Tag Archives: zero

FGC #481 Mega Man ZX Advent

Have a mega timeI’m working on a theory here, and it’s that, despite the fact that Mega Man 9 is one of my favorite games and possibly one of the best Mega Man games ever, it also completely destroyed the Mega Man franchise.

And it all roots back to the history and evolution of Mega Man.

In 1987, there was Mega Man. The premiere of the Blue Bomber saw a robot that walks, jumps, and shoots. When he defeats a Robot Master, he gains that robot’s weapon, and can use it a limited number of times as an offensive option. This playstyle continued through the “Nintendo Years”, and saw six NES games and five Gameboy games. There were many pretenders to the Mega throne, but, by and large, Mega Man changed very little on the NES. A slide here, a mega buster there, but it all still went back to the same gameplay that was established in ’87.

In 1993, we were introduced to Mega Man X. X was, figuratively and literally, the newest model of Mega Man, and came with more than a few upgrades. He could dash. He could cling to walls. He felt more mobile than his stiff ancestor. And, on a very important but oft-ignored note, X could charge his robot master (now “Maverick”) weapons, and possessed an even greater ability mimic his opponents. Simple Mega Man would have never gained the invisibility of Sting Chameleon (Invisible Man?) from a fight, but X had the option to go incognito and fire off triple shots. Finally, “Mega Man” had an avenue to enjoy the more complicated Robot Masters that had been appearing since Wood Man first rained wicked leaves down on the battlefield.

Generations!1997’s Mega Man Legends was, unfortunately, an evolutionary dead-end for the franchise, but Mega Man X4 (released the same year) allowed a complete Zero to costar with X (he was technically playable in X3, but he was more prototype than man). The Mega Man franchise always put a particular emphasis on distance and how easily ol’ Mega could be defeated by simply bumping into an enemy, so it seemed only natural when the franchise went all in on a character that had more of an emphasis on close-range combat. And it was a change for Zero as much as anyone else! Zero used to be able to slash opponents from a distance with an armbuster and flying cut, but now he was limited to a sword’s length for combat. And it worked! Many preferred playing as the up close and personal Zero in X4 and future X titles, so it was little surprise when it was time for…

Mega Man Zero hit the scene in 2002. Once again, we had two evolutionary paths, with Mega Man Battle Network’s action/JRPG hybrid gameplay first emerging to great acclaim in 2001, and then Mega Man Zero curating the 2-D action a year later. MMZ could potentially be seen as a step back for the franchise, as singular Zero was technically more limited than X in his modular attacks, but, as the MMZ franchise evolved, Zero gained an arsenal that would put any other Mega Man to shame. And right from the beginning, it was clear that the point was never to give Zero another seventeen variations on Metal Blades, but create a smaller, tighter gameplay environment for an audience that had literally learned to walk alongside the little metal boy. Mega Man Zero’s Zero did not feel like the same upgrade we saw between Mega Man and Mega Man X, but it did offer a new, more intricate experience for the veteran Mega fan.

Seems familiar2006, four years (and ten games!) later, we received another two “sequel” franchises. Mega Man Star Force was our upgrade for Mega Man Battle Network, refining the basic gameplay and adding very important plot points about dinosaurs being killed by a lack of friendship. And, on the other side of the aisle, we got Mega Man ZX, the continuation of the Mega Man Zero franchise. In this world, the wars of Mega Man Zero eventually ended, and the heroes of that time were skinned alive and could now be worn like suits. Don’t worry! They’re still sentient “biometals”, so at least X, Zero, and all their frenemies can experience the joy/horror of being a fashion accessory for centuries! And the protagonist of Mega Man ZX watches their own personal Obi Wan die, which unlocks the ability to mega-merge the biometals of X of Z(ero). Thus, the titular Mega Man ZX is born, and they’ve got all the powers of Mega Man X and Zero. Finally! The lovers are united!

