FGC #599.2 SaGa Frontier (Remastered)

This post contains a detailed look at one scenario in SaGa Frontier. As such, it contains a lot of spoilers. Given SaGa Frontier Remastered just came out this year, and you may have missed it the first time, just giving you a head’s up.

Technically a different title screenThis is important: how gay is Asellus?

I admit that, in my teen years, I was frustratingly heteronormative. Or, put another way, I watched the entirety of Revolutionary Girl Utena, and picked up on exactly zero subtext. This was true for nearly all media consumed, and, until roughly the release of Final Fantasy 13 in 2009, I consistently assumed gay characters did not exist unless they were starring in a “very special episode” of Friends. And, to blame my environment and not my own ignorance, outright homosexual (or, heavens forbid, trans) representation primarily only existed at the time as jokes or characters that were designated as “the token gay”. It may be hard to understand now, but it took us a long time (and many awful Futurama episodes) to get to the point where a character could just “casually” be gay, and it not be the entire focus of their existence. Is it any wonder that, in such an environment, an oblivious Goggle Bob would fail to pick up on context clues?

But, dang, even my dumbass younger self noticed that Asellus is gay as hell.

So how did such a thing happen? Let’s take a detailed look at Asellus in the context of SaGa Frontier and 1997 in general.

How was this allowed?

GET IT!?Let us consider a few things of note. Japan did have some significant, deliberately queer JRPGs in its past (Eternal Filena comes immediately to mind). America, however, did not. If something was remotely “gay”, it did not make it across the Pacific. In fact, any and all queerness was ironed out of any Japanese imports across media, so Japan appeared to be some kind of shining bastion of acceptance thanks to gay Sailor Moon characters being forcefully transformed into women and/or cousins upon localization. The idea of Japan being a gay utopia was eventually disproven by reality, but, when looking at all the imports that had to be “de-gayed” for American audiences, it is easy to see how the West looked so much more homophobic by comparison.

But SaGa Frontier had a rare opportunity to break through in 1997. Asellus is a gay main character, but she is not the main character. Asellus stars in her own story, but she is one of seven stories available. Additionally, Asellus is not required in any other story but Emelia’s adventure, so that means Asellus may not even exist for a healthy 71.4% of the game (completely missing for most characters, but at least optional for Red). There are really good odds you could play through a significant portion of SaGa Frontier and never see Asellus. And it is not like Asellus is out and proud on the title screen here. Her story starts gay and only escalates from there, but her appearances literally everywhere else do not trip any heteronormative alarms. She is a woman with green hair in a JRPG! Happens all the time!

I do not care for this guyBut even beyond her “stealth”, the most obvious reason other games did not make it while Asellus was able to be imported was simple… and it is the same color as Asellus’s hair. Squaresoft had a gigantic, once in a company’s lifetime hit on its hands with Final Fantasy 7. Final Fantasy 7 had been promoted from here to the Earth’s core, and that gambit paid off, as Final Fantasy became a household name that sold more Playstations than Lara Croft. SaGa Frontier did not receive the same marketing push, but it seemed obvious that, with its stark-white CD case and “40 hours of gameplay” bullet point, it was trying to ride the Final Fantasy 7 tide. And, let’s be real here: it worked. I do not personally know anyone that was playing PSX games at that time that did not at least rent SaGa Frontier. It is only the turbo nerds that ever tried Final Fantasy Legend on the Gameboy, but I know quite a few people that bumbled around with Lute on their way to Metal Gear Solid.

And, like any trend, Square did not want to see SaGa Frontier delayed and missing that surge of Final Fantasy 7 love. So Asellus had to make her way over to America, and she had to be as intact as she was in her original, Japanese release (we will get into the details of that shortly). The usual Western censors were ignored (probably did not hurt that this was not on a Nintendo system), and we got SaGa Frontier at its SaGa Frontieriest.

Is Asellus Gay?

