Tag Archives: localization

FGC #584 Avengers in the 1990’s

So mighty!Here’s a statement only 90’s kids will understand: The Avengers are the cheapest, most low-rent superheroes available.

To be clear, this is not to say that pre-Disney Marvel Comics didn’t have one hell of a superhero team on its hands. Ever heard of The X-Men? They were the bomb-diggity, and it is hard to convey to modern readers just how many children at the time were putting forks between their fingers and pretending to be Wolverine. This may have just been a result of the comics being fun and plentiful, but it is more likely that the X-Men were popular because they had a hit Saturday morning cartoon (that, if memory serves, had upwards of seven episodes across seven years), multiple tie-in videogames, and more action figures than you could ever hawk at a garage sale. The “culmination” of this massive popularity was the 2000 movie that defined superhero films/Hugh Jackman for a decade. And speaking of films, X-Men paved the way for other superheroes that were… also not known as Avengers. Spider-Man leaps immediately to mind, but this was also the era when DC Comics’ Batman came into his own grim popularity. And Batman was able to get there because his previous projects, like the Burton films and the amazing animated series, were also grand successes. And has there ever been a videogame console that didn’t host a Batman or Superman game of some kind? I’m not going to bother to do any research on this matter (the internet is all the way over there!), but it certainly feels like there was an Atari Jaguar Batman title! Point is that well before Disney decided to create its shared universe, superheroes were popular in all sorts of mediums.

… Except the Avengers. The Avengers were consistently forgettable.

Go robot goThe Avengers comics were always there (well, “always” as in “since Stan Lee decided to slap a bunch of his most lucrative properties [and Ant-Man] together”), and they were always at least moderately popular. The Avengers were appealing because they seemed to have a lot more latitude than other “superhero rosters”. Why? Well, in the absence of a clear Superman or Wonder Woman, you really could slot anybody into the team. Dropping a literal god for a dude that can shoot arrows? Sure! Bald “Celestial Madonna” because Magneto’s daughter is on vacation this week? Why not! But, unfortunately, this led to The Avengers not being as “established” as its rival teams (you know, other gangs where you could always count on spotting a Wolverine). This made for a franchise that was generally good, but also often something closer to Captain America and his Amazing Friends. Or, in the case of the number one reason some children of the 80s and 90s recognize any Avengers, Iron Man & his Amazing Friends.

While never as popular as Batman, Spider-Man, or The X-Men, Marvel had a moderate hit with an animated Fantastic Four series in 1994. This cleared the way for its “partner” television show (gotta have that “Marvel Action Hour” for syndication), Iron Man. Tony Stark was clearly the lead in Iron Man, but he was joined by a number of other Marvel luminaries, like Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury. Were they collectively referred to as “The Avengers”? Nope! They were Force Works, which did exist in the comics of the era, but certainly not with Hawkguy. However, the basic concept was there, even if you had to wait until five years later to see the sequel series, Avengers: United They Stand, which lasted a whole thirteen weeks before fading into nothing. Why did it disappear so quickly? Likely because they based the whole thing on West Coast Avengers, a team that dropped Captain America for friggin’ Tigra. Tigra! The only Avenger to appear in 2019’s seminal musical film, Cats!

I don't understandsSo, through the 90s, kids that did not have easy access to comic book shops had one impression of The Avengers: they are the heroes that can’t support their own shows. Spider-Man stars in a 600-episode arc about some stupid stone tablet, and Captain America maybe gets to guest star in three. Lou Ferrigno will smash as Hulk whether he is animated or live-action, but Thor can only stop by for an episode or two. Iron Man gets his own show, and he winds up sponsoring refugee D-listers like Wanda Frank. And if these losers were to get a tie-in videogame, well, why should it goes well?

Captain America and The Avengers is a 1991 Arcade title from Data East. It is, like so many other licensed games of the time, a 4-player beat ‘em up. The variation du jour of CAatA is that you have the choice of throwing or detonating most background objects (Ninja Turtles only has exploding barrels! No options at all!), and some levels turn into shoot ‘em ups. That’s about it. So, like most other beat ‘em ups of the time, the game lives or dies on its heroes, enemies, and presentation. And how do those all work out? Poorly!

Your heroes are Captain America (yay!), Iron Man (woohoo!), Hawkeye (arrows are passable videogame weapons), and Vision (that guy). Your enemies are (per Turtle tradition) an army of generic robots that are wholly constructed of nitrous and dynamite. And the bosses? Well, there are more bosses than most beat ‘em ups, as you face a mid-boss and a final boss for each level. But quantity is no substitute for quality here, as your heroes face the likes of Living Laser, Klaw, Wizard, and Controller. Look, when you are facing a boss that is named after a videogame peripheral, you know the A-listers were too busy for this nonsense. Even more interesting villains, like Grim Reaper or Ultron, are reduced to “has a dash attack” and “has a fireball” do-nothings. And don’t even get me started on Mech. Taco, the Taco that walks like a mech (oddly, Mech. Taco has not appeared in any Disney flicks yet, but we all have our fingers crossed). Strangely, this means that noted Wasp villain, Whirlwind, comes off as the most interesting boss, as at least his windy powers impact not only the fight, but also the background and any incidental debris that may be scattered about. It’s neat! It’s maybe the only neat thing in the game!

