Tag Archives: thar be dragons

Chrono Cross 01: Introductions

Looks niceIf you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

… Which is not how we normally handle our opinions on Even Worse Streams. But I can attempt to parlay some kind of understanding with Chrono Cross through brief essays related to a night’s stream.

It’s… kind of like apologizing! To a 20-year-old video game! That maybe doesn’t deserve it!

Whatever. Let’s talk about Chrono Cross’s excellent opening.

And, no, we’re not discussing the in medias res “final battle with Lynx” that kicks off from the moment you start a new game. The true opening of Chrono Cross features Serge, Leena, and a healthy amount of lizard genocide.

Serge awakens in pastoral Arni. It is a fishing village populated with friendly folks, a giant dog, and a patient chief that is willing to teach anyone about synthesized magic. The goal for the player is evident (meet girlfriend, find way to bribe girlfriend into happiness), but the scale of what can be done within the confines of a scant few houses and two open areas is daunting. You can learn about a man’s dreams of being the best fisherman around, and how that has influenced his standing in his family. You can listen to an aspiring poet recite her works while waiting tables. You can steal from one yappy puppy to give to a two-tailed dog with a speech impediment (who, it should be noted, is the first talking dog in this universe). The only combat available here is the previously mentioned magic tutorial, but there is so much to do that doesn’t involve Serge drawing his swallow, you would be forgiven for assuming Chrono Cross is not your traditional battle-based JRPG.

Slash and tearBut fighting is available soon enough. Leena tasks Serge with a mission to hunt down lizard scales, and hunting is literally involved. Lizards and Nu-like Beach Bums haunt the place, and you are welcome to hone your physical skills on a respawning army of ineffectual “monsters”. Poshul the Pink Doggy can come along, too, if you want some practice involving a partner in your ecological assaults. And there is treasure to find! It is everything you could ever want from a JRPG… but with one important difference: it doesn’t matter.

At the start of Chrono Cross, Serge is not saving the world, his town, or even that all-important girlfriend. He’s just… doing some junk. Running errands. Talking to townsfolk. He is performing the exact same actions as many JRPG heroes, but he is doing it for the most miniscule of purposes. He’s just “doing stuff”. He is being human.

And in a game where eventually Serge is going to conquer every monster across two different dimensions and potentially all of time, that is pretty impressive.

This is JRPG 101, of course. There are any number of games, from Breath of Fire 2 to Final Fantasy 15, that initially establish a polite, safe world before everything goes to absolute hell (sometimes literally!). But Chrono Cross does go out of its way to create the potential for a “pacifist” JRPG. There can still be combat. There can still be treasure. But it is in pursuit of… simple goals. No world saving. No big bad. Just your peaceful little village, someone to care about, and doing what you can to make her happy.

And then everything does go to hell… But at least your hometown survives! In two dimensions! That’s not bad!

Even Worse Streams presents Chrono Cross
Night 1

Original Stream Night: April 5, 2022

Recruited this week:

  • Poshul
  • Leena
  • Lucky Dan

Random Notes on the Stream

  • This starts as the absolute original Chrono Cross, played on a Playstation 1 disc in a Playstation 2.
  • It will be seen again, but the intro for Chrono Cross is aces.
  • … And then the PS1 game fails when it has to “load” dialogue. Oh well!
  • Enjoy seeing a quick sorting of my PS1/PS2 digital memory cards as we load up PSN Chrono Cross.
  • This is not a jokeAgainst all odds (well, 6%), we have the exact same party as the first PS1 playthrough.
  • BEAT notes Spec Ops: The Line has the best in medias res intro.
  • I apologize for not naming Poshul “Snoop Dog”… but it would not have fit.
  • Wouldn’t save points in real life be fun? Or we would never get past Sunday…
  • Our first “discussion” of the battle system notes that percentage odds are lies.
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog 06 Final Boss Victory Music is mentioned. Let’s call this foreshadowing for a future stream.
  • BEAT notes that Time Spinner is something that might be worth looking into.
  • Here is the shake slide:
    Shakes

    Yes, I am responsible for those shake pictures, too (well, technically just one shake picture).
  • Lucky Dan causes a brief discussion about palpable faith.
  • Thanks to a Save/Load issue, we are going to spend the last twenty minutes of this stream in the Bend of Time screwing with Triple Techs that will never again be seen on the stream.
  • And before this night’s finale, please enjoy seeing what I named all my Chrono Crossers back in 2000.

