Tag Archives: emulation

FGC #503 Final Fantasy 5

Not very finalLet’s talk about why you think the end of the world is a good idea.

Final Fantasy 5 has become one of the most enduring Final Fantasy titles. No, it has not yet warranted a direct sequel, nor is it receiving a high-definition remake featuring ring wraiths that really should have better things to do with their un-lives. Unfortunately, from a Square-Enix perspective, Final Fantasy 5 has been little more than a piddly JRPG that occasionally gets rereleased on cell phones. But the Final Fantasy fan community has been milking Final Fantasy 5 in new and interesting ways practically since its inception. Back in the day, thanks to FF5 never reaching Western shores, it was one of the first games that encouraged a generation to learn how to patch a rom to experience Final Fantasy Extreme. From there, fans continued to support this 1992 release well into the future with online competitions to see who could hate their life the most thanks to a twitter-based robot prescribing the use of berserker after berserker. Recently (well, relatively recently in the lifespan of FF5, as we’re talking about a game that is old enough to realize it has done nothing with its life, oh God, it can’t even think about having kids right now) fans seem to have come full circle, as there was the “Ancient Cave” mod for FF5, which itself needed a new English translation patch. This “whole new way to play” essentially turns Final Fantasy 5 into a rogue-like, using the already amazing backbone of FF5 gameplay and transcending genres. Not bad for a game that was released the same year as Night Trap!

Let's kick itBut if you’ve never played Final Fantasy 5, you may be asking why exactly this title is so enduring even among its luminous peers. Final Fantasy 6 or Final Fantasy 12 may be widely regarded as amazing, but you don’t see anyone saddling up with Ultrosbot for an annual online competition. Final Fantasy 11 or Final Fantasy 14 may have servers that will keep going until a meteor strikes the planet, but neither title has had the kind of fan support that has endured from day one to day 10,000. There’s a Final Fantasy 7 Remake, not a Final Fantasy 7 Ancient Cave. And why is that? Because Final Fantasy 5 is the perfect intersection of simple and complex. Final Fantasy 5 can be completed in a scant few hours (well, by JRPG standards), but there are 500 different ways to complete the game. And why? It’s the fabulous job system of Final Fantasy 5. This system has been seen before in the franchise, and would certainly be seen again, but here in FF5 it is somehow at its most pure. It is to the point that you could legitimately complete all of Final Fantasy 5’s challenges as your favorite combo of fighters, or with an entire party of Geomancers (which, to be clear, is no one’s favorite). Under the hood, FF5 is an incredibly well-balanced experience, and it is all thanks to a gameplay system that is immediately understandable and unerringly complex. You can be a Knight that just smacks things with swords, or memorize the Periodic Table of Elements to master the powers of the Chemist class. Both are worthy options! This is no mere advertising bullet point: you really can play Final Fantasy 5 a different way every time.

The enduring love of this Final Fantasy Fandom is all because of this amazing job system. And how do you get a job in Final Fantasy 5? Why, you simply watch the world fall to pieces.

And, don’t worry, it’s exactly as bad as that sounds.

I know that guyFinal Fantasy 5 is generally regarded as one of the more cheery Final Fantasy adventures. There aren’t any child suicides, the main protagonist is unerringly optimistic and not a sullen dork, and your prerequisite dead party member is an old man that already had his time to shine, not a 20-something young lady who still had so many folding chairs to master. However, over the course of your adventure, the winds cease and stagnate, fire loses its warmth, and the very Earth begins to lose its life. An ancient forest is burned to the ground (with some medium-well fire), kingdoms fall to monsters, and cartographers hurl themselves off towers thanks to unprecedented, instantaneous continental drift. The sun might still be shining, and everyone might be smiling, but, right up until the world is ultimately saved, roughly a third of the world’s population has been sucked into a black hole. By pretty much any rubric, that’s a bad time for everybody. And what is the cause of all of this devastation? The life-sustaining crystals representing the four primal elements are gradually shattered over the course of our heroes’ adventure, and the world is increasingly worse for it. Every time a crystal breaks to pieces, everyone suffers more and more.

Well, except the Light Warriors. They’re only getting more and more power from each broken crystal.

The job system that so perfectly defines Final Fantasy 5 is only expanded thanks to the power of the crystals. Each new crystal shattering is a disaster for the world, but it is also the only time your heroes receive new jobs. And, since you, the player, wants to have as many jobs (and possibilities!) as possible, you’ll be happy every time a crystal explodes. An entire kingdom has gone up in flames? That’s rough, but you just gained the ability to become a ninja! Score! Cheer up, peasant, Bartz is gonna dual-wield over the ashy remnants of your former life!

