Initial Stream: 11/10/20
3:00 – Everyone had two weeks to vote on whether or not they wanted to see additional story progress or the Final Fantasy character vignettes/side quests… and I didn’t see a single vote. Turnout is terrible this year. So we held a vote on the stream, and fanboymaster and BEAT both agreed it was time to hit the Final Fantasy Intervention Quests. As a reminder, these are all “out of time” moments provided by The Girl Who Forgot Her Name, and our heroes only pitch hit for the featured Final Fantasy character during battle, and the rest of these sections are simple “slice of life” stories (that often involve giant, malevolent sea monsters). First up are Tidus and Yuna aping some Final Fantasy X plot beats.
16:00 – The “bullet points” for the Intervention Quests are going to be mostly here to let you know when a new vignette starts. At approximately the sixteen minute mark, we are discussing “politics” and/or Quistis while Squall gets a featured story about future planning.
25:00 – Discussing Tidus while Faris and Edgar discuss something other than Tidus. And then it’s time to point out how Edgar is a pedophile.
33:00 – Terra encounters a certain unpleasant octopus while another bot invades the chat.
39:00 Bartz and Rikku is the crossover event you didn’t ever know you needed. It is mostly ignored in favor of Dragonball Z discussion.
What actually happened in the plot:
All Intervention Quests are canon in World of Final Fantasy, but are (almost) all considered “sidequests”, so this is all “optional” plot. That said, here’s what happened in this update:
• Yuna and Tidus, who met for the first time as part of the main plot, bond over repelling Bismarck (not the nazi ship) from Besaid.
• Squall, unlike his fellow Final Fantasy buddies, doesn’t have future plans, which worries his bulbous little head. Squall and Shelke go on a monster hunting mission, and Shelke tricks Squall into caring and planting a garden. This somehow makes Squall smile.
• Faris’s ship is attacked by Omega Bane, and she tracks it back to a potential dimensional gateway at the center of the desert. Edgar is familiar with the area, so he banishes Omega Bane with the help of Vivi.
• Terra teams up with, and then realizes she must destroy, Ultros, the least prime octopus.
• Bartz and Rikku try to rob Ifrit’s cave, but wind up inadvertently becoming friends with the fiery summons when they team up to repel some behemoths.
Initial Stream: 11/10/20
1:00 – Rikku is sailing the seven seas, and, hey, we’re actually discussing Rikku! It’s game related! It’s a game related, on-topic discussion! That hardly ever happens!
5:00 – Eiko makes a new wolf friend, so let’s talk about Justice League. The animated series, to be clear, as that is clearly the best iteration of the ol’ hero club.
10:00 – Tifa meets some zealots. How old would you be in the Final Fantasy universe? And would your hat stay on your head?
16:00 – Yuna and “The Sad Spiral” sounds like a good time. Final Fantasy characters need therapy, and so do we after discussing Fountains of Wayne.
26:00 – After some wedding discussion, here are Yuna and Rydia in a Volcano. Then BEAT gets hungry, and we fight Lady Ifrit.
32:00 – Cloud and Lightning are palling around while we discuss terrible streamers, teenage sins, and how we’re all attractive. Also, please remember the duck stream.
What actually happened in the plot:
• Rikku battles the Mimic Queen and discovers that literally all the treasures across the sea were a bunch of (now dead) mimics.
• Eiko investigates a “weird feeling” and discovers her ancestors’ “Fenrir” mirage, Elefenrir, who offers a cryptic warning.
• Tifa fights off a gigantic, robotic hand, and tells some religious fanatics that Enna Kros helps those that help themselves.
• Yuna helps Ami of Green Gables (thanks, Zef), a poor woman who wants to sacrifice herself for the good of her hometown. Valefor’s non-union equivalent, Nirvalefor, guides Yuna to help Ami by defeating Ultima Weapon. Thus, Ami no longer has to be a martyr, and she didn’t even have to lose her imaginary dream-boyfriend to do it.
• Yuna and Rydia enter a volcano to find Ifreeta, Ifrit’s cousin who has been possessing humans to be a general nuisance in the world. The two summoners banish the fire cat girl.
• Cloud and Lightning investigate a mirage (Iron Muscles) menacing a local village, but apparently Sephiroth has been in the area repelling the mirage. Cloud ventures off on his own to hunt his mortal enemy, but Terra convinces Cloud to go back and help Lightning. Cloud and Lightning destroy Iron Muscles, and Sephiroth is never seen.
