The Secret Lives of Funko Fantasy (Part 2)

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Hey there, welcome to Part 2 of this rundown of all the cameo appearances in Square Enix's crossover JRPG, World of Final Fantasy. (Part 1 can be found here.) My goal with this feature is to look at how a crossover game, which often has to create new context and backgrounds for its many guest characters, takes the rich character development of those with an entire 60+ hour adventure to grow and evolve and condense that sufficiently for a brief yet recognizable cameo appearance, seeing how much of the character's core is retained, what was felt to be the most integral facets for their personality and attitude towards others, and how that character functions in this new setting. It's one thing for a famous face to drop by just long enough for a catchphrase and a signature limit break, but something else when they've been woven into a new story on a new planet.

I got a little too mired in plot details last time, so I'm going to redouble on the character work and how it's been necessarily crystalized for each character's relatively succinct screentime in WoFF. It shouldn't be a problem with the back half of the Final Fantasy characters; we're approaching those that took part in much more elaborate games with more character development to draw from. This second part will focus on guest characters from Final Fantasy VIII onwards.

Squall Leonhart (Final Fantasy VIII)

Role in Final Fantasy VIII: The default leader of the SeeD group that finds itself fighting the nebulous plans of the Sorceresses for much of the game, Squall is an antisocial, uncommunicative, yet highly skilled warrior that his peers look to for guidance almost in the hope that being depended on will suddenly shape him into a commanding presence and not a temperamental loner with abandonment issues who has no idea what he's doing. It's amazing what a little faith and a tryst with an impulsive resistance fighter will do for a querulous teenager.

Role in WoFF: Squall has a more germane role here working as a solo agent for the League of S (which, I found out, is what they called the merger of FFVII's Shinra and FFVIII's SeeD). The party first meets him in the underground prison beneath Figaro, explaining the situation they're in and guiding them through the perilous locale at the behest of King Edgar. This Squall is a lot more inclined to toss his life away to defend his beliefs and his friends; something he traditionally finds a lot easier than simply being earnest with those around him. Despite being surrounded with similarly brusque characters - Lightning, Shelke and Cloud in particular, at least one of whom gave him his iconic face scar since there's no Seifer in this world - the game finds a way to give a distinctive edge to Squall by playing his social awkwardness, too often mistaken for a stiff-lipped heroic stoicness both in FFVIII and here, for comedy.

Surprising Factoid: Squall is voiced by Doug Erholtz, who is another seasoned VA who has been latched to this character since the Dissidia games. David Boreanaz, who voiced Squall in the first Kingdom Hearts, is evidently long gone. Dude has skeletons to look at with Emily Deschanel somewhere, after all.

Quistis Trepe (Final Fantasy VIII)

Role in Final Fantasy VIII: Quistis is a character that goes through a few shifts as the game progresses. She's an instructor at Balamb, and technically Squall's superior, but she's only about a year older. While I think the idea is that she starts as this hardass disciplinarian that the player gradually warms up to after a few moments of vulnerability, you see the latter side of her almost from the jump as she flirts with an oblivious Squall and opens up to him during the game's early hours. She's then relegated to a supporting role for the rest of the game; her relationship with Squall and the other characters, both in the present and in flashbacks when they were all kids in the same orphanage, eventually defined as "big sister" like - maturing faster than the rest so she could be seen as the reliable one.

Role in WoFF: Which is why her WoFF inclusion is so interesting. Not just because she's the only other Final Fantasy VIII character to make the cut - where most of the rest of that cast play much larger roles - but because we see her here in her initial chilly, reserved, authoritative persona in her role as the overall commander of Balamb Garden and the League of S. The designers in particular double-down on her oft callous and calculating nature - an aspect of her Final Fantasy VIII personality that the game immediately softened. I might prefer her here, as a pint-sized political deal-maker and risk-taker who is the true power behind the good guy organization. And all at the tender age of 18, too.

Surprising Factoid: Quistis's VA is Kristina Pesic, an actress better known for roles on the TV show Defiance (which was sorta based on the Defiance game, but also sorta created to work alongside it?) and in Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World movie. Curiously, in SPvtW, she's one half of a pair of background characters (Monique and Sandra) and it's the other actor that plays the quiet mean one in glasses. Additionally: everyone in this game pronounces her name as "kwiss-tiss", when more recently I've heard people pronounce it "kiss-tiss" or "kees-tiss". Could just be how this particular Quistis prefers it.

Vivi Ornitier (Final Fantasy IX)

Role in Final Fantasy IX: Vivi's easily the emotional center of Final Fantasy IX, frequently contending with who and what he is and his role in the world from the perspective of what is essentially a newborn. An automated black mage doll that was mass-produced for destruction, Vivi instead finds himself separated from his kind and raised by an unusual being (one of the Qu; voracious eaters and occasional philosophizers) first as a potential meal and then as a curious child. Vivi's journey towards sapience and self-discovery is all about identity, destiny, and mortality, and his earnestness and wide-eyed innocence makes him hard to dislike.

Role in WoFF: It's no big surprise that his arc is more or less replicated here, just with different circumstances and people guiding his newfound sapience. In this case, King Edgar of Figaro takes it upon himself to adopt Vivi and his fellow black mages as new citizens after the party finds them guarding the Mako Reactor underneath FIgaro Castle. The game is cagey about whether or not they're simply mirages - the in-game term for regular monsters that the player can recruit for their Pokemon style party composition - or something more akin to the late-game antagonists of the Cogna: artificial machine beings that lack the "souls" of mirages but retain a keen and deadly intelligence. Either way, the awakened Vivi takes to Figaro's defense with grateful enthusiasm.

Surprising Factoid: Vivi's first ever voiced appearance is performed by cartoon VA veteran Kath Soucie, who channels the similarly innocent and young Phil (and Lil) DeVille of Rugrats fame for her take on Vivi's naiveté. I wasn't too sure about "Rugrats Vivi," but something about his "gee whiz Mr. Edgar, I'll help out for sure" eager attitude resonates with that voice. Especially as Vivi was adorable enough already before becoming one of WoFF's many melon-headed chibi Nendoroids, upgrading his cuteness level to "weapons-grade".

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Eiko Carol (Final Fantasy IX)

Role in Final Fantasy IX: Eiko, meanwhile, was I think meant to be cute but really just came off as grating. An orphan and the sole-surviving member (or so she thinks) of the Madain Sari tribe of summoners, her brusque and demanding attitude is simply how she's managed to survive alone as a child since her family was massacred, and occasional lapses in her prissy little madam demeanor serve to demonstrate just how lonely she is. A tragic character that steadfastly refuses to be treated like one. Man, I could really use fewer games that give their six-year-old heroines romantic side-plots though.

Role in WoFF: Eiko's really only around because the game needed "summoners" - those people able to form bonds with mirages, if not to the same extent as the protagonists - for a late-game twist. She's accompanied by her original summoned eidolon, Fenrir, like how Rydia's teamed up with Mist Dragon. Due to the odd way the game combines elements from different games, Eiko is first met guarding the Big Bridge of Final Fantasy V fame, which is actually the incognito form of Alexander, a mechanical eidolon the FFIX Eiko is familiar with. This also puts her in a position where she's alone most of the time, bringing out that part of her character.

Surprising Factoid: Her VA, Michaela Murphy, is also known by the stage name Jessica Flower. She's best known for Avatar: The Last Airbender's Toph. Eiko also isn't an orphan in this game: she simply wandered away from home to have an adventure. There's certainly way more levity in this particular world.

Tidus (Final Fantasy X)

Role in Final Fantasy X: Drownball champion Tidus is the audience surrogate for most of Final Fantasy X, asking questions about Spira's rich if self-defeating culture and prompting whole cutscenes full of exposition by Yuna's exasperated guardians as he accompanies them all on a holy pilgrimage to rid the world of its metaphorical and literal sin, which frequently manifests as a big whale monster that kills everyone. Tidus first appears as a fish-out-of-water outsider, with the story mostly happening around him rather than to him, but it becomes clear before too long just how connected he is to everything.

Role in WoFF: Oddly, Tidus is still known far and wide as a star Blitzball player even if Blitzball doesn't exist in Grymoire (thank god). Instead, his incredible ability to hold his breath for hours - not explained well in the original FFX or here, though in the latter case it's played off as a joke - makes him an ideal guide for showing the protagonists around a sunken temple dungeon. Still has an infinite supply of Blitzballs to kick at people.

Surprising Factoid: Final Fantasy X was the first core game in the series to get voice actors, and those voice actors return here. Fortunately, they have better direction in this game, so their voices come off a lot more naturally. Tidus is voiced by James Arnold Taylor, who since Final Fantasy X has gone on to do dozens more voice roles, the most famous of which include Ratchet (of "and Clank") and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Yuna (Final Fantasy X)

Role in Final Fantasy X: "Lady Yuna" is celebrated as the summoner most likely to defeat Sin, as her father was the last to do so, which puts a lot of pressure on her shoulders. This creates some nice parallel character development between her and Tidus, as both are trying to live up to the high standards of an absent father figure. There's also some dramatic tension between how serious Yuna takes her objective - which will ultimately kill her and likely those who travel with her - and Tidus's relative insouciance borne of ignorance, though this lightheartedness does make Yuna's pilgrimage less morose. Though soft-spoken and accommodating to a fault, Yuna's the real protagonist of Final Fantasy X: selfless, highly motivated, and the whole game's really about her journey.

Role in WoFF: Yuna's not the chosen one destined to save the world at the cost of her life here, but her sense of duty and self-sacrifice are still as potent as ever. Attacking the twin protagonists due to a misunderstanding, Yuna's revealed to be on edge because she's being targeted by the antagonists, as well as how much the younger summoners Rydia and Eiko rely on her.

Surprising Factoid: Yuna's VA is Hedy Burress, whose delivery as Yuna was a bit stiff in her first appearance but has spent enough time with the character since to fine-tune the performance. Yuna shows up with Valefor, her first aeon in FFX, and the game also features Valefor's stronger evil doppelganger from the International Version of FFX.

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Rikku (Final Fantasy X)

Role in Final Fantasy X: The feisty Rikku flits in and out of the narrative of FFX, first presented as the unlikely savior of Tidus and later popping up to help her cousin Yuna out, albeit with some light kidnapping involved. Her Al Bhed upbringing, which promotes technology and science over the dogma of the Yevon church, puts her at odds with some of the more pious members of Yuna's entourage, but her perky little sister act eventually wins everyone over.

Role in WoFF: Most of Rikku's later appearances build on her free-spirited nature and unrelenting positivity, which even starts to influence the quiet and solemn Yuna. In WoFF she's no different: she's barely involved with the focal good vs. evil battle of the story, instead wandering off to go treasure-hunting whenever possible. Her search for "trejjies", as she calls them, take up the entirety of her undivided attention.

Surprising Factoid: Rikku's still voiced by Tara Strong, who is certainly one of the more prolific voice actors in this cast. Ms. Strong's best known elsewhere as Raven from Teen Titans; Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls; and Harley Quinn in almost everything she turns up in. This Rikku is apparently still 15, like she was in the first FFX, but wearing the ludicrous bikini combo from FFX-2. I dunno, I think I preferred that armless turtleneck and goggles ensemble.

