Tag Archives: story

FGC #526 Final Fantasy 7 Remake

This article contains hella spoilers for Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and a Thornton Wilder play. It happens. If you wish to experience FF7R untainted by foreknowledge, you have been warned. Now back to that play…

Let's talk about playsIn 1938, Thornton Wilder released Our Town. For anyone that has not seen or read the play, it is a deliberately simple production that showcases three different stages in the lives of the residents of Grover’s Corners. It begins with a focus on “daily life”, like children going to school and milk being delivered, proceeds to “love & marriage” with a joyous and stressful wedding day, and finally ends with “death and eternity”, a supernatural visit with the spirits literally haunting the local cemetery. The whole while, the play is hosted by the Stage Manager, a character that bleats his dialogue against the fourth wall. This “manager” separates their role between being a character in Grover’s Corners, narrator, and a congenial guy (or lady) that addresses questions from the audience. The Stage Manager and the general tone of the whole production was a result of Wilder acknowledging that he didn’t like the direction “the theater” was taking at the time, and Our Town was intended to drop intricate sets and impersonal narratives for a simple setup and direct interaction with the audience. Possibly because of this, Our Town has been popular since its premiere; however, Wilder often said the play was rarely performed correctly, as, in his own words, it “should be performed without sentimentality or ponderousness–simply, dryly, and sincerely.” Good luck with that, Thorn, as the final act of Our Town contains one of the most beautiful and insightful exchanges ever directly lifted by Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch:

“Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

“No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

If you’re curious about the context of such a statement: Emily, one of the stars of Our Town that has been showcased since her childhood days, has died during childbirth. She meets the other ghosts of the graveyard, and learns that, while she is unable to join the skeleton army, she can re-experience any moment from her past. She is warned not to try it, but she chooses to live out a mundane memory from her 12th birthday. Despite the fact that this is a typical, fairly boring day (children’s birthday parties in the early 20th Century rarely included enough N64 games to make them worthwhile), Emily can barely bear the weight of experiencing a time when her family was content, happy, and, most importantly, alive. Emily knows what happens to the people close to her 12 year old self, and she knows the hardships and death that await herself and others. Items as humble as sizzling bacon or a kiss from her mother are things Emily will never experience ever again, so this living memory of happier times is agonizing. Do people realize how good they have it when they have it? How every little piece of life is precious, and even something as routine as seeing a family member for breakfast can be lost in an instant? No. Of course not. The Saints and poets sometimes think about such, but you’re here reading a videogame essay, and gradually getting distracted by the fact that I mentioned bacon. Get a goddamn snack and then think about how good you have it, you frivolous living person.

So, after explaining one of the most important plays of the last century for 500 words, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve played Final Fantasy 7. You know the drill, right?

FGC #518 Cannon Spike

Let's spike it!Let’s pour one out for the concept of videogame characters as actors.

Today’s title is Cannon Spike, what could best be described as one of Capcom’s final arcade experiments. The same company that revolutionized the arcades by establishing at least two genres (crediting beat ‘em ups to Final Fight and fighting games to Street Fighter 2) while pumping out more than a few general hits for two decades basically attempted to create a twin-stick shoot ‘em up for the arcade and Dreamcast. Such a genre would become very popular around when the Xbox 360 started warring against Geometry a few years later, but in 2000, Cannon Spike was showcasing a fairly unexplored genre. And it was character based! No space ships for this shooter, it’s all about actual humans (give or take) zooming around and shooting on… roller blades. Okay, one kid has a skateboard. Look, this was clearly designed in the late 90’s. Don’t have a cow, man.

