Category Archives: Fustian Gaming Challenge

FGC #627.2 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

This article contains spoilers for not only Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, but also potentially the entire Final Fantasy franchise. It won’t get too nuts, but if you don’t want to know a certain location exists in a certain game, and if that location has any plot relevance, I wouldn’t keep reading. You have been warned!

This is not a placeStranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has one very important thing going for it: it is an enormous love letter to the Final Fantasy franchise. With the exception of a few “plot” stages, every level in SoP:FFO is based on a different locale from a different Final Fantasy game. And that is amazing! You’re looking at 35 years of videogame locations! From castles to caves to whateverthehell was happening in Final Fantasy 15! It’s neat!

But, as a tremendous nerd and 35-year-old critic of the Final Fantasy franchise (uh, to be clear, I am not 35, but I have been a critic of Final Fantasy as long as it has existed) I, naturally, have opinions about the various locations chosen to represent various Final Fantasy titles. Were these good picks to be representative of their attendant games? Are these good choices independent of nostalgia? Does anything in this game make a lick of sense? Let’s answer these questions on a game by game, level by level basis.

Note that this list will be going in order of Final Fantasy game featured. Actual level order is an entirely other thing. Please be as confused as possible.

Stage 1: Illusion at Journey’s End
Location: Chaos Shrine
Origin: Final Fantasy (1)

It is chaos out thereConcept: Stranger of Paradise is a kinda sorta remake of Final Fantasy, so it is only natural the game starts with Final Fantasy’s first ever dungeon: the Temple of Fiends. Oh! And the final boss of the area is Garland (after a fashion)! That is as Final Fantasy as it gets!

Does it work for SoP? This is absolutely a ruined temple (of Fiends!) filled with monsters, which is all you really need from a Strangers of Paradise stage. There are enough decomposing balconies and collapsing turrets to justify something more complex than a straight line, but the layout is still recognizable enough that you won’t easily get lost. And there is at least one cactuar running around, so there’s everything a stranger could want.

Does it represent its parent game? Going to give this one a “yes”, too. The defining characteristic of Final Fantasy’s Temple of Fiends is that it was clearly the crappiest temple in the world (but looked pretty alright a solid 2,000 years back), and we’ve got a similar architectural flare going on here. The Temple of Fiends is meant to be the trojan horse of adventure for the Final Fantasy franchise, and it serves the exact same “more to it than it seems” function in 2022. Good job, Level One! Now let’s move on to Final Fantasy 2…

FGC #627.1 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

The Wild Arms 3 LP will be back and continuing next week. Right now I need to talk about Stranger of Paradise for reasons that are likely related to brain damage. Also, this article contains spoilers for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. The plot is vaguely incomprehensible anyway, but, ya know, if you don’t want to be spoiled on a game that came out like a month ago, just go ahead and read one of the 600 other articles on the site. Thank you for listening.

Eat it, ChaosStranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has finally refined the genre with one simple trick: the perfect protagonist for a JRPG is a complete idiot.

Alright, this humble blogger must admit that is not quite right. For one thing, SoP:FFO is not a JRPG. It is an action game with significant JRPG elements. If you attempt to play this game with a typical JRPG mindset, you will watch your not-so-humble protagonist die. A lot. You cannot simply “trade blows” when you are facing a mad ogre in this Final Fantasy universe, and you must dodge, parry, and properly back-attack if you want to stand a chance. Learning exactly how to utilize your weapons is a must, and it is pretty clear early on why magic as we know it is a limited resource. Here’s a hint: if you can lob fireballs from a great distance away from your opponent, you are less a wizard, and more of a sniper. Gotta tape those superpowers down in an action game! And, to be clear, this is a departure from Final Fantasy 15, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, or even Kingdom Hearts. Those are more action-JRPG affairs, a storied tradition that traces back to waiting for 100%s on your action gauge in Secret of Mana. This is an action title, where “using a potion” is less of an inevitability, and more of a sign that you are choking in your battle duties. You should have been able to take down those wolves without getting hit, Jack! Are you sure you’re cut out to be a Warrior of Light?

But, as much as SoP:FFO is an action game, the plot and general framing is definitely a JRPG. That is as it should be, as this whole story is a loose adaption of Final Fantasy (1), the granddaddy of all JRPGs that do not involve compulsive gambling. This is the world that involves Cornelia, a dark elf prince, and exactly one named pirate. The ultimate threat is that same as in 1987, too, as the Four Fiends are menacing the primal elements of the planet, and, if four (or so) Light Warriors don’t get off their collective duffs immediately, the whole world is going to rot and/or burn. So world travel is on the menu, and every monster has to be stomped from here to the Sunken Shrine. Save us all, person with four letters in their name!

But Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is no mere HD remake of Final Fantasy…

FGC #626 Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Good day and welcomeAll I want is a hungry lil’ dude.

Noted friend of Gogglebob.com and professional Digimon enthusiast Abby Denton recently posed a simple question: “So pitch Kirby to me. What’s that guy’s deal?” And, while my response was pretty straightforward (see the opening sentence up there), the question itself did cause some inner turmoil. What is Kirby’s deal? A Kirby game is unmistakably a Kirby game, but what makes it unique from everything else out there? Mario runs and jumps over unique environments. Link explores a world while stabbing at skeletons. Sonic must move at a speed of significant intensity. Kirby? Is his source of individuality his copy ability? No, Mega Man has been doing that since before Kirby ever squeaked a squad. Beyond that, Kirby’s identifying distinction is…. What? That he can fly at will? An unmistakable love of food? His ability to “right back ‘atcha” any and all opponents? Wait. Does that last one mean he is responsible for “counter based” gameplay? Is Kirby the Dark Souls of Nintendo characters?

Today’s game is the Dark Souls of the Kirby franchise Kirby’s official foray into the world of 3-D. Or maybe that already happened? No… any recollections of multiple dimensions of Kirby racing around on stars is clearly a false memory. This is the first time Kirby has explored huge, open environments in a 3-D space. This ain’t Kirby: Breath of the Wild, but it is an excellent opportunity for Kirby to exist on a planet that allows for our favorite puffball to truly experience the life of a sphere. Little dude has to run, jump, and suck through a series of 3-D “challenge levels” that may also contain secret collectibles, hidden paths, and a whole host of rivals. All your old friends (like the petulant penguin and the crying tree) are here in this world, and Kirby even has a few new copy abilities to exploit in this brand-new world. And mouthful mode! Kirby has wanted to be a car ever since he swallowed a tire so long ago, and now there is a legitimate reason to race a bomb block to the nearest prize! Technology finally caught up to Kirb!

It's dark hereAnd, in a lot of ways, that is the crux of Kirby and the Forgotten Land: technology can finally support a 3-D Kirby adventure. This is not the same “3-D Kirby Experience” that would have been Kirby’s jump to the third dimension 20, 10, or even 5 years ago. This is not the Mario 64 of Kirby games, this is a game that looked to the likes of Super Mario 3D Land after Mario himself spent 15 years working out the kinks of what does and does not work in a 3-D space. This is a game that very deliberately pioneered “well that counts” style gameplay where if it looks like Kirby should have made that jump or hit that enemy, well, that counts. In short, Kirby and The Land After Time is a good game not just because it successfully ported the puff into a new environment, but also because it is the end result of two decades’ worth of designers learning from the games that came before. Kirby is exploring the far-future of a human-dominated world through the immediate future of game development!

But that brings us back to the central point: Kirby and the Forgotten is not simply a good videogame, it is a good Kirby game. And why does this never-to-be forgotten land nail Kirby so perfectly despite shedding his native dimension?

This looks painfulKirby has obviously been nerfed for this adventure. His floaty jump no longer allows completely unfettered altitude accumulation, and all that flapping around seems to tire Kirby out a lot faster than in any previous title. Additionally, while Kirby’s signature spit is as powerful as ever (and seems like the obvious win button for the first time since Plasma made the scene), his various copy skills all feel like shells of their former selves. Where Kirby Super Star would offer as many options as there are directional buttons back in 1996, 2022 offers a “fire attack” that barely includes the fireball dash. The upgraded abilities are a neat bit of potential permanency in a franchise that rarely sees the need to “level up” as Kirby progresses, but, let’s be real here: about half of these upgrades are “exactly the same thing, but now a tiny projectile pops off”. And while we’re on the subject of “exactly the same thing”, barely enough sub bosses to fill out a string quartet made the jump to this dimension, and the big bosses are more plentiful, but extremely similar. The same franchise that initially gave us a battle against a tree, Lolo, a shoot ‘em up blimp, and an extremely pissed cloud is now offering a big animal person with strong attacks, a big animal person with fast attacks, a big animal person with weird attacks, and, finally, a big animal person with big, fast, and weird attacks. And that tree from the first game is back, because I guess thematic consistency is nothing before tradition. In short (ha!), even when Kirby and the Overlooked Earth is following Kirby tradition, you can see where it falls short.