Initial Stream: 11/10/20
0:30 – Vivi and Golems accompany a brief description of quests that have gone before. Long story short: when boiled down to their base archetypes, nearly every male Final Fantasy protagonist becomes Zidane. It’s weird!
13:30 – Discussing Fire Emblem/Lucina /Gachas while Quistis and Squall hang out in Garden.
16:00 – Ample Vigour arrives, and then leaves us wanting as Einhänder shows up again.
20:00 – Penguin time means we have to repeat a whole dungeon. There’s crying underwater from that stupid queen and yours truly, as this Intervention Quest contains an entire “level” that we already completed once. And it wasn’t that good the first time! Regardless, this appears to be the only Intervention Quest that is so intensive, so it’s at least noteworthy.
28:00 – “We’re going all in on this fried bread thing.”
41:00 – And the moral of the story is we’re never going to stop talking about that mysterious liquor lady.
What actually happened in the plot:
• Vivi stops a golem uprising and decides to live another day, confident he is not a mere golem (which makes sense, as golems in this game are basically just Pokémon).
• Celes tries to cheer up the still-recovering-from-vampirey folks of Tome Town by performing an opera, but Ultros arrives, and messes it all up. Ultros is repelled, but, sorry, Celes won’t be singing in this one.
• It is confirmed that Balamb Garden is apparently a mirage, Eden, even if stuff discovered there, like the Gunblade, could be Cogna related.
• Shantotto attempts to open a secret vault by killing the Quacho Queen, but Lann and Reynn convince the Quacho Queen to open the door without bloodshed. Unfortunately, there’s a monster in the vault that could potentially explode and crack the continent in half… but Shantotto uses a spell to disarm the volatile kraken. The day is saved, and our heroes loot the vault.
Initial Stream: 11/10/20
00:00 – There is some interesting discussion regarding the production of Marvel vs. Capcom/Howard the Duck opposite Bartz and Gigglemesh saving a town. Eventually, there is discussion of Spider-Man arcade, a game near and dear to my videogame preserving heart.
8:00 – Additional discussion of Marvel vs. Capcom and what could have happened to Street Fighter 3 while Snow and Celes do… nothing.
14:30 – Moonboy and Devil Dinosaur are not Edgar and Vivi, but they’re not Primal, either.
19:00 – There’s no battle in this vignette, just cutscenes. This is weird, and prompts a discussion regarding Mr. Bucket, and how he wants you to put your balls in his mouth.
21:00 – Faris, Ifrit, and we’re apparently not worshipping Satan.
25:00 – Refia and Sherlotta venture into the snow while we discuss children’s cartoons and fetishes and let’s not talk about Totally Spies.
30:00 – We are done talking about Goodfeathers and how much we hate aspects of Animaniacs just in time to watch the ongoing adventures of Undead Princess.
34:00 Goblin Princess and the immortal question: is high school worse than working in The Simpsons writing room?
What actually happened in the plot:
• Gigglemesh and Bartz are more or less tricked by Bahamutian Soldiers, but team up to recover a victory.
• Snow and Celes fight Gigglemesh over absolutely nothing. Typical crossover fight, I suppose.
• Edgar and Vivi win over the support of the Figaro guard ostensibly through Vivi being annoying.
• Faris sponsors “Underdog Day”, a day when her crew can challenge the captain for control of the ship. An overeager moogle accidently summons Ifrit, whom Faris has to knock off the plank.
• Refia and Sherlotta battle Undead Princess (another refugee from Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time), and then hire her to promote the Inn. Then Sherlotta and Undead Princess work together to stop some Metalliskulls that are haunting the area.
• Princess Sarah was kidnapped by Princess Goblin, who apparently has a crush on Warrior of Light. Warrior of Light lets Princess Goblin down easy, and rescues Princess Sarah.
Additional note that seems to explain a lot: In game, there is a running encyclopedia for characters encountered in World of Final Fantasy. The entry for Undead Princess reads:
Hey, Wait a Second…
You may be wondering why so many characters from the CRYSTAL CHRONICLES series have been popping up in Grymoire. Well, take a look at the person doing character design, and you may have your answer.
So that solves at least one unsolved mystery of World of Final Fantasy.
