Tag Archives: capcom

FGC #493 Alien vs. Predator

Predator is gonna winNow let’s talk about the other kind of crossover.

Back in 1994, the concept of Ridley Scott’s xenomorph Alien fighting the Predator that menaced Arnold Schwarzenegger was a pretty hot commodity. We were still a decade away from the first Alien vs. Predator film, and… That’s what everybody wanted, right? Alien was a popular trilogy (I’m not being glib! It was only a trilogy in ’94!), and everyone fondly remembered Predator’s time in the jungle. These were movies that defined sci-fi features for a decade, so it would make sense that only a movie could contain the sheer enormity of their first encounter. Unfortunately, that showdown was going to have to wait, and, in the meantime, we had to content ourselves with comic books inspired by easily missable cameos in Danny Glover vehicles. But the early to mid 90’s is when things started to kick into high gear, as there was supposed to be a movie that never wound up materializing, so we at least got a novelization and videogame or two. And, hey, videogames are always great!

… Except when they’re on the Atari Jaguar. So we’re going to go ahead and ignore that game.

But Alien vs. Predator the arcade cabinet by Capcom was pretty boss, so we’re going to look at that one.

Little hot in hereAlien vs. Predator is superficially exactly what you would expect of any given franchise adapted into a quarter muncher for ’94. We’ve got seven levels filled with monsters and mooks that all have to be punched until they flicker off the screen. There are crates and barrels that must be pummeled until pizza comes out, and a powerup or two along the way that enhances your ability to punish pursuers. Every level ends with a boss, and, by the end, of course those “bosses” have become common enemies with unreasonable health bars. And, like some of the latter beat ‘em ups of the era, there’s a complete story, with text that changes according to your chosen hero, so there’s a tiny bit of replay value beyond seeing how differently everyone performs their jumpkick. It’s a beat ‘em up. It could be The Simpsons or The X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it’s Alien vs. Predator, so here are a few aliens instead of foot soldiers. They explode less. Have a fun time.

And, no matter the era, this is the crux of the problem with many crossover games: they’re only popular characters soldered onto whatever genre is available.

Back in the 90’s, it was the beat ‘em up. Shortly thereafter, it was kart-based racing. Nowadays, it seems every franchise gets a tactics game. It’s not Alien versus Predator, it’s Tekken vs. Mega Man. It’s Pokémon vs. Nobunaga. Even titles like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games take their all-star, unmistakably varied casts and boil them down to “this one is slightly faster than that other one”. Waluigi can outrun Sonic the Hedgehog! This is the greatest injustice in the history of videogame canon! What is unique about the individual characters involved must be boiled down to little more than a collection of relevant stats. Why? Because it would take far too long to flesh out complete “moves” for every participant, and then balance those skills against every other character in this crossover. So when huge, bulky Bowser and small, nimble Diddy Kong settle their differences with kart-racing, their differences barely register.

WeeeeAnd, unfortunately, this seems to be the standard for many crossover games. Fantastic characters from multiple franchises might be interacting for the first time, but they all “play” exactly the same. And that, objectively, sucks! Videogames are unique in that they can define characters through not only motivations or physical design, but also through movements and “skills”. Mario jumps. Mega Man shoots. Sonic runs. If you smoosh all these characters together, you can either find a way that jumping is effective against shooting and jumping, or you can simply give them all jetpacks and claim it’s a jetpacking contest of champions and call it a day (obviously, I believe the next big gaming trend to be jetpack racing). It flattens all the exceptional protagonists involved into an identical, unremarkable blob. Basically, many crossover games take a wonderful dinner of roast turkey, curried chicken, and garlic shrimp, slap all the dishes into a blender, and serve up a humdrum banquet of hotdog milkshakes. Even with perfect ingredients, a hotdog is still a basic meat tube!

So here’s Alien versus Predator, one of the earliest crossover titles in gaming. It may not be a crossover title between strictly videogame-based characters, but it is a crossover between two huge franchises. And, even if we want to ignore how badly everyone wanted to see aliens and predators fight back in the 90’s, you could even consider Alien versus Predator a crossover between three franchises: Alien, Predator, and the surprisingly well-defined “90’s Capcom Aesthetic”. The two humans starring in Alien versus Predator could have been Final Fight characters (and one arguably swiftly inspired both Resident Evil and Street Fighter characters), and, give or take a gun-for-an-arm, they’d be comfortable in any other beat ‘em up in the Capcom stable. So how do these “three” franchises interact? Well, the aliens are the persistent enemies of the game… but they’re indistinguishable from typical beat ‘em up opponents in all ways save their iconic visual design. The “facehugger” alien babies even operate exactly like TMNT’s mousers! And the differences between the “unevolved” Capcom humans and their advanced Predator compatriots? Barely worth mentioning. Yes, there are variances in speed or skill between the four playable characters, and every fighter gets a unique weapon, and there are a handful of “subtle” differences amongst the cast in things like firearm-usage… but they’re essentially interchangeable. The entire point of the original Predator film was that humans are at a slight disadvantage when combating an alien threat that happens to have advanced weaponry and the ability to Unpleasantbecome completely invisible, but you’d never know there was such a gulf in capability from playing Alien versus Predator. Apparently Lt. Linn Kurosawa has a greater “skill” stat than either playable predator. Does that mean she’s a thousand times more skilled than ol’ Dutch? And why couldn’t Ripley punch her way across a xenomorph invasion? Was it just because her stats were too low for anyone to hear her scream?

Is Aliens versus Predator a fun arcade game? Of course it is. It’s one of the best beat ‘em ups out there, and it’s a genuine shame that it was not available for home play for decades (well, legally, at least). But is it a good crossover game? No. It irons out everything unique about the franchises involved, and offers a smooth, indistinct product that is indistinguishable from any other beat ‘em up of the day. The gameplay of AvP is great, but it is gameplay that could be featuring Captain Commando as easily as Predator Hunter. In the end, the very diverse stars of these very diverse franchises only add up to “look at that thar alien”.

