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FGC #640 Resident Evil 4

Biohazard!This is our official Halloween article for the year, so we may as well look at something spooky. What do we have available? Ghosts? No, those are too played out. Vampires? Been there, done that a lot. Hell? Ditto. The Grim Reaper? Did that last year. Skeletons? No, some of my best friends are skeletons. Zombies? Getting closer. Oh! I know! We will cover the scariest thing of all…

My good boys and ghouls, today we are going to talk about organized religion.

And while we’re at it, let’s take a look at one of the best games of all time, Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 4 was released in 2005 on the Nintendo Gamecube, and, unlike the rest of the Capcom Five (five games [finally four] all meant to bolster the Nintendo Gamecube with exclusivity), Resident Evil 4 became a game that would live to see a version/port on every successive console generation (sorry you didn’t make it, Viewtiful Joe). And with good reason! Resident Evil 4 is somehow the perfect combination of gorgeous, modern, and… there should really be a better word for this… videogamey. Maybe it was a result of a tortured, years long development process (that wound up accidentally spawning another franchise), or maybe it was because Capcom had been creating videogames since some of its fans were in diapers, but Resident Evil 4 somehow became a videogame’s videogame. Put another way, this is a serious game about a serious special agent completing a serious mission in a serious world… that somehow still finds the time to include a minecart level. And it is integrated flawlessly! It is the most natural minecart level in the history of minecart levels! Whoever was responsible for that should be recognized as history’s greatest mind!

VroomIn fact, Resident Evil 4 may be such a great game exclusively because it perfectly integrates gaming conventions into a story/setting that would be indistinguishable from something you would see premiering after Better Call Saul (or… what was prestige television in 2005… Bones? It was Bones, wasn’t it?). Leon has a variety of “real world” weapons with recognizable advantages and disadvantages, and they all conveniently can be “leveled up” and are associated with color-coded ammo bundles. “Item drops” are a huge part of the game experience, but it makes perfect sense that a random villager would have some of the local currency on their person. And as for life-up drops… maybe they were trying to bring that healing herb back home to their sick child! And speaking of herbs, the whole “combine life up items into better life up items” thing is as anti-reality as it gets, but it somehow feels right that Leon is a survivor that can do some light pharmaceutical work while wandering around a haunted castle.

And the focus of Leon’s mission, rescuing Ashley Graham, President Graham’s daughter, is the dreaded escort mission gameplay taken to its logical extreme. Analyzing how much of the game sees the player palling around with Leon and Ashley simultaneously explicates how subtle much of Resident Evil 4 is with its gameplay: Ashley is not actually present for great swaths of the adventure, primarily because there are many reasons for the duo to separate (reasons usually involve new and interesting ways to be kidnapped). But your brain fills in the gaps, and imagines this to be a buddy comedy with the super cop (not a cop) and his attendant damsel in distress. The reality is that the gameplay of where Ashley is “escorted” makes enough of an impact to paper over the parts where the “videogame” pushes through, and Leon must stalk through a lava stage to earn one of three statue pieces that will unlock the next boss fight. But no matter, you will tell your friends that this is a fun, realistic game where you are protecting a woman while gunning down magical zombies left and right.

Is it hot in here?Oh, excuse me. You do not fight zombies in Resident Evil 4. You fight “Ganados”, the majority of which belong to the Los Illuminados cult.

So, yes, your enemy in Resident Evil 4, from your first villager to the final battle against a mutant “Pope”, is a battle against organized religion.

Now, to be clear for anyone who may have avoided Resident Evil 4 but is inexplicably still reading this article, Los Illuminados is not based on any real-world religion. Its icon looks more like something that would make a cool tattoo than anything associated with a real faith. Their robes were clearly generic Big Lots clearance hauls, and their churches are Catholic buildings because they only had a maximum of ten years to convert the local population to the hot new craze. So, okay, there may be a little Christianity mixed in there, but only because Spain already had some old religion laying around ready to be repurposed. But the actual beliefs of Los Illuminados are what is important here, and that has nothing to do with Christianity. These dudes worship a very real (in their world) parasite that is spread through injections. For the average person in Los Illuminados, there is a simple baptismal ceremony that involves ingesting parasite eggs, only to then be “reborn” with a mature parasite, and then it is back to a life of mundane farming and unwavering loyalty to the administrators higher up on the food chain. So, okay, it is pretty much feudal Christianity right down to the blissful servitude (serf-itude), but… uh… At least Christianity never gives you a sentient sword for a head! As far as I know!