And, while the whole conceit of Mega Man ZX could have just been an excuse to give Zero a decent buster, the game really does feel like the conclusion of years of Mega Man and Zero games. Zero’s greatest strength was always its focused gameplay… but this left the hero feeling rather limited compared to his ancestors. Meanwhile, Mega Man had a thousand options for combat (or at least nine), but many of his adventures seemed overstuffed and… Sorry, the English language doesn’t yet have a phrase that translates to “too top spin-y”. But Mega Man ZX struck an excellent balance: the dedicated gameplay of the Zero franchise was here, but the options available to X were also fully integrated into every level. Mega Man ZX could “be”, essentially, Zero, or transform into a more mobile air-dasher. Or a water witch. Fireball bro. Cyber ninja. The hero’s got options! And each different form wasn’t just a matter of a slightly modified buster, they all offered unique mobility options, too. In a way, this is what was promised back in the ancient days of Rockman and his ability to mimic his opponents after a battle. Or maybe that’s just what was promised by Ruby Spears Mega Man…. Still! Whatever works!

And it must have worked well for somebody, because Mega Man ZX gained a sequel, Mega Man ZX Advent, the following year. And it advanced the Mega Man formula by being completely bonkers.

Kiss from a roseMega Man ZX Advent eschews the typical mega-sequel plan by ejecting its previous protagonist right out of the gate. What’s more, this isn’t even a situation wherein the “ZX biometal” is immediately passed to the next generation or some other similar narrative trick to explain sprite reuse. No, the hero/heroine of Mega Man ZX Advent initially acquires the A Biometal, granting them the ability to wholly copy any given biometal or pseudoroid. What does this mean? It means you can play as the bosses! No more “got a weapon” or “can play as ZX-H” or whatever, you can just straight up emulate any given boss in the game! And it doesn’t matter if the boss “is too big for most areas” or “doesn’t have legs”, you can just turn into that fish monster on land if you really want to! Worst comes to worst, you just lose a life, so don’t worry about it. You’ll figure out that being a gigantic alligator monster all the time isn’t the best choice eventually.

And, while it demolishes the tightness of Zero to make some sections of ZX Advent unerringly silly (“Quick! Turn into the twin cat-bears!”), what’s truly remarkable here is how much the player is trusted with these unwieldy toys. Mega Man Powered Up had been released the previous year, and it did its level best to make sure all of the playable Robot Masters were balanced and similar so Guts Man could (technically) conquer any challenge originally designed for Mega Man. There is no such equilibrium here: it’s a known fact that half the playable “party” cannot complete the game from beginning to end. Hell, a fraction of that group can barely even jump! But that doesn’t matter, because you can switch between forms at any time, and who needs to worry about whether Queenbee the Hymenopteroid can fit through a particular hallway? Just switch! The X button is right there! The ring menu means pausing the action isn’t too big of a deal, and you’ll be switching over to the appropriate pseudoroid with a few button presses.

And being able to cycle through a complete set of “Robot Masters” really felt like what Mega Man was always meant to be. Mega Man ZX Advent was the culmination of a full twenty years of Mega Man games.

And it turns out it really was the zenith of the franchise. There was nowhere to go but back.

The secret bonus of Mega Man ZX was the ability to play as Omega, the super-powered version of Zero that was supposed to be his original, unstoppable body (long story). The secret bonus of Mega Man ZX Advent was the ability to control Modal a (case sensitive), which…

Pew pew

Looks a little familiar.

Model a was clearly a deliberate move, as the next Mega Man title to come down the pike was Mega Man 9, a retro title released in 2008. After years of Mega Man upgrading to match the graphics of the day, this was the first Mega Man title to fully embrace the NES aesthetic, and return to (faux) 8-bits. This was the first Mega Man to not try to upgrade old titles to modern sensibilities (like Mega Man X Maverick Hunter or Mega Man Powered Up) but take gameplay back to older standards while offering new and interesting experiences. But, retro or not, Mega Man 9 was an excellent game, and, while it may not have featured a “modern” Mega Man, it was the type of experience that could only be produced by people with decades of experience in the genre.

Which is great, because Mega Man 9 was apparently the end of any experimentation in the franchise.

