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FGC #434 The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link

This is still the coolest part of the gameI have uncovered a startling discovery: all of Link’s problems are not created by Ganon, but the Hyrule monarchy!

Now, let’s be clear here: Ganon is not blameless in his actions. Whether you’re looking at Demise, Ganondorf, or just a bloated pig monster with an over-sized fork, Ganon is irrefutably not a good guy. Yes, he’s a thief from a downtrodden tribe that comes from circumstances, but Ganon is not the root of all evil in Hyrule. That dubious honor belongs to the royal family.

In some titles, this is abundantly obvious. We’ve already discussed Breath of the Wild, and how, had Zelda had just the tiniest bit of foresight, her kingdom would not have fallen to the horrors of technology run amok (though it is nice to see that happen to a nation where Facebook is not involved for once). Similarly, the world of Wind Waker is significantly wetter because the only solution the King of Hyrule had to the Ganon problem was to drown it and literally everything else. Ocarina of Time? More Zelda futzing with prophecies and timelines splitting off because of it. A Link to the Past? Never trust the advisor with blue, clawed hands, kingy. And Twilight Princess? That was a gigantic mess that was caused by not one, but two royal families. And then Zelda made it worse! Basically, we’re looking at the royalty being the number one reason Link can’t just sit around raising cuccos all day long, and has to actually nab a sword from some old man cave.

And while we’re discussing elderly hermits distributing weaponry, yes, this is exactly how The Legend of Zelda started.

A wizard did itEveryone knows the basic plot of the original Legend of Zelda: Ganon kidnaps Zelda, the Triforce of Wisdom is shattered into multiple pieces, and Link is the only one brave enough to save the kingdom. Or he just happened to be around. Actually, it’s probably that latter one, as it is distinctly noted that Zelda sent Impa out to find a hero, and Impa was old and wounded, and… what? Did she literally just go with the first elf she found? Dude didn’t even have a sword yet! Okay, it’s not like Impa imparted any valuable information anyway (“The Triforce pieces are out there! Somewhere! Buy a candle at Famous Cave’s!”), but this was a slapdash effort from the get-go. And why were the Triforce pieces scattered to begin with? Because Zelda had a vision of the coming calamity of Ganon, and her only solution was to “safeguard” the Triforce pieces in a series of marginally hidden dungeons. Did that make a lick of sense? No! You just give the Triforce to someone that can get the hell out of town (I hear there’s a lovely clock city just outside of the kingdom limits), and call it a bloody day. I’ve got news for you Zelda: Link was able to retrieve the Triforce of Wisdom because you hid those pieces poorly. Link was just a dude with a pointy stick, and he still managed to conquer every last dungeon and wind up with more equipment as a result of other dungeon-based goodies. Zelda, do you want Ganon to possess two Triforces and have a raft? Because that’s the end result of your stupid plan if Link had showed up in Hyrule like an hour later. And don’t even get me started on what would happen if multiple people found separate Triforce pieces. Face it, Zelda, you got lucky.

GrrrrBut there was one Princess Zelda that did not get lucky. It is canon that Link had a magical adventure where he teamed up with two different versions of himself and wore a suit made entirely out of bombs, and, sometime thereafter, the royal family of Hyrule required a bit of family counseling. The good King of Hyrule had two children, a boy and a girl. The princess was, obviously, another Zelda, and she was granted knowledge of the Triforce. The boy, whom we’re going to name Prince Don, coveted this shiny, golden treasure, and demanded the Triforce. Zelda would not acquiesce to her greedy, probably orange brother, and Prince Don was forced to take drastic action. He hired a wizard that put Zelda under a sleeping spell for generations. This, obviously, solved exactly zero problems, and Prince Don… uh… does the story elaborate on this at all? I mean… uh… he probably died angry, but he was the only heir, right? He just became king anyway, didn’t he? Totally poisoned a woman in a desperate grab for more power, and he’s rewarded with being the most powerful person in the kingdom anyway. Way to go, prince-y. Good job.

