Tag Archives: story

FGC #602 Gargoyle’s Quest II: The Demon Darkness

SCARYI know you would destroy the world if you thought it would be a little fun.

There are two kinds of videogame worlds:

  1. Our world (but in a videogame).
  2. Something like our world, albeit possibly at a different point in time. The allowed epochs are “medieval” or “future”. If a director is feeling saucy, “ninja” is also acceptable.

And that’s that. Think about nearly any videogame setting long enough, and you will see that it boils down to one of those two options. And even when you have things like robots fighting or ponies attempting to magic their problems away, it still winds up being a world that is generally recognizable as our own. Is your world full of electric rats and haunted keychains? Well, it’s still got department stores selling bicycles, so it is practically home. And we are all forced to identify with Middle Earth/Camelot environments repeatedly, so if a princess needs saving, we can and will handle it (even if she is a princess of a kingdom of mushrooms).

Of course, this makes perfect sense. A game will always have a win condition. Many videogames will attach a familiar plot to that win condition so as to encourage/enrapture the player. Rescue the princess. Defend the kingdom. Save the world. And why would you do that? Because you’re a good person? Phht, no! Because you recognize this world as something familiar, something like your own. Something worth saving. Even the greatest misanthrope believes we live in a world that is worth protecting against a giant space laser, so why not do the same in a digital world? Even with a slight change in time, location, or planet, videogames tend to include extremely human characters. And you like humans, right? 99% of people that play videogames are humans, so it is generally assumed you are on board with saving humans, even when they’re a little less humany. Close enough, right?

But how about some zombies? Or a kingdom of demons? How do you feel about saving the forces of Hell from… another Hell?

Today’s game is Gargoyle’s Quest II. It is the Nintendo Entertainment System-based (mostly) sequel to Gargoyle’s Quest, an exclusively Gameboy jaunt. The original, monochrome adventure portrayed our titular gargoyle, Firebrand, in his home dimension of the Ghoul Realm in glorious pea green and/or gray. The NES version got a full-color upgrade, and the Ghoul Realm is… well…

Real estate values are low here

Look, I do not want to judge, but if you have seas the color of blood, you are either living on an Earth that has had a few too many Impacts, or you are distinctly somewhere you don’t want to be. And who does want to live there? Why, all the enemies from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, of course! You have a significant undead population, several demons apparently wearing clothes, and a substantial number of kings and queens who have additional heads on their abdomens. This is the Ghoul Realm, after all, it would be weird if there were not any ghouls running around. Hell, the plot even begins with a quick note that this is all taking place before “Man” even became much of a thing…

But lest you think this gargoyle’s quest is steering toward a twist that involves the rise of a number of boxer shorts-clad knights assaulting Firebrand’s kingdom, do not worry, this is a strictly demon-on-demon violence affair. The “dark light” is sweeping through the realm, and, in its wake are crippled kings, double-deceased zombies, and at least one group of scientists that are reduced to gibbering idiocy. The ultimate source of this destructive wave is Breager, a demon lord that was summoned to the realm by Evil King Goza (granted, we are just assuming Goza is a king because he owns a castle. He could just be ludicrously wealthy). Breager is a four-armed giant (double Firebrand’s height!) that can summon a bevy of fireballs without so much as leaving his throne.

Breager is also indistinguishable from the rest of the “good” demon cast of Gargoyle’s Quest.

Terrible bugsLet us examine Firebrand’s allies. Samuel of Sidon is a cross between a dwarf and some manner of furry bug. Hecate the fallen angel is a minotaur/lizard hybrid. Queen Verona is a gigantic chunk of ice-monster. Morock is the infamous Astaroth that rules Ghosts ‘n Goblins as the capital-d Devil. Lethe is that second version of Astaroth from Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Barr is a boss from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and is mostly notable for his detachable head. And Rushifell/Loki/Lucifer is the final monarch of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. In short, every one of Firebrand’s named supporters is not remotely human at best, and a noted antagonist of humanity at worst. His opponents are not any better, as we’ve got a “head in the abdomen dude” right out of the starting gate, but with a serpent tail in place of legs. Then there’s a Death Balloon (no further explanation necessary), Sand Frog (ditto), and Twin Guardians that could be Firebrand’s evil twins (before you literally fight Firebrand’s evil twin). Then we’ve got the final boss fights, which are back to “more heads equal more evils” thinking.