CHOMPSince the release of Mega Man 9, we’ve seen Mega Man 10 (another retro title) and Mega Man 11 (something a little more modern). Aside from that? Nothing. No Mega Man X, Mega Man ZX, or Mega Man Battle Network. No Mega Man: Ultra Plus or whatever could have been next for the franchise. Mega Man 9’s success seemed to cement the concept that gamers just want classic, unchanged Mega Man, and that’s what Capcom is going to keep cranking out. We’ve seen about seventeen different rereleases of Mega Man 3, but nary a peep about Mega Man Legends 3.

(And, yes, we could blame this all on Keiji Inafune, the godfather of Mega Man, leaving Capcom, but that ignores the fact that we have Mega Man 11, and it’s probable there is a reason Inafuking isn’t at Capcom anymore…)

Was Mega Man 9 a good game? Yes. Hell, it was amazing. By comparison, is Mega Man ZX Advent a bad game? Well, it’s not bad, but it is very sloppy compared to Mega Man 9 (or even Mega Man Zero 4). But it’s a lot of fun, and its experimental side is arguably what Mega Man fans have wanted all along. But since even more fans simply wanted good ol’ Mega Man, Mega Man 9 was the end of the franchise’s 20 years of experimentation. Mega Man 12 may be allowed to have a gimmick or two, but it better be the OG Mega Man, or it ain’t getting greenlit.

Mega Man 9 is my favorite game that murdered its own franchise’s creativity.

And Mega Man ZX Advent is my favorite game where you can play as Bifrost the Crocoroid.

FGC #481 Mega Man ZX Advent

  • System: Nintendo DS initially, and now available for PS4/Switch via the Mega Man Zero/ZX Collection. This game was actually chosen by Random ROB a while ago, but I decided to hold off for the modern collection. And it’s good!
  • Rock out!So you spent an entire article bitching how Capcom ignores the experimental Mega Man titles, and they just released one of the experimental Mega Man titles? Yes. Shut-up.
  • Number of players: Grey or Ashe, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Pseudoroid: Vulturon the Condoroid is a heavy metal vulture that summons robot zombies and flies through the air strumming his murderous electric guitar. Just… just how are you supposed to compete with that? Block Man can’t touch that with a ten foot block.
  • Second Runner-Up: But all of the pseudoroids are amazing in this game. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to just phone in a number of Robot Masters that are all basic variations on a theme (like the Guardian Quartet), but we’ve got giant bees dragging around enormous hives and twin dog monsters and Metal Sonic and… Well, the list goes on for a while.
  • Say something mean: The empty rooms that can be uncovered but won’t activate until you speak to the right random Ranger to initiate a sidequest are the absolute worst. The fact that there are like 50 “golden skulltula”-style monsters to hunt down, and the quest giver is tucked away in one of the final levels is somehow even beyond the absolute worst. Some kind of… Mega Worst.
  • An end: Complete with the secret ending, the finale of Mega Man ZX Advent sets up a sequel featuring evil biometals, a turncoat leader, and an uncertain future that we know will culminate with Tron Bonne running around a sunken world. But what happens next? Who knows! Like Mega Man Legends, this branch of the Mega Man franchise never made it to a full trilogy, so here we sit waiting for more.
  • BUZZ!Did you know? Chronoforce the Xiphosuroid, the horseshoe crab-looking pseudoroid that can control time, is named for the Xiphosura order, which includes the Tachypleus tridentatus aka kabutogani. And that’s where we get the name for the Pokémon, kabuto.
  • Would I play again: Did I mention I like playing as the giant crocodile monster? Because I very much enjoy playing as the giant crocodile monster.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gradius V for the Playstation 2! Keep your options open, Vic! Please look forward to it!

FGC #367 Mega Man X8

Mega Man!Here lies the Mega Man X series. Forever may it rest.

Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: Mega Man X is one of my favorite games. Mega Man X2 and X3 are both great experiences, too, as, while they’re not as great as OG X, they both contain that same (exactly the same) enjoyable X gameplay. Then we get into X4 and X5, which introduced Zero as a (permanently) playable character. The jury is still out on whether or not this improved the series, but, for my money, there is nothing more joyous than double jumping around with a lightsaber and dicing mavericks to maver-bits. Then, starting with X6, the series tried to be experimental. And by “experimental” I mean “completely horrible”. If the stories are true, Inafune stopped formally directing the X series with X5 (so he could move on to the Zero series), and X6 was left in hands that were… slightly less capable. X6 may not have been the disaster some have claimed (it is an extremely unpolished mess, but it is still “X gameplay” at the end of the day), but then we got X7.

I’m probably never going to forgive Mega Man X7.

I’ll save the majority of this rant for when ROB inevitably pegs that Playstation 2 title, but, long story short, Mega Man X7 tried to do the “bring old franchise to the modern era” trick… but failed miserably. 3-D action areas were broken and slow, and the beloved gameplay of the SNES/PSX titles was forsaken for Flame Hyenard announcing his intention to “burn”. It was a rotten experience all around, and, while the drive to innovate is always appreciated, it certainly did not work out in this situation.

But, aside from the crummy gameplay, Mega Man X7 introduced another fine addition to the X canon: it firmly planted X’s head so far up his own ass, he could lick the inside of his own reploid ribcage. Only the buster on his arm knows for sure why, but the Mega Man X series always had a sort of maudlin sentimentality to the storytelling. It was mostly confined to the endings during the first three titles, but X4-X6 managed to wedge in conversations with Mavericks that often involved robots lamenting their sorry lots in life shortly before shooting homing fish at each other. Pew PewX7 ratcheted that up a notch or two with a tale of betrayal, refugees, and Sigma that was, fun fact, the exact same plot as Mega Man X4. X7 managed to expand the talky talk of the X series, but still told the exact same story as ever.

The next logical step was clear: an endlessly philosophizing JRPG called Mega Man X: Command Mission. Wait! No! That’s a terrible idea! Please keep the franchise going! We like action games! Please give us a new Mega Man X game, and please let it be an actual goddamn Mega Man game! Please?

Well, we mostly got our wish.

Mega Man X8 should be lauded for a number of reasons. First of all, it was a return to (almost entirely) 2-D gameplay, so 90% of X7’s inane bullshit went right out the window. Additionally, X8 did its best to add an interesting facet to the series, so it allowed for character switching “in battle”, and based a number of scenarios, like escaping a grasping opponent or teaming up for a double attack, on the convention of having two combatants available. X got some curious armor, Zero scored a menagerie of weapons, and Axl’s “morph into a mook” ability got expanded to something actually viable. Couple this with some stimulating secrets, one of the better uses of “money” in the franchise, and your typical eight mavericks ready for a beat down, and Mega Man X8 is a pretty good game to actually play. Assuming you can forgive the vehicle sections and a few areas that are entirely instant death traps, X8 is an enjoyable experience.

But then there’s the story. It’s not that the story is bad (which it certainly is), it’s not that the story is somehow at war with its own continuity (thanks, Zero series!), and it’s not even that the story pukes all over the very concept of even basic science (Earth does not need a space elevator!); no, the greatest sin of the plot of Mega Man X8 is that is tries to be Mega Man Genesis Evangelion without the tiniest hint of irony or self-awareness. The subtitle is “Paradise Lost”. The first stage is Noah’s Park. The final battles are against Sigma as a fiery devil, followed by a fallen angel with beautiful wings. X whines about having to murder his fellow robots while battling the thinnest allegory for the Light Bringer in the history of gaming. Someone thought it was a good idea for Mega Man X, the robot built by Santa Claus to bring about world peace with his flamethrower arm, to play out some Bible fanfic while incidentally battling Isn't that a song?Bamboo Pandamonium, the nihilistic panda robot with swords for fingers. This is a thing that happened, and it absolutely could not have happened by accident. Someone… probably multiple people… thought this was the proper direction for a series featuring a robot that is occasionally named after granite.

And… it killed the X series.

