Tag Archives: playstation

FGC #611 The Misadventures of Tron Bonne

nice airplaneThis was Mega Man’s last chance to be a contender, but now Mega Man will always only be Mega Man.

For those of you that do not follow the career of our favorite super fighting robot, Mega Man has gone through several permutations throughout the years. He started as the simple Mega Man, but already graduated to being the “spirit” of (separate) Mega Man X six years later. From there, Mega Man has gone through many different versions and spin off franchises. Some of these franchises were further explorations of “original” Mega Man gameplay (Mega Man Zero somersaults to mind as an example), while other offshoots used familiar iconography in conjunction with wholly unique situations (Mega Man Battle Network… oddly enough, often releasing simultaneously with Mega Man Zero). But whatever the situation, you could count on Mega Man running, jumping, and shooting his way to victory.

… Except when he was hosting a board game. Or racing a go kart. Or that one time he wound up in a bad SEGA CD-esque anime “super” adventure…

There was a hot minute in Capcom’s history when the likes of Super Joe or Captain Commando were intended to be the Mario of the brand. But, somewhere in there, Mega Man became the de facto face of a business that was almost immediately synonymous with gaming. Mega Man! The little robot that blinks! And it was not just a matter of Capcom promoting its blue bomber; Mega Man appeared as a regular on Captain N: The Game Master, too! Complete with a Nintendo Power covers, Mega Man was extraordinarily popular in his salad days.

Oh blast itAnd, as one would expect, this meant Mega Man became involved in several experimental titles. Mega Man could always be relied on to show up every Christmas with a handful of Robot Masters to rob and/or obliterate, but did you know that Japan saw Rock Board, featuring Mega Man’s two feuding daddies playing boardgames? Or that time Mega Man had to rely on soccer to defeat Dr. Wily? And once we got past the Super Nintendo, the Playstation proved to be the console generation that saw Mega Man experimenting the most. Mega Man: Battle & Chase was Mega’s chance at a kart racer, and Super Adventure Rockman saw Rock starring in his own FMV/anime challenge. We also saw two Mega Man quasi-fighting games in the arcades during this era (finally! You can play as Duo!), and, as the Playstation gave way to the Playstation 2, the obscure Rock Strategy appeared on Asian PCs. Mega Man got around at the turn of the millennium, all while his “traditional” action gameplay had three different flavors immediately available. How should Capcom fill your cup? Mega Man Classic, dark and frothy Mega Man X, or the newest hotness, the legendary Mega Man Dash?

Back in its prime, we had no idea Mega Man Dash/Legends would only ever see three entries. Two of these titles were the straightforward Mega Man Legends and Mega Man Legends 2, which both featured running, jumping, and exploring a world that would be very comfortable including a Duff McWhalen or Doc Robot. But the second title released in this quasi-trilogy, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, included running, jumping, and… a robot management simulator? And a puzzle game? And some light gambling? Wait, did I just see a rogue-like sneak into the background? What is going on here!?

STAY OUTIn more ways than one, it is clear that The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was intended to be the experimental offshoot of the already fairly experimental Mega Man Legends. While Mega Man Legends went out of its way to confirm that this was the next generation for our blue hero, his “sister” Roll, and quasi-father Beard Guy, TMoTB barely made the most token of efforts to confirm it existed within the Mega Man universe. 8-Bit Mega Man appears in a random easter egg cameo, and… that’s it. No Dr. Wily boat rental here, and the concept of “Mega Man Legends” is barely even acknowledged on anything but the box copy. Beyond that, this is a story starring Tron Bonne and her family (characters introduced exclusively for Mega Man Legends) before they encountered our third favorite Mega Man. All characters outside the family, whether they be allies, villains, or frenemy police officers, are wholly new and were created exclusively for this adventure. And, give or take visual connection between Glyde and Glide.exe, none of these characters ever received so much as an echo in other Mega Man materials. The Misadventures of Tron Bonne is an island onto itself that was never truly revisited again in a franchise that has lasted to this day.

And that’s a damn shame, as once The Misadventures of Tron Bonne gets going, it fires on absolutely every cylinder available. Entire sections are given over to block puzzles, and said puzzles are careful, fun, and thoughtful. Meanwhile, “let’s rob a bank” or “let’s steal all the cows” are exaggerated bits of buffoonery where the action immediately feeds into the exact level of chaos you need when you can chuck whole trees at houses. The weakest segments are the “RPG dungeon” levels, which drag as you wait for your lil’ servbots to stop being squished, flaming casualties long enough to hit a switch or open a treasure chest. But even there, the NPCs of these caves are entertaining and memorable, and, give or take a quiz champ that should be left to die in a forgotten grotto, every “person” in these events could stand to survive to see the Battle Network franchise. Maybe they could control TediousMan.exe? Of course, even those RPG bits remind you that the “action segments” are king here, as every RPG boss is a matter of properly strafing around an arena and targeting servbots at the right weak point. Additionally, the opening and final segments of the whole game are both 100% examples of “action bits”, so, sorry if you really excelled at block shuffling, you need more active abilities to see Ms. Tron save the day.

GET ME OUT OF HEREOr… maybe that isn’t completely accurate. The final battle is a fight like practically any other standard Mega Man title with patterns to recognize and weapons to utilize; but there is one significant difference: levels. Your final matchup is fought not by Tron, but her favorite servbot. And said servbot can be a complete weakling or a daring master of bazookas. What makes the difference? You are responsible for “raising” the servbots between other events, and their levels are wholly dependent on the amount of love, care, and torture you shower on your minifigs. This means that, if you ever want to succeed in this world of airpirates battling other airpirates, you must engage in some light Tamagotchi gameplay to keep your army growing apace with your pocketbook. It’s an action game! It’s a simulation! And if you overlook either side of the equation, you’ll be no more successful than a JRPG player that ignores every town’s equipment shop. You have to remember to upgrade your g(G)ear(s)! (Not that that problem ever occurred on the stream…)

In short, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was wildly experimental, and required the player to manage all sorts of skills to maintain a proper Tron Bonne capable of triumphing over her (relatively more) evil foes.

And then we never saw another Mega Man game try that again.

Asked and answeredThe Mega Man Zero franchise was the obvious continuation of Mega Man 2-D gameplay, but from Mega Zero 1 to Mega Man ZX Advent, we never saw so much as a cyber elf farming simulator. Similarly, Mega Man X made one attempt at its own JRPG with action elements and some very confusing warring factions… but probably the number one thing anyone remembers from that adventure is that it could unlock Cut Man in Mega Man X8. It seems the only future Mega Man franchise that tried to branch out from its “we’re doing the same thing every year like clockwork” gameplay was the Mega Man Battle Network series. Though, even in that case, its side games were either attempts to emulate other Mega Man games (Mega Man Network Transmission), or diversions that could barely come together as complete titles (Rockman.EXE Battle Chip Stadium, Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge). And by the time that franchise graduated to Mega Man Star Force on the next generation of hardware, the best anyone could hope for was an enhanced rerelease in the form of Rockman.EXE Operate Shooting Star. Bit of an inglorious end for an entire Mega Man Universe…

The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was a wildly experimental, incredibly entertaining diversion from traditional Mega Man gameplay that somehow still included wholly recognizable experiences. And not only was it never attempted again, but it apparently was the end of any experimentation in the Mega Man franchise. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 sure ain’t what my grandfather would recognize as a Pac-Man game, and Zelda Warriors is not your traditional Link jaunt. But Mega Man? Mega Man 11 is very much “the next Mega Man game”, and apparently a tie-in game for Mega Man: Fully Charged is too much to hope for. Mega Man is no longer allowed deviation, and that mandate has apparently been the norm since Tron retired from questing in 1999.

The Misadventures of Tron Bonne is a great game that apparently had horrible consequences. Sorry, Mega Man, but looks like Miss Tron is the reason you’ll never see a tennis court. Maybe Mario could let you guest sometime…