So, yes, if you, the fleshy human reading this article, ever encountered one of Firebrand’s friends or foes, you would run away screaming. Yet you, the player controlling the Red Blaze, are saving these unknowable horrors from slightly different unknowable horrors. Why would you do such a thing? You are saving a world of “people” that are only going to live on to make Arthur’s life that much harder! Why are you even entertaining this nonsense?

The answer is simple: because you can.

Fine, stay in your chairLet’s not pretend you have to play videogames. “But thou must” may be how Dragon Quest starts, but you absolutely have the choice of turning off the NES and grabbing a whole different game off the shelf. No one is making you play Gargoyle’s Quest anymore than anyone is forcing you to play Super Mario Bros. one world at a time. There are warp zones for a reason! But you can beat every last Bowser if you want, just the same as you can maneuver Firebrand into banishing all those demon-demons. It is not about the story, it is about the challenge. It is about taking this unique hero, be they pink puff or bat-winged monster, and seeing if you can succeed. Are you saving a kingdom of fungi or fun guys (that eat people)? Immaterial! Videogames offer the only story telling medium wherein you can actively and continually loathe the protagonist, but enjoy exploring the world that they inhabit. Or, to put a point on it, hate the player, love the game. Particularly if the player hates you.

So, yeah, you’re gonna save the Ghoul Realm. You are going to save every last monster that will one day define the concept of monsters. You do not have to. No one is saying you must. But you will. It is fun, and you like fun things, right?

The world is going to burn, and you lit the match. All because you liked flying with the silly little red dude…

FGC #602 Gargoyle’s Quest II: The Demon Darkness

  • Let us reflectSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System, and an enhanced, region-locked Gameboy version.
  • Number of Players: Firebrand simply cannot work with others.
  • Port-o-Call: If you can stomach the lack of color, the Gameboy edition does seem to be the definitive version. That desert that is completely devoid of landmarks in the NES edition has a whole dungeon now! And you can earn a homing-fireball! Tell me that wouldn’t make a few fights about 200% easier.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Like Kirby’s Adventure, this is one of those great, late NES titles that wholly justifies platforming games by granting some limited flight options. That was just what everyone needed after experiencing the glories of raccoon-travel. Other than that, it is basically a Mega Man game, and who can say no to that?
  • RPG Elements: The world map is entirely perfunctory, and adds pretty much nothing to the gameplay experience other than an easy way to backtrack. However, it does go a long way toward making the Ghoul Realm feel like a big, wide open area. The Ghouls ‘n Ghosts version of it is, like, three lil’ levels.
  • For the sequel: Demon’s Crest is the sequel, an unfortunate end to any and all gargoyle quests. Now, that plot learned a thing or two from its prequels, and you are now actively avenging Firebrand against a world/Phalanx that has wronged him. See? It is not about saving demons, it is about making demons feel bad. Totally different universe of storytelling there.
  • This is not a clawStory time: Gargoyle’s Quest 2 is actually the prequel to Gargoyle’s Quest (1), and is another one of those situations wherein almost the exact thing happened to an ancestor/descendant pair. However, it is worth noting that the Firebrand of Gargoyle’s Quest (1) is almost certainly the same protagonist of Demon’s Quest, and probably the jerk that directly deals with Arthur on a regular basis. Of course, I am no authority on the subject. All these red, winged demons look the same to me.
  • An End: The penultimate boss is the hardest boss in the game. There, I said it. You unlock unlimited flight, high jumps, and dragon-fire breath before the real final boss, and then that donk doesn’t even get out of his chair. Meet the Red Blaze, dumbass, and burn until my grandson kicks your ass all over again.
  • What’s in a name? The Twin Guardians are clearly a pair of malevolent gargoyles. This is Gargoyle’s Quest. Is there a reason they can’t just, ya know, be called gargoyles? Did Disney copyright that, too?
  • Favorite Boss: I appreciate the Maze of Mirror’s Doppelganger boss, and how attacking your own reflection will only hurt you. And it utilizes Firebrand’s “enemy” attacks of shooting fire and randomly swooping around! Hey, wait a minute, why can’t my Firebrand swoop like that?
  • Did you know? The original, Japanese version of the title screen is kickin’ ass with a cool, animated frame of flames. The American/European title screen is so, so boring by comparison.
  • Would I play again: This game gets breezier every time I play it. I would be down for a new gargoyle-based quest, but, until that surfaces, I will happily give the old one a go.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dante’s Inferno for the Playstation 3! Folks, it looks like ROB wants me to go to Hell. Please look forward to it!

