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FGC #537 PaRappa the Rapper 2

You are now believingSo what’s wrong with failure?

PaRappa the Rapper is a phenomenon that is hard to explain to modern audiences. Look, it was like this: for a long, long time, videogames were just beeps and boops and graphics that were blocky as hell. Or, perhaps, it was just a matter of, for many “gamers” of the time, this had been all anyone had ever known, and that “ever” was our entire childhoods. Studies have been performed that have proven, without a doubt, that, when someone is a child, a year lasts approximately eleventy billion millennia. Meanwhile, when you’re older, a single weekend lasts roughly as long as one cheese sandwich. This created the lopsided imagining that videogames would always be no better than what could be pumped out by an NES or Sega Genesis, and the concept of a theme song or graphics that existed in three dimensions was little more than a pipedream (the old videogames did have a lot of pipes, incidentally). This meant that when PaRappa the Rapper was released stateside in the fall of 1997, players went unexpectedly nuts. In 1997, in one game, you had a CD that featured what many hailed as the culmination of an entire franchise, another disc (or four) showcasing the future of the JRPG genre and what was possible for storytelling, and, finally, here was this weird little rap game that went in another, amazing third direction. The graphics were distinct, bright, and colorful. It had voice acting for every scene, level, and character (in English!). The gameplay was wholly new, or, at the very least, it felt new. Rhythmic button pressing wasn’t new by any means, but this didn’t feel like FMV nonsense or some earlier attempt at guitar heroing. PaRappa was an unexpected feast for the eyes, ears, and thumbs.

Of course, nowadays, everything that made PaRappa unique is completely mundane, and it has been for nearly twenty years. If you’re still excited by voice acting in 2020, you were either just beamed here from the distant part, or you finally figured out how to crank your hearing aid. Or maybe you’re just excited a fighting game finally earned an English dub

Let's rapBut PaRappa was an unexpected success in 1997, and that inevitably meant it was time for sequels. And that’s great! Because the original PaRappa the Rapper sucked. Yes, the characters were memorable. Yes, it was charming as all get out. And, yes, the nonviolent setting that managed to tell a compelling story was and still is a breath of fresh air. But have you ever actually played PaRappa the Rapper on the original hardware? Practically constructing the entire rhythm genre from raw materials comes with its own share of problems, as so much that we take for granted today is nonexistent in this maiden voyage. Button prompts sometimes appear microseconds before they’re relevant. “Hit detection” is scattershot, and it’s difficult to know exactly why “U Rappin’ Awful”. And, for reasons that no one has ever understood, the instant feedback of a congratulatory tone when you do something right (or perhaps a punishing buzz when something is performed incorrectly) is replaced with… farts. Seriously! I can’t figure out a way to describe these noises in any other way. I’m trying to press triangle at the right time, failing, and the only indicator as to what might be going wrong is some dude slightly off-screen taking his shirt off and going to town with the armpit noises. It’s not helpful, Musical Mike!

So, yes, from a gameplay perspective, PaRappa the Rapper had some significant issues. It was very easy to lose, and, given you had to repeat the entire stage after every bomb, every loss grew more and more frustrating. Was this by design? Was the game “artificially padded” to prevent immediate progress so as to obfuscate the fact that there are a total of six short stages? If you know what you’re doing, you can complete PaRappa in less time than it takes to watch a television show (granted, this is true when speedrunning most games of the era, but this is without even trying). Was the advanced difficulty meant to extend the length of the game? You gotta!Or was the lack of relevant feedback meant to simulate learning a “freeform” skill like rap? It’s not just about pressing buttons at the right time, player, there’s a je ne sais quoi that cannot be captured by a simple tutorial or… anything but a fart noise. PaRappa the Rapper is exasperating, yes, but it may be for a reason. And if it isn’t for a reason, then they’ll fix it in the inevitable sequel. … Right?

PaRappa the Rapper 2 certainly went in… some kind of direction.

On the surface, this is the same game, just a generation of hardware later. PtR2 is an adventure starring PaRappa where, in an effort to see a dog get deflowered by a flower, you must guide PaRappa through a series of rap battles wherein he gains confidence and the ability to buy a hamburger. All of the raps are new, there are a few more levels on top of the original count, and everything looks and sounds better than it did on the old hardware. There are even escalating, clearly labeled difficulty levels to add a little more replay value to the experience. PaRappa the Rapper 2 did everything PaRappa the Rapper 1 did, but better (give or take your subjective feelings on whether or not a moose driving instructor is better than a moose drill sergeant). But was it easier? Did the directors make more of an effort to help the player through a rap or two? Well, PtR2 did at least give us this guy…

Let's practice!

