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FGC #284 Drakengard 3

Today’s article contains game-long spoilers for Drakengard 3. Nothing too specific, but it does kind of spoil the ultimate finale of the game, so, ya know, you’ve been warned.

Here comes a special boyA long time ago in a Snick long forgotten, my mother watched an episode of Ren & Stimpy with a wee Goggle Bob. This was unusual, as, while my mother usually did her best to watch what I was watching (we both enjoyed Clarissa Explains it All quite a bit), she didn’t (and still doesn’t) really like “cartoons” at all. So, one way or another, this was likely the first my mother sat and down and actually watched a complete Ren & Stimpy episode. The episode (The Big Baby Scam… I can remember almost all early Nicktoon episodes because they were rerun constantly) was a typical Ren & Stimpy jaunt, and ended with a pair of menacing babies punching the daylights out of Ren Höek. I was laughing uproariously, and my mother… was not impressed. I asked her why, and her response still sticks in my mind.

“I just don’t think violence is funny.”

This rocked my young mind. I am not, nor was I, a psychopath, so, of course, I shared the same belief. Violence is violence, it is bad. But, as far as I reasoned, this was not “violence”, it was Ren & Stimpy. It was a silly cartoon about a dog and a cat and their harebrained schemes to, what was it again? Oh yes, to live. Okay, yeah, if you think about Ren & Stimpy for a moment, it is kind of horrifying, because many episodes are just about two stray animals desperately trying to find a place to live and belong. But then, the next episode, they’re space cadets out in the universe, and isn’t Stimpy a silly kitty? Never mind that practically every episode ends with either Ren slapping Stimpy or Ren being punished by the universe for being Ren, they’re just a couple of inane cartoon animals, no “violence” here.

And, obviously, that’s bullshit.

This has long been the rallying cry of pearl-clutchers everywhere, but cartoons do normalize violence. There’s hitting, there’s falling down, and there are any number of “whacky” firearms being blasted all over the place. I’m pretty sure the average American can simply close their eyes and relive the “Daffy has his beak blown around” image from Looney Tunes. And, on one hand, who cares, it’s funny. On the other hand, it’s a sentient creature being shot in the face. That is not normal. That is upsetting. But it’s a cartoon, so it practically becomes a part of our cultural identity. And, as someone who watches a lot of cartoons, I want to say there’s nothing wrong with that. Kids are smarter than they’re often given credit for, and it’s not hard to discern the difference between Elmer Fudd and an actual threat with a gun. I haven’t ever seen a real life anvil dropped on a random person, so I’m pretty sure our society has survived the last few decades of “animated violence”. The kids are alright.

And then we get into videogames.

And gore!I don’t need to rehash the whole “violent videogames” angle, do I? We’ve all heard the debates, and we’ve all dealt with at least one family member or friend that thinks you’re going to “go Columbine” because you play murder simulators. It’s crazy, right? We all agree there? We don’t play violent videogames because they’re violent, or to learn violence; we play violent videogames because that’s how videogames interpret the world. Call of Duty or Splatoon, who cares? What’s the difference between a virtual gun and a virtual water gun? They’re both just as ineffective on that damn cat with the flags, so let’s get over this whole “videogame violence” thing. Videogames are good for you! Now sit down and finish your Mary-Kate and Ashley: Magical Mystery Mall!

But do you ever really sit down and think about what you’re doing in a videogame? Let’s look at Final Fantasy 1, a game I want to say no parents’ organization has ever challenged (though I’d be amused to hear otherwise). On the surface you’ve got four kinda goofy looking dudes with swords and nunchucks traipsing across a medieval countryside occasionally making imps fall down. No big deal there. But then consider what actually happens in that game. The Light Warriors venture from Corneria to the next town over… an event that involves random encounters every seven steps, and each battle including one to nine different beasts. Our protagonists kill these creatures as easily as breathing, and chug magic drugs whenever they need to feel a little better. Along the way, they meet a blind old woman that lives alone in a cave… and then the heroes keep walking. Shortly thereafter, the gang arrives in Pravoka, determines they need a boat, and kill nine guys until the survivors give them a boat. Then they set sail for another land, and, aside from maybe returning to loot the place, the good people of Pravoka never see the Light Warriors ever again. They don’t even come back to patronize what I’m sure is a fine inn and ocean-side tourist stops.

Slay 'emWhat I’m saying is that the Light Warriors are the real monsters.

But this kind of inhumanity is the standard for most videogames. Children are suffering? Well, I’ll help them if they offer me a cool reward for their stupid little quest. Local economies live or die according to my weapon purchases? Well, I bought everything in this stupid little town, there’s no reason to come here ever again. And the monster thing? Have you ever considered how many species have been driven to extinction thanks to well-meaning heroes? Even a “kiddy” game like Pokémon involves walking through any given forest and knocking every last critter in your path into unconsciousness. That is not the sign of a well mind; that is an early warning sign for a serial killer.

