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FGC #655 Final Fantasy 6: Part 5

Final Fantasy 6 is one of my favorite games, so we are going to have seven different articles about Final Fantasy 6 over the course of three weeks. This week, there will be articles on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and then the finale next Wednesday (just to be confusing). The Wild Arms 3 Let’s Play will resume on July 17. Now we continue Final Fantasy 6 coverage with…

Let us gaze into the face of madness.

So a while back, I saw this tweet on the ol’ bird app…

Bwa ha ha

So this is a comment where Amano compares Final Fantasy 6’s Kefka to Batman’s Joker. This is significant, as Amano is an artist that has professionally drawn Batman before, and, despite all odds, his Batman did not look like a wispy dude with white hair. As everyone knows, Amano was cursed by a nefarious djinn from the 5th dimension to be an amazing artist that can only draw wispy people with white hair, and it was only in drawing Batman that the spell was broken. So believe me when I say that Amano knows what he is talking about when he references Batman lore.

Bwa ha haNow, the Joker has been many things since he first premiered in 1940, from “clown prince of crime” to a gangster that just really likes murdering people. He is a character that has appeared in comics, videogames, television shows, and movies (many of which included an unusually high number of boomboxes). And what has been consistent through these eighty years of Joker? He’s crazy! While Bruce Wayne isn’t out there every night with a psychiatrist in tow (that’s Dr. Strange’s job… or maybe Scarecrow… dang does Bats have a lot of doctor villains…), it is generally accepted that Joker’s superpower is either being completely insane, or some kind of “super sane” that allows him to break the fourth wall and identify Deadpool as a crossover character. Whatever the case, we are all firmly confident that The Joker is the fictional definition of nuts, and it is only the mentally stable billionaire running around all night in a bat suit that can save us from the insanity.

So, since Amano made the comparison, we must ask ourselves: is Kefka Palazzo insane?

Let us begin with his origin story. The scuttlebutt amongst the rabble at Vector is that Kefka had his “mind shattered” when he became the first magitek knight. Long before Celes or the entire army wound up with esper-infusions, Cid used Kefka as his guinea pig, and the process… did not work out correctly. Kefka gained some meager magic (ice and poison seem to be his preferred moves), but was never the same since. Given Kefka was magically powerful, but mentally compromised, he was immediately kicked out of the Vector forces, and damned to wander the world alone and broken.

Oh… No… Wait. That didn’t happen. What happened was that Kefka was promoted to high general of the imperial forces, a position apparently only ever held by three people.

So Kefka made out okay.

Looking hot

This is one of the first and most important points we must note: whatever is “wrong” with Kefka? Gestahl was totally into it. Random NPCs will elaborate on Kefka’s tragic origins, but Gestahl? He never makes so much as a peep about Kefka being anything but an ideal general. His only moment of dissent is during the banquet, when he notes that Kefka has been locked up for his crimes against Doma Castle. But we learn about an hour later that every bit of Kefka’s punishment was a feint, and Gestahl has never not supported the “court mage”. And for further evidence that Kefka has always been supported by Gestahl, look no further than Gestahl seeing his first “experimental” magitek soldier off cackling in the corner, and then telling Cid to make more Kefkas. According to Gestahl’s marginally homicidal machinations, it is only by the grace of a good scientist in a yellow raincoat that the formula saw improvements, and Locke’s future girlfriend didn’t turn out as murderous as ol’ frilly collar.

There can be entire armies of Gestahlian forces skulking around and muttering about how they think their superior officer is nuttier than a squirrel’s breakfast burrito, but the big boss of the organization is handing out promotions for anyone “crazy enough” to laugh about having his shoes shined in the desert.

So much dirt

So screw the official timeline, how are we first introduced to Kefka? Well, he’s right there in Terra’s first flashback, and he is presented not only as the reason she is wearing a “slave collar” (a device so heinous that its name speaks for itself), but also someone who stood around while she committed unwilling murder and screamed for her to “burn up everything”. After that, we see him live and in person for his visit to Figaro Castle where he ultimately decides to… burn up everything. And lest we think all of the soldiers in his service think he’s a maniac, there seem to be more than a few brown hats that are enjoying the Figaro BBQ. So this “he’s crazy” thinking is not unanimous among the Vector citizenry. Sure, there is some dissent here and there, but, in the court of opinion of his ostensible underlings, he is more regarded as a lousy boss than anything else.

This is gonna end poorly

How about amongst Kefka’s peers? General Leo is the obvious counterpart to Kefka, as he is not only a general of matching rank to Kefka, but is distinctly in charge of the siege of Doma before Kefka takes over. Does Leo disparage Kefka in Doma? Well, he does not seem to trust him, but he also willingly concedes his beloved troops to the guy in the jester costume. And when Kefka poisons every last soul in Doma to win that war and hear the sweet music of hundreds of voices screaming in unison, what was Leo doing? Who knows! But what’s important is that Leo doesn’t come riding back to rectify the situation. Hell, he (eventually) apologizes to Cyan for what happened, but does he personally punish Kefka in any way? Nope. Ever the consummate soldier, Leo doesn’t approve of Kefka, but doesn’t do a thing to stop him at any point, either.

Well, until Leo finally grows a spine, but that gets him killed immediately. So who is the crazy one here? The mage conquering the world with unspeakable magics, or the knight that finally decided to challenge ultimate power exactly when that power became ultimate. The answer is written on the front of Leo’s grave.

