Tag Archives: final fantasy

FGC #425 Kingdom Hearts 3

KingDUMB FARTS IIISo it’s time to talk about Disney, Kingdom Hearts 3, Google, and whether or not I am afraid for my very existence.

By my reckoning, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first “pure” Kingdom Hearts title since Kingdom Hearts 1. No, I’m not talking about how the cast of Kingdom Hearts 3 is as white as freshly Frozen snow; what I am referring to is that the “worlds” of Kingdom Hearts 3 are, for the first time since the original Kingdom Hearts, entirely dictated by the directors of the title. Okay, yes, that was technically always true, but there were mitigating factors in other titles. Kingdom Hearts 2 clearly reused a number of Kingdom Hearts 1 worlds/models/actors to save on production time. Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days, and (Re)Coded all remixed worlds from 1 and 2 for plot purposes. Birth by Sleep featured Disney worlds that were either really old classic films (like Cinderella), or “prequel” situations (like a Lilo & Stitch world before Stitch finds Lilo). And Dream Drop Distance may have once had a chance, but its world choices (Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tron, Fantasia, Three Mouseketeers, Pinocchio) felt like a series of vignettes someone (likely Nomura) just wanted to see “done” before the franchise wrapped up in “real” Kingdom Hearts 3 (dude has been trying to get Chernabog to fit in somewhere for decades). So, with literally every other title out of the running, it is pretty safe to say Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first Kingdom Hearts title in quite a few years that wasn’t dictated by an overwhelming need for everyone to pal around with Aladdin for the fortieth time.

This creates an interesting math opportunity (a nerd’s favorite opportunity!): what is the median age of our featured Disney franchises?

HERCULES!For Kingdom Hearts 1, we have…

Pinocchio (1940)
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Peter Pan (1953)
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Aladdin (1992)
The Nightmare before Christmas (1993)
Disney’s Hercules (1997)
Disney’s Tarzan (1999)

And, for the sake of completion, let’s note that Kingdom Hearts 1’s earliest release was March of 2002 (America saw it by September).

Look around!Kingdom Hearts 3 is a little different…

Toy Story (1995)
Disney’s Hercules (1997)
Monsters Inc. (2001)
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Tangled (2010)
Frozen (2013)
Big Hero Six (2014)

And Kingdom Hearts 3 itself was released in January of 2019.

Now let’s crunch some sweet, sweet numbers! Kingdom Hearts 1 seems to contain three worlds based on “classic” properties, and the rest are for 90’s kids. If we include all of the worlds, the average world/franchise was 25 years old as of the release of its featured game. If we eliminate the “classic” titles, though, the average world is 8 years old as of Kingdom Hearts’ release. The reason I note this is that we have stupid monkey brains, and, for most people reading this article, The Little Mermaid feels like it was released a hundred billion years ago, and maybe being reminded it was slightly more current when we first saw Kingdom Hearts (1) is important. Also worth noting, the absolute oldest franchise involved is 62 years back, but of the “current” crop, it’s only 13 years. The newest title involved is only 3 years old.

Pirates!Applying the same calculations to Kingdom Hearts 3, we see an average age of 14 years for every franchise involved. Dropping the classic worlds (anything over fifteen years old… and man, it hurts me to refer to Disney’s Hercules as “classic”), we see an average age of (rounding up from 6.66) 7 years. That is very close to Kingdom Hearts 1’s average of 8. And the preceding average makes more sense with its oldest game being only 24 years old (Toy Story a bit more contemporary than Pinocchio), and our most recent movie is 5 years old.

What does it all mean? Well, allowing for outliers, on average, the worlds of Kingdom Hearts 1 and Kingdom Hearts 3 cover roughly the same time frame of movies relative to their release. Or, put in SAT form, The Nightmare Before Christmas : Kingdom Hearts 1 :: Tangled : Kingdom Hearts 3. On average, both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 3 feature roughly the same range of refugees from the Disney Vault.

And what does that mean? It means Kingdom Hearts 3 isn’t for me.

FLARE!Kingdom Hearts 1 spoke to my childhood. Kingdom Hearts hit a college-age Goggle Bob, and said, “Hey, remember when you were six and had a crush on Ariel? Remember when you wanted to be Aladdin? Remember when Tim Burton inspired your decade long mall-goth phase? Remember going on one of your first dates to Tarzan? And how you probably would have gone on more dates at that point in your life, but you still were stuck in that mall-goth phase? ‘Member?” Kingdom Hearts was an amazing game on its own, but its Disney Cast was summoned almost precisely to satisfy my own childhood nostalgia. And, given I was just the right age where I would start fondly remembering childish things (as opposed to being the cranky teen that totally wasn’t into that cartoon crap, mom), Kingdom Hearts hit the serotonin sectors of my brain faster and harder than any kid with a keyblade and a turbo x-button ever could.

Kingdom Hearts 3? Not so much. I did not gape in amazement when Elsa bust into Let it Go. I did not feel any excitement when Baymax flew onto the scene. And I certainly didn’t give a damn when Rapunzel tromped around the forest carrying an impossible amount of hair. I saw all of these movies. I liked all of these movies. But did I feel anywhere near the same level of joy at seeing these characters now realized in current-gen Playstation graphics and palling around with me, the smart and handsome player? No. It was another level. I may have been interested in what was going to happen next, but it was less “Oh boy! It’s Oogie Boogie!” and more “Oh, I bet we’re not going to get the tavern song, because, while that was enjoyable, it is not essential to the overall plot or the broader themes of Kingdom Hearts 3.” The featured movies of Kingdom Hearts 3 are merely pleasant, they are not my singular, can-never-be-replaced childhood.

