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FGC #643 Elden Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is France

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

This is Cats

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

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

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

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

… And maybe I’ll buy a t-shirt later.

FGC #643 Elden Ring

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

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

What is even happening here?

FGC #008 WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

$$$$It’s interesting to see how a mythological pantheon evolves in modern times. First we have Mario, the All-Father, the head-honcho and lord of his kingdom. He may be just a plumber, but his affinity for fire and position over all others likens the jump master to Egypt’s Ra. Next, there’s the perennial “wife goddess” Princess Peach, who embodies the very concept of femininity. Luigi is an eternal “lesser brother” god, who, like Poseidon, is his own kind of king, but eternally in the shadow of one that rules the heavens. Bowser is the adversary, through and through, always battling against the forces of good and coveting and stealing any light he can find. Donkey Kong is the archetypical “bestial” aspect of man, not unlike the concept of the werewolf, as he makes a fine cart racer or banana rescuer, but God help you when the full moon comes out, and he comes to steal your women to construction sites. Even noble Yoshi draws many comparisons to the noble steeds of legendary tales, like Pegasus or Sleipnir.

Nintendo has created a much fuller pantheon with its other franchises. Link is the hero, the mortal who ascends to legendary status through good deeds. Zelda is Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom (and war) who can always be relied upon to be the smartest deity on the battlefield. It would be easy to paint Ganondorf as another demon/adversary, but his actions are more akin to that of a god of war, an ongoing source of upheaval and death, but without which there would be no need for heroes. Samus Aran has suffered an identity crisis of late, because, in her most iconic appearances, she is little more than a death goddess. Point Samus at a problem, give it two hours, and wait for the sounds of an exploding planet. A single pikachu may be nothing more than a shockrat, but Pikachu as a Nintendo/Pokémon mascot has been portrayed as a mischievous but giving friend to children, not unlike the modern interpretation of Santa Claus. And Kirby sleeps soundly in his dreamland, growing ever closer to the time when he will awake, and devour iat aftft un a hauft ur lunk. Ha ghuftft ga’uia’ uia’ ghaalunt, ang ha ghuftft fta iantsullaftfta.

But every good pantheon needs a trickster. Africa’s Anansi, the Pacific Northwest’s Raven, Navajo’s Coyote, and all sorts of gods that didn’t even appear in Disney’s Gargoyles have haunted mythologists for years with tales of deceit and guile. The most famous trickster god is likely Loki of Norse/Marvel/Disney mythology, a continual thorn in the side of Odin and Thor, generally making both of their lives miserable, but not intolerable.

It's alright, I understand the desire for fameAnd that’s the trick with a good trickster god. Bowser the Adversary, as a good example, has become dramatically less threatening since his debut three decades ago, chiefly because his every last plan has failed spectacularly. He almost triumphed one time, and the entire universe reset just to spite him. Bowser is the bad guy, and he’s the bad guy in a medium meant to empower “the player”, so he is just never going to get anywhere. A trickster, though? A trickster can be a good trickster for centuries, as all he has to do is dupe the good guy, and, yes, the trickster will eventually be hammer-thubbed for his treachery, but he succeeded in his purpose, his trick, all the same. The good guy wins, the trickster wins, and the story is entertaining, so everybody wins.

Given you can read the title of this article, you can probably guess that I’m building to the reveal that Wario as the trickster god of the Nintendo pantheon. And you’re right! Gold star! Though, bad news, Wario will likely steal that gold star, and now you have nothing. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Wario started as a simple rival for Mario. In his debut, Super Mario Land 2, Wario heists Mario’s entire kingdom (newsflash: Mario has a kingdom?), and Mario has to reconquer his own land. Ho-hum. Wario could have easily been the next Tatanga or Wart, but, no, he returned for a few random sports games, and then got his own series starting with Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land. The Wario Land games cemented Wario’s “greed is good” credo, but played much like any other Mario video game. After all, isn’t the auxiliary goal of any Mario game to collect as many coins and treasures and doodads as possible on your way to the goal? Is shining champion Mario that different from gluttonous anti-hero Wario? In gameplay, not at all.

