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FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Here comes some funDoes being an adult suck?

A long time ago on a console generation far, far away, there was a game called something like Project Dream, Twelve Tales: Conker 64, or maybe just Conker’s Quest. This prototype of a game was showcased for the press at the tail end of the 20th Century, and many journalists were exposed to a title that was meant to evoke the concept of a “playable (Disney’s) Bambi”. Unfortunately, this was being highlighted after a decade of cute mascot platformers, and, more recently, the publicly beloved Banjo & Kazooie. So, whereas Conker 64 was certainly impressive, many complained it was more of the same from the exact same studio that was now becoming best known for bumbling bees and not belligerent battletoads. This caused the studio that had once wanted so bad to make their own Mortal Kombat to snap, and Conker 64 was transformed into something that was intended for a wholly different audience. The explanation was “kids who were 6 when they played the first Mario game are now 26,” and an N64 platformer/collectathon for adults was born. The writing and presentation were going to be M for Mature, even if the gameplay may be M for Mario 64.

But this conversion of Conker’s world offers us a rare (heh) opportunity to apply science to videogame production. We all know what mascot-based action games from the N64 era look like. There are a variety of examples available, from Glover to that tongue game. But none of these games went for a full mature audience. Give or take Gex trying to appeal to hip 40 somethings that love Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes, none of Conker’s contemporaries even attempted to appeal to anyone old enough to drive. There may have been a “subtle” joke here or there, but that key “young adult” demographic was always assumed to be a parent that wandered into Little Timmy’s playroom, and not the person actually playing the game. Conker’s Bad Fur Day shows us exactly what these games would look like if they were made for adults.

And Conker paints a bleak picture of adulthood.

PeanutbutteryLet’s start with the bit that is the least psychologically offensive (assuming you are not my grandmother). Conker’s Bad Fur Day involves a number of jokes that are entirely based on the ol’ “so now that the kids are asleep…” kind of thinking. Where a “kiddy platformer” might have a snow-based world, Conker has a scatological-based area (complete with fart-based theme song). Vampires have been all over children’s games, but they were somehow bloodless. Here, we have a vampire that inspires wall-to-wall blood. Conker’s “princess” is shaped like a bombshell, and his main villain is going to suffer a gruesome death (one way or another). This is all very… what’s the best way to put this… “mature” is certainly not the right word… Well, it is straight up puerile, but it is childish in a way that acknowledges none of this would be possible in “kiddy” action games. We are allowed to do whatever we want, so let’s model the hell out of that (literal) shit.

But then justifying some of those “mature” inclinations starts to cause problems. Conker’s Bad Fur Day includes swearing. In fact, the game contains a lot of swearing. And, likely in pursuit of rationalizing said swearing, practically every character in the game (and absolutely including Conker) is an asshole. Just within the opening areas, there is a bee that is notably cheating on his wife, some farm equipment that is constantly insulting each other, and a talking box that immediately launches into a fatphobic tirade. Are these characters funny? If that is your thing, sure, it is funny to see these “cute” anthropomorphic animals and objects act like jerks. But it also affirms that everything with googly eyes in this universe is on the highest echelon of terrible. If you would like to spend the day enjoying a videogame free of body shaming, sorry, you will have to look elsewhere, even if the creature body shaming does not even have a body.

GET IT!?And, yes, if you are a child/teen that somehow managed to score the M-rated game off a clueless family member, it certainly would leave the impression that all adults ever do is insult each other. And that’s not true! It only happens when we get upset about whippersnappers being on our lawns!

But the inexorable march of adulthood being a gauntlet of misery continues. Conker has a beautiful (for a squirrel), capable girlfriend. So how does the game start? With Conker lying to her so he can stay out drinking. After that, technically, the entire game is the story of Conker trying to get back to her after all that drinking, but, when they are finally reunited, she is quickly fridged by the main villain. However, Conker gains god-like control of his world through conscripting a programmer! And does he bring Berri back to life with his newfound powers? Of course not! He forgets all about her! And that’s the joke! Ha ha! Funny squirrel! Could have saved a loved one’s life, but he got obsessed with slicing up an alien instead!

But adulthood isn’t just about being a jerk to everyone in your immediate area, it’s also about making references to pop culture! That previously mentioned alien is absolutely a chest-bursting xenomorph, and you’ll have to battle a Terminator parody before you get out of the first area. Saving Private Ryan was the talk of the town back in the late 90’s, so it gets the “war” level and an entire section of the multiplayer. And did you catch The Matrix? Conker hopes you did, because the final level makes absolutely no sense without that clarification of Keanu Reeves being why everyone is suddenly carrying guns and wearing trench coats. The wee young’uns can only dream of parodying R-Rated movies!

