Tag Archives: economics

FGC #593 Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Straight to hell!Let us consider the economy of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest (and how it has screwed me up to this day).

Castlevania 2 is an ambitious NES title that is also extremely broken. Much like Link’s second adventure, the curators of the Castlevania franchise decided to branch out in a more explore-y direction with Simon Belmont’s second quest. Unfortunately, it seems that the Goddess Zelda watches over all of her titles and guarantees proper Q&A testing… while Dracula just gets a graveyard duck. Or the graveyard duck was intentional! Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest has a legendarily inscrutable localization… but it ain’t that great in the original Klingon, either. The NPCs of C2 go out of their collective way to be cryptic at best, and downright dishonest at worst. There is a bad merchant in this town? Are you referring to how the ability to buy a white crystal over and over again is broken, or am I searching for a hidden dealer somewhere around here? And do not insult that kind lady peddling Holy Water. I wouldn’t be able to beat Dracula without her!

So is Simon’s Quest broken? Well, yes, because those ending screens are pretty damn fractured by any rubric. But is everything before Dracula’s defeat broken? Well, no, just all the information that the player needs to successfully complete this quest is some combination of esoteric and obfuscated. Finding your first mansion housing a rib might be child’s play, but knowing from there that you have to kneel at a nondescript lake or show a bleeding heart to a ferryman (or that said ferryman is apparently canonically cursed!) is the kind of thing you would never in a million quests personally discover “accidentally”. Some hints in the Japanese version were mangled for the American release, and we can blame a number of Debora Cliff head injuries on this simple fact; but, even then, you kind of have to “know” that the crystals work when you are just standing around… And “stand still and wait” is not exactly the prime way a videogame works. Simon’s Quest is not broken in every way, but a clear explanation of what is happening and what should be done would certainly help a fledgling player. Just give me a ferryman that outright states that they are looking for something, and we can go from there!

And then there is the economy of Simon’s Quest.

Just don't look!Previously on Castlevania, hearts fueled “sub items”, and that was it. There were moneybags that provided points, but there was nothing to buy. A heart “bought” you the ability to fling a dagger, though, so you had something you wanted to ration and “save” for the rough spots. A proper cross boomerang and the hearts to fuel it could be the difference between life and death. This would be the standard for Castlevania games after Castlevania 2, too, and we would not see exchanging currency for goods and services in the Castlevania franchise again until Symphony of the Night ten years later.

But in the meanwhile, here was Castlevania 2. Before you even leave the first town, you are introduced to the concept of trading hearts. In fact, items available in the first town are very clearly outlined as…

Buy Once, Use Forever Items

My aching crystal50 Hearts will get you two different items in Castlevania 2’s first bout of commerce. Local townsfolk will note that thou must purchase a White Crystal, but the Holy Water is available, too. And both items are literally essential to your adventure. The White Crystal will allow access to (or at least illuminate a hidden platform in) the first dungeon, which is a vital stop on the way to earning Dracula’s Rib. But do not discount the Holy Water, as you absolutely need its ability to break “soft” blocks. Oh no! You’ve only got fiddy hearts in your pocket when the game starts, and you need a hundo! Time to get to farming skeletons!

And you will want those extra hearts, as Holy Water, the White Crystal, and the eventually available basic Dagger are all the best items to purchase. The Holy Water not only unlocks previously inaccessible areas, but also is the most straightforward item in the game for consistently hitting enemies below Simon. The Dagger might fly much straighter, but it is also much more powerful, and can completely supplant the whip if you are saving up for something better. And the White Crystal? Not only do you need it for basic platform-seeing purposes, but it also has a resale value! You can trade the White Crystal for the Blue Crystal, and then trade up further to the Red Crystal. All of those crystals are critical, and, given a lack of fast travel or mobile merchants, you really shouldn’t leave home (town) without it!

