Tag Archives: jrpg

FGC #526 Final Fantasy 7 Remake

This article contains hella spoilers for Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and a Thornton Wilder play. It happens. If you wish to experience FF7R untainted by foreknowledge, you have been warned. Now back to that play…

Let's talk about playsIn 1938, Thornton Wilder released Our Town. For anyone that has not seen or read the play, it is a deliberately simple production that showcases three different stages in the lives of the residents of Grover’s Corners. It begins with a focus on “daily life”, like children going to school and milk being delivered, proceeds to “love & marriage” with a joyous and stressful wedding day, and finally ends with “death and eternity”, a supernatural visit with the spirits literally haunting the local cemetery. The whole while, the play is hosted by the Stage Manager, a character that bleats his dialogue against the fourth wall. This “manager” separates their role between being a character in Grover’s Corners, narrator, and a congenial guy (or lady) that addresses questions from the audience. The Stage Manager and the general tone of the whole production was a result of Wilder acknowledging that he didn’t like the direction “the theater” was taking at the time, and Our Town was intended to drop intricate sets and impersonal narratives for a simple setup and direct interaction with the audience. Possibly because of this, Our Town has been popular since its premiere; however, Wilder often said the play was rarely performed correctly, as, in his own words, it “should be performed without sentimentality or ponderousness–simply, dryly, and sincerely.” Good luck with that, Thorn, as the final act of Our Town contains one of the most beautiful and insightful exchanges ever directly lifted by Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch:

“Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

“No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

If you’re curious about the context of such a statement: Emily, one of the stars of Our Town that has been showcased since her childhood days, has died during childbirth. She meets the other ghosts of the graveyard, and learns that, while she is unable to join the skeleton army, she can re-experience any moment from her past. She is warned not to try it, but she chooses to live out a mundane memory from her 12th birthday. Despite the fact that this is a typical, fairly boring day (children’s birthday parties in the early 20th Century rarely included enough N64 games to make them worthwhile), Emily can barely bear the weight of experiencing a time when her family was content, happy, and, most importantly, alive. Emily knows what happens to the people close to her 12 year old self, and she knows the hardships and death that await herself and others. Items as humble as sizzling bacon or a kiss from her mother are things Emily will never experience ever again, so this living memory of happier times is agonizing. Do people realize how good they have it when they have it? How every little piece of life is precious, and even something as routine as seeing a family member for breakfast can be lost in an instant? No. Of course not. The Saints and poets sometimes think about such, but you’re here reading a videogame essay, and gradually getting distracted by the fact that I mentioned bacon. Get a goddamn snack and then think about how good you have it, you frivolous living person.

So, after explaining one of the most important plays of the last century for 500 words, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve played Final Fantasy 7. You know the drill, right?

FGC #517 Retro Game Challenge

What we are looking at here is exactly what modern gaming has been chasing for the last decade.

Died right at the end

And you don’t even notice it.

Retro Game Challenge is an odd duck swimming in a flock of odd geese (they’re over at Lake Eerie). It is a game technically based on a Japanese game/variety show (and we use that already ambiguous definition loosely) named GameCenter CX / Retro Game Master, which has been running for 17 years as of this writing. It’s apparently out-surviving Survivor! And that seems appropriate, as the main focus of the show is its host, Shinya Arino, attempting to complete classic games with legendarily great difficulty levels. This isn’t just some random stream, though; between the commentary and jumpsuit, this works out to something closer to Mystery Science Theater 3000 for videogames. And how does that translate to an actual videogame? Weirdly! “Put upon, sarcastically titled Retro Game Master-Arino” becomes a vaguely malevolent, virtual “Actual Retro Master of Games-Arino” who curses the player to be a child flung back in time to play videogames with Arino’s younger self. Master the games, beat Arino’s challenges, and you’ll return to your present… And one would hope that reward is better than a childhood where you’re cursed to play videogames all day…