There are likely a number of reasons Mega Man X8 was the final chapter. At this point, it was becoming more and more complicated to create realistic and cartoony graphics, and the general population wasn’t a fan of the latter appearing in practically anything. The man behind the Mega had already moved on to a new series, and the new home of 2-D gaming, the booming portable market, would wind up hosting a number of different Mega experiments (see ZX, Powered Up, and the X-based Maverick Hunter releases). And, hey, the original Mega Man series had stopped at 8 at this point, too, so maybe that’s just the cutoff for Capcom properties (sorry to be the one to tell you this, Resident Evil). The fact that Mega Man X8 had sagging sales compared to other Capcom properties may have been a factor. But, all told, it’s terribly unlikely that anyone looked at the plot of this bonkers adventure, acknowledge said bonkinality, and decided it was time for a break. But should we have received a Mega Man X9 on PS2, I have no doubt it would have continued the story of Axl, the lamest Maverick Hunter in the world, and maybe involved a parable about the sacrifice of Christ or something.

So I have to say this right now: Capcom, if you considering rebooting or reigniting the Mega Man X franchise, please, please ignore every X game since… let’s say… Mega Man X.

Please.

All together nowLook, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Zero is a lock for inclusion, and even Axl could be pretty interesting with his Bass-esque abilities. Include armor parts, weapon upgrades, and maybe even a chip system. That could all be pretty great. But please ignore the entirety of Mega Man X continuity. Please let X just be moderately conflicted, and don’t make him fight gods. Let him run, jump, and explore, but don’t let him in the same room as anything called “The Jakob Project”. X, Zero, Dr. Wily, Sigma: that is all okay. Fighting angels is not.

Mega Man X8 is where the X series died. Let it be dead, and pray that its next resurrection is decidedly less holy.

FGC #367 Mega Man X8

  • System: Playstation 2, and PC a year or so later. Let’s hope the PC version fixed that glitch where the robot ant becomes accidentally trapped in his own box.
  • Number of players: Two hunters at a time, but only one player.
  • She's my buddyBest Reward for OCD: I normally disparage collectathon elements, but the reward for playing this game an unnecessarily long time is unlocking the three navigator lady reploids as playable characters. They’re just reskins of the main cast that are randomly weaker… which is not sending the best message… but they’re also the first you’ve been able to play as anyone with a rep-gina in the X series (give or take the JRPG). And Layer with Sigma’s humongous sword is a beast, so I will hear no detractors.
  • Favorite Maverick: Gravity Antonion is an excuse for flipping stage orientation in a 2-D game, so he gets my vote. He’s also one of the few insect-based mavericks that is any fun at parties. Uh… don’t ask.
  • Did you know? Dark Mantis‘ Pitch Black stage is located in Africa. Darkest Africa. Are you getting Capcom’s clever/racist joke!?
  • Would I play again: I guess there’s an X collection on the horizon, so it’s kind of inevitable. Not looking forward to reclaiming all my hard-earned powerups from scratch again, nor do I want to hear X shout “Lumine” ever again, but, hey, sacrifices must be made.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Street Fighter 4 for whatever system I can find! Hooray! Street Fighting times for the last article of the year! Please look forward to it!

So much purple

FGC #332 Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Marvel

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #284 Drakengard 3

Today’s article contains game-long spoilers for Drakengard 3. Nothing too specific, but it does kind of spoil the ultimate finale of the game, so, ya know, you’ve been warned.

Here comes a special boyA long time ago in a Snick long forgotten, my mother watched an episode of Ren & Stimpy with a wee Goggle Bob. This was unusual, as, while my mother usually did her best to watch what I was watching (we both enjoyed Clarissa Explains it All quite a bit), she didn’t (and still doesn’t) really like “cartoons” at all. So, one way or another, this was likely the first my mother sat and down and actually watched a complete Ren & Stimpy episode. The episode (The Big Baby Scam… I can remember almost all early Nicktoon episodes because they were rerun constantly) was a typical Ren & Stimpy jaunt, and ended with a pair of menacing babies punching the daylights out of Ren Höek. I was laughing uproariously, and my mother… was not impressed. I asked her why, and her response still sticks in my mind.

