Tag Archives: failure

FGC #537 PaRappa the Rapper 2

You are now believingSo what’s wrong with failure?

PaRappa the Rapper is a phenomenon that is hard to explain to modern audiences. Look, it was like this: for a long, long time, videogames were just beeps and boops and graphics that were blocky as hell. Or, perhaps, it was just a matter of, for many “gamers” of the time, this had been all anyone had ever known, and that “ever” was our entire childhoods. Studies have been performed that have proven, without a doubt, that, when someone is a child, a year lasts approximately eleventy billion millennia. Meanwhile, when you’re older, a single weekend lasts roughly as long as one cheese sandwich. This created the lopsided imagining that videogames would always be no better than what could be pumped out by an NES or Sega Genesis, and the concept of a theme song or graphics that existed in three dimensions was little more than a pipedream (the old videogames did have a lot of pipes, incidentally). This meant that when PaRappa the Rapper was released stateside in the fall of 1997, players went unexpectedly nuts. In 1997, in one game, you had a CD that featured what many hailed as the culmination of an entire franchise, another disc (or four) showcasing the future of the JRPG genre and what was possible for storytelling, and, finally, here was this weird little rap game that went in another, amazing third direction. The graphics were distinct, bright, and colorful. It had voice acting for every scene, level, and character (in English!). The gameplay was wholly new, or, at the very least, it felt new. Rhythmic button pressing wasn’t new by any means, but this didn’t feel like FMV nonsense or some earlier attempt at guitar heroing. PaRappa was an unexpected feast for the eyes, ears, and thumbs.

Of course, nowadays, everything that made PaRappa unique is completely mundane, and it has been for nearly twenty years. If you’re still excited by voice acting in 2020, you were either just beamed here from the distant part, or you finally figured out how to crank your hearing aid. Or maybe you’re just excited a fighting game finally earned an English dub

Let's rapBut PaRappa was an unexpected success in 1997, and that inevitably meant it was time for sequels. And that’s great! Because the original PaRappa the Rapper sucked. Yes, the characters were memorable. Yes, it was charming as all get out. And, yes, the nonviolent setting that managed to tell a compelling story was and still is a breath of fresh air. But have you ever actually played PaRappa the Rapper on the original hardware? Practically constructing the entire rhythm genre from raw materials comes with its own share of problems, as so much that we take for granted today is nonexistent in this maiden voyage. Button prompts sometimes appear microseconds before they’re relevant. “Hit detection” is scattershot, and it’s difficult to know exactly why “U Rappin’ Awful”. And, for reasons that no one has ever understood, the instant feedback of a congratulatory tone when you do something right (or perhaps a punishing buzz when something is performed incorrectly) is replaced with… farts. Seriously! I can’t figure out a way to describe these noises in any other way. I’m trying to press triangle at the right time, failing, and the only indicator as to what might be going wrong is some dude slightly off-screen taking his shirt off and going to town with the armpit noises. It’s not helpful, Musical Mike!

So, yes, from a gameplay perspective, PaRappa the Rapper had some significant issues. It was very easy to lose, and, given you had to repeat the entire stage after every bomb, every loss grew more and more frustrating. Was this by design? Was the game “artificially padded” to prevent immediate progress so as to obfuscate the fact that there are a total of six short stages? If you know what you’re doing, you can complete PaRappa in less time than it takes to watch a television show (granted, this is true when speedrunning most games of the era, but this is without even trying). Was the advanced difficulty meant to extend the length of the game? You gotta!Or was the lack of relevant feedback meant to simulate learning a “freeform” skill like rap? It’s not just about pressing buttons at the right time, player, there’s a je ne sais quoi that cannot be captured by a simple tutorial or… anything but a fart noise. PaRappa the Rapper is exasperating, yes, but it may be for a reason. And if it isn’t for a reason, then they’ll fix it in the inevitable sequel. … Right?

PaRappa the Rapper 2 certainly went in… some kind of direction.

On the surface, this is the same game, just a generation of hardware later. PtR2 is an adventure starring PaRappa where, in an effort to see a dog get deflowered by a flower, you must guide PaRappa through a series of rap battles wherein he gains confidence and the ability to buy a hamburger. All of the raps are new, there are a few more levels on top of the original count, and everything looks and sounds better than it did on the old hardware. There are even escalating, clearly labeled difficulty levels to add a little more replay value to the experience. PaRappa the Rapper 2 did everything PaRappa the Rapper 1 did, but better (give or take your subjective feelings on whether or not a moose driving instructor is better than a moose drill sergeant). But was it easier? Did the directors make more of an effort to help the player through a rap or two? Well, PtR2 did at least give us this guy…

Let's practice!

