Tag Archives: mana

FGC #388 Secret of Mana (2018)

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

It's a-me!

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

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

Mario!

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

And this blew my young mind.

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

Which, apparently, included snow. I guess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #388 Secret of Mana (2018)

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

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

HAIL

FGC #262 Final Fantasy Adventure / Adventures of Mana

Poor ol' manLet us take a moment to talk about pausing.

First, to be clear, I am an unashamed pause promoter. I believe all videogames should have a pause function. I believe most of reality should have a pause function. You never know when you might need a time out, and if that contractor that I’ve been trying to get to finish my damn deck rings the doorbell, you better believe making sure that silly carpenter doesn’t sheepishly shuffle away takes priority over Liu Kang’s safety. Oh, Earth Realm is now doomed to forever be a subsidiary of Outhouse World? Well, we could have avoided this fate if someone included a pause button. And don’t give me that garbage about tension, Dark Souls, because authorial intent doesn’t make a damn lick of difference when a piece of entertainment is attempting to interfere with my life. Joss Whedon didn’t produce Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a fan to watch all seven seasons within the span of three days, and HBO doesn’t produce Game of Thrones with the intention of me inserting a “break” every fifteen minutes because of the soul-crushing boredom of every plot that doesn’t involve Tyrion or Arya. Bloodborne, I will tackle these nameless abominations after I’ve finished this aggravating call from my mother, and not a moment before.

But, while pausing empowers the player to control the videogame universe like some kind of Nintendo Captain, there is also the dark side of pausing: pausing makes you stop.

Surprising, right? Who would have expected that?

MY MIND!Today’s game is Final Fantasy Adventure, a game that I tangentially discussed before. I said it then, and I’ll say it again: Final Fantasy Adventure is my favorite Gameboy game. I spent countless hours directing Big, the Hero of Mana, through a surprisingly diverse world, and, together, we saved the good people of wherever this place is supposed to be. And I think Big’s girlfriend turned into a tree? It was a weird day. Anyway, even if the story turned out to be a thinly veiled retelling of a Miyazaki flick or two, Final Fantasy Adventure engaged young Goggle Bob’s imagination and thumbs, and led to a lot of Super Gameboy abuse. Had I actually owned a Gameboy at the time, I might have just bolted the beeping thing to my face. It’s the only way that nefarious Julius will learn!

But, despite playing Final Fantasy Adventure for roughly the entire Clinton administration, there were still things I apparently did not know about the game. For instance, there are a number of monsters that are immune to traditional weapon attacks. Yes, you can generally utilize magic, but that uses up valuable charges for your Cure spell, and, man, don’t want to risk those when there are shadow creatures afoot. So, on my repeated playthroughs of FFA, I simply gazed at these invulnerable monsters, said, “Nope,” and moved on with the dungeon du jour. That turtle thing is invincible, nothing for it, let’s move right along. I’ll earn my EXP through dicing up skeletons, thank you.

Here's some pointed commentaryAnd I wallowed in the ignorance of “invincible monsters” for years. Sword of Mana was a remake, but it was a completely different remake, so, when I replayed Final Fantasy Adventure afterwards, now as an “informed” adult, I played it the same as ever. If I decided to fire up the ol’ Gameboy, it was to play Final Fantasy Adventure, and, right through to the age of the 3DS, I’d avoid those unbeatable enemies like the plague. “They’re dangerous!” a tiny voice in my head continued to shout. And I listened every single time. Why risk Big’s life on something that probably/hopefully won’t be in the next room? There are so many people counting on his holy sword!

And then, just last year, I played Adventures of Mana. Adventures of Mana is a remake of Final Fantasy Adventure that was initially designed for cell phones/mobile devices, and, thus, has a touch interface. While I did not play Adventures of Mana until it hit the Vita, the “upgrade” from mobile to a system with actual buttons did not drop any of the touch features. So, for the first time in Final Fantasy Adventure history, I was able to play through FFA’s dungeons with many of my items just a tap away. No longer did I have to access the pause menu, stop the game, and pull out a healing piece of candy or an essential mattock; no, now I had full, tappable control of my inventory, and, more importantly, my weapons stash. While “pause” was still there as an option, I no longer had to pause every time I wanted to switch from sword to spear to flail. For the first time ever, changing weapons according to rooms was not only viable, but fun.