And that’s fine! Not everything in the world needs to appeal to me or my generation! It’s good that Kingdom Hearts as a franchise is moving forward, and we don’t have to rehash why Jafar is back for the third time. It’s good that a whole new generation gets to see their heroes and villains up on the Square-Enix stage. This is, ultimately, a good thing.

But it’s not a good thing that the other half of the Kingdom Hearts equation got kicked to the curb.

Yes, I’m talking about this dork.

Leon!

Kingdom Hearts hit all the right beats to make me revel in the joys of my childhood. While I would have never admitted it at the time, it also hit the “childhood nostalgia” I had for a mere handful of years prior: the golden age of the Playstation JRPG. Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 8 were as much my teenage years as The Little Mermaid or Aladdin defined the years prior. So when Squall, Cloud, and even wee Tidus popped out of the post-ending void of their respective titles and back into even a cameo-based role, I was elated. All my old friends were back! Bring it in, guys! I’d even put up with a horribly-mangled reinterpretation of Setzer Gabbiani if it meant I got to see any luminaries from my beloved Final Fantasy 6 cast again. And this carried through to the interesting bits of The World Ends with You in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, too. It was always fun to see some Square nostalgia, even if it didn’t add up to much. It was textbook fanservice, but it wasn’t like anyone was playing Kingdom Hearts for the plot (cough).

Disney the Poof!And now it’s gone. Kingdom Hearts 3 only features characters that were either created by Disney, or were created within the confines of the Kingdom Hearts universe, so they’re just legally created by Disney. Mind you, that’s a whole separate thing from how Disney never “created” Pinocchio or Aladdin or Rapunzel; it just created a version of that timeless character, copyrighted it, and decided to sue anyone that tried to use that character ever again. I’m sorry, what is the hair color of your chosen mermaid? Red? Yes, we’re going to have to issue a cease and desist.

Wait a tick. Maybe this isn’t a whole separate thing. Maybe it’s the only thing.

And it’s the only thing because now Disney is the only thing.

I am writing this puke o’ words essay shortly after Disney’s nigh-complete acquisition of 20th Century Fox. Disney now owns the film rights to The X-Men. Disney already owned the print rights to The X-Men, as they acquired Marvel Comics ten years ago. And do you remember a time that “the latest Marvel movie” wasn’t just the latest Disney release? Iron Man (the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that would eventually earn all of the money with The Avengers) was not a Disney release. That history is gone, though, now, and, soon enough, people will imagine Logan or Deadpool started as Disney properties. You’ll certainly be able to buy Deadpool plushies at Disney World. And the same will be thought of Star Wars. The Simpsons. The entire city of Atlanta, for some reason. Definitely the entire state of Florida. Disney lashes its tentacles wide, and writes contract after contract until it owns the very seas. Also, please look forward to The Little Mermaid 4: Ursula Wasn’t So Bad, coming Winter 2022.

Yummy!And Kingdom Hearts 3 reminds us all why this is a bad thing. If Disney doesn’t want something, then damn tradition, the audience, or even the creators having a say in the matter. Do you think anyone at Square-Enix wanted to drop its de facto mascots Cloud or Sephiroth from the proceedings? Do you think they didn’t want to promote the star of their latest Final Fantasy title? Could we live in a world where even the slightest hint of NieR: Automata, one of many of Square-Enix’s top selling games from the last five years, exists in the Kingdom Hearts universe? Could we please include Emil, the good boy? We could, but Square-Enix was not going to disagree with Disney for even a second. Sure, there may be DLC or remixes or whatever in the future, but Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fine example of how it is going to be now: Disney is in charge, Disney would like to see its needs met, and no one cares about literally anything but Disney. Cloud has to tie-off a plot decades in the making? No he doesn’t. We want that one Disney rat to have a cooking game, and that’s where resources are going to go.

And that’s why Google Strata scares me.

Wait, crap, sorry, got ahead of myself on that point.

The other thing that happened just recently is the announcement of Google’s new gaming console, the Strata. Or maybe just Strata? Have I become my grandmother, and I can only say “The ‘Intendo” from now on? Regardless! The Strata is Google’s latest attempt at conquering a brand new market, and, by all accounts, it is going to be a streaming-based experience. Like the abandoned original plans for the Xbox One, it will have absolutely zero physical media. And, like Netflix, you will simply use the service to stream a digital library, and will never “own” a distinct game on the platform. Essentially, the Google Strata will be a super-amazing gaming console perfect for the radical gamers of the 21st century… and the minute Google stops supporting it (or your internet connection drops out), it will be about as useful as a toaster. Oh, wait, my bad. It will be less useful than a toaster, as a toaster can at least warm up my mittens on a cold morning (Editor’s note: Goggle Bob does not understand toast).

He made that!And, while I am certainly upset that Strata will do nothing for my videogame hording habits, my biggest issue with the service (that only exists in a theoretical state as of this moment) is that it will be completely beholden to the whims of Google. Like the Apple app store before them, Google will inevitably have complete control over who is able to publish games to its storefront. Google will also have absolute control over when those games may be removed. And if this sounds like some kind of Big Brother-based paranoia, and you would like to imagine a world where Google “does no evil” and is completely hands-off in its monopoly of its own service: consider that Google will have technical control over what games can stream, but, more importantly, it would have complete control over how this content is monetized and advertised (at least within the service). And, let’s not kid ourselves, no one is going to keep a game up on a streaming service if the service has literally made it impossible for said game to make money.

And once a game built for a streaming service is gone from said streaming service? Well that’s gone forever.

Just like Squall and Cloud and all of Sora’s Square brethren.

