Author Archives: gogglebob

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!

Get it
Cooperation is key!

FGC #596 Mega Man X7

Mega times!I think Batman should die.

And speaking of the dead, today’s game is Mega Man X7. Mega Man X7 is a bit of an odd duck, as the Mega Man X franchise came to a logical conclusion with Mega Man X5, which then transitioned into the sequel series, Mega Man Zero. But there was also a Mega Man X6, which released nigh concurrently with Mega Man Zero. And, because of some foolish adherence to front-facing continuity (look, no one would mind a Mega Man X “interquel”), X6 continued the story of X5, forced Mega Man Zero to retcon its practically brand new continuity (now queen elves had to be involved!), and brought the whole cast back (from a death coma) for an adventure where the headliners were somehow simultaneously robots of the future and too-old-for-this-shit zombies. And then, while the Mega Man Zero franchise continued and eventually gained its own sequel franchise stretching the world even further into the future, there was Mega Man X7 and Mega Man X8 (and, to a lesser, more parallel degree, Mega Man Command Mission). Both of these titles attempted to leave the undead nature of Mega Man X6 behind and start brand new X stories with a continuity that was not even attempting to tie to past or future titles. No more overtures of Dr. Wily. Barely any references to a future where Mega Man X becomes Dictator X. Just the good ol’ Reploids hanging out and busting Mavericks with X and Zero.

And Axl. Axl’s the new kid.

Here we go!Axl is, arguably, the lynchpin of both Mega Man X7 and Mega Man X8. In X7, Axl is the former protégé of the wannabe villain of the story, and his defection to the good guys’ team is the inciting incident for the whole struggle. In Mega Man X8, it is revealed that Axl has always been the prototype of a new kind of Reploid, and a new conflict arises when Axl’s virtual children/brothers inevitably decide to take over the world. X8 even ends with the implication that Axl has been possessed or somehow infected with his brood’s big bad, and a theoretical Mega Man X9 likely would have addressed this dangling plot tentacle. In short, after Mega Man X6, the Mega Man X franchise basically became the Axl show, with special guests X and Zero.

And… that was not the worst thing in the world.

There are a lot of reasons to not like Axl. For one thing, he pioneered “Silver the Hedgehog” character design before that ‘hog telekinetically hurled his first crate. This is a situation where the original hero was already an “edgy” take on an adorable mascot, his partner/rival was already the marginally edgier version, and now we needed someone that was the edgiest. Axl is literally introduced as an amoral assassin, and, despite living in a world where people have guns for arms, he makes a big deal about being a gangster that always has a piece (and often holds it sideways, just for an added cool factor). Axl joins the noble Maverick Hunters, and he slightly slots into the traditional rookie-working-with-veterans role, but he also never completely drops his general bloodlust. He might be the “kid” of the group, but he is the kid that is going to dual-wield pistols and earn his hunter rank through an abundance of “retired” Mavericks. And, lest you check out for any and all Mega Man X plot details (cannot blame you), Axl’s design exudes a sort of… posturing personality. Prominent weapons, spiky all over, and “robo hair” that looks like a flaming porcupine (or hedgehog?). His color scheme even darkens between games! In short, Axl could easily be seen as an X replacement that is trying too hard.

It just sits thereAnd, make no mistake, Axl was intended as an X replacement. Despite being the eternal cover boy of Mega Man X7, X operates much like a “hidden character” for Axl’s maiden voyage. You can only unlock Mega Man X through playing a lot of Mega Man X7 (either beat all 8 of the Maverick Masters, or rescue 64 generic Reploids [with a possible max of 15 per stage if they don’t die]), and once you have X under your control, you’ll find… he’s just a better Axl. Sure, he does not have Axl’s unique copy ability or hover, but he has all of Axl’s subweapons, and X’s default shot allows for a charge that blows Axl’s offensive capabilities out of the water. It is pretty clear that X ‘n Axl are both 100% based on the same gameplay style, and Zero is the only exceptional butterfly (Morph Moth?) in X7. And why would that be the case? Well, you really cannot convince me that Mega Man X7 was conceived as anything other than a chance for Mega Man X to finally retire.

Axl is the star of the Mega Man X franchise going forward. So why is Mega Man X even here?

In a way, Mega Man X has been on his way out since his virgin voyage. The amazing Mega Man X was originally conceived with a character closer in design to Zero in its title role, but Zero was demoted to unplayable sidekick for a more prominent Mega Man descendant. This was probably a wise move, as an entirely new robot character (with a laser sword!) clearly would have blown the minds of 90s kids, and Capcom did not want to soil its collective conscience with overhyping an entire generation of children to an early grave. But Zero gradually took focus from X: his body was all over X2, he became temporarily playable in X3, and X4 allowed for the player to use Zero to the point that X could potentially not appear at all. Further games began to reinforce a sort of partnership between X and Zero (when they weren’t killing each other), but Zero did eventually get his own franchise (with a version of X as the villain!) when Mega Man Zero rolled out. Couple Zero’s rise to stardom with X’s very vocal desire to retire and raise robotic raccoons (conjecture on my part, but what else is X going to do with his free time?), and you can see how it would be very easy to let another Reploid take over the X franchise. As long as there is a game with running, dashing, and shooting, who cares who is headlining? Mega Man aXl is good to go!

