether or not there was a visible villain for most of the game, and the Big Bad revealed in the end was also entirely forgettable. Worst of all was our main character, Jade, who was totally lacking in personality and in flaws. The side characters, Uncle Pej and Double H (or whatever his name was) provide a glimmer of hope, but even they were pretty flat, though amusing. We did develop a connection with them. We did feel for them. So that’s a start, but it does not tell the tale.
I think where this game really won was the universe and the atmosphere. A cartoony world under a totalitarian government being menaced by a Cthulu-like entity was weird and amusing enough to sustain interest over its short length. The denizens of the world seemed to have personality and history; the world felt “lived in”. Moreover, there was unspoken history between our main character and the other characters about the world. They would greet her as a friend, and maybe swap stories or refer to something unknown to us. This must’ve felt real, as I remember it.
The music added to the feeling of a real culture, especially the catchy faux-“European” songs that played during racing and gambling minigames.
Giving the gamer a world to live in was the big key to this game’s success.