Yoko Taro, a videogame director and writer, seemed to notice this. This thesis permeated his first big game, Drakengard. Unfortunately, Drakengard had a few problems, chief among them that it is about as fun to play as boiling your own eyelids. But then we got Taro’s Nier, a game that is totally bonkers, but actually fun to play. Unfortunately, the moral of Nier ultimately boiled down to “even the most virtuous hero is someone else’s villain”, which is an excellent lesson, but one that requires an actually chivalrous protagonist. The titular Nier is a dedicated father (or brother) who is unerringly kind to the various freaks that seem to populate his world. Assuming you’re not a damnable shadow creature, Nier is good to you, and, while this makes much of his life that much more of a tragedy, it also makes him (possibly over) sympathetic. Nier does what may be judged as bad things, but he does them for reasons that make sense to the player.

This cannot stand.

Zero is the heroine of Drakengard 3. Zero is also an asshole.

flitter flitterDrakengard 3 is the story of six sisters. All six sisters have overwhelming magical powers, and five of them decided to share these powers with everyone and rule justly and fairly in an effort to promote the betterment of mankind. And the sixth sister? Well, that’s Zero, and she decided to use her powers to kill her five sisters and every single man, woman, and centaur in between. She technically has a good reason for doing this, but she’s not big into sharing, so there isn’t much hope for a peaceful resolution. And, spoilers, like most videogame protagonists, she has little trouble achieving her goals. Basically, the simple act of popping the Drakengard 3 disc into your PS3 sets off a chain reaction that leads to the death of thousands across multiple universes. Though I guess Zero does manage to accomplish her murderous goals, so, uh, thanks for playing?

Taken on its own, Zero is not doing anything different from any other videogame, particularly those in the Dynasty Warriors vein. Zero enters the battlefield, cuts down a number of anonymous soldiers, maybe beats a mythological creature or two (minotaur, cerberus, whatever), and moves on to a boss that likely has a “human form” and then a colossal “monster form”, though feel free to reverse that order here and there. When it’s all over and everybody (and I mean everybody) is dead, then we discover that this whole “evil Zero” thing was some kind of smear campaign gone wrong, and Zero actually saved the world. Hooray for our side, trophies for everybody!

ClassyBut the devil is in the details here, and Zero is not afraid to reinforce her own negative self-image. Hell, there’s a reason she named herself “nothing”. This is a woman that kills, enjoys it, and then kills some more. At one point, she relays her whole sad backstory, but her narration is over a flashback of her slaughtering a small town’s worth of soldiers. The massacre has nothing to do with her tale, it’s just, ya know, how that woman thinks. She’s got a mind for murder, and murder on her mind.

And then there are her companions. Not unlike a JRPG, Zero has a party of acolytes that join her quest as the game progresses. Team Zero thus ultimately consists of:

  • A sadist that believes all ugly things must be killed. Side note: he believes everything is ugly.
  • A masochist that derives sexual pleasure from the tiniest implications of abuse. He was previously in a relationship with a very vocal virgin, so, to say the least, he’s a little repressed.
  • A perverted old man that, should he think and talk about sex any more than he already does, will accidentally invent Star Trek.
  • A pretty boy that is all beauty and no brains. Presumably because people have a tendency to always listen to the most attractive person in the room, he is constantly inventing “fun facts” that are, in fact, not all that factual.

Do any of these fellows sound like role models? Hell, do any of these guys sound like someone you’d like to share a continent with? I’ve got nothing against sadists, masochists, satyriasists, and dumbasses, but there’s a difference between extracting pleasure from pain and that being your only personality trait. But, here we are, four dudes that are almost entirely defined by their base desires, and they’re “your” party. Choose your favorite two for the battlefield. You’ll be relying on them for your life!

Directed by Yoko TaroAnd it’s in this manner that Taro accomplishes his goal. Zero and her amazing friends are all joined by one basic, mutual hypothesis: they all like killing. They all like it a lot. And you like it, too, don’t you? What’s that, you don’t like violence? No, that can’t be right, you just murdered about three hundred people in ten minutes, and this is the eighth time you’ve done it. You claim you won’t kill again? Bullshit, you’ll start the next mission and kill the next boatload of people, because you want to see how the story ends, don’t you? You want the achievements? You want the upgraded weapons? Ha, you’re just like this dork over here that’s masturbating over a corpse. Who cares if you’re doing it for EXP or to ride the baloney pony, you’re still killing like a psychopath, and you’re going to keep doing it because you enjoy it. You enjoy violence.

And maybe that’s not a good thing.

Of course, I’ve neglected to mention the first and youngest member of Zero’s posse. Mikhail is a dragon, and, because his previous form, Michael, was recently killed, he’s technically little more than an infant. As a wee (giant) dragon baby, Mikhail has the mind of a child, and a… less than complete understanding of his mistress. Mikhail believes that Zero should try to solve this problem by peacefully reconciling with her sisters, and she absolutely should not kill every person she encounters. Zero doesn’t listen, but, even though he aids Zero time and time again, Mikhail persists with his cries for pacifism. Yes, he does fight, but it’s defensively, and he actively notes that he’s not enjoying it, and he would rather not be doing this if there were any other way.

