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FGC #578 Red Earth & Capcom Fighting Evolution

Let's fightNow for the tale of two separate and incredibly unequal videogames.

And, uh, don’t worry. Both games contain dinosaur-dragons, so that should keep your interest.

In 1996, Capcom released Red Earth. Known by the much more metal name of War-Zard in Japan, Red Earth was a fighting game that did its best to set itself apart from its peers. Just how different is it? Well…

· There are four selectable characters, and if you do not play 2-P mode, you will never fight the other heroes of the adventure. But who do you fight?
· Dinosaurs! And Squids! And at least one Chimera+ (the plus is for two extra heads)! There are eight levels in Red Earth, and each features a decidedly not-human adversary. The closest you are going to see to something like an even matchup is a harpy that at least does not have any extra limbs on your character, but the same cannot be said for Gi Gi the robotic statue with as many arms as possible.
· And, to be clear, these “bosses” are absolutely not fair fights, complete with a few super moves that can eliminate half your lifebar in one go. These moves are very telegraphed, but if you choose not to dodge at the right time? Down you go.
· Likely to mitigate some of this unfairness, there are health power-ups randomly scattered around. Additionally, continuing after a loss does not reset your opponent’s life meter. Unlike in your typical fighting game, you can (more or less) pick up exactly where you left off after dropping in another quarter.
ROAR· And you’ll want to pick up that joystick again, because every fighter has a story that advances with every fight, and an ending or three with multiple available choices. Play the game well enough, and you just might see your heroine naked and humping an alien. Or maybe she gets a puppy!
· And you may want to pursue all those extra endings, because your character actually levels up, gains new abilities, and increases stats with points that are awarded for every hit. This serves the dual purpose of encouraging playing the game more, and offering the possibility of growing stronger mid-match even if you have been repeatedly losing to the oni du jour.

This all adds up to a game that feels like a fighting game in the individual moments, but plays like an entirely different animal. Much like Konami’s Monster Maulers (released three years prior), this is an attempt to bring some of the most popular conventions of the beat ‘em up genre (health powerups, “boss fights”, multiple routes) into a fighting game to create a more inimitable experience. Additionally, the “leveling system” may unfortunately be a naked attempt at adding “grinding” to a genre that absolutely does not need that kind of nonsense, but it does encourage the player to earn a “new experience” when trying a replay. And, if you are the type to never deviate from a preferred “main”, that’s a pretty big get. Make your Lion King (uh… not that Lion King. He’s just a king that happens to be half-lion) the best Lion King (still not Disney-related) he can be.

Squidly bitsAnd while we are looking at reasons Red Earth was able to set itself apart from the pack (no lions at all involved in that statement, to be clear), consider that this was the first of three(ish) games to feature Capcom’s CP System III. In layman’s terms, pondexter? It means that, like its CPS3 brother, Street Fighter 3, this is one of the most gorgeous sprite-based fighting games out there. Everything from the cloth on Tessa’s hammer pants to the heat bellowing out of Hauzer’s maw is elegantly animated. Even “incidental” bits, like the continue screen countdown, include pixels not likely to ever be seen again. CPS3 may be known for Street Fighter 3 (and maybe a JoJo game), but its maiden voyage here really makes an impact on the ol’ eyeballs.

In short, Red Earth is unique and stunning. It is exactly the kind of fighting game the world needed in 1996, and it promised a great future for the genre.

But there never was a Red Earth 2. Not even a “Turbo” edition graced this title, and the OG version was barely even distributed in North America. If you wanted to play as the lord of lions or the ninja that could fell a sphinx, you would have to wait eight years to see their second adventure. You would have to wait for Capcom Fighting Evolution.

And, sorry Warzard fans, it wasn’t very good.

Further squidsCapcom Fighting Evolution came on the heels of the Marvel vs. Capcom series that was amazing, but also assumed to be totally dead/impossible thanks to Capcom losing Marvel’s favor (don’t worry, kiddies, it would eventually return). Capcom Fighting Evolution also came after the Capcom vs. SNK series, an evolutionary offshoot of the Versus franchise that some still claim is some of the best 2-D fighting you’ll ever see. And what could Capcom Fighting Evolution offer after all of that? Well, even without the accompaniment of Captain America or Geese Howard, the Capcom universe had its fair share of luminaries. You could simply toss every Street Fighter into a game, and it would be gold. Or you could combine Darkstalkers, Street Fighters, Final Fighters, and… what have we got left here? Rival Schools? Whatever! It could work! And that’s before you get into including the likes of Mega Man or Breath of Fire heroes. A “pure” Capcom Versus fighter could be a thing of beauty!

Or it could just be a mishmash of random sprites all slapping against each other. Guess which one we got?

