FGC #460 Final Fantasy Legend 3

Stay dampHow the hell do you screw up friggin’ time travel!?

Okay, to be clear, we’re not talking about how do you screw up while time traveling. A healthy 80% of all time travel fiction is based entirely on this concept, and, give or take a Time Cop, that’s always a good time. It’s the human condition, right? You go back in time with your intricate future knowledge of how you’re going to make everything better, make a few changes here and there, and Bob’s your uncle, Hitler is president. Whoops! I think we all learned a valuable lesson about not messing with the natural order of things (and I would seriously like to speak to whichever time traveler is responsible for our current political situation).

No, what we’re focusing on today is how you mess up a story that involves time travel. After all, time travel is one of the best tropes in all of storytelling. Want to change the past? Duh! We all do! But changing the past (and hopefully avoiding Hitler) isn’t the only option available with time travel. Want to see the future? Or drop that text book, and experience the past like a tourist? Or how about traveling through time to prevent a “bad future”? Did anyone order a child from an alternate timeline? Hell, let’s go nuts, screw up the timeline, and see an alternate reality where bad is good and good is wearing ill-fitting leather. Time travel opens the door to any number of wonderful tropes and stories! And leather!

FIGHT!And let me tell you a secret about time travel stories: don’t ever try to figure them out. Time travel is always, always going to be a complete mishmash of conflicting ideas and contradictions with the very concept of cause and effect. And that’s fine! It’s time travel! It breaks all the physical rules of the universe, it may as well also cause a broken brain. So don’t bother trying to figure out how there can be more than one Trunks at one time, or how you can’t wrap a gun in beef shank and bring it to the past, or why the hell bringing a teenager on a time travel expedition would ever make sense. It’s all just nonsense from the moment someone goes back to the future, and you’re expected to not think too hard about how Bruce Banner accidentally invented the fountain of youth while trying to quantum leap. You can’t ruin time travel by not properly following the rules for a fictional event. Time travel is the Wild West of storytelling, and you’re perfectly justified in claiming that if two time travelers kiss, they instantly become horny lizards or something. It’s cool! That’s just how time travel works in this universe, and they’re going to have a wonderful little reptilian family. Be happy for the lizards!

And time travel can be amazing in videogames. Videogame narratives by their very nature must be linear. You can have a flashback in Lost, Breaking Bad, or [please insert name of show that premiered in the last decade], but that simply doesn’t work in a videogame. If Mega Man has a “flashback level” to before the adventure started, he’ll lose all his sweet robot master weapons and extra lives. And that just wouldn’t do! It’s even worse in JRPGs, where experience is key, and your character must start at level zero. A flashback in a JRPG would never fly, because your hero has to start as a blank slate, or, at the very least, an inexperienced townie. Seeing some “ten years earlier” with a child that somehow knows Ultima is not even a possibility.

WORM!But time travel? That’s how you meet the past. Swing on back, take your time in a special dungeon or town, and meet all the villains before they became corrupted by malevolent fog. Or use time travel in new and interesting ways, like by changing subtle items in the past to greatly influence the future. Plant some beans. Break some walls. Distract the guy building the wall. Time travel opens all sorts of avenues. And in your better games, time travel offers entire worlds. Here’s the craptastic present, an even more rotten future, and a glorious past that you can restore with a little elbow grease (and giant swords). But at least there are lasers in the future! That should help you save the day. Just remember to take your time and explore every nook and cranny to discover the difference between these disparate time periods!

Final Fantasy Legend 3 seems to present itself as such. Right from the start, you are introduced to our quartet of heroes, three of which hail from a future approximately fifteen years ahead. Our fourth warrior is a woman from the present, where the rest of the gang has been raised and trained after being smuggled back with the aid of a mutant professor and his time machine. Everyone is informed that the world is being flooded by a nebulous evil god/master (pick your translation), and it is now their job to travel between the past, present, and future to find enough pieces of that time machine to lift off and launch a missile right into this damp god’s face. And that’s a great excuse for an adventure! It promises three different time periods (and thus three different worlds) all in the midst of this forever flood. And, bonus, as the game progresses, we’re also granted the ability to dive beneath the waves, so there’s a full trio of underwater “worlds”, too. Let’s see how that coral reef has developed over thirty years!

So it’s kind of a shame when it all turns out to be bullshit.

Painful!Here’s the basic flow of Final Fantasy Legend 3: You start in the Present, and venture through a tower. This grants you the ability to go back in time. Now you can participate in a rescue mission in the Past that guarantees an old lady and a young girl will be alive in the future (present). Back to the Present, and it’s time to waddle around another tower or two. This allows travel to the Future, where some helpful future townsfolk grant the ability to access a floating continent. The floating continent, you’re told, does not have “time”, so it is an area that does not have a past, present, or future. Then it’s off to Heaven (Pureland) and Hell (Underworld), which are under similar time restrictions. These three areas (Floatland, Pureland, and Underworld) contain a healthy 60%-75% of the dungeons in the game, and, as part of the finale, they’re going to be the largest/longest dungeons as well.

