Tag Archives: story

FGC #420 SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy

Yay Gals!I’m not upset. I’m just disappointed.

Previously in what passes for reality: SNK once supported the Neo Geo Pocket Color, and it featured an adorable game titled SNK Gals’ Fighters. It was a fun, though shallow, fighting game made for a system that could only sustain vaguely Gameboy-esque graphics and a whole two action buttons. Despite the obvious handicaps, SNK Gals’ Fighters was an enjoyable, portable title that was downright ideal for short trips or sudden spurts of gaming while watching Xena: Warrior Princess.

SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy cannot make the same claim.

There were issues right from the start. Right at the initial announcement, we had Mai dressed in a combination bikini/cow costume. This was an ominous portent! Mai has been compared to a cow on many occasions before, because (get ready for a real knee slapper here) cows are known for their utters, and Mai is known for her boobs. Ha! Funny joke! Everybody laughs (at women with large breasts). And, let’s face it, aside from fetishist satisfiers or extremely self-confident cosplay fans, no woman on Earth is ever going to voluntarily wear a “cow bikini”. Why invite the comparison? It’s like wearing a Sonic the Hedgehog shirt to a sane people convention (NormalCon ’19 still has tickets available). But don’t worry! The early trailers quickly established that these women were kidnapped (!) and forced to fight in ridiculous outfits (!) for the benefit of an unseen, male kidnapper (!). Rape dungeon! The entire plot of this game was immediately established as “takes place in a rape dungeon”. Holy cow bikini, SNK, that is not a good look.

FIGHT!And, unfortunately, this title is all about good looks. The plot did not improve after the initial trailers: Kukri (aka “The Sand Guy” introduced in King of Fighters 14) created a pocket dimension (as one does) where he is nigh omnipotent. Then he kidnapped a handful of women fighters, and dressed them in various fetish outfits, because… he’s a fetish freak. He… literally says that out loud. He doesn’t seem to have one particular fetish (this ain’t King of Catgirls), but the general theme for the outfits appears to be some level of embarrassment/shame. “Pure and good” Nakoruru is dressed as some manner of anime vampiress, and space pirate Love Heart is stuck in a (sexy) police uniform. And, yes, half the fun with most of these costumes is “wow, conservative girl is now dressed as a total slut! Whatta twist!” … Except, guys? This is already a fighting game franchise. We’ve already got a freaking samba dancing kick boxer that has never worn a shirt. Sticking these characters that are already just one degree away from being walking fetishes in fetish gear isn’t exactly the furthest bridge to cross. But, hey, now the women are wearing these costumes distinctly because they don’t want to! And that’s a selling point, apparently! Please enjoy the femme fatale dressed as a school girl. She’s two fetishes, now! Maybe three!

Oh, and every character has three different costumes (available for purchase with [thankfully in-game] credits), and various accessories available in “let’s play dress-up mode”. So you can metaphorically assume the role of the kidnapping misogynist at the core of this tale! Yay!

But it doesn’t matter if the gameplay is fun, right? Surely the company that has been producing fighting games since before Street Fighter 2 knows a thing or two about making a decent fighter, unfortunate implications of presentation aside. Heck, King of Fighters 14 was a distinct step-up for that franchise, so of course its faux-sequel is going to kick some butt (that is probably wearing bloomers to satisfy some other fetish). That’s just basic math!

Unfortunately, King of Fighters 14 might be the biggest problem.

Say cheese!Of the default roster of characters in SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy (aka not including the DLC), only one fighter did not appear in King of Fighters 14. In fact, a healthy number of fighters in this title premiered in King of Fighters 14. So, of the many, many women in the SNK universe, 92% of the cast could be found in the previous fighting game. And that would be fine… if everything about this title didn’t feel like a downgrade from its predecessor. King of Fighters 14 was a traditional 2-D fighting game with old-fashioned button motions and general playstyles. SNK Heroines attempts to go the Smash Bros. route, and simplifies everything to two attack buttons, a throw button, and a “special” button that offers different special movies depending on simple directional inputs. A neutral special might be a fireball, while forward plus special is a rushing kick. That could work! But… with the limited controls, nearly every character feels severely limited compared to their KoF14 versions. How limited? Well, you can’t even duck. You can crouch in King of Fighters, but I guess bendable knees weren’t in the budget for these queens.