Shantotto (Final Fantasy XI)

Role in Final Fantasy XI: From what I can tell, Shantotto is one of many NPCs that populate the vast world of FFXI's Vana'diel, and is a member of the diminutive (but very smart) Tarutaru race. She was the token representative for Final Fantasy XI in the Dissidia games, which originally took the "main character" of each mainline game but started expanding the roster further in sequels, seemingly because her distinctive method of rhyme-talking, her "evil" laugh, and apparent near-godlike magic powers won her a lot of fans.

Role in WoFF: Shantotto's still rhyming, still messing with powerful spells, and still kicking people's asses when they get out of line. She fights the protagonists twice: both times they're expected to lose, though I've read that it's actually possible to beat the second fight with enough persistence (you need a lot of power to get past her high defenses though). Though she had less than noble reasons for doing so, she helps the protagonists reach the sunken temple with a water-breathing "curse".

Surprising Factoid: Candi Milo, Shantotto's VA, is best known for voicing the titular lead of Dexter's Lab. Pretty fitting for a character known for her mad experiments.

Sherlotta (Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time)

Role in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time: Hey, remember that Crystal Chronicles sequel from 2009? Square Enix sure hopes you do. Honestly, the Crystal Chronicles games weren't so bad: I see them as being the Four Swords Adventures to the core FF series - something a bit lighter and multiplayer-focused. In Echoes of Time, which was released on both Wii and DS, Sherlotta is a cat changeling and an immortal who raised the hero in hopes that they would provide a solution to a rather tricky problem.

Role in WoFF: Reading up on Echoes of Time plot details, it seems like WoFF's Sherlotta isn't too different from the original. She's immortal, she has a habit of taking in lost children like Refia, and she has almost zero patience for schemers and troublemakers. The party meets her at an inn she operates in the middle of the frozen tundra, and Sherlotta frequently pops up later to help out. Either out of compassion or boredom, the game doesn't make clear.

Surprising Factoid: The Undead Princess, who appears in a few of Sherlotta's skits, was also a boss-turned-comic relief character in Echoes of Time. She and Sherlotta are destined to annoy each other no matter where they end up. Sherlotta's voiced by Stephanie Sheh, a seasoned VA best known for breathy anime roles like Naruto's Hinata, Bleach's Orihime, and Fire Emblem's Tharja. The last of those is maybe the most relevent, tapping into Tharja's world-weariness and sarcasm for the equally "seen it, done it" attitude of the immortal Sherlotta.

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Claire "Lightning" Farron (Final Fantasy XIII)

Role in Final Fantasy XIII: My fellow moderator ZombiePie is currently exploring just how far the Final Fantasy XIII rabbit hole goes with its second-craziest sequel, the time-travelling Final Fantasy XIII-2. That game establishes that Lightning's more than simply a recalcitrant soldier that eventually warms up to her companions; she's also the chosen champion of the Goddess of Chaos, Etro. Lightning Returns, the third game, gets even wilder.

Role in WoFF: Like Cloud and Squall, she shows up briefly to help the heroes out of a jam. Needless to say, this Lightning isn't some immortal death-dealing goddess - I think that might be a bit much for a supporting fighter - but she's still handy with that weird cybersword of hers.

Surprising Factoid: VA Ali Hillis is still providing Lightning's trademark tone of barely concealed disgust and irritation. Sorta sounds like she's channelling Jennifer Hale a bit, even. The reason I brought up Lightning's bizarre evolution is that she's wearing the "savior" costume from Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII-3, despite her personality being based more on her original Final Fantasy XIII appearance. She has the teleporting powers seen in FFXIII-2 too, so maybe this version of Lightning is supposed to represent all three of her roles?

Snow Villiers (Final Fantasy XIII)

Role in Final Fantasy XIII: If Lightning was meant to be a riff on more recent FF heroes like Cloud and Squall, Snow is a riff on the earlier heroes of the franchise. An optimistic buffoon whose "justice sense" is a lot more attuned than his common sense. Snow's best intentions nonetheless create a rift between him and most of the party, in particular Hope - whose mom ends up dying due to Snow's inspirational charisma - and Lightning, who has been barely tolerating Snow's nonsense ever since he started hitting on her teenage sister.

Role in WoFF: This particular Snow is based on his first appearance in Final Fantasy XIII-2, where Serah and Noel meet him in some distant future fighting off an enormous flan enemy. They think he's been distracted by another random campaign of heroism, but Snow's actually intuited that these flans are responsible for the collapse of Cocoon and the crystal pillar holding it up: the remains of his friends Fang and Vanille. He's fighting another giant flan in WoFF to protect some unnamed village, but it could be more some residual cross-world memories prompting him forward. The idea that these FF guests are half-remembering the events of their origin games is an intriguing way to tie WoFF into the greater FF universe, though also one that provides a convenient excuse for characters to fall into old habits.

Surprising Factoid: Snow's still voiced by Troy Baker, who - along with his similarly ubiquitous VA chum (and fellow Drake brother) Nolan North - is putting on an entertaining Let's Play show that lets them goof around with their many famous voice roles.

Chocolatte (Final Fantasy XIII-2)

Role in Final Fantasy XIII-2: Chocolina is the mysterious shopkeeper that Serah and Noel keep meeting across various timelines, as she is seemingly able to travel through the game's "Historia Crux" interdimensional nexus as well. Despite looking like a dancer from some Final Fantasy-themed Las Vegas burlesque, she has a long history with Serah and her friends. I'm spoiler-blocking this because ZP's still playing FFXIII-2: She's the same chocobo chick that lives in Sazh's hair! Her earnest wish to Etro to help her friends made her a real woman, or real enough at least.

Role in WoFF: Though the character in WoFF is named Chocolatte, it's the same person. In fact, this is the only situation where it literally is the same person: Chocolina's been known to wind up in all sorts of places due to her unusual mode of travel. For personal reasons she reinvented herself as Chocolatte, sticking on a pair of glasses with clear lenses and hawking her goods like she always has. She still instinctively understands the chocobos of this new world, including Bartz's partner Boko.

Surprising Factoid: Chocolatte/Chocolina's VA is Julie Nathanson, who started voicing Final Fantasy characters with Prishe (another major Final Fantasy XI NPC) in Dissidia Duodecim. I have no idea where she found that voice. Chocolatte also has a chocobo chick on her head everywhere she goes: that's her original body, which manifested in this world alongside the human version and are now two halves of the same entity. Somehow they found a way to make Chocolina even weirder.

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So I want to leave this next section a little open-ended until after I've completed the game, because I have a theory that the game's conclusion will talk a little more about the nature of the world of Grymoire and the connection all these characters have to it. Final Fantasy's never been afraid of getting a little meta with their crossovers after all.

Even if nothing comes of it from the game's ending, however, I commend the developers of this game for translating the motivations and personalities of these characters effectively for this new world, even if there aren't quite as many cameos as I would've preferred. On the other hand, having some familiar face show up every five minutes would distract too much from the story this game wants to tell, and I'd rather preserve that than wallow in fan-service. It's a tricky balance that I think the game handles well, even if the rest is a little uneven.

I'll have a more detailed review towards the end of the month, but I hope this rundown of the guest characters and the way the game integrates them into a new narrative and setting without losing too much in the transition was of interest. Even if it is glorified fanfiction of all the favorite Final Fantasy characters, World of Final Fantasy can stand on its own too.

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Indie Game of the Week 116: Eschalon: Book II

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It's a quiet enough April, so what better time to get back into the old-school RPG spirit? Eschalon: Book II is a 2010 game from Basilisk Games and the sequel to Eschalon: Book I, which I covered... huh, this very day last year. Weird. Both games are vaguely Ultima-like CRPGs, in that time only passes when the hero moves or performs actions and they have a top-down, isometric perspective. They're also single character games where there's a lot of freedom in how you choose to spec out your solo hero beyond the limits of their starting class. Everything from combat to armor to spells to thievery to lore to secret detection is linked to skills that the player can earn after levelling, from training with NPCs, or from reading skillbooks: acquiring the skills isn't the problem, but levelling them up until they're reliable is another matter. For more details, I'd suggest reading the linked review of Book I above - many of the same characteristics have been passed down to its sequel.

Sensing that Book II would be very similar to the first, and that there's no character import process to worry about, I've built my new protagonist to be far more dependent on magic in comparison to the burly warrior from last time. Turns out I was right on the money: the game is almost identical to its forebear, excepting a few tweaks to the combat system, a rearranged UI that puts the various vital shortcuts in closer reach, and some new "survival" mechanics that I'm not sure the game needed. (Fortunately, the game also now has a female protagonist option if you're so inclined, perhaps retconning the male-only hero of the first game.) In fact, it's these survival mechanics that the game uses for its difficulty tiers: you can opt to play with thirst/hunger meters to worry about, item degradation, a block on saving (and loading?!) in perilous situations (say, if enemies are nearby or you're currently poisoned), and having all actions with random results instead be fixed (so no save-scumming before opening chests or picking locks if you didn't like the first result). The more of these modes you decide to suffer, the higher your final "score" and the better the treasure you'll find.

Shooting fireballs at a skeleton. In the dark. As you do. I love that mages have a spell that deflects projectiles, because archers can be real jerks.
Shooting fireballs at a skeleton. In the dark. As you do. I love that mages have a spell that deflects projectiles, because archers can be real jerks.

Beyond that, it's really more of Eschalon: Book I. The game still has this nice and crisp if sorta utilitarian mid-90s look to it that almost resembles one of those NetHack graphics packs you can find that helps makes that game more aesthetically palatable and easier to read visually if ASCII isn't your deal. The gameplay is solid and accommodating for lots of playstyles; I'm having a significantly different time has a ranged spellcaster who must constantly deal with a dwindling mana supply, because there's a lot of practical spells that ably replace thievery skills (melting locks and remotely detonating traps never gets old) and torching enemies at a range leads to a lot of merry chases as I toss fireballs while constantly backing away. The game's setting has shifted slightly north in its geography - though I've yet to discover the more glacial areas, so it's just been more of the same forests and beaches so far - and the story mostly negated all the good I did in Book I with an inevitable unstoppable invasion of that game's region that my character only narrowly escaped from (definite shades of how The Witcher trilogy panned out). It's also not a terribly complex game, which is both to its benefit and to its detriment - fans of more modern RPGs with oodles of systems might find it a bit slow and rudimentary, but if you're seeking to escape from all those complications then the Eschalon series makes for a fine oasis.