How is this so popular?But it’s WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! and its descendants that cements Wario as Nintendo’s trickster. The plot of WarioWare is simple: Wario wants all of the money forever, so he’s going to publish a videogame. Hey, worked for Nolan Bushnell, right? Only problem is that Wario has the video game crafting skills of Destructive Creations, so he has to round up his friends to craft his new masterpiece. Scratch that, that sounds too much like a teen movie or other such feel good story; no, Wario tricks all of his friends into creating video games for him. And that’s where the magic happens. Wario tricks you into playtesting.

Make no mistake, the entirety of WarioWare is a trick. WW was released in 2003, a full five years before the launch of the Apple App Store. Relevance? Much of WarioWare is based on bite sized games that last ten seconds, max. These short, “burst” games are all the rage now, in the age of cellphones and ipads and other devices those damn kids keep playing on my lawn. 2003 was still the age of “game lasts 800 hours and is considered college credit in six states”, when the idea of games that lasted three minutes because that’s how long you’ll be in the supermarket checkout line was a long way away. And the controls of WarioWare? One button, four directions, done. Want me to name another device with one button? It’s small and rectangular and rhymes with iTyrone. Nintendo… I mean Wario… invented a genre at least half a decade before its official debut. And how does one sell such a series of games before the advent of effortless downloads and teeny pricetags? Blend them all together, call it a combined “challenge”, and slap your most devious mascot on the cover. After all, we know we have a brand new, completely unproven (but fun!) game here, if it fails, we can just laugh it off as another Wario blunder. Oh, that wacky, smelly guy.

Mona... sounds like moneyWarioWare has served much the same purpose since its inception: a Trojan horse to get new ideas into your head. It’s no surprise that a WarioWare game has been released with nearly every new iteration of Nintendo hardware: WW Touched introduced touch gaming and the DS microphone to anyone with the new handheld, WW Smooth Moves showed off all the weird ways you can swing your wiimote, and Game & Wario was there to showcase the myriad of new tricks available to the WiiU’s tablet. WW Snapped was even there to promote the very idea of digital download games on a portable Nintendo System, and WW D.I.Y. stands as an early attempt by Nintendo to get a “community” going, an effort that would eventually bear fruit on the WiiU and its MiiVerse. WW Twisted is a clear forerunner to Nintendo’s own decade long love affair with gyroscopic, “move sensitive” gaming.

There’s a reason the Wario of WarioWare has superseded the Wario of the Wario Land franchise (and the Wario of Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman!, which was just an early trick to get you to buy a portable Bomberman title, which you already should have been buying) in everything, from sequels to the Smash Bros. series, and that’s the simple truth that Nintendo no longer sees Wario as a platforming Mario knock-off, no, Wario is the trickster that uses his craftiness to hoodwink friends and consumers alike into testing his, and Nintendo’s, latest obsession. Smash Bros and other “party” Nintendo franchises portray Wario as a fat, weird, smelly, “off” buffoon, because who ever suspects the lout is the one swindling the masses?

Mario? Link? Pikachu? If they’re telling you there’s a new game with their face on it, what you see is what you get. They’re transparent, they’re comfortable, they are there to be trusted and worshipped, and they’ll summon you every Christmas season, and you’ll give your offering and take their blessing. Wario? Wario is the stuff stories are made of. You don’t worship Wario, but you’ll hear his tales all the same, because, when all is said and done, the good gods battling the bad gods is boring, and sometimes you just want to play with a rascal. You know the trick is coming. You know you’re being duped. But you’re going to enjoy it.

PEPPER!FGC # 8 WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

  • System: Gameboy Advance
  • Number of Players: 1, though there’s a few 2 Player challenges
  • Highest Score: Got 74 on Dribble and Spitz’s challenges. I don’t even remember liking those games…
  • What’s with Nintendo associating “gross” with “experimental”? I don’t know, but it sure worked great for Earthbound!
  • Did You Know? Waluigi has never appeared in a WarioWare game, though he is considered by Smash Bros to be part of the Wario Universe. This is likely an indicator that the Mushroom Kingdom wants nothing to do with Waluigi, a sentiment shared by most anyone that has ever encountered that freak. Waluigi: a man without a country.
  • Would I Play Again? I’m lucky (gullible) enough to be a member of the 3DS Ambassador Program, so I have WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! permanently loaded onto my most portable gaming system. This likely makes this the first FGC game that I play frequently, albeit randomly. It’s not so much a matter of playing again, as I’ve never stopped.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country. Huh, guess ROB is on a kick thinking about his parent company. Bananas abound, everyone, please look forward to it!