But this makes perfect sense for Capcom, as its bread and butter was earned through bright, colorful, memorable characters, rollerblades or no. Final Fight was a dumb beat ‘em up, but Haggar-mania led to more than a few dudes walking the streets sporting that glorious “one-suspender strap, no shirt” style. Mega Man’s host of robot masters guaranteed everyone had a favorite robot (I’m fond of Snake Man), and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts had some monsters that became so popular, they got their own games. Even Capcom’s JRPG division gave us the wonderful world of furries that is the Breath of Fire franchise. And Street Fighter 2? After the wholly forgettable duds of Street Fighter 1 (sorry, Birdie, but you know it’s true), the cast of SF2 was nothing but solid gold that got us to a point where “generic sumo guy” has more renown than the car manufacturer that also bears his moniker. And by 2000, we had seen Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter 3. Say what you will about SF3, but no one is ever going to forget battling a final boss that can rock a banana hammock so hard. Face it, in the era of Cannon Spike’s release, Capcom was the absolute best at creating remarkable characters, and every other gaming company should have just gone home to be a family man. Why would Capcom generate a generic shoot ‘em up ship when it could build the game around characters as extraordinary as those Street Fighters?

Or, here’s a thought, let’s just go ahead and use those Street Fighters wholesale. Is Cammy doing anything else this week?

Go Arthur!The cast of Cannon Spike is very familiar. They might be wearing slightly different outfits, but Cammy of Super Street Fighter 2 and Charlie of Street Fighter Alpha are immediately recognizable. Arthur of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts returns, too, but he’s encased in a vaguely familiar suit of golden armor. Shiba comes compliments of Three Wonders (look it up!), and Simone is technically original, but clearly has origins in a shared, licensed title. And, just for giggles, the two secret characters are B.B. Hood (of the Darkstalkers franchise) and Mega Man (of the Dr. Wily and his Rambunctious Robo Pals franchise). Give or take how much you believe in the omnipresent threat of xenomorphs, the cast of Cannon Spike is entirely recycled from other Capcom titles, complete with expies of Vega and Felicia on the villain’s roster. If you were a fan of Capcom and saw Cannon Spike’s player select screen, you were looking square at a screen full of familiar faces.

But… isn’t Charlie supposed to be dead? Aren’t Mega Man and B.B. Hood from another time and/or dimension? Arthur shouldn’t be palling around with robots! He’s from some silly medieval time that hasn’t even properly worked out pants-based technology! Is Cammy fighting Vega because of a Shadaloo-based sleight? And where does that leave Chun-Li? What’s going on here?!

And the answer is a resounding “it doesn’t matter”.

Blast itCannon Spike is not “canon” with the Street Fighter universe. Cannon Spike is not canon with any universe, Capcom or otherwise. Mega Man and The Hood feel like cameos, but Charlie, Cammy, and Vega are very much their own characters that just happen to resemble other videogame stars. You can count on these heroes and villains to behave similarly to their other-universe doppelgangers, but they’re their own men and women, with their own motivations and lives. Charlie never died fighting some evil organization, because this is his first evil organization. Cammy was never brainwashed (or grown?) by Bison, because there is no Bison. And Arthur never fought a legion of demons, because this is a world generally devoid of ghosts and/or goblins. You know these characters. You might love these characters. But these are not the characters you are used to seeing.

And that can be pretty great sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love continuity as much as the next nerd. But sometimes it’s nice to throw off the shackles of continuous stories, and just have fun with the basic archetypes involved. Arthur and Mega Man are always going to fight for justice for the sake of righteousness. Charlie is always going to be a hero that is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Cammy is always going to like cats (it’s part of her ending!). But consider that the Street Fighter story has technically been going strong since 1987, and has definitely been rigid since Street Fighter 2 in 1991. Include “sister series” Final Fight in that equation, and you have 30 years and hundreds of characters that have to be accounted for every time you tell a Street Fighter story. So wouldn’t it be nice to just have a game where Charlie doesn’t have to worry about being an undead abomination, and he’s allowed to zoom around on rollerblades? So can we have more games where Samus Aran doesn’t have to constantly reference her daddy issues, or where 2-B can run around without bearing the weight of the world? Can’t these characters from famous franchises just be like “actors”, and, like when you see Tom Hanks light up the cinema screen, you can just smile at the appearance of good ol’ Charlie once again?