It's not like I can be too disappointed that it's more of the same. I enjoyed Eschalon: Book I because it felt like a retro CRPG with some modern thinking behind it; one that alleviated the irritations of playing antiquated games while still retaining the soul of that era. That each of the game's many map regions has an ideal difficulty level and an equivalent level of treasure quality means that a brave player can march in there and take some high-level gear without hopefully getting stomped in the process; it's also fun just to pick a direction and see what's out there, even if you're not going to live long doing so. I was even inspired to start drawing a world map - the game brings back an auto-mapping system that is tied into a player skill you have to level up to get a more detailed mini-map, but it's not as easy to remember where every region fits together - so that's about as classic CRPG as they get. The designers clearly had an audience of old farts - or perhaps the type of millennial who enjoys Polaroid cameras and record players - when they implemented all those hoary, unpopular, but mercifully optional features outlined a few paragraphs above. Eschalon: Book II can be as gritty and unpleasant as you want your throwback CRPG to be, so you can't say Basilisk isn't catering to the audience they have.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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The Secret Lives of Funko Fantasy (Part 1)

Whenever a game studio decides to throw together a crossover RPG comprised of characters from multiple games or franchises, there's often this fascinating process where the writers have to figure out new backstories and story roles that allow them to co-exist in this new setting without compromising the original characterization at their core. Sometimes that means trying to figure out how a character became the person we know and love without the specific backstory events that got them there. Frequently what you end up with are facsimiles that lack a lot of the deeper characterization of the originals that are there to provide cameo support or, occasionally, a pastiche.

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World of Final Fantasy, Square Enix's big celebratory crossover that celebrates thirty years of the venerable RPG franchise (though it actually showed up a year before Final Fantasy I's 30th birthday, on November 2016 instead of December 2017), is - despite its deferential purpose - not a game that takes itself too seriously. You could quickly surmise that from screenshots, which invariably depict prior Final Fantasy protagonists and major characters as these bobble-headed "lilikin". (The game's localization is a lot of fun, so I've tried to sprinkle in a few screengrabs of it in action here and there.)

World of Final Fantasy is structurally similar to Final Fantasy XIII-2 of all games, in the sense that the party has two permanent protagonists (one male and one female) and an assortment of monsters (called "mirages" here) in revolving support roles. Though not actively involved in combat, the various Final Fantasy "champions" still play a role in the story and/or appear as the game's summons equivalent, dropping some huge damaging attack or party-wide buff whenever the player has a full enough gauge to invoke them. Their roles are expanded further in the game's "intervention quests," in which a small skit or vignette plays out between FF characters without the protagonists' involvement, and the player only steps in when a fight occurs through some kind of mystical dimension travelling nonsense: this allows the game to conceive of situations where they can throw disparate Final Fantasy characters together to see how they'd get along.

I've been a fan of these characters for a long time, and I'm always intrigued by how they continue to exist in some form long after their games have ended. Final Fantasy in particular seems to dive back into its back catalogue frequently, building up versions of these characters that have almost become more prevalent than the originals. What follows is how World of Final Fantasy chose to interpret all these legacy characters.

(NB: Part One covers Final Fantasies I-VII. Part Two will cover the rest of the cameos, from VIII to XIII-2. Also, I'm only covering those that appeared in the original game, not those added to the 2018 Maxima remaster.)

Warrior of Light & Princess Sarah (Final Fantasy)

Role in Final Fantasy: The distinct incarnation of "Warrior of Light" began as a means to represent the first Final Fantasy game in that other, more famous Final Fantasy crossover series Dissidia: Final Fantasy. The problem is, the first Final Fantasy didn't actually have any clearly defined, named characters for its party members. Rather, it was still focused on the CRPG model where party members were blank slates that the player was meant to role-play from scratch, filling generic class roles like "black mage" and "fighter" to befit a party composition of the player's choosing.

Role in WoFF: The Warrior of Light has no real character to transpose to this new world, so instead he's reimagined as Cornelia's Brigade Captain who awakens to his world-saving power after meeting World of Final Fantasy's twin protagonists. A cute aspect of this particularly guileless corner of Grymoire (the world of World of Final Fantasy) is that neither the Warrior of Light's concealed crush on Princess Sarah or Sarah's attempts to mingle incognito with her subjects in plainclothes are fooling anyone.

Surprising Factoid: The Warrior of Light who appears here with flamboyant armor is based on the unknown knight shown in Yoshitaka Amano's box art for the game's original Famicom release that doesn't appear anywhere in the game. His voice actor, Grant George, is the same one for his Dissidia appearances. Sarah's VA is Brooke Lyons, a TV and movie actress for whom World of Final Fantasy is her first video game voice role. She doesn't do a bad job with Sarah's received pronunciation.

Refia (Final Fantasy III)

Role in Final Fantasy III: Wisely skipping Final Fantasy II (at least in the non-Maxima version), World of Final Fantasy's sole FFIII representative is Refia. Refia is one of the interchangeable Onion Knights: they were all given names and characterizations for the Nintendo DS remake. Refia's the only woman of the group, and though she's depicted as a healer/white mage by default, any Onion Knight can be any class they choose at any time with the game's masterstroke innovation of the Job system.

Role in WoFF: Refia appears alongside another FF refugee - Sherlotta - when the party approaches the Kingdom of Saronia, also imported from Final Fantasy III. She's one of the only characters that follows the party around and actually provides a service, healing them with cure spells whenever their HP drops below half after a battle ends. When she becomes available to summon, her ability to heal the whole party and remove negative status effects makes for a handy emergency button.

Surprising Factoid: The Dissidia games don't follow the FFIII remake's canon, instead having a more nebulous and unnamed "Onion Knight" character represent the third game. The pragmatist in me imagines that World of Final Fantasy only opted for Refia's inclusion because they didn't have enough healer NPCs or women or both.

Rydia (Final Fantasy IV)

Role in FInal Fantasy IV: Rydia is a summoner from the town of Mist, who first meets Cecil and Kain when the two are part of the invading army that burns her village down and murders her entire clan. It takes a while for her to warm up to the duo, to put it mildly. Her powers as a summoner takes her to all sorts of unusual places, including the dimension of summoned monsters where she learns to hone her craft. She's usually depicted in her "adult" form, which is really just her child form after some rapid aging in said other dimension. It's... weird.

Role in WoFF: There's several aspects of Rydia's character that are emphasized here, one of which being her phobia of flames borne from the traumatic razing of her village, which makes her assistance in a nearby volcano dungeon a bit fraught. The other is her mother's Mist Dragon familiar, which follows Rydia around and is often the source of her strength. The game establishes an odd relationship between "summoners" and the protagonist "Mirage Keepers": both are able to command monsters, though apparently there's a significant difference in the level of ability and scope (it's like the difference between persona users in Atlus's Persona franchise, who typically only have one or two persona, and the "Zero" protagonist's ability to control hundreds).

Surprising Factoid: Rydia's voice actor, Caroline Macey, is the same one that voiced her back in the 2008 DS remake of Final Fantasy IV. World of Final Fantasy is meant to be a celebration of the franchise, so I think the localization team's efforts to track down former voice actors to reprise roles almost a decade after the fact is admirable, as we'll see in FFX's returning stars. The other surprising factoid is that, despite Final Fantasy IV being really the first Final Fantasy game to have a well-developed and expansive cast of characters in addition to being one of the most beloved games in the entire franchise, Rydia is the only FFIV visitor in World of Final Fantasy. (Unless Kain is working for the bad guys and hasn't revealed himself yet, and I wouldn't put it past him.)

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Bartz Klauser (Final Fantasy V)

Role in Final Fantasy V: Good old generic Bartz, or Butz, is the blank slate protagonist of Final Fantasy V, the second game in the series to employ the class-hopping Job system. Bartz himself is cookie-cutter a protagonist as they come, but there's a lot going on around him that makes him more interesting than immediately meets the eye: primarily, that his partner is an intelligent chocobo, that he hails from another world, and that his father was once friends with a goshdarn werewolf.

Role in WoFF: Bartz shows up on the Big Bridge to show the party how to use the jump pads. He's then involved with a kerfuffle with an enraged Gilgamesh, who claims to have been chasing after him for a hundred years. This particular Bartz has never met Gilgamesh though; it's implied that the visitor Gilgamesh is actually the real one, who has once again lost his way in the dimensions between realities. Bartz later ends up joining Rikku on her treasure hunting missions, letting her take all the loot while he simply enjoys the adventure. The two of them are very cute together.

Surprising Factoid: Keen-eyed Final Fantasy aficionados might've already noted an appalling omission with the way I moved straight from Final Fantasy IV to Final Fantasy V in the chronological order I'm following: there's no Final Fantasy Mystic Quest cameo! Where's Benjamin? Or Phoebe? Or, hell, I'd take a Reuben or a Tristam. Anyway, there are three Final Fantasy V characters, as if to rub salt on the wound, and Bartz has a surprising amount of presence in the story for someone with no presence to speak of. He mostly shows up a lot due to his connections to the chocobo world via his avian partner Boko.

Faris Scherwiz (Final Fantasy V)

Role in Final Fantasy V: Faris is a pirate captain who captures the party at one point, their feminine appearance briefly confusing Bartz and Galuf until they realized who Faris was: the missing Princess Sarisa of Tycoon and the sister of their travelling companion Lenna. Faris initially joined Bartz and company because she was curious about a pendant Lenna wore - one that she also had - but was eventually sucked into the same prophetic destiny as the rest of the group as they went around collecting crystals, as Final Fantasy parties are wont to do.

Role in WoFF: This Faris has no hidden destiny or true identity that he's aware of - he's just a pirate captain who commands a crew of moogles with his sea serpent familiar, Syldra. When WoFF's protagonists attempt to steal Faris's ship, they're forced to contend with Syldra and Faris in a battle that's impossible to win (one of many annoying unwinnable story battles). Faris relents when he hears about their mission, and though cannot take them to their next destination by ship, helpfully points to someone who can.

Surprising Factoid: If you're wondering about the pronoun use, Faris - or this particular Faris at least - is explicitly mentioned in their bio as presenting as male. The original game hinted that a terrified child Faris, after being lost at sea and recovered by pirates, was perhaps only pretending to be male to make it easier to fit into that society, but WoFF's Faris doesn't have that baggage and presumably decided of his own volition that he was both male and a pirate. Faris's voice actor is Emily O'Brien, who previously voiced fan favorite Y'shtola Rhul for the online Final Fantasy XIV; the white-haired Miqo'te being something like the poster child for the MMO. Since Y'shtola doesn't appear in this game, or at least the non-Maxima version, it seems they gave her a different character to voice.

Gilgamesh (Final Fantasy V)

Role in Final Fantasy V: Though named for one of the earliest and most powerful heroes of ancient literature, Final Fantasy's Gilgamesh has always been presented as something of a buffoon. That comedic edge cemented his fan favorite status back in Final Fantasy V, and since then his canonical disappearance into the nebulous "realm between realms" has given subsequent Final Fantasy directors carte blanche to have him turn up in any world at any time for any reason. In addition to his role as a recurring mid-boss in Final Fantasy V, he also shows up in Final Fantasy VIII as an optional summon who first lends his support in a pivotal battle and in Final Fantasy IX as a many-armed individual who enjoys card games.

