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

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

There are two kinds of videogame worlds:

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

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

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

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

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

Real estate values are low here

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is simple: because you can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every single one of us, devil inside

FGC #600 Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes: Part 5

Finally, some gameplayMarvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes is an amazing, once in a lifetime game that brings together over 50 characters from wildly disparate worlds and franchises. So, in an effort to pay tribute to one of the games I believe to be the greatest of all time, please enjoy the final day of our five-part, 100% complete, generally alphabetical look at every fighter in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Now let’s talk about the monkey girl…

SonSon

Go Go MonkeySonSon is one of four original characters in Marvel vs Capcom 2. Amingo, Abyss, and Ruby Heart were all created exclusively for MvC2, and they have not appeared in anything but cameos ever since.

Except SonSon is not an original character. SonSon is based on SonSon from the obscure 1984 Capcom arcade title, SonSon.

Except SonSon is an original character, because she is the granddaughter of that SonSon. She is not the SonSon of SonSon. She is, essentially, SonSon III.

Except SonSon I was not an original character, either. SonSon I was based on Sun Wukong from the 16th century Chinese novel, Journey to the West. SonSon is one of a thousand “adaptations” of this classic tale, with the original premise of Dragon Ball being one of the most prominent illustrations.

So, SonSon III is ultimately an original character that is based on a character that is possibly the least original character in the whole roster.

But, hey, at least she can turn into a giant monkey. That might be better than being a cactus.

Peter “Spider-Man” Parker

Its that guySpider-Man is Sailor Moon.

And, yes, both franchises subsist on several Young Adult fiction tropes, but very specifically for both cases…

1. The central “Marvel” conflict of Spider-Man was always that Peter Parker kind of sucked as Peter Parker, but excelled at being Spider-Man. Iron Man had his potentially deadly shrapnel that “made him” Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk had his man/monster dichotomy, and Spider-Man had the unbearable burden of having to be a good Peter Parker and superhero. He failed. A lot. Nearly everyone in Peter Parker’s life, from his adopted mother to his boss, thinks Peter Parker is a slacker that is never going to achieve anything, and this is primarily because Pete puts too much of an emphasis on saving the world. He was late because he was stopping a mugging. He missed Aunt May’s birthday because he was dealing with Galactus. It’s kind of a “nice guy” fantasy wherein your every failing has a big, important reason that no one would ever understand because it must be a secret for their own good. But, end of the day, Spider-Man is saving the day, even though J.J. would never believe Peter Parker can accomplish anything. In much the same way, Usagi, Sailor Moon’s “secret identity”, is the world’s biggest screw-up, and if you told her parents that she was destined to rule a thousand years of peace after banishing all evil witches from the land, they would likely die laughing. Very similar “secret identity hijinks” on both sides, with a heavy emphasis on simultaneously being super important but extremely poorly regarded by their friends and family.

2. Similarly, Spider-Man is…

FGC #600 Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes: Part 4

They shall take me for a rideMarvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes is an amazing, once in a lifetime game that brings together over 50 characters from wildly disparate worlds and franchises. So, in an effort to pay tribute to one of the games I believe to be the greatest of all time, please enjoy day four of a five-day, 100% complete, generally alphabetical look at every fighter in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Today, we’re going to go down the rabbit hole with…

Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock

This is for Ms. Marvel…. Look, even I have limits.

We’re on day four here, and we’re at something like 15,700 words all about this nonsense, and… Gah, Psylocke. I really want every entry in this #600 to get to some “core” of a featured character. I mean, look at the crazy depth of the Marvel vs. Capcom 2 roster! It has at least one character that was five decades old when he appeared in the game, and he could fight a sentient, newborn cactus. That’s huge! That’s bigger than Mario! And the fact that it is unlikely we will see such a game again without excessive marketing department input or a bunch of weirdos meme-voting Deadpool’s companion unicorn into the proceedings is significant. We are never going to have Marvel vs. Capcom 2 again, as it was a perfect time capsule of an epoch before videogames and comics were the exclusive domain of commercial monopolies. Say what you will about the presence of Marrow or Ruby Heart, but there is no way we are seeing one of them take up a valuable “slot” again when Thanos’s latest rival is available.

But Psylocke? Even though Betsy Braddock has been kicking around comics since 1976, the “core” of this character is… It is impenetrable. You get any deeper than the surface level of Psylocke, and things get muddled at best, and downright racist at worst. I don’t want to write about how Marvel Comics had an incredibly ridiculous Asian fetish back in [insert any year since 1976], and damn near everything about that comes off as racist as hell if you examine it for more than three seconds! I just want to write about wacky mutants fighting equally wacky computer game dudes.

But, I suppose I have to see this project through to its end, so, with that in mind…

Psylocke was born Elizabeth Braddock, the mutant younger sister of Captain Britain, Sir James Braddock. She had several adventures with the X-Men as a telepathic, purple-haired supermodel with a tendency to attack her opponents via butterfly motif. In 1989, things got weird when Betsy was… urgh… okay… so originally “Psylocke” was given “new eyes” by Mojo (we will get to Spiral tomorrow), and… like… that made her Asian? But then that was misinterpreted by the next writer, so it was established that she was not just given some kind of eye surgery, but had her brain scooped out and implanted into an Asian woman that was incidentally a badass ninja assassin. And this explained why previously fairly chill Betsy suddenly could do backflips around the universe while wielding a katana that was a projection of the focused totality of her psychic powers. And, in time, there had to be an explanation on who the woman Psylocke was before she was Psylocke, so Kwannon was retconned, and now there was the eternal story hook of Psylocke being returned to a revived form of her old body, or Kwannon coming back for revenge, or… Gah!

