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FGC #425 Kingdom Hearts 3

KingDUMB FARTS IIISo it’s time to talk about Disney, Kingdom Hearts 3, Google, and whether or not I am afraid for my very existence.

By my reckoning, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first “pure” Kingdom Hearts title since Kingdom Hearts 1. No, I’m not talking about how the cast of Kingdom Hearts 3 is as white as freshly Frozen snow; what I am referring to is that the “worlds” of Kingdom Hearts 3 are, for the first time since the original Kingdom Hearts, entirely dictated by the directors of the title. Okay, yes, that was technically always true, but there were mitigating factors in other titles. Kingdom Hearts 2 clearly reused a number of Kingdom Hearts 1 worlds/models/actors to save on production time. Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days, and (Re)Coded all remixed worlds from 1 and 2 for plot purposes. Birth by Sleep featured Disney worlds that were either really old classic films (like Cinderella), or “prequel” situations (like a Lilo & Stitch world before Stitch finds Lilo). And Dream Drop Distance may have once had a chance, but its world choices (Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tron, Fantasia, Three Mouseketeers, Pinocchio) felt like a series of vignettes someone (likely Nomura) just wanted to see “done” before the franchise wrapped up in “real” Kingdom Hearts 3 (dude has been trying to get Chernabog to fit in somewhere for decades). So, with literally every other title out of the running, it is pretty safe to say Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first Kingdom Hearts title in quite a few years that wasn’t dictated by an overwhelming need for everyone to pal around with Aladdin for the fortieth time.

This creates an interesting math opportunity (a nerd’s favorite opportunity!): what is the median age of our featured Disney franchises?

HERCULES!For Kingdom Hearts 1, we have…

Pinocchio (1940)
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Peter Pan (1953)
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Aladdin (1992)
The Nightmare before Christmas (1993)
Disney’s Hercules (1997)
Disney’s Tarzan (1999)

And, for the sake of completion, let’s note that Kingdom Hearts 1’s earliest release was March of 2002 (America saw it by September).

Look around!Kingdom Hearts 3 is a little different…

Toy Story (1995)
Disney’s Hercules (1997)
Monsters Inc. (2001)
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Tangled (2010)
Frozen (2013)
Big Hero Six (2014)

And Kingdom Hearts 3 itself was released in January of 2019.

Now let’s crunch some sweet, sweet numbers! Kingdom Hearts 1 seems to contain three worlds based on “classic” properties, and the rest are for 90’s kids. If we include all of the worlds, the average world/franchise was 25 years old as of the release of its featured game. If we eliminate the “classic” titles, though, the average world is 8 years old as of Kingdom Hearts’ release. The reason I note this is that we have stupid monkey brains, and, for most people reading this article, The Little Mermaid feels like it was released a hundred billion years ago, and maybe being reminded it was slightly more current when we first saw Kingdom Hearts (1) is important. Also worth noting, the absolute oldest franchise involved is 62 years back, but of the “current” crop, it’s only 13 years. The newest title involved is only 3 years old.

Pirates!Applying the same calculations to Kingdom Hearts 3, we see an average age of 14 years for every franchise involved. Dropping the classic worlds (anything over fifteen years old… and man, it hurts me to refer to Disney’s Hercules as “classic”), we see an average age of (rounding up from 6.66) 7 years. That is very close to Kingdom Hearts 1’s average of 8. And the preceding average makes more sense with its oldest game being only 24 years old (Toy Story a bit more contemporary than Pinocchio), and our most recent movie is 5 years old.

What does it all mean? Well, allowing for outliers, on average, the worlds of Kingdom Hearts 1 and Kingdom Hearts 3 cover roughly the same time frame of movies relative to their release. Or, put in SAT form, The Nightmare Before Christmas : Kingdom Hearts 1 :: Tangled : Kingdom Hearts 3. On average, both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 3 feature roughly the same range of refugees from the Disney Vault.

And what does that mean? It means Kingdom Hearts 3 isn’t for me.

FLARE!Kingdom Hearts 1 spoke to my childhood. Kingdom Hearts hit a college-age Goggle Bob, and said, “Hey, remember when you were six and had a crush on Ariel? Remember when you wanted to be Aladdin? Remember when Tim Burton inspired your decade long mall-goth phase? Remember going on one of your first dates to Tarzan? And how you probably would have gone on more dates at that point in your life, but you still were stuck in that mall-goth phase? ‘Member?” Kingdom Hearts was an amazing game on its own, but its Disney Cast was summoned almost precisely to satisfy my own childhood nostalgia. And, given I was just the right age where I would start fondly remembering childish things (as opposed to being the cranky teen that totally wasn’t into that cartoon crap, mom), Kingdom Hearts hit the serotonin sectors of my brain faster and harder than any kid with a keyblade and a turbo x-button ever could.