Look, I know I’m being overly apocalyptic here. Even using Kingdom Hearts 3 as my example seems disingenuous on some level, because there are pretty good odds literally anything missing from Kingdom Hearts 3 could be added as DLC (that, incidentally, I will pay cash money for, because I want my nostalgia back at any cost). And it’s not the end of the world that a game or two gets lost from a streaming service, because there’s always another game to play, and Kingdom Hearts 4 Princes for 258 Brides is just around the corner to keep me occupied. But… well… I care about videogames. I care about the forgotten. Looks like funGod help me, I care about Squall “Leon” Leonhart, and I care about that all those arcade games we’re never going to see again because their technology is too annoying to emulate. And, yes, I preemptively care about all the Google Strata games that are going to be exclusive to the system, and then lost to time because Google will eventually decide Gmail ads would be more profitable. It may sound crazy, but, yeah, I care about crazy things. I care about the plot of Kingdom Hearts.

So… uh… what was this article about? Oh yeah! Kingdom Hearts 3! Yeah, I liked the game. It might not be made for my age group, but it was a fun experience. And, incidentally, the mere fact that Sephiroth wound up on the cutting room floor apparently made me doubt my beliefs and very place in the world. Cloud skips one game, and my brain feels like some manner of burned bread.

Gee, it’s almost like videogames are important.

FGC #425 Kingdom Hearts 3

  • System: Playstation 4. And I guess some arcane magics summoned it to the Xbox One, too.
  • Number of players: I still say that Kingdom Hearts could be the next Secret of Mana, and its “childish” appeal would be ideal for siblings or friends playing the title together. But, nope, just one player.
  • So it has come to this, a Kingdom Hearts FGC entry? Hey, after 400 or so, I can bend the rules a bit. This started out as a sort of Kingdom Hearts FAQ addendum from the question (that I only asked myself): “Why does Big Hero 6 make me feel like an old man? Is Kingdom Hearts 3 for babies?” From there, I decided to address the lack of Square-Enix characters, and… things kind of snowballed. I feel like this essay is a little too heady for the light and plot-based tone of the Kingdom Hearts FAQ entries, so here we are. Categorizing things is hard!
  • These dorksFavorite World: Big Hero 6 felt like it received the most fully-realized world. It felt like an appropriate “sequel” to the movie, all the memorable characters were included (really did not think Honey Lemon or Wasabi would make the cut), and its general geography allowed for a Crackdown-esque level of gameplay not seen elsewhere in the title. And, if Big Hero 6 is visited as the last world, it actually makes thematic sense that Sora is now experienced and training other heroes like Hercules did with Sora on his first world. Symmetry!
  • Completionist: I enjoy playing Kingdom Hearts games, but it is going to be a while before I revisit every damn world looking for hidden mickeys or ingredients. This game really needs an Arkham-esque informant system that is going to at least point me in the right direction to find where some teeny blood oranges wound up amongst multiple planets.
  • Shoot ‘em Up: The new Gummi Ship levels are cool! And micromanaging my ship to make sure it is always the proper level to actually survive some of the random encounters is not! Zero-sum Gummi Ship!
  • Over thereDid you know? I did not note Winnie the Pooh’s appearance in the timeline of Kingdom Hearts worlds because Winnie the Pooh is omnipresent, and all bask in his ever-burning glow. His desire for honey will outlive us all.
  • Would I play again: You know what I really want to do? Replay every Kingdom Hearts title in in-game chronological order. I would also like infinity time to do such a thing. It’s… not gonna happen. But I might replay Kingdom Hearts 3 at some point. It’s mostly fun!

What’s next? I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. The next few titles covered on the FGC will be games I don’t technically own, because they are impossible to own. We’re going to spend some time looking at games that are generally unattainable due to various copyright, distribution, and emulation issues. First up, Spider-Man: The Video Game. Please look forward to it!

FGC #401 Final Fantasy 3 (DS)

Final Fantasy!In Japan, the Final Fantasy games are a series of titles gradually moving forward. While they may not be direct “story” sequels, they are sequels all the same, with characters and key events carried forward like an ever-growing tumbleweed.

In America? Final Fantasy is an ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, with no beginning and no end.

Okay, that’s not completely true, as Final Fantasy has the same starting point in both regions. Final Fantasy was released in 1987 in Japan and 1990, but they were almost exactly the same game. The differences? Barely worth mentioning, like a giant eyeball getting repurposed by the legal department. And there may have been a few spell names modified for less holy audiences, but that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Fire 3 and Firaga are the same thing! Nothing complicated!

But then it gets all too complicated.

The same year that America saw Final Fantasy 1, Japan already had Final Fantasy 3. And, if videogames were like any other medium in history, that would not have been a big deal. Give it another three years, and we’d see our own Final Fantasy 3 with wizards casting NUKE on legions of skeletons. However, consoles wait for no man, and the Super Nintendo was on Western shores by the following year. While the “good old days” weren’t quite as bad as the modern belief that a system should stop releasing new games six months before the release of its successor (hi, WiiU!), it still seemed unlikely that a new franchise/genre would see slow NES releases well after we all experienced the joy of riding a dinosaur. So their Final Fantasy 4 became our Final Fantasy 2, and, riding the high of the newly released SNES, we experienced our first Final Fantasy sequel.

And, honestly? There was never any reason to believe we missed anything.

Shake a legFinal Fantasy is about restoring four crystals, Final Fantasy “2” is about collecting a total of eight (give or take). Final Fantasy had its four fiends, the sequel had Golbez’s four generals. Class changing your party is just like class changing a dark knight. Garland : Chaos :: Golbez : Zeromus. Final Fantasy “2” was a clear sequel to the original Final Fantasy we all knew and loved, and there wasn’t a single bit of the title seemed to indicate we had missed something. Summoners gonna summon, and dragoons gonna jump, nothing more to it.