Wait, we may have skipped a step here. We have been operating on the hypothesis that Asellus is gay because… what? 1997 Goggle Bob thought she was different? No, we can do better than that. Let’s begin by looking at the end.

Asellus has three endings…

FGC #599.1 SaGa Frontier (Remastered)

Not that Saga....There is nothing like an old friend stopping by to remind you of who you were.

It is certainly a cliché, but I was a different person in 1998. I was a gawky teen/band nerd that mostly assumed women were another, significantly alien species; and, more importantly, I had just let my Nintendo Power subscription lapse. It was a long, N64-based time coming, but, for the first time in my life, I was no longer “connected” to the gaming world. There would not be a monthly periodical arriving to inform me of all the grand games coming to my favorite console anymore, and, as a result, I was lost in the wilderness of Electronics Boutique during every visit. SaGa Frontier caught my eye for one simple reason: it was the same color as Final Fantasy 7. Overwhelmingly white CD case with some Amano-looking wispy dude wearing a patently ridiculous clothing/amulet combo? Sign me the hell up. Final Fantasy was a known quantity, Squaresoft was where Chrono Trigger originated, and a return to “sorcery” (an aspect of older Final Fantasy games that had been gradually given over to techno worlds at the time) was all that I needed. I had no idea what SaGa Frontier had in store for me, but I did have forty bucks of Summer spending I could spare for the experience.

And, yes, SaGa Frontier is certainly an experience.

SHINING KICKSaGa Frontier was directed and produced by Akitoshi Kawazu. And, while the SaGa franchise was familiar to fans in Japan, over here in America Town, Kawazu had only shown his hand in the Final Fantasy Legend series. And you only played that franchise if you had a Nintendo Gameboy and a really high tolerance for staring at a tiny, pea-green square’s worth of text (and a similarly high patience for banana smuggling). What’s more, the origins of practically everything involved in SaGa was introduced in Final Fantasy 2… a game that never saw release/a strategy guide in the West. And it is hard to describe just how different Kawazu directed games can be at times. Like, to attempt a terrible metaphor for the masses that might not have grown up farming cactuars on remote islands, it would be like… Hm… Imagine if Kawazu made cars. These Kawazu Cars would seem completely normal, but you could only use the brakes by licking the steering wheel in just the right way. Would plenty of people die thanks to this vehicle? Yes, obviously. It would lead to global catastrophes. But can you imagine the tongue-dexterity of those that survived? They would be able to lick-brake in amazing ways! And they would probably be better at parallel parking for some reason! Kawazu games will make you better at all games, because they encourage creative thinking and cultivating skills you might leave to languish elsewhere… but these games are also notoriously brutal in their learning curves. If you get it, you get it, but if you don’t, your protagonist is pudding.

And, gentle reader, let me tell you that, in 1998, I was not ready for SaGa Frontier. I tried to approach the game as a traditional Squaresoft jaunt, and I was rewarded for my hubris with a number of dead heroes and heroines. What I projected would be a simple “mindlessly kill monsters, get stronger” experience required far more nuance than I ever anticipated. Robotically “grinding” in SF means the encounters get stronger, but your characters do not necessarily gain the new skills to meet these challenges. Actually succeeding means learning the abilities and aptitudes of your chosen warriors, training them in those specific areas, and then whipping out a Dream Super Combo after hours of hoping you chose the right martial artist for the job. It requires thinking, planning, comboing, and a full grasp of SaGa Frontier and its myriad of gameplay systems. And if you fail? Well, a collection of my own save files parked right before the final bosses, but with no possible path to victory seems to indicate that making the game “unwinnable” is a perfectly valid outcome for a SaGa title.

And, when I was 15, that seemed… reasonable? Like… maybe I deserved it?

