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FGC #467 Street Fighter 5

Gonna be a fight tonightThe 80’s were defined by plastic cartridges that required a good blowing. Despite the fact that it is a complete lie, Super Mario Bros. 3 may be the definitive game of that bygone decade of wizardry. The 90’s saw cartridges give way to discs, and Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 7 both defined the new gaming experience in their own ways. The start of the 21st Century saw us go from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 to Demon’s Souls in the span of ten years, but it was a decade generally defined by solitary console experiences mixed with the occasional smattering of of online interactions. The Wii’s couch-based waggle or Rock Band’s fantastic plastic seemed to capture the public’s attention a lot more easily than Xbox Live.

And the defining experience of the teens of the 2000s? That’s the four-year boondoggle that has been Street Fighter 5.

Full disclosure: Street Fighter 4 is and was one of my favorite games. It is the game that, in 2008, revived the “official” Street Fighter series for the first time since Street Fighter 3, initially released over a decade earlier. Now, that’s always been kind of a misnomer of a factoid, as the Street Fighter series never completely went away, what with Street Fighter battling SNK or the X-Men or whatever Ryu decided to stick his fist in this week, but Street Fighter 4 was technically the first real Street Fighter in what seemed like centuries, and it was received warmly merely for its existence. And then it turned out to be a great game, too! Hooray!

Street Fighter 4 captured the fun of the original Street Fighter 2 through easy-to-learn special motions and combos that seemed to crop up naturally when jump kicking with Ken over and over again. The story aped Street Fighter Alpha with small, basic pre-battle “taunts” between fighters, and everybody got a cool anime opening and ending to further cement the fun of the traditional arcade mode. And, as an added bonus, you could whale on a second player until the cows came home online or locally (depending on the version, sorry 3DS). It was everything you could ever want a Street Fighter title to be.

But nobody cares about that. What we care about is the roster. Street Fighter 4 launched in arcades with a total of 17 playable fighters (the original twelve of Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition, Akuma, and four totally new contenders). That number grows to 19 if you include the two non-playable boss and secret boss characters. From there, the home version (released a few months later), added six new fighters from Alpha and Super. So, right off the bat, you had a roster of 25 on your home system. Three or four updates later, and “Ultra” Street Fighter 4 hit its endpoint with a grand total of 44 characters. That’s pretty amazing for the traditionally restrained Street Fighter franchise (SF3 barely got past 20), and, in a way, absolutely everything a Street Fighter fan could ever want. Look at this sweet roster:

Look at all dem street fighters

So, yes, Street Fighter 5 already had a strike against it when it launched on the same system that could play Ultra Street Fighter 4, but had a roster that looked like this:

That’s 16 world warriors as an initial offering. Coincidentally, that’s exactly one less than Street Fighter 4 offered at launch. Still four new characters, but less OG fighters, and no unique bosses or hidden martial artists. None of the new class from Street Fighter 4, either. This was not a great first impression.

At its launch, many people claimed Street Fighter 5 was a “paid beta”. This seemed apt, as the traditional trappings of Street Fighter were all but missing. There was a story mode for each fighter, but it was two or three fights with little more than a biography screen. There was a survival mode, but it was the same predictable lineup every time. And, most disparaging of all, there was no “arcade mode” at all. And you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone! The lack of an arcade mode or unifying, overarching story was concerning, but, don’t worry, guys, DLC is coming! Street Fighter 5 will be whole soon! Don’t yell at us! It will get better!

Sonic Boom (but different)And this was made all the more disappointing by the potential seen in the base of Street Fighter 5. Many old fighters returned for SF5, but they were starkly different from their older versions. Ken now felt like an entirely separate entity from Ryu. Chun-Li didn’t have to rely on hammering the kick button. Dhalsim had projectiles that matched his slow and stretchy punches. Birdie got fat. And Charlie Nash, our Guile-expy, was some kind of revived zombie back from the dead, but, more importantly, he didn’t have a charge projectile. Dude was sitting and blocking in the hyper-active Vs. series, but here he is with a quarter circle motion. The implication seemed clear: there would inevitably be DLC for the “old” characters, but they would be as new and different as F.A.N.G. and Necalli.