This ends poorly

And Celes? It is never 100% confirmed, but the best explanation for Celes being marked as a traitor in South Figaro is that she was a little too loose-lipped with Kefka’s “kill ‘em all and let the Triad sort ‘em out” plan. How did Celes learn of Kefka’s rotten ambitions? Eh, Kefka probably told her during some random Vector function in between recounting how funny he found episodes of Rick and Morty (“And then he says ‘I turned myself into a pickle,’ funniest shit I’ve ever seen, Celes”), but Celes had the damned lack of sense to tell an adult, and she was punished for it. Who would she have told? The only commander of these knuckleheads, Gestahl, of course! And this is further evidence that Kefka has unlimited support for his plotting, and anyone that gets in his way is punished by the highest echelons of power. And when they are finally in the same room/Magitek Factory again, Kefka screws with Celes because he knows he can. He is not trying to trick the Returners into believing their new friend is a traitor, he just wants to pick on his female coworker again. Perfectly sane, terribly dickish behavior. And Kefka’s outburst on the Floating Continent when Celes definitively fights back and makes him bleed? Typical abuser activity of being shocked when their victim is pushed to fight back. Even when the literal fate of the world is on the line, Kefka cannot imagine his prey fighting back against him.

Thanks, dad

And speaking of the end of the world and Kefka’s prey, the bad general has been laser focused on the espers and Triad for some time. Even before most of the cast knows that the Triad exists, Kefka is ranting to the empty halls of the Magitek Factory that he wants to reawaken the warring gods that once nearly destroyed the world. Then, when he leads a raiding party to the Esper Gate, he claims “Mercy is for wimps” and demands his soldiers slaughter the magical creatures that were just minding their own business. So don’t worry, kiddies, Kefka wants to see the deaths of humans and magical beings equally! He’s ruthless… but all of this is unwritten Vector protocol. After all, Gestahl stomped through those same gates a couple decades back and kidnapped a baby. And that was just on the hunch that the green-haired tyke might work out in helping him conquer the world.

And do we need to address Thamasa? Is that when Kefka’s assault on the espers finally cracks the “genocide” mark? You sure don’t see a lot of espers flying around the World of Ruin…

Show no mercy

But it’s the relationship between Gestahl and Kefka that we must return to before the world ends. Your party fights the Vector Air Force on your way onto the Floating Continent, but you know what you don’t fight once you land there? Any Vector soldiers. There are monsters creeping about, and at least one ancient creature of untold destruction, but Gestahl left his army at home for this mission. The only man Gestahl trusted to follow Terra back to the Esper Gate was Kefka (Kefka explains that he is there because, “just like the Emperor said…”), and it was Kefka that was tasked with attacking Thamasa while Gestahl’s “public relations team” was distracted with diplomatic matters. So once again, Gestahl only brings Kefka to the Floating Continent to witness the Warring Triad in action. And, while Gestahl is rewarded for this trust by hitting the ground with all the force of a Link that forgot he had a paraglider, it is a clear statement of how the man that was the whole empire up until that point trusted Kefka implicitly. Kefka betrayed everyone in his immediate area across the whole of Final Fantasy 6 seemingly for Gestahl, so maybe we can forgive the monarch for not expecting to be betrayed just the same as everybody else.

And what does Kefka do after murdering the one guy that had complete faith in him? He feels bad about it forever.


Now, I can hear objections to that statement immediately. After all, what Kefka does after killing Gestahl is purposely unbalance the Warring Triad, and cause destruction across the globe. Continents are torn asunder, families are ripped apart, and I’m pretty sure that one gossipy old lady in Thamasa straight up dies (you know the one). And then, once Kefka has absorbed enough power from the Triad, he creates his new home in the center of universal ruin.

And damned if that thing ain’t an enormous monument to his old boss.

“Hey, Kefka, I’m the voice inside your head that does everything with your omnipotent powers. Think of me as a magical Clippy the Paperclip. What would you like to do today?”
“Well, I’ll create a tower where I can rule the world.”
“Great! Where will it be?”
“How about in the middle of the same continent with Tzen and Albrook?”
“So basically where Vector was?”
“I guess.”
“And you have access to all the material on the planet…”
“Let’s build this place out of ruins of the old world.”
“Brilliant! Like what?”
“Well, how about some distinct pieces of the Magitek Factory…”
“From Vector…”
“And the old Imperial Palace…”
“From Vector…”
“And… that’s all I can think of.”
“Fine. Alright. And what kind of monsters will be here?”
“Well, the Warring Triad of course.”
“Great! Those guys have nothing to do with Vector!”
“… And the Guardian from Vector… and a color swap of that one guy from the Magitek Factory… And some more giant robots from the Vector army…”
“And I want there to be a random creature called the Vector Lythos.”
“And put the Ultima Buster in my old Vector prison cell. I had some good laughs in that place.”

Bwa ha ha

So yeah, Kefka is nuts. Nuts about how much he misses Vector!

And thus we are left to examine Kefka’s actions after Celes successfully poisons her grandpa. In the World of Ruin, Kefka uses his Light of Judgment on exactly one (1) house in one (1) town, and… that’s it. Every other challenge that your party faces is either the result of Kefka’s initial destruction of the world, or the one other time the Light of Judgment torched a town. Did Kefka not like the price of Dried Meat at Mobliz? We never learn why that town got so obliterated. Thamasa, Doma, or Figaro would have been more relevant targets, but Mobliz takes the brunt. And we do know all the “ancient evil” monsters stalking around the world were released incidentally by the planet being torn open, and not because Kefka decided Doomgaze needed to stretch his wings. There is never even any evidence that Kefka is aware there is an entire Cult of Kefka building a tower in his image! Those fanatics could be the bootleg Ricky Rouses of the New Palazzo Empire!