This seems familiarBut the obvious religious parallel of Los Illuminados is not important beyond one simple thing: Los Illuminados is immediately recognizable as a religion. Upon starting the game, in short order you are introduced to devout opponents, random documents talking about faith, and a Rasputin-looking leader running around raving like a madman. Your ultimate opponent, Osmund Saddler, is eventually proven to be a plotting bio-weapon research chief, but he certainly dresses the part of high priest (complete with freaky parasite staff). And from village to castle to island compound, you encounter armies of Los Illuminados followers that are 100% willing to die to protect what they consider to be the cornerstone of their faith. Sure, there is a bit of a “mind control parasite” thing going on here, but you are not simply fighting people here, you are fighting believers.

And that’s why these zombies are scarier than anything you ever saw back in Raccoon City.

Noted Quaker and church billboard inspiration subject D. Elton Trueblood once eloquently stated “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” And, let’s be real here, “trust without reservation” is terrifying. Unconditional trust, like unconditional love, sounds wonderful for the person experiencing it, but horrifying for anyone that might “get in the way” of said trust. You cannot reason with someone that trusts without substantiation. You cannot disprove or present evidence to refute someone with unconditional trust. You literally cannot stop such a thing from continuing when a simple nugget of doubt is no longer an option. And that is all well and good in a situation wherein someone believes in something universally generous… but it is significantly more of a problem if they believe in a religion that actively encourages hurting others. Or they believe in a religion that has been perverted to make it appear that you should be hurting others. And then you have a situation where someone believes in a God that loves all His children, except maybe those different folk around the block. We should limit their rights, or find new and interesting ways to hurt them. It is the only way, because my belief in my God is unwavering, and this is what He wants.

Sorry, guyYou cannot fight faith. In the same way you cannot stop a teenager from running off with their latest beau that they are convinced they will love forever, the only cure for crippling faith is the person involved finding their own way through those beliefs. And when you factor organized religion into the deal, things get even worse. A person may eventually discover they have believed in something dishonest, but when they are surrounded by a veritable gang of people who all believe the same thing, it becomes unlikely they will ever come to a revelation that contradicts the group. Throw in a few leaders that likely have personal goals that can be bolstered by a legion of followers, and you have an association built to trap people in a cage of (false) certainty. And an organization filled to the brim with rational people willing to do anything irrational just so long as it pleases the group and its leaders? It is hard to imagine anything scarier…

And Resident Evil 4 illustrates this doomsday scenario to the letter. Saddler starts as a man with a plan, and influences a weak local official (a child monarch) to gain the resources he needs to distribute his faith. Then, he uses a local priest to spread the word of cleansing one’s sins through the magic of plague eggs. After converting the whole of a Spanish village, Saddler gets ready for the big leagues. The strategy that instigates the plot of Resident Evil 4 is using an American turncoat to capture the president’s daughter, and then eventually return her infested with the light of creepy parasites. This would convert a global superpower to the bad religion, and, from there, the world would be next on the chopping block. So if you need a quick summary of this plan, it was a short hop from charismatic smart guy to local religion to marriage of church and state to apocalypse.

And all it takes is a little blind faith.

HERE COMES GODOrganized religion is not inherently bad. However, the potential for devotion and its inevitable structuring being exploited for nefarious purposes is infinite. Whether it be abused by an enterprising biologist or an entire political party, religion can be used as a force for subjugating people, and bringing more evil into this world.

And that’s your chilling Halloween tale for 2022.

