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FGC #469 Pokémon Sword & Shield

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Pokémon Sword & Shield and Pokémon Sun & Moon. If you care about being spoiled on Pokémon stories, like some kind of nerd, this warning is for you. Thank you.

Gonna be a Pokemon tonightI’m worried about the Pokémon Uncanny Valley.

As of writing this article, Pokémon Sword/Shield has been on the shelves for a couple months. In that time, there have been many different opinions tossed around regarding the game(s). Chief among them is that, after the tour de force that was Pokémon Sun/Moon, Pokémon Sword/Shield has the “worst” story in the franchise. And it’s hard not to agree with that assessment! Pokémon SS (that’s some unfortunate abbreviating) has a story that is barely there, and plays as little more than a sports documentary until the absolute finale. Here’s the challenger, here is their rival, and watch as they climb the ranks and triumph over some 50 year old dude that somehow only has acollection of four level 20 fire type pokémon. It’s pretty tiresome, and your only supporting cast is a collection of other challengers with paper-thin personalities. Yes, we all love Marnie, but that’s mostly because she was perfectly calibrated to appeal to Pokémon fans (her signature ‘mon is a goth pikachu, for Arceus’ sake!). Other than that, it’s a sports story, and, for people that play videogames, that’s about as forgettable as Pokémon #775 (it’s the sleepy koala).

But when Pokémon SS decides to care about its story, it does so very well. … Wait, actually, that’s completely wrong. Pokémon SS’s story rears its ugly head during its climax, and, well, it ain’t great. It’s… confusing? There’s a Pokémon that was apparently powering the area, and it’s going to fail in a century, so there’s this dude that wants to do something about that right now, but it’s opposite the Super Bowl, so one thing leads to another, and apparently the world is in mortal danger because some unspeakable Pokémon has escaped confinement. And, frankly, that’s the end of nearly every Pokémon game, right? It might be a little muddled, but there seems to be a constant theme of trying to chain “nature” running back to the experimentation on Mewtwo, and all it ever takes for Groudon or whatever to be settled is a well-meaning preteen that happens to own a Master Ball. These things happen all the time in the Pokémon universe.

Aw nawBut it isn’t what happens at the end of Pokémon Sun/Moon. Yes, let’s take a step back one generation and look at the finale of the first game featuring the madness of Lusamine. Lusamine is, long story short, one of those scientist/billionaire crazy people that has a propensity toward designing self-driving cars and seeking immortality. To this end, she researches “Ultra Beasts”, Pokémon that exist in another dimension. In the process, she terrorizes her children, the protagonist, and nearly the entire world when she tears a whole in time and space to hang out with a beast Pokémon. This plan ultimately climaxes with Lusamine merging with a Nihilego, a poisonous beast Pokémon. Lusamine thus becomes a creature unknown to man and science. She is part woman, part interdimensional Pokémon. This is not Mewtwo. This is not even a mythical Pokémon. This is a whole new monster never before seen in the franchise (give or take a teleporter accident). This is not a problem that is going to be solved with a pokéball, and it is the first encounter with such a creature within the franchise. How will your humble trainer triumph over this abomination of hubris and science?

And then Monster Lusamine just tosses out her usual collection of six Pokémon in a typical trainer battle. Each of the Pokémon have boosted stats… but that’s about the only difference between this “final battle against an unknown enemy” and a skirmish with a kid that really likes shorts. The big bad pinnacle for the entire story is a tussle with a friggen’ Clefable.

It's nice hereAnd while Pokémon Moon/Sun 2 (Ultra!) replaced this fight with a battle against an alien ‘mon in another dimension, it wound up being even more lackluster (this is a very specific pun no one will acknowledge, and I am noting it for posterity), as said alien had very little relation to the overall plot and characters (or, put another way, it might be menacing Nebby, but Necrozma ain’t your best friend’s abusive mom), and it wound up as just another Mewtwo battle. All versions of Pokémon Sun/Moon were (unusually) amazing in the storytelling department, but it seemed there was no way to make the gameplay match the drama inherent in climatic battles.