VrooomBut that’s just the story of Retro Game Challenge, what’s really important is the actual game that’s involved. Scratch that, the game involved is games. Retro Game Challenge does its best to create modern facsimiles of retro games of the past. Rather than turn this into a simple retro compilation hosted by a celebrity (and, to be clear, this humble blogger would not object to such a thing), Retro Game Challenge goes the extra mile and crafts loving homages to the games of yesterday. There’s Cosmic Gate, a (slightly) advanced reimaging of Galaga, and Star Prince, a slightly more advanced shoot ‘em up in the vein of Gradius or R-Type. Then there’s the Haggleman series, which starts off as a simple arcade action title ala Mappy Land or alike, but graduates to a full, cinematic action-explorer like Ninja Gaiden with a touch of Metroidvania underpinnings. Rally King evokes the bygone days of racing games before the advent of Mode 7, and Guadia Quest is Dragon Warrior mixed with a little Final Fantasy and Pokémon. In fact, Guadia Quest seems to stand as the mission statement of the Retro Game Challenge titles: it’s very much a classic JRPG, but it’s also concise and user-friendly, and does not suffer from any of the jank that might detract from someone enjoying a classic JRPG in modern times. It looks retro. It feels retro. But its sensibilities are decidedly modern, so you’re not going to eject it from your DS after the eighteenth time you had to search for the STAIRS command.

And this is one way in which Retro Game Challenge was prescient. RGC was revitalizing in 2007/2009 (took a lil’ bit to localize that one) because it had been so long since we saw these “retro” titles. The concept of 2-D platforming had been demoted to the occasional portable title, and, outside of a Castlevania or two, that kind of “retro” gameplay had been constrained to the shadows. Similarly, JRPGs were, at the time, wholly grand affairs that featured 80-hour long plots and battle systems that required a master’s in exp point management (reminder: RGC was on the same system that featured a Xenosaga title). The “simple” Retro Game Challenge titles were a breath of fresh air in that thick fog of Assassin’s Creeds and Batmans that looked like Assassin’s Creeds.

CheekyAnd history has proven that people liked that fresh air. Retro Game Challenge was released just before the online stores of consoles found that people actually wanted retro titles… they just maybe didn’t need to spend $60 on a disc to get ‘em. Make it clear that these retro titles were not trying to compete with whatever defined AAA that week (remember when everyone was obsessed with Left 4 Dead? That feels like a distant dream…), and suddenly people were all about Mega Man 9 or (console) Cave Story or whatever came down the pike. Retro Game Challenge seemed to herald the start of the age of retro games being available on online stores, and, soon enough, you wouldn’t have to wrap these games up in a faux-compilation, people would just be willing to drop a Hamilton on Haggle Man to play for the afternoon. Retro Game Challenge saw our shores just as online storefronts offered more and more retro game challenges.

But there was one aspect of Retro Game Challenge that was visionary and wholly unique. Need me to draw you a picture?

Who's that pokemon

You have a built-in audience.

Game Master Arino has sent you back in time to play videogames with Child Arino. Technically, throughout the whole of Retro Game Challenge, you are effectively living with Child Arino, playing on his console, reading his magazines, and occasionally consuming snacks provided by his mom. You are playing games that he owns, but does he ever ask for the controller? Does he ever demand you boot up two player mode? Does he ever even take a break to the Little Arino’s Room when you’re approaching hour seven of going for the high score in Space Prince? Nope! Arino is always there. He flinches when you lose a life, and he cheers when you find a secret. He is the perfect host, but, more importantly, he is the perfect spectator. He is never bored with your gaming. He never tires of seeing your latest accomplishments. He is enrapt in your gaming, and only asks that you occasionally answer a random, inane question or two. So, yes, not only is he the perfect audience, but he wants to hear your opinion on matters. Ask me anything, Arino!

LOOK AT ME DO THIS!And isn’t that what every youtuber and streamer is chasing? Hell, isn’t that even the secret point of most MMORPGs? Any game with an online social feature lives and dies by the ways it allows the player to “brag” about their accomplishments. Nintendo avoided “achievements” and “trophies” for this very reason? Well, why do I seem to keep seeing raids in Pokémon Sword/Shield featuring ‘mons that are completely useless, but abundantly shiny. Stop showing off, trainers! I see you! I get it! People have a natural, understandable urge to boast in almost every setting, and much of modern gaming has been constructed around showing off your latest “legendary pull” or “raid loot”. From Pokémon Go to Fortnite to Final Fantasy 14 to whatever that one shooter is that I always forget the name of (Destiny? I want to say Destiny), there are a richness of ways to crow about your achievements, and build a potentially rapt audience around your accomplishments. Modern gaming and entire websites are literally built around this concept, because if you’ve got spectators, you’re never going to stop playing. Of course you need to buy that new DLC, you’ve got to stay at the top of your game for the fans. You wouldn’t want to see that subscriber count go down, would you?