It’s too much! In an effort to “correct” the uncomfortably racist plot of “someone made Betsy generically Asian”, an entirely new, marginally less racist story had to be created. And it is the story of a wealthy white woman stealing and tangentially killing an Asian woman. And Marvel’s staff has literally stated that it was meant to be temporary, but everybody liked Jim Lee drawing an Asian lady in a swimsuit. And damned if “Kwannon’s body” wasn’t plastered over every comic book cover, trading card, and even videogame from the 90’s until the end of time. Psylocke is even unnaturally “jiggly” in her Capcom appearances! This was a sold few years before Dead or Alive! And you don’t see Wolverine employing real-time sprite physics! All to feature a “stolen” body!

Argh! I just want to fight with the pretty ninja lady! But you jerks made it all terrible!

If you’re curious, in the current comics status quo, Betsy is back to being original Betsy, and Kwannon has reclaimed her original body (more or less) that is totally not being randomly killed by Mr. Sinister on an irregular basis. This seems like an effort to make the character(s) less problematic, but the fact that it took about forty years to get there is… a little disheartening.

And don’t get me started on all the times the writers “threatened” to bring back OG Betsy like it was the worst thing that could happen…

Anna Marie aka Rogue

Feel the MojoChrist on a cracker, Rogue is next after Psylocke? Dammit! I do not want to examine that “Southern Belle” dynamic here. Yes, she is flirty as hell but equally chaste because her power kills potential suitors. Can we look at something else? Something more fun?

Oh! Let’s play with names…

FGC #600 Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes: Part 3

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

Anthony “Iron Man” Stark

An older crossoverThe basic, most driving force for Marvel comics creations in the Stan Lee era was that everybody had “real world” problems to complement their fantastic superpowers. Sometimes these problems were mundane (Mr. Fantastic had some less-than-fantastic family dynamics to deal with, Spider-Man with great responsibility yada yada yada), and sometimes they were more metaphorical (Hulk was a rage monster, Thing’s literally rocky exterior did not match his big heart). Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man, started with a pretty basic problem: if he wasn’t Iron Man, he would die. Thanks to some errant shrapnel from around when the first Iron Man suit was created, businessman Tony Stark had to wear an Iron Man chest plate at all times to keep his heart beating. This served the dual purpose of guaranteeing Tony Stark was always “stuck” being Iron Man, and also granted the “battle” weakness of setting a battery-based timer on all of Iron Man’s supervillain fights. Iron Man is invincible! Except when he has to duck out for a recharge! Sorry, Mandarin, this millionaire has to wrap this up and hit a gas station.

And this “weakness” has existed in various forms throughout the years. At one post-shrapnel point, Iron Man had “extremis” on his side, and he was powered by nanite-based armor and abilities that put his powers firmly in the futuristic category. But he once again had to rely on tech (this time repulsor-based) to keep the whole thing working and not murdering the poor billionaire. Similarly, Tony Stark’s big demon in the bottle, alcoholism, has been a consistent weakness that is a real-world problem that works not unlike his batteries of old. Instead of a stressful battle requiring a battery charge, now he has to charge his mental batteries by calling a sponsor. But by this point in continuity, the likes of extremis has fallen by the wayside, and Iron Mans Anonymous can only fuel so many stories before “nobody wants to watch a dude be sad all the time” sets in. So, now, what is left as Iron Man’s current weakness?

Well, he’s kind of a dick.

This appears to be the one constant in Iron Man’s characterization over the last twenty years. Iron Man is a brilliant futurist, and, implicitly as a direct result of that, he’s a jackass. Iron Man is invincible once again, but, more often than not, he is going to get into trouble thanks to some combination of hubris and vaguely self-serving intentions. Yes, Iron Man is going to save the world. Unfortunately, after doing so, he may have also brought back some interplanetary technology that he is going to study/watch destroy the world in a whole new way. Tony Stark has outright created about half of his rogue’s gallery, and when he was brainwashed (more or less, long story, involves Nazi Onslaught) into being an evil tech billionaire that sold people microtransactions to live, it was kind of hard to tell if this was a result of the whole brainwashing thing, or just his latest bright idea. Couple this with his current origin merging with his movie-based story of being a superpowered version of Lockheed Martin, and we come up with a Tony Stark that might be a hero, but is definitely not going to be invited to anyone’s birthday party.

Iron Man: you may enjoy his unibeam, but don’t make the mistake of talking to the trillionaire. He’s probably going to try to sell you on Starkcoin, and then tank the stock just in time to get a new paintjob on his armor. Do not engage this dick.

Jill Valentine

Hiya!The Resident Evil franchise started with a basic story about a handful of mundane cops investigating a mysterious mansion. This is an extremely well-trodden premise, and, give or take the threats being supernatural or superscientific, this is literally just the same concept as a haunted house. Or a generic horror movie! And Resident Evil, at its core, plays out like a horror story. There are characters that are not going to get out alive, a betrayer, and a pair of protagonists that will survive not only through brute force, but also the ingenuity of employing unusual skills (like lock picking, jewel sorting, or sandwich aversion). Jill Valentine was one of those survivors, and her second starring role, Resident Evil 3, ultimately cast her in the familiar “final girl” role as she made her exit stage left while pursued by a bear(-sized zombie).

And then the Resident Evil franchise got weird…