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FGC #572 Night Trap

It's a trapThe sooner you internalize this simple fact, the happier you will be: Nobody knows what they are doing.

Let’s talk about the game so bad, it nearly destroyed everything. Let’s talk about Night Trap.

It is reasonable to assume you have heard of Night Trap. But do you know what the game actually is? It is interactive fiction! It is a playable movie! It is a game that ostensibly tries to be a “videogame” (as opposed to, like, one of those “games” you can play with a DVD remote), but features real, human actors. Night Trap has “graphics” on par with your average Marvel movie, which was practically unheard of at the time. In fact, “practically” nothing, Night Trap was approved for production in 1986, and filmed (with the intention of being released shortly) in 1987.

1987! That was the same year as Castlevania: Simon’s Quest, R-Type (1), and Final Fantasy (1)! Can you imagine a videogame having such amazing fidelity in 1987! And it isn’t Dragon’s Lair! This could have revolutionized gaming as we know it!

Heavy emphasis on the “could have” there, though. Years before the release of Night Trap, a murderer’s row of people that were ostensibly successful in the western videogame development world of the 80’s (Nolan Bushnell! Even my beloved videogame-shunning wife knows that name!), gathered together to create what would be this infamous title. Within this group, Tom Zito produced a device by the name of the NEMO. NEMO (considered so valuable, its acronym literally stood for Never Ever Mention Outside) could use VHS technology to create “movie-based” gaming through playing four video tracks. This technology was used to sculpt a proof-of-concept prototype, Scene of the Crime, which clearly displayed how one could enjoy a “murder mystery” type game. Clue was a fruitful property, right? Well, someone at Hasbro agreed, and NEMO was on its way to powering Night Trap.

What else is on?It is probably worth noting at this point that the brilliant minds that had previously been responsible for videogames as we know them maybe did not have a great idea of what people wanted from videogames. I have written about this phenomenon before, but the first twenty years of gaming were practically defined by people realizing that something would be a cool idea for a videogame (detective work!) and then just completely blowing it with an execution that was about as fun as watching an adorable puppy choking on your math homework (passively watching monitors for maybe something to happen!). The same generation of genius programmers that brought us the likes of Asteroids and Pitfall settled on the “gameplay” of Scene of the Crime being little more than meticulously watching a movie. Nobody wants to hold a controller in their hands and quietly wait for something to maybe happen. But Scene of the Crime, excellent tech demo or not, is just that, and Night Trap would not be much better. You may have been responsible for the whole of gaming in the 80’s, guys, but that didn’t mean you had a damn clue what would make a fun videogame.

And speaking of people that did not know what would work, let’s get back to Hasbro. Hasbro was ready to fund the production of Night Trap (one of the first videogames to include live actors, “movie” directors, and a director of photography that would go on to shoot Forrest Gump), but there were a few notes. Unfortunately, Hasbro was a toy company, so they were downright afraid of any lawsuits that may arise from violence that could be copied by an impressionable child. So the “vampires” intended to be Night Trap’s antagonists weren’t allowed to actually draw blood, and they had to use some manner of grabby-arm trash collector to ensnare their victims. This meant everything slid precipitously into the “goofy” category. Additionally, Hasbro eventually learned of the cost of producing the NEMO system game console that would actually play Night Trap (MSRP in 2021 dollars? About $630), and decided that, grabby vampires or not, Night Trap was literally not worth it. Hasbro purchased and funded the NEMO and its attendant games, but dropped ‘em like a hot potato(head).

Kind of a small dungeonAnd Hasbro in the 80’s really did know toys! They produced Jem (of the Holograms, natch) who once outsold Barbie. They won a lawsuit that allowed them to sell Transformers, or Go-Bots, or something that was a robot that could turn into probably not a robot. They purchased a children’s furniture company, and improved its profitability from millions to billions. And Hasbro was right on the cusp of being responsible for Barney the Dinosaur of Infinite Love/Money. This was a Hasbro that was hugely successful and poised to become the number one toy company in the known universe.

Yet, they could not foresee that new technology would be costly. Nor could they foresee that vampires using zoo-equipment might have unanticipated legal consequence. Brilliant toy company, stupid videogame producer.

But, like a vampire hobbling through the suburbs, Night Trap would not die. Rob Fulop, one of Night Trap’s designers, would call it a day at this point, and go on to be responsible for Petz. But Tom Zito purchased the rights to the NEMO games, and eventually founded his own company in an effort to make an appeal to Sony and its forthcoming Super NES CD-ROM system. That was a dead end and a half, so Zito migrated over to the only decent CD-based platform in town, Sega and its Sega CD.

So, six years after being conceived and five years after being filmed, Night Trap was finally released for the Sega CD in 1992. And, at this point in time, it was only a spectacular failure.

Get 'emHasbro may have been divorced from the project, but their changes remained. A game that was once supposed to feature ninja gradually morphed into something that included vampires, and now neutered vampires were scampering about. But it would be disingenuous to simply blame Hasbro for this debacle. Those ninja were replaced with vampires in the first place because it was determined that too much darkness would play poorly on modern television screens. So a game that was initially designed to be cloaked in shadow had to step out into the harsh light of poor illumination. What’s more, the one interactive bit of Night Trap, that the player could activate traps that would eject or otherwise harm the villains of the piece, necessitated some extremely awkward behavior from the stuntmen playing these malcontents. So our Draculas had to be reduced to “henchmen” that skulked along like Renfields that had been forsaking the blood for far too much hooch. And, as one might expect, those “real live actors” involved in the filming of Night Trap had no real idea what they were doing. To be clear, they were likely consummate professionals, but this was a new medium, and its not like a director can direct when they do not even have a full picture of what the final product is going to be. In short, Night Trap was a mess, and practically every corner of it exuded b-movie shlock.

