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FGC #627.2 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #627.1 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #619 Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2

I would rather watch thisI am so terrified of being stupid that I may never enjoy anything ever again.

A long time ago in a plagueless epoch long past, it was stated well before the term “Millennial” was ever coined that Millennials interact with advertising differently than their parents. Supposedly, studies had been done that Millennials are more naturally resist to ads that worked on their forebearers, and this next generation of consumers required different tactics. No more could you simply stick Lucy Ricardo on the boob tube and have her tell people exactly what chocolate to buy; no, brands had to build a relationship with their audience. Millennials naturally resisted any and all advertisements that were presented as advertisements, and they loudly joked about the futility of blatant product placement. The paradigm has shifted! A new people is born that needs all new practices!

Or maybe they just needed to make a goddamned movie about chipmunks and their decreasing ability to be proper rescue rangers.

Let’s double back on that whole “Millennials react differently to advertising than their parents” thing. It is the opinion of Gogglebob.com and its attendant subsidiaries that this is and always has been bullshit. Yes, we react differently to advertising, but that is going to be true of literally every generation and the 50-year-old advertising executives that never want to change for any reason, ever. But even beyond that, Millennials were raised with a very unusual feeling of anti-permanence. Ever wonder why nerds are so obsessed with the concept of a fictional “canon”? While this has been a problem for generations, this was significantly exacerbated by a very variable childhood for the 80’s boys. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a completely different continuity between their action figure box descriptions and their animated series. The Transformers had entirely separate universes if you watched a show or read the comics. Even He-Man, often looked to as the ur-“merchandising as entertainment” toy that kicked off the last forty years, could not master a universe where their stage play was half as fantastic as their box art. And we don’t even acknowledge the movie! So, with such contrasting childhood presentations, is it any wonder that an entire generation of nerds craved an authority to tell them what was “real”?

Start at the beginningAnd, whether you were a turbo nerd that noticed Donatello had markedly different eyes across adaptations or not, this impacted vast swaths of people of a certain age. And that can have some long term ramifications! Kids notice when there are incongruities in their own little universe, and, as they grow into surly teenagers, they eventually identify these “incongruities” as “lies our parents told us”. And, when reaching a certain age means you realize your entire childhood was a slapdash fabrication designed only to get you to bug your parents to go to Toys Я Us right now, cynicism is the only result. Are you surprised that an entire generation would thus crave an ephemeral genuine article, and reflexively reject any further attempt at trickery? We were a generation that read propaganda magazines for fun in our childhood, you can’t just toss us a warmed-up smattering of media leftovers and expect us to roll over and play consumer. We care about our properties, because you made us this way, dad! If we were never meant to know the Zelda timeline, then what was even the point of buying three different Zelda encyclopedias, huh!?

Err… actually… yeah. You can pretty quickly see how marketing switched around from “buy this product because we say so” to “buy this product because it is the real story”. And that “real story” can apply in a lot of different ways. We no longer laud actors, we appreciate their characters. Michael Myers and Seth Green are not selling cars, it is Dr. Evil and son Scott that have a Superbowl spot. Networks are not telling you to go out and buy cat food, it is the silly Adult Swim bumper telling you to buy into the latest streaming service. And Soap Company is all about telling you, dear consumer, that it is now hiring models that are not “model skinny”, as, apparently, Soap Company is the arbiter of whether or not bodies are desirable or not. One way or another, it is all about authority and permission, and advertising agencies have learned that Millennials react well to corporations that are working “with” their audience… even if that authorization is apocryphal.

How could it be betterWhat right does any company have to tell its audience what is canon? Original author? Sorry, you died. Company that acquired the rights in some merger? You will never undo Jaxxon T. Tumperakki just because you rubbed George’s beard the right way. And speaking of Disney, to even understand the most popular characters in their stable, you have to acknowledge that their stars were always meant to be adaptable cartoon “stars” that could fit into any situation. Mickey Mouse is a steamboat thief and magical warrior king, and he was literally designed to be able to be anything in between. Disney characters can be anything! Stop trying to sell us the “real story” of any given reboot! Stop trying to make “behind the music” for chipmunks!

… Yeah, alright, let’s talk about that trailer.