Come on, PaRappa, relax, it’s time to address this weirdo from your second game.

That’s Boxxy Boy, and he appears at the start of every level. It is his purpose to provide a “simple”, beat-heavy version of samplings of the song, so you’re granted an opportunity to practice before starting a level. You cannot fail Boxxy’s training sessions, and you are welcome to test out your phat beats in an environment where you either pass or keep trying (and are never told you’re being awful). It is a safe space, and, frankly, it’s a great concept for inclusion in a rhythm game. The Hatsune Miku games of today (and games based off the same basic concept) have major problems with starting a featured song with 40 required inputs before you even have a moment to figure out the BPM, so a little “here is what this is like” is welcome. Nobody likes to see a game over five seconds after the “level” starts!

Proof I can do thisBut… would that be so bad? Obviously, it sucked whenever you failed a level in PaRappa the Rapper 1, but, nine times out of ten, that wasn’t because of errors in the opening seconds. It takes time to get to a complicated bridge! And what was the punishment for failure in PtR1? Nothing. You had to repeat the level, but you didn’t have to repeat every previous level, or insert a quarter, or search all over for your missing turtle friends (I’m probably thinking of something specific). Failing sucks, but you’re always a quick restart away from trying again. PaRappa the Rapper 2 is no different, and its additional emphasis on scoring and replays means that there are even greater reasons to ignore any botches that would happen without the omnipresent training tutorial. What’s bad about failing except knowing that you failed?

Or is simply knowing you can suck enough?

According to interviews, Boxxy Boy’s tutorials were implemented because Rodney Greenblat, the man responsible for fashioning PaRappa and his world, was bad at playing Um Jammer Lammy. Thus, Boxxy was implemented to offer a “gentle” tutorial for anyone that was desperate to make it through the “real” game. And that’s a noble goal! Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that Boxxy only repeats one distinct section of the song, and does not prepare a player for pushing through those final beats. So ol’ Rodney is probably still going to lose, except now he knows there’s an entire, useless “mini stage” attached to his failures. Is this why we haven’t seen any new PaRappa characters since? Rodney is too demoralized by Boxxy?

You gotta love?And is that the fear here? That people will give up on PaRappa the Rapper because it is too easy to fail? Is failure so disheartening that people won’t even try? You could claim modern games that revel in try and retry, like Dark Souls and its ilk, disprove this theory. Everyone is chasing that Dark Souls pie right now! But, on the other hand, Souls and the entire “rogue-like” genre is wildly divisive. So much as coughing out the words “Dark Souls” on a forum (they still make those, right?) will lead to a thousand gamers explaining why DS is simultaneously the best and worst thing to ever happen since the Power Glove. And a significant reason for this is that you know there are hundreds of players out there that tried this fancy shmancy new genre, died 70 times, and made up their collective minds to never “waste time” like that ever again. Failure may be upsetting, but squandering your precious time on something that will never lead to success is even worse. Isn’t that why you have a day job? And what is the point of playing a game if you are never going to “beat it”?

And maybe that’s why Boxxy works. Failure sucks, and you absolutely cannot fail when practicing with Boxxy. There is no game over, there is no “thou must not pass” (as you can always skip the lil’ dude with the start button), and Boxxy does not judge you. Boxxy is a safe, friendly buddy, and, while you might not beat the next level, at least you can have a little entertainment with this sentient boombox. Is it as much fun as the “real” game? No. But at least no one is going to judge your skills here. Pass? Fail? You’ll be fine just pressing buttons.

There’s nothing wrong with failure, but it is nice to have a place you can avoid failure. Boxxy is here to help.

But he won’t be back again, because PaRappa the Rapper 2 was a failure, and the franchise never returned.

… So maybe it is a good idea to avoid failing.

FGC #537 PaRappa the Rapper 2

  • System: Playstation 2 initially, and then Playstation 4. I don’t think there was a PSP/Vita version, but I would not be surprised.
  • Yummy!Number of players: Invite over a friend for a rap battle! … I have never subjected anyone I know to this fate.
  • Favorite Level: Stage 5: Hair Scare features Um Jammer Lammy and her band, Milk Can. I like Um Jammer Lammy so much more than the little dog in a beanie, so I appreciate that stage. Look, Lammy is just objectively better, as she gets through her entire game without trying to get laid every five seconds, while PaRappa is just a horndog.
  • Play it Cool: Every one of the teachers (save the friendly ghost of Stage 1) encourages PaRappa to freestyle until he hits “Cool” ranking. I have never understood what exactly makes PaRappa go Cool, as I have no sense of rhythm, and I only know how to make raps good through excessive rhyming. I’m a writer! Not a musician! … Do you think Boxxy could give me a tutorial?
  • What’s in a name: PaRappa Town might sound like one of those lame “the planet is named after the main character” situations (Nobody lives in The World of Lufia, dammit), but “PaRappa” just means “paper-thin” in Japanese, so it’s appropriate for this 2-D environment. Now nobody render anything in 3-D, or it’s all going to fall apart.
  • Very Concerning: Beard Burger Master is rapping from beyond the grave in an effort to help PaRappa construct hamburgers. This is a vision of Hell, right?
  • Did you know? Rodney Greenblat, the character designer that is responsible for PaRappa’s iconic look, Let's Jamalso was responsible for the album art for They Might Be Giant’s self-titled debut album. Put your hand inside the PJ Berri head!
  • Would I play again: It takes a whole hour to complete PaRappa the Rapper 2, so the fact that it is loaded onto my PS4 means it might see play again. It’s a fun little game, Boxxy invasion or no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cadillacs and Dinosaurs! It’s like Jurassic Park! But with cooler cars! Please look forward to it!

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

FINAL FANTASYSo, chess, right? You know how to play chess? Let’s say you do. Do you remember when you learned how to play chess? Were you taught by a family member? A teacher? Some other kid? Some other adult? But here’s the thing: it is very unlikely you learned chess from a rulebook. Yes, you may have later read a great strategy guide to finally beat your grandpa at the game of kings (who don’t feel like standing up), but it’s downright unnatural to learn the rules of the game from a book or manual. And there’s a reason for that! Chess is a two player game, so it’s rather inevitable that player one is going to lecture player two. This is how games are learned! This is how games are passed from generation to generation. And, ultimately, this is what makes a game eternal: the drive for one generation to teach another. Because, after all, if you can’t find somebody to play with, what’s the point of playing a game at all?

Now, humble reader, I am well aware this is a videogame blog. I am blitheringly aware that “there must be a second player” is a stupid position for malcontents that haven’t picked up a controller in the last thirty years. This very blog will attest to the fact that my favorite games are predominantly single player. And, sad but true fact, I would estimate that a mere 10% of my gaming time is anything that could truly be considered “multiplayer”. But, gentle reader, you misunderstand my intentions. I’m not saying a game must include a two player option, I’m saying that videogames are your second player.

My father taught me how to play checkers. My mother taught me how to play Clue. My grandfather taught me how to play Chess. And Shigeru Miyamoto taught me how to play Super Mario Bros. Or did SMB itself teach me? The line is a little blurred there, but, if we consider videogames to be “thinking” objects (which we obviously do, because why else would we swear at them so regularly when they kill our dudes?), then a videogame’s own… videogameness is your eternal second player and teacher. After all, what fun is a game if you don’t understand the rules?

WeeeeeAnd, while we’re asking that rhetorical question: are bad games just games where “the game” misrepresents or otherwise sullies “the rules”? What is bad hit detection but a misperception of the boundaries of certain malicious pixels? When a JRPG requires excessive grinding, is it a feature, or a misunderstanding of what the player has to do between two objectives? And who likes it when the rules change right at the final moments? You’ve been playing an awesome action game, and then it turns into a shoot ‘em up? That’s a clear betrayal of the rules that Friend Videogame laid down from the start! That would be like requiring every game of Hungry Hungry Hippos to end with a test of strength! And that’s terrible! There’s no way I could overpower a kindergartener!

And then there are the games that don’t even bother with explaining the rules. They’re the worst of all.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is the long awaited sequel to Final Fantasy Dissidia Duodecim, a game that was released a whopping seven years ago. In videogame years, that is a period equal to approximately eighteen Assassin’s Creeds, or at least sixty Maddens. That is a lot of time for technology to improve, and, what’s more, the old Dissidia was a title for the PSP. Remember the PSP? Sony’s attempt to out-portable Nintendo right when mobile gaming was first making the scene? Yeah, it was an abject failure, but Square-Enix managed to release at least one good PSP game a year, so it wasn’t a total loss. And one of those excellent SE games was Dissidia, an unusual fighting game featuring the heroes and villains of the Final Fantasy franchise all duking it out for… I don’t know… I think crystals were involved? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it was fun, and it was one of the rare fighting games that was actually built for a portable system. Dissidia was part Street Fighter, but also part Pokémon, as you had to “train” your Tidus, and make sure the little dork always had the best equipment. WeeeeeExcuse me, it wasn’t about having the best equipment, it was about equipping the items that would fit your playstyle, so you might wind up with a different load out if you preferred to chase EX charges, or liked to just pummel your opponent into submission. You’ve got options!

