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FGC #406 Beyond the Beyond

FartImagine, if you will, a butt.

But this is no ordinary butt; no, this is a butt that is, somehow, completely divorced from a body. It is unmistakably a human butt, but there is no attached human to be found, so there is simply a large butt, hovering at roughly eyelevel. And, were this merely a disembodied, floating butt, perhaps you could live with that you are seeing. Perhaps it would be simply enough to know that there are now flying butts, and that’s that, may as well get out of here and go clock in at the hamburger factory. But, once again, this butt surprises you, for, you see, this butt, despite being attached to no figure or digestive tract, has a chronic, unmistakable case of diarrhea. Butt is pushing out a constant stream of liquid excrement, and that accompanies every sight, sound, and smell you can envision. As a result, it is difficult to look at the ass in question, because… Ugh… It just doesn’t stop. Why is this allowed to continue? Where is it all coming from? Where is all of this… substance going?

And then, slowly, you realize there is an answer to that question. You understand that your senses have failed you. The sensory overload of… everything involved in this situation caused you to miss something very obvious: There is a second butt.

And the second butt is much like the first. It is simply a butt, disconnected from anything that may actually support a butt. It is slightly lower than the first butt, but it still seems to be above the ground under its own, unknown power. If you look closely, you will notice this butt appears to have a mole of some kind, so it is not a carbon copy of Butt A, but you do not have the acumen of Sir Mix-a-Lot, so you cannot see much of a difference between butts otherwise. This is just a second, horrible butt, and… Oh God… it’s doing something… It’s doing something terrible.

It is made of poopButt #2 is… it’s absorbing… eating?… It is consuming the unending stream of gooey crap pouring out of #1. And, in response to this everlasting torrent of ordure, Butt #2 is somehow puking back at #1. It’s a butt! That substance is not supposed to come out of a butt! But, no, it is unmistakably vomit, and it is shooting straight up and into the first offending ass. And, lack of intestines or not, it appears this is how these Gemini butts maintain their equilibrium. They are constant. They are eternal. And you cannot look away. Despite everything. Despite the awful sight before you, despite the smell that you are certain is going to follow you for months, despite the fact that you can almost feel flakes of dung and bile clinging to your hair, you cannot leave. You could no more turn your back on this sight than abandon a needy baby, because you know you are gazing upon something unique. It is impossible and horrible and possibly the single worst thing you have ever seen, but you know it is something that may never been seen again. It is the product of a heartless, capricious universe, but, even as the juices start to rise in your own throat, you know this image is going to stay with you for the rest of your days, and it would be folly to try to escape.

You are now in a realm not of sight and sound, but of atrocious butts. You are in the Butt Zone.

And only there, in the Butt Zone, will you understand what it’s like to play Beyond the Beyond.

Beyond the Beyond is an awful game. Let me count the ways.

• Beyond the Beyond was a JRPG released in late-1995/mid-1996 (depending on your region). This was the golden age of JRPGS! We already had glorious Final Fantasy 6, Chrono Trigger had just been released, and even “lesser” JRPGs were still unique, amazing experiences. Ogre Battle? Breath of Fire? They may not have been perfect games, but they were powerful, epic tales on systems that also hosted Rocko’s Modern Life licensed products. Beyond the Beyond is not an epic tale. Beyond the Beyond appears to be Dragon Quest. One. That may have cut it back in 1986, but not just about a year shy of the release of Final Fantasy 7.

These dudes

• It’s not just about the graphics, either. Mother 3 has “retro” graphics, but they’re some of the most expressive pixels you’ll ever see. Here, the graphics are woefully behind the storytelling, so a heartfelt scene wherein a family mourns their fatally wounded child accidentally features some manner of Mr. Potato Head.

POTATO MAN

• Beyond the Beyond apes Dragon Quest to a fault, complete with a limited, by-character inventory system, and a goddamn “TALK / SEARCH / ITEM” context menu. This could work in a 90s JRPG (it certainly worked for Earthbound), but it might have to be a JRPG where NPCs don’t continue walking while you bring up the menu, so you’re “TALK”ing to air after a villager hoofs it across town. Oh, there’s an “R” automatic check/talk button? Why not just make that the standard!?