For any readers stumbling onto this blog post from the far-flung future of three months from now, understand that this entire article was written in response to the launch of the first trailer for Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers: The 2022 Motion Picture. I have not seen the movie. I have no real idea what the movie is going to look like. It could turn out to be the greatest thing since Citizen Kane (or at least The Lego Movie). I don’t know! But I do know that I had an almost instinctual, gut reaction to the trailer when I first saw it. And, even on a day when they also announced a Bioshock television show, this trailer stuck in my brain unlike any other chunk of media in recent memory. Hell, when was the last time I delayed an FGC post just so I could talk about something that happened “this” week? Maybe a Metroid game

And why do I care? Well, because this trailer impressed upon me two basic facts:

  1. I hate it. I hate it so much. This is a beloved children’s property by way of that food movie with the racist bread. This is some lowest common denominator dreck that is going to take potshots at the last thirty years of animation, and act like it is a damn trendsetter for daring to swing at a 2007 CGI movie nobody remembers (Beowulf. Yes it was a movie). You can’t claim you’re “doing a Roger Rabbit”, literally include Roger Rabbit, and then ignore the fact that the world of Roger Rabbit was a jaded metaphor for actual Hollywood, not some joyful romp through the dustbins of the Disney Entertainment Conglomerate.
  2. This is extremely my jam.

Fuck it! Just fuck it! I am not afraid to admit that this is probably the exact movie I would create if given the chance. Jokes about animation that only make sense to people that remember really specific movies (again, Beowulf)? Sure! Extremely meta concept wherein Disney Stars are actual Disney Stars? It I'm your biggest fanbeats rehashing a fight against Fat Cat. And while I might not ever indulge in the tired trope of “washed up stars” and “retired chipmunks”, the high concept lunacy of “CGI makeover” being a toon’s version of plastic surgery is right up my esoteric alley. Throw in an oblique reference to Chip ‘n Dale not having any time for maintaining airships, and you could practically see my signature on the script. And, while I am unlikely to be the person helming any Disney properties anytime soon (despite my prodigious Gargoyles fanfiction), I could even see being completely content with these concepts/gags as part of a comic book. I loved that time Lex Luthor and Porky Pig got to hang out, so a “where are they now” miniseries on the Rescue Rangers would be amazing. Hell, that’s just a little bit south of where the Darkwing Duck comic started anyway! And I loved that thing!

But this is a movie. This is a trailer that is being shared on every social media platform at 10 AM on a Tuesday. This is something that is being covered on every entertainment website ever created, and attached to a bursting comments section showcasing everyone’s slightest thought on the subject. This is something that will be advertised during commercial breaks, youtube pre rolls, and possibly even previews before big screen flicks. Hell, there are even odds this will have a trailer attached to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Chip n’ Dale will not be as ubiquitous as Encanto 2: Bruno’s Behooving, but it is likely to have a significant cultural presence between now and its release.

And that makes me want to kill it. I want to see violence visited upon it. I want it to pay for the crime of being advertised to the masses and being everything I could ever want.

Nobody likes sewersThis is pandering. From the first moment they lovingly flash over a Nintendo Entertainment System and its attendant NES cartridge, you know exactly who this trailer is for. This is not for super fans that have a Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers poster on their office wall (that I am currently looking at for inspiration, obviously), this is for people who dimly remember enjoying a cartoon some random weekdays after school. This is for people who can identify a “Nintendo game”, but do not even consider there could be someone out there with those games “mint in box”. This is a trailer aimed squarely at people that will not write 1,634 words (and counting!) about a goddamned movie trailer while pretending they are writing an article for a videogame blog. And I wonder what it is like to not be this crazy.

Er-hem.

It would be easy to step back from that statement as “oh you so cray cray” and call it a day, but I feel it is worth examining how I got to here. Strange but true: I wrote this article. All that nonsense about advertising at the top of the page? That is something that I have internalized since I heard the simple fact that “we” are supposed to be more resistant to advertising than our parents. It is something I have seen proven and reinforced over many years. God help me, the Digging the catfact that I am not easily “tricked” is something that I have made to be part of my own feeling of self. I am someone that does not “fall for” advertising. I am better than that. And, as a result, I am constantly on guard. I know nostalgia has been weaponized against me before. I know there is a Mega Man themed gacha right over there, perfectly willing to bleed my wallet dry in the name of getting Halloween Themed Roll on a good pull. I know I have become the “target demo”, and now my own childhood and hobbies are being used against me. I know they’re all out to get me, dammit! This trailer is the latest in crass pandering to a generation that can never let its guard down, lest corporate forces invade and conquer the whole of the cosmos!