Stay in your boxKefka doesn’t even say a word in the World of Ruin until the party pours into his deepest apartment (his bedroom? Kitchen? … Floating rock pondering chamber?). Then he admits that he was waiting for everybody to show up, and his latest belief system is heavily based on the kind of nihilism that comes from ultimate power. He is the god of this world now, nothing matters, he can play around with his death laser at will, yada yada yada, everybody should just give up now. Not unlike his confrontation with Celes a year back, though, he launches into a tantrum the minute the party doesn’t immediately capitulate to his convictions. Though, what did he think was going to happen? He created a world that was a monument to suffering kinda by accident, but he deliberately placed himself at the center of literally the world’s longest and most tedious escape room. Anybody that had the guts to make it through three intersecting paths of devious puzzles and deadly monsters was obviously going to have some drive to survive, so of course he was immediately rebuffed when he claimed that there was nothing worth living for in this fallen world. Relm found something worth living for! It was a rainbow paintbrush you stuffed in a chest a couple rooms back! She’s gotta survive to try that out!

So maybe because he truly was a heartless nihilist, or maybe because he didn’t think his plan through to its logical endpoint, Kefka goes out with a whimper. Sure, he built his brand-new three-part statue with pieces of the Blackjack and hookers (that is to say, at least one figure equipped with hooks), but once you actually face Kefka mono a mono, he falls pretty easily and quietly. He says something like “the end comes through chaos” or “the end draws near”, and then he just… ends. No desperate parting words, no final laugh; just a crumble to dust. He’s as empty and weak as his beliefs, and now he’s gone for good (along with all magic, his tower, and at least a couple of Strago’s newest drinking buddies). That’s it for the big bad.

Here he comes to die

What’s the verdict? We have hard evidence that Kefka displays a lack of emotional maturity, and has the temper of a toddler. Hell, you could even claim his “final form” at the World of Ruin is just a man-child leveling up to his man-teenager (lack of) maturity. He is even doing that “goth phase” nonsense of perverting Christian symbolism for no good reason. And his many sins back in the World of Balance? Well, 90% of those actions were all for the doting support of Emperor Gestahl, with the final 10% disapproval only occurring when Kefka kicked the guy off a continent. Our little boy is growing up and becoming more independent! So this portrays a Kefka that is not crazy, just immature for his age (damn near 40). He seeks approval. He lashes out when he feels threatened. He sees other people as mere playthings. He is homicidally immature, and enabled by the emperor of a country. The real bad guy never sees the true scope of the damage he has wrought on the world…

And Kefka? He is perfectly sane. He is no Joker, he’s just a joke.

… That happened to conquer the world.

So, uh, sorry, Gotham City’s scourge. You have a lot to live up to.

Next time on Final Fantasy 6: Potpourri.

That freak
You ever wonder if this soldier is still around to see Kefka rule the world?

FGC #655 Final Fantasy 6: Part 2

Final Fantasy 6 is one of my favorite games, so we are going to have seven different articles about Final Fantasy 6 over the course of the next three weeks. We’ll have two weeks of articles on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and then the finale the following Wednesday (just to be confusing). The Wild Arms 3 Let’s Play will resume on July 17. Now we continue Final Fantasy 6 coverage with…

Sing alongPoints to the audience
“Okay! I need a place, and a profession!”
Makes an exaggerated “listening” motion with my hand and ear
“I think I heard ‘opera’ and…’magitek general’? Sounds good!”

Full confession: I have never much cared for the opera of Final Fantasy 6. I feel like I’ve been told, literally since its release, that Final Fantasy 6’s opera is the lynchpin of the game, and the central set piece of the whole enterprise. And… dang… it has just never clicked for me.


This game released when I was 12 or so. I remember being 12 and playing this game, so damn space and time if I was somehow younger or older at that point. And when I was 12, for reasons I do not immediately recall, I thought musicals were objectively bad. Again, no idea where this idea came from (though I have a sneaking suspicion that my mother’s love of Andrew Lloyd Webber was involved), but I was of the belief that if someone burst into song, the writers/producers/whatever were “reaching”, and this was their last attempt at holding the audience’s attention (it was a weirdly specific belief for a 12-year-old, but these things happen). So I distinctly recall being betrayed when I discovered (in the theater!) that The Nightmare Before Christmas was a musical, and similarly being upset at the opera of Final Fantasy 6. I was convinced that my favorite medium was now going to be all singing, all dancing, and I would be stuck on the outside of what was my only safe digital outlet. There are bad things coming!

I like knightsMind you, this was all BS from top to bottom. I eventually got over my distaste for the concept of musicals (mostly thanks to Sondheim), gaming and Final Fantasy did not become the last bastion of singing, and, amusingly enough, I’m pretty sure my favorite “forgotten” genre now is the narrative-based rhythm game (Gitaroo-Man! PaRappa! We need you now more than ever). Typing out this entire paragraph has been doubly amusing since devoting 1,000,000,000 hours of the last few months to Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, which… ya know. You can see the irony!