The producers of Pokémon Sword/Shield took that as a challenge. The finale of Pokémon SS is very confusing (again, I have no idea what the [human] villain was actually trying to do, and this is me talking), but its initial setup is thrilling. The undefeated Champion of the Pokémon League, a standup dude that always wears a cape and has been supporting you from the beginning (yes, he’s Lando), attempts to soothe the savage beast with a pokéball. But it doesn’t work! The literal monster breaks free from the ball, and slices the device in twain. As it is evident a battle is coming, your friend/rival/hanger-on Hop makes it clear he is going to join you in subduing this creature. Hop has helped before (well, “helped”), and his assistance in fighting chubby guys in ill-fitting t-shirts was always… adequate. But wait! Here comes a new challenger! You and Hop are joined by not one, but two legendary Pokémon! They’re fighting as free agents, and, all together, you have four ally Pokémon in play. Your opponent is growing in size and strength (and its HP bar is growing to match), but you’re going to fell this Godzilla with the four-mon army you’ve assembled. It’s a final battle to end all final battles, and, since the basic gameplay is based on the raids you can experience throughout the game, it’s a transition that is as smooth as a jigglypuff. Pokémon gameplay finally matches the weight of its story!

Which is why trying to approach the rest of Pokémon Sword/Shield as a “real” story seems completely insane.

TastyPokémon Sword/Shield introduces the Wild Area. It is the best thing to happen to the franchise since the invention of the Hypno (he’s such a great lil’ guy). Before you win your first gym battle (hell, before you even see a gym), the Wild Area is available, and it essentially simulates the typical Pokémon post-game hours before becoming a champion. It is a wide-open area with Pokémon there for the catching, and there is no cap or gate that requires you to leave to “progress the story” at any point. You can spend literally days in the Wild Area, and the only downside would be having too many Pokémon. And that’s a pretty good problem! The Wild Area Pokémon level up, too, after all, and, should you actually continue the game, you’ll have 90% of the area unlocked at about the halfway point. After that, you just need an aquatic bike (available at about the 70% completion mark), and the Wild Area is your complete playground. The Wild Area is bigger than anything ever before seen in a Pokémon game, and, more importantly, it offers more freedom than ever before. It’s no wonder the story is generally ignored when something with the scope of an old school MMORPG is readily available.

But the Wild Area has a bit of a problem: there’s different weather every thirty feet. You can bicycle across the whole of the Wild Area and encounter snow, harsh sunlight, sandstorms, and then hit a nip of rain before sailing through clear skies. This, of course, all exists for the benefit of Pokémon hunters, as different creatures come out to play in different weather. It is also an excellent way to cram thirty different critters into the same general space, but still keep things interesting and “random” for those dedicated stalkers (“Sure, you can claim you caught all the Pokémon here, but what happens if you come back to this desert in the rain?”). On the other hand, it means the Galar region is facing an unprecedented climate crisis, and blizzards butting against lightning storms down the street from sunny beaches is… concerning.

So safe hereOh, and there are Pokémon as large as skyscrapers randomly popping out of holes in the ground. While the impact this has on the weather is unknown, I can certainly state that it is abundantly obvious why all the towns bordering on the Wild Area appear to possess mile-high walls.

So, at the exact same time the producers of Pokémon discovered exactly how to draw their audience into perfect climatic immersion, they also reminded us all that this is a fantasy world where recurring Mothras flap up localized blizzards. It’s uncertain where the franchise will go from here, whether it will pursue the focused story of Sun/Moon, or more prominently feature the freedom and looseness of Sword/Shield, but one thing is certain: Pokémon will always be a game about a world where electric dinosaurs battle poisonous frogs the size of cars in a world where human beings can apparently survive and maintain a society.

I’ll… just try not to think about it too hard.

FGC #469 Pokémon Sword & Shield

  • System: Nintendo Switch! The first “real” Pokémon game on a console! This is a milestone for people that care about the difference between consoles and portables! All six of us are very excited about the implications!
  • Oh!Number of players: One solo championship career, two players for battling and trading, and up to four friends for raids (or just include that one dick with the solrock if you don’t have enough buddies). Pokémon is a land of players.
  • Where’s Every Pokémon: It appears the big controversy over this game is that it does not include every single Pokémon, or the ability to import every single Pokémon. I couldn’t care less. Frankly, I welcome a day when I don’t have to gather 7,000 otherwise useless items to be sure some obscure ghost type evolves. And the way it impacts the battles! Pokémon Go is currently trying to balance the fact that the same fighting type Pokémon have been #1 since the game’s release, and their only hope is futzing around with new moves and other nonsense. And they’re barely up to Generation 5. Try balancing almost 900 Pokémon! This is for your own good, guys!
  • This hole was made for me: There is an entire mini-game and “dex” based around making new curry recipes. This means that, finally, someone at GameFreak has been getting my letters. I’m disappointed they didn’t include my recipe, but it was still a noble effort.
  • Did you catch ‘em all? You know I did.
    WORSHIP ME

