Tag Archives: hell

FGC #622 Infernax

This article may contain spoilers for Infernax, a title released within the last few months. Mind you, it isn’t exactly a “plot driven” adventure, but, if you’d like to go into this new game fairly clean, please keep it in mind. Additionally, speaking of “clean”, some of the images in today’s article may be on the bloody side. It’s that kind of game. Just letting everyone know!

Here is a fun worldInfernax is a “retro” action platforming title released in 2022. It started as an Adobe Flash game back in the elder days of the internet, and has now been upgraded to the crispest pixels available on Switch, Steam, and other advanced systems. But while the production of Infernax technically traces back twelve years, its origins go even further back than that. Infernax is heavily influenced by two prominent NES titles from 1987: Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest and The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. And that is fascinating to this blogger, because Infernax is my favorite game of 2022 so far, and those two “biggest influences” on the game absolutely suck ass.

What the infernax happened here? What marks the difference between a-bear-to-play actual retro games and surprisingly fun faux retro titles? Well, a significant factor here seems to be…

Infernax has direct documentation

Now I get itPop quiz, hot shot: what do all the spells in The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link actually do? You likely remember how Shield could cut damage, or Reflect is necessary for bouncing magic spells back and forth, but what about the fire spell? Does it simply hurl fireballs from Link’s sword, or do you actually need it somewhere? The Thunder spell is very similar: is it just a screen-clear, or something you need for defeating an appropriately named bird boss? And the Spell spell? Get the hell out of here, no one has ever remembered how and where that works without a FAQ. And, since we are looking at two games with very similar, confusing systems, go ahead and look up all the dead ends that require garlic in Castlevania 2. Do it, I’ll wait and get the article going again as soon as I hear the screaming stop.

But you know what Infernax has? Spell descriptions. Answers as to what exactly happens when you level up. Clean, immediate justifications as to what happens when you agree to make a choice that could either be deemed “good” or “evil” (the usual indicator is whether or not someone is bleeding/twitching on the floor). Yes, it diminishes the fun of discovering “secrets” for yourself, but should “what does the shield spell even do” be a secret in the first place? You want to play a game where you have to sus out the answers to difficult mysteries, you can play Phoenix Wright; I am playing a game where I hit monsters in the face with a blunt object, and I want to keep doing that without worry that I am doing something wrong.

And it is not just about plain English explanations for what stuff does…

FGC #613 Santa’s X-Mas Adventure & Hades

They're like the same gameSanta’s Xmas Adventure Complete Edition ostensibly should be the most Christmas-y game available for my Playstation 4. However, when Santa’s Xmas Adventure appeared on a Black Friday Sale, I also picked up a physical copy of Hades, a title about a dude trying to escape some pretty hellish circumstances. And you know what? Hades might just be the most yule title in the inventory right now.

So let’s see how ostensible Christmas title Santa’s Xmas Adventure stacks up to Hades.

Christmas is about Presents!

Santa’s Xmas Adventure is straightforward. You know the elves? And all the presents they make for children? Well, those Tolkien-rejects done messed up this holiday season, and now the presents are spread all over the North Pole. Santa must venture out into the cold all on his lonesome to retrieve the presents, and only once his sack is filled to the brim with gifts will Christmas truly begin. Go, Santa, collect all the presents for everlasting peace!

Very puzzlingExcept there is a significant step missing in this Santa’s Christmas quest: he doesn’t actually give any presents. While Santa collects all the lost presents, he patently ignores distributing the presents to all the good little boys and girls of the world. I understand that some Santa’s Xmas Adventure fanfic rectifies this issue by creating unique scenarios wherein Santa flies presents around the world at (apparently) the speed of light, but the actual game does not include any present delivery.

Meanwhile, Hades is lousy with present giving and receiving. Zagreus is going to fight his way through every last level of the Underworld on his way up to the surface, but he wouldn’t make it past his first surprisingly fast fat guy without a boon or two from the Olympians. Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, and a whole host of other gods are continually offering their assistance to Hades, and, while these boons are fairly random, they are indispensable when Zagreus is mowing down plague rats. Zagreus gets by with a little gifting from his friends.

But gifts are not a one way street! Zagreus may return the favor by offering gifts of his own to gods, friends, and skeletons. By the time Zaggy is making significant progress in his Sisyphean journey, he is bubbling back up at home with a whole host of presents for any friendly that happens to be skulking around the great hall. And is there anything more Christmassy than giving the family dog some extra pets and an ambrosia treato?

‘Tis better to give than to receive, and Zagreus knows that better than Santa.

Hades: 1
Santa’s Xmas Adventure: 0

Christmas is about making lists, checking them twice

Check it as many times as you needIt is right there in the song: he is making a list, and he is checking it twice. Santa is known for his list keeping, but isn’t this a tradition that has transferred to us mundane humans? Of course you are getting gifts for immediate family members, but which of your friends rank? Are you going to the Hallmark store for your coworkers? Did Debbie in accounting rank this year, but Judy at reception is right out? And don’t forget to weigh all of your buddies against shipping times! I know Jimmy is a fan of all those etsy stores, but you better order that custom keychain two months before his favorite holiday!