This is great!And, for the player, advancement through misery isn’t limited to just the jobs system. “Cool stuff” in Final Fantasy 5 is continually gated behind outright tragedy. The ancient, ultimate weapons are under glass until the big villain can get through about 80% of his apocalyptic plan. Two high level summons are only possible after killing beloved pets and companions. Stella. STEEEEEEELLA! (“Cool trauma, bro, you get a new song.”) Final Fantasy 5’s plot leans heavily on the concept that much of the misery across its world is thanks to the sins of the previous generation, regardless of whether they were well meaning heroes or older societies attempting to drain extra power from the crystals; but did they all have to pay for their sins with death? And did that death have to refill your HP for the final battle? Can there be a single catastrophe in this universe that doesn’t directly benefit the player?

And, while this may be a particularly egregious example of this trope, it is by no means the only videogame where this is the norm. Mega Man X hates killing his fellow reploids, but boy do you sure love getting shiny new weapons. Sad dads are continually sad about being sad dads that are forced to make sad choices, but you better believe you enjoy soaking in the tangible trophies of their sad carnage. And some games can’t even get going until an apocalypse has already happened! It would be downright psychotic to shoot congregating shoppers at the mall, but if they’re an army of infected zombies, you don’t even stop to reload. The message to your average videogame player is clear: once things go to absolute $^#%, that’s when you’re really going to shine. After the end of the world, that’s when you are rewarded.

And it’s important to note that that is some very dangerous thinking.

I know those guysFor future generations that may be reading this blog entry in the east wing of the Goggle Bob Museum of Stuff Goggle Bob Liked So He Got a Museum Museum, this entry is being written in the middle of a global pandemic. It has changed practically everything about our daily lives, and has killed literally thousands and thousands of people. It would not be a stretch to call this a sort of apocalypse, and it would be very much correct to designate this entire situation as a disaster. One way or another, it is a time when, for one reason or another, absolutely everyone needs all the help they can get. And what help would that be? Well, some people need readily accessible food, some people need other people to stay home so they can do their life-saving jobs, and some people just need the kind of emotional support that becomes necessary when you spend days and months isolated from human contact. And do you know what is zero help at all? People that know Rapid Fire, how to summon meteors, or anyone whose job could be listed as “Samurai”. Despite the terms “hero”, “war”, and “invisible enemy” being tossed around, the last thing this situation needs is people who think they can solve a problem by hitting it. The heroes of Final Fantasy 5? And the heroes of every videogame? They’d all be completely useless in this situation (save maybe Dr. Mario). We’re dealing with a global catastrophe on a scale worthy of Exdeath, but the idea that some Light Warriors could come and save everyone is ludicrous.

And it sounds obvious to say such a thing out loud, but it’s important to remember this information for… lesser disasters. Not everything is a global calamity. Sometimes bad things happen, and you don’t so much as get a crystal shard for your troubles. Videogames (and so much of fiction in general) runs on the concept that every cloud has a silver lining, and a tragic death in act two just means that a friendly ghost is going to help everyone in act three. That is not reality. He bitesSometimes you just lose. Sometimes you have to live with pain and suffering, and the best you can hope for is the mental fortitude to not dwell on it for the next twenty years. PTSD does not grant a level up bonus. Yes, it’s easy to nod and agree with this notion when reading it from the relative comfort of the internet, but your subconscious has been soaking up the hidden morals of Final Fantasy 5 and its ilk for decades. The world is falling apart! I hope I get a legendary sword out of the deal!

So what’s today’s moral? Final Fantasy 5 is an amazing game, but remember it’s only a game. Even after you strip out the talking turtles and magic trees, it’s still not even approaching reality. Keep that in mind as you make decisions in our all-too-real world. There aren’t any Warriors of the Crystals running around, and you’re not going to be granted a new job just because society is falling apart. Be the kind of hero this world really needs, not one that thinks they can solve problems with a “fight” command.

The end of the world isn’t good for anybody.