And, oh yeah, the gameplay was frustrating, obtuse, and demanded a lot more dedication than Night Trap should have ever required. Do you know what color code is required at Minute 4 in the bedroom? No? Well get ready to watch someone die, stupid!

Actually, watching someone die repeatedly might make an impact on an impressionable player… Huh, I wonder if anyone else noticed that? Anyone like, you know, the entire United States Senate.

NERDS!Night Trap saw release in 1992, and it is cited as one of the chief reasons we had the 1993 Congressional Hearings on Videogames. Night Trap and its tremendously more popular cousin, Mortal Kombat, were cited as the primary motivating factors in this series of hearings, but, make no mistake, videogames had been a popular scapegoat for years. In 1982, Surgeon General Koop claimed that videogames could be affecting children’s health, as apparently Pac-Mania had infected the general populace. And, as Hasbro was well aware, this was the era when “won’t someone please think of the children” escalated to the point that you could barely have a dude in furry underwear bully a skeleton without someone shouting about kids hitting each other with homemade nunchucks. And, as we all know, once you involve the welfare of children, you know there are predators that are perfectly happy to profit off that fear, whether that be through actual profits or an eternal campaign bullet point.

In the fullness of time? These congressional hearings did have a good outcome: the creation of a ratings system for videogames. Considering the same had existed for movies for years, this was an excellent innovation for a medium that was still in its fledgling stages. But beyond that? This whole hearing was nonsense from top to bottom. The likes of Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl were obviously punching down on a medium that did not yet have the clout to resist such a slanderous public hearing, and certain companies took the occasion to hurl accusations at their most prominent competitors. Howard Lincoln says Sega hurts kids that Nintendon’t. Yes, there were probably some genuinely concerned people involved in these hearings that frequently showcased clips of “videogame violence”, but it seems like the biggest names in gaming and politics were mostly just there to advance their own agendas (and Captain Kangaroo, too, who had reasons known only to him).

She's basically dancingAnd this was and continues to be terrible. Ever hear about Seduction of the Innocent? It was a book published by a psychologist in 1954, and it eventually led to Congress launching an inquiry that neutered the comics industry for decades. In short, Fredric Wertham called Batman gay (not an exaggeration, true believers), and that snowballed into the giants of the comics industry corralling guidelines into a path that incidentally promoted the very comics that those industry giants were selling. And if you weren’t one of those giants? If you were publishing horror and/or horny material? Sorry, you are out of business. Literally! And this meant that the Western comic book medium became regarded as the domain of children for (apparently) the rest of time. Want to see what an American “manga market” could look like? Too bad! We had Seduction of the Innocent and a bunch of gold-diggers pushing their own superheroes forward, and now all we get is Iron Man, Iron Man: Civil War, and Iron Man: First Sip.

And it could have happened to videogames, too! Actually, it absolutely did. Thanks to ESRB regulations and conservative retailers, videogames were not sold in many brick and mortar stores if they ranked as an “Adults Only” title. And considering that physical stores were all that existed for a long time, we didn’t see anything that could even prod at that AO rating until three console generations later. And while no one is exactly lamenting a lack of Senran Kagura on the Super Nintendo, it is hard to say if something like the entire Suda51 or Yoko Taro oeuvre would have been allowed in the wake of 1990s videogame panic. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, gaming needs more voices in its chorus, and we would be missing out on some very distinct tones if we universally outlawed android butts.

But that was the sad reality of videogames for decades. All thanks to a pack of opportunistic senators. All thanks to some very imprudent videogame directing. All thanks to very fearful toy manufacturers. All thanks to some ill-advised hardware consideration. Going back years, damage was done to the videogame medium for decades, all thanks to a series of ostensible pillars in their respective fields making the wrong choices.

Love this guyAnd what can we learn from this? Well, at every step in the process no one really did anything objectively wrong. Wanting to drop brutal ninja for fantastic vampires is not wrong. Wanting to protect children from the horrors of violence is not wrong. Wanting to revolutionize gaming in new and exciting ways is not wrong. But the end result? Night Trap scarred gaming for decades, but it was the men (I’m going to go ahead and assume it was mostly men here) in charge that made the repeated decisions to somehow make this product and its legacy worse and worse. No one did anything wrong, but they made the wrongest decisions possible. And, as a result, Night Trap became a game so bad, it nearly destroyed everything in its wake.

Kind of makes you wonder what would happen if these people were in charge of something actually important

FGC #572 Night Trap

  • System: Despite objections from 1990s Nintendo, Night Trap is now available for the Nintendo Switch. Amazing! It is also available for the Sega CD, Sega CD/32X (long story), 3DO (such a cursed system), and, eventually, the Playstation 4/Vita (also significantly cursed).
  • Number of players: No way you could play this with anyone else. Ever.
  • Port-o-Call: The Sega CD is a bit of a… let’s say the graphics took a hit. Not all recordings are created equal. Or at a resolution above 10 x 10 pixels. But the 32X version is a significant improvement. And the modern versions actually look like the game is supposed to look. That said, it’s all the same terrible game, so don’t get too excited.
  • What us even happening?Let’s talk about the plot: A lot can be said for how the gameplay is terrible, and the acting is horrendous. But one thing that is often overlooked is that, whether it’s because the writing has to account for multiple characters that may or may not be kidnapped, or simply because no one knew what they were doing, the ostensible protagonists are wholly forgettable. You are supposed to be saving lives here! And the only character that even seems worthy of having a name is the secret vampire ham-man! Everybody else is just horrible, and that is likely a contributing factor in Night Trap being about as fondly remembered as polio.
  • So, did you beat it? Naw. Went ahead and watched a “full” run through on youtube, but there is no way I am going to take the time to carefully map out exactly where “I” have to be when. The whole thing is just exhausting for the payoff of having watched a complete movie.
  • For the Sequel: Everything about Night Trap/Scene of the Crime would eventually “work” in other games. Scene of the Crime’s concept of detective work would eventually be adapted into the hugely entertaining Phoenix Wright franchise by finding the right level of interface for solving a murder, and the basic gameplay of Night Trap would later work as the Five Nights at Freddy’s series. So, in other words, what the NEMO needed was more whacky lawyers/animatronics.
  • Did you know? The other game that was supposed to launch with the Hasbro NEMO? Sewer Shark. Now there’s a system seller for the ages!
  • Would I play again: Not for all the wannabe vampires in Castlevania. This game is a bear in every conceivable way. And not a cuddly bear! One of those bears that leaves you generally dissatisfied with your current organ count.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bowser’s Fury! Or Furry! It’s one of those! Please look forward to it!

