Tag Archives: story

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

FGC #348 Anarchy Reigns

Here comes the gang!So here’s why I only played an hour of Anarchy Reigns before dropping it forever.

Anarchy Reigns is a Sega/Platinum game from about four years back. As a Platinum game, it is required to be stylish, and incorporate a combat system that is maybe too complicated for its own good. As a Sega game, it is required to be a disappointing sequel. Anarchy Reigns might sound like a singular entry (I don’t see any 2’s in there), but it is technically the sequel to Mad World, a fairly amazing (but often forgotten) Wii title. And, yes, the official word is that Anarchy Reigns is merely a “spiritual sequel”, but like half the cast shows up here, and, ya know, the friggin’ main character is the same, so don’t play me like that, Sega. This is Mad World 2, and you only dodged that branding because people prefer their games to be in color.

But speaking of branding, Anarchy Reigns makes an excellent first impression… from an instruction manual perspective. Look, I’ve mentioned this before, but I am a complete sucker for… let’s call it “game data”. I spent my formative years pouring over Nintendo Power issues (would you like to know the difference between the playable characters in Castlevania 3? I could have fed you this information before I even saw the cartridge), and I spend my downtime nowadays reading the entire contents of random wikis. I know more minutia about the cast of SoulCalibur than should be allowed. And, come to think of it, the period when I was least interested in videogames, roughly the end of the N64 era/start of the Playstation 2 era, was also the time when I was reading about games the least (primarily because of a poor college kid’s budget concerns, and the internet hadn’t become the internet yet). So that “love of reading about videogames” will eternally be tied to titles that feature fresh, interesting characters. I might still be behind the times on Overwatch, but, even from a distance, I can see the appeal of learning about the finer points of Eskimo girl, angel girl, yellow spandex girl, and that one fat guy. Anarchy Reigns initially looks like it could fill that same niche with intricate backstories for chainsaw boy, Weeee!bull boy, fashionable boy, and that one purple woman. Want to tell me Mathilda is the unholy lovechild of a geometry teacher and The Grimace? That’s awesome! Let me get my credit card so I can buy seventeen art books about that one character! Start a game by offering the tiniest glimmer of “story” for this zany cast of characters, and you’ve got my attention from jump street.

And then the good times keep rolling on! Start the single player campaign, and Anarchy Reigns introduces you to its world with a crowded bar at the end of the world. In rapid succession, you’re shown a wasteland of a planet, its burly inhabitants, and, most importantly, a robot bartender with an adorable bowtie. And then we get treasurable characterization for our main heavies. Jack is a burly mess of a maniac, but he also defends the lovable robo bartender, so we know he’s got a heart of gold. Nikolai Bulygin is a crooked cop and obviously destined to be on the side of the devils when push comes to shove, and Leo is his subordinate that is unavoidably going to have a change of heart because everyone he works with is a complete asshole. And Sasha Ivanoff is a woman! Okay… all the instant characterization can’t be great, but the majority of it is pretty damn good. If this were a Persona game, this kind of plot dump would take 70,000 dialogue boxes and a quick detour through three cutscenes. Here, in all of five minutes, you basically know everything you need to know. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s pretty inviting for a new(ish) property. You’ve got your heroes, your villains, and the basics of who they are all in less time than it takes for Chris to get me that pizza I asked for like three hours ago. I’m still hungry, Chris!

Then the game properly starts.

Aaaaaand I couldn’t turn it off fast enough.

VrooooomAfter establishing cool characters with an interesting conflict in an exciting world, our first opponents are… random mutants. Okay, every game needs fodder, what’s our first mission? Kill fifty mutants? Oh, that’s super. And then… wait, didn’t I kill the mutants well enough? Now I have to do it again to gain more… uh… blood experience (?) to unlock the next mission? Fine, guess the game wants me to be prepared for the next challenge, which is inevitably going to be epic. Maybe I’ll fight one of those cool guys from the opening cinematic? Oh, no, guess not, as the next mission is fighting some reheated bull dude who has nothing to do with anything. Can’t be bothered to remember that dude’s name, but if it was “Bull Shit”, I wouldn’t be surprised. Okay, that’s done, let’s say we’re done with the opening tutorial bits and… Oh, Christ, it’s an escort mission. With generic mutants again! And somehow that didn’t wind up providing enough EXP to unlock the next mission! Time to do the thing I didn’t like in the first place again so I can unlock something that is maybe not as terrible.