Initial Stream: 11/10/20
00:00 – Refia tries to build a bridge while we discuss how to own people on the internet. Or maybe we’re just looking at Dril tweets again. Or Spider-Man?
6:00 – Time for (what I’m pretty sure is) the DLC event. It is not a Gundam.
9:30 – Kishi joins us. Kishi is not a Gundam.
22:00 – We finally win as Omega God bonks over.
“He” is now Ted Woo, author of Shadow Mad.
31:00 – Kishi requests a repeat performance, so we’re watching the Faris bit again. Let’s consider this an example of how you can repeat these quests unlimited times.
36:00 – In an effort to torture fanboymaster, we close this stream out by taking a look at the World of Final Fantasy pokédex.
What actually happened in the plot:
• Refia tries to build an ice bridge, so she recruits Sherlotta to additionally recruit Shiva. The bridge is built, but doesn’t last long.
• Enna Kros has a conversation with Alexander, the gigantic mirage currently serving as a motionless bridge. Apparently they fought “for the throne” at one point. Eden of Balamb Garden, Lute of Ragnarok in Cornera, and Midgardian Ormr (presumably) of Midgar are all mirages, too. Alexander had Omega God hanging out on it in a pocket dimension (or something), so Enna Kros summoned Lann and Reynn to fight him off. Omega God is defeated and captured, and now, having completed all available Intervention Quests, Lann and Reynn are free to journey on to the endgame.
Next time on World of Final Fantasy: This stream was the same week I got married, so BEAT is responsible for the Bad End.
Let’s look at the evolution of gaming/Q*Bert over the years.
In 1982, gaming was just taking its first, tentative steps towards Gaming as we know it. Pac-Man and Pong had blazed the trail with their joystick/wheely thing controls, but now we were seeing new and innovative ways to play. Kangaroo, for instance, was a game that was very similar to the likes of Donkey Kong, but added an all-important offensive action to its heroine’s repertoire. Kangaroo could punch out monkeys and apples alike, and one could argue this simple act was the start of “videogame violence” for years to come (sorry, dead monkeys, you gotta start somewhere). And speaking of offensive options, Dig Dug first started digging in ’82, and he had the ability to “pump up” his opponents until they popped. This had the dual purpose of inspiring a generation of bizarre fetishes and featuring a hero that always had the ability to turn the tables on his opponents. Unlike Pac-Man or Mario that had to rely on sporadically distributed powerups, Taizo the Digger was hunted and hunter all in one. This would become the norm for practically all of gaming to come.
But if one game presciently granted a glimpse of gaming of the future, it was Pitfall. Nearly four decades ago, Pitfall Harry explored a large world of tricks, traps, and treasure. Harry had much to do in his (certainly not Mayan) adventure, and, while his moveset was limited, it was contextually sensitive to all sorts of challenges. Harry didn’t simply jump over opponents, he leapt to swing across vines, or hopped over the heads of gators. Pitfall was a revelation for everything its protagonist (and by extension, the player) could do, even if this was still the era of extremely blocky dudes puttering around monochrome backgrounds.
And 1982 also saw the release of Q*Bert. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops.
Ten years later, in 1992, the face of gaming had irrevocably changed. The arcade gave way to the domination of the console, and now Sega and Nintendo were battling it out. But there was the Personal Computer, too! Wolfenstein 3D had just been released, and the whole of the FPS genre was just starting to congeal into Doom (to be released the next year). For some, the “3-D” nature of first person shooters promised to be what “the future of gaming” was always expected to be: fully immersive fighting (through the legions of Hell/nazis, apparently).
But away from the monitor and back at the television, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was pushing the boundaries of the genre that had become known as platforming. Sonic could run, jump, and dash; but he did it at speeds that could not have even been imagined ten years prior. And this latest Sonic allowed for two player simultaneous play! Just like in those competitive fighting games that had been making the scene! And Mortal Kombat was the most prominent “new fighter” of ’92. Now there was a radical shift in gaming! Kangaroo might have punched out a monkey, but, for better or worse, she never tore the head off of an opponent. And look at all those buttons! “Punch” is a thing of the past: Sub-Zero had a variety of punches, kicks, and fireballs (well, snowballs) at his disposal. You didn’t just need an instruction manual for your average fighting game, you needed a strategy guide (thanks, Nintendo Power!).
