Tag Archives: hell

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!

FGC #602 Gargoyle’s Quest II: The Demon Darkness

SCARYI know you would destroy the world if you thought it would be a little fun.

There are two kinds of videogame worlds:

  1. Our world (but in a videogame).
  2. Something like our world, albeit possibly at a different point in time. The allowed epochs are “medieval” or “future”. If a director is feeling saucy, “ninja” is also acceptable.

And that’s that. Think about nearly any videogame setting long enough, and you will see that it boils down to one of those two options. And even when you have things like robots fighting or ponies attempting to magic their problems away, it still winds up being a world that is generally recognizable as our own. Is your world full of electric rats and haunted keychains? Well, it’s still got department stores selling bicycles, so it is practically home. And we are all forced to identify with Middle Earth/Camelot environments repeatedly, so if a princess needs saving, we can and will handle it (even if she is a princess of a kingdom of mushrooms).

Of course, this makes perfect sense. A game will always have a win condition. Many videogames will attach a familiar plot to that win condition so as to encourage/enrapture the player. Rescue the princess. Defend the kingdom. Save the world. And why would you do that? Because you’re a good person? Phht, no! Because you recognize this world as something familiar, something like your own. Something worth saving. Even the greatest misanthrope believes we live in a world that is worth protecting against a giant space laser, so why not do the same in a digital world? Even with a slight change in time, location, or planet, videogames tend to include extremely human characters. And you like humans, right? 99% of people that play videogames are humans, so it is generally assumed you are on board with saving humans, even when they’re a little less humany. Close enough, right?

But how about some zombies? Or a kingdom of demons? How do you feel about saving the forces of Hell from… another Hell?

Today’s game is Gargoyle’s Quest II. It is the Nintendo Entertainment System-based (mostly) sequel to Gargoyle’s Quest, an exclusively Gameboy jaunt. The original, monochrome adventure portrayed our titular gargoyle, Firebrand, in his home dimension of the Ghoul Realm in glorious pea green and/or gray. The NES version got a full-color upgrade, and the Ghoul Realm is… well…

Real estate values are low here

Look, I do not want to judge, but if you have seas the color of blood, you are either living on an Earth that has had a few too many Impacts, or you are distinctly somewhere you don’t want to be. And who does want to live there? Why, all the enemies from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, of course! You have a significant undead population, several demons apparently wearing clothes, and a substantial number of kings and queens who have additional heads on their abdomens. This is the Ghoul Realm, after all, it would be weird if there were not any ghouls running around. Hell, the plot even begins with a quick note that this is all taking place before “Man” even became much of a thing…

But lest you think this gargoyle’s quest is steering toward a twist that involves the rise of a number of boxer shorts-clad knights assaulting Firebrand’s kingdom, do not worry, this is a strictly demon-on-demon violence affair. The “dark light” is sweeping through the realm, and, in its wake are crippled kings, double-deceased zombies, and at least one group of scientists that are reduced to gibbering idiocy. The ultimate source of this destructive wave is Breager, a demon lord that was summoned to the realm by Evil King Goza (granted, we are just assuming Goza is a king because he owns a castle. He could just be ludicrously wealthy). Breager is a four-armed giant (double Firebrand’s height!) that can summon a bevy of fireballs without so much as leaving his throne.

Breager is also indistinguishable from the rest of the “good” demon cast of Gargoyle’s Quest.

Terrible bugsLet us examine Firebrand’s allies. Samuel of Sidon is a cross between a dwarf and some manner of furry bug. Hecate the fallen angel is a minotaur/lizard hybrid. Queen Verona is a gigantic chunk of ice-monster. Morock is the infamous Astaroth that rules Ghosts ‘n Goblins as the capital-d Devil. Lethe is that second version of Astaroth from Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Barr is a boss from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and is mostly notable for his detachable head. And Rushifell/Loki/Lucifer is the final monarch of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. In short, every one of Firebrand’s named supporters is not remotely human at best, and a noted antagonist of humanity at worst. His opponents are not any better, as we’ve got a “head in the abdomen dude” right out of the starting gate, but with a serpent tail in place of legs. Then there’s a Death Balloon (no further explanation necessary), Sand Frog (ditto), and Twin Guardians that could be Firebrand’s evil twins (before you literally fight Firebrand’s evil twin). Then we’ve got the final boss fights, which are back to “more heads equal more evils” thinking.

So, yes, if you, the fleshy human reading this article, ever encountered one of Firebrand’s friends or foes, you would run away screaming. Yet you, the player controlling the Red Blaze, are saving these unknowable horrors from slightly different unknowable horrors. Why would you do such a thing? You are saving a world of “people” that are only going to live on to make Arthur’s life that much harder! Why are you even entertaining this nonsense?

