Tag Archives: visual novel

FGC #629 Radical Dreamers (Complete Edition)

So let’s talk about getting into fights.

Today’s game is Radical Dreamers, the quasi-sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, Chrono Trigger. Radical Dreamers is a 2 hour (or so) itty bitty side story to the titanic Chrono Trigger, and was released exclusively on the Japanese SatellaView back in 1996. Unfortunately, despite the global success of Chrono Trigger (arguably right up there with Final Fantasy 7 as one of the most praised and influential JRPGs of all time), Radical Dreamers never saw localization outside of Japan. Why? Well, being stuck on unique hardware aside (which is a pretty big aside), Radical Dreamers is a text-based game, and much of the gameplay makes this more of a visual novel than a traditional JRPG. And combine that with the fact that “visual novels” have never been as popular in the West as Japan, and, oh yeah, an entirely text-based game having to be translated into another language would have been a tall order back when one guy named Ted was the entire translation department for a company… well… It is hard to blame anyone for the lack of Radical Dreamers in our lives. And this was the status quo through the years, as even when we saw rerelease after rerelease of Chrono Trigger, Square (and later, Square Enix) decided time and time again that we would not have Radical Dreamers on the Playstation or Nintendo DS. And besides, Chrono Cross was supposed to be a complete “perfect reimagining” of Radical Dreamers, so why would we need the text-based prototype? Radical Dreamers didn’t contain a single Lucky Dan!

But some kind soul at Square Enix finally believed we were ready, so Radical Dreamers was released in the United States in 2022 as part of the appropriately named Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers collection. And now, after over two decades, this Chrono Trigger superfan finally got to play the “lost chapter” in his favorite franchise (that consists of like three games).

And you know what news I managed to miss over all the years of merely reading about Radical Dreamers? This mother fudger has random battles!

Here we goThis should not have been a surprise. Chrono Trigger did not have distinctly “random” fights, but it did have battles across many different time periods, and several of those fights were triggered by something as “random” as walking on the wrong floor tile. Similarly, Chrono Cross had its share of fights that were generally only triggered by smacking into a spot on the map, though with the caveat that a shockingly high number of areas outright required combat (go ahead and try to wake up the Black Dragon without fighting a town full of identical fishmen). With its creation sandwiched between its two more famous brothers, it seems completely natural that Radical Dreamers would be another game wherein a three-person band must repel the occasional ghost or demon. And, while sneaking around Viper Manor is something that could be “the same every time”, it is hard to see how random battles could not spice things up. Serge, your POV character, has health points. You have a reason to keep him alive, and now there are threats that could potentially deplete his life force. It is not just about bumping from room to room, it is about surviving this dangerous situation, and what could be more dangerous than fighting undead guards?

Look awayExcept… well… Battles are a little different in the world of a text adventure. Fight? Magic? Item? All normal things to see in a JRPG, but Radical Dreamers can be distinct. The nature of the beast here allows the narration to employ some fun tricks that would never fly in a traditional JRPG. One thing that flies, for instance, is Serge, as Magil defeats a ghost by enchanting Serge, and tossing the hapless teen at the ectoplasmic problem. Another example is a battle wherein a skeleton is described as assuming a position that is ”highly suggestive”, but the magic of text-based gameplay leaves the actual position to the imagination of the player. In short, whereas Radical Dreamers could have converted its simple “do you want to go left, right, or up the stairs” to “do you want to fight, run, or defend”, the writers did go the extra mile and craft a situation that feels wholly different from the traditional JRPG of the era.

But different does not always mean good. The first battle with a perverted skeleton is funny, but not so much on the third encounter that is exactly the same. This is a text-based game, and the downside of text-based games has always been that making the same choices will lead to the exact same outcomes. And, while that should simply be a problem when replaying the whole adventure, it is an issue that crops up over and over again in even a perfect playthrough of Radical Dreamers. It is possible in RD to continue to make progress and never see the same thing twice as you take your party through this mysterious mansion… except for the battles. There appear to be four different opponents (skeleton, ghost, demon, and goblin guard), and there are really good odds you will see the same fights repeatedly before you reach Lynx down in the basement. And if you do not know where you are going? If you get “lost” in this mansion and putter around the same hallways trying to remember just where the heck you found Radius’s dungeon the first time? You are certainly going to see the same fights continually. Nobody likes to do the same thing repeatedly, but, when your character has “real” HP, why would you risk not doing what worked earlier? Take the same path you did the last time you fought a demon. It means you will survive.

I think I know those guysAnd the even greater sin of boring the player is that it makes your party look stupid. Or maybe there is some level of collective Alzheimer’s going on? A ghost attacks! Serge ducks behind Magil! But Serge is shocked when Magil tosses the boy at the ghost! No one is hurt, but Serge sure has some questions. Just like last time. Exactly like last time. And there is only the (large) chance that you will fight the same monster repeatedly across one adventure, but it is definite that you will fight five goblins in a row when you raid the treasure chamber. And it is entirely possible those five goblin fights will all go exactly the same way, one after the other, with the characters all reacting exactly the same. In my own playthrough of this area, no less than three goblins died muttering to Magil, “where did you learn that spell? What kind of human are you?” It was creepy and interesting the first time! Not so much when it was repeated three times in a row. In short, not only are these “random battles” seemingly wholly pointless (there are no levels or experience to gain, but there is the slightest chance of gaining a dropped jewel after a battle, which increases Kid’s affection), they also actively detract from the characterization happening. These random battles remind the player that they are not involved in an epic story, they are playing a videogame.