What was the point?But even if you slice a few choice cuts off a steak, you still have a steak (and one would have to assume Kirby enjoys steak as much as tomatoes). The basic gameplay of Kirby is still untouched here, and it sure seems like that is how you define a “true” Kirby game. Yes, other videogame stars run, jump, and/or copy abilities. But Kirby? That little dude has a weight about him that has been consistent for decades. He has a health meter that (give or take nightmare mode) means you can survive if you decide your strategy is going to be “stand there like an idiot and keep slashing”. He might not always have “jet” or “ghost”, but “ice” and “hammer” are pretty reliable. And, right from the first time Kirby bit down on an invincible lollipop, every Kirby game even seems to include a new and exciting way to completely wreck the place… even if that means you have to become a vending machine.

So you want to know the pitch for Kirby? Here it is: it feels good to be Kirby. No matter where he goes or who he has to fight, Kirby is Kirby, and it is a blast to explore a world with the pink guy. You can run, jump, attack like the other guys, but Kirby always does it like Kirby, and he does it well.

Kirby is just a hungry lil’ dude. And it’s good to be a hungry lil’ dude.

FGC #626 Kirby and the Forgotten Land

  • System: Nintendo Switch exclusive. The Playstation 5 just can’t handle this much sucking.
  • Number of players: Two player cooperative! I asked my wife to play, but she was afraid it would lead to a fight when I just ran off and she was left behind to fester. She was probably right.
  • Favorite Copy Ability: Hammer, but specifically with the Bonkers upgrade. I like ‘em slow and strong.
  • WeeeeeeeStory Time: So I was expecting there to be an explanation for what happened to this now-ruined “Earthy” culture. I, however, was not expecting a possible canon explanation for a super boss that previously only appeared as a random “color swap” in a previous Kirby game’s optional boss rush. There is now no doubt in my mind that there’s someone on the Kirby staff obsessed with justifying all the wannabe Kirby conquerors throughout the franchise.
  • Boss Rush: Speaking of bosses, I generally enjoy a good boss rush. However, KatFL finds a number of reasons to include a boss gauntlet through the final levels, and then revisits all the bosses in super forms for the nightmare mode. This makes the traditional “Kirby Arena” seem entirely perfunctory, as there are already reasons to beat down that gorilla repeatedly well before there is a timer available for your troubles.
  • Platinum Trophies: I enjoy the “waddle dee achievement” system in the main levels. I distinctly appreciate “dumb” achievements in videogames, and have vaguely been begging for “I stood on that thing” or “I found that secret passage” recognition from the game itself since I was a kid. It feels like a weird kind of acknowledgement from the developer, and I feel a deeper connection to games that recognize… that I have OCD. And half the fun of those things is that you are not given a checklist, you just find something, and then you see that there is recognition for it. Half of these Kirby “achievements” could just be another waddle dee cage in the secret cave listed in the achievement, or a cage that disappears when you fall in lava and “miss” the challenge of not doing so… but I’m fine with it just being a message and +1 on the stage score card. And I also appreciate that, if you clear a stage without accomplishing “the cool thing”, you will receive a hint to what you are supposed to do. I remember Kirby’s Dream Land 3. I remember looking at a FAQ over and over again with the question of “what the hell was I supposed to do to make this flower happy?” I appreciate the hint, even if it does come off as a checklist for revisiting a stage, as it saves me having to be completely stuck and consulting an outside source. In the end, I’m as happy with this system as a waddle dee being freed from their cage.
  • Watch it, Buddy: We played Kirby and the Forgotten Land as part of a stream, because absolutely everything else on my Nintendo Switch is garbage.

    I apologize for the frame rate. It was a rough night for OBS.

  • Did you know? Absolutely everything about Kirby “mouthful mode”ing a car, and then successfully driving said car, raises more questions than can ever be answered.
  • Would I play again: I really like this game/world, but it does feel a bit short. It needs a little more… even if “a little more” is just “an alternative to seeing Mr. Frosty again”. I am hoping for DLC. If we never see such, I am hoping a future Kirby game builds off this very sturdy foundation. So, yeah, I’ll probably play it again, but I am more hoping for Kirby and the Forgotten Land 1.5 than anything.

What’s next? Random ROB is taking some time off as we transition over to the Wild Arms 3 Let’s Play. I only have so much time to do videogame stuff! And Let’s Plays are complicated! I do plan on randomly posting FGC articles as the mood strikes me during this time, but the usual “Monday update” will be Wild Arms 3 Let’s Play chapters. At least that is the plan! We’ll see what happens! So please look forward to it!

Big ol' tree

FGC #625 Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone

Microtransaction time!It is important to remember that sometimes the bad guys do lose.