    If there are Pokémon, I catch ‘em.
  • Favorite Galar Pokémon: The Impidimp line is everything I want from a Pokémon. It starts out small and cute… but still vaguely unsettling. Then it becomes emo and nebulously pointy looking. And then it becomes Grimmsnarl, a muscular ball of hair that looks equally built for hugs and bench-presses. And it has a gigantamax form! It’s mostly hair! Leg hair, specifically! I can get behind that! Also, its signature move is some kind of hair fake out. I am all about this Fairy/Dark type.
  • He's a good boyFavorite Trainer: Oleana the Battle Secretary has an entire party of “pretty” female Pokémon (like Milotic and Tsareena), but her final (and strongest) Pokémon is Garbodor. Because she’s secretly a garbage person with a garbage-based specialty. That’s some emergent storytelling!
  • Did you know: Depending on if you count the fossilized abominations of Arctovish and Dracovish, there is only one new watery “fish” type Pokémon in Pokémon Sword/Shield: Arrokuda/Barraskewda. There are usually a lot more water-dwellers introduced each generation, but I guess this is what happens when you nix surf. I’m totally okay with this outcome.
  • Would I play again: Short answer is yes. Long answer is oh God why can’t I stop playing Pokémon games please Lord I have other things to do okay fine back to raising this Flapple. … I think I have a condition.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong! The original! Wow! We’re going to get it on like some manner of overly large simian! Please look forward to it!

There they go

FGC #460 Final Fantasy Legend 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #460 Final Fantasy Legend 3

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

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

CHOMP

FGC #438 Fire Emblem Awakening

This is the current roster in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate:

Smash it!

Of the fighters featured, I have played games featuring all characters highlighted in black:

I see a pattern

Who did I miss? Well, it looks like the entire Fire Emblem cast. Whoops! Guess I’ll just have to go on not giving a damn about all those stupid sword animes running around.

It's the shieldBut when ROB recently chose Fire Emblem Awakening (reminder: I follow the rule of ROB, but not necessarily in order picked. It takes slightly longer to play Final Fantasy Mystic Quest than Super Contra), I decided it might be time. After all, I have declared repeatedly on this blog that I would follow Nintendo straight into the depths of Hell almost entirely because they have continually created games that are always amazing to play (even if they’re not always the absolute best in the universe). This is the company that is responsible for hidden, super insane Mario stages and the super guide block. Surely I can trust Nintendo to make an enjoyable experience out of a genre I traditionally despise.

And, besides, my Twitter feed at any given moment is about 80% Lucina fanart, so I was kind of curious about her deal.

So, how did baby’s first Fire Emblem experience go? Well…

Casual Mode is my new God

Going into Fire Emblem, I knew exactly three things:

  1. It’s a tactical RPG, meaning it’s mostly about moving your little dudes around a map
  2. “It’s like chess, but sometimes you make the pieces kiss”
  3. Perma-Death

Here comes some plotAnd, above anything else, that perma-death factor scared me the hell away from the franchise. I can deal with a TRPG, I can deal with anime sword people kissing, but I absolutely cannot deal with perma-death in a videogame. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: above all else, I play videogames to relax. I play videogames to fool around in a consequence-free digital playground. I do not want to play a videogame where I can kill people. … Okay, I play videogames where I kill people all the time. I don’t want to play a videogame where I get people killed. I can deal with fainting. I am okay with “Chrom will remember this” in a pre-written, novel-esque setting. But I do not want to relax by watching a daring and debonair archer fall in battle to some stupid zombie with an axe. And then playing the rest of the game without that character? Knowing there is always a… a hole in my party? And what if that warrior was married? Or had kids? Oh God! My only options would be savescumming or never playing the game ever again.

But Fire Emblem Awakening includes a casual mode where not only is perma-death completely ignored, but saving in the middle of a battle is completely allowed. Hooray! I can actually play the game, and screw up by sending my Valkyrie into enemy territory as recklessly as I want!

