Tag Archives: time travel

FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

ETERNAL!They tried. They damn well tried.

Mortal Kombat (1) was released for the Sega Genesis on Mortal Monday, September 13, 1993. It was, by all accounts, a wildly successful launch for a game that had been haunting arcades for nearly an entire year. What’s more, thanks to the likes of the “blood code” and the lack of censorship on the console, the Sega Genesis version was considered by many to be the “real” way to play Mortal Kombat at home. This was in stark contrast to the release of Street Fighter 2, which had seen amazing success on the SNES a year earlier, but hit the Sega Genesis like a flopping pile of assorted expired organs. And, two months later, we saw Eternal Champions, the unusual offspring of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Now, we would hate to disparage Mortal Kombat during Mortal Kombat Week (“week”), but let’s be real here: Mortal Kombat’s initial character variety sucks. By Mortal Kombat 2, we were fighting knife mutants and Oddjobs, but our virgin foray into the world of Elder Gods and dragon men pretty much included one interesting four-armed monster fighting a bunch of dudes in marginally themed gym clothes. The motion capture graphics were revolutionary at the time, but “a pair of sunglasses” does not interesting character design make. On the other hand, you have Street Fighter, which had bright, colorful goblin people fighting stretchy yogis, sumo wrestlers, and at least one Spaniard Ninja. Even when similar fighters are involved, no one is going to mistake Ryu for Sagat. Johnny Cage and Liu Kang, meanwhile, might seem a tad similar. Sub-Zero and Scorpion being clones are a bit of an extreme case, but they also comprise 28% of the playable roster.

Let's fight!Eternal Champions seemed to take a page from Street Fighter’s book rather than Mortal Kombat. Eternal Champions employed Ernie Chan, a Filipino-American comics artist, who worked with the Buscema brothers back in the ‘70’s. Before working with Sega, Chan was known for being an artist at DC Comics (Ghosts, House of Mystery, Detective Comics) and Marvel (Conan the Barbarian, Doctor Strange). Considering Chan was responsible for a healthy number of comic book covers for a full two years at DC Comics, he knew a thing or two about dynamic characters punching each other as hard as possible (the 1970s was before comic book characters decided to just stand around and philosophize at each other for six consecutive trades). It seems only natural that he would be responsible for designing some interesting punch mans, and, let me tell you, we got some remarkable fighters here.

The base concept of Eternal Champions is that the titular (kinda) Eternal Champion has plucked a series of heroes from their respective timelines, and granted them the potential prize of avoiding their otherwise inevitable deaths. Arguably, this could lead to a number of “stock” characters, as different timelines lead naturally to different archetypes, and we can certainly forgive a knight from ancient times or a “future man” from 21XX. But, against all odds, we have a pretty diverse cast in Eternal Champions. We do have a stock caveman, and Xavier Pendragon seems like a typical wizard hailing from Salem, but we also have Shadow Yamato (hm?), a modern corporate assassin that wouldn’t be out of place in Shadowrun. Trident is Atlantean, but basically a merman. RAX is a cyborg built for Teleroboxer, and Midknight is a bio engineer who kinda sorta turned himself into a vampire. And Jetta Maxx is a 19th century circus performer that attacks with all the agility you would expect from an acrobat. Why aren’t there more tumblers in fighting games? That seems like a natural fit!

HUG!None of the fighters in Eternal Champions are exactly setting the world on fire, but there is no way you’d mistake Larcen the 1920’s PI/cat burgler for Blade, the futuristic bounty hunter. And, whether it’s an accident of the “complicated” concept of time travel being involved, or because someone genuinely wanted to create a new Eternal Champions universe, but these fighters all have in-depth, fascinating backstories to accompany their stimulating visual designs. As a prerequisite for the plot, we immediately must learn how each fighter died (which allows for some always fun dramatic irony), why they were targeted for death (the premise of entire half hours of Law & Order), and why, had they lived, they would have made the world a better place. Additionally, this setup encourages the creation of cultures old and new (of course someone has to explain how the “future” works, but even Ancient Atlantis has some ‘splainin’ to do about its fish people), and, since this is a fighting game, it’s important to explain the whys of some of these special moves. Yes, ninja use ninja stars, but why exactly does Larcen have a grappling hook? There’s a reason for that!

Which reminds me: these exciting, distinct fighters work well for not only for biography screen attract modes, but also for actually being fighters. This is another situation where, unlike Mortal Kombat, if a character has a trident for a hand, they’re not going to throw the exact same punch as the robot dude. In fact, every fighter has a defined fighting style, and, while it does seem a little odd that the vampire scientist is trained in Jeet Kune Do, it does mean that every character feels distinct in more ways than simply a special move. And, of course, the special moves are their own kind of distinct, and not just a fireball and a jumping uppercut spread out among the cast. In short, the eternal champions collectively offer a unique experience for a time when the fighting genre was flooded with monotonous knock-offs.