“I just don’t think violence is funny.”

This rocked my young mind. I am not, nor was I, a psychopath, so, of course, I shared the same belief. Violence is violence, it is bad. But, as far as I reasoned, this was not “violence”, it was Ren & Stimpy. It was a silly cartoon about a dog and a cat and their harebrained schemes to, what was it again? Oh yes, to live. Okay, yeah, if you think about Ren & Stimpy for a moment, it is kind of horrifying, because many episodes are just about two stray animals desperately trying to find a place to live and belong. But then, the next episode, they’re space cadets out in the universe, and isn’t Stimpy a silly kitty? Never mind that practically every episode ends with either Ren slapping Stimpy or Ren being punished by the universe for being Ren, they’re just a couple of inane cartoon animals, no “violence” here.

And, obviously, that’s bullshit.

This has long been the rallying cry of pearl-clutchers everywhere, but cartoons do normalize violence. There’s hitting, there’s falling down, and there are any number of “whacky” firearms being blasted all over the place. I’m pretty sure the average American can simply close their eyes and relive the “Daffy has his beak blown around” image from Looney Tunes. And, on one hand, who cares, it’s funny. On the other hand, it’s a sentient creature being shot in the face. That is not normal. That is upsetting. But it’s a cartoon, so it practically becomes a part of our cultural identity. And, as someone who watches a lot of cartoons, I want to say there’s nothing wrong with that. Kids are smarter than they’re often given credit for, and it’s not hard to discern the difference between Elmer Fudd and an actual threat with a gun. I haven’t ever seen a real life anvil dropped on a random person, so I’m pretty sure our society has survived the last few decades of “animated violence”. The kids are alright.

And then we get into videogames.

And gore!I don’t need to rehash the whole “violent videogames” angle, do I? We’ve all heard the debates, and we’ve all dealt with at least one family member or friend that thinks you’re going to “go Columbine” because you play murder simulators. It’s crazy, right? We all agree there? We don’t play violent videogames because they’re violent, or to learn violence; we play violent videogames because that’s how videogames interpret the world. Call of Duty or Splatoon, who cares? What’s the difference between a virtual gun and a virtual water gun? They’re both just as ineffective on that damn cat with the flags, so let’s get over this whole “videogame violence” thing. Videogames are good for you! Now sit down and finish your Mary-Kate and Ashley: Magical Mystery Mall!

But do you ever really sit down and think about what you’re doing in a videogame? Let’s look at Final Fantasy 1, a game I want to say no parents’ organization has ever challenged (though I’d be amused to hear otherwise). On the surface you’ve got four kinda goofy looking dudes with swords and nunchucks traipsing across a medieval countryside occasionally making imps fall down. No big deal there. But then consider what actually happens in that game. The Light Warriors venture from Corneria to the next town over… an event that involves random encounters every seven steps, and each battle including one to nine different beasts. Our protagonists kill these creatures as easily as breathing, and chug magic drugs whenever they need to feel a little better. Along the way, they meet a blind old woman that lives alone in a cave… and then the heroes keep walking. Shortly thereafter, the gang arrives in Pravoka, determines they need a boat, and kill nine guys until the survivors give them a boat. Then they set sail for another land, and, aside from maybe returning to loot the place, the good people of Pravoka never see the Light Warriors ever again. They don’t even come back to patronize what I’m sure is a fine inn and ocean-side tourist stops.

Slay 'emWhat I’m saying is that the Light Warriors are the real monsters.

But this kind of inhumanity is the standard for most videogames. Children are suffering? Well, I’ll help them if they offer me a cool reward for their stupid little quest. Local economies live or die according to my weapon purchases? Well, I bought everything in this stupid little town, there’s no reason to come here ever again. And the monster thing? Have you ever considered how many species have been driven to extinction thanks to well-meaning heroes? Even a “kiddy” game like Pokémon involves walking through any given forest and knocking every last critter in your path into unconsciousness. That is not the sign of a well mind; that is an early warning sign for a serial killer.