And he’s the only character that survives Drakengard 3. He’s the only character that survives after participating in the biggest, most annoying challenge on the PS3 that is, incidentally, entirely based on being defensive. All the violence up to this point has been easy, not solving your problems with swords and fire breath is hard.

That makes a bit of an impact.

UGHSo maybe Mom and Yoko Taro are right. Maybe there is something to this whole violence in media thing. Maybe it doesn’t make an impact on our minds, maybe it does. Who knows? All I do know is that most media is content to be “don’t worry about it, it’s just a fantasy”, while Drakengard 3 proudly states, “you like violence? Then there might be something wrong with you.” It’s not the worst judgment, after all, this band of freaks did save their world (after a fashion), but it is something to consider.

Anyway, next week is going to be… Mortal Kombat (9ish) for the PS3? Seriously, ROB? Okay, now you’re just screwing with me.

FGC #284 Drakengard 3

  • System: Playstation 3. Exclusive? Yeah, that’s gonna move a lot of systems.
  • Number of players: It might be neat to get some two player disciple action, but, nope, Zero one player.
  • What’s in a name: The Drakengard franchise is known as “Drag-on Dragoon” in Japan. I cannot tell you how much I prefer that title (it’s a lot).
  • Favorite Disciple: This isn’t usually my preference, but I’m going to go with pretty boy Cent as my favorite. He seems to be the most active of the disciples before his official turn to Zero’s side, and he might be the… least crazy member of the party. Then again, he also summons a magical spider creature almost by accident, and that can’t be completely sane.
  • Backstory: Oh yeah, never read the backstory for Zero. I cannot stress this enough. It’s basically written by Frank Miller. Modern Frank Miller. Avoid at all costs.
  • So much loveLadies’ Night: I could probably write an entire other article on the sexual politics of this game… but I’m not sure if I’d ever reach a conclusion. On one hand, the women rule this world, and there is not a single male that isn’t, in some way, a servant to a woman. That’s cool and oddly feminist for a Japanese game. On the other hand, those powerful women seem to be designed exclusively to check off boxes for various fetishes (like a certain other franchise), so only Zero and One (binary!) come off as “real” characters. Otherwise, you’ve just got nymphy, virgin, lolita, and crazy. Mind you, I haven’t played the DLC, so I don’t know if there is more “shading” there, but, as is, it’s a disappointing turn.
  • Did you know? Oh, and speaking of which, Taro apparently told the character designers to look to Puella Magi Madoka Magica for tips on character design. Now I can’t unsee half the sisters being obvious MM “homages”. Though I suppose a MM/D3 crossover is more likely now…
  • Would I play again? Maybe… I guess. This is a lot more fun than Drakengard 1, but, on the other hand, it’s not as fun as Nier, so….

What’s next? Random ROB already chose Mortal Kombat for some reason, presumably because he’s an evil robot and is not to be trusted. So, anyway, violence for violence’s sake. Please look forward to it!

THE END

FGC #274 Arcana Heart

SKULLS?Gaming has grown up over the years, and the generational shift seems… oddly precise.

First we have the Atari (and whatever qualified as a videogame before that), which is the vaguely remembered toddler years. You’ve got a bunch of games that are kind of feeling out what can be done, and a lot more games that just have no idea what to do. For every Mario Bros. you’ve got about a dozen more like M*A*S*H . And, even more than that, you’ve got a million games that are “just exactly the same as that other game, but with a new set six pixels”. There are one or two luminaries in the Atari library, but, by and large, they’re all interchangeable, and only revered for being there right from the beginning.

Now the Nintendo is where we get into gaming’s real “childhood”. There is exploration here, but, by and large, this is where gaming learned to walk, and then ran with it. Super Mario Bros. led to a million imitators, but, looking at the game coupled with thirty years of gaming experience, you can see how even something today like Breath of the Wild or Overwatch can partially trace back to the adorable plumber. Much of what we consider “gaming” truly began here, and it’s as much about the gameplay as it is the franchises. However, speaking of those franchises, practically everything from this era is fairly… kiddy. Thanks to Nintendo’s iron grip and general fear of jocks, all of those classic games are cartoony, and contain about as much adult content (whether that be violence, sex, or even religion) as your average episode of Dora the Explorer. But that’s fine! This is gaming’s childhood, and it was meant for children, so it all worked out. Bubble Bobble Madcap Violence Edition would just have to wait for a few years.

Dang skullsThe 16-bit years are so tween they practically hurt to look at. Mega Man has gone from chubby blue bot to hardcore, shiny “Reploid” (“It’s like a regular robot but… you wouldn’t understand, mom.”) who worries about death and war and stuff. Link watches his uncle die (he got better), and Castlevania eventually released a game that featured blood dripping from every available hole. Mortal Kombat and Sonic the Hedgehog defined this era of gaming, as it was all about attitude and violence and…. not much else. The 16-bit era was an attempt at gaming being more “its own thing” and “edgy”, but almost all of it amounted to exactly nothing. Mortal Kombat was violent for the sake of being violent, it didn’t have anything relevant to say on the subject of ghost skeletons being decapitated by ice ninja. It was just like a tween adopting their older sibling’s clothing and claiming to be “with it”. … Do kids still say “with it”? Uh, did they ever?

