Monthly Archives: February 2016

Xenosaga Episode I Part 13: Memory Lane

Previously on Xenosaga: The Kukai Foundation stands accused, and their only hope is Shion performing a routine procedure to grab some recorded data off KOS-MOS’s hard drive. Because this is Xenosaga, the future equivalent of popping in a USB stick breaks all of time and space and pulls everyone into… Something. Somewhere? Somewhen?

We now resume our freakout already in progress, with Shion a little confused about what’s happening.

Here’s Shion and her dad. It’s good to see sweater vests last another 2,000 years.

Kiddy Shion wants to visit mom, but that’s going to have to wait. Is mommy sick?

Adult Shion is paralyzed at this entire encounter. Frankly, I don’t blame her. Right brain wants to give everybody a hug, left/scientist brain is worried about the space time continuum. We’ve all been there.

Hey, when did you get here? Red is chilling on a nearby slide, and narrating childhood suffering.

“Hey! Eyes over here, Shion. Don’t get distracted by your silly, traumatic past.”

Yes! We’re finally going to get some answers! Guys! Answers! This is going to be great!

FGC #100 Spectacular!

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the historic 100th Fustian Game Challenge Entry.

For no greater reason than I’m enjoying this, I do plan on continuing the FGC for the foreseeable future, but, considering how numbers work, there will never be a 100th Entry ever again. Try as I might, I do doubt that I will ever hit 1,000, so this momentous occasion is likely the last time an entire column will be added to the FGC count.

I am excited and proud of this occasion, so, obviously, we must celebrate with a special “change in the rules”.

As mentioned in the previous entry’s preview, I have lifted all restrictions on Random ROB, and now, for the first time ever in the FGC, ROB can truly pick any game from my collection. Downloadable titles? Allowed. “Already have plans for that one”? Allowed. Games I’m downright embarrassed to admit I’ve ever touched? Allowed. Even titles I feel are completely played out in games journalism are permitted. Whatever game ROB picks, I’m going with it, because random is actually random for once.

And now, without any further ado…

Drum roll, please?

Random ROB has chosen…

FGC #099 Captain Planet and the Planeteers

The power is mine?Captain Planet and the Planeteers: the Animated Series is a television show that taught a generation about the importance of conservation.

Captain Planet and the Planeteers: the NES Game is a video game that taught a generation that conservation is impossible in the face of practicality.

While this may be a personal failing, I do believe that most video games turn their players into ludicrous conservationists as a matter of course. I’d claim it all started with Pac-Man, when carefully limiting your power pellet consumption was the difference between eat or be eaten, but it’s been an integral part of action games from Space Invaders (those poor barriers!) to Halo (I might need this ammo later!). JRPGs are even worse. Consider Final Fantasy 4: a third of your early game party is a seven year old child who just lost her parents. Were this reality, I’d have Tellah tossing every barrier spell in the universe on the poor kid, force the Dark Knight to dash ahead of every hit, and, on the rare occasion I let an attack sneak through and injure the fragile girl, she’d be guzzling (applying?) potions en masse until the boo-boo was all better. In actual gameplay, though? Suck it up, ya baby, I’ll heal you when you’re good and critical, we’ve gotta save our MP for that octopus. Don’t you dare drink that ether, missy. Ethers are for the final dungeon only. One of these days, Rydia, bang, zoom, to the moon!

If you’re anything like me, you’re saving the megalixers and dark matters straight through the final boss (“There aren’t any more monsters left, it’ll be fine!” “No! Precious!”), and consider it a personal failing to ever see an elixir, ether, or other consumable item count reach zero. Sure, I haven’t used a basic potion in battle past the first hour of this game, but I’ll be damned if I don’t have 99 of ‘em at all times. Just in case! My greatest failing is in the midst of my greatest triumph, though. I have practically memorized the NES Mega Man games, but it requires almost superhuman will on my part to so much as open the Mega Menu and pull out a robot master weapon and its “limited” ammo. Granted, like a lot of things, I blame my problem here on the Boobeam Trap, that nefarious Wily boss that requires a full stock of Crash Bombs, and taught me forever to be Zoom?leery of wasting dear energy, lest I be forced to grind Joe Mechs for ages. Whatever the reason, much as I love the Magnet Missile, It’s rotting away for any occasion that isn’t Hard Man, because what will the neighbors think if I (gasp) run out of energy? The horror.