Unfortunately, not everything in Castlevania 2 has the same kind of utility. Let’s just go ahead and whip that notion in the bud…

Straight Upgrade Items

STAY AWAYSimon already killed the only vampire that ever mattered, so the legendary Vampire Killer whip is apparently sitting on a shelf back at the Belmont estate. In the meanwhile, Simon has pulled out the trusty leather whip that he picked up down at the Transylvania S&M store (Grant DaNasty’s Nastiest Emporium). Unfortunately, this budget whip is far from the best, and a variety of other whips are available from more savvy storefronts. Would you care for a Thorn Whip? Chain Whip? Chain Whip with little star dealy bopper? You’ve got options!

Or… you have no real options at all. Unlike many modern games, you absolutely do not need to upgrade your whips sequentially. You will likely find a vendor for the Thorn Whip before anyone else, but, if you save your hearts, you will eventually find that Morning Star shop, and own the best whip hearts can buy before anything else. In fact, if you really know what you are doing, you can farm nighttime zombies, make a beeline for that miraculous whip, and wield all the power of Lucifer before entering your first mansion!

And there is a valuable lesson here: why waste your hard-earned hearts on anything but the best? Only one whip can be upgraded (for free!) to the critical Flame Whip, and only one whip has the power to fell Death before he can make his lethal approach. Why bother with anything less? The Chain Whip is one of the most expensive items in the game, and it is literally completely worthless if you can afford a Morning Star. Save those hearts! Go for the greatest! Do not waste time on incremental upgrades! Shoot for the gold!

But you may have to blow a few hearts along the way on…

One and Done, Limited Items

Eat it, orbYou may make an immediate run for the Morning Star, but there is one thing standing in your way: a deadly, life-draining swamp. The only solution to surviving this problem is to purchase some Laurels, initially only available about as far east as you can get without the aid of a tornado. Laurels make Simon temporarily invulnerable, and that is just the right level of vulnerable you need for a purple swamp filled with fire-spewing beasts.

But Laurels come at a cost. In an effort to guarantee Simon is not invincible forever, Laurels are limited items that can only be used a set number of times. You buy two Laurels, you get to be invincible twice. Pretty straightforward! In a similar manner, there are Oak Stakes, purchasable only within haunted mansions, which are essential for unlocking Dracula Part Orbs ™, and are immediately consumable. And, while it may seem like they are wholly optional, bulbs of garlic fall into the same category. Garlic initially presents as simply an offensive item that works similarly to the Holy Water of Castlevania (1), but it also summons random Romani in graveyards to distribute daggers and bags and whatnot. You could get through the whole of CS2 without a single clove of garlic, but it is going to make your life better in more ways than one if you shell out for that veggie.

And, give or take experimenting with garlic in any old graveyard, these one-and-done items are all very situational. You could use a Laurel anywhere, but you probably are going to conserve it for the moment you approach those shining, purple shores. Garlic is rarely necessary for average encounters, so save it for shop summoning or the occasional pizza. And you only ever need one oak stake per mystical orb, so you can stow that away until you need to earn a fingernail. In short, once you have a relative idea of what you are doing, you will never be in a situation where you can potentially “waste” one of these valuable, limited items. Short of whiffing it big on tacking an inanimate circle, you are not going to “accidentally” need another 50 hearts for a replacement anytime soon.

Wish I could say the same about our final category…

Freemium Items

MortThe Silver Knife can be found by properly placing garlic in the graveyard. The Gold Knife can be recovered from a downtrodden Death. And the Sacred Flame is hiding in a dark dungeon, but free for the taking if you gaze with Dracula’s eye. They are freebies! Items of absolute importance (well, maybe the Silver Knife is kind of a waste), and unerringly useful. The Sacred Flame is like an advanced Holy Water that can immolate Freddie the Claw Skeleman without a thought. And the Gold Knife can re-kill Dracula before he even has time to teleport out of his coffin. No wonder Death was hanging onto that blade!