Every single one of us, devil inside

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 #589 DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power

Here come the girls!You have to admire the balls on this girl game.

DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is a Nintendo Switch title that was released this past June to very little fanfare. If we are instantly jumping to conclusions, we may presume that this is because this game is ultimately kind of a niche product that may not be advertised on the usual channels. Does DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power need to be promoted on gaming sites that might hype up the latest Mario release? No. But will it be advertised every other commercial break on Cartoon Network, currently airing the parent show’s second season? Going to go ahead and give that one a yes. And who can blame them! DCSHG:TP is based on a successful cartoon, so why not assume this game for the fans is going to primarily have an audience of those same fans? Nobody is pretending DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is anything but a chance to cash in on a popular show for a very distinct demographic.

And that is something as a shame, as DCSHG:TP could easily be described as “pretty good”. Is this the prestigious Goggle Bob Game of the Year: 2021? I can confidently say it is not. But is it a fun time with fun characters? Absolutely. DCSHG:TP is primarily a frenetic beat ‘em up, but also has significant beats from more exploration-based titles. It also features an interesting cast, a cute little story (at least one Luthor is at it again), and fun gameplay differences between its six different playable characters. In fact, one of the more interesting bits of DCSHG:TP is that the unique designs of the main characters are fully retained from the source material, so the cast has not been transformed into a bunch of “minifigs” that all have the same base body and moves. While they are superficially analogous, lithe Batgirl’s jumps and grappling moves are very different from thick Supergirl’s flight and laser eyes. In fact, complete with the voice acting and the memorable characterization of each “Super Hero Girl” (and villain), this may be one of the most distinctive casts in the gaming, left alone absolutely most distinctive female cast. Hey! DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power could win an award for 2021!

Helping little old ladies cross the streetUnfortunately, even with those distinctive characters, everything else about DCSHG:TP feels so… budget. In fact, maybe it is because of those distinctive characters! There are twelve “main” characters in each faction (heroes and villains, natch), but only three from each group is playable. This gives the impression that certain characters are more or less there simply for window dressing, or to satisfy some kind of behind-the-scenes contract. Giganta or Live Wire make for good boss fights, and you can kind of see how Bumblebee works as the goody’s support Q, but I literally have no idea if Green Lantern does a damned thing over the course of the whole game. I guess she makes nice with Poison Ivy once or twice? Poison Ivy, who, incidentally, does practically nothing herself for the entire game, too? And combine this with the same four enemy types continually reskinned across the same three or four areas (does the Lego building in the sewers count as part of the sewers or not?), and the whole game feels weirdly claustrophobic. You can see Zatanna just outside your selectable characters, or that amusement pier off in the distance, but you can never reach them. They are forever outside of your box, and you are stuck with Wonder Woman fighting the same evil bear in the same evil lair in a game that will never spare a bit of flare for some better fare.

And speaking of limited, there are a whole three named men in this game. To be clear, this is not a Love-Live or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic situation wherein it appears that the majority of men have been stricken with some unseen plague, and must not appear on camera for any reason. There are plenty of random, male NPCs running around doling out side missions and general fluffery. But there are a mere handful of named boys in this story. We’ve got…

  1. Lex Luthor, who needs no introduction, but, for the record, is more or less neutral in this tale.
  2. Toyman, who is one of the villains, and exists primarily to be responsible for the mobs of “toys” you fight across the game.
  3. Hal Jordan, the legendary Green Lantern.

And it is Hal that caught this player’s eye immediately. Hal Jordan! The Green Lantern since 1959! With his magical (not magical) green lantern ring, he has unlimited power on par with Superman. Hal Jordan! The man who has saved the world constantly, and once nearly destroyed all of time and space thanks to a particularly bad dye-job! Hal Jordan! Here he is now! Cowering!