While Red Earth was a potential new future for fighting games, Capcom Fighting Evolution forsook its name and sounded a death knell for the genre. Capcom Fighting Evolution was less a brand new experience and more of a “going out of business sale” for an era. Capcom took four fighters from each of its most popular fighting games, and plunked them all in a 2v2 fighting game. And, while that could have been fun for everybody, a significant drawback of this process was reusing the original sprites of each of these brawlers without any attempt to visually normalize… anything. Morrigan’s sprite was the creaky bane of MvC2 in 2000, and Dimitri did not look any better next to Street Fighter 3 characters four years later. And, to make matters worse, those sprites from Street Fighter 3 that looked so gorgeous in their original game had a number of frames and animations reduced, so they were literally pale imitations of their former selves. And, lest you think these complaints are entirely graphics-based, don’t worry, a game that attempts to merge the intricacies of three different Street Fighter games, Darkstalkers, and an asymmetrical “boss fighter” doesn’t exactly work from a gameplay perspective either. You wouldn’t parry a dinosaur!

WINNER!But that’s kind of the thing: you can parry a dinosaur. Capcom Fighting Evolution contains characters from Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter 3, Darkstalkers, and (most importantly) Red Earth. And, while there are still exactly four Red Earth playable characters, now two of the “bosses” are available for your playing pleasure. Want to be the dinosaur? Or the squid? Have at it! Are these former boss-class monsters rebalanced to be appropriate combatants? Well, as much as anything else is balanced in this game! You probably do not want to take a lumbering dinosaur’s gigantic hitbox up against Metro City’s best ninja, but you can certainly fell that fighter if your fireballs are true. And, while playing as ol’ squidly bits is probably less rewarding than the more sensible adventures of Tessa back on Red Earth, it is inordinately satisfying to see Zangief piledrive an eldritch horror.

And that’s basically Capcom Fighting Evolution in a nutshell: it is objectively bad, but can be subjectively good. CFE is a rushed product featuring many poorly considered decisions, but it is also a game wherein Sakura can fell a furry Conan. Is Red Earth a better game than Capcom Fighting Evolution? Pretty much by every metric! But, in being a tighter experience, it loses the fun you might experience with a looser game that lets you pit a rifle-toting ninja against a psycho-powered dictator.

Some games are good. Some games are bad. But any game where you can fight a dinosaur at least has its priorities straight.

FGC #578 Red Earth

  • THE WARZARD!System: Arcade exclusive. I guess we have to hope for some manner of “Capcom Mini” device to see this one. Maybe they could stick it in the inevitable next Street Fighter 3 compilation?
  • Number of players: Two players, and you can only play as the (mostly defined as) humans. No playable living suit of armor for you.
  • Favorite Character: Like in Pocket Fighter, I’m going with Tessa here. She’s a witch that may or may not have found a second job in Little Witch Academia, and her general… Ryu-ness goes down easy. Second place goes to Kenji the Ninja, but he is a little too Strider-esque to win on his own merits.
  • Favorite Boss: Gi Gi is the robotic monster that Huitzil wishes he could be. Also, his multiple arms and swords may have inspired the best boss in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, so bonus points there.
  • Finish Him: A lot of sources will claim Red Earth was one of the few Capcom titles to include Mortal Kombat-esque fatalities. And they’re not entirely wrong… but these “fatalities” are a lot closer to “Zero slices a robot in half because he used his sword for the final hit” affairs. And, considering you’re only “killing” monsters and robots, comparing it all to Mortal Kombat seems a little disingenuous.
  • What’s in a name: In America, this is Red Earth, clearly meant to convey how this takes place in an alternate timeline/Earth that is ruled by swords and sorcery (and the occasional mech). In Japan, this is known as Warzard, because the final boss is a wizard that starts a war. Either title seems appropriate, but Red Earth at least explains why there is an island nation called “The Kingdom of Reese”.
  • SLICEAn end: If you continue too often, you only get a paragraph of text and a basic message that your protagonist won, hooray. If you manage to conserve a few credits, though, you get a “choose your own adventure” where you can decide your central character’s ultimate fate. Be warned, I was not kidding earlier when I said that the wrong choice could see Tessa naked and straddling an alien, though. Generally NSFW proof here. Oh, also, if you continue the exact right number of times with Mai-Ling, she gets a new pet. Not certain how one heroine winds up in a porno, and the other gets a puppy.
  • For the sequel: Literally every one of Kenji’s endings involves his death. I have to wonder if there were plans to make Kenji a “legacy” character in future titles (as it is easy to replace a ninja that doesn’t ever show a bit of skin, left alone his face), or if Kenji just slept with the director’s spouse, and had to be punished for his hubris. One way or another, it is a wonder that guy made it into Capcom Fighting Evolution.
  • Did you know? The most obvious bad guy (but not the final boss) is Blade, who is a living suit of armor powered by an emerald containing his (once human) soul. This is notable, because, four years later, the final boss of the seminal Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was a living suit of armor powered by a magical gem-core. Is MvC2 the secret sequel to Red Earth? No, of course not. That would be silly. Shuma Gorath doesn’t have enough tentacles.
  • Would I play again: It is a shame Red Earth was only ever four playable characters and a handful of bosses. It feels like an expanded Super Red Earth II Turbo could have really been something special. As it is, it’s a game I’ll likely pick up again, if only to satisfy my need to bisect an oni.