Did you see what happened there? This is a story that introduces a time machine from the first moment, and then doesn’t even use the damn thing for at least half the game!

That’s how you screw up a time travel story, dear readers. If you’ve got a time machine, and you’re not using it, you’re doing something wrong. Use all the toys in your toy chest, and never turn your time machine into a glorified airship. Final Fantasy Legend 3 dropped the ball, but you don’t have to.

But if you do mess up, just go back in time and try again. At least it would make a good story.

FGC #460 Final Fantasy Legend 3

  • System: Gameboy. There were actually two different versions, one published by Square in 1993, and another rereleased by Sunsoft in 1998 (because a certain game made Final Fantasy a tweak more popular). Both versions are exactly the same, give or take some terrible cartridge art.
  • Number of players: Four party members, one consistent guest character, but only one player.
  • So mysticMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Disappointing plot aside, Final Fantasy Legend 3 is easily the most accessible of the Final Fantasy Legend titles. This makes sense, as this is right about when this “version” of SaGa branched off to form Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, and SaGa continued on in a different form on the Playstation 1. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Regardless, this is the rare SaGa/FFL game that doesn’t require a friggen chart to map out character progression, so it’s fun for a girl or a boy.
  • But the equipment system still sucks, right? Oh my yes. I might cheat my way into perfect stats just so I never have to manage the inventory ever again.
  • Favorite… form? You have a lot of options for character customization. No, wait, scratch that. You have a lot of options for whether you would like your party to devour gears and cogs to become robots. Or you can eat a hunk of meat and become a man-bat. You’ve got options. Regardless, the worm is the best choice, as he’s a friendly looking lil’ dude. For a monster.
  • Did you know? There was a DS remake of FFL3, and it never made its way over to Western shores. But some dedicated fans translated SaGa 3 Jiku no Hasha: Shadow or Light, and now you can play the dang thing in English. Hooray for our side! Literally!
  • Would I play again: I want to say there is a JRPG from the 90’s that uses time travel a little more effectively, so I’ll pass on this legendary adventure.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Space Harrier for the 32X! That’s going to be a mammoth of a good time. Please look forward to it!

CHOMP

MKK: Cyrax & Sektor


Cyrax and Sektor, the yellow and red (respectively) robots of Mortal Kombat 3 were named Mustard and Ketchup during production. This has proven to be rather prescient, as the two bots have consistently been the condiments to the main plot’s hotdog (And, yes, I am absolutely stating that, like all hotdogs, the Mortal Kombat storyline is primarily made from randomly assembled rat and pigeon meat).


Mortal Kombat 3 is all about Shao Kahn’s invasion of Earth, but there was also a side story that featured Sub-Zero. Separate from literally everything else that was happening, Sub-Zero was disowned by his assassin clan when they decided to “upgrade” their elite ninja into cyborgs. The first three cyborgs created were Sektor, Cyrax (both of whom volunteered), and Smoke (who very much did not volunteer). Smoke had general issues from his activation, so he wandered off to be a hidden kharacter. Sektor and Cyrax, though, were tasked with hunting and killing (or at least maiming) Sub-Zero. And, because Shao Kahn decided to suck the souls out of every human on the planet, Cyrax and Sektor were the only robot-people standing when all the people-people dropped dead. So, basically, there were four Lin Kuei left on the planet, and three of them were programmed to kill the fourth. That’s screwed up!

Now, unlike the other “clone” characters in previous Mortal Kombat titles, Cyrax and Sektor were, from a plot perspective, effectively interchangeable. Sub-Zero and Scorpion were bitter rivals from opposite clans (and one is a ghost). Mileena and Kitana were sisters cooperating just long enough for one to murder the other (and one is a monster). Cyrax and Sektor were just two robots with the same origins and goals. Even their endings were two variations on the same theme: Sektor’s non-kanon ending saw him “winning” the tournament through a massive self-destruct at Shao Kahn’s base, and Cyrax wound up getting lost and trapped in the desert. Basically, these robots were born to die, and neither actually defeated Sub-Zero, even in the fantasy world of fighting game endings. Poor ol’ cyborgs…

However, they were fairly popular kharacters, and it was only natural that they would show up in future installments. They could only Wile E. Coyote after Sub-Zero for so long before that got old, though, so it was time to separate the bots and give them individual stories. And, as any graduate of the David Cage School of Writing knows, there are only two stories about robots:

1. Can a robot learn to be human?
2. Skynet

And, conveniently enough, we’ve got two robots here! Hooray!