GET IT?!I mean, I did deserve it, right? I played the game wrong, and my punishment was an incomplete experience that could only be rectified by starting over. Memory card space was at a premium at the time, so it was not like I could simply reload from an earlier point where maybe I could have constructed a more useful party or learned a more useful skill. There are a thousand options in SaGa Frontier, and I chose the wrong options. And, in a way, this was not a big deal. SaGa Frontier was likely to be my “big JRPG purchase” to last me until Christmas, so I had time. This would be “my game” for the next few months, and if I had to restart, I would simply do that. Start all over armed with the knowledge I had sparked from an aborted playthrough and do better this time. Hell, the multiple characters/scenarios seemed to even encourage this: I failed with Emelia, and I could go back to her, but why not try Asellus this time? And, if I was really trying hard, I could hit the generally accurate advice of Gamefaqs, or shell out a few more precious dollars for a strategy guide. Now I was on the right track! I could handle seeing at least one aqua-colored sorcerer’s ending (or what passed for such). I might never see that all important dev room that required the full dedication of a player and memory card, but I could come close.

And now it is 2021. After 23 years, things are… different.

DO NOT TOUCHSaGa Frontier was once the only game I purchased within a whole season. Now, SaGa Frontier Remastered is one of many games I purchased within that same time period. Hell, it’s not the only game I purchased within one month. Double Hell, it’s not the only Square-Enix remaster of a game I already played that I purchased within a period of two weeks. By Blue’s Eternal Hell, I have some entertainment options now!

But that doesn’t do me as much good as my inordinately jealous 15-year-old self would believe. I have the income to purchase a game every seven seconds (and the Nintendo eShop alone produces new content apace), but, bad news, I have no time to actually play these games. Where once a game that touts seven or eight different scenarios that can take about ten hours each seemed like an unbelievable boon for the boy that could clear Donkey Kong Country before even opening his second Christmas present; now “you will lose 80-90 hours of your life” sounds like a goldarned threat. And it is “only” ten hours a scenario if you know what you’re doing. The idea that I could squeak through nine hours and then have to do it all over again because Hour Ten was too much? Preposterous! I could be playing every Mario game ever made right now, why would I ever bother with escorting some spoony bard to halfheartedly avenging his father? Dude can write a ballad about it, and I’ll listen to that. I do have three minutes to spare for a song sometime around next week…

And, while replaying SaGa Frontier does continue to give me the warm fuzzies, it also makes me think the game is a complete mess. SaGa Frontier offers new frontiers in freedom, and you can often go anywhere in its world, and visit areas that are made “for” a character that you are not using. And in any other JRPG with the premise of multiple playable characters/scenarios, you would arrive at an abandoned temple meant for Riki, but Red would say “there’s no reason we have to be here” and walk away. Or there would be a permanent “guard” outside. Or you wouldn’t even be able to select the area on the map. Or something. SaGa Frontier gives you the autonomy to say “hey, you want to explore here? Go ahead!” And that was sorely lacking from other JRPGs in its day! And our today, too! How many people would get excited yesterday or today by trying to squeeze one character into a place they “shouldn’t be” just to see what would happen? (“Hey, I got Gogo to work in the World of Balance!”) But, that said, the answer here is sad, because you can bring T260G to somewhere she is not supposed to go… and the best you see out of it is maybe some decent treasure. But more likely it is just a literal waste of time. A throne room with no king, or a secret passage leading to no secret. You went to the wrong ruins, buddy. And did that feel worth it for you? Maybe! But more often than not, when an area doesn’t have a distinct reward, it feels like you did something incorrectly. It varies from player to player, but it is very easy to do a lot in SaGa Frontier, and feel like the end result of those adventures is a whole lotta nuttin’. And exploring an area meant for Riki during Emelia’s campaign, finding nothing, and then revisiting it for the “real” scenario with Riki feels less like “I got this” and more like “Oh, heck, now I have to fight this stupid squid again”.