If, at this point, you are suspecting that this whole game might be a callous cash-grab and an excuse to reuse character models from another, more fully-realized game, then congratulations, and welcome to the SNK Board of Dudes that Produce Shitty Fighting Games. Please pick up your complimentary Lady Terry Bogard hat at your earliest convenience.

Get 'erBut the absolute worst thing about this whole experience? SNK got it so right over a decade ago, and now, right on schedule, it seems everything great about SNK Gals’ Fighters got flipped on its head (which probably now has to wear cat ears). The interesting “dream crushing” finishers of SNKGF were transformed into required “finishing moves” that are boring as hell. The simplified controls of the NGP feel incredibly lacking on a modern controller. All “cute” super-deformed spritework has been replaced with glamorous models that have inescapably been designed to focus on a few key parts of a woman’s anatomy. And the delightful “everyone is fighting to earn a magical wish” plot has been replaced with “battle to escape a man’s private rape dimension”. That… puts a bit of a damper on things.

But… I knew to expect all of this. So why should I be mad?

From the moment this game was conceived, SNK had a choice: create a fighting game with cheesecake, or create a fighting game around cheesecake. Let’s not kid ourselves: there was never, ever going to be an SNK all-women fighting game that wasn’t lousy with fanservice and opportunities to ogle the cast. That’s inevitable! But rather than make a decent game that incidentally included new and interesting jiggle physics, SNK went for a lazy title that was literally all about fetishizing its female fighters. There could have been some genuine creativity on display here, but all resources were diverted toward creating new and exciting reasons for a pachislot heroine to dress as Little Bo Peep.

Do better, SNK. I’m only frustrated because I know you can.

FGC #420 SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy

  • System: I somehow had it in my head that this was a Switch exclusive, but it’s also apparently available for the Playstation 4. Which is a system that also hosts King of Fighters 14. Hm.
  • Number of players: You will never ever play this game with another human being. But, conceptually, two players makes sense.
  • What is even happening?Say Something Nice: The story mode adapting to your chosen duo is always nice. And, when you consider how awful this story happens to be, I think that’s the nicest thing I can say about the plot.
  • Fashion Faux pas: Shermie is the only character with a default costume that is not an overt fetish. She’s also the only “newcomer” that did not appear in King of Fighters 14. While you might be able to claim all Shermie resources went to just getting the poor, dead gal on the roster, I’m going to point out that King of Fighter’s canonically bustiest character probably didn’t need another fetish heaped upon her.
  • Too Old for this @$^&: I would like to see King on the roster, but… she does not deserve this kind of abuse. She’s too classy for this nonsense.
  • Let’s talk about Terry: So Terry is magically a woman now. This is an amusing way to fit a series mainstay into this all women fighter, but they should have chosen literally any other character for this role (Kyo?) as King of Fighters 14’s Alice is already “Terry, but a woman” in all but actual genetics. Besides, what we really need is a gender-swapped Chang Koehan.
  • Favorite Character: Sylvie Paula Paula might have been initially designed for King of Fighters 14 as some kind of lame idol parody, but she gets my vote here because she immediately identifies the “secret” villain of the story, and announces that she is already tired of this garbage before even her first match. You and me both, sister.
  • Did you know? Blue Mary isn’t in this game. Nor is noted pirate Bonne Jenet. This is a travesty.
  • Would I play again: Maybe for thirty seconds as a novelty, but there are so many other, better fighting games out there. Let’s leave this rape dungeon behind.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Saints Row 4! Dammit, ROB! You could have chosen that title for #420, and it would have made perfect sense! Now it’s all wrong! Stupid robot! Whatever. Time to be president of the universe. Please look forward to it!

... What?

FGC #391 Star Fox 64 3D

Let us review how it only took one greedy pig to ruin the universe.

Here is Pigma Dengar.

Oink

First, we shall consider Pigma’s past. Pigma was a member of the original Star Fox team. This gang included not only Pigma, but also Peppy Hare and its leader, James McCloud. And, if you examine the infrastructure of the original Star Fox, you’ll find that being a mercenary space pilot was a pretty cushy gig. Sure, you were flying across the universe straight into danger on all fronts… but it certainly paid well. The Star Fox custom ships were all the latest in technological advancement, and, let’s be real here, that costs a pretty penny. And then there’s the Great Fox, a gigantic, airborne aircraft carrier that could quickly hop around the galaxy. James needed a 70 year loan to purchase that incredible ship… and I don’t care what planet you’re on, a bank isn’t going to hand out that kind of scratch without a flawless credit rating. Essentially, history shows that, prior to the Lylat Wars, Star Fox was making bank.