FGC #578 Capcom Fighting Evolution

  • I ain't lionSystem: Apparently there was an arcade release, but most people were exposed to this contagion through Playstation 2 or Xbox. There is the distinct possibility you were able to get it on Playstation 3 as a PS2 rerelease, though.
  • Number of players: Two alternating fighters per team, and two players may control them. Sorry, these are more King of Fighters rules, and not the rapid switching of proper Versus titles.
  • Midnight Bliss: This is another title that went the extra mile and included Dimitri and his ability to metaphorically rape his opponents. While this move never stops being gross, at least most of the Midnight Bliss sprites lean on “humorous” rather than “sexy”. I mean, assuming “schoolgirl with the fossilized head of a dinosaur (wearing lipstick)” isn’t your fetish. If it is, hey, more power to you.
  • Original the Character: Ingrid is the only original character in Capcom Fighting Evolution, and was created for the game Capcom Fighting Evolution was always supposed to be… but never, ever came to fruition. So the last daughter of Capcom Fighting All-Stars has been forced to bounce around the universe with an ever-mutating backstory. In Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max, she was a time traveler. In Project X Zone 2, she had nigh-omnipotent dimension hopping powers. And now, in her Street Fighter 5 profile, she’s a “Code Holder” that is fighting against a fellow named Death. This is the story closest to her original concept, but who knows how long it will last…
  • What does dinosaur blood taste like?Favorite Character: This is one of the weird situations wherein my first pick is the biggest bear wrestler of them all, Zangief. Probably to balance out with the prehistoric heavyweights, Zangief actually has a little agility in this title, and a grappler with some speed is something to be feared. Or maybe they just wanted him to be able to compete with Alex? Who is pretty much the same, but without that all-important chest hair situation? I really can’t say.
  • Did you know? For the record, all sprites in CFE are from the character’s most recent appearance in their designated game… except for the iconic Street Fighter 2 cast. Ryu and M. Bison are encores from Capcom vs. SNK, and Guile is from Street Fighter Alpha 3. And Zangief? He’s a got a completely new sprite that is predominantly (but not entirely) based on his Alpha 3 incarnation. I guess somebody at Capcom liked Zangief, too.
  • Would I play again: I still think of this game as “bad”. On the other hand, in just trying to get a feel for it for this article, I wound up playing the thing for a little over an hour. That might not seem like much, but I had it in mind that I would only play for one arcade cycle… and just kept playing. So there’s something there! So, yeah, I’ll probably be tricked into playing this one again. Maybe I’ll even play as the dinosaur…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Guacamelee! 2! Enter the Mexiverse, and lucha your brains out! Please look forward to it!

Look at that hat
Is this… like… a sex thing?

FGC #572 Night Trap

It's a trapThe sooner you internalize this simple fact, the happier you will be: Nobody knows what they are doing.

Let’s talk about the game so bad, it nearly destroyed everything. Let’s talk about Night Trap.

It is reasonable to assume you have heard of Night Trap. But do you know what the game actually is? It is interactive fiction! It is a playable movie! It is a game that ostensibly tries to be a “videogame” (as opposed to, like, one of those “games” you can play with a DVD remote), but features real, human actors. Night Trap has “graphics” on par with your average Marvel movie, which was practically unheard of at the time. In fact, “practically” nothing, Night Trap was approved for production in 1986, and filmed (with the intention of being released shortly) in 1987.

1987! That was the same year as Castlevania: Simon’s Quest, R-Type (1), and Final Fantasy (1)! Can you imagine a videogame having such amazing fidelity in 1987! And it isn’t Dragon’s Lair! This could have revolutionized gaming as we know it!

Heavy emphasis on the “could have” there, though. Years before the release of Night Trap, a murderer’s row of people that were ostensibly successful in the western videogame development world of the 80’s (Nolan Bushnell! Even my beloved videogame-shunning wife knows that name!), gathered together to create what would be this infamous title. Within this group, Tom Zito produced a device by the name of the NEMO. NEMO (considered so valuable, its acronym literally stood for Never Ever Mention Outside) could use VHS technology to create “movie-based” gaming through playing four video tracks. This technology was used to sculpt a proof-of-concept prototype, Scene of the Crime, which clearly displayed how one could enjoy a “murder mystery” type game. Clue was a fruitful property, right? Well, someone at Hasbro agreed, and NEMO was on its way to powering Night Trap.