Kingdom Hearts 3? Not so much. I did not gape in amazement when Elsa bust into Let it Go. I did not feel any excitement when Baymax flew onto the scene. And I certainly didn’t give a damn when Rapunzel tromped around the forest carrying an impossible amount of hair. I saw all of these movies. I liked all of these movies. But did I feel anywhere near the same level of joy at seeing these characters now realized in current-gen Playstation graphics and palling around with me, the smart and handsome player? No. It was another level. I may have been interested in what was going to happen next, but it was less “Oh boy! It’s Oogie Boogie!” and more “Oh, I bet we’re not going to get the tavern song, because, while that was enjoyable, it is not essential to the overall plot or the broader themes of Kingdom Hearts 3.” The featured movies of Kingdom Hearts 3 are merely pleasant, they are not my singular, can-never-be-replaced childhood.

And that’s fine! Not everything in the world needs to appeal to me or my generation! It’s good that Kingdom Hearts as a franchise is moving forward, and we don’t have to rehash why Jafar is back for the third time. It’s good that a whole new generation gets to see their heroes and villains up on the Square-Enix stage. This is, ultimately, a good thing.

But it’s not a good thing that the other half of the Kingdom Hearts equation got kicked to the curb.

Yes, I’m talking about this dork.

Leon!

Kingdom Hearts hit all the right beats to make me revel in the joys of my childhood. While I would have never admitted it at the time, it also hit the “childhood nostalgia” I had for a mere handful of years prior: the golden age of the Playstation JRPG. Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 8 were as much my teenage years as The Little Mermaid or Aladdin defined the years prior. So when Squall, Cloud, and even wee Tidus popped out of the post-ending void of their respective titles and back into even a cameo-based role, I was elated. All my old friends were back! Bring it in, guys! I’d even put up with a horribly-mangled reinterpretation of Setzer Gabbiani if it meant I got to see any luminaries from my beloved Final Fantasy 6 cast again. And this carried through to the interesting bits of The World Ends with You in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, too. It was always fun to see some Square nostalgia, even if it didn’t add up to much. It was textbook fanservice, but it wasn’t like anyone was playing Kingdom Hearts for the plot (cough).

Disney the Poof!And now it’s gone. Kingdom Hearts 3 only features characters that were either created by Disney, or were created within the confines of the Kingdom Hearts universe, so they’re just legally created by Disney. Mind you, that’s a whole separate thing from how Disney never “created” Pinocchio or Aladdin or Rapunzel; it just created a version of that timeless character, copyrighted it, and decided to sue anyone that tried to use that character ever again. I’m sorry, what is the hair color of your chosen mermaid? Red? Yes, we’re going to have to issue a cease and desist.

Wait a tick. Maybe this isn’t a whole separate thing. Maybe it’s the only thing.

And it’s the only thing because now Disney is the only thing.

I am writing this puke o’ words essay shortly after Disney’s nigh-complete acquisition of 20th Century Fox. Disney now owns the film rights to The X-Men. Disney already owned the print rights to The X-Men, as they acquired Marvel Comics ten years ago. And do you remember a time that “the latest Marvel movie” wasn’t just the latest Disney release? Iron Man (the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that would eventually earn all of the money with The Avengers) was not a Disney release. That history is gone, though, now, and, soon enough, people will imagine Logan or Deadpool started as Disney properties. You’ll certainly be able to buy Deadpool plushies at Disney World. And the same will be thought of Star Wars. The Simpsons. The entire city of Atlanta, for some reason. Definitely the entire state of Florida. Disney lashes its tentacles wide, and writes contract after contract until it owns the very seas. Also, please look forward to The Little Mermaid 4: Ursula Wasn’t So Bad, coming Winter 2022.

Yummy!And Kingdom Hearts 3 reminds us all why this is a bad thing. If Disney doesn’t want something, then damn tradition, the audience, or even the creators having a say in the matter. Do you think anyone at Square-Enix wanted to drop its de facto mascots Cloud or Sephiroth from the proceedings? Do you think they didn’t want to promote the star of their latest Final Fantasy title? Could we live in a world where even the slightest hint of NieR: Automata, one of many of Square-Enix’s top selling games from the last five years, exists in the Kingdom Hearts universe? Could we please include Emil, the good boy? We could, but Square-Enix was not going to disagree with Disney for even a second. Sure, there may be DLC or remixes or whatever in the future, but Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fine example of how it is going to be now: Disney is in charge, Disney would like to see its needs met, and no one cares about literally anything but Disney. Cloud has to tie-off a plot decades in the making? No he doesn’t. We want that one Disney rat to have a cooking game, and that’s where resources are going to go.

And that’s why Google Strata scares me.

Wait, crap, sorry, got ahead of myself on that point.

The other thing that happened just recently is the announcement of Google’s new gaming console, the Strata. Or maybe just Strata? Have I become my grandmother, and I can only say “The ‘Intendo” from now on? Regardless! The Strata is Google’s latest attempt at conquering a brand new market, and, by all accounts, it is going to be a streaming-based experience. Like the abandoned original plans for the Xbox One, it will have absolutely zero physical media. And, like Netflix, you will simply use the service to stream a digital library, and will never “own” a distinct game on the platform. Essentially, the Google Strata will be a super-amazing gaming console perfect for the radical gamers of the 21st century… and the minute Google stops supporting it (or your internet connection drops out), it will be about as useful as a toaster. Oh, wait, my bad. It will be less useful than a toaster, as a toaster can at least warm up my mittens on a cold morning (Editor’s note: Goggle Bob does not understand toast).