CHOMPSpeaking of paper-thin parodies, women are little more than their chests in Conker’s world. Jugga the Cavewoman has a pretty straightforward name for a woman that is about to make a penis size joke, and Sunflower the sunflower looks like a children’s drawing of a plant… save for the enormous gazongas. And, yes, you can use her breasts as a trampoline. Men can be monsters, gangsters, monster gangsters, scientists, and kings in this game. Women are almost unanimously walking anatomy jokes.

Oh, and if you’re curious, the ending sees Conker becoming king, but he has now learned that he hates everyone that lives in the country he rules. So he just goes to the bar where this all started to become a depressed alcoholic.

Adult videogames, everybody!

Put this all together, and it makes adulthood out to be miserable. Mario barely says a word through Mario 64, but all those “woos” sure do sound like the guy is having fun. Banjo & Kazooie might have a little more of a coarse edge to their dialogue, but they are still rescuing a loved one, and interacting with fun characters while doing it. If the “mature” version of those adventures is a game wherein the hero loses everything and discovers he hates literally everybody left alive, then what is the point of growing up? You want to be old enough to drink just so you can drink yourself straight into the gutter? It seemed to work for Conker!

SlicerOr maybe it is simply this version of “maturity” that makes adulthood look awful. The medium of videogames has grown a lot since 2001, and “Mature” doesn’t just mean a game includes fatalities anymore. Now we have games with super violent, sexy robots twirling about with swords but also taking the time to acknowledge the emotional needs of their buddies. We have the hyper violent franchises where things might be horrible all over the place, but at least our protagonists take time out of their day to be sad dads. And speaking of sad, Conker’s tale may end on a depressing note, but one of the best games out there is all about depression. In all of these situations, adults are the focus, and adulthood does look like an endless gauntlet of challenges that are designed to wear you down, but there is hope. From 2-B to Kratos to Madeline, everyone has problems they need to overcome, but they also have friends, support systems, and achievable ambitions. They do not simply make a flippant comment and move on to the next movie parody.

Oh, and none of them have to venture through a level covered in shit.

Is Conker’s Bad Fur Day a bad game for the way it offers a “mature” video game? No. There is room enough in this world for the “Bathroom Reader” of videogames. But its presentation of what it is to be “adult” is significantly lacking. While there are trials and tribulations as an adult, that does not mean it is all despair, all the time. There is joy. There is love. There is more to life than hitting rock monsters with frying pans. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is meant to platform one of Conker’s worst days, but that does not mean he has to live in the worst world.

It sucks to be an adult sometimes, but it doesn’t suck all the time.

FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day

  • Because... uh... get it?System: Nintendo 64 to start, then miraculously migrated over to Xbox with Conker: Live & Reloaded. Then we got something close to the original again as part of Rare Replay on the Xbox One. If you are curious, this is all because Rare drifted to Microsoft. I am sure that has nothing to do with Conker chainsawing the N64 logo at the start of the game.
  • Number of players: There is a complete multiplayer mode in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and it even has online functionality in the Xbox version. Or it did, back when that was still viable. What’s important is that there is a multiplayer mode completely separate from the single player adventure.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: There is more to a videogame than story, presentation, and writing! We also have gameplay! And it is… passable. Look, you can see the seams of exactly how this Conker title would work out if it were a “traditional” Rare N64 title, and every couple of (inexplicably sentient, talking) bucks hidden around the area being transformed into “collect the shines” would be a very short trip. That said, while the various activities involved are interesting and eclectic, the actual “control” of Conker isn’t on the same level as Banjo or Mario. Or, put another way, any time you have to complete an actual platforming “challenge” with this squirrel, you are going to have a bad time. I said it before, but Conker’s Bad Fur Day is “middle to high” on the ol’ N64 scale.
  • Just play the gig, man: I am highlighting the song made out of farts once again. The Great Mighty Poo anthem also gets a trophy. You just don’t see many flatulence-based songs anymore.
  • Won’t someone please think of the children: The above-mentioned shit song got censored in the Xbox version, though. Also, for some reason, there are a lot more bleeps on Conker’s remade adventure. Considering the “kiddy” Nintendo 64 version allowed everything short of the nefarious f-word, this is an amusing change between systems.
  • This is a pain in the patootFavorite Level: I used to enjoy “It’s War” for its humor, but, in retrospect, I think that may be because I am an idiot. It is a really annoying level! So I will go with Uga Buga now, as the cave/dinosaur/rock thing going on there is a lot more comfortably platform-y for this platformer.
  • Did you know? Conker’s Pocket Tales was a legitimate Gameboy Color title that put Conker in a Zelda-like fantasy world that was 100% kid friendly. Damn near no one was buying Gameboy titles that didn’t feature Pokémon at this point, but if they did, hoo boy, that would be some kind of transition between games.
  • Would I play again: Not likely. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was impressive in its time, but its time has long since passed. And until we see another day featuring this ornery squirrel, he can stay mothballed with the rest of his Rare buddies. You don’t see Sabre Wulf getting out there anymore, either…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken’s Nina Williams in Death by Degrees! Yes! It’s that game I played like a year ago on the stream, now finally getting an FGC article! Please look forward to it!

