Tag Archives: two players

FGC #439 Trials of Mana

Get on the mana train!Once again, this old man is wondering about the world that may have been.

Today’s game is Trials of Mana, the sequel to the venerable Secret of Mana (and descendant of Final Fantasy Adventure). Unlike practically every other title in the Mana franchise (did you know there was a TRPG? Oh, and that weird “action” one for the PS2?), Trials of Mana follows Secret of Mana in an iterative manner. Secret of Mana was a gigantic mess of ideas slapped together for a hypothetical/doomed system that was never meant to materialize, and, yeah, it kind of played like something that was never really prepared for the light of day. Don’t get me wrong, I will defend the fun of Secret of Mana until my dying day (I’m considering an epitaph that reads “Here rests Goggle Bob, and Secret of Mana was good, actually”. It’s the only way future generations will know!), but even I know in my heart of hearts that the game is a hot mess. The battle system is half-baked, the world itself has a number of “cutting room floor”-based dead ends, and the plot is a hodgepodge of different concepts that eventually culminates with a skeleton wizard out of nowhere. Trials of Mana seems like an honest attempt to take the best ideas from Secret of Mana, improve on them, and produce a game that could be its “intended form” from the start of its production. Does it work? Well… mostly.

LOOK OUTFirst of all, let’s address the biggest issue with Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana: magic sucks. There is no “quick casting” in either title, and, whether you want to cast a simple healing spell or summon a meteor from hell to rain unholy destruction upon the battlefield, you’re stuck cycling through random menus, waiting for casting, and then pausing any and all action while the spell animation completes. Trials of Mana works slightly differently from Secret; Secret would freeze only the target of most spells, while Trials freezes all of the action on the screen for every single casting. And, against all odds, somehow both systems are the absolute worst. When your opponent is frozen in Secret, you can just pile on the commands (and faerie walnuts) to stunlock your opponent into oblivion. It’s not very… strategic. This is avoided in Trials of Mana, but the constant, never-ending pauses thanks to friends and foes casting spells completely obliterates any sort of combat flow. And Trials somehow makes the worst even worse, as many bosses are programmed to counter magic spells, but, thanks to the inherent lag in the magic-freezing, it’s very difficult to perceive the if/then of countering that is inevitably going to get your party killed. So, if you somehow wound up with a mage on your team, maybe it’s best to let them sit there and do nothing, because it’s always fun to have a character on the roster that is (going to make you) dead weight.

Though maybe it would be a good idea to take a look at the whys of whether or not a mage is currently weighing down your team. Not unlike many games of yesterday and today, Trials of Mana starts with a clutch of unfamiliar characters, and you are asked to choose half of them to be your traveling party. The first character you select becomes the focal protagonist of the adventure, and the second two both play out their signature stories in brief, “aside” arcs. To be clear, this does not employ the modern/Dragon Quest method of having a main character that is 100% meant to be a player avatar that eventually earns some narratively well-defined, though multi-choice, companions; no, in this case, six different playthroughs of Trials of Mana could potentially feature six wildly dissimilar protagonists. And the difference isn’t merely cosmetic: each of the heroes has their own hopes and dreams, but more importantly, they have their own final dungeons and final bosses. CENSOR THISThere are three “pairs” of overlapping finales within the full cast of six, so it would technically require three different complete cycles through Trials of Mana to see every last dungeon and enemy the title has to offer. And, yes, if you’re curious about every story in the Trials of Mana universe, you’re going to need six different runs of a 15-20 hour game (good news: you’ll probably cut that down to ten hours by your fourth quest).

This, naturally, brings us to the topic of alternate realities.

There are six protagonists in Trials of Mana, but only one hero can ever wield the singular, titular (in Japan) Mana Sword. And, as mentioned, each pair of heroes has a unique antagonist. Riesz and Hawkeye, for instance, battle a vampire, a cat lady, and some manner of plant prince; meanwhile, Kevin and Charlotte are pitted against a murder clown and another damn skeleton wizard. Naturally, it is the choice of protagonist that determines the final boss, and the other antagonists are forced to screw off and die at the midpoint of the adventure to make room for the real big bad should they not be the focus of the story. It just wouldn’t do for Riesz to not battle the woman that murdered her parents, so, sorry Gourmand, you’re going to have to leave now. Where do murder clowns go where they die? Batman should look into it.