TIME KILL(ERS)But there is one place where Eternal Champions differed from Street Fighter: it had fatalities. Or, to be more precise, the game had “stage fatalities” in the form of “Overkills”: make sure your opponent lands on a particular spot when their health is low, and the background will do your work for you. If you’re in prehistoric times, you’re about to see someone devoured by a dinosaur. Meanwhile, if you’re hanging in the early 20th Century, get ready for a drive-by. The 60’s naturally contain napalm, and the far-flung future of 2345 AD is wall-to-wall robots. It’s entirely possible you could complete Eternal Champions without once seeing an Overkill, though, so it seems like the whole feature was an afterthought. Mortal Kombat was likely an influence, but a fighter being zapped into oblivion by a neon sign (can that actually happen?) wasn’t exactly the point of Eternal Champions. It’s all about the character variety, we don’t need gorefests to sell our Sega cartridges.

Or maybe we do, because the Sega CD exclusive sequel/upgrade, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side dialed the gore up to eleven.

To be clear, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side is not the kind of fighting game sequel that completely eschewed former graphics and gameplay for something completely different (Battle Arena Toshinden was fond of that move). This is much more the Super Turbo to Eternal Champions’ Champion Edition. More characters were added to the cast (and a great many of them were “joke characters”, like Hooter, a mundane owl with a taste for rats and vengeance), the special move system was rejiggered, and the same overarching plot returned with a marginal twist. The Eternal Champion has gathered his warriors once again to fight for a chance to live (and I guess nobody won the last one), but now there are a few new entrants, and the nefarious Dark Champion is hatching an evil plan to be the hardest-to-unlock character in the history of fighting games (just use the cheat code). Superficially, this Eternal Champions is just the obvious and expected fighting game upgrade that would barely necessitate a season pass in today’s market.

Not fair... for DeathBut that Dark Champion does make an impact on the fatalities of EC:CotD. The Dark Champion can be summoned for a match ending “cinekill”, which will banish your opponent to a pre-recorded FMV hell where they will endure a death based on their greatest fear. Some of these videos are goofy (at least one character is crushed with a “I’m not touching you” finger motion), but the majority are either significantly gory (the cyborg has his limbs torn off in a rather unpleasant fashion) or pure nightmare fuel (I’m not the only one that has a fear of melting into some manner of fleshy liquid, am I?). And if you think the increased gore is relegated to cutscenes, don’t worry, there are also now “Vendettas” that allow you to use a special move toward the end of the match that will be a little more special than usual. They, again, run a realism gamut (which is more likely to make an impact: a character turning into a giant bug or one just whipping out a shotgun for a headshot?), but the end result of most Vendettas is a literal bloody pulp tossed around the arena. And the stage fatalities really earned their “Overkill” moniker, as some are excessive to the point of parody. “The Pit” of EC:CotD is not one, not two, but three pits in one! And, don’t worry, you get to watch as a 16-bit human body churns through three different buzzsaws. Street Fighter has different models for every character’s skeleton thanks to Blanka’s shocking attacks, but EC:CotD goes the extra mile by modeling individual organs that are primed to leak out of those skeletons. Yummy!

And why all the gore? Well, obviously because someone wanted Eternal Champions to be popular.

That's why he's the champMortal Kombat hit the Genesis in 1993, Eternal Champions saw its sequel released in 1995. In those intervening years, Mortal Kombat continued to be a juggernaut, particularly on the Sega Genesis. Street Fighter may have proven to be a lasting victor, but the sales numbers all touted Mortal Kombat as the champion of the system. Eternal Champions wanted a piece of that pie so badly. Sega did everything it could to promote EC, from country-wide, EGM-sponsored tournaments to a 7-11 slurpee promotion, but it couldn’t touch the genuine appeal of the game with the angry skeleton and the kung-fu dude. Eternal Champions never had a hold of the arcade appeal, tried to pump up the blood to compensate, and still got nowhere. An excellently crafted fighting game, and it’s still relegated to the discount bin of history.

Oh, and what finally killed Eternal Champions? Why was there never a third title? Well, there was supposed to be a Saturn version to wrap everything up, but Sega of Japan decided that Sega had too many fighting games (two), Eternal Champions was stealing too much attention from Virtua Fighter, and the eternal champions had to be retired. Sorry, guys, but there’s only room for one fighting game in this company.

Sorry, Eternal Champions. We know you tried everything, but it just wasn’t enough.

FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

  • System: Sega CD for Challenge, but just regular Sega Genesis for just regular Eternal Champions. The new Sega Genesis Mini Classic Console is also available, but go ahead and grab the 6-button controller for that one.
  • Number of players: Up to and including two.
  • Favorite Character: Dr. Mitchell Midleton Knight has become the bio-engineered vampire monster Midknight! … Okay, he’s just Spider-Man’s Morbius, but… wait a tick. RAX is Cyborg, Shadow is Elektra, Trident is Aquaman, Blade is named friggen’ Blade… maybe these characters aren’t all that original…
  • Send in the Clowns: This happened.
    AHHHHHHH