And an entire generation of gaming crossovers followed suit.

And when that happens, whoever wins, we lose.

FGC #493 Alien vs. Predator

  • System: Initially only arcade, but now available for the Capcom Home Arcade. You know that one, right? It’s that “mini console” that looks like a giant Capcom logo/arcade stick? I’m sure it actually exists. I think I saw it in England one time.
  • Number of players: Three simultaneous players. Why they didn’t just allow for free reign with a full set of the four selectable characters is beyond me.
  • BraaaaainsFavorite Character: Predator Warrior is the obvious best, despite the clear disadvantage of deciding to bring a pointy stick to an alien fight. Linn Kurosawa gets second place for being nimble as hell. Predator Hunter and Major Dutch don’t even rank.
  • But Dutch is supposed to be Arnold Schwarzenegger with a gun arm, right? Oh yes. Certainly. That is the eventual governor of California running around and pounding aliens. I wonder if Arnold ever gets residuals for all the videogame characters that aped him for a solid two decades…
  • The beauty of Aliens: Thanks to the attendant franchise, this is one of those rare beat ‘em ups where you don’t fight a single “generic guy” until around the fourth level. It’s all aliens until you kill the queen, and they return again later when it’s revealed that the big secret of the story is that humans are breeding their own aliens. Who would have suspected that humans were the real aliens all along? Or… something.
  • The ugly of Aliens: Unfortunately, the flip side of the alien army is that the majority of the bosses are just “alien with a new skill”. Spitting alien. Hard-shelled alien. Make space great again alien. When the inevitable boss rush occurs during the final level, you can barely tell the big boys from the lil’ dudes.
  • Bonus Time: There is exactly one stage where you’re granted unlimited ammo, and are asked to gun down every last alien from the back of a moving truck. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. And now I want an AvP shootin’ game (not on the Jaguar).
  • Conventions of the genre: A predator eating hot pizza off the floor never gets old.
  • Bonus!Did you know? Lt. Linn Kurosawa likely inspired Ibuki from Street Fighter 3, who debuted three years later. There’s a distinct similarity in hairstyling there, and there’s also the minor fact that Ibuki has a classmate named Sarai Kurosawa. There might be a connection!
  • Would I play again: Hopefully this arcade game makes its way to modern consoles, as it would be an ideal budget beat ‘em up for the Switch or PS4. I would spend five dollars to play through this again with friends. Maybe even ten!

What’s next? Crossovers continue with another game featuring humans and aliens playing well together. Please look forward to it!

WRONG FRANCHISE

FGC #491 Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

Dante!What’s so wrong with taking a hit?

Today’s title is Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, featuring the titular Dante. The creation of the original Devil May Cry is a long and complicated story that involves what was originally intended to be Resident Evil 4 gradually evolving and leaving the world of “realistic survival horror” and drifting straight into “a dude with a sword menaces skeletons”. Play Devil May Cry next to Resident Evil 2 or RE: Code Veronica and you might see some similarities between the gameplay of the titles, but there is a bit of a difference between the two plots and situations. Resident Evil is the story of fragile humans desperately trying to survive in a situation where science has gone mad and turned an entire mansion and/or city into a death trap, while Devil May Cry features a one-man army beating back the legions of (literally) Hell. Basically, this means that Chris Redfield has to fight for his life when encountering a herd of zombies, while Dante would have that Raccoon City incident wrapped up inside of a level or two.

And, according to production documents regarding what would eventually become Devil May Cry, “Dante” was always going to be a big damn superhero. The original idea for Resident Evil 4 was to make an action game that was “very cool”. The hero was going to be “Tony”, a man enhanced with biotechnology to the point that he was super smart and super cool and all the ladies thought he was the bomb diggity and the coffee barista always got his name right because he was so dreamy. Also, notably, Tony was supposed to be “invincible”. Obviously, invincible doesn’t play well with a game having any sort of difficulty, so this description of Tony’s abilities was likely just an exaggeration of his general durability compared to the average Jill Sandwich. Or maybe it was always the intention that Tony-to-be-Dante could take a significant amount of damage, as, by the time Devil May Cry 3 was starting, we had a hero that could do this…

Ouch

That’s Dante attempting to eat a pizza, but unfortunately being interrupted by the forces of Hell driving a few scythes into his abdomen. Dante is unfazed. He’s still walking. And he’s still going to kick every last living sin’s ass. And who cares if there’s a blade or two stuck in his leg? He’s half demon, dammit, he knows how to take a hit and still be cool. As long as nobody steps on his pizza, this is barely an inconvenience for our “invincible” protagonist.

And then the game actually starts, and Dante dies in about six hits.

Let's playIn the grand scheme of things, Dante is a pretty resilient guy. Over the course of Devil May Cry 3, Dante has the misfortunate of being hit by demonic blades, a charging, flaming stallion, and even the occasional rocket launcher (wait, are you hit by a rocket launcher, or just the rocket? I never thought I would have to know the answer to this question…). He can survive damage from all these traditionally lethal items presumably thanks to his resilient birthright… but he can’t survive much. I know I would be dead after one cutting combo from a succubus, so I really shouldn’t be judging, but Dante can really only endure three or so intense attacks with his default life gauge (and, even with upgrades, he ain’t exactly Superman). It’s reverse Final Fantasy-syndrome! He’s invincible through cutscenes, but during the actual action, Dante must die.

And how fragile is Dante? Well, he’s so delicate that Capcom saw fit to release an entire “Special Edition” of DMC3 that “corrected” how quickly Dante dies.