FGC #640 Resident Evil 4

  • System: It all started on the Nintendo Gamecube. However, it could not be confined, so there was an outbreak on the Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and (most recently) the Oculus Quest 2. We are going to draw special attention to the Nintendo Wii version, as it had special aiming controls that are completely repellent. Or that may just be my uncoordinated ass saying that.
  • Number of players: You can play with any of a variety of mercenaries, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Weapon: The rocket launcher is forbidden, right? I guess the Rifle (semi-auto) wins then, as there are so many places where you can snipe off a group of monsters that are standing around doing nothing. Hey chain gun guy! Please don’t move while I decapitate you! Thanks!
  • Memories of the Past: Remember the chainsaw Gamecube controller? That had to be the most ill-advised controller of its generation… Even if it did predict exactly what we would keep seeing on the Wii…
  • COME ON!Say something mean: For a game that so perfectly mixes gameplay and plot, Ashley is a big letdown. From a conceptual standpoint, anytime Ashley is kidnapped should be literally the worst thing to happen to Leon, as his entire mission is rescuing Ashley. But in a practical way, anytime Ashley is carted off means that you won’t have to worry about her wandering into beartraps or being sliced by parasites or whatever, so it is a relief when she’s gone. You know you’ll get her back anyway, as there was never any chance the Resident Evil franchise was going to bump off a cute schoolgirl (college is a school!). So, basically, “Ashley has been kidnapped by horrible monsters” is less “oh no” and more “great, a vacation”.
  • Population Density: My final kill count on this run through was 899 (and a horrid hit ratio of 58%). Given the number of houses and such around the area, it is hard to believe more than 100 people lived in this chunk of Spain. So let’s assume an awful lot of people were smooshed into Salazar Castle. He had to have a staff!
  • I did that on purposeI Just Got That: Noted jackass Ramon Salazer has a puzzle in his castle that requires finding all the pieces of a chimera that comprises a goat, lion, and snake. Then, when you finally fight Salazer, he is combined with his Verduo bodyguard and the Queen Plaga to create a chimera monster comprised of three distinct lifeforms. Neat symmetry!
  • Did you know? The Euro was the standard in Spain by 2002, so the fact that this disturbing village is still using Pesetas in 2004 is an obvious example of how The Merchant is some kind of crazy person. Why would you sell so many rocket launchers to a guy only carrying defunct currency!?
  • Would I play again: Odds are super good on that one. I don’t enjoy a lot of Resident Evil games, but RE4 is a masterclass in making a game for everyone (who wants to shoot zombies). And, hey, this one is a lot easier on a repeat playthrough. Hand me my infinite rocket launcher, my good man.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… God of War 3! It is time for an extremely angry dude to murder every last god he can find! That’s one way to handle religion! Please look forward to it!

NOW KISS

FGC #630 Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, a game released within the last year. It is not really a plot-based game, but if you would like to go into the experience completely untainted by knowing the final (incredibly telegraphed) twist of the adventure, do not read this article. If this does not bother you, go ahead and read on…

Not Wonder LandThere is no other way to say this, so I’m just going to be out with it from the start: Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, which is maybe the 3,000th indie Metroidvania released in 2021, nearly made me cry.

I am going to talk about why.

Bah… I guess I should talk about the game for a hot second before getting into the details of my own anime-based psychological problems. RoLW:DiWL is, as previously stated, a Metroidvania. It specifically is a Metroidvania in the style of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and by “in the style of” I mean “Konami might need to hire a few more lawyers, but not too many lawyers, because man is it obvious what is happening here”. To say this game feels like Symphony of the Night is an understatement, and the minute-to-minute seems more like that seminal title than some later games made by the exact same guy who made Symphony of the Night in the first place (and, yes, I am talking about Bloodstained here). And, to be clear, this isn’t a bad thing for any franchises that may currently exist, as IGA already made Symphony of the Night, he did not have to do it again. Meanwhile, Team Ladybug clearly wanted to make a game that was “Symphony of the Night, but with an immortal elf instead of an immortal dhampir”, and then they went ahead and did it. And they did it well! RoLLW:DiWL is a phenomenal Metroidvania all on its own, and, if Symphony of the Night inspired much of it (right down to the protagonist’s persistant and unnecessary/radical shadow), then it is simply a testament to how SotN had amazing bones to begin with, and any fleshy homunculus built around it would be astounding.

Is it hot in here?But this is not to say that Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth does not have its own identity. For one thing, there is a surprisingly complex “color system” that influences every piece of gameplay. Deedlit has the ability to switch between wind and fire spirits through nearly the entirety of her adventure. When in wind mode, Deedlit can hover and boost a jump or too, and fire allows her to perform an invincible, flaming slide. This means you are frequently presented with rooms, monsters, and bosses that necessitate using one element or another. Or perhaps you will find that a certain “pattern” is tremendously more surmountable if you stop trying to jump with wind and start sliding with fire. Additionally, as one would expect in this kind of situation, different monsters are vulnerable to different elements, so if that fire dragon is withstanding a dozen fiery slashes, switch over to the windy side and blow that beast away. And everything from basic mooks to giant bosses seems to use at least one attack that is elementally themed, so turning on your fire element when facing down a blaze means you’ll take zero damage and absorb some extra mana to boot. We have seen “switching” mechanics in games before, in everything from Silhouette Mirage to Devil May Cry, but RoLW:DiWL makes it a gameplay feature both welcome and wonderful. And the simple way it is implemented without frequent menu finagling feels a lot better than at least one of its Metroidvania sisters.