I get that robot!Excuse me, there is one other “neat” thing: the Avengers couldn’t get through one game without some X-Men transplants. The Sentinel, a gigantic robot that is iconic for its relentless hunting of mutants, appears as a shoot ‘em up boss in Stage 2. It is identified as “Giant Robot”, but nobody is going to mistake that purple titan for the Iron Giant. And Juggernaut is the first boss to appear on Red Skull’s space station. This is easily the worst depiction of Juggs in a videogame (dude kind of looks like a hunched-over cyclops [not that Cyclops]), but this is unmistakably Charles Xavier’s beefcake brother. Dude is lumbering around as usual, just reminding you that you could migrate over to the X-Men arcade cabinet at any time. Wouldn’t you rather rescue Kitty Pryde than slug it out with the likes of Crossbones?

And if you want to play a game with X-Men anyway, maybe you should fast forward to Marvel Super Heroes In War of the Gems.

Captain America and The Avengers was a Data East joint, and, unless you were really into BurgerTime, you could be forgiven for assuming their Avengers tie-in would be lackluster. But Capcom! Now there was a gaming company to trust back in the 80s and 90s. They had Mega Man! And Street Fighter! And were able to make a passable game out of Talespin! And they successfully adapted The X-Men into a fighting game that spawned its own franchise! And the second game in that franchise was an Avengers game! Kinda! Marvel Super Heroes is conceptually based on the same Infinity Gauntlet Marvel comic series that would eventually become the most profitable movie duology of all time. But this version included the likes of Magneto, Juggernaut, Wolverine, Psylocke, and at least one multi-tentacled monstrosity. And there are noted Avengers Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk, too, so it marginally counts as an Avengers title! Probably! Oh, and if you wanted a little more plot, there was a SNES tie-in title that dropped three X-characters, and picked up a whole host of Avenger buddies! Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems, released in 1996, certainly should qualify as an Avengers game.

It also qualifies as yet another Avengers tie-in that feels cheap as hell.

Dem pucksThere are good bones here. This is a beat ‘em up with the occasional bit of 2-D platforming. Like X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, it is also a game where you can occasionally utilize special moves and combos like its attendant fighting game. This is a great change from the ol’ standard of “lose health/energy for doing anything” that has plagued many other Marvel games. And, while the roster cannot completely qualify as Avengers in 1996 (Wolverine and Spider-Man wouldn’t consistently join up until they had successful movie franchises), they are all roughly on the same power level, so it doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch to see Smart Hulk tussling with the same baddies as Captain America. Oh! And for a little variety, we do occasionally see a handful of areas where air is limited, so we basically get an organically incorporated timer for challenges. Got to get that heartrate up somehow!

Unfortunately, while the basic gameplay is marginally inventive (this is better than Final Fight with Captain America), the levels and their attendant enemies are anything but. For whatever reason, while the Marvel universe has some pretty amazing locales (Limbo is lovely this time of year), nearly all of the stages in MSHiWofG are forgettable, “video game-y” areas. There’s a lava level, ice level, sewer level, and aquarium (because who doesn’t need a water level in their beat ‘em up). Yes, you get to fly to Dr. Doom’s citadel, but it is more of an excuse to use a castle tile-set and incorporate a teleporter maze than anything. And your opponents through all of these battlegrounds? Well, they are simply “evil clones” of your Avengers, so you face armies of Iron Man-but-with-spikes, Wolverine-but-green, and Hulk-but-bald. Look, when Spider-Man is your hero without an evil clone, you done #$^&ed up. But do not think that just because an Avenger isn’t playable in the game that they will be left out of the fun. Daredevil gets a literal devil variant, Vision becomes a flying menace, and Hawkeye actually becomes a threat with an evil version that snipes from far-off platforms. Even an evil Silver Surfer slides through a stage! All the heroes you love! Ready for punching!

Dem pucksAnd it is supremely weird how this makes the whole game feel very… budget. There is never an explanation offered for this army of anti-Avengers, and their general designs are not distinct enough to warrant any further investigation on “who” these bad good guys are supposed to be. Is that supposed to be a She-Hulk that is also searching for the gems? No, because there are three of ‘em all in a line, and Jennifer Walters doesn’t have cloning powers. Alpha Flight, Canada’s premiere superhero team, seems to stalk around the Alaska stage, so you could totally justify their existence as our northern neighbors thinking they know best… but then the same “Evil Puck” creatures appear at the New York aquarium. And, somehow, the original characters make even less sense in this context. Blackheart pops up out of nowhere with exactly zero explanation as to why he is participating in this War of Gems, and Dr. Doom flees his castle to fight again later and unceremoniously die in space. You have the whole of the Marvel stable participating in the Infinity Wars, why forsake real, interesting villains for friggin’ Sasquatch?

I guess if you wanted to see the Avengers battle some actual villains, you would have to play their fighting game released the same year. Are you ready for Avengers: Galactic Storm? Because Data East certainly wasn’t…

Blast 'emFor reasons our top scientific minds are still trying to discern, this Avengers title is based on Operation Galactic Storm, an Avengers crossover from 1992 that is remembered by exactly nobody. This 1996 arcade game is the only proof it ever happened at all! And, while it is nice that we nearly got two fighting games featuring Captain America in a year, this roster is chockful of Avengers F-Stringers. Thor is on vacation, so please accept Thunderstrike! Iron Man is taking a powder so you can have the real man in armor, Black Knight! And Crystal, best known as being either Johnny Storm’s girlfriend, Black Bolt’s niece, or Quicksilver’s wife, is your standard one female Avenger rep. And the bad guys are exclusively Kree adversaries, so you are stuck with Supremor, Shatterax, and Korath-Thak. Remember last Christmas? When everyone was trying to find Korath the Pursuer action figures? No, of course not, that would be stupid. Korath looks like what would happen if Juggernaut shrunk in the dryer, and he is about as memorable as Cain Marko’s drycleaner (first appearance Amazing X-Men Volume 2 #15). At least we have Dr. Minerva, who is basically an evil Captain/Ms. Marvel. Wait! That just means we couldn’t get through another Avengers game without an X-Men character appearing. Dammit!