We likely would have had a similar reaction to Final Fantasy 5… if it ever made it to our shores. But, instead, we received Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, and that “job system” would have to continue to be a mystery for another few years (assuming you never played Dragon Warrior 3). Then we were graced with Final Fantasy 6 aka Final Fantasy 3. And that was kind of a miracle, as we saw the release a mere four months after its Japanese debut. And it was good! It was even great! And… it barely had anything to do with the previous Final Fantasy games! No crystals! No sky fortresses! “White” is “Pearl” for some reason! If we didn’t have a few chocobos running around, we wouldn’t even know this was the same franchise! At least Mystic Quest had a four elementals-based world! What the hell is an Esper even supposed to be!?

But, as confusing as Final Fantasy “3” was, it kicked off the golden age of actually seeing every Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy 7 was next, and, for the first time, it was actually Final Fantasy 7 on both shores. And then came Final Fantasy 8! And neither of these games had anything to do with each other from a “world” perspective, but there were some patterns emerging. The summons seemed fairly consistent (give or take poor Rumah), and… did these people have reliable vocations? Knights are JRPG staples, but it seems like we keep winding up with a random character that can use monster attacks. Lore? Blue Magic? Whatever, it sounds cool. And there are a few recurring characters and motifs, so, yeah, there’s more continuity here than we thought… right?

Dem BonesSo a funny thing happened in 1999. After fighting our way through five separate Final Fantasies, Square decided to capitalize on Final Fantasy mania and release Final Fantasy 5. In English! And now Final Fantasy Tactics made so much more sense! This whole “job system” thing finally hit America in a “real”, numbered Final Fantasy title, and it was good! … Okay, it was a bit of a letdown for anyone expecting another Final Fantasy with a deep and adult story like what we saw in that game with the talking dog, but at least we know the name of that guy that killed Odin now. Final Fantasy 5 was certainly more Final Fantasy 4 (2) than Final Fantasy 6 (3), but, more importantly, it was another data point on the “what is Final Fantasy” bulletin board. Those dots are starting to connect!

And then, in November of 2000, Final Fantasy 9 blew up the whole damn chart.

Final Fantasy 9, according to various issues of EGM and Gamepro, was the first Final Fantasy game to really look at its past. It was a “return to the old days”, which meant black mages (not really) and crystals (certainly not) were back in business. And, if you were a Final Fantasyologist, the game was just ripe with items and callbacks that celebrated the long and storied history of Final Fantasy. … Except, it was rather impossible for any Americans to get half of those references, as many of the early games referenced were never released here, and, even if they were, current localizations did not match up with Woolseyisms from a generation prior. Final Fantasy 9’s “continuity”, like every other Final Fantasy continuity for Americans, was confusing as hell.

Then, in November of 2006, months after the release of Final Fantasy 12, we finally filled in the last gap with Final Fantasy 3 for the Nintendo DS.

Get 'em!And it all made so much more sense! Final Fantasy 3 is the clear prequel to our beloved Final Fantasy 4 (2)! In fact, in some places, Final Fantasy 3 makes its world more interesting than what you’d find in its descendant. Final Fantasy 4 has multiple airships, but Final Fantasy 3 has multiple airships that really matter. The overworld/underworld dichotomy of Final Fantasy 4 is neat ‘an all, but it’s nothing compared to a floating island and the time-locked hellscape down below. And, while Final Fantasy 4 inarguably has the better Cid, Princess Sara is a much better damsel/fighter than Rosa. I don’t care if you put a ring on an archer on the moon, Cecil, your fiancée is basic. Oh, and I guess there are a number of recurring monsters between the two games, too. Playing Final Fantasy 3 for three seconds is deeply reminiscent of Final Fantasy 4, and that’s obvious from practically the first moment.

But Final Fantasy 3 doesn’t just impact Final Fantasy 4, it’s also the origin point of a lot of series staples. The Summoner job got its start here, and, with it, the myriad of summons that have been skulking around the franchise for decades. And it’s not just cosmetic! Bahamut is rightfully venerated as the lord of all summons for the first time, and Odin is hiding in a castle basement. Even Leviathan gets his own magical lake. This is also the first place we found a fat chocobo and the slam-dancing teddy bear race of moogles. First Final Fantasy with a playable piano! First Final Fantasy with thieves that can actually steal (or be useful at all)! First “bonus treasure dungeon” in the franchise! It all started here!

Or… did it?

If you want to play Final Fantasy 3 in America (legally), you must play Final Fantasy 3 on the Nintendo DS (or the PSP/Mobile port of the same version of the game). This is important, as Final Fantasy 3 is obviously not its NES ancestor. The graphics have been upgraded, the “anonymous” heroes of FF3NES have all been upgraded to have their own personalities and motives, and the iconic Onion Knight job of the original release has been relegated to an impossible sidequest. Even if you know next to nothing about the original Final Fantasy 3, you can immediately see the difference between the two titles.

I can't tell the difference!

That creates… doubt. The Final Fantasy series loves its references! Final Fantasy 9 wasn’t the start of that nonsense, you could argue that the series was drowning in callbacks as early as, well, Final Fantasy 3. But it’s impossible to “trust” this Final Fantasy 3, because, without Final Fantasy 3 NES handy, how are we supposed to know if a reference was added before or after the remake itself? Ricard of Final Fantasy 2 (J) has the same last name as Kain of Final Fantasy 4 (J) and Cid of Final Fantasy 7! Which came first? It’s not the one you think! So who inspired who? Where did it all start? I know time flows like a river, but usually you can find a starting tributary somewhere.

