Tag Archives: arc system works

FGC #605 Curses ‘N Chaos

Let's rockSometime around the 14th century, the Black Death was ravaging the European population. Given this highly lethal plague was on everybody’s mind (how could we ever hope to understand?), this seems to have been the time that the anthropomorphism of Death manifested in the public consciousness. As anyone that has ever visited a Spirit Halloween is aware, Death is generally visualized as a skeleton in a black robe wielding scythe. To elaborate for anyone from a foreign culture, the scythe is supposed to symbolize the literal harvesting of souls, and the skeletal body is supposed to be symbolize how bones are scary. Beyond that, ol’ Death is a pretty fundamental part of Western culture, and it is unlikely anyone reading this has missed his familiar iconography.

But what does it mean when Death makes an appearance in a videogame? Well, let us look at how Death has worked his digital magic through the years.

1984
Paperboy

Midway Games
Arcade

Throw some papersWhat’s happening here: Near as we can tell, the first appearance of an active Death in a videogame was in Paperboy. A grim reaper is one of the many, many obstacles that this young boy must face on his way to delivering newspapers to the least appreciative neighborhood on the planet.

Describe your Death: We have a traditional black cloak and scythe here, though it is difficult to tell if we are dealing with a legitimate skeleman. One would suppose this emphasizes the “unknown” nature of Death.

What does it all mean? 1984 was a time for “suburbs fear”, wherein parents were convinced razors were being hidden in Halloween candy, and a scary man in a trench coat was assumed to be on every corner. It was all total nonsense, but it does explain why one would expect to see Death out and menacing an innocent paperboy. Everything wants to kill our innocent young paperboy, why would Death themself be any different?

1985
Gauntlet

Midway Games
Arcade

BEHOLD DEATHWhat’s happening here: Death is one of the many monsters that stalks the world of Gauntlet. They will drain 100 health from a hapless adventurer, and is resistant to all attacks, save the mighty magic bomb. They are not a common creature, but they are a threat every time they appear.

Describe your Death: OG Gauntlet is not exactly known for its huge, expressive sprites, but Death at least has the ol’ black cloak here. If you were to claim this Death was a ninja, you wouldn’t have to change a single thing about their appearance.

What does it all mean? In 1983, Patricia Pulling founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), and significantly contributed to the myth that Dungeons and Dragons was seducing our innocent children to the dark side. This led to years of general concern over D&D, so it was only natural that Death would be haunting dungeons in 1985 videogames. It’s Death! They will kill you! Because of what you are doing! Stay out of fantasy realms, children!

1986
Castlevania

Konami
Nintendo Entertainment System

Sorry SimonWhat’s happening here: Death’s multiple appearances in the Castlevania franchise may be the most iconic in gaming, and it all started here. You can’t have a decent Castlevania game without Death! Eat it, Haunted Castle, you barely get a Frankenstein.

Describe your Death: Skeleton? Check. Scythe? Check. Black cloak? Well… Death has decided to go with something more fuchsia here, but we’re going to allow it. NES color palettes are not kind to classical iconography.

What does it all mean? We will address Death as a greater presence in the franchise soon enough, but this Death is little more than one of many “movie monster” bosses in his first appearance. Apparently he was just a dude in a pink costume going by the pseudonym of Belo Lugosi. That is almost a real person’s name!

1986 also had another familiar Grim Reaper…

FGC #567 BlazBlue: Centralfiction

This post originally appeared about two years ago on a forum post that… apparently no longer exists. Whoops! In the interest of my beloved words reaching as many people as possible, please enjoy this nonsense with the excuse that I am now playing the Switch version of BlazBlue: Centralfiction. Oh, and be aware there are spoilers for the entire franchise here, and it is super GIF heavy. I probably should have led with that…

Time to Blaze itWhat you have to understand is that BlazBlue could be so, so simple. At first glance, it’s a pretty straightforward story: 100 years in “our” future, but 100 years before the events of the game, mankind goes too far, and accidentally releases magic (good), and the Black Beast (bad) on the universe. The Black Beast nearly destroys the world, but six brave heroes rise up and seal away the ancient evil. Now, in the present (of the game), a terrorist in a red coat is running around wrecking stuff, and it is assumed he is trying to revive the ancient evil. Naturally, he’s misunderstood, and the real bad guy is hiding in plain sight within the current ruling government, so the wheel of fate is turning, action!