The Playstation One era is clearly gaming puberty. And, let’s be clear here, it’s not the fun kind of puberty that appears in 80’s movies wherein some hapless nerd trips into the girls’ locker room and participates in his first sexual harassment; no, I’m talking about the real kind of puberty, where suddenly you’re interested in the opposite (or same, it’s tough all around) sex, and last week you were totally okay with playing with Transformers, and now the most important thing in your life is that there is a pool party at the end of the week, and OH GOD IT’S GOING TO BE HORRIBLE. This would be about when gaming as a whole decided that everything that came before was crap (and far too 2-D), and everything had to be reinvented for a new, much more mature audience that is totally into skateboards. Like the 16-bit era, this was yet another example of “maturity = Lara Croft has boobies”, but it was still a gigantic change in the gaming landscape. Contra couldn’t just be a fun game about aliens anymore, now there had to be hardcore plots and 3-D glasses and… ugh. At the time, it seemed like the be all, end all of everything, but, in retrospect, it was just more gaming growing pains. Sorry, Adventure Island you’re too immature for us now.

They're so fun!Following this line of thinking, you might surmise that I would identify the Playstation 2 era as the next logical step, the “adult phase” of gaming. And that’s… kind of true. But I wouldn’t say gaming matured until basically the Playstation 3 era, when we got two important things. One, gaming got comfortable again with revisiting “childish” franchises, likely thanks to the joy of downloadable titles, so we could benefit from “arcade experiences” and other games that only last an afternoon (as opposed to a 40 hour “experience”). And, two, we got the Vita, which is all panties, all the time. And, now that the Vita is dying, it looks like we’ll be getting that same (fan) service on the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch. So, hooray, horny games for everybody!

Now, to be clear, I don’t think underage anime tiddy games are adult. Far from it, in fact, and I’ve got a Wankery Week to prove it. However, I am downright proud of the fact that, after decades of acting like “sexy” is an accident that dribbles into otherwise wholesome games, the gaming industry is finally acknowledging that, for whatever reason, there are people that want to play videogames that are vaguely pornographic. We’re still not completely “there” (I could write an entire article about the sexual politics of Persona 5), but, in the same way that the XXX section of your local video store (no longer actually a thing) is separate from the “real” movies, we’ve got some actual XXX (more like XX) videogames, and no one is confusing them for E3’s game of the year.

It… wasn’t always that way.

FIGHT!Today’s game is Arcana Heart, a 2-D fighting game for the Playstation 2. Arcana Heart is a… passable fighting game. There isn’t anything too exciting going on here, just about what you’d expect from a 2-D fighter. The most interesting trait of this series is, basically, swappable special moves (which is unusual in a sprite-based fighter lacking any and all Mokujins), but it’s otherwise pretty forgettable. It’s not a bad game, mind you, simply one that doesn’t warrant much of a reason to exist. What separates this fighting game from every other Street Fighter 2 wannabe that came down the pike? Well, simple answer, it’s the women. Or “girls” might be more appropriate noun here.

Much like a certain other franchise, each of the characters in Arcana Heart seems to be tailor made to suit some manner of fetish. There’s the peppy school girl, the sad school girl, the “younger” character that is always in a child’s swimsuit (but is mentally mature, so it’s okay), the robot maid, shrine priestess, Rei Ayanami, furry, the “American” vampire, and, my personal (least) favorite, the unwilling participant that is dragged along by a decidedly male-identifying (and phallic) object. It’s a rape analogy! Hooray! Also, puke! In short, the “all female cast” of this game isn’t there to pass the Bechdel test, it’s there to titillate a male audience that is going to buy this game hoping to see some upskirt shots. Unfortunately for them, it’s going to be a long wait.

Arcana Heart is rated T for Teen, and even though the writing of its story mode relies heavily on all the tropes you’d expect to see in your average harem anime, there is no actual visual titillation to be found here. Now, I’m not the type to ask that every game out there include the exact right number of exposed panties, but, fun fact, in a game that seems built to deliver the fan service, a complete lack of it seems almost… insulting? This isn’t even “softcore”, the visuals for this game are completely chaste. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more erotic imagery in Wii Sports (my Mii has some amazing legs).

Really bitesBut this is basically where we were in the Playstation 2 era. We could have something like God of War that just incidentally included an off-screen sex scene, or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which dummied out a sex minigame at the last moment, but if a game was about sex/fanservice/a thirsty audience trying to get off, then it had to be cleaned up to the point of irrelevance. It was if you had to clear some kind of artificial “maturity bar” to include anything sexual in your game. Soulcalibur has tear-away clothing and a create-a-character mode that allows for all underwear fighters, all the time? Well, that’s just for the sake of the in-depth story of swords and souls, and I guess the tiniest bit of T&A snuck in as an afterthought. There can’t be games for perverts! That would mean gaming is for perverts!