It's out of control
Any version that doesn’t include a Genesis controller is not real.

FGC #571 Shock Troopers

This is shockingShock Troopers is an Arcade/Neo Geo title from 1997. It is, in essence, an upgrade to SNK’s Ikari Warriors, a franchise that had debuted a little over a decade earlier. It is a top-down run ‘n gun with an emphasis on dodging, exploding, and occasionally going toe-to-toe with a tank. It may not be the most memorable game in the SNK pantheon (or even the most memorable Neo Geo game that involved shooting your way through an entire war, as that was somehow a very well-worn genre on the system), but it is certainly a fun experience for anyone that has ever enjoyed the likes of Contra or very particular parts of Bionic Commando.

And, ultimately, somebody must have liked Shock Troopers, because it warranted a sequel being released the following year: Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad. Mind you, it is entirely possible that Shock Troopers 2 was intended as an utterly different franchise, and merely wound up with Shock Troopers branding for expediency. ST:2S is a top-down shooter, but it drops the “basic” powerup-based offense of ST1 for a weapon leveling system that is closer to Blaster Master than Contra. It also places more of an emphasis on controlling vehicles, drops the signature multiple paths available in the original, and, while the graphics are certainly an upgrade, feels like a simpler, “step back” for what could have become an established franchise. Also, in what is perhaps the most damning omission of all, the game has dropped “team” mode, and now only features four playable characters, a far cry from ST1’s cast of eight. Granted, Shock Troopers 2 relies on the fact that it stars the titular “2nd Squad”, so it is no surprise there is no cast overlap. However, should Shock Troopers 2nd Squad be forgiven for the fact that the cast went from…

Always select Big Mama

… to…

Never select the punk

Notice anything, ya know, different about that 2nd squad? Is it, perhaps, a complete lack of melanin?

Let’s do the math on this one: There are 8 playable characters in Shock Troopers. It is difficult to say for certain with old graphics and generally anime-inspired art, but it can be honestly stated that there are at least four characters that could be described as “tanned” or darker. There are also three blonde characters, and one dark-haired fellow who has the same skin-tone as the blonde characters. So it can be confidently stated that there are four white people in the cast, and four people of color. Shock Troopers 2nd Squad cuts the cast in half, and now there are four white people, and zero people of color. Again, these are two totally different casts, but its clear that when the franchise wanted to boil down the cast to a lesser number, the people of color got cut, and the white remained.

I do not need to explain how this is fucked up.

However, I feel I do need to elaborate on how this is the exact level of fucked up that still continues to this day. Yes, it is easy to chastise a game from nearly 25 years ago for not adhering to the societal norms of today. Yes, we were all dimly aware of racism back at the tail end of the 90’s, and this was well before the enlightened children of the future all happened to simultaneously notice that Nintendo’s entire Smash Bros. roster has more white people named “dark” than actual people with dark skin. But this was the start of “tokenism”, right? A time we widely acknowledge where there might be “a black guy” or two in the cast, but they were only there because the designers “had to” hit some arbitrary percentage goal. A cast of color in the original Shock Troopers should not be lauded for existing or lamented when it was dropped for the sequel, because these characters were little more than the typical “minority hires” of the day. White characters with dark skin, and nothing more.

But Big Mama has something to say about that.

Here comes Big Mama

Now, to be clear, Big Mama is hella problematic. Big Mama is, right down to her name, a deeply racist and offensive stereotype. In a game where there is very little definition for the individual characters (“Marie Bee likes cats” is all you’ll get out of one of Shock Trooper’s other leading ladies), Big Mama does get the characterization of her name (this ain’t Big Papa), and her one ending image, which shows Big Mama being a mama to some random kid.

You win, Mama

Maybe her kid? Maybe a white person’s kid? We are not ruling out that possibility, because Big Mama seems to be in the same category as noted pancake accompaniment, Aunt Jemima. If you are unfamiliar with the mammy/mammie stereotype, it is remarkably straightforward: it is meant to represent the enslaved women of color that were forced to raise the children of their white slavers. Like a nanny, but completely owned by another human being. It is a generally affectionately referenced stereotype (again, check your breakfast table), but it is still a venomous, hurtful reminder that it was once perfectly okay for a black woman to be forced into a role against her will (and, yes, your syrup has made moves away from this for this very reason). Big Mama, complete with one victory animation that borders on offensive, is a textbook mammy stereotype.

WINNERBut, that said, Big Mama is also capable. She is strong. She is one of the few Shock Troopers that does not use an “extra” weapon, like a knife or (inexplicable) boomerang, as she can successfully pummel a foe in close quarters. She comes equipped with her own bazooka, though, for when the going gets rough, and her official art shows her equipped with a Rambo-esque bullet belt’s worth of firepower. And this all ties into something very important: Big Mama is jacked. Big Mama appears to be 110% muscle, and there is no videogame universe where that is not seen as a tremendous asset (okay, maybe not in Pokémon). Big Mama is the rare female playable character in a videogame that is not wafer-thin, and she has got the big guns to put her in Zangief’s piledriving class (which he teaches on Monday nights at the Y). Big Mama is wholly unique not just in Shock Troopers (where there are two other standard issue skinny white women available), but also across gaming, because here are all the other large, muscular black women I can recall playing as across other videogames…

On rare occasions, we get a Sheva (Resident Evil), Elena, or even MK’s Jade, but there is no way any of those women could reasonably take a punch from Goro. Big Mama, though? She could tear Goro’s arms off just as easily as Jax. Big Mama has a unique race, gender, and body type for gaming. And, give or take one of Chrono Cross’s cast of thousands, it’s difficult to immediately recall a single playable character that even comes close to fitting those same parameters. Big Mama is a singular woman in her entire medium.