And it all boils down to trying to impress a friendly kid sprawled out on the carpet. It’s all chasing an audience as attentive as Young Arino.

One title predicted the next decade of gaming through a background element that most saw as an afterthought. Retro Game Challenge was secretly Prophetic Game Challenge.

FGC #517 Retro Game Challenge

  • System: A Nintendo DS game posing as a series of Nintendo Entertainment System games.
  • Number of Players: It kind of looks like there should be two players, but you’re actually going it alone on this one.
  • Favorite Retro Game: It says something that, back when this game was released, I was most interested in Gaudia Quest, the faux JRPG. Nowadays, I barely have time for real level grinding, left alone mini level grinding, so I’m going with Haggleman 3, the Ninja Gaiden/Metroid-alike. Haggleman 1 also gets bonus points for being exactly what it wants to be. Rally King can be hurled into the sun.
  • Poor kidLet’s Read: This is one of the few videogames… uh… ever that praises the gaming magazines of the retro era. Retro gaming histories at large seem to ignore the tremendous impact a simple preview for Super Mario Bros 3 or Final Fantasy could have on the curve of gaming’s history, and this is at least one game that acknowledges how “Classified Information” likely sold more titles than Toys R Us. Come on, whatever Mega Man Legacy Collection comes next, you can license a few Nintendo Power pages for the gallery.
  • And now a word from our Sponsor: Retro Game Challenge also promotes something we rarely saw in the United States: games with corporate sponsorship. There are a number of Famicom titles that tie in to various products and services, but it seems like the best we could ever get in the West was a Ninja Turtle or two. Of course, RGC would only be appropriate for the US if its Cup o Noodle version of Rally King was converted into Super HaggleMan 2
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Five years ago (damn!), back when I was still trying to figure out exactly what I was even going to call this site, I originally considered naming this whole “random games to play and write” project “The Retro Gaming Challenge”. Then I was reminded that that was taken by this very game, so I switched over to “Fustian Gaming Challenge”… primarily because I like the word “fustian”. And then, approximately seventy entries later, I realized I should have just gone with “Random Select”. It would explain all the featured fighting games!
  • Don't haggle meDid you know? At the absolute end of the ending, Cyber Arino will remind you that there isn’t anything more to the ending by stating plainly, “Even if you wait, there won’t be anything”. You can then wait for a full thirty minutes (not easy to do on a handheld!), and finally be greeting with Arino’s concluding statement of… “See ya”. He’s an honest guy.
  • Would I play again: Everything about this game is a delight. Not only will I likely play it again, but maybe I can dig up a fan translation of its sequel. Man, I hope that localization is half as good and thoughtful as the original…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cannon Spike for the Sega Dreamcast! … Isn’t that just a special move from Street Fighter? Huh. Street Fighter is pretty good, though… Well, uh, please look forward to it.

Keep on kickin'

FGC #503 Final Fantasy 5

Not very finalLet’s talk about why you think the end of the world is a good idea.

Final Fantasy 5 has become one of the most enduring Final Fantasy titles. No, it has not yet warranted a direct sequel, nor is it receiving a high-definition remake featuring ring wraiths that really should have better things to do with their un-lives. Unfortunately, from a Square-Enix perspective, Final Fantasy 5 has been little more than a piddly JRPG that occasionally gets rereleased on cell phones. But the Final Fantasy fan community has been milking Final Fantasy 5 in new and interesting ways practically since its inception. Back in the day, thanks to FF5 never reaching Western shores, it was one of the first games that encouraged a generation to learn how to patch a rom to experience Final Fantasy Extreme. From there, fans continued to support this 1992 release well into the future with online competitions to see who could hate their life the most thanks to a twitter-based robot prescribing the use of berserker after berserker. Recently (well, relatively recently in the lifespan of FF5, as we’re talking about a game that is old enough to realize it has done nothing with its life, oh God, it can’t even think about having kids right now) fans seem to have come full circle, as there was the “Ancient Cave” mod for FF5, which itself needed a new English translation patch. This “whole new way to play” essentially turns Final Fantasy 5 into a rogue-like, using the already amazing backbone of FF5 gameplay and transcending genres. Not bad for a game that was released the same year as Night Trap!