• But that limited inventory might be the greatest sin in this title, as it pairs poorly with the other grand problem of Beyond the Beyond: the encounter rate is insane. There is a new random encounter every three to five steps. You will encounter as many battles walking from a town to the next dungeon as would normally be inside the final castle of most JRPGs. This means you are constantly depleting healing resources, and the idea of keeping anything else in your inventory is folly. Even one antidote for a poison status that never comes seems silly. But if you do wind up poisoned? Hoo boy, that’s gonna be a fun time.

• And that encounter rate also makes the mages of the party completely useless. If you must fight thirty random battles in the smallest dungeon, and your wizard blows through his fireball charges within the first seven fights, welcome to 1 HP Staff Damage Town. Your (one) healing mage isn’t much better, either, as keeping everyone topped off is nigh-impossible on her meager spell charges. Like every JRPG, MP gets more plentiful as the adventure continues, but the spells also escalate in pricing, so you’re pretty much always going to be lacking oomph from your mages.

• Look at this bullshit

Terrible

• But speaking of healing, at a normal leveling pace, monsters pretty reliably cut off about a third of your HP per hit. To be clear on that math, your chosen hero will have zero HP after three hits during any given battle. But! Beyond the Beyond introduces the LP system, which means that after your HP hits zero, you will simply be temporarily stunned, and then a seemingly random amount of LP will restore about half of your HP. That’s a neat concept! Unfortunately, in execution, it just means that fighters with low HP are stun-locked forever, constantly being “healed” by LP, but then taking that next hit, and going right down again. And LP is impossible to restore (either impossible, or I found no way to do it through the entire game) while inside a dungeon. And dungeons don’t even have floor numbers, left alone an indicator on how long any given maze might be, so good luck with rationing your HP/LP/MP.

• The monster designs might be the best part of the game. Though that is sullied somewhat by the fact that there are approximately ten monsters reskinned and recolored roughly 10,000 times. And there’s no geography to the monsters! There are the exact same monsters half way across the planet from each other, simply because the plot dictates you’ll be visiting those two locations in quick succession. And why the hell are there monsters on the gigantic beanstalk you just grew!?

I hate you• And there are like seven bosses in the entire game. Three of them are in the final dungeon. But some dungeons do end with a boss, so you never have any clue if you need to save up your assets for that final push against a dark knight, or if you’ll just get to cast an exit spell and call it a day. And, lest we forget, bosses are HP sponges that demand your mages be in fighting shape. The final boss has 4,000 HP; the average monster in that dungeon has 80 HP.

• It’s not related to anything in particular, but there’s a sewer level, and the plot mandates that you trudge through it five separate times. That is a gross affront to God.

• While we’re on the subject of trudging, the dungeons seem to be designed around punishing the player into walking more, and thus suffering more encounters. Puzzles within dungeons are constantly wasting your time (“Oh, now I have to walk back to the first switch, flip that, and then switch the third switch”), and wasting your steps. Which means more battles, and more resource drains. So every time you don’t solve a puzzle immediately, it hurts. It really hurts. You’ll be begging for really easy puzzles so your poor party can survive to the next save point… but then what’s even the point of having a puzzle at all?

• Oh, and of course you can only save in towns. Your average dungeon can take an hour, and if you wipe on its (potential) boss, you’ll be wasting another hour to skulk back through. Death in this game at least lets you save your levels and treasure… though you do restart with a completely dead party, save the hero. Good luck wasting your treasure on reviving your buddies at the only church in town!

DAMMIT!• But, through it all, Beyond the Beyond’s greatest sin is constantly chastising the player for having hope. Samson is an early recruit, and he has amazing stats, and strength enough to make random encounters a breeze. So, naturally, after three battles, he’s cursed to Level 1, and not only has dramatically weakened stats, but he will be randomly paralyzed and damaged by the curse affliction for half the game. A wise old sage gives each of your combatants an orb of light for switching party members… but it will still be another three hours or so before you get an extra party member. If you don’t recruit any of the hidden characters, you will never need this orb of light… but it still takes up a sport in everyone’s inventory anyway. Teleporting between towns is only unlocked after you’ve acquired extra party members, and is the most aggravating version of character juggling I’ve ever seen. Class changes don’t actually increase your stats, they’re simply an excuse to reset to Level 1 to hopefully gain more levels/level up bonuses. You acquire a freaking dragon as your first airship, but there is literally only one extra place that he can access. When you gain an enormous, flying monolith, you’re still only flying to one new location, and have to walk the rest of the way. And at no point in the game do you ever earn a “Knights of the Round” or “Ultimate” spell; you’re always stuck struggling upstream, and even hidden “ultimate items” seem to be all but required. There’s a revive spell! It’s nearly impossible to find without a FAQ! And the spell’s MP cost makes it useless! Beyond the Beyond hates the player.

