Tag Archives: Nintendo Switch

FGC #604 Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

Reflections are importantCastlevania: Harmony of Dissonance was released back in 2002 on the Gameboy Advance. It was the first Koji Igarashi-directed metroidvania to follow the wildly successful Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and would be followed by the critically beloved Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow a year later. While many at the time lauded Harmony of Dissonance for being a step up from the non-canon, non-Iga-directed Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, in the years since, Harmony of Dissonance has gained the reputation as one of the “lesser” Igavanias. Nobody seems to claim it is particularly bad, but the understood consensus is that you would be better off playing literally any other metroidvania in the franchise. Iga was still getting used to portable Castlevanias, guys, play one of the games after he found his skelelegs.

And that is a damn shame, because Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance has some great ideas that were never seen in the franchise ever again. Take for instance…

Juste Belmont is all you need

This guy looks familiarCastlevania stars Simon Belmont. Castlevania 3 stars Trevor Belmont. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood stars Richter Belmont. And then we got Castlevania: Symphony of the Night starring Alucard, and we only ever saw one Belmont in a headlining role ever again. Juste Belmont is that Belmont, and he’s here to chew bubblegum and whip skeletons (and he’s fresh out of bubblegum).

Juste Belmont plays like a Belmont. There is no gimmick here, no secret power that makes Juste a creature of the night just like his opponents. He runs. He jumps. He attacks with a whip of clearly defined length, and flicks its limp form around to block medusa heads at will. He can perform some of the “later” Belmont abilities, like the slide and backward dash. He even has a forward dash, because some weirdo gave the Gameboy Advance an L and R button. But, a few extra skills aside, Juste is familiar, and a clear descendant of Grandpa Simon (and maybe the old man that trained Richter a few decades later).

And in the friggen Castlevania franchise, it is nice to play as a Castlevania protagonist.

You could claim there is a clear dichotomy between Simon-like protagonists and Alucard-like protagonists in the Castlevania franchise. Soma is an Alucard. Shanoa is an Alucard. Castlevania-wannabe Miriam is an Alucard. But claiming there are only two options is reductive. John Morris of Portrait of Ruin is very close to being the typical Belmont, but there is a lot more nuance and variety to his moveset. Or, put another way, there is no way Juste Belmont could ever turn into an owl. It may be a result of the presence of Charlotte, but, one way or another, John is no Alucard, but he certainly is not a straight-Belmont, either.

And having a 100% Belmont on the team makes for a different, unique game. Juste eventually gains a “super jump” to traverse long vertical passages, but, for the majority of his adventure, he is stuck with little more than a regular Belmont arc jump. And that changes the castle dramatically! There is no expectation here that you will eventually be able to fly into narrow passages as a bat, or “mist” through glass windows. Juste is stuck with legitimate keys-as-keys, and a castle that could reasonably be traversed by a human on foot. And that’s the rub! Belmonts are humans, and that appropriately restrains the Castle to something that is never going to require reversing gravity or filling in map squares by bumbling around as a wolf.

It is nice to be human sometimes and know that castle completion is not tied to some esoteric ability you will find five feet before Dracula. HoD perhaps hampers itself too much with its human protagonist, but a more thoughtful sequel could use this “limitation” to open all sorts of doors.

But speaking of being a Belmont…

The Vampire Killer is all you need

Nice viewLook, I like variety as much as the next guy. I like finding peanuts and learning that Alucard must toss them in the air to get so much as a bite. I like earning the “curry” power, and forcing an ability-copying boss to chuck hot plates like it is his super power. I like there being two different fairies, one with inexplicable piano prowess. I enjoy the sheer breadth of nonsense “stuff” that appears in the Igavania titles, and I appreciate every time I find a new secret or ferryman skulking around in the shadows.

But, dang, sometimes I just want to play a videogame, ya know?

The thing about variety is that is causes choice anxiety. You have a sword, right? And it is fast and strong, but there is a stronger sword that is slower. Which is going to perform more damage per second? Which will allow you to quickly backdash away from danger? Which has the more powerful “arc” to blocking enemy fireballs? They have elements, too? So is the holy sword going to cut down all these undead foes, or are some of these monsters supposed to be resistant to the light of God? Is this one of those franchises where fire beats water, or the opposite? Thunder do anything for anybody? I have a fast, lightning-based sword, but is that going to do zero damage to rocky enemies? Am I thinking of Pokémon again?