Final Fantasy!And this is how American Final Fantasy became twisted up like a pretzel. We didn’t see Final Fantasy 2 until after Final Fantasy 7, and Final Fantasy 3 came after Final Fantasy 12. Thanks to inconsistent translations and a pile of internet hearsay, it’s nearly impossible to know where a name or character got their start. Final Fantasy is a snake with no beginning and no end, and we’ll never be able to measure its scales.

But, hey, the games are all pretty fun, so don’t worry about it.

FGC #401 Final Fantasy 3 (DS)

  • System: Nintendo DS, technically, and a port of that version for PSP and mobile devices, too. The original Final Fantasy 3 is theoretically sealed in the NES (or Famicom), but it did see a rerelease on the Japanese Wii Virtual Console, so I don’t trust Square at all.
  • Number of players: One Onion Knight to rule them all.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Kind of talked about every Final Fantasy game except this one, eh? Final Fantasy 3 is a good “prototype” game, but I feel like everything that makes this game good is done better in Final Fantasy 5. And, yes, I’m predominantly talking about the job system. Final Fantasy 3 can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a Metroid (wherein new skills/jobs must be used to unlock new areas) or a Mega Man (all cool abilities are completely optional, and may be used whenever you want). What’s important is that I never want to see a mini cave again, and I can’t believe they produced a remake of Final Fantasy 3 without further improving the equipment/equipping system.
  • Somebody get me a mapJust Play the Gig, Man: Final Fantasy 3 does seem to have the best music on the NES (or of the NES titles, if we want to get technical). Unfortunately, since it wasn’t a part of my childhood, I don’t give a damn. Sorry!
  • Favorite Character: In this case, it’s “characters”. The Old Men are just trying their best, and should be lauded for attempting to save the world despite having absolutely no skills and a comprehensive inability to leave their home town. They’re trying!
  • Monster Rancher: Anyone notice that the monsters of this Final Fantasy are overwhelmingly Grecian, but you barely see such a thing in other Final Fantasy titles? Okay, maybe Medusa winds up in every videogame ever, but she’s actually featured here, along with Cerberus, Scylla, and Echidna. Uh… not Knuckles.
  • Future of Fantasies: It’s also bitingly obvious that this is where the Bravely Default team got their start, as Final Fantasy 3 DS is the clear origin point of about 90% of that gameplay (and maybe some of the graphics). This is rather amusing, as a single franchise entry that was nearly forgotten somehow started its own mini franchise. Way to go, underdog!
  • Did you know? “Luneth” is not the returning Final Fantasy 3 rep for Dissidia, as that honor goes to the original Onion Knight. This is an unusual bit of Square ignoring its more accessible “franchise” for a version that will never be seen again, and seems to confirm that SE doesn’t give a damn about this entry in the greater Final Fantasy pantheon.
  • Would I play again: Nope! Final Fantasy games are long enough without all the little kludges that keep FF3 going. This is an interesting title to help us all learn of the mysteries of the franchise, but it is right up there with Final Fantasy 2 (J) for “never make me play this again”.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metal Head for the 32X! That… that was a Ninja Turtle, right? Uh, please look forward to it?

Final Fantasy!
What am I even looking at?

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

FINAL FANTASYSo, chess, right? You know how to play chess? Let’s say you do. Do you remember when you learned how to play chess? Were you taught by a family member? A teacher? Some other kid? Some other adult? But here’s the thing: it is very unlikely you learned chess from a rulebook. Yes, you may have later read a great strategy guide to finally beat your grandpa at the game of kings (who don’t feel like standing up), but it’s downright unnatural to learn the rules of the game from a book or manual. And there’s a reason for that! Chess is a two player game, so it’s rather inevitable that player one is going to lecture player two. This is how games are learned! This is how games are passed from generation to generation. And, ultimately, this is what makes a game eternal: the drive for one generation to teach another. Because, after all, if you can’t find somebody to play with, what’s the point of playing a game at all?

Now, humble reader, I am well aware this is a videogame blog. I am blitheringly aware that “there must be a second player” is a stupid position for malcontents that haven’t picked up a controller in the last thirty years. This very blog will attest to the fact that my favorite games are predominantly single player. And, sad but true fact, I would estimate that a mere 10% of my gaming time is anything that could truly be considered “multiplayer”. But, gentle reader, you misunderstand my intentions. I’m not saying a game must include a two player option, I’m saying that videogames are your second player.

My father taught me how to play checkers. My mother taught me how to play Clue. My grandfather taught me how to play Chess. And Shigeru Miyamoto taught me how to play Super Mario Bros. Or did SMB itself teach me? The line is a little blurred there, but, if we consider videogames to be “thinking” objects (which we obviously do, because why else would we swear at them so regularly when they kill our dudes?), then a videogame’s own… videogameness is your eternal second player and teacher. After all, what fun is a game if you don’t understand the rules?

WeeeeeAnd, while we’re asking that rhetorical question: are bad games just games where “the game” misrepresents or otherwise sullies “the rules”? What is bad hit detection but a misperception of the boundaries of certain malicious pixels? When a JRPG requires excessive grinding, is it a feature, or a misunderstanding of what the player has to do between two objectives? And who likes it when the rules change right at the final moments? You’ve been playing an awesome action game, and then it turns into a shoot ‘em up? That’s a clear betrayal of the rules that Friend Videogame laid down from the start! That would be like requiring every game of Hungry Hungry Hippos to end with a test of strength! And that’s terrible! There’s no way I could overpower a kindergartener!