But Pigma wanted more.

WeeeeeeIt might be speciest, but Pigma was a pig through and through. Pigma was perfectly willing to sell out his companions and entire operation for, what, a few pieces of silver? The whole Star Fox operation was squashed in one day thanks entirely to Pigma’s greed. The cunning pig led James McCloud and Peppy Hare into a lethal trap, and only Peppy was able to escape with his life. James was gone, Peppy was wounded, and Pigma had indisputably switched sides. It was this event that would then inevitably lead to rise of Andross, and the Lylat Wars would occur shortly thereafter.

And consider Andross: he may have once been the most hated ape in the galaxy, but, one way or another, Andross’s tale is one of an underdog. Andross was singularly brilliant even as a child, and was focused on protecting his home planet of Corneria. However, his ambitions outstripped his abilities, and, in a fateful accident, a chunk of the capital was outright obliterated. General Pepper, seeing no other recourse, exiled Andross to Venom, a planet so inhospitable, it was literally named for poison. But Andross thrived in this environment, and, from the nothing that was a demon class planet, Andross had amassed an army. It was then that he was able to tempt Pigma to his side, and put an end to the original Star Fox team. Andross came from nothing, had all of his resources stripped away, and was still able to successfully launch a rebellion with the help of one greedy pig that already had more than his fair share of wealth. Andross was hated and reviled, but no one can say he merely inherited that title.

I hate everything!And, while we are speaking of privilege, we must consider Pigma’s lost quarry: Peppy Hare. Peppy escaped that fateful trap that finished James McCloud, and hopped on home to relay the news to Fox McCloud, son of James. Fox was an excellent pilot in his own right, but was he prepared to take up the Star Fox mantle? Was he at all qualified to lead a team of mercenaries on a blood quest to avenge his father? Or was Fox less fox, and more a lamb to the slaughter? Peppy never seemed like a vengeful hare, but he did immediately conscript his inexperienced “nephew” in a bloody war without a second thought. And, advanced or not, did anyone truly believe that four ships would succeed in stopping Andross where an entire army had failed? And who the hell thought it was a good idea to make the amphibious mechanic a pilot? Was this “team” thrown together with the same care as a middling salad? We now see Star Fox as a group of heroes that have saved the universe on multiple occasions, but, at the time, it was just a bloodthirsty rabbit and a kid that inherited his father’s empire. One might suppose we should be thankful was Fox McCloud was firmly on the side of the angels.

But Pigma certainly was not. Star Fox was assembled to destroy Andross, and Star Wolf was assembled to counter that vanguard. Or was it? Data on the Star Wolf team prior to the Lylat Wars is sketchy at best. What we do know is that Andross was responsible for the Wolfen craft that the team employs, and we’re all well aware that Andrew earned his seat at the table through being Andross’s nephew. But Pigma? It’s unclear how Pigma joined the gang. Was he with Star Wolf from the beginning, or did he join only when Andross offered a bounty? Are the rumors true, and Pigma is also the reason Fox and Wolf have an eternal rivalry? Whatever his origin, Pigma was certainly a member of Star Wolf exclusively for the paycheck, and, ace piloting skills or not, he was only interested in “finishing the job” for the money.

Which he didn’t. Star Wolf failed, Andross failed, and Star Fox brought peace to the galaxy. Pigma was out of a job.

SpicyBut greed doesn’t evaporate after a single setback. Pigma may have been financially and morally bankrupt, but it was still a big galaxy, and not being accepted by polite society never stopped this pig. Despite being targeted by the Cornerian Army, Star Fox, and Star Wolf (his former companions), Pigma was able to make a living as a pirate.

And then his greed nearly destroyed the universe. Again.