So if you are looking for a great Metroidvania, look no further than Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. If you enjoyed Symphony of the Night, you will enjoy this. If you want to see some marginal improvement on the formula, you will enjoy the switching system involved. If you want most anything else new, you will not find much (the arrows work in fascinating ways… but do feel kind of like a vestigial gimmick, and the “magic spells” are absolutely vestigial), but what is there is solid gold. It is hard to imagine any reason anyone else would be tempted to play this Record of Lodoss War game.

Oh, wait, right. The whole “Record of Lodoss War” thing. That’s where things get… sentimental.

No EarthSo, for those of you that are unaware (which is anyone who is not a giant nerd very specifically between the ages of 35 and 50), Record of Lodoss War was a novel series and Japanese manga published between 1988 and 1993. It was also had an OVA (original video animation: essentially the “limited series event” of anime) that was finished in 1991, and a 27-episode anime in 1998. In its time, it was very popular. But, unfortunately, “its time” was before anime really made a foothold in the West (I personally blame Pokémon for that), and Record of Lodoss War was already looking pretty long in the tooth before Cowboy Bebop and G Gundam offered their stylish alternatives. And, while it is a shame that Record of Lodoss War seems to be forgotten by the nerd populace at large for anything more than being the anime that makes you say “well, you’d probably like Slayers more”, it is not a surprising end. Ultimately, Record of Lodoss War is incredibly dry by practically any epoch’s standards. It is the typical tale of swords and sorcery in a Dungeons and Dragons setting, and very little gives it that essential “twist” that separates it from the myriad of books, comics, and cartoons that have dominated the “fantasy genre” since Tolkien first decided to put hobbit to paper. It is a story of knights, wizards, elves, and dwarves, and if you have seen even one dragon slaying, you have heard it all before.

The good kind of bouncyBut it is hard not to have affection for these knights, wizard, elves, and dwarves. Record of Lodoss War is a banal story, but there is familiarity in the mundane. Parn is every young adventurer who grows to become a gallant knight over the course of his escapades. Etoh is the noble priest and Parn’s steady friend. Slayn the sensible wizard is similarly reliable and often a makeshift mentor figure. Ghim the dwarf is everything you expect from a dwarf willing to die to save another. Woodchuck the rogue is just as trustworthy as his archetype will allow (which isn’t very much). And Deedlit (the titular star of the game that I am pretty sure this article is still about) is the high elf that wants to learn about the “human” world outside of the insular community of elves she has always known. Put it all together, and we are looking at every tabletop roleplaying gang ever played. Yes, you might have had more unique players in your own Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun (look, an elf is an elf, dammit) games, but the wizened wizard or the reliable cleric is a trope for a reason: it just works. And if you are into that nonsense, it is hard not to see Slayn being similar to your friend Steve, or Woodchuck bearing more than a passing resemblance to your buddy Fruitbat (example nicknames will not be explained).

And that puts a little bit of a different spin on this adventure when you find out that Deedlit…

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

Saints!Saints Row 4 is an over-the-top videogame about a world beset by aliens, destroyed, and then rebuilt in a Matrix-esque virtual reality wherein your player avatar, The President of the United States, is granted amazing super powers in an effort to eventually conquer the alien threat and conquer all of time so as to save the human race.

So let’s spend this article talking about urban planning.

Wait, sorry, I have been informed that it is moderately possible to stay on topic while addressing this blatantly boring matter, so we may as well give that a try. Take two…

Saints Row 2 was an amazing little chunk of a game. After Saints Row was reviewed as “like Grand Theft Auto, but we forgot to figure out the ‘but’”, Saints Row 2 shook the gaming world by being the most Grand Theft Auto-est Grand Theft Auto to ever Grand Theft Auto. That is to say, the Grand Theft Auto from before Rockstar decided to smother any fun in the franchise by sticking its head so far up its own butt that no excitement could ever escape this airtight asszone. And it wasn’t just about a completely bonkers plot that may or may not have contained covering sections of the city in raw sewage! No, Saints Row 2 took the customization features of San Andreas and dialed them up to eleven. So many options! So much clothing! Hell, they had to build an entire mall to house all those shopping choices!

