Tag Archives: PC

FGC #613 Santa’s X-Mas Adventure & Hades

They're like the same gameSanta’s Xmas Adventure Complete Edition ostensibly should be the most Christmas-y game available for my Playstation 4. However, when Santa’s Xmas Adventure appeared on a Black Friday Sale, I also picked up a physical copy of Hades, a title about a dude trying to escape some pretty hellish circumstances. And you know what? Hades might just be the most yule title in the inventory right now.

So let’s see how ostensible Christmas title Santa’s Xmas Adventure stacks up to Hades.

Christmas is about Presents!

Santa’s Xmas Adventure is straightforward. You know the elves? And all the presents they make for children? Well, those Tolkien-rejects done messed up this holiday season, and now the presents are spread all over the North Pole. Santa must venture out into the cold all on his lonesome to retrieve the presents, and only once his sack is filled to the brim with gifts will Christmas truly begin. Go, Santa, collect all the presents for everlasting peace!

Very puzzlingExcept there is a significant step missing in this Santa’s Christmas quest: he doesn’t actually give any presents. While Santa collects all the lost presents, he patently ignores distributing the presents to all the good little boys and girls of the world. I understand that some Santa’s Xmas Adventure fanfic rectifies this issue by creating unique scenarios wherein Santa flies presents around the world at (apparently) the speed of light, but the actual game does not include any present delivery.

Meanwhile, Hades is lousy with present giving and receiving. Zagreus is going to fight his way through every last level of the Underworld on his way up to the surface, but he wouldn’t make it past his first surprisingly fast fat guy without a boon or two from the Olympians. Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, and a whole host of other gods are continually offering their assistance to Hades, and, while these boons are fairly random, they are indispensable when Zagreus is mowing down plague rats. Zagreus gets by with a little gifting from his friends.

But gifts are not a one way street! Zagreus may return the favor by offering gifts of his own to gods, friends, and skeletons. By the time Zaggy is making significant progress in his Sisyphean journey, he is bubbling back up at home with a whole host of presents for any friendly that happens to be skulking around the great hall. And is there anything more Christmassy than giving the family dog some extra pets and an ambrosia treato?

‘Tis better to give than to receive, and Zagreus knows that better than Santa.

Hades: 1
Santa’s Xmas Adventure: 0

Christmas is about making lists, checking them twice

Check it as many times as you needIt is right there in the song: he is making a list, and he is checking it twice. Santa is known for his list keeping, but isn’t this a tradition that has transferred to us mundane humans? Of course you are getting gifts for immediate family members, but which of your friends rank? Are you going to the Hallmark store for your coworkers? Did Debbie in accounting rank this year, but Judy at reception is right out? And don’t forget to weigh all of your buddies against shipping times! I know Jimmy is a fan of all those etsy stores, but you better order that custom keychain two months before his favorite holiday!

Hades is a rogue-like. In a way, Christmas is a rogue-like. You make progress, you do good, you do bad, and, no matter the end result, it is still going to be something you have to do again next year. And, in much the same way you gradually get better at giving your friends and family gifts (or just learning that some people are only ever worth a Shrek 12th Anniversary Commemorative Ornament), you will gradually get better at guiding Zagreus to the surface. And lists help! There are lists to spare in Hades, with everything from the prophecies that offer rewards for performing specific actions, to oodles of skills and abilities to upgrade. And, like in real life, the lists serve to simultaneously highlight your goals and allow you to make informed decisions. Sure, you might die if you do not get that triple attack bonus/a gift for Steve, but wouldn’t you rather score something so much more useless because it allows you to put another check next to a name on a list? You know what is really important, right?

Santa’s Xmas adventure just lists whether or not you have collected all the presents in a level, and how many presents you need to unlock the next area. Ho Ho Ho-Hum.

Hades: 2
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 0

Christmas is about Santa

Surely Santa’s X-Mas Adventure is going to score the point here! This is a game all about a magical bearded dude in a red robe who judges…

SANTA!

Okay, both games get a point for that one.

Hades: 3
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 1

Christmas is all about Winter

So icy!Santa’s X-Mas Adventure nails this one! Santa must trawl all along the North Pole to find his missing presents, and the environment is veritably the reason for the season. Santa’s home is known for its icy conditions, so that lends itself smoothly to sliding blocks around to make a path for jolly ol’ St. Nick. Granted, games have made the “slide blocks” concept work without blizzard conditions before, but it is nice to have an explanation for why your cursor can modify the landscape. Couple this with the endless snow during the game, and Santa’s X-Mas Adventure has got the Solstice Season down pat.

Except… well… It’s hard not to give Hades a point here, too. The concepts of temperature and seasons are woven so subtly into the narrative, it is impossible to ignore how Winter is just as important to the quixotic quest as a certain three-headed dog. Zagreus was born and raised in the underworld, so he literally does not understand an environment that is completely lacking in a steady stream of lava. Upon reaching the surface, Zagreus is shocked by the snowy landscape, and, from that point on, he gains the ability to utilize the cold (of grandma) as a chillingly effective offense. In the land of the hot, the cool is king! It may be hard to pin down an exact year for Hades’ origin, but it can be said with some finality that it takes place during a (the?) winter.

So, yes, everyone is a winner for this Winter Solstice.

Hades: 4
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 2

Christmas is all about the music!

I like it hereHades has some rocking tunes (played by one of the most famous bards in the business). Unfortunately for our rankings, Hades contains exactly zero verifiable Christmas songs. A tune or two may include some bell, but that is as good as it gets.

Santa’s X-Mas Adventure meanwhile… Wait… Dammit! There are no Christmas songs in this Christmas game. Terrible! I mean, nobody is demanding Mariah Carey do some licensing for a game that started out as a cell phone distraction, but could we grab a few public domain ditties for a little more Christmas cheer? A very chiptune Silent Night? A carol about caroling? Something?

Hades does not receive a point, and Santa’s X-Mas Adventure loses a point. This is the only fair path.

Hades: 4
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 1

Christmas is all about family!

All about the familyThere is the theory that if there was no Christmas, someone would invent Christmas. Christmas comes at what has historically been the worst time of the year; a time when the crops have all frozen, we must rely on the leftovers of whatever is immediately available, and, if you leave grandma outside too long, she’s not getting a tan, she’s losing a toe. It is only in the most recent years of human history that “the winter” was anything but a death sentence, so it is only natural that everyone would come together during these trying, annually precedented times and find a way to celebrate. Over the years, it has gone from celebrating what might be the last stretch available with loved ones to a time when Debbie from accounting xeroxes the bottom of her elf costume during company cocktails, but it is still a celebration in defiance of a world that seems to be trying to kill you and yours.

But it ain’t always pretty.

We humans huddle together with our tribe when facing brutality, whether that brutality come from unfeeling elements or other tribes. This does not mean our own “tribe” is a boundless fountain of love. This does not mean we even have to like our own tribe. It simply means that those that we band together with have the tiniest bit of empathy, and are going to be more useful in times of danger than a blanket made of angry weasels (Winter is rough, man). As everyone knows and is reminded this time of year, visiting family may lead to a warm bed and a few gifts, but it may also lead to conversations that remind you that you inadvertently belong to a “tribe” that also includes an unhealthy amount of hate, fear, and blockchain evangelists.

When you get down to it, Hades is about that same thing. Hades is the story of a father that lies for altruistic reasons, a son that demands to know the truth, and a mother that genuinely wants to help, but is too hurt to do so (or she doesn’t understand how boats work). Everyone else is trying to assist in some way or another… though sometimes that support varies from doling out boons from the heavens (which, ultimately, is the Ancient Grecian equivalent of mailing an Amazon gift card) to rounding up your sisters to actively attempt murder (the toughest of loves). Friend, foe, or puppy that desires satyr snacks, they are all cooperating with our hero in some way, and they all have their own motivations for doing so. And, in some of the most twisted ways, every one of these characters cares for Zagreus. They are a family. And Hades is about family at all times.