Oh, and the game looks terrible, and plays even worse. Please try to act surprised that the people behind Fighter’s History couldn’t produce a good licensed fighting game. Additionally, continue to feign shock that faux 3-D graphics in the mid 90’s aged about as well as Thunderstrike (if you have not already surmised, Thunderstrike is phenomenally stupid). About the only memorable bit in this Avengers title is that its story mode has instant continues (so you don’t have to blow quarters on a match continually “resetting” with every loss), and there are assist characters of dubious efficacy. It is cool that someone decided to model the Vision for this plastic universe, but it is a little saddening that this ‘droid of a thousand abilities only gets to perform a reverse dive kick. At least let my man bust out the laser eyes!

Dive kick!And what do all of these 90’s Avengers have in common? They’re cheap. They seem like knock-offs of other, better franchise games. Batman gets to fight Penguin, Riddler, and Two-Face. Spider-Man fights Sandman, Venom, and at least one rampaging guerilla. Captain America can only ever fight Whirlwind, Bald Hulk, or the multi-tentacled avatar of a floating, green head. Iron Man gets dinky little sprites, Colossus gets big, chunky pixels and a special move that roars through the arcade. Magneto always shows up for Dazzler, while Vision can barely summon the attention of Ronan the Accuser. In short, back in the day, the most prominent Avenger would never rank above the most extraneous of X-Men. Kids of the 90’s were convinced that The Avengers were not Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but little more than an opening act for the real heroes.

But, luckily, The Avengers were catapulted to greatness with the release of their 2012 film. And The Avengers never saw a “budget”, failure of a videogame ever again.

THE AVENGERS!

… Or The Avengers are stuck being those Avengers forever.

FGC #584 Captain America and The Avengers

  • Now I'm hungrySystem: Arcade initially (and used for these screenshots), and then Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Game Gear. The Game Boy and NES versions have the same name, but are generally different, also low-budget experiences.
  • Number of players: Get four in the arcade! Or two at home! Or zero on Game Gear, because those batteries ran out five minutes ago.
  • Favorite Avenger: Vision has a great walk. That… is about all that distinguishes these characters. You’d think there would be a significant disparity between a guy living in a robotic suit of armor and a dude that just shoots arrows, but here we are.
  • One Lady Avenger Per Game: Wasp appears as an assist “option” during the shooting sections. There is no sign of Scarlet Witch, unfortunately, despite the fact that Vision is playable, and Quicksilver bops in from time to time to drop health refills.
  • Hawkguy: Hawkeye is a playable character in this game from Data East, and also a participant in Sega’s Spider-Man arcade game. And he was one of the only two playable characters in the NES Avengers title. How did these companies all keep choosing Hawkeye!?
  • Favorite Boss: Red Skull seems to be cosplaying as Kingpin this time, and then he gets a giant, weirdly fleshy Terminator robot and a pope-bubble to hide in. This is literally the only boss in the game that is remotely memorable… give or take the taco.
  • I know this robot, tooDid you know? This localization is legendarily bad, but please be aware that octopus in Japanese is “tako”. Mecha Taco is clearly just “mechanical octopus”, but I guess someone was in the mood for Mexican.
  • Would I play again: This is not one of the great beat ‘em ups of our time. I’d rather play one of those.

FGC #584 Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems

  • But Hulk had hairSystem: Super Nintendo exclusive. Apparently there was talk of a Genesis port, but it never materialized.
  • Number of players: Nothing was learned from SNES Final Fight, so just one.
  • Hawkguy: No, seriously, what is the deal with Hawkeye? His clone appears in damn near every stage, and he is always a pain to avoid. Do arrows just work naturally well with videogame mechanics?
  • One Lady Avenger Per Game: Savage She-Hulk is an occasional opponent. She never appears as a boss, and she’s in full-on berserker mode, but she’s at least there. No, there are no evil Black Widows, Tigras, or even Jocastas to fight.
  • Best Surprise: Nebula, the cybernetic underling of Thanos, is the penultimate boss of the game. And she offers a pretty good fight, too. If I didn’t know better, I would assume her and her varied moveset was another transplant from the arcade fighting game, but, nope, she’s original to this one. And she’s a pretty fun cyborg for everybody!
  • Poor cyborgDid you know? There are sections where Avengers must fight underwater, and have a limited air meter. This makes sense for mostly human Captain America or mostly naked Hulk, but Iron Man has the same issue. He’s in a robot suit! It’s his thing! He doesn’t need to find a source of air! And, for some reason, everyone can breathe in space! What is going on here!?
  • Would I play again: I’ll take X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse first, and that’s only if, like, every other X-Men game is not available. This Wolverine adventure doesn’t even rank.

