Tag Archives: jrpg

FGC #503 Final Fantasy 5

Not very finalLet’s talk about why you think the end of the world is a good idea.

Final Fantasy 5 has become one of the most enduring Final Fantasy titles. No, it has not yet warranted a direct sequel, nor is it receiving a high-definition remake featuring ring wraiths that really should have better things to do with their un-lives. Unfortunately, from a Square-Enix perspective, Final Fantasy 5 has been little more than a piddly JRPG that occasionally gets rereleased on cell phones. But the Final Fantasy fan community has been milking Final Fantasy 5 in new and interesting ways practically since its inception. Back in the day, thanks to FF5 never reaching Western shores, it was one of the first games that encouraged a generation to learn how to patch a rom to experience Final Fantasy Extreme. From there, fans continued to support this 1992 release well into the future with online competitions to see who could hate their life the most thanks to a twitter-based robot prescribing the use of berserker after berserker. Recently (well, relatively recently in the lifespan of FF5, as we’re talking about a game that is old enough to realize it has done nothing with its life, oh God, it can’t even think about having kids right now) fans seem to have come full circle, as there was the “Ancient Cave” mod for FF5, which itself needed a new English translation patch. This “whole new way to play” essentially turns Final Fantasy 5 into a rogue-like, using the already amazing backbone of FF5 gameplay and transcending genres. Not bad for a game that was released the same year as Night Trap!

Let's kick itBut if you’ve never played Final Fantasy 5, you may be asking why exactly this title is so enduring even among its luminous peers. Final Fantasy 6 or Final Fantasy 12 may be widely regarded as amazing, but you don’t see anyone saddling up with Ultrosbot for an annual online competition. Final Fantasy 11 or Final Fantasy 14 may have servers that will keep going until a meteor strikes the planet, but neither title has had the kind of fan support that has endured from day one to day 10,000. There’s a Final Fantasy 7 Remake, not a Final Fantasy 7 Ancient Cave. And why is that? Because Final Fantasy 5 is the perfect intersection of simple and complex. Final Fantasy 5 can be completed in a scant few hours (well, by JRPG standards), but there are 500 different ways to complete the game. And why? It’s the fabulous job system of Final Fantasy 5. This system has been seen before in the franchise, and would certainly be seen again, but here in FF5 it is somehow at its most pure. It is to the point that you could legitimately complete all of Final Fantasy 5’s challenges as your favorite combo of fighters, or with an entire party of Geomancers (which, to be clear, is no one’s favorite). Under the hood, FF5 is an incredibly well-balanced experience, and it is all thanks to a gameplay system that is immediately understandable and unerringly complex. You can be a Knight that just smacks things with swords, or memorize the Periodic Table of Elements to master the powers of the Chemist class. Both are worthy options! This is no mere advertising bullet point: you really can play Final Fantasy 5 a different way every time.

The enduring love of this Final Fantasy Fandom is all because of this amazing job system. And how do you get a job in Final Fantasy 5? Why, you simply watch the world fall to pieces.

And, don’t worry, it’s exactly as bad as that sounds.

I know that guyFinal Fantasy 5 is generally regarded as one of the more cheery Final Fantasy adventures. There aren’t any child suicides, the main protagonist is unerringly optimistic and not a sullen dork, and your prerequisite dead party member is an old man that already had his time to shine, not a 20-something young lady who still had so many folding chairs to master. However, over the course of your adventure, the winds cease and stagnate, fire loses its warmth, and the very Earth begins to lose its life. An ancient forest is burned to the ground (with some medium-well fire), kingdoms fall to monsters, and cartographers hurl themselves off towers thanks to unprecedented, instantaneous continental drift. The sun might still be shining, and everyone might be smiling, but, right up until the world is ultimately saved, roughly a third of the world’s population has been sucked into a black hole. By pretty much any rubric, that’s a bad time for everybody. And what is the cause of all of this devastation? The life-sustaining crystals representing the four primal elements are gradually shattered over the course of our heroes’ adventure, and the world is increasingly worse for it. Every time a crystal breaks to pieces, everyone suffers more and more.