In the HoodApparently the answer is no, as even “simple” characters like Mario are stuck with decades’ worth of continuity. Link has to consult a complicated timeline involving multiple dimensions before he can even get out of bed, and Mega Man is overwhelmingly tied to a chronology that sees the literal end of all humanity. Yes, while you’re having fun steering Mega Man through Coffee Man’s latest maze of zany traps and colorful robots, remember that this all ends with global catastrophe and thousands of years of mavericks warring against elves. It seems our heroes are stuck with histories that are often older than the people playing their games, and we’re not allowed a simple, Bugs Bunny-esque “he’s an opera singer now, just roll with it” reprieve. Even when we see such a thing, it’s generally because a director has gone soft on characters that were created for a dud, like when the cast of Snatcher kept migrating over to the Metal Gear universe. For reasons that have never been adequately explained, videogames are stuck with continuity like a bad case of crabs, and Mario doesn’t seem to be getting around to clearing out this sewer.

But at least we have Cannon Spike. At least we have one Capcom game where the heroes don’t have to explain themselves, and we can all just have fun runnin’ n’ gunnin’ on some anonymous secret base. At least this Charlie gets to have a life that doesn’t end before Street Fighter 2 even begins, and an Arthur that isn’t shackled to a literal hell world.

It just goes to show: to enjoy a company’s canon, sometimes you have to spike it.

FGC #518 Cannon Spike

  • System: Sega Dreamcast and Arcade. Modern gamers are going to have just the easiest time playing this one!
  • Number of players: Two! And it’s cooperative! It’s pretty great!
  • Let's rockPort-o-Call: Cannon Spike has the unfortunate issue of being a quarter-killer arcade title that limits credits on the home version. I completely understand the concept behind adding challenge through limitation here, but maybe we could have an infinite credits cheat for those of us that don’t want to play the first level over and over again? Actually, I think the first level is randomized… but still!
  • What’s in a name? Charlie is definitely named Charlie, not Nash like he is in Japanese territories. But the flamboyant murderer with a claw hand is named Balrog, ala his Japanese moniker, not Vega, his more familiar, American designation. So it appears there was some localization here, but not an awful lot.
  • Additional Names: One boss is a trio of mech opponents. They seem to be named according to their robot colors: Rick Blue, Bob Green, and Ken Brown. I don’t know about Rick, but Bob and Ken wind up with incredibly mundane names, which seems a little unusual for gigantic fighting robots.
  • Favorite Character: I like every character except Shiba, who refused to be an actual dog. That said, if I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be Mega Man. Don’t look at me like that! I have a type!
  • Other Crossovers: There aren’t any members of STARS, but there is a haunted mansion with zombie dogs, giant bio-monsters, and at least one peculiarly rotting guerilla. This is all an obvious allusion to Resident Evil, but the setting and the bullets flying fast and furious also evokes Sega’s House of the Dead franchise. Maybe this was an homage to another company that was having issues with the fall of the arcades?
  • I have to get to that game sometimeAn End: Cannon Spike not only has individual endings for every character, but it also has unique endings for every 2-player pairing of characters. An obvious advantage of this situation is that Charlie dies in his own, solo ending, but survives every other ending where he has a buddy around. An unfortunate side effect of this, though, is that every ending with Mega Man almost exclusively focuses on the Blue Bomber… which kind of gives the impression that Rock jets off on Rush while his partner is left to explode. It… does not portray our favorite robot in a favorable light.
  • Did you know? Cammy gets a Cannon Spike costume in Street Fighter 5, and it impacts her win quotes against Charlie and Vega. Unfortunately, Vega doesn’t get the same courtesy, which is a shame, as his Cannon Spike look of “emaciated, murderous zombie” is pretty distinctive… assuming you don’t just think he looks like Mumkhar.
  • Would I play again: Oh yeah, I kinda forgot to talk about the gameplay. It’s fun! It’s a lot of skating and shooting and could be pretty entertaining for an hour or so on a modern system. I’d play Cannon Spike again in a heartbeat… assuming there was an easy way to do that.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Smash TV! Wow! It’s twin stick shooting before twin stick shooting week! Or something! And there will be fabulous prizes! Please look forward to it!

