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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 #442 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

BLOOD!Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night reminded me why I actually enjoy my favorite genre.

We live in confusing times. Just a few years back, it seemed like it was easy to define the direction of gaming. AAA was king, and, if anyone was “involved” in videogames, they knew that the next big thing was inevitably a franchise with intense graphics, open-world sandbox gameplay, and RPG-like elements. Or… something. Look, what’s important is that every gaming news site out there was telling us that the hottest titles available all cost the gross national product of South America, required twelve craptillion hours to produce, and were available now for your Playstation X or FourBox or whatever.

But things are different now. It may just be my old man imagination, but it seems like the videogame industry has finally adjusted to accommodate both AAA games and less intensive, but dramatically easier to produce, “indie” games. (In many cases, these “indie” games aren’t independently produced at all, but it seems like such an unintended slight to refer to them as “budget” or otherwise lesser titles. Though one could suppose that the “budget” thing really is the biggest factor here…) Back in the Playstation 2 days, it was newsworthy that Katamari Damacy was a “budget” title at its initial $20 MSRP. Now, presumably thanks to the advent of digital storefronts and more accessible development tools, games that could likely be best described as “light” are available at $20 just as often as the latest release drops on the same storefront at $60 (or $90 for that all-important day one edition). This has had the wonderful side effect of reviving certain genres and playstyles, so “the arcade experience” has finally resurfaced along with other categories that include “pretty much Zelda” and “shoot ‘em up (without exploitation)”. And, of course, the metroidvania has returned to us. In fact, the metroidvania has returned to us in spades.

MEOWIt seems like there is a new metroidvania released every month (every seven seconds come Fall). And, like a sucker, I have a tendency to throw myself into about every third one that comes down the pike. I like metroidvanias! I have liked them since Super Metroid (“What about the original Metroid?” “We don’t talk about that”). And I suppose that, like a plumber that is permanently thirsty after an unfortunate detour through Desert Land, I am always going to be starved for more metroidvania content. I can’t even say that I will wait to finish one metroidvania before I start the next one, as it appears I am playing another metroidvania while I am writing this very article. Load times are writing times, people! I’m a very busy man, and I have to see that sweet 100% map completion achievement somehow!

But that’s the exact problem I had that I hadn’t realized until playing Bloodstained: Not all metroidvanias are about completion.

I admit that I have played a number of metroidvanias in recent years, and now I’m pretty sure that I played them all wrong. For an easy example, I can look at Metroid 2, Metroid 2, and Metroid 2, all games that were reviewed recently (“recently”) for this site. And if you look at those articles, you will note that two out of three of those games were completed and reviewed (“reviewed”) within days of their release. How did I do that? Well, obviously, I completed the titles as quickly as possible. Why did I do that? Well, that’s simple: it’s a videogame, it’s a challenge, and you’re winning if you finish the challenge the fastest. Yes, I can and absolutely will go back to “100%” the title, but I’m going to do that as quickly as possible, too. I noticed that door I couldn’t open quite yet, you better believe I’m going to come back later and nab every last expansion pack and powerup bonus. After I’m all done with that, I’m going to check a FAQ and/or forums to learn what I missed, and maybe review a few speedrun strats. Then, after I’ve seen my own fastest run through the latest SR388, then, maybe, I’ll put it all down, call the game complete, and see you next mission. …Which might happen about seven seconds later with a certain robot named Fight…

And Bloodstained taught me that no, you’re wrong Goggle Bob. Stop and smell the roses (that may or may not be expies for medusa heads).

Too hot todayLet’s address one thing before we go any further: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is by no means a perfect game. For one thing, the bosses suck in all kinds of different ways. Practically every creature has way too much HP, you see the same stupid patterns over and over again, and there is just no universe where certain samurai bosses needed “reprise” fights (particularly in light of the Boss Rush mode). I’m pretty sure I distinctly enjoyed, like, one boss battle, and everything else was either way too stupid/easy or way too frustrating thanks to stupidity/endurance. And I’m playing on Switch, so let me tell you about how, every once in a while, I am reminded of Super Castlevania and the kind of slowdown that I thought was relegated to games from thirty freaking years ago. Oh, and speaking of thirty years ago game design: there is the occasional bit in Bloodstained that might have been more at home back in Simon’s Quest, the infamous Castlevania title that told players to literally bang their heads against the wall. At one point, I (a person who famously plays a lot of videogames) was completely stuck for finding a solution to my current predicament, and it turns out the resolution involved talking to a random NPC out in the castle boonies. Why would I ever do that? Who knows, but I couldn’t see a single clue to lead me in that direction, so I was stuck randomly wandering all over the map.