FGC #611 The Misadventures of Tron Bonne

  • All cops are wrestlersSystem: Playstation 1, because that is the system that could include a demo disc for Mega Man Legends 2 (coming soon!). A Playstation 3 PSN release is also available.
  • Number of players: For a game with forty servbots, you only get one player. Kind of amazing some multiplayer minigames didn’t sneak in there.
  • For the Future: You can see the first rumbling of much of the Mega Man Battle Network franchise in the Mega Man Legends series, and it is hard not to notice how the various “characters” of the RPG segments in TMOTB map easily to personalities that would be revisited by the time Lan was playing with his NetNavi. Tuttle, the dork exploring a cave in a top hat and suit, is just begging for something like FancyLad.exe.
  • Risk it All: There is also a casino level available. I am sure there is some ridiculous method for exploiting this mission and earning all the zenny you would ever need inside of the third mission or something. But, as someone that finds gambling inevitably stacked against my favor in most games (and most of reality), I only ever see my poor favorite servbot losing cash while his mistress rests. Sorry, Miss Tron!
  • Favorite Weapon: Give me a bazooka, or give me death. Or give me death, too, when my rate of fire is too low to beat back some ruins-based monster mech. That happened on the stream!
  • Watch it, Buddy: Speaking of which, here is the archival footage of my misadventures with Tron Bonne.



    There is a bit of an audio issue at the top of video 1, but the rest is just vibes. Oh! And I’m not super terrible at this one like the last Mega Man Legends game!

  • Did you know? Tron’s voice actress sings the theme songs in the Japanese version. Under normal circumstances, “the main character sings” usually strikes me as out of character for nearly every videogame heroine I can name. I can do thisHowever, the concept that Tron is trying to earn a few extra bucks through releasing her own album is 100% congruous with a woman that would spend her day shuffling apple boxes for a meager payout. Karaoke is Plan R or so on the list.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I had forgotten how much fun this game can be. Mind you, I am not going to play it again for a while, but when I do? Oh boy! Fun times to be had!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D! Possibly because I accidentally vacuumed up some automaton’s favorite gyro, this robot is trying to visit misery upon me! Please grab your 3-D glasses, and look forward to Jim Power!

ANOTHER LOSER

FGC #606 Mega Man Legends

Go, Mega!I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m so bad at Mega Man Legends, and I’ve settled on a culprit: it’s-a Mario.

As True Gogglebob.com Believers may already be aware, I recently streamed the entirety of Mega Man Legends as part of our now-been-happening-for-a-year-holy-cow Tuesday night streams. Mega Man Legends was chosen because we had been talking about it randomly across other streams, I was kind of anxious to replay the title, and (the most important factor) I just plain remembered liking the game. And I still like it! I just happened to discover that, apparently, I am no longer any good at Mega Man Legends. I died to that dang bulldozer boss like sixty times! It was nebulously embarrassing!

So, in an effort to make sure that every stream is not a gauntlet of Goggle Bob death, I went back to my original save, and loaded up the “final” save I had on my ancient Playstation 1 Memory Card. I beat the game from that file, and, since Wee Goggle Bob had satisfied the necessary conditions, I was able to play a New Game Plus/Easy Mode that all but guaranteed my success on stream. Nothing can stop MegaMan equipped with the Easy Mode Buster! And how do you earn that ultimate weapon? Well, you beat the game on Hard Mode. And wondering how you unlock Hard Mode? Simply beat the game on Normal Mode! So, to be clear, at some point in my not-too-distant past, I not only completed Mega Man Legends, but beat it twice with escalating exertion. I was once super good at Mega Man Legends! Data, can you tell me what happened!?

I hate this guyI will admit that I did not particularly like Mega Man Legends when it was released. I beat it. I played it a lot. But I did not like the trajectory of Mega Man and his fellow “8-bit mascots”. Castlevania had its 64-bit, 3-D adventure. The Legend of Zelda dropped its top-down perspective for 3-D fluting. 2-D fighting games had to make way for 3-D ballerina fights. Contra was doing… something. And, while we certainly had Mega Man 8 and Mega Man X4-6 on the Playstation, Mega Man Legends seemed to imply that 3-D was the next big frontier for our Blue Bomber. Did I identify Mega Man Legends as a good game? Of course! It is a good game! But it represented a trend I did not endorse, so I felt my time was better spent banishing Jet Stringray over in the 2-D Mega Man X universe. In fact, while I played nearly every “3-D reimagining” of a beloved franchise that came down the pike, I want to say there was only one 3-D title that I replayed repeatedly during the N64/Playstation 1 era. Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to look at Super Mario 64.

And, fun fact, I have no idea if I even like Super Mario 64.