Hm… Maybe comparing Beyond the Beyond to a ceaseless stream of shit was too kind…

FGC #406 Beyond the Beyond

  • System: Playstation 1. Somehow, this title has not seen a rerelease anywhere.
  • Number of players: You’ll have to suffer this one alone.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I’ve had this article in mind for a long time.
  • Say something nice: The localization ain’t bad for the time, and, for an early Playstation 1 game, there are barely any noticeable load times. … And that’s about it.
  • This seems niceNow for further complaints: There’s a super secret character available for going against your normal instincts during the boss of the second to last dungeon. Your “reward” for acquiring this character is a fighter with practically Level 1 stats and equipment that could barely handle the first dungeon. This game hates you.
  • Do you know about Timed Hits? There’s a sort of “active” battle system in Beyond the Beyond, and you can theoretically smack the right button at the right time for blocks or criticals. Unfortunately, it’s very finicky, and there isn’t a single tutorial or scrap of evidence the system even exists during the game proper. It is mentioned in the manual, though, so it doesn’t seem to be a Gamefaqs rumor…
  • Return of the King: This title was developed by Camelot Software, who would go on to develop the Golden Sun franchise. I’m pretty sure I never got into that series as a direct result of BtB PTSD. This is also why I can never shop at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
  • Did you know? There’s a secret opening cinema that you can view by holding Up+Triangle when the game is first loading. It’s weird that it’s hidden behind a code, as it is literally the start of the story, and the first thing referenced when the game properly starts up.

    COLD, DEAD EYES

    On the other hand, it makes the hero look like a dead-eyed fiend, so maybe there’s a reason it was ditched.

  • Would I play again: I never beat this game as a child, but I decided to finish it now simply to say I have experienced the entirety of Beyond the Beyond. And you know what? This game is appalling. It will never be played again. Ever.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Knuckles Chaotix for the 32X! Yay! It’s finally Knuckles’ time to shine! Please look forward to it!

NOW GO AWAY

FGC #390 Darkstalkers 3

Here they come!First, there was Street Fighter 2, and it was good. And then there were a bunch of imitators, and they were… middling. But, somewhere in there, while we were sorting through a solid fifty versions of Street Fighter 2 and trying to remember which fighting game had that weird dude with the clown mask (no, not that clown mask, the other one), there was Darkstalkers, the Capcom fighting game “alternative” to Street Fighter 2.

And why the heck wasn’t Darkstalkers accepted as the better game?

Right from the get go, Darkstalkers had every opportunity to be better. Street Fighter 2 was an amazing and revolutionary game that defined an entire genre… but the problem with starting a genre is that you’re still, ya know, figuring that genre out. Combos? A complete accident of programming. Balance? Important, but it’s pretty clear there’s a difference between Buzzcut, who can shut down everything, and the sumo dude that can’t waddle past a fireball. How about just plain design? You cannot tell me that OG Street Fighter 2 didn’t have a limited number of special moves for certain characters for any reason other than “this will actually let us say it’s done”. Sure, Blanka is complete with “that one move from E. Honda” and “is electric”, let’s move on to “guy that climbs background”. In short, Street Fighter 2 was amazing for its time, but it needed a pile of new versions to better refine the initial concept.

Cry about itAnd one thing that never changed about Street Fighter 2 was its boring characters. Don’t get me wrong, Street Fighter 2 has an amazing, eclectic troupe that has proven over the years to be possibly the most versatile cast of characters in gaming (hey, you think Zelda is going to entice Jean Claude?), but, back during their introductory years, they were a little less interesting. Blanka was one of a kind (assuming you never played Pro Wrestling on the NES), but the rest may as well have been Karate Guy, Soldier, Girl, and (my favorite) Red Karate Guy. They all had unique moves, motivations, and blood types, but, at a glance, they were nary more than international stereotypes. Dhalsim, with his necklace of skulls and curry-based fire breath, is a typical Indian, right? Seems legit.

So by the time we were first introduced to “the new challengers”, nobody was all that surprised when we got Bruce Lee Clone #3,271 and Dee Jay the D.J. But over on the other side of the arcade, we had Darkstalkers. Now there was a cast you could take home to mother (assuming mother is some manner of murderous slime monster).