Then there’s Juste. Juste doesn’t have to have a brain in his head, because he has a whip in his hands.

The Vampire Killer is supposed to be the greatest Dracula murderer of all time. It was all Simon, Trevor, and Richter ever needed. Juste wields this same weapon, but is allowed to have a little customization. With the right item, it can shoot fireballs like Christopher Belmont, change elements for weakness hunting, or just plain upgrade to stronger versions like back during the Quest days. In general, it is linear progression with the tiniest bit of customization for particular circumstances. And that’s great! You don’t have to spend the rest of your day worrying distinguishing between +1 Pow or +1 Speed when “have whip” is all you need to know. There is joy in finding the secret sword that makes farting noises when it hits skeletons, but there is also joy in not having to worry about your equipment screen, and ignoring any worrying about bringing the wrong hammer to a guardian fight.

Sometimes, the Vampire Killer is all you need… and that never happened in a 2-D ‘vania again.

And on that note…

Mundane Monsters are all you need

Prior to Harmony of Dissonance, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon introduced the concept of particular monsters dropping unique abilities. After HoD, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow pioneered a system whereby literally every monster dropped some kind of attack, ability, or upgrade. This became the standard for Castlevania titles going forward, and now it seems completely normal to fight mermen over and over until you can breathe underwater.

Harmony of Dissonance made no such attempt at having a wholly unique “ability drop” for every monster lurking around the castle. And, not coincidentally, Harmony of Dissonance also included this creature:

Creepy Crawly

Now, I’m not saying that when you grant every monster a unique, obtainable ability, you lose the chance to make some gigantic weirdos that have nothing to do with “can throw spear” or “+2 Con”, but… It does seem like more than a coincidence that we never saw that dude again.

Nobody wants to grind a hundred skeleton spiders.

Two Castles are all you need

Out and inCastlevania: Symphony of the Night turned the franchise on its head by including an entire hidden castle in addition to the “traditional” solitary sanctuary of Dracula. Later titles would either stick to one large castle (the Sorrows, Bloodstained [which we are still claiming is a Castlevania]) or one castle plus a number of “level” areas (Portrait, Order of Ecclesia). Never again did the franchise try two separate, but similar, castles.

And two castles are the exact right number of castles to have!

The concept of a “dark world” works similarly to time travel in many videogames. In short, you have two distinct areas, but they influence each other in interesting ways. In the time travel adventures, you can usually affect change in the past that dramatically impacts the future. The classic “fill a lake in the past, see a future where a desert becomes a forest in the future” dichotomy serves as an easy example here. Similarly, you can have “light/dark world” situations wherein one area is a funhouse mirror version of another area, but making changes to one “castle” can drastically impact the other. The Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past or Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver are the classic examples here, but many videogames utilize these dual worlds to create exciting scenarios and save on assets. An evil mirror world is fun and economical!

Unfortunately, for having two castles (both distinctly noted as being formed from two differing minds), Harmony of Dissonance whiffs on doing anything interesting with the concept. Whether there was ever meticulous thought put into the differences between the “normal” and “chaos”-based castles is irrelevant, as the end result is a castle that is effectively double the size, but with very few actual parallels. Yes, you might find some similar or “reference” monsters in comparable rooms. Yes, you are likely to see a few more deadly monsters or blood-red sunsets in the “bad” castle. But, beyond a few extremely basic “wasn’t this room a little different over there” situations, this is a complete waste of a brilliant idea. Harmony’s two castles could be so much fun in a different, more considered game.

This is funAnd that is the tragedy of Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance: there are a lot of appealing ideas here, but they ultimately add up to an experience that is aggravatingly rote. With proper budget, drive, and familiarity, a direct sequel to HoD’s ideas could be one of the best titles in the franchise. As it is… well… Let’s just say that Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow keeps getting paired with HoD in collections, and it is obvious which game you should play.

(And in case you’re curious, it is the one that actually had its own sequel.)