FGC #584 Avengers in Galactic Storm

  • System: Arcade exclusive, though it is being released as an Arcade1Up cabinet as a sorta-arcade exclusive.
  • Number of players: Two, though you can actually cooperate with your second player if you’d like. I have not ever seen two people that want to play this game, though.
  • Throw rocks!One Lady Avenger Per Game: Continuing the grand tradition of the most unassuming character being the absolute best, Crystal the Inhuman Princess kicks unaccountable amounts of ass in this one. She can summon meteors! And fireballs! And her hyper attack is a tidal wave! She’s easily the best Avenger available for this job, and puts Black Knight and his silly little bomber jacket to shame. There are, unfortunately, no Lady Avengers on the assist roster.
  • Favorite Assist: Giant Man is represented by a giant, inexplicably hairy arm flying into the frame. I like to pretend that The Avengers just became caught in a Monty Python sketch, and then I imagine what that fighting game would look like. For the record, it looks like Heaven.
  • Did you know? Dr. Minerva, Captain Marvel’s palette swap, did appear in the Captain Marvel movie as one of Carol’s Kree rivals. So that means we saw Minn-Erva on the big screen before Thunderstrike. Eat it, Eric Masterson.
  • Would I play again: No.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse! We’re going from one group of officially licensed Disney mascots to the big boy! Please look forward to it!

THE END

FGC #514 Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

LET'S QUESTToday we’re going to talk about videogames and how you engage with videogames. Actually, screw that, we’re going to talk about how I engage with videogames.

This odyssey into madness was prompted by Random ROB choosing Dragon Quest 9: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. You may recall that ROB is now picking games from a truncated version of my master inventory of videogames, so, ultimately, DQ9 was no accident. Today’s game was always going to be picked eventually, as it is fondly remembered as one of my favorite games. In fact, I could toss out a few basic, personal facts about DQ9 immediately:

  1. It is one of my most favorite videogames
  2. It is absolutely my most favorite DS game, which is significant, as this is the system that hosted Flammole the Moleroid
  3. It is absolutely my most favorite Dragon Quest game, and the title that got me to enjoy the franchise after years of issues.
  4. I played Dragon Quest 9 for 197 hours, apparently. Given my general ADD and the wealth of alternative games I have available at any given moment, this is significant.
    That's a lot of time
  5. I never want to play Dragon Quest 9 ever again.

Considering the hours involved, that last point seems… peculiar.

To be clear, this is not a matter of burnout. For an easy example of that, consider Secret of Mana, a game that I played and replayed approximately every other day back in 1994. That was a game that, after I was wholly “done” with the experience (likely because Chrono Trigger was finally obtained), I was in no rush to repeat all over again. I had beaten the Mana Beast so many times with so many different sword techniques that I felt I was good and done with the title. But did I ever play the game again? Of course! Secret of Mana doesn’t hog my entertainment center as often as Mega Man 3 (which sees a replay at least annually), but I’ve undoubtedly returned to Randi a few times over the years. I may have “played out” Secret of Mana in its heyday, but I still feel like lapping up that nostalgia from time to time.

Dragon Quest 9? Not so much. That’s my original save file up there, and, short of a battery disaster, it’s never going anywhere. And why? Because even if I wipe that file, I’m never going to be able to play Dragon Quest 9 ever again.

BOOMIn a way, Dragon Quest 9 is a traditional Dragon Quest game from toe to tip. The basic plot, that you are a guardian angel that is torn from Heaven when a fallen angel decides to go all Morning Star on his celestial home, is little more than a framing excuse for venturing across the planet. There’s an evil empire to quash and apocalyptic demons to slay, but that’s all secondary to whatever you can do to help the next town over. They have a disease raging through their populace? Great, maybe you can kill it with a sword (and you can!). Dragon Quest 9 is a game about heroes tromping across the land, making the land slightly better, buying all of the medical herbs until the land has a shortage, and then saving the land from some manner of jerk that probably has a secret form or two. Start out saving a local inn business, finish up by rescuing God. Tale as old as time.

And, frankly, the most overt change to the Dragon Quest 9 formula here is simply a cosmetic upgrade of the good old days of the franchise, too. After years of well-defined protagonists and their distinct, sometimes dog-riding companions, DQ9 returned to the “generic” party of Dragon Quest/Warrior 3. You can create your own custom hero, and then choose three companions with their own distinct complexions and professions. Want a balanced party of the typical Knight, Monk, White Mage, and Black Mage? That’s fine! Want a party that is four re-headed thieves all named “Mona” for some reason? That’s also fine! Do what you want! There are plenty of memorable characters hanging around the fringes of DQ9, so you can create your own, wholly-silent party at your leisure. And speaking of customization, much of the equipment system and its attendant alchemy system in DQ9 seems tailor fit to encourage the player to experiment and adapt their party in new and exciting ways. Sure, you could make a beeline for all that metal slime armor, but wouldn’t it be more fun to have a character or two in a surprisingly resistant bikini? Or a celestial robe? Or just wholesale steal Alena’s outfit? There are options upon options here, and you could spend an entire day gathering the right materials (“ingredients”) to build the perfect superstar’s suit for your luminary. Assembling the perfect party, in more ways than just maxing out stats, is half the fun of DQ9, and it’s the kind of fun you don’t always see in a game where you’re ostensibly trying to “role play”.

CRAFTING!And, while these “new” features certainly account for why I played DQ9 for a “normal” number of hours, it was DQ9’s other big innovation that accounts for not only the excess hours spent playing, but also why I can never play the game again.