Speeding alongAnd Axl taking over for X would be a good thing! Continuity-snarling holographic doctors that may or may not be sentient lurking around airports in century-old capsules making zero sense multiple games in? Not a problem for Axl! In fact, the omnipresent problem of our hero kinda sorta being responsible for every Maverick War ever is not remotely an issue with new protagonist Axl. He can just have hover-based fun in his world, and maybe occasionally be sad about his Red dead friend. And, from a gameplay perspective, it works perfectly. Axl is not beholden to the “controls” one would expect of a Mega Man, but he also benefits from being a clear Mega-descendant. If the technology was there from the start, Mega Man could have always “transformed” into Robot Masters rather than merely change colors to match their weapons. X was gifted an adaptive, chargeable buster, but was similarly constrained by SNES-based abilities. Axl, though? Playstation 2 hero Axl? He could do his own thing! He did not have to be obligated to continue 8-bit traditions; he could do something new! And if he wanted to wholesale steal a robot’s body, he could do it!

And, dammit, we could use more heroes that are totally divorced from their original constraints and requirements.

Look, we have all been through the reboots. A wiki would probably provide the correct answer, but, by my estimates, we are currently working on Batman #6,381. But he is still Batman. He is still Bruce Wayne. He is still going to have a bad night in an alley. He is still going to watch his pal Harvey Dent endure some haphazard facial reconstruction. He is still going to pick up a young ward after the worst time a circus could ever offer. As long as Batman is Batman, he is going to be towing around nearly a century’s worth of “necessary” continuity. Same for Superman. Same for Spider-Man. Same for Goku. Same for Mega Man X. Same for so many protagonists we have been recycling and repurposing for years and years. And, while everyone is always going to recognize the likes of Batman or Black Widow, every comic, movie, or television show is going to have to pay the corresponding price of telling the same stories and being beholden to a reality that may be horribly outdated. “Wealthy Playboy Bruce Wayne” had a very different meaning in 1939, but we are still stuck with it in 2021, when the idea of a billionaire that actually helps people seems less likely than a flying white man from space. But can Bruce Wayne be anything else? Maybe for an issue or two, but he will be back to “iconic” by the next movie premiere. What is even happeningThe audience demands that a Mega Man always works like a Mega Man, and the same demands are made of every new Batman. You can deviate in a story a little, but you better believe you need to be back on track by the time Martha Wayne is putting on her pearls.

So why not let Axl have his day in the sun? Why not let X retire? Why not let Batman die? The old stories will still be there for future generations, no one is suggesting we burn down the Marvel Library of Alexandria. But maybe we don’t need another retelling of Steve Rogers doing magical drugs until he got to punch Hitler. Maybe we can lay off the characters with decades of “stability”, and start something new. New people are born every day, so why not allow new heroes to headline breakfast cereals? Let X retire, and let Axl take up the torch. It will be new, different, and good for everyone.

… Though, come to think of it, if we are going to kill and replace Batman forever, maybe Abatmanl could get a better premiere experience than Axl….

FGC #596 Mega Man X7

  • System: Playstation 2 initially, and now available on any systems that host the second Mega Man X Legacy Collection. Switch? Playstation 4? Xbox One? Whatever works for you.
  • Number of players: You can switch between two Maverick Hunters, but only one person can control them at a time.
  • See it throughMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: I might like the concept of the plot, but this is the worst Mega Man X game ever. Mega Man X6 is terrible, but at least it is recognizable as a Mega Man X title. Mega Man X7 attempts to shoehorn 3-D movement into the franchise, and it fails miserably. X should not have to aim! And everyone is so… weak! Every opponent soaks about a thousand more hits than necessary, and Maverick bosses have lifebars that border on the infinite. And robots can fall down for some reason! Just a miserable game to play.
  • Worst Change of All Time: Zero’s jumping slash is now not a screw attack-esque spinning blade, but a simple forward slash. This makes Zero about as useful offensively as damp cheese.
  • Favorite Maverick: Flame Hyenard’s battle is ridiculous in all the wrong ways (terrible voice clips, a giant horse mech, some kind of duplication power), and could be number one just for the novelty alone. That said, my money is on Vanishing Gungaroo, as we apparently have a Maverick that finally figured out how to use Ride Armor for nefarious purposes. See, Flame, you only need one gimmick, not seventeen.
  • An end: Who cares about the ending when the final battle against Red is a 3-D recreation of the terrible final Dracula fight of Castlevania X? Teleportation and small platforms do not mix on a good day, but please do not also combine that with an X7-trademark unwieldly health meter. Oh, and it is the middle of a gigantic final stage also featuring every Maverick fight all over again? Awful.
  • Watch it, buddy: Thanks to a weird “off-week”, this game was technically “chosen” by our Tuesday Night Streams. Missed watching it the first time? Well, here, give it a go:


    Marvel as I find my sea legs via dying in that stupid Bamboo stage over and over again.

  • Did you know? The back of the box shows Mega Man X in the intro stage. This is impossible, as, even if you have X unlocked through New Game Plus, you cannot choose your character(s) for that opening stage. So maybe this is evidence X was always intended to be more included…
  • Would I play again: Man, if it wasn’t for the stream, this would have been the one game on the Mega Man X Legacy Collection I didn’t play ever. I am okay with never playing Mega Man X7 again, though.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! for the Nintendo Switch. It’s going to be a boxy good time! Please look forward to it!

Time to die
Just don’t respawn this time