Toasty

FGC #632 Pac-Land

This is a Pac that is in timeThis article is going to require a little background.

In 1980, Pac-Man was released. By 1984, Pac-Man had spread as Pac-Fever, and the whole of the world (or at least the part of the world that had quarters) was obsessed with the little yellow dude (and his wife, if we are legally allowed to mention her this week). So, for the first time in four years, Pac-Man decided to branch out. After multiple Pac titles that attempted to capitalize on the familiar Pac-Man gameplay (and a seemingly infinite number of “maze likes” that copied Pac-Man’s gameplay wholesale), Pac-Land sauntered onto the scene to try something different. No more would Pac-Man wander around nondescript mazes in an attempt to gobble up dots. No! This puck-man had legs! And a hat! And he was venturing far from home to return a lost fairy to Fairyland (as you do), and gaining flying boots (good thing he has feet now!) for his troubles. No more was Pac-Man obsessed with endless consumption, and the “four” ghosts that had plagued him in the past were now an army with planes, chains, and automobiles. About the only thing here that was 100% pac-gameplay was the beloved power pellet, and even that wound up being more of an “end of the level” bonus than the nigh-always accessible “spinach” of previous pac-titles. Pac-Land was and continues to be a whole new dimension for Pac-Man.

Look at him goBut it was not simply Pac-Man that was revolutionized by Pac-Land. Pac-Land, right there in 1984, practically invented the concept of the endless runner. Where once ol’ Pac-Man could only be credited for normalizing the maze-based gameplay that was the focus of his early adventures, Pac-Land created something that would come to define “mobile titles” for a generation of hardware. The arcade cabinet for Pac-Land had no joystick: there was a jump button, and directional run buttons. You cannot “steer” Pac-Man, you simply control how fast he is going (by repeatedly tapping the run button to go faster), and when Pac-Man jumps. And that’s it! There is little backtracking, there is no permanently turning from danger: there is simply running. Endless running. Once every few stages, you gain an infinite jump, but that is the only real “change” that ever occurs in Pac-Land. This is an endless runner with extremely simple gameplay, and, considering it was released in 1984, it was eerily prescient on a possible future for gaming that would come two decades later.

But creating a genre was not enough for Pac-Land to leave an indelible mark on gaming forever. Shigeru Miyamoto reportedly stated that Pac-Land was an influence on Nintendo games going forward. Do a little research, and you’ll find that Miyamoto was very specific about what Pac-Land influenced. For at least one legendary games designer, Pac-Land was all about this…

This is normal Pac-Land

Or… to be clear…

Now do you get it?

The big thing that influenced Shigeru Miyamoto? The sky of Pac’s Land is blue. In a 1998 interview, Shigeru Miyamoto admitted that he saw Pac-Land as stiff competition for his already successful (but undoubtedly waning) Donkey Kong. And he had a 2-D side scroller already in mind for Jump Man, but Pac-Land had something he had not considered: a world.

Right from the initial release, Pac-Land’s blue skies separated it from the land. When Pac-Land was transported overseas to America, it gained additional details that tied it to the (then new) Pac-Man animated series. But, regardless of version, Pac-Land always had a clear sense of geography and space. Pac-Man starts at his home. Pac-Man ventures through a town, whether that be a pristine village with houses and fire hydrants, or a jumbled mass of seaside walls and water. There is a forest. There is a mountainside. It genuinely feels like there is a lot of land for Pac-Man to cover on his way to Fairyland. And Fairyland looks completely separate from Pac-Man’s world! And then, immediately after visiting this magical grove, Pac-Man ventures back over familiar territory, but with a new, unstoppable super power. The world is the same, Pac-Man is changed, and a simple narrative begins to take shape. And it all traces back to something as simple as the sky being blue.