Santa’s X-Mas Adventure features a Santa that might not even have a family. This is a Santa Claus entirely alone in a cold, endless winter. This is a depressing Santa. Nobody wants that!

Hades: 5
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 1

Happy Holidays, everybody. Now go out and use those gift cards to score the hottest Christmas game available, Hades.

FGC #613 Santa’s X-Mas Adventure

  • Okay we're done with this nowSystem: This has to be a graduated mobile game, right? Regardless, there is definitely a Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4 version. Maybe it was just designed for the Switch? Touch controls seem kind of natural…
  • Number of players: Santa is a lone (timber) wolf, baby.
  • So it’s a puzzle game? Yep, just move blocks so Santa can walk to the goal. You are supposed to gather presents along the way, but you don’t strictly have to do that to unlock graduating levels. Eventually, the game ends when the heat death of the universe guarantees that human life can no longer survive.
  • What’s in a name: This is definitely Santa’s X-Mas Adventure. One must assume that Santa’s Christmas Adventure was already taken. Either that, or Master Xehanort stole naming privileges.
  • Did you know? Frosty the Snowman, It’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Let it Snow, and Little Drummer Boy are all copyrighted Christmas songs. The Wassail Song, We Three Kings, and Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella are all public domain. Choose wisely.
  • Would I play again: It is nice to see a game that is unashamedly cashing in on grandmas that don’t know what to get their videogame playing grandchildren. I appreciate that. This is a terrible, boring videogame, but I appreciate its Christmas chutzpah.

FGC #613 Hades

  • Bounce backSystem: Oh, good, a game with an actual Wikipedia entry… PC, Mac, Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series XS… Yes, this is the new Shovel Knight for “awesome and available on damn near everything”.
  • Number of players: It seems like finding some way to DLC two player content would be the exact kind of thing that would happen to this critical darling, but I think it remains single player.
  • So, did you beat it? I refuse to even acknowledge any “no boons, infinity heat” challenge runs that are out there, but I did see to it that this family could experience something like a happy conclusion. I mean, it really is kind of impressive that there is a legitimate “ending” for a game that is meant to loop infinitely.
  • Favorite Weapon: Exagryph, the Adamant Rail, is my end all and be all. In any game that puts a premium on health (well, technically, that’s every game, but something like Mega Man is a lot more generous with the healing), I am going to take the choice that allows me to win… but be way the hell over there. And some of the tracking powerups allow for a complete lack of aiming, which is great for my sniper-adverse ass.
  • Most Hated Boss, Oh my God: Theseus and his bull buddy can eat a whole trash bag of expired gyros. I conceptually understand that they are the “master class” for Elysium, and basically only use attacks that imitate the minions that were creeping around the afterlife for heroes. But! They’re both way too… is random the right word? It feels random! They might be as carefully patterned as every other boss, but, yes, that fight feels random, and that is the enemy of fun in a rogue-like. … Yes, I know rogue-likes are random incarnate! Shut-up!
  • PlinkDid you know? “Classical” Zagreus seems to be most remembered as the son of Zeus, not Hades. This is presumably because Zaggy’s mother is fairly consistently Persephone, and Hades’ involvement is nebulous when you’re talking about a guy that ultimately seems to have wound up as a Dionysus-esque party god. He’s generally associated with being dead or a god of the dead, though, so he is an excellent choice for a professional Hell escaper.
  • Would I play again: If I had played this game in 2020, it likely would have been my game of the year. Oh well! It’s still pretty damn amazing in 2021, though! Oh, speaking of which…

What’s next? The time has come yet again for the annual year end round up, so the first post of 2022 is going to be the best of 2021. Please look forward to it!

