Tag Archives: jrpg

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

World of Final Fantasy Part 12: Let’s Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #550 Pokémon Sword & Shield: Isle of Armor / Crown Tundra

This counts as the titleI feel like I’ve been tricked so many times, I’m sad when I’m not being tricked.

Wait a tick… That might be a little confusing. Let’s take a look at an obvious example. Pokémon, come on down.

Today’s game is technically not even a game at all, but an expansion of a game that was previously covered, Pokémon: Sword/Shield. I will save you valuable clicking and/or reading time and immediately sum up a general review of Pokémon: SS (that is still an unfortunate abbreviation): it is good. In fact, it is very good. It really might be the ideal Pokémon game, give or take how much drama you like to see in your games that also feature electric rats. It’s a very straightforward tale of a boy/girl ascending from humble beginnings to becoming the champion of the universe, and, along the way, you get to fight a giant, man-eating spike-dragon or two. And the post-game is pretty great, too, as, while it is lacking in any more plot depth, it has practically infinite possibilities in the “Wild Area” and its many opportunities for new catches (and, yes, I am counting the postgame “weird hair dude” fights in that calculation. That story should have been part of the main game, and you know it). Even before DLC, Pokémon Sword/Shield could have been a game that still would have delivered content for months.

Scooting alongBut we live in a world where no game can ever truly be finished, so Pokémon Sword/Shield earned two whole new “campaigns” in the name of downloadable content. In the Isle of Armor, your trainer visits a hitherto unexplored island that is vaguely Eastern-themed, trains in a Pokémon dojo, and eventually defeats the grandmaster while earning a new, karate-based Pokémon. Meanwhile, in the Crown Tundra, your customized protagonist goes on a quest in an occasionally frozen wasteland to discover a host of legendary Pokémon, and maybe help out some manner of telepathic deer with popularity problems. In both areas, there are new whacky characters to encounter, challenges to overcome, and, of course, Pokémon to catch. Pokémon Sword/Shield started with what many claimed was an insultingly low number of Pokémon available to the player, and, while the expansions don’t fill in the entire pokéroster, you certainly have more of a variety available now (still no sign of Drowzee, though). And that’s great! Sure, you can just airdrop your entire living pokédex from Pokémon Home straight into Sword and claim you’ve completed the ‘dex, but it’s a lot more fun to pedal out into the ocean, and discover a tenacool for the first time all over again. This is bloody Pokémon, dammit, go out there and catch ‘em all.

And this is why DLC is perfect for the Pokémon franchise. Depending on how you look at it, every Pokémon game ever has been structured like DLC, give or take the first one (and even that we could reasonably claim that was simply DLC for Monster Rancher). Every time the story is the same: a few new characters, some fresh and interesting geography, and those adorable little murderous critters we all want to store in our balls. Are there new legendaries? A smattering of choice creatures that are so limited, you’re either going to have to buy a new version or hit the trade forums? A Champion that is like a billion years old, but is clearly going to lose to a preteen? It’s always all there, and it’s always just as predictable as last time. And that’s great! Said it before, and I’ll say it again: great DLC should be more of the same. You liked the initial package, so additional content should be like that opening gamut, but with just enough new twists to keep things interesting. And, whether that be DLC or a True Romance“mainline title”, that is every Pokémon game to a T. There have been some tweaks over the years (some were amazing, some should have been there from the start [looking at you, Wrap]), but every Pokémon title works like good DLC. So it should be absolutely no surprise that the DLC for Pokémon Sword/Shield is magnificent: it’s exactly what we expect from a Pokémon game!

Except… it pushed aside something else that we expect from a Pokémon game, and that is generating some confusing concern from this Pokémon Trainer.

Back in the far off past, back in a time when Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium cemented the idea that there would never be any more Pokémon than the original 151, we were introduced to Pokémon Yellow. It was an adventure that was simultaneously familiar and new. It was ostensibly an attempt to capture the universal popularity of the Pokémon Anime, and integrate that audience into the world of Pokémon videogames. But, somewhere along the way, it wound up improving the franchise as a whole, too. Whether it was in an attempt to capture “casuals” or simply right what once went wrong, Pokémon Yellow is an unmistakable improvement on the original Pokémon Red/Blue(/Green). There were many small quality of life improvements, and, what’s more, it was the first time in the franchise when a Pokémon could follow its trainer across the map. In short, even if you already played Pokémon Red/Blue, Pokémon Yellow had something new (and better!) for you. And if you never played any version at all? Well, Yellow was the one to get.