… Or it’s just a silly movie about rescue rodents.

While it may not be their usual, this is a Disney movie, firmly premiering on a Disney-exclusive platform. If Disney could find a way to require any and all viewers to live in Disney sponsored housing while drinking Disney flavored cola, they would absolutely do lock that kind of nonsense down. This is a horrible, greedy company that would gladly ransom your childhood if it meant making an extra six bucks. It grants me no pleasure to do anything that supports such a company or its endeavors.

But on the other hand? This is a movie that I think will be at least worth a watch. This is something that will at least garner a few chuckles, if only because they make fun of that one movie with the Grendel (Beowulf!). I know I could boycott this movie. I know I could live without it. But if I am being honest, I also know that I and literally everyone I know could boycott this movie, and it would impact Disney’s bottom line about as much as closing Disney World: Detroit Location. If I somehow convince my tens of followers that this chipmunk movie is the second coming of Hitler, congratulations, a bunch of people that don’t have Disney Plus anyway are going to hesitate before they pirate the thing. This movie is crass propaganda for a past that never existed meant to profit off a generation already drowning in nostalgia… but what else am I gonna do with a free two hours?

So you know what? Screw it. I know it is an ad. I know this is likely some marketing executive’s wet dream about a Disney Afternoon extended universe (God help me if this movie has a post-credits Bonkers cameo). I know I am being tricked. But, at a certain point, you have to pick your battles. You must acknowledge that maybe being mad at a faceless corporation all the time is only going to hurt you, and never hurt said company. Maybe, at a certain point, you just shut up and enjoy the chipmunk movie.

And whether you make that decision or not, Disney and its nostalgia machine is never going to stop. You know, it never fails…

FGC #619 Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2

  • System: It was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994, making it the last Disney Afternoon game on its debut console (Ducktales [1] was released in ’89). It popped up again on the Disney Afternoon Collection in 2017 for the Xbox One, Playstation 4, Steam, and not the Switch (because we live in Hell).
  • Number of players: Chip ‘n Dale are both playable simultaneously, so that’s two rescue rangers.
  • Flap flap flapMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Yes, this whole “game” was an excuse to talk about a movie trailer. It’s my blog, I do what I want. Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2 is more of Rescue Rangers 1, but with better box physics, and a lack of level select/choose your own path. But at least Gadget gets a sprite! In a perfect world, this would be the Mega Man 2 of Disney Afternoon games, but, as it is, it is a mostly forgotten nicety that is fun to play when you have a chance. Please do not look at eBay to discover how much that chance can cost…
  • The Little Things: No overworld map, no route select, and the best you can get out of having any sort of choice is the final three areas can be played in any order. This is a notable step down from the preceding game… but it can be forgiven, because there is some manner of bat-dog boss. Eat that, weird ass alien from the original.
  • Further Improvements: There is a level with a ticking-bomb timer! And some of the throwing items have interesting secondary attributes! And all of the bosses have Kirby-esque “return fire” opportunities to attack, rather than tossing a little red ball around. Somebody really identified what was slapdash in CnDRR, and improved it across the board for the sequel. Too bad it was released after everyone stopped playing NES games…
  • Favorite Boss: One of the last levels is a clocktower that seems like it was shamelessly imported from a Castlevania. And at the top of the tower is not Death, but an ostrich riding a gear like a unicycle. It is hard to remember anything else after dealing with that kind of nonsense.
  • Not the clock tower you were looking forAn end: We get the typical Capcom NES ending sequence here, as the heroes teleport away to watch the villain’s castle crumble to dust. But did Fat Cat survive? Well, no, not if you only use further NES games as evidence. Maybe this movie will inspire a retro Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 3?
  • Did you know? Monterey Jack using cheese as a drug metaphor was already part of the text, guys. Like, it was the entire basis of the character. You’re not clever.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I’m going to play the Disney Afternoon Collection again, and then I’m going to watch the Disney Afternoon Modern Movie, because I am a loser. I admit defeat. Happy?

What’s next? Okay, now we’re going to hit The Incredible Crash Test Dummies… assuming nothing more interesting happens again. No guarantees! Please look forward to an unknown future!

It just looks familiar

FGC #616 Axiom Verge & Axiom Verge 2

This article contains spoilers for Axiom Verge and Axiom Verge 2. We go hard on Axiom Verge, but Axiom Verge 2 spoilers are considered to be “light”. That said, if you want to go into either game “clean”, you have been warned…

Very moodyFear. Isolation. Losing your very sense of self. Learning that you may be becoming a threat to yourself and others. Having an unstoppable magic gun that allows you to function as a God.

Which one of these doesn’t fit?

Axiom Verge is easily one of the best metroidvania titles of the last decade. For that matter, it is one of the best games, period, of all time. But its place in time is important, as much of Axiom Verge relies on an understanding from both the author and the audience of many games that have come before. Metroid was amazing and arguably kicked off the metroidvania (hey, it’s right there in the title) genre, but it was also a glitchy mess. Mario had one minus world, Metroid had an entire planet’s worth of areas that could be discovered if you jumped off of a doorway the “wrong” way. Axiom Verge uses this concept to create “intended glitches” in the form of breach blocks, unique areas, and even enemies that all rely on the visual shorthand of “oh, this area is fudged”. It takes what was already a pretty great planet explore ‘em up and transforms it into something simultaneously new and nostalgic. Axiom Verge is not the only game to utilize “glitches” and the shorthand of the medium itself to create memorable moments, but it might be the game that does so the most seamlessly and wittily. If Axiom Verge was just a dedicated metroidvania, it would be excellent, but its own unique flavor elevates it to something extraordinary.

Aim away from faceAnd, hey, as a special bonus, Axiom Verge has an interesting plot, too. You are Trace, a friendly scientist that was crippled in a lab accident a few years back. But he’s fine now! Because he was revived on an alien planet for the express purpose of committing the most complicated suicide known to man. “Your” Trace is a clone of a young man that would eventually become an interdimensional despot that conquered an entire planet and is at least partially responsible for releasing a plague that is wholly responsible for a genocide or two. Young Trace must now find and stop Old Trace, aka Athetos, and learn along the way that his own allies, the Rusalki, are maybe not the most reliable giant mechanoids in the omniverse. It creates tension from all sides of this tale, and the fact that the Rusalki are fond of reminding you that they can literally kill you at any time with a thought does not exactly engender a trust that you are on the right side of this conflict. Like many of the best metroidvania titles available, Axiom Verge has created a world where you feel alone not just because you’re stuck with only jumpy bugs for company, but because anything that can communicate in something other than screams is likely trying to kill you, too.

Except it is a little undercut by the fact that Axiom Verge seems to transform Trace into a friggin’ god.

Look, maybe I’m confused, and that is the point here. Trace is destined to become an unstoppable monster of a man, and maybe it was the Axiom Disrupter that got him there. Maybe that is the purpose of the exercise for Trace: absolute power corrupts, and absolute gun grants absolute power. But… that does not seem to be reinforced by Trace’s circumstances. When Trace wins the day, he is immediately betrayed by his Rusalki friend, and can only helplessly watch as promises are broken. Throughout the adventure, Trace attempts to show autonomy by resisting the violent nature of being a videogame protagonist, but, save one boss that forgot to lock the doors, Trace is forced to murder every mutant between his pod and freedom. There is even one “boss” that is just a soggy mess of altruistic protoplasm, but it’s gotta go, because it is in the way of a powerup. Over and over again, it is reinforced that Trace has no control over his own existence.

Drill away, tooBut Trace has seemingly unlimited control over everything else in his life. Trace starts with a basic peashooter, but it quickly graduates to something that can fire “bullets” that handle any situation. Somewhere in there, he acquires a drone that allows for nigh-invincible exploration (drones can die, but Trace doesn’t suffer any consequences), a grappling hook that improves traversal immensely, and something that could best be described as a “glitch gun”. That final item is particularly amazing, as even the most powerful enemy can be blasted through a wall until it has been glitched into a state of extreme vulnerability. And just when that glitch gun loses its luster, Trace acquires screen-impacting glitch bombs. And that is right about when Trace gains the ability to teleport to his own drones, so he can toss a lil’ buddy down a corridor, dodge every monster in the area, and then teleport to safety. Want to be the pacifist Trace always claims to be? Just drone around town and have a fun time!

And, ultimately, that is the problem. The reason Axiom Verge is great is, ultimately, because it is fun. And you don’t get to be fun by having a severely limited protagonist. It is fun to screw attack Zebes as Samus Aran, and it is fun to glitch, trick, and obliterate your mindless opponents in Axiom Verge. It is a blast to see a final area that initially seems daunting, but then gradually discover how to use your myriad of abilities to navigate the dangers without a single scratch. There is nothing more enjoyable than solving a series of logic puzzles, earning a flame thrower for your efforts, and then barbequing every problem you could ever encounter. Solving problems through variable violence might not be Trace’s bag, but it is irrefutably the most fun to be had on Sudra.