However, this creates some interesting plot gulfs for our potential heroes. Take Duran, the stalwart knight of Trials of Mana. If Duran is the hero of the piece, he fights against the nefarious Dragon Lord and his disciple, the Darkshine Knight. Eventually, Duran learns that the mysterious Darkshine Knight is in fact his father, a knight named Loki who once fought against the Dragon Lord, and was presumed dead by his best friend, the good King Richard. To say the least, the relationship between the orphaned Duran and his now malevolent father is a bit strained, but it all works out for the best when Duran and Darkshine Loki reconcile and the Dragon Lord is tossed down a conveniently located open shaft to nowhere. Or something. Look, what’s important is that Duran gets an amazing amount of closure on the whole psychologically traumatized orphan thing, and Darkshine Knight gets to die knowing that his son has grown into a noble, strong, Level 40 young man. … Or he doesn’t, because Duran wasn’t the main character, and all he does is stand motionless in the throne room as a completely forgettable NPC. Getting better!In this situation, the Dragon Lord is slain by whoever winds up being the real big bad, and Darkshine sticks around long enough to deliver a dragon obituary before peacing out to nonexistence. Duran never learns of his lineage, and Loki never sees his son again. Oh well! He’s not the main character! Don’t worry about it, audience! Somebody else got a happy ending! Just be happy with that!

But that’s the kind of thing that inevitably bothers me. Sure, it’s only one iteration of the story, but, in one universe, Duran is left not knowing for the rest of his life. He could have been a hero with a healthy memory of his undead father, but, no, now he’s likely going to be in therapy for the rest of his days. Poor dude didn’t get a faery companion, a father, or magical friends that may or may not be able to transform into werewolves. In one universe Duran is the Hero of Mana, in another, he can barely leave a room.

And in one universe, a young Goggle Bob played Trials of Mana. In another, he didn’t get to play the game “for real” until he was in his 30s.

Trials of Mana was never released in America (in this timeline). It did eventually receive a fan translation, though. I played that game on a creaky old laptop without a properly working soundcard (ah, college life), and, while I certainly enjoyed the experience, it wasn’t exactly all that notable. It was a Super Nintendo game being played concurrently with the heyday of the Playstation 2, and Trials of Mana didn’t come off as revolutionary when Grand Theft Auto 3 was also on the menu. And, yes, the format didn’t exactly help, as my beloved laptop (so beloved because it actually allowed me to not be glued to the computer lab at 3 am) was barely capable of supporting the full Mana experience. I played Trials of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 3) because I felt like I had to complete such an important part of Squaresoft history, not because I was anxiously looking forward to the next level.

And then, sometime in my 20’s, I managed to score a repro SNES cartridge of Secret of Mana 2 in English. I played it for about five minutes before growing weary of holding a SNES controller again.

They're asleep!Finally, a few weeks ago, Square-Enix deigned to release Trials of Mana for the Nintendo Switch in glorious American-o-vision. And, for the first time since I ice skated uphill against my old laptop over a decade prior, I played through the entirety of Trials of Mana. And it was rough. The music and graphics are still gorgeous, but all the quality of life improvements that modern JRPG/action titles have presented since the turn of the millennium are sorely missed. The class system is opaque, equipment juggling is unpleasant, and, let’s be honest, who has the time nowadays to complete an entire game three different ways for miniscule plot changes? There are two whole dungeons I missed on my playthrough? Who cares! I would have to complete 80% of the game again just to see a new variation on a cave? I’ll youtube that different final boss, thank you. I am a very important man with very important places to be. That fro-go place can barely open without me visiting!

But in 1995? Back then, this all could have worked. The era of the SNES saw a Goggle Bob with a significantly greater tolerance for bullshit. Back then, a new game only came down the pike (of my parents’ wallets) every six months or so, so a title with three different completely separate paths would have been more than welcome. Spell animations wouldn’t have bothered my young mind, because, I like the turtledamn, did you see those graphics? And the class system that practically requires a FAQ to enhance your party? You better believe I wouldn’t give a damn about proper character optimization. I didn’t even know the meaning of the word “optimization”! Probably literally!

In short: if Trials of Mana had been released in its proper epoch, it might have been one of my most beloved games. It might have been another Final Fantasy 6, Secret of Mana, or even Chrono Trigger.

There’s an entire other timeline out there where Trials of Mana is important to me. Here, in this reality, it is a random novelty that happened to show up on Nintendo Switch.

Trials of Mana, I’ll always wonder if you were meant for better things…

FGC #439 Trials of Mana

  • System: Nintendo Switch. It originally appeared on the Super Famicom in some lucky regions, though.
  • Number of players: Is there really multiplayer available for this game? I know there are reports that the remake won’t have multiplayer “like the original”, but I thought this was another Secret of Evermore situation where the original only had multiplayer thanks to enterprising modders. I’m going to tentatively call this one single player. Maybe it’s just two, but not three? Dammit.
  • What’s in a name: “Trials of Mana” may as well be nails on a chalkboard to my ears. It’s Seiken Densetsu 3, you jerks! Or Secret of Mana 2! Trials of Mana? Really? Because “Trials” starts with “Tri” and that’s marginally related to the number 3? Is that the best you could do? Obviously, the title should be Secret of Ma3a. I mean, duh. Come on, Square Enix, get on the Mana Beast.
  • Speaking of names: Don’t tell anyone, but I can’t even get my own naming conventions together:
    ERROR TYPE MISMATCH