Because it never... Oh never mindWhen there is the possibility that you can explore 90% of the whole game with one scenario, there is the distinct danger that the player is going to become too exhausted/frustrated trying to play 630% of the game. And never mind “knowing” that, like, one goofy NPC or dungeon is going to be a silly diversion in six scenarios, but absolutely essential in scenario seven…

Which brings me to a conclusion that my 15-year-old self never would have even considered: SaGa Frontier was a little too understood by its authors. There are a lot of design decisions that can absolutely make sense in SaGa Frontier, but only if you really appreciate the whole of the game. You must understand every scenario, every sidequest, and the importance of knowing the difference between the two before you burn out on experiencing everything. Or that, narratively, the fact that, say, Blue is very much just a jerk, and isn’t like another PSX Final Fantasy-esque “he’ll be less gruff eventually” protagonist is super important to his ultimate fate, but you really can’t understand the full scope of that until you realize Blue’s counterpart, Rogue, was “the good twin” all along thanks to encounters in other scenarios. And the whole of the game (once again: thanks memory cards) is not the easiest thing to grasp under the best of circumstances. A lot of these decisions make sense in the fullness of understanding all of SaGa Frontier, but in the individual moments of it, it is all over the place, and likely to “offend” a player with its very distinct choices.

And Time Lord knows it offends this modern-day Goggle Bob.

FIREWORKS!SaGa Frontier is a good game. SaGa Frontier Remastered is a good game made even better. But playing the two games at two very different points in my life has reminded me how much things have changed over the last few decades. A game that was once “difficult” can now be safely judged as “difficult to understand”. And, while this does not detract from the experience, it may impress upon this player that, at an age when time is valuable, maybe learning the ins and outs of an extremely unique JRPG is not the best use of the day.

SaGa Frontier, it’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed. And you’re better, but still too the same.

FGC #599.1 SaGa Frontier (Remastered)

  • System: Playstation 1 for the original, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and various contemporary computer platforms for the modern player. Was it ever a PSN release? It could have worked on the Vita…
  • Number of Players: Fuse makes for our eighth playable character in the remaster, but you still can only control one at a time.
  • I’m not racist, but: I do not care for monsters. A lot of effort for very little return. Though I do appreciate how lummox and skeleton king alike can turn into a slime pile thanks to a bad chunk of monster meat.
  • Make your choice: Choosing Rune Magic means you will go to prison. Arcane Magic means you will get tipsy as hell and drunkenly stumble through a jungle of deadly, sober monsters. I know my choice.
  • Roll it aroundSo are you still just super bitter about being locked out of the Emelia “good ending” because you decided to follow a lead when you should have just immediately given up? No, of course not. That would be silly. That is totally not the reason I harbor resentment against the entire SaGa franchise. I don’t know why you would ever think such a thing.
  • Reading is fundamental: Yes, I still have the strategy guide from the late 90’s. Yes, it is still useful for about 90% of the game, as full-color maps and a bestiary are always valuable. And, hey, it is generally nice to be reminded of which characters can recruit which other characters. Did you know Emelia hates robots? I think it comes up somewhere…
  • The times change: I remember finding Red’s scenario as a mock Power Ranger so exciting and unique back when I first played SaGa Frontier. Now I am tired of sentai sendups, and SF’s version of the trope isn’t even all that interesting (is M Black supposed to be sympathetic because of, like, two bits of dialogue? Really?). Move along, Red, Viewtiful Joe has taken your place in my heart.
  • Did you know? There are three characters in SaGa Frontier named “Red”. Red is a main character that fights against Black X. Rouge (French for Red) is the twin rival of Blue the Magician. Red Turnip is a turnip with a poor sense of direction. Find some new colors, SaGa!
  • Would I play again: Funny you should ask that…

What’s next? We’re not done with SaGa Frontier just yet. Come back on Friday for a deep dive on my favorite SaGa Frontier story. Please look forward to it!