And were this a simple, traditional fighting game universe, that would be it. There would be a “new” gang of heroes, a few would have obvious or subtle ties to the previous legends, throw in a wannabe ninja or two, and you’d have a pretty straightforward fighting game universe. Everybody battles at first, they eventually join up, and the inevitable “return of the Black Beast” is defeated by friendship and mashing the jab button. It could work! It could work well! Perhaps in that universe, all would be joyful, and I wouldn’t be getting ready to explain how the pretty sorcerer lady had sex with a goddamn cat. Maybe that universe would be better for all of us…

This isn't realActually, speaking of universes, BlazBlue does something interesting with its overall plot. Were you around for the Mortal Kombat debates of the 90’s? I’m not talking about the silly disputes over whether Mortal Kombat was too violent for young eyeballs; no, I’m talking about the important arguments about things that mattered. I’m talking about the debates over which Mortal Kombat endings were canon. Did Scorpion really kill Sub-Zero? Did Kano really kill Sheeva, or did she kill him (and did Sonya watch)? Yes, we know Liu Kang won a tournament or two from that opening roll, but we want to know some details! Johnny Cage: Goro-slayer or conceited movie star? This is important to my fanfic, dammit!

BlazBlue does its best to sidestep all of that, and introduces some canon multiversal theory to the fighting game genre. All endings are valid. Yes, Ragna saved one world, and Arakune devoured everyone and everything in another world. Every single BlazBlue game has multiple endings for each of its characters, and every ending is equally canon, because the forces of good and evil at the highest levels are distinctly watching every universe to see the potential best outcome. And it’s a very distinct plot point in practically all of the games! All endings are canon, so, yes, that goofy finale where Dan wins the tournament and Zangief becomes a robot totally happened.

Unfortunately, it seems like the writers wanted to justify this conceit, and… things got complicated.

This story has no beginning and no end. It is a tale of souls and swords that, unfortunately, gets a little confused along the way. I guess we’ll start with the kids…

FGC #382 Dragon Ball FighterZ

Rock the dragonIt is the rare licensed game that grants you greater insight into the source material.

And the greatest insight offered by Dragon Ball FighterZ? The exact mechanisms of why Krillin sucks.

First, let’s talk about the dragon in the room: Dragon Ball FighterZ is a good game. Not only that, but it’s a good Dragon Ball fighting game. And this might be a first! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have played a lot of Dragon Ball (mostly Z) games. I am a DBZ nerd, and have been since approximately sixth grade. It’s like wrestling! Except everybody can fly and shoot lasers out of various appendages and orifices! I am all about that! So I’ve dutifully purchased practically every DBZ game that has come down Dragon Way, going all the way back to Dragon Ball GT Final Bout (a game that featured nearly the whole breadth of Dragon Ball history, but was released in America when Goku had barely reached Frieza. Who is this little chirping pink guy? And why is Vegeta a baby?). But one constant through the DBZ game pantheon is that, unfortunately, they’re not very good. Some of the RPG/adventure style DBZ games are pretty great, but the fighting games… not so much.

Slam 'emAnd Dragon Ball FighterZ seems to clearly elucidate why: DBZ games shouldn’t follow DBZ. Okay, yes, you need to have Goku and Cell and all kinds of crazy “he’s moving too fast for saiyan eyes” flurry punches, but you absolutely have to drop the many “this happens every episode so it should be in the game” quirks of the series. Flight? It sounds cool, but grant your fighters the ability to “stand” on different planes, and everything gets too… chase-y. Just let DBZ fighters feel like regular fighting game characters, and maybe add in a homing punch or two. And beam fights? It seems like every DBZ fighting game has had some desperate need to make big, dramatic moments out of two dudes grunting and shoving lasers while the player is expected to hammer buttons or rotate a joystick. And that has never been fun. Ever! DBFZ makes it clear that you could get an amazing DBZ fighting game out of a traditional fighter, and you can still include DBZ tropes. Just showing a little restraint for the sake of genre helps.

But this isn’t to say DBFZ is just Guilty Gear reskinned as Dragon Ball. While Goku and Vegeta seem to have a weird (appropriate) Ryu/Ken thing going on, the cast is unmistakably themselves, with Tien focusing on measured counters, and Yamcha whipping out ridiculous auto-combo moves. Frieza can summon planet-wrecking balls of energy, and Kid Buu is a whirling dervish of destruction. And even newcomers to the series firmly establish themselves with their movesets: Hit is cool and collected, and Goku Black’s ki scythes tell you this dude is bad news. Going back to Street Fighter 2, the most important thing a fighting game can do is ground its fighters with their moves and abilities (you know, the stuff you see every nanosecond when you’re actually playing the game), and DBFZ does that in an obvious and amazing manner. No two characters are exactly alike, and this is in stark contrast to previous DBZ fighting games containing seventy characters that all “punch a lot and shoot beams”. And that is why nobody likes you, Turles.