FGC #503 Final Fantasy 5

  • System: In Japan, originally on the Super Nintendo. In America, we had to wait for the Playstation. Eventually, everybody got it on the Gameboy Advance. And now it’s on a bunch of Playstations and cell phones.
  • Number of players: Final Fantasy 6 was the one with the 2-player, 2-controllers option, right? I think it’s just one this time.
  • BLAMPort-o-Call: Give me the Gameboy Advance version any day of the week, as it seems to have the best translation. And by “best” I mean “the one that contains nonsensical references to early 21st Century internet culture”. That’s all I want from a game! And there’s a bonus dungeon with bonus bosses and bonus jobs, too, I guess.
  • Favorite Monster: The Unknown creatures in the undersea rift are unpleasant to look at, just like a good monster should be. Second runner up is the tonberry, which makes its first appearance here in Final Fantasy 5, but didn’t really come into its own until the great doinkening of Final Fantasy 8.
  • So, what were your jobs: I played fast and loose, game genied my way to every job at the start, and just had some fun seeing if Necromancer is a remotely viable job in the first dungeon. Spoilers: it’s not great. Final Fantasy 5 is a game with such a glut of options, it practically encourages cheating your way into ridiculous, possibly Chemist-based situations. Just have fun with it, and, just in case you slot in a berserker before a sand worm fight, remember to save often.
  • Favorite Job: Blue Magic also appeared for the first time in Final Fantasy 5, and, considering it grants its user a spiffy blue mask, Blue Mage is my favorite job. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of the abilities are overwhelmingly overpowered… but the same can be said for about a quarter of the jobs in Final Fantasy 5, so we’re just going to stick to what is commonly referred to as “the cape factor”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I first played this game emulated on a PC that didn’t even have a sound card. Battle on the Big Bridge? More like skirmish on the extremely quiet overpass. But at least I had the good sense to play the game after some nerd fixed all the transparency issues.
  • Axe you a questionDid you know? Each of the characters has default stats that make some slightly better suited for different jobs. Krile, for instance, has the greatest agility, so she’s better suited for… Bah! Who cares!? All that matters is they can all be Dancers, so just let ‘em dance.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Final Fantasy 5: excellent game, bad moral. Don’t go chasing apocalypses, kiddies!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Nintendo Wii. Oh good! I’m going to watch more planets explode. Please look forward to it!

FGC #078 NeoGeo Battle Coliseum

Everybody looks so friendlyThere’s a phantom lurking in video game history that I fear may disappear forever.

Emulation is, basically, the video game medium’s porn: nobody admits to it, but everybody does it, and there’s a stash on a thumb drive under your bed. People love to talk about how emulation is ruining video games, whether it’s destroying the gameplay experiences of yesterday, demolishing the resale value of classics, or terminating the lives of entire gaming systems. Yet, you’ll find a very healthy portion of the gaming population played Mother 3 without a GBA, or experienced a number of arcade games that never saw a quarter.

I just download the games for the articles. I was… just curious. I did it a lot when I was younger, but not anymore.

I myself have general ethical objections to emulation, and I’d be glad to rant on about the importance of adhering to the medium for which a system was created in the first place (particularly when you consider controllers of yesterday vs. today), and the minute you introduce save states, game genies, and other such tricks to a game from twenty years ago, you’re effectively playing a completely different game. Mind you, I agree with this assessment on the premise of judging a game by its own intentional methods, but, when I just want to have fun with a game (that I bought to have fun with), you better believe I’m whipping out anything that’s going to enhance my play experience, and not just leave me floundering on Level 3 until the end of time. But I know, really, that the reason I can take the moral high road on emulation is that I’m a man of means, so I can literally afford nearly any video game I actually want, and I have the luxury of space to store them all. I’ve got a copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga sitting in its box that I got for a steal due to almost miraculous luck, but when it came time to actually play the game, I decided to not risk any sort of damage to the valuable game itself, and pursue other avenues. Similarly, I’ve always been curious about the It's weird, right?NES title Panic Restaurant, but I wasn’t $300 interested, so… other avenues.

See? See the shame I can’t even excise for the purpose of this article? Emulation is gaming’s dirty little secret, the mistress you pray the wife will never know about. WiiU, baby, I swear she means nothing to me, she just… does things you don’t. Honey? Dear? I know how you feel about cheating devices, we don’t have to get into it right now…

But similar to how you’ll go to the grave never knowing about Grandpa’s secret family (yes, that’s why he always openly wept whenever there was a waitress named “Denise”), nobody wants to explore the history of emulation, and its full ramifications on the gaming community. There are too many back allies and completely illegal avenues involved, so even if you found the people behind that great PSP collection, and the no doubt interesting story behind how untold gigs of data were collected, you’d still be reporting on, essentially, a crime on par with a bank robbery, with untried criminals as your primary source. There are people, probably hundreds of people, responsible for your emu stash, and they’re not only anonymously uncredited, they’re probably literally hiding their illegal accomplishments.