Looking into this detail after completing the game, I discovered that there was some controversy over the inclusion of this (filthy) casual mode. And my response to that? Hey, nerds, this is my first Fire Emblem game. Let me learn the ropes and still make progress with my training wheels on. I don’t want to feel bad for the rest of the day just because I forgot axe beats lance. Casual mode is unequivocally a good thing for starting players and people who want to play videogames to unwind while waiting in an immobile airplane due to “engine troubles”. I know it’s more complicated than that, Judy, we’ve been sitting on the tarmac for two and a half hours, I’m not buying this “we’re just waiting for the paperwork” excuse! … Where was I? Oh yeah, you eliminate perma-death, and Fire Emblem is suddenly about a million times less stressful.

And, yes, I can confirm that I probably didn’t get through a single battle without at least one unit “fainting” due to a lucky critical or a mistaken bit of movement. If every “retreat” was a permanent death, my final army would have contained about four characters and absolutely zero flying ponies.

But even without the punishment factor, Fire Emblem Awakening is still a TRPG, my most hated genre. How did that work out?

Fire Emblem Awakening is Surprisingly Zippy

Our hero!I have literally never played another Fire Emblem title (give or take attempting OG Famicom Fire Emblem for about thirty seconds around the time of Super Smash Bros Brawl’s release), so I have no idea how the actual gameplay of Awakening compares to other titles in the franchise. However, I can tell you one thing for certain: Fire Emblem Awakening is unexpectedly fast. I’ve long said that I dislike TRPGs because it takes for freakin’ ever to do the simplest thing (like, ya know, kill an entire army full of people), and comparing a TRPG to other genres is always going to make a TRPG look like a literal waste of time. If this were Fire Emblem Warriors (which, wow, I guess is a thing now), I’d have about 600 enemy units dead before I finished my first turn in Fire Emblem 4 Realsies. And who has time for that? I have a bunch of really fast, really fun videogames right here. They’re all around me! They will likely one day consume me! I’m gonna go play Mega Man, let me know when this eternal combat turn ends.

But Fire Emblem Awakening moves astoundingly quickly. Combat animations are actually interesting and dynamic, movement placement is as easy as dragging a mouse around the screen, and, if all else fails, you can rely on the AI to round out a turn (and hopefully not get everyone killed). Enemy turns move at an excellent pace, and, even when some random dude has four attacks versus two counters, a turn is over in less time than it takes to grab a shower burrito. Despite my own general prejudice toward TRPG slowness, Fire Emblem Awakening doesn’t feel like a waste of my precious time (that could be spent playing Mario Bros.).

roar!And, interestingly enough, this extends to time spent outside of the battle, too. “Equipment” as it is traditionally defined in a JRPG is limited to simply weapons, and most characters (save our tactician player avatar) are limited to one or two weapon types, max. So you grab your best sword, give it to your best gal, and call it a day. The end. Other stats, like defense, are controlled by consumable “powerup” items that either last for one battle or are permanent. So determine who is the most useful, feed ‘em a few extra magic shields, and we’re good to go. There is no juggling equipment to make sure everyone has ice armor for the fire cave, or investigating every single shop to determine if every female character has their proper Minerva dress. It’s just grab some gear and go. And going is good!

And that lack of extra equipment makes managing item bags a breeze. Everybody got their emergency elixir and a weapon or two? Fast gals got their keys in case of treasure emergencies? Great! Let’s mosey!

And speaking of moseying…

The Grid Ain’t so Bad

I have said before that I hate grids. But I can live with Fire Emblem Awakening’s general movement grid. Why?

I have no idea. Huh.

So many squaresI generally dislike grid movement because it feels completely limiting compared to “real” movement. People do not move in grids. People are loosey-goosey! We left behind the crosspad before we even got out of the 20th Century, so who wants to deal with an entire army that can’t even move diagonally? But, somehow, Fire Emblem Awakening just feels like… it works? It’s probably a side effect of the whole speed thing, but “playing chess” with these characters feels oddly natural. I’m going to chalk this one up to one of those “Nintendo Magic” experiences. Somebody knows how to make a land-bound elf and a tubby, surprisingly acrobatic plumber’s movement feel equally valid, so it makes sense that sword dudes would somehow feel natural being tied to invisible squares. Or maybe I just didn’t notice the grids because I was actually enjoying myself. Hm.