FGC #604 Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

  • System: Gameboy Advance on two separate occasions! Later, we had a WiiU release, and now it is on modern systems thanks to the latest Castlevania Advance Collection.
  • Number of players: This Castlevania quest is even more solitary than usual. Do you learn that weird shopkeeper’s name? That seems like it should be important! Guess we are sticking to one player.
  • Story Time: Props to HoD for featuring almost exclusively two characters: Juste, and his frenemy Maxim. Literally no one else matters in this story of childhood friends having occasional spats over kidnapping other childhood friends, and that kind of laser focus on the task at hand is great in a Metroidvania. I guess Death gets to squeeze a word or two in, too? Who cares? That dork is a little too Strider this time, anyway.
  • Love this bossThe Other Hero: Naturally, Maxim mode is unlocked upon completing the game. And Maxim rocks! While the meticulous planning that went into producing this Belmont-based adventure goes right out the window the minute Mr. Triple Jump appears on the scene, it is fun to see how much of the castle can be explored immediately without a need for keys or teleporters. Give Maxxy a way to level up, and it would likely be one of my favorite “other” modes in Castlevania history.
  • Favorite Sub Weapon: Juste has distinctly Sypha Belnades genes, and can utilize magical books to powerup his attacks. Unfortunately, this skill is completely useless, and should be ignored. Sorry, Great Gramma Sypha, you cannot beat traditional holy water.
  • Favorite Boss: Speaking of Sypha, two Castlevania 3 bosses return in modern-ish form: the Skull Knight and Cyclops. Cyclops is my favorite in the game, as he looks so goofy compared to his original, menacing sprite. Skull Knight does get a rad laser, though…
  • Interior Decorating: Apparently, that “Furniture Room”, where you can collect various tables and candelabras and such to decorate one tiny cube in Dracula’s Castle is a holdover from an idea that was nixed during the production of Symphony of the Night. This would have absolutely made sense for Alucard, as he would logically have his own room in his father’s castle. But Juste Belmont? A man who knows damn well that castle is going to collapse seven seconds after whipping an evil count? He should know better than to put effort into trimming such a damned castle.
  • ClassyDid you know? The doors that Juste uses to travel between the two castles look just like the portals the Doppelganger used in Symphony of the Night. Does this mean Alucard didn’t kill a monster, but an alternate universe duplicate? Probably not! And don’t suggest that again. Alucard has enough guilt without potential murder-suicides!
  • Would I play again: Probably not. Or at least not for another few decades. I want to see the HoD sequel, but the actual game isn’t all that fun… particularly when nearly every other Castlevania would be a better time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Curses ‘N Chaos! We’re going to celebrate the Day of the Dead with a visit from Castlevania ‘n Curses’ old friend Death. Please look forward to it!

WRONG

FGC #599.2 SaGa Frontier (Remastered)

This post contains a detailed look at one scenario in SaGa Frontier. As such, it contains a lot of spoilers. Given SaGa Frontier Remastered just came out this year, and you may have missed it the first time, just giving you a head’s up.

Technically a different title screenThis is important: how gay is Asellus?

I admit that, in my teen years, I was frustratingly heteronormative. Or, put another way, I watched the entirety of Revolutionary Girl Utena, and picked up on exactly zero subtext. This was true for nearly all media consumed, and, until roughly the release of Final Fantasy 13 in 2009, I consistently assumed gay characters did not exist unless they were starring in a “very special episode” of Friends. And, to blame my environment and not my own ignorance, outright homosexual (or, heavens forbid, trans) representation primarily only existed at the time as jokes or characters that were designated as “the token gay”. It may be hard to understand now, but it took us a long time (and many awful Futurama episodes) to get to the point where a character could just “casually” be gay, and it not be the entire focus of their existence. Is it any wonder that, in such an environment, an oblivious Goggle Bob would fail to pick up on context clues?

But, dang, even my dumbass younger self noticed that Asellus is gay as hell.

So how did such a thing happen? Let’s take a detailed look at Asellus in the context of SaGa Frontier and 1997 in general.

How was this allowed?