Pew I Do

FGC #598 Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

Bubs n BobsThe release of the TurboGrafx-16 Mini offered me my first opportunity to play Castlevania: Rondo of Blood on something approaching “original” hardware. I had conquered Richter’s Big Adventure through emulation before (on the Wii and PSP), but I never completed the quest holding an actual approximation of a TG16 controller. And you know what confused me?

Take control

Damn, this thing got no buttons. That is practically a Nintendo Entertainment System Funpad for Babies™! This was the controller meant to steer Rondo of Blood? The game that is the direct prequel to one of the greatest games of all time? Which appeared on a system with a controller that contained, like, so many buttons and an eventual analogue stick or two? And all Richter had to beat back the forces of evil was little more than A & B? No, that cannot be right. A game that was a contemporary of Mortal Kombat 2, Mega Man X, and Secret of Mana surely could not be so limited by a controller and remain fun.

And then I used that same TurboGrafx-16 Mini to play Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III. And now two buttons being loads of fun makes perfect sense.

Bubble Bobble has always been one of the most low-key best games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It is one of those unique-to-the-era experiences wherein game designers were not quite sure how to bridge the gap from arcade to home console parameters, and, what the hey, let’s just have a fun game with mostly contained levels and an overarching plot/theme that does eventually see a finish line. Bubble Bobble may have been experienced one non-scrolling screen at a time, but it had a variety of level configurations (hundo or so), interesting monsters, and a two-player simultaneous mode that could make enemies into friends and friends into enemies. Complete with a built-in hard mode and an excuse to call your neighbor over for bubbling times, Bubble Bobble had everything you could ever ask for in 1988 (or so).

Umbrella power!Unfortunately, not everything about Bubble Bobble was perfect. Bubble Bobble technically has precise controls, but sometimes getting your chosen dinosaur to do exactly what you want is a bit finicky. Who among us has not been trapped behind a wall, and forced to suss out the exact button combination to get Bub to properly bounce on a series of bubbles? Or been surprised at the relative difficulty of finding the correct way to pop a trapped opponent? Or finally reached the final boss, and then been downright confused at what you were supposed to do with that potion? Bubble Bobble is a great game, but we take for granted how much of its gameplay was predicated on knowing exactly what to do in any given situation. Granted, the same could be said for many games, but Bubble Bobble was one that could have used a little more tweaking to be immediately understandable.

And tweaks did occur in time for Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III. Rainbow Islands (effectively Bubble Bobble 2) had a variety of… let’s call them… “innovative” gameplay elements that… may or may not have worked. Parasol Stars wisely decided to drop the meteorological-based play of Rainbow Islands and give the (now human) Bub and Bob a pair of parasols to better simulate classic Bubble Bobble gameplay. In much the same way a monster was once stunned by a bubble, now an umbrella can paralyze an opponent on contact, and then they can be pushed, thrown, or just eliminated at will. And you are going to want to use that push command plenty, because there are other monsters that are about “4 times your mass” size, and they can only be conquered by using smaller monsters as projectiles. Or maybe you could use those actual projectiles laying around…

Stay dampAs much as any other part of its progenitor title, Parasol Stars seems to distinctly build on the finale of Bubble Bobble. Now every “world” has a boss, and every boss is encountered in the same room as a potion that will grant magical powers to your parasol. No mere umbrella is going to vanquish Super Tom-kun, so the elements of water, fire, lightning, and star (it’s an element!) are going to have to help out. And, while you can simply launch little “bubbles” of these elements at your foes, you do have the option of “charging” and multiplying their power into a massive, unique attack. Fire lights the floor ablaze! Water creates a flood! Star makes stars (but, like, more stars)! And, considering these elemental potions create gameplay that is closer to Mega Man than anything involving bubbles popping, you can more easily focus on the task at hand. No need to figure out a boss pattern and how the hell your offense is going to work! These may be familiar elemental attacks at work, but the upgrade from Bubble Bobble to Parasol Stars has never been so obvious.