And then there are the games that don’t even bother with explaining the rules. They’re the worst of all.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is the long awaited sequel to Final Fantasy Dissidia Duodecim, a game that was released a whopping seven years ago. In videogame years, that is a period equal to approximately eighteen Assassin’s Creeds, or at least sixty Maddens. That is a lot of time for technology to improve, and, what’s more, the old Dissidia was a title for the PSP. Remember the PSP? Sony’s attempt to out-portable Nintendo right when mobile gaming was first making the scene? Yeah, it was an abject failure, but Square-Enix managed to release at least one good PSP game a year, so it wasn’t a total loss. And one of those excellent SE games was Dissidia, an unusual fighting game featuring the heroes and villains of the Final Fantasy franchise all duking it out for… I don’t know… I think crystals were involved? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it was fun, and it was one of the rare fighting games that was actually built for a portable system. Dissidia was part Street Fighter, but also part Pokémon, as you had to “train” your Tidus, and make sure the little dork always had the best equipment. WeeeeeExcuse me, it wasn’t about having the best equipment, it was about equipping the items that would fit your playstyle, so you might wind up with a different load out if you preferred to chase EX charges, or liked to just pummel your opponent into submission. You’ve got options!

But this is not to say Dissidia was a straightforward fighting game that just happened to have a little extra backend. Dissidia introduced the “Bravery System”, which, in short, means you’re supposed to hit your opponent until you have accrued enough hits to really hit your opponent. On one hand, it’s an overly complicated way to get to the “deplete HP” step that is essential to every fighting game ever, but, on the other hand, it does create a lot more drama, and a real see-saw mechanic that other fighting games have attempted to achieve for years. But, love it or hate it, you had to learn it before you could use it, so Dissidia certainly had a barrier of entry. But at least there was a tutorial right from the boot up of Dissidia, and, acknowledging that people might need such a thing, there were intensive lessons available through the game. And, what’s more, those lectures were written “by” Final Fantasy heroes from throughout the series, so if you ever thought Rydia would be an excellent summons teacher, congratulations, you’re right! Hey, if a game knows you’re going to need extra instructions, at least make those instructions interesting.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT, unfortunately, did not learn this lesson.

Learn to climb!FFDNT started as an arcade game. And that’s great! So did Street Fighter 2! And we all learned how to play that game just fine. Except… assuming you were playing a proper SF2 cabinet, all the fireball motions you could ever need were graphics on the cabinet, so learning the finer points of that experience was, amazingly, still teaching-based. Not so much with FFDNT. It is unlikely I’ll ever see a FFDNT cabinet, but I’m going to go ahead and assume it doesn’t have the gameplay basics written anywhere on there, as it would require a cabinet roughly the size of a convenience store. Want to know how Terra works? That’s in aisle six.

See, the problem with Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is not simply that it fails to convey meaningful lessons to the neophyte player, it’s that there is so much going on, it is impossible to accurately learn anything from the gameplay. There are two teams of three, but you only control one fighter on one team. That’s pretty normal… but what are the win conditions again? It seems like fighters revive pretty quickly after depleting their health… so is it a most kills in a minute kind of thing? No, wait, the match just ended… did someone die? Our team? Theirs? And now there are some rankings… looks like whoever exhausted the most HP gets the trophy… but aren’t there other goals during a match? Why am I supposed to attack the EX Core Crystals again? To summon? But I can summon even if I never bothered. And what does the summon do? Change the background, toss a few lasers around, and… wait, my attack stat goes up? How am I supposed to know that? And I should be using my EX skill more often? How does that become available? It poisons the opponent? But only if I choose that at the start of the match? Holy cow, how are there this many questions revolving around one three minute match!?

GO AWAYAnd Dissidia NT continues to pose questions when it should be providing answers. Why does story mode distinctly require exiting story mode to make progress? Why does this character completely change her playstyle with a button, while that character just kind of grunts? Why did I just earn a new special move if I can’t even use it? Why is changing equipment only cosmetic, but changing my EX ability dramatically impacts the battle? And, most of all, why are my party members always dying? Am I supposed to be doing something different? Should I be protecting them? Should I be more offensive? If this were a traditional Final Fantasy game (even one of the later, more AI controlled titles like FF15 or FF12), and 66% of my party was dying every other round, I’d be sure I was doing something wrong. Here? Not really. In fact, during boss matches, your allies appear to exist only to be mobile meat dummies, and their greatest contribution is distraction. But it’s not like the game effectively relays this information in any way, and you’re just left listening to Shantotto apologize for her tenth death in a row. I’m sorry, chipmunk girl, I’ll try to be better next time. I think?

And it’s not that Dissidia NT is a bad game, it’s simply that practically the entire thing… ummm… uh… Oh! A metaphor! Good games play with you like a good friend, but bad games are definitely that one smelly kid that told you exactly what you’re going to play now, and you’re going to listen to his rules, and what do you mean you don’t play it like this at your house, we’re playing it my way now, you better learn how that works, or you’re not going to have any fun. No, I’m not going to teach you, nerd, just start playing. No, not like that! Moooooom! Bobby isn’t playing the game right at all!

Okay, maybe Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is bad. Once you understand it, once you read the FAQs and strategy guides and message boards, once you get through all the auxiliary materials, FFDNT is actually pretty fun to play. But before that? Before that, it’s pure, confusing hell, and a hell that makes no effort to impart how you might find your way to its heaven. Final Fantasy Dissidia NT might have a delicious, chewy center, but it’s surrounded by rancid garbage.

And how much garbage are you willing to swallow?