What else is on?It is probably worth noting at this point that the brilliant minds that had previously been responsible for videogames as we know them maybe did not have a great idea of what people wanted from videogames. I have written about this phenomenon before, but the first twenty years of gaming were practically defined by people realizing that something would be a cool idea for a videogame (detective work!) and then just completely blowing it with an execution that was about as fun as watching an adorable puppy choking on your math homework (passively watching monitors for maybe something to happen!). The same generation of genius programmers that brought us the likes of Asteroids and Pitfall settled on the “gameplay” of Scene of the Crime being little more than meticulously watching a movie. Nobody wants to hold a controller in their hands and quietly wait for something to maybe happen. But Scene of the Crime, excellent tech demo or not, is just that, and Night Trap would not be much better. You may have been responsible for the whole of gaming in the 80’s, guys, but that didn’t mean you had a damn clue what would make a fun videogame.

And speaking of people that did not know what would work, let’s get back to Hasbro. Hasbro was ready to fund the production of Night Trap (one of the first videogames to include live actors, “movie” directors, and a director of photography that would go on to shoot Forrest Gump), but there were a few notes. Unfortunately, Hasbro was a toy company, so they were downright afraid of any lawsuits that may arise from violence that could be copied by an impressionable child. So the “vampires” intended to be Night Trap’s antagonists weren’t allowed to actually draw blood, and they had to use some manner of grabby-arm trash collector to ensnare their victims. This meant everything slid precipitously into the “goofy” category. Additionally, Hasbro eventually learned of the cost of producing the NEMO system game console that would actually play Night Trap (MSRP in 2021 dollars? About $630), and decided that, grabby vampires or not, Night Trap was literally not worth it. Hasbro purchased and funded the NEMO and its attendant games, but dropped ‘em like a hot potato(head).

Kind of a small dungeonAnd Hasbro in the 80’s really did know toys! They produced Jem (of the Holograms, natch) who once outsold Barbie. They won a lawsuit that allowed them to sell Transformers, or Go-Bots, or something that was a robot that could turn into probably not a robot. They purchased a children’s furniture company, and improved its profitability from millions to billions. And Hasbro was right on the cusp of being responsible for Barney the Dinosaur of Infinite Love/Money. This was a Hasbro that was hugely successful and poised to become the number one toy company in the known universe.

Yet, they could not foresee that new technology would be costly. Nor could they foresee that vampires using zoo-equipment might have unanticipated legal consequence. Brilliant toy company, stupid videogame producer.

But, like a vampire hobbling through the suburbs, Night Trap would not die. Rob Fulop, one of Night Trap’s designers, would call it a day at this point, and go on to be responsible for Petz. But Tom Zito purchased the rights to the NEMO games, and eventually founded his own company in an effort to make an appeal to Sony and its forthcoming Super NES CD-ROM system. That was a dead end and a half, so Zito migrated over to the only decent CD-based platform in town, Sega and its Sega CD.

So, six years after being conceived and five years after being filmed, Night Trap was finally released for the Sega CD in 1992. And, at this point in time, it was only a spectacular failure.

Get 'emHasbro may have been divorced from the project, but their changes remained. A game that was once supposed to feature ninja gradually morphed into something that included vampires, and now neutered vampires were scampering about. But it would be disingenuous to simply blame Hasbro for this debacle. Those ninja were replaced with vampires in the first place because it was determined that too much darkness would play poorly on modern television screens. So a game that was initially designed to be cloaked in shadow had to step out into the harsh light of poor illumination. What’s more, the one interactive bit of Night Trap, that the player could activate traps that would eject or otherwise harm the villains of the piece, necessitated some extremely awkward behavior from the stuntmen playing these malcontents. So our Draculas had to be reduced to “henchmen” that skulked along like Renfields that had been forsaking the blood for far too much hooch. And, as one might expect, those “real live actors” involved in the filming of Night Trap had no real idea what they were doing. To be clear, they were likely consummate professionals, but this was a new medium, and its not like a director can direct when they do not even have a full picture of what the final product is going to be. In short, Night Trap was a mess, and practically every corner of it exuded b-movie shlock.

And, oh yeah, the gameplay was frustrating, obtuse, and demanded a lot more dedication than Night Trap should have ever required. Do you know what color code is required at Minute 4 in the bedroom? No? Well get ready to watch someone die, stupid!

Actually, watching someone die repeatedly might make an impact on an impressionable player… Huh, I wonder if anyone else noticed that? Anyone like, you know, the entire United States Senate.