And that’s when I learned that there are no “invincible” monsters in Final Fantasy Adventure, some beasts just require different weapons. That’s so obvious! So videogame! Why hadn’t I tried that before!?

Well, because pausing is a pain in the ass, duh.

MY MIND!  AGAIN!It’s no secret that I love Mega Man games, but, despite adoring MM2 and MM3, I usually replay the X series more (even the… less pleasant entries), because, quite simply, I hate having to pause and access the typical Mega Man weapon select menu. There are two different pages of weapons to leaf (shield) through? Lame! I’d rather just hit L & R to cycle over to my precious flamethrower. And, yes, while some Mega Man collections have dropped in a L/R cycle so you don’t have to bop over to a menu every ten seconds, it’s clear these games were never designed with this functionality in mind (like the X series), and, should you accidently cycle over to Time Stopper and slip on the B button… you’re gonna have a bad time. This kind of “pause every few minutes” game design has marred a number of excellent games, from Demon’s Crest to Castlevania (“Jonathan! Give me a second! I’m fishing out my owl spell!”). I have absolutely no evidence to support such a claim, but I feel like half the reason there are so many offensive options in Symphony of the Night is that someone noticed that pausing every other room is pain in the butt, so here’s a sword that will work for everybody. Missed that sword? Here are some cool knuckles. No, don’t worry about pausing, this should work for most of the castle. And, while this was generally a bigger problem back in the ol’ days, let’s be real here: does anyone enjoy pausing in the middle of a pitched battle to restore hearts in Breath of the Wild? And how many times has the climbing gear sat in Link’s backpack (actually… where is he keeping all this stuff? I’ve seen him [mostly] naked…), unused, while a cliff side has been scaled? Could have yanked out the right tool for the job, but I just don’t feel like finding it in my bag o’ moblin parts right now. … Or maybe I’d just be happier if there was a “quick menu” for Link’s fine cuisine and duds as opposed to just his weapons.

YAYBut I suppose that’s the crux of it all: pause menu menus are a pain in the ass that hamper gameplay. Pausing is great, but when you have to pause it’s inevitably going to detract from any game that features even a trifling amount of action. I missed, basically, an entire gameplay facet of Final Fantasy Adventure, a game I dearly enjoy, for years because of an aversion to forced pausing, and I can’t be the only one. Even the most limited peripherals and consoles have more buttons now than we’ll ever need, let’s find a way to never have to pause an action game again.

Don’t do it for me, game designers. Do it for Wee Goggle Bob who spent his childhood living in fear of turtles that are apparently weak to axes. Who would allow such a thing to happen to another juvenile?

FGC #262 Final Fantasy Adventure / Adventures of Mana

  • System: Gameboy for the OG FFA, and Vita for Adventures of Mana. I suppose I’ll count the mobile ports here, too.
  • Number of players: This is a Mana Adventure, not a Mana Secret, so only one player for you.
  • Favorite Weapon: The Morningstar is slow, powerful, and the only weapon I use for basically every cave. Stupid mattocks, you’re nothing compared to a pointy ball on a chain.
  • Favorite Ally: Watts the Blacksmith comes equipped with his own shop. Even though you’re desperately trying to survive together in a mine filled with monsters, he doesn’t offer any discounts. That’s some hardcore dwarfing.
  • Land of the Rising Fun: The translation team for Adventures of Mana got a little cheeky.
    Grrrr
  • Origins: Despite the claims by some that the Mana series was always intended as its own franchise, this adventure is Final Fantasy as hell. We’ve got random Final Fantasy Red Mage sprites running around, a chocobo that is your best buddy, and you don’t see moogles in Breath of Fire. This isn’t some Final Fantasy legend, it’s a straight up Final Fantasy adventure. … Gaiden?
  • Did you know? Big the Hero might accidentally get transformed into a moogle, but, don’t worry, there’s an item you can use to instantly return to normal status. Except… you can’t use items while you’re a moogle, so there is literally never an opportunity to use the Moogle Cure. So what snake oil salesman is pawning off these potions, kupo?
  • Would I play again: Favorite Gameboy game, period. Though I think I’ll be playing another, different Gameboy adventure in the near future…

