Tag Archives: three players

FGC #627.2 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

This article contains spoilers for not only Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, but also potentially the entire Final Fantasy franchise. It won’t get too nuts, but if you don’t want to know a certain location exists in a certain game, and if that location has any plot relevance, I wouldn’t keep reading. You have been warned!

This is not a placeStranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has one very important thing going for it: it is an enormous love letter to the Final Fantasy franchise. With the exception of a few “plot” stages, every level in SoP:FFO is based on a different locale from a different Final Fantasy game. And that is amazing! You’re looking at 35 years of videogame locations! From castles to caves to whateverthehell was happening in Final Fantasy 15! It’s neat!

But, as a tremendous nerd and 35-year-old critic of the Final Fantasy franchise (uh, to be clear, I am not 35, but I have been a critic of Final Fantasy as long as it has existed) I, naturally, have opinions about the various locations chosen to represent various Final Fantasy titles. Were these good picks to be representative of their attendant games? Are these good choices independent of nostalgia? Does anything in this game make a lick of sense? Let’s answer these questions on a game by game, level by level basis.

Note that this list will be going in order of Final Fantasy game featured. Actual level order is an entirely other thing. Please be as confused as possible.

Stage 1: Illusion at Journey’s End
Location: Chaos Shrine
Origin: Final Fantasy (1)

It is chaos out thereConcept: Stranger of Paradise is a kinda sorta remake of Final Fantasy, so it is only natural the game starts with Final Fantasy’s first ever dungeon: the Temple of Fiends. Oh! And the final boss of the area is Garland (after a fashion)! That is as Final Fantasy as it gets!

Does it work for SoP? This is absolutely a ruined temple (of Fiends!) filled with monsters, which is all you really need from a Strangers of Paradise stage. There are enough decomposing balconies and collapsing turrets to justify something more complex than a straight line, but the layout is still recognizable enough that you won’t easily get lost. And there is at least one cactuar running around, so there’s everything a stranger could want.

Does it represent its parent game? Going to give this one a “yes”, too. The defining characteristic of Final Fantasy’s Temple of Fiends is that it was clearly the crappiest temple in the world (but looked pretty alright a solid 2,000 years back), and we’ve got a similar architectural flare going on here. The Temple of Fiends is meant to be the trojan horse of adventure for the Final Fantasy franchise, and it serves the exact same “more to it than it seems” function in 2022. Good job, Level One! Now let’s move on to Final Fantasy 2…

FGC #627.1 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

The Wild Arms 3 LP will be back and continuing next week. Right now I need to talk about Stranger of Paradise for reasons that are likely related to brain damage. Also, this article contains spoilers for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. The plot is vaguely incomprehensible anyway, but, ya know, if you don’t want to be spoiled on a game that came out like a month ago, just go ahead and read one of the 600 other articles on the site. Thank you for listening.

Eat it, ChaosStranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has finally refined the genre with one simple trick: the perfect protagonist for a JRPG is a complete idiot.

Alright, this humble blogger must admit that is not quite right. For one thing, SoP:FFO is not a JRPG. It is an action game with significant JRPG elements. If you attempt to play this game with a typical JRPG mindset, you will watch your not-so-humble protagonist die. A lot. You cannot simply “trade blows” when you are facing a mad ogre in this Final Fantasy universe, and you must dodge, parry, and properly back-attack if you want to stand a chance. Learning exactly how to utilize your weapons is a must, and it is pretty clear early on why magic as we know it is a limited resource. Here’s a hint: if you can lob fireballs from a great distance away from your opponent, you are less a wizard, and more of a sniper. Gotta tape those superpowers down in an action game! And, to be clear, this is a departure from Final Fantasy 15, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, or even Kingdom Hearts. Those are more action-JRPG affairs, a storied tradition that traces back to waiting for 100%s on your action gauge in Secret of Mana. This is an action title, where “using a potion” is less of an inevitability, and more of a sign that you are choking in your battle duties. You should have been able to take down those wolves without getting hit, Jack! Are you sure you’re cut out to be a Warrior of Light?