NERDS!Night Trap saw release in 1992, and it is cited as one of the chief reasons we had the 1993 Congressional Hearings on Videogames. Night Trap and its tremendously more popular cousin, Mortal Kombat, were cited as the primary motivating factors in this series of hearings, but, make no mistake, videogames had been a popular scapegoat for years. In 1982, Surgeon General Koop claimed that videogames could be affecting children’s health, as apparently Pac-Mania had infected the general populace. And, as Hasbro was well aware, this was the era when “won’t someone please think of the children” escalated to the point that you could barely have a dude in furry underwear bully a skeleton without someone shouting about kids hitting each other with homemade nunchucks. And, as we all know, once you involve the welfare of children, you know there are predators that are perfectly happy to profit off that fear, whether that be through actual profits or an eternal campaign bullet point.

In the fullness of time? These congressional hearings did have a good outcome: the creation of a ratings system for videogames. Considering the same had existed for movies for years, this was an excellent innovation for a medium that was still in its fledgling stages. But beyond that? This whole hearing was nonsense from top to bottom. The likes of Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl were obviously punching down on a medium that did not yet have the clout to resist such a slanderous public hearing, and certain companies took the occasion to hurl accusations at their most prominent competitors. Howard Lincoln says Sega hurts kids that Nintendon’t. Yes, there were probably some genuinely concerned people involved in these hearings that frequently showcased clips of “videogame violence”, but it seems like the biggest names in gaming and politics were mostly just there to advance their own agendas (and Captain Kangaroo, too, who had reasons known only to him).

She's basically dancingAnd this was and continues to be terrible. Ever hear about Seduction of the Innocent? It was a book published by a psychologist in 1954, and it eventually led to Congress launching an inquiry that neutered the comics industry for decades. In short, Fredric Wertham called Batman gay (not an exaggeration, true believers), and that snowballed into the giants of the comics industry corralling guidelines into a path that incidentally promoted the very comics that those industry giants were selling. And if you weren’t one of those giants? If you were publishing horror and/or horny material? Sorry, you are out of business. Literally! And this meant that the Western comic book medium became regarded as the domain of children for (apparently) the rest of time. Want to see what an American “manga market” could look like? Too bad! We had Seduction of the Innocent and a bunch of gold-diggers pushing their own superheroes forward, and now all we get is Iron Man, Iron Man: Civil War, and Iron Man: First Sip.

And it could have happened to videogames, too! Actually, it absolutely did. Thanks to ESRB regulations and conservative retailers, videogames were not sold in many brick and mortar stores if they ranked as an “Adults Only” title. And considering that physical stores were all that existed for a long time, we didn’t see anything that could even prod at that AO rating until three console generations later. And while no one is exactly lamenting a lack of Senran Kagura on the Super Nintendo, it is hard to say if something like the entire Suda51 or Yoko Taro oeuvre would have been allowed in the wake of 1990s videogame panic. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, gaming needs more voices in its chorus, and we would be missing out on some very distinct tones if we universally outlawed android butts.

But that was the sad reality of videogames for decades. All thanks to a pack of opportunistic senators. All thanks to some very imprudent videogame directing. All thanks to very fearful toy manufacturers. All thanks to some ill-advised hardware consideration. Going back years, damage was done to the videogame medium for decades, all thanks to a series of ostensible pillars in their respective fields making the wrong choices.

Love this guyAnd what can we learn from this? Well, at every step in the process no one really did anything objectively wrong. Wanting to drop brutal ninja for fantastic vampires is not wrong. Wanting to protect children from the horrors of violence is not wrong. Wanting to revolutionize gaming in new and exciting ways is not wrong. But the end result? Night Trap scarred gaming for decades, but it was the men (I’m going to go ahead and assume it was mostly men here) in charge that made the repeated decisions to somehow make this product and its legacy worse and worse. No one did anything wrong, but they made the wrongest decisions possible. And, as a result, Night Trap became a game so bad, it nearly destroyed everything in its wake.

Kind of makes you wonder what would happen if these people were in charge of something actually important