    It’s a secret to everybody.
  • Favorite Hero: Kevin is a bruiser that can transform into a werewolf to cause even more bruises. And he can learn healing magic, so when he’s not bruising, he’s keeping the party alive. And he can learn a spell that transforms physical damage into MP refills, so his bruising can become an unlimited healing battery. Kevin is my hero.
  • An End: During the finale, the previously mentioned Super Werewolf Kevin learns that his best friend is still alive (because Kevin is really bad at identifying a heartbeat) and was accidentally buried alive (by Kevin), his mother is dead, and his father is a complete dick. Couple this with previously transforming his rival into a baby that wanders off into the woods, Kevin has a really weird life.
  • TOTES MCGOATSFavorite Benevodon: We’re really calling them that? Okay, fine. My vote goes to Dolan, the gigantic goat monster that scales an enormous tower just to reach out and touch some Mana Heroes. Also: you can’t tell me that Dolan wasn’t originally intended to be the God Beast (there!) of Darkness, as how could a gigantic goat not fit the ol’ dark arts?
  • Did you know? Heroes of Mana, a strategy RPG for Nintendo DS released in 2007, is a direct prequel to Trials of Mana. It features most of the parents of characters from Trials of Mana, and includes a number of locations and antagonists (a few of them in surprisingly heroic roles) as well. It’s kind of a shame that no one cared about the Mana franchise in 2007, so this title is almost entirely forgotten.
  • Would I play again: Probably! Never mind the upcoming remake, I will probably give another Trials story route a shot at some point. It might be a while, but the gameplay of Trials of Mana works well on the portable Switch, so I’ll probably play it again as one of those “I can play and watch TV” situations. I’ll save state the story scenes for when I have a spare moment to pay attention…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight! Let’s boogie! And put the gun down! Absolutely boogie without firearms! Please look forward to it!

RUN AWAY

FGC #435 Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee!

Here comes some fuzzy dude!I am an Eevee convert.

I am a Pokémon nerd, and have been from practically the first moment they hit these shores. Shortly before Pokémon Red/Blue (in America), there was the Pokémon Television show. And shortly before that, there was the Nintendo Power pack-in Pokémon comic. It followed the same plot as the anime, so, naturally, it featured Pikachu right from the start. And, yes, like so many people, I fell for that tiny electric rodent immediately. I think it was the “always says its name” thing? That’s like Yoshi, right? Totally endearing! I was saying “pikachu” to friends as a random nonsense word one time at band camp before the global phenomenon actually kicked off, and I prided myself on being at the forefront of this particular nerd movement/moment. Pikachu and I were together right there at the beginning, and you never forget your first Pokémon.

And Eevee… well… Eevee was more of a threat.

As we’ve covered before, Pokémon Red/Blue was, to put it lightly, a jerk. The title existed before pokébreeding existed, so every “unique” Pokémon was just as exclusive and limited as the legendaries of today. This meant that, against all odds, noted losers Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan were actually desirable and sought-after. Similarly, everyone wound up with an Eevee, but only one, and thus only one of three branching evolutions. So you could swing by the department store and Thunder Stone up a Jolteon… but was that the right way to go? Would you prefer a Flareon? Or was the more defensive Vaporeon the better choice? And, even if you somehow chose the “best” for your own team, were you comfortable with trading away your choice? Jimmy down the street has a Flareon, and you really would like to complete that Pokédex, but are you going to trade away the Omanyte he’s asking for? Argh! Eevee seems like a great idea, but the little bugger is just too annoying to be a favorite. Electric apparently has an advantage over Normal in this round.

Get 'em!And Eevee didn’t fare much better in Generation 2, either. It was more readily available, and it received two brand new evolutions, but… they were annoying. Umbreon and Espeon were unmistakably great designs with cool moves (you didn’t have to be psychic to predict a new dark type would be exciting), but they were tied to the new friendship mechanics and the day/night cycle. While some Pokémon would evolve thanks to basic leveling or being exposed to a particularly nice rock, the evolution conditions for our new Eevee forms were comparatively about as complicated as solving a quadratic equation. And, like a quadratic equation, it wasn’t all that difficult, really, it was just a pain in the ass, and why deal with such a thing when there were many more “easier” Pokémon out there? Tyranitar doesn’t need your love and affection, it only needs the still-warm blood of its enemies. Sorry, Umbreon.