Well, actually, Devil May Cry 3 Special Edition doesn’t do anything for Dante’s vulnerability. He’s still not actually going to survive that many scythes to the gut. But, when he does die, Dante gets better thanks to much more frequent checkpoints. And that’s important! Even if you’ve mastered the general mook patterns by chapter 3, you’ve still got another fifteen or so bosses that cap nearly every level with unique patterns and attacks. And how are you supposed to know how Vergil Version Two is going to kick your ass when you’re encountering that opponent for the first time? Either you’re memorizing a strategy guide/FAQ, or Dante’s gentle ass is going to get beat, and you’ll have to repeat the entire level. And what’s the fun in that? Echoing challenges you already beat because the final confrontation is complicated and unexpected? Boss fights are supposed to be interesting! And challenging! But not immediately identifying a boss’s weakness should not be an excuse to send you back to the start, particularly when Dante can go down after a mere handful of misses. DMC3: SE corrected this abhorrent mistake found in the original edition, and you only had to buy an entirely new edition of the game to enjoy such a thing. Ah, the heady days before DLC.

That could have hurtBut whether you’re playing the special edition or not, DMC3 is constantly judging you for taking any damage. Literally! Like many games of the era, DMC3 evaluates your performance at all times. You’re expected to juggle multiple enemies and gain bonus points for SSStylish!!! combos, and obviously you’re supposed to grab every last pickup you can find, but a significant part of your rank is based on damage taken and number of items used (and the main reason you’d use an item would be to recover health, so they may as well be the same thing). So even if you survive every last onslaught and never see a dead Dante, the game will go out of its way to criticize your performance for not being completely immaculate. And your combo counter resets after an opponent’s tap, too. Want that S-Rank? Well, then Dante must dodge every assault from the bottom of the tower to the top. Good luck!

And it’s easy to see how this kind of thinking led to its logical endpoint: Bayonetta. Bayonetta was not conceived as an invincible bioweapon of a human, she actually is immaculate. Her entire personality is based on the concept that no man, woman, or angel touches her unless she wants to be touched, and her gameplay follows suit. She can’t so much as open a door without dodging lightning, so it makes perfect sense that you would be judged for not properly “being” Bayonetta and taking a hit or two while controlling the bullet witch. She personifies the S rank that players are trying to achieve, and it’s practically written into her DNA (or at least her playstyle in Smash Bros).

But Dante isn’t Bayonetta. Dante is a meathead that can’t figure out what to name his business until some lady says the corniest line in history. Dante is a dumbass that saves the whole of humanity almost entirely because his brother dared to steal some jewelry. Dante goes to the Gates of Hell, and he didn’t even think to pack a shirt! This is not a guy that thinks too hard about dodging attacks that are beneath him. This is a Big McLargehuge that can soak a few bullets, knows it, and changes nothing about his lifestyle save confirming his aftershave doesn’t distinctly remind him of gunfire. Or maybe he markedly goes for that smoky scent? Regardless! Dante is a man who knows that he can take a hit or two, but his gameplay punishes you for daring to live Dante’s life like Dante. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff! Like a knife in his back! If it’s a small knife!

OuchAnd, ultimately, what would be the harm in playing a game where you are Superman? This isn’t to say you should be invulnerable at all times in all games, but what would be the issue with offering a “Dante must have a fun time” mode to compliment the seven different variations on hard mode offered in your average action game? And this isn’t a proposal for your basic “easy mode”, this is a distinct mode where you’re ranked on how many stitches Dante is going to need at the end of a stage, and rewarded for it. Do you know how many tears you put in that snazzy red coat? Cool! Now you’re living life like an unkillable half-a-demon! Sssmokin’ (bullet holes)!

So what’s so bad about taking a hit? Nothing. Nothing at all, particularly when you’re playing as a hero that spends half the game getting slashed in the face (okay, maybe not the face, that’s his moneymaker). Not every protagonist needs to be Bayonetta. Let a few heroes take their lumps, and let the player be empowered by steering an “invincible” lead.

Or, barring that, at least let Dante walk around with a scythe in his knee. It adds character.

FGC #491 Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

  • System: I may have purchased this game entirely too many times. Just within my own collection, I can count two versions for the Playstation 2, one collection on the Playstation 3 (but also on Xbox 360), and now the Switch version. At least I didn’t pick it up on the PC!
  • GrossNumber of players: Two in very specific areas! Like, there’s that one boss fight, or that fighting style that is earned about 75% of the way through the game. And now the Switch version allows for two players in its endless challenge mode.
  • Favorite Weapon: I’m normally a swords guy (or at least a guy that enjoys some Beowulf punching and kicking), but I’m partial to the Spiral rifle for this adventure. It packs a punch, and I have literally no idea where Dante is storing that gigantic gun when it’s not in use. His coat might be long, but it’s not a anti-tank rifle long.
  • Favorite Level: The Belly of Leviathan is about the only time that Dante gets to get out of that musty old tower until the absolute finale, so that’s going to be my pick. I love that Temen-ni-gru has this wonderful sense of place that resonates with later areas when it gets wrecked or starts rotating around like some kind of Castle Dracula, but… it gets old. Give me Dante and the whale any day.
  • How about that retconning: Vergil being made into a legitimate character and not just a sentient pile of spooky armor was the best thing that ever happened to this franchise. And the fact that Verg is a complete dick, but a different kind of dick from Dante, is just a nice bonus.
  • Boss Rush: I normally enjoy a good boss rush, and I certainly enjoy a boss rush that allows you to choose which bosses to challenge all over again (and avoiding that damn Nevan battle is icing on the cake), but, that said, I have no idea why the doppelganger battle reappears immediately after headlining a stage. It wasn’t that difficult of a battle in the first place! Why is there an abrupt repeat? It’s reeks of filler.
  • I wanna rockA Sign of the Times: It’s kind of interesting to look at this game as an obvious middle point between Resident Evil and Bayonetta. There are a number of clear “Resident Evil camera angles” here and there across the tower, and some of the weirder gate/key puzzles seem like they would be much more at home in Raccoon City. But there is also an inordinate amount of emphasis placed on combat style, and some cinema scenes that were just itching to become QTEs appropriate to the Bayonetta universe. It might not be the same creators distinctly involved across the franchises, but it seems like playing Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry 3, and Bayonetta in order would give a good idea of game evolution across systems.
  • Did you know? Hideki Kamiya, the original director of Devil May Cry and the man who also directed Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and Bayonetta, did not direct Devil May Cry 3. But he did advise on Dante’s general personality and origins before scooting over to PlatinumGames. So, just so we’re clear, Dante was always intended to be a meathead. His daddy said so.
  • Would I play again: I always run out of steam by the time I unlock Vergil, and always intend to come back to his complete mode… but it hasn’t happened yet. I just keep buying new versions of Devil May Cry 3! So I guess I’ll play it again from scratch when we get the Playstation 5…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crossover time! For the next three weeks (or six entries, whatever comes first), we’re going to look at games in the “crossover” genre. Our first game? It’ll be the granddaddy of all crossovers. Please look forward to it!

