From what little I can find about this game, Battle Golfer Yui is frequently presented as a kusoge. You know, the sort of clunky, just-plain-bad video game that’s better enjoyed being made fun of than it is being played; the sort of game that only learn about through a retsupurae video or in some other context that asks you to accept it as not good and then proceed from there. Trusted in the wrong hands, the label can end up either being spiteful, since we’re laughing at the expense of what could have been a genuine effort on the developers’ part; conservative, since it interprets anything operating outside the video game community’s standards as failing those standards and thus worthy of derision; or even both.
With Battle Golfer Yui, though, I don’t get the sense that any of this will ever be a problem. In fact, it’s one of those few games that embraces its role as a kusoge. It’s an over the top performance of media conventions with little to nothing to ground them in. Its premise and characters don’t make any sense; the story bombards you with plot developments so quickly that you have even less of an understanding of the situation than you did before; and the game isn’t above robbing itself of whatever dramatic weight it has. The opponent AI will often choose a ridiculous option that will only hurt its standing, and the final matches against the story’s villains – the best of the best – see them flubbing every shot they make! In short, Battle Golfer Yui flips the script on you, laughing at your futile attempts to take it seriously.
So what better way to flip the script on Yui than by making sense of the game’s nonsense patchwork? At least in the beginning, the most notable thing about the game is how much the eponymous heroine’s circumstances strip the eponymous heroine of her agency. That much I could glean from the otherwise inscrutable cutscenes that begin the game: Yui Mizuhara is abducted, almost turned into a battle golfing super robot, and whisked away at the last minute. Notice the passive voice throughout. Following this are the first actions Yui takes of her own volition: she decides to participate in a golf tournament to rescue her friend Lan, and she registers at a local country club toward that end.
Yet even during this, the game resists giving Yui complete control over her own life. All throughout the registration process, we see subtle hints that she doesn’t belong. This is an upper class context, and from what we can tell, Yui herself comes from a middle class background. Her presence in the scene only reinforces that disparity: an ill-fitting suit and a lack of knowledge on behavior that’s expected of her at a country club. The world Yui has entered is one where, once again, she matters very little. Other people act for her, and decide things without her knowledge. Considering the circumstances, she has little choice but to allow them to do just that.
Yui’s situation becomes all the more peculiar when compared against her opponents. There’s only a small handful of them, and every one of their personalities is centered around a certain gimmicks. Their courses, obviously, are designed with that gimmick in mind. Since Hagata’s a baseball fan, the first course you play him on is shaped like a baseball stadium, with the hole lying far enough away that you’d need to hit a home run to reach it. Kitako, the rich girl who’s into the occult, tees off in graveyards and other similarly haunted course. And Divot, being the absurd and comical character he is, plays on courses arranged into amusing shapes: a guitar, a foot, etc.
The only exception to this trend is Yui herself. Where every other golfer has a course tailor-made to who they are, Yui establishes her identity by traveling to other people’s courses and proving her worth as a golfer to them. The only identity she can establish in this manner is one that exists in contrast to the other people she golfs against: not a sports fan, not a comic relief character, etc. Yet this is a self defeating mode of expression, considering the others don’t have to go through with it. They exist on their own, with a clear link between course and person. Invert this, and the only identity left to Yui is one of absence. Nothing to define herself, no place to call her own; just a lonely play experience awaiting her and the player.
And in what I can only describe as appropriate Yui fashion, there’s no sufficient reason why the heroine has to go through any of this. Every potential explanation fades away as soon as it’s brought up. Class quickly becomes irrelevant as a defining factor for characters and locations; the game only recognizes a golfer’s skill when that golfer isn’t Yui (despite every character having dedicated their life to the craft); and it’s hard to say that Yui grows as a person from her experiences in the tournament. And as tempted as I am to describe this as an Alice in Wonderland-esque series of gags the story moves through, even this representation falls short. Carroll privileged his heroine by grounding her world entirely in her psychology, but no such thing happens here. What we instead see is a frustrating, Sisyphean, bureaucratic nightmare that continually asks Yui to prove her worth through golf but refuses to accept any answer she’s capable of giving.