He made that!And, while I am certainly upset that Strata will do nothing for my videogame hording habits, my biggest issue with the service (that only exists in a theoretical state as of this moment) is that it will be completely beholden to the whims of Google. Like the Apple app store before them, Google will inevitably have complete control over who is able to publish games to its storefront. Google will also have absolute control over when those games may be removed. And if this sounds like some kind of Big Brother-based paranoia, and you would like to imagine a world where Google “does no evil” and is completely hands-off in its monopoly of its own service: consider that Google will have technical control over what games can stream, but, more importantly, it would have complete control over how this content is monetized and advertised (at least within the service). And, let’s not kid ourselves, no one is going to keep a game up on a streaming service if the service has literally made it impossible for said game to make money.

And once a game built for a streaming service is gone from said streaming service? Well that’s gone forever.

Just like Squall and Cloud and all of Sora’s Square brethren.

Look, I know I’m being overly apocalyptic here. Even using Kingdom Hearts 3 as my example seems disingenuous on some level, because there are pretty good odds literally anything missing from Kingdom Hearts 3 could be added as DLC (that, incidentally, I will pay cash money for, because I want my nostalgia back at any cost). And it’s not the end of the world that a game or two gets lost from a streaming service, because there’s always another game to play, and Kingdom Hearts 4 Princes for 258 Brides is just around the corner to keep me occupied. But… well… I care about videogames. I care about the forgotten. Looks like funGod help me, I care about Squall “Leon” Leonhart, and I care about that all those arcade games we’re never going to see again because their technology is too annoying to emulate. And, yes, I preemptively care about all the Google Strata games that are going to be exclusive to the system, and then lost to time because Google will eventually decide Gmail ads would be more profitable. It may sound crazy, but, yeah, I care about crazy things. I care about the plot of Kingdom Hearts.

So… uh… what was this article about? Oh yeah! Kingdom Hearts 3! Yeah, I liked the game. It might not be made for my age group, but it was a fun experience. And, incidentally, the mere fact that Sephiroth wound up on the cutting room floor apparently made me doubt my beliefs and very place in the world. Cloud skips one game, and my brain feels like some manner of burned bread.

Gee, it’s almost like videogames are important.

FGC #425 Kingdom Hearts 3

  • System: Playstation 4. And I guess some arcane magics summoned it to the Xbox One, too.
  • Number of players: I still say that Kingdom Hearts could be the next Secret of Mana, and its “childish” appeal would be ideal for siblings or friends playing the title together. But, nope, just one player.
  • So it has come to this, a Kingdom Hearts FGC entry? Hey, after 400 or so, I can bend the rules a bit. This started out as a sort of Kingdom Hearts FAQ addendum from the question (that I only asked myself): “Why does Big Hero 6 make me feel like an old man? Is Kingdom Hearts 3 for babies?” From there, I decided to address the lack of Square-Enix characters, and… things kind of snowballed. I feel like this essay is a little too heady for the light and plot-based tone of the Kingdom Hearts FAQ entries, so here we are. Categorizing things is hard!
  • These dorksFavorite World: Big Hero 6 felt like it received the most fully-realized world. It felt like an appropriate “sequel” to the movie, all the memorable characters were included (really did not think Honey Lemon or Wasabi would make the cut), and its general geography allowed for a Crackdown-esque level of gameplay not seen elsewhere in the title. And, if Big Hero 6 is visited as the last world, it actually makes thematic sense that Sora is now experienced and training other heroes like Hercules did with Sora on his first world. Symmetry!
  • Completionist: I enjoy playing Kingdom Hearts games, but it is going to be a while before I revisit every damn world looking for hidden mickeys or ingredients. This game really needs an Arkham-esque informant system that is going to at least point me in the right direction to find where some teeny blood oranges wound up amongst multiple planets.
  • Shoot ‘em Up: The new Gummi Ship levels are cool! And micromanaging my ship to make sure it is always the proper level to actually survive some of the random encounters is not! Zero-sum Gummi Ship!
  • Over thereDid you know? I did not note Winnie the Pooh’s appearance in the timeline of Kingdom Hearts worlds because Winnie the Pooh is omnipresent, and all bask in his ever-burning glow. His desire for honey will outlive us all.
  • Would I play again: You know what I really want to do? Replay every Kingdom Hearts title in in-game chronological order. I would also like infinity time to do such a thing. It’s… not gonna happen. But I might replay Kingdom Hearts 3 at some point. It’s mostly fun!

What’s next? I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. The next few titles covered on the FGC will be games I don’t technically own, because they are impossible to own. We’re going to spend some time looking at games that are generally unattainable due to various copyright, distribution, and emulation issues. First up, Spider-Man: The Video Game. Please look forward to it!