Beep Boop

Cyrax actually wound up with a kanon ending in Mortal Kombat 3. Sub-Zero was attacked by Cyrax, but he fought back with ninja ice powers and hitherto unknown and rarely seen again l33t haxxor powers. Actually, maybe Sub-Zero wasn’t so l33t, as his reprogramming led to that previously mentioned “Cyrax wanders into the desert and is lost within the sands” ending. Whoops! Luckily, Cyrax was collected by either the Lin Kuei or Sonya’s Special Forces. Mortal Kombat 4 was a confusing time! However, it’s agreed that by the end of MK4, Cyrax was starting to reawaken as a “human”, and decided the guys who turned him into a mechanical abomination weren’t all that great, so could someone restore my body, please? The Special Forces were happy to oblige (reminder: Jax is already kind of a cyborg, so they have a little experience), and Cyrax became… well… he was technically already a cyborg that was mostly robotic, but some Special Forces procedures were able to make Cyrax a cyborg that was now mostly human. Or at least mostly human on the inside. He needed his mostly robot on the outside parts for his next adventure.

By Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance (MK5), Cyrax was working for the Special Forces, because Uncle Sam don’t restore your humanity for free. Cyrax was on a routine patrol (or something) in Outworld when he was attacked by Reptile. Reptile managed to damage Cyrax’s go-home thingy, and, without that thingy, Cyrax could not go home. Oh no! But Nitara the Vampire appeared, and made a deal with Cyrax: retrieve a magical orb from a lava pit, and she would send the poor bot home (and never mind the fact that Nitara had Reptile attack Cyrax in the first place). Cyrax decided to cooperate, and, since he was apparently lava-proof thanks to his robotic enhancements, he was able to retrieve the mystical ball. Nitara was true to her word, and Cyrax was sent home. Thanks Nitara! Since the sphere was actually the Dragon King’s soul-egg, this technically means Cyrax was responsible for the revival of Onaga and all the death and destruction he caused… but, if Cyrax knew that, he moved that information straight to his recycle bin.

Cyrax took MK: Deception off, and then returned in MK: Armageddon to try to gain Blaze’s power and completely restore his own humanity. He didn’t succeed. He died. And isn’t that the most human thing of all?

Don't missile

But what was Sektor up to during that timeline? Well, Sektor was the one cyborg that was not reprogrammed by Sub-Zero, so he was still on the Lin Kuei payroll after Mortal Kombat 3. He spied on Cyrax and/or Sub-Zero during Mortal Kombat 4, but then the Lin Kuei had a change of management. … Mostly because Sektor tried to kill the old management. The official story is that Sektor’s programming became “corrupted” after having to fight mutant hordes and centaurs and whatnot, but it’s probably just that Sektor finally had it with being the least effective robotic assassin in history (reminder: Sub-Zero is still alive). Sektor signed his resignation with the Lin Kuei Grandmaster’s blood, but Sub-Zero was able to freeze Sektor’s attempted coup in its tracks. This was the exact moment that Sektor decided he was going to start his own stupid assassin clan, and it would be all ninja robots, because ninja robots have been working out so well for everybody up to this point. He even came up with a cool name (The Tekunin), and probably made his own logo and uniforms and everything. Unfortunately, when he participated in Mortal Kombat: Deception: Tournament Edition, he didn’t really get anywhere, and wound up just getting jobbed by Sub-Zero (again). That’ll teach you to unionize, you damn robot!

Sektor successfully creates a spare ninja robot or two while no one is looking before Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, and even manages to buy some Final Fantasy surpluss on eBay and winds up with an airship base. He’s kind of a general threat to humanity in Armageddon, but even his warship filled with robot ninja isn’t enough to rank a threat higher than the dude with an entire dimension full of sword mutants. As a result, he’s little more than a mid-boss-level kharacter in the grand scheme of things, and I don’t think Sub-Zero even has time to deal with his nonsense this go-round. Subs was too busy with his undead brother and the other robot attempting to turn the Lin Kuei into another, different army of demon robot ninja. Damn, Sektor, some other guy stole your bit!

Sektor, like Cyrax, eventually winds up at the final battle of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, and gets his red butt murdered in the melee. He probably got taken out by, like, Stryker or something.