But how is this different from the “random” battles in any “real” JRPG? How many times did Crono and friends have to fight goblins that followed the exact same patterns as the last thousand times they fought? How many times did Serge in the Chrono Cross universe fight skeletons that charmed his party members, slightly delaying a victory as he paused to pull out a healing element? How many other JRPGs feature battles that, over and over again, are exactly the same? You make progress in the dungeon, you eventually find your way to the big boss of the area, but your little dudes and dudettes are repeatedly fried by the same lesser dragons using the exact same fire breath attack? Really? They couldn’t figure out how to dodge the same assault they saw 80 times already? What is wrong with you idiots?

Kind of a cat?Well, at least not every game is the same. For an easy example, Final Fantasy 5 features four characters that eventually accumulate 22 jobs. That means there are thousands of different combinations of jobs and abilities within a Final Fantasy 5 party. And you could try them all! You could make every inconsequential battle a different opportunity to try something new. And you and your characters are never bored. But then you play something like… say… Wild Arms 3, and you have the exact same party with the exact same skills and (depending on the location) fight the exact same monsters continually for fifteen floors of the same dungeon. And, gee, I wonder which game was reviewed poorly for having “too many random encounters”. It was never about the number! It was always about the lack of variety! Bravely Default can support an endless dungeon of distinctive challenges. Xenosaga… not so much.

So is violence the answer? Well, it looks like the answer is extremely situational. If there are choices, if there are real options the player can choose, that makes all the difference. Then combat can be fun no matter the narrative situation. But when options are limited? When all you have are a few text boxes that lead to a handful of results? Then it is pointless. Just ignore it. Just run away. There is no reason to get in a fight if the rewards are only going to be thinking less of your own party.

And as far as the Radical Dreamers? Well, they better stay out of any and all fights. Don’t even think about lifting that swallow, Serge, it is never going to do you any good. We went a solid 20 years without this incarnation of Serge throwing hands, and it would be best if that continued.

FGC #629 Radical Dreamers (Complete Edition)

  • Looks like Marle...System: Super Nintendo kinda sorta but not really for anybody. Then, like a million years later, it was available as part of Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition for PC, Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. So now you can play it.
  • Number of players: It was very hard to make visual novels multiplayer in 1996, so this is single player.
  • A shape of things to come: The main path of Radical Dreamers is arguably somber, complete with a finale that all but guarantees someone will die (though they get better). That said, the alternate paths involve a whole lot of whacky mischief, including an inexplicable giant mech battle, so you can see how the likes of silly characters Funguy or Skelly wound up palling around with the rest of the dour Chrono Cross cast.
  • Returning Favorites: Radius (eventually of Chrono Cross) is locked up in a dungeon, and is lamenting the death of every other Acacia Dragoon (though they all have different names from CC’s luminaries). Riddel is Lynx’s adopted daughter, but now she is a blonde that is significantly more princess-y. The leader of the Porre forces is not Norris, but a creepy old lady named Vera that seems to naturally attract bats. And Lynx… might be a cat? It is hard to tell if he is supposed to be distinctly feline, or just has weird facial hair. Also, there is what is best described as “the nerd goblin”, and it is implied that he is Chrono Cross’s Dario… or at least someone that fills the same role as Riddel’s former lover.
  • Do I know you?So, is Magus back? Despite reports I have been hearing for years, Magil is never overtly confirmed to be Magus over the course of the adventure. That said, he knows a heck of a lot about the Masamune, the Lost Kingdom of Zeal, dark magic, and, oh yeah, he looks exactly like Magus from the first second of the game. The only evidence that appears that Magil is not Magus is that Magil seems more jovial than Magus ever was… but that isn’t hard to do. There are some turnips that are more jovial than Magus (and, no, I am not talking about that Turnip).
  • Did you know? Serge has a radically different design for Radical Dreamers. He is dressed like a complete moron. Or maybe the hero of Dragon Quest 7. Who was also a complete moron. It cannot be emphasized enough how Serge got a glow up for Chrono Cross.
  • Would I play again: Unlikely. This is an important artifact of gaming, particularly for someone who so thoroughly enjoys the Chrono Trigger franchise. That said, I am not a guy who enjoys visual novels past an initial playthrough, and if I want to read a novel about Chrono Trigger characters, I’ll just hit some fanfic. Fans got me through waiting for Chrono Cross to be released, and they can do it again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth! Time for an elf to take some time off her shelf. Please look forward to it!

So serene
Kind of looks like a preview for next week

WW #14 Everyday Today’s Menu for Emiya Family

Due to the subject matter today, some items may be NSFW. In fact, let this serve as an outright trigger warning for sexual material, rape, rape via magical insects, workplace sexual coercion, and just all sorts of stuff that is traditionally not discussed on this blog. This is confirming that today’s article is rated M for Mature, even if the game itself is not. Also: general spoilers for various TYPE-MOON franchises. Also also, this article is weirdly long! Guess there is a lot to say on this subject…

Let us beginI.

Let’s talk about feminism, Joss Whedon, and at least one cooking videogame.

I suppose we should start with what has been on my mind lately: As a point of fact, I enjoy strong female protagonists. Nine times out of ten, I prefer a female protagonist to a male protagonist. If I am in the mood for noir, I like Veronice Mars. If I want to see some cheesy action, I’ll take Xena: Warrior Princess. I vastly prefer K-On or Azumanga Daioh to any male-centric anime comedy I could name. And when we are talking about ensemble casts, I do often gravitate toward the women (who are usually relegated firmly to “supporting cast”). And, in some randomly introspective moments, I have wondered why that seems to be the case. If I am being generous, I ascribe to the simple theory that I have been watching men’s media since I was a child, so I am tired of hearing about Optimus Prime, and would like to move on to Arcee for a change. I have also never been a particularly masculine man, so it is possible I more readily enjoy characters with arcs that involve less punching and more introspection (Spike has a shootout to solve his problems, Faye gets to reckon with a VHS tape). There are all sorts of reasons that I, a cis white male, would more readily enjoy a woman’s story.