    I’m never playing this again.
  • So 90’s it’s Grody: Want to know how to determine this game came out in 1995? Well, there’s a hidden fighter simply known as “The Senator” who exists as a parody of the controversy surrounding violent videogames. And he fights in front of an ersatz McDonalds surrounded by security, an obvious sendup of Bill Clinton’s love of jogging to burger joints. And Senator’s fatality is transforming into an uzi-wielding berserk postal clerk. And they claim memes were invented by the internet!
  • Failure State: Okay, maybe the reason Eternal Champions never became popular was because it was impossible to beat. The final boss is the Eternal Champion, and he’s got eight different “forms”, and they all have to be fought and defeated over the course of two rounds. And if you lose two rounds, there are no continues, you’re just booted back to your original timeline as a Bad End. So win eight continuous fights, or die. And Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side introduced another, meaner Eternal Champion after the first one, so good luck winning sixteen continuous fights.
  • Favorite Ending: Shadow Yamoto is a corporate ninja saboteur… and her ending sees her entering witness protection and making the world a better place by testifying against her former employer. It’s not exactly the most action packed finale for a ninja, but it does feel pretty right.
  • An End: Also, Crispy the Chicken’s ending involves losing his fortune in the 90’s financial crisis and then selling his eggs for booz money. This is a very dark game.
  • VIDEOGAME VIOLENCEDid you know? In further support of the Eternal Champions Expanded Universe, there were two spin-off titles released. Chicago Syndicate was a Game Gear title that was fairly Shinobi-esque and featured Larcen cleaning up Chicago in a bright green trench coat (the ‘20’s were a different time). And then there was X-Perts for the Sega Genesis, a light beat ‘em up presenting Shadow and her previously unseen team of X-Men wannabes. Both games are… not worth exploring.
  • Would I play again: If I’m in the mood for a distinctly 16-bit fighting game, I’ll choose Eternal Champions. Of course, that mood rarely happens…

What’s next? We’re going to kill some time with a game with the exact same plot all over again. Please look forward to it!

FGC #438 Fire Emblem Awakening

This is the current roster in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate:

Smash it!

Of the fighters featured, I have played games featuring all characters highlighted in black:

I see a pattern

Who did I miss? Well, it looks like the entire Fire Emblem cast. Whoops! Guess I’ll just have to go on not giving a damn about all those stupid sword animes running around.

It's the shieldBut when ROB recently chose Fire Emblem Awakening (reminder: I follow the rule of ROB, but not necessarily in order picked. It takes slightly longer to play Final Fantasy Mystic Quest than Super Contra), I decided it might be time. After all, I have declared repeatedly on this blog that I would follow Nintendo straight into the depths of Hell almost entirely because they have continually created games that are always amazing to play (even if they’re not always the absolute best in the universe). This is the company that is responsible for hidden, super insane Mario stages and the super guide block. Surely I can trust Nintendo to make an enjoyable experience out of a genre I traditionally despise.

And, besides, my Twitter feed at any given moment is about 80% Lucina fanart, so I was kind of curious about her deal.

So, how did baby’s first Fire Emblem experience go? Well…

Casual Mode is my new God

Going into Fire Emblem, I knew exactly three things:

  1. It’s a tactical RPG, meaning it’s mostly about moving your little dudes around a map
  2. “It’s like chess, but sometimes you make the pieces kiss”
  3. Perma-Death

Here comes some plotAnd, above anything else, that perma-death factor scared me the hell away from the franchise. I can deal with a TRPG, I can deal with anime sword people kissing, but I absolutely cannot deal with perma-death in a videogame. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: above all else, I play videogames to relax. I play videogames to fool around in a consequence-free digital playground. I do not want to play a videogame where I can kill people. … Okay, I play videogames where I kill people all the time. I don’t want to play a videogame where I get people killed. I can deal with fainting. I am okay with “Chrom will remember this” in a pre-written, novel-esque setting. But I do not want to relax by watching a daring and debonair archer fall in battle to some stupid zombie with an axe. And then playing the rest of the game without that character? Knowing there is always a… a hole in my party? And what if that warrior was married? Or had kids? Oh God! My only options would be savescumming or never playing the game ever again.

But Fire Emblem Awakening includes a casual mode where not only is perma-death completely ignored, but saving in the middle of a battle is completely allowed. Hooray! I can actually play the game, and screw up by sending my Valkyrie into enemy territory as recklessly as I want!

Looking into this detail after completing the game, I discovered that there was some controversy over the inclusion of this (filthy) casual mode. And my response to that? Hey, nerds, this is my first Fire Emblem game. Let me learn the ropes and still make progress with my training wheels on. I don’t want to feel bad for the rest of the day just because I forgot axe beats lance. Casual mode is unequivocally a good thing for starting players and people who want to play videogames to unwind while waiting in an immobile airplane due to “engine troubles”. I know it’s more complicated than that, Judy, we’ve been sitting on the tarmac for two and a half hours, I’m not buying this “we’re just waiting for the paperwork” excuse! … Where was I? Oh yeah, you eliminate perma-death, and Fire Emblem is suddenly about a million times less stressful.

And, yes, I can confirm that I probably didn’t get through a single battle without at least one unit “fainting” due to a lucky critical or a mistaken bit of movement. If every “retreat” was a permanent death, my final army would have contained about four characters and absolutely zero flying ponies.

But even without the punishment factor, Fire Emblem Awakening is still a TRPG, my most hated genre. How did that work out?