Woof

FGC #489 Breath of Fire 2

BREATH OF DEMONS!Breath of Fire 2 is the story of Ryu, an orphan adventurer who starts out by rescuing a pig from a hungry old man, but eventually graduates to killing god. Pretty typical JRPG stuff. Though there is a bit of a twist on the JRPG formula here: god is bad. Yes, god is usually bad when he’s the final boss worthy of an assault of chainsaws, but, in this case, there is no question as to Deathevan’s intentions. His name is Deathevan, for crying out loud! And his “secret origin” is that he is a deliberate “scar” left by the final boss of Breath of Fire (1), and has no other purpose other than to fester, grow, and eventually wipe out humanity. The whole “god” angle? He’s no more a god than any other JRPG opponent, he simply set himself up as the head of a religion in order to suck up sacrifices. Though perhaps the same could be said of all religions.

So, yes, in the end, Ryu and the gang are putting down a boss monster. The end. They’re not killing god anymore than Cloud, Ashley, or even Mario (give or take Culex). They save the world from a creature lurking in the depths of the underworld, and return to the light of day to find a beautiful, appreciative world waiting for them.

Or… nobody notices they did anything.

They saved the world, but did anyone even notice? Let’s take a look at the world of Breath of Fire 2, and see if there’s a single person on that planet that would have noticed the death of an evil, wannabe god.

The not-so-good churchWe’ll start with the obvious source of all this trouble: Evrai, the holy city of the Church of St. Eva. Evrai is a small town attached to a gigantic, magic-powered church/fortress. It is the base of operations for the whole of the St. Eva religion, and, likely because they’re responsible for recruiting people to worship an evil god, the place is just crawling with monsters. And church services are led by Habaruku, a Lovecraftian squid dude that apparently kills enough people during services that his congregation doesn’t even bat an eye when a tiger person is struck down by unholy lightning. The whole premise of BoF2 is that the St. Eva church has been masquerading as a benevolent organization this whole time… but there sure is a lot of blood splattered around their base.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter anyway, because the party needs a friggen’ magical bird to scale the sheer cliffs that surround Evrai. If nobody is making it back to the home office, it doesn’t matter if the religion is obviously a death cult. That’s been working out for the Republican Party for years, so it would undoubtedly work in a world without videoconferencing.

Oh, and also related: Ryu blew the whole church, city, and presumably every follower in it straight to Infinity when he rescued his dad from a magical eyeball machine, so it’s kind of a moot point. The explosive end of Evrai probably made more of an obvious impact on the world than defeating Deathevan, but it’s not like anyone was going to visit that freshly smoking crater anyway. Package delivery was probably screwed up for a week, but then all of Habaruku’s mail started forwarding to Gate, and business returned to normal.

This guy might be evilAnd if you’re curious how anyone ever even gets to Evrai, there’s Bando Church, which supposedly takes the most dedicated believers to their grand home. The only issue? Bando Church is actually led by a skeleton demon that zombifies his followers, and then sends them out into the wild to be slain by adventurers hoping to gain a few zenny for herbs. Naturally, Ryu takes care of this issue through unrelenting dragon blizzards, and the one place on the planet that was offering direct flights to Evrai is also left abandoned. So, just to be clear, long before he discovered the secret truth of Deathevan, Ryu really did a number on church infrastructure.

But let’s stop focusing on the malevolent Church of St. Evan. The whole point is that they A. are evil as hell, and B. they’re infiltrating otherwise “good” towns and growing their followers. Ryu was inevitably going to wipe their bases off the face of the Earth (or… uh… “Earth”), so let’s look at some population centers Ryu didn’t completely obliterate.

I don't buy itWe may as well start at the beginning, so HomeTown is first up. This is the adopted hometown of Ryu and Bow (oh, I just got that), and it’s a surprisingly affluent area for a pair of street urchins. The only two rich guys on the planet live here, and HomeTown is also home to the only school, magic or otherwise, anyone will ever see in Breath of Fire 2. There’s a church, too, but it is by no means the center of the city. It’s slightly left of the center. But HomeTown’s biggest problem is the same as Gotham’s: the local Joker Gang is menacing random townsfolk, and it winds up being Ryu’s responsibility to stop their attempted kidnapping. He does so through some light genocide, and HomeTown returns to a peaceful life, give or take one of the two rich dudes turning out to be a greed demon. But it’s not like the townsfolk care about such a thing. The wealthy always have strange hobbies.