Role in WoFF: Though this version of Gilgamesh is unique to Grymoire, his soul is linked to the "Ur Gilgamesh" floating around inside the space between dimensions, which is apparently where this obsession with fighting Bartz derives from. He's still looking for another conclusive fight even if this world's Bartz has no idea who he is. Gilgamesh isn't all that picky though, and quickly finds other worthy opponents to fight such as the protagonists and (later) Final Fantasy XIII's Snow - his theory is that anyone who willingly picks a fight with him must be Bartz, because Bartz is the one he's destined to fight.

Surprising Factoid: Gilgamesh is really only related to the Mesopotamian hero by name. His boastful mannerisms, penchant for fighting on bridges, single-minded desire for powerful weapons and opponents to fight, and kabuki-style make-up are all reminiscent of Benkei the monk instead: a famous figure in Japanese folklore and kabuki theater analogous to Robin Hood's Little John. His VA, Keith Szarabajka, previously voiced the same character (or versions of the character?) in Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy Type-0.

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Celes Chere (Final Fantasy VI)

Role in Final Fantasy VI: Celes Chere is a former Imperial General who underwent the same damaging magic-infusing experiments as her peer Kefka, albeit with less resulting insanity. She is eventually swayed by the good guys and joins their cause against her country after they break her out of jail, but it's really only when we hit the game's final act that her sympathetic characterization hits the fast lane. For whatever reason she's always dressed like she's going to the gym.

Role in WoFF: Celes is guarding an ancient library in WoFF, not only protecting it from any external destructive forces but also its own malfunctioning robotic librarian Cid, mirroring the slightly antagonistic familial relationship the two had in Final Fantasy VI (even if this is a different Cid than the raincoat-sporting scientist of FFVI). She's acquaintances with fellow blond of few words Cloud Strife, who is in the same town for other reasons.

Surprising Factoid: Celes is pronounced "seh-LESS", as in the name Celeste. In retrospect this makes a lot more sense than "SELL-ess" or "cellars" or however I was saying it. Her VA is Christina Rose, appearing in her first ever voice acting role. Rose does, however, have a history in musical theater including the Broadway performance of Grease, which makes her inspired casting for Celes "opera floozy" Chere.

Edgar Figaro (Final Fantasy VI)

Role in Final Fantasy: The pragmatic young (well, 27, which might as well be ancient in JRPG terms) King of Figaro has been playing the Empire, presenting himself and his nation as willing vassals to the Empire's cause but has long been plotting a way to emancipate Figaro of their influence. He chose to be King in order to give his brother, Sabin, the life of freedom the latter always wanted. An inveterate ladies' man, he hits on almost every woman in the game - the exception being the child artist Relm, who hits on him instead.

Role in WoFF: Pretty much the same, really. He claims allegiance to WoFF's antagonistic Bahamutian Federation, even helping them capture the protagonists and fit them with suppressors to neutralize their Mirage Keeper powers, but it's all part of a long con to sever the literal chains that bind Figaro to the Federation and instead help those resisting their rule. Gets on well with Vivi Ornitier, who along with his black mage brethren all become honorary citizens of Figaro. For whatever reason in this game Figaro is sitting directly above the high-tech subterranean D-District Prison that Squall and co. were dumped into after the disastrous first act of Final Fantasy VIII, which is itself sitting on top of a Mako Reactor named for Final Fantasy VII's Midgar. It's amazing what you find in a desert if you dig deep enough.

Surprising Factoid: Like Faris, Edgar's voice actor Ray Chase is best known for playing a different Final Fantasy character. Specifically, another young King: Noctis Lucis Caelum, the moody protagonist of Final Fantasy XV and its related media. According to Edgar's bio he won't hit on the female protagonist because she's also too young, which... I dunno if this is the one aspect of his character that you want to keep harping on for the sake of humor.

Terra Branford (Final Fantasy VI)

Role in Final Fantasy VI: Though Final Fantasy VI was specifically designed to not have a protagonist, letting players gravitate towards their preferred heroes and heroines and splitting the story into vignettes where many of the playable characters don't appear, Terra Branford is the closest the game has to one. She's seen in the opening credits, and her journey from brainwashed agent of the Empire to half-esper unsure of her place in the world is one of the more elaborate of the game's many plot threads. Whenever a crossover game needed one significant character from each game, Terra is usually that for Final Fantasy VI.

Role in WoFF: Terra appears in her signature MagiTek armor alongside her esper father Maduin to stop the twins from reaching the ominous Crystal Tower that supposedly leads to the conclusion of various prophecies governing the world. She doesn't give a whole lot away in this encounter, either coerced or possessed by some unknown outsider to attack the duo. Terra can't ever seem to catch a break in any world she's in; she gets psychically manipulated more often than Counsellor Troi. I'm curious to see if the game ever explains how she can be "half-Mirage" or if esper means something entirely different in Grymoire.

Surprising Factoid: Well, I was surprised that she showed up for only thirty seconds and a pointless boss fight, but she sticks around to help out the heroes once her wits return albeit via an annoying mini-game that's somewhere between Minesweeper and Battleship. Her VA is Natalie Lander, who also voiced the character for her many Dissidia appearances (and Saints Row's Kinzie Kensington, with whom Terra shares very little else in common).

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Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII)

Role in Final Fantasy VII: Cloud's role in Final Fantasy VII would take half a novel to summarize, but in short he's a former member of Shinra's elite SOLDIER unit who has turned mercenary, helping Barret's AVALANCHE ecoterrorist organization tear down Midgar's Mako Reactors that are threatening to... there is no "in short" version of this, really. Cloud's a laconic presence throughout FFVII, as is typical for a RPG protagonist, but his personality and grasp on reality go through a number of shifts as he comes to terms with his amnesia and trauma. It's kinda hard to get a handle on the guy, just like how I imagine it'd be pretty hard to get a handle on that enormous slab of sheet metal he uses as a weapon.

Role in WoFF: Cloud is perhaps the most travelled of the Final Fantasy heroes, making cameos in more games than any other, but his characterization in these games tends to default to a dispassionate aloofness that is an uninteresting amalgam of FFVII's Cloud that combines his early curtness and all-business approach and his later reawakened sense of empathy and courage. It's proven to be an enduring paradigm for the character, from his inexplicable presence in Final Fantasy Tactics up to his appearance here, where he's part of "the League of S" (which is largely made up of Final Fantasy VII and VIII people) and obediently goes wherever something needs omnislashing.

Surprising Factoid: Steve Burton, primarily known as a soap opera actor outside of his VA work (again, great casting), has been voicing Cloud since the spiky-haired wonder's 2002 appearance in Kingdom Hearts. Most of that game's star-studded voice cast were switched with professional voice actors for later crossovers, but Burton's managed to stick around for every non-FFVII appearance of Cloud up to and including the upcoming FFVII remake. Like the Kingdom Hearts version, WoFF Cloud is also characterized by his single-minded vendetta against Sephiroth; there's an insidious bond between the two that is more parasitic than brotherly, and Cloud would love nothing more than to sever it forever.

Tifa Lockhart (Final Fantasy VII)

Role in Final Fantasy VII: A survivor of the Nibelheim incident who settled in Midgar and founded her own bar, the Seventh Heaven, in the enormous metropolis's Distict 7. She's the only link to Cloud's past, and he with hers, though the Cloud she meets early on is nothing like the quiet and loyal teen she remembered. Despite being a hotheaded martial artist in battle, Tifa's best exemplified by her endless patience with Cloud's many flavors of bullshit, standing by his side and lending her support to the troubled hero.

Role in WoFF: For whatever reason, Tifa's original age is retained (20) but she's wearing the trashy tourist-friendly cowboy gear her teen self appears in during Final Fantasy VII's Nibelheim flashback as well as the events of Crisis Core, which was a prequel set during the same time frame. Also odd is that in Grymoire Nibelheim is still in one piece, and Tifa's incinerated hometown is now Rydia's village of Mist. I mean, when you have two heroines who have a razed village as part of their tragic backstories, you might as well combine them.

Surprising Factoid: Genuine movie star Rachel Leigh Cook is still voicing Tifa here. She first voiced her back in that Advent Children CG movie, and continued to do so for Kingdom Hearts II and the second Dissidia game (Tifa wasn't in the first).

Shelke Rui (Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII)

Role in Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII: I really couldn't tell you off hand what Shelke's role was in Dirge of Cerberus because I never played that poorly regarded spin-off and I'm surprised the creators of this game assumed anyone would remember anything that came out of it. Shelke's part of a group of color-coded genetic soldier antagonists and a possible clone of Vincent's mostly-dead former lover Lucretia. She looks like a sexualized underaged ninja, which wouldn't be the first for Final Fantasy VII.

Role in WoFF: Shelke's another highly skilled operative of the League of S, albeit one that has almost zero emotional range. So, pretty much like Cloud, Squall, and Lightning then. She shows up to beat the protagonists back into fighting shape and then mostly flits around with those laser batons of hers. A grim reminder that Square once tried to Devil May Cry their best-known property to questionable results.

Surprising Factoid: Shelke is still voiced by her Dirge of Cerberus VA, Kari Wahlgren, which isn't too much of a surprising fact since Ms. Wahlgren has had hundreds of voice roles in video games and anime. No, the most surprising factoid is that Dirge of Cerberus gets represented in this game and Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, Final Fantasy X-2, and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest doesn't (barring Maxima and DLC champions).

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Next time! We're going to take a closer look at Final Fantasies VIII to XIII-2 and maybe a few other fun references the developers tossed into World of Final Fantasy, though I'm stopping short of every reused monster, settlement, and dungeon. Also: Claudia Black shows up as Leviathan in this? I thought Leviathan was supposed to be the King of the Summoned Creatures, according to Final Fantasy IV anyway. Still, if Claudia Black's in your game as a giant talking sea serpent I'm there for it.

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Indie Game of the Week 115: Return of the Obra Dinn

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I figured it was time for something a little more contemporary for this feature, so here we are in 1807 trying to figure out what happened to the doomed crew of the Obra Dinn of the East India Trading Company. If you aren't familiar with how Return of the Obra Dinn works, the goal is to use a compass-like device called a Momento Mortum - "remember death" - to witness the moment of a person's demise via their corpse, or the residual memory of their death if that corpse has long since been claimed by the sea. Through this process, the player is eventually able to determine the identities, positions, and eventual fates of the entire crew of the Obra Dinn and those of its passengers. A lot of this is contingent on a form of logic grids; something a younger version of myself would use to short circuit my brain years before pharmacological alternatives became available. (I don't actually take hallucinogens, I'm just trying to sound cool. Did it work?)

Not content to create a whole new puzzle/adventure game framework that I'm sure will see more imitations any day now, Lucas Pope - he of the oppressively bleak Papers, Please - also wanted the game to have a distinct visual style as well. In particular, Pope aimed to recreate the "1-bit" graphics of computer systems like the early Macintoshes, IBMs, the Commodore 64, etc. of the early 80s. However, it's less a game created in those graphical systems than it is a first-person 3D environment that is being passed through a visual filter. The effect is both surreal and striking, sort of like that ASCII Doom mod, and lends itself well to the vintage feel of the game's setting as well as perhaps mercifully alleviating the grisly nature of the more violent death scenes.