What’s next? Random ROB is chilling while I explore The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the rest of the week. We’ll tackle the story on Wednesday, and then on Friday, we’ll look at the gameplay. … I should probably figure out a way to make a Zelda game a “sacred three” articles… but I’m capricious like that. Regardless, it’s Breath of the Wild time! Please look forward to it!

Because... oh never mind

FGC #155 Sword of Mana

Tree!One problem with modern society is that technology is evolving faster than the people using it. Every moment, computers are getting closer to super powered, closer to sentience. Man’s time on this Earth is limited, as we have crafted our own downfall with Basic and C++. Also, we’ve forgotten what makes certain computer games fun, and, while that isn’t as big a problem as the impending machine take over, it’s still kind of a pain.

I refer you to one of my most beloved Gameboy games, Final Fantasy Adventure, and its abysmal remake, Sword of Mana. Sword of Mana, in all honesty, isn’t really that bad, but it makes every mistake that Final Fantasy Adventure, a game that predates SoM by 12 years, didn’t.

I was, a few years ago, very excited about Sword of Mana. As previously stated, Final Fantasy Adventure is one of my all time favorite games, and narrowly edges out The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening as my favorite Gameboy adventure. I must have spent hours in the tiny gray world of Mana with its champion boy. In Japan the hero’s name, in both games, is “Sumo”, so I’m going to just assume that his American name is Big McLargehuge. At any rate, Big and I quested around every little nook and cranny in that game, often stabbing little rabbit creatures into next Tuesday. When I heard that Final Fantasy Adventure was getting a remake in the graphical style of another beloved game, Secret of Mana, I was stoked. This isn’t the movie industry, when something gets a remake in video game land, it’s not just made more “modern” or “extreme”, it’s graphically upgraded, and the gameplay usually gets tweaked to make the whole experience more pleasant. There have been a few major gameplay improvements across the industry since the Gameboy ruled supreme, so FFA’s remake should be perfect.

And then it all came crashing down.

Final Fantasy Adventure, after a very brief legend recital, begins with “Now Fight!” And then, guess what you do? You fight! Granted, it’s against the easiest boss since Guts Tank, but it’s still action, right from the Legendarystart (button). Then you watch your wee Willy “pass on”, and it’s back to fighting. Immediately afterwards is a quickie establishment of the plot, and then an entire game of McLargehuge exploring caves and forests while thubbing rabites until candy comes out. It’s a thing of beauty.

But how does Sword of Mana begin? Well, first there’s the legend. So far so good. Then it’s “the past” when Big was Lil’ Big, and a whole giant story of Big attempting to protect Girl (we’ll name her… Gypsy), and then his parents get killed by Darth Vader, and then Big completely fails to protect Gypsy, and, poof, it was all a recurring nightmare taking place while Big was asleep because now he’s a monster gladiator, and he talks to his pals Willy and Amanda about dream interpretation and “what it all means”, and then Big has to talk to the right people until an event occurs that finally allows Big to fight the easiest boss since Guts Tank. In short, Final Fantasy Adventure starts with an actual game, whereas Sword of Mana starts with text box after text box. To further illustrate this point…