But there is a bit of a drawback to these weapons of Drac destruction: they each cost hearts. Each of these items is free to add to your inventory, but cost a heart per use. And one or two hearts may not be the difference between life and death, but you need as many of those hearts as possible for all the finest upgrades. You need a new Oak Stake in every mansion, and who knows when you are going to have to reup on Laurels? And, if this is your first time venturing through Castlevania (or you just have a terrible memory), you would not know if you needed additional hearts for anything else. That Morning Star cost nearly every heart you could ever have, but is there something better out there? Some armor, maybe? Blue Ring? It worked for Link…

And, if you have not already guessed, this is why I never use the Silver Knife, Gold Knife, or Sacred Flame.

Sure, I may have hearts to spare by the time the final mansions are being raided, but would I ever use a weapon that consumes two whole hearts per use to clear those areas? Certainly not. I might need those hearts for later! Using these freemium items may make my life easier, but what if they are going to make my life worse when I need to grind for more hearts? And Dracula isn’t dead yet! What if I get up to his final chamber, and I run out of hearts!? I would have to engage with actually fighting Dracula the real way, and I simply do not have that kind of time. I would rather make every other part of this game harder than ever even think about wasting my valuable cash on something as trivial as my 10,000th violent skeleton. I’m saving up for that vacation home Simon is never going to use!

Er-hem.

Anyway, Castlevania 2 is apparently why I don’t play mobile games. Thanks for reading.

FGC #593 Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

  • What a horrible night to have a swampSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System to start, and then it at least showed up on the recent Castlevania collection for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It was also on Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. Sorry, Castlevania 2 does not see as many releases as Mega Man 2.
  • Number of players: Simon is facing this horrible night to have a curse alone.
  • Forever Apart: The various chunks of Dracula could also be considered usable “items”, but every other item save the initial rib is so… not useful. Also, can we take a moment to acknowledge that an official body part of Dracula is his ring? Not a single limb in there, but we somehow need his signet to cross his dumb bridge? And, while we are looking at lugging around bits of the count, is his complete lack of a brain there to account for his generally braindead plans? When you have to rely on the wizard Shaft to get things done, you know you are missing some pieces.
  • Boss Time: Castlevania is a franchise known for its bosses. And, in C2:SQ, there are a whole two of them, and you can walk right past one. Nobody likes you, Death! Camilla and her bloody tears is required, but only on the technicality that she drops the cross item that allows access to Dracula’s ruined castle. At least these jerks respawn for any potential rematches. I would not say no to seeing that in Symphony of the Night…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I played this game so much as a child, I memorized the code that grants all the items. It is complete gibberish, but I can recall this random assortment of letters and numbers immediately. If you ever see me in person, quiz me! I would transcribe it here, but I don’t feel like having Google steal my code for maximum Laurels.
  • I do not talk about musicAn end: Damn is it hard to get the best ending without optimizing dang near everything. Also, is it really worth it? Because it sure does seem like the accompanying text for any given ending does not match what actually happens. And, ya know, there is that whole “Simon dies almost every time” thing. Dude just cannot catch a break.
  • Did you know? According to the Castlevania timeline, Simon killing Dracula, blasting him into literal pieces, reassembling said pieces, and then immolating the count all over again only bought the world fifty years of Dracula-free time. Juste, Simon’s grandson, was the next Belmont to take up the whip chronologically in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. And Juste only had to beat Dracula once to keep Drac chilling until Richter time.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Dammit. It’s a Castlevania game, so I will blow my hard-earned hearts on any version of it that is ever released. Put this sucker on a cell phone with in-app heart purchases, and I’ll buy it, too.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Aero Fighters 2! Take to the skies! To fight! In flight! Please look forward to it!

I can!