Hades is a rogue-like. In a way, Christmas is a rogue-like. You make progress, you do good, you do bad, and, no matter the end result, it is still going to be something you have to do again next year. And, in much the same way you gradually get better at giving your friends and family gifts (or just learning that some people are only ever worth a Shrek 12th Anniversary Commemorative Ornament), you will gradually get better at guiding Zagreus to the surface. And lists help! There are lists to spare in Hades, with everything from the prophecies that offer rewards for performing specific actions, to oodles of skills and abilities to upgrade. And, like in real life, the lists serve to simultaneously highlight your goals and allow you to make informed decisions. Sure, you might die if you do not get that triple attack bonus/a gift for Steve, but wouldn’t you rather score something so much more useless because it allows you to put another check next to a name on a list? You know what is really important, right?

Santa’s Xmas adventure just lists whether or not you have collected all the presents in a level, and how many presents you need to unlock the next area. Ho Ho Ho-Hum.

Hades: 2
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 0

Christmas is about Santa

Surely Santa’s X-Mas Adventure is going to score the point here! This is a game all about a magical bearded dude in a red robe who judges…

SANTA!

Okay, both games get a point for that one.

Hades: 3
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 1

Christmas is all about Winter

So icy!Santa’s X-Mas Adventure nails this one! Santa must trawl all along the North Pole to find his missing presents, and the environment is veritably the reason for the season. Santa’s home is known for its icy conditions, so that lends itself smoothly to sliding blocks around to make a path for jolly ol’ St. Nick. Granted, games have made the “slide blocks” concept work without blizzard conditions before, but it is nice to have an explanation for why your cursor can modify the landscape. Couple this with the endless snow during the game, and Santa’s X-Mas Adventure has got the Solstice Season down pat.

Except… well… It’s hard not to give Hades a point here, too. The concepts of temperature and seasons are woven so subtly into the narrative, it is impossible to ignore how Winter is just as important to the quixotic quest as a certain three-headed dog. Zagreus was born and raised in the underworld, so he literally does not understand an environment that is completely lacking in a steady stream of lava. Upon reaching the surface, Zagreus is shocked by the snowy landscape, and, from that point on, he gains the ability to utilize the cold (of grandma) as a chillingly effective offense. In the land of the hot, the cool is king! It may be hard to pin down an exact year for Hades’ origin, but it can be said with some finality that it takes place during a (the?) winter.

So, yes, everyone is a winner for this Winter Solstice.

Hades: 4
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 2

Christmas is all about the music!

I like it hereHades has some rocking tunes (played by one of the most famous bards in the business). Unfortunately for our rankings, Hades contains exactly zero verifiable Christmas songs. A tune or two may include some bell, but that is as good as it gets.

Santa’s X-Mas Adventure meanwhile… Wait… Dammit! There are no Christmas songs in this Christmas game. Terrible! I mean, nobody is demanding Mariah Carey do some licensing for a game that started out as a cell phone distraction, but could we grab a few public domain ditties for a little more Christmas cheer? A very chiptune Silent Night? A carol about caroling? Something?

Hades does not receive a point, and Santa’s X-Mas Adventure loses a point. This is the only fair path.

Hades: 4
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 1

Christmas is all about family!

All about the familyThere is the theory that if there was no Christmas, someone would invent Christmas. Christmas comes at what has historically been the worst time of the year; a time when the crops have all frozen, we must rely on the leftovers of whatever is immediately available, and, if you leave grandma outside too long, she’s not getting a tan, she’s losing a toe. It is only in the most recent years of human history that “the winter” was anything but a death sentence, so it is only natural that everyone would come together during these trying, annually precedented times and find a way to celebrate. Over the years, it has gone from celebrating what might be the last stretch available with loved ones to a time when Debbie from accounting xeroxes the bottom of her elf costume during company cocktails, but it is still a celebration in defiance of a world that seems to be trying to kill you and yours.

But it ain’t always pretty.

We humans huddle together with our tribe when facing brutality, whether that brutality come from unfeeling elements or other tribes. This does not mean our own “tribe” is a boundless fountain of love. This does not mean we even have to like our own tribe. It simply means that those that we band together with have the tiniest bit of empathy, and are going to be more useful in times of danger than a blanket made of angry weasels (Winter is rough, man). As everyone knows and is reminded this time of year, visiting family may lead to a warm bed and a few gifts, but it may also lead to conversations that remind you that you inadvertently belong to a “tribe” that also includes an unhealthy amount of hate, fear, and blockchain evangelists.

