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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What Is Lightning Returns? Part Two

Day Two: Six Days Left to Save Termina Nova Chrysalia

Hey all, back with part two as promised. We'll be going over what I did today, in true grade school summer vacation fashion, and touching on any major story elements that occur in addition to any distinctive game features I happened upon. The story section, below, contains major spoilers for the Luxerion chapter of the game, so be warned. If you'd prefer not to have the game spoiled for you, maybe just read the "Mechanics" parts from here on out. Speaking of which:

Mechanics

I didn't get into this with the initial report, but Lightning has superpowers given to her by Bhunivelze to assist her in her role as savior. These powers all run off a very precious and finite resource called EP. EP is valuable, because you start with only five points (though it increases after completing big story missions) and is used for various purposes, but really only three that are significant so far: Teleport, Chronostasis and Overclock.

Teleport is what it sounds like: a fast travel system that takes you to any major checkpoint (usually monorail stations, which is how the normal slowpokes get around) you've already been. It uses up two points of EP though, so it's always worth considering if it would be less wasteful to simply walk to where you need to go. That's almost always the case if you intend to travel to somewhere in the same area: for instance, Luxerion has two fast travel points on either side of town, but if you're actually in Luxerion it's a relatively short walk between them. Still, if you're short on time but full of EP (especially towards the end of the day, after which your EP refills anyway) it's probably worth it.

Chronostasis is a little more vital if you're of the schedule-fixated persuasion, like myself. What it does is pause the timer but not the world, largely because there's not a lot you can do if all the quest sponsors are all frozen solid. The liberal application of Chronostasis means that you don't have to worry too much about completing a lot of tasks in a very short time window, though it will burn through the EP very quickly. I opted to go for the Easy setting, because I discovered it lowers the cost of Chronostasis and allows Lightning to auto-regen health when outside of battle, and I'm all about conveniences. That seems way less stressful than the alternative, and I don't particularly bummed that all these boss fights got nerfed either.

Overclock is one of the few EP abilities that you activate in battle. Like Chronostasis, it essentially pauses combat in its current state for a very brief spell with the added benefit of making Lightning's ATB bar (what she uses to mete out attacks and spells) infinite. When coupled with the stagger/knock-down mechanic, it essentially means that you can keep hitting Overclock and pummel an enemy at its most vulnerable point. It's the best way to do a lot of damage to bosses in rapid time, and seems to be the way to go with most of the larger random encounter enemies in the game too. Reason being? Defeating enemies is how you recover EP, and defeating large enemies tends to award a lot of EP at once. You might as well burn it all to complete the fight faster.

There's a few other EP skills too, of course. You can use it in combat (or out) to heal yourself fully at any time, or to resurrect yourself if you don't have a Phoenix Down equipped. The Escape ability, which simply drops you outside of the battle as if it never happened, is a freebie you can use any time if you're not into fighting at that moment - fights provide cash and item drops, as well as EP recovery, but no actual XP as Lightning's development is governed elsewhere. More EP skills unlock as you get further in the game (I started with a handful originally). There's also certain special chests in the environment that require EP to open, which I imagine hold some pretty sweet stuff (I've only found one so far and it asked for my entire EP bar, which wasn't happening at that moment).

Tune in tomorrow for even more integral game features I probably should've already mentioned!

Story

Luxerion: Not the Name of a Cruise Ship, Turns Out.

Luxerion is where Hope suggests Lightning start saving souls, since Yusnaan will be on high alert for a while. Luxerion is the other big center of civilization in the game, and is a far more sedate and pious place that weirdly feels unfinished. Not in the sense that Square-Enix cuts every corner they can, but that so many corridors and tunnels that link the districts together have tarps up and scaffolding everywhere. The city, and all its people, are over 500 years old, so there's no reason for why nothing seems complete other than that they had to abandon parts of the city mid-construction because the chaos had snuck in too far. That's corroborated with the fact that these corridors are where most of Luxerion's monster spawns occur.

The two focal points of Luxerion are the north and south stations, which are the two warp points I mentioned earlier. Around them are most of the stores and NPCs of note. To the top right are the slums, which the game refers to as The Warrens, which annoying enough is only open at night during the last six hours of the day cycle Lightning's working with. Since there's quite a number of NPCs and side-mission related targets up there, it can be a nuisance. To the top left is the graveyard, which is more or less a standard dungeon type area filled with monsters.

Upon reaching Luxerion, Lightning discovers that there's a shadowy cabal that has it out for women with Lightning's trademark rose-tinted hair. Apparently, the hair color isn't all that unusual, as many women have been butchered that resemble her superficially. The cult is lead by a figure called the Shadow Hunter, which immediately gets the brain ticking towards which former companion of Lightning's this could possibly be. The first few stages of this quest involve scouring the crime site for clues, and then the whole city for password numbers graffiti'd onto walls so you can sneak into a midnight ritual murder. It's precisely as dumb as it sounds, but I guess the game wanted to give you a good reason to thoroughly explore the city and a considerable amount of time to do so, both of which helped a lot when finding side-missions to busy oneself with until the time came to continue the story.

At this point, Lightning figures out that FFXIII-2's Noel Kriess is the Shadow Hunter, and he's been stewing in his own guilt for five centuries after getting both Yeul, his oracle companion, and Serah, Lightning's sister, killed on his watch. Both died in his arms. As such, he's been fixated on an Oracle Drive (a recording left by an ancestor of Yeul that were the crux of many of FFXIII-2's paradox missions) that reveals that killing Lightning will immediately reboot the world, magically resurrecting Yeul in the process. Random folk around the Warren who also saw this premonition got a little bit overzealous and started murdering any Lightningalike they came across. Noel and Lightning stop them from killing another rose-haired girl in the graveyard, and then Lightning chases Noel into the Warrens. Despite getting the upper hand, Noel decides he can't kill Lightning and destroys the Oracle Drive instead. After he apologizes to her for the whole "murder" thing, Lightning wins her first "big" soul of the game which comes with a massive stat boost and another point of EP (which is darn invaluable).

We also discover another familiar soul when visiting the cathedral, who is acting as the pro-Bhunivelze religion's high priestess: It's the permanently chipper Vanille! Apparently, she and Fang managed to bust out of the pillar thirteen years ago (a number with a lot of significance in this world, it seems) and were recruited by the church. Vanille's the only one that can communicate with the souls of the dead: in typical Final Fantasy fashion, souls are meant to return to the Earth so they can be reborn, but there's been no births for 500 years. Along with being immortal, no-one can grow older or have children, though they can still be killed or die of disease. As such, there's a huge number of disembodied souls percolating around the cathedral's inner core, threatening to destroy the world with pure chaotic energy should they ever be released. This is what we call foreshadowing. Vanille's currently alone; Fang left to the Dead Dunes region to find an artifact that'll help ease Vanille's burden, but it's been years since Vanille has heard from her.

I'm already liking what this game is doing with its legacy characters, for as convoluted as this is all getting. It's easy to imagine how much half a millennium spent alone pondering one's thoughts might do to a person's sanity. Both Snow and Noel are struggling with some serious survivor guilt, and have been doing so for so long now that I'm surprised neither of them have leapt off a bridge. I guess that might be a little too dark for a Final Fantasy game, but then we are talking about the literal end of the world here. Vanille's in over her head as the head of a religion trying to keep a churning mass of angry souls at bay, Fang's possibly dead but probably not dead and It's been intimidated multiple times that this Hope isn't necessarily the Hope from the previous games, especially given he's even more emotionless than Lightning these days. Now, that's a feat.

The Bit at the End

With the itinerary for Day Three, I plan to do some sightseeing in Luxerion (more side-quests open up as you complete story missions) and then head back to Yusnaan. I already happen to know that the Yusnaan story missions can't begin until late in the afternoon, so I'm intending to spend most of the early hours completing Luxerion sidequests for the items and stat boosts. Still, should hopefully have something for you tomorrow regardless.

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What Is Lightning Returns? (Part 1)

Well, it's a video game. To be specific, it's the third game in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy (remember when trilogies didn't all share the same numeral?) from Square-Enix.

But that's not specific enough. What is this game? We saw a brief tidbit with the site's Quick Look and there's probably a year's worth of LPs out there that have shown up since it came out, but let's assume for a moment that you're at least partially curious about this game, either because you played the previous two to some degree and are really on the fence about trying another one, or are simply a newcomer wondering if this game is at all accessible (it is not. I answered that one for you right here in the intro).

What this is, is a combination review/reactions blog, discussing both the game's mechanics and its story in separate sections. The reason for this is to keep the plot stuff tucked away in a spoiler-marked zone for those who are actually invested in where this series is going after all the fevered gibberish thus far.

Honestly speaking, I wrote the other articles in which I share my knee-jerk reactions, impressions and goofs while playing an unusual but largely game for the first time (those would be for Deadly Premonition and the first two Metal Gear Solid games) because I figured it'd be a fun read for those who have come before. With Lightning Returns, I'm just writing down everything that happens so I can piece together what the hell is even happening.

Part 1: Prologue and Day One

Mechanics

Basics (Combat): So the basic game isn't actually all that complicated. The new combat system is really just the old paradigm combat system tweaked for a single participant: in previous games, you could customize a bunch of different class variations for your party to use. Sort of like the job system of old, the player could switch on the fly from a party of warriors to a party of mages, depending on the circumstances and the enemies being faced. In addition, constantly exploiting the enemy's weakness would stagger them, dropping their defense considerably to pave the way for a barrage of the strongest attacks the player could muster for a brief period. This usually meant switching to mages that could pummel an enemy with elemental attacks it didn't agree with, then switching to physical when it fell flat on its face and was struggling to get back up. You'd also factor in the usual MMO buff/debuff cycle, ensuring that your party would be resistant to everything being thrown at them, while making sure the enemy was feeling every attack as hard as possible.