And… I enjoyed that.

I didn’t know what I was doing, and I enjoyed that.

It has been said a thousand times that the appeal of a number of videogames and their associated genres (that is to say, all the games that copied the original title until they were defined as belonging to a genre) was always their level of freedom. Grand Theft Auto 3 is a title that was probably completed by about 25% of its players, but was somehow still enjoyed for hours upon hours thanks to all the fun one could have with a cheat code and a rocket launcher. Skyrim probably has something to do with terrifying dragons, but it is also a cheese wheel discovery simulator. And The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild allows for a Link that can ignore the literal apocalypse and dick around discovering tree poop for entire months. Freedom is the name of the game!

Another terrible night for a commuteBut “freedom” is something that is generally lacking in 2-D adventures. Mario might have been able to find a key or two in his 2-D outings, but those levels were still “courses”, not “environments” (and you could likely claim the collectathons of the late SNES era were Mario and others growing against their 2-D confines). And while there were a few 2-D games based on exploring, that entire perspective has always been about finding the next checkpoint or powerup that helps you to find the next powerup. There’s a reason that Metroid rewards you with its heroine in her knickers for a speedy run through Zebes, and totally ignores how you used your grappling beam to teach the etecoons how to love. The point of a 2-D adventure is not to “have fun” in the environments, it is to find the optimal way to move forward, to gain more skills, and then see what’s around that next bend. The fun is in the discovery of new areas and powers, not in simply reveling in the areas you’ve already traversed.

But when I got stuck in Bloodstained, I discovered that I actually liked playing around in this haunted castle. I didn’t have any new abilities. I didn’t have some grinding goal. In fact, I didn’t have a damn clue where I was supposed to be heading, or what I was supposed to be doing. But I was at least at the point in the game where Miriam’s moveset is more robust than your typical Castlevania protagonist. It was fun to play as Miriam, and, as a result, it was fun to revisit older areas with Miriam. It was fun to see monsters that had previously been a detriment, and were now a possible source for new and exciting items. It was fun to see old areas, and enjoy the ambiance of any given room in a capacity beyond just randomly hitting walls and hoping for a meat drop. I want one, too!It was fun! It was fun exploring the world of Bloodstained not for some overarching goal, but just exploring for the sake of exploring! Like some kind of fancy-pants, city-slicker 3-D game. And even if I wasn’t making any “plot” progress, I was still collecting a host of materials, shards, and experience from my unplanned sojourn. Even when I’m not doing anything, I’m doing something! That’s the sign of a good videogame!

And, ultimately, I feel like that is the source of the good from the “vania” side of the metroidvania equation. My personal theory for years has been that Metroid games are better than Castlevania games. Why? Well, if you find a Super Missile container hiding behind a wall while exploring Zebes, you can enjoy that Super Missile upgrade whether you’re at the start of the adventure or heading toward the final confrontation. Meanwhile, while exploring Castlevania (or… Igavania? Huh?), you might find a +1 sword hidden in a concealed room. But you’ve already discovered a +4 sword. Why would you ever bother with such a piddling weapon? Congratulations, you found the secret, and it’s completely useless. Why did you even bother exploring?

But that’s only true in a bad Castlevania. In a game where your every undertaking is enjoyable, then finding even the crappiest of swords is enjoyable, because you enjoyed getting there. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is such a game. Bloodstained is fun to play, and, in that way, encourages the player to stop and take it all in. Every movement, every monster, every gigantic severed dog’s head (it’s a weird game) contributes to an overall feeling that is bizarrely welcoming. Yes, Bloodstained predominantly takes place in a deadly castle filled with murder-beasts, but it also feels like Iga is inviting you to his magical kingdom (that incidentally contains giant werewolves). It’s fun to play Bloodstained, and it’s fun to be in Bloodstained.