But while we’re considering strategy, let us also consider Super Mario Kart. Mario had cameoed in a sports title here or there over the years (he got really good at Golf, apparently), but he mostly just starred in his own adventures that involved running and jumping. Super Mario Kart was a great success as a fun racing game, but it also showcased how a videogame mascot could shift all their normal “verbs”, but still be unmistakably that familiar mascot. Mushrooms can make you super tall, or they can give you a speed boost. Turtle shells can become projectiles divorced from their turtles. And anyone that has ever played any Mario Kart knows the difference between a Starman that allows you to mow down goombas and one that allows you to speed to the finish line. Mario Kart showed that even the most rigidly defined mascot could be anything, and paved the way for the Sonic Racing or unprecedented crossovers of today.
And then there was Q*Bert for Gameboy, and Q*Bert 3 for Super Nintendo, both released in 1992. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, six punch buttons, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. Sometimes there are a variety of new colors and backgrounds, though. You know, at least on the system that has color.
Let’s hop forward seven years. By the time 1999 rolled around, the “mascot wars” of the previous console generation had concluded, and newcomer Sony was riding high with the Playstation and the serious, cinematic Final Fantasy franchise. This was the year we were finally going to see the sequel to Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy: Whatever, and it pushed the boundaries for what was expected of the JRPG genre. Have you ever heard of Triple Triad? Guardian Forces? Dog Missiles? If you haven’t, don’t worry about it, it was all only around for one game, but it did establish that you could have complicated battle systems that were only relevant for one title. Fight, magic, item wasn’t the only fish in the sea, anymore, let’s get ready to get some gambits up in here!
This was also a time when gaming was getting more serious… but “serious” as more of a teenager’s definition. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater allowed a “real human” avatar to perform intricate skateboarding tricks in a universe that apparently had unlimited and instant healthcare. Silent Hill allowed a player to explore the depths of the human psyche in a world that was going to be complete in a few years with the introduction of a certain pyramid headed fellow that really knew how to swing around half a pair of scissors. Or maybe you just wanted to be the Driver, and cruise around realistic (enough) cities? In a way, these games were just as big on the fantasy as Mario (no, you cannot drive a car into a building in reality and continue to have a good time), but they were a lot more “real” than anything Pitfall Harry ever did.
And if you wanted some fantasy, don’t worry, you still had the likes of Ape Escape or Donkey Kong 64 to hold you over. DK64 saw the collectathon at its most… collecty, and showcased all the different ways Kongs can run, jump, and shoot on their way to an ultimate goal of wringing out 12,000,000 (monotonous) hours of gameplay. And Ape Escape was no simple monkey game, it was a sneak and capture event closer to Metal Gear than Donkey Kong. Even visually “childish” games in 1999 weren’t so simple.
And then there was Q*Bert for Playstation. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. This time there was an adventure mode, but that was just an excuse to stick cinema scenes on either side of a world. Everything else was just Q*Bert hops.
The following five years allowed for a number of innovations in gaming. In 2004 we saw Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which was the first Grand Theft Auto to feature extensive customization to its grand, open world. It also had planes, bazookas, and the opportunity for your C.J. to cosplay as The Notorious B.I.G. for the entire adventure. It is arguable that this Grand Theft Auto went too far into the whacky territory after its sequels eventually tried to rein everything back in with sad Russians in GTA4 and sad dads in GTA5, but the Saints Row franchise carried that whacky football straight to the end zone. Gaming had started goofy, become serious, and then migrated back to goofy all over again.
And speaking of marginally goofy, this was the year we saw Fable, which touted a rich morality system and a story that was different every time you played it. Did that actually happen? Well, not really, but it did seemingly start the trend of games that bet their whole asses on save baby/eat baby morality. It was no longer enough to run, jump, and punch; now you had to determine whether or not you were doing all those things while simultaneously becoming Mecha Hitler. Or Mecha Mother Theresa? You’ve got choices!
But on the simpler side of things, there was Katamari Damacy. This straightforward little game featured a protagonist that could only roll around a ball, but that ball could grow from the size of a paperclip to roughly the girth of a galaxy. And, more importantly than the gameplay, it was released for a whole $20, kickstarting the (now standard) belief that not every videogame had to be a AAA, 40 hour feature. Before internet connections fully graduated from 56K, Katamari Damacy showed us a glimpse of the future of downloadable titles.