When you get down to it, Hades is about that same thing. Hades is the story of a father that lies for altruistic reasons, a son that demands to know the truth, and a mother that genuinely wants to help, but is too hurt to do so (or she doesn’t understand how boats work). Everyone else is trying to assist in some way or another… though sometimes that support varies from doling out boons from the heavens (which, ultimately, is the Ancient Grecian equivalent of mailing an Amazon gift card) to rounding up your sisters to actively attempt murder (the toughest of loves). Friend, foe, or puppy that desires satyr snacks, they are all cooperating with our hero in some way, and they all have their own motivations for doing so. And, in some of the most twisted ways, every one of these characters cares for Zagreus. They are a family. And Hades is about family at all times.

Santa’s X-Mas Adventure features a Santa that might not even have a family. This is a Santa Claus entirely alone in a cold, endless winter. This is a depressing Santa. Nobody wants that!

Hades: 5
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 1

Happy Holidays, everybody. Now go out and use those gift cards to score the hottest Christmas game available, Hades.

FGC #613 Santa’s X-Mas Adventure

  • Okay we're done with this nowSystem: This has to be a graduated mobile game, right? Regardless, there is definitely a Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4 version. Maybe it was just designed for the Switch? Touch controls seem kind of natural…
  • Number of players: Santa is a lone (timber) wolf, baby.
  • So it’s a puzzle game? Yep, just move blocks so Santa can walk to the goal. You are supposed to gather presents along the way, but you don’t strictly have to do that to unlock graduating levels. Eventually, the game ends when the heat death of the universe guarantees that human life can no longer survive.
  • What’s in a name: This is definitely Santa’s X-Mas Adventure. One must assume that Santa’s Christmas Adventure was already taken. Either that, or Master Xehanort stole naming privileges.
  • Did you know? Frosty the Snowman, It’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Let it Snow, and Little Drummer Boy are all copyrighted Christmas songs. The Wassail Song, We Three Kings, and Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella are all public domain. Choose wisely.
  • Would I play again: It is nice to see a game that is unashamedly cashing in on grandmas that don’t know what to get their videogame playing grandchildren. I appreciate that. This is a terrible, boring videogame, but I appreciate its Christmas chutzpah.

FGC #613 Hades

  • Bounce backSystem: Oh, good, a game with an actual Wikipedia entry… PC, Mac, Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series XS… Yes, this is the new Shovel Knight for “awesome and available on damn near everything”.
  • Number of players: It seems like finding some way to DLC two player content would be the exact kind of thing that would happen to this critical darling, but I think it remains single player.
  • So, did you beat it? I refuse to even acknowledge any “no boons, infinity heat” challenge runs that are out there, but I did see to it that this family could experience something like a happy conclusion. I mean, it really is kind of impressive that there is a legitimate “ending” for a game that is meant to loop infinitely.
  • Favorite Weapon: Exagryph, the Adamant Rail, is my end all and be all. In any game that puts a premium on health (well, technically, that’s every game, but something like Mega Man is a lot more generous with the healing), I am going to take the choice that allows me to win… but be way the hell over there. And some of the tracking powerups allow for a complete lack of aiming, which is great for my sniper-adverse ass.
  • Most Hated Boss, Oh my God: Theseus and his bull buddy can eat a whole trash bag of expired gyros. I conceptually understand that they are the “master class” for Elysium, and basically only use attacks that imitate the minions that were creeping around the afterlife for heroes. But! They’re both way too… is random the right word? It feels random! They might be as carefully patterned as every other boss, but, yes, that fight feels random, and that is the enemy of fun in a rogue-like. … Yes, I know rogue-likes are random incarnate! Shut-up!
  • PlinkDid you know? “Classical” Zagreus seems to be most remembered as the son of Zeus, not Hades. This is presumably because Zaggy’s mother is fairly consistently Persephone, and Hades’ involvement is nebulous when you’re talking about a guy that ultimately seems to have wound up as a Dionysus-esque party god. He’s generally associated with being dead or a god of the dead, though, so he is an excellent choice for a professional Hell escaper.
  • Would I play again: If I had played this game in 2020, it likely would have been my game of the year. Oh well! It’s still pretty damn amazing in 2021, though! Oh, speaking of which…

What’s next? The time has come yet again for the annual year end round up, so the first post of 2022 is going to be the best of 2021. Please look forward to it!

FGC #612 Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D

ELECTRO BRAINI do not think that I, as a mature grownup, can emotionally handle Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D. So I worry for the children.

It is weird being an adult. For most people my age, this would likely be “it is weird being a parent”, but I found the love of my life relatively late, and we haven’t produced any offspring recently. But I am something of an uncle to a couple of kids, and I am often around for things like holidays, activities, and seasonal events that my wife has a tendency to inflict upon the young (in her culture, cookie decorating is apparently mandatory under penalty of decapitation). This means that I see these squirts a lot, and in many different circumstances. I am around for fun, breezy activities such as pumpkin picking, but I am also in the general vicinity when the teenager gets home from a band practice where his crush crushed his dreams.