Considering video games seem to teach conservation to the point it encourages hording, you’d think Captain Planet and the Planeteers would be a natural fit for the medium, even back in the day when we were only accumulating mushrooms. For those of you who missed out on the best children’s programming not involving radical cats Ted Turner had to offer, Captain Planet and the Planeteers featured five teenagers without attitude from all over the globe that each received magical rings from the spirit of the Earth, Whoopi Goldberg. The Planeteers fight a variety of Eco-Terrorists that are blitheringly insane, like Hoggish Greedly, The Rat King, and Tim Curry, who all have plans that go something like “dump oil in the oceans, piss off some polar bears, and then I guess I’ll conquer the world with greased up penguins.” The Planeteers are a bunch of failures, though, so summoning the blatant Superman analogue Captain Planet is an inevitability, and, after Cap predictability has a moment of crisis when he whiffs aerosol or something, he rallies and saves the day by turning into a hurricane, rock monster, or beaver. Whichever is most destructive.

While, yes, the show sounds practically indistinguishable from the likes of Power Rangers (complete with an advisor character that should, by all rights, be effectively omnipotent… but never seems to leave the house), the constant ecological message of Captain Planet set it apart from its contemporaries (and got real annoying, real fast). No, viewer, The Gun Showyou can’t summon a superhero to battle your villains, but you can use slightly fewer paper towels every day, so that way Dr. Blight won’t have any reason to mow down a rainforest. And while you might not be able to control o-zone holes, maybe try to turn off the lights when you’re not in the room. Could you at least turn off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth? All this and more was drilled into the audience harder than Looten Plunder drilling for oil, so by the time a kid had watched a week’s worth of Captain Planet, you better believe reduce, reuse, recycle was happening.

For all its messages, Captain Planet was a pretty good show for superhero hijinks with or without the Captain. While being a soaring, cyan superhero would be pretty nice, most of us would still settle for being able to control Wheeler and the flamethrower that was attached to his index finger. By all accounts, it would be pretty hard to make a Captain Planet and the Planeteers video game “wrong”. I mean, the whole five (let’s say “heart” is “holy”) elements thing was already an established trope in gaming, throw in some run and ring-sling action, and maybe a dash of Superman gameplay for bosses, and you’re all set. Game practically makes itself!

Alas, it was not to be. The basics are there, I suppose. There are five levels, and each is split into two sections. The first is always a vehicle of some kind, which plays, more or less, like a Gradius-style shoot ‘em up, complete with one-hit kills and endless waves of opponents. Sometimes there’s a distinct Zoomgoal, like chasing down a truck that’s attempting to poison our bears (or something), but generally it’s pretty straight, fly-left-to-right gameplay. The second half of every level involves summoning, and then playing as, Captain Planet, who, thankfully, seems to retain all of his superpowers from the show, including the ability to fly, punch, and transform into a fireball. Cap, mercifully, has a lifebar, and the general challenge of these areas is flying around NES-style confusing mazes to find (and punch) the villain du jour. The whole setup might not be my first choice for a Captain Planet video game, but it’s not as ridiculously off the mark as Fester’s Quest.

But there is one place where the game falls ludicrously short. See, practically every action in Captain Planet requires “ammo”. While you’re in the Geo-Cruiser (or whatever vehicle the games tosses in there) you’ve got full mastery of the five elements… but any of the practical elements are severely limited. Wind, for instance, grants you a pretty damn useful shield, but it runs out of steam in about the same time it takes you to exhale. Heart, meanwhile, barely uses up any energy, and it allows you to… occasionally inconvenience penguins. Oh…kay? Fire is practically unlimited, though, which is good, because it’s your primary attack… except in that underwater stage, where, for some strange reason, it’s completely ineffective. Hope you enjoy hurling rocks with all the effectiveness you’d expect from Geordi La Forge!

The worst, though, are the Captain Planet stages. Captain Planet has a lifebar, but that same lifebar is what fuels his powers, so good luck surviving when your every action saps your strength. I’ll admit, given how fragile Captain Planet appears to be during the television series, this whole setup is pretty canon, but it’s still an absolute bear to actually manage. It wouldn’t even be all that bad if Cap’s powers weren’t 100% required in many, many areas. While Fire and Earth elements are pretty much just offensive, Water element shines through these areas, as there are many obstacles, like generic sludge and radioactive orbs, that require Water form to Squishypass. Don’t have enough energy to transform because you’re down to 1 HP, though? Well, too bad, best just to kill yourself or pray that an energy powerup is somewhere within flying distance. Sorry, Planeteer, you didn’t conserve your resources properly, and now Captain Planet has to die.