The universe reboots back to a Mortal Kombat 1 backup, so, hey, we get to see Cyrax and Sektor as “unmodified” humans for the first time in the franchise. It turns out that Cyrax was from Botswana, and Sektor was apparently the son of the Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei. Wow! That sure does make his future/past actions that much more ironic! Or something! Also, like Sub-Zero the Original, Cyrax and Sektor participated in the original Mortal Kombat 1 tournament. At this point, the two humans were basically in the employ of Shang Tsung/Outworld, and were spoilers meant to weed out any worthwhile candidates for championhood. This is a diversion from the original timeline, where the Lin Kuei were hired to kill Shang Tsung, but, hey, Shang Tsung is a pretty freaky dude, maybe he just wanted to see if he could take out a ninja assassin, too. Regardless, Sektor and Cyrax (naturally) fail, but they do reveal differing personalities before their inevitable cyberization. Sektor is a dedicated child of the Lin Kuei, and relishes in his kill-based vocation. He is all in when asked if he wants to also become a heartless robot. Cyrax, meanwhile, has some reservations about the whole “lose your autonomy and soul” thing, and even spares Johnny Cage’s life after winning a match. The general impression here is that Cyrax was probably going to hang up his wrist-mounted buzzsaws and magical bombs if given a chance… but that ain’t gonna happen. Sektor and Cyrax return as robots before Nu MK2 is out, and successfully capture Sub-Zero the Younger to create a new robot buddy. Unfortunately, the bots have to pledge loyalty to Shao Kahn in exchange for Sub-Zero, so they spend reformatted MK3 as Baraka-esque Outworld stooges. Sektor and Cyrax definitely assist in Sindel’s final battle against the forces of good (which, incidentally, is very successful at killing the forces of good), but they’re not seen again after the fight. They probably snuck out the back when Nightwolf exploded.

BEEPS LOUDLY

The Mortal Kombat X comic is kind of murky on the whole kanon front, but it does dovetail into what actually happens in Mortal Kombat X, so we’ll go ahead and call this next part 100% kanon. At the end of Mortal Kombat 9, literally all named Lin Kuei kharacters were either dead, a robot, or both (see Sub-Zero, Cyber). Shao Kahn was dead, too. Seeing a marvelous opportunity, Sektor took over the Lin Kuei. He tossed out any dissenters, robotocized everybody else, and the Lin Kuei was reborn as the new Tekunin. Score! But Sub-Zero eventually gets over being a robot/dead, and returns to screw up the Tekunin with his rarely seen stealth ninja abilities. And he’s a master hacker again! He drops in a virus that spreads to the majority of the clan, and, before Sektor has time to react, Cyrax has been “infected” with remembering his own soul. Sub-Zero then defeats Sektor in mortal kombat, decapitates the bot, and wins back control of the Lin Kuei. Cyrax, now completely aware of his humanity/love of all the little critters of nature, massively self-destructs in an effort to wipe the Tekunin off the face of the Earth. He succeeds, and Sub-Zero goes on to lead the new Lin Kuei… which is still an assassin’s guild, so, uh… I mean, they might still murder people, but at least they use less fossil fuels than the robots? Sub-Zero also keeps Sektor’s head, and occasionally uses it as a projector when he can find Sektor’s HDMI cord.

Of course, aside from a head cameo, Cyrax and Sektor do not appear in the actual plot of Mortal Kombat X. Their comic adventure must have impressed somebody, though, because, while C&S are not playable kharacters in MK11, they do get the exact same comic plot again. Kronika the Goddess of Time is committed to her master plan of generally annoying the good guys into forsaking the universe, so she brings Cyrax and Sektor forward in time from some unspecified “the past”. Sektor goes to work immediately, and gets an assembly line going on converting the Lin Kuei into robot ninja. And, again, Sub-Zero infiltrates his base (this time with a buddy!), uploads that “free-will” virus (good thing he kept those files! Saved him hours of coding!), and “awakened” Cyrax, again, sacrifices himself to see the Tekunin deactivated (again). Sektor actually escapes death this time, though, and is remodeled thanks to some assistance from Kano. And then Kano blows him up. Because you don’t trust Kano, stupid.

Please look forward to Mortal Kombat 12, where Cyrax and Sektor will not be playable, but the all new Relish menaces Sub-Zero to fill out a scene or two.


Next time: Witchy Women

FGC #459 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

Note: This article contains spoilers for a game that is either twenty years or one month old. To be clear, the spoilers are not for anything you wouldn’t find in the Gameboy version. You have been warned.

Adventure Time!Forever just isn’t as long as it used to be.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is an amazing game. Within the confines of the meager Gameboy, Link experienced one of his most enjoyable and surprisingly expressive adventures. Link saves the day by venturing through Koholint, a mysterious island home to friendly villagers, the occasional demon round boi, and no less than twelve billion moblins. Items of note include a giant catfish that hides an equally giant worm, a walrus that is always happy to hear a song, and a golden leaf (or maybe five). Oh, and there’s that gigantic egg at the top of Koholint’s highest peak. Assuming Link is capable of collecting all eight of the magical instruments (that’s seven more than usual!) strewn around the island, he’s told he will awaken the Wind Fish, and the dream that is Koholint Island will fade to nothingness. Every one and every thing Link encounters across his adventure is ephemeral, and will disappear should his quest succeed.