Aparoids, mechanical monsters from the furthest reaches of the galaxy, invaded the Lylat System. These insect-like creatures may have been merely a galactic annoyance, but Pigma thought he could make a quick buck by getting his hoggish hands on a Core Memory, and selling it to the highest bidder. His plan may have worked… except the core assimilated Pigma, and transformed him into a galactic engine of destruction. Mecha Pigma then severely damaged the climate control center of Fichina, and effectively killed an entire planet. Before he was finally destroyed by Star Fox, Pigma had left an indelible scar on the face of the galaxy, and all in the name of buying a bigger pig pen.

So is there a moral to Pigma’s story? He had it all, gave it away for more, but, in the end, died a penniless captive of his own avarice. “Don’t be greedy” seems like a pretty obvious lesson here, but maybe there’s something more. Maybe we’re supposed to realize what greed does: that, given the option, there are some people that would absolutely choose to endanger everyone and everything in the name of profit. Maybe the moral is not to avoid being this type of person, but to never enable someone that would even think of doing such a thing. Greed is bad, we know that, but perhaps it is more important to guard against the greedy than worry about the dominion of our own hearts.

Though, one would suppose, a coda is important here.

Right?There are some that say Pigma survived. Despite the destruction of the Aparoid hive, Pigma lived on, now fused with the core he stole long ago, and became some manner of… space box. This new creature is neither living nor dead, though seemingly possessed of Pigma’s repellant personality. Perhaps this is the ultimate fate for one so fueled by greed. Perhaps, trapped in a prison of his own making, screaming at the void and attempting to distract heroes from their real goals, perhaps that is where greed leads in the end.

But that kind of appropriate punishment will not bring back the lives lost.

Beware the pigs of this galaxy, citizens. Beware the pigs.

FGC #391 Star Fox 64 3D

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. If we’re talking about the original, which we’re not, then you’d have to hit the N64.
  • Number of players: Multiplayer is still possible, right? Let’s say four. Wait, they dropped the on-foot mode? Lame.
  • Hey, genius, none of this is canon anymore: Yes, Star Fox Zero apparently has rewritten the Star Fox timeline once again. And maybe Star Fox 2 is now partially canon, too, thanks to the SNES Mini? I don’t care. Star Fox 64 got the coolest strategy guide, so it’s the most canon.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I’m not generally a fan of the Star Fox series, as I prefer my shoot ‘em ups to be 2-D, and the 3-D perspective somehow doesn’t work with my brain (I have a tendency to gauge distances wrong… and smash right into things. Sorry, Fox), but Star Fox 64 is my favorite of the franchise. Maybe I just like charging lasers? Or maybe it came out at just the right time to be the only game available on my only current system for a few months (thanks, N64!). Whatever the reason, this is the only Star Fox title that ever really clicked with me, and the 3DS version only makes it better. So time to pay, Andross!
  • Tanks a lot!Other Vehicles: This is also the first Star Fox game to get bored with Arwings, and introduce the tank and submarine. They’re both awful, and I hate them. I don’t understand how some videogames keep making tanks awful, but here we are.
  • For the ladies: Katt Monroe appears to be the only woman in this entire war. This would bother me more if I wasn’t dreadfully aware of what happens to women in the Star Fox fandom.
  • Did you know? If you battle Star Wolf more than once during an adventure, they will return with “battle damage” and cybernetic enhancements that presumably cover their many scars. And Wolf himself gets a pile of band-aids. Considering how furry that dude is, that has got to be painful.
  • Would I play again: Probably yes. Out of many Star Fox games, this one seems to be my one return engagement, and sticking it on a portable system doesn’t hurt. And I can punish a pig, which is always good.

What’s next? Random ROB… can be kind of funny sometimes. As you may be aware, I “roll” Random ROB pretty far in advance, and, by complete coincidence, it created its own theme week thanks to three sequential games that actually all work together well. So, next week we’ll start with Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day, and kick off TV Week, a week featuring games based on TV shows. Please look forward to it!

Off to the next adventure

FGC #380 Pokémon (Ultra) Moon / Sun

DawwPokémon Sun & Moon is the first Pokémon game to feature a memorable story and characters.

It’s also the first Pokémon game to feature dynamic camera angles, dedicated cutscenes, and full animations for as many of its humans as its pokémon.

Gee, what could be the connection?