Well, except the Light Warriors. They’re only getting more and more power from each broken crystal.

The job system that so perfectly defines Final Fantasy 5 is only expanded thanks to the power of the crystals. Each new crystal shattering is a disaster for the world, but it is also the only time your heroes receive new jobs. And, since you, the player, wants to have as many jobs (and possibilities!) as possible, you’ll be happy every time a crystal explodes. An entire kingdom has gone up in flames? That’s rough, but you just gained the ability to become a ninja! Score! Cheer up, peasant, Bartz is gonna dual-wield over the ashy remnants of your former life!

This is great!And, for the player, advancement through misery isn’t limited to just the jobs system. “Cool stuff” in Final Fantasy 5 is continually gated behind outright tragedy. The ancient, ultimate weapons are under glass until the big villain can get through about 80% of his apocalyptic plan. Two high level summons are only possible after killing beloved pets and companions. Stella. STEEEEEEELLA! (“Cool trauma, bro, you get a new song.”) Final Fantasy 5’s plot leans heavily on the concept that much of the misery across its world is thanks to the sins of the previous generation, regardless of whether they were well meaning heroes or older societies attempting to drain extra power from the crystals; but did they all have to pay for their sins with death? And did that death have to refill your HP for the final battle? Can there be a single catastrophe in this universe that doesn’t directly benefit the player?

And, while this may be a particularly egregious example of this trope, it is by no means the only videogame where this is the norm. Mega Man X hates killing his fellow reploids, but boy do you sure love getting shiny new weapons. Sad dads are continually sad about being sad dads that are forced to make sad choices, but you better believe you enjoy soaking in the tangible trophies of their sad carnage. And some games can’t even get going until an apocalypse has already happened! It would be downright psychotic to shoot congregating shoppers at the mall, but if they’re an army of infected zombies, you don’t even stop to reload. The message to your average videogame player is clear: once things go to absolute $^#%, that’s when you’re really going to shine. After the end of the world, that’s when you are rewarded.

And it’s important to note that that is some very dangerous thinking.

I know those guysFor future generations that may be reading this blog entry in the east wing of the Goggle Bob Museum of Stuff Goggle Bob Liked So He Got a Museum Museum, this entry is being written in the middle of a global pandemic. It has changed practically everything about our daily lives, and has killed literally thousands and thousands of people. It would not be a stretch to call this a sort of apocalypse, and it would be very much correct to designate this entire situation as a disaster. One way or another, it is a time when, for one reason or another, absolutely everyone needs all the help they can get. And what help would that be? Well, some people need readily accessible food, some people need other people to stay home so they can do their life-saving jobs, and some people just need the kind of emotional support that becomes necessary when you spend days and months isolated from human contact. And do you know what is zero help at all? People that know Rapid Fire, how to summon meteors, or anyone whose job could be listed as “Samurai”. Despite the terms “hero”, “war”, and “invisible enemy” being tossed around, the last thing this situation needs is people who think they can solve a problem by hitting it. The heroes of Final Fantasy 5? And the heroes of every videogame? They’d all be completely useless in this situation (save maybe Dr. Mario). We’re dealing with a global catastrophe on a scale worthy of Exdeath, but the idea that some Light Warriors could come and save everyone is ludicrous.

And it sounds obvious to say such a thing out loud, but it’s important to remember this information for… lesser disasters. Not everything is a global calamity. Sometimes bad things happen, and you don’t so much as get a crystal shard for your troubles. Videogames (and so much of fiction in general) runs on the concept that every cloud has a silver lining, and a tragic death in act two just means that a friendly ghost is going to help everyone in act three. That is not reality. He bitesSometimes you just lose. Sometimes you have to live with pain and suffering, and the best you can hope for is the mental fortitude to not dwell on it for the next twenty years. PTSD does not grant a level up bonus. Yes, it’s easy to nod and agree with this notion when reading it from the relative comfort of the internet, but your subconscious has been soaking up the hidden morals of Final Fantasy 5 and its ilk for decades. The world is falling apart! I hope I get a legendary sword out of the deal!