And that would be about the point that the disc gets ejected.

I wouldn’t be half as mad if I didn’t know Platinum could do better. Great characters, great premise, great world… and then it’s wasted on generic bad guys that mean nothing. Look, I get it, not every battle can be exciting and significant, and you’ve got to have something for the player to do between amazing set pieces and… Wait a minute… This was produced by the same people behind Bayonetta. Wasn’t that a game that couldn’t go seven seconds without summoning a hair-based Godzilla to devour a flying church that was filled with blood angels attempting to devour all of time or whateverthehell was going on in that plot? Say what you will about Bayonetta (Lord knows I have) but it was never boring. It took its interesting characters, and had ‘em fighting multi-headed dragons before we even got to the title screen. There’s a reason that, despite all of its flaws, people actually played Bayonetta 1 & 2. And part of that reason is that every damned thing in that adventure had something to say. Here comes the hook!Repetitive “score attacks” were relegated to the background, and game progression was not based on experience accumulation, but whether or not you could ride a friggen’ missile after leaping off a motorcycle. That’s the diametric opposite of an escort mission! And it’s the reason no one is begging to see Jack in Super Smash Bros.

It’s entirely possible I’m being hard on Anarchy Reigns. I might be utterly wrong, and this is somehow a worthwhile game if “you just stick to it”. But when you toss all your potential out with the mutants in the opening moments, you leave a terrible impression, and, frankly, there are other games I could be playing right now. Mad World is right there! I could play that again! Why waste time on tedious games when there are so many options available? … No, seriously, not being rhetorical for once. What is it about Anarchy Reigns that makes it any better than any other game out there? I don’t know, and I’m not going to play another stupid escort mission to find out.

Sorry, Anarchy Reigns, I have better games to play. Maybe, next time you’ll actually make Mad World 3 motivating.

FGC #348 Anarchy Reigns

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. I guess this means that this was one of those games that had online multiplayer that was free on one system, while subscription based on the other. Never quite understood how 360 wound up being the more popular system with that policy.
  • Number of players: Infinity multiplayer. Do we consider that “four”?
  • Let’s talk about multiplayer: Again, it seems like this title was intended as Overwatch before we had Overwatch. A colorful cast of original characters do not steal all battle it out in various arenas for online supremacy that means absolutely nothing. I don’t think loot boxes are involved, though. Regardless, I have never met a single human being that played this game online, so I never got to experience it for myself. Maybe it’s amazing! Or maybe it’s boring, because, come on, all of these characters play pretty much exactly the same. Nobody has an ice gun, either!
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a scourge: Mathilda has a spikey belt that hardens into a nail bat. That’s cool! She also presents herself for a rectal exam every time she uses her special move.

    What?

    That’s not so cool.

  • Did you know? Bayonetta did eventually slum it in this universe as DLC. I feel bad for her. She is much too stylish for this broken world.
  • Would I play again: If one of you convinces me this game is good, actually, I might give it a shot. But you’d have to be pretty damn convincing!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tetris Axis for the Nintendo 3DS! That’s much better than Tetris Access, the rarely seen database management software that is wall-to-wall squares. Please look forward to it!

What?

FGC #332 Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite

Note: This article may contain general spoilers for the story mode of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Nothing heavy, but you have been warned.