Ante Up!I feel like that is something I forgot along the way. Through the portable metroidvanias, through the reimaginings of other titles, and through the current bounty of excellent indie titles, I’ve been focusing on “beating” these ‘vanias. And, while that is a perfectly valid approach to any videogame, somewhere I lost the simple ability to enjoy the moment. Stop, smell the zombies. and encounter a castle on its own terms. With an interesting moveset and environments, Bloodstained encourages exploration as slow and meticulous as the effort it inevitably took to build this kingdom.

Bloodstained isn’t a perfect game. It might not even be a truly great game. But it is a game that encouraged me to look at games differently, and that’s always perfect.

FGC #442 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

  • System: Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC, and Switch if you’re nasty. Vita and WiiU are right out.
  • Number of players: There’s some manner of multiplayer somewhere in here, right? For all I care, it’s single player, but I’m pretty sure there was a stretch goal somewhere in there…
  • Kickstart This: Yes, I contributed money to see this game produced. Do I feel that influences my own opinion on the game? No. Considering I am really terrible about checking any developer update emails, I’m going to go ahead and say my “production credit” is just an eternal reminder that I reserved this game way early.
  • Favorite Shard: Being able to manually “aim” Miriam’s hand is the perfect middle ground between your average metroidvania and Samus Returns’ continual aiming. And the best use of aiming Miriam’s hand is to shoot a bevy of True Arrows right at your opponents. There’s nothing finer than seeing a goopy zombie puddling around with arrows in its knees.
  • Look out!Boss Battler: It seems like the bosses that were most difficult in Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon have been converted to extremely easy encounters for this adventure. In particular, Andrealphus, the bird-armor thing, goes from the biggest bad to the smallest chump. Though I suppose a lack of pits really takes something away from the poor guy…
  • Say something mean: The entire first area is terrible. Bloodstained offers easily the worst opening I have seen in a videogame in years. Miriam starts off too limited, the areas are claustrophobic, and the boss of the area is just the worst. Did someone demand a really s*** prologue area? Because we got a really s*** prologue area.
  • Did you know? While Dracula technically doesn’t appear in this game, the ultimate impetus for the final villain of the game is very similar to the motivations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. So even when the count doesn’t show up, it seems he has an influence on final bosses.
  • Would I play again: I feel like I got everything I wanted out of this castle, but I’m certainly going to dive in when further character DLC drops. I will be returning to this magical land once again. Actually, come to think of it…

What’s next? We’re going to continue our Bloodstained coverage. Kinda. Next up is Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, and we’re going to play a little game of compare and contrast between the seemingly very similar protagonists. Please look forward to it!

Robin!

FGC #408 Emily the Strange: Strangerous

So strange“Why aren’t there any videogames for girls?”

… Is how a number of completely bullshit think pieces have started since the dawn of gaming. Which is odd, because gaming, there at the beginning, was fairly unisex. Aside from that one version of Pong that could only be controlled with a flaccid penis, the early days of gaming were practically genderless. It wasn’t Mr. Pac-Man, it was simply a yellow ball gobbling up dots. Space Invaders was maybe boyish because it involved shooting something or other, but it certainly wasn’t coded specifically to appeal to the dudes. Asteroids? Adventure? The absolute best of 80s gaming wasn’t squarely aimed at the boy demographic, and some titles (like Centipede) were even coded by women. Videogames weren’t male-based any more than books, television shows, or movies.

Or… maybe we should explore that for a moment.

I am writing this article having recently seen Ready Player One, a Spielberg filmed based on your childhood. And the great thing is that, thanks to some manner of cross (or crass) marketing, “your” childhood doesn’t just have to be the 80’s that were featured in the book, there are also Gundam (didn’t make it over here until the late 90’s), Iron Giant (’99), MMORPG (not really a thing until the mid aughts), and even Minecraft (right now) references. Heck, if you saw The Shining (1980) as a kid (because you have terrible parents), it’s appealing to 70’s kids! Yes, with its Battletoads, Mortal Kombatants, and Tracers, Ready Player One runs the full gamut of cultural references, so no matter how old you are, there’s something in there for you.

Except if you’re a woman looking to relive her childhood. There isn’t much in there, then. Uh… maybe some Hello Kitty characters… uh… somewhere?