Sorry!So it’s only natural that all these fighters wind up in a pretty sprawling story mode. Arcade modes are the lifeblood of fighting games, but DBZ has always been two parts muscles dudes to its 98 parts soap opera. Of course we have to have a new villain and an excuse for why only two people can fight each other at one time (as opposed to how, in the series proper, only two people can fight at a time because… uhh… senzu beans?). The excuse du jour is that the previously unseen Android 21 has activated some random machine that Dr. Gero left behind, and now “a human soul” must bond with DBZ heroes and villains alike to grant the fighters access to their innate super destructive muscle powers. Nobody was expecting “the hero is the player” meta shenanigans from a DBZ game, but, hey, it works in this context. And it grants us an excuse for Goku to be “level 1” even though he has successfully fought his way through multiple realities at this point (and thus should be capable of punching Captain Ginyu straight through to the Sailor Moon universe).

But it’s this leveling system that is the most DBZ thing to have ever graced a videogame. Like many JRPGs, only “active” characters receive experience. And, also like most JRPGs, your party grows as time goes on. You start with you initial lil’ dudes, but it’s inevitable that you’ll wind up with new, more interesting party members as the game progresses. It’s only natural that Vegeta isn’t available in the first “dungeon”, because, come on, you’ve gotta earn a rude boy like that. And since the new characters are objectively better than the old characters, well, here’s a screenshot of my party from shortly before the final battle…

What?

Zoom in! Enhance!

Oh no

Yes, the rest of the party is Level 30-40, and Krillin is Level 3. Tien and Yamcha aren’t much better. Assuming I were to take any of these dudes out to challenge the final boss, a creature that is firmly level 50, my bald little hero would die. He would die immediately.

And that’s canon!

Way to go, dorkSure, we all say we want to see the return of the Dragon Ball OG characters. Yes, we all claim we want to see the humans take the spotlight again, and shake these damn saiyans off their high perch. But you know what? Krillin is cool, but Toriyama already told his story. You could even claim some of the latter DBZ characters have completed arcs, too (Gohan comes to mind here). But the story keeps going, and the main character keeps finding new worlds and universes. Bald Guy and Bald Guy with Three Eyes are neat, but there’s a God of Destruction on the table now, and he’s a kitty cat, so what’s his deal? Silent assassin from another universe? Sounds good, too. Goku, but genocidally evil? That’s a cool story! And… I already know Krillin’s story. He’s a guy that likes porn and is always going to be second banana to Goku. I don’t need him in my party right now. Even his wife tosses a better destructo disc.

Krillin, I love you, and you’re great… but you suck. And there’s a big, green science experiment that wants to be part of my party now. Please understand.

Dragon Ball FighterZ helps me to comprehend how it feels to be Goku. DBFZ helps me to recognize that, even if you care about some bald little buddy, sometimes you have to ditch him for the entire story, because, come on, who doesn’t want to team up with Nappa? He doesn’t have any hair and he’s taller. There’s really no choice at all here…

FGC #382 Dragon Ball FighterZ

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Also, Gameboy Advance if your PC’s power is subpar.
  • Number of players: Two players controlling six total fighters. But only one at a time! It’s pretty much Marvel vs. Capcom rules… and that’s just fine.
  • What’s in a name: The title is pronounced “Dragon Ball Fighters”. This is because the good people at Bandai Namco have no idea how letters work.
  • GET IT?!Story Similarities: For some reason, every time the party retreats to Bulma’s ship and chats about the next move, I am reminded of another franchise.
  • Other Story Issues: Look, I understand that it wouldn’t make “story sense” for there to be clones of the androids, or characters from other universes, or anyone that is already a corpse possessed by a god, or whatever, but the billions of fights against Clone Yamcha in story battles seem to necessitate using the entire roster for that mode. There aren’t even Clone Young Gohan or Clone Majin (Fat) Buus running around! A little variety is important when you’re fighting three a match.
  • Favorite Fighter (this game): I’m going to say Hit, but only because he kind of represents Champa, the Garfield of the Dragon Ball universe. Champa for DLC!
  • A Quick Word about Krillin: Krillin isn’t all bad. He is a great friend, an attentive father, and an excellent husband to a previously murderous cyborg. However, he is also the one guy in DBZ with the highest death count. To be clear, that is not a kill count, what that means is that Krillin has been killed the most times in the Dragon Ball franchise. He was once killed by a tambourine! Strongest human in the universe or not, Krillin knows his place in the world, and it’s in the Home For Infinite Suckers.
  • Did you know? Speaking of Hit, he is an assassin from another universe. In other words, he is a hitman. Hit the hitman. Someone should be in jail for DBZ naming schemes.
  • Would I play again: I’m still playing it! Story mode might be over forever, but maybe I’ll throw Krillin a bone for some online matches. Least I could do for the little guy.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg for Nintendo Gamecube! Now that’s an eggcelent choice! Please look forward to it!