FGC #535 Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland

So RosySome games are lauded for messages they can’t even properly convey. Take Monopoly, for instance. Monopoly is based on The Landlord’s Game, a board game patented by Elizabeth Magie in 1904. While many have called the game dedicatedly anti-capitalist, this gives the impression that The Landlord’s Game is somehow against our beloved, inescapable world of landlords squeezing tenants for their every last dime. But that’s not true! The Landlord’s Game was meant to promote the single tax theory of Henry George, and presented two sets of rules: one with heavy taxation, and another that was significantly more forgiving of players that happened to own everything. This meant the game mutated into two forms: one that was anti-monopolist, and the other that was referred to as monopolist. The goal of the anti-monopolist version was to be the first to double your starting wealth (which wasn’t that difficult in a game where you weren’t constantly facing bankruptcy due to a bad roll), while the monopolist version valued forcing every other player out until you were the last man with a monocle standing. Guess which version became Monopoly thirty years later…

But whether you’re playing The Landlord’s Game or Monopoly, all versions have one thing in common: money is good. Money is god. Gather up every last dollar and cent, and, regardless of whether or not the game takes a half hour or entire nights of your life, you’ll be the winner if you have the most dough. Monopoly is not long and aggravating in an effort to deter capitalism, it is a game that revels in its greed. Earning dollars, purchasing property, it all feels good. And it might be awful when you’re not the Look away from the clownone holding the deed to Boardwalk, but you’re still going to be elated when you’ve got a railroad or four, and some unsuspecting rube lands on your assets. If Monopoly (or its ancestor) was supposed to ever be educational regarding taxation or economic theory; that apparently fell by the wayside almost immediately, and proceeded to only ever teach one lesson: making more and more money feels good.

You want a game where capitalism is unashamedly a pain in the ass, you’re going to have to play Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland.

If you’ve lived a blessed life, you do not know the sad tale of Tingle. Tingle was originally introduced in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask as one of the completely new models populating Alternate-Hyrule, Termina. He is a boy wearing a “fairy costume” that floats on a balloon and distributes maps in various areas. Wait, my bad, Tingle is no boy, he’s 35. And his father is very ashamed of him. Tingle is… not right. And, while the wannabe fairy is fairly helpful in Majora’s Mask and Oracle of Ages, Tingle’s appearance in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is simultaneously memorable and horrible. If you wanted to find the invaluable pieces of the Triforce of Courage, you needed a map interpreter, and Tingle was (literally) the only man for the job. And he’s perfectly willing to help… for a fee. A significant fee. Over and over again. In truth, this was clearly just an excuse for the directors of Wind Waker to encourage the player to explore some of the more interesting and “optional” areas of WW in pursuit of rupee caches, but Tingle still wound up inextricably tied to a situation where he was charging piles and piles of cash. From that point on, Tingle was associated with greed, featuring in games like Four Swords Adventures where he’d steal any unclaimed Force Gems, or Twilight Princess where his fashion buddy, Purlo, is always trying to squeeze an extra buck out of Link. So, by about 2005, Tingle was known for two things: he is a giant weirdo, and he’s gluttonous as hell.

So, naturally, Nintendo gave him his own spinoff game.

Hey! It worked for Wario!

This seems familiarOn the surface, Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland is little more than a truncated Legend of Zelda adventure. There’s a large “overworld”, monsters stalk the landscape, and a village is filled with friendly NPCs that may or may not distribute minor sidequests. There are five big dungeons, a handful of “lesser” dungeons, and attendant bosses that alternate between physical challenges and “puzzle fights”. The land is vast and huge, and you better believe there is a lost wood of wise trees, a volcanic mountain, and a smattering of ruins dotting the landscape. There is Lon Lon Ranch. There are bomb flowers. There are empty bottles. And, through it all, there are rupees. Like any good Zelda game, there are prizes abound, so you can search out those treasure chests lurking in the nooks and crannies of Tingle’s world. Everybody loves finding rupees! Everyone loves a bonus!

Except… Rupees are no bonus in Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland. This game starts with “you”, a 35 year old do-nothing that lives in a shack outside of town, forsaking his name for becoming a/the Tingle, one who is going to collect rupees for Uncle Rupee, who will grant Tingle (that’s you now, forever) entry to Rupeeland. Rupeeland is a glorious place where you never have to work and lavish women will always hang out in your palatial pool, so get going, Tingle, and acquire enough rupees to earn your admission fee. As such, your rupee count literally becomes your life: Tingle has no heart containers, just a wallet. Every trap or monster depletes your rupee count, and, if it hits zero, it’s game over. But you’re never going to hit zero, are you? You need as many rupees as possible!

