Mento Gear Solid 3: Snark Eater: Part One

So here we are again. Dan and Drew's tactical espionage action continues unabated, despite the rapid proximity of PAX East and GDC, and we're once again dropped deep within the hazy jungles of Kojima's imagination, devoid of supplies, weapons and reason. I've heard Metal Gear Solid 3 is the best MGS game, so maybe I'll feel something greater than apathy (Metal Gear Solid) or antipathy (Metal Gear Solid 2) this time around. Maybe I'll just hate everything about its camouflage system, starvation gauge and vaguely Ninja Scroll-esque bosses.

Speaking of which, I'll be speaking my mind on said bosses and on a great many other things about this game with a whole new bulletpoint list of observations, reactions and anything else that deserves comment. You can refer back to the last two times I did this (here and here), but it's essentially a freeform, scattered sort of LP where I don't really delve too much into the game's story or characters (unless it's really stupid). Therefore, as previously, this feature is really only for those familiar with the game, or are seeing it for the first time with Drew on the Metal Gear Scanlon Premium feature. I'll be breaking up these observations with spoiler blocks once again to coincide with the progress made by Drew, so I don't end up spoiling stuff for those who, like me, are new to all this. Suffice it to say, though, if you haven't seen or played this game before and intend to, maybe bookmark this for later. (I guess asking for bookmarks is kind of cocky, huh? It's like the written article equivalent of "like, comment and subscribe".)

Of course, this leaves me with a dilemma with regards to how to partition all these observations. MGS2 had two "chapters", more or less, but MGS3 seems more like a contiguous chain of events. I'm thinking I'll update whenever I reach/defeat a new boss? Hopefully Kojima doesn't pull a fast one on me and decide to throw out three bosses in a row to mix things up.

(My thanks to everyone who gave me recommendations for how to play this one. A lot of it boiled down to "Codec a lot", "try out all the gadgets you're given", "stealth is more about crawling and camos" and "familiarize yourself with the controls, especially the camera". I'll try to keep all that in mind, then forget, and then complain about how difficult/unwieldy the game is, i.e. The Classic LP Cycle.)

Mission Abort? So Far, Sokolov

  • SMAKA Alert #1! [Which is to say, "Stuff Mento Already Knew About". I'll be peppering in a few of these whenever I feel like acknowledging that, yes, since its release a decade ago, I managed to overhear, see or read a few things about Metal Gear Solid 3. Kind of hard to avoid it all entirely, despite my efforts to do exactly that.] SMAKA #1 is for the theme song that announces the game, a very deliberate tongue-in-cheek Bond theme ersatz about eating tree frogs. Did they get John Barry in for this?
  • Virtuous Mission? We gotta spring a scientist called Sokolov from his Soviet handlers. I'm listening to the mission briefing now.
  • "The Earth was blue, but there was no God." Oh lordy. I'll give MGS a break, since that's a real quote. Well, maybe.
  • This Snake also repeats back keywords to the person he's speaking to. Maybe it's a genetic thing.
  • Talking of whom, it's some British handler guy? I don't know who he is yet. I'm sure he'll be Codec correspondent number one.
  • I think I'll save the "Snake Eater" briefing for later, if it's supposed to be contingent on the events of this first mission. It appears this game does have an intro chapter after all. We're heading to Virgin Cliffs in the USSR somewhere to complete Virtuous Mission.
  • But first! I'm going over the tutorials. Seems fairly straightforward so far, even the CQC stuff. It's just chokeholds and then either throwing a guy down to KO them temporarily, or using them for cover/info while they're indisposed. Sure sounds difficult. (I'm sure I'll be eating this snark later. Oh hey, title drop.)
  • I also found the Metal Gear/Metal Gear 2 MSX games while going through the menu. Hmm... maybe later.
  • Oh, and there's transfarring too. We don't talk about that. Let's hit New Game already.
  • So this is odd. I'm asked a question with four answers: "I'm playing the MGS series for the first time!" (technically incorrect), "I like MGS1!" (sure, I guess), "I like MGS2!" (I believe I will plead the fifth here), "I like MGS3!" (you mean, so far?). I went with the second one, but I'm hoping that didn't disable first-person shooting or a bunch of other useful MGS2 additions.
  • Should I be a wuss and go with "Easy"? I've never been a big fan of the stealth gameplay and I'm only really here for the story, but... hey, guess what, I just won't say which difficulty I went for. Credibility restored. (I went for Normal.)
  • Did that guy just call Big Boss a pantywaist? Let him enjoy his cigar on an airplane in peace why dontcha.
  • His oxygen mask/helmet had "Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater" printed on it. Was it from the prop department? There won't be any Metal Gears for another twenty years... don't overthink it? I hear ya.
  • Oh, they're giving us the briefing again. Serves me right for thinking it was a separate thing, what with it being an actual separate thing on the main menu. Ah well, I might've missed something the first time.
  • Landed safely. We're getting the basic movement tutorials now.
  • British handler guy is called Major Tom. Yeah, fuck you too, game. I suppose the fact he looks and sounds like a scarred Bowie isn't a coincidence.
  • First mission: recover my backpack. I just had to climb a tree.
  • Now I get the other Codec Crew. First is Para-Medic, a.k.a. saving girl. The second is The Boss, a rather feminine Bruce Springsteen. Snake has some sort weird mother issues with this lady. We're talking about technique and spirit while fighting?
  • Wow, she's being super foreshadowy. "You might have to fight comrades tomorrow, because politics. Don't get attached." She sorta sounds like Twitter.
  • Oh yeah, SMAKA Alert #2: I already know about The Boss and what she'll end up doing. Kind of hard to miss it in the synopsis.
  • While I'm here, SMAKA Alert #3: I'm fairly sure "Para-Medic" is called Eva. I don't know anything else about her, except that she'll be the requisite escort albatross around my neck at some point later on. (Big question mark here though. Maybe I've SMAKA'd off more than I can chew.)
  • The Boss also has a "Cobra Unit" of heroes that helped her win WW2. Gee, I wonder if they all have cool codename and are unusually gifted in various, vaguely-supernatural ways?
  • I made a courtesy save. Para-Medic lady gave me an earful about Godzilla. She even managed to plug the 2004 Godzilla 50th anniversary movie, which is impressive for a game set in 1964.
  • Callin' everybody! The Boss told me how camouflage works, and that I should always ensure that I have fatigues/face paint that matches the colors of the surroundings. They create a badass female soldier character and have her give me make-up tips? I spoke to Para-Medic about reticulated pythons, and about eating them. Like lamb, you want to cook them with mint sauce for a bit of a pep. Nothing like a minty python. I spoke to Major Tom too, and he told me that the Soviets have ground control to the north. I guess he just has the standard "where do I go next?" Campbell role.
  • Spent the next few minutes hunting local wildlife and calling Para-Medic about them, since the game suggested I do so. I kinda like this feature. (I'm going to be using a collectibles guide, incidentally, but I picked one out that doesn't spoil anything. Hey, I'm already doing my due diligence by putting this on Normal.)
  • Man, crocodiles? They don't seem that aggressive, at least they're not until you start chopping away with them at a knife because you want to find out what they taste like. I'm more worried about this quicksand swamp, honestly. (First death, for those counting at home.)
  • Ah, there are enemies in this area. Human ones. And now the game gets less fun, as it always does when I'm forced to be sneaky. I've discovered that, once again, there's no quick "reload last save" or soft reset option, so once caught I can either: A) try to wait out the alarms in a hidey hole after wasting half my tranq darts to lose the guys in the area, B) let myself get killed as they very, very slowly AK-47 my HP bar away, or C) reset the game from the XMB. Yay. (P.S. These games continue to be hateable garbage that only garbage people like.)
  • All right, so I might've gone a little far there. I'll just have to be extra careful not to get caught! Maybe I should've gone for "Easy" after all, if it meant not going through this process nearly as often.
  • Caught three times in a row. I guess this isn't MGS2. In MGS2 they didn't spot you nearly this fast, and the whole army wasn't instantly alerted once they did either. There was often a grace period when you can pop a guy in the head before they radioed it in. I miss those days. (Can't believe I said I missed MGS2.)
  • Ah, no there's difficulty adjusting once you've begun a game, so it looks like I'll be starting over. HOORJ. Maybe I'll put the game away for a while instead...

So, uh... doesn't like this is going to go particularly well. It's pretty rare that I get so turned off by a game that I don't want to touch it after about an hour of playtime, even with the crappy Indies I look at every year for Steam May Madness. I've taken everyone's advice about CQC and camouflage and crawling to heart, it's just the stealth in this game is a little too severe for my liking (on the normal setting, at least). I'd struggle through it if this were Dishonored or any modern stealth game with a quick load function, but... MGS 3 ain't that. Really, this game came out in 2004?

Sorry folks. I wanted to post something to coincide with the first episode of Metal Gear Scanlon 3 (mostly so I could watch it myself without spoiling anything), but this is a really bad first impression and once you've gotten older and played as many games as I have you get a very distinct sense of whether a game is right for you or not.

Maybe I'll come back to it tomorrow, once I've had some time to reflect.

Snake, out.

Kojima-style fake-out! (Sorta anyway. I do think this game has more than a few problems.) Let's keep going:

  • Resuming where we left off: the first of the KGB soldiers, patrolling this part of the Russian jungle. I wasn't even aware Russia had jungles, but then it is a very big country. It probably has tropics somewhere too.
  • What's the deal with these frog statues? It's on the collectibles list, but... why? They sorta remind me of the Sanrio frog, Kero Kero Keroppi.
  • Spotted three guards in this area so far. Would explain how they kept ganging up on me. Also because I kept trying to hold them up (they didn't like that, for some reason). Decided to just pop them with the tranq instead of trying any monkey business. It's not MGS 2, and I gotta remind myself of that. These aren't state of the art Genome clone soldiers or highly trained 21st century Patriot mercenaries; they're schmoes in a jungle, which means they're several magnitudes more alert and cunning.
  • Boy, is it easy to slash someone's throat open when you're grabbing them. The basics of CQC appear to include giving everyone red smiles whether you mean to or not. I think I'm just going to use the long-distance option to spare casualties for now. No doubt I'll be forced to interrogate someone at some point, though. (DualShock face buttons were never meant to measure this level of sensitivity, damn it!)
  • Fun: Getting Para-Medic's disgusted reactions when Snake asks her how some rare or beautiful animal tastes. More fun: When you she phones you up to tell you there's one of those animals in the area, and she suddenly realizes Snake's already eaten them all.
  • Snake's evil smile when he spots the hornet's nest above the guard... We're really getting a sense early on of how this guy became a dastardly Sean Connery in his later years.
  • I didn't mention it yet, because I can't see when I'd use it, but the fake death pill's an interesting conceit. I guess the idea is that I use it when in trouble, the guards kick the body, shrug, and walk off, and then I activate the antidote in my tooth at some point during the short interval between getting instantly spotted again by the retreating guards, or dying permanently from going too long without the antidote. I appreciate how it's both narratively and mechanically a very risky and desperate last resort.
  • After a brief saunter across a ruined building with the loudest floors, I found Sokolov. Time for an exposition dump. Some guy called Colonel "Thunderbolt" Volgin wants Sokolov's superweapon to overthrow Khrushchev. The goons I've been shooting were there to stop Volgin and his GRU men, not me.
  • Man, Sokolov's got some moves. He's pulling all this Vogue shit as we try to escape. Or he's panicking, I'm not a behaviorist.
  • Goddamn it, is that Baby Ocelot? I guess he had to come from somewhere. The Portrait of Ocelot as a Young Man is as cocky as his more familiar Old Van Cleef incarnation. Just as decent a shot too. I feel every subsequent MGS game has to emphasize his badass moves more, for some reason (maybe because he was taken out so quick in the first game and Kojima feels bad for him?).
  • Did he just purr? Oh, that was an ocelot noise. How dumb. You know, we didn't really need to know he was the commander of something called the Ocelot unit. Like, it's simple to just assume everyone has animal names in Kojima's world of global espionage.
  • Ohhhh, so that's CQC. That's way more impressive than the half-assed chokeslam/throat-slitting I've been doing. Snake just took out all those Spetznaz goons! And Ocelot!
  • Sokolov ran off. Simply a matter of catching up to him to complete Virtuous Mission and get back home to the US. Maybe visit a zoo or, as Snake calls it, "an all-you-can-eat buffet". I'm sure the fact that The Boss went radio silent some time ago isn't portentous. Ah, whatever, if this was a Bond movie (like the theme music suggests), James Bond would already be leaping off a cliff with an audacious Union Jack parachute by this point. Leave the subtlety for John le Carré novels.
  • Just for funzies, I shot Ocelot in the head with a sniper rifle from close range. Series over. (Yeah, I saved it first. Figured it wouldn't let me get away with it. I did get a special "Time Paradox" game over from Colonel Campbell though.)
  • I did shake down Ocelot just in case he had a special revolver on him or something. Nope. Just a mousetrap? I guess it's an ocelot thing.
  • Sokolov's been building an even more impressive looking Metal Gear, called the Shagohod. In 1964. It's not even its final form! I get you want these end boss super-tanks to look more impressive each game, but there's some anachronistic nonsense going on here.
  • For as cartoonishly evil as Sokolov looks, he sure is a 'fraidy cat. Guess there needs to be one callow, genius munitions scientist in every game.
  • Oh hey, the Boss is here. On this bridge. With crazy bee powers. Oh, she has a bunch of weird assholes with her. The sort that look like bosses.
  • Let's see, we've got: Bee guy, ghost guy, crazy pointy-noise guy, electricity guy and weird old beardy guy. (SMAKA Alert #4: Volgin is electricity guy, because he was just introduced, but I know who the others are too. They all have definite articles, if that helps.)
  • Oh, and The Boss has defected to the Soviet Union. "Born in the USA" my ass. She threw Snake's ass into a river too, but I guess that beats getting sonic (&) knuckled by Volgin.
  • Hey, there's some Trauma Center thrown in for color. That's kind of weird. Will I end up half-dead a lot in this game?
  • Did The Boss and Snake just do a Fievel "somewhere out there" gesture to each other? Why am I still asking these questions, after two and a half games?
  • Volgin, meanwhile, is grinning maniacally about his nukes and creeping on some blonde they picked up with Sokolov (yo, is Volgin a bad guy?). Blonde is maybe a future Codec contact? Maybe the actual Eva?
  • "You're going to nuke your fellow Russians?" "Remember the Alamo." Right, because Davy Crockett pulled a thermonuclear device out of his coonskin cap and vaporized the Mexican army. Get outta here with this crap. (Before you all comment: Yes, the context for this quote comes a little later and, yes, it's still stupid.)

Talking of crap, that's the first chapter of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater complete, and the first chapter of Mento Gear Solid 3: Snark Eater done and dusted to boot. Now to listen to that Bond theme again. Did you know Goldfinger came out in 1964? I bet Kojima did.

For now, I'll be leaving you all in a dream, at least until Part Two. See ya.

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When Video Games Feel Like Work (And That's OK)

With all this talk about The Order: 1886 being a ponderous five hour rental at best, I began to consider how almost all games have a small amount of content stretched across a much longer runtime, and how in a lot of cases--especially with the open-world games and RPGs I tend to consume--I spend a lot of in-game time doing mindless chores while I concentrate on other distractions. What troubles me more is that I don't actually mind games that do this. I've decided to look at how some recent games I've played felt like work at certain points, and whether or not that's actually a bad thing. It's gotten me wondering about "games that feel like work" and how I've felt about them.

For the sake of argument, let's say there are three tiers of a video game experience if we're going by a work/play metric:

  1. The twitch shooters, fighters, brawlers and other Arcade style games that are all fun, all the time. These are usually games where the action is relentless and the player must be completely focused on the gameplay. Most games are this, and most folk will tell you that all games should be this. It's a myopic view of the wide range of experiences video games provide, but there's merit to the idea that a video game ought to keep you fully engaged throughout and cut any chaff in the process.
  2. Games that deal in delayed gratification. The grown-up approach to life is to reserve the parts that are fun to a small timeframe, around which you're working or doing chores. The idea being that the fun parts become all the more enjoyable due to the undesirable effort you've put towards reaching them. In reality, "the idea" is that you need to earn money to live and need to do chores to not starve to death or smell like a hobo's corpse's armpit, but delayed gratification is just one of those things you begin to appreciate about being an adult regardless, like drinking cups full of foul, bitter liquid to keep you awake. Most RPGs and open-world games tend to have a lot of what folk will call "filler", where you're setting up the fun for later with some training, farming or other prep work first. Monster Hunter's the present Dalamadur of this concept, putting players through a rigorous (and tedious) process of procuring supplies, traps, curatives, materials for equipment and other necessary items before gallivanting off with a group to hunt some enormous beastie. MoHu fans tend to consider this lengthy prep time integral to the experience, because it makes the satisfaction of landing a mark all the greater.
  3. Games that are almost all work, but with the conceit that there's satisfaction to be had in good old-fashioned repetitive tasks and labor too. This tends to be where the simulation genre lives, where the goal is to recreate a person's vocation in a virtual environment for something approaching a versimilitudinous look at someone else's 9 to 5. One could argue that a lot of open-world games are this too, depending on how much time you're spending doing menial tasks. Obviously, if a game feels like this and probably shouldn't, then it is almost certainly failing its chief objective.