It also might be because…

FGC #525 Parodius

Today, we’re going to address some reader mail. Let’s look at our first letter from one Mr. Tiger of Battle Creek, Michigan.

It's Greeeeeat

Well, Tony, if we want to know what parody actually means, we should look at some videogames. Are parody videogames supposed to be fun? Funny? A “send-up”? Let’s find out! We’ll start with the game that apparently prompted your question…

Parodius (Franchise) (1988, Konami)

PARODY TIMEWhat is it? In a long forgotten age, Gradius was one of Konami’s tent pole franchises. Given Gradius was a super-serious shoot ‘em up wherein the fate of the galaxy depended wholly on a ship that exploded every seven seconds, someone at Konami decided to produce a game with the same basic gameplay, but a wildly different tone. Parodius was born, and it featured an octopus saving the world from penguins. Or something. Parodius wound up becoming a franchise onto itself, and, for about a decade, you could count on at least one adventure every once in a while where a ship that shot boxing gloves attacked a giant lady that moved like a robot.

Is it fun? If you like Gradius, you’ll like Parodius. You’ve got overwhelmingly fragile “ships” (sometimes they are octopi) that can cycle through powerups by nabbing orbs to launch missiles against gigantic bosses. The game is just as difficult as its serious Gradius cousin, though, as death means losing your abilities and often starting back from an earlier point in the level. But it’s an excellent and ultimately fair shoot ‘em up, so if that’s your thing, it’s going to be a fun time.

But is it funny? Initially, it’s simply funny for the absurdity of sticking an octopus or lone option in the place of the Vic Viper. Eventually, the franchise tried its hand at adding more complicated joke characters, like a bald eagle decked out for American patriotism, or an entire stage full of slave-labor penguins (uh… it’s funnier than it sounds). Later games even added an overarching plot that involved a cantankerous octopus boss making off with your wages in clearly labeled dollar sign bags. That’s always funny! I think!

So is it a parody? Yep! It’s right there in the title. Parodius features familiar bits from Gradius, R-Type, and other games of the era repurposed to be funny or occasionally sexy (and we are very much employing air quotes for “sexy” here). This is a “burlesque imitation” to a T.

Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti (1989, Namco)

Splat!What is it? Splatterhouse was a hyperviolent beat ‘em up/action title that was released in arcades in 1989. It is, at its core, a pastiche of horror movies of the 80’s roughly adapted for a videogame format where you’re the monster combating other monsters to save a princess. In a way, this already makes Splatterhouse a sort of parody. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, in an attempt to make Splatterhouse gameplay more palatable for the Nintendo Family Computer (emphasis on the “family” part of that Famicom), the gore was turned down to one, and the comedy was cranked up to eleven.

Is it fun? In so much as Splatterhouse gameplay is fun, S:WG is fun. It’s pretty basic: walk to the right, chop down baddies, eventually reach a boss, kill what you gotta kill to move forward. Not unlike Parodius, the game is very unforgiving, and you’ll want to take as little damage as possible if you want to stretch your three lives (continues) to the end of the adventure. With the caveat that this is an early NES game that should not be judged by 2020 standards, Wanpaku Graffiti is pretty fun to play.

But is it funny? Again, judging it as a NES game from 1989, it’s pretty comical. It follows the same pattern as Parodius and doesn’t rely on text, but presents bosses and opponents that are… amusing. The big bad is The Great Pumpkin. The boss of the first level is Thriller-era Michael Jackson. The finale sees “the director” accidentally stumble on set. It might not be laugh out loud funny, but it is at least silly.

So is it a parody? Transforming one of the most violent games of the day into its own “kiddy mode” sure seems like a parody. Also, the protagonist, Rick, is downright adorable in his chibi form, so it’s hard not to smile as you chop up zombies riding tombstone pogo sticks. There’s a lot of ambient amusement in this affectionate adaptation.

Kid Dracula (1990, Konami)

It's the kidWhat is it? Parodius worked out for Gradius, so why not parody Castlevania? Kid Dracula is the story of Dracula’s son (or his younger self? Or Alucard’s younger self? Can we get a timeline here?) venturing around the world to stop the forces of Galamoth, a robot dragon from the end of time. Or… something. Whatever the situation, it’s Castlevania through a more comical filter.

Is it fun? This is basically Castlevania sensibilities mixed with Mega Man-style gameplay and the ability to walk on the ceiling or transform into a bat. If it was released in America in 1990, I would have married the game by now.

But is it funny? Like other games on this list, it has a general level of “whacky” to its humor. Once again, the basic concept here is that the original franchise is deathly serious, so any time you have to fight a “goofy” chicken, it’s supposed to be funny. Of course, Kid D’s shorts are always going to be funny on their own.

So is it a parody? Unfortunately, Kid Dracula seems to drop the distinct parody elements pretty early in the adventure. The first level is straight up Castlevania, and it’s a blast to deal with a castle full of spikey traps and inane zombies, but the franchise connection seems all but lost later when you’re fighting a giant robot on an airship. For better or worse, Kid Dracula moves past its parody factor pretty quickly.

Star Parodier (1992, Hudson Soft)

Right there in the name againWhat is it? Parodius worked, so why not another parody shoot ‘em up? Hudson had the Star Soldier franchise kicking around since 1986, so why not give that shooter a send up? Will I ever stop asking rhetorical questions?

Is it fun? This is the vertical shoot ‘em up to Parodius’s horizontal shoot ‘em up. That said, it seems a lot easier to survive in Star Soldier/Star Parodier, as you acquire a shield a whole lot quicker. There’s also a slightly more cerebral powerup system, wherein you have a few options (not those options), and can enhance them by grabbing like-colored pickups, or switch to another color for a slightly different attack. It’s a neat idea for a shoot ‘em up, which is already a style of game that requires a lot of quick thinking and darting around the screen.

But is it funny? Parodius clone plays by Parodius rules. Star Parodier is definitely its own game, but its humor style is still “look at the next whacky thing that shows up”. Also a strangely high number of penguins…

So is it a parody? Yes. Or… I assume. I’ve only ever played like three levels of one Star Soldier game… so this seems like a parody of that. I think? They replaced a round boss with a ferris wheel, so I think that counts. Whatever! Look, you can play as a flying Bomberman, so that’s at least a parody of something.

ClayFighter (1993, Interplay)

Whack em smack emWhat is it? Shoot ‘em ups are old hat, let’s move on to the next big thing: fighting games. Clayfighter is technically your typical fighter, but with a cast of Claymation loonies that lampoon everything from Elvis to… blobs? Is that a thing? Do people not like blobs? But… nothing beats the blob!

Is it fun? OG Clayfighter is a fighting game in the Street Fighter 2 mold (… was that a pun?), and plays very similarly. It doesn’t have quite the move variety as its target franchise (ducking attacks are often exactly the same as a standing or jumping action), but it’s still a much better fighter than some of the turds that were cranked out during the era of its birth. You ever play Fighter’s History? Don’t.

But is it funny? Hey, this is the first parody game on this list created by an American studio! And it’s pretty amusing in a 90’s kid kinda way. Remember when “Fat Elvis” was the target of every other late night show, despite the obvious handicap that he had been dead for decades? And “the fat lady sings” was somehow an oft-repeated and literalized phrase? And we were all afraid of clowns? Clayfighter spends all of its humor bucks pretty quickly after you see a fighter’s complete moveset, but isn’t that how all fighting games work, anyway?

So is it a parody? Clayfighter eventually went on to produce C2: Judgment Clay, which was more of the same, but with a veneer of extra MK parody, and Clayfighter 63⅓, which was a super specific parody of Killer Instinct Gold. That said, the original Clayfighter isn’t too precise of a parody (N. Boss is the closest we get to a fighter parodying an actual character from another game, and that’s mostly just the name), and more a parody of the concept of “serious” fighting games. So it qualifies, but it’s less “parody” and more “vaguely humorous”.

Pyst (1996, Parroty Interactive)

It's pronounced P-ystWhat is it? Myst was an adventure game that was the most popular videogame of 1993/1994. It was ubiquitous, and, somehow, everyone from your next door neighbor to your dad to your other next door neighbor that was secretly your real dad had played it. Realizing that such an omnipresent game was ripe for parody, Parroty Interactive (a division of Palladium Interactive) was founded to produce a game mocking Myst and its associated culture. Pyst was released three years after Myst, and… it wasn’t great.

Is it fun? Pyst is barely a game. There had been adventure games that were funny in the past (the entire LucasArts oeuvre was amazing, and would be featured in this article if they weren’t their own thing, completely eschewing the need to be a parody to be funny), and there’s a lot of potential in lampooning the esoteric puzzles of Myst… but this ain’t doin’ it. Pyst is little more than going from screen to screen and clicking on buttons to activate videos. It’s about as fun as “playing” Youtube (but marginally less racist).

But is it funny? I will admit that I chuckled a bit at Pyst when I was a young’un. It’s like Airplane! But for a videogame! That said, the jokes are rough, and it’s less an affectionate parody of the game itself, and more of a parody of the culture and general public reactions to the game itself. It’s not something that was produced by someone that played Myst for twenty hours and then ran out and bought the companion books, it’s a Saturday Night Live skit based on one those videogames the kids seem to like. And, further cementing the SNL connection, John Goodman is in a few scenes for some reason. That… is something.

So is it a parody? Well, certainly, even if it barely qualifies as a game. Someone forgot to fill in the whole “videogame” part of the “videogame parody” equation, but it definitely happened. Take that, game that revolutionized what a videogame could be, and was then somehow forgotten presumably because all the sequels sucked!

Star Warped (1997, Parroty Interactive)

STAR!What is it? Parroty returned the next year with Star Warped, their “parody” of Star Wars. In this case, someone decided to include a videogame in the videogame, as there are some meager minigames and a skimpy fighting game pastiche. The whole experience is hosted by a pair of brothers that are Star Wars superfans that supposedly have not left the house since first watching and consequently dedicating their lives to Star Wars. But they were somehow able to collect oodles of Star Wars merchandise in the meanwhile! Before the advent of the internet being “The Internet”! This parody has some gaping plot holes!

Is it fun? There might be a game this time, but nobody said those games had to be any fun. Do you enjoy using your mouse to play whack-a-ewok? A fighting game that looks like it was animated in the most primitive version of Flash available (actually, in 1997, that might be a completely factual description)? If you’re looking for actual gameplay out of a Parroty Interactive title, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

But is it funny? Do you like laughing at nerds? Great! Enjoy watching them caper around and talk about Star Wars like it’s a religion. And then you can play as Cool –Handless Luke and fight Pizza-Flipping Greedo. Yes! Someone took the time to make a parody of Greedo! Are you laughing yet!?

So is it a parody? Man, this game sucks, but it’s why parodies are important. This is one of the last remaining relics of the “before time” for Star Wars. You know how Disney bought Star Wars for $4,050,000,000? They did that because Star Wars is a very serious film franchise for very serious people (and certainly not children). And it only got to that point because the hype around the “Prequel Trilogy” rebranded Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon on par with the Moon Landing. Before 1999, though? Star Wars was just some weird franchise for weirdos that hang around in their weird basements. Star Warped is a perfect encapsulation of that embarrassing era for the franchise. It’s a parody of a particular time and place in a cultural zeitgeist, and it would be all but forgotten if not for digging Star Warped out of the dustbin of history. In the same way that Scary Movie can remind us all of the Scream-craze of the late 20th Century, Star Warped inadvertently can remind us of the Dork Ages of Star Wars.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001, Rare)

It's kind of a swearWhat is it? Parroty Interactive went on to produce an X-Files parody and a parody of an operating system (seriously!), and then went out of business. Or pivoted to making learning games. Whatever. They didn’t survive to make it to Riven, so somebody else had to pick up the parody torch. Rare had always produced games with a generally humorous bent (even Donkey Kong Country premiered with DK kicking out the old man), so it seemed natural when they produced Conker’s Bad Fur Day, a game meant to clash with the traditionally “squeaky clean” image for Nintendo systems/releases. Join a typical “videogame mascot” that has become a little more surly than your average bear or hedgehog.

Is it fun? This was Rare at the height of their 3-D action/adventure/collectathon powers, so Conker’s Bad Fur Day is, if nothing else, a pretty fun game to play. For the personal Goggle Bob rankings, I’d put it above Donkey Kong 64 and Jetforce Gemini, but below Banjo-Kazooie or Mario 64. And those are all top tier games to begin with! It’s right up there! And, hey, it even foresaw the future of Mario with context-based abilities that only appear in particular levels. Mario should write Conker a thank you note.

But is it funny? I was the exact right age when this title was released (old enough to not be shocked, but young enough to find peeing unequivocally funny), so your mileage may vary, but Conker’s day is a funny one. The basis of much of the humor is the cute animal creature (Conker) having to deal with “real world” problems, like war or hangovers. And the juxtaposition works! It (as is always the case with Rare) maybe relies on being a little too talky and anxious to explain the joke on many occasions (a googly-eyed poop needs no explanation), but it’s about twenty times funnier than anything else on the Nintendo 64 not involving a giant ninja robot.

So is it a parody? One could easily argue that the gameplay of Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a 100% mundane 3-D platformer experience, and the occasional jokes or wisecracks from his furry friends aren’t enough to warrant a full parody label. But CBFD is more than that! The gameplay doesn’t have to be that subversive when an alien bursts from out of a panther’s chest. The incongruity of this Diddy Kong Racer facing a world that is about twenty miles above his maturity level is the joke here, and it winds up as a perfect parody of the heyday of videogame mascots. Gex could never touch this squirrel.

The Simpsons Game (2007, Electronic Arts)

Katamari MilhouseWhat is it? Hey, everybody, it’s another Simpsons video game. Try to sound excited! This time, we’ve got a game that was actually penned by writers of The Simpsons series! That’s good. But it is The Simpsons writers of 2007, and it gets very self-referential, very fast. That’s bad. But it’s the best videogame The Simpsons have ever seen. That’s good. But it is also looking at videogames from a very “dad” perspective, so the jokes are more broad than biting. That’s bad. But you can earn all kinds of achievements. That’s good. But the achievements contain Potassium Benzoate.

Is it fun? Continuing the platforming/collectathon tradition of Conker, The Simpsons Game predominantly vacillates between “obstacle course” style levels and excuses to bump around and find random crap all over the place. And The Simpsons get super powers! Which is fun! Homer turning into a big, doughy wrecking ball is always going to be a great time, and the different ways the various Simpsons can work together through diverse levels is a great.

But is it funny? It’s basically a Simpsons episode in videogame form, so what is there to complain about? This is the first game on this list that allowed for the “modern” convenience of overt and incidental voice acting, so quips come fast and furious. And the various super powers and situations the Simpsons encounter add some much needed physical/visual humor to the proceedings. Humor is hard when all you can do is make a whacky looking dancer boss, it’s a lot easier when you’ve got next gen graphics and the best voice actors in the business.

So is it a parody? While The Simpsons themselves are the yellow butts of a few jokes, the main target here is generic “videogames”. The family ventures through levels themed after Dungeons & Dragons, Pokémon, and whatever franchise is exploiting World War 2 the most this week. And one of the big collectibles for the game is simply “videogame clichés” that can be amassed for achievements. And special guest Will Wright wants to destroy NES cartridges full of 8-bit Simpsons. It’s still very broad (Patty and Selma are a two-headed dragon! That’s a thing happens in games, right!?), but it is very much “The Simpsons tackle videogames”, so calling it a parody of the medium at large (of 2007) seems accurate.

Hatoful Boyfriend (2011, PigeoNation Inc.)

Love dem birdsWhat is it? It’s another Japanese visual novel where you’re the transfer student at a high school, and you’re about to get into all sorts of weird and wacky situations with your new classmates. Maybe even romance will bloom! One minor caveat, though: you’re the only human in a world of giant, intelligent birds. Yes, this game started as an April Fool’s Day “prank”, but it’s one of about three visual novels this author can stomach.

Is it fun? It’s a visual novel, so that’s a resounding no. What? Press X to advance text isn’t my bag on a good day. Oh, I’m supposed to enjoy the roleplaying? Well la de da, give me a call when your roleplaying involves killing god.

But is it funny? You don’t play visual novels for the gameplay, you do it for the sweet, sweet writing. Or the pictures where “you” fall face first into a cyclops’ panties. Whatever floats your boat. Regardless, the writing and scenarios for Hatoful Boyfriend are some top notch anime bullshit. And that’s great! Because the entire cast is comprised of photo-realistic birds, so it’s immediately apparent how everything in your average visual novel is absurd nonsense even when there aren’t avian creatures abound. And then a doctor eats you.

So is it a parody? Most visual novels “reward” the player with scenes of…. Can I say pornography? How about art? You receive art for taking particular paths or options. A game where your potential suitors are replaced with pigeons is certainly going to qualify as a parody, as it draws a stark contrast between the usual expectations and our feathered friends. It is parody in absurdity in a genre that has had already entered the realm of self-parody. Good birds. Pretty birds.

Divekick (2013, One True Game Studios)

Kick it againWhat is it? It’s another fighting game, but this one more or less the result of decades of giant nerds playing fight games. Years of scientists studying characters, tiers, and frame data have determined one thing: the divekick is the only viable fighting game move. So here’s a fighting game where all the characters can only perform a diving jump kick. There are different combatants. There are different techniques. But there is only divekick.

Is it fun? In a way, this is a fighting game boiled down to its absolute essence. There’s a variety of characters, a story mode with rivals and endings, and warnings about the prevalence of concussions. But it’s all in the service of a fighting game where one hit wins every match, and one (or two) buttons is all you will ever need. And that’s fun! It’s not the kind of game anyone would want to be alone with on a desert island, but it is enjoyable for short bursts. The ideal downloadable title for the modern console/computer.

But is it funny? There’s a mutated skunkbear that is named Redacted because it is way too similar to one of Marvel’s mightiest mutants. That’s funny! Kicking someone in the head might not be the funniest thing in the world, but the characters and general situations are filled with humor. Oh, and the master wears boots on his hands. That’s silly.

So is it a parody? This is one of those “affectionate parodies” I’ve been referencing elsewhere in the article. This is insider politics for fighting game fans, and a true work that was created by fanatics, for fanatics. It’s a parody that loves its source material, but still acknowledges fighting games are more than a little goofy. There could be another paragraph here just explaining the seven layers of dumb Street Fighter jokes surrounding the final boss, and that’s a sign that something parody-related has happened here.

Lego City Undercover (2013, TT Games)

Goin' undercoverWhat is it? The Lego Videogame franchise finally got away from straight franchise adaptions in 2013, and produced Lego City Undercover, a game featuring an average (Lego) cop that runs over a strangely high number of (Lego) pedestrians. The game is a large departure for the traditional gameplay of the Lego titles, as it is less “levels”, and more of an open-world, mission-based situation. Also, there is full voice acting and a wholly original plot, so this is like a real videogame, and not just Star Wars-lite.

Is it fun? Damn right it is. Lego City Undercover is basically a Grand Theft Auto title with Lego sensibilities, and it’s kind of amazing how effectively those two genres mesh. What’s more, Lego City Undercover is better than your average Lego game, as it doesn’t require the player to obsessively break every goddamn thing every seven inches for additional studs (there is more than a little breakage, of course, but it doesn’t have nearly the same emphasis as seen in other Lego titles). This is just swinging, driving, and busting criminals all over a Lego city, and that’s pretty damn great.

But is it funny? Double damn right it is. Lego City Undercover is generally hilarious on occasion, which should come as no surprise, as actual comedy writers were hired to punch up the entirety of the game’s script. If there are seven seconds of “downtime” in the plot, you can be sure that space will be filled with some manner of capering. And, on a personal note, while cops and robbers are equally lampooned across the game (along with anything else that wanders into the frame), I am currently enjoying any humor derived at the expense of the boys in blue. Those egos could stand to be deflated a pinch…

So is it a parody? In Grand Theft Auto, you are a criminal. In Lego City Undercover, you are a police officer. Somehow, the gameplay is exactly the same. Funny how that works. Lego City Undercover manages to present a family-friendly take on the genre that also provides some insightful (and seemingly deliberate) commentary on the state of the world, and that’s a sign you’re dealing with an excellent parody. Some of GTA’s imitators may border on parody (Saints Row comes immediately to mind), but Lego City Undercover distinguishes itself as its own, albeit parodic, animal.

Goat Simulator (2014, Coffee Stain Studios)

DEM GOATS!What is it? You’re a mundane goat. That’s it. Thanks for playing.

Is it fun? Oh, wait, little caveat here: Goat Sim is more of a game physics demo that evolved into a full-fledged game… Or… almost evolved, at least. There are general goals for your goat simulating here, but, by and large, it’s just you (a goat) in a medium-to-large playground, and your only real tasks are finding new and interesting ways to be destructive. It’s like Blast Corps, but, ya know, with a goat.

But is it funny? In a way, this is a total “make your own fun” adventure. However, despite the fact that the game generally lacks legitimate goals or a level structure, the “playgrounds” available are all meticulously designed. What does that mean? Well, imagine a million perfectly aligned dominoes, and you’re playing as the wrecking ball that just crashed into this clumsy metaphor. This is not a game that relies on clever dialogue, this is a game that relies on the player’s innate need to lick a moving tractor to see what happens. Spoilers: it winds up funny.

So is it a parody? Goat Simulator is the kind of game that could only happen after decades of established videogames. This is a game that looks at the many, many ways you can interact with a world in a videogame, and then pushes them to absurd levels. Yes, you can climb that gigantic crane and jump off… but please don’t do that while aiming for the highly volatile gas station, or bad things might happen. Combine this with a variety of “cheats” and achievements that encourage complete lunacy (a basic rule of the universe is that you should never give a goat a jetpack), and Goat Simulator is more than a simple goat game, it’s a parody of gaming as a whole. And then there’s that MMORPG mode. Class: Microwave is just silly.

Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns! (2019, Fantastico Studio)

What is it? A man eats a unicorn-flavored ice cream, and, yada yada yada, now he’s being propelled through the sky on a toilet and shooting up his worst fears. And if you guessed “worst fears” included “Salt Bae”, then congratulations, you’re one of the cool kids for today!

Is it fun? It’s a modern “bullet hell” shoot ‘em up, so if you like that, this one is pretty great. The gameplay conceit du jour is that every explosion drops rupees, and catchin’ ‘em all will lead to your arsenal being immediately upgraded. Like with Star Parodier above, this is an interesting mechanic for advancement in an already frenetic genre, so it fits into the shoot ‘em up genre like a glove. Oh, and you can barf unicorn puke all over the place if things get too overwhelming.

But is it funny? This is referential humor at its most obvious. You could be shooting ships or wieners or whatever, but, no, it’s all references to pop culture. Is it overtly funny? Not necessarily. Is it satisfying to lay suppressing fire on a giant, orange toupee? It’s not bad. The basic joke in this game is seeing what ridiculous thing pops up as a boss next, so please enjoy a chuckle when you have to go hand-to-hand with The Pope.

So is it a parody? We’re right back to where we started: a shoot ‘em up with the usual nonsense replaced with joke characters. If Parodius was a parody of Gradius, then it makes transitive sense that Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns is the modern (and American) parody of Gradius’s same genre. This parody doesn’t have much to say beyond “yes, these things exist”, but it winds up being an amusing way to spend an hour or so. Not all parodies are created equal, but there is certainly room for parodies in the videogame sphere.

So what does parody actually mean, Tony? It means you’re going to have a good time.

… Until you die sixty times in a row to the same stupid boss. Then the joke gets a bit stale.

FGC #525 Parodius

  • Poor penguinSystem: You may find Parodius on practically any videogame system… outside of the United States. Even Europe saw a couple of Parodius games! The best the Americas can hope for is the occasional big fat nothing. I somehow have a Gameboy version, though. Blame Europe again.
  • Number of players: 2 player simultaneous! Who cares if Americans wouldn’t get the references, here’s a reason this shoot ‘em up could have done well in the West.
  • What did you actually play: As is my wont, I played through the complete Parodius arcade collection for this article (even if ROB did technically choose the Gameboy version). This is definitely a franchise that gets better as it progresses, and Sexy Parodius is great with its branching paths and gigantic monsters/ladies. My understanding is that there is also a Parodius Tactics game for the Playstation 1 by the name of Paro Wars… and I’m not touching that with a ten foot penguin.
  • Favorite Pilot: Michael and Gabriel are flying pig angels. I’m pretty sure there need be no further explanation.
  • Worst Powerup Ever: The Oh!/!? powerup block will immediately strip you of all power. It is horrible beyond measure, and, considering the average arcade game doesn’t come with much of a manual, downright mean-spirited. One would suppose it at least gives you a reason to pay attention to manual powerup activation…
  • Konami gonna Konami: If you’re wondering what the Parodius franchise is up to nowadays, may I interest you in a series of pachinko machines?
  • Super 'Sexy'Most Excellent: Otomedius carried on the basic concept of Parodius for a little while, basically focusing on the “sexy” part of Sexy Parodius. It didn’t last very long, but at least it gave the Twin Bee franchise another spotlight.
  • Did you know? Koitsu, Aitsu, Soitsu and Doitsu, the little dudes riding paper airplanes, reappear as monster cards in the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise. The Vic Viper pops up there, too, so Konami kept its crossovers going.
  • Would I play again: Yes! Can someone look into porting this entire franchise to the Switch? Get to working on that! That system needs more penguins!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 7 Remake! Time to get reacquainted with some old friends! Please look forward to it!

Big ol' heads

FGC #279 The Walking Dead

It will get worseToday we’re going to talk about why zombies suck.

I don’t know about you, possibly-swole reader, but I’m kind of a weakling. I’m not completely helpless (I can help move a buddy’s couch like a champ), but I don’t have much in the upper-body strength department, and, when you get right down to it, I’m pretty sure a group of particularly rowdy preschoolers could take me out. In other words, I’m less Zangief, a lot more Dan. Possibly as a result of this, I do live in a vague kind of fear of other humans. I’m not an agoraphobic, and I don’t walk the streets cowering in my coat, but I know that if some random dude decided to pressure me for my precious wallet, I wouldn’t have much in the way of recourse. I’m not going to bust out my amazing kung-fu, I’m not going to start swinging a secret sword around like a mad man; I’m… probably just going to get beat up. I’m done, the end. I fear the walking living.

But I’m not afraid of zombies. Okay, a prime reason to not fear zombies is that, ya know, they’re fictional. But other than that, zombies are… dumb. Yes, if there were some zombie outbreak, I’d be a little concerned about the dead walking and maybe the moon crying blood or something, but after getting over the initial shock, even the magical “running zombie” isn’t much of a big deal. Humans are threatening because they have intelligence, remove that essential trait, and you’ve basically got a big, lumbering Chihuahua. Look out for the teeth! He’s gonna bite! And… get past that, and we’re in the clear. I’m afraid of a human with a club or gun, I’m not afraid of being scratched to death by some shambling dork. Various bits of zombie media have already included the “neutered zombie”: cut off the jaw, and what have you got? … Wait, has anyone ever addressed zombie versions of people with dentures? Is there truly nothing to fear from Zombie Washington?