God help me, I loved the social aspects of Dragon Quest 9.

Looking at Dragon Quest 9 from a strictly pragmatic perspective, it was clearly a trial run for the MMORPG that was the eventual Dragon Quest 10. DQ9 eschews the typical DQ experience by allowing other players to join your party as you cooperate and quest across the land. Thus, DQ9 was designed first and foremost as a traditional JRPG, but allowed for a significant amount of wiggle room to squeeze in a guest participant or two. Or, put another way, you didn’t need a raid party to conquer that impossible boss, but it sure would be easier if your level 100 buddy stopped by. And there were more passive concessions made to the concept of making DQ massively multiplayer, too. There were quests that were released on a timed basis (causing players that had “finished” the game to return), timed online shop sales (a great reason to log in routinely), and spot-pass shared treasure maps that allowed you to share randomly generated dungeons with friends… or anyone that happened to be within wi-fi range. Since not all maps were created equal, the most massive multi-playing involved in DQ9 wound up being map swapping with as many people as possible. And regardless of whether or not map swaps were meant to be the most popular DQ9 pastime, these were all baby steps to seeing what people would want (and what the franchise could support) in DQ10. But if you were some manner of DQ purist, you could technically ignore all these add-ons and still have an enjoyable experience.

I did not ignore those MMORPG-lite features. Lacking friends that were interested in Dragon Quest (Smash Bros? Yes. 100 hour JRPGs for handhelds? No.), I drove an hour away to visit a Best Buy promotion where I was told there would be other nerds sharing maps. I got maps. I got stickers. I was a happy Goggle Bob.

Tag!

And it would be impossible to replicate that experience.

I’m not going to claim I’ve never done anything vaguely ridiculous for a videogame. I’m not even going to claim that “driving an hour for a virtual trinket” is really all that crazy. But for me, it was a singular experience. It was something none of my friends were doing, so I was forced to make a solitary trip in search of some cave full metal slimes. It was the logical endpoint of logging into DQ9 every day for sales, and checking frequently to see if a fun sidequest had become available yet. It was a time when I downloaded material maps off Gamefaqs message boards, and skulked around forums looking for alchemy recipes. There was this whole “meta game” that was a significant chunk of my life for approximately six months wherein I absorbed as much Dragon Quest 9 information from as many sources as possible. From that perspective, spending a day driving to a silly Nintendo promotion seems almost… necessary. Be glad I didn’t fly to another country or join a gang or something, Mom!

Not you againBut, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone that understands the passage of time, any kind of Dragon Quest 9 fervor eventually burned out to a mere handful of embers. All the quests were released, network services were discontinued, and, in a few short years, the idea of someone using a Nintendo DS to spotpass became as esoteric as someone using AOL to change their away message. The meat of Dragon Quest 9, the main quest and its many tangential vignettes, is always going to be there and available, but those early, tentative steps into the world of hybrid online/local multiplayer are gone forever. Sure, you can finagle a wireless modem into broadcasting the old DQ network for fun and profit, but it’s not the same. You’re never going to randomly obtain a treasure map by walking around the mall ever again (and not just because the mall closed, too). There’s never going to be another Dragon Quest 9 event at Best Buy.

So, after devoting nearly 200 hours to a videogame, I never want to play it again. Why? Because I can’t. What’s real and true and memorable about that game is gone forever, and it isn’t coming back. May as well save that file full of foreign treasure maps for future generations, and move on to something else.

Dragon Quest 9, you were an exceptional and singular Nintendo DS experience. Rest in peace, and be a beautiful, blue ghost creature forever haunting your graveyard.

FGC #514 Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

  • System: Nintendo DS. One would suppose a modern remake could rectify these issues, but then I wouldn’t be replaying the exact same game, now would I? Dragon Quest of Theseus.
  • Number of players: A whole cosmos of people… but I think only four at a time.
  • It's an innnyHey, some of these screen shots are clearly from a new playthrough: Well, yes, I did give it a try for this article. I preserved my precious save file on its cart, and attempted an emulated run of DQ9, but it only proved my hypothesis: you can’t go home again. And maybe you can’t play DQ9 after DQ11, either.
  • Speaking of Maps: The whole map system leading to unlimited, random dungeons after a game full of carefully created caves is an amazing swerve that obviously accounted for a significant amount of my playtime. That said, I was downright surprised to boot up my old cartridge and find there were a number of maps I never completed.

    Kind of redundant

    I’m sure it was just because I was too busy farming every other map in the game, but those Copper Ruins of Ruin are calling to me…

  • If you liked the MMORPG-lite features in DQ9, why don’t you play more MMORPGs? Every once in a great while, I downright enjoy getting drunk with my friends. However, that does not mean I want to become a heroin addict. I know my limits and addictions.
  • Explain your OG party member names: Robyn is my usual “female” nom de guerre, and appears often in other games. Rydia the green-haired mage requires absolutely no explanation. Felicia was initially a thief class, so she was named after a familiar Spider-Man character. And Misfit was a redhead named for another comic book character, this time a star from Gail Simone’s then-current run of Birds of Prey. I’m not certain if Misfit is still bungling around the DC Universe at this point, but someone should at least give her a try at appearing in one of the CW shows. She’d fit right in!
  • Choo chooFavorite Class: I had to work the hardest for Luminary, so that’s going to win. Also, in a game that somehow enticed me into caring about JRPG fashion, I’m always going to choose the most fashionable class.
  • Retro Challenge: There are a number of maps that feature the final bosses from previous Dragon Quest adventures. Considering I don’t think I had finished a single Dragon Quest game before DQ9’s release (does Rocket Slime count?), all of these bosses were new to me, and generally about as “nostalgic” as any other random monster. And that’s cool! It wound up encouraging me to play previous DQ titles, and now I can identify a Dhoulmagus from fifty paces.
  • Getting Around: The best airship available is a choo-choo. That is the best.
  • Did you know? As of this writing, DQ9 is the only mainline title to not see a revision/upgrade version of some kind. This is a crime.
  • Would I play again: …. Seriously?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania: Rondo of Blood! That’s the good one! Yay! Please look forward to it!