The reason I bring this up is because I've played three games this week of a mild simulation bent. However, the games are really just using an unusual vocation (or, in a fourth game's case, the player's own obsessive completionist tendencies) as a comedic framing device for their incongruous gameplay, rather than trying to adapt the profession virtually in any realistic manner. While they all felt like work, to an extent, I do not necessarily mean this in a negative sense.

Grow Home

A Botantical Utility Droid (B.U.D.) is neither a profession nor a thing that exists, but Grow Home's adorable robot protagonist lives to serve his role. It's fairly common knowledge that the word "robot" derives from the Czech word for "hard worker" (so named by Czech science-fiction author, Karel Capek, in 1920), and so BUD's existence is purely to work for the purpose he was built for. In this case, it's to nurture an enormous star plant to the point of blooming, and recover the star seeds it produces for BUD's unseen masters.

Grow Home has a fairly simple premise: grow the plant, ride its shoots into floating rocks filled with sustenance the plant can absorb, and continue to climb the figurative beanstalk to its ultimate destination above the clouds. The QWOP-like controls are both frustrating and endearing, presenting BUD as some sort of unsteady but determined little trooper, whose frequent knocks and unfortunate explosions are warmly (if condescendingly) remarked upon by its caretaker AI "M.O.M.". Climbing entirely consists of putting one hand above the over, using BUD's clamps to gain purchase on any type of material, and much of the game is spent slowly ascending the central plant while a peaceful harmonious beat plays endlessly in the background, punctuated ever so often by the tell-tale twinkle of one of the game's glowy collectibles.

The game is entirely work. Whether you want to quantify that work as the menial labor this tiny robot must perform to achieve its mission, like a horticulturally-focused WALL-E, or the very real left-button, right-button Carpal Tunnel-inducing exertion required by the player whenever BUD must slowly climb up or around a rock or plant to reach their next target, the fact still remains that much of Grow Home is laborious. Sisyphean, sometimes. Despite that, the game has such a gentle and peaceful aesthetic that this arduous gameplay gives way to a Zen-like state of serenity. You work hard to maneuver yourself around a planetoid for a crystal, but the process doesn't ever seem that draining due to its calming visuals and audio. Maybe it's the ever-present (and rather discouraging) danger of falling off, or the vertiginous view as you get past the thousand vertical meters mark, but something about the climbing remains engaging, even if all you've done in the last ten minutes was to ascend to the next teleporter shortcut or moved about three shoots' worth of horizontal growth to reach a single floating rock. It's safe to say that, for as short as the game is, it feels as precisely as long as it needs to be. Or, perhaps, as long as it can get away with before it really does start to feel like a chore.

Still, there's a lot to be said for looking down occasionally just to see how far you've come. Delayed gratification, this game has it.

Weapon Shop de Omasse

Weapon Shop de Omasse follows a rich lineage of RPGs with a twist, in that the player isn't the brave hero leading the adventure narrative and saving the world, but one of the thousands of regular folk who help them in some small way. Often, this person is a shopkeeper, the type that would disperse weapons and armor at a suspiciously reasonable price depending on the hero's progress in the game. It's one of those RPG tropes among hundreds that simply exist because the alternative would be too inconvenient for programmers were it the case, something RPGs have had to contend with for years in lieu of the tabletop format's versatility, but at the same time it's still a field of illogical inconsistencies rich for referential comedy and in-jokes for genre-diehards.

Like Torneko no Daibouken: Fushigi no Dungeon and Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale before it, Weapon Shop de Omasse puts you in the worker boots of a blacksmithing father and son pair, who find themselves suddenly picking up a lot of business as the world slowly descends into chaos precipitating the regular semicentennial emergence of an evil lord. As well as serving literally nameless NPCs who are rarely optimistic about their chances, the duo must also cater to a gaggle of unusual RPG hero archetypes, from a pair of acrobatic twin sisters to a flashy superhero wannabe who speaks in broken French to a lady pirate whom people don't take quite so seriously while she's stuck on land. The pair also contends with their elderly matriarch, Grandma Snow, who frequently walks out of their weapon shop with an enormous battleaxe with which to search dangerous locales for her senile wandering husband.

Izou's kind of a "salaryman samurai", often dealing with no end of petty domestic troubles.

The game was conceived by Yoshiyuki Hirai, one half of a Japanese manzai duo named America Zarigani. Manzai is a true and tested formula for Japanese stand-up comedy, consisting of a boke (idiot) and a tsukkomi (straight man) who mine various conversational topics for back-and-forth routines. In the game, these roles are served by the son and playable character, Yuhan, who is a bit of a naive idealist who perhaps overestimates the caliber of "hero" who enters his store, and his father and experienced blacksmith sensei Oyaji, who tends to be a lot more grounded and cynical. Their scenes with the customers are presented like a stand up routine, or some other comedic performance, with an unseen audience that provides canned reactions (laughter at jokes, applause whenever Oyaji shows up, hushed gasps when something scary happens). Most of the game's humor is reserved for its Twitter-like "Grindcast", however, which relays what heroes are doing in real-time after you've sent them on their way. It's a very direct form of feedback for all your hard work at the anvil, even if most of it is scripted to happen a specific way (certain NPC story quests are bound to end in failure, for instance). In fact, the vast amount of text in the game is what delayed its English localization by a couple of years.

As for the gameplay, it's simply the same blacksmithing mini-game over and over. The goal is to chip away at a block of molten metal in tune to a rhythm: each hero has their own leitmotif, and the weapons they tend to use have the same ones while forging e.g. Grandma Snow's jaunty alpine track also pipes up whenever you're working on axes. Hitting parts of the block that still need removing in time to the beat grants larger bonuses, as does occasionally reheating the metal to its "perfect heat" level whenever there's a spare moment. It can be difficult to create a weapon that's much stronger than its blueprint, and this challenge is what stops the game from becoming an endless chore. The player can also polish any weapons that have been freshly forged, or any weapons that have been returned after a hero successfully uses them (the shop is a rental service, for some reason), to buff its stats a little higher. It's all in service of ensuring the heroes have the best possible weapon with them when they depart on a mission. Given that the whole game is in real-time, the player is often forced to prioritize the tasks they are doing, ensuring that they continue to be stocked in high-level weapons just in case a hero wanders in asking for a specific type of weapon (and, more often than not, a specific type of weapon that does a specific type of damage: either blunt, piercing or slashing, similar to Shin Megami Tensei's weapon affinities).

Weapon Shop de Omasse, like all the eShop Guild games that Level-5 have put out, isn't a particularly deep game, nor does it have a huge amount of content. Level-5 devised the Guild series as a means of giving a group of designers (and famous video game enthusiasts like Hirai) the means to work their creative muscles with a premise that could stretch for as long as a few hours, perhaps desiring to foster a similar industry of smaller-scale Indie games that are slowly supplanting the expensive but far too samey big console games here in the West. Weapon Shop doesn't outstay its welcome in that respect, and like Grow Home finds the sweet spot between a runtime that's neither far too ephemeral to be worth a purchase, but not so long that it starts to feel tedious. (Though maybe it helps that I'm currently playing it in bursts.)

Roundabout

Revolving limousine driver isn't an everyday job, but Georgio Manos (played by a wordless yet expressive Kate Welch) isn't an everyday guy. Set at some point during the Spinning Seventies (which, of course, followed the Swinging Sixties), the player is tasked with a series of Crazy Taxi-esque passenger delivery requests that sends them all over the various districts featured in the game. It's far from a regular driving game, however, as the environment is designed strictly to be a pain to navigate around in your constantly spirouetting vehicle. It's all in homage to obscure GBA title Kuru Kuru Kururin, with a groovy disco-era FMV twist.

Of course, the most notable aspect of Dave Lang's Turnover is that aforementioned FMV, played by various famous and less famous video game industry figures trying their darndest to either act or not act, presumably depending on which was deemed funnier by the game's developers No Goblin. There's a few faces familiar to duders too, including Harmonix raconteur Eric Pope, Microsoft face Eric "e" Neustadter, No Goblin's director and frequent E3 guest Dan Teasdale and our very own Steve @fobwashed Kim, T-shirt designer extraordinaire. Similarly to Weapon Shop de Omasse, the game has a deep love of performance comedy and a lot of the time you're working towards the next amusing cutscene.

I've yet to find this statue, but it'll no doubt make me sad when I do.

I have to say, while I enjoy the presentation and humor a great deal, I am absolutely awful at the game itself. I regularly come last on the online friend scoreboards and not a mission goes by when I don't explode into a fiery wreck several times over. The game runs like total poop on this computer, even with all the quality settings down to minimum (which isn't fun when the game's 70s presentation depends on a lot of odd visual filters) though I'm not sure it can be entirely held to blame for my inability to steer a twelve-foot long revolving vehicle around obstacles. I actually have fond memories of the original Kuru Kuru Kururin, which received a PAL localization (which explains why the Australian Dan Teasdale's heard of it), so maybe I've just let my spacial awareness skills atrophy since then.

In this particular case, the game only feels like work because I'm having such a hard time with it. Were I little better at the game, perhaps practicing my cornering as I hunt around for collectibles (which I love doing, but preferably with some sort of running total of collectibles left in the area so I'm not wasting my time combing an area already emancipated of all its shiny treasures), I could be having more fun with it. Or maybe crashing all the time is sort of the point, since it doesn't seem to be too much of a detriment. Either way, I'm not yet ready to give up on Georgio and his dreams, as hard-earned as they'll end up becoming.

Far Cry 4

Far Cry 4 doesn't really put its hero, Ajay Ghale, in any sort of vocational role except "guerrilla fighter", and that's not the sort of role you can put on the ol' Curriculum Vitae. The game is equally formless, letting the player wreak bloody havoc across the fictitious mountainous Himalayan nation of Kyrat in any direction. Smartly, the game never really makes it clear if fighting the despotic Pagan Min (who, despite clearly being a bit psychopathic and whose opiate-centered repurposing of Kyrat's economy isn't doing the country any favors, hasn't actually wronged you personally) is what's best for Kyrat. You're frequently having to choose between the lesser of two evils whenever assisting the game's central resistance force the Golden Path, founded by Ajay's parents, and much of the time is spent doing errands for other colorful and opportunist visitors to Kyrat who are probably also not looking out for the put-upon Kyrati peoples' best interests.

It's a subversive take on the usual open-world task-a-thons, putting the player in a largely self-driven rampage across a troubled country, blowing up corrupt army officials and endangered wildlife in equal measure. Hard to say that those damn birds don't deserve it, but everything and everyone else seems like collateral damage in a quest for vengeance of which Ajay doesn't ever really pause to consider the necessity. It's also gigantic: the world feels a lot bigger than Far Cry 3's, closer to Just Cause 2's immense island nation of Panau, so when you're a completionist like myself this world becomes a nightmare of obsessive-compulsive icon chasing.

I can hear the bird, I can HEAR it. I can't see it but it's there, it's THERE.

So with this game, it only began to feel like work because I. Just. Couldn't. Stop. Grabbing every collectible, clearing every outpost, climbing every bell tower, completing every side-quest and hunting every animal that I needed to complete my pouches and wallets ensemble. I did manage to stop short of looting the game's thousand or so chests, especially once I stopped needing money, but that 100% completion came at a heavy price to my sanity. I believe this will be the last open-world game I play for a few months, at least until I can work up the courage to all of this again with Dragon Age: Inquisition or Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.

There you have it, four games that began to feel like work after a while (or did from the offset), but not necessarily four games I would decry or rate poorly for that reason. There's a time and place for a little bit of repetitive gameplay, usually whenever I have a podcast or five that needs listening to, and so I can't dismiss it entirely. Maybe games would be better off if they were all killer and no filler, but there's something to be said for doing something a little more mindless to pass the time too.

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Oscar Noms to Video Game ROMs: 2014

Seeing as it's Oscar Night, I figured I'd bring back an old favorite from my Screened days. I mean, I've already written a blog about cartoons this week, so why not continue to go fully off-topic for a while longer? At least it's somewhat video game related.

Oscar Noms to Video Game ROMs, possibly my worst title yet for a recurring feature, takes the eclectic group of movies nominated for Best Picture and attempts to conceive licensed video games based on those properties, finding the right genre trappings for their dramatic themes. While I'm generally stymied by two rather important considerations--the fact that Oscar-nominated movies are rarely video game material, nor have I actually seen most of the movies nominated--I never let such small matters get in the way of realizing the video game destinies of these critical darlings.

I should really put the previous Oscar Noms to Video Game ROMs on the internet somewhere for context, right? Maybe on my Tumblr? Oh hey, look at that.

Whiplash

Schillinger/J. Jonah Jameson/Cave Johnson turns in an equally terrifying but mesmerizing role as a seriously scary jazz conductor who humiliates his students to push them to further greatness. Honestly, as if being in a jazz band isn't humiliating enough. Smart money would be on some kind of jazz-focused Rock Band ersatz, but I think a Fruit Ninja-style action game that involved throwing chairs at rich privileged kids would be more agreeable, especially if we heard JK Simmons' sardonic one-liners throughout.

Imitation Game

A documentary about the pioneering computing expert Alan Turing, who helped decipher encrypted codes in WW2 and would later devise a test for determining whether a robot is sentient or not years before Voight and Kamff (or were they one guy?) thought to do so. Dude also struggled with his homosexuality his entire life, and apparently so did our government, because we arrested him for it. Way to go, 1950s mores. I suppose the VG equivalent would be a Fallout 3 style hacking mini-game, archaic computer terminals and all, extended to comprise the entire game with perhaps a well-to-do toff in the background going "jolly good" every time you solved a puzzle. Sounds like an iOS game to me.

American Sniper

Porn for Islamophobes. By which I mean, "a stark and uncompromising look at the career of an obsessed military sniper caught in the recent furors in the Middle-East". Beard-ley Cooper shoots a lot of people in the head while looking increasingly unhappy with his lot. I wish I could think of a game in which you shoot people in a modern military setting and have to deal with incessant negative feedback for your actions, but that would require a considerable leap of imagination.

Birdman

Once a famous superhero, Birdman has instead chosen to pass the bar and become a lawyer, defending various animated characters in court to... oh wait, wrong Birdman. This one's about a washed-up blockbuster movie star who can't seem to escape his costumed alter-ego, despite attempting to steer his career towards smaller, more dramatic theater roles. I'm thinking that, in the video game version, he gives in to his Gollum-esque Birdman almost immediately and goes on a brawling spree, fighting prominent and distinguished theater critics with names like "Slim" or "Roxy" or "Slash" (this knife-wielding maniac and Ibsen fan is also known as the "Julienner of Juillinard") as he makes his way to the Metro City New York Broadway district to perform the play on time.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

That jovial jackanape Wes Anderson constructs what might be his most OCD adaptation yet, of a famous luxury hotel in a fictional European country, its eccentric concierge and the young refugee he's taken under his wing. Like a game of Telephone, the tale is told through several narrators of lesser connection to the events that occurred, which causes the actual story to resemble something almost fairytale-like in nature. While the film doesn't actually spend a whole lot of time in the titular hotel, I'm thinking we have some sort of whimsical Tiny Tower scenario here: the player must keep the wealthy hotel clientele happy (by any means...) while avoiding the gendarmes and Willem Dafoe's scarily effective hitman.

Selma

Apparently nothing to do with Marge Simpson's spinster sister but a biopic about the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery to allow African-Americans to vote. Obviously, you want to treat a topic as serious as this with some kid gloves, and so a version of Patapon where everyone marches forward to the inspirational words of Martin Luther King Jr. is perhaps a little... well, inconsiderate? Maybe it'll be for the best if we pretend this movie really is about Selma Bouvier and suggest a game where you help her pet iguana Jub-Jub cross a busy street to the safety of the lily-pads beyond.

The Theory of Everything

That other Oscar movie about the brilliant English scientist who suffers a setback in the mid-20th century. Though instead of trying to convince everyone that robots are people, he's trying to convince people that he's not a robot. No, wait, that's not cool. It's a biopic of Prof. Stephen Hawking, miraculously still alive in spite of the handful of years he was diagnosed once his ALS got seriously bad. He's an incredible guy, though apparently not always a nice one if this biopic's to be believed. I suppose a game equivalent would be a typing game, only instead of zombies a la Typing of the Dead, it's ideas about black holes? Maybe you can use those black holes to teleport buckets of icy water over people. (I'm clearly not a theoretical physicist.)

Boyhood

A film that took 12 years to make and almost as long to sit through, it's a semi-documentary/semi-drama about a dull kid growing up to be a barely tolerable adolescent. Though, apparently, the guy reads Giant Bomb so maybe I should be a little nicer. Kudos on your role as Linklater's guinea pig, duder! Dang, but it must be a weird thing to watch twelve years of your life flash by in a mere seventeen hours. In order to properly convey a 105,190 hour period in a video game, I'm going to have to hand this video game adaptation over to the folks behind the Disgaea series. Hopefully they can knock a few decades off their games' usual length to fit the time frame we're looking for here.