Keep on shamblingThough I suppose I’m missing the forest for the trees here, as the real threat of zombies is supposed to be numbers. Zombies have a tendency to herd together, and, while one individual zombie isn’t a big deal, when there’s a whole gang literally knocking down your door, that’s when it’s time to go for the safe room. This is the premise of a healthy amount of zombie media, and allows for fun situations where “there’s nowhere to run”. And, yes, zombie hordes are generally scary… but they’re still basically a problem of poor planning. As I am continually reminded, I am basically a handsomer Batman, and, given enough preparation, I could overcome any problem. Whether it be rampaging throngs of zombies or republicans, I’m still not afraid of crowds, because I am an excellent hider. Give me a general space of about twenty square feet, and I guarantee I could find an area to “hold up” until this whole mob danger has passed. Zombies, even in great numbers, don’t scare me.

And this all might trace itself back to videogames. In a way, every videogame enemy/monster/met is a zombie. They’ve got limited intelligence (AI), can only perform the most basic of functions, and their only goal is your (protagonist’s) death. The end. There is no secret desire of slimes (assuming said slimes are not Rocket), and, like zombies, programmed “intelligence” may be easily tricked by tossing out some bait that would be blatantly obvious to any really thinking individual. Koopa troopas spawn way to close to fire flowers, and zombies have a tendency to follow their noses straight into the threshing machine. Nothing scary about a threat that will walk right into a bullet.

So it’s a minor miracle that The Walking Dead actually makes zombies threatening again.

Am I having a stroke?Come to think of it, there’s a lot that is miraculous about Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. For one thing, it’s either an “old school” adventure game or a slightly graduated visual novel, and both of those genres have absolutely no business being interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I loved King’s Quest V as much as the next guy, but the whole “adventure game” mold is basically based on making interesting stories with unique ways to interact with the environment before videogames really had the power to do it “right”. And take a look at the number of transitory, wannabe adventure games for examples on the real reason that genre never went anywhere. Oh, and visual novels? Not even going to address why those are terrible. Basically, it’s amazing that The Walking Dead was able to properly synthesize an excellent game out of these basic pieces, left alone the whole zombie problem.

Somehow, I guess two or three wrongs make a right, because, technically, The Walking Dead relies on a phrase that strikes fear into my heart: The Walking Dead is a game-long escort mission. TWD is, at its core, a “dad game”, you’re Lee, who, shortly after the game begins, finds the orphaned Clementine, a little girl that, left to her own devices, will certainly be devoured by the undead inside of five minutes. Actually, that’s probably not accurate, as Clementine generally seems to have her head on straight, but the game certainly treats you, the player, as Clementine’s only hope for salvation. So, dad, it’s time to take care of your daughter for five episodes or so. You’re constantly in danger, Clementine is constantly in danger, and you’re often asked to compromise your own safety for hers. I don’t think I’m even spoiling the ending to note that, yes, at one point you will have to let Clementine “grow up” because maybe Booker Lee started taking this “dad” thing a little too literally to be healthy.

Move alongBut the adventure game motif comingling with the escort mission works brilliantly for the undead hordes. Lee is, at best, equipped with a cumbersome axe, and he is never going to be granted a rocket launcher. It’s clear from the first episode that the most “physical” Lee is ever going to get is reeeeeeally reaching for a key, so don’t expect any crazy zombie jump kicks during this adventure. Ultimately, this all adds up to maintaining the zombies as a constant threat, and then ups the ante by giving the player someone to protect. I’m not worried about Lee dying, after all, he’s a videogame protagonist, any of his deaths will be undone by a quick “Press X the restart”; but Clementine? If something happens to her… well… that would be horrible. I’d give my left arm to guarantee Clementine’s safety!

So congratulations to Telltale Games’ Walking Dead for making zombies scary again. In AMC’s The Walking Dead, the eponymous Dead have become little more than shaved (but plentiful) bears, and every other videogame has made zombies useless fodder. But zombies had a brief time to shine in this Walking Dead. The combination of a bunch of gaming tropes that don’t usually work actually coalesced into something fun… and something to fear.

Good job, zombies, you don’t completely suck. Maybe you just bite.

FGC #279 The Walking Dead

  • System: This might be faster if I just list which systems don’t host this game. It ain’t on any Nintendo systems. Other than that, it’s all over the place. There’s even a Vita version? Weird.
  • Number of players: One player controls Lee, and then a small audience gathers around that player.
  • Race Relations: Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a black protagonist that was smart and level-headed, but didn’t have a background of being a violent criminal? I realize Lee’s whole deal allows for some drama with the cast in the early episodes, but, come on, Telltale, did we need further reinforcement of that unfortunate stereotype?
  • It's GlennFavorite Character: She’s completely insane, but I like Lilly. On one hand, she’s absolutely a pain in the butt in many situations (some of them involving exploding heads), but, really, for all my bluster about not being afraid of no zombie, she’s probably an example of how I would actually operate in a zombie apocalypse. Protect your family, assume everyone else is against you, and maybe go steal a vehicle because you’re secretly kind of a jerk. … Hm, I wonder what this says about me.
  • Did you know? There is a lot of unused dialogue in this game that seems to indicate that there were different plans for various characters and their backstories. It’s kind of amusing that this is the game that really kicked off Telltale’s “adventure game” renaissance (or at least totally funded it), and it’s clear the writers had no idea what they were doing in the early episodes. Okay, they undoubtedly knew what they were doing, they just didn’t have a firm grasp on the characters and future plot from the start of the first episode. It’s understandable, but I’m the kind of guy that meticulously plans out everything I write and… Great, now I forgot how I was going to end this sentence.
  • Would I play again? You know, I enjoyed this game… but I still haven’t played the sequel. The whole franchise seems to dominate this weird no man’s land where it’s not really a videogame (like I wouldn’t sit down to play it like I would a Mega Man title), but it’s certainly more intense than watching a random TV show. I liked my experience playing this game, but I might never do it again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Troll Islands for the SNES! Are… are you trolling me, robot? Is this even a real game? Guess we’ll find out. Please look forward to it!

It will get worse