Today we are looking at Double Dragon 3. Appropriate to the title of the franchise, Double Dragon 3 has two generally distinct versions: Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone, which was the arcade version that was ported to a couple of different systems (like Gameboy and Sega Genesis), and Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones, the Nintendo Entertainment System title that had the same overall concept, but significantly different gameplay. What was the difference in gameplay? Well, the NES version wasn’t constantly trying to fleece the player.

Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone is, superficially, the same beat ‘em up experience that the franchise had always delivered. Yes, we now have a situation wherein the Lee Brothers (now with a third bro! Because someone welded a third controller to the cabinet!) are going to go on a world tour to collect rocks with the eventual goal of being the best rockers on the planet or something, but the general minute-to-minute is unchanged. You have a collection of random mooks per stage that you are required to punch into submission, then the big boss shows up, you punch him (inevitably him) but good, and move on to the next stage. It doesn’t matter if you are in a generically grimy city or tumbling through a coliseum in Rome, this is the Double Dragon we all know and generally tolerate.

But there is one significant change in Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones, and it’s right there on the first screen of the first level…

I hate everything about this
Technically this is the shop from the finale, but whatever, okay?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the shop. A shop just like this one appears in 80% of the levels of DD3:TRS, and usually at the start (the only exception is the final level, where it is the start of a boss gauntlet). Like in many games of the era, you can purchase a number of helpful items at said shop. You can top off your health points! Buy weapons for dealing additional damage! Or maximize your fists’ power to just do extra damage without the need of a sword! Or purchase “secret techniques” so you can perform flying kicks and throws! And the extra special cherry on top: buying extra “lives” not only means you purchase additional life bars for your protagonists, it also allows you to play as entirely different characters with marginally different offensive styles (or at least different hitboxes). Basically, if you want a new Double Dragon experience, it is all tied to the shop. This is the biggest difference between Double Dragon 3 and its predecessors (well, other than that direction-attack button thing from Double Dragon 2 being dropped), and it is all available for a few credits in the shop.

Oh, and I do mean credits, as Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones’ shops are all fueled by real, American quarters.

Damned treesLet us look at that shop’s inventory from a different perspective. Powering up your fighter? Well, that is going to save you quarters, as a dead enemy takes off a lot less health. Weapons? Also going to save your life, because it means you do not have to get any closer to hazardous fists. Speaking of life, having more lives is obviously going to put you further from having to insert another credit. And even the special moves are all jump based and obviously modeled after the most effective ways to survive in previous Double Dragon titles. In short, if you have any familiarity with Double Dragon (and, at this point in the existence of arcades, why wouldn’t you?), you are going to make a beeline for those items. Sure, it all costs real money, but those same quarters would be required to recover anyway. You’re practically saving money!

Or you would be, if Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones was a remotely fair game.

As an officially licensed beat ‘em upologist, I can say with some authority that the first two levels of DD3:TRS are about what you should expect from a beat ‘em up as far as challenges go. There is an unstoppable army of dudes, but you will defeat them, because they have basic patterns, and local traps and tricks can be utilized to blaze a trail straight through to China. But once you hit approximately level 3, the bullshit comes fast and furious. It is hard to say if it is deliberate or just poor programming, but any given fighter on your side has some significant lag after being stunned, so being essentially “stun locked” while battling a boss becomes the standard for many fights. Regular enemies gain some moves with absurd range so you can’t so much as jumpkick a tree without an across-the-screen interruption. And the final boss? By Anubis, she has the ability to toss your Bimmy across the screen from across the screen. She can just spam the same “death move” over and over again, and your only recourse is hoping the A.I. shows some modicum of mercy so you can maybe land a punch. The point here? You need those powerups to survive, so even if you “buy your levels” to maximum right from the get-go, you are still going to be down a few more dollars by the end of the adventure. Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones is unapologetically balanced to bleed your wallet dry.

And nobody liked that.

This sucks hardRecords of top grossing arcade machines from 1990 are difficult to find, but we can see the legacy of Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone in its own descendants. This arcade title premiered in America, but, by the time it migrated over to Japan six months later, its whole shop system had been hastily excised. Any and all shops in the game are now boarded up and inaccessible, and the first level that seemed to be designed around emphasizing the opening shop was “scrolled forward” permanently so you would never know there was such an embarrassment lurking around the corner. And, without the shops, weapons are now free and lying around, “secret techniques” are accessible at all times, and a player can spontaneously select any of the characters right from credit one. And, while you cannot spend a quarter to power up your punches, all of your opponents mysteriously do about a third less damage on their hits. Gosh! Put it all together, and it sure seems like the original version was balanced entirely around a player that spent about two dollars on bits and baubles! And that was dropped from the next version because nobody actually did that.

