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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?

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'