Winner!

FGC #274 Arcana Heart

SKULLS?Gaming has grown up over the years, and the generational shift seems… oddly precise.

First we have the Atari (and whatever qualified as a videogame before that), which is the vaguely remembered toddler years. You’ve got a bunch of games that are kind of feeling out what can be done, and a lot more games that just have no idea what to do. For every Mario Bros. you’ve got about a dozen more like M*A*S*H . And, even more than that, you’ve got a million games that are “just exactly the same as that other game, but with a new set six pixels”. There are one or two luminaries in the Atari library, but, by and large, they’re all interchangeable, and only revered for being there right from the beginning.

Now the Nintendo is where we get into gaming’s real “childhood”. There is exploration here, but, by and large, this is where gaming learned to walk, and then ran with it. Super Mario Bros. led to a million imitators, but, looking at the game coupled with thirty years of gaming experience, you can see how even something today like Breath of the Wild or Overwatch can partially trace back to the adorable plumber. Much of what we consider “gaming” truly began here, and it’s as much about the gameplay as it is the franchises. However, speaking of those franchises, practically everything from this era is fairly… kiddy. Thanks to Nintendo’s iron grip and general fear of jocks, all of those classic games are cartoony, and contain about as much adult content (whether that be violence, sex, or even religion) as your average episode of Dora the Explorer. But that’s fine! This is gaming’s childhood, and it was meant for children, so it all worked out. Bubble Bobble Madcap Violence Edition would just have to wait for a few years.

Dang skullsThe 16-bit years are so tween they practically hurt to look at. Mega Man has gone from chubby blue bot to hardcore, shiny “Reploid” (“It’s like a regular robot but… you wouldn’t understand, mom.”) who worries about death and war and stuff. Link watches his uncle die (he got better), and Castlevania eventually released a game that featured blood dripping from every available hole. Mortal Kombat and Sonic the Hedgehog defined this era of gaming, as it was all about attitude and violence and…. not much else. The 16-bit era was an attempt at gaming being more “its own thing” and “edgy”, but almost all of it amounted to exactly nothing. Mortal Kombat was violent for the sake of being violent, it didn’t have anything relevant to say on the subject of ghost skeletons being decapitated by ice ninja. It was just like a tween adopting their older sibling’s clothing and claiming to be “with it”. … Do kids still say “with it”? Uh, did they ever?

The Playstation One era is clearly gaming puberty. And, let’s be clear here, it’s not the fun kind of puberty that appears in 80’s movies wherein some hapless nerd trips into the girls’ locker room and participates in his first sexual harassment; no, I’m talking about the real kind of puberty, where suddenly you’re interested in the opposite (or same, it’s tough all around) sex, and last week you were totally okay with playing with Transformers, and now the most important thing in your life is that there is a pool party at the end of the week, and OH GOD IT’S GOING TO BE HORRIBLE. This would be about when gaming as a whole decided that everything that came before was crap (and far too 2-D), and everything had to be reinvented for a new, much more mature audience that is totally into skateboards. Like the 16-bit era, this was yet another example of “maturity = Lara Croft has boobies”, but it was still a gigantic change in the gaming landscape. Contra couldn’t just be a fun game about aliens anymore, now there had to be hardcore plots and 3-D glasses and… ugh. At the time, it seemed like the be all, end all of everything, but, in retrospect, it was just more gaming growing pains. Sorry, Adventure Island you’re too immature for us now.

They're so fun!Following this line of thinking, you might surmise that I would identify the Playstation 2 era as the next logical step, the “adult phase” of gaming. And that’s… kind of true. But I wouldn’t say gaming matured until basically the Playstation 3 era, when we got two important things. One, gaming got comfortable again with revisiting “childish” franchises, likely thanks to the joy of downloadable titles, so we could benefit from “arcade experiences” and other games that only last an afternoon (as opposed to a 40 hour “experience”). And, two, we got the Vita, which is all panties, all the time. And, now that the Vita is dying, it looks like we’ll be getting that same (fan) service on the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch. So, hooray, horny games for everybody!