And speaking of downloadable, this year also saw an official Flash (RIP) version of Q*Bert. In a game that would be ported to “real” Windows a year later, Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. At least this Q*venture was free.
Now we fast-forward a decade to 2014. What innovations did this year hold for gaming? Well, we wound up skipping the exact year for a lot of big’uns from this epoch, so we’re left with staring straight at Dark Souls 2. Did you ever hear about Dark Souls? It’s the Dark Souls of Bloodborne games. Love it or hate it, Dark Souls impacted gaming in more ways than we will ever admit, arguably revitalizing the general gameplay of the rogue-like and encouraging increasing your own personal gaming skills while marginally leveling up your chosen hero. In a similar manner, this was the year we saw Bayonetta 2, a shining example of the likewise “hardcore” stylish action genre. Gaming could be slow and methodical or fast and elegant, but, in both cases, it was a little more complicated than guiding a puck through a maze.
And if you still wanted the mascots of yore, don’t worry, they were represented, too. If you wanted to see everybody fight everybody, Super Smash Bros 4 WiiU/3DS was released in 2014. Smash Bros was always a shining example of videogame protagonists leaving their usual genre and sailing into something completely different (Star Fox left his ship!), but Smash 4 would eventually grow and mutate to be a veritable yearbook of every character that had ever mattered in gaming (sorry, Geno, you don’t matter). And if you wanted something new from “cartoony” characters, this was also the year that Shovel Knight proved Kickstarting retro platformers was wholly viable, and could have amazing, enduring results. Come to think of it, Shovel Knight was partially inspired by Dark Souls, too…
But there was one game released that year that was not inspired by Dark Souls. Q*Bert Rebooted, seemingly rebooted to promote an Adam Sandler vehicle, was a game where Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, shovel, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. He also hopped to nearly every platform available, so this one is still downloadable on modern consoles.
And Q*Bert returned for the most recent time in 2019 for iOS. Do we need to review the gaming breakthroughs of such a recent year? Fire Emblem: Three Houses and its perfect blend of chess and dating simulation? Super Mario Maker 2 and its ability to grant the player full creative control over familiar gameplay? Untitled Goose Game and its goose? Whatever the hell happens in Sekiro? (I gather it is a photography simulator.) 2019 was an amazing year for gaming where we not only had all this, but also Q*Bert. And what did Q*Bert do? He moved from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changed blocks colors. He baited a snake into a pit. Q*Bert only knows hops.
He was Q*Bert. He is Q*Bert. The face of gaming may irrevocably change, but Q*Bert is Q*Bert forever.
FGC #562 Q*Bert
- System: I’m pretty sure the lil’ Bert appeared on nearly every console system, give or take a few outliers. Playstation 2? Sega Genesis? And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on Atari Lynx, either. Other than that, there’s probably some Q*Bert in some form on your preferred console.
- Number of players: One Q*Bert, but two people can take turns if they are so inclined.
- Don’t make a sound: Q*Bert’s claim to fame has always been the bizarre recordings that approximate the sound an orange monster man might make when brained with a purple marble. Unfortunately, playing Q*Bert in the year 2021 just reminds me that I never want to hear from a belligerent orange creature ever again.
- Hey, what about Q*Bert’s Qubes: The only Q*Bert to truly mix up traditional Q*Bert gameplay was… not all that different. It basically just added the idea of “rotating” cubes according to the direction Q*Bert hops (as opposed to one simple, all-purpose tap), and added a handful of new enemies (there may have been a crab). Other than that, the way it “separated” the blocks made the game a lot more difficult to visually parse, and there’s probably a reason this Q*title is generally forgotten and ignored.
- Did you know? Q*Bert for Playstation started with a cinema scene based in Q*Bert’s blocky little world. Weird thing? His weirdass universe looks a lot like modern Minecraft. Did Steve colonize Q*World? Is that the secret origin of the franchise?
- Would I play again: Q*Bert is great for a whole five minutes before you remember it’s just goddamned Q*Bert. I will probably waste those five minutes again in the future.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wallachia Reign of Dracula! Or did ROB actually choose Bloodstained: Classic Mode? Actually, it’s both! We’re going to have a double header next! Please look forward to it!
Please note that this article contains distinct spoilers regarding Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. You have been warned!