And that is weird! That the 14-year-old just had his heart broken? For the first time in high school, possibly the first time ever? It is an emotionally confusing situation for us adults. What is the best option here? It is equally true to say, “Oh, I understand, that is the worst feeling in the world,” as “Dude, who cares? There are plenty of other fish in the sea. You’re 14!” One is understanding, but may embiggen the situation further, possibly prolonging the emotional crisis. But how insensitive would it be to immediately minimize the sensitive toll this is taking on the kid, and ask him to just skip to the next chapter without acknowledging any sort of reflection? And if you think this is the time for a nuanced conversation about the intricacies of relationships, I have got bad news for you, because said 14-year-old only has about seventeen seconds of attention span before he gets back to more important matters like Hyrule Warriors. He is still going to be upset over his crush, mind you, but at least he’ll be mulling it over while killing moblins with a fish lady.

BEWARE ARM THINGI consider something like that, and I genuinely wonder if I could emotionally handle just being a teenager nowadays. Personally, I started being turned down by cute girls right around when AOL Instant Messenger was just becoming a thing. I did not yet have a Livejournal, Facebook, or blog of any kind to publicly confess my feelings, and if I wanted the whole school to know something was happening, I had to tackle whoever oversaw the morning announcements and slip into the recording booth with a cunning disguise (this is why I own so many trench coats). Nowadays, there is a constant, unceasing communication tunnel available to any and all teenagers, and if you posted something embarrassing on Instagram, the whole school is going to know about it in less time than it takes to beg for an edit button. Exactly one time in high school I recall a friend having his life upended by an abusive ex-girlfriend who shared (printed!) their embarrassing chat logs (well, embarrassing for him). I am going to go ahead and guess that kind of event happens every seven seconds with the latest generation of high schoolers, and probably even more so now that COVID has pushed “dating” further into the cyber realm. I said some deeply humiliating things to women in my high school days, and the fact that there is only a record of about 60% of that nonsense is the reason I can still function (the rest is, inevitably, stored way the hell back in my Hotmail account… I keep meaning to delete my entire past…). My point is that I was an emotional infant when I was a teenager, and the sheer scope of things that now exist to outright destroy a teenager… It boggles the mind.

But then again, Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D nearly made me cry, too, so maybe there was just something wrong with me.

It's too redIf you have never had the pleasure of playing Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D, let me take you down a (not) fun little rabbit hole. If you squint, this game could be an excellent 16-bit title that just happened to include one random gimmick. JP:TLDi3D has a few basic level types that all see at least two stages: 2-D run ‘n gun, 2-D jetpack ‘n gun, overhead 3-D run and/or gun, and shoot ‘em up. Much of the title could very easily be compared to Super Contra (not Super C), as that runnin’ ‘n gunnin’ is already familiar before the 3-D areas that are extremely reminiscent of “those damn levels” from Contra 3. And for a little extra fun, there are two full stages that are evocative of a less complicated Gradius, and a handful of “jetpack bosses” that seem to function in much the same way, just with a larger hitbox. And considering Contra and Gradius were both exalted games around the time Jim Power dropped into our dimension, there is the potential for this game to be a good action shooter with the stunt of 3-D glasses enhancing your play experience. Hey, Plok sold its action on less!

Unfortunately, even Plok had gameplay that was lightyears ahead of anything Jim Power could hope for. Many have derided Contra games over the years for the realistic flourish of “one bullet = one death”. Jim is trapped in a world that is similarly instantly fatal in every way, but, unlike Lance and Bill, Jim is not dealing with a creator that cared about any level of fairness. Opponents, projectiles, and some freaky things with monster arms come fast and furious for Jim’s life, and it is an absolute rarity that you will have any time to react before your hero is obliterated. Tricks and traps infest JP:TLDi3D, so the “run ‘n gun” gameplay quickly transforms into “crawl ‘n gun” if you want to survive longer than three seconds. There is also a timer that continually demands perfection (many of the later levels leave you literally seconds to spare between timer refills), and a few (but not all) stages are impossible to complete without finding random keys in exactly the right order. Lava sucksIn short, JP:TLDi3D was either built for players that already knew the ins and outs of JP:TLDi3D, or the whole stupid thing is just some kind of psychological test to see if a human being can successfully memorize every little detail about a seven level videogame.

Oh! And the 3-D effects that give the title its name? They are completely bugged, and the backgrounds do not scroll correctly. 3-D glasses or no, the end result is something that is a lot more likely to make you puke than play any further. Unless the main reason you progress in videogames is to see if their directors ever fix their own mistakes…

Unfortunately, the FGC is not the first time I grumbled at this… experience. I rented Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D when I was but a Wee Goggle Bob. The box art looked neat! There were screenshots that looked like games I did like! And “revolutionary 3-D graphics”? Sign me the heck up! I rented Jim Power so friggen hard, man.