Achoo

Wild Arms 2 Part 42: Goggle Bob and The Odessa Effect

Let’s Plays are inherently personal. Videogames are intimate experiences to begin with (how else would you describe a situation where you spend forty hours alone with your hands on your controller?), and expanding such an experience to include everyone willing to read/listen is immediately going to, strangely inversely, make that title more intimate to the Let’s Player. Let’s Plays, whether they be screenshots or videos, at least double the amount of time one dedicates to a game, so, assuming this isn’t a Player’s first rodeo, anyone going into a Let’s Play knows it’s going to be a long haul, even on a title as simple as Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles. On a JRPG, we’re talking about an experience that could literally take years.

This Let’s Play took years. Even if I were able to stay 100% on an update a week, these past forty updates would have taken nearly a full year. Why would I even bother?

Wild Arms 2 is a weird game. It is a late Playstation 1 JRPG that existed in that peculiar JRPG adolescence where everyone was simultaneously trying to chase the success of Final Fantasy 7, but also “advance the genre” in its own way. Many JRPG directors of this period had years of experience as being the audience for the likes of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, and an age of post-modern JRPGs was due. But everyone wanted that phat Cloud Strife dough, though, so we saw a number of titles that seemed downright at odds with themselves. A title where a chosen hero battles a group of anime villains but also eventually has to repel an encroaching abstract idea while disproving the very concept of heroism is exactly the kind of title you’d see in ‘99/’00. Wild Arms 2 has a narrative that is seemingly doomed to be bonkers right from the start, as it stands at the intersection of conflicting goals that is “make a Power Rangers game” and “say something meaningful about the world”.

And the translation doesn’t help. Wild Arms 2 is already toying with some intellectual notions for a “typical” JRPG, and the fact that Irving might wind up explaining the same concept using three different incongruous homonyms isn’t helping. What’s more, the translation completely neuters characters’ voices, so the only characters that seem to get individualistic nuance are the heroes that have non-verbal animations that clearly convey their place in the story. Lilka has a tendency to “sound” like everyone else thanks to a dull localization, but her constant cycles of stomping her feet or waving her arms convey the emotions of an impatient young lady. Unfortunately, the majority of the rest of the cast doesn’t get such consideration, and thus characters that should be standouts like Brad and Ashley begin to blur together. This ain’t Persona 4: the localization of Wild Arms 2 is not only confusing for actual plot purposes, it also does an incredible disservice to one of the more unique casts on the Playstation 1.

So we come back to the same question again: why did I, the venerable Goggle Bob, star of stage and screen, bother to dedicate my precious time to Let’s Playing Wild Arms 2?

The answer to that question is a long one.

(Like you thought anything I would ever write would be short…)

NOTE: This section gets incredibly personal. I just started typing, and it happened. Also, general trigger warning for overwhelming grief.

Venture with me back to the bygone time of my college years. In fact, technically the absolute beginning of my time at college. I was to start my higher educational time at Montclair State University, a college chosen for the twin reasons of its affordability and great distance from my parents. It didn’t hurt that Montclair was a stone’s throw from the always-exciting New York City, either. Everything was going swimmingly until there was a snafu with my housing, which would make my college life difficult, as I was looking at a 2 ½ hour commute from home. After begging and pleading and straight up calling a senator (“Let me speak to this state school’s manager!”), I finally received some on-campus housing, and I was all ready to start my college career, albeit a few days later than expected. I was able to “commute” to my opening classes, but I finally moved in on campus on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.

It was September 9th, 2001.

Two days later, things got dicey.

Like most people at Montclair, I had a front-row seat for September 11th. My first exposure to the event was being in the campus library that Tuesday morning (thanks to my class schedule, maybe the only morning I was awake that entire semester), and having someone nearby get off the phone and shout to a nearby coworker, “Some idiot just rammed their plane into the World Trade Center.” That’s what had happened in that moment, too. It’s hard to describe now, but immediately after the first plane hit, it was just kind of assumed that this was some random accident. Some jackass had a pilot’s license, and did an unthinkably stupid thing. Regardless, interested in what was happening, I walked over to a nearby hill that overlooked New York City. I could see the already smoking first tower in plain view, and then, in a moment I’ll likely remember to the end of my days, I saw the second plane hit the second tower, live. Actually, strike that, I don’t remember that moment clearly at all. Over the years, and even there in that moment, my brain kind of recoiled at what was happening. In my memory, it’s practically some morbid comedy routine. I “remember” everyone immediately looking at everyone else there on that hill, looking at the nearby dorm “tower” that rose next to the hill where we all stood, and we all collectively stepped out of its shadow, generally fearful that that nearby building would be next. That, obviously, never happened. I’m still pretty sure 9/11 happened, though.