There’s this moment in Dragon Ball Z at the end of the first significant story arc when Goku uses the Spirit Bomb. At this point, Goku has died, ventured through the afterlife, and returned from the grave when needed most to utilize a technique he could only learn from a nigh-god in another dimension. This attack, the Spirit Bomb, drains a tiny portion of power (“power” being vaguely nebulous in this case) from every living being on the planet, and combines all that strength into one focused “bomb” that he can hurl at his opponent, a giant monkey that is threatening everyone on Goku’s adopted planet (which is also Earth. You live there). In the grand scheme of narrative conceits, this is meant to be an important moment for Goku: he is the undisputed lead, the hero of this tale, but he cannot solve this problem with his own power. There is no solution here where Goku alone wins, so he must use this sacred technique, and, with the assistance of everyone on Earth, he can snatch victory from the hairy jaws of defeat. He can save the world thanks to the world. If this overarching metaphor isn’t obvious enough, Goku even whiffs his chance at pegging his opponent with this spirit ball, and requires another assist from another two fighters (one of which is best known for his propensity toward dying). Goku’s (currently) hated enemy is ultimately defeated by this spirit bomb, proving that it was not the super powerful Goku that was required to save the planet, but the strength of every person. Don’t put all of your faith in one “savior”, believe in the power of not one, but everyone.
And then Goku goes on to defeat every other opponent through hours and hours of one-on-one grunting ‘n punching. Goku is our Superman. Goku is our Jesus. All hail Goku, the guy that singlehandedly saved the world over and over again!
This happens often in fiction: the hero is the hero, and while there might be some moment or technique that uses “everyone’s power”, it all seems to come back to the one and only luminary. This is even more prevalent in videogames, as they are single-person experiences. Everyone in the party is working together to defeat the evil god du jour, but it all comes back to you, the exceptional player, making decisions, so the moral is muddied. And when you have RPGs that all but require the player to be the center of the universe, it gets even worse. That town lives or dies according to what sidequests you choose to complete, so it’s pretty obvious the world revolves around only you. Give me a moral about teamwork or whatever, fine, but in the end you intrinsically know that you are the only person that matters.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE contains possibly the best idea in all of crossover games, and it is a complete waste.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is a crossover game involving the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem franchises. However, while both franchises are unmistakably involved, TMS♯FE has much more in common with Shin Megami Tensei’s own spinoff: Persona. And, to be clear, that would the almost spinoff of a spinoff, the post-Persona 3 editions of Persona. Like those games, this is a story predominantly featuring quirky teenagers banding together to fight unknowable, wicked forces while also occasionally hanging out and buying maid costumes at the mall. In this case, the twist is that there is less of a focus on school and “mundane” daily life, as the heroes of the tale are also performers of varying disciplines. Singing! Acting! Whatever it’s called when you’re secretly a Power Ranger! The whole gang is entertaining fans by day, but clearing out monsters by night. … Or… also during the day… I don’t remember if there actually is a “night” in this game…
Regardless! While it’s always interesting to know whether or not your favorite is getting enough hits on Youtube or whatever, the meat and potatoes of TMS♯FE is based on beating back the malevolent mirages in dangerous dungeons. Mirages are essentially demons from another world that prey on the raw fan-power of citizens of our planet, and if these creatures are not defeated, then the whole of the population might not be able to enjoy the finer points of the latest Hatsune Miku release. And, somehow, it is revealed that the whole enterprise of this soul-sucking was supposed to revive an enormous black dragon that could theoretically obliterate the planet, so there are some stakes that go beyond whether some models are inconvenienced by a possessed pervert (it’s… a weird game).
But how do your mundane teenagers save their humdrum lives from this wholly fantastic threat? Simple! They team up with their own, benevolent mirages. These “good” mirages transform into weapons and armor (or at least costumes) for our heroes, and now our leading lady is hurling supernatural blasts from a flying, mechanical pegasus (is noting a pegasus as flying redundant? I suppose it could be a lazy pegasus…). And for anyone familiar with the Persona series, yes, these mirages essentially function like the titular persona “spirits” of that franchise. Everyone gets their own unique mirage, and it is technically this spirit that levels up and learns new skills. Itsuki Aoi can’t really handle himself in a fight against eldritch horrors, but his mirage, Chrom, has got the situation well in hand.