That, unfortunately, is the moral to the children playing Captain Planet and the Planeteers. It’s not that conservation is important; it’s that conservation is impossible. I’ve never met anyone that completed Captain Planet for the NES… or at least completed the game without abusing a Game Genie for infinite energy or infinite lives. Conservation goes out the window when you’re cheating, and taking that lesson forward to adulthood is approximately the complete opposite of Captain Planet’s goal. Being good to the planet is hard, kids, so why not say screw it, cheat, and live a life that’s a lot more comfortable. It’s the only way you’ll achieve that all important ending, so do what you have to do.

This is Goggle Bob reminding you to save the world. Unless it’s difficult/inconvenient, in which case, you should either quit or cheat until it’s easier. The power is yours!

FGC #99 Captain Planet and the Planeteers

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. There are other versions, but I’m pretty sure they’re completely different games, so they’re not getting counted.
  • Number of Players: One. Sorry, five player, all Planeteer action is just a pipedream.
  • Favorite Planeteer: If you’re roughly my age, male, heterosexual, and didn’t have a crush on Linka, Mistress of Wind, I don’t want to talk to you. She was such a jerk to Wheeler! And that accent! What more could you want from a woman?
  • Do you still sing the Captain Planet theme song apropos of absolutely nothing? Yes, but only the part sung by the Planeteers. Good news: you can be one, too.
  • Have a Heart: Alright, I know everybody mocks the Heart power, but Level 4 sees the Planeteers using Heart to deliver elephants to stomp missile platforms into oblivion. Which would be more useful in a Final Fantasy game: Firaga or Summon Elephant? That’s what I thought.
  • Did you know? Speaking of Heart, Ma-Ti, the young, Brazilliant orphan with a monkey, was voiced by Scott Menville, who went on to be Robin, leader of the animated Teen Titans… and then Robin, buttmonkey of Teen Titans Go. Some guys just can’t catch a break.
  • Would I play again: Never. It’s a cute curiosity, but the game really dislikes the player, so I’m not touching this one again for a good, long time.

What’s Next? Well, according to the records here… yes… it appears the next FGC entry will be #100. With that in mind, I’m lifting all restrictions on ROB. Yes, Random ROB isn’t truly random, as, like I mentioned during the Reader’s Choice Challenge, there are some games that I consider off-limits for one reason or another. But, as it’s the occasion of the hundredth entry, ROB can pick any damn game he wants. What will it be? Well, come back for our next entry, and I’ll show you. Please look forward to it!

Poor Planet

FGC #098 Bleach: Soul Resurrección

Also: A Dumb NameMy name is Goggle Bob, and I have a problem. I am addicted to mad-libs character creation.

I’m sure there’s a better name for this phenomenon, but it’s probably lurking around TVTropes, and I haven’t gone back there since… the incident. Assuming no one has already done so, I’m coining mad-libs character creation as the term to describe, well, 90% of shonen fighting anime, roughly 60% of JRPG supporting casts, and practically every Power Ranger ever. Speaking of Power Rangers, that’s probably what I would use as the most obvious example of this concept. For instance…

The Red Ranger is strong, possess great leadership capabilities, wields a sword, and drives a T-Rex.

The Blue Ranger is smart, makes all kinds of gadgets, wields a tri-fork, and drives a Triceratops.

The Black Ranger is funky, can breakdance, wields an axe, and drives a Mastodon.

Et cetera forever. Yes, these characters are more than their component pieces (Billy has glasses!), but their cores can still be summarized with brief sentences containing a few variables. This isn’t a bad thing! In fact, particularly for children’s shows, this is a good thing, as it allows the characters to be almost instantly established so we can get to the real meat of the story, which usually involves fighting some pig-head creature. Really, you can squeeze a lot out of these “simple” dynamics (for instance, what happens when The Funky One tries to teach The Smart One how to dance? Hilarity!), and, while you’re not producing Sense and Sensibility, who cares? It’s a fun time for all, and it conserves time for the giant robot fighting time we all know and love.