Next time on Chrono Cross: Let’s steal from the richest guy on the island! In HD!

If only

FGC #614 (The) Astyanax (& The Legendary Axe)

BY THIS AXE!Now for the tale of three axe ‘em ups.

Tokuhiro Takemori is credited with designing a handful of games around the late 80’s/early 90’s. Amagon was a run ‘n gun that could become a run ‘n punch thanks to an interesting transformation mechanic… but it was not all that fun to actually play. A similar “transformation based” game worked a lot better with Avenging Spirit, but, unfortunately, it appears that was Takemori’s last game as a director. And before all that, there was RoboWarrior, which was primarily a Bomberman/Blaster Master kind of a top down adventure that failed to turn any heads. But if you are looking at the oeuvre of Tokuhiro Takemori, you need to look at the weapon that dominated three (maybe 2.5) of his greatest creations: the axe.

But before we get to the axe, let us look to the buster. Many claim that the “mega buster” that was introduced in Mega Man 4 ruined the Mega Man franchise. And, while it did lead to very different gameplay from its predecessors, it is important to remember its place in gaming history. Want to know the greatest weapon in the 80’s kid’s arsenal? It was never the power glove, it was always turbo. The greatest action games of the NES all required a whole lot of b-button hammering, so a turbo button that allowed for the fastest shots on the block was the key to victory. Contra, Mega Man 1-3, and even Super Mario (with his iconic fireballs) could all be conquered through liberal use of a turbo button. Mega Man 4’s “stop and charge shot” may have mucked up what seemed to previously be perfect gameplay, but it also meant that toggling on “turbo” did not mean an instant victory. Metal blades are not the answer anymore, children!

Three years earlier, Tokuhiro Takemori applied this same thinking to an axe. The Legendary Axe was an early TurboGrafix-16 title that was exactly what it said in the title. You are Gogan! Who kinda looks like Amagon! Who already looked like Tarzan! And you must rescue your Jane, Flare, from the clutches of the nefarious Jagu, a half man, half monster that is a generally offensive “witch doctor”. It is all very “jungle adventure”, and the monsters that inhabit this land are mostly Heart of Darkness stereotypes like spear-tossing orcs, or angry birds and/or bears. The boss of level 2 is just straight up a large, rolling rock, so… yeah… Gogan’s adventure is a bit unremarkable.

But! Gogan wields the magical axe Sting, and you’re going to remember Sting for every breath you take. Swinging the titular legendary axe could be your typical 8-bit “hammer that axe” situation, but Sting charges strength between every blow. Swing wildly, and you will do a lot less damage than if you just waited a moment for the legendary axe gauge to climb to its apex. Yes, this absolutely means that there was a game in 1988 where you could work out proper damage-per-second calculations to accurately slay a boulder! And there are powerups along the way that increase Sting’s charge rate and the maximum strength of Sting’s attack, so there is a baby’s first leveling system, too!

With one simple mechanic, The Legendary Axe made some revolutionary changes to the face of action games.

The Legendary Axe was well-received, but it was well-received on a system that was an eternal loser to big ol’ Nintendo. Additionally, this revolutionary system was married to a game that did practically nothing to distinguish itself from any other generic action game available. Was Kabuki Quantum Fighter revolutionary? No, but you damn well remember that dude whipping his hair around. Gogan was so forgettable, I had to check an earlier paragraph to confirm I properly recalled his name. If there was some way to marry the gameplay of The Legendary Axe to a plot that actually stuck in a player’s brain…

Does it bite?Enter The Astyanax, an arcade game released a year later. The Astyanax features much the same gameplay as The Legendary Axe, now complete with an axe that glows with flames when fully charged. It also added a “screen crush” magical attack that could be empowered through pickups, and… that’s about it. From a gameplay perspective, The Astyanax is almost an exact clone of The Legendary Axe, albeit with more straightforward levels more suited to the arcade.