But that’s not all, folks! Despite Bub & Bob seemingly only requiring the limited general offensiveness of OG Bubble Bobble, there is a lot more to these magical parasols than meets the eye. You can find elemental bubbles in normal stages, for instance, and effortlessly balance these balls to charge up floods ‘n fires. And you can fire the bolts in multiple directions, just like launching monsters all over the place. And navigating these stages is a breeze, too, as you can ride the breeze with those umbrellas. Float leisurely down for an enemy ambush. And all you have to do is hold a button a little longer! Bub and/or Bob have got a myriad of options, and you can control it all with two buttons!

Only two buttons. Because that is all you’ve got.

Not the stars you need1991 was a fun year for buttons. This was a few months after the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This was the very same year that Link needed every last tool in his arsenal to go back to the past. Battletoads proved amphibians needed a lot more than two buttons for eclectic gameplay. And, dang, this was the year that Street Fighter 2 premiered in arcades. Remember Street Fighter 2? Six “action buttons” and to do anything fun, you still had to memorize special motions? Or at least hammer that jab button? And it’s not like the same year’s Fatal Fury was any better!

And amidst all this, here is Parasol Stars, just quietly featuring two infinitely controllable characters bopping around thanks to two buttons.

Not every game needs every button. Mario has proven for years that he seems to steer best in 2-D with 2-buttons. Sonic has only ever needed one button. Your average JRPG or strategy game needs little more than what you would find on a mouse. Whether you are venturing into the Cave of Monsters or traipsing across the Castlevania countryside, you do not need that many buttons. A few easy to remember, intuitive button combinations (Hold A to float, press Forward+B to throw, etc), and you will be set for an entire adventure. The TurboGrafx-16 proved this time and time again, and Parasol Stars is a shining example of two buttons being absolutely all you need.

I, II, and an umbrella? That is the perfect equation for the finale of a fantastic story.

FGC #598 Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

  • ToothySystem: This game saw more systems than you think… just mostly in other countries. But there was no arcade version! TurboGrafx-16, though, definitely. It seems other releases, like the NES version, stuck to Europe. Did we see the Atari ST or Gameboy ports?
  • Number of players: Two player simultaneous, because this game is great.
  • Port-O-Call: Working Designs was responsible for the TG-16 American localization. This is good, as the game does not contain much text, and I am moderately certain they did not pump up all boss health to unhealthy levels. There was also supposed to be a Commodore 64 version, but an irate spouse destroyed the production files during a bitter divorce. No, I am not kidding.
  • Story Time: The canon explanation of what is happening here is that some nefarious force is sucking the color out of various planets, and visiting these spots and beating their bosses is restoring the universe to its former glory. … Except you only ever see the black and white worlds on the map screen, and color is instantly restored the minute you stop by any given planet. So it seems more like this monochromatic curse is just, ya know, a level select graphic flourish.
  • An end: You must collect three precious star cards (or whatever) to gain a key that unlocks the final two “worlds”. There is nothing over the course of the game that indicates that those collectible “miracles” will do anything but clear out some enemies, so I want to say I would be pretty damn pissed if I went through the whole game in 1991 and was granted some ambiguous “try again” message. That said, the infamous “bad end” is kind of an expected thing in this franchise…
  • ToastySnack Time: Bub and Bob can collect piles of food just in their first level, and much, much more over the course of their whole adventure. Is a residual side effect of the Bubble Bobble curse a bottomless stomach, or are they hoarding provisions for their entire planet? Whatever the case, score a fridge somewhere, kiddies, all of those watermelon slices are going to spoil.
  • Horse Puncher: This is another game wherein you routinely fight unicorns. I need to keep track of how often this happens.
  • Did you know? The boss fight theme for this game is straight up Kaoma’s Lambada. This was something of a copyright issue then and now, but nothing compared to how the previous Bubble Bobble game, Rainbow Islands, heisted (Somewhere) Over the Rainbow. Such a thing was possible back in the early 90s! Nowadays, we can’t even preserve the Neon Genesis Evangelion end credits…
  • Would I play again: I bought the TG-16 Mini for Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, but Parasol Stars is easily the best “hidden gem” on the system. I will play this game again, if only because I will need something to test a second controller. Does that add up to four buttons?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SaGa Frontier for the Playstation! Or maybe SaGa Frontier Remastered for the Playstation 4! Whatever works! We’re gonna spark some skills either way! Please look forward to it!