At first, it’s easy to rationalize why this happened. I didn’t see any Transformers running around, so it appears Hasbro wasn’t onboard with that film. That precludes the big girl franchises like My Little Pony, Jem and the Holograms, and Pound Puppies. But there’s no Barbie? Come on, that doll is synonymous with childhood, and you can’t tell me the plastic ideal of womanhood wouldn’t inspire more than a few digital avatars. And when the “worlds” are shown at the start of Ready Player One, there’s a gambling planet and a combat planet, but you’re telling me there isn’t a single “women only” safe space area? Of course, there’s an easy answer to that question too: there is a planet of Barbies and Ponies palling around without any male-influences, but we’re not going to look at that planet, because it isn’t relevant to the movie. But doesn’t that raise its own unfortunate question? Why the heck don’t we care about what half the real world population is doing in this pretend world? And why the bloody hell is there only one piece of girl-aimed media mentioned in the movie (Nancy Drew), and it’s revealed to be a vice of the main villain?

MeowMeh, you know the answers: Ready Player One is squarely targeted at a male audience, and every second given over to exploring the extent of girly stuff in The World is a second that could otherwise go to Mecha Godzilla punching a DeLorean. “Girly media” is not celebrated in the same way as boy stuff… or at least, it isn’t monetized in the same way at all. Do we have Funko Pops of every Jem character yet? I know we do for every Power Ranger that has ever existed.

So merchandising is obviously key, and (finally) getting back to videogames, it seems like we might see less “girly” videogames as a direct result. Videogames may have started unisex, but, as the “mascot” character grew to prominence, more and more heroes were men, and more and more objects were women. Mario must rescue the princess. Link must rescue the princess. Sonic didn’t have a single woman anywhere in his first game. Mega Man has a sister that is unplayable and stays home to do laundry. Kirby is a freaking pink ball with legs that occasionally rides rainbows, but only has a female companion in one lousy N64 game. It’s easy to see how these games are aimed squarely at boys, with nary a thought given to that other gender that seems to be floating around. There are no videogames for girls!

But that’s still bullshit, because there are games for girls. They’re just games that are wholly ignored.

I hates mathsAnybody remember Kim Possible? It was a 2002-2007 Disney cartoon featuring the titular Kim Possible, a teenage girl that flew around the planet and saved the world through James Bond-esque spy maneuvers and the occasional bout of cheerleading-based gymnastics. She’d stop the nefarious Dr. Drakken, and then get home in time to crush on the star quarterback. This was a show that was obviously aimed at the “girl” demographic, but also had plenty of action (and an omnipresent pair of male sidekicks) for the boys. Kim Possible was a huge success, and won awards and an audience that was so dedicated, they successfully petitioned Disney to release a fourth “victory lap” season after its initial cancellation. Kim Possible even got two movies and an Epcot ride! The show was an unprecedented success.

Kim Possible also starred in seven distinct videogames across four different systems. Ever heard of any of them? Didn’t think so.

And don’t try to tell me you didn’t hear about these games because they weren’t any good. Who cares if they were good! You’ve heard of Shaq-Fu! You’ve heard of Aero the Acro-Bat! You damn well know we saw videogames for every show that was ever on Fox Kids or the matching WB programming block. There has been a new Spider-Man title every other year since the birth of time, and only about two of them have ever been any good. But you know they exist! You know you considered playing Rocko’s Modern Life at some point! But did you ever even notice Kim Possible and her multiple games? There were monkey ninja involved! You love that kind of absurdity, right? 2-D action platforming sound like fun? Or maybe puzzles are more your thing? If so, you still probably ignored today’s game, too.

I’ll stop ranting for five minutes so we can examine Emily the Strange: Strangerous.