Gonna take you for a ride?I once claimed that Street Fighter V was the most disappointing game of 2016, and I stand by that statement. Street Fighter V at launch wasn’t a bad game, and it certainly was another Street Fighter game, just… Like the unenviable musk that lingers around anyone that stands downwind of Zangief, there was an unmistaken stench of exploitation surrounding the entire enterprise. Arcade mode was gone, survival mode was boring (could you please use random select for opponents? Please?), and online versus seemed built for someone that had already picked out a “main” (on day one, apparently). Eventually, we received a full story mode, new fighters (and a few old ones), and at least one character that apparently snuck in from a certain other game. Street Fighter V still comes off as disappointing, but now it at least feels like a complete game (albeit one still made for the more hardcore fans).

When I first started playing Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite while waiting for the complete download to finish, I was already noting why MvCI would inevitably be my most disappointing game of 2017. Admittedly, for my tastes, MvCI had an uphill battle, as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is one of my top games of all time. And, if that game didn’t exist, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 would fill that same space. I’ve loved the Vs. series since Akuma first smacked around Cyclops, and the later entries that seem to include every character ever (except Daredevil) hit every neuron in my brain’s pleasure center like an epileptic Ping-Pong ball. I have videogame attention deficit disorder, and all I want to do is play as every character in every other round. I’m not certain I’ve ever picked the same team in MvC2 twice (except when trying to beat Abyss, then it’s Cable/Mega Man/Cyclops all the way). And MvC3 felt like a game that was built by people that played MvC2 for a decade, made a mental list of everything they’d add if they could, and then did. Zero! Thor! She-Hulk! Give or take an X-Man or two, that roster is perfect, and the gameplay matches it. And it’s even fairly balanced! No more Sentinel/Magneto/Storm defeating everybody! Most of the time!

Pew pewConversely, Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite feels like it was designed by committee. There is not a single Marvel character that did not appear in a movie (or, in Captain Marvel’s case, is about to appear in a movie). The Capcom side isn’t much better, and features three stubbly white guys that have nearly identical facial portraits. We’re chasing power stones, where are the crazy anime characters of Power Stone? Where are my ghost tricks? Where is Ryu (the dragon, not the other one)? Heck, we don’t even have a single Street Fighter that was introduced after 1991. Akuma and Wolverine practically started this franchise, but they’re left behind because I guess the new, edgy version of Bionic Commando is a bigger draw (but not the new, edgy version of Dante, that guy sucks). And, while I know I’m railing at corporate overlords that only deign to make such a game because they have the spare cash from all the successes that are featured in this title (Avengers: The Movie made more money than the GOP of most countries, and I’m sure at least six people bought Dead Rising 4), I’m still more than a little annoyed at how… cheap this all appears. This feels like the most low-rent and recycled the franchise has ever been, and that’s even considering one of the best entries was about 80% recycled content.

And, oh yeah, the graphics suck. They, like, just do. I can’t explain Captain Marvel’s face. I… I don’t want to look at it anymore.

Lady Marvel

Dammit! Now I’ll never read this article again.

So I was all ready to hate on MvCI as the biggest letdown of the year when, after 40 gigs and 4 hours, the download finally completed (note: despite apparently having downloaded nearly 2 TB of games to my Playstation 4, I still only kill time with Sonic Mania. I will play that game until my eyes fall out of my skull). I could already play with the complete roster in versus mode, but now story and arcade modes were available. Fun fact: arcade mode is nothing, but it at least exists, so it has a leg up over Street Fighter V. And then there was story mode. I wasn’t expecting much, but, since I more or less bought the game “for the story” (it certainly wasn’t just so I could play as Rocket Raccoon [again]), I decided to give it a try.

And damned if that didn’t justify the entire endeavor.

Looks different, tooSaid it before, and I’ll say it again: There is no way to please fans of a crossover series. “Heroes” are meant to be the heroes of their own stories, and when you group a bunch of main characters together, everyone gets reduced to their component parts. A character that previously led an entire adventure is condensed to being “the smart one” because they solved like one problem without punching in the original tale. And, inevitably, your favorite character is reduced to being practically a sidekick to whoever is arbitrarily chosen as the “real” hero of the piece, and, ugh, did you see how Sora was able to defeat Power Trident Ursula with a stupid lightning spell? Totally non-canon. That would never happen.

And this is all utterly true of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite…