Tag Archives: one player

FGC #649 E.V.O.: Search for Eden

LETS EVOE.V.O.: Search for Eden is an excellent Super Nintendo title that sees a generic “lifeform” evolve from a meager fish to the dominant species on Earth (if you are reading this, I am talking about you). It was an unusually ambitious title for 1992, and, with a protagonist that could grow and evolve in so many different ways, it made “Mario can wear a cape” look like clownshoes. But, while you can evolve through a variety of forms and shapes in E.V.O.: Search for Eden, you cannot evolve into everything. You are limited by the preprogrammed choices available, and if you want to evolve into an elephant for a period longer than a few minutes, too bad. So what are some evolutions that could have made E.V.O. better? Well…

Location-Based Variation

Here we goOur good friend Charles Darwin got the whole evolutionary theory going thanks to visiting the Galapagos Islands nearly 200 years ago. Basically, he saw a bunch of birds and lizards bobbing about, but, from island to island, they all had biological advantages that were specific to the conditions of their private islands. This jumpstarted the theory of biology adapting to specific environments, and toddled down the trail to evolution as we know it today. Unfortunately, E.V.O. does not reinforce Charlie’s elite beliefs. The best jaws are the best jaws if you are in the ice and snow or a desert, and the best jumping legs do not care if you are on a cliff or a plain. What’s more, the most effective way to eat your meats is always a meager press of the A button, and not adapting a prehensile tongue to slurp out snacks. Adapting to individual situations is exactly what evolution is all about, so it is disappointing that all we get here are a series of evolutions with price tags that are just like buying the best armor in Dragon Quest. This would be the best excuse for why we need an E.V.O. 2.

Carcinisation

Look!  A crab!Everything must become crab.

You have seen a crab before, right? They are those red things that Mario fought that one time. Big ol’ pincers, flat little body, and a bunch of skittering legs that carry their crabby selves all over the place. Well, it has been determined that carcinisation is real and powerful, and, given enough time, nearly every crustacean just goes ahead and evolves into a crab form. Hermit crabs used to be little spider-looking dudes, but they went whole hog on the crab to become king crabs. Hairy stone crab figured out camouflage and how to be a decent crab. And even squat lobsters apparently made the jump to be porcelain crabs when they decided crab was the way to go. Crab-shaped is the inevitable and enviable goal of so many creatures out there, but crab-form is wholly unobtainable in E.V.O. Where mah crabs at!?

Luck of the Spineless

E.V.O.: Search for Eden starts with a lifeform that has just become a fish. From there, the basic sequence of fish – amphibian – lizard – bird – mammal is followed. And, while you do battle a Queen Bee (and her less dangerous mate), you never get to dip a toe into the insect kingdom. What’s more, you aren’t allowed to transform into a single creature without a spine, so spineless monsters like spiders, squids, and President Donald Trump are all completely unavailable. And, despite level 1 being entirely underwater, this includes an awful lot of marine life. You could make an entire game out of a create-a-character where you can customize a nautilus shell, or base an adventure on the exploits of a horseshoe crab. … Dangit! We’re back to crabs again. Need to get away from those.

Viral Evolution

Virii may be involved hereHere is a branch devoid of crabs! E.V.O. starts too early, as the Ocean of Origin with its bespined fishies is far too late in lifeform development. How about we work our way up from some amoebas? And, hell, that would make a whole lot more sense within the framework of E.V.O., as breeding is wholly ignored on this evolutionary journey. Every upgrade is simply purchased, and you don’t have to spend a half hour wooing Mrs. Weird Horn Monster with Angry Jaws. But amoeba would be great for that kind of gameplay! You can just cellularly divide at will, and spend your EVO points at will as you do it. And, hey, maybe society at large needs a reminder on how viruses can change and mutate over time, as I seem to recall that has been relevant to current events of late.

Best Birds

FLAP FLAPIt is a “secret”, but you can become a bird in E.V.O. In fact, given the mammalian upgrade is optional, with a little skill, you can steer a bird creature straight from prehistory to the Garden of Eden. And, while the aerial advantage is always… uh advantageous, the bird options are limited. Practically every evolution is limited to influencing your flying ability (with strength and size being the only other options) and every other potential route in the universe falls by the wayside. And this makes sense, because this is a 2-D action game, and granting the power of flight sends the traditional gameplay balances off the side of a cliff. But! Real-life birds are not just about flight or beak strength, they are about aesthetics. There are some damn pretty birds out there, and it is a tremendous missed opportunity that you cannot peacock-out by transforming into a flamingo. The blue crowned pigeon is right over there being majestic, but forever out of reach.

Mermaidloution

Everybody knows that the ultimate goal of all evolution is to become a mermaid, and…

swimmy swimmy

Oh. Well. I guess E.V.O.: Search for Eden gets some things right.

FGC #649 E.V.O.: Search for Eden

  • System: Super Nintendo. If it is anything else, you are thinking about a different game.
  • Number of players: Evolution should not be such a solitary activity.
  • Favorite Temporary Evolution: You can turn into a dragon in the secret cloud area of dinosaur times. This looks radical… but there isn’t anything around to actually attack in that bonus stage. A temporary dragon powerup that cannot be used for anything is a crime that should be punished thoroughly.
  • More like the Ass AgeFavorite Age: The age of the stegosaurus feels like a point where the game opens up, as you can be a terrible thunder lizard, or find the secret area that grants bird powers. And, unfortunately, that much variety is never seen in E.V.O. again, as the only choice you’ll see later is the mammal upgrade, and, come on, who would choose not to be a mammal? You’re a human playing this videogame! You know how this thing is supposed to end!
  • For the sequel: While those waters are muddier than a mudskipper’s natural habitat, E.V.O. is basically a sequel to the PC-98 game 46 Okunen Monogatari ~The Shinka Ron~ ( 4.6 Billion Year Story: The Theory of Evolution). That sucker never had an official translation, and is basically a JRPG that borders dangerously on the territory of visual novels. That said, it is arguably a more interesting game, as you are directly standing against Lucifer, who is portrayed here as either a pretty blonde lady or a spider. Oh, and you have less control over your evolution (more just stat manipulation ala Final Fantasy Adventure), and your ultimate evolution will be a humanoid elf. Elves fighting the devil on the moon is the finale, which I am pretty sure was something Darwin himself predicted.
  • An end: Speaking of endings, the finale of E.V.O. sees whatever your creature happens to be being accepted by Sexy Mother Gaia and ushered into Eden. The implication from there seems to be that “you” will be the basis for whatever substitutes for the human race on this version of the world (you are distinctly granted man’s intelligence… even though there was never any indication you were anything but the smartest thing around anyway). As a child, I was always disappointed that this did not lead to a custom “the end” graphic with your armored jaw-monster walking around a modern city wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase.
  • Watch it, buddy: Oh yes, this article was inspired by the recent Even Worse Stream of E.V.O., featuring Dallas of Take That Darwin as a special guest commentator.


    Original Stream Night: November 8, 2022

    If you can believe it, I have been trying (poorly) to get that stream together for the site since roughly 2019. I am slow!

  • Did you know? According to BEAT, the subtypes of evolution are, “you know, mermaidloution, marvevolution, crabforming, triple reverse crabforming, your basic micromaloevolution subsets, apeforming (v rare), alolan forms, smolboiing, etc etc.” You should listen to him. He is a scientist.
  • Would I play again: E.V.O. is a lot of fun… when you cheat your way into infinite evo points. When you don’t do that, the fun is hampered somewhat by looping 2-screen wide levels repeatedly as you eat the meatiest monsters available over and over again. But a version of this game without grinding thanks to a Game Genie is pretty alright! So I’ll play it again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Haunting Starring Polterguy for the Sega Genesis! Let’s get our Halloween content out of the way right here in January! Please look forward to it!

ALIENS!

FGC #647 Final Fantasy 10

Let's blitz ballFinal Fantasy 10 was a brilliant deconstruction of its franchise. And that statement is firmly past tense because it was immediately undercut by capitalism.

For the current moment, let us consider Kefka Palazzo. Kefka was ultimately the final antagonist of Final Fantasy 6, and he plainly stated his goal during his decisive battle: destroy everything, and build a monument to nonexistence. Colorful metaphor about modern art aside, Kefka had plans to kill the party, every other person alive, and (given enough time) obliterate the entire planet while he was at it. All that would be left would be a black void, and even Kefka himself seemed to nihilistically seek his own end if it meant everything else went with him.

And then the heroes of Final Fantasy 6 defeated Kefka. The madman crumbled to dust, and his evil plans were no more. Afterwards, there was approximately a half hour of credits and airship flying, Terra decided to feel the wind in her hair, and then…. Nothing.

Final Fantasy 6 ends with a The End logo, and the world stops existing. The next Final Fantasy starts on another world. Any heroes, townsfolk, or even moogles from Final Fantasy 6 are not seen in the franchise again. There may be “side stories” and alike, but these all seem to take place with versions of Terra, Kefka, and others from epochs before the end of Final Fantasy 6 (you can tell because Kefka is, ya know, alive). If the world of Final Fantasy 6 exists in any conceivable form after the fall of Kefka, there is no evidence of it across any official media.

Kefka wanted to destroy the world of Final Fantasy 6. Shortly after Kefka “failed”, the world of Final Fantasy 6 was forever destroyed, obliterated by an uncaring power button.

And, after this was the norm for nearly fifteen years and a solid nine Final Fantasy titles (and at least one spinoff), Final Fantasy 10 decided to definitively comment on this strange phenomenon.

Where good games go to dieAs is stated from literally the beginning, Final Fantasy 10 is the story of Tidus. And, since you are holding the controller that keeps that story going, you are meant to be Tidus, too. Tidus is good at playing games in a technologically advanced world, but his life is turned upside down when a tragedy transports him to Spira. Spira is a much more rural, primitive spot, and something very foreign to our “modern” Tidus. Ultimately, everything you see of this world exactly matches to the time Tidus spends in this strange place. You experience every second of his journey there, and you know exactly what you know of Spira exclusively through his eyes and what he learns from others. Tidus only discovers new things about Spira if you choose to talk to more people or see more places in Spira. And even though Tidus has his own issues to work through, you wholly inhabit his view of this alien world, complete with leaving Spira exactly when he exits. You are a strange visitor from an advanced (and implied to be more enlightened/less superstitious) society, here to save the world with ideas that could only belong to an outsider. When your job is completed, everyone is going to miss you to the point of tears, but despite their protests, you literally disappear.

Hey, there is probably a reason the only characters you get to personally name in Final Fantasy 10 are Tidus and the aeons, the super-powered agents of Tidus’s “other” world. These characters are yours. Everyone else you are just visiting.

And this ties neatly into Final Fantasy 10’s concept of finality.

My good friendMagical memory whammies or whatever is happening aside, Tidus apparently comes from a world where the afterlife is an unknowable mystery. But Spira has a concrete answer to this age-old question: if you die with regrets, you are likely to either become a fiend, or live on as some manner of ageless zombie. A summoner may “send” the dead to the Farplane (a magical but firmly visitable place), but if some undead avoid this fate, they will stick around for literally eternity and continue to make a mess of things. At best, the living dead of Spira are perpetuating endless spirals of destruction, and at worst they are literally monsters. So, in short, a huge theme of Final Fantasy 10 is “don’t wear out your welcome”. You died, get over it, move on. If you stick around, you are going to hurt everybody still alive.

Thus, the true “end” for Spira’s story is when the party reaches the end of the pilgrimage, and Yuna and the rest of the party decide they are not going to feed the cycle anymore by rejecting Yunalesca, the jackass who got this ball of rubbish rolling. This makes slaying Sin a sort of coda, as the “important” ending has already happened. Change is now an inevitability. And this is further reinforced by Seymour, who had been a threatening antagonist throughout much of the quest, but now only represents the old world and old problems. Once he is deprived of his “immortal” cycle, he is little more than a speed bump. Beating a man you killed two times already is just as insignificant as that task should be. Similarly, the technical final battle isn’t the big damn boss fight of Braska’s Final Aeon, but a slow, aggravating slog through killing your Aeons. And that sucks! That whole sequence sucks, and “you just beat the Elite 4, now kill all your Pokémon” is as terrible as that sounds. But it is there. It is the last time you control this party, and it is miserable. And that is the whole, deliberate point: you are not supposed to keep being Yuna’s Pilgrimage Party. That is over now, and making it go on any longer will just bring heartache. Time to go, Tidus, your dream, your story is over. Time to hit that power button, player, the game is over now, too.

You have to leave this world behind. All of Spira, all of Final Fantasy 10 will end now and be gone forever, but you will live on. This adventure is over, but you will be better for it.

BOOMAnd this would have been the ideal moral for a Final Fantasy title that matched every Final Fantasy that came before 2001. Sure, Seymour, Kefka, Sephiroth, and every villain that wanted to destroy their world had technically won by virtue of dying and leaving behind a world no longer requiring a player to defend it, but outside of the meta-narrative of the player living on, these were games with happy endings. Yuna, Terra, and Cloud would live to see a happily ever after, and we were left with only our imaginations to guess what happened to these heroes after we left them alone. Did Terra truly find love in her new family? Did Cloud and Tifa decide to settle down? Did Yuna become a pop idol cross treasure hunter?

Oh yeah, we definitely know the answer to a few of those questions now…

Final Fantasy 10 was the first Final Fantasy to truly embrace the concept of being “final”. It was also the Final Fantasy released closest to Kingdom Hearts, a franchise that immediately revived the likes of Tidus, Wakka, and eventually even Auron (who is six kinds of dead before the game even started!). Final Fantasy 10-2 was teased as part of a trailer tacked onto the finale of FFX’s American release, and the Eternal Calm gave way to a game that all but obliterated any sort of finality in Final Fantasy 10. Shortly thereafter, every Final Fantasy retroactively jumped onto Dissidia and alike to be similarly eternal. Final Fantasy 10 started the trend, but by the time we could buy cell phone games featuring the offspring of the Final Fantasy 4 cast plowing through the same stupid dungeons over and over again, the message had become clear: there would never be an end to any Final Fantasy adventure ever again.

And, in much the same way Final Fantasy 10 asked us to accept that death is the natural end of all things, we must now accept that eternal life is the natural state of all brands.

Never understood that graphical choiceThere will never not be new Final Fantasy 10 media for the rest of our lives. Any given “HD rerelease” of FF10 will inevitably stoke the rumors of a Final Fantasy 10-3, and we may eventually see such a product “because the fans demand it”. In the meanwhile, Tidus will appear in any game that requires Final Fantasy cameos, and any of those “cameos” could be excuses to foist new pathos or backstory on our intrepid Blitzball player (depending on how serious anyone wants to be about a game where a clown can fight a tree). In 2001, it was reasonable to assume that Tidus’s story was one-and-done, and we would never see anything further to elucidate his limited life beyond the odd Ultimania release. Now? Now our grandkids are going to be learning that the third lizard that Tidus curb-stomped was secretly the fiend-reincarnation of the dude that founded the Yevon chapter of the Boy Scouts, and further information will be available on a cell phone-based lottery game released to promote Final Fantasy 19.

Final Fantasy 10 told a tale letting go, but it was released exactly when Squaresoft (soon to be Square Enix) needed to recoup some losses. It was released exactly when it was discovered you couldn’t just repurpose your Final Fantasy 5 sprites to be Final Fantasy 6 sprites in the high-definition(ish) world of next gen consoles. It was released exactly when the luxurious days of the Playstation were ending, and Grand Theft Auto 3 was about to be the hot new genre of choice. Final Fantasy 10 had the audacity to speak of finality when Squaresoft would never be able to make anything “final” ever again. In Final Fantasy’s near future, even apparent bombs like World of Final Fantasy would have to put in their time in the Meli-Melo gacha mines!

I have always liked this sceneAnd is that all bad? Well, truth be told, if I had the choice between Final Fantasy 10 having a more focused message, or being able to play Final Fantasy 10-2, I’d choose Final Fantasy 10-2 every time. Morals and lessons are all well and good, but Wakka can come out of Blitzball retirement anytime Square wants, because there is at least a 30% chance a game including him will be good (just so long as no one actually plays Blitzball). Finality in a videogame may be impossible for Square Enix nowadays, but the world doesn’t really need videogames to be final. We like videogames, SE, so feel free to keep churnin’ ‘em out.

But it does mean Final Fantasy 10’s message is forever marred by its masters. Playing Final Fantasy 10, and then immediately segueing to its sequel is not only now possible, but seemingly encouraged by releases that pair it with Final Fantasy 10-2 (and 10-2’s “six months later” teaser). Final Fantasy 10 was a game all about finales, but now it will never see its own finale.

Final Fantasy 10 wants you to learn to let go. Square Enix missed that lesson.

FGC #647 Final Fantasy 10

  • System: Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation 5. Probably an Xbox here or there. Gotta be a Nintendo Switch available, too. Oh, and the Steam/PC version apparently has time saving toggles for boosting exp and alike. Why isn’t that available on a console again?
  • Number of players: This is Tidus’s story. So one.
  • GOOOOOOOALLevel Up: After years of leveling systems in Final Fantasy titles trying unique things like Esper customization or learning skills from armor, Final Fantasy 10 finally eschewed the whole concept of traditional leveling and brought us the Sphere Grid. And it’s good! I like it! Unfortunately, it kicked off a wave of sphere grid-alikes in every JRPG from here to NIS, and… maybe not every videogame needs a complicated leveling system barring entry to just jumping in and enjoying slaying monsters. If I need a strategy guide to determine whether or not I am screwing up my “build” from the first minute…
  • Play Ball: I do not care for Blitzball. But, hey, I was never a big fan of Triple Triad in its time, either. Maybe one day I will find joy in math-ball.
  • Favorite Summon: Anima. Geez, Anima. You are the living (kinda) encapsulation of everything wrong with the beliefs of Yevon, a creature harnessing unending pain to punish monsters, and you have a cool, freaky venus-fly-trap-mummy thing going on. And you punch a lot! Here’s to you, Anima!
  • Videogame Fayth: The puzzle rooms in every religious temple in Final Fantasy 10 really raise some questions. Are the cloisters of trials exclusively there for summoners, or does the cleaning staff have to juggle a series of magical orbs every time they need to dust Bahamut’s remains? And is your average Yevon priest solving block puzzles as part of their seminary?
  • Did I mention I love Auron?Goggle Bob Fact: I have always considered myself fairly… Woke? My parents are liberal and raised me in a fairly progressive fashion, but I… kind of didn’t notice Wakka when I first played Final Fantasy 10 back during my freshman year of college. But now when I play the game? Holy crap is he racist! It is fantasy racism, but the fact that he is a religious zealot that takes every spare moment he can find to denigrate the Al Bhed is exceptionally concerning. And I did not observe it at all twenty years ago! I guess I wasn’t as “woke” as I thought back then. Maybe I still have more to learn now…
  • Did you know? Final Fantasy 10 was released in America on December 17, 2001. I think ROB tried to aim their randomness at this date. I am starting to suspect something is up with that robot.
  • Would I play again: Assuming I have hours and hours to kill, I would like to play Final Fantasy 10 again. That said, it might be another decade before I get back to number ten.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen to take a few weeks off, as it is holiday time! Let’s aim for our annual winter celebration post next week! Please look forward to it!

This is hilarious
We’ll laugh about this later

FGC #643 Elden Ring

I never did get that ringI appreciate Elden Ring, because, more than any game I have ever played, it perfectly encapsulates how it feels to be a tourist.

Elden Ring is a FromSoftware title. FromSoftware struck gold a little over a decade ago with Dark Souls, and has had incredible success with that franchise and “soulsborne” titles like Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. And, while many have tried to pin down exactly what makes these games so popular (if only to clone that je ne sais quoi so they can make their own piles of money), it seems that several people have settled on one reason these games are great: it is the challenge. Soulsborne titles are known for their unforgiving difficulty, brutal bosses, and any number of sink or swim situations that, more often than not, lead to a ubiquitous “you have died” message. But hope is not lost! These FromSoft games are built around the concept that you will fail, and restarting and reclaiming your lost collectibles is as easy as making your way to wherever you happened to expire, and now, shucks, guess you are here anyway, let’s see if we can make a little more progress this time. And, in this simple death-rebirth-progress-repeat loop, accomplishments are made, and eventually you have every last trophy claiming you have become a freaky god-baby or whatever the hell happened at the end of Bloodborne. In short, calling the appeal of FromSoftware titles “the challenge” is reductive of a carefully tailored gameplay cycle that isn’t all that different from the Dragon Warriors of old.

This is gonna hurtBut I have never cared about any of that. Of course I find FromSoftware games challenging! But I also find Mega Man Legends challenging, too. I have been playing videogames for the last thirty years, and, unless we are talking about a genre/playstyle that I know by heart (that would be the original Mega Man franchise, for instance), I am very likely to die over and over again regardless of “challenge”. I probably pick up a game faster than some people, but I have never had any sort of videogame “sight-reading” dexterity. It takes me a while to learn a new game, and it doesn’t matter if we are talking about Bloodborne or Bloodstained. Every new game is memento mori, and I too will die… and quickly! I might even have a leg up on FromSoftware titles at this point, too, as I kind of know the general pacing now of… How do I put this… “That one guy syndrome”? Like there’s always that one guy… He has a horse in this one… There is always that one guy near the start of the game that there is no way you are beating him right now, so you must come back later, and if you try to spend all your time on him at the start, you are going to have a bad time. And that and other tricks only work so many times, so after fearing the old blood and praising the sun a number of times, I am fairly immune to many FromSoftware tricks. In short, these games are challenging, but they never really felt substantially challenging on my end. They are hard, but everything is hard when you game like a pillow cursed with dummy thumbs.

So how do I experience FromSoft games? Why do I even bother? Well, because the greatest FromSoftware games are about exploring, and I love games based on exploring. As if it wasn’t obvious from a Castlevania game being covered on this site every other month, I enjoy seeing scary monsters, skulking around their lairs, and, ideally, finding all sorts of secret places while rolling around murderous skeletons. FromSoft titles offer this kind of experience in enormous quantities, and I am always happy to dodge some giant’s sword only to accidentally discover a treasure hidey-hole. That is the kind of gaming experience I cherish, and it can only be found in painstakingly constructed castles/planets/forgotten lands. I don’t care if it is a Crocomire or giant land octopus involved, just factor in those breakthroughs, and I’m good.

But I have noticed a curious issue with my Soulsborne playthroughs: I never 100% any of these games.

Poor flightless birdsNow, this is something of an interesting issue. Traditionally, if I enjoy a videogame, I try to wring about as much enjoyment out of it as possible. While this does not always lead to a “platinum trophy” style “do everything” event, it does usually mean I have seen what I consider to be “everything”. For instance, I might not need that 100% of the map filled achievement, but I want to feel like I have spoken to every NPC, and completed every relevant questline. I won’t be finishing the Metroid Dread boss rush anytime soon, but I do feel happy with that perfect item collection rating. My definition of “100% Completion” might not match the opinion of everyone else, but it is a level that leaves me content.

Elden Ring? Not so much. I have completed the game, I have filled in the portions of the map I feel are relevant, and I am happy with my experience. Why? Simple: I am delighted being a tourist.

We have all played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild before, right? Remember that dude who would give you inventory upgrades if you traded him gold poops? He was in the Warriors game? Hestu! Hestu upgrades your inventory, and you are meant to collect korok seeds across the world, scamper back to Hestu when you have a healthy amount, and then gradually upgrade your capacity as the game proceeds. Know what I did? I missed Hestu! Big ol’ lug is hanging out on one of the most traveled roads in Hyrule, and I completely avoided the doof. This is supposed to be an area/person you see early in your adventure, but I managed to take a different path, and didn’t find Hestu until after I had slain Ganon. I went the entire game with an extremely limited backpack all because I took one wrong turn at Albuquerque about an hour after Link got out of bed. And the damnedest thing about all that? I expected as much! Give me an open world with very clear directions for a neophyte player to “follow this route”, Slice an antand I guarantee you I will find some way to wander off the beaten trail. This is why the glowing path is my friend, because I know without some invasive guidance, I am going to meander off to somewhere I shouldn’t be.

And many people will tell you this is the point of open world games. Leave the guides behind, Goggle Bob! You are exploring just like you’re supposed to! But my issue is not that I am somehow playing the game wrong, it is that I am missing things that will make my life easier. I wanted Hestu’s inventory upgrades! I wanted the ability to carry around every elemental sword this side of Koholint! And I could have had it, if somehow I knew to head in Hestu’s direction. I did not want to use a FAQ or strategy guide, because I didn’t want everything ruined, but a gentle nudge in the right direction of something that would improve my life would be nice.

Elden Ring does not do gentle nudges. Elden Ring is the kind of game that sticks its opening tutorial in a pit that looks portentously deadly. Elden Ring is the kind of game where a “helpful” NPC sends you to your death just to see if you would listen to her. Elden Ring is the kind of game where people debate online what exactly “the hug lady” does, and whether she is secretly trying to kill you. Elden Ring is an extremely opaque game, and, while “working with the community” is intended to be part of the experience (an experience that identifies a lot of turtles as dogs, incidentally), the sheer scope of the Lands Between means that it is very difficult to so much as figure out exactly where you are, left alone effectively ask another human being for directions. I need to know what to do at the castle the dude on the overpass told me to clear out. No, not the castle with the knight with the dragon arm. The other castle. No, not the one with the sickly nerds and the moon woman. I think that was a university…

But this isn’t a knock against Elden Ring, because I have felt this way before. Elden Ring gives me the exact same feeling as being a tourist.

This doesn't look goodLook, I come from a touristy area. I know my entire local economy and livelihood relies on the fact that, for a few months every year, a bunch of sunburned malcontents roam the streets and coffee shops looking for some kind of summer loving (even if that “loving” only applies to a love of a particular slice of pizza). And, while I am well aware I would be living in a van by the river if these tourists did not exist, having lived in this area all my life has granted me an obvious, absurd complex regarding the concept of “tourists”. Those monsters come here! And eat at our restaurants! And clog up our roads! And use our ocean! It is irrational (again, none of these things would exist in the first place if it weren’t for the tourists [okay, maybe the ocean would still be there]), but it is something ingrained in my psyche.

So the idea of me, tourist hater extraordinaire, enjoying being a tourist should be hypocritical. And it is! But, like the entire republican party, I am not going to let being a hypocrite get me down. I like being somewhere new. I like seeing new places. I feel bad if I am somewhere on an extremely limited, regimented visit. I want to wander the streets! I want to see the rinky-dink little cafes that haven’t had more than three customers in three years. I want to skip the Paris subway, walk back to the hotel, and find whatever this is…

This is France

That ain’t in no guidebook. If I were to ask a thousand people for directions on what to do in Paris, they would never tell me to cut through that random street, and also find nearby cat campaign posters…

This is Cats

I live for that nonsense. I want to vote for a cat in Paris! That is the best part of sightseeing for me: not seeing all the wonders of the biggest tourist traps, but experiencing all the surprises that aren’t attached to a gift shop. Disney World is great! But let me walk down International Drive and find the absolutely weirdest buffet known to man. It has spaghetti and burritos next to each other? Spread my ashes over that garbage (it is only a marginal health risk compared to some of the other stuff at the buffet).

And, oddly enough, Elden Ring seems to capture that feeling better than any other game. In many open world games, you are continually looking for similar McGuffins. To once again recall Breath of the Wild, if you are doing damn near anything in that universe, you know you are aiming for a new shrine. And this is great for people that like goals, but the world does feel a little smaller when you know lightning dodging or walrus racing is all going to end in the same reward. In Elden Ring? There are dead ends. There are “rewards” that are little more than “look what you found”. You are trying to become the new Elden Lord! And when you explore this newly found dungeon, you will find… skeletons. Or giant ants. Or some weirdo that wants to turn you into a tree for some reason. And your reward for traipsing through this dungeon? Some lore. A weapon you will never use. Absolutely nothing. There is no guaranteed reward for practically anything you do in Elden Ring. I am pretty sure I even murdered a few bosses that offered the incentive of a pat on a back and nothing more. Elden Ring has its own brutal difficulty, but even more than that, it has a brutal world that often seems to contemptuously ask the player, “Enemy slain? So what? You want a trophy?”

Let's go, horse!Then why keep playing? Because there is joy in exploring. There is happiness in being that tourist who is “just visiting”, but can savor an appealing view. In a game where there are clear and omnipresent goals, everyone has the same experience. In a game where anything can happen, people can have exceptionally different encounters. Families have been visiting “tourist traps” for years, but no two people are guaranteed to have had the same experience. Climb to the top of the pyramids, and you might not enjoy it as much as another person nearby munching on a gyro from the Queen of the Nile food truck. In a world where there are not guides, where there is nothing telling you where you “have to be”, you can be a true wandering tourist. And that can be more fun than any kind of “scripted” experience. I do not need to know the name of the freaky dude riding a tiny horse and summoning meteors any more than I “need” to know the name of the guy who painted that mural I loved. I am a tourist right now, and I can enjoy enjoying without having to know everything.

So you can have your challenge or lore or fingers or whatever it is I’m supposed to like about Elden Ring. I’ll be over here, galloping around with Torrent, and taking in the sights. I might not learn anything you would find in a guide, but I am going to have fun seeing what I can see, and discovering what I can discover. I am going to be a tourist in these Lands Between, and I am going to enjoy that experience.

… And maybe I’ll buy a t-shirt later.

FGC #643 Elden Ring

  • System: I technically own the Playstation 4 disc, but I got a Playstation 5 about five minutes later, so that’s mostly where these screenshots are from. Sorry, it appears this is not going to be on Switch anytime soon.
  • Dodge!Number of players: There are thousands of people posting all over the place and occasionally showing up to murder your avatar, but it is an otherwise solitary experience.
  • Give me an explanation: Okay, there is one bit of lore I would be curious about. Why is everything giant? Or, to be particular, why are so many random animals and vermin the same kind of giant? Giant ants are roughly the same size as giant octopi as giant wolves, and that does not scale correctly at all. Why did everything grow to exactly the same size? Don’t say it was “magic”! Everything is magic!
  • Favorite Boss: Give me that Fire Giant any day of the week. Elden Ring bosses have a tendency to have distinct phases, and Fire Giant winds up with a phase where he tears off his own legs in an effort to better crawl-fight you with his immense stomach-face. That is the kind of dedication to a bit I can only admire.
  • Greatest Regret: The opening mentioned The Loathsome Dung Eater, and apparently I missed that dude entirely. This is a shame, as I find it personally offensive to have any piece of media mention “The Loathsome Dung Eater”, and then not have them prominently featured in every minute of the final product. This is storytelling 101, guys.
  • Say something mean: I enjoyed Elden Ring. It is a good game. That said, why are there jumping puzzles? This is not a world that should utilize jumping for anything other than skipping over ruined castle foundations. There should not be floating islands in space that require precise jumping when my character feels like she weighs 1,200 lbs. And do not get me started on giving the horse a double jump. That is not a traditional trait of horses!
  • OwieDid you know? You can tell you are in a FromSoftware world if you cannot conceive of a character complimenting another character’s butt. Elden Ring? Bloodborne? Dark Souls? Name a single speaking NPC in any of those universes that would look at a badonkadonk and be like “You got a great pooper right there”. You can’t. It is impossible.
  • Would I play again: I might organize another trip to the Lands Between in the future. And, hey, there is bound to be some DLC, too, right? Maybe that would be another good excuse…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocky and Rocky Reshrined! The priestess and the raccoon will save the day yet again! With leaves! Please look forward to it!

What is even happening here?

FGC #641 God of War 3

Gonna war tonightHere is my idea for the perfect action game: just make 100% of a game based on 10% of God of War 3.

God of War 3 was released in 2010, so you will be forgiven for forgetting the current state of Kratos when this title first hit the Playstation 3. God of War (1) was a self-contained tale of a man that loses his family, blames the God of War, and then fights through hordes of mythical monsters to eventually grow to substantial size and murder/replace that other, equally vengeful god. But, despite this story ending on whatever is the opposite of a cliffhanger (sorry, too many Marvel movies have erased the concept of “finality” from my mind), there were multiple sequel hooks established in a host of unlockable endings. One such finale made the assertion that Kratos was aided on his quest by the almighty Zeus, and the thunder god was only so helpful because Kratos was one of his many bastard children (not going to judge here, Zeus was just not the kind of god that was fond of monogamy or protection). 2007’s God of War 2 decided to run with this thread, and the majority of that game was Kratos defying the Fates to earn an eventual confrontation with his deity daddy. But the deicide/parricide would have to wait, as Athena suffered the killing blow in place of Zeus, and the Z-Man escaped. But! Kratos was joined by the enormous and equally vengeful Titans, and GoW2 ended with the promise of a rock monster versus Mount Olympus battle that would justify the console generation upgrade. You can’t have those kinds of celestial fights on the piddling Playstation 2, mortal!

That's gotta stingSo three years later, the Playstation 3 granted us the conclusion to the Kratos(-is-super-angry) Trilogy. One thing was certain: Kratos was going to fight a lot of gods, and get all sorts of revenge on Zeus. But the in-between could be virtually anything! The God of War titles were never real time strategy games, so how would the multiple assaulting titans be handled? Would Kratos separate from them immediately? Would there be “titan-based gameplay” like what was seen in Shadow of the Colossus? Would Kratos be thrown to entirely new locales by the fury of war? Would you have the ability to summon titans to at least marginally aid in your dirty work? The possibilities were endless!

… And… well… God of War 3 was ultimately a typical God of War title. Kratos dies almost immediately, and once again must fight his way out of Hell/Hades. There are hordes of mythological monsters, and they all can be ultimately trounced by smacking the circle button until something or other is decapitated. Most of Kratos’s surrounding environments are either “magical (deadly) temple” or “generic (deadly) Grecian architecture”. There is the opportunity to participate in a sex-based mini game (this time with a goddess while also cucking a god you are about to murder). And the end of the story is exactly what everyone expected: Kratos formally overcomes his Oedipus complex by punching his father to death… even if that means the collapse of human society. Everybody, please, get over it. Kratos was working through some stuff. If half of Greece must be downed, destroyed, and exposed to a brand-new pandemic to get there, sorry, but Kratos really needed this release. If Zeus was your dad, you would be a lot more understanding.

But long before Kratos is within grappling range of Zeus, there is the start of God of War 3. And the absolute beginning of GoW3? That is one of the single best openings in gaming.

Ye GodsGod of War 3 does pick up exactly where God of War 2 left off. Kratos is literally standing on the shoulders of giants, and he is about to have a big, grand adventure assaulting all of Mount Olympus. And the trick of what happens next? It never stops. Kratos weaves his way in and out of the titans’ assault, and there is not a single moment when the screen is not shaking from a war that will ultimately shatter everything. This is still the beginning of a modern videogame, though, so there are plenty of tutorials, and the narration does seem to assume the player has never so much as pressed an X button before. But even if there are disembodied instructions for how to run following everywhere Kratos cares to go, Kratos is going places. An epic battle is raging, and Kratos is wiping the floor with the legions of heavenly warriors, monsters, and one entire god (on watery crab-horseback!). There is the prerequisite “learn how to push things” block puzzle in there, but it is snappy enough that Kratos can learn how to coddle cubes and get back to the battle in short order. And other than that? It is all battle, all the way, with Kratos utilizing all his end-game abilities from God of War 2 to cut a bloody swath across the area. And even though it feels like the war is never ending, there are still moments in there to introduce important items like save points, the Chains of Olympus, and a few glimpses of areas that will be visited much later in the game.

But whatever the details of the opening of God of War 3, the result is the same: the adrenaline is pumping, and flowing along at an amazing rate. When you are barely ever in the same spot for longer than thirty seconds without a massive flaming boulder destroying the place, you stay alert. When you are constantly fighting, using techniques that are both crushing and (visually) stunning, you are truly feeling the rage of Kratos. And you are already at maximum level from the finale of GoW2! You don’t have to so much as gaze upon a menu to power Kratos up any further. Your anti-hero is already as good as it gets, and all you need to focus on is the death of thousands by your bloody hands.

And then Kratos goes to Hell, and it all goes to hell.

Don't get stuckUpon defeating Poseidon and officially ending the prologue, Kratos falls from Olympus down to Hades. Once there, he accidentally bathes in the River Lethe, loses 90% of the acquired abilities of GoW2, and 100% of health and magic powerups. Oh, and since there is a river involved, Kratos has to swim, which is the most boring thing Kratos ever does in his opening trilogy (leaving some wiggle room here in case Dad of War ever makes swimming fun). From there, you are back to normal God of War “action”. Sure, there are epic battles again (sometimes against Titans, for a change), but it is all very… interruptible. Clear out some ghouls, and it is time to use your red orbs to power the weapon of your choice. Earn a new tool, and then you have to do a tutorial puzzle at the speed of snail to “learn” your new ability, and then perform another two puzzles just to prove you really know what you are doing with your new skill of “can run faster”. Beat a boss, and there is an inevitable refractory period where damn near nothing happens for like three screens (and maybe there is more swimming!).

Basically, once God of War 3 gets going, it frequently finds reasons to stop going. Do damn near anything, and you will be forced to pause to utilize any spoils of battle. Stop and smell the roses, Kratos. You’ll live longer.

And can you think of a worse way to spend an action game? I didn’t come here to pause! I came here to swiftly murder every mofo between here and the top of the mountain!

Even this is funSo here’s my ideal action game: just focus on that intro. Drop the leveling. Drop the pressing against every wall to find hidden health powerups. Drop any puzzle that cannot be solved outside of thirty seconds. Drop the tutorials for every new thing that comes along. Absolutely do not give a player time to “get used to” a new skill: just drop it in there, and if Kratos dies while trying to figure it out, let ‘em die. Keep the pace. Keep Kratos running, jumping, and swinging his chains around like a madman. Do not let the poor, undead godling breathe. Speed never had a twenty-minute intermission where Keanu Reeves had to navigate a skill tree, and Crank never had Jason Statham solve a crossword puzzle for a half hour. This is an action game, dammit, give me some action.

So what do I want from a new action game? The very beginning of God of War 3, and nothing. God of War 3 isn’t a bad experience, but its opening is sublime. And if we could get that, and only that, as an entire game? Well, that would make me as happy as a Kratos with a dead god-dad.

FGC #641 God of War 3

  • System: Playstation exclusive, though that may be Playstation 3 or Playstation 4. I think some of these screenshots are technically from a copy of the HD version being played on the Playstation 5. I can’t remember exactly which controller I was holding at the time…
  • Number of players: Kratos gives friends no quarter.
  • Other Offenders: On the subject of keeping the action going, while God of War 3 does not commit this particular sin, I can safely say that a “Mission Clear” grading results screen is a lack of action, too, Devil May Cry. While we’re at it, Sonic the Hedgehog is on notice.
  • I like green thingsFavorite Weapon: The Nemesis Whip is all sparkly and green, so why would you need anything more? Truth be told, I just like it because it feels like typical “Kratos whip blades” gameplay, but is just different enough to distinguish itself from the previous two games of swinging around the same stuff. Conversely, the Nemean Cestus feels appropriately bulky, but is too much of a departure from the reason I’m playing the game in the first place. You can punch out bad guys in any other game…
  • Favorite God: After lauding the opening, you might think I would choose Poseidon, the deity that caps off that section. But, truth be told, I prefer the “fight” against Hera, as she pretty much just keels over after drinking herself to death. This is an inglorious end, but I appreciate the fact that the designers did not attempt to create a three-part boss battle out of the stages of alcoholism.
  • Favorite Boss Battle: If we are going outside the gods, you have to respect the enormous fight against the gargantuan Cronos the Titan. This really feels like something that was intended to be in God of War 1, but was axed for hardware limitations. But now you can attack a giant’s thumbnail like it ain’t no thang! What more could you ask for?
  • This at least looks funStuff to do: There are a surprisingly high number of ridiculous minigames in this serious game about serious people. There is a “flying” section that seems like it would be more at home in a Sonic the Hedgehog game, some ridiculous puzzles in the labyrinth, and, of course, harp hero. I am not certain who on the design team wanted Kratos to participate in a rhythm game, but please find them, and commit Kratos upon them.
  • Did you know? Kevin Sorbo is the voice actor for a Hercules here that is very different from Sorbo’s role in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. This is being noted because any appearance by Kevin Sorbo in 2022 is tinged with a bit of… disgust.
  • Would I play again: Why not? This is the most God of War of the original God of War trilogy, so it will likely see a playthrough again before ever touching the PSP “side game”. And, hey, if I get bored, at least the best part of the game is all right there at the beginning…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Portal 2! It’s still alive! And coming next week! Please look forward to it!

They're best friends