Come on, PaRappa, relax, it’s time to address this weirdo from your second game.

That’s Boxxy Boy, and he appears at the start of every level. It is his purpose to provide a “simple”, beat-heavy version of samplings of the song, so you’re granted an opportunity to practice before starting a level. You cannot fail Boxxy’s training sessions, and you are welcome to test out your phat beats in an environment where you either pass or keep trying (and are never told you’re being awful). It is a safe space, and, frankly, it’s a great concept for inclusion in a rhythm game. The Hatsune Miku games of today (and games based off the same basic concept) have major problems with starting a featured song with 40 required inputs before you even have a moment to figure out the BPM, so a little “here is what this is like” is welcome. Nobody likes to see a game over five seconds after the “level” starts!

Proof I can do thisBut… would that be so bad? Obviously, it sucked whenever you failed a level in PaRappa the Rapper 1, but, nine times out of ten, that wasn’t because of errors in the opening seconds. It takes time to get to a complicated bridge! And what was the punishment for failure in PtR1? Nothing. You had to repeat the level, but you didn’t have to repeat every previous level, or insert a quarter, or search all over for your missing turtle friends (I’m probably thinking of something specific). Failing sucks, but you’re always a quick restart away from trying again. PaRappa the Rapper 2 is no different, and its additional emphasis on scoring and replays means that there are even greater reasons to ignore any botches that would happen without the omnipresent training tutorial. What’s bad about failing except knowing that you failed?

Or is simply knowing you can suck enough?

According to interviews, Boxxy Boy’s tutorials were implemented because Rodney Greenblat, the man responsible for fashioning PaRappa and his world, was bad at playing Um Jammer Lammy. Thus, Boxxy was implemented to offer a “gentle” tutorial for anyone that was desperate to make it through the “real” game. And that’s a noble goal! Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that Boxxy only repeats one distinct section of the song, and does not prepare a player for pushing through those final beats. So ol’ Rodney is probably still going to lose, except now he knows there’s an entire, useless “mini stage” attached to his failures. Is this why we haven’t seen any new PaRappa characters since? Rodney is too demoralized by Boxxy?

You gotta love?And is that the fear here? That people will give up on PaRappa the Rapper because it is too easy to fail? Is failure so disheartening that people won’t even try? You could claim modern games that revel in try and retry, like Dark Souls and its ilk, disprove this theory. Everyone is chasing that Dark Souls pie right now! But, on the other hand, Souls and the entire “rogue-like” genre is wildly divisive. So much as coughing out the words “Dark Souls” on a forum (they still make those, right?) will lead to a thousand gamers explaining why DS is simultaneously the best and worst thing to ever happen since the Power Glove. And a significant reason for this is that you know there are hundreds of players out there that tried this fancy shmancy new genre, died 70 times, and made up their collective minds to never “waste time” like that ever again. Failure may be upsetting, but squandering your precious time on something that will never lead to success is even worse. Isn’t that why you have a day job? And what is the point of playing a game if you are never going to “beat it”?

And maybe that’s why Boxxy works. Failure sucks, and you absolutely cannot fail when practicing with Boxxy. There is no game over, there is no “thou must not pass” (as you can always skip the lil’ dude with the start button), and Boxxy does not judge you. Boxxy is a safe, friendly buddy, and, while you might not beat the next level, at least you can have a little entertainment with this sentient boombox. Is it as much fun as the “real” game? No. But at least no one is going to judge your skills here. Pass? Fail? You’ll be fine just pressing buttons.

There’s nothing wrong with failure, but it is nice to have a place you can avoid failure. Boxxy is here to help.

But he won’t be back again, because PaRappa the Rapper 2 was a failure, and the franchise never returned.

… So maybe it is a good idea to avoid failing.