FGC #572 Night Trap

  • System: Despite objections from 1990s Nintendo, Night Trap is now available for the Nintendo Switch. Amazing! It is also available for the Sega CD, Sega CD/32X (long story), 3DO (such a cursed system), and, eventually, the Playstation 4/Vita (also significantly cursed).
  • Number of players: No way you could play this with anyone else. Ever.
  • Port-o-Call: The Sega CD is a bit of a… let’s say the graphics took a hit. Not all recordings are created equal. Or at a resolution above 10 x 10 pixels. But the 32X version is a significant improvement. And the modern versions actually look like the game is supposed to look. That said, it’s all the same terrible game, so don’t get too excited.
  • What us even happening?Let’s talk about the plot: A lot can be said for how the gameplay is terrible, and the acting is horrendous. But one thing that is often overlooked is that, whether it’s because the writing has to account for multiple characters that may or may not be kidnapped, or simply because no one knew what they were doing, the ostensible protagonists are wholly forgettable. You are supposed to be saving lives here! And the only character that even seems worthy of having a name is the secret vampire ham-man! Everybody else is just horrible, and that is likely a contributing factor in Night Trap being about as fondly remembered as polio.
  • So, did you beat it? Naw. Went ahead and watched a “full” run through on youtube, but there is no way I am going to take the time to carefully map out exactly where “I” have to be when. The whole thing is just exhausting for the payoff of having watched a complete movie.
  • For the Sequel: Everything about Night Trap/Scene of the Crime would eventually “work” in other games. Scene of the Crime’s concept of detective work would eventually be adapted into the hugely entertaining Phoenix Wright franchise by finding the right level of interface for solving a murder, and the basic gameplay of Night Trap would later work as the Five Nights at Freddy’s series. So, in other words, what the NEMO needed was more whacky lawyers/animatronics.
  • Did you know? The other game that was supposed to launch with the Hasbro NEMO? Sewer Shark. Now there’s a system seller for the ages!
  • Would I play again: Not for all the wannabe vampires in Castlevania. This game is a bear in every conceivable way. And not a cuddly bear! One of those bears that leaves you generally dissatisfied with your current organ count.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bowser’s Fury! Or Furry! It’s one of those! Please look forward to it!

It's out of control
Any version that doesn’t include a Genesis controller is not real.

FGC #567 BlazBlue: Centralfiction

This post originally appeared about two years ago on a forum post that… apparently no longer exists. Whoops! In the interest of my beloved words reaching as many people as possible, please enjoy this nonsense with the excuse that I am now playing the Switch version of BlazBlue: Centralfiction. Oh, and be aware there are spoilers for the entire franchise here, and it is super GIF heavy. I probably should have led with that…

Time to Blaze itWhat you have to understand is that BlazBlue could be so, so simple. At first glance, it’s a pretty straightforward story: 100 years in “our” future, but 100 years before the events of the game, mankind goes too far, and accidentally releases magic (good), and the Black Beast (bad) on the universe. The Black Beast nearly destroys the world, but six brave heroes rise up and seal away the ancient evil. Now, in the present (of the game), a terrorist in a red coat is running around wrecking stuff, and it is assumed he is trying to revive the ancient evil. Naturally, he’s misunderstood, and the real bad guy is hiding in plain sight within the current ruling government, so the wheel of fate is turning, action!

And were this a simple, traditional fighting game universe, that would be it. There would be a “new” gang of heroes, a few would have obvious or subtle ties to the previous legends, throw in a wannabe ninja or two, and you’d have a pretty straightforward fighting game universe. Everybody battles at first, they eventually join up, and the inevitable “return of the Black Beast” is defeated by friendship and mashing the jab button. It could work! It could work well! Perhaps in that universe, all would be joyful, and I wouldn’t be getting ready to explain how the pretty sorcerer lady had sex with a goddamn cat. Maybe that universe would be better for all of us…

This isn't realActually, speaking of universes, BlazBlue does something interesting with its overall plot. Were you around for the Mortal Kombat debates of the 90’s? I’m not talking about the silly disputes over whether Mortal Kombat was too violent for young eyeballs; no, I’m talking about the important arguments about things that mattered. I’m talking about the debates over which Mortal Kombat endings were canon. Did Scorpion really kill Sub-Zero? Did Kano really kill Sheeva, or did she kill him (and did Sonya watch)? Yes, we know Liu Kang won a tournament or two from that opening roll, but we want to know some details! Johnny Cage: Goro-slayer or conceited movie star? This is important to my fanfic, dammit!

BlazBlue does its best to sidestep all of that, and introduces some canon multiversal theory to the fighting game genre. All endings are valid. Yes, Ragna saved one world, and Arakune devoured everyone and everything in another world. Every single BlazBlue game has multiple endings for each of its characters, and every ending is equally canon, because the forces of good and evil at the highest levels are distinctly watching every universe to see the potential best outcome. And it’s a very distinct plot point in practically all of the games! All endings are canon, so, yes, that goofy finale where Dan wins the tournament and Zangief becomes a robot totally happened.

Unfortunately, it seems like the writers wanted to justify this conceit, and… things got complicated.

This story has no beginning and no end. It is a tale of souls and swords that, unfortunately, gets a little confused along the way. I guess we’ll start with the kids…

FGC #551 The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

Let's go ninja!The next two weeks will feature articles that are aggravatingly autobiographical as part of Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s). I realize I’m not too conservative with the ol’ autobiographical moments on a good day (hey, this is my blog), but I feel these stories need to be told before I wrap up the FGC project (in another hundred articles, gotta plan ahead), and, well, if you can’t indulge yourself, then who else can you indulge?

So, fair warning, FGC #551 and #552 are going to be about videogames and friendship, and #553 and #554 are going to be about videogames and love. If you are just here for random videogame musings that aren’t entirely centered on my life experiences (then why are you here!?), we will resume true randomness with #555. I think E. Honda may be involved? I’ll have to check.