Now, to be clear, I don’t think underage anime tiddy games are adult. Far from it, in fact, and I’ve got a Wankery Week to prove it. However, I am downright proud of the fact that, after decades of acting like “sexy” is an accident that dribbles into otherwise wholesome games, the gaming industry is finally acknowledging that, for whatever reason, there are people that want to play videogames that are vaguely pornographic. We’re still not completely “there” (I could write an entire article about the sexual politics of Persona 5), but, in the same way that the XXX section of your local video store (no longer actually a thing) is separate from the “real” movies, we’ve got some actual XXX (more like XX) videogames, and no one is confusing them for E3’s game of the year.

It… wasn’t always that way.

FIGHT!Today’s game is Arcana Heart, a 2-D fighting game for the Playstation 2. Arcana Heart is a… passable fighting game. There isn’t anything too exciting going on here, just about what you’d expect from a 2-D fighter. The most interesting trait of this series is, basically, swappable special moves (which is unusual in a sprite-based fighter lacking any and all Mokujins), but it’s otherwise pretty forgettable. It’s not a bad game, mind you, simply one that doesn’t warrant much of a reason to exist. What separates this fighting game from every other Street Fighter 2 wannabe that came down the pike? Well, simple answer, it’s the women. Or “girls” might be more appropriate noun here.

Much like a certain other franchise, each of the characters in Arcana Heart seems to be tailor made to suit some manner of fetish. There’s the peppy school girl, the sad school girl, the “younger” character that is always in a child’s swimsuit (but is mentally mature, so it’s okay), the robot maid, shrine priestess, Rei Ayanami, furry, the “American” vampire, and, my personal (least) favorite, the unwilling participant that is dragged along by a decidedly male-identifying (and phallic) object. It’s a rape analogy! Hooray! Also, puke! In short, the “all female cast” of this game isn’t there to pass the Bechdel test, it’s there to titillate a male audience that is going to buy this game hoping to see some upskirt shots. Unfortunately for them, it’s going to be a long wait.

Arcana Heart is rated T for Teen, and even though the writing of its story mode relies heavily on all the tropes you’d expect to see in your average harem anime, there is no actual visual titillation to be found here. Now, I’m not the type to ask that every game out there include the exact right number of exposed panties, but, fun fact, in a game that seems built to deliver the fan service, a complete lack of it seems almost… insulting? This isn’t even “softcore”, the visuals for this game are completely chaste. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more erotic imagery in Wii Sports (my Mii has some amazing legs).

Really bitesBut this is basically where we were in the Playstation 2 era. We could have something like God of War that just incidentally included an off-screen sex scene, or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which dummied out a sex minigame at the last moment, but if a game was about sex/fanservice/a thirsty audience trying to get off, then it had to be cleaned up to the point of irrelevance. It was if you had to clear some kind of artificial “maturity bar” to include anything sexual in your game. Soulcalibur has tear-away clothing and a create-a-character mode that allows for all underwear fighters, all the time? Well, that’s just for the sake of the in-depth story of swords and souls, and I guess the tiniest bit of T&A snuck in as an afterthought. There can’t be games for perverts! That would mean gaming is for perverts!

I’m glad we got over it.

But, in retrospect, I suppose this does paint the Playstation 2 and its Arcana Heart-alike releases as the… awkward young adult phase. Yes, sex is okay, everybody does it, blah blah blah, but… can we not ever address it? I… don’t really want to make eye contact with the idea that people do want to see half-naked people… even though we’ve got half-naked people running around everywhere. Look, uh… yeah, I look at a Playboy once in a while, but I only read it for the articles. I’m not really… doing… that thing… Hey, lay off, man.

Arcana Heart is a time capsule of gaming’s awkward early adulthood generation.

FGC #274 Arcana Heart

  • System: Playstation 2 and arcade. Though not any arcades in family-friendly communities (like, ya know, America).
  • Number of players: Two anime girls enter, only one leaves. Until the next round.
  • OuchFavorite Character: Kira Daidohji, the previously mentioned “mature but obviously still like twelve” character wins almost in spite of herself. Her whole deal is that she controls this sentient blob of water, so naturally that means she has to be wearing a swimsuit at all times, which… really, guys? But! This means she fights with that previously mentioned blob morphing into all kinds of giant limbs and shapes, and she basically becomes MvC’s Juggernaut. And I’m always down for that.
  • Did you know? This game comes compliments of Arc System Works, the folks behind the likes of Guilty Gear and Blazblue. That usually means you’ll get an interesting fighting game… but this time… not so much.
  • Would I play again: Even if I wanted to play this wannabe anime tiddy game again, there’s now a sequel available, and we all know that fighting games only get better with improvements. Might have to see if that game upgraded the… graphics… with the console generation…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man X3 for the Super Nintendo! Alright! Let’s forget about random anime girls and move on to random robot targets! Please look forward to it!

Boo!
Are puppets a fetish?