And speaking of enjoying myself…

The Plot is Actually Enjoyable (And Anime)

Full disclosure: I am a sucker for time travel. Lucina is Chrom’s child from an alternate future where a dragon decided to munch on all of humanity? And that dragon is the evil twin of one of your own party members, so there’s a future child and a future alternate bad guy? And there could be an entire literal army of other future children? Hook that to my veins! This hole was made for me! Something about time travel being my waifu!… Actually, yeah, “waifus” are kind of an issue here…

It's sad, reallyFire Emblem Awakening is a TRPG, but you’re also encouraged to… uh… breed your warriors. Practically your entire army can have relationships, and these relationships have a basis in dialogue (general between battle hangout sessions) and actually war gameplay (units teaming up and defending/assisting each other). In a way, this is a transparent attempt to further elaborate on characters that are inevitably not going to be involved in the legitimate plot (since standard mode allows for perma-death, technically every character except the leads could be dead within their introductory battle, so we can’t very well hang plot twists on their potentially limited existences), but it also offers a better way to “get to know” warriors that might be interesting in battle (that one turns into a giant ferret! What’s up with that!?), but are otherwise superfluous to the greater narrative. And it also scratches that visual novel itch that seems to have wormed its way into a number of titles (presumably thanks to one biggie). But one significant side effect of these interactions is that certain soldiers can fall for certain other (heteronormative) soldiers. And then they get married. And have babies. And babies inherit skills, return from the future, and become soldiers. And, oh man, Chrom started a forever war without even trying!

And, yes, I had heard of this aspect of FEA before playing the title. And, frankly, I was downright terrified of having to properly manage my relationships and “breeding” for perfectly tweaked future children that have all the best skills and advantages and hair colors. But you know what? It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to micromanage the relationships of these characters, and, give or take a bad ending for one of my luminaries that apparently became a sad drunk without a woman to keep him in line, there were no real consequences to this anti-waifu decision. Like “real”, non-casual mode, there was this entire facet of Fire Emblem Awakening that I could focus on if I wanted to, and it would always be there, but I could ignore it and still have a fun time. A few of my chess pieces hooked up, most of them didn’t, and that was just fine by me.

And you know what else is fine?

Class Changes are Always Cool

Look at this:

POWER UP

Damn, that’s cool.

Okay, I like this franchise now. I can finally say that I officially, uncompromisingly like a TRPG. Way to go, Fire Emblem Awakening.

FGC #438 Fire Emblem Awakening

  • System: Nintendo 3DS, though, given this was apparently the Fire Emblem that revitalized and popularized the entire franchise, I’d expect a rerelease of some kind in the future.
  • Number of players: Can we please, please get a 2 player TRPG battling game? Has this happened in other Fire Emblem titles? Were they any good? I want to know!
  • Yay!  Marth!Anime gonna anime: Of course there is a character that looks like a 12-year old girl but is actually a millennia old dragon person. Other than that, the “anime” of Fire Emblem Awakening isn’t really all that bad, and, with a more Western paintjob, the majority of this title could actually be closer to Tolstoy than Sword Art Online. Okay, that might be pushing it a bit, but this is a surprisingly brutal (re: high body count) story for what I was expecting to be a lot more bubblegum.
  • Mistakes were made: Apparently I wholesale murdered that one dark magician girl everybody is always talking about. I regret nothing.
  • Favorite Soldier: It’s weird, but I wound up gravitating to Lissa. She’s just involved enough in the plot to be present for notable events, and her general personality is an excellent counter to many of the more dour or incidentally blood-thirsty characters. And she can become a pretty competent red mage sage, which is always helpful. Oh, and she has an inferiority complex thanks to a magical tattoo, so that’s also fun.
  • Favorite Future Child: Chrom wound up with Sumia in my playthrough (remember: I do not care), so we wound up with Cynthia, Lucia’s little sister that apparently wants to become a hero… without any real idea of how to do that. And that works surprisingly well! Lucina is all doing the mysterious knight routine and cutting a swath across her own past… and Cynthia can barely figure out how to properly wear pants. They seem like siblings to me.
  • So now do you better understand why these characters are in Smash Bros? Not really. Okay, Robin is pretty damn cool, and surprisingly friendly for her “cool tactician” role… but she’s otherwise fairly unremarkable. Chrom is a generic hero that fights for his friends, so there’s not much there. And I'm so tiredLucina is a goddamn bad ass that bends the laws of time and space to get exactly what she wants and incidentally save the world… but she winds up being the lamest clone character in Smash? Dammit! The coolest one got the worst treatment! I suppose the camaraderie between Robin and Chrom is commendable/memorable, but, having just finished Awakening, I’d rather just see Lucina kicking ass and taking names in a role wholly her own.
  • Did you know? There are a lot of DLC and Spotpass scenarios available, and that appears to be what is intended as the “post-game” of Awakening. But did you know this was the first Nintendo title to feature DLC in any significant form? And the first Nintendo game to feature a DLC swimsuit scenario, because J/TRPG fans are horny as hell? The more you know!
  • Would I play again: I would be curious to see how a more “informed” playthrough of Fire Emblem Awakening would shake out, as I now know many things I did not know before (like who to avoid murdering). But I don’t think I will be doing that for a while, as, now that I have a Fire Emblem “base”, I can try a few other titles that have been recommended over the years. Awakening appears to be a great jumping-on point for the series, and I’m curious to see if this cast/gameplay holds up elsewhere…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Trials of Mana! Yeah! I’m sure that was a random choice! Time for the grand trial of the Goddess of Mana! Please look forward to it!