She is the winner!And she got dropped for the sequel and any of the myriad of other SNK/Neo Geo crossover materials across the last two decades. Shock Troopers introduced a character that could embody a severely underrepresented chunk of the population, but dropped her at the earliest opportunity. Two decades of busty blondes later, and we have yet to see another Big Mama.

And that’s fucked up.

FGC #571 Shock Troopers

  • System: Neo Geo / Arcade initially, and then (like most Neo Geo games) it resurfaced in one way or another for the PS2, PS3, PS4, PSP, Xbox One, Wii, and Nintendo Switch. It looks like it skipped the WiiU, but, then again, so did Nintendo (HEY-O!).
  • Number of players: Looks like two, but you have a choice of eight characters. That is because…
  • Make the dream work: The player has a choice between playing as one hero (“lonly” mode, thanks SNK translation team), or a team of three. I literally cannot fathom why someone would play as anything other than a team. You get three life bars, so you can switch when one is running low (and wait until you see a health powerup)! You get three different offensive/agility options, as every character plays distinctly! You have an excuse to use the chubby white dude and his clearly circumstance-based poison bombs! Why would you ever limit yourself to one character per credit?
  • Favorite Character: Oh, maybe because you want to show Big Mama solidarity. I understand wanting to showcase Big Mama.
  • Say something nice about character design in Shock Troopers 2nd Squad: I mean, it’s nice that both of the women in Shock Troopers 2 aren’t the typical blonde bombshells you see in gaming, and Lulu is fairly androgynous (which is a welcome alternative to “boob delivery creature). Also, Toy is a punk with a laser, which ain’t bad.
  • EAT BUILDING!Favorite Boss: Oh yeah, the boss designs definitely improved between sequels. In the first Shock Troopers, you mostly just fight fantastic military weaponry, like a helicopter or battle tank (“battle tank” is defined as any tank that has more spikes than your usual tank). In Shock Troopers 2, you fight significantly more varied opponents, including an entire office building that changes into a missile/laser fortress. It is basically a Transformer, and I am here for that.
  • Pick Your Poison: Shock Troopers offers three different routes to the final level, complete with an opportunity to switch paths about halfway through. That adds a fun reason to replay the game! That said, Jungle is terribly boring, while Valley lets you blow up a submarine. And Mountain lets you climb a cliffside by hand, and then use a zipline. So why would you take any route other than Mountain?
  • What’s in a name? The terrorists of ST1 are known as the Bloody Scorpions. The sequel features DIO, led by a man named Nakatomi. This implies that the initial Bloody Scorpions are not around anymore because they found a good day to die hard.
  • Did you know? If you leave the banana life up sitting on the ground too long, a monkey will dash over, and steal your bananas. How cheeky!
  • WeeeeeeWould I play again: Shock Troopers is a fun little run ‘n gun with multiple routes and characters that wholly encourage additional playthroughs. I will probably do that! … If I remember this game exists, and there aren’t any Contra games I want to play at that immediate moment.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Night Trap! The game that almost broke all of gaming! Woo boy! Please look forward to it!

World of Final Fantasy Part 12: Let’s Review

Thanks to a witch’s curse, I am obligated to write about any videogame I have played for longer than a half hour, so let us contemplate World of Final Fantasy.

Long story short on the whole game? It was a noble attempt at… something, but it is hard to say if it ever succeeded at anything. I’m trying to work out those “goals”, though, so I’m thinking a good start would be…

World of Final Fantasy is World of Final Fantasy, dummy, it’s about the Final Fantasy heroes

There’s one reason that everyone bought this game (well, everyone that actually did buy the game), and it is Final Fantasy with a capital F. Final Fantasy has one of the greatest pedigrees in the history of gaming, and, while Mega Man, Castlevania, or alike has dropped off in recent years/decades, there has never been a year without a Final Fantasy or Final Fantasy-adjacent product since the advent of the Buster Swordcitation needed. Final Fantasy may be right up there with Mario and Madden as one of the most established gaming franchises out there, and, like it or not, we’ve got Final Fantasies filling up shelves all over the place.

And, in a weird way, that might be a problem.

Dance through the dangerI know a lot of people reading this have been gaming all of their lives, right there from the advent of the Nintendo Entertainment System. And that likely means you’re damn well near forty. And you know what that also means? You’re old! There were an awful lot of people that were born in the intervening four decades! And they might like Final Fantasy, too! Except, you know, their first Final Fantasy game was Final Fantasy 7. Or Final Fantasy 10. Or, wonder of wonders, they may have played their first Final Fantasy game this year, and it’s a MMORPG involving a strangely high number of cat boys. And that’s before we even get into the people that got into gaming later in life, or just recently decided it was time to see what this “Final Fantasy” was all about, or just picked up Final Fantasy 6 because it came with the Super Nintendo Mini, or even they’re interested in finding out the deal with these weird dudes from the Kingdom Hearts 3 expansion. Point being is that there are 35 years of Final Fantasy out there, and people could have started with Final Fantasy “one” or fifteen.