FGC #537 PaRappa the Rapper 2

  • System: Playstation 2 initially, and then Playstation 4. I don’t think there was a PSP/Vita version, but I would not be surprised.
  • Yummy!Number of players: Invite over a friend for a rap battle! … I have never subjected anyone I know to this fate.
  • Favorite Level: Stage 5: Hair Scare features Um Jammer Lammy and her band, Milk Can. I like Um Jammer Lammy so much more than the little dog in a beanie, so I appreciate that stage. Look, Lammy is just objectively better, as she gets through her entire game without trying to get laid every five seconds, while PaRappa is just a horndog.
  • Play it Cool: Every one of the teachers (save the friendly ghost of Stage 1) encourages PaRappa to freestyle until he hits “Cool” ranking. I have never understood what exactly makes PaRappa go Cool, as I have no sense of rhythm, and I only know how to make raps good through excessive rhyming. I’m a writer! Not a musician! … Do you think Boxxy could give me a tutorial?
  • What’s in a name: PaRappa Town might sound like one of those lame “the planet is named after the main character” situations (Nobody lives in The World of Lufia, dammit), but “PaRappa” just means “paper-thin” in Japanese, so it’s appropriate for this 2-D environment. Now nobody render anything in 3-D, or it’s all going to fall apart.
  • Very Concerning: Beard Burger Master is rapping from beyond the grave in an effort to help PaRappa construct hamburgers. This is a vision of Hell, right?
  • Did you know? Rodney Greenblat, the character designer that is responsible for PaRappa’s iconic look, Let's Jamalso was responsible for the album art for They Might Be Giant’s self-titled debut album. Put your hand inside the PJ Berri head!
  • Would I play again: It takes a whole hour to complete PaRappa the Rapper 2, so the fact that it is loaded onto my PS4 means it might see play again. It’s a fun little game, Boxxy invasion or no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cadillacs and Dinosaurs! It’s like Jurassic Park! But with cooler cars! Please look forward to it!

FGC #282 Breath of Fire 3

Pictured: WinnersThe first thing you see when you boot up Breath of Fire 3 is a mural of the heroes of Breath of Fire 1. This mural depicts everyone in the original BoF party fighting Myria, a nefarious goddess that threatened to destroy the world through war and destruction. This opening seems to say, “Here, player, here are the heroes you remember, who triumphed over impossible odds and won the day with guts and swords.” Breath of Fire 3 starts by showcasing the gallant and daring heroes of a previous BoF adventure, a group that literally saved the world and everyone in it.

So it’s kind of a shame that the heroes of Breath of Fire 3 are such failures.

Breath of Fire 3 is the story of a world in decline. Deserts are overtaking forests, wild animals are becoming scarce, and nobody vacations on that island with the flute girls anymore. This seems to be epitomized with Nina’s people. The Wing Clan is a race that, during the time of BoF1, could transform into gigantic birds. By BoF2, the Wyndians had lost this ability, but could still flutter about with their large wings. Now, in Breath of Fire 3, the “Wing Clan” possesses wings that are merely decorative, and are about as useful for flight as flapping your arms. This degradation seems to have spread to other clans as well, with many of the old “standby” kingdoms and people of previous Breath of Fire adventures completely missing, and the last remains falling into unrecognizable states. Rei the kitty cat man is in danger of outright devolving into a beast, and your resident plant-dude is practically a Pokémon. And the Dragon Clan? Well that’s where things get really sad.

In Breath of Fire 1, the Dragon Clan threatened to destroy the world. And they weren’t even trying! The Light and Dark Dragons Tribes were just fighting over some magic keys, and the rest of the world had the pleasure of hosting the battleground for people that can transform into mammoth, fire-breathing monsters. It… didn’t end well. Then, during Breath of Fire 2, while the Dragon Clan had mostly retreated underground, remaining dragon people still had enough strength to seal away Anime Death Jesus (it was a weird game), while the rest of the races of the world couldn’t even plink that dude’s front door. And the dragons, “the Brood” are still powerful in Breath of Fire 3! They’re just powerful as… fossils. Basically, all of the dragons are dead by the time of Breath of Fire 3, and their remains are being used as an energy source that only creates horrible mutants about a third of the time. And, side note, dragons aren’t dead by accident; that nefarious Goddess Myria ordered their complete extermination a couple years back. But there are a handful of dragons remaining, and Ryu, the undisputed protagonist of BoF3, is one of ‘em. Go, Ryu, save the world in the name of your departed brethren!

Or fail at absolutely everything you do. That’s good, too.