So what’s today’s moral? Final Fantasy 5 is an amazing game, but remember it’s only a game. Even after you strip out the talking turtles and magic trees, it’s still not even approaching reality. Keep that in mind as you make decisions in our all-too-real world. There aren’t any Warriors of the Crystals running around, and you’re not going to be granted a new job just because society is falling apart. Be the kind of hero this world really needs, not one that thinks they can solve problems with a “fight” command.

The end of the world isn’t good for anybody.

FGC #503 Final Fantasy 5

  • System: In Japan, originally on the Super Nintendo. In America, we had to wait for the Playstation. Eventually, everybody got it on the Gameboy Advance. And now it’s on a bunch of Playstations and cell phones.
  • Number of players: Final Fantasy 6 was the one with the 2-player, 2-controllers option, right? I think it’s just one this time.
  • BLAMPort-o-Call: Give me the Gameboy Advance version any day of the week, as it seems to have the best translation. And by “best” I mean “the one that contains nonsensical references to early 21st Century internet culture”. That’s all I want from a game! And there’s a bonus dungeon with bonus bosses and bonus jobs, too, I guess.
  • Favorite Monster: The Unknown creatures in the undersea rift are unpleasant to look at, just like a good monster should be. Second runner up is the tonberry, which makes its first appearance here in Final Fantasy 5, but didn’t really come into its own until the great doinkening of Final Fantasy 8.
  • So, what were your jobs: I played fast and loose, game genied my way to every job at the start, and just had some fun seeing if Necromancer is a remotely viable job in the first dungeon. Spoilers: it’s not great. Final Fantasy 5 is a game with such a glut of options, it practically encourages cheating your way into ridiculous, possibly Chemist-based situations. Just have fun with it, and, just in case you slot in a berserker before a sand worm fight, remember to save often.
  • Favorite Job: Blue Magic also appeared for the first time in Final Fantasy 5, and, considering it grants its user a spiffy blue mask, Blue Mage is my favorite job. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of the abilities are overwhelmingly overpowered… but the same can be said for about a quarter of the jobs in Final Fantasy 5, so we’re just going to stick to what is commonly referred to as “the cape factor”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I first played this game emulated on a PC that didn’t even have a sound card. Battle on the Big Bridge? More like skirmish on the extremely quiet overpass. But at least I had the good sense to play the game after some nerd fixed all the transparency issues.
  • Axe you a questionDid you know? Each of the characters has default stats that make some slightly better suited for different jobs. Krile, for instance, has the greatest agility, so she’s better suited for… Bah! Who cares!? All that matters is they can all be Dancers, so just let ‘em dance.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Final Fantasy 5: excellent game, bad moral. Don’t go chasing apocalypses, kiddies!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Nintendo Wii. Oh good! I’m going to watch more planets explode. Please look forward to it!

FGC #497.2 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

Please note that this article contains distinct spoilers regarding Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. You have been warned!

Go Goku!There’s this moment in Dragon Ball Z at the end of the first significant story arc when Goku uses the Spirit Bomb. At this point, Goku has died, ventured through the afterlife, and returned from the grave when needed most to utilize a technique he could only learn from a nigh-god in another dimension. This attack, the Spirit Bomb, drains a tiny portion of power (“power” being vaguely nebulous in this case) from every living being on the planet, and combines all that strength into one focused “bomb” that he can hurl at his opponent, a giant monkey that is threatening everyone on Goku’s adopted planet (which is also Earth. You live there). In the grand scheme of narrative conceits, this is meant to be an important moment for Goku: he is the undisputed lead, the hero of this tale, but he cannot solve this problem with his own power. There is no solution here where Goku alone wins, so he must use this sacred technique, and, with the assistance of everyone on Earth, he can snatch victory from the hairy jaws of defeat. He can save the world thanks to the world. If this overarching metaphor isn’t obvious enough, Goku even whiffs his chance at pegging his opponent with this spirit ball, and requires another assist from another two fighters (one of which is best known for his propensity toward dying). Goku’s (currently) hated enemy is ultimately defeated by this spirit bomb, proving that it was not the super powerful Goku that was required to save the planet, but the strength of every person. Don’t put all of your faith in one “savior”, believe in the power of not one, but everyone.