And, if you’ve found you enjoyed Final Fantasy, it’s only natural to have a desire to see what else is out there in the franchise. Only issue? That could take you the rest of your life. There is a lot to any given Final Fantasy, and, before you get into the idea of how even the smallest FF takes like ten hours, nearly every FF also has wildly disparate moving parts. The battle system in Final Fantasy 5 isn’t going to effectively help you learn whatever Lightning is flipping around about in Final Fantasy 13, and everything you ever learned about harvesting Flan Princess in Final Fantasy 4 is not going to be relevant by the time you have to complete all the “hunts” of Final Fantasy 12. Even if you had infinity time for playing as many videogames as you ever wanted (I want to live there), the Final Fantasy franchise is still daunting, as you have to rapidly switch tracks between mastering materia and farming playing cards. And then you never see a reason to have that “skill” ever again in the franchise (or, for that matter, anywhere else in any other game).

I am a master of the gambit system. That didn’t even survive to see Final Fantasy 12-2 (it happened! It was on DS!)

I like this oneAnd, to be absolutely clear, it is in Square-Enix’s best interest that you have not only an affection for the whole of the Final Fantasy franchise, but that you also know it inside and out. Easy example? Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is a fighting game (basically) that relies on you having a familiarity with its cast of Final Fantasy luminaries. And when SE decides to release expansion materials like new fighters, management is literally banking on you not only knowing who Zenos yae Galvus is, but also that you like said character enough to shell out five bucks for the experience. Locke Cole isn’t going to put cyberdollars in cyberwallets if everyone that ever cared about the dude stopped playing videogames in 2010. And this is just one game! Mobile experiences like Pokémon Go, Fire Emblem Heroes, and the entire Fate/Stay franchise are all at least partially based on the concept that people will do godammned anything to get a shiny Pikachu wearing a party hat (or, for the equivalent in the Fate franchise, a shiny, sexy Benjamin Franklin wearing a party hat). Square Enix needs every man, woman, and lilkin on Earth to love Cloud Strife, because the quarter 2 profits are already based on the idea that a million people are going to buy Lara Croft’s Tifa crossover outfit.

Oh, and I guess it’s good for gaming discourse if everyone has the same Final Fantasy knowledge, too. But that’s not super relevant to the people that choose which games get greenlit.

This finally brings us to World of Final Fantasy. It is clear what World of Final Fantasy was trying to do: in the same way that Kingdom Hearts condenses entire Disney movies into “worlds” that feature five characters and two dungeons, World of Final Fantasy boils down its Final Fantasy “guest stars” into their component parts with generally distinctive plots and locales. Yuna the responsible summoner is hanging around the Pyrefly Forest where she first boned a ghost, and Rydia the more cheeky summoner has a peppy adventure where she faces her fear of fire. Final Fantasy guest characters show up just long enough to make an impact on the player, but not outshine the “real” heroes of this tale. In short, by the end of World of Final Fantasy, the player should have a general fondness and understanding of characters from a solid fourteen or so Final Fantasy games. And it’s reasonable to say that playing one 40-hour game is a faster path to understanding the Final Fantasy pantheon than playing fifteen games that could potentially suck up the rest of your life.

I know that guyBut there is a bit of an issue with using the “Kingdom Hearts approach”. No one is going to mistake Pinocchio for Aladdin for Jack Skellington. However, when you hit the FF games, well… Squall is a competent SeeD “hero” that has some issues with confidence. Cloud is a competent SOLDIER “hero” that has some issues with confidence. Lightning is a competent… ah, crap, we’ve already hit a wall. A lot of Final Fantasy characters kind of boil down to the same character once you remove them from their more complicated home plots. Squall and Cloud are very different protagonists in their respective adventures, but, in the limited World of Final Fantasy, they’re practically the same as Tidus. In fact, in a weird way, the “knights” of World of Final Fantasy become something approaching a boy band. Tidus is the funny one, Lightning is the serious one, and Squall is the one that is interested in gardening for some reason. They are only graphically distinguishable, and, frankly, the funko-ization of the gang doesn’t help in that department either.

And, while this at least gives a new audience the cliff’s notes on a particular hero or supporting character, it’s disapointing for anyone that is in this to see those beloved Final Fantasy characters again. Tifa is in “Nibelheim flashback” mode, so she’s… what? A martial artist in training/cowgirl? That’s a far cry from the confident “mom of AVALANCHE” that starred in Final Fantasy 7/Remake. King Edgar comes off as little more than an aggravating flirt compared to the original king that was willing to participate in a hentai to rescue his countrymen. Vivi had practically an entire game’s worth of meditation on mortality and the meaning of life in Final Fantasy 9, and here he barely even has a name. It’s cool that the “intervention quests” all seem tailor made to please people that want to see Pirate Princess Faris and Ifrit have a conversation (I have been writing that fanfic since I was thirteen!), but everything here is so shallow as to be nearly insulting. Final Fantasy fans want a phoenix, yet World of Final Fantasy offers chicken feed.

Lil' DudesSo World of Final Fantasy is shallow as an introduction to Final Fantasy characters, and even shallower for anyone that wants to spend more time with particular protagonists. But maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree! Maybe it was never supposed to be about the “cameo” characters, maybe…

World of Final Fantasy is its own game, dummy, this is about the original characters and plot

First of all, to break kayfabe for a moment: ha ha ha, oh man, that’s a good one.

Second of all, this is a place where World of Final Fantasy knows what to do, but refuses to put in the time on the “homework” to make it actually happen. As previously stated, World of Final Fantasy follows the usual arc of a Kingdom Hearts story: the plot and main characters are introduced, that is then ignored for hours as our heroes have a ball with a pile guest characters/worlds, and then it all comes back to an original “point” in time for the finale when guests met across the adventure may or may not find a way to help in the concluding, ridiculous battle. Unfortunately, what works for Kingdom Hearts absolutely does not work for World of Final Fantasy for one simple reason: you are never given a reason to care about Lann and Reynn.

The twins are, like, your main characters, right? So you probably feel something there. But beyond that? I technically spent entire days’ worth of hours with those two, and I could barely tell you their defining attributes. Yes, they’re both generally well-meaning heroes that will fight against injustice and love their parents… but past that? Lann is the goofy one, Reynn is the responsible/contemplative one, and, aside from a certain woman’s hatred for cactus men, that’s all I got. They are not really characters beyond broad archetypes, and, when bad things happen to them, nobody cares. Oh, they were wholly responsible for a hundred years of hardship? Yeah, alright, I could buy that. As believable as anything else in this world.