Damn you guysFailure is an integral part of most videogames. Even before Dark Souls and alike made “death” a fundamental mechanic, there was always a learning curve. Everybody died to those opening goombas at least once, and everyone learns from that experience and changes Mario trajectory accordingly. You fail, death happens, you get back up on that Yoshi and try again. Meanwhile, JRPGs often make failure an essential and inevitable part of the narrative. You need to collect the six mipmaps or the nefarious ULTRA EVIL DEMON will awaken and destroy the world? Well, I’ve got some bad news: you’re probably going to collect those six mcguffins, but they’ll be stolen by the bad guys at the last minute, and you’re going to have to fight ULTRA EVIL DEMON anyway, because, come on, we didn’t design that three-screen high sprite for it not to get used. Besides, failure is basically a requirement for any game with a modicum of story. 90% of these tales are based on the basic “hero’s journey” plot outline, and what’s the point in winning if it’s not a comeback from some insurmountable defeat. You have to lose to rally and win, win, win!

Nobody wins in Breath of Fire 3.

Here’s a brief plot summary of Breath of Fire 3: Ryu is an orphan who teams up with two other orphans, Rei and Teepo. The trio decides to help out the local town through a Robin Hood-esque caper involving stealing from an evil Scrooge McDuck and distributing that wealth to all the downtrodden peasants. This plan technically works, but it turns out the richest man in town can hire some damn good security, so a couple of reverse-centaurs show up and tear Ryu’s life and “family” to shreds. Ryu survives, but Rei and Teepo are missing, so he sets off on a quest to find his missing friends. Ryu makes new friends along the way, including a failed princess, a failed scientist, a failed science experiment, and, most importantly, a man who has lived for centuries and is a literal dragon slayer. Their “friendship” goes about as well as you’d expect, and Ryu is knocked out for a solid decade. Ryu eventually wakes up again, decides he’s going to look into this whole “the world is dying” thing, finds his way halfway across the world (literally), and eventually traces it all back to the goddess that screwed with his ancestors. In the end, Ryu defeats Evil Goddess, and is rewarded with the knowledge that, as sucky as the world is, “Evil” Goddess was the only thing keeping it just that sucky, so good luck living in an endless desert, stupid!

Dammit!Oh, and somewhere in there, Ryu had to kill Teepo, because of course he did.

But don’t worry, Ryu isn’t the only ultimate failure in this party! Nina is the princess of Wyndia, and she has no idea how to be a person and a royal sovereign… Actually, that’s probably a pretty typical failing of royalty in JRPGs. What else we got? Well, there’s Rei, who apparently spent most of his teenage/adult life trying to avenge a pair of kids that were actually alive… oh, and then he fell over dead at the finish line. Doesn’t that just beat all? We’ve got Momo, who has spent her life following her father’s research, and she winds up exploited for her knowledge (and eventually finds out the answers to life’s mysteries are “a wizard did it” anyway). And Garr… good ol’ Garr the Guardian… was born and bred to kill dragons, and decided to ask “what if… not kill dragons?” of the goddess that created him. That… did not end well for him. Basically, every “hero” in Breath of Fire 3 is stuck in an unwinnable situation practically from the get-go. Nina wants to be a better person? Bad news, lady, you’re not going to get there by pounding slimes with your magic wand.

But, maybe, sometimes being a failure is okay.

For being a JRPG, Breath of Fire 3 does a pretty good job of presenting that “gray area” of morality. In BoF1, Goddess Myria might put on a nice face, but she is unequivocally the Goddess of Destruction. In BoF2, Anime Death Jesus, Goddess Myria’s only begotten son, has started a religion that has a tendency to kill you and your loved ones over and over again. That’s bad. But BoF3 Goddess Myria really is a benevolent goddess. She’s done bad things, but she’s done them in the name of protecting the people of the world. The Dragon Clan were alright blokes, but they could also kill everybody with a misplaced sneeze, so they had to go. Yggdrasil was a wise ol’ spirit of the forest, but its anti-Myria sentiment could lead to wars, and that’s not so great, so time to stop feeding the tree. And modern technology just means modern bombs and bioweapons, so maybe we could tape that back down to something more medieval. Myria committed a few sins, but that’s the price of being a leader. Myria sees herself as the mother of all humanity, and sometimes being a mother means exterminating all ice cream from the universe. It’s for your teeth. You’ll thank me later.