Here are the objective facts: I have collected all 120 stars in Super Mario 64. I accomplished this feat “back in the day”, and without the assistance of a strategy guide or FAQ. I explored every inch of Princess Peach’s Castle, unearthed every last portal-world (it took me forever to discover that Rainbow Ride even existed), and saw Mario nab any and all “secret stars”. Despite 100% completing the game in 1996 or so (I wonder if I finished it in “just” three months…) Over the years, I have returned to Super Mario 64 again and again, playing through its many ports (Wii! WiiU! Switch for a limited time for some reason!) and incarnations A nice sip(Release the DS version again, you cowards!). Whenever I play the game, I always go for all the stars, because it is a Mario game, and tricking yourself into playing less Mario in pursuit of a “speed run” is folly. There is a whole portrait world over there that you can skip, but don’t you want more game out of your game?

Except… I am not certain I like any of those portrait worlds.

Here, I made this chart of courses in Super Mario 64, and my opinion of them:

Bob-omb Battlefield Fun, but a little too “baby’s first world”
Whomp’s Fortress One “fight the boss” course stretched to six remarkably similar challenges
Jolly Roger Bay Swimming world that is absolutely zero fun. Eat my ass, collecting 100 coins
Cool, Cool Mountain Princess’ Secret Slide is a better version of the one fun part of this course
Big Boo’s Haunt What’s the trick to this stage? Random “invisible” panels? Pass
Hazy Maze Cave Should probably be six separate secret areas, and not one big, boring dungeon
Lethal Lava Land If you are not surfing a shell through lava, you are not having a fun time
Shifting Sand Land Absolutely the worst. Every star is just… ugh
Dire Dire Docks Should have just been one secret star, extremely thin on other “challenges”
Snowman’s Land We reskinned the lava stage. Hope you don’t notice
Wet-Dry World One interesting gimmick on a level no one ever wants to play
Tall, Tall Mountain Pretty fun, assuming you do not have to worry about 100 coins
Tiny-Huge Island You like bottomless pits? Sure you do!
Tick Tock Clock No. Just no.
Rainbow Ride Oh we heard you like losing all your progress to bottomless pits from Tiny-Huge Island. Guess what?

And then the game ends!

WeeeeeAnd before Mario 64 defenders flood my inbox (yes, I still operate under the delusion that I am capable of upsetting the internet at large), I realize I am being hyperbolic. I cannot think of a single SM64 stage that does not include a justifiably redeemable star (well, except Shifting Sand Land. Screw that stage). And, yes, my own Mario enjoyment does seem to lend itself to Super Mario Galaxy-esque experiences where stages are over quickly, and you move rapidly from new setting to new setting. It seems only natural that I would swiftly tire of “now do the same thing again in a slightly different way” gameplay (looking at you, Cool, Cool Mountain). But if I am being honest, there are stars that I fear like nothing else in the Mario pantheon. I would chase a thousand Liquid Marios in Super Mario Sunshine before I ever wanted to collect a hundred coins across Tick Tock Clock again. And I would rather jump rope forever than follow around an eel in Jolly Roger Bay. I understand that it is the nature of the completionist itch that I do not have to do any of these things to fully enjoy Mario 64, but what is even the point in being alive if I play Mario 64 and don’t earn 120 stars!?

But I am alive, and I did earn 120 stars in Super Mario 64. Before I moved on from SM64, my cartridge had four different save files with a total of 480 stars. What was the point of that? Perhaps to showcase that I had done it. Or maybe to remind myself that I played SM64 more than practically any Mario title before or since. I may have hated individual levels, but I explored the living hell out of that castle. I spent hours and days of my life on Super Mario 64 to the point that it is now part of my bones. If I “had to” replay the game right now, gun to my head, you have to find Yoshi or you die, I could do it. I do not think I could do that with Mega Man Legends, and the stream of my failures all but confirms this. Why is that?

Because the Nintendo 64 didn’t have any other games, dammit.