Let's kick itBut if you’ve never played Final Fantasy 5, you may be asking why exactly this title is so enduring even among its luminous peers. Final Fantasy 6 or Final Fantasy 12 may be widely regarded as amazing, but you don’t see anyone saddling up with Ultrosbot for an annual online competition. Final Fantasy 11 or Final Fantasy 14 may have servers that will keep going until a meteor strikes the planet, but neither title has had the kind of fan support that has endured from day one to day 10,000. There’s a Final Fantasy 7 Remake, not a Final Fantasy 7 Ancient Cave. And why is that? Because Final Fantasy 5 is the perfect intersection of simple and complex. Final Fantasy 5 can be completed in a scant few hours (well, by JRPG standards), but there are 500 different ways to complete the game. And why? It’s the fabulous job system of Final Fantasy 5. This system has been seen before in the franchise, and would certainly be seen again, but here in FF5 it is somehow at its most pure. It is to the point that you could legitimately complete all of Final Fantasy 5’s challenges as your favorite combo of fighters, or with an entire party of Geomancers (which, to be clear, is no one’s favorite). Under the hood, FF5 is an incredibly well-balanced experience, and it is all thanks to a gameplay system that is immediately understandable and unerringly complex. You can be a Knight that just smacks things with swords, or memorize the Periodic Table of Elements to master the powers of the Chemist class. Both are worthy options! This is no mere advertising bullet point: you really can play Final Fantasy 5 a different way every time.

The enduring love of this Final Fantasy Fandom is all because of this amazing job system. And how do you get a job in Final Fantasy 5? Why, you simply watch the world fall to pieces.

And, don’t worry, it’s exactly as bad as that sounds.

I know that guyFinal Fantasy 5 is generally regarded as one of the more cheery Final Fantasy adventures. There aren’t any child suicides, the main protagonist is unerringly optimistic and not a sullen dork, and your prerequisite dead party member is an old man that already had his time to shine, not a 20-something young lady who still had so many folding chairs to master. However, over the course of your adventure, the winds cease and stagnate, fire loses its warmth, and the very Earth begins to lose its life. An ancient forest is burned to the ground (with some medium-well fire), kingdoms fall to monsters, and cartographers hurl themselves off towers thanks to unprecedented, instantaneous continental drift. The sun might still be shining, and everyone might be smiling, but, right up until the world is ultimately saved, roughly a third of the world’s population has been sucked into a black hole. By pretty much any rubric, that’s a bad time for everybody. And what is the cause of all of this devastation? The life-sustaining crystals representing the four primal elements are gradually shattered over the course of our heroes’ adventure, and the world is increasingly worse for it. Every time a crystal breaks to pieces, everyone suffers more and more.

Well, except the Light Warriors. They’re only getting more and more power from each broken crystal.

The job system that so perfectly defines Final Fantasy 5 is only expanded thanks to the power of the crystals. Each new crystal shattering is a disaster for the world, but it is also the only time your heroes receive new jobs. And, since you, the player, wants to have as many jobs (and possibilities!) as possible, you’ll be happy every time a crystal explodes. An entire kingdom has gone up in flames? That’s rough, but you just gained the ability to become a ninja! Score! Cheer up, peasant, Bartz is gonna dual-wield over the ashy remnants of your former life!