But my point is that, right from the beginning, this opera left a bad impression on my young sense of self.


Similarly, there is and always has been some broken part of my brain that is convinced I am going to be asked to be Tom Cruise sometime within the next five minutes. I blame the dang teevee, but I have always had a pathological fear of being The Best Actor Ever, but somehow flubbing/forgetting my lines. This is partially due to the fact that I have a lousy memory for objective facts (ask me to recite multiplication tables and I will punch you), and partially because of some internal fear that I could be really successful if I only could do one vague task. Over the course of the last nearly thirty years since Final Fantasy 6, I have been in less than five actual stage productions, starred in a whole one (1) play in high school, and I have never had any particular issue with “memorizing lines”. That said, there is still some version of that “underwear dream” floating around my head, and memorizing the script for Celes still causes anxiety. I used to know that libretto by heart… but now the Woolsey translation is out of date, and I still have anxiety to this day (well, like two days ago) about disappointing Locke and choosing the wrong text prompt. Oh! And then the part immediately after the singing! In the original, you have to dance with Dario, and I am still not 100% sure what you are supposed to do with the crosspad so it counts as “right”. In the Pixel Remaster, there is some kind of “press A now” prompt, and I guess you are supposed to press A immediately? Or maybe you’re supposed to wait? I just know I screwed it up on my first go on this playthrough, and I had to repeat the whole sequence from the start with no explanation of exactly what I did wrong.

Point is that the “gameplay” of the opera vexes me to this day for various reasons.


ShinyI don’t get the opera. Is the “fiction” plot of the opera supposed to somehow parallel the “real” plot of the game? The East vs West setting of the opera doesn’t seem appropriate; Final Fantasy 6 never has a clear “other” fighting the Empire aside from a loose collection of “Returners”. Every other country seems to be turtling in one way or another. The whole “woman waiting for her main to return from war” thing is weirdly unrelated, too, as I cannot immediately recall any prominent character in FF6 that fits that description, gender flipped or not. Maybe Locke? I mean, something that I latched onto like a baby lizard when I first played FF6 was that it wasn’t a typical love story, and the basic concept of Celes and Terra both trying to find if they even could love was a lot more appealing to me as a preteen (a kid that thought the concept of romance was for other, cooler people). Putting “Maria” in this position where she has loved and lost seems at odds with how the majority of the cast probably hasn’t even kissed anybody at this point in their lives.

To wit aside:

· Terra: No kissing
· Celes: No kissing
· Edgar: All talk, no kissing
· Sabin: No kissing (his own biceps do not count)
· Banon: Maybe had a wild youth, but I’m not buying it. No kissing
· Gau: Not unless it’s an enemy skill
· Cyan: Obviously had some kissing. However always had the weird overarching tone that he watched his entire family die on screen, but is still most often a comic relief character

Locke actually has loved and lost, and the game treats that seriously, but the finale for the opera seems to portray our favorite thief treasure hunter as someone more on the goofy side of things rather than the audience member that resonates with the story.

Good catfishingAnd once you get past all that, I keep coming back to the idea that The Opera’s “seriousness” was the Final Fantasy writers taking the piss out of other, older stories. Look! There is Celes playing the typical part of a damsel in distress, forced to marry another man while her warrior betrothed is lost on the battlefield. And you, audience, know we’re better than that, right? Celes is actually a kickass general! All of our women in FF6 are not pining “opera floozies” like Maria, they studied the blade!

As such, I get the impression that the authors either wanted to outline how “our heroines are different”, or (less charitable interpretation incoming) take a comical break to “embarrass” their Strong Female Character by forcing her to be a girly-girl for a scene or two (whether it is because she is “playing” the damsel, or she is doing this whole thing to somehow impress Locke). Either way, the only hypothesis that seems concrete is that there is a “couldn’t be more different” parallel between Celes and the character she is being forced to play.

Basically, this point is that I don’t get the point, and I never have. Or maybe I do get the point, and I don’t like it.

Note that I would still prefer this “version” of the opera to a hypothetical version that would exist if Final Fantasy 6 was somehow released later in the Final Fantasy lineage (like sometime after Final Fantasy 9), when, inevitably, the writers would just make “the opera story” a retelling of Final Fantasy 3 or something.

Additional Note: Don’t know if this is intentional on the latter game’s part, but this whole scenario reminds me deeply of the bit in Persona 5 where Ann finds her center and becomes a kick ass phantom thief… and the next scenario involves her male teammates practically selling her into a situation where she is forced to model for a creepy pervert-artist that is obsessed with her “aesthetics”. I don’t know. I hate the trope of “you’re a useful party member, but you’re the only one here with breasts, so suck it up, buttercup, time to be exploited”.


Another octo appearanceAll that said, I come back now to praise the opera. I love the Ultros segment. I love that they set up this whole silly scenario to “trap” Setzer who has already made it known that he is going to interrupt the proceedings, and, somehow, a malevolent octopus gets involved to further muddy the waters. So rarely do stories have the guts to just throw a bunch of random events together into the complete chaos that ensues. Does Setzer even notice that things have gone horribly awry while he is kidnapping “Maria”? If Ultros was successful, and everyone had to spend the rest of the night scraping Celes chunks off the stage, would Setzer kidnap the real Maria some other night? Are the rats in the rafters Ultros minions, or does this opera house have a serious problem with man-sized rodents? Everything ramps up to eleven immediately after the “serious” opera, and I sometimes wonder if that was the “point”. Final Fantasy 6 generally takes itself seriously, and the fact that you can “fail” the opera while playing as Celes tells me that the producers wanted you to pay attention for a serious opera here. But maybe that’s a feint? Maybe the seriousness is all setup for the punchline of Locke and Ultros becoming impromptu stars at the last minute? Whatever! All I know is that BBQing octopi on the main stage is a highlight.