Darkstalkers has got your Ken and Ryu… but they’re vampires. Or, okay, one is a vampire and one is a succubus, but let’s not split hairs, they’re both throwing bats back and forth. Then there’s the heavy metal zombie (who once accidentally summoned demons during a concert), the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein(‘s monster, nerds). And a yeti! Darkstalkers went the extra mile and actually found Big Foot! How can you not love such a game?

And while Darkstalkers 1 may have been little more than a reskinned Street Fighter 2, Darkstalkers 2 and Darkstalkers 3 really got their unique balls a-rollin’. When Street Fighter was still trying to work out the true meaning of the Super meter, Darkstalkers was tossing mega shadow moves all over the place. Like some fireball variety? Well, you’re not going to find beams over on those fighting streets. In fact, if you like the Versus series at all, give or take a game or two, you have Darkstalkers to thank much more than Street Fighter 2. Did you play Street Fighter 3? It introduced an electric Stretch Armstrong albino dude, and somehow still made the gameplay boring. That kind of thing is literally impossible when a murderous Red Riding Hood is spraying a giant bee with an uzi.

So this brings us back to the original question: If Darkstalkers was Street Fighter 2, but more refined and featuring more interesting characters, why has it always played second fiddle to its “ancestral” game? Everyone understood not seeing a new Darkstalkers during the dark ages when the best we could hope for was a fresh Guilty Gear, but we’re now living in a world with multiple Street Fighter 4s and 5s. And a couple of new Versus games. Get it together, Capcom!

In an attempt to find the answer, I played both Darkstalkers 3 and Street Fighter 2 (well, SSF2T Udon edition) back to back. And I think I found answer! It comes down to these dorks…

Get 'em

The cast of Street Fighter 2 is, compared to just one of the living sun monsters in Darkstalkers, boring. But take a look at 15 seconds of two fighters from that “boring” cast. Dhalsim versus Zangief may seem mundane to us nowadays, but try to imagine being a “newb”. Try to envision a world where you have never seen these two characters, and then try to imagine your impression after seeing that tiniest of clips. Taken on its own, you can immediately recognize the “styles” of both of these fighters. Dhalsim can launch fireballs and stretched fists… so he’s all about the range. Zangief, meanwhile, can barely reach Dhalsim before he’s dizzied, but his moves are powerful. Did you see how much health Dhalsim lost from one piledriver? That hairy guy is the real monster! Now imagine watching another match, maybe now with Ryu and Chun-Li. You can immediately see the difference in their styles. Same for Guile and E. Honda. By the time you get to Blanka, sure, you might be shocked by his high voltage prowess, but you’ve also got a full understanding of how his speed compares to that of the blonde in the red gi.

Street Fighter 2 might have a boring cast, but it’s a cast that immediately defines its own terms. It’s a cast that, in literally seconds, helps the player to understand the exact difference between fighters.

Darkstalkers? Not so much.

OwieSasquatch might be our prerequisite strongman, and I’m pretty sure Felicia slots into the “quick girl” trail that Chun-Li so effectively blazed, but, once you get to the rest of the cast, it gets tremendously more blurry. What’s the difference between Lord Raptor and Rikuo? Their moves look totally different, but what’s the practical application? Which is stronger? Faster? Bishamon looks like a slow and steady fighter, but so Anakaris. Are you supposed to be using that mummy floatiness? Or is that more the domain of one of the other flying fighters? And when you start adding the new fighters, it’s almost impossible to even discern their purposes. B.B. Hood is loaded with guns, but she isn’t really a ranged fighter? Are Jedah’s blood moves just for show? Is there even supposed to be a difference between Morrigan and Lilith?

Of course, if you’re a Darkstalkers fan, you know the answers to all of these questions. Or maybe you don’t! Maybe you just like using the funny werewolf man to hit people with nunchucks. That’s okay, too! But what’s important is that, fan or not, it’s not nearly as easy for someone to “pick up and understand” Darkstalkers like Street Fighter 2. Look out!Yes, Darkstalkers is more exhilarating and flashy, but that flashiness blurs the lines between the fighters, and, when everyone is exciting, no one is. Street Fighter looks like a fighting tournament, Darkstalkers looks like… crazy nonsense.

First impressions count. People like to know what’s happening, and, when they don’t, they get frustrated. Street Fighter has always worn its archetypes on its sleeve, while Darkstalkers kept things a little more complicated. And complicated doesn’t mean quarters.

