Tag Archives: summertime

FGC #643 Elden Ring

I never did get that ringI appreciate Elden Ring, because, more than any game I have ever played, it perfectly encapsulates how it feels to be a tourist.

Elden Ring is a FromSoftware title. FromSoftware struck gold a little over a decade ago with Dark Souls, and has had incredible success with that franchise and “soulsborne” titles like Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. And, while many have tried to pin down exactly what makes these games so popular (if only to clone that je ne sais quoi so they can make their own piles of money), it seems that several people have settled on one reason these games are great: it is the challenge. Soulsborne titles are known for their unforgiving difficulty, brutal bosses, and any number of sink or swim situations that, more often than not, lead to a ubiquitous “you have died” message. But hope is not lost! These FromSoft games are built around the concept that you will fail, and restarting and reclaiming your lost collectibles is as easy as making your way to wherever you happened to expire, and now, shucks, guess you are here anyway, let’s see if we can make a little more progress this time. And, in this simple death-rebirth-progress-repeat loop, accomplishments are made, and eventually you have every last trophy claiming you have become a freaky god-baby or whatever the hell happened at the end of Bloodborne. In short, calling the appeal of FromSoftware titles “the challenge” is reductive of a carefully tailored gameplay cycle that isn’t all that different from the Dragon Warriors of old.

This is gonna hurtBut I have never cared about any of that. Of course I find FromSoftware games challenging! But I also find Mega Man Legends challenging, too. I have been playing videogames for the last thirty years, and, unless we are talking about a genre/playstyle that I know by heart (that would be the original Mega Man franchise, for instance), I am very likely to die over and over again regardless of “challenge”. I probably pick up a game faster than some people, but I have never had any sort of videogame “sight-reading” dexterity. It takes me a while to learn a new game, and it doesn’t matter if we are talking about Bloodborne or Bloodstained. Every new game is memento mori, and I too will die… and quickly! I might even have a leg up on FromSoftware titles at this point, too, as I kind of know the general pacing now of… How do I put this… “That one guy syndrome”? Like there’s always that one guy… He has a horse in this one… There is always that one guy near the start of the game that there is no way you are beating him right now, so you must come back later, and if you try to spend all your time on him at the start, you are going to have a bad time. And that and other tricks only work so many times, so after fearing the old blood and praising the sun a number of times, I am fairly immune to many FromSoftware tricks. In short, these games are challenging, but they never really felt substantially challenging on my end. They are hard, but everything is hard when you game like a pillow cursed with dummy thumbs.

So how do I experience FromSoft games? Why do I even bother? Well, because the greatest FromSoftware games are about exploring, and I love games based on exploring. As if it wasn’t obvious from a Castlevania game being covered on this site every other month, I enjoy seeing scary monsters, skulking around their lairs, and, ideally, finding all sorts of secret places while rolling around murderous skeletons. FromSoft titles offer this kind of experience in enormous quantities, and I am always happy to dodge some giant’s sword only to accidentally discover a treasure hidey-hole. That is the kind of gaming experience I cherish, and it can only be found in painstakingly constructed castles/planets/forgotten lands. I don’t care if it is a Crocomire or giant land octopus involved, just factor in those breakthroughs, and I’m good.

But I have noticed a curious issue with my Soulsborne playthroughs: I never 100% any of these games.

Poor flightless birdsNow, this is something of an interesting issue. Traditionally, if I enjoy a videogame, I try to wring about as much enjoyment out of it as possible. While this does not always lead to a “platinum trophy” style “do everything” event, it does usually mean I have seen what I consider to be “everything”. For instance, I might not need that 100% of the map filled achievement, but I want to feel like I have spoken to every NPC, and completed every relevant questline. I won’t be finishing the Metroid Dread boss rush anytime soon, but I do feel happy with that perfect item collection rating. My definition of “100% Completion” might not match the opinion of everyone else, but it is a level that leaves me content.

Elden Ring? Not so much. I have completed the game, I have filled in the portions of the map I feel are relevant, and I am happy with my experience. Why? Simple: I am delighted being a tourist.