The answer is simple: because you can.

Fine, stay in your chairLet’s not pretend you have to play videogames. “But thou must” may be how Dragon Quest starts, but you absolutely have the choice of turning off the NES and grabbing a whole different game off the shelf. No one is making you play Gargoyle’s Quest anymore than anyone is forcing you to play Super Mario Bros. one world at a time. There are warp zones for a reason! But you can beat every last Bowser if you want, just the same as you can maneuver Firebrand into banishing all those demon-demons. It is not about the story, it is about the challenge. It is about taking this unique hero, be they pink puff or bat-winged monster, and seeing if you can succeed. Are you saving a kingdom of fungi or fun guys (that eat people)? Immaterial! Videogames offer the only story telling medium wherein you can actively and continually loathe the protagonist, but enjoy exploring the world that they inhabit. Or, to put a point on it, hate the player, love the game. Particularly if the player hates you.

So, yeah, you’re gonna save the Ghoul Realm. You are going to save every last monster that will one day define the concept of monsters. You do not have to. No one is saying you must. But you will. It is fun, and you like fun things, right?

The world is going to burn, and you lit the match. All because you liked flying with the silly little red dude…

FGC #602 Gargoyle’s Quest II: The Demon Darkness

  • Let us reflectSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System, and an enhanced, region-locked Gameboy version.
  • Number of Players: Firebrand simply cannot work with others.
  • Port-o-Call: If you can stomach the lack of color, the Gameboy edition does seem to be the definitive version. That desert that is completely devoid of landmarks in the NES edition has a whole dungeon now! And you can earn a homing-fireball! Tell me that wouldn’t make a few fights about 200% easier.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Like Kirby’s Adventure, this is one of those great, late NES titles that wholly justifies platforming games by granting some limited flight options. That was just what everyone needed after experiencing the glories of raccoon-travel. Other than that, it is basically a Mega Man game, and who can say no to that?
  • RPG Elements: The world map is entirely perfunctory, and adds pretty much nothing to the gameplay experience other than an easy way to backtrack. However, it does go a long way toward making the Ghoul Realm feel like a big, wide open area. The Ghouls ‘n Ghosts version of it is, like, three lil’ levels.
  • For the sequel: Demon’s Crest is the sequel, an unfortunate end to any and all gargoyle quests. Now, that plot learned a thing or two from its prequels, and you are now actively avenging Firebrand against a world/Phalanx that has wronged him. See? It is not about saving demons, it is about making demons feel bad. Totally different universe of storytelling there.
  • This is not a clawStory time: Gargoyle’s Quest 2 is actually the prequel to Gargoyle’s Quest (1), and is another one of those situations wherein almost the exact thing happened to an ancestor/descendant pair. However, it is worth noting that the Firebrand of Gargoyle’s Quest (1) is almost certainly the same protagonist of Demon’s Quest, and probably the jerk that directly deals with Arthur on a regular basis. Of course, I am no authority on the subject. All these red, winged demons look the same to me.
  • An End: The penultimate boss is the hardest boss in the game. There, I said it. You unlock unlimited flight, high jumps, and dragon-fire breath before the real final boss, and then that donk doesn’t even get out of his chair. Meet the Red Blaze, dumbass, and burn until my grandson kicks your ass all over again.
  • What’s in a name? The Twin Guardians are clearly a pair of malevolent gargoyles. This is Gargoyle’s Quest. Is there a reason they can’t just, ya know, be called gargoyles? Did Disney copyright that, too?
  • Favorite Boss: I appreciate the Maze of Mirror’s Doppelganger boss, and how attacking your own reflection will only hurt you. And it utilizes Firebrand’s “enemy” attacks of shooting fire and randomly swooping around! Hey, wait a minute, why can’t my Firebrand swoop like that?
  • Did you know? The original, Japanese version of the title screen is kickin’ ass with a cool, animated frame of flames. The American/European title screen is so, so boring by comparison.
  • Would I play again: This game gets breezier every time I play it. I would be down for a new gargoyle-based quest, but, until that surfaces, I will happily give the old one a go.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dante’s Inferno for the Playstation 3! Folks, it looks like ROB wants me to go to Hell. Please look forward to it!

Every single one of us, devil inside

FGC #600 Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes: Part 1

This is Marvel vs. Capcom 2Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes is an amazing, once in a lifetime game that brings together over 50 characters from wildly disparate worlds and franchises. So, in an effort to pay tribute to one of the games I believe to be the greatest of all time, please enjoy a five-day, 100% complete, generally alphabetical look at every fighter in Marvel vs. Capcom 2.