And then Goku goes on to defeat every other opponent through hours and hours of one-on-one grunting ‘n punching. Goku is our Superman. Goku is our Jesus. All hail Goku, the guy that singlehandedly saved the world over and over again!

This happens often in fiction: the hero is the hero, and while there might be some moment or technique that uses “everyone’s power”, it all seems to come back to the one and only luminary. This is even more prevalent in videogames, as they are single-person experiences. Everyone in the party is working together to defeat the evil god du jour, but it all comes back to you, the exceptional player, making decisions, so the moral is muddied. And when you have RPGs that all but require the player to be the center of the universe, it gets even worse. That town lives or dies according to what sidequests you choose to complete, so it’s pretty obvious the world revolves around only you. Give me a moral about teamwork or whatever, fine, but in the end you intrinsically know that you are the only person that matters.

So you can imagine my surprise when Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE actually pulled off a “spirit bomb” finale without making its main character the center of the universe….

FGC #497.1 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

Let's go to TokyoTokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE contains possibly the best idea in all of crossover games, and it is a complete waste.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is a crossover game involving the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem franchises. However, while both franchises are unmistakably involved, TMS♯FE has much more in common with Shin Megami Tensei’s own spinoff: Persona. And, to be clear, that would the almost spinoff of a spinoff, the post-Persona 3 editions of Persona. Like those games, this is a story predominantly featuring quirky teenagers banding together to fight unknowable, wicked forces while also occasionally hanging out and buying maid costumes at the mall. In this case, the twist is that there is less of a focus on school and “mundane” daily life, as the heroes of the tale are also performers of varying disciplines. Singing! Acting! Whatever it’s called when you’re secretly a Power Ranger! The whole gang is entertaining fans by day, but clearing out monsters by night. … Or… also during the day… I don’t remember if there actually is a “night” in this game…

Regardless! While it’s always interesting to know whether or not your favorite is getting enough hits on Youtube or whatever, the meat and potatoes of TMS♯FE is based on beating back the malevolent mirages in dangerous dungeons. Mirages are essentially demons from another world that prey on the raw fan-power of citizens of our planet, and if these creatures are not defeated, then the whole of the population might not be able to enjoy the finer points of the latest Hatsune Miku release. And, somehow, it is revealed that the whole enterprise of this soul-sucking was supposed to revive an enormous black dragon that could theoretically obliterate the planet, so there are some stakes that go beyond whether some models are inconvenienced by a possessed pervert (it’s… a weird game).

Let's rockBut how do your mundane teenagers save their humdrum lives from this wholly fantastic threat? Simple! They team up with their own, benevolent mirages. These “good” mirages transform into weapons and armor (or at least costumes) for our heroes, and now our leading lady is hurling supernatural blasts from a flying, mechanical pegasus (is noting a pegasus as flying redundant? I suppose it could be a lazy pegasus…). And for anyone familiar with the Persona series, yes, these mirages essentially function like the titular persona “spirits” of that franchise. Everyone gets their own unique mirage, and it is technically this spirit that levels up and learns new skills. Itsuki Aoi can’t really handle himself in a fight against eldritch horrors, but his mirage, Chrom, has got the situation well in hand.

Yes, I said Chrom. Yes, that’s the star of Fire Emblem: Awakening and incidental opponent in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He’s a luminary of the Fire Emblem franchise, and he’s the prime mirage of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. He is the main character’s mirage, so he’s the headliner of the Fire Emblem characters.

And that’s a good thing. In fact, it’s a brilliant thing! The number one obstacle to anyone starting a JRPG is that it is inevitably going to be “new”. The Final Fantasy franchise is amazing, but right from its first sequel, it has changed dramatically from edition to edition. There are always new characters, new systems, and new menus to navigate with every version. And it seems like the JRPG genre as a whole has followed suit, as we can nary get through a new Dragon Quest or Breath of Fire without a significant shuffling of the deck. Mario might get a graphical upgrade, but he’s always going to be able to jump on goombas, and it doesn’t matter if there’s a water gun strapped to his back this time. Meanwhile, the latest Final Fantasy might introduce its hottest protagonist as Sticky Wicket the Gibbering Thicket, and he may or may not even have a basic “fight” command. Final Fantasy 16 features the ARQ battle system, and you may only attack when the global price of oil has reached a high point. You’ll get used to it!