And to say something unerringly positive about the whole affair: despite not personally liking it, I acknowledge that the opera scene is where Final Fantasy became Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy 6 is a product of its time. And a significant part of that? Final Fantasy 6 is not comfortable when it isn’t a “battle game”.

Eat alongRecall “The Emperor’s Feast”. Something I always remember more fondly than the Opera is the bit after the Espers wreck Vector, and the Returners are invited to a dinner with Emperor Gestahl. This is fun and unprecedented in an RPG of the time, because, prior to Final Fantasy 6, if you had a problem with the evil emperor, you hit him with swords until he became a God of Hell. The concept that you are going to have a diplomatic meeting with a warring country is great, particularly when half your party seems to be kings and fallen kingdom survivors (And Gau. Don’t take him to dinner). The results of the dinner are organic with the plot (South Figaro and Doma are almost always liberated as a diplomatic showing of good faith), and you can even earn extra fun items if the Emperor “likes you” by the end. However, the whole sequence is super-duper videogame: before the dinner, you are asked to run around the castle and talk to soldiers, occasionally instigating fights. Once you are at dinner, you get a whole three questions in, and Gestahl asks if you want to take a break. If you take a breather, you can instigate another series of fights. And it’s a sign of the times that, basically, the producers only had full confidence that you were playing this game to engage with the (awesome) Final Fantasy battle system, and the idea of “talking” through an event was probably going to be ignored. This is in stark contrast to modern game design, where your average Persona title involves about seventeen hours of advancing conversations before your first battle, and dungeons are punctuated with opportunities to enjoy wannabe dating sims. Mind you, I’m just punching down to Persona again here, but Final Fantasy itself has gotten into a routine wherein you can go long swaths of game without what was considered “the game” back in 1994. And that wouldn’t be possible on the SNES just due to a lack of confidence that was earned here at the opera house. There is audience participation, and the timed battle event immediately thereafter, but the opera scenes are basically just “sit back and watch this part”, and that somehow became one of the most iconic parts of this game (if not the genre as a whole).

For better or worse, I don’t see the deep tales of Xenosaga or Final Fantasy 10 without the confidence earned here in Final Fantasy 6. There is a reason the characters of FF6 are shallow compared to their metaphorical descendants, and it is because every character-rich scene was only ever ten seconds away from a fight with lizard-chickens. The certainty of getting away from an RPG just being a battle-delivery service started with Celes in a fancy dress.

So, hey, sing it again, Celes.

Next time on Final Fantasy 6: We all make choices.

Another good scene

FGC #649 E.V.O.: Search for Eden

LETS EVOE.V.O.: Search for Eden is an excellent Super Nintendo title that sees a generic “lifeform” evolve from a meager fish to the dominant species on Earth (if you are reading this, I am talking about you). It was an unusually ambitious title for 1992, and, with a protagonist that could grow and evolve in so many different ways, it made “Mario can wear a cape” look like clownshoes. But, while you can evolve through a variety of forms and shapes in E.V.O.: Search for Eden, you cannot evolve into everything. You are limited by the preprogrammed choices available, and if you want to evolve into an elephant for a period longer than a few minutes, too bad. So what are some evolutions that could have made E.V.O. better? Well…

Location-Based Variation

Here we goOur good friend Charles Darwin got the whole evolutionary theory going thanks to visiting the Galapagos Islands nearly 200 years ago. Basically, he saw a bunch of birds and lizards bobbing about, but, from island to island, they all had biological advantages that were specific to the conditions of their private islands. This jumpstarted the theory of biology adapting to specific environments, and toddled down the trail to evolution as we know it today. Unfortunately, E.V.O. does not reinforce Charlie’s elite beliefs. The best jaws are the best jaws if you are in the ice and snow or a desert, and the best jumping legs do not care if you are on a cliff or a plain. What’s more, the most effective way to eat your meats is always a meager press of the A button, and not adapting a prehensile tongue to slurp out snacks. Adapting to individual situations is exactly what evolution is all about, so it is disappointing that all we get here are a series of evolutions with price tags that are just like buying the best armor in Dragon Quest. This would be the best excuse for why we need an E.V.O. 2.


Look!  A crab!Everything must become crab.

You have seen a crab before, right? They are those red things that Mario fought that one time. Big ol’ pincers, flat little body, and a bunch of skittering legs that carry their crabby selves all over the place. Well, it has been determined that carcinisation is real and powerful, and, given enough time, nearly every crustacean just goes ahead and evolves into a crab form. Hermit crabs used to be little spider-looking dudes, but they went whole hog on the crab to become king crabs. Hairy stone crab figured out camouflage and how to be a decent crab. And even squat lobsters apparently made the jump to be porcelain crabs when they decided crab was the way to go. Crab-shaped is the inevitable and enviable goal of so many creatures out there, but crab-form is wholly unobtainable in E.V.O. Where mah crabs at!?