THE GREEN LANTERN

There are seven chapters in DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power, and, while he is mentioned at the top of the game as Carol’s ex-boyfriend, Hal is not seen onscreen until Chapter Six. Given the directors could have continued the pattern of “you just missed him”, it would have been very easy to write around a lack of a Hal Jordan videogame model. But, after nearly 85% of the game is complete, here he is! And, while it would be an obvious turn to have The Green Lantern appear alongside the other Green Lantern that is already hanging around every scene, that does not happen. Hal Jordan does not appear in this game as a Green Lantern at all. Hal Jordan appears as a quivering, shaking mass of dread that is living in abject panic over his ex-girlfriend asking him for a date. This is not a Hal Jordan that appears in any other comic, movie, or videogame. This Hal Jordan, a guy (not that Guy) often billed as “The Man Without Fear”, is a coward.

And, damn, that takes some kind of courage.

It's electricHal Jordan is one of the chief superheroes of the DC Universe, and he is the only male superhero that appears in this game. He also does not help in any way, and he is… Can we use the term “sub-princess”? Like, nobody ever rescues him, because nobody cares to rescue him. He is in a bad situation in his various appearances, and no one does a thing to stop his tormentor. He is “saved” only because his Bowser got distracted and wandered off. And, in case you are wondering, this was not simply “staying true to the source material” of the animated DC Super Hero Girls. While Hal has issues with Carol in that series, the episode that introduces this conflict takes care to portray Green Lantern as a highly capable fighter, he simply has issues with this specific (cheerleader) problem. In later episodes, he appears with the Justice Dudes (or whatever they call themselves), and is a cocky, largely competent superhero. In the videogame adaption, though? You might entirely miss that whole “Green Lantern” thing, and assume Hal is a quivering mass of man jelly (editor’s note: rephrase that).

And this is huge! There was an easy “get excited about this cameo” opportunity here, and the directors of DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power absolutely did not go for it. They could have had a wannabe Superman outshine the cast you had been playing with for six chapters (or at least had a Green Lantern do something in this plot), but, nope, just an excuse to throw in a few jokes at Hal’s expense. In fact, Hal is better than a “joke” here, as he is used to enrich the Carol Ferris character. Star Sapphire is a playable character, so, naturally, they introduce the reason she is a supervillain. She is powered by her love for Hal Jordan, so Hal Jordan had to appear. Hal Jordan must appear as Carol’s beleaguered paramour, otherwise how would you understand Carol?

DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power engaged in the wholesale character assassination of an established superhero to further enrich one of its own featured supervillains.

WeeeeeAnd, in an age of boys’ games, boys’ comics, and boys’ movies, making this girl game about its girls at the expense of the boys is impressive. Each of the three villainesses have an object they covet: Harley Quinn goes gaga over a comic book featuring the Joker, Catwoman races around the city to collect stolen jewels, and Carol Ferris dotes on her favorite man, Hal Jordan. Has this hero been objectified for the benefit of another character? Absolutely. And, while that is not exactly something that should be happening at all, it is an excellent and unexpected turn for the objectifying to be on the other gender for a change. Hal Jordan is arguably less consequential in this plot than a comic book, but this is not Hal’s story. Hal already has the last few decades of stories. He’ll be alright.

DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is not afraid to make its heroines the focus of its story, and make the boys take a backseat for the adventure. DC Super Hero Girls rule.