And Street Fighter 5 did attempt to crawl out of the grave it had dug for itself. A complete (and, frankly, surprisingly quite fun) story mode was released a few months after release. Around that same time, many new fighters were introduced. The likes of Guile, Balrog, and Ibuki did give the impression that initially planned and established fighters were showing up late to the party, but, hey, it costs a lot to make a fighting game nowadays. If Capcom has gotta charge a little more than $60 to make Street Fighter profitable, and people are willing to pay those fees, that’s just the state of the industry. Not like Capcom hasn’t proven its ability to make fun games in the past.

Except… purchasing characters in Street Fighter 5 was… a little more interesting than usual. You had options: you could just outright purchase a Season Pass (or individual character) with real-world dollars and cents, or you could save your hard-earned cash by spending “fight money”, the funbucks you can win through playing Street Fighter 5 online and off. At first blush, this seems like a pretty good deal: if you play the game a lot, you are rewarded with in-game currency that can buy you more game to play. Unfortunately, in practice, anyone that has ever played any title with earnable gold/experience/mini medals knows what happened next. Exploits for the system were discovered, millions in fight money could be earned in an evening, and why would anyone ever spend their real money when fake money was so readily available? Free money is better than… uh… not-free money!

Get 'em!Thus did we see Street Fighter 5’s first arms race. For some, Street Fighter 5 was a simple fighting game. For others, the real fight was between players who wanted as much game for as little money as possible, and Capcom, who wanted its most dedicated players to pay for their dedicated improvements, dammit. Exploits were found and quashed and found and quashed again. New costumes were released that dropped the concept of “fight money”, and absolutely required a credit card. And through it all, somebody, somewhere, against all odds, must have been spending something on new backgrounds.

And then the season passes started accumulating. The first “season” of fighters all appeared in the story mode, and it was hard to shake the impression that they were originally intended for the initial release, and their presence here was just an unfortunate side effect of that “beta” release window. And, while half of these characters were interesting in their second appearance in the franchise (Urien, Juri, Alex), the other returning favorites seemed much less remarkable than their redesigned contemporaries. The “new” Nash was an entirely different animal, but “premium” Guile? Not so much. This would prove to be the norm for new-old characters that we’d see in Season 3 & 4, but Season 2 promised entirely new characters (almost, damn you, Akuma), so at least we’d see some good ol’ fashioned Street Fighter innovation with those dorks. Granted, we’d have to pay for it, but that was getting to be par for the course with fighting games anyway, right? And who could resist the allure of Zeku, the very confusing ninja? Nobody! That’s who!

And then we got Season 3. Season 3 made us all feel like assholes.

Get 'em, Roll!Street Fighter 5: Season 3 was officially dubbed Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition. It was released nearly two years after the launch of Street Fighter 5. In addition to four returning friendlies, it would also include two new characters (or one new character, and one maybe kinda sorta Street Fighter 3 returning face/mask). But, more importantly, it would include the long awaited return of Arcade mode! And it was an Arcade Mode that itself contained a multitude of modes, with rosters and styles meant to evoke the good vibes of previous Street Fighter titles. Battle through the original Street Fighter ladder, or relive the halcyon days of Street Fighter 2 with world warriors flying across the globe. You’ve got options! And best of all, this whole package was now available as a complete and easy starting point, so you could nab the entire released roster for a song!

Street Fighter 5 was finally a complete package! It was out of beta! And if you had paid $150 for multiple season passes and the base “beta” game already, ha ha, screw you! That’s just the price you pay for early access to Ed!

But don’t worry! Arcade Edition offered all new ways to fleece customers old and new. Fight money seemed to stabilize at this point as something that is generally not exploitable, and now it was time for Capcom to introduce new and exciting reasons to horde your cash. Loot boxes! Yes, you could get that cool Air Man skin for Rashid, but you’d need to visit Menat’s fortune telling booth to blow your hard-earned cash on a deck of tarot cards that will maybe unlock the outfit you want. FancyOr you’ll just earn another color for Vega. Whatever! It’s all just a side attraction, so don’t worry, feeding some poor sap’s gambling addiction doesn’t really impact your game. You just have to sit there and be jealous that Sakura is out there repping Mega Man Legends and you can’t do a thing about it.

But loot boxes were not enough for Capcom. In order to further promote insane decisions, Street Fighter management decided to go full hog and cram as much advertising as possible into Street Fighter 5. You could earn extra fight money (for those delightful loot boxes!) if you chose to wear a costume for your fighter that is plastered in advertising. Considering some fighters’ outfits are “a thong” or “a slightly larger thong”, this led to a few combatants earning delightful sponsor belts. Dhalsim is really into the Capcom Pro Tour. Seemingly embarrassed by the whole situation wherein an immortal, soul-devouring godling has a significant soft spot for sponsorships, Capcom quickly dropped ad support for Street Fighter 5. But “ad style” is forever there, an indelible scar on the face of costume selection. And Capcom has not shied away from including ads you absolutely cannot ignore on any and all loading screens. And there are a lot of loading screens! That’s another problem I keep forgetting to mention!