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

FINAL FANTASYSo, chess, right? You know how to play chess? Let’s say you do. Do you remember when you learned how to play chess? Were you taught by a family member? A teacher? Some other kid? Some other adult? But here’s the thing: it is very unlikely you learned chess from a rulebook. Yes, you may have later read a great strategy guide to finally beat your grandpa at the game of kings (who don’t feel like standing up), but it’s downright unnatural to learn the rules of the game from a book or manual. And there’s a reason for that! Chess is a two player game, so it’s rather inevitable that player one is going to lecture player two. This is how games are learned! This is how games are passed from generation to generation. And, ultimately, this is what makes a game eternal: the drive for one generation to teach another. Because, after all, if you can’t find somebody to play with, what’s the point of playing a game at all?

Now, humble reader, I am well aware this is a videogame blog. I am blitheringly aware that “there must be a second player” is a stupid position for malcontents that haven’t picked up a controller in the last thirty years. This very blog will attest to the fact that my favorite games are predominantly single player. And, sad but true fact, I would estimate that a mere 10% of my gaming time is anything that could truly be considered “multiplayer”. But, gentle reader, you misunderstand my intentions. I’m not saying a game must include a two player option, I’m saying that videogames are your second player.

My father taught me how to play checkers. My mother taught me how to play Clue. My grandfather taught me how to play Chess. And Shigeru Miyamoto taught me how to play Super Mario Bros. Or did SMB itself teach me? The line is a little blurred there, but, if we consider videogames to be “thinking” objects (which we obviously do, because why else would we swear at them so regularly when they kill our dudes?), then a videogame’s own… videogameness is your eternal second player and teacher. After all, what fun is a game if you don’t understand the rules?

WeeeeeAnd, while we’re asking that rhetorical question: are bad games just games where “the game” misrepresents or otherwise sullies “the rules”? What is bad hit detection but a misperception of the boundaries of certain malicious pixels? When a JRPG requires excessive grinding, is it a feature, or a misunderstanding of what the player has to do between two objectives? And who likes it when the rules change right at the final moments? You’ve been playing an awesome action game, and then it turns into a shoot ‘em up? That’s a clear betrayal of the rules that Friend Videogame laid down from the start! That would be like requiring every game of Hungry Hungry Hippos to end with a test of strength! And that’s terrible! There’s no way I could overpower a kindergartener!

And then there are the games that don’t even bother with explaining the rules. They’re the worst of all.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is the long awaited sequel to Final Fantasy Dissidia Duodecim, a game that was released a whopping seven years ago. In videogame years, that is a period equal to approximately eighteen Assassin’s Creeds, or at least sixty Maddens. That is a lot of time for technology to improve, and, what’s more, the old Dissidia was a title for the PSP. Remember the PSP? Sony’s attempt to out-portable Nintendo right when mobile gaming was first making the scene? Yeah, it was an abject failure, but Square-Enix managed to release at least one good PSP game a year, so it wasn’t a total loss. And one of those excellent SE games was Dissidia, an unusual fighting game featuring the heroes and villains of the Final Fantasy franchise all duking it out for… I don’t know… I think crystals were involved? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it was fun, and it was one of the rare fighting games that was actually built for a portable system. Dissidia was part Street Fighter, but also part Pokémon, as you had to “train” your Tidus, and make sure the little dork always had the best equipment. WeeeeeExcuse me, it wasn’t about having the best equipment, it was about equipping the items that would fit your playstyle, so you might wind up with a different load out if you preferred to chase EX charges, or liked to just pummel your opponent into submission. You’ve got options!

But this is not to say Dissidia was a straightforward fighting game that just happened to have a little extra backend. Dissidia introduced the “Bravery System”, which, in short, means you’re supposed to hit your opponent until you have accrued enough hits to really hit your opponent. On one hand, it’s an overly complicated way to get to the “deplete HP” step that is essential to every fighting game ever, but, on the other hand, it does create a lot more drama, and a real see-saw mechanic that other fighting games have attempted to achieve for years. But, love it or hate it, you had to learn it before you could use it, so Dissidia certainly had a barrier of entry. But at least there was a tutorial right from the boot up of Dissidia, and, acknowledging that people might need such a thing, there were intensive lessons available through the game. And, what’s more, those lectures were written “by” Final Fantasy heroes from throughout the series, so if you ever thought Rydia would be an excellent summons teacher, congratulations, you’re right! Hey, if a game knows you’re going to need extra instructions, at least make those instructions interesting.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT, unfortunately, did not learn this lesson.

Learn to climb!FFDNT started as an arcade game. And that’s great! So did Street Fighter 2! And we all learned how to play that game just fine. Except… assuming you were playing a proper SF2 cabinet, all the fireball motions you could ever need were graphics on the cabinet, so learning the finer points of that experience was, amazingly, still teaching-based. Not so much with FFDNT. It is unlikely I’ll ever see a FFDNT cabinet, but I’m going to go ahead and assume it doesn’t have the gameplay basics written anywhere on there, as it would require a cabinet roughly the size of a convenience store. Want to know how Terra works? That’s in aisle six.