I'm saying it takes a while

As you can see, Sword of Mana starts very trim on the gameplay and very big on the reading. It doesn’t get much better. Whereas there is an awful lot of (fun) exploring, adventuring, and rabite whacking, there’s also a lot of very, very unnecessary dialogue As an example, there’s about seventy billion times that Big laments having to kill everything in his path, despite the fact that he’s been a gladiator since childhood and he’s assassinating guys with names like Dark Lord. Need I even mention that Big of FFA has absolutely no problem with killing people who are immediately trying to kill him? I enjoy playing as a character with interesting motivations, but when the dude is getting teary eyed about slaying the guy that is oppressively ruling the country, wiping out villages, and even executed his parents, well, it’s a bit much. On the other side of the coin, sometimes there’s not enough dialogue. While you get to hear about Big’s growing need to become a pacifist every ten seconds, you barely get any interaction with Gypsy. And, somehow, by the end of the game the two are madly in love. In other words, the plot kicking around this game could either use some trimming, or at the very least someone checking out whether or not all those dialogue bubbles popping up actually work toward an ending that’s remotely cohesive.

Right on throughBut let’s ignore the dialogue for now. Is Sword of Mana at least fun to play? Well, it almost works. Arguably, the biggest problem is the weapon system. Much like in Zelda, a game with which FFA shares many similarities, our hero has a variety of “tools”. In this case, instead of always being equipped with a sword and then occasionally swapping your boomerang for a lantern, Big uses each of his weapons as tools. Axes will take down trees, while the chain is used for pulling Big across gaps. Also, in both FFA and SoM, certain monsters are weak to certain weapons, and invincible to others. But this is where the games diverge. In FFA, you would rarely see a monster that was invulnerable to a weapon that you just used on the last monster. Different dungeons often required different weapons, but once you were exploring a dungeon, the only time you were ever forced to switch weapons was for a special puzzle room or in order to cross a gap via chain. Basically once you figured out what you were doing, the weapon menu didn’t have to be accessed every five seconds. And for Sword of Mana? It’s possible to be simultaneously facing three different monsters that require three different weapons. And there’s no “quick” way to switch weapons, like, say, in Mega Man X. No, here you must open the menus and select a new weapon every single time you see a new monster. This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t occur every three seconds, but, oh well, time to waste some time fishing out your under-used set of knuckles just because a mimic popped up. Hope you have a lot of free time when dungeoning in Sword of Mana.

And the thing that was bound to happen, but we hoped it wouldn’t: The Lester Factor. In Final Fantasy Adventure, Big was often aided by a variety of characters. Watts the dwarf, Amanda the valkyrie, Gypsy the girl, Lester the douche, and Bogard the knight, to name a few. Each of these allies was completely Whinerinvincible, and with good reason, they walked over spikes and into enemy creatures pretty much all the time. Had they possessed measurable HP, they’d be dead within five seconds. They barely helped at all, but each came with a separate “Ask” command that would heal Big, provide clues, or even change the background music. Big could’ve gone his whole quest without his buddies’ help, but they added a little variety to their native dungeons. Now there’s no mistaking a single one of your partners for handy.

Many of Big’s same buds return for Sword of Mana, but now with limited HP and very limited AI. Lester the Douche, for instance, is my absolute favorite. Tell him to use his magic all you want, he’s got MP and he’s not using it. He’s got a bow and arrow, and he’s not aiming. And, just when you think he can’t get more annoying, he repeatedly attempts to attack an inanimate trap that instantly kills him. And now you’ve got the choice between being followed by a ghost for the next hundred rooms or revive him and watch him find new ways to commit suicide. I swear that moron grabbed some Drano out of my inventory and guzzled it wholeheartedly.

There’s absolutely no point to keeping your allies alive, because they never do anything useful, ever. Very, very rarely Gypsy will heal Big’s hurting ass, but he’s got to be practically concussed before she’ll do anything about all that bleeding. This might all actually work if, like in Secret of Mana, the producers worked out some two player mode where an actual human could control that sprite next to Big running face first into the spikes, but, no a two player mode was just too much for poor ol’ Squeenix. However, there was likely a two player mode planned at some point, as it would explain why you’re stuck with Lester for absolutely no reason for much of the game (“Hm, my sister is dead, so is the guy who led her to her death. Hm, may as well hang around with muscle boy for the rest of my life.”). Final Fantasy Adventure made Big’s allies fun, SoM turns them into walking burdens.