It's a shell gameAnd then, after literally hundreds of dollars’ worth of DLC, after loot boxes designed to drain your reserves for the merest chance of a reward, after introducing “Season 4” fighters by eschewing “cheap” passes and making each ala carte, after introducing advertising because Street Fighter 5 has got to make some coin somehow; after all that, Capcom has announced that 2020 will see Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition. It will include every fighter, two new ones, every (previously loot box-based) costume, and whole new moves/triggers for the existing roster of 38. The game will be $30. If you already own Street Fighter 5, it will cost $25 for the upgrade. If you already spent a couple hundred dollars in a vain attempt to earn a sweet reference to Cannon Spike for Cammy, or if you bought all those costume packs individually on the sale that coincidentally happened before the very weekend that Champion Edition was announced, well, once again, and we cannot stress this enough, screw you. There should be some new loot boxes available shortly for all your gambling needs.

And, yes, all of this nonsense absolutely makes Street Fighter 5 the game of the decade. The moral: even profitable franchises have absolutely no idea how to be profitable.

Look at Street Fighter 5’s arc. They tried everything! They’ve got paid DLC! They’ve got mobile-esque “fun bucks” for purchasing content! They’ve got lootboxes! They’ve got season passes! They’ve got advertising! Capcom stopped just short of making Street Fighter 5 a literal MMORPG (and, let’s not kid ourselves, the online rankings are meant to foster that kind of community). But did any of it add up to… anything? No! In the end, just like Street Fighter 4, we wound up with a final roster around 40 fighters, an arcade mode, and an interesting story mode.

I think I missed two

In the end, if you look at Street Fighter 5 as a whole, you still wind up with three distinct “versions”, just like Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter 3, and Street Fighter 4. For the end user who purchased Street Fighter 5 at each of its three stages, Street Fighter 5 seems to be exactly like every other Street Fighter and its predictably iterative ways. However, from a management perspective, and from the nitty-gritty of owning the game and upgrading it at every available juncture since the game was released four years ago, you see a very different story. You see a game that tried everything it could to squeeze every last cent out of one of the most popular videogame franchises in history. Arguably, none of it worked. Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition is just the same basic “final” version of a SF game as Ultra Street Fighter 4 (complete with Rainbow-esque “let’s just have fun with it” additions). On the other hand, you could claim all of this was an amazing success, because there are people out there that spent $20 on Game of the Year, all DLC Spider-Man the Game in 2019, but spent $250 on Street Fighter 5 over the course of nearly half a decade. Street Fighter 5 wasn’t just a game, it was an experience, and it had to be profitable. There were so many suckers that signed up for everything from launch, every Zangief retro costume, every extra fighter, every beach beauty background, that Street Fighter 5 had to be a huge success. … Right?

Nothing but respect for my presidentBecause if Street Fighter 5, the latest in possibly the most popular fighting game franchise on the planet, if after four years of trying everything, if that Street Fighter 5 can’t be considered a triumph, then what hope does any other game have? What is the current state of gaming if an established company with an established IP can’t figure out how to make it all worthwhile after literally years of trying? What does that mean for the very concept of gaming as we know it?

Street Fighter 5 is the face of a decade of gaming. And that is terrifying.