But, as much as SoP:FFO is an action game, the plot and general framing is definitely a JRPG. That is as it should be, as this whole story is a loose adaption of Final Fantasy (1), the granddaddy of all JRPGs that do not involve compulsive gambling. This is the world that involves Cornelia, a dark elf prince, and exactly one named pirate. The ultimate threat is that same as in 1987, too, as the Four Fiends are menacing the primal elements of the planet, and, if four (or so) Light Warriors don’t get off their collective duffs immediately, the whole world is going to rot and/or burn. So world travel is on the menu, and every monster has to be stomped from here to the Sunken Shrine. Save us all, person with four letters in their name!

But Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is no mere HD remake of Final Fantasy…

FGC #625 Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone

Microtransaction time!It is important to remember that sometimes the bad guys do lose.

Today we are looking at Double Dragon 3. Appropriate to the title of the franchise, Double Dragon 3 has two generally distinct versions: Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone, which was the arcade version that was ported to a couple of different systems (like Gameboy and Sega Genesis), and Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones, the Nintendo Entertainment System title that had the same overall concept, but significantly different gameplay. What was the difference in gameplay? Well, the NES version wasn’t constantly trying to fleece the player.

Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone is, superficially, the same beat ‘em up experience that the franchise had always delivered. Yes, we now have a situation wherein the Lee Brothers (now with a third bro! Because someone welded a third controller to the cabinet!) are going to go on a world tour to collect rocks with the eventual goal of being the best rockers on the planet or something, but the general minute-to-minute is unchanged. You have a collection of random mooks per stage that you are required to punch into submission, then the big boss shows up, you punch him (inevitably him) but good, and move on to the next stage. It doesn’t matter if you are in a generically grimy city or tumbling through a coliseum in Rome, this is the Double Dragon we all know and generally tolerate.

But there is one significant change in Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones, and it’s right there on the first screen of the first level…

I hate everything about this
Technically this is the shop from the finale, but whatever, okay?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the shop. A shop just like this one appears in 80% of the levels of DD3:TRS, and usually at the start (the only exception is the final level, where it is the start of a boss gauntlet). Like in many games of the era, you can purchase a number of helpful items at said shop. You can top off your health points! Buy weapons for dealing additional damage! Or maximize your fists’ power to just do extra damage without the need of a sword! Or purchase “secret techniques” so you can perform flying kicks and throws! And the extra special cherry on top: buying extra “lives” not only means you purchase additional life bars for your protagonists, it also allows you to play as entirely different characters with marginally different offensive styles (or at least different hitboxes). Basically, if you want a new Double Dragon experience, it is all tied to the shop. This is the biggest difference between Double Dragon 3 and its predecessors (well, other than that direction-attack button thing from Double Dragon 2 being dropped), and it is all available for a few credits in the shop.

Oh, and I do mean credits, as Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones’ shops are all fueled by real, American quarters.

Damned treesLet us look at that shop’s inventory from a different perspective. Powering up your fighter? Well, that is going to save you quarters, as a dead enemy takes off a lot less health. Weapons? Also going to save your life, because it means you do not have to get any closer to hazardous fists. Speaking of life, having more lives is obviously going to put you further from having to insert another credit. And even the special moves are all jump based and obviously modeled after the most effective ways to survive in previous Double Dragon titles. In short, if you have any familiarity with Double Dragon (and, at this point in the existence of arcades, why wouldn’t you?), you are going to make a beeline for those items. Sure, it all costs real money, but those same quarters would be required to recover anyway. You’re practically saving money!

Or you would be, if Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones was a remotely fair game.

As an officially licensed beat ‘em upologist, I can say with some authority that the first two levels of DD3:TRS are about what you should expect from a beat ‘em up as far as challenges go. There is an unstoppable army of dudes, but you will defeat them, because they have basic patterns, and local traps and tricks can be utilized to blaze a trail straight through to China. But once you hit approximately level 3, the bullshit comes fast and furious. It is hard to say if it is deliberate or just poor programming, but any given fighter on your side has some significant lag after being stunned, so being essentially “stun locked” while battling a boss becomes the standard for many fights. Regular enemies gain some moves with absurd range so you can’t so much as jumpkick a tree without an across-the-screen interruption. And the final boss? By Anubis, she has the ability to toss your Bimmy across the screen from across the screen. She can just spam the same “death move” over and over again, and your only recourse is hoping the A.I. shows some modicum of mercy so you can maybe land a punch. The point here? You need those powerups to survive, so even if you “buy your levels” to maximum right from the get-go, you are still going to be down a few more dollars by the end of the adventure. Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones is unapologetically balanced to bleed your wallet dry.