JRPGs (and games with JRPG plots) are the biggest culprits in the video game world for the propagation of this trope. Where once a cave or fortress would be cleared by simply battling the dragon or a giant skeleton, Does anyone remember that happened?now every boss battle must be significant, which necessitates creating “memorable” bosses, which naturally leads to fashioning a posse for your big bad, which tends to include “noble strong man with axe”, “sadistic brainy guy with unusual weapon”, and “woman (that’s a personality trait, right?) with daggers”. Sprinkle in a few memorable outfits and/or hairstyles, and you’ve got a full villainous supporting cast. If you need a quick, modern example, look no further than Kingdom Hearts’ Organization 13, which, after firing those guys, decided to make a whole new Organization with the same effortless stereotypes but they’re all the same guy.

But the biggest offender of them all, no matter the genre or origin, is the anime/manga Bleach. Bleach, practically from the first moment, abuses basic archetypes to fill out its main cast (noble hero, serious supporting lady, “silly” supporting woman, strong guy, smart guy, whacky dad, mysterious shopkeep, ninja cat [redundant]), and then, after establishing the rules in a mundane “slice of life” environment, takes its “afterlife investigations” premise to Heaven, Hell, and everywhere in between. Along the way, protagonist Ichigo winds up having to fight every creature that so much as sneezes in his direction, and the “supporting” cast is filled out with… let’s see here… 12 Captains, 12 Lieutenants, 8 Visored, 10 Espada, another 10 lesser Arrancars, and a host of whacky Hollows that all have a thirst for human souls. And that’s before we get into the anime filler episodes! If you used a single chapter/episode to introduce each gang mentioned, you’d have a 52 episode season without even trying. Maybe you could use the second season to explain their collective backstory? 500 episodes later, you might get to the “important” plot.

Pick a winnerWhile it’s not quite that bad, Bleach revels in its overflowing cast. One murder mystery takes approximately fifty episodes because practically everyone involved has to be tapped for reactions, and catching the culprit of that caper takes another seven seasons because he instantly amasses an army of outlandish allies. Every hero, villain, and everything in-between has to have a clear motivation, backstory, special skill, and (usually) transformation, so what equates to a milk run in Ichigo’s world takes approximately decades of real-world time.

And I eat that slop up with a spoon.

It’s all because of the mad-libs character creation, too. See, the MLCC system has a major advantage over the more traditional “this is just the smart guy” style of filling the cast: it creates a pattern. In the world of Bleach, for instance, every character has a transformation of some kind. For the Soul Reapers, it’s Bankai, which allows the person to “release” their sword/soul, and gain an incredible powerup, usually something to do with their weapon of choice transforming or melding with the character. With the Arrancar, it’s Resurrección, which generally transforms the villain into a “monster form” that’s good for a few rounds. And somewhere in-between, there’s the Visors who can transform into a sort of Hollow-lite form that… oh, you get the idea. Point is, every character, and I do mean every character, has a unique weapon, weapon magic skills, and transformation that you better believe is going to be showcased before they’re inevitably defeated. Couple this with the fact that the featured good guys and bad guys will, in typical DBZ fashion, transform about sixty times before the grand finale, and you’ve always got a reason to tune in. Sure, the plot is SKULLS ARE COOLmoving about as fast as molasses stuck to a mollusk, but OMG you guys, Cell Aizen is going to achieve his perfect final form this week!

Bleach: Soul Resurrección is a beat ‘em up in the Dynasty Warriors vein, where you’re (generally) a hero attempting to knock over about a thousand mooks per level on your way to battle a boss that, for some reason, doesn’t fall over dead after five sword slashes. The challenge isn’t in the swarms of nameless creatures that are eliminated by generating a strong breeze, the “challenge” is acquiring as many points as possible for the absolutely deranged goal of seeing how many beings you can speedily kill. Wow, you slaughtered 300 sentient beings in three minutes! You’re a monster winner! Bah, Mario does not weep for goombas, and Ichigo pays no mind to defeated hollows, business as usual.

But what keeps me playing this murder simulator is not the action or the bloodlust, it’s that it abuses the exact same appeal as its parent anime. Like many games in this vein, as you progress through the story mode, you unlock more and more characters to utilize. Whether you unlock the character because you play through the story as that character, or if said character was the boss of the level is immaterial, what’s important is that you now have a whole new sword guy to play as in the challenge stages. Yes, Misdirected WooI just unlocked a murderous psychopath that wants to destroy the planet, but, oh boy, he’s got wings! Complete with the final boss unlocking as playable after the final stage, it’s obvious that this game knows where its sword is shined: right there in the character roster. Like the cookie dangling at the edge of the treadmill, you’re going to keep running in place in pursuit of the gooey deliciousness that is a completely unlocked player select screen.

And, like the parent series, there’s so little actual difference between these characters, it’s disgusting. Here’s sword guy. There’s serious sword guy. Oh boy, I just unlocked crazy sword guy while I was trying to unlock ice sword guy. There’s barely any shift in gameplay between these characters. There’s one guy with guns, and aside from that, every character in this game is just using melee weapons of varying length, and were you to tell me they all had the exact same “basic” moves, I would believe you. I’d take the time to discover the inevitable, subtle differences, but every stage is just “hammer square forever” anyway. And it’s abundantly obvious that the designers completely shied away from including the more interesting possible combatants, like Orihime, bulbous blind locust man, and that dinosaur dude, because they might require more than five minutes of effort for new attack animations.

But what cast there is all have different special moves and different bankai transformations, so I keep coming back for more. Ichigo, of course, plays almost exactly the same as “Final” Ichigo or “Entirely Clad in Skulls For Some Reason” Ichigo, but I’ll be damned if those ridiculous palette swaps stay locked away. What is even the point in being alive if there’s a Grim Reaper on the roster and I can’t play as him? I need to unlock King Skeleton right the hell now! No, I don’t care about the game being repetitive drivel based on a license that is, at its core, already repetitive drivel, I need to see that one dude hold a sword with two hands instead of one because that’s really important for some reason! Just hook it to my veins!

My name is Goggle Bob, and I have a problem with mad-libs character creation. I am not currently seeking treatment.

FGC #98 Bleach: Soul Resurrección

  • System: Playstation 3. That’s it? Seems like it’s been a while since that happened.
  • Looks familiarNumber of Players: Just one. You’d think a game like this would be ideal for cooperative play, but I guess no one wanted to figure out how to code those split screens.
  • Level Up: I normally despise leveling in a game like this, as, while it’s always fun to gain more strength, defense, and HP as you go, in a setup like this, the odds are good that your main fighter will be Level 70 by the time you unlock the last character that is just starting at Level 1. Go ahead and try to train him up to conquer the same stages, I’ll wait (no I won’t). That said, Bleach: Soul Resurrección does frame its leveling system in a practically copyright challenging Sphere Grid, so at least it’s fun to move around the “board”. I don’t completely hate it.
  • Favorite Character (in game): Coyote Starrk aka The One with the Guns. He might be the only real change in gameplay on the roster (maybe Byakuya Kuchiki offers a little difference with his dancing flower petal attacks… did I just type that?), and his long range attacks with sweet gun-fu movements make him my de facto choice. Also, I guess he can summon wolves? Or are they supposed to be coyotes? That would make sense…
  • I don’t wanna die: So, apparently, the afterlife of the Bleach universe either involves going to “Hell” and becoming a soul devouring monster, going to “Heaven” and joining the high ranks of Soul Society to fight previously mentioned monsters for hundreds of years, or going to that same “Heaven” and lingering around for centuries in a rigid caste system modeled after feudal Japan. Camus couldn’t imagine something so absurd.
  • Unfortunate Implications: All the “good” Soul Society characters use techniques that are in Japanese. All the “gray-area” Quincy (all two of them) use techniques that are in German. All the evil, soul-devouring Hollow/Arrancar use techniques that are in Spanish. I’m sure Donald Trump would approve.
  • Did you know? Tite Kubo, author/creator of the Bleach manga, has admitted that he just likes creating new and interesting characters, and isn’t too worried about the overarching plot of the series. No $^&%ing duh, man.
  • Would I play again: Unfortunately, yes. Sometimes you just want to recklessly slaughter the legions of Hell, you know?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Captain Planet and the Planeteers for the NES! Well, I suppose saving the planet is the thing to do, so let’s give it a shot. Please look forward to it!

Go ninja go