GET IT!?Let us consider a few things of note. Japan did have some significant, deliberately queer JRPGs in its past (Eternal Filena comes immediately to mind). America, however, did not. If something was remotely “gay”, it did not make it across the Pacific. In fact, any and all queerness was ironed out of any Japanese imports across media, so Japan appeared to be some kind of shining bastion of acceptance thanks to gay Sailor Moon characters being forcefully transformed into women and/or cousins upon localization. The idea of Japan being a gay utopia was eventually disproven by reality, but, when looking at all the imports that had to be “de-gayed” for American audiences, it is easy to see how the West looked so much more homophobic by comparison.

But SaGa Frontier had a rare opportunity to break through in 1997. Asellus is a gay main character, but she is not the main character. Asellus stars in her own story, but she is one of seven stories available. Additionally, Asellus is not required in any other story but Emelia’s adventure, so that means Asellus may not even exist for a healthy 71.4% of the game (completely missing for most characters, but at least optional for Red). There are really good odds you could play through a significant portion of SaGa Frontier and never see Asellus. And it is not like Asellus is out and proud on the title screen here. Her story starts gay and only escalates from there, but her appearances literally everywhere else do not trip any heteronormative alarms. She is a woman with green hair in a JRPG! Happens all the time!

I do not care for this guyBut even beyond her “stealth”, the most obvious reason other games did not make it while Asellus was able to be imported was simple… and it is the same color as Asellus’s hair. Squaresoft had a gigantic, once in a company’s lifetime hit on its hands with Final Fantasy 7. Final Fantasy 7 had been promoted from here to the Earth’s core, and that gambit paid off, as Final Fantasy became a household name that sold more Playstations than Lara Croft. SaGa Frontier did not receive the same marketing push, but it seemed obvious that, with its stark-white CD case and “40 hours of gameplay” bullet point, it was trying to ride the Final Fantasy 7 tide. And, let’s be real here: it worked. I do not personally know anyone that was playing PSX games at that time that did not at least rent SaGa Frontier. It is only the turbo nerds that ever tried Final Fantasy Legend on the Gameboy, but I know quite a few people that bumbled around with Lute on their way to Metal Gear Solid.

And, like any trend, Square did not want to see SaGa Frontier delayed and missing that surge of Final Fantasy 7 love. So Asellus had to make her way over to America, and she had to be as intact as she was in her original, Japanese release (we will get into the details of that shortly). The usual Western censors were ignored (probably did not hurt that this was not on a Nintendo system), and we got SaGa Frontier at its SaGa Frontieriest.

Is Asellus Gay?

Wait, we may have skipped a step here. We have been operating on the hypothesis that Asellus is gay because… what? 1997 Goggle Bob thought she was different? No, we can do better than that. Let’s begin by looking at the end.

Asellus has three endings…

FGC #599.1 SaGa Frontier (Remastered)

Not that Saga....There is nothing like an old friend stopping by to remind you of who you were.

It is certainly a cliché, but I was a different person in 1998. I was a gawky teen/band nerd that mostly assumed women were another, significantly alien species; and, more importantly, I had just let my Nintendo Power subscription lapse. It was a long, N64-based time coming, but, for the first time in my life, I was no longer “connected” to the gaming world. There would not be a monthly periodical arriving to inform me of all the grand games coming to my favorite console anymore, and, as a result, I was lost in the wilderness of Electronics Boutique during every visit. SaGa Frontier caught my eye for one simple reason: it was the same color as Final Fantasy 7. Overwhelmingly white CD case with some Amano-looking wispy dude wearing a patently ridiculous clothing/amulet combo? Sign me the hell up. Final Fantasy was a known quantity, Squaresoft was where Chrono Trigger originated, and a return to “sorcery” (an aspect of older Final Fantasy games that had been gradually given over to techno worlds at the time) was all that I needed. I had no idea what SaGa Frontier had in store for me, but I did have forty bucks of Summer spending I could spare for the experience.

And, yes, SaGa Frontier is certainly an experience.