And nobody liked that.

This sucks hardRecords of top grossing arcade machines from 1990 are difficult to find, but we can see the legacy of Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone in its own descendants. This arcade title premiered in America, but, by the time it migrated over to Japan six months later, its whole shop system had been hastily excised. Any and all shops in the game are now boarded up and inaccessible, and the first level that seemed to be designed around emphasizing the opening shop was “scrolled forward” permanently so you would never know there was such an embarrassment lurking around the corner. And, without the shops, weapons are now free and lying around, “secret techniques” are accessible at all times, and a player can spontaneously select any of the characters right from credit one. And, while you cannot spend a quarter to power up your punches, all of your opponents mysteriously do about a third less damage on their hits. Gosh! Put it all together, and it sure seems like the original version was balanced entirely around a player that spent about two dollars on bits and baubles! And that was dropped from the next version because nobody actually did that.

And then we finally get to the NES version. Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones was reportedly developed in parallel to the arcade version, but it was also released a year later, so it clearly had some foreknowledge of how things went in the arcade. In this case, some of the fun aspects of Double Dragon 2 that had been dropped for Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone returned in the NES version (you can always enjoy a hair grab). Additionally, the concept of multiple playable characters was adopted from the arcade, but now you do the more traditional NES thing of beating bosses who eventually join your team (Mega Dragon 3). And, like the Japanese arcade version, the shops are completely gone, and there is not so much as a points system to simulate the “joy” of purchasing weapons. Actually, you do get “limited ammo” weapons naturally with each of the selectable characters, but, with no way to refill your reserves, they are extremely situational.

Oh, and it is probably worth nothing that this version of Double Dragon 3 bombed, too. Like, Water World for Virtual Boy bombed…

What even happened here?Why? Well, NES DD3 has its own share of problems. For one thing, in one player mode, you only have one “life” for like half the game, and the concept of continuing is not introduced until Level 4. For another thing, while this whole experience feels a lot less janky than its predatory arcade counterpart, it is still pretty dang cumbersome for a 1991 NES title that should really know better. This was released the same year as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: The Manhattan Project! A beat ‘em up that is fun from start to finish! DD3 doesn’t even have the good sense to include a pig with a mace strapped to his head! Oh, and the translation/story is nearly incomprehensible, with a hatchet job of a “let’s include the girlfriend again” plot that somehow transforms Marion into an Egyptian death goddess. Granted, that may not make a huge impact on how a beat ‘em up is received, but the narrative was so unintelligible that not even glowing Nintendo Power coverage could polish this turd. And they successfully made Final Fantasy Legends seem sane! Between that and likely seeing a game over without exiting the first screen, it is easy to see how this beat ‘em up sequel did not leave a good impression.

And that's fineAnd despite the fact that Double Dragon then went on to headline the second videogame movie ever made (!), this is the game that killed the franchise. A “real” Double Dragon 4 would not be seen for decades, and the best the Lee Brothers could hope for for beat ‘em up action in the meanwhile was starring opposite some amphibians (and not even the popular amphibians!). It sure looks like, whether through apathy or dedicated protest, the public did not appreciate the rapacious Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones, and it poisoned the franchise for years. And, given we never saw such predatory models in Double Dragon or another beat ‘em up ever again, it seems like even the videogame companies learned to avoid these terrible microtransactions.

So the bad guys trying to squeeze extra money out of their audience well and truly lost. We now live in a glorious future where…

I hate everything about this, too

Oh dammit.