END?

FGC #597 BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!

BOX TIMES!I do not consider myself “good at videogames”. Despite playing the dang things for nearly my entire life (I believe I did take some time off while potty training), I still imagine myself as an “average” player. I do not hold any speed run records. I have never achieved some grand rank in a fighting game. There are several games in my collection where, the minute something got too hard, I gave up, and never looked back. Even some of my most beloved games, like titles in the Final Fantasy or Mega Man franchises, I have only completed by never deviating from priorly acquired knowledge (or, put another way, I’m not sure Heat Man’s stage can be beaten without Bubble Lead). In short, while I can definitely play videogames, I have never considered myself “good”, because there are people that literally define the best, and I am nowhere near their echelon.

But then there’s my wife. My wife sucks at videogames.

Okay, that isn’t fair or accurate. My wife is actually very good at many videogames. She saw the end of Candy Crush back when that game had an end (you know, before they just loaded in infinity challenges). She is currently at level 500 or so in Best Fiends, and she started that game, like, last week. She is also a higher level than me on Pokémon Go. That last point is very important, as my wife is an excellent min/maxer, and the minute she understands a system, she can and will exploit it to the utmost to be the best there ever was. I am moderately proud of this fact, but I also know this means that if she ever “gets into” a MMORPG, I will lose my beloved forever. Such is the curse of a husband.

Hook it!To be more specific, my dear wife is not particularly good at action-based games. Every title I just named could best be described as a puzzle game or RPG. But once you get into games that are more based on bounding over pits or battling against bruisers, she’s out. We spent some time playing Mario, but my princess spent most of her time floating around in a bubble. We tried a few cooperative beat ‘em ups, and my Blaze died a lot while noting it was way too repetitive. Can you imagine? A game where you punch the same three guys an estimated 10,000,000,000,000,000 times being called repetitive? Preposterous! And, despite all these objections, I keep trying to get my wife to play action games with me. There are plenty of two-player experiences out there, so there must be one that Mrs. Goggle Bob can play with her Mister. What’s a boy to do?

Maybe it’s time for the box.

Today’s game is Boxboy & Boxgirl (technically titled BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!, but I cannot consistently utilize that persistent use of capitals nor the annoying punctuation). This game was purchased randomly on a Nintendo Switch sale, and chosen pretty much for its HAL pedigree. Kirby is always a good time, so this boxing must be a similar experience. Oh? There’s a two player mode? Well why don’t we give it a try, honey? You like puzzle games, right?

Yes, Boxboy & Boxgirl certainly is a puzzle game. If you’ve never boxed before, Boxboy is a franchise wherein a boy who is a box must create additional boxes so as to bypass various obstacles. Spike pits, laser beams, bottomless chasms: you know, that kind of thing. In Boxboy’s world, there is always a box-based solution to a problem. And Boxboy & Boxgirl expands that concept by allowing two boxpeople to cooperate and solve problems together. There is a conveyer belt that Boxboy alone could never overcome, but what if a sentient box wearing a bow made even more boxes? Now we’re cooking with gas (boxes)! And, if you are the kind of genius that desires even greater challenges, consider that Boxboy is wholly based on its puzzle premise, and there are logged rewards for producing as few boxes as possible. You can complete most any stage by uncovering a solution and throwing boxes at it until you are the victor, but can you return and discover the most box-efficient way out of the dungeon? And can you do it while cooperating with a buddy?