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Another A-Z of Animation

The AV Club just put out an alphabetized list of the best (in their view) animated TV shows, and it's already getting crucified in their comments section. Listicles are often hamstrung by this veneer of ultimate authority, and tends to be why I avoid the format. Or, to be more accurate since I've written over a hundred listicles here on GB, why I tend to stick to unordered "here's a bunch of notable suggestions" rather than "these are the best, in order" presentations.

Anyway, animated shows are the one thing I know most about after video games, so I figured I'd have a go too. Feel free to follow suit if you're a fellow fan of toons; it's not like I'm being particularly original here. (I'd love to see some more anime-focused lists, for example.)

A - Archer

I adore Archer. Adam Reed's been sharpening his comedy tools for years now with shows like Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021 (both honorary mentions for this list), combining esoteric learned references with the sort of in-jokes, running gags and callbacks that made Arrested Development so much fun to watch in binges. The chemistry between the ensemble cast of the show is what makes it, with office drones as sharp and layered and funny as the glamorous field agents, though that's not to dismiss the exceptionally well directed action scenes that often take the stage between scenes where everyone's bickering about bear claws and ants and danger zones.

Honorary Mentions: Avatar: The Last Airbender (which deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for bridging the divide between western animation fans and anime fans), Aqua Teen Hunger Force (or whatever they're called these days), Adventure Time (this show keeps getting better, somehow), Azumanga Daioh (I wish I were a bird), Animaniacs (continuing where Tiny Toons left off, and Freakazoid would eventually follow).

B - Bucky O' Hare

Because I realize a lot of this list will be nostalgia picks, I am going back to check these 80s/90s toons just to make sure I'm not exaggerating their quality. Bucky O' Hare still holds up. It's essentially a proto-Star Fox, following a bunch of anthropomorphic critters as they take on the nebulously evil Toad Empire as the last defense of a beleaguered United Animal Federation. Great universe, great characters, great action and one of the better TMNT imitators to appear in that wave of copycats. Definitely better than Biker Mice from Mars, yeesh. It even had a decent NES licensed game.

Honorary Mentions: Beavis and Butthead (some great counter-culture animation when MTV could actually pull it off, and the only Mike Judge TV show I can stand); Batman: The Animated Series (the best known of the "Timmverse" DC adaptations with his typically striking/angular art style).

C - Clerks: The Animated Series

The sadly short-lived Clerks: The Animated Series took full advantage of the animated format to put Kevin Smith's apathetic store clerks through their paces, sending them on wild adventures often inspired by pop culture as much as their inane conversations in the original movie. The show also made plenty of meta "Duck Amuck" animation gags, where the second episode was a clip show that only had the first episode to draw from (specifically, a single gag based on the 1960s Batman serial). It was definitely a show ahead of its time and far more intelligent and less pandering than the Clerks movie sequel that would follow.

Honorary Mentions: Clone High (before the Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street, Chris Miller and Phil Lord created this subversive Canadian highschool cartoon filled with clones of famous historical figures, and is still the funniest thing they've ever made); City Hunter (an action-packed anime that often played up the licentiousness of its titular private eye for comedy, but the guy could throw down when necessary); The Critic (a sharp and reference-heavy comedy based on the life of a pretentious NYC film critic, enhanced by the oddballs he bounces off); Cowboy Bebop (one of the best gateways to anime around, an effortlessly cool sci-fi show involving a pack of space bounty hunters and their various marks); China, IL (a trippy and usually violent parody of a college campus comedy told from the perspective of the staff, created by the guy who made that memorable "Wizard People, Dear Reader" commentary for the first Harry Potter movie).

D - Danger Mouse

Danger Mouse is an institution here in the UK, but it's still one of the most brilliantly subversive spy parodies ever. DM's a typically "on top of things" James Bond ersatz, but he's not necessarily bulletproof. His put-upon and often abducted assistant Penfold is a bit more relatable, serving as the audience surrogate in the bizarre and vaguely espionage-related adventures the pair are dropped into by their mumbling walrus boss.

Honorable Mentions: DuckTales (one of the handful of truly superlative Disney adventure serials of the late 80s/early 90s, following Scrooge McDuck and his nephews on various adventures); Dr Katz: Professional Therapist (featuring the deadpan charms of Jon Katz, an early H Jon Benjamin as his layabout son and a revolving door of contemporary comedians); Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man (pretty much the most 90s show ever, filled with subversive and satirical storylines regarding modern society); Darkwing Duck (another Disney adventure serial, this time based loosely on Batman, and like the third toon on this list on honorable mentions to have ducks in it); Dragon Half (really only a two-part OVA, Dragon Half is a comedy fantasy anime that skews closer to western spoof humor than most anime tend to).

E - El Hazard: The Magnificent World

There's not a whole lot of E shows, but El Hazard: The Magnificent World fortunately isn't some random thing I plucked out to fill a troublesome spot. An anime where a quartet of folk in a Japanese high school (including: a likeable but unremarkable protagonist; his bitter rival filled with ressentiment; the rival's entrepreneurial sister; and their souse of a history teacher) all end up in a fantastical realm and are thoroughly perplexed by their predicament. All are given mysterious powers, though some more useful than others, and they simply make the best of their situation (or are forced to crossdress for political reasons) and end up embroiled in a war between the insectoid Bugrom and the humans of El Hazard. The entire story is based on a causal loop involving the powerful ancient weapon of the Gods-slash-mysterious waif Ifurita. It's another fun adventure serial that has its moments of levity and drama (though, yeah, it has a few unfortunate elements of "harem anime" too. At least the hero eventually decides on one of his admirers).

F - Futurama

David X Cohen's and Matt Groening's love letter to B-movies and speculative sci-fi has had a rocky production run, at one point dying and coming back not unlike Mr Spock. Though not quite as brilliantly sharp as The Simpsons was in its heyday, Futurama regularly surprises with its clever satire and emotional core all the while being a goofy cartoon filled with weird space monsters and mad science. It's also secretly a workplace comedy, but don't tell anyone.

Honorable Mentions: Freakazoid (Freakazoid, along with The Tick, had fun tearing into what was then a golden age for animated silver age comic book adaptations, creating daft heroes, villains and stories in brief skits in much the same way as the Animaniacs); Frisky Dingo (the show that Adam Reed created before Archer, filled with the same sort of recurring gags and witty dialogue, involving a homicidal alien conqueror and a witless Bruce Wayne ersatz only half-determined to stop him. Would regularly jump off the rails in its second season).

G - The Adventures of the Gummi Bears

I've already discussed the Disney animation block of the late 80s, when someone at Disney saw the sorry state of Saturday morning TV animation, filled with awful Hanna Barbera reruns and lackluster toy commercials, and decided to inject four or five of the best animated serials of all time into that time slot to wrest the market away from the undeserving. The best, at least as far I'm concerned, was the entirely novel attempt to create a show around gummi bear candies. The bouncy and brightly colored ursine were reimagined as a secretive race of forest guardians, custodians of a great and technologically advanced civilization that preceded that of the (literal) Dark Ages humans, and the magical fantasy world - inspired largely by Dungeons and Dragons - was filled with surprises and material for episodes. It also created a great cartoon villain in Duke Igthorn, a despotic and egotistic former knight of the benevolent King Gregor, and his army of dim-witted but incredibly strong ogres. I'd love to say it was all the first-person dungeon crawlers like Eye of the Beholder and the Infinity Engine games that got me into D&D, but really it was this show.

Honorable Mentions: Great Teacher Onizuka (an anime version of The Substitute, more or less, with a former street tough hero who regularly found irregular ways of reaching his students); GI Joe: A Real American Hero (while usually formulaic and laden with moral PSAs, the GI Joe cartoon was packed with memorable characters and some often bizarre storylines); Gargoyles (a smart show about ancient sentient statues and the rich industrialist who finds ways to exploit them, it's best remembered for its moody gothic visuals); Ghost Stories (a generic supernatural anime for school kids enhanced somewhat by an ADV gag dub "figuratively written by Reddit").

H - Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law

Part of the early wave of Adult Swim shows that repurposed old Cartoon Network properties for a more mature audience (at least in terms of physical age), Harvey Birdman is a retired superhero that made the lateral switch from fighting crime on the mean streets to upholding the law in court. Though usually capable enough to win cases, he's out of depth when it comes to his mercurial and depth-perception-challenged boss, hostile judges and prosecutors and his various other supervillain nemeses that still hold a grudge.

Honorable Mention: Home Movies (Loren Bouchard followed up Dr Katz (alongside eventual Metalocalypse showrunner Brendon Small) with this similarly witty dialogue-driven show about a bunch of grade schoolers and their movie creations).

I - Invader Zim

Really aren't too many choices for I, so I'll concur with the AV Club here and say Invader Zim was the best for this letter. Invader Zim, like Jhonen Vasquez's other works, is both dark and disturbing, though Invader Zim often plays up body horror and the unimaginable terrors beyond the veil of reality for laughs. Zim intends to enslave and rule the human race, but he's not making a very good job of it. However, the majority of the humans depicted in the show - slovenly, gross, selfish and profoundly stupid - aren't really worth ruling over either.

J - Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors

Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors is pure Saturday morning cartoon hokum, about a roving band of heroic space mercenaries attempting to locate half of a locket while fighting biomechnical shapeshifters. It's the sort of bizarre, high-concept sci-fi cartoon that were all over the place in the 80s, alongside the likes of Silverhawks, Visionaries, BraveStarr and Galaxy Rangers. I don't miss the crass commercialism of 1980s cartoons, but I sure do miss their imagination.

Honorary Mentions: Justice League (another Timmverse superhero show and one that really gets deep into DC lore, especially concerning matters on the cosmic stage, which was usually the only way they could find foes that could stump all of the Earth's best heroes, including Superman); Jem and the Holograms (an updated Josie and the Pussycats with a sci-fi twist, it was one of several "cartoons for girls" that was better than any cootie-decrying schoolboy cared to admit. Too bad the modern MLP cartoon has the opposite problem).

K - Kidou Keisatsu Patlabor

While the "Kidou" (mobile) anime of choice was Kidou Senshi Gundam, I could never find a way into that series' intimidatingly expansive mythos. Patlabor is a relatively down-to-earth serial about policemen (and women) in a near-future Tokyo who employ bipedal mech suits (called Labor, as most are used for difficult construction work) to work the rare cases where criminals get their hands on Labors of their own. It's quite similar to Dominion Tank Police, just without quite so much flagrant sexual pandering and goofiness.

Honorary Mention: King Rollo (very much a show for tiny babies, King Rollo has some simple goodnatured charm to it and is like Gummi Bears in that it really invigorated my love of the fantasy "kings and dragons" genre early in life).

L - The Life and Times of Tim

A sort of animated Curb Your Enthusiasm style comedy of errors, where the wishy-washy and inconsiderate Tim is often thrust into untenable social situations and can only meekly protest the chaos that ensues. The show makes it clear that while Tim's kind of an asshole, he's never fully responsible for or deserving of the enormous faux pas he ends up involved in. The animation may be crude, but it was a fantastically funny and well-written show.

M - Monkey Dust

Though often a little too formulaic for its own good, something that seems to occur with most sketch shows, the darkly funny Monkey Dust employs numerous animators to create a set of recurring characters and skits that satirize the pretentious, the corrupt, moral crusaders, the egotistical and the easily misled as well as the generally crappy existence that is living in a modern UK. It's not for optimists.

Honorary Mentions: The Maxx (like Aeon Flux, part of the MTV animation crowd that went for something a little more cerebral and challenging. The Maxx is set in a fictional and metaphorical wild world of the mind, kinda, and can be a little hard to parse if you don't pay attention); The Mysterious Cities of Gold (a French-Japanese co-production about a trio of 16th century kids chasing the titular Incan legend, this adventure serial had a very enigmatic air to it due in part to its unusual parentage); Magical Witch Punie-Chan (another parody, this time of magical girl animes, the disarmingly cute yet entirely malevolent title character is something to behold when her hackles are raised).

N - Neon Genesis Evangelion

Gainax's trippy mecha anime, both an attempt to take the usual mech/kaiju formula into a weird new direction and a deconstruction of that same formula, is both heavy with religious symbolism and angst. It made for eye-opening viewing as a teenager, and I still kind of respect its unapologetically pessimistic tone, its well-choreographed action scenes and the outlandish concepts for its "Angel" monsters to this day. Seriously, introduce any angsty and emotionally sensitive teenager to Shinji Ikari and they'll be tossing a pigskin around in the backyard and talking about the new Chevrolet model's increased horsepower before the day's end.

O - O'Grady

Another Soup2nuts joint (the animation company set up by Tom Snyder, who created Dr Katz), albeit one far more focused on a younger audience than even Home Movies was, O'Grady is about a highschool where odd things just kind of happen due to an imperceptible force of weirdness and the students roll with it. Not quite as fun as Clone High and very much focused on an audience that are the same age as the characters, but it's another vehicle for Melissa Bardin Galsky and H Jon Benjamin's voice talents.

P - Paranoia Agent

The sadly departed Satoshi Kon left us with a eclectic group of some of the most thoughtful and thematically-rich anime movies ever made, and also with this animated series about a pre-teen, bat-wielding serial assaulter who may or may not be real. Each episode explores the backstory of one of his victims and the series later starts exploring the fallout of these attacks and how societal alienation, media sensationalism and psychological trauma can create a (literal, in this case) monster out of the smallest seed.

Honorary Mentions: Pinky and the Brain (a reference-heavy and always amusing cartoon about a pair of lab mice attempting to take over the world, usually foiled entirely accidentally. A spin-off of the excellent Animaniacs skits involving the same characters); Pokemon (an exceptionally long anime series based on the adventures of one Ash Ketchum, a young man who wants to be the greatest Pokemon master. Though built to shill the game and expand the popular franchise, it took on a life of its own and is probably the most accessible anime there is).

Q - Quick Draw McGraw

Though I'm loathe to include a Hanna Barbera cartoon, given how they held the entire animated genre to ransom in the 70s and early 80s with their poorly animated mass-produced junk, Quick Draw McGraw had at least an entertaining premise of a Wild West sheriff who was conveniently also his own horse. He's probably better known for his alter-ego, the Zorro-esque guitar-wielding El KaBong.

R - The Real Ghostbusters

There's a few great cartoons beginning with R, but my favorite has to be the Ghostbusters cartoon. The real one, that is. The animated setting made it easier to create all sorts of terrifying and imaginative spooks for the 'Busters to bust, and the show would often take unusual detours into other types of horror fiction, including a memorable episode centered around Cthulhu and the Lovecraft mythos. I was pleasantly surprised by the 2009 Ghostbusters game because it tried to bridge the Real Ghostbusters and movie universes together.

Honorary Mentions: ReBoot (one of the earliest CGI cartoons, set inside a digital world filled with early 90s computer references, that had a deeply involved narrative thread going on); Ren and Stimpy (John K's often ugly, often hyperactive goofball tales of an irritable chihuahua and his ever cheerful cat companion); Rocko's Modern Life (one of those early Nicktoons that got away with more adult material than most would think possible, and one of the many ways in which it was more intelligent than its peers).

S - The Simpsons

There really isn't any beating the Simpsons, if we're being honest with ourselves. That block between Seasons 3 and 10 (or 4 and 8, or whatever your particular demarcations may be) is simply the smartest, most trenchant and funniest material ever put to animation cells. That it still lumbers on as a shadow of what it once was is testament to just how game-changing those early seasons were.

Honorary Mentions: SeaLab 2021 (Adam Reed's first big gig, the continuing adventures of a poorly animated bunch of scientists conducting research at the bottom of the ocean, originally seen in the far more straightforward Sealab 2020. After a year, many have clearly turned insane); South Park (the venerable show that often relied on shock value, but was also considerably more intelligent and topical than most non-animated shows could be); Space Ghost: Coast to Coast (the off-beat talk show that begat an entire sub-genre of irreverent animation for older audiences with borrowed art assets, there was a time when Space Ghost was the coolest show on air); Superjail (the colorful and insane Superjail was always a visual (and visceral) treat); Samurai Pizza Cats (another ho-hum anime best known for its outrageous gag dub, repurposing the show to be a version of TMNT with far more one-liners and meta jokes).

T - The Trap Door

The Trap Door had a simple premise: don't open the Trap Door, as there's *something* down there, but the claymation show was perfect for kids who like their TV to have a gruesome and unnerving edge to it. It wasn't hard for imaginations to run wild when picturing the kind of monsters that lay below the eponymous portal, and the show also had a dry wit and an attention to detail, even if those details were often restricted to a bunch of animated creepy crawlies squirming around in the background.