And that makes me sad!

Which, ultimately, is the point. LA’s Koholint Island is, when you stop to think about it, one of the absolute nicest places Link has ever visited. Yes, there are monsters, and, yes, the rules of life and death appear to be controlled by a lesser Mario villain’s song, but, aside from a few existential horrors, Koholint is a pretty nice place. You can hang out in a pastoral village, enjoy a walk on the beach, or even have a conversation with a welcoming (and surprisingly verbal) rabbit. SING ITAnd even if Link decides to just stay in the Dream Shrine for the rest of the day, there’s a very real feeling that life on Koholint can go on without him. Granny has her sweeping to do, an alligator is busy working on his art, and lovers are catfishing each other with snail mail. And then there’s Marin. Sweet, doomed Marin…

Marin is the first person Link meets on Koholint, and, incidentally, the first woman in the franchise to rescue Link for a change. It is Marin that drags the sea tossed Link back to her cottage, and nurses him back to health after his near-death experience. And when Link is up and adventuring, it is once again Marin that is not only the most useful villager across the quest (learning music is fun!), she’s also the woman that spends the most time with Link. They play crane games together. They smash pots together. They even bond over a shared love of fried chicken. Right down to Marin’s very vocal desire to be free and see the world, it’s clear that you, the player, are supposed to feel a bond with Marin, and maybe even the slightest bit of empathy for this monochrome NPC. Your quest will wipe her from existence, and, only if you’re really good will you be rewarded with the possibility that Marin escaped her fate by becoming the trashiest of trash birds.

But, whether you keep Link immaculate or not, the Marin you know is gone at the end of Link’s Awakening. And nothing is going to change that. Marin was never real in the first place, and you’ll never see her again.

HERE WE GOAnd the Zelda franchise/Nintendo held true to this rule for decades. Marin only reappeared as a trophy (literally, to be clear) in Super Smash Bros Melee, and did not return in any other form, playable, cameo, or otherwise. Marin clearly influenced Malon of Ocarina of Time, but the young lady obsessed with cows shared very little in common with the songstress of the seas. And, if you squint, you can see how Link’s sister Aryll (of Wind Waker) shares a few superficial similarities with the girl of Link’s dreams. But aside from those allusions, Marin, like all of the friendly faces around Koholint Island, was gone forever, another unfortunate casualty of having never existed at all. Papahl, Kidoh, Lattie, Mamasha, Madam MeowMeow, and even Old Man Ulrira are all gone from the franchise, too; but Marin’s absence is felt most keenly. She was more interesting than the titular Zelda, people! Bring her back!

And now Marin returns in the Switch version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. She’s back. She’s adorable. And she’s singing her lil’ heart out.

So why am I sad to see one of my favorite characters all over again?

CHOMPWhen you get right down to it, Link’s Awakening needed a remake. Yes, the obvious issue with LA was that it was initially designed for hardware that could barely support an entire Mario Land, but the controls of Link’s Awakening needed an upgrade much more than the graphics or sound. The A/B system of LA was a genius callback to the original adventure, but there’s a reason The Legend of Zelda never let you switch out your sword. Yes, the option of bomb arrows is always nice, but there are way too many places in OG LA where you have to switch out your feather for some boots and then over to a power bracelet and whoops there’s an enemy maybe you need a sword or some bombs. I hate pausing! A modern remake of LA would allow for mapping the constantly used items to constantly used buttons (what is even the point of giving Link a jump if it’s a pain in the ass to use?), and then maybe an island filled with pegasus blocks would be less than annoying. Link’s Awakening was always a shining rupee in the Zelda crown, but some QOL improvements could make it pretty amazing.

And they did! Link’s Awakening: Switch Because Apparently Subtitles for Subtitles Are For Nerds is a pretty amazing experience. The graphics are adorable and appropriately “just wrong enough” for a dream world, the music (mostly) captures the original haunting isolation of LA’s best tunes, and, yes Virginia, there is an excellent control redux. None of it is absolutely perfect (Roc’s Feather should simply be a permanent RT, and why I can’t use the damn cross-pad is some Phantom Hourglass-level nonsense), but this is indisputably the best version of one of the best Zeldas available. It’s a joy to play, and revisiting sunny Koholint is a welcome change of pace from Link’s usually dour dungeons (or that one Hyrule that is not doing great).