This is cuteBut Myria is the antagonist of Breath of Fire 3. This is a JRPG, and, in the end, you need a final boss you can hit with a sword. There isn’t going to be a solution where you talk this one out, and Myria has got to go out in a way that makes the player justified in overleveling and collecting all the best equipment on the planet. These are the rules. But thou must.

And, in most games, that complete lack of choice is often contrary to the premise of the adventure. Aside from narratives where you are a puppet is the moral, most modern games (and “modern” in this case meaning “any game made after 1992”) seem to revel in the choices available to the player. It’s a different experience every time! You never know how the story is going to go! You are playing a game wherein you play a role! You are the hero! … Except, it’s bullshit, because, whether you make important choices or not, one way or another, it all ends in the same place. You always fight the final boss. You always make it to that finish line. Even if it’s not in the way you may have expected, you always succeed, one way or another, in accomplishing something.

In Breath of Fire 3, Ryu and his gang do defeat the goddess. … But… Do they win? And, more importantly, would you expect this gang of failures to win? The ending of Breath of Fire 3 was an anomaly in an age of JRPGs that traditionally featured twenty minute FMV finales. All we have at the end of BoF3 is the surviving party members walking through the desert, and Peco the Plantémon sprouts a leaf. The end. Thanks for playing. This is clearly intended as a statement of hope for a world now without a goddess, and, coupled with the party’s earlier “we’re like little kids” speech, is supposed to indicate that humanity (or whatever passes for that in a world with kitty cat people) has now entered its own adulthood, free from the shackles of an overbearing mother-goddess. The kids are going to be all right!

Move along… Except, this entire tale was one of unintended consequences and… failing. Had Ryu and his band of thieves succeeded in their first task, they’d be legendary, and happy, local heroes. Had Ryu found his friends in a timely, less fatal manner, they would have returned home and lived happily. If Nina was a worthwhile princess, she could have been, ya know, a princess, and lived happily. If Garr could be content with the function he was literally made for, he could have retired happily centuries ago. Ultimately, if the heroes of Breath of Fire 3 could just stop failing for ten seconds at any point in their lives, they could have had a happy ending that didn’t involve deicide at pretty much any time. But, no, they’re failures, so they collectively wound up on a path that would change the world.

Every inevitable failure in their lives contributed to a final, humongous task that may have itself, been a failure.

But it did change their world forever.

Mural or not, I guess maybe failures can be heroes, too.

FGC #282 Breath of Fire 3

  • System: Playstation 1 here in The States, but you could also play it on PSP in every other region on Earth. … You can probably still import the PSX version to Vita, though.
  • Number of players: JRPGs are solitary affairs.
  • Favorite Dragon Gene: Every time Ryu gets transformed into a Pygmy Dragon, I have to laugh. He’s just so rolly-polly!
  • Regarding the Wings: This might be my favorite Nina in the series. “Rambunctious Princess” is basically the collective Nina archetype, one way or another, but here it really feels like she’s a spoiled brat playing at being a hero for her childhood, and then a slightly more mature version of that for her adult form. Slightly. All the same, Young Nina comes off like a magical girl, and that’s a lot more amusing than the more dour Ninas elsewhere in the series.
  • Slum it with us!Feeling Bleu: Deis, the snake-tailed goddess, doesn’t join the party for the first time in the franchise, and gets stuck in a room by her lonesome for most of the adventure. She deserves better! And, no, getting stuck in a sentient suit of armor is not an upgrade.
  • Did you know? There’s a dummied out item called THE MOCHI that cures petrification. The reason it was dummied out is because “stoned” has never been a status effect in the Breath of Fire series. Oops?
  • Would I play again: Probably not! I didn’t get around to mentioning it, but I have an extreme fondness for this doofy game (and the entire series). Something about the Breath of Fire franchise has always clicked with me, and I’d love to see a modern revival, whether it be more “old school” or “Dragon Quarter”-y. … Just not a cell phone game. That said, replaying BoF3 is sobering and exhausting. There are random encounters every seven feet. It’s… tiresome. And I’d rather play Breath of Fire 4, anyway. You don’t have to train some bloke to beat Bluto in that one. So, sorry, BoF3, it ain’t happening.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Paperboy for the N64. Let’s deliver some papers! I guess! Please look forward to it!

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