Manson

FGC #513 Willow

WILLOW IS HAPPENINGWillow is a 1988 film from George Lucas and Ron Howard that aimed to do for the fantasy genre what Star Wars did for sci-fi. It is a tale that is, at its core, Lord of the Rings all over again, with the eponymous ring switched out for an adorable baby. Other than that, it’s a truncated LotR with the numbers filed off, as a hobbit (“Nelwyn”) sets off on a journey that will marshal the many human-esque races of the land, form a mighty army, and eventually depose a violent tyrant that winds up falling to the smallest of her potential opponents (okay, technically there are the Brownies, but Willow is pretty tiny). You can call it “hero’s journey”, “blatant plagiarism”, or whatever you’d like, but it still boils down to a well-made film with fun and fantasy involved in equal measure.

But if you were Capcom in 1988, and had to make a videogame based on the film, what would you do? There are a couple options available, so maybe you would…

Focus on the adventure! Make it a rollicking action game!

It's the chaseBefore we even hit the 90’s, Capcom knew how to make an action game. There was Mega Man. There was Ducktales. There was even Final Fight. But perhaps the greatest influence on what would become Willow: The Arcade Game was Ghosts ‘n Gobilins. We have a similar plot here, right? A hero that is dramatically out of his depth battles a horde of monsters and magical creatures, and the player enjoys running, jumping, and shooting various weapons. You’ve got a perfect template for medieval machinations right there, so why mess with a good thing? Whether you’re slicing up dog-boar monsters or skeletons, jump ‘n shoot is an entertaining time for anyone with a quarter or two.

And, as was seen in other Ghosts ‘n Goblins games, that kind of gameplay allows for some pretty interesting set pieces. Willow riding a raft down a turbulent river while assaulted by magical fish seems fairly familiar, but you’ve also got a thrilling chariot escape from a drunken brawl, and a sled ride that was not at all eventually stolen by a certain hedgehog. Willow was an action-packed movie, dammit, so you’ve got some amazing action in store for the arcade experience. There are even epic bosses that recall memorable scenes from the film, like a battle against the twin-headed troll-hydra, or that one ersatz Darth Vader with the skull helmet. And the final battle may involve a magically enchanted urn, but it’s also a pure wizard duel between an evil queen and Willow. Nobody is relying on a former ferret to save the day here!

And that’s a bit of a problem.

Off with his head!One could argue the whole point of Willow (film) is that Willow (character) kind of… sucks. He’s a little dude, and not built for combatting a world filled with great big dudes. He’s not even physically menacing among his own people, as the opening of the film sees him setting out on his adventure with a cadre of companions that are more likely to effectively swing a sword. But he’s got magic, right? He’s not a knight, he’s a mage? Yeah, well, the whole point of that little hero’s journey is not that he’s an adept magician in the whole “transform a goat into an ostrich” realm of magic, he’s much more proficient at sleight of hand and general trickery. He’s a thief trying to use his MP pool! And, if this sounds crazy, look at how Willow wins the day in the film: the final victory is achieved not through the wizarding world, but by Willow using his “hide the pig” trick. Willow saves everyone through guile and bluff, not whipping his wand around.

So it’s a departure for the character to see super-powered Arcade Willow. Sure, A.W. starts with a piddling little magic shot that would make a Crystal Lake counselor sneer in derision, but purchase a few upgrades with nearby treasure, and Arcade Willow becomes an elemental monster. He can summon tornados, explosions, and a crystal shield that blocks practically an entire screen’s worth of projectiles. He can also transform opponents into gold, or just plain freeze time if he feels like bending the laws of physics. Arcade Willow has no problem with magic. Arcade Willow has no problem with taking out an entire army. Arcade Willow is become Death, and you damn well better get out of his way.

It is empowering to control Arcade Willow, as he is going to save this world through magic the likes of which this world has never seen. Bavmorda can turn dissenters into pigs? Well Arcade Willow is going to turn her entire country into bacon.

But if we’re going to complain about Arcade Willow being too powerful, maybe we should look at the alternative…

Focus on the quest! Make it a RPG-Adventure hybrid!

WILLOW!Willow for the Nintendo Entertainment System is a very different animal from its arcade counterpart. First and foremost, it is an adventure game in the vein of The Legend of Zelda. How legend of Zelda is it? Well, you’ve got a sword, shield, and a magical ocarina that summons a flying creature that will take you to one of a few different preset locations. It is very Zelda. In a way, Willow almost feels like a missing link between the two NES Zelda titles. Your general controls, perspective, and inventory options are reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda, but the frequent towns and an emphasis on talking to villagers and completing “fetch quests” to proceed to more complicated dungeons is very The Adventure of Link. And there’s magic! Willow gets a variety of magical options, from summoning thunder to actually offensively utilizing that magical cane. This is a Willow that is kitted out for a globe-trotting adventure!

Too bad NES Willow can’t actually use anything in his inventory.

Okay, technically any videogame character can become a god with the right player. There are likely tool-assisted speedruns of Willow wherein the player masterfully utilizes every skill in Willow’s prodigious bag of tricks. But speaking as someone who has played Willow as a child and an adult? NES Willow sucks. His sword range is abysmal. His magic points are never plentiful enough to tackle the myriad of monsters that are immune to weapons. There’s exactly one sword that will damage “magic”, and it’s about as offensively effective as a gentle breeze. And, speaking of which, practically every enemy that isn’t a slime has more HP than Willow can comfortably manage, Stabby stabbyso running from battles is often the correct answer. Oh, wait, that can’t be right, because the final area has a distinct experience threshold, so if you don’t take the time to murder everything from Nelwyn Town to Nockmaar Castle, you’ll be stuck grinding for those final, essential levels. And, if you’re curious, that level threshold is 13. It will take you an entire game’s worth of experience points to reach level 13. I’m pretty sure the Light Warriors reached level 13 before they got out of bed …

And it’s hard to ignore how that might be the point.

NES Willow sucks. He’s a poor swordsman, a middling magician, and literally every monster, from shielded skeletons to dual-headed ogres, can (and likely will) kill Willow without much of a thought. It requires a lot of practice and expertise to steer Willow through his world without dying to every other gigantic snake creature that blocks his path. Give him every spell, item, and sword in the world, and NES Willow is still likely to lie bleeding on the path outside his hometown because some manner of giant bug got the drop on him. NES Willow is not prepared for this journey that has been thrust upon him. He should be farming turnips, not Nockmarr hounds!

And, in a way, this terribly troublesome NES game captures the spirit of being Willow much more than its arcade counterpart. Willow is out of his depth! He has to learn to believe in himself, but it’s going to be a long road down a very dangerous path to get there. He technically has all the tools he’ll ever need, but it’s going to take ingenuity and gumption to conquer all the challenges that lie before him. It’s not raw strength that’s going to win this battle, but carefully managing not only your own resources, but also enlisting the help of others. NES Willow isn’t going to save the world alone, but he might be able to pull it off with a small army of eclectic assistants.

And that’s exactly how Willow saves the world in his titular film. The Willow NES game perfectly captures the feeling of a hero out of his depth and attempting to do the right thing against a mountain of nigh-insurmountable obstacles.

It’s just a lot more fun to play as demi-god Arcade Willow.

What would be the best way to make a videogame based on Willow? Hell if I know, but at least we got two desperate attempts that are both admirable in their own ways.