Though Eevee did wind up with a come-from-behind victory through Pokemon Colosseum. This Gamecube title was an attempt at a more adult Pokemon experience (as adult as any game can be and still include a Numel), and featured a radical teenage protagonist that jets around on a hovercycle and detonates various buildings. He also had a pair of Eeveelutions as his partners, an Espeon and an Umbreon. And that was pretty damn cool! They were now the yin and yang of the Pokemon universe, the forces of good and evil vying for this protagonist’s soul as he desperately battled to save Pokémon from being exploited so he could then turn around and exploit them, but, like, in a good way. Alpha and Omega, the most obvious names I have ever given to a pair of Pokémon, kicked untold amounts of ass while venturing around Orre, and I have to admit, they did bring me around on the whole Eevee concept.

It's probably the hatAnd then came Pokémon Diamond & Pearl, and we received two all-new Eevee forms. And they were… lame. Glaceon had a cool new ‘do… but that’s it. Nothing worth writing home about.

But then Pokemon X/Y introduced Sylveon, the ribbon-based Fairy-type evolution of Eevee. That’s when Eevee clicked as one of the best Pokémon.

The Fairy Type in Pokémon is weird as hell. The type was first introduced in Pokémon X/Y, so you’ve got creatures that were retroactively “fairy-ized” like Clefairy (makes sense!), Jigglypuff (okay, fine), Mr. Mime (… what?), and Snubbull (the hell you doin’?!). So the defining trait for Fairy Type is… pink? Oh, no, Marill and Ralts mess up even that theory. Then you have the Pokémon that were designed to be Fairy Type from the ground up, like Flabébé the flower thingy, Dedenne the wannabe Pikachu, and Swirlix, the unholy amalgamation of Stimpson J. Cat and one of his own farts. So what’s the connection in Fairy-Type designs? The only common denominator seems to be that they’re all cute. Well, except Mr. Mime, as it is an abomination in the eyes of a caring and just God. But the rest of ‘em are cute!

And Sylveon is the cutest of them all. Because it wants to be cute. It’s an Eevee that knows a fairy move, and feels affectionate to its trainer. And, as a result, it turns into a creature that is 90% ribbons by volume. It is pink. It is adorable. And it is okay with that, because it knows it is loved. And, side note, it can slay dragons. That is always helpful.

But you know what? Sylveon is just the tip of the Eevee iceberg. Eevee doesn’t have to be a Sylveon. Glaceon is available! Or Jolteon! Or Espeon! Or, assuming Eevee has some kind of brain problem, Leafeon! Eevee can be anything! Or at least seven different things! That’s more things than any other Pokémon can be! And it can just stay an Eevee if it wants to be. Nothing wrong with that!

Gooooo!And, ultimately, that’s why Pikachu and Eevee are the ideal mascots of the Pokémon franchise. Pikachu is immutable. Pikachu’s greatest strengths come not from its evolution into a fatter rat or a psychic rat, but from Pikachu continuing to be Pikachu. Infants recognize Pikachu. Grandma recognizes Pikachu. Mickey Mouse begrudgingly recognizes Pikachu. Pikachu is not meant to change, it is meant to simply learn how to be a better, potentially surfing Pikachu. Eevee, though? Eevee can be anything. While Pikachu is stuck forever in its perpetual yellow adolescence, Eevee can progress, and move forward to a future that is right for Eevee. Even the Always-Eevee star of Let’s Go Eevee feels like it is just learning the ropes before it eventually figures out its path in life. It can learn a potpourri of Eevee evolution specific type-based moves. It’s just enjoying its “undeclared” years before choosing a major. Who could ever fault an Eevee for making an informed decision?

So I am an Eevee convert. I used to be a Pikachu super fan, but Eevee has now claimed that top spot, bolstered by all the possibilities within every Eevee. You’re the best, Eevee, and you can make yourself better eeveery day.

And besides, Pikachu is a cop.

Noooooo

Screw that noise.

FGC #435 Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee!

  • System: Nintendo Switch. It is… kind of like a Gameboy? Except not.
  • Number of players: Two! And, like, completely two players, too. And the two player catching is kind of fun! And your buddy can run around the map screen like an idiot anytime they want! It’s surprisingly well implemented for kids and people who just want to participate, but have no idea how to do that!
  • SNORLAX!Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: What? It’s Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow, but with modern conveniences and an emphasis on capturing the Pokémon Go market. It’s a lot of fun, but basing the title on the Pokémon game with the least post-game content makes for a less enjoyable experience. And, look, I know I could raise a Magikarp up to Level 50 to challenge some magical Magikarp master… but I have things to do! Give me a new “dungeon” or something. Please?
  • Other Trainers: Green, the female counterpart to Red (Ash) and Blue (Gary), finally makes her first official appearance. She… is apparently an idiot, and mistakes the player for a Pokémon. Or she’s being coy, and is just using such a reason to pelt her opponent with pokéballs. Either way, she’s not exactly endearing…
  • Favorite Pokémon (this game): Machamp made a surprisingly good showing in this title. Eevee is permanently weak to fighting types, so it’s good to have a battlin’ buddy that can throw a few punches. I mean, Eevee obviously is the favorite Pokémon here, but anyone that can help is going to take second place.
  • So why did you get this game? Entirely to unlock Meltan (boxes) in Pokémon Go. And because I will play absolutely every Pokémon game that ever comes out. But the first reason is why I played this game quickly.
  • Gotta Catch ‘em All: You know I do!
    I win!