I'm going to close a loop of sorts when I talked about Prey a few months ago, likening my favorite part of that game - the way you can pull up the Talos I crew on nearby terminals and use their tracker chips to find out what happened to them, if only to slake your own curiosity - to what I imagined Return of the Obra Dinn's entire gameplay model would be like. That did indeed turn out to be the case: Return of the Obra Dinn is exclusively the investigation at its core, moving around the ship and piecing together events in your head from a series of static images each containing a few preceding lines of dialogue. The game finds a perfect balance between being too revealing and too cagey, only telling you if your hypothesis about a crewmember's identity and death is correct if you score a hat trick. This makes it far harder to brute force your guesses - if you know the victim is one of the ship's "topmen", those who spend most of their time in the rigging, you might be tempted to try each of their names for the cadaver you just found - but not impossible to take a chance on a hunch. Theoretically, you should be able to deduce the identity of everyone with irrefutable logic, if not by mentions of their name then by accents or appearance or just process of elimination, but I found myself switching to abductive reasoning and finding success a number of times by opting for the most likely explanation. I suppose it all comes down to how you play: if this was a real logic square, or its numerical variant sudoku, you wouldn't risk it and might even balk at the idea of occasionally going with your gut, but Obra Dinn's thankfully a little more generous with how you want to approach its enigmas.

Back in the day, a Captain's Log was something he used to club mutineers.
Back in the day, a Captain's Log was something he used to club mutineers.

I also can't say enough good things about the game's tone and atmosphere, which it accomplishes almost in spite of its unusual aesthetic. The musical stings when you pull out the Momento Mortum, the way each chapter has its own background music when you're strolling around the elaborate die-oramas, how the sound design renders the terrifying otherworldliness of the supernatural perils facing the Obra Dinn, the overall emphasis on sounds and voices as hints and clues, and the clever way that the game tells the story of the Obra Dinn backwards, starting with the final few traumatized crewmembers hacking each apart, and then moving back to a few days earlier with a massive kraken attack that killed a major portion of the crew, and then going even further back to even weirder calamities. Pope has proven to be an excellent storyteller with this game, able to rely a little more on text here than subtext in comparison to imagining everything going on outside your little booth in Papers Please, but still giving his audience plenty of blanks to fill in: there's more than a handful of crewmembers who you don't actually see die with the Momento Mortum (several chapers have a post-script area for "disappearances"), but can surmise how they went by carefully observing the last scenes they appeared in.

While I fell head over keels for Obra Dinn, I did have a few nitpicks. There's a certain amount of... I guess I'd call it padding, where you follow spectral trails to the next body even though you know exactly where this body is - you can't actually make the spectral trail appear without first examining the body in question in a different flashback. Something about the game's mouse controls were really squirrelly too: I had some serious trouble turning around on occasion, even with the mouse sensitivity turned up a few extra notches. It could be that my laptop was having trouble with the filters - I imagine making a 3D environment look that old can be taxing on older systems, sort of like how Cuphead is using state of the art graphics to recreate 1930s animation - but it did seem to make everything drag a smidge. As did being unable to revisit death memories without hiking across the ship to find the trigger corpse again, unless I missed a way to shortcut that process. At any rate, these are minor annoyances and not something that will bring down the overall experience too much, but hopefully something that will get addressed if this game ever sees a sequel (which I hope it does).

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Seeking Warframe & Fortune (Part 4)

One robot ninja's noble journey to see how far they can travel across this great cosmos of ours without spending any money or exerting too much effort.

Part 4: Warframe & Piece

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First off, I want to thank all those in the comments who volunteered their time and resources to boost me over Warframe's notorious early-game wall. From what I can tell (and have been told), there's a point where you need to have access to a sizable number of planets - new ones become available as you continue to progress through the game - to have the breadth of potential farming locations to acquire all the types of resources you'd need to build additional warframes and weapons, and it takes a while to get there. A long while, it turns out.

Certain crafting materials are impossible to come by normally prior to some of the mid- and even late-game planets, and so I think the developer-intended solution barring some major rebalancing is for new players like me to either start jumping into high-level veteran co-op and hover around the back so all the overpowered enemies don't kill you with an errant sneeze, or simply trade with those same players with whatever scraps you might've found - maybe rare mods, because those seem like they'd be hard to come by at any level - for the uncommon materials and blueprints that will elude newcomers until they've made more progress across the starmap. I'm still adamant to go this thing alone: mostly because I'm not a particularly social gamer, but also because I'm curious to see how challenging an entirely solo experience can be. Still, the community of this game has proven to be nothing if not gregarious and magnanimous (or at least that's true of the Giant Bomb clan(s)).

I also want to announce that this will be the end of the weekly Warframe updates, as I'm running out of subject matter for all these "New Development" blurbs. However, I do intend to stick with the game, so I'll be transforming "Seeking Warframe & Fortune" into a monthly feature instead. The plan is to drop the next update around the middle of May and on subsequent months for the foreseeable future. (I just started a different monthly feature that drops at the end of the month, so this'll keep the two separate.) Hopefully in a few weeks I'll be hopping around more planets with lots of different warframes to write about, and have more to say about what the mid-game is like.

New Developments!

More Like Merk-ury

Mercury's kind of a weird destination. For one, the planet is largely Grineer-based (with some notable exceptions, outlined in the next section) which essentially makes all its nodes look like the ones on Earth, excepting the outdoorsy maps. Second, the boss of this area is Captain Vor again, so maybe I didn't kill him hard enough last time. Third, there are no additional planet junctions leading off Mercury: it's a dead end. However, completing Mercury will allow me to visit the Mars Junction back on Earth, and through the red planet the rest of the system awaits.

InfestFest 2019

The sole distinguishing characteristic of Mercury in this stage of the game's progression is that it introduces the Infested faction in earnest. I've already had my run-ins with these creepy, oozy monsters due to void fissure missions - I particularly don't care for the "ancient healers", which like to grapple you across large distances and provide a regen effect to nearby enemies - but we're told a portion of their background via the Mercury-based questline "Once Awake". From what lore we've been given so far, the Infested disappeared along with the "Orokin" (no idea what they are, but they've been mentioned a lot and don't seem to exist any more) many years ago but have since been brought back through the machinations of a Grineer scientist. "Once Awake" ends before the Infested are vanquished for good or the Grineer scientist is brought to justice, so I imagine this particular quest chain will be continued elsewhere.

The Infested represent your typical gross zombie horde enemy faction, like the Flood of Halo or the Lambent of Gears of War. Rather than ducking behind cover and taking potshots at you, all Infested without exception charge at you (or forces you over to them) for close-range combat. It's a good thing I have the melee-focused warframe Excalibur to get me through these missions, because a decent melee weapon and the warframe's melee skills (especially the exalted blade) work wonders against this lumpy space sickness.

This questline also emphasized the importance of elemental superiority. Elemental mods for weapons are fairly uncommon - they're silver, suggesting a mid-tier rarity - and expensive to activate, but using an element against an enemy weak to it will confer a damage bonus of at least 25%, which isn't insubstantial. More so, if you have a secondary elemental type, that bonus rises to an incredible 75%. Secondary elemental types, which I found about on my own, are when you take two of the game's four elemental types - heat, cold, toxin, or electricity - and combine them into a new elemental type: blast (heat + cold), corrosive (electricity + toxin), gas (heat + toxin), radiation (heat + electricity), magnetic (cold + electricity), and viral (youtube + memes).

The downside is the aforementioned expense: it takes six points to install an elemental mod, which is way more than a weapon starts with. That also means you need twelve points if you want one of the secondary elemental types. You'd need to spend a serious amount of time with a weapon for that many mod installation points, and that's not even including the more valuable (and mercifully more common/cheaper to activate) straight damage boost mods like Pressure Point or Serration. Elemental trickery seems like something worth investing in once you have a weapon with a whole lot of progression on it; something I have no problem with currently with how much affinity I've built up for what is still my default weapon loadout.

The various pustules and polyps found all over Infested maps are oddly beautiful, in an ugly way.
The various pustules and polyps found all over Infested maps are oddly beautiful, in an ugly way.

Leash a Kubrow

At the same time as unlocking "Once Awake" as a questline, there's also "Howl of the Kubrow" which allows Tenno to begin incubating and employing a kubrow - a dog-like creature - as their companion on missions instead of a sentinel (robot drones like my Taxon, who is doing very well thank you). The first mission in this questline is a simple enough Survival map against Corpus: the Survival mission type being one where you're constantly hounded by aggro enemies while looking for life support pods (randomly dropped into the level) to stay alive long enough for the mission timer to run out. After that, I either have to go find a kudrow egg or have one on me, and get to cookin'.

Trouble is, to complete the process I also need something called an Incubator Power Core, the blueprint for which costs 50k credits alone. After that I'll need a further 100k to actually create one along with nano spores and argon crystals, neither of which I've come across yet. The kubrow questline, then, is perhaps one that is meant to be tackled very gradually and really only exists to tutorialize the process of birthing your own alien attack dog, turning Warframe into "Dead Space to Rights". My next questline starts on Mars, so I'd better keep working on Mercury for now: the last objective to unlock the Mars Junction back on Earth is to complete one of Mercury's more distant nodes.

...And one of the rewards for the Mars Junction was an Incubator Power Core. Funny how that worked out, huh? See you in two days, pupper.

Clanning Ahead

For a while, I wasn't going to consider clans and the joining thereof. Then I recalled Mike Mahardy's words when he demonstrated the game on a recent GBE PlayDate: there are many benefits to being in a clan and having access to the clan dojo, even if you don't intend to mingle with other players. A few warframes can only be built in a clan dojo, and there's multiple ways to enhance the game or simply busy yourself with construction work if you're so inclined. Despite a few gracious and appreciated offers to join Giant Bomb's PS4 clan - a new one has recently been established, which I found out about because they needed a moderator to pin the announcement thread - I'm going to see how far I can get solo. Again, this is more due to my own proclivities and curiosity about the challenges of the game's single-player experience than any rejection of the perfectly amiable community.

First, however, you need to build a key to access your clan's dojo, since there aren't any landlords around to give you one. Second, you need to build rooms in the dojo, which requires a lot of resources including the rare "forma". I've only found blueprints for forma so far from a few void fissure missions, and while the cost to make them isn't astronomical I still need to explore the Solar System more (sounds familiar) to find a few of them. Still, it was worth finally poking my nose into this portion of the game and I'm looking forward to when I can commence with all the base-building. It all feels very XCOM.

Clan Key was always my favorite member of the Kong family.
Clan Key was always my favorite member of the Kong family.

Mad Maxing

So yeah, it finally happened. My Excalibur warframe hit max level and I have nothing with which to replace it. It's going to be well after completing Mars until I get the materials I need for the Rhino warframe - not to mention who knows how many more runs at that awful mech boss to get all the warframe component blueprints I need, plus the three real-life days and oodles of credits to actually construct them - so I won't be changing warframes any time soon either.