We're all real!But the benefit of the crossover integral to Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE allows the user to skip that horrid “getting to know you” phase. Most obviously, the battle system of TMS♯FE combines the basic flow of Persona encounters with the nomenclature of both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, so if you’re familiar with either franchise, you’re going to recognize the myriad of arrows you’re supposed to rain down on this mounted opponent. And the mirages serve much the same purpose, but to grease the plot in the same way as the battle system. Itsuki Aoi is a completely new character created exclusively for this adventure, and, out of the box, he could be anything. Is he aloof and distant like Squall? Is a he a debonair playboy like Zidane? What kind of protagonist is he? Well, his mirage, his “persona”, is Chrom. And that tells us a lot! This isn’t just a nebulous mythological creature like what we’re used to seeing in Persona: this is a particular, defined hero that has appeared in another game. Chrom is the star of Fire Emblem of Awakening, and there’s an entire game’s worth of story and plotting that will tell us exactly how Chrom would react to a situation. This isn’t to say that Itsuki Aoi is Chrom, but given these characters are inextricably tied together practically from their respective introductions, we do have a general idea how Itsuki and Chrom are similar. We don’t need to wonder what kind of protagonist Itsuki is supposed to be, because we’re quickly given a definitive answer: he’s like Chrom.

And this is an amazing way to handle a crossover. You can have your cake and eat it, too! You get to introduce all-new characters with unique motivations and designs, but their immediate association with established characters from another established franchise allows the player to instantaneously identify and, more importantly, identify with the new class. It’s the reason there is always a Link in every Legend of Zelda (he is always strong, but kind), and even the reason Chrom exists in the first place. Back in Fire Emblem Awakening, you were supposed to see “this guy looks like Marth” and immediately assume he is the next heroic lord of the franchise. New character, old archetypes. And using this immediate familiarity in conjunction with a crossover grants players an opportunity to see disparate franchises come together and immediately understand their apparent links.

It’s just kind of a shame that this idea was wasted by relying on the Fire Emblem franchise.

Away we goLook, I know I’m biased. As I pointed out back when I first reviewed Fire Emblem: Awakening, I am not someone that has ever been a big fan of the FE franchise. I’m not generally a fan of strategy/tactics based RPGs, and, frankly, the way the franchise introduces a new cast of fifty randos with every sequel is daunting. I don’t have the time or inclination to go down the gargantuan rabbit hole that is the complete 30 year history of Fire Emblem.

But, that said, it would be nice if I even could.

Let’s see here… The first Fire Emblem game released in America was in 2004, far from the Japanese 1990 debut. From there, we saw the games featuring Ike on the Gamecube and Wii, but that was likely just because Nintendo was still smarting from the N64 years, and looking for a “Final Fantasy” killer… or at least one or two RPGs it could promote on its latest systems. Despite the Wii’s popularity exceeding certain kinds of bread (screw you, rye), Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn wasn’t a shining new dawn for the franchise. However, Fire Emblem Awakening, Fates, and Three Houses have been revelations across the board. If my twitter feed is any indication, Lady Edlegard is now the official Queen of Earth. However, that kind of popularity did not apply to Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a Nintendo DS release from 2009. It was a remake of a game that was not released in America, and this remake was released in America with about the same level of hype as Blue Dragon Plus. Remember Blue Dragon Plus? Me neither. But it’s not like half the cast of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is based on characters from Blue Dragon Plus…

It’s my own fault for not playing a random DS title from a decade prior, right? If I wanted to see Marth in action, I should have taken the chance back when I could. And I did play Fire Emblem: Awakening, and that game is featured as much as (if not more than!) Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. I should recognize everybody from that game!