FGC #625 Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone

  • System: Let’s claim that today’s article is based on the arcade version exclusively, and the NES version is a weird footnote. The arcade version was distinctly ported to a number of systems, like Gameboy and Sega Genesis, but each of those had to include odd concessions to account for credits system. You mostly got virtual coins for “whatever”, so the shops still kinda worked without demanding you install a quarter slot on your Amiga. Also: not at all worth playing.
  • Number of players: Three in the arcade, two at home. Note that there is a special move you can only use when you have two players available, so that is yet another way this damned thing bleeds cash out of its players.
  • What the hell!?Favorite Fighter: It is abundantly clear that the arcade characters are not balanced as well as the Lee Brothers, and any given giant playable character is all vulnerable hit box and no reciprocal power. And Chin… man, we’re not talking about Chin. So I guess the default Lees win by default. Hooray for normalcy.
  • Favorite What The Hell is Happening: There is exactly one puzzle in the arcade version, and it is a “challenge” to walk across the right floor tiles to spell out “Rosetta”. You are also being chased by a gigantic alien monster the entire time. This creature is then never seen or referenced again. I… feel like this should be acknowledged.
  • An end: The NES version offers a customized epilogue for each of the characters, but the Famicom port only provides an ending for characters that are still alive. I guess this implies any of your defeated fighters are actually dead-dead, and Billy might be an only child if no one ever hits start on a second controller. Meanwhile, the ending for the arcade version is simply Billy rolling around in a pile of plundered gold. Thank you, Karnov.
  • Did you know? The NES version is the source of the infamous “Bimmy” mistranslation that misnames Jimmy to a name closer to his brother’s. However, like the arcade version, the American version came first here, and it is likely this is less a translation error as a programming error that only appears when the opening crawl has to name both players (it is completely absent in one player mode). So blame the computer nerds, not the language nerds.
  • Would I play again: Never. Other Double Dragon games are better than this. Yes, even that Double Dragon game. It’s better. You know it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kirby and the Forgotten Land! Here is where I use the prerequisite “it’s going to suck” joke! Please look forward to it!

This ain't Clone High

FGC #569 Battletoads (2020)

There’s a moment about 75% of the way through Battletoads (2020) that… well, let’s let the GIF do the talkin’ here…

RAGE

That is Pimple, and, spoilers, he is freaking the heck out. He has been generally chill and mellow throughout this Battletoads adventure, but has now been pushed too far, and the following level is going to be Pimple rampaging like a toad built only for battle. Pimple, the reliable rock of the Battletoad trio, is well and truly done, and he is not going to take this lying down.

And this moment brilliantly features exactly how the creators of Battletoads (2020) fundamentally understand the Battletoads of 1991.

Let's motorOur favorite toads had an ultimately brief period of fame (or… close enough to fame) for approximately three years. We saw an NES game, a Gameboy game, a Super Nintendo game, an arcade game, and one vaguely memorable crossover. There was also a rigorous comic book promotion in there, and an animated series that arguably never saw the light of day (does direct to VHS pilot even count as real?). And was there any sort of unifying Battletoads mythos in all of this? Nope! The Battletoads were “real” people that were digitized into a virtual world, or they were “real” toad people from space, or they had that whole “Thing Ring do your thing” dealy going on with magical morphing. And there was some confusion within the original games if this was happening over and over again (apparently the Dark Queen really likes kidnapping), or if this was all some manner of Legend of Zelda “the same tale retold” situation, and Battlemaniacs was basically the “grown-up” telling of OG Battletoads. And the arcade version was clearly a version of Battletoads where we finally had the technology to let a toad fight a snake! Was that supposed to happen back in the NES days? Who knows!

So, if someone were asked to distill some consistency from three years’ worth of Battletoads mythos, would it be possible? The only thing that was constant across those games was that everyone in this universe had a general 90’s irreverent attitude, and, when the ‘toads punched stuff, sometimes their limbs changed. Across multiple games, mediums, and graphical capabilities, that was all we really had as concentrated Battletoads. They have attitude, and they morph their limbs.

And it is kind of amazing that that is exactly what is displayed in that above Pimple GIF. That is what is on display in the entirety of Battletoads 2020. Everyone in this universe has an irreverent attitude, and it is animated with a rubbery, lively style that is appropriate to heroes that have always been able to stretch and contort into whatever is going to be most visually interesting/proper for the moment. In the same way that Rash can transform into a battering ram on command (forward, forward+B), he can also morph into an office drone or spaceship pilot. The Battletoads are, fundamentally, just as adaptable as the Looney Tunes of yore, and they absolutely should exist in a game/universe wherein they are just as malleable.

My baby!In a world wherein the curators of Battletoads absolutely could have based an entire game on the “meme” of Battletoads, the idea that they are all “Turbo Tunnels and NES hard”, Battletoads 2020 wound up being true to a Battletoads franchise that is more than just its internet reputation. This is a triumph beyond measure, and my hats off to the writers, directors, and producers of Battletoads.