So where was the last piece of the full Triforce, the Triforce of Courage? You know, the secret that Zelda was Sleeping Beauty’ed for? Well, turns out that Prince Don’s dad realized his son was a real crumb-bum, and decided to split the complete Triforce, and hide a solid third of it in a dungeon. Sound familiar? However, this Hyrulian monarch knew exactly what he was doing. Somehow “in secret”, the King of Hyrule…

  1. Hid the Triforce of Courage in The Great Palace of the Valley of Death
  2. Populated the Great Palace with a variety of traps and monsters
  3. Placed an impenetrable barrier around the Valley of Death
  4. Scattered the source of the barrier spell into six crystals
  5. Built six temples to house alters that would activate those six crystals
  6. Populated those temples with six unique boss monsters, and a host of lesser, more annoying regular monsters
  7. And then, just for good measure, cast some weird-ass incantation that would make a hand-tattoo appear on whoever was worthy of finally traipsing through those palaces

Hey, Prince? Bad news: even if you knew where to look, there was no way you were going to make it past Horsehead and the Valley of Death or even your first Iron Knuckle. Your dad screwed you but good, princey.

And, bad news, he screwed Link, too.

GrossThe Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link is widely considered to be one of the most difficult The Legend of Zelda adventures. Some attribute this to the 2-D perspective being fairly half-baked, and not at all designed around Link’s butter-knife based offensive abilities. Some blame the magic system, which is inventive, but too many monsters and areas require specific spells, so you’re always running at a magical deficit. And there is certainly some merit to the claim that the experience system is opaque at best, and downright punishing at worst. How are you supposed to get anywhere when some damn flying eyeball is leeching your EXP every five seconds!?

But, no, that all pales before the real reason The Adventure of Link is so difficult: The King of Hyrule hated his son. Dude did not just hide the Triforce, he created a treasure hunt that spread across two continents. He devoted great swaths of Hyrulian resources toward building temples containing boiling lava and holographic walls. And, lest that King think his son had the slimmest chance of throwing those unlocking jewels around, for some damn reason, the King of Hyrule summoned a freakin’ fire breathing dragon just to protect one palace. And that cyclops! Where does one even find food for a cyclops, left alone satisfying other cyclopean biological needs!? The King of Hyrule went to a lot of trouble to arrange this massive undertaking for the exclusive purpose of waylaying his own son. Couldn’t he have just taken the kid to soccer practice? Shown up for a few more school plays? You have the Triforce, King! You could have just wished for your son to be a little less of an asshole! You didn’t have to construct a hover-horse!

I hate youAnd then Link got stuck dealing with the fallout of that failed royal relationship. Lucky guy, that Link. An army of monsters are trying to drain his blood to revive their piggy master, and he’s got to deal with generational family therapy for some royals he’ll never know.

It’s called The Legend of Zelda for a reason. It’s The Legend of Zelda Really Messing Up Some Poor Elf’s Day.

FGC #434 The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System initially, and then the Gamecube collection, and then I’m pretty sure every Nintendo system since. Currently available on Switch!
  • Number of players: Link is going to have to deal with this mess alone.
  • Favorite Spell: It might just be a way to conserve assets, but granting Link a spell where he transforms into a fairy was certainly a bold choice. And it’s a useful spell, too! Who needs all this jumping when you can just fly?
  • No. 3 Tryforce: I like how the first Zelda sequel introduced a new Triforce. I feel like this tradition should have continued, and, by the time of Breath of the Wild, Link has to collect 25 different Triforces, finally culminating with the Triforce of Muted Apathy.
  • I WINAn End: (Almost) Always restarting in Zelda’s sleep chamber has the excellent side effect of making the ending and final scene of the game in Zelda’s temple rather thrilling. Way to work the emotions with limited bits, Nintendo.
  • What’s in a Name: This was the first Zelda game to stick Link’s name in the title. So much for being an unnamed adventurer/player avatar, Nintendo! He’ll never be the most popular protagonist in all of videogames now, guys!
  • Land of the Rising Fun: There are a number of differences between the Japanese and International versions. Seemingly the biggest change in Japan is that Gooma, the cyclops with a morning star boss of the Palace on the Sea, does not appear at all, and is replaced with a second encounter with Jermafenser, the dude with too many heads. America: land of the myopic.
  • Did you know? Ganon’s laugh is the same sound sample used for Soda Popinski in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. This raises all sorts of timeline issues…
  • Would I play again: Anyone that says they enjoy this game is a liar. Or they haven’t played it recently. Or I’m being hyperbolic, and I’m just angry at anyone that can get through Death Valley without abusing save states. So many eyeball ghosts! So much lava! I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee for the Nintendo Switch! Oh boy! We’re going to go somewhere or another, eevee! Please look forward to it!