Honorary Mentions: The Tick (a superhero parody that poked fun at the breadth of superhero shows around at the time, filled with great gag villains and other memorable goofs); Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the biggest thing in animation for a while, the TMNT cartoon was packed with action and surfer speak); Tiny Toon Adventures (the precursor to Animaniacs that borrowed liberally from their Looney Tunes ancestry and tried to modernize it far better than that Loonatics Unleashed show did); Tom and Jerry (a classic tale of a mouse and a cat that despises him, one of the first absurdly violent cartoons despite its venerable age); Trigun (an anime serial about a happy-go-lucky gunslinger with the largest bounty ever recorded on his head, due to being an incidental force of destruction wherever he goes. He's also an exceptionally skilled shootist, however, and the show delves deep into his backstory in later episodes).

U - Ulysses 31

Ulysses 31 repurposes Homer's Odyssey as the swashbuckling adventures of a dashing starship captain, who is forced to find his way out of a precarious region of space after he defies the Greek gods by destroying their cyclops (depicted as a colossal robotic beast busy devouring sacrifices). His crew are all suspended in a death-like sleep, and his only companions are his young son, an equally young alien girl he rescues from the cyclops and his son's sentient toy robot Nono. While unusual enough already, there's a very leisurely paced energy to the show that gives it the same kind of enigmatic and occasionally eerie atmosphere that the Mysterious Cities of Gold has. It's not always a lot of whiz-bang action, and its kind of hard to put into words just how affecting this tone is. It's a bit like other sci-fi stories that try to relay the profound sense of uneasy silence and existential terror that space travel involves. A little out there for a kid's cartoon, that's for sure.

V - The Venture Bros

Venture Bros is simply getting better and better as it continues to escape the elevator pitch origins of "what if Johnny Quest grew up and was psychologically scarred by the dangerous 'adventures' he had as a kid?" and nurtures an ever expanding universe of adventure serial heroes and villains in a world that's moved on from the black and white (figuratively speaking) adventures that used to be the norm. Most of the world's characters have either developed into costumed nervous wrecks filled with neuroses, or functioning adults who have tried to leave the lifestyle of superheroes, mummies, pirates, mad science experiments and the supernatural behind. While it continues to be a great deconstruction of the sort of animated adventure serials this list is already filled with, it's also got some of the best written dialogue and esoteric references this side of Archer.

W - Watership Down

I don't think I'll ever know just how much Watership Down affected me as a kid, as it's certainly not a cartoon for the squeamish. On the face of it, it's a tale about a warren of talking rabbits who decide to leave their home once one of them receives a psychic premonition that everything will be destroyed by fire and encroaching humans. It then follows this family of rabbits as they find a new warren, encountering all sorts of dangers and losing members along the way. Whether it's hungry raptors (that would be the bird kind, not the dinosaur kind), deranged farm dogs or despotic rabbit psychopaths, the series is fraught with the danger and ugliness of trying to survive when you're low on the food chain. Goddamn is it harrowing. Maybe wait until your kids hit the double digits before letting them watch it.

X - X-Men: The Animated Series

Even if it wasn't one of about three extant animated shows that begin with X, I'd still happily recommend the X-Men cartoon of the 1990s. It does a good job expounding on the comic's setting, developing all its major characters and delving into many of the comic's more famous arcs. It also does the 1990s thing of often making societal and environmental issues an episode's center. It's the Star Trek: The Next Generation to the Superfriends's Star Trek, in other words.

Y - Yu-Gi-Oh!

Is it cheating that I only consider Yu-Gi-Oh! worthwhile because of its excellent Abridged parody web-series? Though YouTube "Abridged" serials are a dime a dozen these days, LittleKuriboh's take on a world where every major conflict is decided on a mystical card game that's impossible for regular humans to understand or follow takes an already inherently hilarious premise and builds on it with recurring gags, snarky commentary and dumb meme jokes.

Z - Zoids

Ain't a whole lot of Z-stuff out there, so we'll go with an anime about giant robot dinosaurs. Even if the show's kind of generic and bad, you can't really go too far wrong with giant robot dinosaurs in my book.

Thanks for reading this list, and may there be giant robot dinosaurs in all your futures. Friendly ones, hopefully.

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The Comic Commish: Harvester

Hey all, welcome to a new season of The Comic Commish. There's a bit of pre-amble for this one, so sit tight:

Last year, and the year before it, I was fortunate enough to be gifted a premium membership by a good pal of mine, @omghisam. I don't have a whole lot of disposable income, and am fairly parsimonious besides, so this gesture was greatly appreciated. It helped me grow closer to the staff and the community here, and would eventually help cement my place as a moderator. As a mod, however, I no longer need the generous support of my friend. (Like the proverbial roadies, mods need full backstage access to do their jobs properly.) This left me with a quandary: do I continue The Comic Commish and continue to support those who have supported me, or do I simply find some other feature to occupy my time once every month?

I realized that, while the premium accounts were gifts, so too are a number of Steam games I've been given in the past. I still have a lot to make up to the magnanimous souls who thought enough about me to give me free shit, which is never something I take lightly. (Even if it is just @zombiepie trolling me with a 35 cent copy of Bad Rats.) From now until December, and two for this month (I slept on January's entry, my bad. I blame Lightning Returns), I'm going to create a Comic Commish for each game in a series of twelve gifts received from both present and past members of this community.

The format I'm using is both a mix of a Brief Jaunt and the usual MS Paint squiggles. The Brief Jaunt will cover the first few hours of the game, while the comics will attempt to prognosticate on where the story is heading.

January: Harvester

DigiFX Interactive's Harvester is a 1996 FMV-enhanced graphic adventure game, emphasis on the "graphic". Purpose-built to mess with moral crusaders and "games encourage violence in children" amateur psychiatrists, Harvester's a very gory and very silly satirical horror game that places the protagonist in an unusual small American town devoid of his memories. You might recognize the game from this Unprofessional Friday episode, briefly but memorably played by Vinny. It was gifted to me by palbert TeflonBilly.

Welcome to Harvester! This is what the game considers a useful tip. I think you just need a better caliber of friend.
Well, at least they're honest about their puzzle design.
So we're not told much when starting the game. You can explore your room (there's nothing there besides a quarter and a pen in your sock drawer), but we really need to find an NPC to get some info.
The kid in the front room, Hank, is extremely unhelpful, glued as he is to his favorite TV show. Instead, we find our Stepford Wife of a mom baking thousands of cookies for a bake sale a week away. We also establish that Steve is an amnesiac.
She's, uh, an old-fashioned woman, our mother. She's also quite sinister, speaking of a Lodge in the center of town and an ominous "blood drive". The sort that doesn't use needles...
In the corner is our adorable baby sister. The resolution on the FMV videos is, naturally enough, much smaller than the game's native 640x480. That's 1994 for you (the game was completed two years before its eventual release).
Sis wastes no time inhaling a tarantula that fell into her crib. Bless! The mom is naturally aghast and asks that we take this whole bug infestation thing up with the mysterious "wasp woman" down the road.
Just a regular suburban home, albeit with a single barred window. That's the room where our father resides, who is entirely inaccessible for the time being. All we know is that he "works with meat". Jimmy the Paperboy, incidentally, is not to be trifled with. Just give him what he wants, and don't try to punch him.
The town map. There's actually an intimidating number of places to check out, though not all of them are necessary for the current chapter (or, I've read, at all necessary to complete the game). The unmissable structure in the center of the town is the Lodge, home of the Order of the Harvest Moon, which every NPC insists you must join ASAP. Yeah, we'll get right on that.
Here's the wasp woman, Tetsua Crumb. She doesn't offer much in the way of story, but she's mega way into sexy wasps.
Mr. Johnson seems like a friendly enough guy.
Nah, just kidding. He makes MRAs seem empathetic.
I think we're done talking to Mr. Johnson.
The Pottsdams are neighbors of ours, and we've been told a few times that their daughter, Stephanie, is our fiancee.
Mr Pottsdam is extremely dubious, even for this town. His chief interest appears to be meat.
Conversely, Mrs Pottsdam seems normal enough (besides the whole "wedding at a funeral parlor" bit), but I can't help think she looks a lot like the actor playing "mom" with a different bouffant.
Whoa, okay, this is what happens if you look through a hole in the bathroom. This would be Stephanie, then. Also why is this hole here?
Stephanie, turns out, in a similar predicament as ourselves: she's lost her memory, and nothing about the town seems right to her. She also appears to be a foot taller than us, but that's just the weird scaling on our digitized sprite.
Stephanie's "grounded", presumably because she tried to escape. We'll probably have to find a way out for both of us. Unfortunately, it's looking like the Lodge is the only option.
Man, is everyone in this damn town obsessed with wieners? This is Mrs Phelps, the General Store owner.
With our measly quarter, the only thing we can afford is the porno mag. We're given a pretty strong hint about whom we might have to give this to. Well, it is the first day. (Also worth nothing: the copier in the corner is free, and we might need it to produce some blackmail material in the future...)
Postmaster Boyle is the only source of Lodge applications in the town, something I'll need if I want to complete the first part of the game. He ain't budging, so we'll have to keep looking elsewhere. The blind woman in the corner is attempting to read mail through sheer force of will.
The local barbershop has a trio of eccentrics. The owner, Mr Pastorelli, cannot speak English and thus isn't an NPC you can converse with. The little person is Pete Swell, a pragmatic aluminium siding salesman and plumber.
Clem Parsons, meanwhile, is a generic yokel who has taken up hunting aliens.
Not in the Arizona border patrol sense, either. Apparently these little guys are all over the forest near the missile base. Wait, missile base?
Yep, Harvest has one of those too. These are all ICBMs and the only person guarding them is this guy, Colonel Buster Monroe.
The good Colonel is, as you can see, half the man he used to be. He keeps the nuclear launch button on his belt, and will accidentally trigger it if you annoy him in any way. He'll also blow a hole through your head first. Don't ask him about commies.
Don't ask about any of those things, either. In fact? Probably best not to engage with him at all.
Talking of things I wish I hadn't interacted with, here's the meat plant, owned by our father. Here's an early spoiler: that isn't beef back there.
The Gein Memorial School, classily named for Ed Gein the serial killer, is where Harvest's kids go to get an education.
Well, an education, and to get the crap beaten out of them on a regular basis.
In fact, the game decides to show you with a fire drill followed by a swift pummeling of a random schoolkid.
Leaving the violence at school where it belongs, we move to the TV Station where there's even more violence happening. The Range Ryder Show, the favored entertainment form for our brother Hank, is presented by this square-jawed psychopath. Has a point, though.
We're apparently interrupting a scene here where Range Ryder sticks his entire leg through an extra.
I think this guy might be my favorite NPC so far.
Edna of DNA's Diner (actually just Edna's Diner, but the neon lights for the E have gone out) seems like a real down-to-earth lady. She has a daughter too, Karin. I bet nothing horrible happens to her.
I finally decide to visit the Lodge in the center of town, and am reminded that I still need to get that application form. The nameless Sergeant of Arms here communicates entirely by growly telepathy. Sure, why not.
The newspaper building... isn't. It got burned down a few months ago. But we can visit its burned out husk, if we want?
The ineffective fire station, situated directly adjacent to the incinerated publisher, is staffed entirely by... well, imagine an entire firefighter squad of Shadow Kanjis. I can't tell if this is the developer's idea of "lol the gays" humor, or if it has something to do with how oddly stereotypical most of the rest of the town is. Almost like nothing is real.
I was fairly sure I wasn't going to like the local mortician, and I was right. Like TotalBiscuit, he wears a top hat and is kind of a butt.
Also, I guess he's the proprietor of the hotel too. Major hints that the bums and hobos that roll in get murdered here and chopped up in the Mortuary. Some real "Hot Fuzz" overtones here.
The graveyard's not particularly interesting, but for this mausoleum that looks like a leftover model from Myst. No doubt we won't be going in there until way later in the game.
Finally, there's the local police precinct. The Sheriff's a sly one, but his Barney Fife deputy doesn't seem quite as sharp.
In fact, he's yet another potential rapist. This town is lousy with them. Fortunately, that means he can be easily convinced to wander off with that porn I bought earlier.
With the Sheriff out to lunch at Edna's, and Loomis... distracted, I can rifle through the Sheriff's desk for blackmail material and the key to the evidence room.
The Sheriff comes back to find Loomis entertaining himself in the cells. The only time the game chooses to shy away from showing us violence is when the Sheriff whacks him with a newspaper in a silhouette. The game has an odd sense of when to be discreet, so far.
That blackmail material? Turns out Postmaster Boyle has been paying the Sheriff to keep him quiet about possibly burning down the newspaper building. We put him on the spot with our evidence, and then hand him the incriminating gas can found in the evidence room. Voila, the application form we needed. I'm sure this won't lead to anything unfortunate.
I have no idea if I'm even meant to be able to read this form. It doesn't seem like your standard questionnaire. I mean, the first question is asking how often I eat meat a day. This town loves its meat.
We're finally on the way to getting into the Lodge. And with that, the first day draws to a close.
Steve rests easily. This is just what he usually sees whenever he closes his eyes.

Harvester is an odd adventure game, and I don't just mean the messed up story and characters. You're on an invisible timer of sorts, there's combat, there's lots of ways to die prematurely (so save often!), and you can punch and kill anyone in the game. If they're with other NPCs, you're immediately arrested and sent to the chair, though if they're alone there's a chance (not a certain one) that you'll get away with it. You can also commit minor crimes, which simply uses up one of your three "strikes" and moves time ahead to the following day. I have no idea if you're still able to complete the game at that point, as we've been told that the marriage, the bake sale and the "blood drive" all occur at some point in a week's time. I imagine we need to get into the Lodge before that happens.

That segues to what the rest of the game appears to involve: the Lodge, on the following day, gives us a slightly more antisocial task to perform. It's simply petty vandalism, but they'll get more severe and criminal as we continue. We aren't told of any alternative, so I think the game's simply prodding the player to see what they're capable.

I haven't got far enough into the game yet to know precisely where it's going, but here's three guesses:

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Wiki Project: Turbo Time (HuCard)

When I concluded last year's Octurbo feature, I decided that I didn't have it in me to go for a third run this year. Well, to be more accurate, I didn't think I had enough left to draw from to create another month's worth of articles. While I'm still a fair distance away from thoroughly exhausting the TurboGrafx-16's library, even if I were to stick with its limited US output, I feel like I've covered all the major stops already.

Instead, I've decided to let the TG16 go out on one last hurrah with this new Wiki Project. NEC and Hudson's little-console-that-couldn't fell to the wayside competing against its more powerful peers the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis, its tardy international release putting it right up against Sega's powerhouse in August of 1989. While it was successful enough in its homeland as the PC Engine, it only saw a relatively tiny library of 94 games for its US incarnation. Ensuring we have 94 wiki pages replete with overviews, screenshots, releases and header images isn't too Herculean a task, especially when compared to filling out the hundreds of pages required for any given year for the NES or SNES.

I usually go with scattered highlights for these Wiki Project summaries, but for this one I'm going to go through the entire list. Fortunately, I have my previous TurboMento and Octurbo work to invoke for a lot of what follows. I'll provide a basic appraisal of the rest from any information gleaned while filling out their pages. This is to be the TG16 blog to end all TG16 blogs, freeing up my Octobers for something a little more... contemporary. (Which I guess means the Sega Saturn. Saturnber? I'll have to workshop that.)

(I also intend to do something similar for the 45 TurboGrafx-CD games further down the pipeline. Obviously, getting screenshots for those games is proving to be a little more problematic. As for the 700+ PC Engine games? Well, they're going to have to wait for another day. It's not like I can understand most of them.)

1989

Alien Crush

Xenomorph pinball, and one of two Crush games for the TG16. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 09/14/1988.)