A relationship is work?And, to get back to the relationship box of this article, I want to be clear that my wife and I are excellent problem solvers. We successfully designed and reconstructed a bathroom, so overcoming obstacles with a box or two ain’t no thang. Spoilers: my wife and I did complete the whole 2-player campaign in Boxboy & Boxgirl, and this article does not end with a pending divorce. We are good at working together. We are both good at solving “space” problems, and, given how my wife works a closet, I have no doubt she would be able to handle Leon’s inventory of ammo like a pro the likes of which Las Plagas has never seen.

But, beyond suitcase stuffing, I can safely say that a certain important person in my life would not make it out of a zombie outbreak alive.

Husband and wife are both great at problem solving. This comes from years of curiosity, education, and a healthy diet of complicated cheeses with equally complicated packaging. But we both have very different histories when it comes to controlling little metal boys that must banish robotic masters. Man has decades of experience with every videogame system that has ever come down the pike (give or take CD-i), and Woman is uncomfortable so much as holding a controller. So things that I take for granted are wholly alien to my love. She does not “just know” the arc of a Boxgirl’s jump is always going to be the same. She does not realize that there are pixels of space that you can use to “float” a Boxboy over the edge of a cliff. And she better not have known that her moving Boxgirl at that one specific time was going to shove Boxboy into an oncoming laser, because if she does, she is a murderer. In short, she does not know platforming like her husband, and, even if she has the exact same (or better!) mental aptitude as her partner, she does not have the experience that tells her what is going to happen when she presses A. She has a general idea that Boxgirl is going to jump, but the how and where are a mystery.

In short, for someone that doesn’t have years of videogame experience, the puzzles are puzzles, but “moving” is a puzzle, too.

OUCHSo what is today’s lesson? Well, I suppose that even if you do not consider yourself “good” at videogames (like me!), maybe you should consider how good you really are. Years of experience have made you a different person with different skills that you would not have otherwise, and do not take that for granted. And, if you are dealing with someone that does not have the same understanding (maybe someone you are married to), be patient. Do not assume that everyone just has to practice to “git gud”, and realize that you may have decades of “practice” that you are completely discounting. Not everyone has spent their life pressing B to fire, or up to enter doors, and something even that simple is new information to about 90% of the population.

And maybe if we could apply this empathetic thinking to something beyond videogames, we might live in a better world.

… And then we could get back to solving our problems with boxes.

FGC #597 BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!

  • System: Boxxy has been boxed into the Nintendo Switch, and cannot escape.
  • Number of players: Well, if it was single player, there wouldn’t be much of an article here.
  • They have names, you know: Qbby is Boxboy, Qucy is Boxgirl. But if you wanted me to use those names, HAL, maybe you should have named the game QBBY! + QUCY!
  • Did you even try the single player mode? Nope! I played other box games, thank you, I do not need to try being some loner rectangle when I have other games I haven’t beaten yet (I am going to use this excuse until I finally beat Deadly Towers).
  • So did you spend any medals on cool costumes or whatever? Nope! We are solving puzzles right now. Do not have time for box customization. That lil’ bow is all the clothing we need between two (or three) boxes.
  • An end: Turns out we were about one world away from beating the game on the stream. Could have saved a baby box live! But no! We have human endurance levels! Bah!
  • Watch it, buddy: Oh yeah, since this was the Valentine’s Day stream, you can watch my wife kill me repeatedly while everyone laughs.


    It’s fun for the whole (box) family.

  • Did you know? There is a Boxboy Amiibo. That is more than Dr. Stewart, star of F-Zero, ever got. Sorry, bud.
  • Would I play again: My dear wife has requested further box-based challenges. Probably not returning to BOXBOY, but wasn’t there something about a death being squared floating around?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III for the TurboGrafx-16! From bubbles to parasols, those crazy twins are going to do it all! Please look forward to it!

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