Shiny!Aside from those gigantic, titty twisting flaws (that didn’t exist in the out-dated version) Sword of Mana is a pretty fun game. When you’re actually playing and not navigating menus or text boxes, it’s rather enjoyable to run around and solve super easy puzzles while trouncing rabites. The new magic system for the game is kind of interesting, if not a little useless, and the graphical updates definitely tie Sword of Mana closer to its sequels/prequels. There’s a good game here, it’s just hiding under a big pile of really aggravating revisions. Play Final Fantasy Adventure, play it a lot, and ignore Sword of Mana; it’s likely not worth the aggravation. Technology marches on, but if it continues to ignore all that is good, well then I welcome Skynet.

FGC #155 Sword of Mana

  • System: Gameboy Advance. Will it show up on a Virtual Console somewhere? The world may never know.
  • Number of players: This would be the one time I’d like to see a link cable.
  • Land of the Rising Fun: Apparently, the literal translation of the Japanese title for this game is “Legend of the Sacred Sword: The New Testament”. Jesus does not make an appearance.
  • Hope for the Future: Just recently released, we have another, new remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, Adventures of Mana, a cell phone/Vita game that completely drops the “innovations” of Sword of Mana and goes back to the plain gameplay (and dialogue) of FFA. Mind you, this was likely just because it would be easier to translate FFA to a cell phone than SoM, but… and I hate to say it… with its improved (color) graphics, easy item switching, and generally similar gameplay, Adventures of Mana is exactly what I wanted Sword of Mana to be. Only took thirteen years!
    Blammo
  • Favorite Ally: Gypsy, I suppose, because she at least has a .02% chance of being useful.
  • Did you know? Sword of Mana dropped as many references to Final Fantasy as it could, leaving by the wayside a number of soft references (and obvious sprite theft) from Final Fantasy (1). Unfortunately, this also meant that FF’s avian mascot, the chocobo, was all but completely annexed from the experience. This is an act of war, and should be treated as such.
  • Would I play again: Before Adventures of Mana, maybe. Now? Never again. Interestingly, Sword of Mana was released during a time I tended to 100% games, and it’s telling that I didn’t even wind up touching Gypsy’s side of the story…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Midway Arcade Origins! Get your quarters, ready, folks, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane. Please look forward to it!

Swing it

FGC #122 Bravely Default

Note: This article contains spoilers for the whole of Bravely Default. Not that the sequel doesn’t spoil the same plot twists within its first five minutes, but, ya know, just so you’re aware.

Something about a FairyAlright, remember Final Fantasy 6? Remember all the groundbreaking, amazing compositions by Nobuo Uematsu? Songs that were not only musically wonderful but also never failed to properly set the mood for a location or scene? Yeah… I pretty much played Final Fantasy 6 (Final Fantasy 3 then) on mute. Same for Breath of Fire 2. Same for The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. Same for a lot of games.

You may be asking why I would do such a thing. Do I hate music? Can’t stand chiptunes? Maybe some sort of ear issue involving an infection from Bizarro World? No, no, and no. For Final Fantasy 6 in particular, I love the music, and even, when forced to go on a camping trip the year after FF6’s release, I recorded half the songs right off the TV via an ancient tape recorder. So why do I remember playing that game the most on mute? Simple: I was doing something else.

This will likely come as a shock to no one, but my original “gaming room” was the basement of my parents’ home. I wasn’t allowed to have a TV in my bedroom (for much the same reason I wasn’t allowed to have a Gameboy), but my parents didn’t want to have to watch Super Mario Bros. all day, either, so my hobby was segregated to the basement. “My basement” was also likely exactly what you’re picturing: old, beat furniture (but kept because you never know when we might need a spare couch [?]), a closet filled with old clothing that would be released to Goodwill thirty years later, and, most importantly, a pair of ancient televisions. Both TVs were castoffs, chunks of electronics that were initially kept incase these newfangled sets failed in their first month, and, in time, they Just like homewere pretty much forgotten in the bowels of the house. They weren’t the best televisions, neither large nor possessing a fidelity that could confirm if Mega Man was supposed to be blue (green is fine). People talk about playing retro games with modern high-definition, but if I play Wizards and Warriors on a television that allows me to actually see what’s going on, I don’t feel like I’m actually playing Wizards and Warriors.