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

  • System: Playstation 4 and Arcade. The arcade version came out three years ago? Crazy.
  • Number of players: Online? Six. Locally? One. There should be a law against that.
  • Go get 'emOther Illegalities: There are also loot boxes. And “buy a season pass now, we’ll announce the DLC characters later” sales. Dissidia is actively trying to piss me off.
  • The sequel curse: So this is, ultimately, a mascot fighting game. And you know what a mascot fighting game should never do? Drop characters. I don’t care if you’re Ice Climbers or Gon, when you lose the weirdo auxiliary characters from game to game, you lose my heart. The lack of Gilgamesh, Laguna, Yuna, and Tifa in this title is keenly felt. And if even one of those dorks become extra purchases? I will burn this mother down.
  • Favorite Character: Bartz is pretty awesome. He was my favorite in OG Dissidia, and he’s completely different now, but he’s still a lot of fun. And fast! And fast is really important when you have to chase some angry tree all over the arena.
  • Other annoyances: You can’t just restart a battle in a single player match. This is particularly important in the boss battles, as, come on, you can permanently lose those fights in the first thirty seconds, but wait five minutes to actually die. And then you have to wait five minutes for loading screens…
  • The Final Fantasy: So, considering the sheer lunacy that was the first two Dissidia titles, the story of this one is actually pretty straightforward: there’s a world fueled by battles, everyone battles, everyone realizes there’s no real reason to battle, and then they fake battle until they battle a giant lizard so they can make clones that will fight battles forever. That’s pretty much the plot to Sense and Sensibility.
  • Say something nice: Terra is supposed to be “post Final Fantasy 6” Terra in this one (or something like that), and she’s actually kind of… good? Previous Dissdias made her a sort of damsel (“Oh, poor me, Kefka is always taking over my brain, what is it to be me?”), but here she’s confident, and winds up being the de facto leader of her little party. Way to get yourself together, Terra!
  • Work together!Did you know? That kid from Final Fantasy Tactics is in this one! No, not Thunder God Cid, the main character. You know! What’s his name? Delita? No, that doesn’t sound right…
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Probably not. Even if the upcoming DLC is amazing, there are too many good fighting games out there, and Dissidia seems to revel in wasting time. Just give me my instant gratification, Square!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Centipede: Infestation for the Nintendo 3DS! Centipedes? In my blog? It’s more common than you think. Please look forward to it!

FGC #388 Secret of Mana (2018)

Mana comin'When I was a wee Goggle Bob, I had a very limited number of NES games. This paired very poorly with being a child, and having approximately 32,000 hours a day to burn up before hitting the sack. Thus, I played my limited collection of games nigh constantly, and practically memorized the ins and outs of such luminaries as Back to the Future. There was also Super Mario Bros, which meant that, by the early 90’s, the Mushroom Kingdom had soaked into my DNA. So I played World 3 once or twice.

It's a-me!

World 3, as you can see, is Mario’s first “dark world”. After World 1’s sunny skies and World 2’s moist oceans, World 3 is a stage set against a dark, foreboding backdrop. As a child, my friends and I discussed this ominous level, and determined that this was an area of the Mushroom Kingdom already ruled by Bowser. It was dark and frightening because evil had already subjugated part of the land, and a resistance against this encroaching blackness was exactly why Mario had to fight. Battle through the night of World 3 to the shining future of World 4!

And then Super Mario All-Stars was released. This increase in Mario fidelity lead to…

Mario!

Oh. It’s just a snowy night. Huh. It wasn’t a dark and scary place at all. It’s… kinda nice. A lovely oasis of tranquility for our dedicated plumber. Maybe he could start up some Winter Games while he’s here…

And this blew my young mind.

Super Mario All-Stars is likely as “pure” of a videogame remake as we are ever going to get. The original staff was directly involved in the remake, and there wasn’t a dramatic shift in “what players want” in the years between OG Mario and his All Star incarnation. There wasn’t a need to change Mario’s controls or iconic look, it was just an opportunity to use new hardware to make right what once went wrong. Old, compromised graphics could now be replaced with what was always intended.

Which, apparently, included snow. I guess.

IS SNEKThis is a longwinded way of saying that I’ve been considering “directorial intent” versus “what is actually possible” since roughly 1993. Super Mario Bros. was practically my Bible when I was seven, and, straight from God Miyamoto himself, here was the latest testament, and it didn’t match my outmoded beliefs. What did this mean? Were other games similarly compromised? Was every black background just an excuse for a snow level? Were modern (1993 modern) games similarly compromised? In some glorious, far-flung future, would we find that Celes Chere was supposed to wear pants?

Well, the future is now, and here’s Randi with a grim visage of how we don’t understand anything.

Secret of Mana was always a hard game to tonally parse. On one hand, we have the iconic title screen with its gorgeous watercolor visual and deeply emotive opening theme. On the other hand, it’s hard to take a game seriously when you’re summoning a magical mermaid to cure your woodland sprite of the “moogle” affliction. But, when you take the plot of Secret of Mana as a whole, it is downright tragic. Boy is an orphan who finds his mother just in time to watch her get chopped down. Girl is trying to save her kidnapped lover… and it ends poorly for everybody. And Sprite loses memories, an entire village of family members, and, eventually, existence itself. And I’m pretty sure you have to murder your own airship somewhere in there. It’s for the good of the planet!