Which, sadly, is more the pity, as emulation has had a tremendous impact on gaming and video game journalism. As I’ve mentioned before, I find video game preservation incredibly important, because you’re never going to get anywhere in anything without first knowing your past. And, while I grieve the loss of games like Gremlins 2, Goonies II, or Ghostbusters II to licensing issues that will guarantee they never see another legitimate gaming platform, I know that secretly, stashed in the back of your digital sock drawer, there’s those games, just as fresh and ready to go as ever with a USB controller and monitor. As I lived through it, I can safely say that around the early 21st century, there was a direct correlation between free video game roms floating around and the rise of retro gaming blogs like this one. I’m a little late to the party, but, geez, you can’t even fathom how many articles there are out there written by dudes just discovering So many handsMonster Party for the first time thanks to some rom dump. And, to be clear, I’m not saying this is at all a bad thing. If emulation had not propagated in the way it had at the time it had, I doubt we’d be seeing Super Mario making or Shovel Knight dueling Battletoads today.

Conversely, there’s the negative impact emulation has had on gaming. The PSP? The DS? Both likely gone before their time thanks to the fact that you could download their entire libraries weekly faster than the release schedule. The Saturn? The Dreamcast? If emulation was a little more relaxed, we might have a Sega designing game systems to this day, but, no, the Neptune is forever relegated to a ghastly Vita franchise. I realize the call of free Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is a siren song to many of us, but I’d be willing to shell out an extra $40 every six months or so if it meant a more robust gaming landscape. Much like how we’ve lost all the artists that never had a chance to reach your ears in the wake of Napster changing the music industry forever, emulation may be a chief reason AAA gaming rose to prominence: in a quasi-self-fulfilling prophecy, only the wealthiest, most stable companies could survive, and thus designed games with an emphasis on using the one resource they knew they had: money.

One company that didn’t survive was SNK. SNK was responsible for the Neo Geo, and much of the Neo Geo library. If you’re like 90% of the population, you never owned a Neo Geo, and, odds are, never even saw a single Neo Geo console in the wild. Maybe, if you were an arcade rat, you played a Neo Geo arcade cabinet or two, but even the odds for that are low, as the system never had a Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat. Fatal Fury, World Heroes, Your killing meKing of Fighters, and Metal Slug were all hits, and many made their way to home consoles like the SNES or Playstation, but I’m assuming that’s not where you played these games. Let’s not mince words, odds are good you emulated a number of Neo Geo games, you filthy emulator, you.

Another game you likely never played is NeoGeo Battle Coliseum, a “dream match” fighting game where characters from wildly disparate Neo Geo universes battle it out. Released in the arcades of Japan in 2005, NGBC features a host of characters from popular fighting games like King of Fighters, Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, and Samurai Shodown, and then combines them with some lesser known heroes and villains from World Heroes, King of the Monsters, and The Last Blade. As is always the spice of “dream match” style games, a few characters that had never seen the fighting genre were imported, like Goddess Athena from Athena (not KoF), and Marco with his favorite Martian from Metal Slug. Toss in a pair of original characters that are just excuses to use a potpourri of Neo Geo references as offensive techniques, and you’ve got a complete fighting game with an amusingly eclectic mix of choices. It’s a 2v2 fighter, and it actually uses its huge roster to create a rather memorable one player mode that will see you fighting a huge chunk of the roster… if you’re any good. You’ve got five minutes to beat as many opponents as possible, and when that time is up, you fight a final boss based on your skill level. And no matter which final boss you fight, you’re battling a ranking member of the nefarious organization WAREZ.

Wait, where have I heard that word before?

Yes, NeoGeo Battle Coliseum and its creators were not subtle about its stance on emulation, and how it was generally believed that the chief reason Neo Geo / SNK failed was emulation eating the lunch of every man, woman, and child who ever worked on Mark of the WolvesFIGHT. At the time of the game’s US release, late 2007, I assumed that SNK was just being salty about the whole “going out of business, going into the pachinko business” thing, and was blaming everyone in the immediate area. Like Metallica before them, there’s a historical precedent for pointing at a bunch of criminals, claiming they’re the source of all your woes, and then sitting pretty in the knowledge that no one is going to take the side of the thieves. Come on, SNK, you guys were always the Hydrox to Capcom’s Oreo, just sit back and be glad you were ever as successful as you were.