Yoko Taro, a videogame director and writer, seemed to notice this. This thesis permeated his first big game, Drakengard. Unfortunately, Drakengard had a few problems, chief among them that it is about as fun to play as boiling your own eyelids. But then we got Taro’s Nier, a game that is totally bonkers, but actually fun to play. Unfortunately, the moral of Nier ultimately boiled down to “even the most virtuous hero is someone else’s villain”, which is an excellent lesson, but one that requires an actually chivalrous protagonist. The titular Nier is a dedicated father (or brother) who is unerringly kind to the various freaks that seem to populate his world. Assuming you’re not a damnable shadow creature, Nier is good to you, and, while this makes much of his life that much more of a tragedy, it also makes him (possibly over) sympathetic. Nier does what may be judged as bad things, but he does them for reasons that make sense to the player.

This cannot stand.

Zero is the heroine of Drakengard 3. Zero is also an asshole.

flitter flitterDrakengard 3 is the story of six sisters. All six sisters have overwhelming magical powers, and five of them decided to share these powers with everyone and rule justly and fairly in an effort to promote the betterment of mankind. And the sixth sister? Well, that’s Zero, and she decided to use her powers to kill her five sisters and every single man, woman, and centaur in between. She technically has a good reason for doing this, but she’s not big into sharing, so there isn’t much hope for a peaceful resolution. And, spoilers, like most videogame protagonists, she has little trouble achieving her goals. Basically, the simple act of popping the Drakengard 3 disc into your PS3 sets off a chain reaction that leads to the death of thousands across multiple universes. Though I guess Zero does manage to accomplish her murderous goals, so, uh, thanks for playing?

Taken on its own, Zero is not doing anything different from any other videogame, particularly those in the Dynasty Warriors vein. Zero enters the battlefield, cuts down a number of anonymous soldiers, maybe beats a mythological creature or two (minotaur, cerberus, whatever), and moves on to a boss that likely has a “human form” and then a colossal “monster form”, though feel free to reverse that order here and there. When it’s all over and everybody (and I mean everybody) is dead, then we discover that this whole “evil Zero” thing was some kind of smear campaign gone wrong, and Zero actually saved the world. Hooray for our side, trophies for everybody!

ClassyBut the devil is in the details here, and Zero is not afraid to reinforce her own negative self-image. Hell, there’s a reason she named herself “nothing”. This is a woman that kills, enjoys it, and then kills some more. At one point, she relays her whole sad backstory, but her narration is over a flashback of her slaughtering a small town’s worth of soldiers. The massacre has nothing to do with her tale, it’s just, ya know, how that woman thinks. She’s got a mind for murder, and murder on her mind.

And then there are her companions. Not unlike a JRPG, Zero has a party of acolytes that join her quest as the game progresses. Team Zero thus ultimately consists of:

  • A sadist that believes all ugly things must be killed. Side note: he believes everything is ugly.
  • A masochist that derives sexual pleasure from the tiniest implications of abuse. He was previously in a relationship with a very vocal virgin, so, to say the least, he’s a little repressed.
  • A perverted old man that, should he think and talk about sex any more than he already does, will accidentally invent Star Trek.
  • A pretty boy that is all beauty and no brains. Presumably because people have a tendency to always listen to the most attractive person in the room, he is constantly inventing “fun facts” that are, in fact, not all that factual.

Do any of these fellows sound like role models? Hell, do any of these guys sound like someone you’d like to share a continent with? I’ve got nothing against sadists, masochists, satyriasists, and dumbasses, but there’s a difference between extracting pleasure from pain and that being your only personality trait. But, here we are, four dudes that are almost entirely defined by their base desires, and they’re “your” party. Choose your favorite two for the battlefield. You’ll be relying on them for your life!