Yes, I said Chrom. Yes, that’s the star of Fire Emblem: Awakening and incidental opponent in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He’s a luminary of the Fire Emblem franchise, and he’s the prime mirage of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. He is the main character’s mirage, so he’s the headliner of the Fire Emblem characters.
And that’s a good thing. In fact, it’s a brilliant thing! The number one obstacle to anyone starting a JRPG is that it is inevitably going to be “new”. The Final Fantasy franchise is amazing, but right from its first sequel, it has changed dramatically from edition to edition. There are always new characters, new systems, and new menus to navigate with every version. And it seems like the JRPG genre as a whole has followed suit, as we can nary get through a new Dragon Quest or Breath of Fire without a significant shuffling of the deck. Mario might get a graphical upgrade, but he’s always going to be able to jump on goombas, and it doesn’t matter if there’s a water gun strapped to his back this time. Meanwhile, the latest Final Fantasy might introduce its hottest protagonist as Sticky Wicket the Gibbering Thicket, and he may or may not even have a basic “fight” command. Final Fantasy 16 features the ARQ battle system, and you may only attack when the global price of oil has reached a high point. You’ll get used to it!
But the benefit of the crossover integral to Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE allows the user to skip that horrid “getting to know you” phase. Most obviously, the battle system of TMS♯FE combines the basic flow of Persona encounters with the nomenclature of both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, so if you’re familiar with either franchise, you’re going to recognize the myriad of arrows you’re supposed to rain down on this mounted opponent. And the mirages serve much the same purpose, but to grease the plot in the same way as the battle system. Itsuki Aoi is a completely new character created exclusively for this adventure, and, out of the box, he could be anything. Is he aloof and distant like Squall? Is a he a debonair playboy like Zidane? What kind of protagonist is he? Well, his mirage, his “persona”, is Chrom. And that tells us a lot! This isn’t just a nebulous mythological creature like what we’re used to seeing in Persona: this is a particular, defined hero that has appeared in another game. Chrom is the star of Fire Emblem of Awakening, and there’s an entire game’s worth of story and plotting that will tell us exactly how Chrom would react to a situation. This isn’t to say that Itsuki Aoi is Chrom, but given these characters are inextricably tied together practically from their respective introductions, we do have a general idea how Itsuki and Chrom are similar. We don’t need to wonder what kind of protagonist Itsuki is supposed to be, because we’re quickly given a definitive answer: he’s like Chrom.
And this is an amazing way to handle a crossover. You can have your cake and eat it, too! You get to introduce all-new characters with unique motivations and designs, but their immediate association with established characters from another established franchise allows the player to instantaneously identify and, more importantly, identify with the new class. It’s the reason there is always a Link in every Legend of Zelda (he is always strong, but kind), and even the reason Chrom exists in the first place. Back in Fire Emblem Awakening, you were supposed to see “this guy looks like Marth” and immediately assume he is the next heroic lord of the franchise. New character, old archetypes. And using this immediate familiarity in conjunction with a crossover grants players an opportunity to see disparate franchises come together and immediately understand their apparent links.
It’s just kind of a shame that this idea was wasted by relying on the Fire Emblem franchise.
Look, I know I’m biased. As I pointed out back when I first reviewed Fire Emblem: Awakening, I am not someone that has ever been a big fan of the FE franchise. I’m not generally a fan of strategy/tactics based RPGs, and, frankly, the way the franchise introduces a new cast of fifty randos with every sequel is daunting. I don’t have the time or inclination to go down the gargantuan rabbit hole that is the complete 30 year history of Fire Emblem.
But, that said, it would be nice if I even could.
Let’s see here… The first Fire Emblem game released in America was in 2004, far from the Japanese 1990 debut. From there, we saw the games featuring Ike on the Gamecube and Wii, but that was likely just because Nintendo was still smarting from the N64 years, and looking for a “Final Fantasy” killer… or at least one or two RPGs it could promote on its latest systems. Despite the Wii’s popularity exceeding certain kinds of bread (screw you, rye), Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn wasn’t a shining new dawn for the franchise. However, Fire Emblem Awakening, Fates, and Three Houses have been revelations across the board. If my twitter feed is any indication, Lady Edlegard is now the official Queen of Earth. However, that kind of popularity did not apply to Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a Nintendo DS release from 2009. It was a remake of a game that was not released in America, and this remake was released in America with about the same level of hype as Blue Dragon Plus. Remember Blue Dragon Plus? Me neither. But it’s not like half the cast of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is based on characters from Blue Dragon Plus…
It’s my own fault for not playing a random DS title from a decade prior, right? If I wanted to see Marth in action, I should have taken the chance back when I could. And I did play Fire Emblem: Awakening, and that game is featured as much as (if not more than!) Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. I should recognize everybody from that game!
