Tag Archives: sexual dimorphism

FGC #365 Bravely Second: End Layer

SEND PLAYERHi, my name is Goggle Bob, and I enjoy cheating.

Like many addicts, I started young. Classified Information was my favorite section of Nintendo Power, and I owned a Game Genie before I owned nearly every other NES game. And why? Because Nintendo games were hard, dammit. There was no way I was ever going to beat Gradius, but I might have a chance once I learned the Konami code. Simon’s Quest was too difficult for my young mind to understand (or for anyone with an aversion to graveyard ducks), and Final Fantasy I wouldn’t even attempt without a healthy guide. And it may have been considered cheating, but how the heck was anyone supposed to know what ARUB did before burning a valuable spell slot for testing? Do you understand? I had to cheat, or else these games would have remained unbeaten! I did it for you!

Of course, my cheating ways have continued through to this day. Full disclosure? I used save-hacking in both Lightning Returns and NieR Automata when I hit brick walls in my playthroughs. For Lightning, I just could not mentally deal with wasting time in a “the clock is ticking” adventure, so I nabbed some end game gear early to deal with a boss or two. In NieR’s case, I figured I already played through the game “for real” on my Route A, so every other ending could just deal with the fact that 2-B is now Level 99. Do I regret that I “cheated” on these games? Mostly no. I might lament the lack of having an “untainted” initial experience, but, as I’ve said many times before, videogames are now made of so many moving parts that I hardly consider “grinding to beat this boss” a viable missing piece. NieR is amazing, the gameplay is fun regardless of your strength, and I’m not crying if a boss fight only takes five minutes instead of ten. Cheating makes games better!

FRENCH WORDSBut the downside to cheating is that you are… cheating. There’s a stigma with any kind of dishonesty, and, while the Ten Commandments might not have made distinct references to thou shalt not dishonor Yoko Taro, the implication is clearly there. Is there a difference between drawing for an hour in Final Fantasy 8, trouncing the world in Triple Triad, or just plain downloading a “new game plus” save file that is already loaded to bear with all the Firaga charges you’d ever need? Two techniques are an exploit available within the game itself, and one is “cheating”; but what’s the difference if the end result winds up the same? And, for that matter, why the hell do I have to grind in yet another Dynasty Warriors-esque adventure just because I want to unlock that final character? I want maxed out stats right now, dammit.

And this all traces back to the inevitable push and pull between developers and players. There is still an emphasis on hours spent (wasted) in a game, so that all important “forty hours of gameplay” bullet point has to come from somewhere. Who cares if thirty of those hours are spent on meaningless fetch quests because your hero won’t level up without ‘em? Not the developer, because “respect the player’s time” isn’t exactly a high priority since… ever. Stage select codes were once a standard in videogames, but they were still codes. Secrets. Programmers didn’t want to play through the same stupid introductory levels to test Level 13 every day, but they never had any problem with a player banging their head against that particular wall over and over again thanks to a game over. And, to be clear, I’m not saying that videogame designers are unfeeling sadists, simply that there is, and has always been, a desire for videogames to be long (and possibly longer than they have to be). Cheating “spoils” the intention of the original creator, but it also might save you about a billion hours in the Turbo Tunnel. It’s a victimless crime? I don’t think Soraya Saga is going to come in and wreck up the place because I turned KOS-MOS into a Level 99 monster in her first dungeon, but am I doing other players a disservice by ignoring the carefully calibrated battles of Xenosaga in my exhaustingly long Let’s Play? I did feel the need to “explain myself” then (and now)…

So, naturally, it is a rare title that encourages the player to cheat.

KUMA SHOCKBravely Second: End Layer is the sequel to Bravely Default, a JRPG that already encouraged quite a bit of kinda-cheating. We American audiences only received the “upgraded” version of Bravely Default (technically subtitled “For the Sequel”), which included a number of quality of life improvements, such as a fast forward button and the ability to disable all random battles (or double said battles, assuming you’re in a grindy mood). This seemed only fair, as BD arguably cheated quite a bit itself, as it reused its maps and bosses something like five times over the course of one adventure. Personally, I like that kind of thing, but I also like Robot Master rematches and Doc Robot, so, ya know, maybe I just like repetition. Yes, I probably just like repetition. Repetition is a part of us all. Regardless, Bravely Default built in to its main game a number of features that could be mistaken for cheats in any other JRPG, and the game was clearly better for it.

Bravely Second didn’t add any more overt cheats (you can’t just turn off boss encounters and enjoy the story or some such thing), but it did expand the roster of available jobs. We’ve got some ridiculousness, like Catmancer and Patissier (that would be a weaponized pastry chef), some variations on an old theme like Bishop and Wizard, and at least one completely useless job (Guardian). And then we’ve got this dork:

BARK

That is the Exorcist job. What does an exorcist do? Well, what’s important is what they undo… which is everything. The Exorcist has CTRL+Z as an ability, and can, for fairly minimal MP costs, “revert” any enemy or ally to a previous turn’s state. The benefit of such is obvious: if a party member is currently dead, but had full HP two turns ago, smack ‘em with an UNDO, and we’re back in business. No need for white magic, no need to worry about if you’re casting a curaga spell when you should be casting arise, no need to even think past this turn: all you need to know is that UNDO is going make everything better. Oh, and if you’re curious, you can also Undo MP usage, BP (character action) usage, and maybe even install a MP regen ability so your exorciser always has enough power to cast whatever Undo spell is necessary. Basically, with Exorcist abilities, you have the capability to always steer a battle in your favor.