… And I learned the game was awful. I am moderately certain I did not make it to the second level, but I do have vague memories of hating that labyrinth stage. I know I did not have any cheat codes handy, and I absolutely know that I never made it to the shoot ‘em up stage featured on the back of the box (which I figured, like Solar Jetman, was likely the last level, not the third). It was an unpleasant experience from top to bottom, and, given I was a dumb kid, I did not even fully comprehend that the game was bad. I thought, as I had many times before, that I was simply bad at videogames, and I had wasted my biweekly rental on a title that reminded me I was bad at choosing and playing games. I may have cried.

I’m pretty sure there was no way any adult in the area could mend my heart that had been inexplicably broken by Jim Power.

This looks familiarSo I think about Jim Power, and I think about my “nephews”, and I think… well… I guess every generation has issues. Like, yes, this dear teenage child lives in a universe where his every flaw and attempt to use a lightsaber could be recorded and laughed at for the next meme period (a phase of no less than 24 hours, no greater than the rest of time), but he also lives in a world that is Jim Power-immune. He can play a terrible videogame, and then hop on the internet, and immediately learn that said game actually is bad. People agree with him! Authoritative adults may agree with him! There are pages of “Not Recommended” reviews! Don’t cry, child, you are not alone! The same bubble of society that will judge your every choice and action can also agree with those choices! You are living in a glorious future wherein you do not have to have an emotional breakdown over playing the wrong videogame! It is going to be okay!

I mean, sucks about embarrassing yourself in front of your whole school, but it’s cool that you don’t have to worry about Jim Power, right? See? The kids are going to be alright.

FGC #612 Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D

  • System: Super Nintendo is kind of the origin. Technically, much of the game is based on Jim Power in Mutant Planet, a game that saw such cursed systems as the Atari ST, the TurboGrafix-CD, and the Amiga. Then, nearly 30 years later, it got a Steam/Sega Genesis/Nintendo Entertainment System version. It… has been a weird time for ol’ Jim.
  • Number of players: Only one player need suffer through this experience.
  • Scoot alongPort-o-Call: So all screenshots and reviews on Gogglebob.com of Jim Power are based on the Super Nintendo version from 1993 that will eternally haunt my nightmares. However, Jim Power: The Arcade Game was partially created back in the 90’s, and completed and dropped on Steam this past year. It and an entirely-from-scratch NES version are available and apparently contain quality of life improvements… but I am never touching either. You literally cannot force me to play any more Jim Power than I already have.
  • Absolute Impossibility: It is hopeless to attempt to describe just how terrible the 3-D stages are. There are, like, “portally things” that rotate the screen continually, and “swamps” of these portals that you must cross. Imagine if Mario 64’s Lakitu cameraman was drunk and doing doughnuts through the whole game, and you have a fragment of an idea of how it all works.
  • Favorite Boss: There is a gigantic warship stage/boss that is reminiscent of a similar recurring situation in the R-Type franchise. This is… passable as an encounter. Some fights, like the final, gigantic devil boss, are completely impossible to properly dodge and counter, so it is good to see a fight that is at least moderately fair.
  • Did you know? This game pretty much stole music from Ys III. I do not know if this is the result of friendly sharing, a similar composer, or outright theft, but listen to Ys III’s A Searing Struggle, and then Jim Power’s Forgotten Path. It is… something.
  • Would I play again: Eat my ass, Jim Power. Eat it right up.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Santa’s Xmas Adventure Complete Edition! Because it’s Christmas! And that is apparently a videogame! Oh boy! Please look forward to it!

It is just a scaled up regular enemy
A final boss should at least blink

FGC #603 Dante’s Inferno

Let us address the many sins of Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno. We shall see if absolution is possible.

The Sin of Violence: Dante’s Inferno gets a brutal update

Let's fightLet’s get the big one out of the way first: who sits down to read Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, and thinks, “Damn! This would make a fine beat ‘em up”? This is something that apparently must have happened, as, here we are, living in a world where Dante ventures forth to tear Hell a new one with a magical scythe. The OG Dante was a poet who wrote his self-insert character into a complicated, but generally mellow, fanfic; this Dante is in a continual state of grating the bones of his enemies across his washboard abs. It is a significantly different interpretation of the same character. And, what’s more, OG Dante’s Inferno is amazingly descriptive in its journey from the underworld to the heavens, but it is also clearly meant as something of an allegory or “imaginary tale” right from the start. Dante was having a dream about his own moral standing in the world! Meanwhile, VG Dante is exactly fighting to save his fiancée and rescue a world threatened by Satan and the unrelenting forces of Hell. Nothing allegorical about pressing X to drive a blade into a sinner’s face!