For many people, the plot of any given Pokémon game is about as essential as a story in a fighting game. In fact, you could easily make the argument that the Pokémon titles are fighting games. Sure, there’s a complete JRPG GUI, and you talk, level up, and manage your ‘mons as if they were straight out of Final Fantasy Legend, but the battles are the main draw. And, while that’s true of many JRPGs, most JRPGS are not two player, and even less are head-to-head two player. For a countless number of Pokémon fans, the “main campaign” is a way to tinker with random party configurations at best, and a complete waste of time at worst. The real appeal is producing the best team ever, marching into your local poké-tournament, and cleaning house with your Level 100 Medicham. Or, like fighting games, popping online to play with the “meta game”, and feel really great when you wipe out a Mewtwo… that was trained by an eight year old. You monster.

And, for about the last every Pokémon game ever, it seemed like Game Freak agreed with the audience that didn’t give a damn about plot. Yes, every Pokémon game even going back to Pokémon Green had a whole plot with unique characters and trials/villains to overcome, but the plot was always completely secondary to the sheer weight of one day becoming the Pokémon champion and scooting into the postgame. Slow?Hell, in one of the later Pokémon titles, a cyclopic, light-haired bad guy raised an entire evil castle from the Earth while summoning some manner of god- mon… and I can’t even remember which game contained that event. I want to say Black/White? Maybe? Look, I’m still anime racist, and I can’t tell these silly magic emperors apart.

But Pokémon Sun/Moon changed all that. It introduced Lillie and Nebby, and, in one fell swoop, flooded Deviantart with more Pokémon fanart not featuring a naked lady version of Pikachu than anyone ever thought possible. Lillie not your thing? Don’t worry, we’ve got rude boy Gladion and his beloved Type:Null to keep you company. Hau ain’t bad, either, Team Skull is unforgettable, and Lusamine is a great villain because she’s such a threat to not only “you”, but the people you inexorably care about as well. Sure, every Pokémon villain has threatened the world with flooding or ghost dinosaurs or whatever, but how many of those rogues had the sheer malevolence to torture a lil’ dude that has been living in a gym bag? For the first time in Pokémon history, the people of Pokemon Sun/Moon are more memorable than the ‘mons, and, considering they’re competing with Rowlett, that’s no small accomplishment.

But, sad to say, you don’t care about Lillie, Gladion, or even Professor Kukai because of their personalities and design (though, admittedly, you might like the Prof for his topless lab coat fashion combo), no, you the stars of Pokémon Sun/Moon shine because of scene direction.

Yay!Other Pokémon games had heroes, friends, and villains, but they all lived in a decidedly primitive JRPG world. Pokémon X/Y , Sun/Moon’s direct ancestor, had excellent graphics (and outfits!) available, but every story beat played out with protagonists that may as well have been Dragon Warrior sprites. Lord Whatshisname is threatening the planet with his pokémon-based death ray, but I can’t remember his damn name because he just stood there like a doof and generated text box after text box of “dialogue”. Yes, you’re a generic bad guy, I get it, can my gyrados eat you yet? The average Pokemon villain is no more threatening than the bug catching kid on Route 1, and it’s all because they’re presented in exactly the same way. In fact, that kid in the shorts might be more threatening, because he’s there when you just started, and your most effective offensive measure is to friggen growl at your opponent. By the time you’re stomping down Team Rocket, your favorite pokémon has evolved into a rhobeast, and the average battle takes just long enough for you to open a menu. Looks like you’re blasting off again, Giovanni, compliments of six different hyper beams.

But Pokémon Moon/Sun does something completely different. PSM actually treats the camera like a tool, and not a necessary evil. There are close ups of character’s expressions. There are mad scientists that giggle when they think no one is looking. There are villains framed against their helpless captives, and screens that convulse and shake as cherished Nebbys are beaten and hurt. When you first meet Hau, it’s a happy occasion, and everything about the direction, from the angles employed to the joyful music playing, tells you that. When you first meet Lusamine, you know something is up, because the direction reminds you that something isn’t quite right here. And when you find yourself trapped in another world with a raging, monstrous Pokémon, you don’t have any questions about the stakes of your next battle. Pokémon Sun/Moon goes the extra mile to tell its story, and everything about the “ignorable plot” of the title sparkles as a result.

And it’s a damn shame more games can’t take a page from this new Pokémon book.