FGC #601 Psychonauts 2

This article contains spoilers for Psychonauts 2, primarily in regard to a lore twist that is learned approximately halfway through the game. If you have had long conversations with Ford Cruller, you know what I am talking about. Anyway, you have been warned…

THE PSYCHONAUTS!My grandfather was the eldest of seven brothers. As confirmed by those granduncles and practically our entire extended family, my grandfather was always known as a generally kind man who was also very quick to anger. And everyone thought this was wholly justified! He had to “keep in line” his younger, male siblings with very little help from a father growing up, and then he was a navy man just in time for World War II. He spent all day on a boat with a metaphorical collection “brothers” that all had to be disciplined and controlled, and… well… I don’t know if you have ever dealt with a man before, but they can get kind of rowdy. So is it any wonder that his experiences from childhood to young adulthood stayed with him his entire life? You cannot just “turn off” the person you have been for twenty years, and if that means you occasionally must throw your drunken brother-in-law off a balcony to make a point about being civil at dinner parties, so be it (also, in my grandfather’s [legal] defense, it was not a particularly high balcony). My grandfather lived to be older than most, and, even through to the age when he was frequently napping in the living room lounger, his whole family continued to have explanations for any temperamental shouting matches. He’s always been like that. That’s just who he is.

Until it wasn’t who he was.

Today’s game is the venerable/mythical Psychonauts 2. Psychonauts 2 is here! It was released! After 16 years of absolutely no Psychonauts (Gogglebob.com does not recognize the existence of virtual reality), here is Psychonauts all back again. And it is no exaggeration to say that Psychonauts is “back”, either. If your number one complaint about Psychonauts is that it never should have ended, Psychonauts 2 has got you covered with everything from the original, and a host of quality-of-life improvements to round out an “and then some”. Psychonauts 2 starts with a Raz that already knows the essential skills from Psychonauts 1 (sorry, invisibility, I said essential), and escalates from there with confidence that the audience does not need an entire level to understand PSI blasts again. All new abilities are then introduced, challenges are expanded, and, by the end, Raz will be thought-grappling while bossing a clone around with the best of ‘em. It is remarkable all on its own that Psychonauts 2 is simultaneously exactly more of the same, and something wholly new and different. This is the game Super Mario Bros. 2 could have been! If that wasn’t awful!

Connect the thoughtsAnd I would be remiss if I did not note that they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Psychonauts was one in a seemingly endless parade of collectathons that had been going strong for ten years when it was released back in 2005. But now it seems like the idea of searching environments for hard-to-find collectibles has fallen by the wayside, and Psychonauts 2 is an example of a lamented evolutionary dead-end that that did not survive to see 2021. Chasing figments or hooking hidden keys to hidden chests feels simultaneously antiquated and refreshing when the best other titles of this era can manage is a sidequest or two where you must rescue three cats. Three cats!? You lifestream-addled morons! This friggen’ foyer has 17 tickets to find, and five more scavenger hunt items just to add a little flavor. Is this the kind of gameplay that is sustainable for title after title demanding you achieve 101% to see a marginally satisfactory ending? No. Of course not. That’s why so many people in Liberty City had mental breakdowns when photographing graffiti and seeing a “1/5,000 found” notification. But now, as likely the one game this year that is going to ask you to achieve “Rank 102”, it is a much easier pill to swallow.

But a collectathon can only work if there are interesting worlds in which to do your collecting. Mario 64 had portraits that doubled as portals, Banjo Kazooie had entire realms inside its haunted castle (wait… that was just the same as Mario…), and Psychonauts has always been about exploring the mind. And abstract psychological concepts are fertile ground for a dungeon or ten! Psychonauts 1 featured bipolar disorders transformed into theatres and Napoleon complexes transferred to gigantic boardgames. Psychonauts 2 ups the ante (literally) with hospital-casinos, gameshows, and germ-riddled bowling alleys (uh… that is better than it sounds). It is a joy to explore these abstract worlds with concrete platforming abilities, and slingshotting over a gap to find some emotional baggage or sneaking under a bridge to find a bright idea is consistently pleasant. These “mindscapes” are beautifully realized from a conceptual and level-design standpoint, and every opportunity to enter a new level feels like a gift. Look, Ma, now I can jump in this crazy bee lady’s brain! Wonder what I’m gonna find there!

But there is one important difference between Psychonauts 1 and Psychonauts 2…

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