Most of that is retained here, though we're simply editing Lightning's apparel and gear in combat-role-determining "schematas", not unlike the dresspheres of FFX-2. Going one step further is the amount of cosmetic customization for Lightning's appearance, to the extent that I sort of feel like the game's aimed at a younger female audience. (Which is certainly a refreshing change of pace in a big budget game like this, which generally tend to put their considerable budgets towards big explosions and realistic boob physics.) Rather than having a bunch of possible attacks that the AI automatically prioritizes based on the opponent when switching to a class--a facet of the first game's intense adherence to streamlining--the player has to manually map all four skills to the face buttons for every schemata they create. These include basic stuff like "attack" and "guard" to more circumstance-apropos skills and spells. Each attack lowers the active time bar for that schemata, so combat generally revolves around bottoming out the ATB for one schemata and switching to another, which lets the first recharge faster. It's similar to three-person team-based fighters like Marvel vs. Capcom in that you end up looking for trios that work in tandem and chain into one another well, rather than building three powerful but not necessarily harmonious options. Trying to set three distinct roles for every possibility can be detrimental, as you'll occasionally bump into creatures immune to physical or magical damage, giving one schemata nothing to do. If you drop "deshell" (a debuff that lowers magic resistance) on your physical-attacker schemata instead, however, it has a purpose when fighting a physical-resistant foe and in the process frees up more ATB for the magic-attacker to spam offensive spells. Likewise for deprotect (the same as deshell, but for physical resistance) on a magic-attacker build. That's how I've been going so far anyway but hey, I've just started, so I'm sure I'll find out how wrong I am later.

Basics (Non-Combat): There seems to be two factors to this game that determine where the player's priorities lie and what they should be doing. The first is time. While we're looking at something akin to Xenoblade Chronicles or Majora's Mask "NPCs on a schedule" format, the game only actually has seven days before it ends. There's no Song of Time to reverse it either: the world simply stops existing once that time limit expires. You can extend this time limit a full additional week by doing quests and side-missions for people, which is where the second part comes in: the goal of the game is to "save" people. This essentially means fixing their problems so they can move onto the next world without regrets, though the game isn't quite so morbid to kill off every quest sponsor - rather, they give you their immortal soul for safekeeping, or something. These souls not only extend the game's overall time limit, but provide essential stat boosts to Lightning. With the exception of buying or finding better gear for schematas, this is the only way Lightning gets more powerful. What the game's done, therefore, is place a considerable impetus on completing side-missions, to the extent that the tough enemies get slightly easier to deal with every time you find some little girl's stuffed carbuncle, or kill a bunch of monsters for some anonymous bulletin board poster. It's a curious means of turning the usual side-mission BS on its head by making it somewhat more important to the core game, but it also means that the player must consider how to juggle all these side-quests with the finite time they have. In fact, we're explicitly told early on that the time you spend on one side-mission can often be better spent elsewhere for greater rewards, so it's never best to get hung up on any task that requires grinding or other fetch mission goose chases, for as plentiful as they are. The core five story missions, which can seemingly be done in any order, are the primary focus throughout, though because many are dependent on certain times of day before they can begin there's always plenty of downtime between each stage of the mission to fit in some side-questing and other distractions. It's a very risky design prospect, building a game around strict time limits. I remember Pandora's Tower doing quite a good job with that element almost in spite of itself.

So, running around doing missions and beating up monsters by switching wardrobes is the crux of the game so far. It's still recognizably Final Fantasy, though I'll get into some of the weirder affectations this one in particular has adopted in future updates.

Story

But hey, the schedule and single character mechanics aren't even the most drastic upheaval to FFXIII. Oh my no. The paradoxes and time skipping of FFXIII-2 might've danced a merry jig on the grave of logical consistency in FFXIII's world, but Lightning Returns moves right into a balletic Riverdance. It's the Michael Flatley of story contrivances, I guess is what I'm saying (I guess?). We'll just get up to speed by synopsizing the first two:

Previously, On The "What the Hell Even" Anime Nonsense Variety Hour

FFXIII was largely about a group of people who didn't like each other very much all getting cursed (more or less) by a fal'Cie (a mechanical demigod, left behind by the creator deity to look after mankind) to become l'Cie (cursed humans). All an l'Cie can do is fulfill the "focus" that the fal'Cie has tasked them with, though are given no hints what that focus is because religion metaphor. The alternative is to become an insane zombie monster called a Cie'th, often fought in encounters. Skip ahead a bit, and the party of Lightning (female Cloud), Hope (annoying kid), Snow (wishes he was Terry Bogard), Sazh (a black Final Fantasy character that wasn't based on Mr. T), Vanille (possibly an Australian accent) and Fang (the sixth one) take down the fal'Cie in charge of Cocoon, a giant floating egg filled with cities, before they can kill all the humans and summon their creator deity back, presumably so it can ask why all the humans are dead and that they gave the caretaker fal'Cie "one job". Fang and Vanille stop Cocoon from falling by turning into a giant popsicle. Roll credits.

FFXIII-2 decided there was more to do here, so they surreptitiously kidnapped the last game's heroine at the start of this one and dropped her off at the feet of Etro, the Goddess of Death and Chaos and, to no-one's surprise, Lightning decided to be her champion. Gal knows where her strengths lie. The rest of FFXIII-2 was spent with Noel Kreiss, the last human being alive in a distant future who can time travel somehow, and Serah Ferron, the sister of Lightning who spent most of the last game as an ice sculpture, flitting hundreds of years backwards and forwards in time to solve paradoxes with the ultimate goal to find Lightning. They're also trying to stop Caius, Noel's mentor, from destroying the time line because he's mad that his underage girlfriend keeps dying because of all her deadly premonitions (remember, Zach?). We'll skip forward a bit here too, and the game ends with Caius killing Lightning and Etro, and then Noel and Serah killing Caius. And then Serah dies too, because this is the dark middle chapter of the trilogy. Albeit the sort of dark middle chapter that has incongruous block puzzles and a moogle sidekick.

So when FFXIII-2 concluded, we were so far into the future after the original game's timeline that barely anything mattered any more. An adult Hope Estheim had himself regularly frozen in stasis so he could meet Noel and Serah whenever they appeared in the future but beyond that, the exact location and status of the rest of the cast of FFXIII was something of a mystery. Fang and Vanille were still chilling in the largest snocone ever made. Sazh had popped off to some sort of interdimensional Vegas filled with Playboy Chocobo ladies (including Chocolina who, like FFXII's Fran, was the fault of some employee at Square-Enix who kept leaving his anthro fetish porn folder out where Nomura could see it). Snow was off doing his own thing, jumping through time having adventures no-one cares about. Serah was very dead, and Noel and the Moogle seemed bummed. That's pretty much all I can recall from the end of FFXIII-2.

And Now, The Conclusion

So let's try to unpack what the hell Lightning Returns is about, at least so far.

Well, for one thing, Lightning returns. I mean... yeah, obviously, right? Turns out she was just sleeping, in that deep way that totally makes you look like a corpse. Etro's long gone, but Lightning has been brought back to life by another god, this time the ultimate creator deity Bhunivelze, to acquire the remaining souls on the planet before he destroys everything and starts over. We know this guy is evil, because he brought back annoying kid Hope to help Lightning instead of tolerable adult Hope. In the five hundred years since the events of FFXIII-2 and Caius's deicide, everyone's time has stopped. That means every NPC in the game is over 500 years old, with a couple of exceptions. It gets weirder. The world itself is down to a few cities and a small continent, all of which is surrounded by a miasma of chaos filled with monsters. (Occasionally, you'll wander into a patch of this stuff and discover that it buffs enemies and gives them regen, though the rewards are better too.)

All right, so Lightning is known as The Savior and must go down to Nova Chrysalia before it's destroyed to save as many souls as possible before the apocalypse. If all this sounds familiar, maybe read Revelations again.

"You didn't like Lightning in the first game? Now she's a badass valkyrie fighting all comers at the end of time. Oh, you didn't like Lightning in the second game either? Well, now she's Jesus. Keep pushing me, nerds." - Tetsuya Nomura, TGS 2014.

The prologue begins a mission in media res, where we find out that Snow is the all-powerful Patron of 24-Hour Party City Yusnaan and he hates Lightning now. This is how the game chooses to introduce itself. There's also an impish teen called Lumina who takes Serah's form and has some connection to the nebulous forces of chaos destroying everything. She's kind of important, it seems, because she shows up in almost every cutscene to giggle at you. Snow gets away before Lightning can take his soul (but in a polite way, not a Shang Tsung way), and we're tossed unceremoniously back to Savior HQ after we've had enough tutorials.

Hope's doing the Oracle thing back at the HQ with a massive divine computer terminal, and the HQ itself is a hollowed out ruined version of Cocoon in which time doesn't flow and there's a big life tree you can feed souls to to extend the number of days you have to complete the game. There's also a couch to relax on, and a snack machine that won't take notes unless you really straighten them out first.

So, uh, yeah. That's a lot of information to digest given we've only been playing the game for an hour so far.

The Bit at the End

What's going to happen with this feature is that I'll try to update it every day--I'm looking to match this pace in-game, possibly speeding up if I end up doing everything of note early--with new observations regarding both the story and any noteworthy nuances to the combat and general gameplay I come across. Subsequent updates will be considerably shorter as a result.

I kind of want to get into the nuts and (lightning) bolts of this game because it's fascinating for a great many reasons. What do you with a series' overarching plot when you've already thrown continuity out of the window with time travel paradoxes? How do you come back from killing off half the cast and effectively dooming the entire world? How do you readjust a party-based RPG like Final Fantasy for a single playable character? And why even make another game in a series no-one ever seemed particularly stoked about? From what I've seen and played so far I feel like FFXIII-3 is either emblematic of everything wrong with Square-Enix and its modern day complacency and lack of imagination, or somehow the ballsiest step they've ever taken (that wasn't a disastrous movie, at least).

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SoundClouds and SpoTifa: Theatrhythm: Curtain Call

January wasn't meant to move this slow for me. I'm in that odd situation where I have a new pile of shame from an Xmas haul that I can't find myself getting motivated to play, despite the fact that for the first time in a while I have a surplus of great games to get through. Maybe it's being spoiled for choice, or maybe it's just winter malaise, but I've spent the majority of my video game time these past two weeks just watching LPs and playing Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call in short bursts.

Curtain Call is the enhanced edition of Square-Enix and Indieszero's 2012 rhythm game Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, which recontextualizes the entire Final Fantasy multiverse as a stage filled with adorable marionette facsimiles of the venerable series' enormous cast of PCs and enemies. The focus is entirely on the music from those games, and Curtain Call expands the already impressive discography of the first game to include a lot of Final Fantasy spin-offs and the franchise's few appearances in other media. However, it's not purely built for fan service: the game itself is accessible to all with its easy to grasp and tricky to master rhythm gameplay, though the difficulty curve kind of rises precipitously when you get to the hardest difficulty setting, Ultimate, and the game simply becomes some kind of absurd Jedi training program. Hell, it would make finding robots disguised as humans easier than any Turing or Voight-Kampff test ever could.

Anyhoo, I've gotten pretty deep into the game and I'm close to the cap for Rhythmia, the game's cumulative score-slash-currency that unlocks new features every milestone. (Most of these features are nonsense, like new noises for hitting notes and new features for your StreetPass card (wooo.), but there's been some good stuff too. I sort of want to see what happens when I max it out.) As such, I've been thoroughly reintroduced to the Final Fantasy series through its music, and I'm thinking of just going through the series and discussing its games from a purely musical perspective. Some soundtracks stick out more than others, and for various reasons, let's just say.

(I also want a jab at some of its DLC, especially the Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana tracks, but £.89 per song seems a little inconvenient. Who wants to charge their Visa 89 pence? I kinda wish there was a pick and mix option, but I shudder to imagine the amount of additional eShop infrastructure tweaking that would require. Maybe I'll just put ten quid's worth of credit on the eShop and be done with it.)

Final Fantasy - "I, Garland, Will Rock You All (Down)"

The core Final Fantasies are left largely untouched in Curtain Call, with a smattering of previously DLC-only songs thrown in for color. What's unusual, to perhaps anyone who is hopelessly naive, is how many core series songs are still available as DLC even for Curtain Call. Anyway, the first Final Fantasy does what it can with the NES's sound tech, though it's certainly not bad. Catchy, even. Capcom pulled off wonders with that thing, after all, and Square's lead composer Nobuo Uematsu was no slouch back then either. What's a little jarring is that some of the tracks are clearly from the GBA and PSP remakes, as they sound way more modern than the rest. The Halloween-esque final boss theme, for instance, was added to versions of FFI created long after the original NES release: in the NES version, poor old Chaos had to settle with the standard battle theme.

Final Fantasy II - "I Hurt Myself Today"

So my purpose here today is to sidestep the reputation certain Final Fantasy games have in order to focus on their music. FFII's soundtrack isn't all that notable (but the less charitable might say that it's still the best thing in that game) and it has the fewest number of tracks for any core Final Fantasy as a result. Tracks like the Rebel Army's main theme are still catchy enough, which is fortunate because you have to go back and forth from their base about a hundred times. FFII's lead designer, Akitoshi Kawazu, would go on to create his own vaguely derivative Final Fantasy-inspired spin-off, the SaGa series, which would become renowned for their soundtracks. Though, again, it's probably more the case that people were reaching for something nice to say. There's quite a number of SaGa tracks as DLC but... ehh.

Final Fantasy III - "A Hard Day's Onion Knight"

I enjoy the music of Final Fantasy III quite a bit, especially the final boss music and some of the field stages. It's the biggest of the NES trio, so there was quite a number of tunes to choose from. Even though it's just NES bleeps and bloops, tracks like The Boundless Ocean can be pretty darn moving.

Final Fantasy IV - "Loonarian Tunes"

Now we're getting to the good stuff. Final Fantasy IV is absolutely jammed with memorable tracks, from the ominously imperial Red Wings theme at the start of the game to the equally ominous final encounter with Zemus, now a giant R-Type boss calling itself Zeromus. The technological theme of Within the Giant, the rousing Battle with the Four Fiends, and the portentous Tower of Zot are all great too. It's probably some degree of nostalgic fanservice guiding my words here, and Theatrhythm wouldn't be nearly as fun without that, but FFIV's music is so totally the shit that it isn't even spoony.

Final Fantasy V - "The Clash on the Big Bridge"

FFV's music, too, is remarkable in a lot of ways. While I tend to forget what half its silly plot was about (aliens, meteors and werewolves, I think), there's some tracks that take me right back to the parts of the game I actually do remember. The way Exdeath's final boss theme initially sounds like Ghostbusters, for instance, or the bittersweet reunion that accompanies Home, Sweet Home. Gilgamesh's not-so-final showdown with Clash on the Big Bridge too, of course, since I brought it up. It also has one of the best Chocobo themes with Mambo de Chocobo.

Final Fantasy VI - "He Suplexed the Midnight Train, Goin' Anywhere"

Final Fantasy VI is a damn masterpiece, as I'm sure we're all aware, and its eclectic soundtrack reflects that to an extent. Almost every character, and there's over a dozen, has their own leitmotif that reflects their personality - Celes's is sad and compassionate, Terra's is enigmatic and lonely, Sabin/Edgar's is brash and regal. Kefka's final boss theme, Dancing Mad, is one of the longest tracks in the entire game (though it's not a patch on the "full" version, which is seventeen minutes long. It's like Final Fantasy's version of Stairway to Heaven.) I'm a little shocked they managed to cut it down to ten tracks, but I guess they needed to hold something back for DLC.

Final Fantasy VII - "Materia Girl"

It shouldn't come to any surprise to anyone that Final Fantasy VII, despite having a stellar soundtrack that really took advantage of the series's leap to CDs, is a little over-represented here. While many of the big tracks are here (except the opening Bombing Mission theme, which is DLC), many of them end up getting remixed in some manner with the two other Final Fantasy VII-related entries on this list. Still, all ten of FFVII's are bangers, and 100% is not a bad ratio to hit. Certainly can't go wrong with the standard battle theme (I love the metallic echo-y parts), standard boss theme, J-E-N-O-V-A, Aerith's theme, Gold Saucer, Cosmo Canyon (possibly my favorite FF7 track) or Judgment Day. Even the main theme still gives me goosebumps. Ol' Sephy's One-Winged Angel dirge is here too, of course, and not for the last time.

Final Fantasy VIII - "Total Ellipsis of the Heart"

The best Final Fantasy soundtrack. As much as I love the music for a lot of these other games, Final Fantasy VIII is the easy winner for me. Maybe it stands out more because the rest of the game ain't so hot, but I love almost every track from this game (except maybe Eyes on Me). Don't be Afraid and Force Your Way are amazing battle themes, The Man With the Machine Gun reminds me how awesome Laguna's little asides were, Maybe I'm a Lion might well be the most badass boss theme in the entire franchise. The Extreme's fantastic too, as sinister as Maybe I'm a Lion is relentless. Blue Fields and Fisherman's Horizon are a gentle tonic for the game's crazier moments, while Find Your Way and The Castle feel like something out of a horror game. I just wish there was more Final Fantasy VIII music in this game, consarnit. (Well, it has five DLC tracks if I really wanted to bite the bullet and call my own bluff. Not that I could call out anything while biting a bullet. Mixed metaphors, my friends; wanna avoid those if you can.)

Final Fantasy IX - "Ozma Osbourne"

I like Final Fantasy IX's music a lot too, of course. I feel like they deliberately kept things simple after the nutty Kojima-esque excesses of VIII, and the music's a similar story. As I have a bit more of an emotional connection to FFIX, because it actually had characters I cared about, some of its tracks stick out for me more for their nostalgic value. Songs like Something to Protect, A Place to Call Home and Not Alone are more powerful for their added context. Others are just fun and a little goofy, like Festival of the Hunt and Dark City Treno.

Final Fantasy X - "Blitzball Bop"

Final Fantasy X might be my third favorite soundtrack of the series, after VIII and MQ. It feels like Uematsu (and his eventual successor, Masashi Hamauzu) drew from a lot of different genres while putting it together. If you were to just take the five boss themes included in Curtain Call: Fight with Seymour's your classic frantic Final Fantasy boss tune that sticks a brick on the accelerator pedal; Challenge, the boss theme of Yunalesca and others, is a bit heavier and more contemporary as well as just kinda unnerving; Otherworld's a lot heavier and almost incongruously metal were it not for its connection to badass asshole (badasshole? that sounds like a medical condition) Jecht; A Contest of Aeons is the other kind of common Final Fantasy boss theme where it's all grandiose and sweeping to suggest that there's a lot on the line; while the Final Battle is more the all-out orchestral final boss tune that Final Fantasy tends to work with often. FFX's best known for its far more melodic guitar stuff, though, like Suteki da ne, To Zanarkand, Spira Unplugged and A Fleeting Dream.