Luck of the Spineless

E.V.O.: Search for Eden starts with a lifeform that has just become a fish. From there, the basic sequence of fish – amphibian – lizard – bird – mammal is followed. And, while you do battle a Queen Bee (and her less dangerous mate), you never get to dip a toe into the insect kingdom. What’s more, you aren’t allowed to transform into a single creature without a spine, so spineless monsters like spiders, squids, and President Donald Trump are all completely unavailable. And, despite level 1 being entirely underwater, this includes an awful lot of marine life. You could make an entire game out of a create-a-character where you can customize a nautilus shell, or base an adventure on the exploits of a horseshoe crab. … Dangit! We’re back to crabs again. Need to get away from those.

Viral Evolution

Virii may be involved hereHere is a branch devoid of crabs! E.V.O. starts too early, as the Ocean of Origin with its bespined fishies is far too late in lifeform development. How about we work our way up from some amoebas? And, hell, that would make a whole lot more sense within the framework of E.V.O., as breeding is wholly ignored on this evolutionary journey. Every upgrade is simply purchased, and you don’t have to spend a half hour wooing Mrs. Weird Horn Monster with Angry Jaws. But amoeba would be great for that kind of gameplay! You can just cellularly divide at will, and spend your EVO points at will as you do it. And, hey, maybe society at large needs a reminder on how viruses can change and mutate over time, as I seem to recall that has been relevant to current events of late.

Best Birds

FLAP FLAPIt is a “secret”, but you can become a bird in E.V.O. In fact, given the mammalian upgrade is optional, with a little skill, you can steer a bird creature straight from prehistory to the Garden of Eden. And, while the aerial advantage is always… uh advantageous, the bird options are limited. Practically every evolution is limited to influencing your flying ability (with strength and size being the only other options) and every other potential route in the universe falls by the wayside. And this makes sense, because this is a 2-D action game, and granting the power of flight sends the traditional gameplay balances off the side of a cliff. But! Real-life birds are not just about flight or beak strength, they are about aesthetics. There are some damn pretty birds out there, and it is a tremendous missed opportunity that you cannot peacock-out by transforming into a flamingo. The blue crowned pigeon is right over there being majestic, but forever out of reach.


Everybody knows that the ultimate goal of all evolution is to become a mermaid, and…

swimmy swimmy

Oh. Well. I guess E.V.O.: Search for Eden gets some things right.

FGC #649 E.V.O.: Search for Eden

  • System: Super Nintendo. If it is anything else, you are thinking about a different game.
  • Number of players: Evolution should not be such a solitary activity.
  • Favorite Temporary Evolution: You can turn into a dragon in the secret cloud area of dinosaur times. This looks radical… but there isn’t anything around to actually attack in that bonus stage. A temporary dragon powerup that cannot be used for anything is a crime that should be punished thoroughly.
  • More like the Ass AgeFavorite Age: The age of the stegosaurus feels like a point where the game opens up, as you can be a terrible thunder lizard, or find the secret area that grants bird powers. And, unfortunately, that much variety is never seen in E.V.O. again, as the only choice you’ll see later is the mammal upgrade, and, come on, who would choose not to be a mammal? You’re a human playing this videogame! You know how this thing is supposed to end!
  • For the sequel: While those waters are muddier than a mudskipper’s natural habitat, E.V.O. is basically a sequel to the PC-98 game 46 Okunen Monogatari ~The Shinka Ron~ ( 4.6 Billion Year Story: The Theory of Evolution). That sucker never had an official translation, and is basically a JRPG that borders dangerously on the territory of visual novels. That said, it is arguably a more interesting game, as you are directly standing against Lucifer, who is portrayed here as either a pretty blonde lady or a spider. Oh, and you have less control over your evolution (more just stat manipulation ala Final Fantasy Adventure), and your ultimate evolution will be a humanoid elf. Elves fighting the devil on the moon is the finale, which I am pretty sure was something Darwin himself predicted.
  • An end: Speaking of endings, the finale of E.V.O. sees whatever your creature happens to be being accepted by Sexy Mother Gaia and ushered into Eden. The implication from there seems to be that “you” will be the basis for whatever substitutes for the human race on this version of the world (you are distinctly granted man’s intelligence… even though there was never any indication you were anything but the smartest thing around anyway). As a child, I was always disappointed that this did not lead to a custom “the end” graphic with your armored jaw-monster walking around a modern city wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase.
  • Watch it, buddy: Oh yes, this article was inspired by the recent Even Worse Stream of E.V.O., featuring Dallas of Take That Darwin as a special guest commentator.

    Original Stream Night: November 8, 2022

    If you can believe it, I have been trying (poorly) to get that stream together for the site since roughly 2019. I am slow!

  • Did you know? According to BEAT, the subtypes of evolution are, “you know, mermaidloution, marvevolution, crabforming, triple reverse crabforming, your basic micromaloevolution subsets, apeforming (v rare), alolan forms, smolboiing, etc etc.” You should listen to him. He is a scientist.
  • Would I play again: E.V.O. is a lot of fun… when you cheat your way into infinite evo points. When you don’t do that, the fun is hampered somewhat by looping 2-screen wide levels repeatedly as you eat the meatiest monsters available over and over again. But a version of this game without grinding thanks to a Game Genie is pretty alright! So I’ll play it again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Haunting Starring Polterguy for the Sega Genesis! Let’s get our Halloween content out of the way right here in January! Please look forward to it!