I admit it

FGC #410 Mega Man Battle Network 6 Cybeast Gregar & Falzar

GWARHere lies the Mega Man Battle Network series. May it soon return to us.

In a way, Mega Man is videogames. He was right there at the dawn of the NES, and starred in a new, great title every year. He was one of the chosen few to star in Captain N: The Gamemaster, and he had a few shows of his own over the years. But all of his media traced back to one videogame franchise, and as the decades and technology went by, Mega Man grew and changed with them. Mega Man X heralded the dawn of a new, super age, and Mega Man Legends introduced us to the glory of polygons. And when Mega Man seemingly faltered on the consoles, he sought shelter on the handheld systems of the day. Mega Man Zero and Z/X continued the action-based gameplay of Mega Man X, while Mega Man Battle Network and Mega Man Star Force made an attempt at the new action JRPG genre that had cropped up around gamers’ unpleasant need for games with more and more words. By the time the DS’s popularity was winding down, it was time for Original Mega Man to make his retro return to consoles, and thus could the whole cycle begin anew.

Except… Mega Man’s adopted father, Keiji Inafune, left Capcom in 2010, and the franchise has been slow to restart since. Mega Man 11 is apparently on the way, complete with its own tie-in animated series, but, by and large, Mega Man has languished in cameos for the past decade. Poor little metal boy, left all alone with nary an e-tank to keep him company! Where will we find that amazing Mega Man gameplay now!?

Jackin' itBut that’s the joy of this glorious new future: we do not want for Mega Man games, because Mega Man so greatly influenced gaming, there are now modern successors to his legacy. Shovel Knight is totally its own thing and absolutely a Mega Man game occasionally starring Explosion Man trying to impress his fabulous girlfriend. Walking and gunning opponents until they give up their abilities seems to have become a staple of many 2-D games, and, even though the queen is dead, long live the queen. Mega Man may not have had a new official release in years, but the fan community has also kept the bot alive, and if you want to see the lil’ guy take out the Street Fighter cast, go ahead and download that exe. We’ve got Mega Man games oozing out of our arm cannons!

But we need a few more Mega Man Battle Networks.

Every (mainline) Mega Man Battle Network game is unquestionably a JRPG. What’s more, the entire franchise is basically Pokémon. You’ve got a shorts-clad protagonist that pals around with a bunch of random archetype kids, solves all of the world’s problems through pet (sorry, PET) battling, and, for some inexplicable reason, the villains that could potentially just kick over our rollerblading hero somehow lose to the power of friendship and teamwork. But all of that is just precursor for the best part of any MMBN/Pokémon game: futzing around in the world and becoming a Level 100 battle demigod. The post-game of this franchise is always amazing, and all that talky talk can get lost in the recycling bin for all anybody cares. Who doesn’t enjoy earning icons that forever signify your victory over the super, super, super hidden boss?

But Mega Man Battle Network has one thing that is completely missing from Pokémon: it’s actually fun to play.