The director of HRThough if we’re talking about strange hobbies, we may as well hit Coursair. Coursair is home to a coliseum (and, depending on your transliteration, the whole place is just plain called “Coliseum”), and it’s a town that lives for bloodshed. Violent battles are held here as often as the plot demands, and gigantic lumberjacks can roughhouse with catgirls to their heart’s content. And it’s all a secret front for that evil church to get people to pray. Or… something? Look, there isn’t a clear connection between “church that publicly is all about peace and love” and “thunderdome”, but somehow it all works out for Deathevan and Augus, the local two-headed wolf monster. Ryu defeats Augus, but it’s not like anyone knew there was deception afoot. The coliseum isn’t even closed for renovations after Augus’ defeat, so Coursair is going to be business as usual before and after Ryu’s adventure. At least Katt has a job to fall back on.

Dammit, momBut Coursair is where Ryu finds his horse-friend, Rand. And Rand’s hometown is FarmTown. FarmTown is interesting, as it is one of the few places that does not worship the Dragon God (good!) or St. Eva (bad!), but St. Namanda, an earth god. Daisy, Rand’s mother, appears to be the mayor (or… something?) of this town of horse folk (not centaurs. Never centaurs), and there is much concern about messengers from St. Eva attempting to get a foothold in FarmTown. Do they succeed? Well, they successfully forge Daisy’s signature (and kidnap the poor woman just for funsies), but that winds up being the inciting incident for Rand and Ryu invading Evrai and blowing the whole organization sky high. Dangerous blunder! In the end, Daisy winds up dead anyway, and it’s unclear why that wasn’t just everybody’s first move. I’m not saying murder is always the answer in real estate dealings, but when you’re running a death cult, it sure does seem like a viable option. Regardless, thanks to a shakeup-by-swordpoint in St. Eva management, FarmTown’s church never gets built, and the residents probably just went ahead and anointed Rand as Daisy’s successor, anyway. Back to plowing the fields, Shell Clan, the rest of the world needs you to drop turnip prices.

Thanks, RayAnd speaking of places where the church has meddled (and everyone got over it), Capitan seems to be home to one of the few actually successful St. Eva operations. This tiny village has a well full of monsters (mostly of the face-hugging variety, which never ends well), and Ryu assists Ray Bradoc, a priest of St. Eva, in saving the town. And that’s pretty great! Ray has magical powers that are generally divine in nature (even if they originate from a slightly different god), and his helpfulness and heroism is clear for all the townsfolk to see. He’s a good guy! St. Eva must be full of good guys! And if he wasn’t literally the only good guy to ever be associated with St. Eva, he might trick our good guys, too. Unfortunately, Capitan doesn’t seem to have any particularly exciting plans for Capitan: they’ve already got a church, and there are, like, nine people living in town, so building another church just seems gauche. Maybe there was some blank that was to be filled in later on this plan before the “profit” step, but it sure seems like all we’ve got here is a well full of dead monsters. One way or another, that’s not going to put a crimp in the average villager’s day. Well… until they die of the magical equivalent of lead poisoning, at least.

Nothing going on hereAnd speaking of terrible plans, it seems like the bad church has a number of bizarre irons in the fire. Is the traveling circus sowing discord by showing children turtles? Is Whale Cape’s titular whale frozen in rock so the local children can keep selling disgusting cakes? Does Guntz, home to the Iron Ogre Clan, not have anything to do with anything, so why even bother? St. Eva has one clear goal: gain more followers. How is trapping a grass man in a cage or threatening some dolphins going to help achieve that? Who knows, but it does mean there are a number of places on the planet that don’t even know they were ever being menaced, left alone that Ryu saved them from an evil god.

CroakBut maybe we’re not thinking big enough! We need to look at the real players in this world! We need to look at the kingdoms! Like SimaFort, a castle full of frog people living in the middle of a moat. What resources do they have? They’ve got a lot of cockroaches, worms, and flies! Is their national army powerful? No, they’re mostly just fun-loving, artistically oriented amphibians who would rather host a cooking contest. Is there absolutely anything of value in SimaFort? Well, there’s supposed to be a magically powerful sword in the basement, but, like SimaFort’s own Prince Jean, it’s very likely to make you croak. Regardless of having absolutely no strategic merit, Kuwadora attempts to infiltrate and conquer SimaFort through guile and trickery on behalf of St. Eva. Ryu defeats the fake prince via swords/vomit, and life in SimaFort continues on as normal, complete with Prince Jean wandering off again. At least the local battle princess feels better about the situation.

MONKEY FIGHT!And speaking of princesses, distant Highfort is being menaced by another usurper, Shupkay. This demon is taking a much more direct route, and has earned her position of leadership through leading the Highlander Tribe (monkeys, not immortals) as a general in many wars that you think you would see some evidence of somewhere else in the world. Maybe this is why the whole continent is a wasteland? Regardless, Shupkay threatens to take over Highfort through word and deed, and attempts to gain control of Highfort’s lost technology (I’m sensing a pattern here). This time, Shupkay is thwarted by party member Sten, who fakes his own death along the way because he missed two mortgage payments while he was out adventuring. It was the only way. Oh, and there isn’t a church or clergy to be found within Highfort, so no monkey is going to miss that meddling god.