But The Astyanax has one thing The Legendary Axe never achieved: something memorable. The first boss in The Legendary Axe is a bear (or two), the first boss in The Astyanax is some manner of caterpillar-scorpion. The second stage features a fight in the shadow of a floating island, followed by climbing aboard (and murdering everything on) said floating island. A two headed hydra guards an elevator inhabited by bloody skeletons that rises to a fight with a cyclops. And then you finally battle the wizard that is clearly behind all of this…

WIZARD TIME!

Only to find that it was all the plot of xenomorph aliens from the hit movie Alien. No, seriously! It’s weird!

ALIEN TIME!

The Astyanax does not explain itself in any way. We open with a scene of heroic Roche claiming a legendary axe, and we know Roche is trying to kill a wizard because said wizard will not stop taunting you on every continue screen. After said wizard is axed, those aliens pop up, but we still end with a shot of the wizard’s tower crumbling into the lake. Were the aliens really behind everything? Were all the mythological monsters creeping about the result of alien breeding? Did the wizard just punch through reality too hard trying to score a sexy lady minion? We have no idea! We just know that Roche beat up some monsters of dubious origins but good, and the day is presumably saved.

A year later we saw Astyanax (no “the”). A year later we received a Nintendo cartridge that couldn’t shut up.

In some ways, Astyanax is the inevitable arcade-to-NES step down from The Astyanax. There is an attempt to make our hero (now outright named Astyanax) bigger than other 8-bit heroes, but he takes up way too much of the screen. There is now an emphasis on platforming (or at least platform… hopping?), and a bevy of instant death pits do not work well with knock-back, slowly spawning monsters, and limited lives. And big, scary, interesting bosses return, but they necessitate the NES dropping any and all backgrounds for these battles, so enjoy fighting Medusa in the gaping void.

But where Astyanax falters in gameplay, it more than overcompensates with talky-talk. Cinema scenes reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden tell the story of a teenage schoolboy that is transported to a magical land, instantly gains armor, an axe, and a magical fairy, and then battles a legion of skeletons in order to rescue a princess from an evil wizard that is also a remarkably poorly animated dragon. Over the course of Astyanax’s adventure, Cutie the fairy sacrifices her life to break the curse of a magical general, but, when Astyanax saves the day and is sent back to his mundane world, Cutie is reincarnated as a teenage girl. This seems important, even if the princess is bored with it.

PRINCESS TIME!

Xenomorphs are probably not involved, either. There’s one weird boss in Level 3 that appears to be some manner of alien, but it could just be, like, a particularly ugly monster. Whatever. Nobody talks about it.

This place sucksSo what is most important in Tokuhiro Takemori’s charging-your-axe trilogy? Well, the gameplay of The Legendary Axe is pretty great, but it is a clear first attempt, and its various opponents and locales are trivial. Astyanax for the NES has a remarkable story and bestiary, but the gameplay suffers in its translation to “Nintendo hard”. It seems like The Astyanax blends the charge-an-axe gameplay best with memorable locations and opponents. Oh! And you get a shield! It barely does anything, but it is unique to the arcade version, so it looks like The Astyanax is the winner.

So remember, kiddies, if you’re going to revolutionize action gameplay, include a shield. It worked for Roche, it worked for Alucard, and it can work for you!

FGC #614 Astyanax

  • System: Technically, ROB chose the Nintendo Entertainment System version, but there was the arcade game, and The Legendary Axe was a TurboGrafix-16 jaunt.
  • Number of players: The arcade version gets an unnamed, possibly-a-ghost second player. But the NES version is strictly solo.
  • DO NOT TOUCHStraying from the Light of God: Technically, Astyanax on the NES can “upgrade” his axe to a spear and a sword. However, the spirit of a chargeable axe is still there, so let’s just pretend he sticks to one pointy object.
  • What’s in a name? The Astyanax is known as The Lord of King in Japan. I guess it’s a King Arthur thing? The Astyanax is the one game in this trilogy where you’re not rescuing a princess, so the presence of royalty is wholly unwarranted. “Astyanax” still means “high king”, though, and is the name of a prince from The Illiad.
  • Familiar Faces: The skeleton general that ultimately causes the death of Cutie really resembles a certain skull-faced fellow from Willow. This may be a coincidence of the time, but I feel like I haven’t seen a skelly-general since…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I received this (NES) game as a gift from my grandmother one Christmas Eve. It was chosen with the very particular criteria of “you like Nintendo games, right? Here’s a Nintendo game.” Regardless, since it was a Christmas Eve gift, and not actual-Christmas, I remember staying up “waiting for Santa” by playing Astyanax for six continuous hours. I am moderately sure I made it to the third level.
  • Sexy?Did you know? Some risqué rewards are available in the arcade’s fifth level, as you can “strip” some female monsters of their chest plates, and watch them run around while trying to cover their chests. Brings a whole new meaning to an arcade “attract” mode. This, of course, did not appear on the NES, where the Medusa boss received a breast reduction when being localized. Guess that’s another Castlevania parallel.
  • Would I play again: The arcade version is a firm maybe. The Legendary Axe is a bit too hard once you reach the fourth level, and I do not feel like “memorizing” how to deal with an assault of fish people ever again. Astyanax for the NES is absolutely not happening, because screw Cutie, your life isn’t worth that many instant death pits. Go get a job with Link or something.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cruisin’ Blast for the Nintendo Switch! Let’s go cruiiiiiiising! Please look forward to it!