See, the problem with Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is not simply that it fails to convey meaningful lessons to the neophyte player, it’s that there is so much going on, it is impossible to accurately learn anything from the gameplay. There are two teams of three, but you only control one fighter on one team. That’s pretty normal… but what are the win conditions again? It seems like fighters revive pretty quickly after depleting their health… so is it a most kills in a minute kind of thing? No, wait, the match just ended… did someone die? Our team? Theirs? And now there are some rankings… looks like whoever exhausted the most HP gets the trophy… but aren’t there other goals during a match? Why am I supposed to attack the EX Core Crystals again? To summon? But I can summon even if I never bothered. And what does the summon do? Change the background, toss a few lasers around, and… wait, my attack stat goes up? How am I supposed to know that? And I should be using my EX skill more often? How does that become available? It poisons the opponent? But only if I choose that at the start of the match? Holy cow, how are there this many questions revolving around one three minute match!?

GO AWAYAnd Dissidia NT continues to pose questions when it should be providing answers. Why does story mode distinctly require exiting story mode to make progress? Why does this character completely change her playstyle with a button, while that character just kind of grunts? Why did I just earn a new special move if I can’t even use it? Why is changing equipment only cosmetic, but changing my EX ability dramatically impacts the battle? And, most of all, why are my party members always dying? Am I supposed to be doing something different? Should I be protecting them? Should I be more offensive? If this were a traditional Final Fantasy game (even one of the later, more AI controlled titles like FF15 or FF12), and 66% of my party was dying every other round, I’d be sure I was doing something wrong. Here? Not really. In fact, during boss matches, your allies appear to exist only to be mobile meat dummies, and their greatest contribution is distraction. But it’s not like the game effectively relays this information in any way, and you’re just left listening to Shantotto apologize for her tenth death in a row. I’m sorry, chipmunk girl, I’ll try to be better next time. I think?

And it’s not that Dissidia NT is a bad game, it’s simply that practically the entire thing… ummm… uh… Oh! A metaphor! Good games play with you like a good friend, but bad games are definitely that one smelly kid that told you exactly what you’re going to play now, and you’re going to listen to his rules, and what do you mean you don’t play it like this at your house, we’re playing it my way now, you better learn how that works, or you’re not going to have any fun. No, I’m not going to teach you, nerd, just start playing. No, not like that! Moooooom! Bobby isn’t playing the game right at all!

Okay, maybe Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is bad. Once you understand it, once you read the FAQs and strategy guides and message boards, once you get through all the auxiliary materials, FFDNT is actually pretty fun to play. But before that? Before that, it’s pure, confusing hell, and a hell that makes no effort to impart how you might find your way to its heaven. Final Fantasy Dissidia NT might have a delicious, chewy center, but it’s surrounded by rancid garbage.

And how much garbage are you willing to swallow?

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

  • System: Playstation 4 and Arcade. The arcade version came out three years ago? Crazy.
  • Number of players: Online? Six. Locally? One. There should be a law against that.
  • Go get 'emOther Illegalities: There are also loot boxes. And “buy a season pass now, we’ll announce the DLC characters later” sales. Dissidia is actively trying to piss me off.
  • The sequel curse: So this is, ultimately, a mascot fighting game. And you know what a mascot fighting game should never do? Drop characters. I don’t care if you’re Ice Climbers or Gon, when you lose the weirdo auxiliary characters from game to game, you lose my heart. The lack of Gilgamesh, Laguna, Yuna, and Tifa in this title is keenly felt. And if even one of those dorks become extra purchases? I will burn this mother down.
  • Favorite Character: Bartz is pretty awesome. He was my favorite in OG Dissidia, and he’s completely different now, but he’s still a lot of fun. And fast! And fast is really important when you have to chase some angry tree all over the arena.
  • Other annoyances: You can’t just restart a battle in a single player match. This is particularly important in the boss battles, as, come on, you can permanently lose those fights in the first thirty seconds, but wait five minutes to actually die. And then you have to wait five minutes for loading screens…
  • The Final Fantasy: So, considering the sheer lunacy that was the first two Dissidia titles, the story of this one is actually pretty straightforward: there’s a world fueled by battles, everyone battles, everyone realizes there’s no real reason to battle, and then they fake battle until they battle a giant lizard so they can make clones that will fight battles forever. That’s pretty much the plot to Sense and Sensibility.
  • Say something nice: Terra is supposed to be “post Final Fantasy 6” Terra in this one (or something like that), and she’s actually kind of… good? Previous Dissdias made her a sort of damsel (“Oh, poor me, Kefka is always taking over my brain, what is it to be me?”), but here she’s confident, and winds up being the de facto leader of her little party. Way to get yourself together, Terra!
  • Work together!Did you know? That kid from Final Fantasy Tactics is in this one! No, not Thunder God Cid, the main character. You know! What’s his name? Delita? No, that doesn’t sound right…
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Probably not. Even if the upcoming DLC is amazing, there are too many good fighting games out there, and Dissidia seems to revel in wasting time. Just give me my instant gratification, Square!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Centipede: Infestation for the Nintendo 3DS! Centipedes? In my blog? It’s more common than you think. Please look forward to it!