Get 'em
That is how you do it. You’re welcome.

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

PENGUIN!In a world where Spider-Man isn’t popular enough to merit game preservation, what hope does an overweight penguin have?

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a supremely unusual game. Hailing from a time well before videogamin’ had codified itself into anything that made sense (you know, back when your next mascot creature could be an electric rat that hides in the forest), Yume Penguin Monogatari is the story of… a penguin. And that penguin has a girlfriend. But! Our hero penguin, Penta, has gotten fat. And previously mentioned penguin girlfriend, Penko, is not having it. So Penko dumps tubby Penta, and leaves him for Ginji, a nefarious penguin in a top hat and shades. Now Penta is setting out on a quest to lose some weight and reclaim the heart of Penko, but Ginji is on to Penta’s plans, and schemes to recruit an army of ridiculous creatures that all aim to fatten Penta back into obesity. So Penta has to find his way through six or so levels, and hopefully maintain a slim figure while battling monsters like a sentient/delicious birthday cake. It’s a hard life for an overweight penguin!

But, depending on how badly you want to see Penta achieve his chubby penguin dreams, it might not be a hard life for the player. Yume Penguin Monogatari features fairly unique gameplay for a NES (well, technically, Famicom) title: Penta cannot die. Get hit by every enemy across any given stage, and Penta will still survive. In a time when a mere life bar was a godsend, Penta is practically invincible compared to his dramatically more fragile 8-bit brethren. But, make no mistake, Penta is not going to experience a cakewalk (wait… dietwalk?) on his quest to cut out calories. Every stage features a generally unforgiving Here we go!timer, and, should the hourglass run out for Penta, it’s time to repeat the stage from the start. Additionally, every stage has a “diet goal”, and if Penta manages to beat the boss, but still looks terrible in a speedo, it’s back to the beginning. Considering every boss tosses out copious amounts of edibles, and Penta is an accomplished glutton, there is a very real possibility Penta will be forced to restart a stage due to excess flab. Said it before, say it again: it’s a hard life for an overweight penguin.

But, hard life or no, you’ll probably see the whole stage. Which is more than I can say for so many NES games…

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a Konami title. For Konami, much of the NES/SNES era was the epoch of the shoot ‘em up. Whether it was lil’ ships battling big cores, or lil’ dudes gunning down gigantic hearts, Konami had a number of titles available for satisfying your inalienable right to run around and shoot aliens. But the downside of nearly all of those titles? One hit kills. Assuming you don’t forsake your missiles and laserbeams for a shield immediately, the Vic Viper is going to fall to the forces of Bacterion after the slightest tap from a… one of those roundy things at the start of a stage. They probably have a name. Or Contra! The greatest game of all time that absolutely required a cheat code or you were never going to make it to the third level! Bill and Lance might be heroes of an alien invasion, but they’re just as vulnerable to bullets as weird dudes with backpacks. Basically, back in the day of 8-bit heroes, if you saw the final stage of a game (or even the boss of approximately the fourth level), it meant that you had a nigh-superhuman level of reflexes, or the ability to memorize a level like nobody’s business. I don’t care if Nintendo Power was helping you out with maps, you still had to have some major skills to make it to the end without that precious Konami Code.