I love you, Darkstalkers, but you’re too weird for your own good.

FGC #390 Darkstalkers 3

  • System: Arcade, Playstation, and Sega Saturn. I also played Darkstalkers Resurrection on the PS3 for part of this review, as it’s about as close to OG DS3 Arcade as is available on the same system I’m playing a PSX game anyway.
  • Number of players: Up to two vampires may battle at one time.
  • Other Problems: A lot of people claim that the “real” reason we haven’t seen a modern Darkstalkers is that the constant “morphing” and general craziness of the franchise can’t translate properly from sprites to modern, 3D modeling. But this is complete nonsense, as, come on, you’ve seen that gif of Gohan’s arm, right? We can do this thing!
  • Version Differences: The original arcade Darkstalkers 3 did not include the bosses of DS2, nor Donovan, the Night Warrior, for some reason. This effectively nuked every new character introduced in DS2, give or take a Chinese vampire lady. The home version, however, brought the whole gang back, and included an “edit colors” mode, making it the superior version. So of course future rereleases seem to be based on the arcade version…
  • Favorite Character: In a game full of cartoony, but creepy, characters, I prefer Marionette, because everything about her is goddamn unnerving.
  • Midnight Bliss: I am not going to talk about Dimitri’s Midnight Bliss again

    Get... her?

    So let’s talk about Viktor’s amazing booty instead.

    Get 'cha some

    I like that. And I cannot lie.

  • Did you know? Lilith was originally intended to be Morrigan’s angel half-sister. Somewhere along the line, however, she was demoted to merely being some errant chunk of Morrigan’s soul, and, thus, another succubus. The official word has always been that an angel wouldn’t “fit” in the Darkstalkers universe, but I’m pretty sure the real answer is that nobody wanted to animate a bunch of feathers all over the arena.
  • Would I play again: Oh my yes. This is one of the few fighting games that I routinely replay… Mainly because it hasn’t seen a modern update in any way, shape, or form. Come on, Capcom, poop out a decent sequel. You owe me!


What’s next?
Random ROB has chosen… Star Fox 64 3D for the 3DS! Come in, Corneria! We’re actually finally going to play a Star Fox game! Please look forward to it!

Ugh
So unnerving

FGC #361 Psychic Force 2012

LETS GET PSYCHICSource of gamer shame #3,191: being unaware of some crappy franchise that is obviously crappy, but you should have cared about it back in the day.

Psychic Force 2012 is a fighting game. There are a dozen or so fighters, they all have their own special moves and motivations (“I’ve got to find and/or kill my sister! Still debating!”), and everybody gets a cinematic “story mode” that allows for some angst and hijinks. However, unlike the Tekkens or Street Fighters of the day, PF2012 leans heavily into the gameplay we’d see again in the PS2 Dragonball Z games. Both fighters are contained to a large, boxy arena, and everyone is allowed to fly around and shoot fireballs to their heart’s content. Combos are generally simple punch-kick-punch affairs, and a lot of strategy relies on properly charging your “psychic meter” for gigantic psychic attacks. This fighting game ain’t exactly a cerebral playground, but it’s slightly more tactical than Streets of Rage.

And I didn’t play the game until about 2015, when I picked up the 1999 Dreamcast title on a lark while mocking the concept of “the future of 2012”. Ha ha! Silly game designers of the late 20th Century, why did you think we’d have psychic powers inside of a decade? Everybody knows we have to spend all our time inventing super fighting robots for everlasting peace!

But I quickly learned the kicker of Psychic Force 2012: this is a game I would have loved in 1999.

Gonna fightI am a nerd, and I have always been a nerd. I was weaned on Voltron, and I grew up on Transformers. I remember the first time I played Super Mario Bros. more vividly than my first kiss. I’m never going to admit that I may have been mentally running through Super Metroid during one of my first sexual encounters (there were circumstances!). 1999 may have technically been one of the least nerdy years of my life (mainly because I let my Nintendo Power subscription lapse), but I was still watching a bootleg version of Princess Mononoke with my significant other (side note: it was the Japanese dub, but with Chinese subtitles. There was no way to understand anything). I might have been trying my best to be cool at the time (this involved joining drama club… oh man I think I might have been even nerdier than I thought), but I still knew damn well what I liked. I still played Soulcalibur until my Dreamcast self-destructed, and I still secretly watched Pokémon every morning because when is Ash finally gonna catch ‘em all!? I was a sucker for my geeky interests, always have been and always will be, and 1999 was just another year where that was accurate.

And Psychic Force 2012? PF2012 is anime as hell.

Look at those characters! Look at those archetypes! The icy cop! The spiky haired protagonist! The walking school uniform with a short skirt despite flight being involved! The person of color that has somehow been transformed into a living gun! It’s all anime from the very start, and it continues to be anime through every moment. Characters blab on about missing siblings and departed masters. There’s an evil megacorp that wants to use magical powers for dirty reasons. I’m pretty sure the hero winds up with a harem by the end (this is a lie). And this isn’t some “abstract” anime like Kendo Rage or other older, more conceptual games. The graphics here are on point, and it’s likely as close as a Teenage Goggle Bob was ever going to get to playing a “real life” Dragon Ball game.

So animeBut Teenage Goggle Bob did not play Psychic Force 2012. Somehow, Psychic Force 2012 completely flew off the radar. And we can’t blame the Dreamcast exclusively for this one, either, as Psychic Force 1 and Psychic Force 2 were both available on the Playstation. They were probably sitting on the rental shelf right next to Monster Rancher, but, no, they were utterly ignored. Maybe I missed seeing it, maybe I thought the protagonist’s hair was too spiky, maybe it was just a matter of Microplay never wound up stocking a game with such a generic title. Whatever the case, Psychic Force was never on my radar, and, thus, it was never played when it could have been relevant.

And it’s not just about the anime. Maybe I’m getting nostalgic for a time that was practically nonexistent from the start. Fighting games were initially huge in the arcades, and, if you lived in an area with a good number of coin-options, you could be pummeled by all sorts of interesting people. Then, the arcades began to wither and die at the advent of consoles that could actually render a proper jab, and all the fighting games moved home. And, for a period that could not have been longer than two years, those fighting games led to fun times on the couch with friends. SoulCalibur, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter 3… it was all over by about the time Capcom was fighting SNK, but man was it fun to piledrive each other for days with a spinning Russian man. Soon enough, clicking plastic guitars (of all things) would be dominating the living room, and local battles would give way to online matchups that guaranteed no one ever had to go outside again. Yes, I realize I’m selfishly attributing some global fighting game domination to my late high school/early college years, a time when I had very little responsibility and a lot of free time, but, dammit, this is my website, and I’m going to imagine the past how I want!

WeeeeeSo I’m sorry I never hooked up with Psychic Force 2012. It’s not a great game, and playing it today is like licking a fire poker (ill-advised), but it certainly could have found a place in my life back at the turn of the millennium. We needed a breather from SoulCalibur once in a while, right? Psychic Force 2012 could have been that anime game we’d all be anxious to play right after the latest Cowboy Bebop.

Sorry, Psychic Force 2012. You never got a fair shake.

FGC #361 Psychic Force 2012

  • System: Sega Dreamcast. This game is also basically the same, give or take, as Psychic Force 2 for the Playstation.
  • Number of players: Is fighting game.
  • What’s in a name: The original Psychic Force takes place in the distant future of 2010 AD. The sequel takes place two years later, so I suppose that’s how we got the odd (still even) year/title of 2012. This bit of dating was dropped for the Playstation version, because 2012 had become just that much closer.
  • Favorite fighter: This cast is anime as hell… and also pretty damn shallow. Maybe it’s because I found the game as an adult, but these archetypes really aren’t doing it for me. Let’s go with Genshin Kenjoh, the rare anime old man that isn’t perving on all the women at all times.
  • ChillyWatch and Learn: Like many fighting games of the era, there is a “watch” mode that allows you to sit back and check out an exhibition between computer opponents. If you set the AI down to the lowest level, however, there are good odds both combatants will never, ever throw a punch. This is not very exciting!
  • Did you know? Patty is wearing a typical anime schoolgirl uniform, but her skirt is coded like shorts. This means you never get a “panty shot”, as, despite all the flying around, the skirt sticks to her legs. This is amazing! We had the technology in 1999, and we lost it! Modesty could return!
  • Would I play again: If it were 2000 or so, yes. In a post-2012 world, though, we’re done. Sorry again, Psychic Force.

What’s next? Random ROB…. Is taking a backseat to a recent release. Kinda. I never got over Breath of the Wild, so we’re going to review the recently released DLC chapter. Please look forward to it!

FGC #360 Monster Rancher

You never know when some particular piece of media will strike you. Monster Rancher might be the most personal game I own.

Let’s start with the facts: I played Monster Rancher a lot. How much is a lot? Well there are these stats:

Double Winner!

720 Wins! And add that to the slight fact that that screencap was taken in the Monster Rancher year of 1062. The game starts in 1000. My player avatar has been a monster rancher for 62 years! Holly, the ever-present assistant monster rancher, should be in a retirement home! I can’t even remember my first monster!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the basics: Monster Rancher is a Playstation 1 game that was released in 1997. To be clear on the timeline here, that would put MR’s release a solid year before Pokémon Red/Blue hit the states in 1998. And the comparisons between Monster Rancher and Pokémon are appropriate. They’re both games about loving and raising unusual creatures, and then forcing them to fight for your amusement/money. The big difference here, though, is that Pokémon started with 151 fairly unique creatures (electrode and voltorb are objectively similar), while Monster Rancher mostly relied on less than a dozen “types”, and mixed and matched their attributes in a couple hundred different ways. Tiger plus Eyeball = Hairy Eyeball isn’t exactly as original as a Jigglypuff, but it still leads to a larger bestiary. And where do you find these fantastic beasts? In Pokémon, they’re hiding in tall grass, but Monster Rancher was a little bit different. Monster Rancher concealed all of its monsters in much more mundane locations…

Eye of the Tiger!Let’s rewind even further in this inevitably autobiographical article. I was a gigantic videogame nerd as a child, but music wasn’t really my thing. Or, to be more precise, I simply happily listened to my parents’ oldies stations, and I was fairly convinced The Beatles and The Traveling Wilburys were the be-all end-all of harmony. This belief had a brief hiccup in about fifth grade, when I discovered “Weird” Al Yankovic and proceeded to demand his every last tape. So, while I wound up with Amish Paradise, I passed on every last Gangsta’s Paradise or practically anything else that was supposed to be interesting to my generation. Yes, this means I missed Nirvana. But I had Bomberman to keep me company, so I didn’t much mind. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I started to listen to my own music.

And then the floodgates were open.

Ignoring a few “comedy albums” (technically, my first CD ever was a Simpsons soundtrack… I regret nothing), I still remember buying my first three “real” CDs: Squirrel Nut Zippers – Hot, Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen, and Jethro Tull – Greatest Hits. My tastes are very… eclectic. From there on, I started collecting albums like I collected videogames. In fact, since this was a time when Playstation titles were at an all-time low ($40 brand new across the board), buying a new CD of any kind, game or music, was roughly the same financial decision. And, given this was also the first time in my life I had a disposable income (welcome to teenage employment!), I quickly amassed a glut of CDs of all shapes and sizes (okay, they were all the same shape and size, but their covers were different!). Now who wants to listen to the Barenaked Ladies discography and play Mega Man X4?

Don't look directly at itSo enter Monster Rancher. At first, MR appeared to be another random monster raising game. Yes, we all knew about incoming Pokémon at this point. Yes, I’m pretty sure we were all at least dimly aware of Digimon, too. All the ‘mon games were on the cusp of global dominance, but before all of those, we had Tamagotchi, the insidious little “virtual pets” that were crying and (virtual) pooping “augmented reality” experiences before the term even existed. For anyone that missed that trend, we’re talking about electronic babies. You had to care for them at all times, react to their insistent beeping, and, if you were a good little monster parent, you wound up with a twenty pixel dragon or something. As if you can’t tell from my present level of disdain, I loathed the little (wannabe) monsters, and, as a result, even the likes of Pokémon sounded like some lame cash-in on the monster-raising fad. I eventually played Monster Rancher, not because I wanted some of that cool, monster ranching action, but because I wanted to rent a videogame, and literally nothing else available looked like any fun. Congrats, Monster Rancher, you were the absolute last choice.

But to say that “last choice” worked out well is something of an understatement. The main hook of Monster Rancher? Stick any CD in that Playstation slot, from Butthole Surfers to William Shatner Sings the Hits, and you’ll get a brand new monster. Your favorite album might create a winged dinosaur, or that demo that came with your CD wallet could produce a hulking golem. The CDs are seemingly randomized, but they’re consistent, so if you find a monster you like, keep that disc handy for breeding later. And some discs are decidedly less random, which would explain why I bought a Madonna album exclusively for its unique Pixie. Yes, in an age a solid decade before DLC, Monster Rancher found a way to get its dedicated fans to go out and buy Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits for some inexplicable reason.