Akuma

Sorry, Final FantasyWhat a great place to start! Akuma was the first Capcom fighting game character to “crossover” with another franchise, as he appeared in X-Men: Children of the Atom as a hidden fighter. And this was apropos for this Atropos, as Akuma started his career as a secret character in the original Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo while parodying/referencing a fake secret character that was canonically a dude he killed before the game ever started. Or… as of Street Fighter 4, never killed at all. Whatever! What you need to know is that Akuma is a (literally) killer martial artist that has murdered multiple Street Fighters. Mind you, every one of his confirmed kills has returned as only “mostly dead” in later titles, though, so Akuma is just terrible at assassinating with that assassin’s fist.

Note that Akuma has appeared with a couple of different variants over the years. Shin Akuma is meant to represent Akuma in the full flush of his powers (and evoke memories of his initial, nigh-invincible incarnation). Meanwhile, Oni is meant to represent an Akuma where the designers of Street Fighter 4 completely ran out of ideas. More relevant to this article, though, is Cyber Akuma, a “weaponized” version of Akuma created by Apocalypse during crossover shenanigans. Cyber Akuma does not appear in MvC2, but he does live on, shooting a variety of missiles in/at our hearts.

Amingo

Go go cactus manCaptain Planet and the Planeteers was the story of a blue/green fellow that was created exclusively for the purpose of saving our precious Earth. Captain Planet’s purpose was to prove to children that lootin’ ‘n pollutin’ was not the way, and our world must be defended from malcontents that wish to exploit our natural resources for their own gains. Captain Planet thus starred in 113 episodes of a popular television series that premiered new episodes from 1990-1996. Whether Captain Planet successfully saved the world or not, he did make an indelible impression on a generation, and his persistent echoes in various Adult Swim programs confirms this apparent fact. And the (real life) Captain Planet Foundation maintains his message to this very day.

Amingo is absolutely everything Captain Planet ever was, plus he’s a shapeshifting, asexually reproducing cactus wearing a sombrero. And he plays guitar! Captain Planet’s music skills are suspect at best. Unfortunately, though, Amingo did not obtain a lucrative contract with Ted Turner, and only ever starred in one videogame.

Maybe this world isn’t worth saving.

And now for Anakaris and others…

FGC #599.1 SaGa Frontier (Remastered)

Not that Saga....There is nothing like an old friend stopping by to remind you of who you were.

It is certainly a cliché, but I was a different person in 1998. I was a gawky teen/band nerd that mostly assumed women were another, significantly alien species; and, more importantly, I had just let my Nintendo Power subscription lapse. It was a long, N64-based time coming, but, for the first time in my life, I was no longer “connected” to the gaming world. There would not be a monthly periodical arriving to inform me of all the grand games coming to my favorite console anymore, and, as a result, I was lost in the wilderness of Electronics Boutique during every visit. SaGa Frontier caught my eye for one simple reason: it was the same color as Final Fantasy 7. Overwhelmingly white CD case with some Amano-looking wispy dude wearing a patently ridiculous clothing/amulet combo? Sign me the hell up. Final Fantasy was a known quantity, Squaresoft was where Chrono Trigger originated, and a return to “sorcery” (an aspect of older Final Fantasy games that had been gradually given over to techno worlds at the time) was all that I needed. I had no idea what SaGa Frontier had in store for me, but I did have forty bucks of Summer spending I could spare for the experience.

And, yes, SaGa Frontier is certainly an experience.

SHINING KICKSaGa Frontier was directed and produced by Akitoshi Kawazu. And, while the SaGa franchise was familiar to fans in Japan, over here in America Town, Kawazu had only shown his hand in the Final Fantasy Legend series. And you only played that franchise if you had a Nintendo Gameboy and a really high tolerance for staring at a tiny, pea-green square’s worth of text (and a similarly high patience for banana smuggling). What’s more, the origins of practically everything involved in SaGa was introduced in Final Fantasy 2… a game that never saw release/a strategy guide in the West. And it is hard to describe just how different Kawazu directed games can be at times. Like, to attempt a terrible metaphor for the masses that might not have grown up farming cactuars on remote islands, it would be like… Hm… Imagine if Kawazu made cars. These Kawazu Cars would seem completely normal, but you could only use the brakes by licking the steering wheel in just the right way. Would plenty of people die thanks to this vehicle? Yes, obviously. It would lead to global catastrophes. But can you imagine the tongue-dexterity of those that survived? They would be able to lick-brake in amazing ways! And they would probably be better at parallel parking for some reason! Kawazu games will make you better at all games, because they encourage creative thinking and cultivating skills you might leave to languish elsewhere… but these games are also notoriously brutal in their learning curves. If you get it, you get it, but if you don’t, your protagonist is pudding.