CAKE BOSSAnd Yume Penguin Monogatari feels like it may be an answer to all those crying Nintendo kids. Yes, thanks to the timer and weight requirements, it may be impossible for some people to beat even the first level, left alone finish the entire game; but will everyone be able to see the majority of level 1? It’s pretty likely! Penta merely “trips” or inflates to bulbous size when attacked by an enemy, and is not immediately obliterated like so many Gradius defenders. And that’s great! The worst part of any of those one-hit kill games (or games that require a continue after rapidly vanishing “lives”) is that it was nearly impossible to be prepared for the end of a level. People expect increasing difficulty, so it’s only natural that the end of the stage would be the most challenging section. But if you spent all your lives on the initial, “easy” bits (because you’re, ya know, an eight year old just trying to have fun), then the finale is simply going to be a swift kick in the teeth before getting booted back to the beginning. In Yume Penguin Monogatari, however, you actually have a chance. Yes, Penta might be waddling along at maximum fat levels, and it might be abundantly clear that he’s going to get his tubby tail feathers dumped at the end of the stage, but at least you get to see what’s at the end of the stage. At least you get to play the actual game, as opposed to simply being annihilated at the starting gate. At least you can learn from your mistakes, and not be completely blindsided/destroyed by some manner of pig-zeppelin at the end of the level.

FLAP FLAPAnd, thankfully, this helps the player learn how to play the game. There may be traps and pitfalls all over the level, but with the ability to play the whole level, a player is going to get better and better with every run. All effort won’t be expended immediately just in an effort to conquer the start, and practice can make perfect across the entire breadth of a stage. In short, in one silly “fat penguin” game, Konami cracked the “difficulty appropriate for everyone” nut in 1991.

And then no one in America ever got to play the game, because it was never localized.

And, likely because it had the global appeal of… well… an overweight penguin, Yume Penguin Monogatari only ever saw rerelease in 2006, on the i-Revo… and I have no idea what that is. Some kind of smart phone? Smart TV? Smart penguin? No matter. Point is that this penguin adventure isn’t something that can legally be played in any country where there is currently an ongoing debate on the nature of videogame difficulty.

Yume Penguin Monogatari is an excellent, fun, weird game with some interesting twists on videogame difficulty…

And it’s lost forever.

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

  • System: NES… or Nintendo Famicom. And, as previously mentioned, whatever the hell an “i-Revo” is.
  • Number of players: Oh lawd, one penguin comin’.
  • Everything you know is wrong: Considering the goal of many videogames (and nearly all NES games) is to consume as many food items as possible, it is really weird playing any game where you must avoid, say, succulent apples and enchanting rice cakes. The fact that apples are anything but a diet item pretty much goes against everything I have ever learned.
  • WeeeeeeLet’s talk about fat, baby: One could make the argument that this game is anti-fat, and ultimately body-shaming. And it is! On the other hand, being fat doesn’t kill Penta, it simply is the reason his girlfriend is going to leave him for another, slimmer penguin. So think of the moral less that “fat is bad” and more “some penguins are superficial, and will make you pilot magical planes to satisfy their own twisted desires”.
  • An end: Oh, and after defeating the final boss (it’s the bad alterna-boyfriend, natch), the ending is a now slim Penta hanging with the pleased Penko. But now Penko has developed an eating disorder, and she bulks up to gargantuan size. Ha ha! You two silly penguins are bad for each other!
  • Did you know? Pentarou, the penguin of Parodius titles, is supposedly Penta’s son. So I guess it is canon that Penta and Penko shake their collective penguin booty after the finale.
  • Would I play again: This is a great game! It would probably be right up there with Kirby’s Adventure and other late, great NES titles if, ya know, there was a legit way to play it.

What’s next? In the name of the moon, I will write about another forgotten videogame. Please look forward to it!

GET IT!?

FGC #414 Joe & Mac

I don't even know...Let us discuss the curious case of the Super Nintendo port of Joe & Man: Caveman Ninja.

Like with many videogames of the early 90’s (1991! Did such a far off year ever really exist?), this story starts in the arcades. Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja (alternately known as simply Caveman Ninja or Joe and Mac: Caveman Combat) was one of those vaguely beat ‘em up-esque 2-D action titles that you usually only saw out of Capcom (I still remember you, Magic Sword). Joe and Mac are caveman bros that must hold back an entire Neanderthal army and rescue a few “cave babes” from the likes of dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and at least one giant skeleton monster. The title is comical and cartoony, and seems to lean heavily into being a sort of “parody” title. Tyrannosauruses barf out cavemen, Little Shop of Horrors lends a certain giant plant to the proceedings, and we even get to “laugh” at the tired “overweight woman is boy crazy, boy is repulsed” trope. Real knee-slappers all around! Humor aside, though, Joe & Mac is an enjoyable arcade experience, and exactly the kind of game you’d expect to play in a pre-Street Fighter 2 arcade.

What set Joe & Mac apart from its arcade brethren? Well, once you cut out the comedy and expressive sprite-work, there’s pretty much nothing. But why would you ignore that!? Joe and Mac isn’t trying to be the Citizen Souls (Dark Kane?) of gaming, it’s a just a fun way to blow some quarters for the afternoon. There are improvements to be made across the board, but most of those advances would ignore the requirements of an arcade game. It’s a little too easy to lose health quickly and painfully… but considering loss of life necessitates another quarter, I don’t hear any change machines complaining. And the stage selections mean you will miss levels when choosing between Path A and Path B, but, that’s just an excuse to play the game all over again to see all the content.

Hm. If Joe and Mac wasn’t tethered to the arcade, it could be a better game, so the console ports must show stark improvement.

… Right?

ZAPLet’s review a few of the console ports. The MS-DOS port (what passed for “PC” back in the day) was basically the arcade version, so one would suppose that doesn’t count. Similarly, the Sega Genesis version tried to be the arcade version, and is pretty much the same thing, give or take a few graphical tweaks. As one might expect, the NES version is severely compromised, as the big, bad bosses of Joe & Mac don’t really translate to 8-bits very well. They had to make the generic baby dinosaur mook a mini-boss! And no one bothered to animate the cave babes actually kissing our heroes! Regardless, it’s compromised, but it’s clearly an attempt at directly porting Joe & Mac Arcade. And the Gameboy version might actually be better than the NES port… which isn’t terribly surprising, given it was released a year later. It’s still not great, but it’s passable for an early 90’s Gameboy title. Oh, and like its NES buddy, it follows the basic rules and flow of the arcade release. So that only leaves the Super Nintendo port, and… it’s a little different.

If you were to play Arcade Joe & Mac, play some other games at the arcade, and then scoot home to play SNES Joe & Mac, you might not notice much of a difference. These are both games that feature the titular Joe & Mac rescuing cave babes from the forces of evil. In both adventures, Joe & Mac fight (almost) the same bosses, which employ (mostly) the same patterns. There is jumping and weapon hurling and meat grabbing. And, while the SNES version has an overworld map, the basic flow of the game is almost exactly the same, give or take the ability to try those “forking” stages in one continuous playthrough.

But, if you play the two games in rapid succession (perhaps because you live in a glorious future where entire arcade cabinets may be digitized into tiny MAME roms), you will note that the arcade and SNES versions of Joe & Mac are as different as a caveman ninja and a Neanderthal.

Little bubFirst, and most noticeably, the SNES version completely drops the Master Higgins-esque health system of the arcade. There is a constant “health timer” in the arcade version, and, should Joe or Mac stop eating everything in sight for longer than six seconds, they will certainly expire from insatiable hunger. This eating disorder is absent from the SNES port, so Joe and Mac can explore their environment at a much more leisurely pace. And that’s great, because there are bonus rooms around, and they can only be accessed through vigilant determination. Oh, and you’re allowed to toggle obtained weapons with L&R, so you’re no longer stuck with whatever weapon you happened to bump into (anyone that played the earlier Konami titles is well aware of the “joys” of accidentally ditching your holy water for a stupid dagger). And these are all improvements! Joe and Mac for the Super Nintendo is the superior Joe and Mac version! Everything is good forever!