I’m glad we got over it.

But, in retrospect, I suppose this does paint the Playstation 2 and its Arcana Heart-alike releases as the… awkward young adult phase. Yes, sex is okay, everybody does it, blah blah blah, but… can we not ever address it? I… don’t really want to make eye contact with the idea that people do want to see half-naked people… even though we’ve got half-naked people running around everywhere. Look, uh… yeah, I look at a Playboy once in a while, but I only read it for the articles. I’m not really… doing… that thing… Hey, lay off, man.

Arcana Heart is a time capsule of gaming’s awkward early adulthood generation.

FGC #274 Arcana Heart

  • System: Playstation 2 and arcade. Though not any arcades in family-friendly communities (like, ya know, America).
  • Number of players: Two anime girls enter, only one leaves. Until the next round.
  • OuchFavorite Character: Kira Daidohji, the previously mentioned “mature but obviously still like twelve” character wins almost in spite of herself. Her whole deal is that she controls this sentient blob of water, so naturally that means she has to be wearing a swimsuit at all times, which… really, guys? But! This means she fights with that previously mentioned blob morphing into all kinds of giant limbs and shapes, and she basically becomes MvC’s Juggernaut. And I’m always down for that.
  • Did you know? This game comes compliments of Arc System Works, the folks behind the likes of Guilty Gear and Blazblue. That usually means you’ll get an interesting fighting game… but this time… not so much.
  • Would I play again: Even if I wanted to play this wannabe anime tiddy game again, there’s now a sequel available, and we all know that fighting games only get better with improvements. Might have to see if that game upgraded the… graphics… with the console generation…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man X3 for the Super Nintendo! Alright! Let’s forget about random anime girls and move on to random robot targets! Please look forward to it!

Boo!
Are puppets a fetish?

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

I'm walking on airKid Icarus was a formative NES action game. Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was the portable sequel that continued with similar, improved mechanics. Twenty years later, Kid Icarus: Uprising was released.

And Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers.

Say what you will about things getting stale, but with Nintendo franchises, you generally know what you’re going to get. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Bros, two Mario releases separated by decades, might not seem terribly similar to some magical human being that has never seen a videogame before, but, once you start steering Mario around the Mushroom Kingdom/Universe, it’s clear that both games come from the same base run/jump/stomp concepts. This continues through basically the whole Smash Bros cast: The Legend of Zelda is for exploring/swordplay, Donkey Kong is for simple jumping and running, Captain Falcon and F-Zero are for racing, and Metroid is for metroiding. Yes, there are spin-offs and outliers, but Star Fox is always for shootin’, even when your arwing can fold up like origami.

So you’d be forgiven if you were expecting the first Kid Icarus game in ages to be at all similar to the prior two experiences. But it turns out this Pit doesn’t need a jump button. And speaking of which, the control scheme is optimized for this guy…

Gimme some sugar

If you have less than four hands, bad news, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Kid Icarus: Uprising, considers his creation to be a shooting game. That is… generally accurate? Half of every level takes place in the sky (or an approximation thereof), with heroic Pit blessed with flight by Goddess Palutena. During these sections, conceptually, you are basically playing Star Fox, and the 3DS adapts well to fight and flight mechanics. Heck, there’s a reason Star Fox 64 3D was one of the first 3DS games: the 3DS seems practically made for 3-D shooting galleries. Pit, with his wings and arrows, adapts well to the role, and you could easily make the argument that this is a “modern” version of Kid Icarus’s iconic final stage. And, let’s be real here, that section probably was the best part of Kid Icarus (or the only part where any kid ever accomplished anything…) . So, yes, okay, let’s make a Kid Icarus shooting game.

Except… eventually Pit lands. Palutena’s blessing can’t last forever, and Pit must explore the second half of most levels planted firmly on the ground. Maybe there’s a tower to scale, maybe there’s a dungeon to explore, but it must be done on foot, and jumping and flying is right out. It’s here that KI:U’s control scheme gets crazy, and… why can’t he just control like a normal Nintendo hero, again?

TANK!The on foot sections of KI:U are probably best described as “experimental”. If you’re breaking this down to its core components, you’re pretty much looking at an innovative way to control a FPS hero… but in a 3rd person perspective. It’s… cumbersome. And it takes a little getting used to. Actually, it takes a lot of getting used to, and I swear the level designers know it. Some of the more demanding sections include honest-to-God walking puzzles. For those that missed the fun, that’s a challenge, usually involving narrow ledges, where you can “fail” because you did not walk correctly. That’s not something that should ever be in a videogame, because walking should be as easy as… walking. If a toddler can master something (if Dirk the Daring can master something) it should not be a remote challenge in any kind of videogame. But it seems like Angel Land has a hero or two with some manner of vertigo, so constricted walkways might be a problem. Maybe Pit had eggplants for brains a few too many times.