SHINING KICKSaGa Frontier was directed and produced by Akitoshi Kawazu. And, while the SaGa franchise was familiar to fans in Japan, over here in America Town, Kawazu had only shown his hand in the Final Fantasy Legend series. And you only played that franchise if you had a Nintendo Gameboy and a really high tolerance for staring at a tiny, pea-green square’s worth of text (and a similarly high patience for banana smuggling). What’s more, the origins of practically everything involved in SaGa was introduced in Final Fantasy 2… a game that never saw release/a strategy guide in the West. And it is hard to describe just how different Kawazu directed games can be at times. Like, to attempt a terrible metaphor for the masses that might not have grown up farming cactuars on remote islands, it would be like… Hm… Imagine if Kawazu made cars. These Kawazu Cars would seem completely normal, but you could only use the brakes by licking the steering wheel in just the right way. Would plenty of people die thanks to this vehicle? Yes, obviously. It would lead to global catastrophes. But can you imagine the tongue-dexterity of those that survived? They would be able to lick-brake in amazing ways! And they would probably be better at parallel parking for some reason! Kawazu games will make you better at all games, because they encourage creative thinking and cultivating skills you might leave to languish elsewhere… but these games are also notoriously brutal in their learning curves. If you get it, you get it, but if you don’t, your protagonist is pudding.

And, gentle reader, let me tell you that, in 1998, I was not ready for SaGa Frontier. I tried to approach the game as a traditional Squaresoft jaunt, and I was rewarded for my hubris with a number of dead heroes and heroines. What I projected would be a simple “mindlessly kill monsters, get stronger” experience required far more nuance than I ever anticipated. Robotically “grinding” in SF means the encounters get stronger, but your characters do not necessarily gain the new skills to meet these challenges. Actually succeeding means learning the abilities and aptitudes of your chosen warriors, training them in those specific areas, and then whipping out a Dream Super Combo after hours of hoping you chose the right martial artist for the job. It requires thinking, planning, comboing, and a full grasp of SaGa Frontier and its myriad of gameplay systems. And if you fail? Well, a collection of my own save files parked right before the final bosses, but with no possible path to victory seems to indicate that making the game “unwinnable” is a perfectly valid outcome for a SaGa title.

And, when I was 15, that seemed… reasonable? Like… maybe I deserved it?

GET IT?!I mean, I did deserve it, right? I played the game wrong, and my punishment was an incomplete experience that could only be rectified by starting over. Memory card space was at a premium at the time, so it was not like I could simply reload from an earlier point where maybe I could have constructed a more useful party or learned a more useful skill. There are a thousand options in SaGa Frontier, and I chose the wrong options. And, in a way, this was not a big deal. SaGa Frontier was likely to be my “big JRPG purchase” to last me until Christmas, so I had time. This would be “my game” for the next few months, and if I had to restart, I would simply do that. Start all over armed with the knowledge I had sparked from an aborted playthrough and do better this time. Hell, the multiple characters/scenarios seemed to even encourage this: I failed with Emelia, and I could go back to her, but why not try Asellus this time? And, if I was really trying hard, I could hit the generally accurate advice of Gamefaqs, or shell out a few more precious dollars for a strategy guide. Now I was on the right track! I could handle seeing at least one aqua-colored sorcerer’s ending (or what passed for such). I might never see that all important dev room that required the full dedication of a player and memory card, but I could come close.

And now it is 2021. After 23 years, things are… different.

DO NOT TOUCHSaGa Frontier was once the only game I purchased within a whole season. Now, SaGa Frontier Remastered is one of many games I purchased within that same time period. Hell, it’s not the only game I purchased within one month. Double Hell, it’s not the only Square-Enix remaster of a game I already played that I purchased within a period of two weeks. By Blue’s Eternal Hell, I have some entertainment options now!

But that doesn’t do me as much good as my inordinately jealous 15-year-old self would believe. I have the income to purchase a game every seven seconds (and the Nintendo eShop alone produces new content apace), but, bad news, I have no time to actually play these games. Where once a game that touts seven or eight different scenarios that can take about ten hours each seemed like an unbelievable boon for the boy that could clear Donkey Kong Country before even opening his second Christmas present; now “you will lose 80-90 hours of your life” sounds like a goldarned threat. And it is “only” ten hours a scenario if you know what you’re doing. The idea that I could squeak through nine hours and then have to do it all over again because Hour Ten was too much? Preposterous! I could be playing every Mario game ever made right now, why would I ever bother with escorting some spoony bard to halfheartedly avenging his father? Dude can write a ballad about it, and I’ll listen to that. I do have three minutes to spare for a song sometime around next week…