On the other hand, now that Excalibur is at max rank there's a whole range of decent mods I can stick on it to make some of these less interesting missions move faster. I also had the fortune of maxing out my Skana blade, the default melee weapon (or one of them), and have switched to the Dex Dakra dual swords which just cut through everything even at their base "unranked" level. It didn't take long for it to be high enough level to accept the absurd +100% damage boost mod I've engineered either, and now I'm tempted to just cut through everything. I still do that in missions of relatively high difficulty like void fissures, or against Infested since most of them like to crowd you. Otherwise, I'm still working on maxing out the Braton and MK-1 Kunai - my primary and secondary ranged weapons, respectively - and am happy to say I have replacements for both of those ready to go in the near future.

The only significant difference between warframes besides their divergent statistical propensities are their unique "class" abilities, which are gradually unlocked and upgraded as you level up the warframe itself. Excalibur has this amazing area-of-effect attack, an even better buff that gives them an "exalted blade" which does huge damage, a basic charge attack, and a different buff that I think increases agility (I don't use that one a lot). Excalibur's built for a DPS role suitable for solo players, evidently, though I imagine other warframes will be more co-op-focused or perhaps intended for very specific roles and playstyles. Rhino, for instance, seems to be your classic sturdy tank. My point being, it's not a huge loss to the game's variety if I can't change yet, because switching weapons and mods can suffice for now. From what I can tell about the late-game, you end up swimming in warframes to choose between - provided you have enough open slots to accommodate them - and the early lack of choice swings far into the opposite problem of having way too much.

Success in Syndication

Finally, the last big update for this week is that I hit Mastery Rank 3 and now have access to Syndicates. This might require more delving into, but the Syndicate program seems similar to the covenants of the Souls games: you earn points for a faction you've chosen to align with by completing certain actions, and earning enough will unlock various benefits.

One issue is that every Syndicate seems to have opposing Syndicates, so while you gain the favor of one you earn the ire of others. That might have dire repercussions further down the road in the form of death squads and the like, so I'm cautious about getting too involved with this stuff too early. On the other hand, it's a new feature to explore and there's rewards on offer so sign me up. Those death squads are just going to have to wait in line behind everything else that wants to kill me.

I won't say who I've joined - I have no idea if I'll stick with them, so it's immaterial anyway - but it doesn't look like I can earn too much "standing" (the resource that determines Syndicate favor) in a single session right now. That'll be something else that rises with future Mastery Ranks.

When researching the Syndicates, I also figured out there was a neutral one called Cephalon Simaris found back in the Tenno Relays (which at first glance struck me more like trading posts for players). To build favor with this faction, you have to scan specific enemies for a glowy AI voracious for knowledge. Since I'm scanning everything regardless and have an interest in any video game universe's lore, it doesn't seem like I'll have to go out of my way to be better friends with this thing.

On the next episode of Seeking Warframe & Fortune: I'm getting my dang ol' ass to Mars is what.

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Mento's Month: March

Welcome to a new blog feature! Mento's Month is going to replace my weekly "Saturday Summaries", and instead of summarizing a week of blogging they will summarize all my activities for the entire month. This was prompted by several factors: the ongoing compacting process of Saturday Summaries, which had grown far too verbose and frequently ate up too much of my weekend; and the new release schedule of ZombiePie's Community Spotlight, which will soon be publishing in a late Friday slot - the Summaries were meant to be a way I could toss one link on there instead of two or three or four, so their role has now been rendered moot.

Instead, I'm going to make one enormous text dump of a blog every month, collating all the Indie Game of the Week episodes and whatever I've been using the Tuesday slot to blog about along with the usual game and TV and movie reviews whenever applicable. This will free (most of) my weekends for other site-related projects, like putting together a new Google Spreadsheet that tracks Dan Ryckert's progress in "Doi Another Froiday" and turning the Ranking of Fighters "SNES Fighter Checklist" into an actual list.

Indie Games of the Month

March comprised the 110-113 entries of Indie Game of the Week, outlined below:

A regular boss fight. That's probably enough bullets, huh.
A regular boss fight. That's probably enough bullets, huh.

Rabi-Ribi (IGotW 110) is a Japanese doujin (their version of Indie, usually stuff like Touhou and visual novels built to appeal to a niche market of otaku) spacewhipper with a cutesy aesthetic and all-female cast of humans, witches, anthros, succubi and others. It's an enormous game with a huge number of active and passive upgrades to find and lands to explore. The boss fights all have a specific danmaku or "bullet hell" approach where the intent is to memorize enemy bullet patterns for each of their "waves" while concentrating your own ranged fire on them, and then slip in a few damaging hammer melee combos in the relatively quiet periods in-between. While the game resembles a Senran Kagura-style "galge" in terms of thirst levels, the anime cheesecake factor rarely rises above a PG-13 lasciviousness so it's not all that distracting or embarrassing (in the "how do I explain this to someone who just walked past?" sense).

Into the Breach (IGotW 111) was one of the most highly-rated Indies of last year (2018) so I felt compelled to check it out even if I quickly dropped off the developers' previous game FTL: Faster Than Light and was never that attracted to Into the Breach's "rogue-lite" structure of repeating time loops. There's definitely a lot to commend: I love the game's compact isometric diorama look, the clever way it proc-gens each mission in such a way that they can be perfectly cleared but not without a whole lot of precognitive consideration from the player, and while it is a run-based game there's plenty of different variations between the player's mech loadout or the challenges each of the game's individual islands presents, as well as a difficulty curve, so it could theoretically last you a long time if you were determined to see everything. It wasn't my type of game at the end of the day, as predicted, but at least I walked away with a keen appreciation of what they were doing.

Zombies are usually the least of your problems.
Zombies are usually the least of your problems.

Odallus: The Dark Call (IGotW 112) is a NES throwback from the same Brazilian team behind the similarly retro Oniken. Odallus draws from titles like Ghouls N' Ghosts and Castlevania, building a macabre world of grisly otherworldly monsters and a bold warrior passing through a world fallen into madness with a grim determination and a sharp sword. While stage-based, the game is built in the spacewhipper style where backtracking with new equipment and abilities is highly recommended: the boss fights are no joke, so coming back with more health upgrades and perhaps better armor is not a plan of action. At the same time, it's simple enough to simply power through the game with your default gear, revelling in the increased challenge instead. Like Shovel Knight, the archaic 8-bit aesthetic belies a substantial degree of smart modern design that's worth digging into.

Simulacra (IGotW 113) is a horror-themed adventure game told entirely through the lens of a smartphone device. The device in question belongs to Anna, a young woman who has mysteriously vanished, leaving her friends and contacts in a worried state. For whatever reason, this device was left on your doorstop, prompting you to figure out where she went and how you might track her down. The game balances itself between investigative work - delving through Anna's social media, web history, chat logs, and video and sound files - and correspondence with the people in her life, including her rude ex-boyfriend Greg, the potential hook-up Taylor that Anna was interacting with on the game's Tinder variant, and Anna's best friend Ashley. The game betrays its own subtly built level of tension with needless jumpscares, and the script could've used a few more passes with the spellcheck and proofreads, but I found it was a fairly novel take on a supernatural mystery adventure game.

Hey Everybody, It's the Tuesday Slot

The Tuesday Slot is a forever revolving selection of blog features, sometimes in the form of a short series or one-offs:

Tuesday the 5th - Mega Archive: Part IX: From MegaMind to Sonic the Hedgehog

Also: Street Smart. Doesn't seem too smart to take on a dude three times your size.
Also: Street Smart. Doesn't seem too smart to take on a dude three times your size.

The final (for now) entry for the Mega Archive feature - which logs every Sega Mega Drive/Genesis release chronologically with various stats and impressions as I continue to research them for the sake of the Giant Bomb Wiki - covered all the way up to around the middle of 1991, and in particular the June 23rd release of the system's "killer app" Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega's big mascot platformer represented a monumental shift for the hardware developer, giving them their first bona-fide hit that wasn't originally from the arcades. Sonic also took advantage of the system's processing speed, using that in their combative advertising over rivals Nintendo even as Nintendo was primed to introduce the world to the SNES (which had already been available in Japan as the Super Famicom for several months by the start of 1991). Mega Archive Part IX wasn't just focused on Sonic, however: it also included cartoonish stealth game Bonanza Bros., the first of EA's PGA Tour Golf sims, the infamously localized "all your base" shoot 'em up Zero Wing, ports of PC darlings King's Bounty and Star Control, and many more.

(Tuesday the 13th was skipped.)

Tuesday the 18th - Seeking Warframe & Fortune (Part 1)

Wondering what the hell I've signed myself up for.
Wondering what the hell I've signed myself up for.

The 18th saw the introduction of a new feature, prompted after watching a few streamers in my orbit getting heavily into Warframe, which has (as of writing) just celebrated its sixth year of frequent iterative content additions. The goal of the feature was to see how far I could get and how hard the going would be for someone playing solo with zero intent to spend any money. Granted, it's not the most generous approach to the game, and I can't imagine it's the type of feature the developers would appreciate seeing, but I've always been the type of "Scrooge gamer" who likes to experience games with as little spending and social interaction as possible. Plus, I can't imagine how many others would be playing the game the same way, or at least writing up their experiences of same, so it felt like an angle that might prove of interest or value to somebody out there having a similar "I should really try out this Warframe game everyone is talking about" response to the zeitgeist around this title.

Part 1 of Seeking Warframe & Fortune is spent on the early game: getting to grips with the mechanics and features, exploring Earth via its many mission nodes, and completing the game's first quest line, "Vor's Prize", and understanding the first of the game's big enemy factions, the Grineer.

Tuesday the 25th - Seeking Warframe & Fortune (Part 2)

Part 2 of Seeking Warframe & Fortune adopted a looser format of "new developments" which highlighted a number of topics of note from where I was at in the game. This update focuses on Cetus and the Plains of Eidolon, one of Warframe's many large persistent maps that has plenty to do and find and complete, as well as the rest of Earth's nodes and the first few explorations of the nearby planet of Venus, which is owned by the game's second big enemy faction: the Corpus. I also checked out an ongoing event, the construction and foundry processes behind creating new gear and warframes, the game-wide "mastery ranks", and more.

Sunday the 31st - Bucketlog March: Okage: Shadow King

Yep.
Yep.

Traditionally, a Sunday is not a Tuesday, but I ran out of time in the month to get the Bucketlog entry out in time. The Bucketlog is a monthly feature wherein I finally check out a game in my collection that's been left unplayed for longer than I can remember, building around the idea that there are certain backlog items I want to complete before the heat death of the universe (or my own demise, which will likely be earlier). For some reason, all twelve games scheduled for the Bucketlog come from different systems. March showcased the PlayStation 2's representative.

Okage: Shadow King was a trip. I have a lot of affection for the PS2, and I recognize that while I played in excess of 200 games for that system, it was only the tip of the iceberg. I thus have a wishlist of North America/Japan-only games for that system that's a mile long, though as we move further away from its era it seems less likely I'll get around to many of them. Okage was one of the few on that list that Europeans were lucky enough to finally have access to via the "PlayStation 2 on PlayStation 4" range of digital releases.