Final Fantasy XI - "Nirvana'diel's Nevermind"

I have zero experience with Final Fantasy XI, so in this case I'm approaching a game's music without the advantage of having any added in-game context behind them. It's easy to tell if a song's happy or sad, but when connected to a very specific mood or feeling, like a character having just lost their homeland or sacrificing themselves for another, the emotional impact of the music becomes more potent still. As much as I don't care for the MMOs, I can't deny that they have some great music. XI's main themes tend to be medieval folksy and orchestral choral stuff, and it works surprising well alongside the game's western MMORPG bent (it's said Sakaguchi wanted to create a global online FF game after being impressed with MMOs like EverQuest while on vacation to the US).

Final Fantasy XII - "Vaan Halen"

The expansive Final Fantasy XII is a schizophrenic game in many respects, due to how its lead designer changed halfway through and how so much of the world is entirely optional and designed for RPG players who want to spend a hundred hours looking for loot and finishing side-missions instead of following a story, an open-world design philosophy that Dragon Age: Inquisition is very much keeping alive. Its soundtrack is a little more structured, however, and that also means that it's kind of dull, though entirely competent. It's almost all standard orchestral business as usual, though certain tracks like the Dalmasca Estersand and Boss Battle (that :55 second mark, holy shit) still get me stoked for adventure. It's great background music, and reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics (see below), so I can't denigrate it too much.

Final Fantasy XIII - "One Track Lover"

Final Fantasy XIII's soundtrack's kind of weird. It's a mix of heavy orchestral and heavy synthesized business, lots of weird J-pop type stuff thrown in with the usual big John Williams type business. The Sunleth Waterscape is a perfect example of this, a gentle and melodic overworld theme crossed with some kind of "un-tss, un-tss" nightclub electro. I really like Saber's Edge though. And the Gapra Whitewood, which almost sounds like a Ghost in the Shell tune. In fact, there's a lot to like about the music in this game, as thematically unusual as a lot of it is.

Final Fantasy XIV - "Realm Reborn to Run"

Likewise, Final Fantasy XIV is kind of all over the place with its music because the game itself is so huge and varied, as the second MMO on this list. It's more of the usual orchestral fare mixed in with some heavy metal tracks (Under the Weight) and very pleasant folksy material similar to XI's (To the Sun). It's the newest game featured in Curtain Call, along with Lightning Returns, and because it's an MMO I have no reason to believe this music isn't getting worked on and tweaked along with everything else as we speak. It's a good set of tracks, though of course without any kind of added context because hell no am I playing an MMO.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest - "All About the Benjamins"

My second favorite soundtrack. To the extent that I'm genuinely angry that this game only features a paltry two songs, Battle 1 and Battle 2, as if they were only required to acknowledge Final Fantasy Mystic Quest before moving on. Mystic Quest, though in embarrassment in many respects, has one of the most unexpectedly great soundtracks of any Final Fantasy spin-off and is easily my favorite of the pre-CD games. Doom Castle? Dark King? Fireburg? Focus Tower? Bone Dungeon? Nope, not here. Just the two standard battle themes. Such a missed opportunity. (There aren't even any DLC additions! What the crap? The only high point of this game was its soundtrack, and this could've been its one chance to redeem itself in some way.)

Final Fantasy Tactics - "Ramzastein"

Final Fantasy Tactics's soundtrack is more of what I've been reductively calling "folksy" elsewhere, but there's a very distinctive tone to it. It feels like medieval war music, but I'd have no idea what "medieval war music" would even sound like. They didn't really press a whole lot of vinyls back then. FFT's sort of like Mystic Quest in that it's sorely underrepresented (though at least it has a whole bunch of DLC tracks) with its meager five track offering, including favorites like Antipyretic and Trisection. For comparison's sake, the official FFT album has 71 tracks. Final Fantasy Tactics is debatably the best Final Fantasy game in the entire franchise, and not even debatably the best written, so it deserves more than what it gets here. Ah well, maybe the spin-offs were always meant to be less of a focus.

Final Fantasy X-2 - "House of Paine"

Final Fantasy X-2's music is, well, an acquired taste, to put it diplomatically. I might've intimated that XIII's music is a bit J-pop-esque, but not quite to the overt degree that X-2's is. It's bubbly and clubby and entirely incongruous to the tone of the original game and the dour, pessimistic setting in which said game is set. 1000 Words, the big love song that plays during a pivotal moment in the game, is here as one of the thankfully few Event Stages. YRP Fight, We're the Gullwings and Let me Blow You a Kiss sound like they should be on the soundtrack of a Totally Spies! movie. I'm entirely not sure if this is a bad thing, but it sure is weird.

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles - "Caravan of Love"

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles's soundtrack couldn't be any more different than X-2's. It's all super melodic singing with tribal wind instruments, very subtle and atmospheric, especially with tracks like Monster Ronde and Sound of the Wind. The exception is the This is the End For You boss track, which is a crazy good rock track that doesn't seem to fit with the rest. (That's because it's a Crystal Bearers track, I discovered later. That game has some personality to it, to put it mildly.) It's been a long while since I played the game (and my memories of it tend to involve playing stages over and over to get all the artifacts and worrying about keeping the fog away), but this soundtrack makes me think that playing it again wouldn't be a bad thing. I'd just need to figure out where my GBA/GC adapter cable is...

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children - "Get Off of My Cloud"

More Final Fantasy VII. Somehow the fact that FFT and FFMQ got a short shrift is made even more egregious that the developers determined that tracks for a damn FFVII movie that mostly uses remixes of the game's music were more important. Divinity II, one of the few new songs, isn't bad though. Definitely foreboding.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII - "Zack Attack"

Thankfully, most of Crisis Core's music was made especially for the game. The two Field Stages are FFVII remixes, but the three Battle Stage tracks are all new. And excellent! I really liked Crisis Core, and it's great to be able to play the plaintive The Price of Freedom or the rocking Encounter and The SOLDIER Way. Much like its leading man, the music of Crisis Core was too kickass for its world.

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon - "When We Was Fables"

Chocobo's Dungeon is distinctive because you have to unlock all three of these tracks by earning Rhythmia rather than having them available from the offset, not so distinctive when you discover that all three tracks are remixes from other games: FFVIII's Man With the Machine Gun, FFV's Clash on the Big Bridge and FFXI's Awakening, to be precise. Another mystifying addition given the amount of original material left out.

Dissidia Final Fantasy - "We Built Dissidia Rock and Roll"

Dissidia Final Fantasy's like Final Fantasy's version of Smash Bros, both conceptually and musically. Most of Dissidia's soundtrack is remixes and arrangements of Final Fantasy music from other games in the series, and to Theatrhythm's credit it does at least try to pick the few pieces of original music created for Dissidia. Unfortunately, that's just a handful of themes that share a similar underlying riff, similar to something like how Brawl's choral main theme and its Final Destination theme are the same song but with different compositions. I actually like Dissidia's main theme and battle theme, but it feels like an odd inclusion when there are other FF spin-offs that don't quite rely so heavily on the music of prior Final Fantasy games (especially when Theatrhythm itself is doing a very similar thing).

Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy - "Dio Decim"

Yeah, see above. Just the handful of original themes that aren't based on any of the other Final Fantasies. Like this one.

Final Fantasy Type-0 - "School's Out For Summer"

Final Fantasy Type-0's music is unique on this soundtrack because the game it pertains to doesn't have a US/EU release. Or, I should say, not yet. The HD version (of what was originally a PSP game) will be out in March for the two newer consoles in all territories. Its music is actually quite a lot of fun, especially War: The White Weapon and Vermillion Flame. (Oddly, nowhere on the internet refers to these tracks by these names, which suggests that they're the official titles for the localizations that haven't been released yet.) It's getting me interested in playing it, as does hearing that its gameplay is very similar to Crisis Core (and that its story is similar to Valkyria Chronicles 2).

Final Fantasy XIII-2 - "Que Serah, Serah"

Final Fantasy XIII-2's music is similar to XIII's soundtrack, perhaps unsurprisingly. Same mix of staple piano (Noel's Theme) and orchestral (Heart of Chaos) themes juxtaposed with some upbeat clubmix battle themes (The Last Hunter). Maybe not quite as memorable or varied as the first, but still decent enough. The game itself was completely bonkers, but even so it was a sequel and that meant quite a number of familiar tracks and leitmotifs from the original found their way back in. Still, they gathered up enough of the new stuff to make a strong selection.

Final Fantasy XIII-3: Lightning Returns - "Chain Lightning"

I've tried my best to avoid listening to the music of Lightning Returns, as it just so happens to be the next game on my itinerary and I imagine I'm going to be hearing a lot of it regardless. From what I've heard, it's like XIII and XIII-2, just... more of it. (I suppose that was mostly everyone's reaction to XIII-3 as well...)

Well, that's enough listening material. Petered out towards the end there, but that's because it felt like a lot of these were late-stage inclusions with only a few applicable tunes. I'm cagey around listening to anything from the newer Final Fantasy games I've yet to play, for whatever reason. It's not like Theatrhythm's packed with spoilers either; on the contrary, it synopsizes the various games it features as if presenting them for the first time to the uninitiated. Given Theatrhythm's low barrier to entry, they might be onto something by bringing in new fans this way.