And, gentle reader, let me tell you that, in 1998, I was not ready for SaGa Frontier. I tried to approach the game as a traditional Squaresoft jaunt, and I was rewarded for my hubris with a number of dead heroes and heroines. What I projected would be a simple “mindlessly kill monsters, get stronger” experience required far more nuance than I ever anticipated. Robotically “grinding” in SF means the encounters get stronger, but your characters do not necessarily gain the new skills to meet these challenges. Actually succeeding means learning the abilities and aptitudes of your chosen warriors, training them in those specific areas, and then whipping out a Dream Super Combo after hours of hoping you chose the right martial artist for the job. It requires thinking, planning, comboing, and a full grasp of SaGa Frontier and its myriad of gameplay systems. And if you fail? Well, a collection of my own save files parked right before the final bosses, but with no possible path to victory seems to indicate that making the game “unwinnable” is a perfectly valid outcome for a SaGa title.

And, when I was 15, that seemed… reasonable? Like… maybe I deserved it?

GET IT?!I mean, I did deserve it, right? I played the game wrong, and my punishment was an incomplete experience that could only be rectified by starting over. Memory card space was at a premium at the time, so it was not like I could simply reload from an earlier point where maybe I could have constructed a more useful party or learned a more useful skill. There are a thousand options in SaGa Frontier, and I chose the wrong options. And, in a way, this was not a big deal. SaGa Frontier was likely to be my “big JRPG purchase” to last me until Christmas, so I had time. This would be “my game” for the next few months, and if I had to restart, I would simply do that. Start all over armed with the knowledge I had sparked from an aborted playthrough and do better this time. Hell, the multiple characters/scenarios seemed to even encourage this: I failed with Emelia, and I could go back to her, but why not try Asellus this time? And, if I was really trying hard, I could hit the generally accurate advice of Gamefaqs, or shell out a few more precious dollars for a strategy guide. Now I was on the right track! I could handle seeing at least one aqua-colored sorcerer’s ending (or what passed for such). I might never see that all important dev room that required the full dedication of a player and memory card, but I could come close.

And now it is 2021. After 23 years, things are… different.

DO NOT TOUCHSaGa Frontier was once the only game I purchased within a whole season. Now, SaGa Frontier Remastered is one of many games I purchased within that same time period. Hell, it’s not the only game I purchased within one month. Double Hell, it’s not the only Square-Enix remaster of a game I already played that I purchased within a period of two weeks. By Blue’s Eternal Hell, I have some entertainment options now!

But that doesn’t do me as much good as my inordinately jealous 15-year-old self would believe. I have the income to purchase a game every seven seconds (and the Nintendo eShop alone produces new content apace), but, bad news, I have no time to actually play these games. Where once a game that touts seven or eight different scenarios that can take about ten hours each seemed like an unbelievable boon for the boy that could clear Donkey Kong Country before even opening his second Christmas present; now “you will lose 80-90 hours of your life” sounds like a goldarned threat. And it is “only” ten hours a scenario if you know what you’re doing. The idea that I could squeak through nine hours and then have to do it all over again because Hour Ten was too much? Preposterous! I could be playing every Mario game ever made right now, why would I ever bother with escorting some spoony bard to halfheartedly avenging his father? Dude can write a ballad about it, and I’ll listen to that. I do have three minutes to spare for a song sometime around next week…

And, while replaying SaGa Frontier does continue to give me the warm fuzzies, it also makes me think the game is a complete mess. SaGa Frontier offers new frontiers in freedom, and you can often go anywhere in its world, and visit areas that are made “for” a character that you are not using. And in any other JRPG with the premise of multiple playable characters/scenarios, you would arrive at an abandoned temple meant for Riki, but Red would say “there’s no reason we have to be here” and walk away. Or there would be a permanent “guard” outside. Or you wouldn’t even be able to select the area on the map. Or something. SaGa Frontier gives you the autonomy to say “hey, you want to explore here? Go ahead!” And that was sorely lacking from other JRPGs in its day! And our today, too! How many people would get excited yesterday or today by trying to squeeze one character into a place they “shouldn’t be” just to see what would happen? (“Hey, I got Gogo to work in the World of Balance!”) But, that said, the answer here is sad, because you can bring T260G to somewhere she is not supposed to go… and the best you see out of it is maybe some decent treasure. But more likely it is just a literal waste of time. A throne room with no king, or a secret passage leading to no secret. You went to the wrong ruins, buddy. And did that feel worth it for you? Maybe! But more often than not, when an area doesn’t have a distinct reward, it feels like you did something incorrectly. It varies from player to player, but it is very easy to do a lot in SaGa Frontier, and feel like the end result of those adventures is a whole lotta nuttin’. And exploring an area meant for Riki during Emelia’s campaign, finding nothing, and then revisiting it for the “real” scenario with Riki feels less like “I got this” and more like “Oh, heck, now I have to fight this stupid squid again”.