And that… gets difficult.

Rock itRupees are not just a prize you might find for shoving your shovel into the right place in Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland. Rupees are everything. It is never a matter of simply providing coin for wares, you need to pay up if you want to enter a dungeon. Or engage in combat. Or even just talk to some people. Yes, the most basic task in an adventure game, talking to an NPC, often requires a fee in FPTRR. Every task that you could possibly name in your typical Zelda game, every “verb” you’ve ever seen Link do, has an attached fee in Tingle’s adventure. Want to blow up a crack in a wall, Tingle? Well, I hope you managed your resources well enough to have a bomb jar on hand. You didn’t think that secret area would be free, did you?

And, what’s more, if you’re playing the game without savestates or soft resetting, there’s very little indication on how to play the game “right”. Yes, there is a fee for Tingle’s every action, but these fees are also negotiable. You have to pay something to enter town, but what? Pay too little, and your rupees are gone, but you won’t even get a taste of what you were trying to buy. Pay too much, and you might have earned your prize, but you’ll never know that you blew an extra thousand rupees that could have been spent elsewhere. And is there ever any indication on what you’re supposed to be paying? Some mini-game or alternate NPC that offers suggestions on “the going rate”? Bad guardNope! It’s just guess work, and you could be trading Tingle’s literal and figurative lifeblood away for nothing. Yes, extra rupees are going to make your next toll-taker happy, but when Tingle dies penniless in a dungeon thanks to an errant spike-trap, you’ll be regretting giving away even one extra cent. By the time you reach the end of Tingle’s quest, you’ll have had to make so many aggravating decisions based on perceived values, you’ll never want to see another rupee again.

And, considering the finale of Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland, that is entirely deliberate.

Tingle is fighting for those rupees at the behest of Uncle Rupee. However, when Tingle restores the life essence (or something ) of the local Grand Fairy, he learns a terrible secret: Uncle Rupee is a demon. What’s more, he is a demon that feeds on rupees, and his goal is to trap every last man, woman, and dog in an endless loop of acquiring more and more rupees. There is no “rosy” Rupeeland, there is only a Rupeeland where mindless slaves trade rupees all day in an effort to please a malevolent, all-powerful Uncle Rupee. This is creepyYour ultimate goal shifts from earning enough rupees to placate Uncle Rupee to earning enough rupees to murder Uncle Rupee, because, of course, the only way to win is to challenge Uncle Rupee through a shoot ‘em up on the moon fueled entirely by rupee bullets (where have I seen that before?). If you win, you will be rewarded with one of two endings. In one, Uncle Rupee is obliterated, and his rupee-remains rain down on the world. Adults, including Tingle, go literally crazy trying to secure this bounty from the heavens, and the local children lament the voracity of their parents. But a better ending is possible! If you go the extra mile and find every last collectible in the world, Tingle will be able to free Pinkle, his scantily-clad assistant. Pinkle is actually the daughter of the Grand Fairy, and had been imprisoned by Uncle Rupee. Who knew? Regardless, her freedom will grant you the best ending wherein… Tingle takes over Uncle Rupee’s position. The “good ending” sees Tingle in Rupeeland, now the new boss that demands people accrue rupees, and The-Fairy-Previously-Known-As-Pinkle literally states that Tingle is no better than Uncle Rupee. This is the best Tingle is going to get! The only reward for a life dedicated to rupee acquisition is unconstrained, unquenchable greed.

Thanks for playing!

This is also creepyFreshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland is not shy about its moral: greed is bad, and “money” just makes everything worse. When people won’t talk without being paid, it is annoying to have so much as a conversation. When citizens won’t help each other without a clear reward, everyone gets unnecessarily hurt. When you spend your life in pursuit of mammon, you will not have a happy ending. The best anyone can hope for is Tingle incidentally doing some good along the way… even if the ultimate reason he’s doing anything at all is he just really wants to go for a ride in that limo. Doing anything in FPTRR is bothersome, and it’s all rupees’ fault. It’s all greed’s fault. If everyone simply lived in a happy little Hyrule that wasn’t so materialistic, Tingle’s life would be so much easier. This adventure could be so much better. This game could be so much more fun.