And it’s hard to describe to anyone that “wasn’t there” how 9/11 impacted the entire campus. For future generations and younger readers: no, there was not widespread panic and rioting on campus. We were mostly just… confused. Something no one talks about is that the World Trade Center was a broadcast tower, so nearby Montclair State completely lost its television for a solid 24 hours. Phones were still mostly land-line based at that time, but the local circuits were literally overloaded for obvious reasons. The only information source available was the internet, which was still fairly new as a “legitimate” news source. In that moment, we had collectively missed the memo on the coming War on Terror or the president urging for calm or whatever, it was just… annoying? Like, people were dead. The nearby New York commuter lots were filled with cars whose owners were never coming back. There was no one on campus (including myself) that didn’t know at least someone who could already be dead. In many cases, we were just waiting for those inevitably terrible phone calls. And, again, we had no real idea what was going on. It was generally assumed that this was a planned attack, but the full breadth of what happened (including the attack on the Pentagon) wouldn’t be revealed to us until that evening. Yes, there were rumors abound, but nothing was confirmed for hours, and, in such a situation, hours can last for years.

And that left a bit of an impression on the campus at large. I would say that literally the entire student body was a little shell shocked by the event. You would see it literally everywhere. When a plane flew overhead, people flinched. No one was comfortable living on the higher floors of the dorms. Visiting New York City went from a joyous event to what was seen as a risky, dangerous proposition. And one thing that seems to be rarely mentioned nowadays: the 9/11 “death cloud” hovered over NYC in thickest black for at least a full week, and looking at the skyline any day thereafter seemed… wrong. There was a constant reminder of death and destruction right there, always outside a nearby window. In the weeks and months to come, the world at large would mutate, but right there at MSU, every last student and professor had to deal with a tragedy that was much more up close and personal.

So, on that cheery note, I’m going to switch gears to talk about my freshman anthropology course.

I was an incredibly enlightened high school student, so I naturally believed that, having figured everything out, I would take the smartest route through college. My plan was to take all the superfluous/required general courses first, and thus get those all out of the way early, and then focus on my real major studies closer to graduating and getting a job that would actually apply these skills. NOTE TO ANYONE THAT WILL LISTEN: never do this. Fun fact: if you transfer to a different school, they’re going to have different superfluous/required classes, and you will have wasted your time. It happens. But, during the summer when I was barely past high school, my plan was to take courses that were ultimately required early, and if a side effect of such a plan was that I’d wind up inadvertently lumped in with a bunch of “seniors” just trying to graduate and get out, so be it.

So this anthropology course was pretty much exactly what I already expected: a large group of chunkheads of various ages that were only taking the class so as to graduate. Actually, the majority of the class may not have been chunkheads, but, given no one ever said a damn word, I’m forced to assume they were all maximum chunkheads. In that class, there was the professor, and there were exactly three people that participated in class. There was…

  1. Myself
  2. One random woman
  3. One man, the younger brother of the one random woman

The siblings had apparently arranged to take this course together, as senior and freshman, and had that naturally intellectual thing going on where they wanted to discuss everything. I, as you’re no doubt already aware, cannot absorb any information without gargling out like a thousand words on the subject. Together, the three of us replied to practically every question the professor tossed out, and I’m moderately certain every other person in the class hated us. Or they loved us. I don’t know. They could have appreciated how we managed to railroad practically every topic into unknown, “this won’t be on the final” territory, and they knew they could just sit back and relax while we prattled on about comparing ancient tribal tattoo ceremonies to going to the mall and getting some fairy princess ink.

How ever the other students felt about us was inconsequential in the long run, though, as the professor apparently adored us. Later in my college years, I decided that this was because it was a once-a-week, 6 PM Wednesday course, and the professor assumed the class would be dead for a solid two hours. We livened up the place, and I suppose we were rewarded for our participation. The three of us collectively could do no wrong, and I personally tested this theory when I turned in a midterm essay about a week late, and received absolutely no punishment for my tardiness.

Which would be why I decided to push the boundaries a little further during the final. There was an in-class test, and a homework essay component. The essay was ridiculously vague: choose an anthropological concept, either from the book or an outside source, and apply it to modern humanity. Could be anything! Take your pick!

My pick? That turned into an essay titled “9/11 & The Odessa Effect”.

You have to understand that 2001 was a lawless time before googling for a source was something any old professor could do. Assuming you claimed a source was “foreign” or “contemporary” (or both), you could basically cite your cat as a valid voice on a term paper. Yes, there could be problems if you tried such a thing at the higher levels of learning… but for a generic anthropology course? You could get away with it with zero issues. And, while I am unequivocally stating that this was the only time I ever committed such a crime, I am going to admit that I may have gotten a name for a source from Gamefaqs…

The time after 9/11 was a time of seemingly impossible nationalism. The 9/11 incident allowed the leaders of our nation to whip the majority of the population into a righteous fury that justified invading at least one country that had nothing to do with anything. And that seemed almost impossible in those early days, given President Bush had previously been involved in one of the most divisive election victories in (then) recent memory. On the day that I moved into my dorm, Bush was seen by half the population as a passable leader, and the other half as a Saturday Night Live punch line that stole an election and was about as qualified for the position as your average toddler; yet, two days later, President Bush was lauded as the one man who could steer us through these turbulent times, and people on both sides of the political divide put their differences aside to hang cardboard flags on overpasses and buy action figures named “Freedom: The American Eagle”.