We have all played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild before, right? Remember that dude who would give you inventory upgrades if you traded him gold poops? He was in the Warriors game? Hestu! Hestu upgrades your inventory, and you are meant to collect korok seeds across the world, scamper back to Hestu when you have a healthy amount, and then gradually upgrade your capacity as the game proceeds. Know what I did? I missed Hestu! Big ol’ lug is hanging out on one of the most traveled roads in Hyrule, and I completely avoided the doof. This is supposed to be an area/person you see early in your adventure, but I managed to take a different path, and didn’t find Hestu until after I had slain Ganon. I went the entire game with an extremely limited backpack all because I took one wrong turn at Albuquerque about an hour after Link got out of bed. And the damnedest thing about all that? I expected as much! Give me an open world with very clear directions for a neophyte player to “follow this route”, Slice an antand I guarantee you I will find some way to wander off the beaten trail. This is why the glowing path is my friend, because I know without some invasive guidance, I am going to meander off to somewhere I shouldn’t be.

And many people will tell you this is the point of open world games. Leave the guides behind, Goggle Bob! You are exploring just like you’re supposed to! But my issue is not that I am somehow playing the game wrong, it is that I am missing things that will make my life easier. I wanted Hestu’s inventory upgrades! I wanted the ability to carry around every elemental sword this side of Koholint! And I could have had it, if somehow I knew to head in Hestu’s direction. I did not want to use a FAQ or strategy guide, because I didn’t want everything ruined, but a gentle nudge in the right direction of something that would improve my life would be nice.

Elden Ring does not do gentle nudges. Elden Ring is the kind of game that sticks its opening tutorial in a pit that looks portentously deadly. Elden Ring is the kind of game where a “helpful” NPC sends you to your death just to see if you would listen to her. Elden Ring is the kind of game where people debate online what exactly “the hug lady” does, and whether she is secretly trying to kill you. Elden Ring is an extremely opaque game, and, while “working with the community” is intended to be part of the experience (an experience that identifies a lot of turtles as dogs, incidentally), the sheer scope of the Lands Between means that it is very difficult to so much as figure out exactly where you are, left alone effectively ask another human being for directions. I need to know what to do at the castle the dude on the overpass told me to clear out. No, not the castle with the knight with the dragon arm. The other castle. No, not the one with the sickly nerds and the moon woman. I think that was a university…

But this isn’t a knock against Elden Ring, because I have felt this way before. Elden Ring gives me the exact same feeling as being a tourist.

This doesn't look goodLook, I come from a touristy area. I know my entire local economy and livelihood relies on the fact that, for a few months every year, a bunch of sunburned malcontents roam the streets and coffee shops looking for some kind of summer loving (even if that “loving” only applies to a love of a particular slice of pizza). And, while I am well aware I would be living in a van by the river if these tourists did not exist, having lived in this area all my life has granted me an obvious, absurd complex regarding the concept of “tourists”. Those monsters come here! And eat at our restaurants! And clog up our roads! And use our ocean! It is irrational (again, none of these things would exist in the first place if it weren’t for the tourists [okay, maybe the ocean would still be there]), but it is something ingrained in my psyche.

So the idea of me, tourist hater extraordinaire, enjoying being a tourist should be hypocritical. And it is! But, like the entire republican party, I am not going to let being a hypocrite get me down. I like being somewhere new. I like seeing new places. I feel bad if I am somewhere on an extremely limited, regimented visit. I want to wander the streets! I want to see the rinky-dink little cafes that haven’t had more than three customers in three years. I want to skip the Paris subway, walk back to the hotel, and find whatever this is…

This is France

That ain’t in no guidebook. If I were to ask a thousand people for directions on what to do in Paris, they would never tell me to cut through that random street, and also find nearby cat campaign posters…

This is Cats

I live for that nonsense. I want to vote for a cat in Paris! That is the best part of sightseeing for me: not seeing all the wonders of the biggest tourist traps, but experiencing all the surprises that aren’t attached to a gift shop. Disney World is great! But let me walk down International Drive and find the absolutely weirdest buffet known to man. It has spaghetti and burritos next to each other? Spread my ashes over that garbage (it is only a marginal health risk compared to some of the other stuff at the buffet).

And, oddly enough, Elden Ring seems to capture that feeling better than any other game. In many open world games, you are continually looking for similar McGuffins. To once again recall Breath of the Wild, if you are doing damn near anything in that universe, you know you are aiming for a new shrine. And this is great for people that like goals, but the world does feel a little smaller when you know lightning dodging or walrus racing is all going to end in the same reward. In Elden Ring? There are dead ends. There are “rewards” that are little more than “look what you found”. You are trying to become the new Elden Lord! And when you explore this newly found dungeon, you will find… skeletons. Or giant ants. Or some weirdo that wants to turn you into a tree for some reason. And your reward for traipsing through this dungeon? Some lore. A weapon you will never use. Absolutely nothing. There is no guaranteed reward for practically anything you do in Elden Ring. I am pretty sure I even murdered a few bosses that offered the incentive of a pat on a back and nothing more. Elden Ring has its own brutal difficulty, but even more than that, it has a brutal world that often seems to contemptuously ask the player, “Enemy slain? So what? You want a trophy?”

Let's go, horse!Then why keep playing? Because there is joy in exploring. There is happiness in being that tourist who is “just visiting”, but can savor an appealing view. In a game where there are clear and omnipresent goals, everyone has the same experience. In a game where anything can happen, people can have exceptionally different encounters. Families have been visiting “tourist traps” for years, but no two people are guaranteed to have had the same experience. Climb to the top of the pyramids, and you might not enjoy it as much as another person nearby munching on a gyro from the Queen of the Nile food truck. In a world where there are not guides, where there is nothing telling you where you “have to be”, you can be a true wandering tourist. And that can be more fun than any kind of “scripted” experience. I do not need to know the name of the freaky dude riding a tiny horse and summoning meteors any more than I “need” to know the name of the guy who painted that mural I loved. I am a tourist right now, and I can enjoy enjoying without having to know everything.

So you can have your challenge or lore or fingers or whatever it is I’m supposed to like about Elden Ring. I’ll be over here, galloping around with Torrent, and taking in the sights. I might not learn anything you would find in a guide, but I am going to have fun seeing what I can see, and discovering what I can discover. I am going to be a tourist in these Lands Between, and I am going to enjoy that experience.

… And maybe I’ll buy a t-shirt later.

FGC #643 Elden Ring

  • System: I technically own the Playstation 4 disc, but I got a Playstation 5 about five minutes later, so that’s mostly where these screenshots are from. Sorry, it appears this is not going to be on Switch anytime soon.
  • Dodge!Number of players: There are thousands of people posting all over the place and occasionally showing up to murder your avatar, but it is an otherwise solitary experience.
  • Give me an explanation: Okay, there is one bit of lore I would be curious about. Why is everything giant? Or, to be particular, why are so many random animals and vermin the same kind of giant? Giant ants are roughly the same size as giant octopi as giant wolves, and that does not scale correctly at all. Why did everything grow to exactly the same size? Don’t say it was “magic”! Everything is magic!
  • Favorite Boss: Give me that Fire Giant any day of the week. Elden Ring bosses have a tendency to have distinct phases, and Fire Giant winds up with a phase where he tears off his own legs in an effort to better crawl-fight you with his immense stomach-face. That is the kind of dedication to a bit I can only admire.
  • Greatest Regret: The opening mentioned The Loathsome Dung Eater, and apparently I missed that dude entirely. This is a shame, as I find it personally offensive to have any piece of media mention “The Loathsome Dung Eater”, and then not have them prominently featured in every minute of the final product. This is storytelling 101, guys.
  • Say something mean: I enjoyed Elden Ring. It is a good game. That said, why are there jumping puzzles? This is not a world that should utilize jumping for anything other than skipping over ruined castle foundations. There should not be floating islands in space that require precise jumping when my character feels like she weighs 1,200 lbs. And do not get me started on giving the horse a double jump. That is not a traditional trait of horses!
  • OwieDid you know? You can tell you are in a FromSoftware world if you cannot conceive of a character complimenting another character’s butt. Elden Ring? Bloodborne? Dark Souls? Name a single speaking NPC in any of those universes that would look at a badonkadonk and be like “You got a great pooper right there”. You can’t. It is impossible.
  • Would I play again: I might organize another trip to the Lands Between in the future. And, hey, there is bound to be some DLC, too, right? Maybe that would be another good excuse…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocky and Rocky Reshrined! The priestess and the raccoon will save the day yet again! With leaves! Please look forward to it!

What is even happening here?

FGC #032 Super Mario Sunshine

Everybody dance nowSuper Mario Sunshine is the story of Mario, Princess Peach, and her entire entourage taking a well-deserved vacation at The Isle of Delfino, a vacation destination apparently appropriate for royalty and a national hero (but not Luigi. Never Luigi). As is usually the case, there’s trouble afoot: Bowser Jr. is disguised as “Shadow Mario” and mucking up this normally sunny island paradise. Mario gains sentient water gun FLUDD and vows to run all over the island and clean up the mess.

But is Isle Delfino worth saving?

One of those great conceits of fiction is being “told” that some thing is the greatest. Karen has written the best book ever, and everyone in the world loves it, but you, the viewer, only ever get to see a sentence or two. The story of a fictional band’s rise to fame is catapulted by an impossibly catchy single that the real audience never gets to hear. We see it all the time without even skipping a beat.