Everybody happy?And a reminder that this game is from the same people that brought you Kingdom Hearts 2, which somehow made the fans demand an entire Kingdom Hearts “miniseries” game based on some dork from the opening skateboarding tutorial or whatever. KH2’s Roxas is a fully established, sympathetic character inside of like seven seconds. His own featured game made him a tragic hero that could rival the likes of Shakespeare (or at least anything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Lann and Reynn never come close to that over the course of an entire game.

And don’t try to claim the other original supporting characters in World of Final Fantasy fare any better, because there aren’t any. Wynne and Enna both alternate between macguffins and lore dumps, and then we have… Tama the fox mascot? Do not waste my the-time.

But maybe it’s about the overarching lore, right? Maybe this is another Final Fantasy 13 situation wherein the cool, established world is masked in data entries and other “data logs” hidden around the world. Maybe this is the kind of story that isn’t necessarily about the characters, but about the world (of Final Fantasy).

And, sorry to say that I’m continually setting you up for disappointment here, but World of Final Fantasy flubs there, too. This wasn’t explored much on the stream (what kind of maniac would make a “let’s read” let’s play?) but there are “datalogs” and glossaries to spare in World of Final Fantasy; and, spoilers, they all add up to a big fat nothing. Yes, there are multiple, fascinating stories in World of Final Fantasy’s backstory (and even more in Maxima), but they all combine to form a Voltron of oblivion (and Enna Kros forms the head).

Let's just chillThe ultimate punchline to the lore of World of Final Fantasy is that there are some people that merge with powerful summons to ascend to godhood, and, once they have established their nigh-omnipotent powers, they can create worlds. So there are worlds of fantasy, there are worlds of sci-fi, and (since some people are jerks) there are worlds of death-spewing dragons. And some worlds are proper Final Fantasy games, some worlds are obviously implied to be the spin-offs, and some worlds are like this one: where there’s a little sprinkling here and there of the familiar, “main” worlds, but they’re still fairly bonkers. And, of course, sometimes the worlds fight. And, end of the day, that’s that. There are infinity worlds with infinity permutations, and World of Final Fantasy 2 could have equal odds of being another adventure in “this” world, or one where you’re piloting a space ship in a shoot ‘em up (Einhänder is unquestionably implied to be another world). And when your final word on lore is that “all worlds happen and could happen and are happening” it kind of makes the whole thing feel… pointless? Like, I saved this world, I saved Wynne, but apparently there a bunch of other worlds? And even other Wynnes? There’s possibly a great moral here about how saving your own world and the people you love really matters in the face of infinite choices, but that lesson is seemingly absent here. This is one World of Final Fantasy, there are a thousand out there, too, and good will always triumph over evil regardless of what anybody does.

By Alexander, it’s Bioshock Infinite all over again. That’s never good!

But it’s possible that this is all purposeless anyway. Maybe you’re not even supposed to take these characters seriously at all…

World of Final Fantasy is a comedy, dummy, just laugh it off

Punch!There are 100% funny moments in World of Final Fantasy, and a lot of lesser jokes that could conceivably be funny to an audience that has not become jaded after years of watching Poshul die on the cross in complete earnestness. There are also some amazing mirage entries that are hilarious, and a few that are… well, that one where they keep trying to make "Lich" rhyme with a naughty word. And the twins really are the classical "straight man and goofy man" partnership.

That said, if you’re trying to make something a comedy, maybe don’t hang it all on a story where you’re required to kill your parents. Twice. If World of Final Fantasy is a comedy, it falls under the same issues: it can’t fully commit, and the parts where it veers into drama stand out a lot more than Lann playing football in the background of an info dump. It can be a funny game! The characters can be enjoyable! But if you’re going for funny, go for actually funny, and don’t hang it all on a world that is literally based on a genocide that was instigated by the "wacky" heroes.

While my contemporary, BEAT, believes “the choice of character models being those dead-eyed funko pop abominations prevent the kind of expressiveness required for any sort of character-based comedy,” I take the opposite position: it feels like, maybe, the fact that Cloud is a wee puppet man is supposed to automatically add levity to any situation. Mini Cloud and Lil’ Tifa are facing Ultima Weapon, and Nibelheim is in danger, but, ha ha, they’re action figures, who cares? It’s silly! But nothing else about the narrative seems to indicate the Lilkin Heroes are anything but serious about their world, and, yes, you’re supposed to take Cloud fighting an impossible monster as seriously as in Final Fantasy 7 Remake. So, yeah, Lann might make a crack about something being ridiculous in the midst of that, but you’re still in a situation as "serious" as real Final Fantasy, and, give or take a cactuar on your head, you’re in a battle that is exactly as serious as your average Final Fantasy.

Giggle through the gallowsThis game was intended to be comedic. And there are funny bits! World of Final Fantasy sincerely tries. But, end of the day? There were more genuinely funny bits in Final Fantasy 7 Remake than World of Final Fantasy. And, in some cases, it came from the exact same characters! It can be done! Just WoFF doesn’t seem to know what it wants enough to stick to it.