The second good mirage from Fire Emblem: Awakening that is introduced is Tharja. Tharja is a sorceress that is one of the most popular characters to come out of Awakening (apparently #3 in a Japanese poll that I have to assume is part of the national Japanese democratic process). She is a mage that is very shy, but very willing to use her magic and curses to damn anyone that gets in the way of her goals. She is also canonically bisexual, as she will fall in love with the main character regardless of gender. And her outfit is about 90% transparent nylon, so there’s probably a not insignificant portion of her fandom that simply wants to see her use her dark magic in more gratifying ways. In short, Tharja is a popular and unique character in FE: Awakening, so it makes sense she would be revisited for a crossover title.
And I’d love to tell you more about her, but when I played FE: Awakening, I kinda killed her on our first encounter. Look! I was trying to rescue a queen, and…. It was a bit of a whoopsie, okay? My bad!
Which brings us to the other issue with this Fire Emblem crossover: Fire Emblem is a very variable franchise. You saw it back in the day with permanent death options meaning some support buddies might not live to see the plot past the first chapter, and you see it today with Three Houses and three entirely separate stories dividing everyone’s experiences. Did you choose the Golden Deer route? Well, sorry about that reference to Edlegard being beloved earlier. You probably think she’s a bitch! And even within Fire Emblem: Awakening, you not only have the option of popular party members being killed, but about a third of the cast might not even exist if you don’t get the other 66% to breed like bunnies. Is Morgan your favorite character? Well I missed that dude or dudette, because my Robin knew how to keep it in her pants. There is a war happening, people!
So this is Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE’s greatest strength and most glaring weakness: it relies on a complete familiarity with Fire Emblem. Rather than going the “easy” crossover route of only featuring the most obvious titans of its parent franchise, it features random dudes and ladies from across a few specific titles, and thus requires the player to be unerringly knowledgeable about everything in those games. It takes days to complete a Fire Emblem: Awakening playthrough, and you better have found everything if you want to truly understand the nuances involved in another hours-long JRPG experience. What could have been an excellent introduction to the Fire Emblem world is instead hampered by its own requirement that you already be an expert. It’s a crossover by fans, for fans, and it squanders its supreme strength as a result.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is a great crossover title, but it would be even better if I knew what the hell a “Draug” is supposed to be…
FGC #497.1 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE
- System: Nintendo WiiU, and now (finally) on the Nintendo Switch. No excuses! Go play it!
- Number of players: Three man party, one man player.
- Just play the gig man: The music is great. I mean, this is a game that is based on half the cast being in the music industry, so the music better be good, but… yeah. It’s good. It’s very easy to see how this game is the secret Persona game before Persona 5’s crazy soundtrack.
- Favorite Character: Ironically enough, it’s Kiria Kurono, the songstress associated with Tharja. While I’m always going to be annoyed when a character is built up as some incredible badass, and then the gameplay reveals she’s just kind of a middling mage (see also Persona 3’s Mitsuru), she also appears to be the only member of the team that actually knows what she’s doing at any given moment. And, yes, her whole “senpai” role seems to be literally designed to be appealing to the average Persona/SMT/FE player (again, see Mitsuru), and her “cool, but secretly cute” personality is obviously engineered to be endearing. But I still fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and I’m not going to over think it. Maybe I’m just happy she could hit that black dragon’s weak points.
- Is there any other reason you like this game: Oh, I have no idea what you’re talking about.
None at all.
- Did you know? Draug is apparently a knight from Shadow Dragon, so that explains why I’ve never heard of the dork. According to the FE wiki, he is shown to have a comradery with two other characters, but this “link” only appeared in official art, and not actual gameplay, in his original games. So, yeah, that sounds like par for the course for the Fire Emblem franchise.
- Would I play again: I’ll answer that shortly, as…
What’s next? We’re sticking to Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE for the moment, as I still want to talk about this game in a non-crossover context. So please tune in next Monday as crossover week is finished, but talking about the same stupid game in a slightly different way is back. Please look forward to it!