Toot tootYou know what? Screw these Johnny come lately kingdoms, let’s look at the big boys that have been around since Breath of Fire 1. Now here are some locations where a Ryu made a difference! Like Tunlan! Back in Breath of Fire 1, Tunlan’s matriarch fell in love with the evil emperor, and the party had to commit a daring robbery to save a kingdom from the poor decisions of its own ruler. Surely, BoF2 offers a scenario that is just as thrilling and… Oh. Uh… apparently Deathevan made the queen fat. And I guess there’s a multipart quest that involves finding a weird old man, mushroom medicine, and eventually shrinking down and fighting Fatties hiding within the queen’s bloodstream. Huh. Apparently cellulite is the proper punishment for not giving the evil church enough advertising in your kingdom. “Cursed to be fat” sure is a moral everyone loves to see…

Fly awayBut Windia! There’s an old standby! And the Princess of Windia isn’t weighing down your sidequests, she’s an active member of the party! And there’s this whole, ancient prophecy about a princess being born with black wings, and how that will destroy the kingdom! And the king has been poisoned by the church, and he only gets better during the finale, after sealing Deathevan! So chalk this one up to a win for the party! Everyone in Windia is going to notice that the king is better!

Except… the party kind of turned the other princess of Windia into an unintelligent, giant bird in the quest to stop Deathevan. And, thanks to that prophecy, Nina was hidden from the public from a young age. So all the population knows is that their former future ruler is mysteriously missing and presumed bird-brained. And it’s not like anything was done to avert or satisfy that prophecy about Nina destroying the kingdom, so she can’t very well pop up in the public eye now. “I’m your princess! Don’t mind the death wings!” It’s not gonna fly. So, the king might be feeling better, but Windia has got bigger fish to fry when Nina flies home on her massive, avian sister.

And… that’s everybody, right? The whole of the world, and, at best, some towns maybe notice that the local church isn’t getting as much mail as it used to. God is dead, Ryu killed him, and life goes on. Maybe that’s the real moral of Breath of Fire 2: your chosen deity might be good or evil, but what really matters is what people do in their lives. Ryu changes the world not through slaying a mysterious spirit hiding at the center of the planet, but by changing the lives of people globally for the better. God can live or die, but as long as people keep making the world better, there will be good in the world. We don’t need change any more dramatic than that.

Oh, except in Gate, where Ryu smashed an entire flying town into another town in an effort to seal Deathevan forever. Those people probably noticed something had changed.

FGC #489 Breath of Fire 2

  • Tony the tiger!System: Super Nintendo, then Gameboy Advance, and now available on the Nintendo Switch. There was probably a Wii version somewhere in there, too.
  • Number of players: Ryu and his six or seven companions can only be controlled by one player.
  • Favorite Character: When I was first playing this game on the cusp of adolescence, I preferred Katt, as she was a woman that notably did not ever wear pants. However, as an adult, I prefer Rand, the big, reliable horse-man who can roll around the world map without random encounters. Any person or thing that can stop random encounters in this game is a godsend.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This was one of my absolute favorite JRPGs as a kid, but it is rough to play as an adult. The encounters happen roughly every three seconds, and it’s nearly impossible to get a sense of “place” in some of the larger dungeons as a result. The final dungeon is a nightmare, and I’m not certain I’ve ever determined the exact dimensions of the closing area as a result. That said, BoF2 oozes personality, and, somehow, you know everything you ever need to know about characters like Bow or Spar from like three dialogue boxes. In an alternate universe where BoF2 was a runaway success, people are still taking online quizzes telling them “which BoF2 character are you”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I want to say I got this game for Christmas at the same time my dad received the Queen’s Greatest Hits 2-CD set. As a result, while I can dimly recall any BoF2 musical track, what really plays in my head when seeing any screen from this game is likely Bohemian Rhapsody or Fat Bottomed Girls. I have no complaints about this issue.
  • Flowers for this jerkFeeling Bleu: Bleu/Deis, an immortal sorceress that recurs over the Breath of Fire franchise, is a hidden character available for your party. This is the only BoF where she appears but can be completely missed, and I’m still considering how I feel about that. On one hand, it is really easy to miss her “secret town” and then the additional unlock condition of scooting over to an area you’re unlikely to revisit again. On the other hand, it’s the kind of “secret” that, once you know the trick, you will literally never forget what to do (which is something that cannot, for instance, be said of the “true ending” conditions for Persona 4). So… I guess it works? Still, I would like to see more active Bleuing in any given Breath of Fire.
  • Favorite Shaman Combination: Jean the frog can upgrade from slimy little loser to handsome frog prince of destruction thanks to the combination of the Holy and Water shamans. He’s… still not all that useful, but he can randomly kill literally everybody in a strike if he feels like it. Not bad, toady, not bad.
  • The Sad Tale of Patty: Ryu’s sister is lost at the top of the game, and apparently grows into the “bat-winged” thief that the party spends like half the game tracking. There’s a really interesting parallel story there… and BoF2 never follows up on any of it in any way. This is the biggest reason I’d like to see a “Breath of Fire 2 Remake”, because, dammit, I want to know more about what happened to Yui. She could have been the destined child, too, guys!
  • I know him!Further Sad Tales: This is the only videogame I’m aware of where you can unknowingly, accidentally kill your own father. That’s usually slightly more telegraphed.
  • Did you know? Eichichi is the technologically savvy ogre woman that is essential to getting your flying town off the ground. Unfortunately, like another Capcom heroine, her whole name is a breasts-pun, and her original dialogue involves questioning her about her “dimensions”. And her full name (available during the credits) is “A Titi Efcup”. Capcom horny, Michael.
  • Would I play again: Definitely, but with cheats. Game Genie has a “turn off random encounters” code, and I want to say that would make the game about 90% more enjoyable. And I still have to try that “real” translation patch…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dig Dug for the Atari 2600! I was just saying I wanted to try Dig Dug again, and here we are. Thanks, ROB! Please look forward to it!

Big problems
2020 state of the USA in a nutshell…

FGC #481 Mega Man ZX Advent

Have a mega timeI’m working on a theory here, and it’s that, despite the fact that Mega Man 9 is one of my favorite games and possibly one of the best Mega Man games ever, it also completely destroyed the Mega Man franchise.