And with that caveat out of the way, let’s talk about what I learned in college.

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a very special videogame to yours truly. For one thing, I’m rather fond of legends, mystics, and ninja. So we’ve got a clear winner here. For another thing, it was inexplicably one of my few Super Nintendo cartridges back in the early days of the system. It wasn’t a launch game, but it was a game that came along early in the system’s lifespan, and well before I had a handful of JRPGs that were capable of capturing about 40 hours of my life at a time. And I feel I need to remind my presumably adult audience (I use swear words, like “butt”) that, when you are a child with nothing to do, any enjoyable distraction is forced to last for the approximately 40,000,000,000 spare hours you have over the course of the day. In short, I played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja a lot.

WeeeeeBut it wasn’t just about the single player experience in The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. TLotMN, like many games of the era, contained a 2-player mode. Unlike many games of that era, however, its two player mode wasn’t a Mario-esque affair where you constantly traded turns back and forth. TLotMN allowed both players to play at both times! Like Contra! These Konami guys are pretty great! So TLotMN got played an awful lot not only by myself, but also in tandem with my next door neighbor and best friend, Jimmy. Final Fight might not have been two-players, but The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was, so we cooperated and did our best to save Ancient Japan from the forces of whatever the hell we were continually hitting with pipes.

Sad truth? We never, ever beat the game.

And, to be clear, this was not a game we played when we were young and hopelessly inept. Yes, back in the NES days, Jimmy and I were but babes, and we were generally about as effective at beating videogames as we were at solving quadratic equations. But by the Super Nintendo era? Brother, we were all-stars! I mean, like, literally, we beat Super Mario All-Stars. We also were able to one-credit stomping all over M. Bison in Street Fighter 2 (on, uh, the easier modes). Yes, by the time we had to grapple with L & R buttons, we were ready to conquer the world. … Just so long as that world didn’t contain The Legend of the Mystical Ninja.

EAT YO-YOAnd, looking back, I don’t exactly blame my younger self (plus guest) for not finishing the game. Yes, there are generous continues, but the password “save” system is one of those final relics of the NES era that needed to lay buried the absolute minute the save battery was invented. And TLotMN demands its players know exactly what to do when. For instance, if you blow all your cash in the arcade in Level 3, you’ll never be able to afford the mandatory travel visa in Level 6 (there’s probably a life lesson there, but I’m mad right now, and not having it). Cool powerups (that are advertised right there on the cover!) require time, money, and effort that continually makes them about as useful as actually trying to solve your problems by riding a tiger. And, yes, this is an early Konami game, so there are a few places where the directors apparently expect you to have Gradius-level reflexes. Yes, playing The Legend of the Mystical Ninja now, as an adult with save states, seems to portray the title as something on the easier side of the Sesame Street 123 – Battletoads scale, but there was a time when this game refused to allow entry to the final level. Beating that giant weeble wobble was just too hard for two children!

Eventually, emulators became available. Eventually, likely out of a misplaced sense of vanity, I conquered The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. But it was a lonely journey. By this time, there wasn’t anyone in my life that was still interested in Super Nintendo games (the N64/Playstation was the new hotness), and it seemed unlikely I would ever rectify the life-long mistake of not having completed TLotMN “the real way” (or at least the real way according to Bubble Bobble). Would I ever again have a friend that wanted to play as Dr. Yang ever again?

Enter: college.

MeowIt’s hard to explain to the youth of today, but, when I was first entering college, there was some weird kind of faux-retro thing going on for the NES/SNES era. To sum it up nicely, one time a number of us sat in the quad staring up into a dorm window while some unknown individual played Punch-Out! with a TV pointed toward his enrapt, outdoor audience. They were pretty good at it! It may have simply been the marketing of the time (I want to say this is right about when Hot Topic started stocking 8-bit Mega Man shirts), but the NES/SNES era was totally “in” when I was first matriculating, so, surely, this was the time to avenge myself upon various games. I was gonna save the princess with a buddy once and for all!

And, yes, gentle reader, I did find a buddy. I found multiple college buddies in fact, as it was apparently a pretty popular job to work odd hours as tech support for the college computer labs, and I was a human being that liked computers and odd hours. I “hung out” with a number of young techs from late at night to the early morning because, hey, that’s just the kind of guy I am (an insomniac, to be precise). And, given there was no authority but these techs in these computer labs, any time except mandated exam time wound up being given over to LAN parties and emulators aplenty. We even hooked a Dreamcast up to a VGA monitor once! It was horrible! But it happened, and someone managed to score a perfect in Soulcalibur against the computer before the screen was even properly operating. In fact, that very person was Jim, obvious spiritual descendant of the earlier mentioned Jimmy, and he and I attempted The Legend of the Mystical Ninja one evening.