And it’s not just the controls that might repel a new player. There is a weapon upgrade system that is… opaque seems a little too gentle. Completely insane? You can buy new weapons by offering hearts (currency) as tribute, but all the good weapons are available via a weapon combining system that… I have no idea what is going on. There are star ratings for various weapons, but there are different types of weapons, and Pit’s shooting style changes dramatically from one weapon to another. Yes, this sword is powerful, but it would mean giving up a pair of orbs that shoot homing missiles. And the sword doesn’t “shoot” at all? But it reflects shots? Well, is that going to be at all useful in the next level that I know nothing about? Can I try before I buy? No? Hey, it’s not like the average level lasts fifteen minutes or so…

WeeeeOh, and determining the “difficulty” for a level before you play it? And it’s a one to ten incremental system? I’m sorry, what’s the difference between this stage being level 4.5 difficult versus 4.7 difficult? I can understand the difference between “Normal” and “Hard”. I’ll even tolerate a “Very Hard” or “Professional” mode. But decimals? Just show me exactly where the bar is for “world is filled with invincible skull heads”, and I’ll choose the next level lower than that. ‘Kay? Thanks.

But all of this insanity is not why Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers. What’s bonkers is how much, despite everything in this game, you will want to play more.

Kid Icarus, more than any other Nintendo game, is a playable cartoon. And that’s not because of dialogue boxes or “the plot”; it’s about the simple, instant rapport between Pit and Goddess Palutena. From the first moment, they’re chatting over the action while “you” are playing the game. Occasionally, a villain breaks into the narrative to hurl insults. As episodes progress, various other characters join the fray, and, while you’re busy with a grim reaper or two, Pit ‘n Pally are going through their comedy routine. And then, as it inevitably must, Pit gets real in later stages, Palutena is absent, and “lesser” goddesses have to pick up the slack. It’s not the same, and that’s not a bug, but a feature. When, after fifteen stages of having Palutena in your corner, she’s suddenly missing, you notice. You notice, and you notice it sucks. Where’d my goddess go!?

VroomAnd it’s in this manner that Kid Icarus: Uprising worms its way into your heart. Its systems may be dense, its controls may be some manner of hand-torture, but it contains some of the most instantly approachable and sympathetic characters in gaming. Considering Pit didn’t have very much to say in his initial adventures past, “I’m finished!” it’s a rather significant accomplishment that KI:U makes a better case for Kid Icarus: The Animated Series than every other Nintendo mascot. And these are the best mascots gaming has to offer! Pit is standing in the heavens of the gaming hall of fame, and it’s all thanks to one game.

One game that is nothing like its forbearers and is attached to impossibly janky controls. It’s… kind of bonkers.

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. Given the direction of Nintendo’s “handheld market”, this game might never see another release again. It really is 100% geared toward the 3DS, which is kind of an accomplishment in itself.
  • Number of players: There’s a multiplayer “fight” mode here (as is proper to Sakurai games), and some sort of co-op thing, but I’ve never met anyone else with a copy of KI:U handy, so I can’t really speak to how it all plays. All I know is that it was mysteriously implicated in a number of cases of boneitis back in 2012.
  • Think of the Centurions: Palutena’s army, the noble centurions, are just as fragile as ever. And Palutena notes that they are disposable… but you’ll feel bad if they die. And, dammit, she’s right. Poor lil winged dudes…
  • Metroidian: Despite the presence of space pirates and “metroids”, there is no relation between Kid Icarus and Metroid.
    NONE

    None.
  • Just play the gig man: It’s a good thing Super Smash Bros. 4 got to reuse a lot of this music, as it is phenomenal. Sakurai doesn’t seem to direct games with half-assed soundtracks.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Male deities seem to come in all shapes and sizes, but I’ve noticed a peculiar trend with the goddesses of KI:U.

    Wankery Week never ends

    With the exception of Medusa, it seems like every heavenly being of the female variety could double as Pit’s “playful” older sister. Actually, to put a point on it, Palutena is the older sister, and the rest of the women are her cool friends that jokingly flirt and tease the dweeby Pit. Or maybe it’s just the spirit of fanfic coming upon me again. Could go either way.

  • Did you know? Viridi is the one recurring character that appears in “chat scenes” but is never directly fought. Dark Pit, Hades, Medusa, and even your own allies appear on the opposite side of Pit’s sword-bow at one time or another, but Viridi is always on the sidelines. Guess it helps to have your own army.

  • Would I play again: My hand is a little knotted right now… Maybe after a little healing…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze! Guess we’re on a Nintendo kick again, ROB? Or maybe you’re just looking for a banana smoothie? Whatever the case, it’s time to roll around with some Kongs. Please look forward to it!

DO IT!

Kingdom Hearts FAQ #13.8

The gang's all hereQ. Hey, Goggle Bob, there’s that new Kingdom Hearts 2.8 game out. What’s the deal?