WoofOkay, as someone that has sunk a legitimate 400 hours into the last three Pokémon titles, I know that’s absurd hyperbole. Pokémon games are fun to play, in their way, but they are, at their cores, little more than chess. It’s all about strategy and planning, but the game itself could technically be played by a thumb attached to a jar (the jar, like most jars, contains a brain, duh). Mega Man Battle Network still relies heavily on strategy and planning, but actual physical skill is required for every battle. It doesn’t matter if you have the best chip folder on the net, you need to actually move that MegaMan.exe around the screen, dodge incoming projectiles, and maybe score an all-important counter so you can attack a weak point for maximum damage. Mega Man Battle Network is an action JRPG that amazingly adapts Mega Man gameplay. That’s no small feat! Looking at you, Mega Man X Command Mission!

And, what’s more, MMBN doesn’t make “action JRPG” a scary phrase. There have been many titles that attempted to add action heroes to the JRPG formula, and failed miserably. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood could have been an interesting adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog’s “gotta go fast” gameplay to the traditionally slow world of JRPGs (wait, this was always a terrible idea), but its constant need for timed hits every encounter quickly made battles a disappointing slog. There’s no such problem in MMBN, though, as, if you know what you’re doing, your average fight can be over in literally a second. And that’s not a glitch; you will receive all sorts of prizes for unleashing a 700 HP Program Advance at the starting bell. You’re encouraged to be as ruthless as possible, and that means snappy, fun gameplay. Just ask Kratos!

So it’s a bit of a pisser that this glorious action-JRPG gameplay from 2001 is apparently gone forever.

BY THE PITFull disclosure? At its core, the Mega Man Battle Network series is a card-based action JRPG. And I hate card-based games! I would sooner send the entire genre to the Shadow Realm than spend another moment of my life waiting to draw from my deck so I can actually do something. By my view, there are people that rave about the great gameplay of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and, on the other side of the aisle, there are sane people. Nine times out of ten, a card-based action JRPG just means you’re doing the same action you’d normally be performing, but maybe weaker, because you have the same luck as John McClane, and, by God, you’ll be walking barefoot over broken glass before you draw an actually useful card. I don’t care how dutifully you stack the deck beforehand, you’ll be wasting turn after turn waiting for the one card that completes your hand.

But Mega Man Battle Network doesn’t have that problem. Battles are snappy to the point of absurdity, and even if you’ve got a bad draw, you’re still essentially playing Mega Man (albeit one without jumping). It’s fun, exciting, and there isn’t the unending lingering found in its other card-based brethren. Mega Man Battle Network is wholly unique in its dedication to action and strategy!

And nothing else even comes close. So, please, Capcom, Inafune, or somebody, please bring back Mega Man Battle Network.

(But you can keep making regular Mega Man games, too.)

FGC #410 Mega Man Battle Network 6 Cybeast Gregar & Falzar

  • System: Gameboy Advance. It also made it to the WiiU virtual console in 2016, but fat lot of good that does us all now.
  • Scary!Number of players: Like Pokémon, MMBN also always had a robust “meta game” where you could fight your friends. I… don’t think I ever had a friend that was also playing this game… so… uh… I’m sad now.
  • Going to talk about the plot? Maybe if ROB chooses another MMBN game, and I’m not cripplingly nostalgic for the good ol’ days of its gameplay. Look, for MMBN6, just know that the internet was once inexplicably ravaged by a pair of magical monsters, and Dr. Wily wants to bring them into the real world because he’s mad at his adopted son (because his regular son has amnesia).
  • Which version is best? There’s a lot to unpack there, because, not only are there unique Navis between versions, but both versions are direct sequels to the separate versions of Mega Man Battle Network 5. Which story would you like to continue? Which navis would you like to fight? What unique forms would you like to utilize? I chose Gregar version, because it includes a choo-choo.
  • Favorite Navi (this game): EraseMan.exe is a play at featuring the grim reaper in a children’s game, and that’s always fun for everybody. He’s got guillotines for feet! He’s also known as KillerMan.exe in Japan, which is a little less subtle.
  • Did you know? Speaking of EraseMan.exe, if Killer Cross, the version of MegaMan.exe when he’s fused with EraseMan.exe, attacks a virus with a 4 in its HP, the virus will be instantly erased. This is because 4 is a number of death in Japan… which must really make counting in that country a real pain in the ass.
  • Would I play again: Cooooome on, Mega Man Battle Network Collection for Switch. You can do it, Capcom!

What’s next? Random Rob has chosen… Clayfighter 63⅓ for the N64! Is it just two thirds shy of being a good game? We’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

Slashy slashy