    And playing Pokemon Go helped!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: By complete coincidence, this article will be posted when I’m flying back from Pokémon Go Fest in Chicago. People of the future! Did I post pictures of the event on my Twitter? Tell me what the World of Tomorrow contains!
  • Did you know? Apparently Eevee’s original, “prototype” name was Eon. This explains why all of the Eeveelutions have names that end in the “eon” suffix. This makes so much more sense now!
  • Would I play again: I technically play this pretty often to unload random Pokémon from Pokemon Go. But am I ever going to play through the game ever again? Probably not. Then again, that is true of practically every other Pokémon game, too, so nothing new there.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare for the SNES! Will it be a dream, or that other thing that is the opposite of a dream that I can’t quite recall the name of right now? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

I know them!

FGC #428 Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon

'dem scoutsDragon Ball Z has seen a new videogame every seven seconds since the controller was invented. Sailor Moon hasn’t seen a legitimate console title since the Playstation 1.

And can we please admit that Sailor Moon is just Dragon Ball Z for girls?

No, wait, you know what? That’s bullshit, and I regret even typing such a thing. If my backspace key hadn’t been cursed by a particularly cantankerous and evidently magical Eskimo woman, I would delete that entire sentence. Sailor Moon is not Dragon Ball Z for girls. Yes, it seemed to rise to prominence around the same general time; yes, it seemed to work in parallel in that “6 am Japanimation” timeslot for a lot of impressionable youths; and, yes, Sailor Moon certainly seems to be the “girls fight stuff” counter to Dragon Ball Z’s “boys fight stuff” premise. There are a lot of similarities between the two franchises, and probably some sort of muscular chests vs. bare thighs ratio chart could be composed by someone with a degree in graphic artistry. But the important difference between Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z? Sailor Moon had a plot.

Wait, no. My bad, again. Sailor Moon’s plot was just as dumb and superfluous as “Goku must beat Vegeta for raisens”. Collecting the seven shards of the Millennium Crystal is just as ridiculous as collecting the seven dragon balls, and, ultimately, both situations end with characters switching sides and a boss fight or two. But there is an important difference between the OG Sailor Moon animated series and the oft-remastered Dragon Ball Z: Sailor Moon had a different monster every episode. Every single one! Or thereabouts! Sometimes they just fought a general or the final boss! But that means that, more or less, for 200 episodes of Sailor Moon, there are 200 random moon monsters running around!

And that is awesome fodder for a video game bestiary!

In the name of high fashion!Dragon Ball Z lends itself naturally to a fighting game. You’ve got Goku and his posse, four or five “prime” villains, a little bit of crossover between the two (Vegeta have an “M” on his forehead this week?), and maybe you can throw in a henchman or two because everyone seems to love the Ginyu Force. There! Done! You’ve got the perfect fighting game roster, and you even picked up a few weirdos like Piccolo so you can have a stretchy guy. The end. You’ve got an eclectic cast and all you need is some kind of excuse for everyone to pummel each other (I don’t know, maybe a robot has a case of the munchies?). But, as anyone that has ever played the Dragon Ball “spin-off” titles will attest, the DBZ setup doesn’t exactly lend itself to the typical videogame format. DBZ has very few “goombas” or “mets” running around, and you can only spend so many levels battling those stupid vegetable monsters from planet Vegeta (oh, I just got that). Maybe your DBZ RPG has to add a panda with a gun or something, but, ultimately, the limited number of DBZ “mooks” makes anything but a fighting game for DBZ rather pointless.

And, while the franchise had at least one very good SNES fighting game, Sailor Moon, has literal hordes of minion monsters for its other digital outings. Usagi fought a different marginally-human-shaped creature every week, so that allows for not only a full bestiary brimming with elemental and animalistic options for opponents, it also naturally lends itself to situations where a monster is promoted or demoted according to battle-party readiness, so, yes, Final Fantasy, you have an excellent excuse to recolor various sprites and claim Imp is actually General Imp and totally a secret boss right now. And that means you can do anything with Sailor Moon! Usagi can fight hordes of monsters with four-seven allies (and maybe that damn bubblegum chibi-creature), and, frankly, you can fit that kind of full cast into any genre of videogame. Want the Sailor Scouts to live in a shoot ‘em up? Sure! Beat ‘em up? Why not! JRPG? Why, you’ve got a battle party right there! And more random monsters than you could shake a crescent moon wand at! Everybody wins!