Playing the game, two things became quickly evident: the first is that the game was pretty archaic, and may have even felt that way at the time. An early PS2 release, it was one of a handful to be released on those blue-bottomed PS2 CD-ROMs that were common in the system's salad days. The RPG mechanics were a semi-traditional mix of elements taken from Suikoden, Final Fantasy, Grandia, and Dragon Quest. Encounters were visible on the overworld, so you could take steps to avoid them if you so wished, and dungeons had this odd progression system where you had to defeat a few stationary targets to open the way to the next floor.

The second thing that was fairly apparent is that I would've loved this game playing it for the first time in 2001, rather than 2019. It has a distinct visual style that resembles the bizarre characters seen in the worlds of stop-motion movie creators Henry Selick or Laika, and it couples this with an irreverent humor and a subversive story that deconstructs the tropes and conventions of JRPGs. In 2001, I would've been far enough long in my JRPG addiction that I'd fully understand and embrace the broader frame of reference and meta platform the game was using, but not so far along that the game would feel as antiquated and rudimentary as it does now.

If you've slept on Okage: Shadow King so far and don't mind a bit of jank (the game has a real depth-of-field issue, for whatever reason) and old-fashioned RPG combat, it's worth giving it a shot for its uniquely surreal charms and goofy humor.

The Games of March

Nioh (2017, Team Ninja)

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The entirety of March's gaming time not spent on any of the games featured above was dedicated to Team Ninja/Koei Tecmo's "Souls-like" Nioh. Despite the evident stylistic and gameplay similarities to FromSoftware's notoriously challenging RPGs, Nioh makes a lot of bold strides to set itself apart. Chief of which is the game's unusual mission-based structure, which often sees you re-entering completed levels with different enemy and item arrangements for its many side-quests, and a focus on loot RPG mechanics like color-coded rarity and extensive crafting and upgrading systems.

You'd think a loot RPG version of Souls would be less complex, but the reverse is actually true. Nioh has in-depth skill trees for its five weapon types - sword, axe/hammer, spear, twin blades, and kusarigama (a sickle and weight connected by a chain) - as well as ninjutsu (used to make consumables like shuriken and smoke bombs) and onmyo magic (fireballs, lightning bolts, etc. along with a lot of buffs and debuffs). Each tree has a selection of moves you can unlock and then upgrade, each of which can be binded to a limited number of controller functions (like pressing the heavy attack button while guarding). In addition to that customization, there's also the game's stance system: low, mid, and heavy, each of which produces different attack patterns for each of the five weapon types. Think of it like Bloodborne's trick weapon system: high stance is closer to when the trick weapon is in its slow but damaging "heavy" mode, while low stance is more like when the trick weapon is in its lighter form and better suited for hit-and-run tactics on faster enemies. The player also has bows and rifles for ranged attacks, allowing them to pop off heads at a distance albeit with a limited stock of ammo.

The complexities and long learning/difficulty curve of the game made for a challenging but satisfying playthrough, especially getting over early humps like the onryoki and hino-enma boss fights. The mid game drags a little however, as by this time you'll have a handle on the game's mechanics and the challenge level appears to dip slightly. This changes towards the end as suddenly every major story map has a recommended level far in excess of your own, as the price to level up continues to grow steeper. The game never pulls its punches in the end-game either, tossing side-quests at you where you fight two bosses simultaneously (which is even harder than it sounds) or take on waves of tough yokai monsters with a dwindling supply of resources. The game's final boss, not to give too much away, includes three challenging fights in a row (though fortunately once you've beaten one of those three, you don't have to fight it again).

Not for the faint of heart, then, as is perhaps typical of Team Ninja and their storied background as the developers of the demanding NInja Gaiden reboots. It's worth the struggle however, because I found all the changes that Nioh made only serve to improve the overall experience, the very few letdowns including the generic samurai story and a certain degree of the game's content outpacing the amount of novel elements it had to showcase: an example of this is the limited amount of yokai you'll face across the game's many levels. Once you've met the first onyudo (an enormous, ripped, long-tongued monk with some tricky attack patterns) in one of the early side-missions, you've probably met around 80% of the game's non-boss yokai by that point. Overall, though, it comes highly recommended by this From diehard and I look forward to discovering Nioh 2 in a few months (I hope).

Other Distractions

(Here is where I'll write about all the TV and movies I caught during the month. These entries for season 2 of Mob Psycho 100 and Captain Marvel were taken from their original Saturday Summaries entries.)

Mob Psycho 100 (Season 2)

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I was going to wait until the season had ended before jumping in, but I heard the current season of Mob Psycho 100was wrapping up next week and figured I could stretch my viewing of it enough that its final episode would land before I was done. Instead, I binged the entire thing in two days because I loved it so much. I saw the first season early last year as part of my push to watch more TV, anime, and movies - something I've relaxed on a little in 2019, chiefly because I've already blown through most of the "to watch" list I let build up - and found it to exhibit the similar strengths of One (the mangaka)'s thematically similar One Punch Man: what seems on paper like a dull superhero parody where the overpowered hero anticlimactically wins with almost zero effort every time is actually entertaining as hell in spite of it, focusing on the comedy and drama of the people involved and the pretentious foolishness of villainy. Mob Psycho 100 S1 literally ends with one of the show's only "grown-ups" - Mob's master Arataka Reigen, a fortune-telling con-man that takes advantage of Mob's genuine psychic ability while also proving to be a reliably level-headed and empathetic mentor for same - dressing down a secret cabal of bad psychics while he was temporarily invincible, forcing them all to confront how childish they were being about taking over the world with their powers.

Mob Psycho 100 S2 spends a lot more time focusing on that side of the show's equation. Mob learned long ago not to rely on his psychic powers as his be-all and end-all solution to life's problems, and has been diligently working out as part of his school's goofy but earnestly supportive Body Improvement Club in order to win over his childhood crush the honest way: through athletic and academic prowess. With the exception of an arc involving a powerful TV psychic that turned evil and dead (in that order), coming back as a vengeful spirit like comic relief ghost Dimple but several magnitudes stronger, most of season 2 has been spent developing Mob, his relationship to his friends, his relationship to his master Reigen, his unyielding sense of morality, and his continued quiet pursuit of Tsubomi-chan: the perhaps-not-so-oblivious object of his affections. However, the show finally got serious and dramatic with its final episodes, as the rest of the aforementioned shadowy cabal stages its big assault on Japan and its government. That also means it suddenly got very cliffhanger-happy, and I'm still at least one episode away from seeing how it all pans out to my own well-deserved irritation.

Also, the new opening theme is catchy as all hell, perhaps more so than season 1's. I can never bring myself to skip it.

Captain Marvel (2019)

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Keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe is almost a full-time job these days, but with Avengers: Endgame on the horizon and a lot of buzz around the first female-led MCU movie I felt compelled to check out Captain Marvel. The short review is that I enjoyed it, but that it otherwise felt like every other MCU origin story: I'm getting a little bored of the formula of these things, where it always ends with the hero reaching deep for their true heroism and saving the day with an elaborate CGI fireworks display. Brie Larson's fine in the role - she sort of supplants the character's personality with her own outspoken attitude, but since Downey Jr. did the same thing with Tony Stark it's hardly something I could criticize given how it made Iron Man a strong enough foundation to build this entire 20+ movie enterprise upon - and I liked the supporting roles from a convincingly de-aged Samuel Jackson as a circa-1995 Nick Fury, Ben Mendelsohn's laid-back Skrull commander Talos, and Jude Law's patient mentor Yon-Rogg. I also liked how the MCU's cosmic stage is shaping up, establishing more about how the MCU's versions of the Kree and Skrull operate and lending more context to the Guardians of the Galaxy's run-ins with the former and their likely presence in the next Avengers movie, as the remaining human Avengers seek help in their final battle against Thanos.

Without hopefully sounding too dismissive of those fighting the good social justice fight, Captain Marvelfelt a little heavy-handed in that regard. Black Panther, which made a huge push for the representation of their featured race, did so via a much smarter and more natural process; it worked to sell the notion of Wakanda and its culture and customs, and how an African-American outsider like Killmonger might resent and want to manipulate his way into becoming its leader due to a perceived lack of solidarity with their suffering kin around the world. Captain Marvel very much wanted this movie to empower the audience of young women watching it in a similar manner - and I hope it does, because those shots of Larson signing autographs for little Captain Marvel cosplayers are delightful - but it could've easily done so just by existing, confident in its portrayal of Carol Danvers as an insuppressible air force vet who overcomes a lot of bullshit caused by the male egos standing in her way. That it then had to make all that super apparent for those sitting in the back row with awkward musical cues like No Doubt's "Just a Girl" over a fight scene felt like it was betraying the relatively more subtle character work seen more recently elsewhere in the franchise for the sake of its (entirely correct) message. I'll admit that some of this fatigue is due to all the right-wing/MRA nonsense surrounding the movie also, which was hardly the movie's fault and proved to be completely ineffective in curtailing its box office success (as did their campaign to force Disney to permanently separate James Gunn from his beloved Guardians of the Galaxy franchise over some old edgelord tweets; it's been a good week for laughing at the failures of shitty dudes with shitty agendas).

Danvers is still the badass female superhero lead the MCU needed, but right now it's hard to take her as seriously as the nuanced Gamora or Black Widow, both of whom are shown to have more than their fair share of flaws and hang-ups to work out in between the regular ass-beating sessions. It might simply be a matter of time; no MCU superhero was a fully fleshed-out personality until after their origin story was out of the way and they could bounce off the others in their orbit in different movies. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Captain Marvel in Endgame, and the directions Larson and her directors will take what will no doubt be one of Marvel's bigger names in their future movie plans.