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Wiki Project: Awesome Games Wiki'd Quick

Bonjour, mes amis, and welcome to another Wiki Project breakdown. With this Wiki Project, I was working off a list of games that would be featured in 2015's Awesome Games Done Quick stream marathon: a week-long odyssey that sees a lot of great games beaten very quickly to raise money for the Prevent Cancer Fund, which is actually still ongoing as of this article (the event I mean. Cancer's always around, but hopefully not for much longer). Because they use Twitch to host the stream, and because Twitch derives its "now playing" game data gathering doohickey from our wiki, I figured I ought to ensure that we have all the featured games.

Happy to report that there weren't any absentee pages whatsoever this time, with a few non-applicable exceptions I'll go over briefly, and so like the previous Wiki Project for GameCenter CX it was mostly a matter of cleaning up some 2nd person (the bane of any GB wiki editor), adding a few missing details and sprinkling in a few header images.

Still, there's a lot to go over here. I'll talk about what AGDQ streams I was able to catch, as well as the necessary wiki work that went into the connected pages. The list will be mostly representative this time, as the games are often played in "blocks" of related titles.

Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze

As a new game, there was very little to do with the Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze page. I've found that the pages with the most errors, both of the typographical and stylistic sort, are the older pages created back when we had even less of a sense of what a wiki page ought to contain than we do now. Subsequently, a new big name game like Tropical Freeze sees a lot of great work right off the bat. Despite showing up for the start of the stream, I actually skipped Tropical Freeze (the first official speedrun on the schedule) because I've been meaning to play it myself. I tend to find it discouraging when my first experience with a game is to watch it be played way better than I'll ever manage.

Miscellaneous Block One

What follows is a bunch of non-related games which serves as an aperitif for what is to come. Wario Land 4 and Transistor are two more speedruns that I skipped because they're also on the backlog. We saw Banjo-Kazooie, a platformer I wish would drop in price on XBLA already, that saw a fun call-in from N64-era Rare's gregarious composer Grant Kirkhope. Two cart racers, Mario Kart Wii and Diddy Kong Racing, the latter of which was more fun to watch because it was a race between multiple speedrunners (and also because it's the best cart racer of all time). Most infamously, though, is the annual appearance of the TASbot block: a pre-programmed speedrunning robot that can perform such split-second timing that it is able to manipulate a game's coding in such a way to magically recreate the Twitch chat in Pokemon Red/Blue, complete with emotes, creating the theoretical inverse of Twitch Plays Pokemon. Some NASA-level shit, if you ask me.

Genesis Block

World of Illusion, Rocket Knight Adventures, its SNES sequel Sparkster (which I recently discovered is entirely different from the Genesis sequel also called Sparkster. We have pages for both, but until recently both contained information on both the SNES and Genesis games instead of just one or the other. Kind of a mess!), Ristar, Dynamite Headdy and Gunstar Heroes. A real bluffer's guide for what you should aim for if you wanted some Genesis platformer fare and were already covered hedgehog-wise. No problems with the pages, besides the aforementioned Sparkster snafu, but for some reason I have a real issue grabbing good header images in a high enough resolution that works. At least a few of the above games are on Steam, which makes getting screenshots way easier.

F-Zero Block

Besides a few more miscellaneous games, including Super Monkey Ball which gets one-upped later in the week with Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, we move onto the crowd-favorite F-Zero streams. Watching someone who can actually react quickly enough to play these games perfectly is somewhat outstanding, and though I've yet to try it myself, F-Zero GX seems completely insane even if you were playing it "casually", as the speedrunners tend to call playing a game like a normal person. F-Zero X got the Death Race incentive bid (optional stream events that people have to put their donations towards to unlock, which is a great money-raiser when it becomes a bidding war), which is the one thing I remember from F-Zero X. That mode reminds me a lot of Street Racer's Arena mode; a cart racer probably best left in obscurity.

FPS Block

We move to the PC now for a bunch of FPS games. Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II is a fond favorite of mine, and it's hard to claim it as a FPS in this context because the runner played almost the whole thing in third person to help him rush past absolutely everything. Quite an impressive run, filled with weird skips and amazing crackerjack timing with the runner's liberal application of Force Speed, though I say that as someone who spent a considerably longer time to beat it. The rest of the games in this block are the usual Quake/Build engine shooters, some of which is on the current AGDQ Humble Bundle, created especially for this event and is also busy raising a considerable amount for the PCF. Notable Brad nemesis Volgarr the Viking, the enhanced Steam version of Shantae: Risky's Revenge and the well-regarded Escape Goat 2 are on there too, so it's a fine bundle to snatch up (AND you'll be donating to a good cause!).

Sonic Block Part One

Yep, that's "part one" as in "there's more than one Sonic Block". Sigh. Still, if you were pressed to think of a franchise ideal for speedruns, it'd be Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic's inexplicably large fanbase also means that his game's pages are usually pretty extensively filled out too, which is a freebie.

PC Platformer Block

Some interesting games here. Starting with a showstopper was Battleblock Theater, a long speedrun I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy because the game itself is kind of dull and repetitive, but the inclusion of the game's chief designer Dan Paladin and the very funny NewGrounds animator Stamper (who served as the game's foppish narrator) over Skype made the whole thing very watchable. A recommended stream, for sure, and likely one you may have skipped if you're as apathetic about The Behemoth's output as I am. A few more Indie platformers carved out a sizeable block, ending with Broforce which began an interstitial mini-block of run and guns which in turn led to...

NES Block

Before starting these random smaller projects, I've mostly been working on the NES and SNES pages, so I was very much in my element when checking up on the many NES/FC and SNES/SFC games presented in AGDQ this year. Contra's an old favorite that didn't need any work, but it was followed by Power Blade, Snake Rattle 'n Roll, Little Samson, Battletoads, River City Ransom, Gimmick! and DuckTales 2. Gimmick! and Little Samson especially are super rare carts that most people don't know about, so it was serendipitous that Gimmick! was one of the pages I had already worked on for the GCCX project.

Castlevania Block

We also got a brief stop to kill vampires and the night with a trio of Castlevania classics. Super Castlevania IV was a four-way race that got pretty tense as the game ramped up in difficulty, and Castlevania III wasn't exactly a walk in the park either. More like a walk on the ceiling, as it was a three-way race concerning the acrobatic Grant DaNasty.

"Serious" Platformer Block

After foiling Dracula's fell schemes once again, we lead to Donkey Kong Country 2 and some equally tough platformers to follow. We're talking the caliber of games where simply beating the game at a normal pace would be impressive enough. As well as the Bramble Barrel Nightmare that is DKC 2, we also have the ninja hopper N, the masocore NES homebrew Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril (which made for a particularly memorable episode of Game Grumps), some Commander Keen episodes that flew by in a flash, some Rayman Legends fun (which always felt like a game purpose-built for speedrunning) and the inscrutable and impossible fan-game I Wanna Be The Boshy (good stream, the runner was quite the commentator).

Zelda and Mario Block

More stream favorites, with a handful of classic Zeldas and some Marios (including notorious masocore fan-hack Kaizo Mario World, which doesn't have a wiki page for obvious reasons). You start to understand why I didn't have too much trouble with this Wiki Project, as so many of the featured games are well-known, for presumably three reasons: A) They're good games, and I imagine that helps a lot if you intend to dedicate months of your life to replaying it over and over, B) They're great crowdpleasers, which is important for a big charity event like this if you want to get people invested, and C) It's super cool when a runner finds a way to break apart a well-known title, exploring glitches and skips you never knew were in there despite having played through the game several times.

Horror Block

After Fire Emblem, which involved a heated bidding war between the two GameCube releases Radiant Dawn and Path of Radiance (Radiant Dawn won), we got a brief smattering (or should that be "splattering"?) of horror speedruns, including the original Silent Hill and the event's sole TurboGrafx-16 game Splatterhouse, played via the Wii's Virtual Console. Also included was Splatterhouse's weird little brother Wanpaku Graffiti, a Famicom-only Scream-like parody take on the original featuring adorable little chibi incarnations of the characters.

CRPG Block

Alas, our attempt to get Air Force Gator, Dan Ryckert's alligatoridae aviator, to be Morrowind's protagonist was foiled by some very determined French fans who opted for the far less amusing "Bob_Lennon". Though we raised almost three grand, they just wanted it more, I suppose. We did still manage to win the bidding war to keep the protagonist as an Argonian; The Elder Scrolls' sentient reptilian species and a key requirement to make the Air Force Gator joke work. This block also saw a speedy Rogue Legacy run, a luck-dependent race for Scoops-favorite The Binding of Isaac, the new hotness (and still in beta) Crypt of the NecroDancer and the hard-to-make-out procedurally generated shooter Risk of Rain.

Arcade Block

My favorite block so far besides the wonderful Awful Games mainstay was this new one, the Arcade Block. A trio of super violent brawlers, we saw the musically-gifted Violent Storm from Konami, the gruesome and possibly unfinished Battletoads Arcade from Rare and the extremely busy Alien vs. Predator from Capcom. The runners all used a specially configured Supergun to run their Arcade boards. Sounds expensive, so I can't imagine this will be a feature that will grow in future GDQs, but man was it fun to watch some of those quarter-munchers get thoroughly comeuppanced.

Sonic Block Part Two

Another Sonic Block, though with the relatively obscure but (comparatively) well-received Sonic Advance games. GBA does not output in a very large resolution, so I hope the header images for those pages look all right.