Yay!Emily the Strange: Strangerous is a 2011 Nintendo DS game. It is, essentially, an old school adventure title. Emily’s cats have been kidnapped, and you must guide her around her world to rescue the felines and eventually… well, things get a little strange towards the end. Let’s just say this might not be the only game I’ve ever played that dabbles in multiple dimensions. Regardless, the basic gameplay is predominantly based on solving item-based puzzles to open new pathways (Sierra-esque “use slingshot on weather vane to change the direction of the wind” style thinking), and then solving actual logic puzzles to obtain the items you need. Every once in a while, there’s skateboarding or target practice, but, by and large, this is a game where trees inexplicably have three matchsticks, and you’re expected to do something with that information. And, to be clear, these puzzles may contain everything from visual puzzles that come off as advanced connect-the-dots to reason puzzles that involve the enemy of all mankind: basic math. Basically, on the system that made Professor Layton a household name, here’s another option for all your on-the-go puzzle needs.

But you’re not going to see Emily the Strange vs. Ace Attorney anytime soon.

For anyone that missed this bit of pop culture past, Emily the Strange started as nothing more than a sticker. She was a skateboard brand mascot. In time, she gained popularity, and became the star of a number of comics and books, eventually earning her this videogame. And it would be fair to say that this game is just a licensed cash-in on a mascot character that was popular at the time. Emily the Strange isn’t the next Mario, she’s the next Young Justice: Legacy. Her title shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Professor Layton, as, come on, Goggle Bob, why the hell are you letting this random chick property hang out with the clear successor to Sherlock Holmes. That’s high literature!

And it’s all bullshit, because it’s all… bullshit.

Wait, I can probably phrase that better…

It looks familiarSuper Mario defined gaming. He is the face of an amazing franchise that has arguably never produced a dud. Some of “his” games might be less enjoyable than others, but none sink below the level of “pretty good”. Well, except those learning games like Mario is Missing. Oh, and that CD-i title. But Mario is pretty great, aside from that! Well, save some surprisingly lame cartoons. And that one manga where he’s naked for some reason. And his breakfast cereal. No, not the one from the 80’s, I’m talking about the one with the amiibo functionality. And, speaking of which, why can I buy a plush goomba at the thrift store? That thing is the lowest quality I’ve ever seen, but it seems to have an official Nintendo Seal of Quality on there. Christ, they’ll slap the Mario brand on anything!

And how is that any different from a skateboarding mascot earning her own game?

Look, it’s pretty simple: girls need heroes. Girls need role models. And, more importantly, girls need role models that do all sorts of things. Emily the Strange is a teenager that enjoys skateboarding, gothic aesthetics, and cats. She’s smart. She’s capable, and when some jerkass kidnaps her cats, she’s self-sufficient enough to solve her own problems (though maybe with your help). Can you name one other female protagonist that fits all of that criteria? I know plenty of women that are goth skateboarders (or at least were before they had to be adults), but such a “unique” trait is largely missing from our national consciousness, because it’s never seen in our media. Girls are either only hot, smart/nerdy, perfect, or, on rare occasions, “the hippy” (and please watch Boy Meets World to watch one character go through each of those permutations). Goth is allowed, and “skater girl” is something you’ll see once in a while, but both at once? And throw in puzzle solving, so she’s smart, too? Are women even allowed to be more than one thing? Shouldn’t there be a law against that?

TUMBLING!So what does this all mean? Well, it means that we should stop asking where the games for girls have gone, and just start producing games with girls. And, more importantly than that, when a “game for girls” is released, we should give it the same fair shake that we grant Bubsy Bobcat’s latest revival. You or I might have a complete inability to produce the next great female protagonist, but we could at least acknowledge that Kim Possible, Emily the Strange, and their ilk, ya know, existed. Recognize that half the population has their own fandoms and interests, and join them. Let girls know that it’s okay to be anything, and not just a thin caricature of a male fetish. Let “girly media” be part of our national discourse, and stop acting like anything that might involve makeup is forbidden.

That doesn’t sound so strange, does it?