But this is not to say Dissidia was a straightforward fighting game that just happened to have a little extra backend. Dissidia introduced the “Bravery System”, which, in short, means you’re supposed to hit your opponent until you have accrued enough hits to really hit your opponent. On one hand, it’s an overly complicated way to get to the “deplete HP” step that is essential to every fighting game ever, but, on the other hand, it does create a lot more drama, and a real see-saw mechanic that other fighting games have attempted to achieve for years. But, love it or hate it, you had to learn it before you could use it, so Dissidia certainly had a barrier of entry. But at least there was a tutorial right from the boot up of Dissidia, and, acknowledging that people might need such a thing, there were intensive lessons available through the game. And, what’s more, those lectures were written “by” Final Fantasy heroes from throughout the series, so if you ever thought Rydia would be an excellent summons teacher, congratulations, you’re right! Hey, if a game knows you’re going to need extra instructions, at least make those instructions interesting.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT, unfortunately, did not learn this lesson.

Learn to climb!FFDNT started as an arcade game. And that’s great! So did Street Fighter 2! And we all learned how to play that game just fine. Except… assuming you were playing a proper SF2 cabinet, all the fireball motions you could ever need were graphics on the cabinet, so learning the finer points of that experience was, amazingly, still teaching-based. Not so much with FFDNT. It is unlikely I’ll ever see a FFDNT cabinet, but I’m going to go ahead and assume it doesn’t have the gameplay basics written anywhere on there, as it would require a cabinet roughly the size of a convenience store. Want to know how Terra works? That’s in aisle six.

See, the problem with Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is not simply that it fails to convey meaningful lessons to the neophyte player, it’s that there is so much going on, it is impossible to accurately learn anything from the gameplay. There are two teams of three, but you only control one fighter on one team. That’s pretty normal… but what are the win conditions again? It seems like fighters revive pretty quickly after depleting their health… so is it a most kills in a minute kind of thing? No, wait, the match just ended… did someone die? Our team? Theirs? And now there are some rankings… looks like whoever exhausted the most HP gets the trophy… but aren’t there other goals during a match? Why am I supposed to attack the EX Core Crystals again? To summon? But I can summon even if I never bothered. And what does the summon do? Change the background, toss a few lasers around, and… wait, my attack stat goes up? How am I supposed to know that? And I should be using my EX skill more often? How does that become available? It poisons the opponent? But only if I choose that at the start of the match? Holy cow, how are there this many questions revolving around one three minute match!?

GO AWAYAnd Dissidia NT continues to pose questions when it should be providing answers. Why does story mode distinctly require exiting story mode to make progress? Why does this character completely change her playstyle with a button, while that character just kind of grunts? Why did I just earn a new special move if I can’t even use it? Why is changing equipment only cosmetic, but changing my EX ability dramatically impacts the battle? And, most of all, why are my party members always dying? Am I supposed to be doing something different? Should I be protecting them? Should I be more offensive? If this were a traditional Final Fantasy game (even one of the later, more AI controlled titles like FF15 or FF12), and 66% of my party was dying every other round, I’d be sure I was doing something wrong. Here? Not really. In fact, during boss matches, your allies appear to exist only to be mobile meat dummies, and their greatest contribution is distraction. But it’s not like the game effectively relays this information in any way, and you’re just left listening to Shantotto apologize for her tenth death in a row. I’m sorry, chipmunk girl, I’ll try to be better next time. I think?

And it’s not that Dissidia NT is a bad game, it’s simply that practically the entire thing… ummm… uh… Oh! A metaphor! Good games play with you like a good friend, but bad games are definitely that one smelly kid that told you exactly what you’re going to play now, and you’re going to listen to his rules, and what do you mean you don’t play it like this at your house, we’re playing it my way now, you better learn how that works, or you’re not going to have any fun. No, I’m not going to teach you, nerd, just start playing. No, not like that! Moooooom! Bobby isn’t playing the game right at all!