So what’s the problem? If I had to put a point on it, I’d say it’s the ending:

GOOD END

The finale of the original Link’s Awakening was something I saw a billion times. LA was one of my few Gameboy games, and I played the living hell out of it through a Super Gameboy. When I was finally allowed my first actual Gameboy, I reamed every last bit of gameplay out of that gray goober. I must have beaten that game literally hundreds of times, and I must have seen “Seagull Marin” about 80% of those times (hey, I didn’t know dying was a bad thing when I was a kid). And, no matter how many times I beat Link’s Awakening, it always made me sad. Marin was gone forever, and, as the years went on, I was only ever reminded that Marin would never return. She was dreamstuff in the first place, and to the shores of The Dreaming she would always return. Sorry, Bob, time to move on to other adventures.

But Link’s Awakening Switch stirs a different feeling in me. That feeling? “Oh, there she is again.”

For a solid two decades, Marin was nowhere to be found. Then, in 2015 (or so), she rolled on in…

BAD END

Yes, she appeared in Link’s sexual awakening, but she was back! There was much rejoicing!

Now, four years later, she’s back in the remake of Link’s Awakening. And now when I see her ending, I don’t feel the same melancholy as before. I experience the unmistakable sensation of “wonder what she’s going to do next for Nintendo?” We saw Hyrule Warriors DLC, so will she be in the inevitable sequel? How about an amiibo? Maybe Nintendo will take the Link Between Worlds route and make an outright Link’s Awakening 2: Koholint Boogaloo. Regardless of future plans, this is less a downhearted finale, and now more Marin isn’t going to be gone forever ever again, dear player, and here’s a little reminder.

FLAP FLAPAnd, yes, it is entirely possible I’m just being cynical about this whole situation. Link’s Awakening: Switches Get Stiches was an amazing game, and I really shouldn’t be complaining about it because Nintendo has an overzealous marketing department. But, on the other hand, I do have to turn the game off. And when I do, I see Cloud Strife advertising his latest adventure (which is the same adventure, but maybe different[?]), Disney advertising their latest live action remake of a beloved cartoon from my childhood (probably The Rescuers Down Under this week), and freaking Boo Berry returning to store shelves because nostalgia even sells breakfast-themed sugar snacks. It’s a little bit hard to believe that Nintendo is going to let any part of Link’s Awakening “rest” when I’ve got seventeen different Link amiibos staring back at me. Come to think of it, the LA Link on the official Nintendo Amiibo website is listed as part of the “Series: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening”. So I’ve got a general idea where that phrasing is going…

Yes, I’m actually complaining about more content being provided from a franchise/game that I deeply enjoy. Yes, this sounds like the most first of first world problems. But stories should be allowed to end. Endings should be allowed to be sad without tacking on an ellipse and a question mark. Or, at the very least, I should be allowed to enjoy a piece of media without being reminded it’s just one cog in an unstoppable machine meant to grind me down until I am simply blood and an open wallet. The nostalgia advertised for so many of these projects is less dopamine and more poison when the threat of further, costly adventures is on the horizon.

I’m just an old man complaining, but I’m old enough to remember when a Zelda game ended, it meant it ended. Forever.

FGC #459 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

  • System: Nintendo Switch. I reserve the right to review the original at some point in the next 100 FGC articles.
  • Number of players: Does dungeon sharing count? Let’s just say one.
  • SpicyGravediggin’: Oh yeah, the big, new content for Link’s Awakening is Dampé providing a “build a dungeon” area. It’s… kind of weird to have a “real” Hyrule inhabitant on Koholint. Regarding the actual dungeon building, I want to say this might have been better received if it was touted as a “Link’s Awakening Randomizer”, and not a real unique dungeon creation system. The concept here is amazing… but in practice, it just winds up being random bits from LA dungeons sewn together. That can be its own kind of fun… but it ain’t no Zelda Maker.
  • Say Something Mean: Whoever is responsible for the load times involved when entering houses that are approximately six pixels wide should be forced to fight a flock of angry chickens.
  • Favorite Nightmare: Now I finally know that Hot Head, the boss of the final complete dungeon, is supposed to be a lava monster that is inexplicably only weak to the fire rod. There was a slight chance that high definition graphics would give some explanation as to why fire is vulnerable to fire, but, nope, he’s just a reject Fry Guy.
  • Favorite Mini Boss: Smasher demands that Link play dodge ball. He’s my kinda whale-fish-dude.
  • So, did you beat it? I certainly did, but I didn’t exactly get every heart piece and secret seashell. I might really enjoy this world, but I don’t feel like figuring out every damn fishing game that crosses my path.
  • Did you know? According to the official Legend of Zelda timeline, the same Link stars in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Ages, The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Seasons, and then The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. First of all, that Link has got to be exhausted by the end of his four separate journeys. But, more importantly, there isn’t an adventure for that particular Link after Link’s Awakening. This raises some… very solemn questions.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I might feel vaguely bad about it, but I’m not made of stone.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy Legend 3 for the Gameboy! Now we’re hitting some monochrome adventuring! Please look forward to it!