FGC #467 Street Fighter 5

  • System: Playstation 4 exclusive! … Or it’s also on PC. And arcade, I guess?
  • Number of players: Okay! This one is easy! It’s every human being on Earth! All fighting! Always fighting! But maybe just two at a time.
  • Go ninjaCharacter Creation: Look, I spent the whole article talking about the nitty gritty of how Street Fighter 5 came to be its current form, let me talk about the world warriors for a second. I’m generally saddened by Street Fighter 5’s new trend of introducing dudes for filling in character relationships and not just “a random bloke from Turkey” like in the olden days. There are somehow three (or maybe even four) characters that are all Balrog’s ersatz family, and I could not imagine a more boring concept for fighter creation if I tried. Rose’s student. Guy’s master. Gill’s secretary. I appreciate that they’re trying to expand the lore and relationships of established characters, but maybe they should stick to what’s important: introducing a dirt wizard that is also the president of the world and maybe a robot.
  • Favorite New Fighter: He’s not entirely new, but Abigail being a (literally) gigantic gearhead that incidentally joined a gang called “The Mad Gears” is some inspired/half-assed characterization. But what’s important is I can finally play as that gargantuan dork that ruined my SNES Final Fight runs back in the day, so I’m happy.
  • Favorite Returning Fighter: Can I just complain for a moment about how Sakura’s story mode saddles her with “maybe I should just retire and have babies”? There is no universe where Ryu would ever wind up settling down to become a family man, and it sucks on every level that the “future” for Sakura is supposed to be some life of domestic bliss while her senpai runs off to other universes to punch werewolves. It’s a little depressing that the best Capcom can come up with for one of its iconic heroines is following the ol’ biological clock.
  • Favorite Costume: Katt the cat lady is a skin. Breath of Fire does exist!
  • Meow!They got robbed: One side effect of DLC is that new characters from the original crop seem to be almost completely forgotten. Rashid and Nicalli got to be significant players in the overall story, but F.A.N.G. and Laura are almost completely forgotten by the universe at large. Which is a shame! I would really like to know how many Brazilians have electrical powers, and possibly why!
  • Did you know? My arcade scores reset every time I boot up the game. Is that information only saved for the week or something? Or are there so many updates, my old score is void thanks to being earned under old rules? Do you know?
  • Would I play again: I am a sucker for Street Fighter. Why is Seth a lady now? I will know, and I will get her arcade ending. It’s inevitable.

What’s next? And, on a much more cheery note, we’ll dig into the other game that encapsulates the 2010s. Please look forward to it!

This dork

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

New age of heroes?It seems gauche to hold the father accountable for the sins of the son, but sometimes it must be done. Today’s article is about Street Fighter 4, and exactly why its arcade mode is better than anything in Street Fighter 5. I’d love to talk about the other merits of SF4, but, alas, sacrifices must be made so the new generation can learn a lesson.

An Arcade Mode Must Have a Good Roster

We’ll start simple: you’ve got to have a lot of fighters in your fighting game. How many is a requirement? Well, technically, you could get away with as few as… Vanilla Skullgirls, come over here, I need to count your characters… eight fighters. Technically. Unfortunately, for any sort of good arcade mode, you’re probably going to need a solid twelve. Why? Simple: you don’t want the battle to be over before it begins.

This brings us to our first major point: an arcade mode is not just a fighting game. A fighting game can be many things. For many people, the entire concept of a one-player mode in a fighting game is perfunctory. And there’s nothing wrong with that! For a certain subset of fans, there may as well only be eight characters, because that’s all the dudes that can fit into the “top tier”, and the presence of Dan is nothing more than cruft. And, if you play Street Fighter like that, if you’re ignoring the very existence of Vega for five games running now, that’s fine. There’s an entire community that is carefully maintaining those tier lists, and why would you ever side with the scrubbiest of scrubs?

Look at 'em allBut an arcade mode is different. An arcade mode requires variety, and fighting the same three fighters for eight rounds is going to get old fast. It doesn’t matter if there are different “teams”, or a Zangief wearing a different hat, what’s important is that you’re not going to see the same handful of fighters every time, and you might even be surprised by the AI’s next pick. You’ve played through arcade mode with five different fighters, but you somehow never fought Dhalsim until now? That’s cool! What isn’t cool is battling the same dumb Ryu & Ken teamup for the 7,000th time. By about the time you’ve memorized the repeated thoughtless intro lines, you’ll know that an arcade mode needs a grand roster to sustain itself.

And speaking of variety…

An Arcade Mode Should be Random as Heck

Character variety is one thing, but it’s another thing if every one player experience is the same exact battles every single time. It’s a simple, stupid request, but is it too much to ask for your battles to be randomized? Bosses can go ahead and dominate the end game, as I don’t mind seeing Seth/Bison/That Guy in the Thong every time, but how about adding a little spice to the lead up? In fact, it appears that Ultra Street Fighter 4 has sixteen different costumes for Sakura alone, so maybe I don’t have to see her default fuku every time she pops into the ring.