WeeeeeAnd, whether this was inspired by the success of Yellow or a general need to always see improvement, nearly every following Pokémon generation published a “Yellow Version” of its own. Pokémon Crystal brought some actual animation to the franchise, and Pokémon Emerald saw the Battle Tower (which may or may not have absorbed years of my life). Pokemon Black/White and Pokemon Sun/Moon even earned entire sequels (or they were just excuses to turn another single title into two games). It seems the only generation that didn’t receive a “third option” was Pokémon X/Y, and its obvious “Pokémon Z” hooks were rolled into the rushed (in a good way! I swear!) Pokémon Sun/Moon. Many expected Pokémon Sword/Shield to follow suit with Pokémon Armor… but there is that Isle of Armor right there. And I don’t think we’re going to see Pokémon Gun anytime soon…

Yes, of course, it’s still entirely possible we’re going to see Pokemon Sword/Shield 2. Hell, Nintendo would be leaving money on the table by ignoring such a possibility. But there are a lot of indicators in this DLC that this is the last we will be seeing of this generation. There are many benchmarks from these “third” Pokémon games, and they all seem to exist in this DLC. Cool features that should have been there from the beginning? The DLC has starter gigantimax forms. A host of extra moves and move tutors to enhance the meta battling? Trade your ore in the Isle of Armor for all sorts of moves. A refinement of a system that was just shy of making sense in the main game? Please enjoy the gigantimax expeditions in the Crown Tundra. Complete with a new way to challenge champions and gym leaders, everything about this expansion screams “here is your traditionally mandated sequel”. As one might expect, the first official expansion in Pokémon history is very familiar to those that have followed the franchise, and seems to deliberately preclude the idea of these “ideas” being presented as new for the sequel.

SQUWAKAnd, God help me, if we don’t see a Pokemon Sword/Shield 2, I’m going to miss buying the same game again. I’m going to miss forking over money that could be better spent on literally anything else (including another, whole new game), and settling in for more of the same (but with a new hat). I’m going to miss battling through the exact same fights, but slightly rearranged, so I can finally battle a champion that now has a Blastoise for some reason. I’m going to miss wasting my time on something that already consumed hours and days of my life, all in pursuit of one extra Technical Machine that teaches Earthquake. Or maybe a Gigantimax Hypno? I would waste so much sweat for such an opportunity…

I am very happy with the Pokémon Sword/Shield DLC. I have enjoyed my additional adventures, and the characters that have populated these new locations. But knowing that its existence likely means I won’t be playing through Pokémon Sword/Shield again because, unprompted by a new “version”, I will never find the time/will saddens me. I know I’m avoiding an unnecessary time-sink. I know it is literally saving me money. But I like my rituals, and when they’re interrupted, I am apparently disappointed.

….

Guess I better pre-order Pokémon Soul Sword on the Nintendo SweeCube now. November of 2033 will be here before you know it.

FGC #550 Pokémon Sword & Shield: Isle of Armor / Crown Tundra

  • System: Nintendo Switch, home of the franchise (that isn’t on mobile devices).
  • Number of Players: Have you tried these four-person raid adventures? They’re a lot better than the old raids, but I still feel like there’s way too much randomness involved. You are gifted a grass pokémon, you fight a water pokémon, but it ice beams your bulbasaur right out of the gate. Whoops! Four deaths and you lose forever! Very good system you have here.
  • Did you catch ‘em all? Not only in the game proper, but also in Pokémon Home, which I think means I have caught every pokémon ever for all time.
    This is how you know I'm awesome

    Except maybe the new mythicals… dammit…
  • Favorite Pokémon (DLC edition): Okay, technically not many new Pokémon were introduced with the DLC, and that is an absolute shame. New monsters are what this franchise is all about! With that caveat out of the way, I’m going to throw my support behind the new electric trashcan, Regieleki. Its ridiculous electric glass cannon status is amazing, and I’m glad there is something faster that speed-demon Deoyxs. Eat it, alien DNA Pokémon!
  • Watch the Weather: Over the course of the previous article, I noted how scary it was that a huge chunk of the Galar continent apparently has snow storms next to sand storms next to thunder storms. That’s a lot of storms! That said, the new “Wild Areas” pull the same trick, but they seem a lot more desolate, so it’s okay. Some rinky dink dojo or a town that has to pray to Pinky and the Brain for crops is obviously going to have issues with their localized mega storms. I mean, duh.
  • Favorite New Trainer: Klara is my aesthetic (poisonous cotton candy), and she’s a failed musician who “only sold 8 copies of her debut album”. So she decided to enter the challenging world of Slowbro battling by training at a remote dojo to maybe inherent a karate bear. I can get behind that.
  • Best Partner: If you chose any partner but Marnie for the Championship Doubles Battle, I don’t want to talk to you.
  • Let's fightGoggle Bob Fact: This expansion was first announced/revealed last year when I was vacationing in Poland. I will never forget being hunched over a laptop in my (now) wife’s childhood bedroom, desperate for Pokémon news… Or maybe just excited to hear something 100% in English. I may or may not have been homesick, so the prospect of a new kind of Articuno is always going to hold a special place in my heart.
  • Did you know? Most of the trainer numbers are secret, relevant jokes about their respective trainers. For instance, Klara’s number, 881, can be pronounced in Japanese as “dangerous”. This is, obviously, very appropriate.
  • Would I play again: I think that was the point of the whole article!

What’s next? Random ROB is taking the next two weeks off, and I’ll be presenting four articles that are part of Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s). Look, I know this is a hedonistic blog on most days (dude, it’s a blog), but there are a few articles related to… events in my life that have been rattling around my head for a while, so I figure I’m going to put pen to paper on those before this blog runs its course (sometime in about another hundred articles). So we’re going to kick off this indulgence with The Legend of the Mystical Ninja come Monday. Please look forward to it!

Roll on, boys
Still the best ending

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?