So is it even possible to have fun in a metroidvania without becoming ridiculously empowered and/or presenting a series of challenges that tax those ridiculous powers? Can the protagonist of a fun metroidvania be anything but a killing machine?

Gee, pretty convenient Axiom Verge 2 is right there.

This is a terrible placeIn a lot of ways, Axiom Verge 2 repeats Axiom Verge beats. Indra is a scientist-CEO that knows a thing or two about computer equipment, but not necessarily how to defeat a mecha-bug. She will get there, though, with the help of a number of powerups that upgrade her offensive and acrobatic abilities. And the ability to summon and/or be a drone, which is apparently a recurring thing! Dimension hopping will be involved, subduing someone that is maybe yourself is certainly on the menu, and, in the end, our heroine is going to toe the line between life and death as something wholly “other” from her original self. Every Axiom Verge protagonist dies at least once, apparently. If you took Trace through his metroidvania world, you’ll be perfectly comfortable with Indra bumping around a dimension or two in Axiom Verge 2. It’s a sequel! You’re back for more of the same, so there is a lot of “the same” here.

But where Axiom Verge 2 deviates wildly from its predecessor makes all the difference. Indra does not receive a magical gun at the start of her journey, she obtains something little more fantastical than a pickaxe. When Indra inevitably gains her first sufficiently-advanced-technology-is-indistinguishable-from-magic upgrade shortly thereafter, she gains exactly zero additional offensive options. From there, she gets… a boomerang. It worked for Link, right? Well, it barely works here, and, while Indra gains greater and greater abilities as her quest proceeds, she never comes close to gaining the same destructive strength as Trace. The shock droids of the first area are still just as likely to incapacitate Indra at the end of her adventure as the beginning, and the upgraded “boss” monsters… Well… probably best if you just keep walking, Indra. Ain’t nothin’ you can do to that mobile tank…

But, much more than in Axiom Verge, in Axiom Verge 2, that seems to be the whole point.

Big ol' boyThere is not a single boss in Axiom Verge that must be permanently killed. There are (by my count) two bosses you must actively/temporarily incapacitate, but every other opponent can be ignored. In fact, were it not for the generally claustrophobic halls of the Breach Dimension, it would likely be tremendously easier to beat Axiom Verge 2 by not attacking a single soul. Do you get rewards for smashing robots or felling alien fauna? A health power up here or there is your only prize, as any form of “leveling” is almost entirely based on exploration (there are, like, four upgrades out of a hundred you get from actual violence). Beyond that, you are never chastised for running, and a number of the biggest, scariest monsters will be content to lumber around the same room for eternity if you do not fell them. And why would you? For outright attacks, you have, at best, a cool sword. Ever try to take down a tree with a machete? And the tree is also trying to eat you? Well, it’s like that, so why would you put yourself in such danger? Just walk away, Indra!

Trace may have claimed to be something like a peacemaker, but he literally could not leave his first room without letting his weapon rip. Indra, meanwhile, may gain the (limited) power to be a thinking bomb, but she lives in a world where it is possible to only use that ability to open passageways. She gains similar glitch/hacking tech, but can use it exclusively to have enemies drop health powerups. Indra never becomes godlike in her abilities, and that is a good thing, because, in an exploration-based world, she actually has incentive to explore. Find those passageways! Discover all the ways a breach-attractor can get you out of trouble! Do it all for the possibility of not getting destroyed by a leering space head. You’ll thank me later!

And… that feels weird.

KABAMIn fact, it repeatedly feels wrong. I want to be gameplay-Trace, not plot-Trace. I want to roll around the planet with enough power to conquer said planet. I want the local rabble to fear my strength, because, dammit it feels good to be wholly in power. Hey, droid jet that is trying to kill me? I will hack you, embarrass you, and then kill you! Because I’m the best! But Indra can’t be the best. No matter how many upgrades you find on her world, she will never come close to being half as strong as Nintendo’s intergalactic bounty hunter. Indra is never going to be able to solve her problems with weaponry, because she will never find the weapons that would allow that. So, as a player, I am disappointed in her lack of laser boomerangs.