But a funny thing happened in the years since I played NGBC: I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with affection for Neo Geo games that didn’t first play these games through emulation. I realize it’s purely anecdotal, and I’m sure someone is reading this and just simmering with anticipation to post the most scathing comment about actually playing the Neo Geo as it was intended… but, seriously? I don’t think anyone ever got past Metal Slug 2’s second level outside of the couch, and Geese Howard reigned undefeated over many an arcade. And, yes, I remember distinctly playing Fatal Fury and World Heroes in the arcades (God, I loved WH3: Jet)… but if I’m being honest, I don’t think I ever sunk more than a dollar at a time into either cabinet, and only truly mastered either game with unlimited credits and a controller that was just different enough from a Dualshock to avoid a lawsuit.

So, sorry Neo Geo Battle Coliseum, I misjudged you on first blush. You’re welcome to hate WAREZ all you want, as they probably are your mortal enemy. I’m just as guilty of putting Mr. Karate out of a job as anybody.

So PrettyAnd, maybe, it’s time we all admitted it. Look, I’m just a guy who posts about video games on the internet, I can’t grant amnesty to software pirates or bring the Dreamcast back from the dead, but I am someone who is interested in the history of video games, warts and all. If there’s a resource for this information available, please point me to it, but it is currently completely impossible to verify if emulation has had an impact on gaming… even though everybody who has ever seen a Mario sprite hack (anybody remember Wheelchair Mario?) knows emulation might be the most important factor in video game production.

It’s the biggest open secret in gaming that nobody talks about. Maybe it’s time we did.

FGC #78 NeoGeo Battle Coliseum

  • System: Arcade, Playstation 2, Xbox 360, and just this year, Playstation 3. You’ve got some options… and I bet you still never heard of the thing.
  • Number of players: 2, as is right and proper for a fighting game. Just to be clear, though, you do control two characters at a time, but tag team style, so there’s no way there’d be a four-player simultaneous mode like some of the wackier Capcom Vs. games.
  • Big Boss: There are a couple of different big, bad bosses for the game, but the most appropriate is the upgraded final boss of World Heroes: Dio has become… Neo Dio! I’m kind of disappointed that that name appeared before NeoGeo Battle Coliseum, though.
  • Get it?Favorite Contributing Series: Man, when ROB finally picks it, I have a lot to say about World Heroes. In the meanwhile, I’ll just have to satisfy myself by noting that this game chose the three safest reps from the series (its Ryu, Ken, and final boss), and one weird choice in the form of Mudman, the witch doctor of Papua New Guinea. That seems weird enough, but consider that this is a series that also features a sadistic mutant football player, pansexual Russian mystic, and cybernetic Nazi superman (who, incidentally, is pretty much straight out of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure). Point is, there were some other options there.
  • Favorite Character: The only representative of Aggressors of Dark Kombat is Kisarah Westfield, and if you told me she originated from some obscure dating sim or something, I’d believe you. She does hail from an actual fighting game, though, and, while I’ve never played it, I’m interested if only because of this one character. Yes, you’re welcome to play as practically the whole principle cast of King of Fighters in this game, but I’ll go with the school girl who possesses a super move based entirely on making her opponent fatally jealous. Heartbreaker.
  • Did you know? As mentioned, the two original characters created for this game are a boy and a girl that are both secret agents that possess super powers based on various SNK properties. They have very different personalities, though: Yuki, the boy, is a serious, no-nonsense agent that is only interested in results… though does have a goofy side when he goes full henshin superhero; conversely, there’s Ai, the girl, who is silly and bubbly and just Real Robot Bluesomg such a gamer you don’t even know, with the magical ability to summon characters from her Neo-Geo Pocket. … There’s probably some odious sexism going on here, but I’m just happy to see a dedicated gamer gal out of Japan that… wait a minute… she is literally fanservice! Dammit!
  • Would I play again: Everything about this game feels like Street Fighter 2 to a Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo that will never be. The whole thing is retro in the worst way, and really needs an updated version to utilize this fun cast and its absurd variety. Regardless, I do wind up popping in this game on occasion even without provocation from a random robot, so I’ll probably try it for a few rounds again within the year.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bomberman for the NES! I’m sure that’s going to be a blast! Please look forward to it!