FGC #408 Emily the Strange: Strangerous

  • System: Nintendo DS. If this were a remotely more popular property, we’d see a PC port, as it’s practically made for such a thing.
  • Number of players: Only one girl can be this strange.
  • Defining Aesthetics: This entire game is monochrome with occasion flashes of red. This is always stylish, and it’s weird that the only other game I can think of that employs this style is primarily chainsaw-based.
  • Favorite Puzzle: Something about the lock picking puzzles just seem right. Maybe I missed my calling as a burglar? I should really look into committing more crimes.
  • So, did you beat it? I’m honestly not a big fan of puzzle games, so no. This is also why you’ll never see a Professor Layton review on the site. I have better things to do than measure hats!
  • Ulterior Motives: I just want us to acknowledge “girly” media so we can have a Sailor Moon fighting game as good as Dragon Ball FighterZ.
  • Actual Conversation That Happened When Researching this Article:

    Goggle Bob: Do you or did you ever skateboard?
    Queen Goth of Gothania: Yes, but not for 20 years.
    Goggle Bob: That’s okay! I just want to say with confidence that I know multiple women that are/were goth skateboarders. I did not have to ask you about the goth thing.
    Queen Goth of Gothania: Yup. That was me! Doc martens on my Chester Cheetah board.

  • PointyDid you know? There is a rich mythology surrounding Emily the Strange’s four cats. This is the kind of thing that happens when your main character is basically a crazy cat lady in training. Wait a tick… The very concept of a single woman living with beloved cats is misogynistic all on its own, isn’t it? Hmph.
  • Would I play again: Nope. Emily the Strange and her fellow female protagonists might need more exposure, but this simply isn’t my genre. The only puzzle I want to solve involves finding Wood Man’s weakness.

What’s next? Random ROB may as well take a day off, because I’ve talked about Kirby randomly during the last two articles. The only way I’m going to get this creampuff off my brain is to address Kirby Star Allies! Please look forward to it!

FGC #389 Super Mario 3D World

Mario!There are some videogame franchises I can “rank” without question. Want to know my order for favorite Mega Man games? I made that sequence my pin number. How about a comprehensive explanation of why Final Fantasy 10 is better than Final Fantasy 12? I’ve got you covered. Heck, if you’re feeling really saucy, I could probably compare and contrast nearly every JRPG that was released in the last decade. Well… not every JRPG, despite recent posts, there are some Omega Quintet titles out there that even I can’t stomach. But I’m pretty sure I could accurately compare the finer points of Radiant Historia to some of the nonsense in Persona 5.

And there’s a reason I feel I could perform such a feat. It’s simple: so many videogames are exactly the same. Okay, that’s a touch of an exaggeration, but the concept seems rather pat. After all, this is why we like videogames. I enjoy some variety once in a while, but I don’t want to have to spend the next three weeks figuring out a control scheme just so I can play a fifteen hour game. To again use Persona as an example, while there are many fascinating ideas and concepts in that franchise (even going back to the pre-Persona 3 titles), that entre quinology (not the word I’m thinking of) still boils down to “is a JRPG”. Run through dungeons, fight monsters, use the spells and attacks that make the battles end quickly, and earn new skills and powers as you move along. And that’s what I want! Sitting down to play a new game shouldn’t be a chore, and immediately knowing what to do gets the dopamine a-pumpin’. Haha! An ice dragon? I’ve got my fire sword, and I’m going to be feasting on frozen dragon gizzards by nightfall!

Here he comes!And, while that may make some games predictable, it certainly makes them a lot easier to compare. When every game has an obvious A, B, and C, then you can effortlessly compare those ABCs to each other. Is this Robot Master better than that Robot Master? (Note: every Robot Master is better than Toad Man.) Does this title have the better soundtrack? How about controls? If the interface is vastly improved from original to sequel, that’s going to make a huge impact. And the levels! The dungeons! Surely there must be a difference between lava caves. These items are the lifeblood of any given franchise, and it’s fun to objectively compare these matters until you have a vigorous understanding of your “favorite”.

And then there’s the Mario franchise. Trying to compare Mario games is… tricky.

While Mario has always appeared to be the All-Father of gaming’s most familiar faces, it’s a lot more accurate to identify Mario as the trickster god of the medium. Donkey Kong featured a Jump Man that could barely vault a barrel, but then Mario Bros starred brothers that could leap a third of the screen in a single bound. Super Mario Bros. was all about turtles and flinging fireballs, and then Super Mario Bros. 2 brought us a bounty of vegetables and shy guys. Ever seen a raccoon fly? Maybe a dude riding a dinosaur? Now save some stars in a painting! Or clean up an island resort with your water gun! Travel to the furthest reaches of the Galaxy! Or just hang out in some random city! Mario is, and has always been, all over the map. And that’s even before you get to the time his fat, elven twin tried to steal his private theme park. Those overalls might be consistent, but Mario’s gameplay is as mercurial as the T-1000.