WeeeeeThis may all seem cosmetic (if you’re going to fight Ken every time, what does it matter if Ken is first every time?), but it does a lot for our stupid monkey brains. When you’re fighting random fighters in random outfits, even if it’s the twelve billionth time you’ve trounced Juri, it still feels new and exciting when she randomly pops up after Balrog dressed like a cat. Meanwhile, when you always know that Character X is going to be in X position, the single player mode quickly becomes a chore, and you’re simply pummeling Sagat because you know you’re ‘supposed ta. An arcade mode should be fun, and part of that fun is including some variability.

And speaking of being tricked into having fun…

An Arcade Mode Needs Forward Momentum

Next time you’re watching a random procedural on television, take note of how often the characters simply sit down to talk, or have conversations over the phone while sitting around like normal people. Take that number, and compare it to how often protagonists walk and talk, or discuss a case while gliding down a hallway, or even while in a car, dashing to the newest crime scene. You will quickly notice that, while the characters might just be lamely recounting the plot or inching toward a conclusion the audience already discovered three commercial breaks back, there is a lot of movement involved, because that creates the illusion of forward momentum. And we need forward momentum! If two detectives are just chilling at a diner talking about murders over a side of gravy fries, it tells the audience that the heroes are in no rush, there are no stakes, and if they don’t care, why should you?

OwieAn arcade mode must serve that same master. During a tournament, it’s perfectly fine to watch every fight take place in front of that stupid practice background, but that isn’t going to cut it in arcade mode. You need to believe that Ibuki, a penniless teenager from a secret village of likely destitute ninja (there just isn’t a lot of call for ninja in today’s job market), is bounding from Africa to America to Asia exclusively so she can mix it up with Chun-Li for a minute and a half. No, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, and yes, it certainly adds to the load times, but it provides that special feeling that progress is being made, and that a journey is taking place. The simple fact that Zangief got out of his own bear-wrestling comfort zone is a story all its own, and it’s one worth telling.

And speaking of stories…

An Arcade Mode Needs a Story like a Bunny Needs a Car

Bunnies do not need cars. Bunnies do not know how to drive cars.

Dem buns

But it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is adorable when a bunny drives a little bunny-sized car.

In much the same way, a “story mode” is no more an “arcade mode” than a driving bunny is somehow your new chauffeur. Do not conflate “story” with “arcade”. An arcade mode can absolutely be about discovering the final fate of Balrog, but it’s also a fun way to demo a new fighter. A story mode might provide all the story content you could ever desire, but, practically by definition, it’s going to require playing as some characters that aren’t Ken. And that’s rough! If you’re trying to get a real feel for Guile, and Guile isn’t featured in story mode even once, then what the heck was the point?

Once again, an arcade mode can have a story, and it can have rivals, and it certainly should have some kind of ending (see the previous bullet point), but it doesn’t require any of that. Those who need a story should look elsewhere, possibly somewhere someone cares about friggen’ Urien.

But speaking of caring about half-naked, super powered monsters…

An Arcade Mode Needs Difficulty Escalation

Sticks and stonesIn the old days, we had bosses, who were not balanced in the player’s favor at all, and could occasionally climb the background itself to gain another unfair advantage. Nowadays, we have escalating AI, so your first bout might be a perfect, but the fourth is going to be a nail biter. And, through it all, we’ve had difficulty sliders, so you could choose your own adventure and climb the ranks with the help of a star or two. What’s important through it all is that you could watch your own skills escalate, and confront challenges as they appeared. A “hard” version of story mode won’t help in that department, and any sort of intensification in survival mode is certainly not going to scratch that itch. Why? Because the continue button is essential to climbing difficulty.

Look, we all get knocked down. We all lose matches. Even the greatest fighter in the world loses a match every once in a while, even if it’s just because he was distracted and worried about his carrier pigeons back home. And a difficulty escalation is only going to exacerbate that eventuality. Sagat is more difficult than Blanka, and you’re a lot more likely to lose to the cyclops than the beast man. That’s basic math. But an arcade mode allows you to continue, allows you to try again, and doesn’t irrevocably punish you for trying to box outside your weight class. You can get back up, find a path to victory, and, most importantly, actually achieve something in an arcade mode. Victory is not guaranteed, but it’s certainly more likely when a difficulty increase is a speed bump and not a road block.

And when you can actually succeed, you have fun.

And that’s what an arcade mode needs most of all.