Yay!Somewhere in the history of gaming, we started to think that “plot” simply meant “more words”. You could blame it on the possibility of more words (Newer words! Bigger words!) with the expansion of game storage space, or you could just point to the success of Final Fantasy 7 and call it a day. Super Mario 64 was only kind of a hit, and it had like a paragraph of words; Final Fantasy 7 was practically a novel… so clearly what the public wants is more words! And it doesn’t matter that Final Fantasy 7 had amazing visuals, set pieces, and “sprites” that may have looked like Popeye’s spikey haired cousins, but never stopped emoting; no, what’s important is the big, long plot and all those precious words. It doesn’t matter if we pump out a JRPG where heads just talk to each other for hours at a time, and the average infodump is accompanied by maybe one still image, what we need is as many words as our typing monkeys can spit out! Throw in the word “evil” over and over again! That has to be interesting, right? A couple of dudes sitting in a non-descript room talking about what is inevitably going to be the final boss and how it fought some brave hero twelve billion years ago? More! “Press X to advance text” is the most exciting thing a person could do with a controller!

So congratulations to Pokémon Moon/Sun for advancing the storytelling capabilities of not only the franchise, but the entire medium. Nobody had to do such a thing, and we would have been perfectly okay with another preteen saving the world from old men and their rattatas, but you went the extra mile, and created an unforgettable experience. Congratulations, development team, you are Pokémon Masters.

FGC #380 Pokémon (Ultra) Sun / Moon

  • System: Nintendo 3DS for all time.
  • Winner!Number of players: As many players as there are on the Global Trade System, so probably something approaching the total population of Europe.
  • Ultra Moves: I’m going to consider this “review” as something that applies to the Ultra versions as well. Give or take a lame sidequest with Looker, the Ultra versions are better in every way than their less interesting ancestors, and there’s pretty much no reason to ever go back now. They even included a surfing minigame that makes absolutely no sense! That’s always good!
  • Favorite Pokémon (this generation): Okay, yes, I know Rowlet is the breakout star of this generation. But did you know that one of the other starters turns into a freaking angry wrestling black cat? How could I ever say no to that!? Its signature attack is a spinning lariat of doom! Dooooom! Keep your round boy, I’ll go for the lucky cat any day of the week.
  • Think of the children: Look, I get that we all like big, showy Z-Moves. But it’s one thing for a torchic to use scratch on a psyduck, and it’s quite another thing for a Lunala to suck an opponent into another dimension, focus a multi-beam laser on its target, and then spit the poor sucker back out on the ground. That’s just bad sportsmanship.
  • Other cruelty: Immediately having the choice of adding a poke to your party or sending them back to the PC is great! I just feel like there could have been a better way to phrase it all…

    LOSER!

    YOU GET SENT TO THE BOX!

  • So, did you beat it? I am the very best.

    Winner!

    Like no one ever was.

  • Did you know? There are only two new dark type pokémon in this generation: the previously mentioned Incineroar, and Guzzlord, Snorlax’s evil cousin. Given dark type is my favorite type (because it’s the only type that contains a Godzilla), I take personal offense at this choice.
  • Would I play again: This is the most recent Pokémon generation as of this writing, so, yes, I’ll play it right up to the very moment a new Pokémon generation hits the streets. I’m very predictable that way.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Diddy Kong Racing for the N64! Time to race a wizard pig for dominance of a genie elephant. Or something! Please look forward to it!

Winner!
Bahamut got nothing on this

FGC #375 Final Fantasy 12 The Zodiac Age

Where's my intro?So here’s my idea for the next Final Fantasy game.

First, let’s revisit how I played Final Fantasy 12 initially. Overall, I assume my maiden playthrough of Final Fantasy 12 was pretty typical. I was confused by the gambit system at first, but the game very deliberately eases the player into learning how to control a three man band at all times, so it wasn’t so bad. In short order, I was very comfortable with the neophyte system, and, since I still had access to all the old Final Fantasy standards (curaga, blizzaga, fire monster summoning), it was just a matter of adjusting old standards to a fresh title. In a way, that is no different than any other Final Fantasy release, and, whether Tidus is using an If HP <= 60% gambit or not, he’s still swinging around a Masamune. By the end of Final Fantasy 12 (over a hundred hours by my own clock) I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and, unlike some other titles (Final Fantasy 15 comes to mind), I did feel like I understood the game, its ins and outs, and why I won battles against so many gods. Final Fantasy 12 was new and different, but, in the end, it was still Final Fantasy.