But no spiniesAnd let’s not underestimate how a “blue sky” led to the success of Super Mario Bros. SMB has amazing gameplay, memorable characters, and a “loop” that lends itself perfectly to gaming in 1985. But that blue sky is what keeps you going. Mario’s first adventure was in a nondescript construction site that could be easily mistaken for a pie factory. Mario’s second journey was through a sewer that was identified by prominent pipes. But Super Mario Bros.? That is an adventure through a world. Mario is saving the Mushroom Kingdom, and everything from bricks to castles to deep oceans tell the player that Mario is making progress through this land. This is a place, this is a country, and it has been conquered by an invading force of turtles and chestnuts. You will venture through every underground area, every cloud-filled sky, to save this place. We’re sorry, Mario, but our princess is in another castle, and that means you are going to the next, separate castle. So there are more castles, Toad?! Aren’t we excited to see more of this world?

Over time, backgrounds became standard in games that did not ever need a sense of place. The whole of the fighting game genre is replete with titles that made the choice between “they are fighting in a large, grassy field” or “they are fighting specifically in front of a busy Chinese street where some dude is selling caged chickens”. While the distinction is not universal, it seems the games that made the latter choice are more likely to be successes. Similarly, JRPGs have come to be defined by their worlds, with “generic dungeons” always paling in comparison to skulking through volcanos, sky fortresses, or ice caverns. Could the likes of Cloud or This sucks so badThe Luminary be content with caves that have nothing more to them than black backgrounds and an assortment of monsters? Theoretically yes, but wouldn’t you rather venture through a dilapidated train yard? The tiniest bit of background adds… background to the proceedings, and that can make all the difference in a narrative that is meant to drive the player and disguise how so many games are simply about making numbers go up.

So, like Shigeru Miyamoto, let us thank the inspirational Pac-Land. With the simple addition of backgrounds, Pac-Man was given a world. And from that world, whole universes have formed.

FGC #632 Pac-Land

  • System: I am not comfortable with all the ways you can play Pac-Land. There was the NES port. The Commodore 64 or Atari ST ports. The TurboGrafx-16 port. It had a Lynx port. And then it wound up on the Playstation, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 as parts of various collections. It was available ala carte on the WiiU. And now it is available on all modern systems thanks to yet another Pac-collection. It… wasn’t on the Super Nintendo, I guess.
  • Number of players: Technically two, put it is alternating.
  • Port-o-Call: Depending on your version or region, you may find a lot of differences between the various Pac-Lands. Does the “rest stop” church have a cross? Is the music playing the same ditty from the Pac-Man animated series? Have Ms. Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man been replaced by the nefarious imposters, Pac-Mom and Pac-Sis? Don’t for a moment imagine that time and copyright law have not impacted the gentle denizens of Pac-Land.
  • The keys suckFavorite Level: Anything that does not involve the “broken” ground of the water stages is my favorite. I guess the mountain stages win, then? I like the idea that Pac-Man is going on a happy little hike, and the ghosts just happen to be an omnipresent threat that haunts Pac’s life because of all those crimes he did in the 60’s.
  • For the Sequel: The obvious, direct sequel to Pac-Land is Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures. That was another attempt to invent an entirely new genre of pac-gameplay, and… well… Cell phones or not, the whole “marginally control a cartoon character” thing never really caught on. More’s the pity, as Pac-Man 2 is definitely the more revolutionary title, if only because making Pac-Man mad at cows is a gameplay echelon The Last of Us could only ever hope to achieve.
  • Did you know? A lot of Pac-Man’s move set in Smash Bros. is partially or wholly based on actions/obstacles found in Pac-Land. So if you are wondering where he got that jump, MS Paint scrolling background, or the fire hydrant, look no further than Pac-Land. Or don’t, because literally every other Pac-Man game is probably a better choice.
  • Would I play again: This is yet another important title in gaming history that I do not need to play ever again. And I won’t miss it, either! Ms. Pac-Man is right there! Assuming I’m legally allowed to play it this week!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic CD! It’s like regular Sonic the Hedgehog, but with all the power of CD technology! Wow! Please look forward to it!

Goodbye forever!
Happier times…

Chrono Cross 04: Character Study

Me-owWe gave some time over to dedicated character recruitment during this update, so let’s answer this question once and for all: are the majority of characters in Chrono Cross useless? This assessment is separate from the battle system (where practically anyone can be useful if their color codes right to the area), and a dedicated look at whether or not this cast of weirdos makes any sense for the story. What do we got? Well…

Absolutely Plot Relevant

  • Harle
  • Kid
  • Leena
  • Lynx
  • Serge

You can count on one hand the characters in Chrono Cross that are 100% relevant to the plot. On one side, you have the power couple of Serge and Kid, two crazy kids (oh… I just got that) that have somehow become the center of an omniversal threat to the cosmos. On the other side of the aisle, you have Lynx, Serge’s eternal(ish) antagonist, and Harle, his sidekick that may or may not switch sides/species. And, just because she seems to fit in here, we will also include Leena as essential. She could technically be replaced or expunged from the story, but Serge needs someone/thing to fight for and represent his idyllic home… so it may as well be Leena. There may be a little wiggle room here, but you basically cannot have Chrono Cross without these key players.

Marginally Plot Relevant

  • Doc
  • Fargo
  • Irenes
  • Korcha
  • Nikki
  • Sneff
  • Starky

Stay hotNext up we have the characters that may not be 100% crucial, but still definitely serve a purpose in the plot. For instance, Doc may not ever join your party (depending on your choices), but you need someone to keep the plot moving when Kid is poisoned. Similarly, Sneff serves the purpose of being a “weirdo” that is ultimately helpful when Serge has been transformed into one of society’s undesirables (a cat boy). Fargo, Korcha, and even Starky all come with particular modes of transportation, so they are vital for the same reason Black Manta was allowed in the Legion of Doom (owns a boat). Irenes sneaks in here so the demi-human plight has a pretty face attached to that bit of worldbuilding. And Nikki gets a slot for having a tragic backstory and the key to solving racism. These seven are all characters that could technically not exist in this story, but they come attached to important bits, so they are generally valuable.

Viper Manor Relevant

  • Glenn
  • Grobyc
  • Karsh
  • Luccia
  • Marcy
  • Norris
  • Radius
  • Riddel
  • Viper
  • Zappa
  • Zoah

I recognize these losersHere is a whole game unto itself. The raid on Viper Manor could comprise its own radical adventure for some dreamers, so it makes sense that lot of characters are tied to this section of the story. You could excise a whole group of these losers (they are literally losers; you beat the majority of them in fights), but their existence does round out the “team bad guy” of El Nido. Viper is the leader. Karsh, Zoah, and Marcy are the elite generals. Luccia is responsible for all monster/trap creation. Glenn and Riddel are the “maybe they’re not so bad” kids of the gang. Radius and Zappa are the retired generation that has some consternation with the kids and old ghosts. And Norris and Grobyc represent the good and bad of the Porre Military, which becomes Viper Manor’s enemy when they all inevitably defect to the side of the angels. You could probably cut these eleven down to like five and still have the same story, but nobody is going to complain about fleshing out the (redeemable) “bad guys”.

Might see in a JRPG Relevant

  • Greco
  • Guile
  • Mel
  • Miki
  • Orlha
  • Pierre
  • Steena
  • Van

Don't look at meEvery JRPG needs a little unrelated fluffery to offer a differing perspective from the obvious protagonist. Final Fantasy 4 would not be the same without toddler twins from a magical city, and Chrono Cross would not be the same without including its own share of interesting support characters. Steena is your typical priestess that knows everything about the surrounding area. Guile is the enigmatic magician who appears to have his own agenda. Orlha and Van both have potential plot hooks with seeing their interdimensional “siblings” thanks to the quirks of dimensional travel. And we have a few JRPG stock characters here: the spiritual bruiser (luchador, in this case), the precocious kid that admires a lead (and uses a boomerang for some reason), the dancer that is trying to achieve more (a Fire Emblem staple), and the “wannabe hero” that will eventually grow into being a useful party member. None of these characters are “essential”, but they are the spice that flavors the JRPG.