And, while replaying SaGa Frontier does continue to give me the warm fuzzies, it also makes me think the game is a complete mess. SaGa Frontier offers new frontiers in freedom, and you can often go anywhere in its world, and visit areas that are made “for” a character that you are not using. And in any other JRPG with the premise of multiple playable characters/scenarios, you would arrive at an abandoned temple meant for Riki, but Red would say “there’s no reason we have to be here” and walk away. Or there would be a permanent “guard” outside. Or you wouldn’t even be able to select the area on the map. Or something. SaGa Frontier gives you the autonomy to say “hey, you want to explore here? Go ahead!” And that was sorely lacking from other JRPGs in its day! And our today, too! How many people would get excited yesterday or today by trying to squeeze one character into a place they “shouldn’t be” just to see what would happen? (“Hey, I got Gogo to work in the World of Balance!”) But, that said, the answer here is sad, because you can bring T260G to somewhere she is not supposed to go… and the best you see out of it is maybe some decent treasure. But more likely it is just a literal waste of time. A throne room with no king, or a secret passage leading to no secret. You went to the wrong ruins, buddy. And did that feel worth it for you? Maybe! But more often than not, when an area doesn’t have a distinct reward, it feels like you did something incorrectly. It varies from player to player, but it is very easy to do a lot in SaGa Frontier, and feel like the end result of those adventures is a whole lotta nuttin’. And exploring an area meant for Riki during Emelia’s campaign, finding nothing, and then revisiting it for the “real” scenario with Riki feels less like “I got this” and more like “Oh, heck, now I have to fight this stupid squid again”.

Because it never... Oh never mindWhen there is the possibility that you can explore 90% of the whole game with one scenario, there is the distinct danger that the player is going to become too exhausted/frustrated trying to play 630% of the game. And never mind “knowing” that, like, one goofy NPC or dungeon is going to be a silly diversion in six scenarios, but absolutely essential in scenario seven…

Which brings me to a conclusion that my 15-year-old self never would have even considered: SaGa Frontier was a little too understood by its authors. There are a lot of design decisions that can absolutely make sense in SaGa Frontier, but only if you really appreciate the whole of the game. You must understand every scenario, every sidequest, and the importance of knowing the difference between the two before you burn out on experiencing everything. Or that, narratively, the fact that, say, Blue is very much just a jerk, and isn’t like another PSX Final Fantasy-esque “he’ll be less gruff eventually” protagonist is super important to his ultimate fate, but you really can’t understand the full scope of that until you realize Blue’s counterpart, Rogue, was “the good twin” all along thanks to encounters in other scenarios. And the whole of the game (once again: thanks memory cards) is not the easiest thing to grasp under the best of circumstances. A lot of these decisions make sense in the fullness of understanding all of SaGa Frontier, but in the individual moments of it, it is all over the place, and likely to “offend” a player with its very distinct choices.

And Time Lord knows it offends this modern-day Goggle Bob.

FIREWORKS!SaGa Frontier is a good game. SaGa Frontier Remastered is a good game made even better. But playing the two games at two very different points in my life has reminded me how much things have changed over the last few decades. A game that was once “difficult” can now be safely judged as “difficult to understand”. And, while this does not detract from the experience, it may impress upon this player that, at an age when time is valuable, maybe learning the ins and outs of an extremely unique JRPG is not the best use of the day.

SaGa Frontier, it’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed. And you’re better, but still too the same.

FGC #599.1 SaGa Frontier (Remastered)