And it all roots back to the history and evolution of Mega Man.

In 1987, there was Mega Man. The premiere of the Blue Bomber saw a robot that walks, jumps, and shoots. When he defeats a Robot Master, he gains that robot’s weapon, and can use it a limited number of times as an offensive option. This playstyle continued through the “Nintendo Years”, and saw six NES games and five Gameboy games. There were many pretenders to the Mega throne, but, by and large, Mega Man changed very little on the NES. A slide here, a mega buster there, but it all still went back to the same gameplay that was established in ’87.

In 1993, we were introduced to Mega Man X. X was, figuratively and literally, the newest model of Mega Man, and came with more than a few upgrades. He could dash. He could cling to walls. He felt more mobile than his stiff ancestor. And, on a very important but oft-ignored note, X could charge his robot master (now “Maverick”) weapons, and possessed an even greater ability mimic his opponents. Simple Mega Man would have never gained the invisibility of Sting Chameleon (Invisible Man?) from a fight, but X had the option to go incognito and fire off triple shots. Finally, “Mega Man” had an avenue to enjoy the more complicated Robot Masters that had been appearing since Wood Man first rained wicked leaves down on the battlefield.

Generations!1997’s Mega Man Legends was, unfortunately, an evolutionary dead-end for the franchise, but Mega Man X4 (released the same year) allowed a complete Zero to costar with X (he was technically playable in X3, but he was more prototype than man). The Mega Man franchise always put a particular emphasis on distance and how easily ol’ Mega could be defeated by simply bumping into an enemy, so it seemed only natural when the franchise went all in on a character that had more of an emphasis on close-range combat. And it was a change for Zero as much as anyone else! Zero used to be able to slash opponents from a distance with an armbuster and flying cut, but now he was limited to a sword’s length for combat. And it worked! Many preferred playing as the up close and personal Zero in X4 and future X titles, so it was little surprise when it was time for…

Mega Man Zero hit the scene in 2002. Once again, we had two evolutionary paths, with Mega Man Battle Network’s action/JRPG hybrid gameplay first emerging to great acclaim in 2001, and then Mega Man Zero curating the 2-D action a year later. MMZ could potentially be seen as a step back for the franchise, as singular Zero was technically more limited than X in his modular attacks, but, as the MMZ franchise evolved, Zero gained an arsenal that would put any other Mega Man to shame. And right from the beginning, it was clear that the point was never to give Zero another seventeen variations on Metal Blades, but create a smaller, tighter gameplay environment for an audience that had literally learned to walk alongside the little metal boy. Mega Man Zero’s Zero did not feel like the same upgrade we saw between Mega Man and Mega Man X, but it did offer a new, more intricate experience for the veteran Mega fan.

Seems familiar2006, four years (and ten games!) later, we received another two “sequel” franchises. Mega Man Star Force was our upgrade for Mega Man Battle Network, refining the basic gameplay and adding very important plot points about dinosaurs being killed by a lack of friendship. And, on the other side of the aisle, we got Mega Man ZX, the continuation of the Mega Man Zero franchise. In this world, the wars of Mega Man Zero eventually ended, and the heroes of that time were skinned alive and could now be worn like suits. Don’t worry! They’re still sentient “biometals”, so at least X, Zero, and all their frenemies can experience the joy/horror of being a fashion accessory for centuries! And the protagonist of Mega Man ZX watches their own personal Obi Wan die, which unlocks the ability to mega-merge the biometals of X of Z(ero). Thus, the titular Mega Man ZX is born, and they’ve got all the powers of Mega Man X and Zero. Finally! The lovers are united!

And, while the whole conceit of Mega Man ZX could have just been an excuse to give Zero a decent buster, the game really does feel like the conclusion of years of Mega Man and Zero games. Zero’s greatest strength was always its focused gameplay… but this left the hero feeling rather limited compared to his ancestors. Meanwhile, Mega Man had a thousand options for combat (or at least nine), but many of his adventures seemed overstuffed and… Sorry, the English language doesn’t yet have a phrase that translates to “too top spin-y”. But Mega Man ZX struck an excellent balance: the dedicated gameplay of the Zero franchise was here, but the options available to X were also fully integrated into every level. Mega Man ZX could “be”, essentially, Zero, or transform into a more mobile air-dasher. Or a water witch. Fireball bro. Cyber ninja. The hero’s got options! And each different form wasn’t just a matter of a slightly modified buster, they all offered unique mobility options, too. In a way, this is what was promised back in the ancient days of Rockman and his ability to mimic his opponents after a battle. Or maybe that’s just what was promised by Ruby Spears Mega Man…. Still! Whatever works!

And it must have worked well for somebody, because Mega Man ZX gained a sequel, Mega Man ZX Advent, the following year. And it advanced the Mega Man formula by being completely bonkers.

Kiss from a roseMega Man ZX Advent eschews the typical mega-sequel plan by ejecting its previous protagonist right out of the gate. What’s more, this isn’t even a situation wherein the “ZX biometal” is immediately passed to the next generation or some other similar narrative trick to explain sprite reuse. No, the hero/heroine of Mega Man ZX Advent initially acquires the A Biometal, granting them the ability to wholly copy any given biometal or pseudoroid. What does this mean? It means you can play as the bosses! No more “got a weapon” or “can play as ZX-H” or whatever, you can just straight up emulate any given boss in the game! And it doesn’t matter if the boss “is too big for most areas” or “doesn’t have legs”, you can just turn into that fish monster on land if you really want to! Worst comes to worst, you just lose a life, so don’t worry about it. You’ll figure out that being a gigantic alligator monster all the time isn’t the best choice eventually.