Absolutely Irrelevant

  • Draggy
  • Funguy
  • Janice
  • Leah
  • Macha
  • Mojo
  • NeoFio
  • Orcha
  • Pip
  • Poshul
  • Razzly
  • Skelly
  • Sprigg
  • Turnip

And… dang. Now look at all these losers. Leah is the only one that maybe could be relevant, but it is clear that she is little more than a shortsighted echo of a “real” Chrono Trigger character. Razzly the faerie is similarly marginally related to the plot, but the fact that you can leave her to be eaten without ever knowing she existed is pretty damning. And Sprigg is a cool denizen of another dimension, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting she even touches your party after her puckish introduction. Beyond that, Draggy, Janice, Macha, Orcha, Pip, Poshul, and Skelly are all wholly superfluous, and the only thing that could be lost between all of them is one gratuitous boss fight. And, strangely enough, Funguy, NeoFio, Mojo, and Turnip are all basically walking inanimate objects, and you really do not need that many characters that could slot into that hole. Most games don’t even have one talking vegetable!

So what’s the verdict here? Well, if we look at this chart…

It is plain math

A healthy 68% of playable characters in Chrono Cross are relevant in some way. And it sure looks like Viper Manor is the center of Chrono Cross! We already knew that!

…. And let’s not focus on the remaining percentage…

Even Worse Streams presents Chrono Cross Night 4


Original Stream Night: May 3, 2022

Recruited this week:

  • Pip
  • Luccia
  • Neo Fio
  • Skelly
  • Lynx (?)

Random Notes on the Stream:

  • We are starting on a pirate ship full of skeletons. Note that this pirate ship was not initially filled with skeletons.
  • Speaking of skeletons, BEAT wants to know how long this is going to take. It is week 4. It will eventually be 10 weeks. The poor summer child.
  • Square Enix sold off Eidos/Crystal Dynamics and decided to get into NFTs right around when we streamed this. Writing this months later, we now know they are ill advisedly sticking to their NFT guns.
  • Chrono Cross is good at using elements for post battle healing. Wild Arms 3 has no such similar process for expending leftover FP. You win this round, Chrono Cross.
  • Let's fly awayWe find what’s left of Chrono Trigger’s Epoch in the basement of the library. Like every other reference to Chrono Trigger in Chrono Cross, this is sad.
  • We were venturing through a swamp to get Neo Fio when Ample Vigour arrives
  • Nobuteru Yūki was the character designer for Chrono Cross. I apologize if this entire Let’s Play is an insult to such an artist.
  • Even Worse Streams presents Jackass starring Korcha.
  • We eventually get to Water Dragon Isle. We have learned the dwarves are hellbound. Fuck dwesus.
  • A solution to housing values tanking: tanks.
  • BEAT talks about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time speedrun strategies, and how they are life affirming.
  • The Sopranos Playstation 2 game is noted as ridiculous.
  • At the volcano, Solt and Peppor can waste your time. It is indistinguishable from any other boss fight.
  • Back to Zelda, and “go home and die” speed runs
  • Castlevania Lords of Shadow lets you skip puzzles, and that is good.
  • Let us all hate Sonic Underground and its cameo in Sonic Riders.
  • Looking for more friendsI have the “IGN Watermark” copy of Wii Okami, and I cannot see that logo for my life. Took like ten minutes of staring!
  • Would you like to be a boy, or cat boy? Serge is forced to be a cat boy.
  • We close with Deptford’s post on Chrono Cross. Let’s consider this further foreshadowing.

Next time on Chrono Cross: Your mom likes cats, but not that much.

FGC #629 Radical Dreamers (Complete Edition)

So let’s talk about getting into fights.

Today’s game is Radical Dreamers, the quasi-sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, Chrono Trigger. Radical Dreamers is a 2 hour (or so) itty bitty side story to the titanic Chrono Trigger, and was released exclusively on the Japanese SatellaView back in 1996. Unfortunately, despite the global success of Chrono Trigger (arguably right up there with Final Fantasy 7 as one of the most praised and influential JRPGs of all time), Radical Dreamers never saw localization outside of Japan. Why? Well, being stuck on unique hardware aside (which is a pretty big aside), Radical Dreamers is a text-based game, and much of the gameplay makes this more of a visual novel than a traditional JRPG. And combine that with the fact that “visual novels” have never been as popular in the West as Japan, and, oh yeah, an entirely text-based game having to be translated into another language would have been a tall order back when one guy named Ted was the entire translation department for a company… well… It is hard to blame anyone for the lack of Radical Dreamers in our lives. And this was the status quo through the years, as even when we saw rerelease after rerelease of Chrono Trigger, Square (and later, Square Enix) decided time and time again that we would not have Radical Dreamers on the Playstation or Nintendo DS. And besides, Chrono Cross was supposed to be a complete “perfect reimagining” of Radical Dreamers, so why would we need the text-based prototype? Radical Dreamers didn’t contain a single Lucky Dan!