Blazing Lazers (Gunhed)

A vertical shoot 'em up thought to be a spin-off of Hudson's Star Soldier series. Probably the best regarded shoot 'em up on the system. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 07/07/89.)
China Warrior (The Kung Fu)
So yeah, this thing. It's been theorized that Hudson wanted to recreate Irem's Kung Fu Master, the classic NES brawler, but in a way that emphasized the 16-bit graphical power of the TG16 by making the player character and his opponents gigantic, detailed sprites. They didn't quite spend enough time making sure the game didn't suck, however. While I didn't feel like dedicating an Octurbo to it, you can watch the Bomb Squad play this one in their VinnyVania/PC Engine mash-up. (PC Engine release: 11/21/87.)
Dragon Spirit
Dragon Spirit's an early Arcade conversion, a Namco shoot 'em up featuring dragons and more dragons. It came out on other stuff too, notably the C64 and as a weird pseudo-sequel on the NES. Instead of upgrading one's guns, like you would in a spaceship shmup like Gradius or R-Type, your dragon grows more heads and changes color. I mean, dragons, right? There really aren't any rules when it comes to what dragons can and cannot do. (PC Engine release: 12/26/88.)
Dungeon Explorer
Top-down RPG-slash-Gauntlet clone. Like Gauntlet, it appears to be more fun with multiple people. Covered in TurboMento. (PC Engine release: 03/04/89.)
Fantasy Zone
Now, what might a Sega game be doing on a rival platform? Well, they weren't too stringent with their Arcade properties back then, and you'll see a number of Sega games (including this one) also show up on the NES. It wasn't really until Sega started doubling down on their consoles that they started being a little more miserly with their first-party games. Fantasy Zone's a cute 'em up that plays a little like Defender (but, you know, cuter). (PC Engine release: 10/14/88.)
Final Lap Twin
There was a phase in the late 80s, spurred by the success of Famicom RPG hybrids, where a lot of game developers were experimenting with adding RPG elements to other genres. While it eventually lead to classics like Zelda II or Symphony of the Night, most of the time the formula wasn't quite right and we ended up with a number of figurative flipper babies like Final Lap Twin. I'm really not sure an RPG overworld is necessary for a F1 driving game. (PC Engine release: 07/07/89.)
Galaga '90 (Galaga '88)
Galaga probably needs no introduction. It's the quintessential Taito Arcade shoot 'em up. The '88 version, which got bumped up a couple years for its US release, is a combination remake/sequel that adds a few new features but tries not to rock the boat too much. You don't really want to screw up Galaga if you can help it. It'd be like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. (PC Engine release: 07/15/88.)
Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (Majin Eiyuuden Wataru)
The amazingly titled Keith Courage is actually based on an anime, which is perhaps apparent enough when your Sentai-costumed hero turns into a mecha after riding a rainbow bridge about five minutes into the playthrough. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 08/30/88.)
The Legendary Axe (Makyou Densetsu)
Side-scrolling action game like Rastan or Volgarr, with an appropriately shirtless barbarian hero. Despite the straightforward violent nature, the game rewards patience, allowing you to land stronger hits by waiting a few seconds for the power bar to refill. Covered in TurboMento. (PC Engine release: 09/23/88.)
Military Madness (Nectaris)
A military strategy game not unlike Advance Wars. Build units, fortify structures, overpower the opponents. It's basic enough to not be the usual headache you get with these turn-based strategy games, but complex enough to give you a challenge. The US only saw this one and its 2009 reboot, but the Nectaris series is quite prolific in Japan. (PC Engine release: 02/09/89.)
Moto Roader
Top-down racing game, similar to Micro Machines. Does that weird rubberband thing common to games that use this perspective, pushing forward those at the back so everyone can stay on the same screen. It's five-player, so split-screen wouldn't really work. (PC Engine release: 02/23/89.)
Power Golf
It felt like every console library in the 8-bit era had its own first-party sports series. The NES had mononymous titles like Golf and Tennis, the Master System had the "Great Sports" series and the TurboGrafx had Hudson's own "Power Sports" series. Almost all the Power games were renamed for their US releases, except for this one. Needless to say, it's a golf game, and a fairly average one at that. (PC Engine release: 05/25/89.)
R-Type
One of the better early conversions of Irem's iconic shoot 'em up R-Type, the Japanese PC Engine version was actually split into two separate releases because they couldn't fit the whole thing onto a single HuCard. Cart technology had advanced sufficiently to sidestep that problem for its eventual US release. (PC Engine release: 1989 [two releases].)
Side Arms (Hyper Dyne Side Arms)
Arcade mech shoot 'em up from Capcom. The TG16 had a lot of shoot 'em ups, by the by. Capcom essentially built on their earlier humanoid shmup Section-Z and added a feature where you could power up by combining with other mechs like Voltron. (PC Engine release: 07/14/89.)
Victory Run
Standard OutRun style racing game, with a bit of a rally car simulation aspect. You have to make sure not to break down, and to keep replacing parts that get busted. (PC Engine release: 12/28/87.)
Vigilante
The follow up to Kung Fu Master, Irem's Vigilante is closer to the blueprint that would dominate the brawler genre: gritty city streets, endless criminal goons and a hero chasing after his kidnapped girlfriend. Final Fight and Double Dragon were based on this formula. Jeff and co. played a little of it in the aforelinked VinnyVania/PC Engine crossover. Oddly enough, both this and Kung Fu Master were based on the same Jackie Chan movie: Wheels on Meals (named Spartan X in Japan). (PC Engine release: 01/14/89.)
World Class Baseball (Power League)
Another Power Sports game, this time for baseball. Yeah, ask me anything about baseball games. If you liked this one in particular, there are two more Power Leagues for the PC Engine, and four Super Power Leagues for the Super Famicom. (PC Engine release: 06/24/88.)
World Court Tennis (Pro Tennis World Court)
A rarity at the time, this is a multiplayer tennis game for up to four people. The TG16 pioneered a lot of 2+ multiplayer modes for their games, going up to five in a few of cases, though obviously this was best implemented in the Bomberman series. (PC Engine release: 08/11/88.)

1990

Aero Blasters
A side-scrolling shoot 'em up with a great sense of speed. The game occasionally splits from blowing stuff up to forcing you to navigate narrow passageways while zipping down them a thousand miles per hour. It also came out on the Genesis as Air Buster, where its emphasis on speed could be better appreciated. (PC Engine release: 11/02/90.)
Battle Royale
An utterly bizarre wrestling game that's far more into the spectacle of pro wrasslin' than the actual combat. It's also a five-player Royal Rumble game with Smash TV rejects. I half-want Jeff and Dan to discover it, but I suspect the reason it's not come up on Giant Bomb yet is because it seems really bad. (No PC Engine release.)

Bloody Wolf
A top-down Commando/Ikari Warriors style shooter, with some of the most hilariously bad dialogue this side of Last Alert, which managed to one-up it with its equally bad voice-acting. Covered in TurboMento. (PC Engine release: 09/01/89.)
Bonk's Adventure (PC Genjin)
The unofficial TurboGrafx mascot, Hudson's Bonk is a caveman (or cavebaby?) with an enormous cranium, exceptional teeth and an evident high tolerance to pain. Though it seems like a run of the mill prehistoric platformer, it's actually packed with surprises. Covered in TurboMento. (PC Engine release: 12/15/89.)
Boxyboy (Sokoban World)
Sokoban, or Warehouse Worker, is a puzzle game that took over Japan in the same way Lemmings did over here for a time. It's simply pushing boxes onto designated areas, but the difficulty is factored in by how boxes can only be pushed and not pulled, which makes it very easy to inadvertently screw yourself over. It becomes a game where you have to think several moves in advance, or simply ensure that you never push a box to a spot where it cannot be pushed back. Boxyboy is effectively identical to its cousins. (PC Engine release: 03/16/90.)
Bravoman (Chouzetsu Rinjin Bravoman)
A superhero (called tokusatsu in Japan, referring to shows like Kamen Rider or Power Rangers) parody, Bravoman is a hero with telescopic limbs forced to fight a bizarrely-coifed evil professor at the behest of his alien pal Alphaman. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 07/13/90.)
Chew Man Fu (Be Ball)
A vaguely racist puzzle game involving the pushing of spheres around mazes. Unlike Sokoban, you could push and pull these balls (why do I hear laughter?) and send them around corners. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 03/30/90.)
Cratermaze (Doraemon: Meikyuu Daisaken)
A top-down maze game similar to Pac-Man, though it's thankfully a little more involved. The player uses gadgets to escape monsters, or buries them in a style similar to Heiankyo Alien. Was actually a Doraemon game at one point, but the robotic cat wasn't really a known quantity in the States at the time. Still isn't, I suppose. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 10/31/89.)
Cyber-Core
Did I mention that the TurboGrafx-16 was lousy with shoot 'em ups? This one's got kind of a Galaga vibe to it with all its insectoid enemies and the player's shapeshifting biomechanical ship. (PC Engine release: 03/09/90.)
Deep Blue
An aquatic-themed shoot 'em up that squanders its interesting visual style with its rudimentary and far too harsh gameplay. It was fortunate enough to be recently featured on Hardcore Gaming 101's "Your Weekly Kusoge" series. (PC Engine release: 03/31/89.)
Devil's Crush (Devil Crash)
The sequel to Alien Crush and another decent pinball game on the TurboGrafx-16 with a disturbing theme. This time it's all demons and Doom business. (PC Engine release: 07/20/90.)
Double Dungeons
I'm sure this wasn't intentional, but Double Dungeons takes the generic first-person dungeon-crawling made popular by Wizardry and seems to deconstruct the format to its base elements, creating a sort of puzzle game where you have to approach every dungeon in the correct sequence of events (defeat low-level monsters, get better items, defeat stronger monsters, etc.). It's pretty odd, but also very repetitive. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 09/29/89.)
Drop Off (Drop Rock Hora Hora)

There's no hints in the game's title as to what this is about, but if you guessed "Bust-a-Move knock-off" then you're probably already familiar with Cream's puzzle game. The title actually refers to the fact that you've been magically transplanted into a coma victim's dreams to help them recover. (PC Engine release: 03/30/90.)

JJ & Jeff (Kato-chan & Ken-chan)
The infamously scatological platformer Kato-chan & Ken-chan was made a little more palatable with its non-descript US facelift, but that also served to take away the only part of the game that was interesting. Filled with jokey non-sequitur special areas and background details, the game feels more like a parody than an actual game, not unlike a certain other game "designed" by a Japanese comedian: Takeshi no Chousenjou. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 11/30/87.)
Jack Nicklaus: Turbo Golf

The Japanese word salad title ("Jack Nicklaus's Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf") is actually what the game is called on other systems. They just renamed it Turbo Golf for the TurboGrafx because... I guess I don't really need to finish that sentence. If you're hurting for more TG16 golfing after Power Golf, you'd best enjoy this because it's the only other one. (The PC Engine, though? Golf for days.) (PC Engine release: 11/24/89.)

King of Casino

A gambling game. All the fun of the casino, none of the risk. I imagine that's the idea, because gambling without any actual money involved seems profoundly pointless. (PC Engine release: 03/30/90.)

Klax
The ubiquitous block juggling game also saw a TurboGrafx-16 version. I actually suspect that AudioSurf took a lot of its aesthetic from Klax, from the block stacking right down to its neon conveyor belts. (PC Engine release: 08/10/90.)

Legendary Axe II (Ankoku Densetsu)
The follow-up to one of the better received TG16 launch titles, and really more of the same. Your hero gets kicked off the top of a castle at the start of the game, so it gets pretty real right away. (PC Engine release: 09/07/90.)
Neutopia
Neutopia was Hudson's attempt at creating a Zelda equivalent for the console, in much the same way that Bonk was their version of Mario or Sonic. It's not a bad game, it even feels like the missing link between the original Legend of Zelda and Link to the Past, but you can't help feel a shudder go through your spine playing something so shameless. Covered in TurboMento. (PC Engine release: 11/17/89.)
Ninja Spirit
A ninja action game that feels more like Ninja Warriors than Ninja Gaiden or Shinobi: far more emphasis on cutting through swathes of dudes instead of much in the way of platforming. Covered in TurboMento. (PC Engine release: 07/06/90.)

Ordyne
An oddball "cute 'em up", like Fantasy Zone, but with a subversive streak like Parodius. I guess when you have so many shoot 'em ups for a system, developers need to find a way to make theirs stand out a little. (PC Engine release: 09/08/89.)
Pac-Land
Thought to be the precursor to all side-scrolling platformer games, Pac-Land is of historical significance but is rather too primitive to be appreciated these days. Still, it's the first case of what would become a very long running theme of Namco's: trying to transplant their most popular character into different types of game. (PC Engine release: 06/01/89.)
Psychosis (Paranoia)
An abstruse shoot 'em up, filled with bizarre imagery meant to invoke that of a tortured mental landscape. Like Drop Off (the TG16 had two games set within dreams?), the player is at the mercy of a very strange psyche. (PC Engine release: 03/01/90.)
Sonic Spike (World Beach Volley)
Ticking off the various sports, we have ourselves a volleyball game. Oddly enough, it's one of two volleyball games that were released within months of each other. No hockey or football yet, and only one baseball game, but here's two volleyball games for ya. (PC Engine release: 07/27/90.)
Space Harrier
Space Harrier is notorious for not porting well, with the sprite-scaling that gives it its distinctive sense of alacrity never quite translating thanks to the humble 8-bit console's lack of graphical power. The Genesis couldn't even manage it properly, so what hope does the TurboGrafx-16 have? Let me answer that: not much of one. (PC Engine release: 12/09/88.)
Splatterhouse
Namco's absurdly gory horrorfest that honors so many slasher movies seems tailor-made for a Western audience, and the TurboGrafx-16 was the only system it appeared on in the US. It's a fairly standard brawler, but its visceral visuals are something else. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 04/03/90.)
Super Volleyball
Hey, here's that second volleyball game you ordered. (PC Engine release: 02/07/90.)
Takin' It to the Hoop (USA Pro Basketball)
A standard five-on-five basketball game, and one of the first to switch to an animated cutaway once a player got close enough to dunk the ball, a feature that would appear in many other basketball games. Simply uses city names in lieu of actual teams. (PC Engine release: 12/01/89.)
Tiger Road (Tora e no Michi)
An early Arcade Capcom platformer that feels like a mix of Kung Fu Master and something like Capcom's Magic Sword or Ghouls N' Ghosts. It's certainly no pushover. (PC Engine release: 02/23/90.)

Timeball (Blodia)
An odd spin on Pipe Dream, in which you already have a grid full of pipe pieces and your task is to slide them around in much the same way as the sliding block puzzles that pervade every Professor Layton game. The goal is to keep the titular sphere in play long enough for the exits to open, and then navigate it out of the stage. (PC Engine release: 02/23/90.)
Tricky Kick (Tricky)
A variation of Puzznic, the goal is to match similar symbols without messing up or having symbols left over (some need to be eliminated as threesomes). Tricky Kick's curious because it juggles multiple themes, making it an interesting game to categorize thematically on our wiki. Even though the game is extremely Japanese, it wasn't until about a year later that it was released for the PC Engine. (PC Engine release: 07/06/91.)
TV Sports Football
The TurboGrafx's first football game, and the first in a franchise that attempts to depict various sports as if they were televised, complete with hosts and dramatic camera angles. The TV Sports series actually originated on the PC, and exist today as legal freeware. (PC Engine release: 03/29/91.)
Veigues Tactical Gladiator
A scrolling mech game, similar to Masaya's Assault Suits series (known variously as Cybernator and Target Earth). The player upgrades their mech between stages, emphasizing different stats depending on their play style. (PC Engine release: 06/29/90.)

1991

Andre Panza Kick Boxing
That rarest of sports titles: a competitive kickboxing game. This one threw me for a loop when I worked on its page. When I started taking screenshots for it, it looked suspiciously familiar to another SNES game I'd worked on months ago. I was right, turns out, and this is simply another version of Best of the Best: Championship Karate. Of course, karate doesn't have a whole lot in common with kickboxing, except that you use your legs way more often than you would in regular boxing. I know, I know, I'm a whizz with martial arts. (No PC Engine release.)
Bomberman
We don't really need to go too deeply into Bomberman. It's a five-player party game in which you blow each other up. This is an acceptable adaptation of Hudson's original game, but it got eclipsed by the far superior Bomberman '93 and '94. (PC Engine release: 12/07/90.)
Bonk's Revenge (PC Genjin 2)
Bonk's back, and this time, he's still hitting things with his head and eating meat. Bonk's Revenge doesn't do a whole lot new, but it's still a great sequel to an already great game. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 07/19/91.)
Cadash
A side-scrolling multiplayer Arcade action RPG from Taito. Not something you tend to see every day. Was also released on the Genesis. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 01/18/91.)
Champions Forever Boxing
A boxing game that depicts various heavyweight champions from the 70s and 80s, like Ali, Frazier and Foreman. Didn't seem particularly great. (No PC Engine release.)
Davis Cup Tennis
More tennis, this time from French developer Loriciel(s). Unlike World Court Tennis it supports up to four players for its doubles mode. I believe the Genesis Davis-Cup Tennis is an enhanced version of the same game. (No PC Engine release.)
TaleSpin
Oh boy, don't ever confuse this Disney licensed platformer with the stellar work Capcom did with Disney properties on the NES. In comparison, this game is... well, what license games typically turn out like. (No PC Engine release.)
Dragon's Curse (Adventure Island)
Hudson and Westone have an unusual relationship. Hudson would frequently adapt their Wonder Boy games for other consoles, but because Sega is the original Wonder Boy publisher and license holder, Hudson often had to find ways to get around the name. That's how we got the original Adventure Island, Bikkuriman World and this game, which is simply the Master System's Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap with a careful excision in its title. It's one of the best in the series, taking a SpaceWhipper approach to exploration and progression with its hero's frequent shapeshifting. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 04/19/91.)
Impossamole
One of the more unusual things to see on a US only console is a platformer best known in its home territory of Europe, as part of the Monty Mole series from UK developers Core Design. The sort of Amiga refugee you'd occasionally see on the Genesis, but rarely anywhere else. (No PC Engine release.)
Night Creatures
Possibly another jab at a horror-themed brawler to follow Splatterhouse, there's some kusoge charm to this tale of a guy that gets bitten by a giant bat and decides to punch monsters. It really doesn't look great or play well. (No PC Engine release.)
Parasol Stars
Parasol Stars might be my favorite game in the Bubble Bobble/Rainbow Islands trilogy from Taito. It feels like a best of both worlds combination of its forebears, if anything. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 02/15/91.)
Raiden
A vertical shoot 'em up and an okay adaptation of the first game in the popular Arcade series. Further cementing the idea that the TG16 was the place to go for shoot 'em up conversions, at least for the time being. (PC Engine release: 11/22/91.)
Silent Debuggers
An utterly bizarre first-person sci-fi horror game that has you shooting aliens in tunnels for 100 real-time minutes. Be my buddy. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 03/29/91.)
Sinistron (Violent Soldier)
Yet another horizontal shoot 'em up with a visceral, vaguely Giger-esque sci-fi design. (PC Engine release: 12/14/90.)
Super Star Soldier
Another sci-fi shoot 'em up and the first of three Star Soldier sequels unique to the TurboGrafx-16. For a time, Hudson put out one of these every year to be the chosen game for a national competitive high-score event. (PC Engine release: 07/06/90.)
Turrican
Like Impossamole, Turrican's generally best appreciated by Amiga owners in Europe, so it's odd to see it get a release on a US-only platform like this. Fairly decent cyborg shooter with great music. (No PC Engine release.)
TV Sports Basketball
The second TV Sports game to grace the TurboGrafx-16. Play as teams as diverse as the Ninjas, the Wizards, the Pirates or the Zombies. Oddly prescient, given how many of those four things are in video games these days. (PC Engine release: 1991.)
TV Sports Hockey
The third TV Sports game on the console. Looks and plays very similar to EA's NHL series. (PC Engine release: 04/29/93.)
Yo' Bro
Utterly perplexing "radical" skateboard game that plays surprisingly similarly to LucasFilm's Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Given that it's almost impossible to shoot anything while moving, one has to wonder why skateboards had to be involved. Covered in Octurbo. (No PC Engine release.)