I have to acknowledge itAnd, given Sailor Moon seemed to be at the height of its popularity roughly around the era of the SNES, we did see a number of variations on what could be done with the Sailor Scouts. Well, “we” is kind of a misnomer: Japan saw a lot of Sailor Moon games, and Western countries got a random smattering of whatever was available and easily translated. The United States of Dumberica was clearly not worthy of the Sailor Moon JRPG… which is probably just as well, as it seems to rely heavily on one-person parties, and that is exactly zero fun in your average JRPG. And Europe saw a random beat ‘em up or two. But, if you were really lucky, you might have been in one of the approximately 0.0002 arcades in the world that contained the Sailor Moon arcade game, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon.

Superficially, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is another arcade beat ‘em up from an era chock full of ‘em. You have your choice of five Sailor Scouts, they all have special attacks that boil down to “this defeats enemies”, and those enemies are hordes of the same opponents over and over again in slightly different configurations. It’s a beat ‘em up. You’ve been through this all before.

WeeeeeBut, assuming you are a student of beat ‘em ups from the 90’s (which I, a beatemupologist, clearly am), you will notice some significant variations from the norm. For one thing, this is (probably? Prove me wrong!) the only beat ‘em up out there with a completely female cast. Yes, it’s a “side-effect” of the source material, but that means there are no Haggars or other heavies to find on the character select screen. Thus, there are no characters that are based exclusively on piledriver-timing, and everything moves at a much zippier pace than you’d find in your typical accommodate-for the-guy-that-uses-throws beat ‘em up. But don’t let that make you think that each Sailor Scout is just a recolor with a slightly different elemental attack! Every Scout has their own unique animations and movements, and you can really feel how Amy maybe has to put in a little more effort than Sailor Jump Kicks for Days… errr.. Jupiter. This is a Sailor Moon game that feels like a Sailor Moon game, and that’s more than I could ever say for Spider-Man’s outing.

But somehow more miraculous than all of that is the title’s bestiary. While the average beat ‘em up might have a memorable boss or two (that might even wind up in a Street Fighter title for years), the generic guys of a beat ‘em up are traditionally as forgettable and indistinguishable as a flock of seagulls (or A Flock of Seagulls). Inevitably, you’ve got a skinny nerd, a fat guy, some tall dude that is a makeshift leader, the female of the species, a demoted boss from the first level, and some kind of heavy that is used sparsely in early levels, but shows up in droves toward the end. And that’s it! Maybe there’s a robot somewhere in there? That’s about the best you can hope for. Sailor Moon, meanwhile, employs:

  • ACT NOW!An Amazonian monster woman with gnarly teeth
  • Some demon imp creature that will haunt my nightmares
  • A water nymph
  • A creepy walking marionette
  • An inordinately creepy walking doll
  • A ninja
  • The living embodiment of the Gemini Zodiac Sign with electricity powers
  • A dick with a tennis racket and flaming tennis balls

And those are just the normal enemies! We haven’t even gotten to the boss with axes for hands! Or the gargoyle that decides to fly up Tokyo Tower for no apparent reason!

But, as with the other titles from this batch of FGC entries, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is remembered by a whole six people, and is only available to modern audiences through illicit methods. This is a beat ‘em up that puts the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its army of identical foot robots to shame, and it’s forever lost to the annals of history because some people believe “girl anime” doesn’t translate to videogame bucks. And, despite the rebirth of Sailor Moon Crystal right alongside Dragon Ball Super, we’re still going to see a million DBZ rehash titles before we get so much as a Sailor Moon mobile gatcha.

Sorry, Usagi, sometimes the forces of the Negaverse win.

FGC #428 Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon

  • SAILOR V GAME!System: Arcade. Any Sailor Moon beat ‘em ups for any other systems will not be acknowledged.
  • Number of players: It’s a 2-P, but it looks like 4-P was intended at some point. Which brings us to…
  • Cutting Room Floor: It seems obvious that this title was somehow rushed to the arcades, and a few random features and tidbits were dropped. For one thing, the game doesn’t have an ending, despite the fact that there appears to be text for such hidden in the code. Additionally, an entire level sees the Scouts fight their way to Nephrite’s cabin, and then the boss of Nephrite’s cabin is… A reused boss from two levels earlier. And Sailor V sprites lay hiding in the rom, too. We could have had an official, real-life Sailor V title!
  • For the fans nerds: If you’re a dedicated Sailor Moon super fan, and demand to know the timeframe for this adventure, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is basically a retelling of the Negaverse/1st Season of Sailor Moon, though with all the Inner-Senshi available from the start. Luckily, the entire cast doesn’t completely die in this version (assuming you don’t run out of quarters).
  • Favorite Sailor Scout: Sailor Mars, no questions. … Come to think of it, I have pretty much based my entire dating history going back to high school on… Oh Lord, I’m not going to finish this sentence for the sake of my own sanity.
  • Favorite Scene in any piece of media, ever: Yes, it is preserved.