But it’s possible that this is all purposeless anyway. World of Final Fantasy shouldn’t be judged like a dedicated comedy…

World of Final Fantasy is a videogame, dummy, it’s supposed to be fun to play

Look, let’s get one thing out of the way (he said 2,000 words in): this is supposed to be Final Fantasy: Pokémon. Like a lot in WoFF, it only half commits, as the whole “mirage keeper” aspect of this adventure is arguably generally ignored in the plot (being a mirage keeper is super important to the plot, but you could also replace the nuts and bolts [and backstory] of “mirage keeping” with “making coffee”, and very little about the story would change.) (“Oh, your mom was a high barista of the cappuccino lineage? How interesting.”) But it is everything during battles. The meat of World of Final Fantasy’s challenge isn’t so much about fights that are “hard” to actually manage, but more that you have to manage your mirages before every bout, and be sure you’re prepared for whatever is going to happen this time. A new mirage can only be captured by casting fire on it? Great, be certain you have a fire mirage. This boss is weak to ice? Well, you might lose once, but come back with a Shiva in your gang, and you’re set. And the stacking aspect makes this replacement for “equipment” interesting every time: you can’t just don an anti-lightning ring accessory, you have to “stack” an anti-lightning mirage with another mirage that isn’t going to negate your prime immunity. You have the ability to create completely contradictory stacks, and then never get anything done! Or properly manage all your mirages, and blaze through a volcano with all the (metaphorical) ice armor of the Light Warriors of lore. It might take some time, but it is empowering to “get it right” with your stack for a particular area.

Go birdyOf course, if World of Final Fantasy is biting on Pokémon for this gameplay, they missed one key feature in that experience: being able to switch Pokémon on the fly. Like in Pokémon, you have a limited number of mirages that can be on your belt at one time; however, unlike the Gamefreak original, you absolutely cannot switch your mirages in the midst of a battle. Whatever you chose to start this battle with is stuck until you either win, run, or die. And, while it’s not difficult to solve the puzzle of maybe you need an electric team in the robot-based dungeon, many of the later areas are more generic, and require a greater swatch of abilities and resistances. And there is nothing worse than facing down a gigantic behemoth, knowing you have you the proper instrument in your toolbox right over there, but, sorry, you’re stuck in this battle right now, and you’re going to have to whittle down those health points in the most boring, least satisfying way possible. And then you switch in your trump card for the next behemoth battle, only to face a mag roader team that requires a totally different solution. It’s exhausting, and another place where World of Final Fantasy falls just short of being a great game. It’s not terrible! It’s just… close enough to great that you can see exactly what went wrong.

And while the battle system may be satisfying when it comes together, the dungeons need some serious work. Final Fantasy hasn’t ever been a franchise that was particularly known for its dungeons (monster closets? Yes. Dungeon design? No), so we’ve got an uphill battle there to begin with. But here the dungeons are generally extremely generic locations (ice cave, volcano, basement) with marginally interesting gimmicks (ice sliding puzzle, put out fires, turn on machines). There is exactly one dungeon in this entire adventure that I found remotely memorable (underwater temple complete with wall-walking action), but even that wound up overstaying its welcome by about 20%. Past that, the only other dungeon that even came close was the Train Graveyard, but that loses some significant points for being an extremely confusing maze of platforms that easily loop on each other.

Let's get mistyAnd speaking of the Train Graveyard, that was a dungeon that absolutely required bringing particular mirages with particular abilities (in this case, “zap” and “smash”), whereas previous dungeons only relied on the “map screen abilities” as a way of accessing extra treasure. Was there some warning that I absolutely had to bring a smash-based mirage to this dungeon? Not that I saw. So did I waste a solid half hour trying to figure out if I could solve this “puzzle” without needing a specific mirage, like I had in every dungeon prior? Yep! And that doesn’t leave an impression at all.

And if this entire writeup makes World of Final Fantasy sound like a bad game, I apologize, that is not the intention. This has been a list of the significant problems in World of Final Fantasy, but it is also a list of the only significant problems in World of Final Fantasy. I will admit now, before God and audience, that there were moments when I absolutely did not want to stop playing World of Final Fantasy. The whole adventure really clicked around the 30% completion mark, and, from that point on, I was tempted on a weekly basis to play without my streaming company. Hell, I technically did play the game during those times, I just played the less cinematic bits, like fighting through the coliseum or completing mundane fetch quests. This is a fun game! World of Final Fantasy is a fun game! And it does hold up to its pedigree a lot better than many other spin-offs of popular franchises. This ain’t no Wand of Gamelon.

Fist time!But my theory has always been that if you’re going to do it, you should do it right. That’s why everything I have ever written, including this article, is absolutely prefect. Final Fantasy is a pedigree in the gaming sphere, and this Final Fantasy product falls short of its forbearers. It’s still a fun experience, but it is also flawed in some very obvious ways. Maybe a World of Final Fantasy 2 will correct these problems, or maybe a third World of Final Fantasy released seventeen years later will address the issues. Maybe it will always be a weird, one-off “quirky adventure” in the Final Fantasy pantheon. Whatever the case, the game we have here, even in its expanded state, is still just “good”, and far shy of flawless.

But, hey, it’s still a fun way to spend eleven nights of streaming.

What’s next? Welp, I feel like we’ve covered an awful lot of World of Final Fantasy at this point, but there is still that whole “lore” thing I’ve admitted to ignoring. Maybe we could take a more focused look at that…

FGC #569 Battletoads (2020)

There’s a moment about 75% of the way through Battletoads (2020) that… well, let’s let the GIF do the talkin’ here…

RAGE

That is Pimple, and, spoilers, he is freaking the heck out. He has been generally chill and mellow throughout this Battletoads adventure, but has now been pushed too far, and the following level is going to be Pimple rampaging like a toad built only for battle. Pimple, the reliable rock of the Battletoad trio, is well and truly done, and he is not going to take this lying down.

And this moment brilliantly features exactly how the creators of Battletoads (2020) fundamentally understand the Battletoads of 1991.