Misc Block Two

What follows between the last Sonic Block and the subsequent Mega Man Block are a few games worthy of note but otherwise unrelated. The first is Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, which is a 300-stage marathon (not including warps, of which there were several) run by a very impressively focused runner. It's a long one, but Super Monkey Ball always makes for amazingly skilled runs and this is the be-all and end-all of Monkey Ball monkeyshines. Mischief Makers wasn't a particularly notable run (though I like that the game got props at all) but for the fact that as soon as the run ended, the runner gave a touching speech about how he was able to move on from a difficult period in his life thanks to the speedrunning community, and then capped it off with a marriage proposal to his girlfriend live on air. It was super cute. Talking of cute, this was followed by a very close race of Kirby Super Star, an almost instantaneous playthrough of Super Famicom curio Umihara Kawase (watch the GCCX ep of that if you haven't) and then my GOTY 2014 runner-up Shovel Knight. Two Yacht Club Games developers were on a Skype call throughout Shovel Knight's playthrough, happy to see their game get speedran (speedrunned?) at last and tossing in the occasional anecdote. From the way they were talking, it sounded like they felt that having a speedrun community was the final rite of passage necessary before Shovel Knight truly felt like a lost NES classic.

Tetris: The Grand Master Exhibition

This actually happened before Shovel Knight, but I'm going to need a whole other section to explicate on what happened here. Tetris: The Grand Master is an Arcade-only series by Arika and Capcom (Arika's best known for their other collaborations with Capcom, such as the Street Fighter EX series and underwater salvage sims Everblue and Endless Ocean) intended for people who thought the NES/GB Tetris was too easy. Apparently, in Japan, the community was split between the fast-paced Arcade variants of Tetris and the comparatively sedate home versions. Tetris Grand Master is, as a result, something of a shock to the system to anyone who thinks, mistakenly, that they're anything near competent at the game. After a few insane races between multiple runners to beat each game's standard Grand Master mode, there was an exhibition to show off a bizarre challenge mode where the player had to create a diagonal line of empty spaces all the way up the board and then a mind-boggling playthrough of the game's nigh-impossible "Shirase" (Premonition of Death) mode and another where the runner had to play a full-speed invisible mode as the credits rolled to achieve the highest grade. Of all the streams in this show, this 90 minute long exhibition of the three Grand Master games is absolutely un-friggin'-missable. I still cannot comprehend how the human mind is able to react this quickly.

Mega Man Block

Sad to say I completely missed out on the Mega Man Block. Hey, a guy has to sleep sometime. A lot of unusual picks this year though, forgoing the usual Mega Man 2 and 3. Instead we saw the maligned Mega Man 5, the obscure(ish) SNES Mega Man 7, standard speedrun favorite Mega Man X and then a skip ahead to Mega Man X3, the first game in which Zero was playable. We also saw Mega Man Unlimited and Rocman X, two weird (and legally dubious) fan-game/bootleg off-shoots, presumably thrown in to show off something new to diehard Mega Fans. No pages for those, of course.

Awful Games Done Quick Block

Ah, the best part of any GDQ is the Awful Games Block. Rather than celebrating a bunch of fantastic games by thoroughly destroying them, the speedrunners turn on a group of games that actually deserve the punishment. Leading the pack is Totally Rad, a totally rad NES platformer/shooter that was one of many games horribly disfigured by bizarre region changes moving from Famicom to NES (the original Famicom game was called Magic John, which is a heck of a title also). @alex Navarro showed up to battle his ancient enemy Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, demonstrating the infinite reverse glitch. Floating Runner is a fittingly floaty platformer from the early PS1 era that makes Croc: Legend of the Gobbos look like Crash Bandicoot. Blasto is another PS1 game, a terrible third-person shooter made somewhat melancholy by the voice of Phil Hartman in his final ever voice acting role. Trio the Punch is an Arcade brawler (the Japan-only PS2 port was the version actually played) from Karnov's lead developer that needs to be seen to be believed. Some awful platformers followed, including the Genesis Taz-Mania (very different from the SNES version, once again requiring a bit of wiki work separating the two), crappy Pokemon bootleg Pocket Monsters II, another tubular 'tude-heavy game Radical Rex and the incomprehensible licensed St. Bernard-'em-up Beethoven's 2nd (a.k.a. Beethoven: The Ultimate Canine Caper). The highlight of the whole block was Town With No Name, an abysmally animated and voice-acted CD Western with dumb jokes that don't so much land than ricochet wildly across the room, made famous by LP-mockers Retsupurae (Slowbeef actually donated during this game's run with a friendly message). Early Build Engine game TekWar seemed more Shat Out than Shatner, Sneak King made a brief appearance before malevolently disappearing into the shadows, Swamp Thing made an impression with its absurdly poor (and thus easily exploitable) programming, AVGN target Super Pitfall then handily outdoes it with even more outrageous glitching, King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch is briefly conquered and then we end with a one-two punch of the belt-hungry Karnov and the awful NES port of the otherwise well-regarded C64 game Last Ninja 2. I'd recommend watching the entire block if you can; it's a wonderland of kusoge.

Ninja Block

The Last Ninja gives way to the Ninja Block, featuring a lot of popular ninjitsu favorites. There's the Ninja-Gaiden-that-wasn't Shadow of the Ninja, Genesis icon Shinobi III and then a three game relay race with the NES Ninja Gaidens. Despite spanning across three games each with separate runners representing two teams (regrettably named for Twitch memes), the race was insanely close.

Punch-Out!! Block

Fairly straightforward stuff this year, nothing like the blindfold shenanigans in 2014. Both Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! and its no joke Wii reboot Punch Out!! Wii were beaten black and blue, with sly digs given to the alternative language streams whenever the stereotypical boxer that represented their region was knocked out.

Misc Block Three

Castlevania makes one last hurrah with a tense three-way SOTN race, featuring some sequence breaks I'm going to have to remember for later. An even tenser Richter Mode three-way race then followed. Animal Crossing, the last game anyone expected to see get a speedrun, was up next with a rather dull but intermittently educational playthrough that demonstrated how the game was able to run entirely from the RAM after having its disc removed, how you could glitch yourself in a beta testing zone and how to duplicate as many valuable items as you'll ever need to keep Tom Nook and his special kneecapping bat off your case. Jeff Gerstmann favorite Yoshi's Island was up next in another race, which was followed by a memorable blind run of a handful of its stages and an even more memorable accordion medley. Finally, there was a kind of meh Batman: Arkham City run. The runner frequently skipped entire levels with Animated Series Batman, but the commentary wasn't exactly stellar.

Valve Block

Another block I was asleep for. Valve games are common enough, with Half Life: Opposing Force, Half Life 2: Episode 2 and both Portals getting pounded. Phrasing.

After that is a handful more games, leading to the presently playing (as of posting) Metroid Prime. We're still a day away from the end of the stream, but I wanted to get this up now to make it to the Community Spotlight: I'll be adding future streams as I watch them.

Presently though, it's been a great show, and I haven't minded helping out my own way with these minor wiki tweaks. There's a few games coming up, specifically the Metroids, Zeldas, Marios and Perfect Dark, that were absolutely lousy with 2nd person. If anything, I probably spent more time fixing those than filling in the few skeleton pages for the Awful Games Block. Absolutely come join us in the ExplosiveRuns chat if you have the time, and failing that track down the official Giant Bomb thread on the event to see what the community regards as the best runs. I'd say you should check out Battleblock Theater, Tetris Grand Master, Big Rigs Racing (and all of the Awful Block), Jedi Knight, the whole Arcade Block, the whole TASBot block, I Wanna be the Boshy (if you didn't see it last year), Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, the Ninja Gaiden relay race, the Super Castlevania and SOTN races, and Shovel Knight.

Thanks for reading, and thanks on behalf of PCF for donating if you've already done so. If nothing else, get that Humble Bundle.

(I'll be back to add more commentary once the event has concluded this weekend. I should probably add a few images too, huh. Welcome to word walls!)

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Wiki Project: GameCenter CX

I've been combing my neurons for the best way to explain exactly what GameCenter CX is to the uninitiated, but the reality is that it's not a whole lot removed from what Giant Bomb already does. It brings to the fore what makes a serial LP series good: enjoying the host and their commentary, getting invested in their struggle, cheering for them through difficult sequences and sharing their catharsis when said sequences have finally been conquered. It then adds a well-polished if somewhat off-beat professional sheen to the whole affair, edited in such a way that it feels like you're watching some epic-scale drama rather than some guy in his 30s sitting in an office space, beating a game almost as old as he is.

GameCenter CX is a Japanese TV show that celebrates retro gaming in the best way possible: by allowing us to vicariously live through a playthrough of the featured games with a genial host who never seems to improve, but often does just well enough to see those games through to a conclusion of some sort. He also falls prey to a lot of abject bullshit as well, of course, as the NES/Famicom era wasn't always particularly fair, but if anything that just makes the show funnier. In addition, the show goes on travelogues across Japan, from the few remaining mega-Arcades to cozy street corner candy stores with a couple of game cabinets for their schoolchildren clientele to play, and it's fun to watch our host bounce off the locals. There's also plenty of direct homages to the games that went ignored in the show's challenges, including sections for the forgotten Sega SG-1000 and original Game Boy to an ongoing feature that briefly touches on every significant Famicom release in chronological order. It's a retro gaming smorgasbord that offers far more than just watching a well-edited LP.

As someone who discovered the show some time ago, I've long since become the type of fan who waits on tenterhooks for the talented folk of SA-GCCX to translate the next episode. I wanted to honor the show in my own way, which meant doing two things: A) writing a blog about it and B) ensuring our Wiki hosts a full page for every game that's been featured in a challenge. Though it's a list of around 200 games, most of them are popular enough that they've been thoroughly explicated upon already, and really this Wiki Project was a way to unwind with something simple after the 400+ SNES games of 1993 that I've spent the majority of this year adding to the database. I have a few more "gentle" Wiki Projects to hash out before I start on SNES 1994, which has even more releases than 1993. There's a mix of trepidation and excitement going into that one, that's for sure.