    Meow!

    The noble Hercules is here for us all.

  • Goggle Bob Fact: The first Playstation game I ever played was… a Sailor Moon game. The Japanese Playstation 1 was available initially for rent at our local videogame rental spot, so I rented an entire Playstation and only one game… the Sailor Moon fighting game that is, incidentally, pretty terrible. And that’s why I didn’t purchase a Playstation 1 until the release of Mega Man 8.
  • Did you know? The author of Sailor Moon married the author of Yu Yu Hakusho. Speaking of underrepresented franchises that would be ripe for some modern videogames…
  • Would I play again: Probably! If I had a way to play this game with some Sailor Moon superfans, I would be all over it. As it is, it’s just a fun, completely impossible to play videogame.

What’s next? With God as my witness, I will not allow a theme “week” to go by without a Mega Man game. Please look forward to it!

Moon Magic

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

Saints!Saints Row 4 is an over-the-top videogame about a world beset by aliens, destroyed, and then rebuilt in a Matrix-esque virtual reality wherein your player avatar, The President of the United States, is granted amazing super powers in an effort to eventually conquer the alien threat and conquer all of time so as to save the human race.

So let’s spend this article talking about urban planning.

Wait, sorry, I have been informed that it is moderately possible to stay on topic while addressing this blatantly boring matter, so we may as well give that a try. Take two…

Saints Row 2 was an amazing little chunk of a game. After Saints Row was reviewed as “like Grand Theft Auto, but we forgot to figure out the ‘but’”, Saints Row 2 shook the gaming world by being the most Grand Theft Auto-est Grand Theft Auto to ever Grand Theft Auto. That is to say, the Grand Theft Auto from before Rockstar decided to smother any fun in the franchise by sticking its head so far up its own butt that no excitement could ever escape this airtight asszone. And it wasn’t just about a completely bonkers plot that may or may not have contained covering sections of the city in raw sewage! No, Saints Row 2 took the customization features of San Andreas and dialed them up to eleven. So many options! So much clothing! Hell, they had to build an entire mall to house all those shopping choices!

And, in my humble opinion, that mall might be the best part of Saints Row 2.

WeeeeeYes, it’s just one silly area. Yes, it’s an area that probably ultimately only exists for one set piece mission that involves a shootout in a mall (that seems less funny in 2018). And, yes, I might just like it because I have a weird inclination toward hanging out at any mall, virtual ones included. But whatever the original reason for that lil’ shopping center, it is one of my favorite spots, and a significant reason for this is simple: it’s a place. It is somewhere in the Saints Row 2 city that you can actually go. It’s not just another empty, set-dressing building. It’s a real location, and, even if there is an obvious “now loading” parking garage or elevator, it still feels like an organic piece of the city. It’s not just a place to customize your trench coat, it’s a place, and it makes the world of Saints Row 2 feel that much more real.

And, like in our blighted present, you can never go to the mall again. Saints Row 3 dropped not only the mall, but seemingly the entire concept of going inside a big, open building.

And, let’s not kid ourselves, people noticed. I noticed. Saints Row 3 was an amazing game, but almost everyone seemed to recognize that its base city was somehow… less. There were more exciting cutscenes, set pieces, and the occasional reason to deploy a parachute after leaping from your hover-bike, but there weren’t any malls. There weren’t any places that made the SR3 city feel like a real place; simply stores that were singular rooms, and the occasional “level area” that felt very much like a Hyrulian dungeon. The Saints Row 3 city was a shell of the former glory of the series, particularly at a time when other franchises seemed to be moving forward with more immersive worlds.

And then Saints Row 4 effectively told the world that that was good enough, and outright reused the “old” city of Saints Row 3. New game, old city. Party foul, Volition, directors of Saints Row 4. You destroyed half the fun of an open world game before I even opened the box.

Tanks for the memoriesOf course, anyone familiar with the franchise or its producers knows the truth of the matter. In short, without reusing assets to an absurd degree, there literally would be no Saints Row 4. And that would be a major loss for the universe! Saints Row 4 is an irrational amount of fun, predominantly because it takes the typical, mundane world of Saints Row 3 (well, as mundane as any world with Mayor Burt Reynolds could be) and adds super powers. Run like The Flash, fly like Superman, and telekinetically whip some cars around like Matthew Malloy (like you can’t use Wikipedia). When you were previously tethered to finding a conveniently unlocked car every seventeen seconds, being able to Hulk jump straight out of a lake and onto a building is a bit of a game changer, and truly makes Saints Row 4 its own experience. The wisdom of Solomon is telling me you don’t need a new city when you’ve got the speed of Mercury.

But you know what? Let’s stop trying to justify the loss of a new city, and acknowledge that Steelport, the official city of Saints Row 3 & 4, is actually pretty great.