But some kind soul at Square Enix finally believed we were ready, so Radical Dreamers was released in the United States in 2022 as part of the appropriately named Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers collection. And now, after over two decades, this Chrono Trigger superfan finally got to play the “lost chapter” in his favorite franchise (that consists of like three games).

And you know what news I managed to miss over all the years of merely reading about Radical Dreamers? This mother fudger has random battles!

Here we goThis should not have been a surprise. Chrono Trigger did not have distinctly “random” fights, but it did have battles across many different time periods, and several of those fights were triggered by something as “random” as walking on the wrong floor tile. Similarly, Chrono Cross had its share of fights that were generally only triggered by smacking into a spot on the map, though with the caveat that a shockingly high number of areas outright required combat (go ahead and try to wake up the Black Dragon without fighting a town full of identical fishmen). With its creation sandwiched between its two more famous brothers, it seems completely natural that Radical Dreamers would be another game wherein a three-person band must repel the occasional ghost or demon. And, while sneaking around Viper Manor is something that could be “the same every time”, it is hard to see how random battles could not spice things up. Serge, your POV character, has health points. You have a reason to keep him alive, and now there are threats that could potentially deplete his life force. It is not just about bumping from room to room, it is about surviving this dangerous situation, and what could be more dangerous than fighting undead guards?

Look awayExcept… well… Battles are a little different in the world of a text adventure. Fight? Magic? Item? All normal things to see in a JRPG, but Radical Dreamers can be distinct. The nature of the beast here allows the narration to employ some fun tricks that would never fly in a traditional JRPG. One thing that flies, for instance, is Serge, as Magil defeats a ghost by enchanting Serge, and tossing the hapless teen at the ectoplasmic problem. Another example is a battle wherein a skeleton is described as assuming a position that is ”highly suggestive”, but the magic of text-based gameplay leaves the actual position to the imagination of the player. In short, whereas Radical Dreamers could have converted its simple “do you want to go left, right, or up the stairs” to “do you want to fight, run, or defend”, the writers did go the extra mile and craft a situation that feels wholly different from the traditional JRPG of the era.

But different does not always mean good. The first battle with a perverted skeleton is funny, but not so much on the third encounter that is exactly the same. This is a text-based game, and the downside of text-based games has always been that making the same choices will lead to the exact same outcomes. And, while that should simply be a problem when replaying the whole adventure, it is an issue that crops up over and over again in even a perfect playthrough of Radical Dreamers. It is possible in RD to continue to make progress and never see the same thing twice as you take your party through this mysterious mansion… except for the battles. There appear to be four different opponents (skeleton, ghost, demon, and goblin guard), and there are really good odds you will see the same fights repeatedly before you reach Lynx down in the basement. And if you do not know where you are going? If you get “lost” in this mansion and putter around the same hallways trying to remember just where the heck you found Radius’s dungeon the first time? You are certainly going to see the same fights continually. Nobody likes to do the same thing repeatedly, but, when your character has “real” HP, why would you risk not doing what worked earlier? Take the same path you did the last time you fought a demon. It means you will survive.

I think I know those guysAnd the even greater sin of boring the player is that it makes your party look stupid. Or maybe there is some level of collective Alzheimer’s going on? A ghost attacks! Serge ducks behind Magil! But Serge is shocked when Magil tosses the boy at the ghost! No one is hurt, but Serge sure has some questions. Just like last time. Exactly like last time. And there is only the (large) chance that you will fight the same monster repeatedly across one adventure, but it is definite that you will fight five goblins in a row when you raid the treasure chamber. And it is entirely possible those five goblin fights will all go exactly the same way, one after the other, with the characters all reacting exactly the same. In my own playthrough of this area, no less than three goblins died muttering to Magil, “where did you learn that spell? What kind of human are you?” It was creepy and interesting the first time! Not so much when it was repeated three times in a row. In short, not only are these “random battles” seemingly wholly pointless (there are no levels or experience to gain, but there is the slightest chance of gaining a dropped jewel after a battle, which increases Kid’s affection), they also actively detract from the characterization happening. These random battles remind the player that they are not involved in an epic story, they are playing a videogame.