FGC #547 Super Mario Bros 2 (The Lost Levels)

Dispatches from an alternative universe!
This article is provided by Goggle Rob of Alternate Universe #724

Let's do the MarioThe original Super Mario Bros. brought the concept of gaming back from the brink of ruin. So it seems only appropriate that, 35 years later, we examine its sequel, the game that crashed the videogame market forever.

Super Mario Bros. was a revelation here, there, and everywhere. When it was released in 1985, Nintendo knew they had a hit on their hands within a mere four months, which wound up being plenty of time for its creators and curators to consider a sequel. What was it about Super Mario Bros. that everyone enjoyed? Running? Jumping? Malevolent chestnuts? Jumping on malevolent chestnuts? Nobody had the answers, but the designers of Mario did have a theory: people wanted more. They had already begun working on arcade versions of Super Mario Bros., and, given this version was thirsty for quarters, it was designed to be more difficult. Could this be adapted to be the official sequel to Super Mario Bros.? Why not! Super Mario Bros. 2 would be a game that assumed you had already played Super Mario Bros. 1 until your eyes popped out of your skull, and, after a licensed optometrist put those peepers back in place, you’d be ready for more Mario challenges.

So, on a metaphorical level, Super Mario Bros. 2 was designed not to start with World 1, but Super Mario Bros. 1 World 9-1. There are no simple “tutorial” words in Super Mario Bros. 2, just militant turtles and twisting mazes. There are new mushrooms that do not grant Mario new abilities, but simply poison the plumber. Super Mario Bros. 2 is not only a game that requires you master Mario’s physics before you even pop the cartridge in your system, it is also a game that requires you memorize the intricacies of its often dubious world. Super Mario Bros. 1 disguised the length of a handful of castles with a looping maze that required a particular path, but Super Mario Bros. 2 habitually leans on warp pipes that will send Mario back to the start of a stage, or even the start of the game. Super Mario Bros. 2 requires dedication from its audience, and it makes absolutely no concessions for a novice player (give or take a secret way to earn a hundred lives within its opening level). You will lose all of your progress often and repeatedly, and only complete knowledge of the game will allow you to circumvent a frequent, inglorious Game Over.

This sucksIt seems the tipping point for this tale happened when Super Mario Bros. 2 was being exported to America. Howard Lincoln, a man who was responsible for play-testing games for American audiences, felt the game was too difficult, and would not play well with American audiences. He famously said of the game, “Not having fun is bad when you’re a company selling fun.” However, Lincoln’s protests were ignored. While there was brief discussion regarding “reskinning” another title as “Super Mario Bros. 2 USA”, Super Mario Bros. 2 was released as is, with no changes or tweaks made to the abhorrent difficulty of the game. America was going to face down its first poisonous mushroom, and it would not be left in the cold by its Japanese brothers.

And it was a success. Of course it was a success! Nintendo had already set out to make Mario the most well-known mascot since Mickey Mouse, and, back in the 80’s, it looked like they were going to succeed. Yes, Super Mario Bros. 2 was difficult, but it was flanked by The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Nintendo Cereal System, and Nintendo’s own propaganda rag, Nintendo Power. In fact, many claim the success of Super Mario Bros. 2 could be attributed to its place on the cover of Nintendo Power #1 (famously showing a clay Mario as he grabbed a flagpole in front of a blue Bowser) and spread across the “tips and tricks” contained therein. Super Mario Bros. 2 needed a comprehensive guide if you hoped to conquer it, and Nintendo wisely delivered such in every toy and book store across the country. Before long, everyone was “beating” Super Mario Bros. 2, and it seemed like the gambit of releasing such a difficult game paid off. Sure, SMB2 was “beyond Nintendo hard”, but Nintendo stepped in to help the players, and, ultimately the game itself.

Unfortunately, other games weren’t so lucky.

As was said at the time: so goes Mario, so goes the world. Super Mario Bros. (1) inspired a thousand 2-D platforming clones that all attempted to capture the magic of Mario. Did any succeed? Yes, a small handful did, but certainly no greater than a dozen. Super Mario Bros. 2 had a similar effect on the trajectory of videogames. Where once a sequel would account for new players (what would eventually become known as the nigh mythical “first time gamer”), all new sequels produced decided to follow Super Mario Bros. 2’s trail. This led to a variety of games that all seemed dedicated to murdering the player within the opening moments. Bubble Bobble 2’s starting “Floor 101” combined a million monsters with a timer that could barely be surmounted. Contra 2 led to a generation memorizing its “ten extra lives code” because you’d lose your first three inside of the opening seconds. Rygar 2 utilized every mapping “trick” available to create levels that had extremely poorly defined endpoints, and Gradius 2’s “poison powerups” made acquiring a shield intolerable. Final Fantasy 2 introduced an archaic leveling system that was about as opaque as a behemoth, and Dragon Quest (Warrior in the West) 2 featured dungeons that contained traps upon traps. Even Nintendo wasn’t immune to its own hype, as The Legend of Zelda 2 released with more invisible walls and spongey “green Moblins” than you could shake a stick at. And, to this day, no one has gotten past the first stage of Punch-Out 2 without tool assists. The only sequel that seemed to dodge this absurd difficulty fate was Mega Man 2, but, even there, some said the infamous Quick Man stage seemed like something that was “Super Mario Bros. 2 hard”.