Go!Given we had to wait for the Switch to see Mario scoot along on his own little odyssey, it would be fair to call Super Mario 3D World the significant Mario game for the WiiU. In an attempt to define this Mario, it is a sequel to a portable Mario title that had been released a few years earlier. Or, it’s a sequel to another Mario lineage that brought four player couch co-op to the Mushroom Kingdom. Or it’s the sequel to Mario Galaxy? I saw a Charging Chuck in there, let’s just claim it’s a Super Mario World sequel, and move on. What’s important is that Super Mario 3D World is a platforming style Mario game (not to be confused with tennis or racing or… qix?), and we all know what to expect from that. Jumping, running, goomba squishing, and maybe Princess Peach can float in this one. She can? Awesome. Super Mario 3D World is another Mario game on another Mario system.

But the level to level creativity of this title is insane. There are grasslands, icy mountains, and lava castles just like any other platformer, but there are also stages that are built around speed boosters. Or overhead “dungeons” that would be more comfortable hiding around Hyrule. Or serene beaches crowded with vacationing goombas. And the powerups! Items like the Double Cherry or Boomerang Flower may initially seem like simple, “here’s the featured item du jour” type forgettable powerups, but once you burn through a level with an unstoppable army of four Luigis hurling boomerangs at boos, you’ll be singing a different tune. And, while the stages may all seem like complete chaos, they’re all carefully designed, and work equally marvelously with one player as well as four. It’s bedlam, and correctly guessing whether the next stage will be a “jumping puzzle” or a hammer bros. gauntlet is impossible. But it’s all the kind of organized anarchy that can only come from a deft directorial hand.

And that’s Mario.

WeeeeYou never know what you’re going to get with a Mario game. 3D? 2D? Some… kinda of… time traveling… adventure… maybe? Doesn’t matter! What’s important is that Mario has the best, most consistent perfection average in the business. Want to know why I’ll buy every Mario game from now until the end of time? It’s because there is no “Mario Cycle”, no “nobody likes this franchise until the next title comes out” corollary to its reviews. Mario games are just good, and, even when they get experimental, they still define the industry. Mario isn’t consistent in anything but being amazing, and that’s why his adventures are so unique.

Though, obviously, Super Mario 3D World is one of the best. Probably… Number 4? No, maybe 3…

FGC #389 Super Mario 3D World

  • System: Nintendo WiiU. Complete with some fairly vestigial “gamepad features”, I feel like this one could easily be ported to the fabulous success that is the WiiU’s successor.
  • Number of players: Four! I’ve never actually tried out a complete four players in this game, but three is pretty tops all by itself. Well, I mean, tops for watching all of your uncoordinated friends die.
  • So, did you beat it? Yep, every last stage, including the impossible final gauntlets. Mind you, I haven’t beaten it all with every last character… but maybe one day. Gotta use those stamps in Miiverse, right? Wait… what’s that about Miiverse?
  • WeeeeGrand Finale: Of the many recent battles with Bowser, having the big guy go hog wild with the featured powerups of the title made for one of the most memorable encounters. It’s conceptually no different from any other “Bowser chase” final area, but the lunacy of Panther Bowser popping through a wall while Panther Bowser scales a building… Amazing.
  • Toad Origins: Also, it’s telling about the significance of the Mario franchise that a “once a world minigame” grew into an entire, remarkable title all on its own. I realize that fungus have a tendency to develop wildly when they start to take over, but if that kind of growth leads to Toad hunting down treasure, I’m down.
  • Favorite Stage: Take me to the beach any day.
  • Did you know? Chargin’ Chuck first appeared in Super Mario World, then Yoshi’s Safari, and then… nothing. Chuck didn’t reappear until this title, a full 20 years later. But those football hooligans are back for Odyssey, so maybe they’ll stick around this time.
  • Would I play again: Oh my yes. Totally yes. Need an excuse to get a full complement of players in my basement yes. Just hope the WiiU holds out…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Darkstalkers 3 for the Playstation 1! Vampires and mummies and yeti, oh my! Please look forward to it!

Noooo
Why does this always happen to Weegi?