And, in my humble opinion, that mall might be the best part of Saints Row 2.

WeeeeeYes, it’s just one silly area. Yes, it’s an area that probably ultimately only exists for one set piece mission that involves a shootout in a mall (that seems less funny in 2018). And, yes, I might just like it because I have a weird inclination toward hanging out at any mall, virtual ones included. But whatever the original reason for that lil’ shopping center, it is one of my favorite spots, and a significant reason for this is simple: it’s a place. It is somewhere in the Saints Row 2 city that you can actually go. It’s not just another empty, set-dressing building. It’s a real location, and, even if there is an obvious “now loading” parking garage or elevator, it still feels like an organic piece of the city. It’s not just a place to customize your trench coat, it’s a place, and it makes the world of Saints Row 2 feel that much more real.

And, like in our blighted present, you can never go to the mall again. Saints Row 3 dropped not only the mall, but seemingly the entire concept of going inside a big, open building.

And, let’s not kid ourselves, people noticed. I noticed. Saints Row 3 was an amazing game, but almost everyone seemed to recognize that its base city was somehow… less. There were more exciting cutscenes, set pieces, and the occasional reason to deploy a parachute after leaping from your hover-bike, but there weren’t any malls. There weren’t any places that made the SR3 city feel like a real place; simply stores that were singular rooms, and the occasional “level area” that felt very much like a Hyrulian dungeon. The Saints Row 3 city was a shell of the former glory of the series, particularly at a time when other franchises seemed to be moving forward with more immersive worlds.

And then Saints Row 4 effectively told the world that that was good enough, and outright reused the “old” city of Saints Row 3. New game, old city. Party foul, Volition, directors of Saints Row 4. You destroyed half the fun of an open world game before I even opened the box.

Tanks for the memoriesOf course, anyone familiar with the franchise or its producers knows the truth of the matter. In short, without reusing assets to an absurd degree, there literally would be no Saints Row 4. And that would be a major loss for the universe! Saints Row 4 is an irrational amount of fun, predominantly because it takes the typical, mundane world of Saints Row 3 (well, as mundane as any world with Mayor Burt Reynolds could be) and adds super powers. Run like The Flash, fly like Superman, and telekinetically whip some cars around like Matthew Malloy (like you can’t use Wikipedia). When you were previously tethered to finding a conveniently unlocked car every seventeen seconds, being able to Hulk jump straight out of a lake and onto a building is a bit of a game changer, and truly makes Saints Row 4 its own experience. The wisdom of Solomon is telling me you don’t need a new city when you’ve got the speed of Mercury.

But you know what? Let’s stop trying to justify the loss of a new city, and acknowledge that Steelport, the official city of Saints Row 3 & 4, is actually pretty great.

Consider the number one complaint about modern open world games: there’s nothing to do. From Breath of the Wild to Skyrim to Dragon’s… Dogma? Age? Something like that… For all of those worlds, it seems the number one complaint is that there’s a crazy, humungous world to explore, but nothing to do. And that makes perfect sense, as any neighborhood where every dungeon and dragon is squished together is going to feel a bit claustrophobic. If your horse doesn’t have anywhere to run around, everywhere is going to feel like Hyrule Field, and then you may as well just be playing an N64 game. A big world needs the option to feel boring, because wide open spaces are practically a requirement.

WeeeeeeeBut all of the open world games named a moment ago are fantasy-based worlds. An empty field feels natural in Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls because “the wilds of the frontier” are practically built into the genre. That’s not going to fly in an urban environment, because, come on, when was the last time you saw seven inches of a city uninhabited by anything. In New York City, I saw a landlord-tenant dispute over a sleeping bag. This means that, assuming you want your sandbox city to be remotely realistic, it’s time to populate every millimeter of the place with something. There are no nice rocks or fields of tumbleweed in Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row; no, every bit of the city has to have a building or fountain or maybe just a spot where some dude carrying a dildo spawns. You need something, otherwise the world is going to look unfinished.