It… didn’t go exactly as planned.

We sailed through the first level. That was fine. We were enjoying ourselves, beating up townsfolk, collecting lucky cats, etc. Then we got to the second zone. Contained within the second act is one of the many available minigames in The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. We had already tried goblin tossing and paint in the first area, so we decided to hit the faux arcade and play whatever was actively 2-player.

Here it comes

There is a game that is, effectively, Pong. Given it is only available in a 2-player game (there is no CPU opponent available), I jumped on the chance to play this otherwise gated content. Jim probably just wanted to give Pong a try. So, we did.

Get ready

And, since save states aren’t just for cheaters, we were also able to continually “reboot” the minigame anytime we wanted. Thanks to the ability to immediately reload from the top of a game, we technically could play this version of Pong all night.

Now this is happening
Dramatic Recreation

And we did. We played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja Pong from 11 PM until approximately 5 AM. It was nearly the entire shift, and it was entirely Pong.

We never beat The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. We never beat the second level.

And that’s okay.

We had fun playing Pong. We didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish, but we had fun playing a videogame. Acknowledging the simple pronoun difference there is important.

It's hammer timeThough I loath to acknowledge the term, I am a gamer. I play videogames. I beat videogames. Nine times out of ten, if I’m playing a videogame at all, I am playing to win. And it doesn’t matter if I’m battling a human opponent or attempting to steer my protagonist toward some AI final boss: I need to cross that finish line. I need to be the very best, like no one ever was. I have no time for this inconsequential “Pong”, I have to get out there and beat the game!

Except when I don’t. Except when I can just have fun with the game, because it is, ya know, a game. It is made for fun. A videogame is not designed to be beaten, it is created to be enjoyed.

Want to know what I learned in college? It was that life sometimes doesn’t go exactly how you’d expect, but it’s still worth enjoying yourself. Sometimes you save Ancient Japan, and sometimes you play Pong for hours on end. Sometimes what you expect is not what happens, but it can be enjoyable regardless. You can’t control life. You can’t control other people. But you can control what makes you happy.

I also learned you can sneak liquor into the computer lab. But I think I already knew that…

FGC #551 The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

  • System: Super Nintendo. Didn’t it get rereleased on the Wii or WiiU? I think it was WiiU.
  • Number of Players: Did you read the article!? Goddammit!
  • I hate youMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Didn’t I? Whatever! I’ll talk about it more, then! The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is an extremely weird game in how it mixes 2-D “action” stages with towns that are loaded to the gills with, essentially, distractions. There is very little overlap between rewards you can obtain for painting buildings or hot tubs that restore health and the “real” progression in the plot, but, dammit, it’s fun. Long after I finished with other, more straightforward titles, I returned to The Legend of the Mystical Ninja for random fun and hijinks. Wait, dammit, now I’m veering back into autobiographical territory.
  • Favorite Minigame: I like painting. I feel like this whole “don’t ever go over the line again” thing has appeared in many other games as a minigame, but rarely as, like, a real game. I guess it’s like Snake? But not really? I like this better than Snake.
  • Eternal Trauma: I feel like entering Zone 6, and finally having a required amount of money to progress scarred me for life. I used to be such a happy child, using elixirs and spending money willy nilly, and now I am someone that hoards every last item and gold piece, confident in the idea that the game will require six hundred whositdaddies to advance. I blame Kid Ying.
  • Now I get it: For the record, that giant octopus at the end of Zone 3 is now a little more recognizable. No wonder he is attacking the (apparently eternal) Konami building!
  • More killer clownsLand of the Rising Fun: Yes, this is a game that was radically changed for localization, as it is aggressively Japanese. In the East, you’ve got Ganbare Goemon vaguely based on the historical/nigh-mythical Goemon, and in the West, you’ve got Kid Ying, who is just some marginally shifty dude that lives with a blue weirdo. That said, the game is still pretty damn Japanese, and it’s not like they changed Ancient Edo to be Old York City or something.
  • But they did change riceballs into pizza, right? Yes. Americans are physically incapable of understanding Japanese treats. See also: Ace Attorney, Digimon.
  • Did you know? There’s a “theater” in Zone 3 that features Dr. Yang dancing and farting. For some reason, it was removed from the American release. But! It is still referenced in Nintendo Power, a separate hint book, and the instruction manual. So we were obviously a hair’s width away from Ebisumaru blowing us all away.
  • Would I play again: Hell, why not? I like this game, even when I’m just playing Pong with friends. It is delightful, so The Legend of the Mystical Ninja always has a seat at my table.

What’s next? Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s) continues with Smarty Pants for the Nintendo Wii! Never heard of it? Well, that’s kind of the point! Please look forward to it!

Pew Pew
This is getting pretty meta