I can hear this GIF
I can hear this GIF

MKK: Nightwolf

Gather round, my amiibos, it’s time for a white guy to talk about race.

Assuming Wikipedia isn’t lying to me, Mortal Kombat (1) was released in 1992. That would be a year after Street Fighter 2, and well into the massive popularity of fighting games. It’s also about two years after the initial release of the animated series Captain Planet. Why mention such a fact? Well, because, for my money, the release of Captain Planet marks a certain point in human history: that time we (or at least Ted Turner) thought we could save the world by giving something a TV show. Representation matters, and getting ideas out there, through generally any means available, is important. However, the 90’s was a time when, fairly distinctly, people seemed to believe they could “cure” a problem by acknowledging it, and then proceeded to dispense many a back-pat in response to a job well done.

This guy

So, again, Mortal Kombat 1 was released right in the middle of this type of thinking. And I (to be clear: this is entirely the opinion of the white, male, mostly straight author of this piece) think initial Mortal Kombat actually did pretty well in some regards. There is one female fighter, and she’s practically a blonde supermodel. That’s not great. Beyond that, however, the rest of the roster includes seven humans (we’ll just go ahead and ignore the race of the Claymation monster man). Kano and Johnny Cage are, technically, the only kanon white guys. From there, you have a Japanese god of thunder, Scorpion, aka Hanzo Hasashi, of a Japanese Ninja Clan, and Sub-Zero of a Chinese assassin’s guild. In Mortal Kombat 1, the Chinese Liu Kang is clearly the hero of the piece (and, with his “shadowless” fatality, the only kharacter distinctly reinforced as “good” in the gameplay), and the descendant of the previous, Chinese victor of the tournament (that wasn’t a Goro). And Shang Tsung is the grandmaster of Mortal Kombat, at this point more “human Chinese man” than an Outworlder. This means that, in the original Mortal Kombat, “white” was technically the minority.

Of course, I say “technically” for a reason. Mortal Kombat 1 used real motion capture actors, and the ethnically distinct Sub-Zero and Scorpion were played by the same white guy playing Johnny Cage. Raiden was played by a gentleman by the name of Carlos Pesina (and I don’t think I need to remind anyone who played him at least once on the big screen). Liu Kang and Shang Tsung are actually played by Chinese actors… well… technically the same actor, Ho Sung Pak. And, if we’re not giving MK any latitude, we should probably acknowledge that pretty much everything from the original Mortal Kombat is just a Chinese/Japanese/”kung fu” pastiche, with a big emphasis on films like Big Trouble in Little China or Enter the Dragon. Mortal Kombat 1 has a cast that is not white-dominant, but it also is chiefly drawing from a white version of “Asian”.

Not Asian
Asian
(The same guy)

And, overall, Mortal Kombat has struggled with those same issues throughout its various plots. Raiden is a Japanese God wearing a Vietnamese/Chinese hat often portrayed to sound and look Caucasian. Liu Kang continued to be the hero of the piece, right up until he was killed and replaced by Chinese guy named for the Japanese word for “protagonist”. When Liu Kang was killed (again) in Mortal Kombat 9, the new timeline predominantly followed the adventures of the pretty, blonde (Cage) family until Liu Kang decided to be alive again. And Sub-Zero was confirmed Chinese when wearing a mask, but wound up white as a country club by his unmasking in Mortal Kombat 3. He seems to have regained some Asian features in time for Mortal Kombat 11, but it’s been a bumpy road getting there.

What’s my point in all this? Well, it seems like Mortal Kombat tries to be inclusive… but it’s still helmed by a bunch of dudes (inevitably dudes) that see Japan and China as generically “The Far East”. Korean, Filipino, or Indian people might as well not exist, we’re just looking at the “Asians” that can throw mean roundhouses. Basically, this might be a franchise that features a Chinese world savior more often than not, but he’s also palling around with a white god with a Japanese(ish) name.

I mean, at least he isn’t just Thor again…

Chop!

But that white god wasn’t available for Mortal Kombat 3. The invasion of Shao Kahn shut Raiden out of Earthrealm, so we needed a whole new lightning guy. And who should answer the call but our new Native American friend, Nightwolf.