Regardless, two televisions made me soon realize that I could be using both televisions at the same time. So, one TV was set up at one end of the room with a complete cable hookup, and the other managed the gaming systems (A SNES and NES [and later, N64 and Playstation] all running through one ganged RF switch chain). The basement was big (technically a room plus what was once a garage), so it wasn’t like both televisions were on top of each other, so I happily played a number of video games while some random sitcom was airing at my back. If I really liked the show, I’d mute the game, but crank up the program. If nothing was on, it was fine background noise.

JRPGs were ideal for this setup, because, while their stories were exciting and astounding to a young Goggle Bob, what would eventually become “cutscenes” were short and generally separated by hours of traipsing through monster-packed dungeons. I want to say the sheer spectacle of Final Fantasy 7 broke me of my ADD habits, but grinding my way to better materia (mostly through bird breeding) set me right back to “what else is on?” And, yes, my first playthrough of Ocarina of Time was set to my discovery of Ben Folds (give or take Five) primarily because I couldn’t be more bored schlepping across that overworld trying to find skulltulas.

Slash!Some of my greatest memories of gaming are of me barely paying attention to gaming.

This ADD habit has continued into adulthood, but in some unusual ways. There is no doubt video games have become more immersive over the years, and, while I may once have been able to enjoy Prince of Persia on a dingy screen while watching something else, modern editions beg to be blown up to six foot displays and marveled at at all times. But then you have something like, say, Hyrule Warriors, a game that puts the grind in grinding, and contains more content than anyone could ever reasonably complete. You want me to beat this area with Princess Ruto? She’s level 8, and the recommended level is 80. Well, I think that means I’m going to play this game while binge watching Jessica Jones. Then I’m accomplishing two things! I’m an adult!

Now, obviously, this is a huge reason I enjoy the WiiU. Being able to get that “widescreen experience” for the lavish visuals is great, but then when I want to reexplore old areas for red coins or whatever, I can shrink it down to the gamepad and play while watching what I will. And while the WiiU’s “tablet” is a new innovation, portable systems have offered this luxury for years. Heck, if you consider cell phones to be “portable gaming systems”, then my ADD doesn’t sound all that bad. Unless you want to tell me people are sitting down to exclusively play Candy Crush…

ANGRYBut there is a conflict with this system. I want games to have stories. I want games to be interesting. If I’m playing a game for forty hours, I want there to have been a point, a reason I was fighting against the bad guy. It doesn’t have to be that way for every game, but anything with vaguely RPG trappings practically requires a plot that matters. It doesn’t have to be War and Peace, but I’d like something a little more complicated than Mario and Peach.

When a story dominates the plot, I have to pay attention to it. I can’t watch Orange is the New Black and work through Saint’s Row at the same time, because then I might confuse one Piper for a Rowdy Roddy one. Their plotlines are very different!

So, what I want is a portable game that has a plot, but has enjoyable mechanics, and, after the plot is well and established, backs the hell off so I can enjoy those mechanics while doing something else.

I am, of course, talking about Pokémon.

Pokémon has its own plot and story, and it’s worth paying it some attention, but after its completion, it gets out of dodge, and that’s that. Now all you have is a world you understand, villains that are on the run, and 720 pokémon to play with. I think that’s a good recipe to have some fun while maybe watching some trashy anime.

He's like a pocket monsterBut that does occasionally feel… empty. I’m building up the best pokémon team, like no one ever has, but what am I doing it for? I’ll have these Level 100 Gardevoirs to… what… beat up children online? Like, it’s cool to beat other players, but there’s no real goal to work toward, no future for my poor Pokémon. I’m already the champion of the league, at what point do I just become a bully?

Bravely Default tried to allay my fears of “not making a difference”… and created its own problems.