Except…

Here she isThe second good mirage from Fire Emblem: Awakening that is introduced is Tharja. Tharja is a sorceress that is one of the most popular characters to come out of Awakening (apparently #3 in a Japanese poll that I have to assume is part of the national Japanese democratic process). She is a mage that is very shy, but very willing to use her magic and curses to damn anyone that gets in the way of her goals. She is also canonically bisexual, as she will fall in love with the main character regardless of gender. And her outfit is about 90% transparent nylon, so there’s probably a not insignificant portion of her fandom that simply wants to see her use her dark magic in more gratifying ways. In short, Tharja is a popular and unique character in FE: Awakening, so it makes sense she would be revisited for a crossover title.

And I’d love to tell you more about her, but when I played FE: Awakening, I kinda killed her on our first encounter. Look! I was trying to rescue a queen, and…. It was a bit of a whoopsie, okay? My bad!

Which brings us to the other issue with this Fire Emblem crossover: Fire Emblem is a very variable franchise. You saw it back in the day with permanent death options meaning some support buddies might not live to see the plot past the first chapter, and you see it today with Three Houses and three entirely separate stories dividing everyone’s experiences. Did you choose the Golden Deer route? Well, sorry about that reference to Edlegard being beloved earlier. You probably think she’s a bitch! And even within Fire Emblem: Awakening, you not only have the option of popular party members being killed, but about a third of the cast might not even exist if you don’t get the other 66% to breed like bunnies. Is Morgan your favorite character? Well I missed that dude or dudette, because my Robin knew how to keep it in her pants. There is a war happening, people!

Bye, friends!So this is Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE’s greatest strength and most glaring weakness: it relies on a complete familiarity with Fire Emblem. Rather than going the “easy” crossover route of only featuring the most obvious titans of its parent franchise, it features random dudes and ladies from across a few specific titles, and thus requires the player to be unerringly knowledgeable about everything in those games. It takes days to complete a Fire Emblem: Awakening playthrough, and you better have found everything if you want to truly understand the nuances involved in another hours-long JRPG experience. What could have been an excellent introduction to the Fire Emblem world is instead hampered by its own requirement that you already be an expert. It’s a crossover by fans, for fans, and it squanders its supreme strength as a result.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is a great crossover title, but it would be even better if I knew what the hell a “Draug” is supposed to be…

FGC #497.1 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

  • System: Nintendo WiiU, and now (finally) on the Nintendo Switch. No excuses! Go play it!
  • Number of players: Three man party, one man player.
  • Just play the gig man: The music is great. I mean, this is a game that is based on half the cast being in the music industry, so the music better be good, but… yeah. It’s good. It’s very easy to see how this game is the secret Persona game before Persona 5’s crazy soundtrack.
  • I assure you!Favorite Character: Ironically enough, it’s Kiria Kurono, the songstress associated with Tharja. While I’m always going to be annoyed when a character is built up as some incredible badass, and then the gameplay reveals she’s just kind of a middling mage (see also Persona 3’s Mitsuru), she also appears to be the only member of the team that actually knows what she’s doing at any given moment. And, yes, her whole “senpai” role seems to be literally designed to be appealing to the average Persona/SMT/FE player (again, see Mitsuru), and her “cool, but secretly cute” personality is obviously engineered to be endearing. But I still fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and I’m not going to over think it. Maybe I’m just happy she could hit that black dragon’s weak points.
  • Is there any other reason you like this game: Oh, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    ITS NUTS

    None at all.

  • Did you know? Draug is apparently a knight from Shadow Dragon, so that explains why I’ve never heard of the dork. According to the FE wiki, he is shown to have a comradery with two other characters, but this “link” only appeared in official art, and not actual gameplay, in his original games. So, yeah, that sounds like par for the course for the Fire Emblem franchise.
  • Would I play again: I’ll answer that shortly, as…

What’s next? We’re sticking to Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE for the moment, as I still want to talk about this game in a non-crossover context. So please tune in next Monday as crossover week is finished, but talking about the same stupid game in a slightly different way is back. Please look forward to it!

Achoo

FGC #489 Breath of Fire 2

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

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

Or… nobody notices they did anything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #489 Breath of Fire 2

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

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

Big problems
2020 state of the USA in a nutshell…