Nightwolf is one of the many Native American fighters to pop up in fighting games. This general era also birthed Thunder Hawk of Super Street Fighter 2, Chief Thunder of Killer Instinct, Wolf Hawkfield of Virtua Fighter, and the extremely confusing and not thunder/wolf themed Michelle Chang of Tekken. Basically, if you had a popular fighting game franchise, you were going to wind up with at least one Native American character. And, to this trend’s credit, none of these fighters were overtly offensive nonsense like Chief Scalpem. On the other hand, the majority of them were fairly generic in their histories and motivations. Usually, someone has been kidnapped or turned into a robot or something, and it’s up to Chief Big Dude to roll in and represent his proud tribe in a fighting tournament. Thunder and mystical birds are generally somehow involved, and, in the end, the tribe/land/person is saved or avenged or whatever. Pretty pat story.

At the very least, Nightwolf is about a thousand times more competent than his contemporaries. Shao Kahn invades the planet, and Nightwolf uses his mystical powers to enshrine his tribe and his people. When literally the whole world is metaphorically/temporarily killed by Shao Kahn, Nightwolf winds up leading the only functioning society on the planet. That’s pretty great! And, in expanded versions of Mortal Kombat 3 (basically, versions of the kanon where the whole invasion didn’t take like a few hours), Nightwolf becomes a sort of leader for the warriors of Earth, too, as Raiden is unavailable, the rest of the fighters aren’t exactly strategists, and Nightwolf is one of the few people that has any idea what is going on. In short, rather than being some simple “I fight for my people” Native American archetype, Nightwolf becomes instantly integral in his debut appearance.

…. And then he doesn’t appear again for years.

Goth!

Okay, so here is where things get really culturally dicey. It’s pretty clear that, in the wake of the “woke 90’s”, a lot of companies seemed… I would say ashamed of their various token characters. The whole “Native American Warrior” seemed to die down as a general “thing” that was happening, and these characters were generally dropped from future titles (or, in Killer Instinct’s case, there were no future titles). In the event they survived to see other releases, they were not really integrated into the greater plots, and were simply there to be “the strong guy” or “the one with the really complicated inputs”. Basically, T. Hawk was never going to be the next Ryu. Or even the next Blanka…

When Nightwolf finally returned in Mortal Kombat: Deception, he actually had a germane place in the plot. Once again, Raiden was out of commission (having just exploded), and now Liu Kang was pushing up daisies by being a reanimated, murderous corpse that generally did not care for flowers. Thus, the forces of good were kind of down to the B-Team, and Nightwolf was one of the few kharacters to be consistently good in the first place. So they had to make him bad! Kinda! Nightwolf decided he would become a “sin eater”, devour the maliciousness of his tribe, become goth, and use that power to bind the nefarious (and otherwise infinitely revivable) Dragon King to Hell. This was successful, and, while Nightwolf expected to be trapped in the Netherrealm with Onaga, he was guided back to Earth/life by his spirit animal, a wolf. Then, since Nightwolf was doing pretty good with his magic powers, he spent MK: Armageddon sewing Liu Kang’s rotting body and blessed soul back together. Way to go, Nightwolf!

Chop!

Except… well, this is all very similar to the “Far East” nonsense we see with some of the other characters from other cultures. For one thing, while the concept appears in many myths dating back to the Aztecs, the “Sin-Eater” as is described in Nightwolf’s tale (and the fact that it is literally called a “Sin-Eater”) is a predominantly Western Civilization invention that generally circles around medieval Christian practices (you can see the connection between Jesus Christ [The Walking Dead, Xenosaga] and the concept). And then Nightwolf using generically magical powers to manipulate souls and follow “spirit animals”… it’s not really something that belongs to any particular culture, it’s just identifying that Native Americans can be spiritual, and transforming that into “they’re wizards”. In short: good try on making Nightwolf relevant, Mortal Kombat, but you just made the poor guy an incredibly specific stereotype. Again.

Nightwolf returns in Mortal Kombat 9, where it is revealed that he participated in the first Mortal Kombat tournament for unknown reasons (not that there’s a mystery, simply no one cares to explain), and gets knocked out by Scorpion almost immediately. He regains consciousness just in time for Mortal Kombat 3 redux, and seems to, again, work as the driving force behind marshaling the forces of good during Shao Kahn’s invasion. He defeats and kills Noob Saibot (as much as you can kill an undead wraith that is going to come back in two games anyway), but is then murdered with the rest of the good guys during Sindel’s assault. Unlike his buddies, Nightwolf goes out pulling off the ol’ Raiden kamikaze attack, and is arguably responsible for the defeat of Sindel. The end result was that both fighters became Quan Chi’s all-purpose zombies and Mortal Kombat 11 DLC, which is not the best of fates.

And that’s about that for Nightwolf. He’s the only Native American with a name in the Mortal Kombat universe (there are literally more “last of their kind” lizard people on the roster), and he’s a good wizard. Native Americans are magic. Got it.

Next time: I promise to make the robots funny.