But, even after seeing Yiazmat buried beneath an ocean of dragon blood, there was still an unmistakable feeling that I had done something wrong. And it all started with Penelo.

I’m a Final Fantasy veteran, so, even with FF12’s new systems, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of how these things go. I looked at the main cast, and I mistakenly believed that I knew the stats of these characters as well as their personalities. Vaan would obviously have the speed and stamina of a thief, and Basch should be decked out like a knight. It’s so obvious! Now, with the glory of hindsight, we know that Final Fantasy 12 characters all start at about the same stat level, but back when the game was fresh, who the heck had time to look at a bloody menu for longer than seven seconds? Not this guy. And Penelo? I see you there. You’re the obvious white mage of the group. Come on, you have Rosa written all over you.

GrossSo, while I missed the detail of all the characters starting as nigh-blank slates, I did read up on the weapons system of FF12 beforehand. One item class that stood out was the axe, which could deal “variable” damage. This sounded perfect for Penelo! She was going to be a useless white mage, right? So her strength stat was going to be useless, so she may as well carry around an axe that could do random damage. Random means it could easily knock off a thousand HP or just one, right? A white mage barely does any damage with a staff blow normally, so if she’s potentially going to do nearly zero damage anyway, why not give her the option of occasionally scoring a useful critical? An axe-wielding white mage made so much sense in my head, it was practically cheating.

Those of you familiar with how Final Fantasy 12 actually works likely already know the punch line to my Penelo experiment. The license board of Final Fantasy 12, the only real way to advance your character’s abilities and stats, is fairly well designed. If you want to equip the latest axes, you’re also likely to pick up a couple of axe-based stat buffs, like increases in strength or armor weight. Stay on the axe path, and it’s not just about axe proficiency, it’s about becoming a golden axe hurling goddess. So, with Penelo following the way of the woodcutter, before I’d even reached the halfway point of FF12, my main strategy for random monster mobs was to cast berserk on Penelo, point her in the general direction of an enemy, and sit back as she bathed in the blood of my adversaries.

This quickly led to a large gulf between story Penelo, who appeared like this:

Thanks, Penny

And Battle Penelo, whom I would imagine like so:

Thanks, Penny
(The extra axe is in case the first axe breaks)

But that was Vanilla Final Fantasy 12. Final Fantasy 12 the Zodiac Age is a totally different beast with all new features. Now the License Board is separated into different jobs so every character doesn’t wind up homogenized by the time you’re boarding the Bahamut. In other words, it’s very much like Final Fantasy games of old, like Final Fantasy 5 or Final Fantasy 10-2, and you can designate Penelo to actually be a white mage or an axe-maniac. Very big difference between the two, and an endgame Monk-Penelo would be completely different from Mage-Penelo.

Except.

Here’s Monk-Penelo.

Thanks, Penny

And here’s Mage-Penelo.

Thanks, Penny

See the subtle differences? Liar! They’re the same! They’re exactly the same. And that’s a shame, because Final Fantasy has a rich tradition of function dictating form, and Dancer-Yuna is a totally different animal from Gambler-Yuna. Hell, even going back to the original, being blessed by a dragon could dramatically change everything from your hair color to your apparent gender. Penelo doesn’t change a lick whether she’s a warrior or a wizard, and, come on, don’t our jobs impact every facet of our lives? I know I’d be a totally different person if I’d been digging ditches for the last fifteen years (for one thing, I’d probably smell worse. Probably).

So here’s my idea for the next Final Fantasy game.

Cid!Let’s stick to an “old school” four person party, like Final Fantasy 5 or Final Fantasy 15. And, for the heck of it, let’s make ‘em typical FF archetypes, too. They don’t have to be some things in particular, just something recognizable for a Final Fantasy expert. One general wanderer hero, one grizzled old timer (maybe he’s thirty), one princess (royalty of some kind is a must), and a wildcard of some sort, maybe a moogle ghost robot. And the story is basic: there’s a sealed bad guy, some lesser bad guy is trying to release the big bad guy, and maybe there is some random betrayal where an anonymous secondary nerd gets possessed by the biggest bad and turns into Cyber Hitler or whatever. Basic conventional story all around, and the party learns a valuable lesson about (spins the Wheel of Climaxes) proper motorcycle maintenance. Roll credits.