Okay, maybe Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is bad. Once you understand it, once you read the FAQs and strategy guides and message boards, once you get through all the auxiliary materials, FFDNT is actually pretty fun to play. But before that? Before that, it’s pure, confusing hell, and a hell that makes no effort to impart how you might find your way to its heaven. Final Fantasy Dissidia NT might have a delicious, chewy center, but it’s surrounded by rancid garbage.

And how much garbage are you willing to swallow?

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

  • System: Playstation 4 and Arcade. The arcade version came out three years ago? Crazy.
  • Number of players: Online? Six. Locally? One. There should be a law against that.
  • Go get 'emOther Illegalities: There are also loot boxes. And “buy a season pass now, we’ll announce the DLC characters later” sales. Dissidia is actively trying to piss me off.
  • The sequel curse: So this is, ultimately, a mascot fighting game. And you know what a mascot fighting game should never do? Drop characters. I don’t care if you’re Ice Climbers or Gon, when you lose the weirdo auxiliary characters from game to game, you lose my heart. The lack of Gilgamesh, Laguna, Yuna, and Tifa in this title is keenly felt. And if even one of those dorks become extra purchases? I will burn this mother down.
  • Favorite Character: Bartz is pretty awesome. He was my favorite in OG Dissidia, and he’s completely different now, but he’s still a lot of fun. And fast! And fast is really important when you have to chase some angry tree all over the arena.
  • Other annoyances: You can’t just restart a battle in a single player match. This is particularly important in the boss battles, as, come on, you can permanently lose those fights in the first thirty seconds, but wait five minutes to actually die. And then you have to wait five minutes for loading screens…
  • The Final Fantasy: So, considering the sheer lunacy that was the first two Dissidia titles, the story of this one is actually pretty straightforward: there’s a world fueled by battles, everyone battles, everyone realizes there’s no real reason to battle, and then they fake battle until they battle a giant lizard so they can make clones that will fight battles forever. That’s pretty much the plot to Sense and Sensibility.
  • Say something nice: Terra is supposed to be “post Final Fantasy 6” Terra in this one (or something like that), and she’s actually kind of… good? Previous Dissdias made her a sort of damsel (“Oh, poor me, Kefka is always taking over my brain, what is it to be me?”), but here she’s confident, and winds up being the de facto leader of her little party. Way to get yourself together, Terra!
  • Work together!Did you know? That kid from Final Fantasy Tactics is in this one! No, not Thunder God Cid, the main character. You know! What’s his name? Delita? No, that doesn’t sound right…
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Probably not. Even if the upcoming DLC is amazing, there are too many good fighting games out there, and Dissidia seems to revel in wasting time. Just give me my instant gratification, Square!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Centipede: Infestation for the Nintendo 3DS! Centipedes? In my blog? It’s more common than you think. Please look forward to it!

Wild Arms 2 Part 01: Going to the Dogs

Are you ready for a Let’s Play so wild, you’re gonna need two arms to contain it!?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for a Let’s Play of Wild Arms 2: Second Ignition. Why WA2? Well, I’ll explain that in full detail much later, but, long story short, for the last fifteen years or so, I’ve felt like I owed Wild Arms 2 a favor, and now is as good a time as any to settle that debt.

We are starting a new game! Mostly! By the way, unlike Wild Arms 1, there is no secret cinema scene if you wait on the title screen long enough. Believe me, I checked.

But like Wild Arms, there is a rad introduction sequence when you start up the game. It’s not as good as the Wild Arms 1 intro, but then again, many people have described the birth of their first child as “not as good as the Wild Arms 1 intro.”

And the first glimpse of a character is ol’ Spineyhands McCloakneck. I’m sure he’ll be important later.

Each of the Wild Arms games has a… gun-sounding? Is that a phrase?… subtitle. Should I be abbreviating this game as WA2ndI? No.

Trudging through the desert is…

Xenosaga Episode III Part 02: What’s the Entire Galaxy Been Up To?

Previously on Xenosaga: ScientiaLeaks led a daring digital siege on Vector to gain more information on the UMN. Then Shion went to the beach! Or… was always at the beach. The UMN apparently has killer wi-fi.

There are going to be a lot of talking heads this update, and Juli Mizrahi expresses her dismay at that prospect.

So remember how Ormus was a secret society last game? One Jin spent fifteen years investigating? Well, since then, Ormus has come out of the shadows and declared war on the Federation. And they conquered Michtam, that planet from the opening. And, apparently, this is just like what happened during Pied Piper/Ziggy’s original timeframe. And Helmer… looks good in purple.

And then Juli and Helmer prattle on about philosophy for a little bit.

And now for more interesting information!