Fire Emblem Awakening is Surprisingly Zippy

Our hero!I have literally never played another Fire Emblem title (give or take attempting OG Famicom Fire Emblem for about thirty seconds around the time of Super Smash Bros Brawl’s release), so I have no idea how the actual gameplay of Awakening compares to other titles in the franchise. However, I can tell you one thing for certain: Fire Emblem Awakening is unexpectedly fast. I’ve long said that I dislike TRPGs because it takes for freakin’ ever to do the simplest thing (like, ya know, kill an entire army full of people), and comparing a TRPG to other genres is always going to make a TRPG look like a literal waste of time. If this were Fire Emblem Warriors (which, wow, I guess is a thing now), I’d have about 600 enemy units dead before I finished my first turn in Fire Emblem 4 Realsies. And who has time for that? I have a bunch of really fast, really fun videogames right here. They’re all around me! They will likely one day consume me! I’m gonna go play Mega Man, let me know when this eternal combat turn ends.

But Fire Emblem Awakening moves astoundingly quickly. Combat animations are actually interesting and dynamic, movement placement is as easy as dragging a mouse around the screen, and, if all else fails, you can rely on the AI to round out a turn (and hopefully not get everyone killed). Enemy turns move at an excellent pace, and, even when some random dude has four attacks versus two counters, a turn is over in less time than it takes to grab a shower burrito. Despite my own general prejudice toward TRPG slowness, Fire Emblem Awakening doesn’t feel like a waste of my precious time (that could be spent playing Mario Bros.).

roar!And, interestingly enough, this extends to time spent outside of the battle, too. “Equipment” as it is traditionally defined in a JRPG is limited to simply weapons, and most characters (save our tactician player avatar) are limited to one or two weapon types, max. So you grab your best sword, give it to your best gal, and call it a day. The end. Other stats, like defense, are controlled by consumable “powerup” items that either last for one battle or are permanent. So determine who is the most useful, feed ‘em a few extra magic shields, and we’re good to go. There is no juggling equipment to make sure everyone has ice armor for the fire cave, or investigating every single shop to determine if every female character has their proper Minerva dress. It’s just grab some gear and go. And going is good!

And that lack of extra equipment makes managing item bags a breeze. Everybody got their emergency elixir and a weapon or two? Fast gals got their keys in case of treasure emergencies? Great! Let’s mosey!

And speaking of moseying…

The Grid Ain’t so Bad

I have said before that I hate grids. But I can live with Fire Emblem Awakening’s general movement grid. Why?

I have no idea. Huh.

So many squaresI generally dislike grid movement because it feels completely limiting compared to “real” movement. People do not move in grids. People are loosey-goosey! We left behind the crosspad before we even got out of the 20th Century, so who wants to deal with an entire army that can’t even move diagonally? But, somehow, Fire Emblem Awakening just feels like… it works? It’s probably a side effect of the whole speed thing, but “playing chess” with these characters feels oddly natural. I’m going to chalk this one up to one of those “Nintendo Magic” experiences. Somebody knows how to make a land-bound elf and a tubby, surprisingly acrobatic plumber’s movement feel equally valid, so it makes sense that sword dudes would somehow feel natural being tied to invisible squares. Or maybe I just didn’t notice the grids because I was actually enjoying myself. Hm.

And speaking of enjoying myself…

The Plot is Actually Enjoyable (And Anime)

Full disclosure: I am a sucker for time travel. Lucina is Chrom’s child from an alternate future where a dragon decided to munch on all of humanity? And that dragon is the evil twin of one of your own party members, so there’s a future child and a future alternate bad guy? And there could be an entire literal army of other future children? Hook that to my veins! This hole was made for me! Something about time travel being my waifu!… Actually, yeah, “waifus” are kind of an issue here…

It's sad, reallyFire Emblem Awakening is a TRPG, but you’re also encouraged to… uh… breed your warriors. Practically your entire army can have relationships, and these relationships have a basis in dialogue (general between battle hangout sessions) and actually war gameplay (units teaming up and defending/assisting each other). In a way, this is a transparent attempt to further elaborate on characters that are inevitably not going to be involved in the legitimate plot (since standard mode allows for perma-death, technically every character except the leads could be dead within their introductory battle, so we can’t very well hang plot twists on their potentially limited existences), but it also offers a better way to “get to know” warriors that might be interesting in battle (that one turns into a giant ferret! What’s up with that!?), but are otherwise superfluous to the greater narrative. And it also scratches that visual novel itch that seems to have wormed its way into a number of titles (presumably thanks to one biggie). But one significant side effect of these interactions is that certain soldiers can fall for certain other (heteronormative) soldiers. And then they get married. And have babies. And babies inherit skills, return from the future, and become soldiers. And, oh man, Chrom started a forever war without even trying!

And, yes, I had heard of this aspect of FEA before playing the title. And, frankly, I was downright terrified of having to properly manage my relationships and “breeding” for perfectly tweaked future children that have all the best skills and advantages and hair colors. But you know what? It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to micromanage the relationships of these characters, and, give or take a bad ending for one of my luminaries that apparently became a sad drunk without a woman to keep him in line, there were no real consequences to this anti-waifu decision. Like “real”, non-casual mode, there was this entire facet of Fire Emblem Awakening that I could focus on if I wanted to, and it would always be there, but I could ignore it and still have a fun time. A few of my chess pieces hooked up, most of them didn’t, and that was just fine by me.