When I first discovered the hook of Monster Rancher, I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually play the “game” for a week. I had collected my CDs in real life, and now here was a virtual world rewarding me for such hoarding. I was on cloud nine. What’s more, I was spending all my time on that cloud scanning every last disc I owned. When that ended, I went through my dad’s entire CD collection. By the time that had ended, I’d already bought the game (and a Van Halen album that contained another unique Pixie), and started monster ranching in earnest.

That’s about when the OCD really kicked in.

MURDERYou can summon monsters from real world CDs, but some CDs are “locked”. While you can acquire an absolutely rocking naga from any old disc, some of the more unique monsters, like dragons, magicians, and giant robots, may only be summoned if you’ve “earned” that species in the game proper. So, yes, Billy Joel can provide a unique ape, but you have to earn the right by careful monster rearing, battling, and some good ol’ fashioned luck on expeditions. This infuriated me. Here I was, entitled to some awesome monsters for deigning to own Tecmo’s Deception, but, no, I can’t have the little biters, because I haven’t played the game enough. I’ll show ‘em! I’ll show ‘em all! I’ll earn every last monster in this stupid game, and then I’ll finally have a completed personal bestiary. It’s not about catchin’ ‘em all, it’s about knowing that every last disc I own is equally accountable.

And then I played the game for 62 years.

Did I enjoy every minute of it? Of course not, this is a ranching sim, so a healthy amount of Monster Rancher is just navigating menus and killing time. Battles are long and tedious, and, while they’re not entirely unpleasant, they do involve a lot of time invested before potentially losing everything (you could easily win six matches, take an unlucky crit in the seventh, and literally watch your monster die as a result). Expeditions are a necessary part of unlocking any interesting monsters, but, even with perfect stats, they’re little more than reskinned slot machines. And, in general, the dialogue is perfunctory and randomly accusatory (I’m spoiling the monster? Really? He only gets fed once a month!”). Monster Rancher unquestionably has its good points, but the minute-to-minute of the experience is sorely lacking.

I was a teenagerBut that didn’t matter. To this day, Monster Rancher is still one of my favorite games, unmatched by even its sequels. It was, for all purposes, a particular moment in time, crystallized in a videogame. By just a few years (maybe even months) later, I’d be hording MP3s, and buying entire albums would become a part of grandpa’s generation. New Playstation titles would rise in price, and, for a little while (poor college days), I’d barely buy a new game at all. Had Monster Rancher dropped just a half year later, it would have been a random rental I’d forget about forever. But, no, Monster Rancher was there just when I needed to indulge my ridiculous collector tendencies, and it became as synonymous with my teenage years as my first girlfriend (who, incidentally, got a monster named after her in my save).

Monster Rancher might not have been the best game, but it is one of the best games to me.

FGC #360 Monster Rancher

  • System: Playstation 1. Given the central gimmick, I’d say this one is nigh impossible to emulate/port without bringing the rest of the late 90’s with it.
  • Number of Players: Two! And you can import a buddy’s monsters for battles, too! I… I never found another human being that owned this game.
  • Speaking of Discs: You can play this game on the Playstation 3, but I did not test if the central CD summoning mechanic still worked. I don’t want to push my poor backwards compatible Playstation 3 disc reader any further than I already have. I need that thing for LPs!
  • Favorite Breed: Pixies were always my favorite as a teenager, as I was a teenager, and a half naked lady monster is naturally going to seem appealing. As an adult (and when I actually wanted to beat the game), I usually went with the humble golem or magic. To be clear, there’s a monster that is just named “magic”. It kinda looks like Michael Jordan. This is a weird game.
  • It’s good to have fans: There’s a popularity gauge for your monster in this game, and filling it can lead to some excellent fan mail.

    Winner!

    I am great!

  • Did you know? For whatever reason, all monsters are assumed to be male, so male pronouns are used universally. This is very odd for the clearly female pixie breed. “It” should be allowed when you’re talking about a creature that eats raw meat off the ground.
  • Would I play again: I love this game. I love it more than I’ve loved some other particularly dear inanimate objects. But I’m probably never going to play it again, because it is very much a product of its time. We’ll always have the memories…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Psychic Force 2012! Journey to the marvelous future of 2012, and join the Psychic Force! Or fight them! Please look forward to it!

Don't you look at me
We do not talk about Doodle in polite company