BZZZZZZTI scrimped and saved my allowance to afford a Nintendo 64 at launch. I was the happiest boy in the world, and I was going to be damned if I did not use that system to its utmost… Even if the only other game available was Cruis’n USA. I may not have liked the general format of Mario 64, or even a number of its individual challenges, but I was going to play it as much as possible, dagnabbit. I would rescue the princess over and over again. I would toss Bowser into the sun as many times as it took. I did all of this because there were no other options. And, naturally, I got better at it. Naturally, I interpreted this endless playtime as some kind of affection. Naturally, I played the game when it was rereleased, because didn’t I play that game a lot back in the 90s? Yeah, that sounds right. Let’s try it again. I played and continue to play Super Mario 64 out of a sort of eternal attrition, because, for a time, it was my only videogame. Or, at least, it was the only next gen videogame worth playing.

Super Mario 64 kidnapped my attention, and gave me Stockholm syndrome for life.

WeeeeAnd Mega Man Legends? I am willing to say that is a better game than Mario 64. If it is not better, it definitely offers a different, wholly unique experience that is a parallel, but just as good, game as Mario 64. It is more of a “run and shoot” game than Mario’s punch ‘n hop times. It features a huge, interconnected dungeon world, and encourages finding connections between areas that would be eternally separate in Peach’s Castle. The characters and their attendant voice acting/animated acting are marvelous, and a far cry from Mario’s “let them eat cake” morsels of a plot. Mega Man Legends may not have anything as sublime as recklessly gliding over a bob-omb battlefield, but it does have jet boots to spare. Mega Man Legends is an amazing game, and, playing it in 2021 reminds me that this has always been one of the best Playstation games out there.

But it was just one of an amazing crop of Playstation games that were released in 1997. It was not the only decent N64 game release in 1996. As a result, one game got played over and over for years, and the other was left to rot thanks to the likes of Final Fantasy 7, Symphony of the Night, and maybe even Alundra.

And that’s why Mario is responsible for my lack of Mega Man Legends skills. It is all that pesky plumber’s fault…

FGC #606 Mega Man Legends

  • System: Playstation (1) is host to the original and most beloved release. The Nintendo 64 version came along in friggen’ 2001, and was way too late to make an impact on gorram anything. And it was a compromised port on top of it! The PSP version came out four years later (but exclusively in Japan), and a Playstation 3 port scuttled out a decade after that. This is arguably the saddest release schedule gogglebob.com has ever recognized.
  • Number of players: Would have been cool to see another digger get into the act, but we are sticking to one Mega Man here.
  • What's so funny?Favorite Sub Weapon: It is a shame that the signature “variable weapons system” of Mega Man is relegated to refining treasures here, and not gaining, like, the Bonne Blaster after a boss fight. That said, the tactical laser weapon on my original save file is the bee’s knees… and not something I felt like earning on the stream. I guess I am going to say the drill arm this time, because I very much appreciate drill appendages.
  • Story Time: I very much appreciate how 90% of Mega Man Legends is just “have fun running around a neat island”, and then the last 10% is some hoary old tale of apocalypses, fallen civilizations, and allusions to MegaMan Volnutt being the secret chosen one that will change the world. This is an extremely JRPG-esque twist, and I have to wonder if this kind of plot just automatically bubbles to the surface the minute your otherwise carefree games includes treasure chests. See also Hearts, Kingdom.
  • Come to think of it: Complete with the myriad of sidequests and an ending that pretty closely apes the beats of the original Dragon Quest, was this all an early attempt to make the ultimate Mega Man: The RPG? And, if that is accurate, why did it take two Mega Man Battle Network games to get there? And why did they even bother with Mega Man X: Command Mission? So many unanswered questions.
  • Tron Resurrection: Tron and her family are easily the best part of Mega Man Legends, and it is pretty clear this was noticed practically from the beginning. You see a Servbot before you meet about 90% of the cast! Not even counting the title screen! The biggest loss in not seeing the Mega Man Legends franchise flourish was having to only see Tron in random spin-off titles.
  • Watch it, Buddy: Want to see the previously mentioned stream? Well here you go.





    It gets good around Part 3. … Or I just get good…

  • Did you know: Motion capture was distinctly used to create the iconic cinema scenes of Mega Man Legends. This makes Mega Man Legends one of the first games to use motion capture in a videogame for something other than ruthless decapitations.
  • Would I play again: I will play Super Mario 64 again. I will not play Mega Man Legends again. What?! I would rather play Mega Man 3! That’s how it goes!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid! The first one! With the space lady! Please look forward to it!

Roll your eyes
“Why you gotta make this about Mario, Goggle Bob?”

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