  • System: Playstation 1 for the original, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and various contemporary computer platforms for the modern player. Was it ever a PSN release? It could have worked on the Vita…
  • Number of Players: Fuse makes for our eighth playable character in the remaster, but you still can only control one at a time.
  • I’m not racist, but: I do not care for monsters. A lot of effort for very little return. Though I do appreciate how lummox and skeleton king alike can turn into a slime pile thanks to a bad chunk of monster meat.
  • Make your choice: Choosing Rune Magic means you will go to prison. Arcane Magic means you will get tipsy as hell and drunkenly stumble through a jungle of deadly, sober monsters. I know my choice.
  • Roll it aroundSo are you still just super bitter about being locked out of the Emelia “good ending” because you decided to follow a lead when you should have just immediately given up? No, of course not. That would be silly. That is totally not the reason I harbor resentment against the entire SaGa franchise. I don’t know why you would ever think such a thing.
  • Reading is fundamental: Yes, I still have the strategy guide from the late 90’s. Yes, it is still useful for about 90% of the game, as full-color maps and a bestiary are always valuable. And, hey, it is generally nice to be reminded of which characters can recruit which other characters. Did you know Emelia hates robots? I think it comes up somewhere…
  • The times change: I remember finding Red’s scenario as a mock Power Ranger so exciting and unique back when I first played SaGa Frontier. Now I am tired of sentai sendups, and SF’s version of the trope isn’t even all that interesting (is M Black supposed to be sympathetic because of, like, two bits of dialogue? Really?). Move along, Red, Viewtiful Joe has taken your place in my heart.
  • Did you know? There are three characters in SaGa Frontier named “Red”. Red is a main character that fights against Black X. Rouge (French for Red) is the twin rival of Blue the Magician. Red Turnip is a turnip with a poor sense of direction. Find some new colors, SaGa!
  • Would I play again: Funny you should ask that…

What’s next? We’re not done with SaGa Frontier just yet. Come back on Friday for a deep dive on my favorite SaGa Frontier story. Please look forward to it!

Pew I Do

FGC #597 BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!

BOX TIMES!I do not consider myself “good at videogames”. Despite playing the dang things for nearly my entire life (I believe I did take some time off while potty training), I still imagine myself as an “average” player. I do not hold any speed run records. I have never achieved some grand rank in a fighting game. There are several games in my collection where, the minute something got too hard, I gave up, and never looked back. Even some of my most beloved games, like titles in the Final Fantasy or Mega Man franchises, I have only completed by never deviating from priorly acquired knowledge (or, put another way, I’m not sure Heat Man’s stage can be beaten without Bubble Lead). In short, while I can definitely play videogames, I have never considered myself “good”, because there are people that literally define the best, and I am nowhere near their echelon.

But then there’s my wife. My wife sucks at videogames.

Okay, that isn’t fair or accurate. My wife is actually very good at many videogames. She saw the end of Candy Crush back when that game had an end (you know, before they just loaded in infinity challenges). She is currently at level 500 or so in Best Fiends, and she started that game, like, last week. She is also a higher level than me on Pokémon Go. That last point is very important, as my wife is an excellent min/maxer, and the minute she understands a system, she can and will exploit it to the utmost to be the best there ever was. I am moderately proud of this fact, but I also know this means that if she ever “gets into” a MMORPG, I will lose my beloved forever. Such is the curse of a husband.

Hook it!To be more specific, my dear wife is not particularly good at action-based games. Every title I just named could best be described as a puzzle game or RPG. But once you get into games that are more based on bounding over pits or battling against bruisers, she’s out. We spent some time playing Mario, but my princess spent most of her time floating around in a bubble. We tried a few cooperative beat ‘em ups, and my Blaze died a lot while noting it was way too repetitive. Can you imagine? A game where you punch the same three guys an estimated 10,000,000,000,000,000 times being called repetitive? Preposterous! And, despite all these objections, I keep trying to get my wife to play action games with me. There are plenty of two-player experiences out there, so there must be one that Mrs. Goggle Bob can play with her Mister. What’s a boy to do?

Maybe it’s time for the box.

Today’s game is Boxboy & Boxgirl (technically titled BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!, but I cannot consistently utilize that persistent use of capitals nor the annoying punctuation). This game was purchased randomly on a Nintendo Switch sale, and chosen pretty much for its HAL pedigree. Kirby is always a good time, so this boxing must be a similar experience. Oh? There’s a two player mode? Well why don’t we give it a try, honey? You like puzzle games, right?

Yes, Boxboy & Boxgirl certainly is a puzzle game. If you’ve never boxed before, Boxboy is a franchise wherein a boy who is a box must create additional boxes so as to bypass various obstacles. Spike pits, laser beams, bottomless chasms: you know, that kind of thing. In Boxboy’s world, there is always a box-based solution to a problem. And Boxboy & Boxgirl expands that concept by allowing two boxpeople to cooperate and solve problems together. There is a conveyer belt that Boxboy alone could never overcome, but what if a sentient box wearing a bow made even more boxes? Now we’re cooking with gas (boxes)! And, if you are the kind of genius that desires even greater challenges, consider that Boxboy is wholly based on its puzzle premise, and there are logged rewards for producing as few boxes as possible. You can complete most any stage by uncovering a solution and throwing boxes at it until you are the victor, but can you return and discover the most box-efficient way out of the dungeon? And can you do it while cooperating with a buddy?