A. Well, uh, “new” might not be the right term here.

Q. Explain Yourself!

A. So we’ve got Kingdom Hearts 2.8, and, basically, it’s a HD remake of a 3DS game from nearly five years ago. Dream Drop Distance was itself a kind of “soft” Kingdom Hearts 3 (Dream Drop Distance = D D D = 3D), or, at the very least, the first true continuation of the Kingdom Hearts plot since Kingdom Hearts 2, a game that was released seven years before 3D. For the record, in the real world time between the release of Kingdom Hearts 2 (2005) and Kingdom Hearts 3 (TBA), there have been 12,000 Hyperdimension Neptunia games released. EDITOR’S NOTE: 12,012 since I started this post.

Q. So, is Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD any good?

A. KH3D was a fun little jaunt that featured Sora and Riku working together in a big adventure for the first time. Given Sonic and Shadow were established early in the KH mythos, it’s amazing it took over a decade to get a KH game going where there’s an official team-up. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing Tetsuya Nomura, director of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, loves more than zippers, it’s corrupting the good and true wishes of his loyal audience of children/mouth breathers. So Sora and Riku are working together for this game, but there’s a timer involved, and you can only play as Sora or Riku for a limited time before being forced to switch back to the other hero. I think this was intended as some sort of “hey kids, don’t spend so long staring at a tiny screen” concession for the portable system of the game’s origin, but that doesn’t make much sense in HD land. At least there is a plot excuse for the switching.

Q. What’s the plot this time?

DARKNESS!A. Nomura must have watched a lot of Inception before writing this game, because… well.. it’s exactly that. The conceit of the game is that there are a few worlds that are just resting their eyes before returning to the Kingdom Hearts universe, and, rather than hearing “just five more minutes, mom” from Hunchback of Notre Dame Planet again, Yen Sid decides to send Sora and Riku into the dreams of the sleeping worlds to wake ‘em up. Unfortunately, something goes wrong immediately, so, while Sora is in the sleeping dreams of the worlds, Riku is actually in Sora’s dream (of the sleeping worlds). Or maybe it’s the other way around? Whatever. What’s important is that one character can only operate when the other is asleep, and they can’t actually both be in the same place at the same time, just simulations of the same place and… ugh… Never mind, trying to parse all the little “clues” in this game will give you a headache. What’s important is that Riku and Sora can’t kiss until the ending. Oh, and Ansem is back.

Q. Ansem? Don’t you mean Xehanort?

A. Well, technically, I mean both. Ansem and Xehanort and all the other big bads are back, because you can only die so many times before you come back to life citation needed. At the end of 3D, it is revealed that Ansem/Xehanort’s plan all along, bwa ha ha ha, has been to assemble a council of thirteen versions of him, so that way he can take the most outrageous selfie the universe has ever seen. Included in the new council of Ansems are Heartless Ansem, Nobody Xemnas, Old Man Xehanort, Young Man Xehanort who has control over time for some reason, Xigbar, Lab Coat Xehanort, Lil’ Xehanort with keyblade pacifier action, and Clarabelle Cow. ARGHXehanort (one of ‘em, does it really matter which?) attempted to infect Sora with darkness, so that way he’d have a Xehanort-Sora on the team, but that failed when Riku, Mickey, and Lea saved Sora from almost certain identity crises.

Q. Lea? Who dat?

A. Oh, that’s Axel. Every member of Organization 13 from Kingdom Hearts 2/Chain of Memories appears to be back and alive now. Sora went to all the effort of murdering half of that group, and now they’re all just fine. Boo.

“Lea” is the “uncorrupted” version of Axel. Despite the fact that Axel… let’s see if I can get everything here… betrayed/murdered teammate Vexen, betrayed Organization 13: The New Kids after claiming to betray Organization 13: Original Flavor, betrayed best friend Roxas, kidnapped Kairi, attempted to kill Sora, and then finally betrayed Organization 13 again while dying, he is now a keyblade wielder, and is apparently going to be a permanent fixture of team good guy. Just goes to show, if you’re an absolute heel to everyone and everything you’ve ever encountered, including your best friends, worst enemies, and women you just met, then eventually you’ll be rewarded with the most powerful, coveted weapon in the galaxy. It’s probably because he has cool hair.

Anyway, as you can likely tell, the basic purpose of Dream Drop Distance was to move all the pieces (Sora, Riku, Axel, Ansems) into their proper spots for Kingdom Hearts 3. Given they already used “2.5” for the KH2 rerelease, 2.8 kind of makes sense for a title for this compilation.

Q. Compilation? You just got done saying this was one old game.

A. Oh, right, there’s also Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, an Aqua story in there.

Q. Aqua?

A. Aqua was one of the three stars of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, the designated prequel of the Kingdom Hearts universe. Ten years before Kingdom Hearts 1, Aqua screwed up royally, and her best friends wound up either possessed by unending evil or asleep forever. Aqua herself was sucked into the Realm of Darkness, which is basically Kingdom Hearts Hell.