And then there’s the form and function factor. This is a proper videogame, not some manner of Endless Ocean nonsense, so there are missions. Missions require venues, so of course robbing the bank or destroying the alien antennae needs a spot to be marked on the map. So that means you have to build a bank or an antennae. And they can’t be next to each other! No! There must be some space between them. And there’s a car chase at the tail end of the mission? Wow, better design the streets around that for some interesting twists and turns. Don’t forget to add a fruit cart! Now multiply that kind of thinking by about, what, twenty? To account for all the story missions? And how many optional missions are there? How many street races, ragdoll showcases, and gang fights have to be included? And what do you do when missions start running into missions? It’s not like every section of the city is walled off entirely; you need to account for jobs that will use the same highways and byways. Everything has to fit together, and I don’t have to remind any artists out there how difficult it can be when you have to change just one thing, and are then forced to change every damn thing around it. Smoothing out one road might change the entire shape of the city!

Just thinking about it gets me exhausted.

Take a lookBut this is the strength of Steelport. With a limited number of changes, the same city was used for two different games brimming with content. And that’s amazing! Considering that Saints Row 3 and Saints Row 4 have dramatically different movement options available (a tank is not the same as Supergirl speed), the fact that the same city can be used at all is a minor miracle. And once you factor in all the missions across both games, well, it seems a little silly to be worried about the loss of a few open buildings. Yes, you might not have the same “lived-in” feeling of Saints Row 2, but SR3 and SR4 both use their shared city to do their jobs incredibly well. If you can use the same city to stage a noir-ish gang war story of betrayal and luchadores in the same place as a sci-fi epic featuring aliens and Agent Smith, then you’re clearly doing something right.

There’s nothing lazy about building something to last, and there’s nothing indolent about Steelport. This is how you reuse assets: by building something amazing and adaptable right from the beginning, and showcasing that remarkable flexibility. Here’s to the city planners of Steelport, because they know how to shape a city for the ages.

Though I do still miss the mall…

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

  • System: Available on PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. The Gat Out of Hell expansion (/entirely new game) came out at just the right time to boot this one up to the current gen consoles.
  • Number of players: Like SR3, this one has multiplayer that I have literally never tried. Let’s assume it’s good!
  • Favorite Weapon: There is a gun that inflates people’s heads. While I would like the ability to randomly inflate other body parts (I would very much like someone to explode thanks to unreasonably swollen calves), I can’t say no to N64-style body morphing.
  • OuchiePresident for a Day: It impacts practically nothing, but this title begins with your protagonist as President of the United States. I would personally like to play more adventures where you’re a Super Hero President… but then I start thinking about how my ideal game is Dynasty Warriors: Oops All Presidents, and how much it would kick ass to take out hordes of enemies with an extremely over-leveled William Howard Taft.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes. This is one of the few titles I actually completely Platinum’ed. I would be more proud of that if it didn’t involve rubberbanding a controller so I could fly around on a hover bike for an hour…
  • Did you know? This game canonizes the “Saints Row 1 model” character as a virtual reality created “boss” during one mission. This means that, without a doubt, if your protagonist is female in Saints Row 4, she’s trans, and not just implied to “look different” like in Saints Row 2. I think this means we have exactly one videogame franchise with a potentially trans hero. Progress!
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. I intended to play through Saints Row 4 on PS4 for this review, even… but it’s a long game! And I have a 100% save file right there on PS3! And I like running around like an invincible idiot! It happens!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Captain Commando! Caaaaaaptain Commaaaaaando! Or… maybe I’m thinking of something else…. No matter! Please look forward to it!

Where did it all go?

FGC #357 Um Jammer Lammy

LaaaaaammyI believe in empathy. I believe empathy might be the most important thing in this world. Through empathy, we can understand each other, communicate, and build a better future. Without empathy, we are lost, and progress becomes impossible. I genuinely believe, more than anything, that if our government officials could muster enough empathy to understand people that haven’t had the safety of free healthcare or 401k retirement plans for their entire lives, we would be in a much better place. Empathy, whether it be for people with other religions, beliefs, or even just hair color, is imperative.

And, in a way, this is why I often recoil from fandoms. When I was a kid, it would feel like I was the only person in the universe that liked what I liked. Sailor Moon came on at 6 am on weekdays, and I want to say I was one of three kids in my town watching the show. And I really wanted to discuss this cool new Sailor Mars character with somebody! And even by high school, it wasn’t unusual to find another “nerd”, but it was difficult to find someone that had actually finished Final Fantasy 7. Actually, strike that, Final Fantasy 7 was popular enough, but I was probably the only kid in the county that had played Breath of Fire 3. When the internet finally got around to being the internet, it was a revelation that my younger self would never have imagined. Look at all these usegroups! Look at all these people that understand me! And look at the thousands of fights over Ranma ½! Everyone knows Shampoo is the best choice for Ranma, what is wrong with these people!?