But it isn’t.

Because of rupees.

Because of capitalism.

Eat it, Monopoly, Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland is the best game out there deriding an economic system.

FGC #535 Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland

  • System: Nintendo DS exclusive. It also wasn’t released in America, but you can pick up a European version if you need to hear the Queen’s English.
  • Number of players: Tingle is alone (you can’t even control Barkle the Dog!).
  • So, do you own it? Yep!
    Look at that box

    Gotta import that Tingle, baby.
  • Is it all bad? To be clear, there are some very fun moments in FPTRR. The boss fights in particular are varied and interesting, complete with a pastiche of Punch-Out involving a skeleton pirate. Practically every word in that sentence makes me happy. So, yes, there is a lot of fun in FPTRR, just every time you have to stop and consider exactly how many rupees some jungle adventurer should be paid for his services, you’re reminded that the world sucks. Uh… I’m talking about Tingle’s world… I think…
  • Favorite Bodyguard: Tingle isn’t much of a fighter, so he has to hire a series of bodyguards across the adventure. And I think we can all agree that Steroido…
    Look at them muscles

    Is just My Hero Academia’s All Might slumming it for a few rupees. Poor dude really needed the cash…
  • Mystery Solved: This Tingle adventure may not be absolute Zelda canon, but it does reveal the scientific genius behind the invention of Link’s favorite tool: the empty jar:
    Look at that bottle

    Presumably, Dr. Bean isn’t alive by the time of Breath of the Wild, and that’s why that game felt so incomplete.
  • What’s in a name: The Zelda Wiki posits that Uncle Rupee should be more properly translated as “Old Man Rupee” from the original ルピじい. However, localization is important, and drawing a line between Uncle Rupee and Rich Uncle Pennybags (or even Uncle Scrooge) is worthwhile.
  • For the Sequel: There’s a sequel to this game, Ripened Tingle’s Balloon Trip of Love, and it’s basically Tingle in The Wizard of Oz. Or it’s a game about Tingle getting his groove back. Regardless, it never made it out of Japan. I hear tell there is a translation poking around some corners of the internet, though…
  • Fight!Did you know? Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland was developed by Vanpool, the company responsible for Dillon’s Rolling Western and the minigames of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. And, not coincidentally, Vanpool involves a few employees formally of Love-de-Lic, the minds behind Moon: Remix RPG Adventure (currently available on Switch). If I wanted to be popular, I’d be reviewing that game, but, man, I can’t just ignore Tingle.
  • Would I play again: Nope. This game is amazingly clever, and the character design is superb… but I’d rather just play a Zelda game. And that might be the point! But that doesn’t mean I’m any more likely to grind ingredients for Tingle anytime soon. You can have Rupee Land, dude.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario Bros. 35! I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been playing the game continuously for the last few days. And now you can share in the fun! Please look forward to it!

Uh-oh
This just cannot be good

FGC #482 Gradius V

Let's Grad!Let us consider the exact ways you may fight your way to the ending of Gradius V.

Gradius is a shoot ‘em up title that originated in the arcades, but gradually migrated to the home consoles (and the PSP, for some reason). The last release in the franchise was the poorly titled Gradius Rebirth is 2008. But prior to the franchise’s inglorious end, Gradius was one of those titles you would always expect to see at least once a console generation, often attempting to showcase the upgrades and benefits of the latest graphical hardware. Look how many dots there can be on the screen now! Ignore the slowdown! You’re going to love it! In short, Gradius was once a franchise that you could presume everyone had played.