1992

Air Zonk (PC Denjin: Punkic Cyborgs)
A horizontal shoot 'em up featuring Hudson's Bonk character, "modernized" into a mohawk-sporting rockabilly cyborg. (PC Engine release: 11/20/92.)
Ballistix
Frenetically unplayable pinball-meets-Speedball future sports game from Psygnosis, and another weird example of an Amiga game hitting the TG16. Artwork by the guy who designed a lot of Iron Maiden's album covers. (PC Engine release: 12/13/91.)
Chase HQ
Taito's well-liked Arcade cop driving simulator. Find the perp and crash into them a lot until their car breaks down. It saw a huge number of home conversions, including one for the TG16. (PC Engine release: 01/26/90.)
Dead Moon
Another sci-fi shoot 'em up with some trippy visuals. The moon's been hit by a comet packed with alien lifeforms, so you've been sent to sort them out before they spread to Earth. (PC Engine release: 02/22/91.)
Darkwing Duck
Remember what I said about the TaleSpin licensed game? Pretty much the same deal here. Darkwing Duck is a great 90s cartoon, but it doesn't translate so well as a game. (No PC Engine release.)
Dungeons & Dragons: Order of the Griffon
A real curio, Order of the Griffon is set in the same universe as Capcom's Mystara Arcade brawlers and uses the SSI Gold Box combat engine. Weirder still, it uses the most basic D&D ruleset from the 70s rather than anything more contemporary. Despite looking like a PC game port, it's completely exclusive to the TG16. (No PC Engine release.)
Falcon
Another PC game conversion, Falcon is the first in a long line of intimidating F16 jet fighter simulators of the type that uses a first-person view of a cockpit with way too many flashing digits and buttons to push. A Drew game, so to speak. Not quite sure how well something this complex really works with a two-button controller. (No PC Engine release.)

Ghost Manor
ICOM shifted gears after their critically-acclaimed MacVenture series (which includes Shadowgate, Deja Vu and Uninvited) to produce middling platformers for the TG16. This one contains more adventure game elements than its straightforward appearance lets on. Covered in Octurbo. (No PC Engine release.)
Gunboat
Like Falcon, only it's a simulator for a PBR (Patrol Boat, River), those little gunboats you see in every Vietnam movie. (No PC Engine release.)
Hit the Ice
The only other hockey game for the TG16. This one has more of a comedic bent to its visual style, and was also available for the SNES and Genesis. (PC Engine release: 09/20/91.)
Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu (Jackie Chan)
A platformer featuring the Drunken Master of Slapstick Kung Fu himself, Jackie Chan. This version's a lot better looking than the NES one. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 01/18/91.)
Neutopia II
The sequel to Neutopia. Doesn't rock the boat with major genre shifts, unlike Zelda II, and is simply a bigger and better clone of its predecessor. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 09/27/91.)
New Adventure Island (Takahashi Meijin no Shin Bouken Jima)
Hudson's Master Higgins finally makes his TurboGrafx-16 debut in this new and improved take on the original NES game. It's his only appearance on the console, oddly enough, despite Hudson's heavy investment in the console. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 06/26/92.)
Samurai Ghost (Genpei Touma Den: Kan no Ni)
The sequel to Genpei Touma Den, a.k.a. The Genji and the Heike Clans, about a spectral undead samurai who escapes the underworld to destroy his demonically-empowered rivals. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 04/07/92.)
Shockman (Kaizou Chounin Shubibinman 2: Atanaru Teki)
Actually the second game in the unusually-titled Shubibinman series, featuring a pair of cyborg teens fighting to save their peace-loving city from total devastation. Very similar to Capcom's Mega Man series, though (like Bravoman) is kind of tongue-in-cheek about its genre tropes. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 04/26/91.)
Soldier Blade
The third of three Star Soldier sequels made especially for the TurboGrafx-16. The formula is well and truly established for this one. (PC Engine release: 07/10/92.)
Somer Assault (Mesopotamia)
Atlus takes a typically weird approach to a platformer/shooter game as a dexterous slinky takes on metallic beasts inspired by the signs of the Zodiac. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 10/04/91.)
Time Cruise (Time Cruise II)
A pinball game with multiple tables that can be traveled to horizontally as well as vertically. Activating time portals allows the player to complete mini-games for additional points and lives. (PC Engine release: 11/08/91.)

1993

Bomberman '93
The quintessential Bomberman game. Allows for up to five players. Considered one of the best Bomberman games to ever be released in the US, along with Super Bomberman 2 and Saturn Bomberman. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 12/11/92.)
Bonk 3: Bonk's Big Adventure (PC Genjin 3)

Bonk's third adventure has a size-shifting gimmick, making Bonk either very small or very big. Was released in both HuCard and CD format. Covered in Octurbo-CD. (PC Engine release: 04/02/93.)

Legend of Hero Tonma
An Irem Arcade platformer which, like Ghouls n' Ghosts, is no joke despite its cutesy graphics. Covered in Octurbo. (PC Engine release: 03/13/91.)
Magical Chase
A magical witch girl shoot 'em up. It's not even the only magical witch girl shoot 'em up either: the better known Fantastic Night Dreams: Cotton was released around the same time. It's also that one super-valuable game Jeff owns that he's somewhat reluctant to part with, even though it's worth around at least a grand to collectors these days. (PC Engine release: 11/15/91.)
World Sports Competition (Power Sports)
Part of Hudson's Power Sports series, imaginatively titled simply "Power Sports" in Japan. This one is Olympics-themed, which means a lot of events you invariably must button-mash through to complete. (PC Engine release: 10/10/92.)

Wii VC

Battle Lode Runner
This and the following six games were all PC Engine exclusive until they finally saw releases in Europe and the US as part of the Wii's Virtual Console library of TurboGrafx-16 games. Battle Lode Runner is an attempt to turn the classic puzzle game into a four-player competitive multiplayer like its spin-off, Bomberman. I can't say for sure how successful they were without a bunch of other people to test it, but it sure seems every bit as diabolical as the regular game. (PC Engine release: 02/10/93. US Wii VC release: 04/23/07.)
Break In
A billiards game from Naxat Soft. Doesn't seem particularly interesting, but it does allow for up to six players. The single-player's story involves the wealthy passengers finding a stowaway, the player character, and all challenge him to games of pool or else they'll throw him overboard. At least I assume that's what happens when you lose. Would certainly give new meaning to the term "pool sharks". (PC Engine release: 08/10/89. US Wii VC release: 08/11/08.)
Final Soldier
The missing link in the Star Soldier series, fitting snugly between Super Star Soldier and Soldier Blade (both above). Final Soldier might actually be the best one of the three, annoyingly, given its deeper weapon hybrid system. It looks great too, really giving the TG16's tech a run for its money, but then all the Star Soldiers did to some extent. (PC Engine release: 07/05/91. US Wii VC release: 09/08/08.)
Digital Champ
The PC Engine's challenger to Punch-Out!!, going for that first-person boxing perspective. There's no multiplayer, of course, and you fight Rocky in the first stage, which seems a tad unfair if you ask me. (PC Engine release: 10/13/89. US Wii VC release: 10/20/08.)
Bomberman '94
While Bomberman '93 is lauded as one of the best Bomberman games ever made, it actually takes a backseat to this improved sequel. In addition to customizing your Bomberman for multiplayer, it has a whole bunch of new features, an improved single-player and the inclusion of those weird kangaroo things that would also show up in later Super Bombermans. (PC Engine release: 12/10/93. US Wii VC release: 03/23/09.)
Detana!! TwinBee
A home console conversion of the one and only Arcade sequel to Konami's TwinBee. Like its forebear, it's a very colorful, very noisy cute 'em up take on Xevious. If you take damage, your arms get blown off and you can no longer attack ground targets with bombs. You can watch Jeff and Ryan commentate on it in this Game Room (though keep in mind they're playing the original Arcade version). (PC Engine release: 02/28/92. US Wii VC release: 03/23/09.)

Street Fighter II: Champion Edition
The most recent of the Virtual Console rereleases, and a rather shabby port of everyone's favorite 16-bit fighter game. It's the same as the Genesis version, only a little less functional. It's another game that got a look in on that VinnyVania/PC Engine stream I linked to earlier. (PC Engine release: 06/12/93. US Wii VC release: 11/16/09.)

Stay tuned for a much shorter list once I've completed the pages for every TurboGrafx-CD game. Until then: Holy crap was this a lot of text.

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What Is Lightning Returns? (Finale)

Day Six-Fourteen

Lightning in her war corset, or "warset".

Here it is, the final part of my unexpectedly (by me most of all) thorough analysis of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, a game that should by all rights not exist. A second sequel for a game that didn't seem well-received enough to warrant the one? As we've discovered, however, there's many more unusual facets to the game beyond its being, as the cast and world of Final Fantasy XIII's Nova Chrysalia faces its ultimate demise. Very much the Final Fantasy's series equivalent of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, right down to the strict time limit, the unusual connections to its predecessor(s) and the overall dour and macabre tone of a world facing its imminent extinction from a menace all too apparent.

But hey, we all had fun, right? Let's just get this over with. I had other games I wanted to play this year.

Story

So let me tell you what the days leading up to Day Thirteen were like. The week following Day Six was designed to be a buffer in case you weren't efficiently going through the story missions at the ridiculous pace I took. However, the game does a wry thing here to punish slowpokes by boosting the strength of several story bosses after Day Six. There's also stronger weapons and equipment to buy, monsters start dropping more powerful abilities and you're far more likely to start bumping into Last Ones, all of which drop malistones (needed for upgrading abilities) and usually a powerful weapon, garb or accessory. The fairly tough Behemoth-esque Reaver enemies of the Wildlands, for instance, drop an extremely powerful sword upon going extinct. Because there are only ever 30 encounters each for the large-scale enemies, it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to wipe those species out, and you get some powerful equipment out of it. Of course, the big enemies are also the best source of EP in the game (four points per encounter!) so there's a downside to being a genocidal maniac too. Who'd have guessed? Then again, it's not that you really need to worry about Chronostasis any more, so exterminate away.

The game also recognizes that players are wont to do everything as quickly as possible, so during the second week they roll out a few additional Canvas of Prayers challenges, giving them more fetch quests to do if they've run out of story missions. There's also a late-game set of missions that lets you re-open the roads between each region of the game, allowing you to take long walks across dilapidated freeways to different areas of Nova Chrysalia in lieu of teleporting or the monorail. These areas have a lot of chaos seeds and large enemies, so they're great sources for Last One superweapons and the rewards chaos seeds provide - usually a lot of money, needed for the expensive weapons/garb/upgrades that appear in the late game, but there's also some excellent curatives you can earn from hitting milestones, including the all-powerful Elixir.

Either way, the game's very leisurely paced at this juncture; it's like the weekend for those who do all their homework on a Friday night, so to speak. The player can either opt to go full OCD and start wiping out species left and right (and the game's happy to accommodate those weirdos, increasing the number of monsters within encounters as the days roll on) for every reward the game can offer, or they can choose to sleep through the next few days and wake up in time for the end of the world.

Day Thirteen is something special, in contrast. Rather than spending the day languidly rolling through the four regions, checking the Canvas of Prayers and seeing what monsters are still left to curb stomp, we are immediately taken to the Cathedral of the Order for that dangling plot thread regarding Vanille's self-immolating ritual to appease the suffering of the souls of the dead, and Lightning and Fang's attempts to prevent it. At least, that's what's supposed to happen on the thirteenth day. Instead, completing a certain number of side-missions creates an extra day, during which the game's optional dungeon opens up.

Imaginatively called the Ultimate Lair, this place is essentially a boss rush against every Last One in the game. If, like me, you didn't go too overboard with the OCD monster extinctions previously, you can find every Last One here for your bestiary and grab their valuable item drops without the tedious process of thinning their numbers beforehand. If a monster's already been exterminated they won't show up again here, so those floors count as freebies. You can also skip ahead if you don't feel like taking on the advanced forms of the game's more dangerous enemies. At the very bottom is Ereshkigal, the game's superboss. (Well, other superboss, I should say. There's a certain interdimensional dragon in the desert that's a major pain to deal with.) The game pulls an Ozma on me here, making this boss one that flies out of reach. This means the devastating Artemis's Arrows skill can't hit it, forcing me to depend on my normal attacks and spells. It's not an easy fight, especially as it starts spamming instant-kill attacks towards the end, but one can cheese it right back by wailing on it while its guard is temporarily down with the time-freezing Overclock. As much as I tend to lift up the FFXIII trilogy for its fast-paced strategic combat, it's easy to fall into a routine with this one. Maybe I'm just bored of trying to come up with strategies that aren't going to be anywhere near as effective as "stagger the enemy, then spam Overclock and one's strongest attacks until it finally keels over".

One thing I did like about the Ultimate Lair is the way they tried to tie it into the story. Hope and Lightning theorize that the place was built to create forms of life that would be more pliable to Bhunivelze's (aka God's) demands, rather than the fickle and chaos-steeped human race. The entire dungeon is filled with God's experiments in creating a superior mortal being, each more terrible and destructive than the last. All it needs to complete the Neon Genesis Evangelion connection is a teenager whining about his dad (hey Hope) and Goofy covering its main theme.

Day Fourteen follows immediately after, and railroads us to the Luxerion Cathedral, just before Vanille is to perform the Soulsong ritual that will destroy the souls of all the deceased. I'm a little reluctant to get any deeper into the actual ending, in case there are folk who still want to see it for themselves. Needless to say it involves a huge boss fight with Bhunivelze and everyone uniting together to spirit bomb the eff out of their creator deity, so rather than focus on that showy but somewhat generic anime ending I'll go into the characterization of Lightning and how it culminates towards the end, with what feels like an opportunity to vindicate a character that has been problematic to a lot of series fans for various reasons.

Lightning's meant to evoke the sort of tortured protagonist that Final Fantasy began to trade in back with Final Fantasy VII onwards. A protagonist that the player ostensibly was in full control of, but had no real sense of what the character had been through or who they were or what they were thinking until the game's plot had progressed further and developed them. Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is a great example of a game that took this concept of an unreliable-narrator-as-playable-character and did something extreme with it. Lightning's a bit less impactful though; she's so reminiscent of those characters that came before, in particular Final Fantasy VII's taciturn Cloud and Final Fantasy VIII's reticent Squall. She's been derisively referred to as a clone albeit a female clone that Tetsuya Nomura could dress in crazy stripper costumes. There's some truth to that, but Lightning's been given her own distinct arc over the three Final Fantasy XIII games and it feels as if the narrative of Lightning Returns is a last-ditch attempt to address the concerns folk have with her and exonerate her derivative origins to some extent by breathing more life into her personality and background. Whether anyone actually asked for this or not is another question entirely, but Lightning is Nomura and Motomu Toriyama's Pygmalion and they won't be stopped by any pleas for rationality, consarnit.