Excuse me. I’m getting ahead of myself. My own prejudices against PS2/PS3-style “mature” games are shining through here, and I apologize for dismissing Dante’s Inferno for being a reimagining that was beholden to (then) modern videogame trends. This is unfair, as Real Dante’s Inferno likely survived to the present day entirely because it was contemporary. It was an epic poem, but it was not written in Latin. It involved historical and fictional celebrities that were bumming around various parts of the afterlife. The main character was the prototypical everyman hanging with a trendy historical figure. Complete with more name-dropping than a Kardashian feature, the Divine Comedy was made from its outset to be a popular piece of media, and it is only through centuries and gradually changing standards that it now seems so stiff and religious. I mean, it was always going to be religious as hell with all those popes running around, but popes were basically the Avengers of 1320.

So, alright, VG Dante’s Inferno can be forgiven for going the “popular” route with its interpretation of OG Dante’s Inferno. History has proven that Dante Alighieri clearly would have forsaken all the indie JRPGs of the era to make his story a 3-D action title if he had the technology. But there is still the problem of…

The Sin of Heresy: Dante must cry

OopsDante’s Inferno was released for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PSP in 2010. Given the marketing blitz that accompanied the game (“Please visit our E3 booth and be tortured by something other than long lines!”) and the years that have passed since, we will likely never get a real answer on exactly what the designers and marketing department responsible for Dante’s Inferno were thinking. In an obvious way, this deadly Dante screams “this isn’t your daddy’s epic poem,” and lurks around the caverns of Hell doing all sorts of things that could not even be imagined by an epic poet from 690 years prior. This is a videogame from the future, old man, get out of the way and start hammering O to earn salvation!

On the other hand, Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno is inexplicably beholden to the original source material. All of the Circles of Hell are followed precisely according to the source material, despite the fact that figuring out an action-game interpretation of “Level 13: Wood of the Suicides” must have been a pain in the branches. The setting is also firmly rooted in its original epoch, and many of the damned souls that appear across the game are not only seven centuries out of fashion, but also punished for a number of sins we wouldn’t even think about today (“Oh, damned to the circle of violence for… being gay? Really?”). It would have been wholly in the spirit of Dante’s Inferno to update Hell for the modern damned (“Do you punish for forgive this prominent ex-president that may or may not have started a hostage crisis to further his political career?”), or at least drop in period-appropriate fictional characters that are more familiar to modern audiences (not like Dante was doing anything but biting on myths about Helen of Troy anyway), but, nope, you get to make measured choices about Emperor Frederick II. You know! Emperor Frederick II! From all those movies!

And then there are all the little “flourishes” to remind you of the original poem. Game over screens drop annotated passages after every death (and there are quite a few before you see a repeat… assuming you don’t die every seven seconds). Virgil makes absolutely no sense as a character, but stops by to offer his (sometimes literally) same advice and narration as in the original work. And, if you need to answer the question of “what is the absolute worst way to experience a piece of literature”, you can read the entirety of this third of the Divine Comedy via a saved file on your Dante’s Inferno disc. Press L1 to scroll the text faster!

But this, too, could be forgiven. It is cynical to interpret all of these choices as some bizarre, aborted attempt at tying a videogame into school curriculums or college literary programs. Maybe the designers just loved the source material, and wanted to expose the unwashed masses to some culture. Maybe all of these attempts to cram more epic poetry into an epic game was wholly altruistic.

Though that would raise questions about tone…

The Sin of Fraud: Is this supposed to be serious?

The baby!So it is God of War, but instead of Greek/Roman mythology, it is Christian mythology (and, to be clear, I am a Christian, and I can tell you that 99% of Dante’s writings do not appear in the Bible, so “mythology” is the best way to designate this imagining of Hell). And the God of War franchise is known for being equally deadly serious about deicide or Icarus tripping down a hole. It is almost funny how Kratos responds to literally everything from enemy warriors to a dude trapped in a box with “this person must die”, but that is just who Kratos (circa 2010) is as a person. He lives in a serious, violent world, and he has serious, violent solutions to problems.

And then there’s Dante. Dante fights babies.

Dante’s Inferno has an amazing, unique bestiary with delightfully grotesque monsters symbolizing the various sins. There are also the unbaptized babies of limbo, which are literally just toddlers with swords for arms. And, since babies are not generally known for their threat level, you often fight many of the little tykes at once, prompting bizarre fights wherein you are viciously reaping widdle cutiepies. It is… a choice, and, while the grim and focused start of Dante’s Inferno tells you that this is supposed to be a tale of serious betrayal and heartbreaking consequences, the fact that you are slaughtering babies shortly thereafter undercuts the narrative. Earning the “bad nanny” achievement for “Kill(ing) 20 Unbaptized Children” is something that leaves an impression, too.