But you’ll be forgiven for not remembering the intricacies of your typical Gradius adventure, so a little reminder will be allowed. Gradius showcases what may be one of the most complicated powerup systems to originate in the 80s. Unlike a Mario or Mega Man that might find a random “pickup” and instantly gain fire blasts or weapon energy, all of Gradius’s powerups contribute to a sort of “powerup purchase” display. At one end of the powerup scale, you have some basic items like Speed Up or Missiles. There at the end of the gauge are such musts as Shield and Options (and, to further elaborate for those unfamiliar, an “option” is a little glowy orb that effectively doubles your firepower. It is called an option because who the hell knows). This means that every single powerup presents not just an advantage over your enemies, but an opportunity for consideration and decision. Do you go for the “easy” powerups immediately, and stockpile speed and offensive options out of the gate? Or do you perhaps hamper your own abilities in pursuit of a more powerful option or shield? All of these opportunities are going to help you live longer, and it’s very important to consider exactly what is going to get you through the hectic combat surrounding Planet Gradius.

Come to think of it, though, these decisions are only important if you don’t know the game. If you know what’s coming next, you barely have to think about powerup management.

PewSee, the other important thing about Gradius powerups across the franchise is that, in the event of death, you lose everything. Occasionally the Gradius du jour grants you a minor boon like allowing you to reclaim a lost option, but, aside from that, crash the Vic Viper, and you’re back to square one. To say the least, this can be heartbreaking and demoralizing. The big, bad bosses of Gradius have been mass-murderers since day one, and they are rarely accompanied by mooks that will drop powerup capsules. The result? You might start a battle with four options worth of lasers blazing, but take a hit seven seconds into the fight, and you’ll be stuck with a piddly pea shooter. And death is the only option your opponents have! Gradius is not a franchise that has many verbs: it’s a shoot ‘em up that is either shoot or be shot. Aside from just temporarily delaying the Vic Viper, the only option a boss (or any other opponent, for that matter) has is to murder its opponent, so the only way a boss can be challenging is through wholesale wiping you and your powerups off the map. If you don’t know what’s coming, you will die quickly in any given fight.

But if you know what’s coming, you will survive. And if you survive, you keep your powerups. And thus do the powerful grow more powerful.

Growing stronger the longer you survive is a pretty common situation in games of all shapes and sizes, but it is emphasized to an insane degree in Gradius. It might sting to lose a spread gun in Contra, or drop a power leaf in Mario, but in both of those cases, you’re a mere powerup away from winning back what once was lost. In Gradius, you could spend an entire two levels amassing your arsenal, but you’ll still lose it all to an erratically positioned volcano. Got a shield that takes five hits? That’s super, but it’ll be gone in one “hit” if you’re fighting a boss with a particularly enduring laser. Sorry! But the other side of the coin is that it may take you two levels to gain all the powerups you need, but you will be appropriately powerful once you’ve amassed your army. Four options quintuple your firepower (editor’s note: take a math class), and extra speed or a spare laser will make a significant difference in how much you can cover the screen. Once you’re at maximum, bosses explode dramatically faster, and that means your survival is all but guaranteed. Ol’ Big Core has a move that assures your death every time? Don't touch anythingWell, it doesn’t much matter if it can’t survive long enough to use it. Having power in Gradius means you are going to survive significantly longer than your “lesser” peers, and that means you’ll have an easier time acquiring even more power. It means nothing to spend your spare powerup income on a nice, healthy shield insurance policy when you have literally purchased everything else you would ever need.

But what do you do when you’re powerless? Everyone has to start somewhere, and the theoretical of any videogame is that everyone equally starts from scratch. If these bosses are such murder monsters, you’re inevitably going to be stomped into the ground pretty quickly, and thus be forced to face these titans with the default, “loser” load-out with no hope of gaining any powerups to dig yourself out of that hole. What do you do when you’re so far on the bottom rung, you have nothing left to lose?

And that’s when we peek behind the curtain at the men that made the game.

DOUBLE PEWIn the arcade era, it was simple: Konami wanted your quarters. Every credit equaled twenty-five (or more!) cents, so you fought to survive because you wanted to save your own precious coinage. In the NES era, things got more dicey, as companies genuinely didn’t seem to know what the home market wanted out of arcade games. As a result (and certainly in Gradius), we saw a number of games that simulated the arcade experience by creating an arbitrary limit on lives/credits. Give or take a Game Genie, this meant the player once again had to preserve life in the name of actually seeing the finale. It didn’t matter if you had lasers for days or just a single missile to your name, you had to survive to make any progress.