Swingin'
Can’t imagine why I’m thinking about Tarzan…

FGC #605 Curses ‘N Chaos

Let's rockSometime around the 14th century, the Black Death was ravaging the European population. Given this highly lethal plague was on everybody’s mind (how could we ever hope to understand?), this seems to have been the time that the anthropomorphism of Death manifested in the public consciousness. As anyone that has ever visited a Spirit Halloween is aware, Death is generally visualized as a skeleton in a black robe wielding scythe. To elaborate for anyone from a foreign culture, the scythe is supposed to symbolize the literal harvesting of souls, and the skeletal body is supposed to be symbolize how bones are scary. Beyond that, ol’ Death is a pretty fundamental part of Western culture, and it is unlikely anyone reading this has missed his familiar iconography.

But what does it mean when Death makes an appearance in a videogame? Well, let us look at how Death has worked his digital magic through the years.

1984
Paperboy

Midway Games
Arcade

Throw some papersWhat’s happening here: Near as we can tell, the first appearance of an active Death in a videogame was in Paperboy. A grim reaper is one of the many, many obstacles that this young boy must face on his way to delivering newspapers to the least appreciative neighborhood on the planet.

Describe your Death: We have a traditional black cloak and scythe here, though it is difficult to tell if we are dealing with a legitimate skeleman. One would suppose this emphasizes the “unknown” nature of Death.

What does it all mean? 1984 was a time for “suburbs fear”, wherein parents were convinced razors were being hidden in Halloween candy, and a scary man in a trench coat was assumed to be on every corner. It was all total nonsense, but it does explain why one would expect to see Death out and menacing an innocent paperboy. Everything wants to kill our innocent young paperboy, why would Death themself be any different?

1985
Gauntlet

Midway Games
Arcade

BEHOLD DEATHWhat’s happening here: Death is one of the many monsters that stalks the world of Gauntlet. They will drain 100 health from a hapless adventurer, and is resistant to all attacks, save the mighty magic bomb. They are not a common creature, but they are a threat every time they appear.

Describe your Death: OG Gauntlet is not exactly known for its huge, expressive sprites, but Death at least has the ol’ black cloak here. If you were to claim this Death was a ninja, you wouldn’t have to change a single thing about their appearance.

What does it all mean? In 1983, Patricia Pulling founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), and significantly contributed to the myth that Dungeons and Dragons was seducing our innocent children to the dark side. This led to years of general concern over D&D, so it was only natural that Death would be haunting dungeons in 1985 videogames. It’s Death! They will kill you! Because of what you are doing! Stay out of fantasy realms, children!

1986
Castlevania

Konami
Nintendo Entertainment System

Sorry SimonWhat’s happening here: Death’s multiple appearances in the Castlevania franchise may be the most iconic in gaming, and it all started here. You can’t have a decent Castlevania game without Death! Eat it, Haunted Castle, you barely get a Frankenstein.

Describe your Death: Skeleton? Check. Scythe? Check. Black cloak? Well… Death has decided to go with something more fuchsia here, but we’re going to allow it. NES color palettes are not kind to classical iconography.