And, God, what was done to Tetris 2 was criminal. It’s no wonder the Gameboy hardly lasted a year.

glub glubThough, of course, that was the inevitable end of this trend. Super Mario Bros. 2 was a success, but every game attempting to ape Super Mario Bros. 2 just hammered a nail into the coffin of gaming harder and harder. By the time of the predicted Super Mario Bros. 3 release, sales of Nintendo consoles had plummeted. Sure, this was the system that had Mario, Link, and Kid Icarus, but nearly every game that included a “2” was an awful slog of anti-fun. If this was the direction gaming was going, apparently the general public wanted nothing to do with it. In retrospect, it should have been expected: the Videogame Crash of 1983 was followed six short years later by the Videogame Crash of 1989. Stores stopped stocking videogames at all, and, by 1990, you could no more purchase a Nintendo Entertainment System in America than a pet rock. The fad of “gaming” had faded, returned, and faded all over again within the span of a decade.

And, like E.T. before it, everyone pointed to Super Mario Bros. 2 as the most prominent example of the reason no one wanted to touch a controller ever again.

So what became of gaming after the crash of ’89? There is no shame in not being aware of the last thirty years of videogame history, as the hobby became little more than a niche occupied by some very dedicated enthusiasts. Those that stuck around after Super Mario Bros. 2 demanded more and more severe challenges, and, given they were the entire audience, the gaming companies of yesterday and today were happy to oblige. Nintendo got out of the hardware business after the twin bombs of its Nintendo Entertainment System 2 and Super Mario Bros. 4 (infamously featuring a rideable dinosaur that would, after a set period of time, eat the player), but they are still making games for the personal computer, and the recent Super Mario Bros. 35 certainly seems to be 35 times as challenging as Mario’s original adventure. Other companies from the NES era, like Capcom and Ultra, faded into the ether, but they have been replaced by modern, “indie” developers that attempt to capture the feelings of the original titles like Castlevania 2 (a game that literally asked its players to bang their heads against cliffs). Oddly, it seems the most profitable gaming Wart?company in the modern era is a British gang by the name of Rare Limited, as their most recent release, Battletoads 3, is topping the sales charts. Granted, at this point, topping the videogame sales charts is roughly as financially relevant as selling the most model train sets in June, but it is still an accomplishment.

And that’s the world that Super Mario Bros. 2 created. It was a difficult, grueling videogame, and, thanks to its unprecedented success, every other company decided to make games that were more tedious than fun. As we now “celebrate” the 35th anniversary of the first Super Mario Bros. (there is even word President Dean will publically recognize the milestone), please remember that, thanks to one fateful sequel, Nintendo also smothered gaming in its crib.

One poison mushroom is all it takes…

Thank you for the guest article, Goggle Rob of Alternate Universe #724. I’ll be sending over my thank-you article about the failure of HD-DVD in this universe shortly!

FGC #547 Super Mario Bros 2 (The Lost Levels)

  • Dodge 'emSystem: Nintendo Famicom originally, but most of the West saw it as part of the Super Mario All-Stars compilation on the Super Nintendo.
  • Number of players: It’s just one player, right? You have to choose a brother, but can’t cooperate? That is bad, and the game should feel bad.
  • Speaking of All-Stars: The 16-bit remake really did this game dirty. The original NES version clearly has graphics that are an upgrade over the original, “launch” Super Mario Bros. palette. However, the SNES version seems to use the majority of the same assets for both games, giving the impression that SMB2j was little more than an expansion for SMB1. Way to rewrite history, Nintendo!
  • Other complaints: No new enemies or “creatures” are introduced for Super Mario Bros. 2, save that lovely toxic fungus. The Mushroom Kingdom has one of the most interesting bestiaries in gaming, so it’s kind of a shame that the likes of bob-omb, shy guy, or dry bones didn’t premiere in this title. I like a goomba as much as the next guy, but Mario is at his best when he’s introducing something more interesting than “Blue Bowser”.
  • Mario or Luigi? As a child, I saw as a child, and assumed jump height was everything. Now, as an adult, I prefer a hero that is less slippery, and is not demolished by strong winds. I have matured.
  • Other connections: You cannot tell me the same thinking that inspired SMB2j’s ridiculous “spend half the level up above the boundaries thanks to overly powerful springs” level design is not also responsible for (real) Super Mario Bros. 2/Doki Doki Panic’s more albatross riding-based stages. It feels very familiar…
  • Watch those cloudsGoggle Bob Fact: Nintendo Power goaded me into finding World 9 and sending a picture of proof so I could earn a badge of honor for my accomplishment… but I’m pretty sure my dad never properly developed the film, and it may or may not have actually been mailed. Regardless, I do not have a spiffy trophy badge, and my life is all the worse for it.
  • Did you know? The A/B/C/D levels clearly reuse stage layouts from earlier in the game, but SMB2j doesn’t otherwise recycle any levels before rescuing a princess. This is in stark contrast with SMB1, which reuses levels constantly starting with World 5’s castle. Or am I just thinking of Super Mario 35
  • Would I play again: I would literally play any other Mario game first. I don’t really believe this game would have crashed the entire videogame industry exclusively because it is bad, but I do believe SMB2j and its hidden blocks/aggravating warps was basically the start of “Kaizo Mario”, and that’s never been the reason I play Mario titles. Sorry, history, I like fun games.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country 2 for the Super Nintendo! It’s sequel time, again, so it’s time to see Diddy’s Kong Quest! Please look forward to it!

I do not care for this