This is great!And, for the player, advancement through misery isn’t limited to just the jobs system. “Cool stuff” in Final Fantasy 5 is continually gated behind outright tragedy. The ancient, ultimate weapons are under glass until the big villain can get through about 80% of his apocalyptic plan. Two high level summons are only possible after killing beloved pets and companions. Stella. STEEEEEEELLA! (“Cool trauma, bro, you get a new song.”) Final Fantasy 5’s plot leans heavily on the concept that much of the misery across its world is thanks to the sins of the previous generation, regardless of whether they were well meaning heroes or older societies attempting to drain extra power from the crystals; but did they all have to pay for their sins with death? And did that death have to refill your HP for the final battle? Can there be a single catastrophe in this universe that doesn’t directly benefit the player?

And, while this may be a particularly egregious example of this trope, it is by no means the only videogame where this is the norm. Mega Man X hates killing his fellow reploids, but boy do you sure love getting shiny new weapons. Sad dads are continually sad about being sad dads that are forced to make sad choices, but you better believe you enjoy soaking in the tangible trophies of their sad carnage. And some games can’t even get going until an apocalypse has already happened! It would be downright psychotic to shoot congregating shoppers at the mall, but if they’re an army of infected zombies, you don’t even stop to reload. The message to your average videogame player is clear: once things go to absolute $^#%, that’s when you’re really going to shine. After the end of the world, that’s when you are rewarded.

And it’s important to note that that is some very dangerous thinking.

I know those guysFor future generations that may be reading this blog entry in the east wing of the Goggle Bob Museum of Stuff Goggle Bob Liked So He Got a Museum Museum, this entry is being written in the middle of a global pandemic. It has changed practically everything about our daily lives, and has killed literally thousands and thousands of people. It would not be a stretch to call this a sort of apocalypse, and it would be very much correct to designate this entire situation as a disaster. One way or another, it is a time when, for one reason or another, absolutely everyone needs all the help they can get. And what help would that be? Well, some people need readily accessible food, some people need other people to stay home so they can do their life-saving jobs, and some people just need the kind of emotional support that becomes necessary when you spend days and months isolated from human contact. And do you know what is zero help at all? People that know Rapid Fire, how to summon meteors, or anyone whose job could be listed as “Samurai”. Despite the terms “hero”, “war”, and “invisible enemy” being tossed around, the last thing this situation needs is people who think they can solve a problem by hitting it. The heroes of Final Fantasy 5? And the heroes of every videogame? They’d all be completely useless in this situation (save maybe Dr. Mario). We’re dealing with a global catastrophe on a scale worthy of Exdeath, but the idea that some Light Warriors could come and save everyone is ludicrous.

And it sounds obvious to say such a thing out loud, but it’s important to remember this information for… lesser disasters. Not everything is a global calamity. Sometimes bad things happen, and you don’t so much as get a crystal shard for your troubles. Videogames (and so much of fiction in general) runs on the concept that every cloud has a silver lining, and a tragic death in act two just means that a friendly ghost is going to help everyone in act three. That is not reality. He bitesSometimes you just lose. Sometimes you have to live with pain and suffering, and the best you can hope for is the mental fortitude to not dwell on it for the next twenty years. PTSD does not grant a level up bonus. Yes, it’s easy to nod and agree with this notion when reading it from the relative comfort of the internet, but your subconscious has been soaking up the hidden morals of Final Fantasy 5 and its ilk for decades. The world is falling apart! I hope I get a legendary sword out of the deal!

So what’s today’s moral? Final Fantasy 5 is an amazing game, but remember it’s only a game. Even after you strip out the talking turtles and magic trees, it’s still not even approaching reality. Keep that in mind as you make decisions in our all-too-real world. There aren’t any Warriors of the Crystals running around, and you’re not going to be granted a new job just because society is falling apart. Be the kind of hero this world really needs, not one that thinks they can solve problems with a “fight” command.

The end of the world isn’t good for anybody.