It's no coincidence that Lightning begins Lightning Returns devoid of her soul, having been taken from her by Bhunivelze to keep her compliant in her mission as the Savior. She's even more emotionless and stoic than usual, as if to suggest that her original characterization could've been a lot worse. Most of the more self-reflective cutscenes talk about her lack of a soul, the task she has been press-ganged into and how she could possibly face Serah again knowing that a crucial part of her is missing. The game eventually goes into how Claire Farron, the rebellious teenager who would be Lightning, scorned her selfishness, her innocence and her femininity to be a suitable guardian for her younger sister, becoming the hardened and emotionally repressed Guardian Corps soldier we're introduced to in the first game. Bhunivelze didn't actually take Lightning's soul; she herself sealed it away and discarded it at a young age. We discover that the enigmatic Lumina, a mischievous and spirited pre-teen that looks a lot like Serah, is actually the part of Lightning's soul that she abandoned long ago. She only resembles Serah because so did Lightning at that age.

When the game comes to a head, before and after the climactic boss fight, Lightning comes to terms with the part of her that she repressed, reforms with Lumina and joins the rest of the cast in the new world Bhunivelze created as said deity's corpse is discarded amongst the chaos (that's some gratitude). A world that looks astonishingly like Earth, in fact. I guess that figures.

Mechanics

New Game+: Before we wrap this up, I want to talk about the NG+. Unlike most RPGs that simply throw in NG+ bonuses to encourage people to play through the game again, only having a way easier time at it with all the boons they now have, Lightning Returns is deliberately configured in such a way to introduce a whole heap of new features for its New Game Plus mode. This is because, as a game with a strict time limit, it's very possible for the player to permanently screw up their first playthrough and need to start over.

New Game Plus lets you keep Lightning's stats, garbs, weapons, shields and items. It, of course, removes key items, and replenishes all the monsters in the world if you wiped any of them out, but you're otherwise going back to the beginning with a huge advantage. Add to this the fact that all the missions, side-missions and Canvas of Prayers missions will still gift you bonus stats on top of the ones you've already earned, and you can see how the game might get considerably easier if you couldn't quite handle it the first time. However, there's more.

NG+ is the only time you can upgrade weapons, shields and accessories. Shops now sell and accept building materials with which to make weapons and shields stronger, with higher-priced items needed for bigger upgrades (or to upgrade already powerful equipment). With the accessories, you simply have to find them again. Most are in chests, but some can be obtained by defeating Last Ones. Each one you find upgrades the equivalent accessory you already own, rather than giving you a duplicate.

The NG+ never stops throwing bones your way, even giving you an item right off the bat that lifts the damage limit and lets you power through anything the game has to offer, though it disables the online sharing component of the "battle rank" score you receive after bosses (are people really competing over that sort of thing? Seems odd to have high scores in a single-player JRPG). There's something similar to Saints Row 3's philosophy going on here: the idea that games need to start being more accessible and easier for a broader audience without necessarily eliminating the challenge for those who seek it.

The Bit at the End

Anyway, I am seriously done talking about Lightning Returns now. Every Final Fantasy is always packed to the gills with impressive visual and audio design, as well as ideas and features out the wazoo. It's why I keep coming back, despite some diminishing returns in certain areas of its worldbuilding. I'm certainly looking forward to Final Fantasy XV, should it ever ship, or that HD release of Final Fantasy Type-0. I guess my point is, that Lightning Returns has something to offer even if you have zero interest in the continued adventures of Claire Farron and her inconceivable fashion sense. I also think it has the best Final Fantasy soundtrack since VIII, for whatever that's worth, and it's wonderfully weird in the same way that something like Cavia's Nier or the aforementioned Majora's Mask are. The world's end is inevitable and unstoppable! Everyone's 500 years old! You kill God! (Okay, maybe that last one isn't unusual for a JRPG...)

Obviously, I'm not going to put out an unequivocal endorsement of this game, especially to those of you who really couldn't stand its two predecessors, but it's certainly odd enough to deserve a glance.

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What is Lightning Returns? (Part 5)

Day Five

Well, I think this will be our last update for a while. As with Day Four, I managed to squeeze a considerable amount of the story missions into this day with careful EP management. I say "careful management" as if I really had to make an effort. There were hundreds of enemy encounters in the Dead Dunes, which regularly kept my EP topped up faster than the constant Chronostasis casts could deplete it.

On the theme of not being entirely straight with you all, I didn't just complete a considerable amount of the story missions. I completed them all. This puts me in a somewhat awkward position of waiting eight days for the actual end of the world to come before the game's story can continue, which I intend to spend doing side-missions and very little else. I won't bother going into detail about that stuff, so instead we'll be picking this feature up around Day Thirteen after I finally the game to its conclusion.

For now, though, I've still got a lot to say about this weird-ass game.

Mechanics

The Canvas of Prayers: Despite the somewhat pious and important sounding title, the Canvas of Prayers is simply the dumping ground for all the side-missions that aren't important or interesting enough to have wandering NPCs attached to them. They are invariably fetch quests, and most require monster drops (thankfully, monsters always drop their "spoil" item. Abilities and other item drop types are a bit less frequent) or objects strewn about the landscape in chests or as sparkles on the ground. Supervising the Canvas of Prayers is the bubbly Chocolina, the time-travelling vendor from Final Fantasy XIII-2, who factors into Sazh's mission line, which we discussed in the last update.

The Canvas is an unessential non-entity in a lot of ways, but at the same time it's an easy means to get a few stat boosts with little effort. Unless you're running away from everything, which isn't recommended if you're low on EP since it powers a lot of useful skills and can't easily be refilled any other way, you'll come away from any exploration or the game's story missions with handfuls of pointless trinkets from monsters. And pointless trinkets is precisely what these people want, for whatever spurious reasons they provide.

Honestly, if the Canvas is proof of anything, it's that Lightning Returns really wants to be Xenoblade Chronicles, or Final Fantasy XII. The sort of open-world RPG that tries to merge elements of contemporary MMOs with a traditional single-player RPG experience, complete with enormous, strategically-placed bulletin boards that always have a dozen fetch quests to do if you're bored. I'd probably be safe in saying that the great majority of RPG innovations in the past decade have come from MMOs, whether it's the lingo (tank, proc, mob, etc.) or concepts that have been tweaked and reconfigured many times over. A successful MMO developer has money to fritter away on additional features that take their fancy, and their game(s) are constantly being improved with the combination of the feedback of an ardent and perceptive userbase and a persistent team of engineers and designers who continue to work on it for months, or even years. It's why early WoW would be almost completely unrecognizable to its present-day players. Hell, those things can continue to take up this weird R&D role in modern RPG design with my blessing, as long as I don't have to play 'em. Let me reap those innovations without the monthly fee instead, I'm down for that.

The Outerworld: The Outerworld is simply the game's fancy name for its (apparently requisite these days) online elements. Demon's Souls set a precedent for this sort of incidental not-really-multiplayer. (It was in FFXIII-2 too, to an extent). Rather than seeing ghost versions of other Lightnings running around, you can create and send messages that appear in other players's worlds as background NPCs. These can be either screenshots or "Lightning's Thoughts": overly serious recounts of the mission/side-mission you just completed. You can also attach items, which is the sole reason you'd ever want to turn Outerworld on, unless you're way into the idea of a less personal and less creative version of Miiverse. Any attached item has a fixed cost, but there's a few you can't easily get anywhere else besides through this Outerworld system (which kind of prompts the question as to how all these online goobers found these items, or why they would be willing to part with them. I haven't figured that out yet.) Importantly, you can get the all-powerful Elixir for a paltry 360,000 Gil, which on top of being a tremendous healing item also has an achievement attached to it, and plenty of Ethers and Turbo-Ethers, which instantly refill your EP. Having a stock of Ethers is how you beat the tougher optional bosses in the game, as any boss strategy essentially boils down to "stagger them, then spam the freeze time/infinite ATB skill Overclock and whack away until there's nothing left". Having a means to keep on Overclocking until the Chocobos come home is very handy indeed.

Story

When we left off, I'd just unlocked the Dead Dunes as a teleport node. The Dead Dunes is a fairly sizeable desert close to Yusnaan, littered with the occasional ruin and not a whole lot else. In the center is the bandit settlement, which they called Ruffian. I cannot conceive of a reason why they would call it that, but then I'm not a desert bandit. But Lightning is, or rather, she will have to be if she's to figure out how to get deeper into the desert ruins or meet the bandit leader, who is revealed to be an entirely new character which the game spends a considerable amount of time developing their perso- nah, just kidding, it's just Fang from the first game again.

Fang's there to find the Holy Clavis, an artifact that Vanille needs to appease the souls of the dead, before the Order gets to it first. Lightning questions this, as Vanille is supposedly the head of the Order, but doesn't really pry too much. After which, Fang actually joins Lightning and becomes the second guest character of the game (after the Angel of Valhalla), helping in battles and such. She isn't exactly stomping everything into the sand like Lightning, as Fang's still human after all, but she's useful because she spams all the debuffs I couldn't be bothered equipping on a schemata somewhere. Seriously, the game has at least seven or eight debuffs and I only have so much room for abilities on these schematas. Most of the rest of the Dead Dunes chapter is spent purloining the tiny satellite ruins for special tablets, and then exploring a really quite deep and multi-layered dungeon of the sort that I haven't really seen any of the FFXIII games do before. This place has timed doors (there's two sets that alternately open/close every hour), switches for doors in completely different areas of the dungeon, pits and ladders that send you up and down and around a circuitous route and lots of treasures and skeletons. I was quite impressed.

After a whole lot of nonsense concerning the activation of murals depicting the creation of the gods and humanity and yadda yadda yadda (all the gods besides Etro are dicks, is the crux), we find the Clavis (it's the Ark of the Covenant, if you're wondering what a "clavis" is) and are then subsequently jumped by Order goons who sic a boss on us. It's the first boss in a while that wasn't just a previous game's playable character, though I'm so ridiculously overpowered at this point (NB: this is what inevitably happens with any RPG that lets you handle a bunch of story missions in any order) that I just completely wreck its day regardless. The Clavis gets surreptitiously spirited away in the confusion, and Fang chases after it. Turns out that the ritual the Clavis is for will kill Vanille, and she's down with it because of her intense guilt over an attack on Cocoon way back before the events of the first game. This ritual isn't meant to occur until the actual final day, however, which is something of a reprieve. We'll just defer that whole "attack the world's largest organized religion" thing until later then, shall we?

While running around the desert, I did happen to come across a cactuar with an afro. Needless to say, this was where the last soul fragment for Dajh was to be found, and after the Dead Dunes were done with I traveled back to the Wildlands to reunite a father with his son. Thanks for showing up to whine about your son some more, Sazh. Still, I got an extra point of EP out of it, so alls well that ends well. Speaking of which, that leads us to the final story mission of the game: the Temple of Etro. This ominous place is the reason we got the Angel of Valhalla all healed up, as it's unreachable without him. The Temple is interesting but rather brief; it's filled with the largest concentration of "unseen chaos", the force that kickstarted all of this apocalyptic business, and we finally discover what the deal is with two characters from the previous game and what the unseen chaos actually is.

So Caius Ballad and Paddra Nus-Yeul were the other two new characters besides Noel Kriess (and that moogle, I guess) that got any major screen time in Final Fantasy XIII-2. Caius is Noel's mentor and weapons trainer, while Yeul is the latest in a long line of prophetic seeresses who die young and reincarnate as an identical person. While Caius is blamed for causing the death of Etro and inviting the chaos unto the world, it's actually all Yeul's doing. Yeul's a mass of identical souls, though they don't all act with a single voice and purpose. A specific Yeul infused Caius with chaotic energy to make him immortal some time ago so he could always be there every time she is reborn; some Yeuls realize that keeping Caius alive for so long is cruel, while others can't bear to let him die. Caius has been at the bidding of a hundred different Yeuls for over a thousand years as a result. The multiple Yeuls are also what created the unseen chaos, as the same soul became splintered and warped after so many reincarnations. It's all extremely dubious Final Fantasy philosophical poppycock of the highest order, but at least the game made a stab at explaining its nebulous force of (perhaps) evil. No explanation as to who or what Lumina is just yet, though. I'm guessing they're saving that one for sweeps.

Anyway, Lightning has to pass through the temple to where Caius is waiting. Unfortunately, she got jumped at the entrance and is hit with a curse: her health constantly depletes while inside the temple, meaning the player has to keep careful eye on the HP bar as time and monster encounters wear it down. At least, that's the idea for the harder difficulties where HP doesn't automatically regenerate outside of battle. Ah well, it seemed like a neat idea at least, albeit the kind of obnoxious one that usually pops up in a Final Fantasy one way or another. Remember that upside-down castle in FFIX? (Also, there's no way I'm giving up 1 EP Chronostasis, relative lack of challenge be damned.) Caius himself is a tough fight, as he switches from multiple attack forms like Lightning does, and is insanely quick. Even with Lightning's general overpoweredness and the lower difficulty, I barely managed to stay alive. Caius decides afterwards he cannot be saved, as his presence in the new world would invite in the churning mass of distilled chaos that is the Yeul collective and cause the same thing to happen, and both fade away into the chaos miasma permeating the Temple. Well, can't win 'em all. However, I did save the soul of one particular character...

My Chocobo! The strength it lent me to get me here shines through, and it's revealed that the reason he feels so familiar to Lightning is because the Chocobo is actually Odin. As in, Lightning's eidolon from the first game. He disappeared after Lightning became Etro's Champion, but apparently eidolons can be reborn as giant chickens. Good to know. I'd say it was the most ignoble thing that ever happened to the erstwhile All-Father, but the dude did get split in half by Seifer once and needed Gilgamesh to bail him out. Man, you want to talk about weird Final Fantasy games...

Anyway, with all story missions done, we can essentially just chill in Inns and on the Ark for the foreseeable future. All our meddling pushed the end of the world until Day Thirteen (actually Day Fourteen, but we'll leave that one as a surprise as I happen to know that a completely bullshit optional super dungeon opens up that day) which gives us a week of vacation time. I doubt anything of note will happen, but I'll be sure to preface the next update's Story section if I'm proven wrong.

The Bit At the End

That's it for this episode of "What Is Lightning Returns", and the last one for a while. I'll probably fly through this next week of not-a-whole-bunch in the next couple of days, but who can say for sure. I let myself get invested in silly optional end-game content in RPGs more often than I care to admit. I hope I've done a fair job in elucidating what this game is about and how it continues to pique my interest in unexpected ways, even if the total package might be a little too schizophrenic for its own good and completely inaccessible to the 99% of gamers who couldn't get through the first two games in this trilogy. It's way too damn serious too, except for when it's completely stupid. Yep, I realize that's the dictionary definition of a JRPG, but darn it if the one thing I don't miss from PS1/PS2 era JRPGs are long speeches about how religion is bad every five minutes (and I say that as an entirely non-religious person). That reminds me, I gotta get around to Xenogears one of these days...

Oh right, the end of the blog. Eh, I'll just leave you all with Death Game again. Music's so damn good in this game, in spite of everything.

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What is Lightning Returns? (Part 4)

Day Four

We now approach day four of Lightning's quest to save the world, and the fourth day of this blog series I totally don't regret starting. This one's going to be a long one, as I somehow managed to squeeze half the story quests into a single 24 hour period, so consider yourselves warned. (It's also why I skipped yesterday, my bad. Plus, that Mario Party Party 3 stream sapped much of my free time, as well as a lot of energy in general. Shit was intense!)

Two things I want to address before we begin today:

  1. The first is I intend to keep this thing going until I've completed all the story missions, and then finish off with the finale. That will probably mean two or three more updates, though none as large as this one fortunately, and then another to cap everything off. I'm half-tempted to stop before the game's finale to leave something for others to discover, so I could end up changing my mind about that epilogue blog.
  2. The second concerns my eventual review of the game, given how a lot of the comments I've received so far have been discussing the game's overall quality. Given how much of the game I've described, in one way or the other, I'm not sure I'll need to pen a proper review as I'll have covered mostly everything already. The only thing left will be my final opinion on the game, which obviously hasn't coalesced into being quite yet as I'm still in the process of playing it, Maybe I'll just squeeze it into the final update somewhere. If there is one. A lotta maybes floating around right now, huh.

For the moment? I think I actually like Lightning Returns. I doubt I'd recommend it to anybody, but I like it when games get weird and unpredictable like this. Chalk it up to playing hundreds of samey JRPGs, I guess.

Mechanics

The Last Ones: I'll be (comparatively) brief with the mechanics today, because the story section's going to be a lot longer than usual and some mechanics stuff actually factors into it too. Instead, I want to focus on one of the game's typically quirky (if somewhat morose) features: The Last Ones.

The game has a specific encounter table for every area of every region in the game, like most RPGs. Some smaller enemies will pop up all over the world as regular mobs, while certain monsters only appear in specific areas and dungeons. Every enemy type in the game is limited, however: there are only so many of the low-level Gremlin or Niblet monsters, for example, and once you've exhausted their stock they will cease to appear entirely. You've effectively made that monster species extinct. Given how little territory is left that hasn't been swallowed by Chaos and that it follows that most monster species would be just as limited as the remaining amount of living humans, it's feasible enough to assume that they'll eventually run out. (Well, as long as you ignore the idea that most monsters are being spawned from the Chaos directly.) Once a monster species has completely died out, the areas they inhabited will either be free from encounters or will spawn other monster types instead. Likely much stronger ones to match the player's progress.