Also, while the designers of Battletoads are listening, I have one other thing to say about the 2020 game: it sucks. It sucks so bad.

The original, first level of the initial Battletoads game, Battletoads, is a beat ‘em up. Likely thanks to first impressions, many people (including myself) collectively refer to Battletoads as a beat ‘em up style game. Unfortunately, if you play past the first level (big “if”, because this is Battletoads, and you would be forgiven for losing to Giant Walker), you’ll find the second stage is practically a different game, complete with different rules. Similarly, the third stage, the infamous Turbo Tunnel, starts with a sprinkling of combat, and is then an entirely pacifist-friendly “battle” with stationary walls (you just happen to be going really, really fast). The next levels are (in order) a 2-D platforming/snowball fight, 3-D beat ‘em/surfing safari, and 2-D platforming (on snakes). In fact, once you clear Level 7 (of 12), you never see a 3-D beat ‘em up section again, and all combat is on a 2-D plane. In short (as I have documented in detail before) Battletoads is a beat ‘em up about as much as Mario Odyssey is with its occasional forays into t-rex-based carnage. We had one arcade game that seemed capable of staying on target, but every other Battletoads game cannot stick to a genre longer than the span of a level. When you’ve got Jimmy and Billy Lee piloting spaceships, you know something has gone terribly wrong…

Get those lumberjacks!And Battletoads 2020 initially seems to lean on the beat ‘em up trappings of its forebears. As one might expect for the update of a nearly 30 year old franchise, Battletoads 2020 is a might more complicated than its ancestor. This is no longer a simple case of “punch/jump/dash”, there are now options for strong and quick attacks, charge attacks, and a few possibilities for using your toady tongue as a grappling hook. And you’ve got grappling options! Would you like to collect flies, swing your toad from the foreground to the background, or, ya know, grapple (ala Mike Haggar). It is obvious that, in the same way a lot of thought went into an animation style that seemed appropriate for Battletoads, a lot of consideration was given to creating a beat ‘em up system that not only was fun to play, but was also appropriate to our heroes. The presence of a blocking monster means you’ll be using the stylish charge moves that were previously reserved for “smash” combo finishers. The mobile “shooting” creatures will encourage jumping for a dodge, and then a new jumping attack. And tongue moves! We are featuring toads, people, let’s act like it and highlight the one thing toads are known for (aside from hopping and kissing princesses). That slurping sound should have been for more than health refills for Battletoads from the beginning!

Except… it all kind of… doesn’t feel right? Or work right? There is a lot in the beat ‘em up sections of Battletoads that feels almost wholly broken. For instance, health drains stupidly quickly, so a single punch from an opponent can drain a third of your HP. In a way, this makes sense, as a single player game allows the usage of all three of the Battletoads, so you effectively have triple the health you see on any one life bar, and a fallen Battletoad revives if you wait a whole 20 seconds. You are practically invincible! But it still feels bad to whiff a dodge and be mercilessly punished. And, speaking of which, you will be punished, because managing the Battletoads’ battlin’ is a lesson in humility. It is very difficult to find the exact timing on when any of your protagonists can exactly cancel a combo to perform a dodge, so practically any string of punches is a risk. And that is not a good look for a beat ‘em up, as it means a conservative player is likely to zoom around the screen, eternally dodging, and only throw a single punch for fear of starting an inescapable combo chain. And that works, but it also works to make each individual fight move at a Battlesnail’s pace. And if you feel like being more loose with your health, good luck refilling on available flies, as those previously mentioned tongue moves are mapped to surprisingly confusing controls, and you are a lot more likely to accidentally drag a dangerous enemy into your proximity than down a life powerup.

And if you are getting the impression that I did not enjoy the beat ‘em up portions of Battletoads, congratulations, you have reading comprehension. The beat ‘em up portions of Battletoads 2020 are the worst parts of Battletoads 2020.

So it works out that Battletoads has the same inability to focus on any one genre as its ancestors.

Here is a vague spoiler warning for those of you that want to experience the manic intensity of Battletoads in its natural, astonishing way. Stop reading if you want to experience this all on your own dime…