Except… SNES Joe and Mac left a surprising amount of content on the cutting room floor. For one thing, the weapons selection has been severely limited, which eliminates some of the most interesting attacks. Joe can no longer launch gigantic sparks at opponents, and Mac has completely lost the ability to summon a spiritual “other self” to menace an ankylosaurus. And speaking of offensive options, Joe & Mac can “charge” attacks for bigger bangs in other versions, while that option is sorely missing on the Super Nintendo. And, believe me, stronger attacks are dearly missed when bosses are massive HP sponges. Oh, and the stages that randomly transform the title into a dedicated shooting game are missing entirely, which is a major loss for anyone that ever wanted a caveman based shoot ‘em up (guess we have to go back to Bonk for that). Frankly, the Super Nintendo version is missing a number of features that made Arcade Joe & Mac great.

And then there are the weird changes. The final boss of nearly every version is some unholy amalgamation of a dinosaur and a Neanderthal. It is never explained where this creature originated, but it makes a kind of sense at the end of a game where you fight dinosaurs and Neanderthals (separately) every five seconds. The SNES version introduces… Satan. Or… some kind of devil, at least. And he’s living inside a T-Rex’s belly, and is kidnapping cave babes because… uh… He was bored? And the multiple endings of the arcade game were dropped… sorta. The “funny” ending where Joe & Mac are chased by a bevy of heavy ladies is gone. That is, unless you know a key sequence that reinstates this alternate/tired ending. Why bother with such a thing? I don’t think “slightly different ending with a secret code” was exactly a selling point back in 1991.

BEAT EM ALL

But this all brings us back to the original question: why?

Joe & Mac was published in the arcade and at home by Data East. The most accurate ports all originated with Data East. This was not a situation where Capcom made the arcade cabinet, and then LJN was somehow responsible for the port. This was all in-house, and any changes made to the formula must have been overseen by at least the same producer. And, by all accounts, none of these changes were the result of “memory issues” or similar excuses from the 8-bit days. If the Sega Genesis could handle that deleted tusk weapon, it certainly could have appeared on the Super Nintendo. AwogaBy all accounts, there’s no real reason for the changes made to the SNES port, and we’re unlikely to ever have a clue why these changes were made. Was this an attempt to segue into a more adventure-y sequel? Establish the Joe & Mac extended universe? Play around with the L&R buttons? The world may never know the answer.

Joe & Mac for the Super Nintendo is just different enough from its version brethren to raise a few eyebrows, but not different enough to feel like its own game. And the reasons for that are lost to prehistory…

FGC #414 Joe & Mac

  • System: Joe & Mac get around. Let’s say the arcade version is the start, and then we’ve got Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Gameboy, Nintendo Entertainment System, DOS, and the Amiga for some reason. All that, and I don’t think it has returned in modern times for any sort of Virtual Console.
  • Number of players: Joe and Mac. And, depending on the version and mode, you can clobber your buddy into submission while fighting your opponents.
  • Favorite Weapon: The wheel revolutionized human transportation, and it was a fine way to whack a pterodactyl.
  • Favorite Boss: There’s this gray, water based dinosaur that rules over the waterfall/river stage. It’s not that remarkable, but it’s doing that 16-bit thing where its neck is a series of disconnected circles. For some reason, I always find that endearing.
  • RollyDid you know? During two player games, a gauge will appear to track which character has clubbed the boss the most. The winner earns a kiss from a cave babe, and the loser has to sit back and watch his pal get the girl. This is sexist and stupid and the cause of way too many fights when I was playing this game with friends when I was ten.
  • Would I play again: Like any beat ‘em up-alike, Joe & Mac is pretty fun when you have a playmate in the area. And I inexplicably have fond memories of this title, so it’s probably going to get played again. Now, which version to play…

What’s next? We’re closing out 16-Bit Cavemen Week with the sequel to Joe & Mac! No, not Joe & Mac 2. That would be silly. I’m thinking something a little more… caper-y. Please look forward to it!

FGC #401 Final Fantasy 3 (DS)

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

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

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

But then it gets all too complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or… did it?

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

I can't tell the difference!

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

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

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

FGC #401 Final Fantasy 3 (DS)

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

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

Final Fantasy!
What am I even looking at?