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

  • System: We’re looking at all Street Fighter 4s here, so arcade, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 for the initial release, but PC, mobile devices, Playstation 4, and Xbox One by the end of its tenure. And I think the 3DS version counts, too.
  • Number of players: Streets are fought in pairs.
  • Eat itVersion Differences: Vanilla Street Fighter 4 is Street Fighter 2-2. Super Street Fighter 4 includes a few alpha and 3 buddies, and introduces the oily guy and the spider lady. Arcade Edition includes four new Ryus, and Ultra Street Fighter 4 borrowed the extra fighters from Street Fighter X Tekken. Ultra was used for this review, because I prefer to pick my Poison.
  • Favorite Character: Sakura is always there for me, but in the interest of choosing someone interesting, I’ll say Gouken. He’s… like… “broken Ryu”, and I’ll never forget the first time I activated his hurricane kick and flew into the sky. Such a majestic flying old man.
  • Favorite Featured New Character: Gouken doesn’t count? Of the new fighters, I’ll take Juri, as her kicking style is pretty interesting. Rufus is second runner up there, as he’s entirely the right kind of goofy, but I’ve never quite mastered his moves. And El Fuerte…. sucks.
  • Favorite Arcade Mode Ending: Poison starts a KISS-esque rock band of Metro City alums and Ryu/Ken. What fever dream produced that insanity?
  • Did you know? Akuma is the worst assassin ever. As of Street Fighter 3 (which was released before 4, but takes place later in the timeline), Akuma had supposedly killed his brother and Ryu’s master, Gouken (making him the Uncle Ben of the series), M. Bison (at the end of SF2), and Gen (an old man looking for a noble death in Alpha). When Street Fighter 4 kicked off, all three “kills” were back and ready to brawl. That is simply insulting! As of Street Fighter 5, it’s implied Akuma has killed Gen again… but we’ll see if that sticks.
  • Would I play again: Oh, I spent so much time talking about arcade modes that I forgot to really talk about the game. I like it! I like it a lot! Street Fighter 4 is pretty fun, ya’all.

What’s next? Our first post of 2018 is going to review 2017! Let us look to the past as we move forward to the future! Or something! Please look forward to looking back!

OH MY CAR

FGC #282 Breath of Fire 3

Pictured: WinnersThe first thing you see when you boot up Breath of Fire 3 is a mural of the heroes of Breath of Fire 1. This mural depicts everyone in the original BoF party fighting Myria, a nefarious goddess that threatened to destroy the world through war and destruction. This opening seems to say, “Here, player, here are the heroes you remember, who triumphed over impossible odds and won the day with guts and swords.” Breath of Fire 3 starts by showcasing the gallant and daring heroes of a previous BoF adventure, a group that literally saved the world and everyone in it.

So it’s kind of a shame that the heroes of Breath of Fire 3 are such failures.

Breath of Fire 3 is the story of a world in decline. Deserts are overtaking forests, wild animals are becoming scarce, and nobody vacations on that island with the flute girls anymore. This seems to be epitomized with Nina’s people. The Wing Clan is a race that, during the time of BoF1, could transform into gigantic birds. By BoF2, the Wyndians had lost this ability, but could still flutter about with their large wings. Now, in Breath of Fire 3, the “Wing Clan” possesses wings that are merely decorative, and are about as useful for flight as flapping your arms. This degradation seems to have spread to other clans as well, with many of the old “standby” kingdoms and people of previous Breath of Fire adventures completely missing, and the last remains falling into unrecognizable states. Rei the kitty cat man is in danger of outright devolving into a beast, and your resident plant-dude is practically a Pokémon. And the Dragon Clan? Well that’s where things get really sad.

In Breath of Fire 1, the Dragon Clan threatened to destroy the world. And they weren’t even trying! The Light and Dark Dragons Tribes were just fighting over some magic keys, and the rest of the world had the pleasure of hosting the battleground for people that can transform into mammoth, fire-breathing monsters. It… didn’t end well. Then, during Breath of Fire 2, while the Dragon Clan had mostly retreated underground, remaining dragon people still had enough strength to seal away Anime Death Jesus (it was a weird game), while the rest of the races of the world couldn’t even plink that dude’s front door. And the dragons, “the Brood” are still powerful in Breath of Fire 3! They’re just powerful as… fossils. Basically, all of the dragons are dead by the time of Breath of Fire 3, and their remains are being used as an energy source that only creates horrible mutants about a third of the time. And, side note, dragons aren’t dead by accident; that nefarious Goddess Myria ordered their complete extermination a couple years back. But there are a handful of dragons remaining, and Ryu, the undisputed protagonist of BoF3, is one of ‘em. Go, Ryu, save the world in the name of your departed brethren!