But! Here’s what I want to see: a jobs system, and a jobs system that impacts the story. Basically, incorporate a WRPG-style morality system (or whatever we’re calling the basis of Fallout right now), but base it entirely on choices made in the job system. No, you don’t get an option between save baby and eat baby, but you do choose if your main dude is a fighter or mage-r. That princess character? By the finale she can be a demure white mage that is all about helping her teammates and her country, or a blood thirsty dark knight that is beating back the big bad because it looked at her funny. The veteran might be back in action exclusively to feel the joy of battle again, or be slowly sliding into his own retirement as a spoony bard. Is the hero a worldly blue mage, or a barely-verbal berserker? And, for that matter, your job choices could impact other, more traditional bits of a typical FF experience. A whole party of thieves might not see a lot of cooperation from the local merchants, and stick to a party of berserkers for too long, and you won’t even be able to understand the dialogue. Bartz smash!

And, to be clear, this game wouldn’t permanently lock a character into one job for plot purposes; however it would “remember” your choices, so, while switching from Geomancer to Fighter might be painless on the mechanics side, your hero might still miss his floppy hat for a few towns.

Dance to deathIn my heart of hearts, I feel like this was always the intended future of job-based games like Final Fantasy 5, but the technology wasn’t available at the time. From the first moment of Final Fantasy 1, you’re choosing your heroes and their vocations, and it’s obvious that Fighter is not the same “person” as Black Mage, even if they’re working toward the same goal. Obviously, there couldn’t be 126 different plot configurations to fit Final Fantasy 1’s multiple choice parties, but that technology is here now. If a game can remember you pissed off a random merchant in the first town, it can certainly remember you were a blue mage for ten minutes. And, for that matter, if we get voice acting that can react to every damn thing Shepherd ever said for an entire trilogy, we’re definitely entitled to someone reacting to the fact that the princess is wearing a cat costume for some reason.

So, there, that’s my idea for the next Final Fantasy game. Expand the job system to encompass everything, and let Nu-Penelo be whatever she wants to be. Or whatever I want her to be. Or just give me a few more axe-wielding maniacs, Square, and then we’ll talk.

FGC #375 Final Fantasy 12 The Zodiac Age

  • System: Playstation 4 exclusive… Until the PC version drops, at least. Obviously, any other Final Fantasy 12 versions are available on… what was the modern system of ten years ago?… probably the NES.
  • Number of players: Multiple players are for other genres.
  • Hey, what about modern job-based games like Lightning Returns or Bravely Default: Lightning is still Lightning when she’s wearing a bunny costume, and Tiz is still Tiz when he’s decked out like a monk. I want more.
  • Nerds!Favorite Zodiac Age Feature: Gosh, you get past the job system implementation (which, to be honest, doesn’t thrill me), and I can barely tell what’s been changed here. Fast forward is great, but it’s very finicky with the context-sensitive menu vs. exclamation point X-button problem, and having all the gambits available at the start from any given shop is… daunting. Oh! I know! The Zodiac Spear is no longer based on the most opaque treasure hiding ever, so that’s a plus.
  • Most Missed: Where my Pirate’s Den, Square? I heard it was supposed to be part of a patch, but guess what, I don’t got no patch!
  • How about Penelo: Playing through the plot more rapidly than my initial playthrough, I noticed that Penelo seems to be the only character that gives a damn about Fran having allergic reactions to magic/mist-rich locations. Vaan is an idiot, so he gets a pass, and Ashe and Basche have their heads so far up their asses that they barely notice there’s a party at all, but it really seems like Balthier should show a little concern once in a while. What’s the matter, sky pirate? Caring isn’t cool enough for ya?
  • Did you know? Larsa does not have his infinite supply of potions in Zodiac Age, and all “fourth player” buddies really have no excuse not to join your party permanently. I don’t care if some of these characters are supposed to die! That never stopped the cast of Final Fantasy 4!
  • Would I play again: I want to play my new Final Fantasy game, but maybe I’ll give this old one another try in a decade or so. I think I’ve killed enough Owl Man Creatures at this point.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ghostbusters for the NES! Will busting make me feel good? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

Cry about it