WW #05 Ladies’ Night

This is Wankery Week, and, while masturbation in general has something of a male-connotation, let’s not forget that women have needs, too. Sexy needs. I want to be clear that I’m not talking about shoes or showers or other things that the fairer sex seems to believe are essential. Ladies, I’ve got a good musk going here, I don’t need some random water shooter to relieve me of this funk.

Errr, anyway, in the interest of fair and balanced wankery reporting, I decided to speak to a few real life, no-exploding-clothes women. In particular, I decided to speak to a handful of people that had been playing videogames since childhood, and, of course, puberty. It’s one thing to talk to someone that has gotten into gaming as an adult, but it’s quite another to dig someone out that may have been attracted to 8-bit graphics when they were contemporary. And besides, it’s only fair as, as previously mentioned, I may have had a crush or two on Playstation heroines.

So, while I’m not going to get into names and specific fetishes (ATTENTION PEOPLE THAT ACTUALLY KNOW ME: Ruth has a thing for centaurs. Thank you), a number of women responded with fairly expected answers. Nobody seemed to go for the obviously half naked men (sorry, Mayor Haggar), and, sorry, albino Grecian war gods don’t do anything for the local ladies. What seemed to stick to the memories of these women was predominantly a number of JRPG heroes. King Edgar Figaro might not be the ladies’ man he claims, as Final Fantasy contemporary fugging Squall was named as a crush. Similarly, I’m fascinated that someone named a character from Final Fantasy Tactics (she actually asked me to not even name the character, even if she is anonymous in the article, because, thinking about it as an adult, she was that embarrassed by it), because those guys are barely more than poorly translated chess pieces. And Wild Arms’ Rudy was named, which actually reminded me of my own crush, and I can basically see where this is all coming from.

GET IT!?I mentioned at the start of the week that I had a crush on Princess Cecilia of Wild Arms. See, I was fourteen, and I want to say that I didn’t acknowledge that women were actual people until around when I was sixteen. Before I had my first “real” girlfriend, I pretty much interpreted women as unknowable, ascended creatures that had this whole sex thing figured out and were the eternal gatekeepers of me ever getting to see real, live nudity. In short, I hadn’t yet discovered that everybody poops. And, really, video games didn’t do much to divorce me of this notion, as “developed” video game women were magic warriors (Terra/Celes, FF6), manic pixie dream girls (Marle, Chrono Trigger), or cats (Kat, Breath of Fire 2). Cecilia, literally from her introduction, is a magical princess, yes, but she also falls asleep in class and is known as the gluttonous “burger queen” by her classmates. In other words, in a weird way, she’s “one of the guys”, and… well, I’m just saying if we ever hung out, I’m pretty sure she’d be in to me.

And it’s fascinating to think about that line of thinking from the other side of the sexual seesaw. Videogame women were generally warrior queens or male accessories, but the men in these stories were supposed to be player-inserts. Revisiting Rudy Roughknight of Wild Arms, we’re talking about a guy that literally has maybe three lines of dialogue. He’s almost an entirely mute protagonist in his starring adventure, and, spoilers, he’s not even a damn human. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s well developed enough to have a general personality and life, but you’re allowed to fill in the blanks on the finer points. For boys, this means that you too can imagine yourself as a heroic adventurer, and for girls, you too can imagine Rudy as your ideal boyfriend. What? You want to be an adventurer, too, girl? No, we already have a woman filling that blank. Please move along.

SexyI’m going to give the designers of any number of JRPGs the benefit of the doubt on this one, because it (theoretically) wasn’t misogyny that made Rudy the ideal boy, it was simply a need to appeal to a boy-based market. JRPGs often follow the same tropes as shonen manga because they’re both trying to garner that same audience, and half the tropes there go back thousands of years as “boy stories”. In modern times, we may have gotten past “Princess Peach needs rescuing” but it’s still hard to ignore the glut of fictional women that appear to exist exclusively to entertain the male protagonist. But since those male protagonists are supposed to be audience inserts, it’s easy for the audience to ascribe any traits they’d like to Male Hero #3,214. Rudy would totally hang out with you and talk about One Direction all night long. He’s a huge fan!

That is something I, a heterosexual male, understand. What I don’t understand is how this kid popped up in a number of responses…

FGC #209 Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13

Here it comes!I want to start by plainly stating that I loved Lightning Returns. I played it through twice, and that’s an extreme rarity for me nowadays. I loved the combat, I loved the world (we’ll get into that), and it was still probably the most pure “fun” I’ve had with a JRPG in a while. That said, let’s look at the good and the bad of Lightning Returns.

BAD: The World is Stupid

The conceit of Lightning Returns is that all of time and space got totally fubared over the course of Final Fantasy 13-2: Serah’s Big Adventure. Thanks to a pair of nitwits and an army of monsters that are somehow the good guys, time got broken, because you can apparently only toss a moogle at a problem so many times before all of reality shatters. As a result, the world(s)(?) was reduced to a collection of easily segmented “areas”, and, with grandfather time out of the picture, people do not age. What brave new world is this!?