Let's motorOur favorite toads had an ultimately brief period of fame (or… close enough to fame) for approximately three years. We saw an NES game, a Gameboy game, a Super Nintendo game, an arcade game, and one vaguely memorable crossover. There was also a rigorous comic book promotion in there, and an animated series that arguably never saw the light of day (does direct to VHS pilot even count as real?). And was there any sort of unifying Battletoads mythos in all of this? Nope! The Battletoads were “real” people that were digitized into a virtual world, or they were “real” toad people from space, or they had that whole “Thing Ring do your thing” dealy going on with magical morphing. And there was some confusion within the original games if this was happening over and over again (apparently the Dark Queen really likes kidnapping), or if this was all some manner of Legend of Zelda “the same tale retold” situation, and Battlemaniacs was basically the “grown-up” telling of OG Battletoads. And the arcade version was clearly a version of Battletoads where we finally had the technology to let a toad fight a snake! Was that supposed to happen back in the NES days? Who knows!

So, if someone were asked to distill some consistency from three years’ worth of Battletoads mythos, would it be possible? The only thing that was constant across those games was that everyone in this universe had a general 90’s irreverent attitude, and, when the ‘toads punched stuff, sometimes their limbs changed. Across multiple games, mediums, and graphical capabilities, that was all we really had as concentrated Battletoads. They have attitude, and they morph their limbs.

And it is kind of amazing that that is exactly what is displayed in that above Pimple GIF. That is what is on display in the entirety of Battletoads 2020. Everyone in this universe has an irreverent attitude, and it is animated with a rubbery, lively style that is appropriate to heroes that have always been able to stretch and contort into whatever is going to be most visually interesting/proper for the moment. In the same way that Rash can transform into a battering ram on command (forward, forward+B), he can also morph into an office drone or spaceship pilot. The Battletoads are, fundamentally, just as adaptable as the Looney Tunes of yore, and they absolutely should exist in a game/universe wherein they are just as malleable.

My baby!In a world wherein the curators of Battletoads absolutely could have based an entire game on the “meme” of Battletoads, the idea that they are all “Turbo Tunnels and NES hard”, Battletoads 2020 wound up being true to a Battletoads franchise that is more than just its internet reputation. This is a triumph beyond measure, and my hats off to the writers, directors, and producers of Battletoads.

Also, while the designers of Battletoads are listening, I have one other thing to say about the 2020 game: it sucks. It sucks so bad.

The original, first level of the initial Battletoads game, Battletoads, is a beat ‘em up. Likely thanks to first impressions, many people (including myself) collectively refer to Battletoads as a beat ‘em up style game. Unfortunately, if you play past the first level (big “if”, because this is Battletoads, and you would be forgiven for losing to Giant Walker), you’ll find the second stage is practically a different game, complete with different rules. Similarly, the third stage, the infamous Turbo Tunnel, starts with a sprinkling of combat, and is then an entirely pacifist-friendly “battle” with stationary walls (you just happen to be going really, really fast). The next levels are (in order) a 2-D platforming/snowball fight, 3-D beat ‘em/surfing safari, and 2-D platforming (on snakes). In fact, once you clear Level 7 (of 12), you never see a 3-D beat ‘em up section again, and all combat is on a 2-D plane. In short (as I have documented in detail before) Battletoads is a beat ‘em up about as much as Mario Odyssey is with its occasional forays into t-rex-based carnage. We had one arcade game that seemed capable of staying on target, but every other Battletoads game cannot stick to a genre longer than the span of a level. When you’ve got Jimmy and Billy Lee piloting spaceships, you know something has gone terribly wrong…

Get those lumberjacks!And Battletoads 2020 initially seems to lean on the beat ‘em up trappings of its forebears. As one might expect for the update of a nearly 30 year old franchise, Battletoads 2020 is a might more complicated than its ancestor. This is no longer a simple case of “punch/jump/dash”, there are now options for strong and quick attacks, charge attacks, and a few possibilities for using your toady tongue as a grappling hook. And you’ve got grappling options! Would you like to collect flies, swing your toad from the foreground to the background, or, ya know, grapple (ala Mike Haggar). It is obvious that, in the same way a lot of thought went into an animation style that seemed appropriate for Battletoads, a lot of consideration was given to creating a beat ‘em up system that not only was fun to play, but was also appropriate to our heroes. The presence of a blocking monster means you’ll be using the stylish charge moves that were previously reserved for “smash” combo finishers. The mobile “shooting” creatures will encourage jumping for a dodge, and then a new jumping attack. And tongue moves! We are featuring toads, people, let’s act like it and highlight the one thing toads are known for (aside from hopping and kissing princesses). That slurping sound should have been for more than health refills for Battletoads from the beginning!

Except… it all kind of… doesn’t feel right? Or work right? There is a lot in the beat ‘em up sections of Battletoads that feels almost wholly broken. For instance, health drains stupidly quickly, so a single punch from an opponent can drain a third of your HP. In a way, this makes sense, as a single player game allows the usage of all three of the Battletoads, so you effectively have triple the health you see on any one life bar, and a fallen Battletoad revives if you wait a whole 20 seconds. You are practically invincible! But it still feels bad to whiff a dodge and be mercilessly punished. And, speaking of which, you will be punished, because managing the Battletoads’ battlin’ is a lesson in humility. It is very difficult to find the exact timing on when any of your protagonists can exactly cancel a combo to perform a dodge, so practically any string of punches is a risk. And that is not a good look for a beat ‘em up, as it means a conservative player is likely to zoom around the screen, eternally dodging, and only throw a single punch for fear of starting an inescapable combo chain. And that works, but it also works to make each individual fight move at a Battlesnail’s pace. And if you feel like being more loose with your health, good luck refilling on available flies, as those previously mentioned tongue moves are mapped to surprisingly confusing controls, and you are a lot more likely to accidentally drag a dangerous enemy into your proximity than down a life powerup.

And if you are getting the impression that I did not enjoy the beat ‘em up portions of Battletoads, congratulations, you have reading comprehension. The beat ‘em up portions of Battletoads 2020 are the worst parts of Battletoads 2020.

So it works out that Battletoads has the same inability to focus on any one genre as its ancestors.

Here is a vague spoiler warning for those of you that want to experience the manic intensity of Battletoads in its natural, astonishing way. Stop reading if you want to experience this all on your own dime…