FGC #513 Willow

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System for the version you could (legally) play at home, and an arcade version for those of you that could ever find such a thing.
  • Number of players: Willow is on a solitary quest.
  • How did Madmartigan make out? In the arcade version, ol’ Mads is a selectable character, and his sword powers have shorter range than Willow, but they will chop down enemy projectiles. So he’s basically Zero. In the NES version, he never appears without being tied up. This is a very nice development for S&M Val Kilmer enthusiasts, but it means that Madmartigan is literally never useful in the console version. Hell, if you hadn’t seen the movie, you might assume Madmartigan was some manner of perversion of the usual “captured princess” trope. He does wind up exiting the game madly in love…
  • WeeeeeeStory Time: In both cases, the overall story of Willow is changed for the game adaption. This is presumably because you can’t have a decent videogame with the main protagonist strapped to a baby at all times. In fact, while Elora Danan does cameo, her macguffin role is replaced by a couple of elemental crests in the NES version. So if you’re looking for a situation where a female character is replaced by literally a rock in a videogame, here’s your easy example.
  • Vaguely Unsettling: In the NES version, there’s an old woman alone in a house that asks that you rescue her talking bird creature, Po. She provides healing herbs, and, after you find Po, those herbs heal him to the point that he becomes a valuable ally/warp zone. And then the old lady that set you to finding Po… just sits there silently for the rest of the game. She only says “…”, heals Willow, and then continues to never utter a peep. What happened there? I have no idea, but thinking about the ramifications is scarier than anything I’ve ever seen in Resident Evil.
  • Also Unsettling: Some gray wizard thingy can transform Willow into a pig, recalling the infamous scene in the film when Madmartigan and pals are transformed into swine via the most traumatizing G-rated body horror this side of Steven Universe. Glad to see that little bit made an impact on the staff at Capcom, too.
  • Squeal!Time Sink: For the record, Willow Arcade seems to last about as long as the average arcade game from the era, clocking in around 40 minutes to an hour. Willow NES is something of a proper adventure game, and took me around 5 hours from start to finish. And, to be clear, that is without cheating my way into infinite exp or consulting online maps every three seconds. Given Willow NES forsook a save battery for complicated passwords, I’m faultlessly willing to call this a sin against humanity.
  • An end: Willow wins, saves the world, let’s all have a party. Whatever. The real meat of the Willow NES ending is the credits that make absolutely no sense. Program by DAVID BO0WY and MOE? Monster design by Tom-Pon, Fish Man, and Tall Nob? Special thanks to Hearty.J? Supervision by Lucas Film? That sounds fake.
  • Did you know: Both IGN and Nintendo Power ultimately named the NES version as one of the best games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. You can do nothing to dissuade me from the belief that these writers played the game with save states, and from a modern perspective of playing the game with a FAQ (and hindsight). Anyone that ever had to grind castle guards for hours so they wouldn’t bungle into a literally unwinnable boss fight would not declare Willow to be the best anything.
  • Would I play again: No thank you. I told myself I would complete Willow from start to finish (and no password cheating) for this blog, and I have completed that task. I have saved the world as a hobbit with a pig sticker, and now I’m done with that. Willow for NES is interesting, but it isn’t the most fun experience.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS! Now we’re talking swords and sorcery! Please look forward to it!

This is a sad dragon

FGC #511 Pokémon Gold / Silver / Crystal

In these uncertain times, I’ve been thinking about sequels, storytelling, special people, and, specifically, this old man:

How ya doin', old man

That GIF is a capture from Pokémon Red (or Blue, if you’re nasty), and it features an old man that lives in Vermilion City, a beautiful town by the sea. He’s using his pokémon to help build a home overlooking the nearby port, and, assuming Lt. Surge doesn’t expand his gym to conquer the entire seaside, it should provide a lovely view for the man’s future. He’ll build his house by the ocean, and retire to enjoy his autumn years in a rocking chair overlooking gorgeous waves of magikarp capering across the beach. Maybe he’ll relax on the S.S. Anne when he needs a vacation, but he’ll always have a charming home to come back to.

Except when you return to visit the old man in Pokémon Gold/Silver, a game that takes place three years later, you find this sorry sight.

NOT GREAT, BOB

The poor old man is still out working in the fields because he is literally poor. His dreams are denied, and, apparently as some manner of karmic punishment for his hubris, he is forced to stand out in this empty field with Pokémon 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He is there during the day. He is there in the dead of night. The new clock feature of Pokémon Gold/Silver reveals a man eternally caught between a rock and a hard place, and his machamp is never going to smash that rock.

And his sorry, never-ending fate is all thanks to one man.

Let us skip ahead a bit to Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon. Like many (all?) Pokémon games, PUS/M contains an area where the game’s developers hang out within the game. Your avatar can wander around these faux Game Freak offices, and speak to NPCs that are based on the real creators of the real game you’re playing right now. Neat! And, since the PUS/M generation of Pokémon games was the first to allow transferring pokémon from Pokémon Gold/Silver, you can potentially have poképals in your Generation 7 team that originated from Generation 2. If you do, one of the Game Freak developers will offer this special bit of dialogue regarding the older game:

“When we were having trouble fitting all the data in for Gold and Silver, and we were really in a pinch, this amazing guy came along and made a program for us that solved all our problems. He went on to become the amazing president of a real big company soon after that, too.”