Except…

Only the tiniest bit of lip service is paid to the “everyone is an immortal” thing. Despite living for 500 years, the majority of Nova Chrysalia’s population is pretty indistinguishable from the average Final Fantasy population. They fritter about their days, provide sidequests, and occasionally fight monsters. Every single person is at least 500 years old, and the best anyone seems to be able to accomplish is opening a bakery. As an easy example of this nonsense, there’s a sidequest where you reunite an estranged father with his son. In 500 years, they apparently couldn’t get over their issues, but, yay, sidequest heroine Lightning is here to patch up any stormy relationships in a thirty second cutscene. I think the reward for that quest was unlimited meatballs or something. Centuries of life and potential progress, and all we got are new recipes for side dishes.

Seedy's!But the biggest issue here is the whole “end of humanity” thing. There’s supposed to be this overpowering feeling of melancholy to a world that is on the cusp of destruction. Lightning has thirteen or so days to save every soul she can find, and her first “case” is a serial killer in a grimy town filled with sorrow. It’s basically Final Fantasy meets Jack the Ripper (except ol’ Jack is hunting women with fluorescent pink hair), and every NPC you encounter is lamenting their sorry, immortal life and how nothing has any meaning anymore without procreation or aging. Boo-hoo. This contrasts poorly with…

GOOD: I want to live there

Seriously, if I could live in any Final Fantasy world, I’d pick Lightning Returns.

The first city, Luxerion, is a lame knockoff of Dickensian England, but the other big city, Yusnaan is a city dedicated to “we’re all immortal, so let’s have a damn party until the end of time”. It’s my kind of place. There are street merchants selling every kind of food you can imagine, monster battle arenas for entertainment, some kind of deadly version of Nickelodeon Guts, and fireworks every night. There are random musicians wandering around, so I assume the rad in-game music can be heard by the residents, and, added bonus, it’s very easy to avoid monsters in this area if you need a rest. The whole place seems like some kind of beautiful dream of an endless Mardi Gras, and the only drawback is that the drama club puts on the same stupid play every night. Get some new material, nerds!

FlappyAnd the rest of the world is just beautiful. I don’t mean from a “fancy HD graphics” perspective, I’m talking about how I’d genuinely want to enjoy the Wildlands if they were locally available. Probably a great place to play Pokémon Go. I figure that, sometime in the last 500 years, some immortal landscaper decided the rolling planes needed to have the lawn mowed every few days, so everything looks surprisingly hospitable for monster hunting grounds. And there is a lush and verdant ecosystem, with floating eyeball creatures and lizards the size of dogs and twelve chocobos for every chocobo eater. The concept of Nova Chrysalia is that what was salvageable from the “old world” all got recklessly smooshed together, but here it looks like such a move might improve a good deal of real estate. If anybody wants to destroy time and space in the real world to see how that works out, let me know, I’m game.

Oh, and the Dead Dunes sound like a place to avoid, but, should you own a fedora and whip, it’s totally the best place to grab ancient relics. And when you’ve got a timeline that somehow includes millennia of destroyed civilizations, that might be a fun way to while away the centuries.

GOOD: The world respects its heroes

Let’s run down what the cast of Final Fantasy 13s has been up to…

Best buds!Snow founded nonstop party town, and then retired to his private fortress to sulk for the rest of eternity. Thus, Snow has become the saddest boy in a town of happiness. This seems like an appropriate punishment for being Snow.

Vanille feels that she’s responsible for the current fate of the world because she made some poor life choices approximately a billion years before Final Fantasy 13, and turned into a colossal chaos demon, like, once. Despite being instrumental in then saving the world (twice!), she’s still down on herself, so she turned to religion. And that religion made her the new Blessed Mother. Of course, they’re going to sacrifice her on judgment day to appease some angry god or something, but she’s marginally aware of that, and seems to be okay with a few centuries of being worshipped as a living goddess. And she got a new hat, too! Score!

Fang is less than okay with the whole “my secret lover is going to sacrifice herself for the world” thing, so she’s decided to hunt around the dessert for relics that will save dear Vanille. While she was doing that, she kinda incidentally started an entire society of archeologists/bandits, so she maybe sorta rules a complete continent. Wasn’t really her intention, she did have other things on the agenda, but I think finding magical treasure is a little easier when you’ve got an army at your disposal. Also, as she points out, thanks to cryostasis and time traveling and more cryostasis, she’s 1,621 years old, but still looks to be physically in her 20s. Not bad.

Noel, the last hunter of 13-2, has somehow also become the leader of a death cult, though unwillingly. He tries to fight our main heroine thanks to a random misunderstanding involving fake oracles, and, upon seeing the error of his ways, decides to become a vigilante in a city of misery. This basically makes him Batman (albeit AzBats). Becoming Batman is what most people aspire to, so good for him.

Hope, Lightning, and Serah all become unwilling pawns in a mad god’s plan, but it could be worse, they could be…

BAD: Inadvertent Racism

Lightning and Hope might be pawns, but they’re also literally the most powerful people on the planet. Hope is a conduit for a literal god, and Lightning has been granted insane Valkyrie power to complete her task of killing literally every monster in existence. Every other main character is in a vaunted position in their respective faction (whether they like it or not), and, save the fact that Odin seems to have been demoted from “transformer” to “bird”, anybody that helped out in an earlier Final Fantasy 13 game is doing pretty well.