What does it all mean? We will address Death as a greater presence in the franchise soon enough, but this Death is little more than one of many “movie monster” bosses in his first appearance. Apparently he was just a dude in a pink costume going by the pseudonym of Belo Lugosi. That is almost a real person’s name!

1986 also had another familiar Grim Reaper…

FGC #595 New Pokémon Snap

Gotta snap em allAfter years of waiting, Nintendo and/or Pokémon Company finally decided to release a new Pokémon Snap title. The appropriately titled New Pokémon Snap is, naturally, an all-new adventure that allows you, humble trainer, to cruise around in a bubble and take pictures of adorable little Pokémon critters. Hooray! Our favorite pastime has come home!

But the drive for Pokémon photography is predicated on one thing: you actually want to see Pokémon. Sure, Pikachu is a looker, and nobody is going to turn down an opportunity to snap a Jigglypuff, but are all Pokémon worthy of your digital film? Would you stop by a Blockbuster kiosk to print a photo of a Grimer? Or Tyranitar? Are all Pokémon created equally photogenic?

No, of course not. That would be silly.

So let’s take a look at the top Pokémon ain’t nobody wanna photograph.

#755 Morelull

DO NOT EATMorelull is a mushroom Pokémon that primarily appears at night. It is based on bioluminescent fungi, and it utilizes its generally cute exterior to dual-type its Grass and sneak into the dragon-slaying Fairy category.

It also forgot to grow a damn face. So it might steal yours!

You can do a lot with Pokémon designs, and it seems like there has been a mandate since Generation 3 or so to make every Pokémon as generally adorable as possible. Yes, there are big, mean brutes in the Pokémon world, but they generally all have vaguely-human-esque faces, and nary a horror among them. Want a Pokémon that is just rows and rows of teeth popping out of every joint and limb? Sorry, no, you are going to get a smiley face on that legendary cosmic horror.

And, while Morelull may not be a cosmic horror, it is a generalized horror. Morelull initially appears to be cute with its big (voidy) eyes, but it hides a terrible secret. Morelull subsists on living energy. Morelull’s whole plan is to put a creature to sleep, and then use the move Strength Sap to drain their lifeforce. So they are basically little mushroom vampires.

So is Morelull traditionally ugly? No. But are its cold, dead eyes the last thing you are going to see before you fall asleep for the final time on the cold, uncaring forest floor? Yep.

There is no beauty in being food for malevolent mushrooms.

Is Morelull in New Pokémon Snap? Yes. Please make sure your protective bubble cart is properly sealed before visiting any jungles during the night.

#685 Slurpuff

SLURPSome Pokémon are unsightly based on their concept.

Slurpuff is your basic “embodies some random notion or whatever” Pokémon. In this case, Slurpuff embodies the sense of taste/smell, and is a noted Pokémon for loving and judging desserts. It is all about that sweet life, and, if you are a Patissier, you are definitely going to want one on your team. That heightened sense of taste and pink body makes it the perfect bakery mascot, and it doesn’t hurt that the creature can tongue-lash a dragon to death, too.

Except… with everyone’s focus on Slurpuff’s taste, no one really considers how Slurpuff must feel. Slurpuff does nothing but lick things, and it is always seen with its large tongue hanging out. We already knew that, but then the pokédex for Pokémon Shield revealed that Slufpuff is officially covered in fur. So Slurpuff has a long tongue that is always subconsciously licking itself, and all Slurpuff ever does otherwise is eat sweets. Do the math on that? Slurpuff is always going to be a sticky, matted mess of a monster.

Imagine a cat that has just rolled in corn syrup. That’s Slurpuff. All the time.

Gross.

Is Slurpuff in New Pokémon Snap? No. Your main character has a camera, not a bathtub.

#764 Comfey

GROSSLook at this sick freak of a Pokémon.

Comfey is disguising itself as a Hawaiian (Aloan) style lei. At first glance, you might think that Comfey is some manner of flower ouroboros, and little more than another friendly, inexplicably floating grass type. But Comfey is not the whole “lei”, Comfey is just a little dude that appears to have some flowers in his teeny tiny paws, and said flowers follow a ring-string that loops back to Comfey’s butt. In fact, Comfey is not a grass type at all, but another fairy type. A “naked” Comfey, technically, has nothing to do with flowers.

But you absolutely do not want a naked Comfey anywhere near flowers…