What follows is a list of ten games that pertained to this Wiki Project, chosen because they lacked pages (and thus, I imagine, are fairly obscure), which I intend to elaborate on while also discussing their appearances on GameCenter CX. Abunai, my friends:

Quiz Tonosama no Yabou

Quiz Tonosama no Yabou (S05E03): PC Engine CD-ROM, Capcom/Capcom, 1992.

Quiz Tonosama no Yabou is a Capcom-developed quiz game originally for the Arcades, but the version played on the show is the home port released for the PC Engine CD-ROM, best known in the US as the TurboGrafx-CD. The TurboGrafx-16 and its CD equivalent have been considered jokes in the US retro gamer market for a long time, due to the daft name and failure to make any kind of impact, but are also respected in equal measure for the great expanse of hidden treasures. Vastly more popular in its home nation as the PC Engine, NEC and Hudson's pioneer 16-bit console has quite the legacy that few outside Japan can appreciate. Not only did it begin the 16-bit console generation, but it was also the first console to attempt a CD peripheral. I know I've spent quite a lot of my allotted real estate on this site to pontificate on that particular system's offerings, as a curious European who saw neither hide nor hair of the thing pre-Internet. As for Quiz Tonosama no Yabou itself, it first appears to be a Koei Nobunaga's Ambition (known as Nobunaga no Yabou in its home nation, making the nominal homage somewhat transparent) strategy game clone set in the Warring States period of medieval Japan, but rather than tactically fighting large-scale battles the player simply has to out-trivia his rival daimyos to take over their territory. It's very much a superficial framing device for a trivia quiz game that covers more than simply Japanese history, which you'd think it would limit itself to for the sake of avoiding something as anachronistic as two samurais fighting over their knowledge of contemporary mecha anime.

What's worse is that licentious anime questions are usually his forte.

It's important to note early on that "the Kacho" (comedian Shinya Arino, who hosts the show) is never alone in his endeavors. Whenever pressed by a difficult scenario or bereft of direction, one of the show's "ADs", or Assistant Directors, will hop in front of the camera to lend some advice or demonstrate how to proceed. These ADs tend to cycle every season, coming and going within the span of a dozen episodes, yet even still it's hard not to grow attached to them. Each has their own distinctive character, partly due to their natural (or awkward, as is the usual case) presence on camera and bizarre quirks that Arino is quick to latch onto. For the most part, though, their role is entirely secondary, and if a challenge is going well enough they'll rarely feature at all.

The Quiz episodes, of which there are now several (Yuuyu no Quiz de Go! Go! (S10E03) and Adventure Quiz: Capcom World: Hatena no Daibouken (S06E06) are two others that I created the wiki pages for), are an exception to this. Inevitably, Arino determines that he simply doesn't have the breadth of knowledge to tackle every subject, and it's often the case with games like Quiz Tonosama no Yabou that the player is required to have a very high correct/incorrect ratio in order to progress. So what tends to happen is that Arino conscripts anyone on staff, including ADs, the technical crew and even uber-cool cameraman Abe to answer questions relating to their "specialist subjects". They toss answers to Arino whenever their chosen subjects appear, and face the consequences for their mistakes. They always make for fun episodes because of this communal spirit, and it's a telling glimpse into just how much of an otaku Arino really is.

Paris-Dakar Rally Special

Paris-Dakar Rally Special (S14E01): Famicom, ISCO/CBS Sony, 1988.

You might've noticed that we've skipped quite a number of episodes to reach Season 14, and the reason for that is because early GameCenter CX focused on a lot of fairly familiar stuff. A lot of Marios, Zeldas, Mega Mans, Castlevanias and anything else likely to make a list of best NES games were covered in those early seasons. It wasn't until late in the show's tenure that we started to really see the obscurities show up. Fortunately, watching Arino play a game you've never heard of is still every bit as entertaining as watching him struggle with an old favorite. More so, in my view, because you end up being just as surprised as Arino is when something utterly absurd happens. And "utterly absurd" might as well be Paris-Dakar Rally Special's tagline. It's certainly the mission statement of this bizarre kusoge.

He ain't seen nothing yet.

The title, "Paris-Dakar Rally Special", doesn't sound particularly special. The Paris-Dakar Rally is an endurance race that spans six thousand miles through France (the original starting point) and Spain, then across the Strait of Gibraltar and down the west coast of Africa to Dakar in Senegal. (At least that was the original course, as the present-day race now takes place entirely within South America.) The race was an impressive feat for any rally car driver and an interesting event for off-road vehicle enthusiasts (North Africa is somewhat on the sandy side, let's just say), but beyond that, it's just a very long trek and those tend to lead to not particularly exciting checkpoint-based driving games.

Paris-Dakar Rally Special ain't that. Rather than stick to the script, the game is almost a parody of what a rally game like this ought to entail. The first half hour is spent wandering around a city, on foot, attempting to secure a sponsor (for the necessary cash), a navigator and a car. This part is more or less a typical Famicom adventure game, with menus of commands and NPCs to talk to. Later chapters of the game have you driving across side-scrolling platformer levels, and one takes you under the sea for an extended period. Almost every one of these set-pieces requires a different gameplay model, so in that respect it's something of a technical coup. It is a damn weird game though, and it's worth discovering it along with Arino.

Babel no Tou

Babel no Tou (S14E10): Famicom, Namco/Namco, 1986.

Babel no Tou, or Tower of Babel, isn't a particularly notable puzzle-platformer game despite its Namco pedigree and mechanical similarity to Solomon's Key, but it did afford a rare glimpse at Arino at his most competent. Jokes about his age are often made at his expense, but there are times when being a little older and wiser can be an advantage, and that's especially true with thoughtful brainteasers like Babel no Tou.

There's no denying that the Kacho can be quite lucky at times.

The crux of the game is to ascend the titular Biblical tower by means of tiny staircase pieces that need to be stacked on top of each other before progress can be made. These pieces operate by some basic rules that don't take long to memorize - they'll fall if nothing's underneath them, they'll switch direction along with the protagonist while being held and they'll automatically connect to adjacent pieces if they share a diagonal corner, making them serviceable staircases. In practice, though, it's a bit more of a headache than something as comparatively simple as Solomon's Key's disappearing and reappearing blocks. Despite this malus, and a second in the form of the game's considerable length of sixty-four stages, Arino becomes quite adept at it, stymied only a few times by some particularly nasty puzzles.

Kosodate Quiz: My Angel

Kosodate Quiz: My Angel (S15E09): PlayStation, Namco/Namco, 1997.

A special one-off episode, and another quiz game, Kosodate Quiz: My Angel is a PlayStation (rarely does the show leave the 8-bit/16-bit era) daughter-raising sim; a genre that somehow became fairly popular in the 90s. Treating female children as little more than Tamagotchis, the goal is to raise your daughter right, eventually allowing her to live the life of her dreams upon reaching the age of 25 (which, if you ask me, is a fair few years after you're supposed to let your kids make their own decisions). If this sounds somewhat familiar, it is also the premise of the better known Princess Maker 2, though Kosodate Quiz is far more grounded in reality. No marrying off your adult daughter to Satan in this one. Also, rather than choosing what stats to focus on that day, the game presents multiple choice trivia questions, correct answers to which develop the stats in different ways. It also increases the player's cash, which is important for "event" questions where you actually have to make a decision regarding the child's progress, such as which schools she goes to. It feels less like you're min/maxing a system, and closer to responding to genuine dilemmas about child-rearing. Still totally weird and more than a little sexist, perhaps, but at least it's earnest enough.

Papa Arino has a harsh bottom line when it comes to boyfriends.

The crew had Arino play Kosodate Quiz: My Angel for the same reason they made him play Tokimeki Memorial, a dating game also for the PlayStation: It was a way to bring Arino's real-life experiences to the fore, with the showrunners deciding how best to tie them into a game challenge in some way. Tokimeki Memorial was brought in so that the married Arino might pass on his knowledge on love and romance to the staff, and with Kosodate Quiz: My Angel the show's former producer Nagashima, who had recently become a proud father to a newborn daughter, asks that Arino show off his fatherly skills, as a father of two daughters himself. It ends up being a rather schmaltzy and goofy episode, though still funny as Arino's virtual daughter becomes as big a geek as he is despite Arino's attempts to thwart that development. This episode is also notable for being the first to acknowledge Arino's overseas fans, with a reference to Kotaku's (branded "Kotak!" by Arino himself) short-lived "Retro Game Master" dub. Of course, the show's sizeable Western fanbase is largely the responsibility of SA-GCCX's excellent fan-translations, and somewhat less due to Kotaku's tone-deaf attempts to "X-treme" up the gentle charms of the show. But hey, why bother going on and on about how awful Kotaku is, am I right? What next, revelations about how the sky is blue?

Kattobi! Takuhai-kun

Kattobi! Takuhai-kun (S16E04): PC Engine, ACC/Tonkin House, 1990.

Like Paris-Dakar Rally Special, Kattobi! Takuhai-kun (which more or less means "Full Speed! Delivery Boy") seems straightforward enough from a cursory glance. The player, as a delivery boy, has to deliver packages around the city on a bike via a top-down view not unlike the original GTA games (see below), and is rewarded for getting to their destination as quickly and safely as possible. However, the game begins to take something of a narrative detour, or rather a whole bunch of detours, and ceases to become as black and white as it first appears. To say any more would spoil the episode.