Except Sazh.

Sazh!Sazh is still worried about his son, who had his soul fragmented into random bits because who cares. Sazh decided to solve this problem by hiding in a broken airship in the middle of nowhere. After 500 years of sitting in a rocking chair and creepily muttering to himself, Sazh has become a legendary hermit, and his only interaction with the outside world is when those damn kids TP his hovel every Halloween. And this isn’t a Yoda situation, where he has ancient wisdom to impart to anyone that will listen; no, this is more along the lines of “if we had a bigger budget, his new model would be a naked man covered only by his beard and an afro that is hiding an entire family of bats”. When his son’s soul is finally recovered, Dajh is afraid to wake up, because Sazh has become that scary.

Couple this with his initial characterization being half totally awesome and half a lazy retread (gee, where have I seen a Final Fantasy character known for firearms and being extremely protective of his child before?), and his 13-2 role being “stuck in the neon claws of Gamblor”, I want to say that the African American community is not well represented in this Japanese RPG. Okay, maybe I’m seeing too much here, but when the entire rest of the (white) cast gets to become kings and queens, and the black guy becomes a crazy go nuts recluse… it kind of sticks out.

And, Christ, the bird that lives in his afro gets more of a role in the story than Sazh!

GOOD: Lightning kicks ass

WeeeAfter spending a few centuries in the timeout chamber, Lightning is back and kicking ass. Of all the Final Fantasy “main heroines”, Lightning indisputably is the most likely to slay an angry god. Granted, her only competition is Terra (whom Dissidia pigeonholed forever as “whiny mage”) and Yuna (“I’m sad my boyfriend is a ghost”), but, still, I can probably count the number of strong-in-the-real-way female characters coming out of Japan on one hand. Well, “strong” and also “doesn’t appear in a game featuring tear-away clothing or twelve year olds wearing butt floss”. Lightning is determined, powerful, and absolutely does not spend any of her time fawning over boys or worrying about her hair.

And, by virtue of the gameplay, she’s also kinda the most powerful character ever in a Final Fantasy game. Lightning is finally a true army of one, and is completely alone on her adventure to save the world. No party, no monster companions, no omniscient player dropping off magical abilities or whatever: it’s just Lightning against every monster left on the planet. And there’s never any “oh no you’re not man enough” nonsense, either. Right from the get go, Lightning is tasked with saving every last soul on this husk, and there’s no doubt she’s going to succeed. Lightning wholly and totally kicks ass, and doesn’t need so much as a moogle to help her.

BAD: Lightning is a robot

Unfortunately, “Unstoppable Lightning” comes at the expense of… ya know… Lightning.

I’ve mentioned this before, but all Final Fantasy main characters (and most of the supporting cast) are built exclusively for their one-and-done stories. This is a good thing! But it also means most Final Fantasy characters may be boiled down to a simple mad lib. Terra is magically unbeatable, but unloved. Squall is accomplished, but plays poorly with others. Tidus is an all-star, but can’t dress himself. The basic point of every Final Fantasy game is to save the world, but to also shade in whatever blank is afflicting the hero. Cloud is going to kill Sephiroth and stop Meteor, but along the way, he’ll learn the real meaning of freedom and, dare I say it, friendship. I believe it was Kurt Goldstein that first theorized that it would only be possible for a fully actualized person to summon a dragon that can shoot laser beams.

He's back!I mention this because Lightning had a pretty clear arc through Final Fantasy 13. Amongst… everything… happening in that labyrinthine plot, Lightning does pick up on the whole “letting people in” moral that is hiding somewhere behind the space pope. Consider that the inciting incident for 1,000 years of strife in the Final Fantasy 13 universe is the simple scuffle that Lightning won’t accept Snow as an invited member of the family. This problem quickly cascades to Macbethian proportions, and that thread kind of gets lost somewhere around Snow earning a motorcycle made out of subservient sisters, but, still, it’s there! Lightning changes and grows over the course of Final Fantasy 13, and, while she’s not some emotionally perfect being by the finale, Lightning does become a better person by the end of Final Fantasy 13.

So, naturally, they had to strip out that Lightning in time for her titular game.

This, of course, is not by accident. Like Cloud before her, Lightning had to be reduced back to her core components in order to be “recognizable” as the same badass from Final Fantasy 13 promotional materials. In this case, the story uses the bluntest tool in its arsenal (okay, second bluntest, an outright retcon would be worst), and basically says “a wizard did it” to the now overly stoic Lightning. Lightning had her emotional core/heart/Claire torn out by a vengeful god, and now she’s super sad about not having emotions anymore. But just because the story offers a reason for a character’s regression doesn’t make it forgivable. The Lightning that was capable of making good intentioned poor decisions (like, say, giving a knife to a vengeful teenager) is gone now, and all we’ve got is a mechanical war machine that occasionally comes around to “Hey, something seems off.”

So, basically, Lightning is turned up to eleven, but we lose Lightning in the process.

GOOD: Dress-up!

Here comes the wardrobe!