Sticky!Combine that heartbreaking plot with music that would be right at home with classical requiems, and you might get the impression that Secret of Mana is serious business. Or, at least, that was always my impression of the game. When I was playing SoM back in the early 90’s, my imagination went wild with thoughts on the “real” Secret of Mana, a game that could nary be contained by a simple 16-bit cartridge. The sunken Mana Palace? That was supposed to be a window into a destroyed city from “our” modern times, right? The faux subway car fall of zombies could have been indistinguishable from Resident Evil if the SNES had a little more horsepower. The gorgeous forests would still have been a tour de seasons, but it was only a lack of bits that held us back from witnessing Flammie’s mother’s ultimate fate in the jaws of a giant serpent. I was a pre-teen that played violent videogames, of course I imagined Secret of Mana as a gore fest. And, while my desire to see a submerged city full of corpses has lessened over the years, I still have always seen Secret of Mana as a serious game for serious people. I might have scored a midge mallet from a dwarf after fighting a whacky robot, but the somber opening and ending of Secret of Mana leaves an indelible impression that this was a story slightly deeper than your average plumber v. turtle morality play.

And now we have Secret of Mana 2018, and… not exactly what ’93 Goggle Bob expected.

First of all, if history has taught us anything, it’s that I absolutely don’t want to see a Secret of Mana “complete remake”. Yes, SoM is right up there with Xenogears for a legendary production cycle that eventually led to much of the game being cut. Secret of Mana was originally intended for the Nintendo Playstation, but, when that system wandered off to greener pastures, it was scaled back to its current incarnation. And, incidentally, the game was only ever held together with duct tape and good intentions to begin with, so things like “fighting”, “using magic”, or “walking” don’t work in the most pleasing manner. And maybe a version of SoM that gave a purpose to the lighthouse or bothered to code an actual Moon Palace would be interesting, ZOMBIES!but I don’t want to risk playing through another Mana remake that is objectively worse than its source material. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to. And I’m not sure I could take another vastly reimagined remake this year. I’m not saying Secret of Mana Remixed couldn’t be a good game, simply that the odds of it being what I consider “Secret of Mana” are low.

So SoM 2018 is “just” a Secret of Mana upgrade. And that’s fine! It’s not like a wildly popular videogame system was just shipped bundled with Secret of Mana, so having a way for a new generation to experience the glories of Thanatos-slaying with a few modern upgrades sounds like a great idea! The whole experience controls slightly better (less like steering a train, now more like steering a minecart), voice acting eliminates the need for all that pesky reading, and the translation has been punched up with at least one Who Wants to be a Millionaire reference. The kids like Regis Philbin, right? And the most obvious change of all: the graphics and music have been not just “upscaled”, but completely replaced with new tunes and models.

And If I had to use one word to describe the 2018 SoM design choices, it would be… “pastel”.

The one sad partThe new, randier cast of 2018 SoM is theoretically exactly the same. But, take a moment to participate in any inn-based party chat event, and you’ll find they’re a tweak sillier. Popoi the sprite has an ongoing fascination with licking mana seeds. Primm is still in love with Dyluck, and that’s still going to end poorly, but now she gushes about him like a teenage girl (which is appropriate, as she is a teenage girl). And our brave hero of Mana has gone from nearly mute swordsman to your typical shonen hero that has doubts about his own ability to save the world ten seconds after receiving his first sword. And these “changes” absolutely work, as the character work was already there. Sprite was always kind of goofy, Girl was always rather single-minded, but now their only defining personality traits are their only personalities. The world was expanded just to show how tiny it really was. The potential opera has become a Saturday morning cartoon.

The darkness is still there, technically, but it is, now and forever, a gorgeous snow scape.

And, in the end, I can’t even be mad. I’m not sure why I would be! When I played this game as a ten year old, I thought it was the most “adult” story in the world, something right up there with Final Fantasy 3 (6) and maybe at least one Stephen King novel. Now it’s all… kiddy. Now it’s deliberately presented like something for, ugh, ten year olds, and the deep, somber Secret of Mana of my younger years is all but gone. This game adds nothing to Secret of Mana but a fresh coat of paint, and it’s a shade I can barely stomach.

Secret of Mana 2018, you have destroyed my memories, and dumbed down one of my favorite experiences. This shall not be forgiven.

Well, maybe I’ll forgive you… After I earn this platinum trophy…

FGC #388 Secret of Mana (2018)

  • System: Playstation 4 and… There was a Vita version, wasn’t there? Anybody want to fire up the ol’ girl and check the Vita store? No? Fine.
  • Number of players: Three, and that’s always awesome. Yes, couch co-op makes a return.
  • Get 'emI Run So Far Away: So the “run” button depletes your 100% Weapon gauge one percent at a time. Was it always supposed to work like that?
  • Just play the gig man: The new soundtrack puts its worst foot forward, and leads with the absolute foulest remixes it can muster. However, by the time the party is blasting off to ice countries and desert lands, it’s clear the composers know what they’re doing. Yes, it would be nice to have another orchestral remix for every last area, but, more than being “epic”, it seems like the music tries to be tonally appropriate. And I guess early areas deserved an accordion.
  • Regarding Voice Acting: I did not expect every last NPC to be voiced. I also did not expect “The power of Undine” to sound so much like Primm shouting “The power of undies!”
  • Favorite Weapon: Was the whip always this good? Or the spear? For a series named for its signature weapon, the sword kind of sucks by comparison.
  • Did you know? Kettle Kin, the second robot unleashed by the Scorpion Army, was inexplicably “censored” into being an exact copy of Kilroy in the original Secret of Mana USA version. However, Kettle Kin is back to normal for the remake, and sports his unique chainsaw and drill bottom. Welcome back, robo guy, please use your chainsaw responsibly.
  • Would I play again: Probably yes. I honestly prefer this version to the original, as the combat seems a lot more manageable (and some kitty-based bosses no longer strike fear into my heart). I’ll probably revisit this Mana World again in no time at all.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario 3D World! It’s Mario! And kitties! Please look forward to it!

HAIL