So here’s Isle Delfino, a vacation destination, we’re told, that is so amazing it’s fit for not one, but two royal families simultaneously. Mario, and by extension, the player, has free reign of Isle Delfino during the cleanup project, so, even though Delfino might not be at its best during your visit, you do get to see every nook and cranny of the isle. According to the in-game map, Mario even has access to every last “tourist trap”.

So would Isle Delfino be appropriate for your family vacation? Let’s take a look.

At a glance

We’ve got the Delfino Airstrip, which only seems big enough for a single seaplane. Being cramped into some puddle hopper is not the best way to start your vacation. Then we’ve got transportation around the island, which is… lacking. There are gondolas floating about here and there, but I’m pretty sure the kiddies are going to be bored out of their little heads mindlessly bobbing from spot to spot. And it appears that cars, cabs, jitneys, and tramcars are just right out. These roads are barely wide enough for a plumber, so get used to hoofing it from place to place. Bring comfortable shoes.

Bad ideaShopping
All shopping can be done at Delfino Plaza. Do you like fruit? Well we’ve got lots of fruit! Do you like shopping for anything else? Well, tough pineapples, you’re stuck with fruit. And you better believe customs ain’t letting you take any of that home. Also, there are approximately, what, a total of ten stands? At peak times, you’re going to be stuck waiting in line forever for that durian. And you just know Toadsworth is at the front of the line, holding everyone up with his endless harrumphing haggling. Just buy the damn papaya and be done with it, old man!

The jerk store calledLocal Color
Here’s a tip for all tourists: the locals hate you. You might see yourself as some kind of foreign, benevolent genie to these native people and their strange and primitive culture, spreading your American Money around and boosting everyone’s spirits, but, no, that is decidedly not how the locals see you. You are one of two things: a mark or an annoyance. To everyone below a certain income level, and particularly the youth of an area, you’re a walking, leaking moneybag that needs to be shaken in just the right way to see precious lucre dribble out, and nothing more. The rest of the population, generally the adults and people who can comfortably afford to live year ‘round in “paradise”, see you as something akin to a human-sized gnat: an overly large, buzzing irritation that makes a usually twenty minute trip to market last two hours because all of you people decided to clump up and forget how to purchase a banana.

The local Piantas are no different. Hell, we’re talking about a group of people that arrested an international hero about three seconds after he got off the boat. Sure, they act friendly, but that’s just the Piantas hoarding coins to acquire those imported green mushrooms. Visit Pianta Village at your own risk, less you get hurled from some massive mushroom and into the abyss.

Hoses are standing byLodging
Sirena Beach is home to Hotel Delfino, apparently the only Hotel on the island. Unless you’re a big fan of “rustic”, you’re going to be stuck paying exorbitant rates and booking years in advance for the only game in town. Speaking of games, Hotel Delfino has a casino, which is definitely a plus. A significant minus, though, is that the hotel is very, very haunted. Ghosts aren’t normally much of an active issue for most people, but it does raise an alarming number of questions. What happened at Hotel Delfino to inspire so many angry spirits? Could it happen again? And what’s with the red X’s painted on the walls? That is paint… right?

The hills are aliveYour rural alternative is Bianco Hills, offering some very cozy villas in the shadow of a number of windmills. Here’s another travel tip: the concept of rentable cabins is code for “if anybody from here actually wanted to stay in this spot, our ancestors would have built real houses here centuries ago”. You get to stay by the lake with the sashaying sentient cacti, and we’ll be back at home with the non-homicidal mushrooms. Feel free to use the lake for fishing, we’ve nearly exterminated the piranha population.

Isle Delfino doesn’t have to just rely on tourism, as it contains a booming shipping port at Ricco Harbor. This is great for Isle Delfino’s residents, but maybe not so great for visitors. I can’t imagine the joy of finally securing a room at Hotel Delfino, only to be awakened by a tanker’s bullhorn as it pulls into port at dawn. There’s also a juice bottling plant in the area, which, assuming it’s low on emissions, isn’t too terrible… until you remember that this kind of thing attracts the unique, tropical, water-solvent Yoshi tribe. Which horror would you like to explain to Little Timmy: “Yes, Timmy, all of our food and possessions have been eaten by a rampaging lizard,” or, “Sorry, Timmy, sometimes loveable dinosaurs just dissolve into oblivion on contact”? Either is a conversation you get to avoid when you just go to Disney World, where enchanting characters rarely die screaming.