FGC #503 Final Fantasy 5

  • System: In Japan, originally on the Super Nintendo. In America, we had to wait for the Playstation. Eventually, everybody got it on the Gameboy Advance. And now it’s on a bunch of Playstations and cell phones.
  • Number of players: Final Fantasy 6 was the one with the 2-player, 2-controllers option, right? I think it’s just one this time.
  • BLAMPort-o-Call: Give me the Gameboy Advance version any day of the week, as it seems to have the best translation. And by “best” I mean “the one that contains nonsensical references to early 21st Century internet culture”. That’s all I want from a game! And there’s a bonus dungeon with bonus bosses and bonus jobs, too, I guess.
  • Favorite Monster: The Unknown creatures in the undersea rift are unpleasant to look at, just like a good monster should be. Second runner up is the tonberry, which makes its first appearance here in Final Fantasy 5, but didn’t really come into its own until the great doinkening of Final Fantasy 8.
  • So, what were your jobs: I played fast and loose, game genied my way to every job at the start, and just had some fun seeing if Necromancer is a remotely viable job in the first dungeon. Spoilers: it’s not great. Final Fantasy 5 is a game with such a glut of options, it practically encourages cheating your way into ridiculous, possibly Chemist-based situations. Just have fun with it, and, just in case you slot in a berserker before a sand worm fight, remember to save often.
  • Favorite Job: Blue Magic also appeared for the first time in Final Fantasy 5, and, considering it grants its user a spiffy blue mask, Blue Mage is my favorite job. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of the abilities are overwhelmingly overpowered… but the same can be said for about a quarter of the jobs in Final Fantasy 5, so we’re just going to stick to what is commonly referred to as “the cape factor”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I first played this game emulated on a PC that didn’t even have a sound card. Battle on the Big Bridge? More like skirmish on the extremely quiet overpass. But at least I had the good sense to play the game after some nerd fixed all the transparency issues.
  • Axe you a questionDid you know? Each of the characters has default stats that make some slightly better suited for different jobs. Krile, for instance, has the greatest agility, so she’s better suited for… Bah! Who cares!? All that matters is they can all be Dancers, so just let ‘em dance.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Final Fantasy 5: excellent game, bad moral. Don’t go chasing apocalypses, kiddies!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Nintendo Wii. Oh good! I’m going to watch more planets explode. Please look forward to it!

FGC #497.2 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

Please note that this article contains distinct spoilers regarding Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. You have been warned!

Go Goku!There’s this moment in Dragon Ball Z at the end of the first significant story arc when Goku uses the Spirit Bomb. At this point, Goku has died, ventured through the afterlife, and returned from the grave when needed most to utilize a technique he could only learn from a nigh-god in another dimension. This attack, the Spirit Bomb, drains a tiny portion of power (“power” being vaguely nebulous in this case) from every living being on the planet, and combines all that strength into one focused “bomb” that he can hurl at his opponent, a giant monkey that is threatening everyone on Goku’s adopted planet (which is also Earth. You live there). In the grand scheme of narrative conceits, this is meant to be an important moment for Goku: he is the undisputed lead, the hero of this tale, but he cannot solve this problem with his own power. There is no solution here where Goku alone wins, so he must use this sacred technique, and, with the assistance of everyone on Earth, he can snatch victory from the hairy jaws of defeat. He can save the world thanks to the world. If this overarching metaphor isn’t obvious enough, Goku even whiffs his chance at pegging his opponent with this spirit ball, and requires another assist from another two fighters (one of which is best known for his propensity toward dying). Goku’s (currently) hated enemy is ultimately defeated by this spirit bomb, proving that it was not the super powerful Goku that was required to save the planet, but the strength of every person. Don’t put all of your faith in one “savior”, believe in the power of not one, but everyone.

And then Goku goes on to defeat every other opponent through hours and hours of one-on-one grunting ‘n punching. Goku is our Superman. Goku is our Jesus. All hail Goku, the guy that singlehandedly saved the world over and over again!

This happens often in fiction: the hero is the hero, and while there might be some moment or technique that uses “everyone’s power”, it all seems to come back to the one and only luminary. This is even more prevalent in videogames, as they are single-person experiences. Everyone in the party is working together to defeat the evil god du jour, but it all comes back to you, the exceptional player, making decisions, so the moral is muddied. And when you have RPGs that all but require the player to be the center of the universe, it gets even worse. That town lives or dies according to what sidequests you choose to complete, so it’s pretty obvious the world revolves around only you. Give me a moral about teamwork or whatever, fine, but in the end you intrinsically know that you are the only person that matters.

So you can imagine my surprise when Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE actually pulled off a “spirit bomb” finale without making its main character the center of the universe….