A relationship is work?And, to get back to the relationship box of this article, I want to be clear that my wife and I are excellent problem solvers. We successfully designed and reconstructed a bathroom, so overcoming obstacles with a box or two ain’t no thang. Spoilers: my wife and I did complete the whole 2-player campaign in Boxboy & Boxgirl, and this article does not end with a pending divorce. We are good at working together. We are both good at solving “space” problems, and, given how my wife works a closet, I have no doubt she would be able to handle Leon’s inventory of ammo like a pro the likes of which Las Plagas has never seen.

But, beyond suitcase stuffing, I can safely say that a certain important person in my life would not make it out of a zombie outbreak alive.

Husband and wife are both great at problem solving. This comes from years of curiosity, education, and a healthy diet of complicated cheeses with equally complicated packaging. But we both have very different histories when it comes to controlling little metal boys that must banish robotic masters. Man has decades of experience with every videogame system that has ever come down the pike (give or take CD-i), and Woman is uncomfortable so much as holding a controller. So things that I take for granted are wholly alien to my love. She does not “just know” the arc of a Boxgirl’s jump is always going to be the same. She does not realize that there are pixels of space that you can use to “float” a Boxboy over the edge of a cliff. And she better not have known that her moving Boxgirl at that one specific time was going to shove Boxboy into an oncoming laser, because if she does, she is a murderer. In short, she does not know platforming like her husband, and, even if she has the exact same (or better!) mental aptitude as her partner, she does not have the experience that tells her what is going to happen when she presses A. She has a general idea that Boxgirl is going to jump, but the how and where are a mystery.

In short, for someone that doesn’t have years of videogame experience, the puzzles are puzzles, but “moving” is a puzzle, too.

OUCHSo what is today’s lesson? Well, I suppose that even if you do not consider yourself “good” at videogames (like me!), maybe you should consider how good you really are. Years of experience have made you a different person with different skills that you would not have otherwise, and do not take that for granted. And, if you are dealing with someone that does not have the same understanding (maybe someone you are married to), be patient. Do not assume that everyone just has to practice to “git gud”, and realize that you may have decades of “practice” that you are completely discounting. Not everyone has spent their life pressing B to fire, or up to enter doors, and something even that simple is new information to about 90% of the population.

And maybe if we could apply this empathetic thinking to something beyond videogames, we might live in a better world.

… And then we could get back to solving our problems with boxes.

FGC #597 BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!

  • System: Boxxy has been boxed into the Nintendo Switch, and cannot escape.
  • Number of players: Well, if it was single player, there wouldn’t be much of an article here.
  • They have names, you know: Qbby is Boxboy, Qucy is Boxgirl. But if you wanted me to use those names, HAL, maybe you should have named the game QBBY! + QUCY!
  • Did you even try the single player mode? Nope! I played other box games, thank you, I do not need to try being some loner rectangle when I have other games I haven’t beaten yet (I am going to use this excuse until I finally beat Deadly Towers).
  • So did you spend any medals on cool costumes or whatever? Nope! We are solving puzzles right now. Do not have time for box customization. That lil’ bow is all the clothing we need between two (or three) boxes.
  • An end: Turns out we were about one world away from beating the game on the stream. Could have saved a baby box live! But no! We have human endurance levels! Bah!
  • Watch it, buddy: Oh yeah, since this was the Valentine’s Day stream, you can watch my wife kill me repeatedly while everyone laughs.


    It’s fun for the whole (box) family.

  • Did you know? There is a Boxboy Amiibo. That is more than Dr. Stewart, star of F-Zero, ever got. Sorry, bud.
  • Would I play again: My dear wife has requested further box-based challenges. Probably not returning to BOXBOY, but wasn’t there something about a death being squared floating around?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III for the TurboGrafx-16! From bubbles to parasols, those crazy twins are going to do it all! Please look forward to it!

Get it
Cooperation is key!