Or fail at absolutely everything you do. That’s good, too.

Damn you guysFailure is an integral part of most videogames. Even before Dark Souls and alike made “death” a fundamental mechanic, there was always a learning curve. Everybody died to those opening goombas at least once, and everyone learns from that experience and changes Mario trajectory accordingly. You fail, death happens, you get back up on that Yoshi and try again. Meanwhile, JRPGs often make failure an essential and inevitable part of the narrative. You need to collect the six mipmaps or the nefarious ULTRA EVIL DEMON will awaken and destroy the world? Well, I’ve got some bad news: you’re probably going to collect those six mcguffins, but they’ll be stolen by the bad guys at the last minute, and you’re going to have to fight ULTRA EVIL DEMON anyway, because, come on, we didn’t design that three-screen high sprite for it not to get used. Besides, failure is basically a requirement for any game with a modicum of story. 90% of these tales are based on the basic “hero’s journey” plot outline, and what’s the point in winning if it’s not a comeback from some insurmountable defeat. You have to lose to rally and win, win, win!

Nobody wins in Breath of Fire 3.

Here’s a brief plot summary of Breath of Fire 3: Ryu is an orphan who teams up with two other orphans, Rei and Teepo. The trio decides to help out the local town through a Robin Hood-esque caper involving stealing from an evil Scrooge McDuck and distributing that wealth to all the downtrodden peasants. This plan technically works, but it turns out the richest man in town can hire some damn good security, so a couple of reverse-centaurs show up and tear Ryu’s life and “family” to shreds. Ryu survives, but Rei and Teepo are missing, so he sets off on a quest to find his missing friends. Ryu makes new friends along the way, including a failed princess, a failed scientist, a failed science experiment, and, most importantly, a man who has lived for centuries and is a literal dragon slayer. Their “friendship” goes about as well as you’d expect, and Ryu is knocked out for a solid decade. Ryu eventually wakes up again, decides he’s going to look into this whole “the world is dying” thing, finds his way halfway across the world (literally), and eventually traces it all back to the goddess that screwed with his ancestors. In the end, Ryu defeats Evil Goddess, and is rewarded with the knowledge that, as sucky as the world is, “Evil” Goddess was the only thing keeping it just that sucky, so good luck living in an endless desert, stupid!

Dammit!Oh, and somewhere in there, Ryu had to kill Teepo, because of course he did.

But don’t worry, Ryu isn’t the only ultimate failure in this party! Nina is the princess of Wyndia, and she has no idea how to be a person and a royal sovereign… Actually, that’s probably a pretty typical failing of royalty in JRPGs. What else we got? Well, there’s Rei, who apparently spent most of his teenage/adult life trying to avenge a pair of kids that were actually alive… oh, and then he fell over dead at the finish line. Doesn’t that just beat all? We’ve got Momo, who has spent her life following her father’s research, and she winds up exploited for her knowledge (and eventually finds out the answers to life’s mysteries are “a wizard did it” anyway). And Garr… good ol’ Garr the Guardian… was born and bred to kill dragons, and decided to ask “what if… not kill dragons?” of the goddess that created him. That… did not end well for him. Basically, every “hero” in Breath of Fire 3 is stuck in an unwinnable situation practically from the get-go. Nina wants to be a better person? Bad news, lady, you’re not going to get there by pounding slimes with your magic wand.

But, maybe, sometimes being a failure is okay.

For being a JRPG, Breath of Fire 3 does a pretty good job of presenting that “gray area” of morality. In BoF1, Goddess Myria might put on a nice face, but she is unequivocally the Goddess of Destruction. In BoF2, Anime Death Jesus, Goddess Myria’s only begotten son, has started a religion that has a tendency to kill you and your loved ones over and over again. That’s bad. But BoF3 Goddess Myria really is a benevolent goddess. She’s done bad things, but she’s done them in the name of protecting the people of the world. The Dragon Clan were alright blokes, but they could also kill everybody with a misplaced sneeze, so they had to go. Yggdrasil was a wise ol’ spirit of the forest, but its anti-Myria sentiment could lead to wars, and that’s not so great, so time to stop feeding the tree. And modern technology just means modern bombs and bioweapons, so maybe we could tape that back down to something more medieval. Myria committed a few sins, but that’s the price of being a leader. Myria sees herself as the mother of all humanity, and sometimes being a mother means exterminating all ice cream from the universe. It’s for your teeth. You’ll thank me later.