Q. You mean Anime Expo?

Welcome to HELLA. No. I mean a barren, dark universe where time has no meaning and heartless creatures feed on the discarded remains of lifeless fantasy worlds.

Q. So you do mean Anime Expo?

A. No, dammit. Look, Aqua is trapped in a universe where she is the lone human among the ruins of scattered forgotten worlds. It actually makes for a really interesting Kingdom Hearts experience, as Aqua is totally alone: there are no shops, friendly moogles, NPCs, crowing villains, nothing. All Aqua has to keep her company are armies of mute heartless, and her keyblade, which she uses to slay those armies of mute heartless. Occasionally, she hallucinates her friends, but even they’re pretty silent, and Aqua seems to be well aware that they’re just illusions. If Kingdom Hearts were at all capable of subtlety, I might say this entire adventure is a metaphor for loneliness and/or depression, but it’s a Nomura game, so the dude can’t help but kill the mood.

Q. How does Kingdom Hearts inevitably kill the tone of A Fragmentary Passage?

Nya?A. Remember how you could play dress up with Lightning in Lightning Returns, and with the monsters in Final Fantasy 13-2? Well, you can accessorize Aqua with pretty items you earn for completing random tasks in AFP. Yes, it’s sad that Aqua is completely alone while fighting unending hordes of evil in a waking hell universe, but she’s wearing cat ears, magical translucent wings, and a kicky dress while doing it. Right around the time that Aqua finds out she’s been trapped in this everlasting limbo for ten years, she also earns a Minnie Mouse hat, so, ya know, kind of hard to maintain the mood.

Q. So A Fragmentary Passage sucks?

A. Quite the opposite, really. It’s short (maybe three hours if you’re not trying to find all the “secrets”), but it feels like a legit test run/demo for Kingdom Hearts 3. All of the worlds are recycled, “sad” versions of locales from Birth by Sleep, but they’re completely new maps with new challenges. While it’s not very large, the first area (a ruined town from Cinderella) is so open and interesting that it gives me hope that there will be more than boring hallways in KH3. Additionally, there’s a rail section toward the end of the third world that, with encroaching heartless all around, actually feels like a Disney Land ride, which, whether intentional or not, proves there may be some innovation in those old Kingdom Hearts bones yet. Aside from the fact that the same boss is reused three nebulously different ways, A Fragmentary Passage actually gives me hope that Kingdom Hearts 3 might not just be a long delayed more of the same.

Q. Hey, come to think of it, Aqua is the first starring woman in a Kingdom Hearts adventure that doesn’t have to share the spotlight with more important male leads. Does this improve Kingdom Hearts’ feminism rating?

A. On one hand, the entire point of this story is that Aqua is a badass that is not going to give up in the face of impossible odds. There’s one amazing scene where Aqua struggles to defeat a Darkside Heartless (a creature that is roughly as tall as a house), wins, and then moves forward to find her next challenge is ten Darkside Heartless. Her response is simply, “Okay then,” and then gets to work. Bad. Ass.

And, incidentally, Willa Holland, Aqua’s voice actress (who is probably best known for her role as the occasionally sword-wielding Speedy/Thea on CW’s Arrow) should probably win an award or something for carrying the entirety of this story on her vaguely-defeated-but-still-trying inflections. It’s really noticeable given she’s the only one talking for, oh, 75% of the game, and it’s quite good.

That said, unfortunately, Aqua is still defined by the men in her life, and she spends roughly the entire game either worrying about “her boys” or then, eventually, sacrificing herself for two other men, one of which has prominent, circular ears. Sorry, even with a female lead, this story does not pass the Bechdel Test, because there aren’t any other women at all. Even when Aqua fights a mirror version of herself, she spends the whole time worrying about what that means in the face of not fighting mirror boy creatures. That’s sad.

Oh well, at least there’s the implied promise that Aqua will return for Kingdom Hearts 3, so maybe we’ll see some actual girl power in that game.

Q. Oh yeah, how does A Fragmentary Passage fit into the Kingdom Hearts mythos?

A. Basically, the whole thing is a prequel to Kingdom Hearts 1, with this story ending at the exact same time as Kingdom Hearts 1’s finale. AFP finally provides an explanation on why Mickey Mouse wasn’t wearing a shirt at the end of KH1. Yes, I’m being completely serious.

Q. So what happens to Aqua, the heroine of this whole story?

A. Oh, she’s still stuck in Hell, but at least now she has DiZ (Ducks Intuiting Zaffer) to keep her company. And, again, there are good odds she’ll be rescued by the real (incidentally male) heroes later.

Q. Anything else on Kingdom Hearts 2.8?

Twilight Sparkle BladeA. There are also HD cutscenes from the browser/cell phone based Kingdom Hearts (Unchained) χ. It’s the story of how a bunch of wannabe furries attempt to save the world from a global war by creating factions that are forbidden from cooperating with each other. It doesn’t work out. I’d get into it more, but I find cell phone games to be repugnant, useless, and they take up my Pokémon Go time, so screw that noise. Even I have limits.