Driving all this home is her match against a mirror version of herself. What theme does this course adopt? What does Yui’s personality look like when not defined against another (or at least to a much smaller extent)? Lava fields as far as the eye can see. What connection they have to Yui isn’t entirely clear. The most immediate one I could think of is that this is Yui’s Hell (literal fire and brimstone), but considering how weakly Yui leans into that theme – or any other theme for that matter – what we’re left with is the absence of a connection between Yui and her environment. That lack is only further solidified when we learn her opponent wasn’t a clone of Yui per se, but a robotic double of her built by the game’s villain. Consequently, what the world reflects isn’t Yui’s personality, but that of her robot’s creator. Absence permeates the air once again.
The only solace available to her (even if it is meager) lies in the game she’s forced to play. Before going any further, I feel I should acknowledge the limitations the game imposes on my writing. The actual extent to which Battle Golfer Yui is a golf game is open to question. The game exists at the intersection of several popular trends – adventure games, RPGs, and especially anime – and it does so little to modify them that they dominate the game more than the golf motif theoretically uniting them.
In addition, it’s very clear that the people behind the game were utterly uninterested in the realities of golf. The Bubble Bobble-esque course designs signal as much, and the developer’s history only confirms that lack of interest. Whether they were working on their own projects or contracted to work on others, Santos/Megasoft/Whiteboard generally stuck to more abstract games that focused on how systems interacted: Shinobi III, Toki, Money Puzzle Exchanger, etc. Faced with this, it might seem as though any commentary one could render on Battle Golfer Yui would amount to commentary on the tools it uses or the genres it inhabits.
Be that as it may, I remain intrigued by how the game modifies golf to suit its own needs. Let’s begin with a basic premise: as a game, golf revolves around the control of/mastery over natural spaces. Were you to take the game on its own terms, then that control/mastery would manifest when accounting for the features of the terrain or the wind blowing the ball in a certain direction. Looking at the game from a historical perspective, though, they reveal themselves through wealth and privilege. It’s a game where one’s social status is reflected either in their ability to control these spaces (IE setting them aside and maintaining them for the sole purpose of playing this sport), or in their ability to access them (being wealthy enough not only to enter a prestigious country club, but also having the free time necessary to make use of that). Either way, we’re left with an image of golf where physical embodiment is so important to the game that it’s hard to imagine golf without it.
Yet video games have done just that. By simply moving the game into a virtual space, our relationship with that space has been severed. The pretense of what golf is still lingers, but what we’re left with is golf in the abstract; golf as a series of pure mathematical relationships and decisions. Play now occurs outside or above the golf course rather than on top of it.
For my part, at least, I was able to more fully appreciate the game from this perspective. True, I haven’t learned anything about what it feels like when a club hits against the grass or the weight of the club as I’m swinging it, but I could certainly enjoy the strategy that goes into playing a game of golf. In fact, I might have enjoyed it better here than if I was playing the actual game. Maybe those physical aspects of golf would have inhibited me more than anything else, imposing outside standards I might not have been able to meet and pulling my mind in a thousand different directions at once. I remember something similar happening when playing Wii Sports Resort: my shots had to be precise to a degree I might not always have been able to meet, and exertion put a hard limit on how much I could play at any one time. Battle Golfer Yui renders all of this a non-issue and allows for a more direct relationship with what golf is trying to be.
I imagine a similar process unfolding for Yui, as well. After all, what I’ve said so far could apply to a large number of golf games. Yui sets itself apart by carrying this logic to its natural conclusion. It imagines what golf might look like if it wasn’t tethered down by the tight physical constraints of reality. I’ve already mentioned the course design, and the RPG mechanics exist only to add abilities that further exceed reality’s limitations: killing and redirecting the ball’s momentum, or controlling where it lands with the D-pad.
With the courses no longer (completely) relevant to play, Yui can now forget about that link between course and person and find herself in the act of play. No longer are her attempts to establish an identity self defeating. By questioning the terms on which identity is constructed, Yui has finally arrived at a self that, like the other golfers, isn’t defined in contrast to another.