But how is this different from the “random” battles in any “real” JRPG? How many times did Crono and friends have to fight goblins that followed the exact same patterns as the last thousand times they fought? How many times did Serge in the Chrono Cross universe fight skeletons that charmed his party members, slightly delaying a victory as he paused to pull out a healing element? How many other JRPGs feature battles that, over and over again, are exactly the same? You make progress in the dungeon, you eventually find your way to the big boss of the area, but your little dudes and dudettes are repeatedly fried by the same lesser dragons using the exact same fire breath attack? Really? They couldn’t figure out how to dodge the same assault they saw 80 times already? What is wrong with you idiots?

Kind of a cat?Well, at least not every game is the same. For an easy example, Final Fantasy 5 features four characters that eventually accumulate 22 jobs. That means there are thousands of different combinations of jobs and abilities within a Final Fantasy 5 party. And you could try them all! You could make every inconsequential battle a different opportunity to try something new. And you and your characters are never bored. But then you play something like… say… Wild Arms 3, and you have the exact same party with the exact same skills and (depending on the location) fight the exact same monsters continually for fifteen floors of the same dungeon. And, gee, I wonder which game was reviewed poorly for having “too many random encounters”. It was never about the number! It was always about the lack of variety! Bravely Default can support an endless dungeon of distinctive challenges. Xenosaga… not so much.

So is violence the answer? Well, it looks like the answer is extremely situational. If there are choices, if there are real options the player can choose, that makes all the difference. Then combat can be fun no matter the narrative situation. But when options are limited? When all you have are a few text boxes that lead to a handful of results? Then it is pointless. Just ignore it. Just run away. There is no reason to get in a fight if the rewards are only going to be thinking less of your own party.

And as far as the Radical Dreamers? Well, they better stay out of any and all fights. Don’t even think about lifting that swallow, Serge, it is never going to do you any good. We went a solid 20 years without this incarnation of Serge throwing hands, and it would be best if that continued.

FGC #629 Radical Dreamers (Complete Edition)

  • Looks like Marle...System: Super Nintendo kinda sorta but not really for anybody. Then, like a million years later, it was available as part of Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition for PC, Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. So now you can play it.
  • Number of players: It was very hard to make visual novels multiplayer in 1996, so this is single player.
  • A shape of things to come: The main path of Radical Dreamers is arguably somber, complete with a finale that all but guarantees someone will die (though they get better). That said, the alternate paths involve a whole lot of whacky mischief, including an inexplicable giant mech battle, so you can see how the likes of silly characters Funguy or Skelly wound up palling around with the rest of the dour Chrono Cross cast.
  • Returning Favorites: Radius (eventually of Chrono Cross) is locked up in a dungeon, and is lamenting the death of every other Acacia Dragoon (though they all have different names from CC’s luminaries). Riddel is Lynx’s adopted daughter, but now she is a blonde that is significantly more princess-y. The leader of the Porre forces is not Norris, but a creepy old lady named Vera that seems to naturally attract bats. And Lynx… might be a cat? It is hard to tell if he is supposed to be distinctly feline, or just has weird facial hair. Also, there is what is best described as “the nerd goblin”, and it is implied that he is Chrono Cross’s Dario… or at least someone that fills the same role as Riddel’s former lover.
  • Do I know you?So, is Magus back? Despite reports I have been hearing for years, Magil is never overtly confirmed to be Magus over the course of the adventure. That said, he knows a heck of a lot about the Masamune, the Lost Kingdom of Zeal, dark magic, and, oh yeah, he looks exactly like Magus from the first second of the game. The only evidence that appears that Magil is not Magus is that Magil seems more jovial than Magus ever was… but that isn’t hard to do. There are some turnips that are more jovial than Magus (and, no, I am not talking about that Turnip).
  • Did you know? Serge has a radically different design for Radical Dreamers. He is dressed like a complete moron. Or maybe the hero of Dragon Quest 7. Who was also a complete moron. It cannot be emphasized enough how Serge got a glow up for Chrono Cross.
  • Would I play again: Unlikely. This is an important artifact of gaming, particularly for someone who so thoroughly enjoys the Chrono Trigger franchise. That said, I am not a guy who enjoys visual novels past an initial playthrough, and if I want to read a novel about Chrono Trigger characters, I’ll just hit some fanfic. Fans got me through waiting for Chrono Cross to be released, and they can do it again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth! Time for an elf to take some time off her shelf. Please look forward to it!

So serene
Kind of looks like a preview for next week