And you know what else is fine?

Class Changes are Always Cool

Look at this:

POWER UP

Damn, that’s cool.

Okay, I like this franchise now. I can finally say that I officially, uncompromisingly like a TRPG. Way to go, Fire Emblem Awakening.

FGC #438 Fire Emblem Awakening

  • System: Nintendo 3DS, though, given this was apparently the Fire Emblem that revitalized and popularized the entire franchise, I’d expect a rerelease of some kind in the future.
  • Number of players: Can we please, please get a 2 player TRPG battling game? Has this happened in other Fire Emblem titles? Were they any good? I want to know!
  • Yay!  Marth!Anime gonna anime: Of course there is a character that looks like a 12-year old girl but is actually a millennia old dragon person. Other than that, the “anime” of Fire Emblem Awakening isn’t really all that bad, and, with a more Western paintjob, the majority of this title could actually be closer to Tolstoy than Sword Art Online. Okay, that might be pushing it a bit, but this is a surprisingly brutal (re: high body count) story for what I was expecting to be a lot more bubblegum.
  • Mistakes were made: Apparently I wholesale murdered that one dark magician girl everybody is always talking about. I regret nothing.
  • Favorite Soldier: It’s weird, but I wound up gravitating to Lissa. She’s just involved enough in the plot to be present for notable events, and her general personality is an excellent counter to many of the more dour or incidentally blood-thirsty characters. And she can become a pretty competent red mage sage, which is always helpful. Oh, and she has an inferiority complex thanks to a magical tattoo, so that’s also fun.
  • Favorite Future Child: Chrom wound up with Sumia in my playthrough (remember: I do not care), so we wound up with Cynthia, Lucia’s little sister that apparently wants to become a hero… without any real idea of how to do that. And that works surprisingly well! Lucina is all doing the mysterious knight routine and cutting a swath across her own past… and Cynthia can barely figure out how to properly wear pants. They seem like siblings to me.
  • So now do you better understand why these characters are in Smash Bros? Not really. Okay, Robin is pretty damn cool, and surprisingly friendly for her “cool tactician” role… but she’s otherwise fairly unremarkable. Chrom is a generic hero that fights for his friends, so there’s not much there. And I'm so tiredLucina is a goddamn bad ass that bends the laws of time and space to get exactly what she wants and incidentally save the world… but she winds up being the lamest clone character in Smash? Dammit! The coolest one got the worst treatment! I suppose the camaraderie between Robin and Chrom is commendable/memorable, but, having just finished Awakening, I’d rather just see Lucina kicking ass and taking names in a role wholly her own.
  • Did you know? There are a lot of DLC and Spotpass scenarios available, and that appears to be what is intended as the “post-game” of Awakening. But did you know this was the first Nintendo title to feature DLC in any significant form? And the first Nintendo game to feature a DLC swimsuit scenario, because J/TRPG fans are horny as hell? The more you know!
  • Would I play again: I would be curious to see how a more “informed” playthrough of Fire Emblem Awakening would shake out, as I now know many things I did not know before (like who to avoid murdering). But I don’t think I will be doing that for a while, as, now that I have a Fire Emblem “base”, I can try a few other titles that have been recommended over the years. Awakening appears to be a great jumping-on point for the series, and I’m curious to see if this cast/gameplay holds up elsewhere…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Trials of Mana! Yeah! I’m sure that was a random choice! Time for the grand trial of the Goddess of Mana! Please look forward to it!

I admit it

FGC #259 Strider 2

Time flows like a river, and history repeats. And, in a lot of videogame sequels, it gets kind of ridiculous.

Today’s game is Strider 2, the 1999 sequel to Strider that absolutely should not be confused with the 1990 NES sequel, 2014 latest sequel, or Tiger Handheld game I still have for some reason. Strider 2 is the direct sequel to the original arcade hit that sees Strider Hiryu once again fighting against the nefarious forces of the Grandmaster, an evil dude in a cloak with the magical ability to summon dinosaurs out of nothing. Fun fact: I don’t know why this guy has to “conquer” the world with a malicious army and enormous, flying battleship; I’d vote for anybody that ran on an all dinosaur-reviving platform (I’m a single-issue voter). Regardless, Strider fights through five stages in an adventure that seems like a “PSX remix” version of his previous arcade game. There are new challenges, new areas, and at least one headless horseman (sans horse), but there’s also the gravity lab, the Balrog, and other familiar spots from Strider 1. Like a lot of good videogames, Strider 2 deftly walks the line between nostalgia and innovation, and it winds up being a fine way to spend an afternoon.

But when you beat Strider 2, you’ll find this little gem of dialogue.

... What?

And, if you check the auxiliary materials for further information, you’ll find that the overarching plot of Strider 2 isn’t just “Grandmaster’s revenge”, it’s “Grandmaster’s revenge… 2,119 years later”. But don’t worry, Strider has been resurrected, reincarnated, or… something… so it’s all going to work out. And, conveniently, the exact same characters and venues have been revived along with Grandmaster, so you can fight the Tong Pooh triplets or Solo all over again. Just… try not to think about the fact that these characters are literally two millennia old, and all they want to do with their apparent immortality is fight some dork with a sword. I mean, I guess you have to do something to keep busy.