And, while it demolishes the tightness of Zero to make some sections of ZX Advent unerringly silly (“Quick! Turn into the twin cat-bears!”), what’s truly remarkable here is how much the player is trusted with these unwieldy toys. Mega Man Powered Up had been released the previous year, and it did its level best to make sure all of the playable Robot Masters were balanced and similar so Guts Man could (technically) conquer any challenge originally designed for Mega Man. There is no such equilibrium here: it’s a known fact that half the playable “party” cannot complete the game from beginning to end. Hell, a fraction of that group can barely even jump! But that doesn’t matter, because you can switch between forms at any time, and who needs to worry about whether Queenbee the Hymenopteroid can fit through a particular hallway? Just switch! The X button is right there! The ring menu means pausing the action isn’t too big of a deal, and you’ll be switching over to the appropriate pseudoroid with a few button presses.

And being able to cycle through a complete set of “Robot Masters” really felt like what Mega Man was always meant to be. Mega Man ZX Advent was the culmination of a full twenty years of Mega Man games.

And it turns out it really was the zenith of the franchise. There was nowhere to go but back.

The secret bonus of Mega Man ZX was the ability to play as Omega, the super-powered version of Zero that was supposed to be his original, unstoppable body (long story). The secret bonus of Mega Man ZX Advent was the ability to control Modal a (case sensitive), which…

Pew pew

Looks a little familiar.

Model a was clearly a deliberate move, as the next Mega Man title to come down the pike was Mega Man 9, a retro title released in 2008. After years of Mega Man upgrading to match the graphics of the day, this was the first Mega Man title to fully embrace the NES aesthetic, and return to (faux) 8-bits. This was the first Mega Man to not try to upgrade old titles to modern sensibilities (like Mega Man X Maverick Hunter or Mega Man Powered Up) but take gameplay back to older standards while offering new and interesting experiences. But, retro or not, Mega Man 9 was an excellent game, and, while it may not have featured a “modern” Mega Man, it was the type of experience that could only be produced by people with decades of experience in the genre.

Which is great, because Mega Man 9 was apparently the end of any experimentation in the franchise.

CHOMPSince the release of Mega Man 9, we’ve seen Mega Man 10 (another retro title) and Mega Man 11 (something a little more modern). Aside from that? Nothing. No Mega Man X, Mega Man ZX, or Mega Man Battle Network. No Mega Man: Ultra Plus or whatever could have been next for the franchise. Mega Man 9’s success seemed to cement the concept that gamers just want classic, unchanged Mega Man, and that’s what Capcom is going to keep cranking out. We’ve seen about seventeen different rereleases of Mega Man 3, but nary a peep about Mega Man Legends 3.

(And, yes, we could blame this all on Keiji Inafune, the godfather of Mega Man, leaving Capcom, but that ignores the fact that we have Mega Man 11, and it’s probable there is a reason Inafuking isn’t at Capcom anymore…)

Was Mega Man 9 a good game? Yes. Hell, it was amazing. By comparison, is Mega Man ZX Advent a bad game? Well, it’s not bad, but it is very sloppy compared to Mega Man 9 (or even Mega Man Zero 4). But it’s a lot of fun, and its experimental side is arguably what Mega Man fans have wanted all along. But since even more fans simply wanted good ol’ Mega Man, Mega Man 9 was the end of the franchise’s 20 years of experimentation. Mega Man 12 may be allowed to have a gimmick or two, but it better be the OG Mega Man, or it ain’t getting greenlit.

Mega Man 9 is my favorite game that murdered its own franchise’s creativity.

And Mega Man ZX Advent is my favorite game where you can play as Bifrost the Crocoroid.

FGC #481 Mega Man ZX Advent

  • System: Nintendo DS initially, and now available for PS4/Switch via the Mega Man Zero/ZX Collection. This game was actually chosen by Random ROB a while ago, but I decided to hold off for the modern collection. And it’s good!
  • Rock out!So you spent an entire article bitching how Capcom ignores the experimental Mega Man titles, and they just released one of the experimental Mega Man titles? Yes. Shut-up.
  • Number of players: Grey or Ashe, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Pseudoroid: Vulturon the Condoroid is a heavy metal vulture that summons robot zombies and flies through the air strumming his murderous electric guitar. Just… just how are you supposed to compete with that? Block Man can’t touch that with a ten foot block.
  • Second Runner-Up: But all of the pseudoroids are amazing in this game. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to just phone in a number of Robot Masters that are all basic variations on a theme (like the Guardian Quartet), but we’ve got giant bees dragging around enormous hives and twin dog monsters and Metal Sonic and… Well, the list goes on for a while.
  • Say something mean: The empty rooms that can be uncovered but won’t activate until you speak to the right random Ranger to initiate a sidequest are the absolute worst. The fact that there are like 50 “golden skulltula”-style monsters to hunt down, and the quest giver is tucked away in one of the final levels is somehow even beyond the absolute worst. Some kind of… Mega Worst.
  • An end: Complete with the secret ending, the finale of Mega Man ZX Advent sets up a sequel featuring evil biometals, a turncoat leader, and an uncertain future that we know will culminate with Tron Bonne running around a sunken world. But what happens next? Who knows! Like Mega Man Legends, this branch of the Mega Man franchise never made it to a full trilogy, so here we sit waiting for more.
  • BUZZ!Did you know? Chronoforce the Xiphosuroid, the horseshoe crab-looking pseudoroid that can control time, is named for the Xiphosura order, which includes the Tachypleus tridentatus aka kabutogani. And that’s where we get the name for the Pokémon, kabuto.
  • Would I play again: Did I mention I like playing as the giant crocodile monster? Because I very much enjoy playing as the giant crocodile monster.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gradius V for the Playstation 2! Keep your options open, Vic! Please look forward to it!