And, lest you think we are merely focusing on one ill-advised enemy, there are plenty of moments in Dante’s Inferno that turn hell into a circus (though, in case you are wondering, all clowns do go to Hell). The choice of torturing or absolving sinners is a constant struggle throughout this adventure, and, while torturing prompts a quick and gory cutscene, the road to salvation involves an unusual rhythm game that is shockingly reminiscent of Gitaroo Man. Then you have the fact that Hell is apparently littered with enough collectibles to make a bird ‘n bear proud, complete with happy little messages every time you find Tristan’s Desire or complete a challenge or whatever. Oh, and every goddamned person Dante has ever met in his life has apparently been damned to Hell, so get ready for the most family-reunion-based journey into darkness you could ever imagine.

And, individually, any one of these transgressions against sincerity would not impact the narrative. But when they all combine, they form an unstoppable Voltron of silliness that threatens to blazing sword any shred of dignity in Dante’s world to pieces. You can have a story about a disgraced knight fighting his way through Hell to save the world, but you cannot involve this many angry babies in the proceedings and expect it to be taken seriously.

But being silly should not be a sin. A sin should be something like…

The Sin of Sloth: This Hell is Tedious

It's a little chilly hereWriting in a contemporary vernacular is often cited as a prime reason Dante’s Divine Comedy has endured through the ages, but it is likely there is another, more obvious reason people have been reading The Inferno for so long: it is friggen fun. For being a tale of woe and suffering, it is enjoyable to see all the ironic punishments that Dante has imagined for the various sinners of the ages. In an unusual way, when you consider the number of “celebrity” sentences involved in the Inferno, Dante’s Inferno could have and likely did read as a revenge tale in its day. Did not like that one Emperor that overtaxed your grandpa? Well now he’s rutting about in poop for the rest of eternity! That’s what you get, loser! And that kind of thing persists into the modern era, because the concept of your landlord forever being tortured by Lucifer’s freezing wings is everlasting.

Gamer Dante’s Inferno is less everlasting, though. In defense of the game, there is a consistent, intimidating art style, and the monsters you fight across Hell are a lot more unique and diverse than your average beat ‘em up of the same three guys (or an army of the same shadow people). But sometime around when you explode your twelfth super fat puking guy, you realize that there is not much there there. This has a very American McGee’s Alice or McFarlane Toys Reimagining vibe to it, as everything has been reimagined to be broadly edgier… but that’s about all they got. Once you get past Dante’s bizarre fashion choices and slaughtered a baby or two, you realize that the best they will ever be able to do with the final boss is toss a few extra pentagrams into the proceeding. And once you do come to that realization, Hell becomes boring. There is a palpable tedium to seeing “shocking” items over and over, and it really does not help when those same outrageous opponents start looping endlessly during the finale.

And abandon all hope ye who believe the gameplay will save this adventure. That dreariness is locked in practically from the start, with the only real ability enhancements that significantly impact playstyles being reserved for four distinct points across the journey. Beyond that, you simply have relics and upgrade trees that make insignificant changes to the action (“Stop the presses! The combo meter has an extra two seconds of forgiveness!”), and the action is only ever “it’s God of War”. There were already, like, a bunch of God of War games before Dante’s Inferno hit the Playstation, guys! And the PSP does too count!

Look, when your Hell is defined by its monotony, you are committing a mortal sin. But even that sin is nothing before…

The Sin of Lust: Forsaken Beatrice

There is no saving thisThis Dante is not a poet or everyman. This Dante is specifically a knight of the Crusades. This Dante is a man that was deceived by The Church, and was told that his sins would be absolved if he was a good little soldier. When he died, he found he was damned, so he fought back against Death, stole his scythe, and then decided to fight to redeem his myriad sins (though you have to wonder how super damned you would be after literally killing the anthropomorphism of a cosmic rule). Unfortunately, he was dragged to Hell when he returned home and found his father and fiancée were both killed in his absence. Now the soul of said fiancée is in the hands of Lucifer (also his father, but nobody cares about that jerk). Dante dives into the pit to rescue Beatrice, and save us all from Satan along the way.

So before we go any further in this sad tale, let us examine the original Divine Comedy’s Beatrice. To be clear, in reality, Beatrice was not ever Dante’s wife, and was merely a nine year old girl who made a significant impression on ol’ Dante when he was also nine (if this sounds ridiculous, please consider that this whole scenario apparently worked for Darth Vader). Beatrice was a real person first, and never a lover. In the context of the Divine Comedy, Fictional Beatrice basically steals the chronicler role from Virgil when Dante hits Heaven, because Virgil isn’t allowed past purgatory. But don’t worry, Beatrice is more than a replacement Navi, as while Virgil is the eternal symbol of man’s intelligence and reason, Beatrice is meant to represent the divine, and the holiness of the humanities and man’s general impulses towards art. Yes, it is a bit of a cliché that a poet would consider poetry to be sacred, but you must give Dante a break, as you are someone reading these words on a gorram videogame blog. Beyond all that, though, Beatrice is certainly an unattainable beauty to Dante, but she is also literally the most helpful person in Heaven. That says a lot about the measure of the woman that is the celestial Beatrice.