WINNERThat “amazing guy” was Satoru Iwata, a man responsible for more than a few amazing videogames, and the eventual “amazing president” of a “real big company”, Nintendo. For a more detailed explanation of what happened, according to interviews from around the release of Pokémon Heart Gold/Soul Silver, Iwata was working at HAL at the time, but somehow became a liaison between Nintendo and Game Freak, despite technically working for neither. And, since Iwata was an expert programmer, he used his knowledge from converting the battle system of Pokémon Red/Blue to Pokémon Stadium and his general familiarity with the Gameboy to create a graphic-compression tool that allowed the programmers of Pokémon Gold/Silver to cram more Pokémon content into a Gameboy cart than ever before. Pokémon S/G was initially far too large for a Gameboy title, but now the programmers had so much room to breathe, they could practically fit two Pokémon games on there!

So they did. Want to revisit the world of Pokémon Red/Blue in Pokémon Gold/Silver? You absolutely can!

Back in 1999, Pokémon Gold/Silver had some huge shoes to fill, as Pokémon Red/Blue (maybe even Green) was one of the most successful Gameboy games of all time. It launched a franchise that is still ridiculously profitable popular to this day! And, while there had been a number of auxiliary Pokémon games capitalizing on the original 151 Pokémon, this was the first “new generation” ever for this already beloved series. Whether the concept was Iwata’s demand or simply something Game Freak decided “might be cool” (accounts on this matter differ), Iwata’s graphics compression utility allowed for the inclusion of not only Pokémon from the supremely popular initial Pokemon title, but also roughly 90% of its entire world. It was the perfect move at the perfect time for the series, as it married the new to the notable, and those familiar gym leaders and locales could stand shoulder to shoulder with the future of the franchise. Discovering a whole, well-known world over at the right edge of the map was simultaneously a reward for the player, and a reassuring statement that the Pokémon world wasn’t going to forget its past. It was everything a Pokémon fan could ask for.

SLOWUnfortunately, while this was the best possible outcome for a sequel, it was not all rainbows and rhydons for the population of Kanto. Claiming that Pokémon Gold/Silver contained the entirety of Pokémon Red/Blue’s home region is a bit of a stretch, as much of PR/B had to be truncated and reduced to fit the world and pacing of its sequel. Viridian Forest, the humble pikachu’s ancestral home, was reduced to a scant few rows of trees. Pokémon Tower, a place for deceased Pokémon to enjoy their eternal slumber, was overtaken by capitalism and converted into a gaudy Radio Tower. Cinnabar Island became “the ravaged town of the past” when a volcano erupted and permanently destroyed the entire city. In short, in service of a sequel, it appears major ecological disasters rocked Kanto and its citizenry, eternally marring their home.

And, yes, in this damaged world, a man is without a home, and has been standing alone in a field for three years. And it’s all thanks to one man using his expert programming knowledge to expand one Gameboy game. The Old Man of Vermilion could have lived in the quantum uncertainty of most JRPG NPCs, but, no, a genius had to step in, revolutionize Gameboy programming, and damn this helpless fellow to an eternal existence alone, unloved, and exposed to the elements. No other Pokémon game revisited Kanto at a later date, so Iwata’s expansion on the sequel was this Old Man’s final curtain call.

Even the Pokémon Gold/Silver remakes left him out in the cold.

STILL NOT GREAT, BOB

And this is the cruel nature of sequels. Even though we always want more content from our favorite worlds, they often must abolish happy endings for the sake of revisiting drama. Every new season of a television series must reset its characters to prevent them from remembering previous lessons, and every adventure series has to revive an ancient evil or two to keep the swords swinging. Every videogame that revisits old areas must constrain these previous worlds to smaller digital footprints, and lives have to be ruined to keep the franchise flowing. Do you think Brock wanted to forever be a gym leader in some podunk town? Of course not! But he’s got to return for that cameo, so here he is. Buffy the Vampire Slayer must live, die, and live again, Harry Potter has to revisit a fresh hell every single year, and Pokémon’s own Red has to spend the rest of his days huddled in a cave with his Pikachu. It is the curse of sequels, and we inflict it on our heroes because we can’t live without knowing what happens next.