I suppose it’s the death of Hiromi Tsuru that reawaked these feelings, but, for anyone that was blissfully unaware, Tsuru was well known for being the Japanese voice actress of not only Dragon Ball Z’s Bulma, but also Ukyo Kuonji of Ranma ½. Ucchan was one of the many suitors of Ranma in his/her titular series, and, of course, that meant a number of fan debates over which woman should win Ranma’s heart. And, full disclosure? Nearly twenty years after being wrapped up in that fandom, my kneejerk reaction to the death of Ukyo Kuonji’s VA’s death was, “good.” A real live person died tragically, and my immediate retort was joy, because it meant that my one true ship in a series from decades ago was closer to being a reality. This is absolutely insane. I wholeheartedly acknowledge this is crazy, and I regretted the thought almost as instantly as it crossed my mind, but it was still right there, first in line in the ol’ response queue. It’s further proof that I’m a horrible person, but I feel like there’s something to learn there.

Leave it to LammyTo circle back to my original statement, this is the exact reason fandoms tend to bother me. It’s great to have similar interests. It’s wonderful to share these interests with other people (Hi! Welcome to my videogame blog!). But it seems like the minute you get a sufficient number of nerds in the same (chat)room, things quickly devolve into debating minutia until the phrase “murder-suicide cult” starts becoming viable. Here’s a fun fact: George Lucas doesn’t care about your favorite Star Wars. He never made those films thinking, “Let’s make this movie 10% better than the last movie.” Sure, he was always trying to improve and change like any artist, but it was never a matter of invalidating any strides made in a previous work. But please ignore that, because someone brought up the trilogies again, and it’s time to rank every single film according to whatever crazy criteria you’ve got rattling around right now. And someone has the audacity to disagree with your carefully curated list that clearly defines why the prequel trilogy is good, actually? You cannot let such an injustice stand! Please compose a thousand word essay right now that elucidates why everyone you know is wrong. Be sure to use words like “elucidate”! That’ll show ‘em!

In short, I believe that empathy is important in fandoms, because we’re already a bunch of antisocial misfits, why not stop all the fussin’ an’ the fightin’, and just get along? Understand that people have different opinions, and don’t deliberately belittle people that happen to disagree with you. Let’s all come together, and share our mutual love, not start wars over inconsequential shipping or rankings.

Okay, that all out the way? Everybody got the warm fuzzies? Good. Now let’s move on to the main event.

Um Jammer Lammy is better than PaRappa the Rapper, and if you disagree, I will fucking fight you.

VrrrrrFor anyone that missed the late 90’s, PaRappa the Rapper made a splash on the Playstation 1 with an all-new, all exciting genre: the rhythm story game. In short, after years of gaming where the best we could hope for was one lousy voice sample or an entire FMV Hell, technology had finally reached the point where we could enjoy full voice acting and, essentially, “press X to rap”. This led to Masaya Matsuura and NanaOn-Sha producing PaRappa the Rapper in 1996 (appearing stateside in ’97). PaRappa was surprising popular for an early Playstation game, as, in a time when gaming was trying to distance itself from the “childish” likes of Mario and Kirby, PaRappa was a decidedly cartoonish hip-hop rappin’ gangsta dog that never failed to get biz-ay. Perhaps it was the rap that immediately bought PaRappa some street cred, but, one way or another, PaRappa had a lot more in common with Sonic the Hedgehog than Lara Croft. Regardless, PaRappa was very popular, and his fun and funky beats were a breath of fresh air in the early 32-bit days. In fact, even now, PaRappa is still firmly associated with the Playstation brand… or at least within that one game.