This is cuteBut Myria is the antagonist of Breath of Fire 3. This is a JRPG, and, in the end, you need a final boss you can hit with a sword. There isn’t going to be a solution where you talk this one out, and Myria has got to go out in a way that makes the player justified in overleveling and collecting all the best equipment on the planet. These are the rules. But thou must.

And, in most games, that complete lack of choice is often contrary to the premise of the adventure. Aside from narratives where you are a puppet is the moral, most modern games (and “modern” in this case meaning “any game made after 1992”) seem to revel in the choices available to the player. It’s a different experience every time! You never know how the story is going to go! You are playing a game wherein you play a role! You are the hero! … Except, it’s bullshit, because, whether you make important choices or not, one way or another, it all ends in the same place. You always fight the final boss. You always make it to that finish line. Even if it’s not in the way you may have expected, you always succeed, one way or another, in accomplishing something.

In Breath of Fire 3, Ryu and his gang do defeat the goddess. … But… Do they win? And, more importantly, would you expect this gang of failures to win? The ending of Breath of Fire 3 was an anomaly in an age of JRPGs that traditionally featured twenty minute FMV finales. All we have at the end of BoF3 is the surviving party members walking through the desert, and Peco the Plantémon sprouts a leaf. The end. Thanks for playing. This is clearly intended as a statement of hope for a world now without a goddess, and, coupled with the party’s earlier “we’re like little kids” speech, is supposed to indicate that humanity (or whatever passes for that in a world with kitty cat people) has now entered its own adulthood, free from the shackles of an overbearing mother-goddess. The kids are going to be all right!

Move along… Except, this entire tale was one of unintended consequences and… failing. Had Ryu and his band of thieves succeeded in their first task, they’d be legendary, and happy, local heroes. Had Ryu found his friends in a timely, less fatal manner, they would have returned home and lived happily. If Nina was a worthwhile princess, she could have been, ya know, a princess, and lived happily. If Garr could be content with the function he was literally made for, he could have retired happily centuries ago. Ultimately, if the heroes of Breath of Fire 3 could just stop failing for ten seconds at any point in their lives, they could have had a happy ending that didn’t involve deicide at pretty much any time. But, no, they’re failures, so they collectively wound up on a path that would change the world.

Every inevitable failure in their lives contributed to a final, humongous task that may have itself, been a failure.

But it did change their world forever.

Mural or not, I guess maybe failures can be heroes, too.

FGC #282 Breath of Fire 3

  • System: Playstation 1 here in The States, but you could also play it on PSP in every other region on Earth. … You can probably still import the PSX version to Vita, though.
  • Number of players: JRPGs are solitary affairs.
  • Favorite Dragon Gene: Every time Ryu gets transformed into a Pygmy Dragon, I have to laugh. He’s just so rolly-polly!
  • Regarding the Wings: This might be my favorite Nina in the series. “Rambunctious Princess” is basically the collective Nina archetype, one way or another, but here it really feels like she’s a spoiled brat playing at being a hero for her childhood, and then a slightly more mature version of that for her adult form. Slightly. All the same, Young Nina comes off like a magical girl, and that’s a lot more amusing than the more dour Ninas elsewhere in the series.
  • Slum it with us!Feeling Bleu: Deis, the snake-tailed goddess, doesn’t join the party for the first time in the franchise, and gets stuck in a room by her lonesome for most of the adventure. She deserves better! And, no, getting stuck in a sentient suit of armor is not an upgrade.
  • Did you know? There’s a dummied out item called THE MOCHI that cures petrification. The reason it was dummied out is because “stoned” has never been a status effect in the Breath of Fire series. Oops?
  • Would I play again: Probably not! I didn’t get around to mentioning it, but I have an extreme fondness for this doofy game (and the entire series). Something about the Breath of Fire franchise has always clicked with me, and I’d love to see a modern revival, whether it be more “old school” or “Dragon Quarter”-y. … Just not a cell phone game. That said, replaying BoF3 is sobering and exhausting. There are random encounters every seven feet. It’s… tiresome. And I’d rather play Breath of Fire 4, anyway. You don’t have to train some bloke to beat Bluto in that one. So, sorry, BoF3, it ain’t happening.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Paperboy for the N64. Let’s deliver some papers! I guess! Please look forward to it!

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