And it feels like cheating.

SpooookyExorcist is an ability in Bravely Second like any other. It’s provided by the game without any external apparatus, and is even an ability that is earned naturally as part of the story (as opposed to being one of the many optional jobs). Exorcist didn’t show up by accident, it was a planned, intentional part of the game. UNDO isn’t a random exploit discovered by some nerd on Gamefaqs, it’s the entire point of the job. There is nothing “cheating” about using this ability. It is 100% kosher in all versions of Bravely Second, but it is still ridiculously powerful. Every other healing ability instantly pales in comparison, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that something so right could be anything but so wrong.

And that feels amazing.

Do you know why I like cheating? I like cheating because it makes me feel like a God damn dynamo. Rolling up to Chrono Trigger’s Yakra and stomping him with a Level STAR character? Wonderful. Blasting past a “scripted loss” battle because my protag is incapable of death? Sign me up. And now, here in Bravely Second, I’m granted the ability to take a mulligan on any critical loss or even just an inopportune use of resources? There is nothing I want more. Cheating is empowering, and, hey, I can quit any time I want to. It might not be the developer’s intention, but playing a videogame to enjoy said videogame is 90% of the reason I ever pick up a controller, so bully to developer feelings. If I want to be the strongest Dynasty Warrior right out of the gate, let me, and let me revel in tearing across this blighted world of faceless mooks.

Cheating, or even just something that feels like cheating, is entertaining, and should be an allowed option in more games. So thanks for understanding and enabling my cheating self, Bravely Second.

FGC #365 Bravely Second: End Layer

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. Incidentally, a Bravely Collection for Nintendo Switch wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, hint hint.
  • Number of players: Ringabel is the number one player in Bravely Default, but he is not playable in this game. So zero playahs.
  • That's the ticketFavorite (Non-Gamebreaking) Job: Hawkeye is basically Mage Knight (Spell Fencer) again, but with less sexist/slightly more racist outfits. That’s… kind of a win? Catmancer is second runner up, because it’s a blue mage, but with cat summoning. … Sometimes I think this game exists to appeal only to me.
  • Favorite Asterisk Holder: Cú Chulainn is a centaur, but he’s a centaur by mistake, as he was revived from a damaged totem that accidently fused the warrior with his horse. And he’s cool with that! He died, was reborn, and wound up with a half-horse body, and he’s perfectly okay with such circumstances. Just happy to be alive. We should all be as accepting.
  • Play to the Audience: There is now double the number of beautiful but almost entirely empty towns. Are you happy MMM?
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Ringabel is no longer a member of the party, but he spends most of the story as an inter-dimensional knight that saves the party at key points. Agnès is no longer a member of the party, but spends the majority of the story as a kidnap victim who is randomly possessed by an angry ghost. In the end, Agnès steps down from her position as pope/target, and becomes a farmer’s wife. Ringabel continues his job as omniversal space cop. Unacceptable.
  • Aw, thanksDid you know? Magnolia is a new party member who hails from the moon (yes, that moon). She randomly speaks in French as a sign that English is not her first language, and moon language is apparently French. However, in the Japanese version, it’s English that is the moon language. Hey! The Tick made that joke, first!
  • Would I play again: I would love to see a rerelease of Bravely Second… mostly because playing the whole game from the start again seems like such a waste. It’s not a short game! And I still haven’t finished a bunch of other 3DS JRPGS! But if I get over my own backlog, Bravely Second is definitely on the menu.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Snowboard Kids! … Yeah, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence that a snow-based game will be our Christmas pick. That totally happened. …. Don’t tell Santa I’m cheating. But please look forward to it!

She looks so smug
For no reason, here’s the best character.

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

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

And Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers.

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

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

Gimme some sugar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

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

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

    Wankery Week never ends

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

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

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

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

DO IT!

FGC #182 Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier

Due to the subject matter, this article may be slightly NSFW. Nothing too dirty, but you might get some raised eyebrows. Just so you know.

ROBOTS!There have been three ages for the JRPG.

The first epoch for the JRPG was the light, breezy era of Dragon Quest (Warrior). This, arguably the prehistoric era of the JRPG, was a time when grand stories were condensed into a series of vignettes across a fantasy world. This town has a kidnapped princess. This town is besieged by zombies. This town used to be mermaids or some such thing. Whatever. In a way, this was a natural progression of the D&D roots of JRPGs, as the whole “king has a quest (and rewards) for you” pattern certainly has its roots in venturing into an inn to meet other adventurers.

Easy examples of this style include practically every JRPG on the NES, SNES, and Genesis. While I maintain that Chrono Trigger is the undisputed pinnacle of this category (and is such because it integrates the vignettes perfectly with its time travel mechanics), you still see similar games today with the continuing Dragon Quest series and other “throwback” JRPGs.

The second epoch started…

FGC #122 Bravely Default

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am, of course, talking about Pokémon.

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

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

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