Um Jammer Lammy was a sequel in all but name, and better in every conceivable way. It featured similar gameplay, a familiar art style, and PaRappa himself even guested in a side story nearly as long as the main game. However, Um Jammer Lammy was objectively superior, as, instead of featuring a rappin’ dog trying to woo a talking flower, it starred a left-handed guitarist trying to gain enough confidence to repel burger-heisting bullies. And, frankly, the “press button to make sound” gameplay worked a lot better with a guitar than a rapper. PaRappa had a tendency to sound… odd… like an (in)human scratched record… when a button was pressed at an off moment or when attempting to “freestyle”. Lammy meanwhile sounded like someone playing a guitar no matter when you tapped triangleRock out!, so experimenting sounded a lot more natural to everyday human ears. And, while we’re at it, Lammy had a much more interesting cast, including a monochromatic evil twin, bargain basement midwife caterpillar, and a bipolar jet pilot. That beats wannabe Martha Stewart chicken any day of the week. Um Jammer Lammy advanced the rhythm genre in every way, and was clearly the Mega Man 2 to PaRappa’s Mega Man 1.

It also sold like eight copies.

I blame PaRappa.

PaRappa was popular, yes, but he was more popular for the spectacle, and not the actual game. Sad truth? PaRappa the Rapper (and its entire franchise) is harder than Battletoads. Your timing must be perfect, the GUI is rapid and imprecise, and the temptation to “freestyle” for additional points is as opaque as a fat guy wearing seventeen trench coats (I’m sorry, he might not be fat, it’s just hard to tell with all the coats). I have played every PaRappa/Lammy game multiple times, and, unlike other rhythm games, I still have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing to earn that high score. Go ahead and check Youtube for answers on that, and, trust me, you’ll only be even more confused. PaRappa might have been fun to look at, but it was a bear to play, and I’m pretty sure no one ever forgot that. Um Jammer Lammy and the eventual PaRappa The Rapper 2 both undersold by a petty wide margin, and, spoilers, that’s all she wrote. For all the glowing reviews and good vibes PaRappa earned, it was all for naught, and now his creator can’t even kickstart one lousy game about a feudal rapping frog (or… something). Um Jammer Lammy was doomed by the success and incomprehensibility of her predecessor, and we’re all worse for it.

It's all in your mindAnd, unfortunately, that means I hold a grudge. I loved Um Jammer Lammy, and history has forgotten the dear lamb, so I’ll be forever bitter towards PaRappa. And anytime someone mentions how much they liked that whacky dog and his onion pal, I’ll speak out against any and all such thinking. Yes, we should all just feel affection for each other, get along, and enjoy our mutual love of story-based rhythm games, but that’s impossible, because Lammy is my fandom, end of story. I have no empathy for PaRappa lovers, for they have hurt my Lammy too much.

So today’s moral is you should love each other, and treat everyone with respect. Except people that like PaRappa. Those people are not to be trusted.

FGC #357 Um Jammer Lammy

  • System: Playstation 1. There was also an arcade version that included a guitar controller well before Guitar Hero made the scene. But nobody ever mentions that.
  • Number of players: Two player rhythm action! Nobody ever mentions this advantage over PaRappa’s single player experience, either.
  • Favorite Stage: Stage 4, Fright Flight, is vaguely head-banging heavy metal. That’s not usually my genre, but it’s so damn catchy filtered through Um Jammer culture.
  • Rock itLegends of Localization: There was a period of about ten years when companies actually completely localized quirky Japanese games, voice acting and rhythm assignment and all… and then it ended. Now we’re stuck with Hatsune Miku making weird-ass noises, and we’re lucky if we get subtitles that marginally explain the lyrics. Oh well. At least we’ll always have PaRappa, Lammy, and Gitaroo-Man.
  • Required Statement: Stage 6 is a mysterious island in the American version, but is actually Hell in the Japanese and European versions. It is a strictly American belief that nobody likes to hear about their favorite heroine being sent to Hell after an incident with a banana peel, so it was changed for Western audiences. For whatever reason, this factoid must be stated every time Um Jammer Lammy is mentioned, so I’m just following the rules.
  • Did you know? Lose to Teriyaki Yoko, mistress of Hell/an island, and she’ll claim Lammy should be “banned from every game”. This is what we call foreshadowing.
  • Would I play again: This game is nearly impossible with Playstation 3 controller lag (there’s just enough to drive you nuts), and I don’t fire up my Playstation 2 nearly enough (cords, ugh). However, if I do get to playing the PS2, Um Jammer Lammy is definitely going to see some play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Feel the Magic XX/XY! Wow, a launch Nintendo DS game about seducing women with various touch minigames. I’m sure that aged well! Please look forward to it!

Drummers are unreliable