I'm surprised Arino is a fan. I guess that series is as hard to escape as a five-star police manhunt.

I will say that the show doesn't really touch on the TurboGrafx-16 all that much, at least not as much as I'd like. For as well-regarded as the system was in Japan, it was still nowhere near as popular as the Famicom or Super Famicom. It gets as much airtime in GCCX as the Genesis does (which might be the greater tragedy, really), but at least there's been a few really unusual choices for TG16 games to play. Rondo of Blood is just too obvious, I suppose, and Arino is notoriously poor at shoot 'em ups, which were the PC Engine's forte before more powerful consoles like the Saturn supplanted it.

Family Trainer: Jogging Race

Family Trainer: Jogging Race (S17E02): Famicom, Human/Bandai, 1987.

Though there's only been two so far, the episodes featuring the Family Trainer peripheral have already become legendary. The Family Trainer is the Japanese name for the Power Pad: that big placemat of buttons that replaces the controller to allow for a more, well, visceral connection to the physically-demanding games that supported it. Jogging Race is simply a simulator in which the player jogs along scenic routes in Tokyo, with the standard alternate button-mashing protocol established with Track & Field. As the player has to enter these alternate button presses with their left and right feet, the simulation of jogging several miles around Tokyo becomes a horrifying reality. Well, horrifying if you find exercise as scary as I do anyway.

This episode gets a little weird, but also inspirational?

(The other Family Trainer episode is Totsugeki!! Fuun no Takeshi-jou! (S03E02), a Power Pad-enabled take on Takeshi's Castle, and the second most traumatizing game-related experience that Beat Takeshi ever indirectly inflicted on the Kacho after the inaugural episode's notorious Takeshi no Chousenjou.)

Arino, though not in bad shape for a man of his age, is clearly not used to extended periods of physical exertion. His day job as a comedian rarely requires it, save an exhausting stand-up gig or two. In Jogging Race in particular, which throws obstacles in the player's way for its enervating and more action-oriented "Tokyo Marathon" mode, he'd often collapse after several grueling minutes of constant jogging on a giant controller. It got to the point where the challenge could only be completed by a relay team of four staff members including Arino, each wearing a goofy jogging outfit. It made for quite the memorable sight.

Best Keiba Derby Stallion

Best Keiba Derby Stallion (S17E05): Famicom, ASCII/ASCII, 1991.

Though I didn't think a racehorse-raising sim would lead to much entertainment, I was happily proven wrong by what turned out to be an instant GCCX classic. The game has something of a stringent tone, typical of ASCII's rather overbearing nature as a developer of hardcore strategy computer games, and Arino is not the sort of person who quickly picks up on nuances in complex games. Between inadvertently horrific moments like absentmindedly breeding one horse with its offspring to produce some sort of Lannistallion abomination, or times of desperate optimism like latching onto the untested and possibly dangerously unqualified E-rank (the only E-rank) jockey Ogawa, Arino mined a lot of material out of what appeared to be a very dry simulation game about horses.

Don't do it! Ogawa's been drinking again!

The Derby Stallion games are, of course, one of the most popular and prolific simulation franchises in Japan, and considered to be so intrinsically Japanese that not a single one of them has ever been localized into English, despite there being dozens of them. ASCII began the series with this game, Best Keiba, but the franchise would continue to expand and take on a new developer in Enterbrain, and it still persists with new entries to this day. The Japanese sure do love their horse-racing (though I suspect that surreptitious gambling has a lot to do with it too).

Tatsunoko Fighter

Tatsunoko Fighter (S18E01): PC Engine, ACC/Tonkin House, 1989.

Almost a predecessor to Kattobi! Takuhai-kun, given its identical developer/publisher combination and equal helpings of weirdness, this is another rare TG16 challenge that decides to mess around with Arino a bit by presenting a Monty Hall decision of three doors at the end of each stage, one of which will send the player back to the start of the level. Presumably added entirely to spite players, it's one of a great number of bizarre and sadistic challenges packed into this forgotten platformer. At least it does the kind thing and lets you continue from the last stage you reached. I actually admire its philosophy of "make the game hard, but the penalty for dying gentle", given how many games employ it nowadays.

GCCX's infamous "Lattice of Boss Hell", brought in whenever Arino struggles at the same place for a long time. We're lucky it's just four here and not sixteen (or higher).

Tatsunoko Fighter is an example of what I tend to think of as artist tie-ins; a phenomenon that seemed to spread shortly after the success of Dragon Quest and the much-publicized involvement of Dragon Ball artist Akira Toriyama. More games would follow this route, RPGs and otherwise, and procure the skills of a popular manga artist and attempt build a game around their output. Sometimes this meant licensing the existing franchises the artists were connected to, like the many adaptations of Osamu Tezuka's work (one of which, Hi no Tori: Gaou no Bouken (S03E06), was also an early challenge for Arino and a previously missing wiki page). Others just riffed on the sort of subjects the artist was known for drawing, like this game. The manga artist who lent his style to this game, Akira Miyashita, actually appears at the start of each level to encourage the protagonist.

Satsui no Kaisou: Power Soft Satsujin Jiken

Satsui no Kaisou: Power Soft Satsujin Jiken (S18E04): Famicom, Hyperware/HAL Lab, 1988

One of the most recent SA-GCCX translations as of this blog is Satsui no Kaisou: Power Soft Satsujin Jiken, which roughly translates to "Hierarchy Of Murderous Intent: The Software House Serial Murders". As well as a word salad title, this murder mystery adventure game takes a meta approach and has the victim (and the ones that follow) be a video game developer. The game's notable for its multiple murders, which piles a lot of investigation work on the player, as well as its strict time limit of three in-game days. There's no running timer or anything; what happens is that each time the player moves, examines an object or talks to an NPC, the game's clock moves ahead a few minutes. A certain amount of judicious forethought (and save-scumming trial and error, if we're being honest) is required to reach the conclusion in time and deduce the culprit.

Detective Arino is on the case! (He actually gets pretty close to the right answer this time.)

This episode presents one of quite a number of murder mystery adventure game challenges that summons the Kacho's alternate persona "Detective Arino". The staff provide him with a list of subjects, usually drawn on cards that can be stuck on the whiteboard Arino often uses for notes, which ends up becoming a police station flowchart web of suspects and victims that Arino regularly attends to for answers. It's enjoyable to watch him take apart the crime like a police procedural, and the staff have a lot of fun with it too, often dressing the current AD in a police uniform to be Detective Arino's assistant.

Ganso Saiyuuki: Super Monkey Daibouken

Ganso Saiyuuki: Super Monkey Daibouken (S3): Famicom, ???/Vap Inc., 1986.

I'll end with this special mention. Ganso Saiyuuki: Super Monkey Daibouken is a game loosely based on the ancient Chinese novel Journey to the West, which has popped up or been the basis of so many games, movies and TV shows by now that I'm sure everyone's familiar enough with it. A monkey, a pig and a kappa follow a Buddhist monk across Asia, fighting monsters and demons along the way. That's pretty much the jist. Monkey Magic, the Japanese TV show? Dragon Ball? Saiyuki: Journey West? SonSon? Enslaved: Odyssey to the West? Bueller?

Super Monkey Daibouken, though, is quite possibly the most reviled Famicom/NES game in the world. More so than the uninspired and half-assed output of Angry Video Game Nerd's hated LJN. It's utterly without direction, it's far too obtuse, prone to many bugs and glitches and it plays, looks and sounds terrible. And GameCenter CX decided to make it the centerpiece of a special serial feature within the show.

A mysterious game from top to bottom.

Ring-Ring Tactics, as this feature was called, involved Arino calling up members of the public who had supplied their information on a postcard mailed to the show, with the express purpose of eliciting their assistance to beat this awful game. Most of the time, the people he called had very little to offer in terms of practical advice, though enough remembered what to do (or simply played up to that point so they could be on TV) to direct Arino sufficiently enough that he was eventually able to beat the game. A sequel to Ring-Ring Tactics, in which the public helped Arino puzzle out the insanely tricky stages of Championship Lode Runner (a game developed strictly for those who thought the original Lode Runner was too easy), was somewhat less successful.

The Bit at the End

Well, that's probably enough said about GameCenter CX. Absolutely check it out, if you're curious. Ideally, by buying the Retro Game Master DVD box set that was localized for the US, but failing that (it may be out of stock by now), check out the episode torrents on SA-GCCX's official site, or the dubiously legal streaming videos on GamingCX. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, try to avoid the really popular games like Zelda or Mario (though Arino's ongoing rivalry with Bowser can get pretty fun) and start off with something you recall being way too unfair, like Battletoads or Ninja Gaiden. After that, just look around for whatever piques your interest. You'll be hooked in no time, provided you have the attention span for all those hour-long episodes.

My thanks for reading, and stay tuned for future Wiki Project rundowns in the future. I'm working on one right now, ensuring that we have pages for all the games scheduled for the upcoming AGDQ event next week. After that, I'm thinking of putting a cap on this TurboGrafx-16 infatuation by hashing out whatever's missing in that library, leaving the much more expansive PC Engine ludography for another time. At any rate, I hope to get a lot done for the Giant Bomb Wiki in 2015, and I'd like to see other articles like this from the many dedicated editors out there. Us GB Wiki folk are an underrepresented and underappreciated bunch these days. It's about time we change that.

I'll just leave you all by saying Happy New Year! Here's hoping 2015 will be better than 2014. Yeesh.

Happy 2015 from Kacho Bob Ross!

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