But there is still hope.

Shake itIn 2017, ShockSlayer released Pokémon Crystal Clear. It is an extensive romhack of Pokémon Crystal, the official Nintendo upgrade to Pokémon Gold/Silver. It features a number of graphical upgrades (all the Pokémon “map sprites” now actually look like their assigned Pokémon), significant quality of life changes (you no longer need to know CUT to travel greater than fifteen yards), and you can select a starter from a variety of Pokémon that range from charmander to porygon to ditto. Most significantly, however, it adds the ability to travel the world of Pokémon Gold/Silver as easily as choosing the FLY command, and offers the opportunity to start your quest in either Johto or Kanto. In other words, it takes the basic gameplay of Pokémon G/S/C, and transforms it into an expansive, open-world adventure where you are no longer inhibited by Team Rocket blockades or an inability to surf. You can fight the signature gyms in nearly any order, and they all scale to your experience level (or at least badge count). It is an amazing way to experience a decades old game, and adds a breath of fresh air to the whole Pokémon experience. It is a damn shame that Nintendo has forced Pokémon Crystal Clear to scamper off to hide in the darker corners of the internet, as this is a “hack” that deserves to be spread across the light of day.

But, more importantly, it makes one more change to the canon of Pokémon.

This is fine

He still doesn’t have a home, but he has hope. Hope! What more can an eternally homeless old man ask for?

A story continuing might make its stars more miserable, but there’s always a chance someone else will pick up the torch and make things better. There might not ever truly be happy endings, but there’s always fresh hope for ongoing happiness.

FGC #511 Pokémon Gold / Silver / Crystal

  • System: Nintendo Gameboy / Gameboy Color, and then available virtually for the Nintendo 3DS. Whatever the system, your save battery has expired by now.
  • Number of players: You’ll never catch ‘em all without trading, so two.
  • Eat crunchSo, which version: Can I just say Crystal Clear now and forever? This is not the first time Gogglebob.com recognizes a fan creation as the definitive version of a game, but the existence of Crystal Clear does provide an actual reason to play an older Pokémon game, as the “free-form” gameplay found here isn’t simply overwritten with the upgrades of the later games. Crystal Clear is a new experience that isn’t going to be moot when we see Let’s Go Eevee’s Silver Soul or whatever.
  • Favorite Gym Leader (this generation): Whitney is just like, “screw it, you have to fight my cow”. And then her cow completely wrecks your %$&#. Kick ass and roll out, Whitney, you deserve it.
  • Favorite Gen 2 Pokémon: Mareep/Ampharos. Ampharos was my original MVP in Pokémon Gold, as surfing across vast seas and thunderpunching tentacools into the stratosphere caused my Amphy’s (named Asimov) levels to similarly skyrocket. Then, quite a few years later, I wound up asking out my now fiancée on Mareep Community Day. So, yeah, that Pokémon definitely gets a spot of honor.
  • The King is Dead: Seemingly exclusively to counter the dominance of Psychic type Pokémon in R/B, this generation introduced the defensive Steel type, and the offensive Dark type. This means that Tyranitar made the scene, and now the legions of psychic legendaries have to worry about a godzilla that is perfectly willing to eat a mountain on its way to stomping a Mewtwo.
  • What time is it: This was the first Pokémon game with an internal clock. I’m simply noting this because it explains why I still think you can only catch Lapras on Fridays.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: In high school, another student and I may or may not have intimidated a freshman into choosing a particular starter so it could be traded and bred to match our lack of said starter. This is what a nerd bully does, apparently.
  • POKEMON!Did you know? Pokémon Crystal was the first mainline Pokémon title with animated Pokémon. We really take it for granted nowadays when a Pikachu can turn its head, but back then, this required the noble loss of approximately 10,000 good pixels. Their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
  • Would I play again: I really enjoyed playing through Pokémon Crystal Clear… but it’s still Gen 2 Pokémon. Going to go ahead and mosey over to some of the more modern releases when I don’t feel like juggling my monsters in Bill’s PC.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crystal Castles for the Atari 2600! I know it’s an old game, everyone, but please bear with me. Please look forward to it!