In Dante’s Inferno for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Beatrice open mouth kisses Satan. For a while.

Big sloppy kisses

That looks vaguely uncomfortable for a woman that avoided the male gaze a few centuries back by simply being described as having fair skin and emerald eyes.

Once again, if you squint, you can almost see how this story was created. Dante is an unrepentantly (okay, not technically true) violent man that is irredeemable (again, the whole point is…) in his many murderous actions, so it is easy to see how he needed something “pure” to fight for to endear himself to the player. So if rescuing a princess worked for Link, let’s apply it to another knight. Unfortunately, that immediately delves into the “women as objects” trope, so someone likely thought it would be a good idea to give Beatrice some of her own agency. So no longer is Beatrice simply being damned by Dante’s actions, now she is a woman that chose to go the evil route with Lucifer as her new groom. Apparently selecting Hell in the stratum of the mortal sin of lust is… well, no two ways about it, you’re gonna turn into a whore. Like, literally, complete with pinup transformation and a whole lot of necking. And then, of course Dante has to rescue his former bride from the clutches of almost certainly kinky sex with the Prince of Darkness, because, dang, wouldn’t Dante feel bad if he went through all of this nonsense, and he didn’t win a sexy lady out of the deal?

And, hell, that’s terrible.

Just like the rest of Dante’s Inferno.

Yeah, let’s go ahead and damn Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno for all eternity. Some sins are beyond forgiveness.

FGC #603 Dante’s Inferno

  • I always liked NormanSystem: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PSP. The Playstation 3 version was used for this review, and the PSP is clearly some kind of mad dream of a deranged, damned king.
  • Number of players: Virgil would have been the obvious second player, but no dice there. Just Dante.
  • Pick your poison: In other games, Classic Mode implies the greatest challenge. Here, apparently, “classic” is meant to denote “based on a literary classic that does not involve buttons”, so Classic Mode is 100% easy mode. You can switch at any time, too, so maybe “practically invincible” mode can come in handy once in a while.
  • Eat the baby: Dante’s Inferno was released during that era where every game had to have a superficial morality system (thank you very much, Bioshock). Thus, you continually have the option of punishing or absolving sinners and/or demons. And, much like in many games of the era, absolving appears to always be the proper answer, as you continually gain more “holy bullets” and experience points from showing mercy. I appreciate the moral, but it is yet another example of Dante’s Inferno going about 30% into an interesting idea before immediately giving up.
  • Speaking of Morality: Okay, so the sin that damns Beatrice in the first place is that Dante forsook the vow he made before God to never make love to another woman. And why did he do that? Well, because an “enemy” woman begged for her brother’s life to be spared, and Dante satisfied this request for the nookie. But! The saved soldier was not her brother! He was her husband! And said husband then spent the remainder of his life tracking down Dante’s family, and then killing his father and Beatrice! And what are we supposed to take from that? Mercy leads to more violence? Sinning in the name of kindness leads to more sins? Sex equals homicide? Murderers are always gonna murder? Going to be a while before I unpack that one.
  • Plot Twist: At the finale of the adventure, Lucifer reveals that the gigantic chains Dante/you have randomly severed throughout Hell were actually the only things holding ol’ Scratch back. This would have been a much bigger surprise if you couldn’t hear Satan laugh maniacally every single time you cut a chain. Dude just has zero poker face.
  • What is he thinking?Downloadable Content: There were eventually legitimate expansions to Dante’s Inferno that offer a prelude (based on the poem, and involves werewolves) and an additional playable character (Dante’s guardian angel in the flesh). But right there from launch were purchasable “experience points” to kit out Dante with new moves faster for a few bucks. This is likely why the save file for Dante’s Inferno is locked against copying, because what is player autonomy in the face of potential DLC sales?
  • Watch along: Dante apparently stitched his own cross onto his chest, and that iconic quilt offers animated vignettes about Dante’s various sins. This… is actually kind of cool, even if it does raise more than a few questions about Dante’s apparently enormous embroidery skills. Less cool is that there was an animated tie-in film that corralled some pretty big name creators in the name of Dante’s Inferno: The Anime. Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic seems to maintain the general visuals of its source game, but dodges some pretty important plot beats, like Dante conquering the Grim Reaper and stealing his signature weapon. And given it was Direct-to-DVD, watching it through traditional means may be all but impossible now. Maybe Dante could sew a recap blanket for you.
  • Did you know? They motion-captured an actual toddler to get realistic baby motions for the murder-infants. The designers were so proud of this, they made a featurette about it that only unlocks after completing the game. Learning more about child monsters is your reward for trudging through Hell. That has to be a sin, too, right?
  • Would I play again: I was very happy to see this disc leave my Playstation 3. I played the silly Dante game, Lord, do You want me to suffer again?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance! It just wouldn’t be October without a trip to Castlevania! Please look forward to it!

Eat up!