It wouldn’t last. While the Forever War would keep going until at least the end of this essay, people began to drift back apart and actually question the administration that demanded we rename our preferred potato side dishes. The Dixie Chicks were able to wake us all up (and not Evanescence, oddly enough), and, soon enough, we were back to a nation where a healthy portion of the population couldn’t stand to hear the lies about “WMDs” ever again. We were, in short, back to normal in just a few years’ time.

But there in that moment, in those scant few months after the attack, we were united. We stood together against any threats that might try to take away our Freedom. Particularly, there on that campus, collectively shell-shocked and flinching every time we heard a plane fly overhead, we were ready. We were together in the one singular goal of doing whatever the hell we were told just so long as nothing like this would ever happen again.

And if you told us to impregnate some random twin so as to trap an encroaching universe and then attack a giant monster fetus, we would have been all over that.

I am rather annoyed with myself that I did not preserve that essay in some manner. However, to relay the basic gist of the essay, I claimed that the current nationalism seen in the wake of 9/11 was described only a few years earlier by the modern philosopher Eitarō Nagano (one of the directors of Wild Arms 2 with what I figured was a foreign-enough sounding name), who described “The Odessa Effect”, a phenomenon whereby people would rally behind a heroic leader if a malevolent enough villain rose to power. The theory was so named for the example Nagano initially put forth, which would involve a hypothetical terrorist organization named “Odessa”, and an imaginary nation named Filgaia that would instantly unite against said Odessa. For a touch of flare, I added some random bits about Nagano being generally disliked in his home country for also using Hitler as an example, and seemingly calling out his nation’s former leaders for siding with the wrong side. However, the bulk of the essay focused on 9/11, and how our unity would inevitably lead to a potentially corrupt leader making broad changes with the uncontested support of the nation, just as Nagano predicted. Truly, this “Odessa Effect” was unambiguously applicable to our current situation.

And I got an A for that bullshit.

The professor sent me a personal email (it was the end of the semester, there was no reason for us to ever be in the same room again) about how it was one of the most interesting reports in the class, and she was going to miss my unique insight into current events. Given my interest in the class and the fact that I was obviously doing research on my own, she thought, if I was undeclared, entering the field might be a good career path. There was something in there about needing “more people like you”.

In the full scope of my life, am I proud of such a thing? Well, I can safely say I felt downright bad about apparently impressing my professor to such a degree through writing about a videogame (wow, what a shape of things to come). And academia is important and…. Phhhtt… I’m sorry, I can’t get through that sentence. Dude, it was complete BS from start to finish, but I managed to create an anthropological concept out of a random JRPG that I remembered from like a year prior. I didn’t even have the game handy! I would have much rather written about Super Smash Bros Melee! But, somehow, it all came together well enough to impress my professor, and, while I did legitimately feel bad for deceiving her, I very much enjoyed boosting my GPA with a little help from a Playstation game.

And, ultimately, that’s the reason this Let’s Play exists: I felt like I owed Wild Arms 2.

Wild Arms 2 is not the best JRPG out there. It is not even the best Playstation 1 JRPG. It has its moments, but, from a gameplay and presentation perspective, it could easily be lost in the sea of “wannabe Final Fantasy 7” titles that would flood the market until the dawn of “wannabe Grand Theft Auto 3”s. It has some memorable characters, but they’re drowned out by a slapdash localization. The puzzles are forgettable, and, while some monsters might be interesting, the actual combat is not. Wild Arms 2 is, at best, a mediocre experience.

But, like so much media out there, it can stick with you. It can shape your viewpoints. It can become an experience that is permanently a part of you. In this case, it was the strange intersection of current events and JRPG philosophizing. Was Irving right? Would his plan work in the real world? Or was it all the result of one JRPG writer reading Watchmen’s finale right before starting some plotting? Global peace through uniting against a common enemy? It’s been done before. It’s been done better. But Wild Arms 2 did it, too, and it stuck with at least one player. And that player utilized that thought for a college class. That player decided that that decades old game was worthy of further examination. And, it may have taken an ungodly amount of time, but that player wrote a Let’s Play.

Thanks for being you, Wild Arms 2.

Thank you to everyone that made this Let’s Play a success.

And thank you for reading.

Wild Arms Mission #30
Finish a complete Let’s Play of Wild Arms 2
Status: Success!
Notes: Well, that sure took a while.

Wild Arms 2 Part 36: Everything Is The Worst

Previously on Wild Arms 2: The last Reypoint was activated, and now I am free from typing that word ever again. If we need to refer to those dungeons again, I’m just going to say “those spots”. We clear on that? Good. Moving on.

So Irving just gave us the word that the whaddyacallit trapped baby universe is hanging out in the Zone of Death, so let’s head over to the most deathly place we know.

Quick teleport over to the salt flats of Slayheim…

And we’re one quick dragon trip away from the Trapezohedron.

For the first time, we receive a phone call before entering the dungeon.

Long story short?

We are warned that we will not be able to leave the dungeon after entering. This is not the final dungeon, but it is kind of nice that the writers provided this feint to make you think it might be the final dungeon.

So we’re given the option of wandering off and doing literally anything else. Frankly, I’ve read ahead, and I can tell you that entering this dungeon is a mistake. Please, go. Go enjoy your life.

Uggggggh…