And it’s all happened before.

Like most of the nation, I’ve been playing a lot of Zelda: Breath of the Wild recently. Light spoilers and whatnot, but the main plot of that game concerns a Link and Zelda that were supposed to be the heroes that defeat Ganon like every Link and Zelda before them, but, ya know, mistakes were made, and now the kingdom is in more distress than usual. Now, anyone that has seen a preview image knows the exact reason Link failed to stop Ganon the first time, and that’s that he forsook his green tunic for some blue getup. Saving Hyrule is a very precarious balancing act, Link, you change one little detail, and the whole thing collapses! Or maybe it was just that this Zelda wasn’t that into it?

Just walkin' aroundIn a way, Breath of the Wild simultaneously resists the cyclonic nature of the “prophecy” and “reincarnating hero” myths with a Link that kinda fails, but also more deeply outlines exactly why this kind of trope is, frankly, ridiculous. There’s a giant pig monster menacing the castle? Well, who is the princess? Does she like dressing up like a magical ninja? Do we have some teenager hanging around in a doofy hat? The royal family of Breath of the Wild realized there was a singular answer to the Ganon problem throughout history (kid with sword), and failed because they tried to add a few bells and whistles (robots never go bad!) to “guarantee” a victory. And guess what finally winds up winning the day? Spoilers, it’s a kid with a sword!

So you’re damned if you try to game the reincarnation cycle, but, don’t worry, the reincarnation cycle will win the day in the end.

… Huh?

Castlevania follows a similar Grandmaster/Ganon revives, hero shows up to trash the place cycle, but at least Dracula gets genre savvy pretty early in that environment. If we look at one of the earliest Castlevania games, Castlevania Adventure 2, we’ll find a Dracula that has already identified “the Belmont problem”, and started kidnapping wee Belmont tots to further his own agenda. And then we’ve got Shaft controlling Richtor, who explained something about creating an endless cycle of vampire hunter death or whatever before some dhampir dork smacked a sword into his face a couple hundred times. And by the time Julius Belmont is ready to seal Dracula in an eclipse, the Belmont name has been hidden from the public for ages, because Drac figured out this whole “phone book” technology thing, and “Morris” is totally not in the B section.

Because... oh nevermindSo why does this keep happening across videogames? On one hand, it’s an easy story convention that clearly predates videogames. I’m pretty sure Hercules had only existed for two weeks before some random dude decided to make a “Hercules reborn in modern times” story… even if “modern times” was “The Roman Empire”. And it’s the easiest thing in the world to co-opt some ancient bad guy and reincarnate/revive the dude for instant gravitas. Hero barely beat Villain the first time! Now he’s back from the dead, and he’s got…. let’s see here, what would be threatening… a laser rifle! How ever will ancient hero with his ancient ways win this one!? Heck, you don’t even have to get heroic to pull off this trope, just look at how many “modern reincarnations” of Romeo and Juliet or Beauty and the Beast have made it into the theatres. Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Tingle and the Link.

But there is something different about videogames. Videogames are about recurring stories, yes, but there is always more to a videogame than just the story. The gameplay has to be familiar, too, and to reuse Zelda again in an article ostensibly about Strider (I have been playing a lot of Breath of the Wild, dammit!), it’s one thing to have a Zelda game that doesn’t feature Zelda, but God help you if you want to make a Zelda game without a boomerang of some kind. Link will fight Ganon, and he’ll do it with arrows, the Master Sword, and a blue shield with a triangle on it. Remember how Symphony of the Night was the greatest thing to happen to Castlevania in a decade? Remember how people at the time spent hours of their lives whining about the “unforgivable blunder” that Alucard couldn’t use a whip? I remember. Oh, God, I remember.

But it’s that strict adherence to familiar gameplay moments that make these games so seemingly impossible. It is one thing to have a dude rescue a princess from a pig man every century or so, but it’s another that there just happens to be an Impa, hookshot, and Beedle available from the beginning of time until the end. But the fans would be upset if those beats weren’t recycled, so here’s your Temple of Time all over again, even though it seriously calls into question the capricious work habits of the masons of Hyrule.

WeeeeeWhich brings us to the most insane abuse of this trope: Gunstar Super Heroes, which, save a few minor changes, features the exact same plot as Gunstar Heroes, complete with characters with the same names and roles. Green betrays the team, Orange is muscle man, and Black has built another damn board game castle. It all happens exactly as it did in the previous game, which supposedly takes place centuries before. Did… nobody write anything down? Bah, it doesn’t matter, what’s important is that you’ve got a minecart battle with Green in a shape-shifting mech, because, if that somehow didn’t happen, then what’s even in the point in making a Gunstar game?