However, every monster type is also capable of one last hurrah. The Last One is a very specific encounter that appears after all of a monster's brethren have gone, and is a much stronger (and hot pink colored, for whatever reason) variant that acts like a boss fight. It has the same elemental strengths and weaknesses as its kin, so your old tactics should still work to an extent, but it has considerably higher stats and won't go down without a struggle. Destroying one reaps all sorts of amazing rewards, but given how much of a grindy nuisance it can be to make The Last One of any particular species appear, it's generally not worth it unless it just happens naturally as you run around killing stuff.

There's something both satisifying yet morally horrifying about wiping out an entire species, even if they are just monsters. I mean, it's genocide, pure and simple. While you can feel relieved that you'll never have to fight a certain monster again after a hundred or so encounters with them, they manage to weave it into the game's central theme of the world's imminent destruction in an uncomfortably personal manner. The world may be gone in a week, but I've ensured that there won't be any of these annoying little furball enemies around to see it. That's a good thing, right? R-right?

Story

Well, here we go again. Can't go straight to Yusnaan because the first story mission doesn't start until 6pm, so we're off to the Wildlands instead. Our first task here is to find the Angel of Valhalla: a pure white Chocobo meant to herald the end of everything. I believe I may have mentioned it last time, as the first step is easy enough: You simply have to go to where the Angel was last seen and defeat a half-dead Chocobo Eater (a monster that can be quite a handful at full health due to its rage attacks) before it can finish off the severely wounded Chocobo. The majority of your efforts in the Wildlands are to locate and then feed various items to the Chocobo to improve its health, which then becomes an optional objective once it becomes strong enough to carry you. Feeding it more heals its wings, allowing it to glide over moderate distances, which is what you need to explore a large amount of the Wildlands. Specifically, we need to get to a temple deep in a rocky area of the Wildlands, but once I get ol' Boko fixed up enough to head most places around the map, I simply spent the next few (game) hours doing side-missions and grabbing rare items. It's a personal failing of mine, but when you give me a little more freedom in an open-world game, I tend to exploit it to its limits in lieu of actually doing something productive with my time, like taking up macramé.

While on my plumed perambulations, I came across an old friend: Sazh Katzroy! Of course, this immediately lead to two downer observations: The first is that there's no appreciable reason how or why Sazh managed to survive this long, given we last saw him in the first game (unless you bought the DLC for the second), and the second is that the developers are still as invested in his character growth as the writers of Lost were in Harold Perrineau's character on that show. Which is to say, he essentially boils down to is being a father who is running around looking for his son, forever. Nothing else seems to happen in Sazh's world; either his son Dajh is a l'Cie, or a crystal statue, or a soulless coma victim, and Sazh wants nothing more than for Dajh to be none of those things.

Sazh's mission, which is the fifth of the game's five big story quests, is simply a scavenger hunt: We need to find five fragments of Dajh's soul, which have inexplicably flown to the five corners of the world (though I suspect Lumina had something to do with it). The first is right next to Sazh's house, which really raises a pertinent question regarding why Sazh has been looking for fragments for 500 years and never thought to check his damn mailbox. The second is being held onto by Chocolina (which, as has been established elsewhere, is the grown up Chocobo chick that used to live in Sazh's hair), which means completing one of her Canvas of Prayers side-quests. (Man, did I ever actually talk about that whole thing? I guess that's the topic for tomorrow's Mechanics section.) The third is a prize in Yusnaan's battle arena, because of course there's a battle arena, while the fourth is being held onto by Chaos Seed merchants, who buy purple twinkling things you find in dangerous areas. The fifth is somewhere in the Dead Dunes, and thus the only fragment I didn't manage to pick up today.

As for Yusnaan, it's finally time to beat some sense into Snow by sneaking into the palace. Our original plan is to enter through the service tunnel, but it gets closed off unexpectedly. Not that it matters, as Lumina sics a mini-boss on us on the way there, dropping us in the Warehouse District. (Not that I mind too much, as this awesome track is playing throughout.) I eventually find the ID of some dead VIP, and thus no longer need to find a circuitous way around the gates to the fancy-in-the-pantsy exclusive Augur's Quarter. The second part of this mission involves demolishing the enormous gilded centerpiece in a nightly theatrical play about the Savior, by packing the base with far too many fireworks and then using the turmoil and the fallen structure to get over the outer walls of the palace. What follows is some extremely silly fetch quests for the fireworks followed by an even sillier sequence where Lightning flies around performing hackneyed lines in a play while everything explodes. Remember the intro to Final Fantasy X-2? Yeah, it's something like that, right down to the dumb Super Mario 64 floating platforms they perform on.

Anyway, once into the palace and back where the tutorial began, we just have a lot of classic dungeon puzzle hoops to jump through until we find Snow and, indeed, beat some sense into him. He finally succumbs to his l'Cie curse and becomes a Cie'th but, uh, we knock him out of it? I guess? He comes to, gives us his soul (in a friendly way! Just to reiterate!) and we get our second huge stat boost of the game. That's Snow and Noel we've rescued now.

As for any side-missions done during this period, well, I breezed through a number of them. One involved finding dozens of accessories for a circus performer to try out, so that was dumb. As an interesting endurance challenge, I had to kill 30 enemies in a permanent chaos region (where enemies constantly regen and are generally stronger) without healing. One quest actually had me exterminate a specific monster, which is what prompted the Last Ones discussion above. There's a few Wildlands side-missions that almost invariably led to a curative item for the Chocobo, as much of Lightning's time in the Wildlands is spent finding ways to heal the guy to the point where it's healthy enough to fly her to places.

I even got the monorail to Dead Dunes with thirty minutes (which is about a minute IRL time) left to spare before being called back to the Ark, so now I can start there when Day Five begins.

The Bit at the End

As I'm more or less done everywhere else, excepting a few side-missions, I believe the entirety of Day Five will be spent combing the desert for the whereabouts of Oerba Yun Fang (I've been told to seek out the Monoculous Bandits. Hmm, I wonder who their leader might be?), the holy artifact she left Vanille to pursue and that final soul fragment for Sazh and Dajh. Should be an eventful one: the desert's filled with monsters, though at least the Dunes has its own version of a fast-travel system, so that'll save me spending EP to 'port everywhere myself. See you then.

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What Is Lightning Returns? (Part 3)

Day Three: Six Days Left to Save Termina Nova Chrysalia

Onward to Day Three! We're done with Luxerion's story missions, but I've got a whole lot of side-quests to complete there. The alternatives are: go to Yusnaan, which is currently pointless as the story missions don't begin until after sundown; go to the Wild Lands, which involves fighting endless amounts of random encounters that I'd rather just blitz through by having the giant stat boost received after Yusnaan's story missions; or go to the Dead Dunes, which seems to be pretty much the Wild Lands but even more dangerous and in the desert.

My plan is to just hash out some Luxerion's side-missions (using a guide to determine when and where missions begin and end, naturally, because screw feeling my way around that giant area and hoping to strike it lucky with a damn ticking clock over my head) and then pop over to Yusnaan late afternoon for its story missions. I, uh, manage to screw that up though. Well, we'll get into more detail about that a little later. It's a good story though, it ends with me realizing that I don't know how time works.

Mechanics

Schematas: I talked about how Lightning's schematas are essentially combination dresspheres and paradigms (the FFXIII definition of the term, at least), but there's a considerable depth of customization here that I glossed over. The sheer number of schematas is fascinating in its micromanagement-friendly way, and when configuring them it never ever boils down to just "should I use this for my magic-using build or my physical-attack build"? That's probably a good basis for what two of your three schematas ought to prioritize, at least early on, but there's so many other factors to consider as well.

For instance, I'm now finding schemata that focus on a specific element, like thunder or fire. They come with magic boosts and have elemental skills built in - most schematas have pre-installed skills like this, but they won't let you configure which button these default skills are attached to, which really messes with your OCD if you want your attack button to be always Circle and guard to always be Square. Many schematas give you a mix of beneficial skills and it's up to the player whether they consider, say, more health to be a superior advantage over increased defense. However, it seems a lot of them clearly have a very specific, context-sensitive purpose too, like the above elemental-based schematas which seem to exist purely in case you're around a lot of enemies weak to the same shit.

The game's odd in that Lightning is a powerful character (well, at least in the gameplay sense) right from the offset. There's a lot of room for growth, of course, but she's slinging high-powered spells and doing thousands of points of damage with regular attacks immediately after the game begins. The small stat boosts from completing side-quests are just there to make the game slightly easier, and some story bosses slightly more manageable to deal with, and the same's true for most of what comprises a schemata. If anything provides the strongest boosts to physical/magical attack, it's the weapons and they're often the determining factor when it comes to whether this schemata is a magical/physical attacker. The rest of the schemata, which includes the outfit Lightning is wearing (and they all look ridiculous, for the record, like Nomura just plumbed every Japanese middle-school girl's fashion sketchbook for ideas) and other add-ons tend to provide all sorts of contextual bonuses like extra HP, enhanced elemental attack and defense, extra ATB speed and recovery, status resistance and many other power-ups that would seem to be most effective in very particular scenarios. The game has a freebie Escape option for any battle (I haven't tested it with story bosses though) so I imagine if you're getting pummeled because none of your schemata has anything to counter the present enemy, you can jump out of combat and tinker with them until you can slip into something more suitable.

Importantly, I've found, stores continue to restock after so many days, so there's usually schemata parts which are objectively better than anything you're using. It pays to check back with any equipment vendors you haven't visited in a while. It looks like these superior schemata parts show up the further you get into the game too, so as to not mess up the difficulty curve, but it seems as if the player might be fine with just a few rudimentary ones and sticking new skills on them as they fight stronger enemies. Or maybe they won't be, and it's actually vitally important to always be upgrading to better schematas whenever possible. For all its tutorials and datalogs, Lightning Returns does have a habit of leaving a lot to the player to figure out. Abstruse, is the word I usually use in this situation.

In addition to the weapon and shield you use (the shield is somewhat less essential than weapons, and tend to only determine how powerful your guarding ability is), you also have two slots for accessories and an adornment slot. The accessories are scattered all over the place in chests and provide singular 5additional passive abilities, while the adornment is simply for show and tends to be dumb stuff like carnations, cactuar dolls and trendy eyewear. I bought an anime Lightning mask off a moogle on Day Three, so I'll probably be using that from here on out, because it's incredibly dumb and that's how I roll these days.

Skills: Skills are the other big micromanagement headache this game has, but the way it approaches them is also interesting in how it does its best to make the whole system worth investing in. Skills tend to range from attack, guard, spells and other abilities, but you have to earn them through combat. Most of the enemies in the game have a skill drop specific to them, usually one they themselves use, and by going to a sorcery shop Lightning can merge multiple skills together to make a superior one. Thus, if you're stuck killing a dozen of the same enemies for whatever reason, you can combine enough of their identical skill drops into something valuable. There's also a "Shiny Pokemon" element in that you can sometimes get rare versions of skills which come with an additional passive bonus (if you didn't already have enough), and this passive gets passed along when merging that skill with others. You'll hit a cap to how far these skills can increase, eventually, but then you'll be able to evolve the skill into a much stronger variant (albeit, once you're somewhat further into the game, because that stringent difficulty curve is sacrosanct). There's no restrictions for schematas and the skills you can attach to them, so it comes down to which skills you intend to use most often. It's also worth stocking up on those rares because their passive skills take effect whether you use the skill in battle or not. Better skills drop from tougher monsters, thus giving you better motivation to take them on more often (especially given how there's no XP to worry about, which is usually the reason why you'd want to fight the bigger guys).

But holy crap if this game doesn't have a lot of these skills. You never really had to think about skills/abilities in the previous FFXIII games because they were automatically dispensed based on your equipped paradigm. Now I have to worry about Ruin and Deprotect and fifteen different variants of Attack and a bunch of schemata-specific stuff, like a Firaga equivalent that seems to be powered by physical strength instead of magical. I'd say it's a game that rewards experimentation, but that's evidently not true because you're always fighting against time.

The more I cover this feature, the more it seems clear that the developers just threw every idea they had at this thing and hoped enough of it stuck. I mean that both mechanically and narratively, and I'll use that to segue into...

Story

Yusnaan: Even in Party City Central, You Have to Stick to a Schedule

I'm wondering how much time I should spend talking about side-missions. I feel like these updates are already getting long enough, but some side-missions have enough story significance to be worth a paragraph. Given that I royally screwed up the timing on the first Yusnaan story mission, I pretty much spent this entire day just doing side-quests instead of getting on with the important stuff and won't really have much else to write about if I excise it.

So screw it.

Luxerion's side-quests for the most part are nothing too notable. Usual mix of running around talking to the right people and buying the right items to hand in at the right times. Fought a dragon, made an elixir (but not the sort I can use, alas), won a footrace with some 500 year old kid, checked clocks all over town in the most pointless quest ever, recovered the soul of a boy from his dead cat by feeding him illegal drugs I procured in the slums. You know, same ol', same ol'.

A couple of notable outliers include a quest where I had to, in a macabre twist, go speak to the three women who got murdered on my behalf during the story mission here. Post-death enlightenment, I was able to discover a few new story tidbits, including the fact that the absence of Etro is what's preventing new life from being born, as her task was to channel souls into the bodies of newborns to maintain a cycle of life and death (which is a theory I've found very odd when applied to the real world, considering there are more people alive than have ever been alive every year). The new world, once Bhunivelze is done blowing up the old, will also be absent an Etro to keep the human race chugging along, so the game's been hinting that Lightning might replace her. Man, save us all if someone gave her dominion over life and death. As for the other two murder victims, one was a former soldier who assisted the Order of Bhunivelze for centuries and had some neat war stories, while the other was pretending to be the Savior and ends up giving you an item for another side-mission as penance. Kind of a big story dump side-quest, really, and surprisingly not that easy to find without a guide.

The other side-quest I want to talk about is The Girl Who Cried Wolf which, as well as being a little too victim-blamey for my liking, is one of the few time-sensitive side-quests. I don't just mean that you have to be at the right spot at the right time to complete it, but that after you start the quest you are forced to complete it on the same day or it is marked as failed forever. Probably preaching to the choir here, but that is some hot garbage in a burning trash can if I ever saw it. Side-quests are fairly immaterial in the grand scheme of things, sure, but there's always going to be obsessive folk like myself who want to bash them all out anyway. The game's trophy for side-missions, as if acknowledging how BS some of this stuff is, awards the player after hitting a milestone that is significantly smaller than the total number. The special end-game bonus dungeon requires twice as many completed side-missions, but is still 13 (or 14, sources can't seem to agree) shy of the full amount, just in case you bump into nonsense like this and end up with a few failure marks on your quest log. The mission itself isn't so tough - you simply have to go around the city answering payphones and then finish the quest in the slums of the city (which, I'll remind you all, is only open during nighttime). But, man, I really hope this doesn't set a precedent.

Yusnaan's a very picturesque city, kind of a cross between Las Vegas and Paris, and I rolled in around 3pm in order to give me plenty of time to get the story missions sorted. Guess what, though? I got waylaid by the vast amount of side-quests between the station and the first checkpoint, and by the time I'd progressed the main quest sufficiently I had already passed the strict 6pm meeting time required to move onto the next section. I spent Yusnaan reacquainting a restaurant owner and his itinerant epicurean son, and teaching some busker kid how to perform Final Fantasy XIII's Main Theme, that I lost track of time completely, even with a lot of Chronostasises. Chronostases? Turns out, EP runs out pretty quick when you aren't getting into many fights.

Having exhausted most of the side-missions I can do in Yusnaan right now (like Luxerion, most of them only unlock after completing story missions in that area), I spent the final few hours of the day in the Wild Lands. I actually got several stages into the first of two story missions there, rescuing a white chocobo (named the Angel of Valhalla and thought to herald the end of the world, so that's one awesome ratite) and helping with a couple of missions to bring it the recovery food it needs. From what I've been told by NPCs, a fully healed Chocobo that I can ride will let me reach the 60% of the Wild Lands currently inaccessible due to cliffs and other big jumps. Hey, sounds like a deal to me. Last few hours were spent in a forest, helping moogles (including Mog! From FFXIII-2! He... he was the moogle in that game. Yeah, yeah, the annoying one) and picking up poop before the day finally ended.

Because of the weird convoluted way I left things in Luxerion, Yusnaan and the Wild Lands, where I was told by several NPCs to meet back with them the following day to move side-quests along, I'm trying to deduce a schedule that can fit everything in. It's going to need some liberal teleporting, so I hope I can find enough EP. Might be time I start trying to track down some of these EP-restoring Ethers I've heard about...

In short, you know how Hermione used that magical watch thing to be in a dozen places at once in The Prisoner of Azkaban? That's what Day Four is going to be like for me. Wait, you say didn't see that or any Harry Potter movie? Oh, uh, yeah, me neither. (Damn! All my cool guy credibility! Gone, like tears in the rain.)

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