FGC #589 DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power

  • System: Nintendo Switch. There is nothing really Switch-y about this one, so it may migrate around eventually in a Wonderful 101-way.
  • Number of players: Three superheroes, three supervillains, and one player at a time. A shame they couldn’t get some Secret of Mana-esque business going here.
  • Favorite Supervillain: Star Sapphire by a country mile. For some reason, the game introduces a character that is extremely different from every established gameplay style about 75% of the way through the proceedings. And, bam, the minute she shows up, you can play this like a friggen’ Mega Man game. Shoot! Air dash! Be a mean cheerleader! It all works!
  • SMAAAAASHHeard it before: I swear the “advance dialogue” sound is from The Legend of Zelda. Probably Wind Waker specifically, but I am not going to search down some sound effect files to confirm.
  • Build-a-town: There is a “town building” mini game. On one hand, it is rather cool to see your city grow from rubble, and then jump across rooftops that you helped construct. On the other hand, the actual logistics of it is barely a step up from Breath of Fire 2’s “which shop would you like here” city construction, and it works as little more than an excuse to blow cash from side missions on something other than clothes. Still, you can install statues of all the villains, so you can go delightfully off script…
  • Let’s talk about the show: This game worked its magic and made me check out the source show. It is… hard to describe, exactly, but I feel like an apt description is that it is a mix of Teen Titans Go, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Samurai Jack. The action scenes are really great, with frenetic fun all around. And there are some genuine, meaningful character moments between the main characters, with morals that are a little more mature than “friendship is good!”. I, an old man watching a children’s cartoon, very much appreciate this. That said, it is also super irreverent of DC Comics and superheroes in general, and, like in Venture Brothers, that is a deep well of humor. In one episode, Supergirl “dies”, pretends to be “Powergirl” to improve her image, and comes up with the concept of “I’m from… uh… Earth… erm… 2?” to which Superman immediately agrees and is like “Oh yeah… uh… Earth 2! Totally been there!” Then they go into language jokes the whole episode with Powergirl repeatedly noting they say things like “irregardless” on Earth 2. Love it. Five stars.
  • WeeeeeeWhat’s in a plot: For the record, this game appears to be a “microcontinuity” where the pilot/first episode is recreated as the game’s overall plot, but with the superhero girls and supervillains already established and palling around. That is kind of neat… but it does mean you know who the final boss is if you watched literally one episode of the source material. No plot twists for you!
  • An end: There was no way this game was going to end with anything but a giant robot fight followed by a noncommittal “life goes on as normal” finale. It’s a tie-in to a still running animated show! This ain’t Young Justice.
  • Did you know? This is somehow the second game in a row covered on this blog where the main heroine is a redhead that saves the world and occasionally works at a taco shack. Oh, and I guess Nicole Sullivan voices both Shego in Kim Possible and Supergirl in DC Superheroes. But the taco thing is more relevant.
  • Would I play again: The gameplay/enemies/locations get kind of rote a little too quickly, so I don’t really see sitting down and playing DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power on some marathon session to score a platinum trophy (or its spiritual equivalent). That said, I could see doing a sidequest here or there when I have a spare moment, so I am technically going to play the game again… just not an awful lot. I will see that Batgirl saves the day, but on my own time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fight: Streewise for the Playstation 2! Let’s watch Cody’s brother save the world while Cody does drugs! Sound like fun? Please look forward to it!

Morning yoga?
We can work it out

World of Final Fantasy Part 13: What Even Happened?

This post contains spoilers for the whole of World of Final Fantasy. You have been warned!

A long time ago in a dimension far, far away, there was a woman named Roksanne. Roksanne had a cute little pet fox buddy, and, apparently, put on a red light for a living castle. Noted summon Alexander merged with Roksanne, and she became Enna Kros.


“Bow before me and bring some snacks, mortals”

Shortly thereafter, Enna Kros discovered The Girl Who Forgot Her Name, and, rather than be a good friend and give her a goddamn name, she decided to exploit the amnesiac’s powers to create whole worlds.


You could name all sorts of people in the old Final Fantasy games

Thus, any dimension created by Enna Kross aka Alexander became known as an A-World.

So, while Enna Kros is the god of World of Final Fantasy, there are worlds that are not created by Enna Kros out there. Cogna gotta come from somewhere, and you do not want to hear about what happens in YT-Worlds.


Typical YT World nonsense

Thus, Enna Kros created the “Champion System” whereby when one of her worlds is threatened, “Champions” will manifest in the population, and these champions will copy the traits and personalities of heroes from other worlds.


A dashing champion

So there’s your excuse for why Cloud, Squall, and that cat lady from the spin-off franchise are all running around, and they’re kinda like their original versions, but, ya know, different enough to be interesting. Or not interesting. Whatever works, we’ve gotta let the “real” heroes shine somehow.

Speaking of heroes, one A-World is Grymoire…