And maybe that’s what we need to learn from Strider 2. If we want to have a game that reuses beats from the previous, beloved game, then maybe it’s okay that the plot is exactly the same. We’ve gotta have that gravity room, we’ve gotta have that fight on the back of a dragon-Russian parliament thingy, and we’ve gotta fight the Grandmaster again. It wouldn’t be Strider without it! So the people of the Strider Universe have to be stuck in an endless time loop to get there? Well, more’s the pity, but we have to squeeze the Balrog in there somewhere. Plot is secondary to gameplay in any given videogame, right? You’re not supposed to be thinking about how Strider Land “works”, silly player.

But time flows like a river, and, inevitably, a little voice in my head is going to repeat, “Yeah, but why is this whole thing happening again?” And you can’t just slaughter another grandmaster to get the answer to that one.

FGC #259 Strider 2

  • System: Playstation, Arcade, and wherever it pops up as a downloadable title. Playstation 3? That sounds right.
  • Number of players: There is only one Strider Hiryu. Though I guess you can play as the other ninja after you beat the game once.
  • Favorite level: The third stage features a cybernetic wooly mammoth flanked by malevolent hockey players. Then there’s a scientist that drinks a werewolf potion. I want to ground up that level and snort it.
  • Thar be Dragons: Hiryu is Japanese for dragon. Ryu, either the star of Street Fighter or Breath of Fire, is also named for dragons. So, how many dragon heroes are in the Capcom pantheon? And do they all get together and hang out on occasion? BoF Ryu is unimpressed by SF Ryu’s so-called “dragon punch”, and Strider just hangs out in the corner, drinking punch? Is this what Capcom Fighting All-Stars was going to be about?
  • Don’t judge a book: Just so we’re all clear…

    Get it right

    The disc on the left that is labeled “Strider” is the disc for Strider 2, and the disc on the right that says “Strider 2” contains the original Strider arcade game. This is not confusing at all.

  • Credit where credit is due: I will admit that this article partially found its origin in a comment by one Metal Man Master on a previous (already linked) FGC entry. Thank you, MMM. Playing Strider 2 after Breath of the Wild may have made a teeny impact, too.
  • Did you know? The illustrations for this game come compliments of Tatsuya Yoshikawa, right? The same guy behind the art of the PSX Breath of Fire games? It really looks that way, but, one way or another, art good, ya’all.
  • Would I play again: This whole game feels like it takes about ten minutes to complete. That’s a good thing for the last of the “arcade” style action games. So, yeah, I’ll probably make another high score run again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Giga Wing for the Sega Dreamcast! This is not to be confused with the lesser Mega Wing or Kilo Wing games. This is Giga Wing, all the way. Please look forward to it!

Brrr

FGC #210 Time Gal

Let's go surfing nowIt’s not unusual for two games to have the same general plot. Mario and Link both rescue princesses. Kratos and C.J. both have problems with authority. Mega Man and Sonic both have doctor issues. But even when there are similarities between game plots, we’re still talking about videogames, which means you can have drastically different gameplay. Mario and Link are never going to be mistaken for each other, even if they both look a little chubby in their debut appearances. At this point, there are more gameplay styles under the sun than there ever have been, but even back in the day, Mega Man and Sonic starred in very different adventures, despite both being “2-D run and jump” heroes.

However, back in the distant past of the 80’s, there were LaserDisc games. Laserdisc games were “playable cartoons” that were always the same. And, yes, I mean they were “the same” as in they all played the same and the games were always the same every time you played ‘em. The appeal was that you were controlling a “playable cartoon”, but in practice, it was like watching a TV show, but every ten seconds, you had to press the right button, or the show ended (I think they actually tried that with the Dragon’s Lair cartoon series).

But there certainly was appeal to the LaserDiscs. If you could tolerate what passed for gameplay in these games, you were treated to some of the best animation and storytelling available to gaming at the time. This was the age of Final Fantasy starring four anonymous randos that lived in fear of being knocked down, the mere concept of “a playable movie” was charm enough to gobble up enough quarters to keep even Gamblor happy. These games might have all played the same, but, technically, every cartoon on Nickelodeon “plays” the same, and nobody is confusing Spongebob for Invader Zim.

Though it does seem a bit odd that, of the limited number of LaserDisc-style games that were released, three of them featured the exact same plot.

WeeeeeDragon’s Lair 2: Time Warp seems like the most popular example here. As you can guess from the name, the first and only sequel to Dragon’s Lair (the Bluth animated game that practically invented the LaserDisc genre) features Dirk the Daring traveling through time to rescue his beloved Daphne. Time travel is the main hook here, as the original Dragon’s Lair was just an adventure through a musty old castle, and we do hit a few epochs that aren’t usually popular, like the Renaissance and… Wonderland? We hit “Prehistoric” and “The Garden of Eden”? That seems… incongruous. No matter, what we have here is a hero diving through time to rescue his best gal from some random jerkass, and the time travel is an easy excuse for eclectic scenes and locales. You’re not going to fight a dinosaur any other way!

Released the same year is Hologram Time Traveler. I’ve discussed this game at length before, but to reiterate for anyone that can’t remember every precious word I’ve ever committed to pixels, Hologram Time Traveler is the story of… a hero traveling through time to save a woman. Oh… kay. The game uses the time portals as an excuse to visit famous epochs like prehistoric and medieval times, and there are a few levels that are less “time travel” and more “magical fantasy land”. This sound familiar? Hologram Time Traveler is technically a longer game than Dragon’s Lair 2, but the levels seem much shorter. Also, it’s all digitized live action (as opposed to gorgeous animation), so I hope you like watching some doof run around in a cowboy hat. Oddly, both games feature female leads that seem to exist exclusively for their sex appeal. Alright, that’s not odd at all, but it was at least uncommon in gaming back in 1991.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong about that.