Because it never... Oh never mindWhen there is the possibility that you can explore 90% of the whole game with one scenario, there is the distinct danger that the player is going to become too exhausted/frustrated trying to play 630% of the game. And never mind “knowing” that, like, one goofy NPC or dungeon is going to be a silly diversion in six scenarios, but absolutely essential in scenario seven…

Which brings me to a conclusion that my 15-year-old self never would have even considered: SaGa Frontier was a little too understood by its authors. There are a lot of design decisions that can absolutely make sense in SaGa Frontier, but only if you really appreciate the whole of the game. You must understand every scenario, every sidequest, and the importance of knowing the difference between the two before you burn out on experiencing everything. Or that, narratively, the fact that, say, Blue is very much just a jerk, and isn’t like another PSX Final Fantasy-esque “he’ll be less gruff eventually” protagonist is super important to his ultimate fate, but you really can’t understand the full scope of that until you realize Blue’s counterpart, Rogue, was “the good twin” all along thanks to encounters in other scenarios. And the whole of the game (once again: thanks memory cards) is not the easiest thing to grasp under the best of circumstances. A lot of these decisions make sense in the fullness of understanding all of SaGa Frontier, but in the individual moments of it, it is all over the place, and likely to “offend” a player with its very distinct choices.

And Time Lord knows it offends this modern-day Goggle Bob.

FIREWORKS!SaGa Frontier is a good game. SaGa Frontier Remastered is a good game made even better. But playing the two games at two very different points in my life has reminded me how much things have changed over the last few decades. A game that was once “difficult” can now be safely judged as “difficult to understand”. And, while this does not detract from the experience, it may impress upon this player that, at an age when time is valuable, maybe learning the ins and outs of an extremely unique JRPG is not the best use of the day.

SaGa Frontier, it’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed. And you’re better, but still too the same.

FGC #599.1 SaGa Frontier (Remastered)

  • System: Playstation 1 for the original, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and various contemporary computer platforms for the modern player. Was it ever a PSN release? It could have worked on the Vita…
  • Number of Players: Fuse makes for our eighth playable character in the remaster, but you still can only control one at a time.
  • I’m not racist, but: I do not care for monsters. A lot of effort for very little return. Though I do appreciate how lummox and skeleton king alike can turn into a slime pile thanks to a bad chunk of monster meat.
  • Make your choice: Choosing Rune Magic means you will go to prison. Arcane Magic means you will get tipsy as hell and drunkenly stumble through a jungle of deadly, sober monsters. I know my choice.
  • Roll it aroundSo are you still just super bitter about being locked out of the Emelia “good ending” because you decided to follow a lead when you should have just immediately given up? No, of course not. That would be silly. That is totally not the reason I harbor resentment against the entire SaGa franchise. I don’t know why you would ever think such a thing.
  • Reading is fundamental: Yes, I still have the strategy guide from the late 90’s. Yes, it is still useful for about 90% of the game, as full-color maps and a bestiary are always valuable. And, hey, it is generally nice to be reminded of which characters can recruit which other characters. Did you know Emelia hates robots? I think it comes up somewhere…
  • The times change: I remember finding Red’s scenario as a mock Power Ranger so exciting and unique back when I first played SaGa Frontier. Now I am tired of sentai sendups, and SF’s version of the trope isn’t even all that interesting (is M Black supposed to be sympathetic because of, like, two bits of dialogue? Really?). Move along, Red, Viewtiful Joe has taken your place in my heart.
  • Did you know? There are three characters in SaGa Frontier named “Red”. Red is a main character that fights against Black X. Rouge (French for Red) is the twin rival of Blue the Magician. Red Turnip is a turnip with a poor sense of direction. Find some new colors, SaGa!
  • Would I play again: Funny you should ask that…

What’s next? We’re not done with SaGa Frontier just yet. Come back on Friday for a deep dive on my favorite SaGa Frontier story. Please look forward to it!

Pew I Do