Directed by Yoko TaroAnd it’s in this manner that Taro accomplishes his goal. Zero and her amazing friends are all joined by one basic, mutual hypothesis: they all like killing. They all like it a lot. And you like it, too, don’t you? What’s that, you don’t like violence? No, that can’t be right, you just murdered about three hundred people in ten minutes, and this is the eighth time you’ve done it. You claim you won’t kill again? Bullshit, you’ll start the next mission and kill the next boatload of people, because you want to see how the story ends, don’t you? You want the achievements? You want the upgraded weapons? Ha, you’re just like this dork over here that’s masturbating over a corpse. Who cares if you’re doing it for EXP or to ride the baloney pony, you’re still killing like a psychopath, and you’re going to keep doing it because you enjoy it. You enjoy violence.

And maybe that’s not a good thing.

Of course, I’ve neglected to mention the first and youngest member of Zero’s posse. Mikhail is a dragon, and, because his previous form, Michael, was recently killed, he’s technically little more than an infant. As a wee (giant) dragon baby, Mikhail has the mind of a child, and a… less than complete understanding of his mistress. Mikhail believes that Zero should try to solve this problem by peacefully reconciling with her sisters, and she absolutely should not kill every person she encounters. Zero doesn’t listen, but, even though he aids Zero time and time again, Mikhail persists with his cries for pacifism. Yes, he does fight, but it’s defensively, and he actively notes that he’s not enjoying it, and he would rather not be doing this if there were any other way.

And he’s the only character that survives Drakengard 3. He’s the only character that survives after participating in the biggest, most annoying challenge on the PS3 that is, incidentally, entirely based on being defensive. All the violence up to this point has been easy, not solving your problems with swords and fire breath is hard.

That makes a bit of an impact.

UGHSo maybe Mom and Yoko Taro are right. Maybe there is something to this whole violence in media thing. Maybe it doesn’t make an impact on our minds, maybe it does. Who knows? All I do know is that most media is content to be “don’t worry about it, it’s just a fantasy”, while Drakengard 3 proudly states, “you like violence? Then there might be something wrong with you.” It’s not the worst judgment, after all, this band of freaks did save their world (after a fashion), but it is something to consider.

Anyway, next week is going to be… Mortal Kombat (9ish) for the PS3? Seriously, ROB? Okay, now you’re just screwing with me.

FGC #284 Drakengard 3

  • System: Playstation 3. Exclusive? Yeah, that’s gonna move a lot of systems.
  • Number of players: It might be neat to get some two player disciple action, but, nope, Zero one player.
  • What’s in a name: The Drakengard franchise is known as “Drag-on Dragoon” in Japan. I cannot tell you how much I prefer that title (it’s a lot).
  • Favorite Disciple: This isn’t usually my preference, but I’m going to go with pretty boy Cent as my favorite. He seems to be the most active of the disciples before his official turn to Zero’s side, and he might be the… least crazy member of the party. Then again, he also summons a magical spider creature almost by accident, and that can’t be completely sane.
  • Backstory: Oh yeah, never read the backstory for Zero. I cannot stress this enough. It’s basically written by Frank Miller. Modern Frank Miller. Avoid at all costs.
  • So much loveLadies’ Night: I could probably write an entire other article on the sexual politics of this game… but I’m not sure if I’d ever reach a conclusion. On one hand, the women rule this world, and there is not a single male that isn’t, in some way, a servant to a woman. That’s cool and oddly feminist for a Japanese game. On the other hand, those powerful women seem to be designed exclusively to check off boxes for various fetishes (like a certain other franchise), so only Zero and One (binary!) come off as “real” characters. Otherwise, you’ve just got nymphy, virgin, lolita, and crazy. Mind you, I haven’t played the DLC, so I don’t know if there is more “shading” there, but, as is, it’s a disappointing turn.
  • Did you know? Oh, and speaking of which, Taro apparently told the character designers to look to Puella Magi Madoka Magica for tips on character design. Now I can’t unsee half the sisters being obvious MM “homages”. Though I suppose a MM/D3 crossover is more likely now…
  • Would I play again? Maybe… I guess. This is a lot more fun than Drakengard 1, but, on the other hand, it’s not as fun as Nier, so….

What’s next? Random ROB already chose Mortal Kombat for some reason, presumably because he’s an evil robot and is not to be trusted. So, anyway, violence for violence’s sake. Please look forward to it!

THE END