Just gorgeous... but be carefulNatural Wonders
Noki Bay is a wonderful natural cove perfect for scuba diving and observing a waterfall that would put Niagara to shame. There are also no guardrails. At all. But you can balance yourself across tightropes to perfect vantage points that are incidentally moss covered rocks. This is as good a place as any to note that there appears to be absolutely no hospitals anywhere on Isle Delfino, which may be a blessing, as we have no idea what a health care system would even look like when it’s run by a bunch of creatures that evolved from palm trees. Hope nearby Cancer Island (official motto: “Like the crab!”) has a few medevac helicopters available, or remember to buy a family-set of helmets before leaving home.

Corona Mountain is also available for any budding volcanologists in your troop. Let’s see if there’s any…


Nope. Not going there. Not going there ever again.

DO NOT TOUCHLet’s Go to the Beach!
The previously mentioned Sirena Beach is probably your best bet, as it’s easily within walking distance of your only viable lodging and a juice bar (and if you can remember the shape of a Gamecube controller, you’ll never get lost), but Gelato Beach is also available. Gelato Beach certainly has more space than Sirena Beach, which is a boon during the peak season, but it’s also downwind from giant, grassy cliffs. I’ll forgive you for not being a beachologist (not a thing), but that kind of geography generally leads to a grand number of critters infesting the beach, like raccoons and wigglers. Also, nearby cliffs are just perfect for an overeager high tide to completely decimate any and all tanning locations. So, all in all, it’s a great beach, but only if you hit it at the exact right second when it’s not overcrowded, swarming with vermin, or washed out. If that all works out, here’s a gentle reminder to roll into that Hotel Delfino Casino.

Swingin' FunRides
Pinna Park is Isle Delfino’s premium amusement park. Accessible only through cannon (!), Pinna Park boasts upwards of ten or so rides that are sure to entertain the kiddies for maybe a half hour before they whine about never wanting to ride the stupid clamshells ever again. And then it’s time to cannon on back to the mainland, because this park is teeny tiny, and you can’t just sit around eating popcorn for the rest of the day. It seems like a theme park would be a shoo-in for innovative ideas in Rosalina’s Universe, where even the regal Princess Peach has an elaborate secret slide hidden in her castle, but, no, a couple of whirligigs and a roller coaster, and those lazy Pinatas called it a day. Salvage fun for minutes at a time at Pinna Park!

Book your trip now!
Or don’t. Isle Delfino might be a neat spot for an adventure, but you’re going to get nothing but whining from your imaginary backseat the entire time you’re there. Sure, the theme parks and beaches sound appealing, but they’re just not made for a relaxing time. Know what might be fun? Why not hit Dinosaur Land? At least they’re not putting on airs. You know where you stand with Reznor.

FGC #32 Super Mario Sunshine

  • System: Nintendo Gamecube, though I’d really like to note other systems here, Nintendo, hint hint.
    Number of players: Just one dude with a talking water blaster.
  • Dozing offMaybe actually talk about the game for a second? Isle Delfino might be an appalling vacation destination, but it’s a wonderful place to set a Mario game. I acknowledge that Sunshine is not the best of the Mario oeuvre from an objective perspective, but, to me, it’s one of my favorite games to just pick up and play and run around and just have fun with various FLUDD nozzles. If Nintendo ever breaks out some kind of virtual reality/holodeck hardware, this would be the first game I’d like to just be “in”.
  • But blue coins are still terrible, right? Oh, the worst. This might be the only Mario game I haven’t 100%’ed, and those stupid things are why.
  • Would you like to save your game? Shut-up.
  • Favorite Level? Something about the layout/flow of this game makes all the stages blend together in my head. That said, I’ll choose the one that stands out the most: Pinna Park. Yes, it would be a stupid place to spend an actual day, but something about Mario leaping across swinging pirate ships just feels… right. Sonic got an entire game set inside an amusement park, why not Mario?
  • Favorite incidental detail: I could bounce on Toadsworth’s head for days.
  • Did you know? This is the first real Mario game to feature full voice acting. Why do I note “real”? Well, technically, the first Mario game with this feature was Hotel Mario, and the first rule of Mario Club is we don’t talk about Hotel Mario. Though kind of amusing that both games involve hotels…
  • Would I play again? I have a tendency to boot this game up about once a Summer, and had even played it a little bit back in June when I was making sure my Gamecube was still functioning after being wiiplaced for a number of years. Good news, everything is alright, and Mario is still jumping and sliding around like a champ. Did I say, “yes” yet? Yes.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… A Boy and his Blob. NES or Wii version? Well, grab some jellybeans, and find out in a couple days. Please look forward to it!