Consider the number one complaint about modern open world games: there’s nothing to do. From Breath of the Wild to Skyrim to Dragon’s… Dogma? Age? Something like that… For all of those worlds, it seems the number one complaint is that there’s a crazy, humungous world to explore, but nothing to do. And that makes perfect sense, as any neighborhood where every dungeon and dragon is squished together is going to feel a bit claustrophobic. If your horse doesn’t have anywhere to run around, everywhere is going to feel like Hyrule Field, and then you may as well just be playing an N64 game. A big world needs the option to feel boring, because wide open spaces are practically a requirement.

WeeeeeeeBut all of the open world games named a moment ago are fantasy-based worlds. An empty field feels natural in Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls because “the wilds of the frontier” are practically built into the genre. That’s not going to fly in an urban environment, because, come on, when was the last time you saw seven inches of a city uninhabited by anything. In New York City, I saw a landlord-tenant dispute over a sleeping bag. This means that, assuming you want your sandbox city to be remotely realistic, it’s time to populate every millimeter of the place with something. There are no nice rocks or fields of tumbleweed in Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row; no, every bit of the city has to have a building or fountain or maybe just a spot where some dude carrying a dildo spawns. You need something, otherwise the world is going to look unfinished.

And then there’s the form and function factor. This is a proper videogame, not some manner of Endless Ocean nonsense, so there are missions. Missions require venues, so of course robbing the bank or destroying the alien antennae needs a spot to be marked on the map. So that means you have to build a bank or an antennae. And they can’t be next to each other! No! There must be some space between them. And there’s a car chase at the tail end of the mission? Wow, better design the streets around that for some interesting twists and turns. Don’t forget to add a fruit cart! Now multiply that kind of thinking by about, what, twenty? To account for all the story missions? And how many optional missions are there? How many street races, ragdoll showcases, and gang fights have to be included? And what do you do when missions start running into missions? It’s not like every section of the city is walled off entirely; you need to account for jobs that will use the same highways and byways. Everything has to fit together, and I don’t have to remind any artists out there how difficult it can be when you have to change just one thing, and are then forced to change every damn thing around it. Smoothing out one road might change the entire shape of the city!

Just thinking about it gets me exhausted.

Take a lookBut this is the strength of Steelport. With a limited number of changes, the same city was used for two different games brimming with content. And that’s amazing! Considering that Saints Row 3 and Saints Row 4 have dramatically different movement options available (a tank is not the same as Supergirl speed), the fact that the same city can be used at all is a minor miracle. And once you factor in all the missions across both games, well, it seems a little silly to be worried about the loss of a few open buildings. Yes, you might not have the same “lived-in” feeling of Saints Row 2, but SR3 and SR4 both use their shared city to do their jobs incredibly well. If you can use the same city to stage a noir-ish gang war story of betrayal and luchadores in the same place as a sci-fi epic featuring aliens and Agent Smith, then you’re clearly doing something right.

There’s nothing lazy about building something to last, and there’s nothing indolent about Steelport. This is how you reuse assets: by building something amazing and adaptable right from the beginning, and showcasing that remarkable flexibility. Here’s to the city planners of Steelport, because they know how to shape a city for the ages.

Though I do still miss the mall…

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

  • System: Available on PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. The Gat Out of Hell expansion (/entirely new game) came out at just the right time to boot this one up to the current gen consoles.
  • Number of players: Like SR3, this one has multiplayer that I have literally never tried. Let’s assume it’s good!
  • Favorite Weapon: There is a gun that inflates people’s heads. While I would like the ability to randomly inflate other body parts (I would very much like someone to explode thanks to unreasonably swollen calves), I can’t say no to N64-style body morphing.
  • OuchiePresident for a Day: It impacts practically nothing, but this title begins with your protagonist as President of the United States. I would personally like to play more adventures where you’re a Super Hero President… but then I start thinking about how my ideal game is Dynasty Warriors: Oops All Presidents, and how much it would kick ass to take out hordes of enemies with an extremely over-leveled William Howard Taft.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes. This is one of the few titles I actually completely Platinum’ed. I would be more proud of that if it didn’t involve rubberbanding a controller so I could fly around on a hover bike for an hour…
  • Did you know? This game canonizes the “Saints Row 1 model” character as a virtual reality created “boss” during one mission. This means that, without a doubt, if your protagonist is female in Saints Row 4, she’s trans, and not just implied to “look different” like in Saints Row 2. I think this means we have exactly one videogame franchise with a potentially trans hero. Progress!
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. I intended to play through Saints Row 4 on PS4 for this review, even… but it’s a long game! And I have a 100% save file right there on PS3! And I like running around like an invincible idiot! It happens!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Captain Commando! Caaaaaaptain Commaaaaaando! Or… maybe I’m thinking of something else…. No matter! Please look forward to it!

Where did it all go?