Yet, Axiom Verge 2 still winds up being one of the best games I have ever played. Axiom Verge 2 may actually be one of the best examples of gameplay-plot synergy out there. I genuinely believe Samus Aran is capable of being vulnerable around the space dragon that ate her parents… but it is harder to believe after I have seen her explode entire planets. Meanwhile, Indra is a mother, scientist, and CEO, and I believe this is how someone from those circumstances would become a powerful robot lady. Is she vastly changed by the end of her quest? Of course. But she also is not vaporizing space monsters with a cannon capable of melting mountains. She might be able to morph into a drone, but that doesn’t give her a leg up on swinging a sword. While this author doesn’t know anyone that became a cyborg while exploring another dimension, that progression seems right. Axiom Verge 2 might turn the typical Metroid paradigm on its head, but it feels like it gets there by an honest path.

But this is a videogame website, so we have to ask the question: which is better? We have two vaguely mundane protagonists, but only one wielding a god-gun. And which makes for a better game? Well, I am a wiener, so I am going to claim both. I want Axiom Verge, because I like mowing down monsters. But Axiom Verge 2 felt more genuine and thoughtful, so I suppose I can give up raw power for authenticity. Axiom Verge 2 initially disappointed me by not being Axiom Verge, but it seems like a game I might think back on more often than its progenitor.

… Or I’ll just grab a new weapon that doubles as a grappling hook, and forget those “feelings” things ever happened…

FGC #616 Axiom Verge & Axiom Verge 2

  • Zipping AroundSystem: Axiom Verge was released on everything relevant at its release (PS4, PC, WiiU, Xbox One, the friggen’ Vita), and a few extra systems since (Nintendo Switch). Axiom Verge 2 is currently on Switch, PC, and PS4, and I think a Playstation 5 version is incoming. Or it is just the PS4 version? Who the heck knows.
  • Number of players: Speed running against other players is kind of like competitive multiplayer, but it is primarily single player.
  • Just play the gig, man: The music in both games is incredible. And so is the pixel art, level design, and general plotting. But the music is really good! … Like everything else. Dammit.
  • Alone in the Dark: Okay, maybe my main “disappointment” with Axiom Verge 2 is that it uses dynamic lighting to create “dark” areas in early parts of the game. While it makes for an excellent, moody setting, I abhor any malady in a videogame that hampers the player’s sight. This also applies to status effects in Kingdom Hearts PSP titles, and any time Mario encounters a “dark” ghost house. I am having flashbacks to my college, tic-tac-sized TV screen. It’s traumatic!
  • A matter of skill: Also, I do not care for allocating “skill points” in Axiom Verge 2. This is a great way to take hold of your unique playstyle or something, but it mostly just gives me choice paralysis, and I never upgrade anything, because I assume I am going to get some awesome ability later in the game, and not have the scratch to buy its cooler version. And that happens! When you get a flying powerup super late in the game! Please go back to just dropping missile containers, please.
  • Just hanging outStory Time (super-duper spoilers): It is possible and very probable that the big connection between Axiom Verge and Axiom Verge 2 is that Indra of AV2 eventually becomes Ophelia the giant robot lady of Axiom Verge, thus making AV2 a prequel to Trace’s adventures. And there are a lot of little lore bits, too, like how your breach buddy can accidentally infect humans, and transform them into Axiom Verge bosses. Or it is all a bunch of coincidences in an infinite multiverse, and we should really just relax.
  • Favorite boss (first game): Never going to forget that Kraid wannabe that was peaking out of an acid pool in Axiom Verge. He might not have moved much, but he certainly was tall. And, sometimes, tall is all you need.
  • Favorite boss (second game): The “always revive every time” boss battle with yourself seemed to initially tease that you were both invincible, but having a respawn point right there added a special level of futility to the proceedings. Violence is not the answer! When everyone is immortal, at least…
  • Did you know? Okay, nothing in Axiom Verge 2 comes close to the hallucination sequence in Axiom Verge, so it is hard to admit that one game isn’t better than the other.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Duh. I was excited to have an excuse to play Axiom Verge again in time for Axiom Verge 2, and I will likely still think the same in five years when Axiom Verge 3 rolls around. Good stuff!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Astro Boy: Omega Factor for the Gameboy Advance! Get ready for the other little metal boy on the block! Please look forward to it!

Here it comes
Just go ahead and utilize that doomsday weapon for funsies