But things had changed by the time Gradius V rolled around. In 2004, it was a known quantity that, while people enjoy a challenge, the population at large had been spoiled by save files and infinite continue points. If someone had beaten Gradius in 2004, it was a lot more likely they had done it on an emulator with save states than actually piloting the Vic Viper on its original hardware. So how was Konami to create a shoot ‘em up appropriate to the age? Later in the decade, they might have implemented DLC or a subscription model to “earn“ that missile launcher for a mere $3.99. In even just a few years’ time, they might have tied it to a digital account, and you could earn more credits if you would just sign your email on the dotted line. But in 2006? All anyone seemed to treasure was a bullet point on the back of the box that said “over 40 hours of gameplay”. How do you get a gameplay count out of a title that legitimately could be finished in an hour and a half? Konami had an idea!

You are allowed to have unlimited credits in Gradius V. You just have to play the game for seventeen cumulative hours.

And once you have unlimited credits? Whoo boy, you can just ram ol’ Vic up in there, and blast away. You die? You lose your powerups? Who gives a crap! You’re back in business faster than you can say “destroy the core”. Sure, it sucks to see your shields and score go the way of the McDonalds pizza, but you’re still making progress. You’re still saving the galaxy. You’re doing it “wrong”, but there’s no way you could ever do it completely right, so at least you’re doing it. You are denied the finer things in your powerups, but you’re still doing something that gives you those sweet dopamine hits. whoopsYou might not be as successful as those people that have gaming magazines/FAQs, the capability to memorize complicated patterns, or the talent to successfully study youtube videos, but you too can do it! And all it takes is paying Konami their mandated dues by devoting seventeen hours of your life to their game. A small price to pay to beat back the forces of Venom!

So that’s the answer for how you beat the most recent, numbered Gradius title. You can either utilize the powerup system to its most significant degree, never experience the slightest accident, and then ride your wave of options straight through to the finish line; or you can “earn” infinite lives through placating the creators at Konami and Treasure by blowing seventeen hours of your precious life unlocking Free Play. How you want to win is up to you!

And if you missed how this entire article is a metaphor for the current state of American economics, please reread the blog for seventeen hours.

FGC #482 Gradius V

  • System: Playstation 2, but also available for the Playstation 3. And… uh… guess the Playstation 4 isn’t happening.
  • Number of players: Two players! Pew pew with a friend who may or may not be British.
  • Careful!Further problems: “Revival Start” is an available option in Gradius V. This allows you to turn on a more challenging mode wherein you do not instantly respawn, but are revived at a previous location in the level, and all of your opponents are healed/revived with you. While it may be “old school”, this mode is not recommended, as all of the boss creatures have health meters that are not built for this in the least. You just keep crashing Vic Vipers into that problem until it solves itself, and don’t worry about revival start.
  • Maximum Complaints: The number one issue specific to Gradius V is that it seems to revel in focusing the Vic Viper on facing forward, but then compelling the autoscroll to go downwards (okay…) or completely backwards (I hate everything about this). It leads to a number of “gotcha” moments, and, frankly, puts this player in a bit of a bad mood.
  • Favorite Level: One of the later levels involves a torrential tide of green acid. While it is an absolute bear to navigate, it is rather fun to see how the screen shifts and “pours” the deadly jelly-for-which-you-are-not-ready all over the screen.
  • Did you know? The sheer number of missile options in this game has damaged my brain. I can never decide which direction I want my missiles to go, and, as a result, I always only ever pick powerup loadout #1. At least I understand the basic missile configuration…
  • Would I play again: I need a break from Gradius. Seventeen hours is too long to play anything…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fantasia for the Sega Genesis! Dammit, ROB! So many great Mickey Mouse games for the 16-bit generation, and you chose bloody Fantasia. Dammit! Gah, please look forward to it!

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