And then we finally get to the NES version. Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones was reportedly developed in parallel to the arcade version, but it was also released a year later, so it clearly had some foreknowledge of how things went in the arcade. In this case, some of the fun aspects of Double Dragon 2 that had been dropped for Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone returned in the NES version (you can always enjoy a hair grab). Additionally, the concept of multiple playable characters was adopted from the arcade, but now you do the more traditional NES thing of beating bosses who eventually join your team (Mega Dragon 3). And, like the Japanese arcade version, the shops are completely gone, and there is not so much as a points system to simulate the “joy” of purchasing weapons. Actually, you do get “limited ammo” weapons naturally with each of the selectable characters, but, with no way to refill your reserves, they are extremely situational.

Oh, and it is probably worth nothing that this version of Double Dragon 3 bombed, too. Like, Water World for Virtual Boy bombed…

What even happened here?Why? Well, NES DD3 has its own share of problems. For one thing, in one player mode, you only have one “life” for like half the game, and the concept of continuing is not introduced until Level 4. For another thing, while this whole experience feels a lot less janky than its predatory arcade counterpart, it is still pretty dang cumbersome for a 1991 NES title that should really know better. This was released the same year as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: The Manhattan Project! A beat ‘em up that is fun from start to finish! DD3 doesn’t even have the good sense to include a pig with a mace strapped to his head! Oh, and the translation/story is nearly incomprehensible, with a hatchet job of a “let’s include the girlfriend again” plot that somehow transforms Marion into an Egyptian death goddess. Granted, that may not make a huge impact on how a beat ‘em up is received, but the narrative was so unintelligible that not even glowing Nintendo Power coverage could polish this turd. And they successfully made Final Fantasy Legends seem sane! Between that and likely seeing a game over without exiting the first screen, it is easy to see how this beat ‘em up sequel did not leave a good impression.

And that's fineAnd despite the fact that Double Dragon then went on to headline the second videogame movie ever made (!), this is the game that killed the franchise. A “real” Double Dragon 4 would not be seen for decades, and the best the Lee Brothers could hope for for beat ‘em up action in the meanwhile was starring opposite some amphibians (and not even the popular amphibians!). It sure looks like, whether through apathy or dedicated protest, the public did not appreciate the rapacious Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones, and it poisoned the franchise for years. And, given we never saw such predatory models in Double Dragon or another beat ‘em up ever again, it seems like even the videogame companies learned to avoid these terrible microtransactions.

So the bad guys trying to squeeze extra money out of their audience well and truly lost. We now live in a glorious future where…

I hate everything about this, too

Oh dammit.

FGC #625 Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone

  • System: Let’s claim that today’s article is based on the arcade version exclusively, and the NES version is a weird footnote. The arcade version was distinctly ported to a number of systems, like Gameboy and Sega Genesis, but each of those had to include odd concessions to account for credits system. You mostly got virtual coins for “whatever”, so the shops still kinda worked without demanding you install a quarter slot on your Amiga. Also: not at all worth playing.
  • Number of players: Three in the arcade, two at home. Note that there is a special move you can only use when you have two players available, so that is yet another way this damned thing bleeds cash out of its players.
  • What the hell!?Favorite Fighter: It is abundantly clear that the arcade characters are not balanced as well as the Lee Brothers, and any given giant playable character is all vulnerable hit box and no reciprocal power. And Chin… man, we’re not talking about Chin. So I guess the default Lees win by default. Hooray for normalcy.
  • Favorite What The Hell is Happening: There is exactly one puzzle in the arcade version, and it is a “challenge” to walk across the right floor tiles to spell out “Rosetta”. You are also being chased by a gigantic alien monster the entire time. This creature is then never seen or referenced again. I… feel like this should be acknowledged.
  • An end: The NES version offers a customized epilogue for each of the characters, but the Famicom port only provides an ending for characters that are still alive. I guess this implies any of your defeated fighters are actually dead-dead, and Billy might be an only child if no one ever hits start on a second controller. Meanwhile, the ending for the arcade version is simply Billy rolling around in a pile of plundered gold. Thank you, Karnov.
  • Did you know? The NES version is the source of the infamous “Bimmy” mistranslation that misnames Jimmy to a name closer to his brother’s. However, like the arcade version, the American version came first here, and it is likely this is less a translation error as a programming error that only appears when the opening crawl has to name both players (it is completely absent in one player mode). So blame the computer nerds, not the language nerds.
  • Would I play again: Never. Other Double Dragon games are better than this. Yes, even that Double Dragon game. It’s better. You know it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kirby and the Forgotten Land! Here is where I use the prerequisite “it’s going to suck” joke! Please look forward to it!

This ain't Clone High