Time Gal is our featured game today, and it first came stateside in 1993. This does not mean the game was actually created two years after the previous two LaserDisc time traveling adventures. No, Time Gal was released in Japanese arcades back in 1985, making Time Gal’s adventure roughly concurrent with Dragon’s Lair (1). We just never saw it stateside, because dubs are expensive, and PokéAkira hadn’t made anime cool yet. Heck, it’s probably a small wonder we got the Sega CD version at all, but I suppose that system needed all the Full Motion Video CD games it could get, because Kriss Kross could only be responsible for so many titles.

But don’t think that just because Time Gal was the first time traveling LaserDisc game that it’s completely original. Time Gal herself, featured here:

Looks a biiiit like Lum Invader, the star of Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, a series that started in the 70’s.

But I’m sure it’s a coincidence that Time Gal bears a smidge of similarity to Japan’s Jessica Rabbit. Sure.

Time Gal is a pretty fun time (ha!) if you can ignore the obvious plagiarism, though. The whole game is elegantly animated by Toei, and it features that astonishing 80’s anime style (aka before the industry discovered the joy of animating panties… well, animating panties all the time, at least). Reika, the titular Time Gal, is clearly meant to be “sexy” in her bikini bottoms and vest, but 90% of her death animations (and it’s a LaserDisc game, you’re gonna see a lot of death animations) feature the heroine shrinking down to endearing chibi size. I realize that a modern day Time Gal would revel in figuratively and literally stripping the heroine, but the “cutesy” deaths of Time Gal… well… you might have just lost a quarter, but at least it was adorable.

WAGGLEAnd, ultimately, that’s the appeal of all these time travel-based LaserDisc games. They’re creative and fun, and, while they’re fleecing your coin collection right out of your pockets, at least they’re doing it in an entertaining way. In Final Fight or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you lost because you sucked, and the game mocked and goaded you with a countdown timer and the promise of a dead hero that is all your fault. Time Gal and its brethren (sistren?) lived or died by their entertaining death animations that made you still enjoy every mistake. I’m glad all these LaserDisc games eventually got ported to the home consoles, because watching a “blooper reel” of Reika’s every death is practically more fun than playing the game itself (and that would be very expensive a quarter at a time).

But that doesn’t make Time Gal any less of a clone.

Yes, I suppose Time Gal started the “time traveling LaserDisc game” trend a decade before everybody else, but it came stateside two years late to the party, when we had already battled prehistory with Dirk and… whatever the dude from Hologram Time Traveler is named. Probably Steve. Time Gal just looked like that Dragon’s Lair 2 clone with the girl from that one anime in it. And, let’s be realistic here, “anime games” might have flourished on the Sega CD (see also: Lunar, Popful Mail), but “Sega CD owners that also liked anime and wanted more LaserDisc animated games” had to be a subset of a subset of people that probably numbered into the lower teens. DUCKReika is only known as “that girl in the bikini from a lot of Gamepro ads” to anyone that could ever recall the game.

But Time Gal did deserve better. Time Gal deserved a sequel… or at least a US Playstation version. Time Gal was published by Taito, so I guess it’s owned by Square Enix now, but I don’t think Reika is going to be guesting in Dissidia anytime soon. Yes, the whole game is a relic of a forgotten epoch, but someone decided to try to revive Brave Fencer Musashi at some point, so shouldn’t Time Gal get a chance?

She was good enough to copy for a couple of other really similar LaserDisc games. I’m sure there’s some place she could fit in today.

FGC #210 Time Gal

  • System: Sega CD and Arcade. Given the state of Sega CD games nowadays, good luck enjoying either option.
  • Number of players: Reika must save the whole of human existence alone, without pants.
  • OUCHFavorite Epoch: Time Gal has a number of “future” levels, but my favorite is the one that’s a year before the finale, and is basically a quick pastiche of Alien. Anime Alien is something I’m sure has been done elsewhere, but Reika sucks the creatures out the airlock with aplomb.
  • Modern Times: The “current” time period from the game (1991 AD!) looks like some variation on a Middle Eastern Warzone. The next time period, the far future of 2001, appears to be, basically, Mad Max. Were the designers of Time Gal just that pessimistic?
  • Did you know? Okay, so there is a little “fan service”. The original Japanese cut of Time Gal featured a few “deaths” where Reika’s top got shredded. She was always facing away from the camera, and it was always played for laughs, but there was that promise that the mostly naked heroine was getting slightly more naked. This was, naturally, cut from the American release, as we are a shining bastion of purity in all media.
  • Would I play again: I might watch a youtube run of the game again. In the meanwhile, though, I hope to not touch another LaserDisc game for a while.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Smash Bros Fo(u)r the Nintendo 3DS! Biggest roster, smallest screen. Please look forward to it!

WINNER