Looking Ahead

April's not going to be the busiest month from what I've seen - we're already a week in with almost nothing to show for it, beyond MK11 and Satisfactory betas - but I suspect it'll still deliver something for everyone before it's over. What follows are a selection of the month's projected releases and my expectations for them:

Zanki Zero legit looks weird as hell.
Zanki Zero legit looks weird as hell.
  • April 9th brings us the remaining Shovel Knight free DLC, which includes a multiplayer mode (Shovel Knight Showdown) and the last of the bonus campaigns (King of Cards). I'm stoked to see what the latter is like, playing it some time later this month most likely, and I'm curious enough about the former that I hope one of the Giant Bomb teams takes a look at it.
  • April 9th also has the oddball survival sim/visual novel/dungeon "blobber" Zanki Zero, which has the remaining eight humans of a post-apocalyptic Earth scrounging through ruins and fighting off feral goats for resources, cloning themselves over and over upon death. The idea of a survival sim combined with a Japanese dungeon crawler is definitely intriguing, especially as the people behind the nuts Danganronpa games are behind it, but as was the case with the thematically similar Metal Max Xeno it might be worth waiting for some reviews/coverage before dropping any money on it.
  • April 12th sees the release of the Nintendo Labo VR Kit which... if I'm being honest, there are certain releases that I'm only excited about because they're likely to produce some entertaining Giant Bomb content to consume. Jeff and his sheer revulsion at the idea of bending cardboard while constructing the mech suit last year was simply one highlight in several hours of chill times with arts & crafts (over on Waypoint, we also got the cute treat of Austin's bashful confusion regarding "papa bear"). I'm also curious just how well the Switch can handle VR, given the high framerate involved, so it'll be a time of discovery for a lot of us, I suspect.
  • April 16th includes a few ports of note, including the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster coming to Switch as well as bucolic town sim My Time at Portia hitting consoles. I'm particularly interested in the latter: while I doubt my laptop will have any serious problems with it, it's the sort of relaxing game that might be better served playing on a sofa with a controller or in bed with the Switch. Shorly following those is the Cuphead Switch port on April 18th - again, this is something I've been anticipating as a way to finally play Cuphead, as I lack an Xbox One and don't trust that my PC will be able to handle that visual wizardry.
  • April 23rd will be a big date for fighting fans, as Mortal Kombat 11 arrives with its time-loop shenanigans and grotesquely gratuitous fatalities. I'm not a fighter game fan myself, though I liked how prominent the story mode was in Mortal Kombat 9 and had enjoyed watching its continuation with Mortal Kombat X. Maybe I'll see if anyone I like is streaming the story mode for MK11 too. April 23rd also has the Switch port of Dragon's Dogma, the portable device making a germane home for a game where you spend many hours just walking to quest destinations, as well as Cytus Alpha, the Switch version of the popular mobile/arcade rhythm game.
  • April 25th will see the debut of the new SteamWorld game: SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech. Now, I am a little apprehensive about any card-based RPG, but Image & Form has earned enough goodwill with the likes of SteamWorld Dig 2 and SteamWorld Heist that I'm prepared to give it a shot. It's also a Switch exclusive, so that console's in for a pretty good month.
  • April 26th features the last of the big Switch exclusives for this month: BoxBoy! + BoxGirl!, the cute minimalist HAL Laboratory puzzle-platformer series that had been 3DS-only until now. I've been meaning to catch up with those games - I've only played the first - but my hope is that they release the first three together in a compilation on Switch at some point. Maybe if BoxGirl does well for them? April 26th is also the debut of Days Gone, a game for which I've yet to hear any kind of hype beyond what was manufactured at the three E3s it's appeared at so far. I think its developers will just be glad to have it out of the door by this point, even if it proves to be underwhelming. Still, at least they planned ahead better than the mid-February crowding of Crackdown 3/Far Cry New Dawn/Metro Exodus, with April proving to be a slight month for other big AAA games to get in its way like a pack of (ugh) freakers.
  • Finally, there's that Super Meat Boy Forever runner, also out on April 26th. I can't say I'm super stoked about it, not really enjoying any endless runner I've played previously, but it's a decent enough fit for Team Meat's diabolically difficult mascot platformer.

The April Edition of Mento's Month should arrive in the first weekend of May, probably after I get knee-deep in whatever this year's May feature will be. It'll include another four Indie Games of the Week, probably more Warframe talk, the April Bucketlog entry (no big hints, but I will say it's a 3DS game), and hopefully a few other fun features. See you then.

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Indie Game of the Week 114: Ittle Dew 2

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When I played the first Ittle Dew some... five years ago (?!) I thought at the time that its developers Ludosity cottoned onto a smart idea by taking the venerable The Legend of Zelda series and distilling what they liked most about those games - the dungeon puzzles, usually of the pushing blocks around and hitting switches variety - and built a whole game around that aspect rather than trying to take on Nintendo's million dollar baby pound-for-pound. That playthrough would later inspire this blog about how Zelda-like Indie games, by their smaller nature, took fragments of that franchise and built them up rather than attempting a lesser, compact clone of the whole package. I think the first Ittle Dew irked me towards the end with either timed puzzles or some other sort of restrictive difficulty bump, but on the whole I appreciated its moxie as a scrappy Zelda clone that knows full well it's a Zelda clone and established its meta sense of humor around that, as well as the cute, hand-animated (or the illusion thereof) graphics and solid enough puzzles.

Ittle Dew 2, I feel, in reaching for the stars with a bigger and better sequel sort of missed them and careened off a comet or two. It's certainly not a bad game; the puzzles have been fine-tuned and made easier, if anything, and a truly packed overworld gives you plenty of little diversions between the game's respectable twelve dungeons (four of which are "secret" and considerably tougher). A common reward from these random little caves across the world, which can be as easy to find as breaking a wall or suspicious bush or listening to some NPC hints for the more elaborate solutions, are extra maps that point the way to caves you may have missed. In addition, every single one of these caves can be opened - and the puzzle inside completed - with the titular heroine's trusty starting gear of a solid stick. You could, theoretically, come back with more equipment found in dungeons and make them far easier on yourself, but you should never feel like you can't solve one of these puzzles then and there. Likewise, in true Zelda style, all dungeon puzzles can be solved with whatever you brought with you plus the dungeon's unique treasure, though the game is extremely OK with you sequencing break by frequently building in shortcuts to take for the more mercurial player. Speaking of which, the dungeon equipment is more or less the same as the last game - a flaming sword to make puzzles involving lighting braziers easier, a magic wand for ranged attacks and pushing blocks remotely, a chain that extends the length of your melee swing, etc. - as well as a few passive trinkets to mitigate the game's combat difficulty.

Man, it would've been great if this game had D-pad support. There are just times when that little plus-shaped wonder comes in super useful.
Man, it would've been great if this game had D-pad support. There are just times when that little plus-shaped wonder comes in super useful.

The combat difficulty is, incidentally, the armored fireball-spewing robotic rocket elephant in the room. This game is extremely tough, especially if you're the type of player who expected it to be a series of contemplative melon-scratchers like the first Ittle Dew. To expand their horizons, the developers made a much more concentrated effort to develop enemies with elaborate attack patterns to evade and weaknesses to exploit. These come to the fore with the game's ridiculous boss fights, but can be seen throughout the game just by wandering around the overworld. Even random respawning enemies on the overworld hit hard and prove challenging to pin down, especially when they gang up on you, and it's likely to take anyone expecting the pefunctory stick-swinging Zelda combat of the first game by surprise. Items and upgrades mitigate this, of course, as does a generous respawn system that saves all the progress you made since your last checkpoint and provides plenty of hearts (which still drop to the ground with an ominous wet squelch, which was one of my favorite touches) and an evasive dodge roll with invincibility frames which new players ought to master as early as possible. Boss fights still seem to have way more health than they possibly should though, and in every chip-damage-only encounter I wondered if I was supposed to have found more upgrades first (even by the final few fights, when I had max everything, that sentiment felt all the more applicable somehow).

In many respects, the added focus on combat feels like the series upgrading from borrowing from one Zelda aspect and focusing on making it great, to doing the same with two simultaneously. On the other hand, the difficulty spike that Ittle Dew 2 offers is no joke, and fans of the first might feel alienated by how much harder they have to work to reach the end, especially as none of that extra challenge comes from the puzzles which, if anything, have been neutered between the easier set-ups and a lockpick system that allows players to straight up skip dungeon keys if they prove too tricky to reach. It's like if your local Nerd Emporium turned into a Jock Center overnight, switching the entire focus of what they deliver to almost the exact opposite, which is an analogy that is perfect so don't even @ me.

The goal of the game? You wash up on an island and need to build a raft, one hard-earned piece of wood at a time. Ittle also refuses to believe that rafts grow on trees.
The goal of the game? You wash up on an island and need to build a raft, one hard-earned piece of wood at a time. Ittle also refuses to believe that rafts grow on trees.

That said, and though I'm still smarting from a few of those secret bosses, I still liked Ittle Dew 2 a whole lot. I think it still has a few fundamental problems, but its silly goofs, catchy soundtrack, and disarmingly adorable aesthetic makes it a hard game to really hate, even when it seems to wilfully invite scorn with its ruthlessness. I think if you go into this game with a big ol' caveat emptor for its difficulty - I'd say it's easily on par with Titan Souls or Hyper Light Drifter, both games far better known for their deliberate high challenge level - you'll find a rewarding Zelda-style experience waiting for you. Just really gotta earn it, my friends.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Seeking Warframe & Fortune (Part 3)

One robot ninja's noble journey to see how far they can travel across this great cosmos of ours without spending any money or exerting too much effort.

Part 3: Warframe for the Stars, and Even If You Miss You'll Land on a Planet Full of Loot

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Well, we're still on Venus, moving our way through the nodes. This process of playing through random missions and unlocking more planets is, I've been reliably informed, the best course of action for the early game. I've also learned that if you post anything about Warframe as a newcomer, a lot of friendly faces will pop out of the woodwork to tell you what you're doing wrong.

At first, I was a little resistant to this sort of advice as someone who wanted to craft a narrative of a neophyte learning the ropes of this game nigh-bereft of direction to see how accommodating Warframe truly was to outsiders after so many system iterations and content packs, but I've softened on that stance since. Truth is, the game is built to be a co-operative experience and is meant to be - to an extent - hostile to a player going it alone (much like real life, even). Thus, veterans of the game have long since been conditioned to regularly accept help and then dispense it in turn to those further behind the curve than themselves.

As someone who missed the first six years of Warframe's development, I've yet to determine if it's a failure on the part of the game designers to make their game so oblique that an external community of information gathering is necessary and assisting newbies is encouraged, or if the game simply evolved in this fashion in response to how its community preferred to devour and disseminate new updates and discoveries. Some real chicken or the egg business. But I'll have a lot more to say on failures in due time, because now it's time for...

New Developments!

Taxon My Patience

As you might recall from the previous update, I left my foundry cooking up a little friend that I could take into battle. Turns out the Taxon companion isn't really there to make the game easier, but instead serves to hypothetically demonstrate the possibilities of a companion that doesn't suck (specifically, the many you can buy with real money). The Taxon floats around targeting enemies that are close by and have detected you - so thankfully no startling oblivious foes before you're close enough for a stealth kill - with a slow-firing ice laser beam that can occasionally inflict them with a frosty status effect. However, it does so little damage to be as equivalent to a stiff breeze on a chilly winter's morn, and will quickly explode in terror if an enemy so much as looks at it funny.

Companions, like almost everything else in the game, will level up over time through gathering "affinity" (really just XP) and I'm hoping the Taxon will become halfway effective once it has a few more levels under its belt. I suspect, however, that the relative ease in which I acquired its blueprint and building materials means that it's really just here to fill an otherwise empty slot, like the lackluster "MK-1" weapon variants that a warframe starts with before they have the resources and mastery rank to acquire the real McCoys.

Mastery Even Faster(y)

I achieved Mastery Rank 2 shortly into this session, after another relatively simple "test" of my current martial abilities. The perks of MR2 include a new selection of weapons that can now be purchased - almost all of which available on the store are locked behind even higher ranks - as well as an additional loadout slot and the brand new privilege of being able to trade with other players.

Of course, to effectively trade with other players, I would need to A) know where to do that, B) have any idea which of my items are worth anything to anyone (rare mods seem to be recommended, but while I have a few of those I've no idea if any are actually rare or just branded that way by the game's arbitrary bronze/silver/gold rating system), and C) not be so socially anxious that the thought of joining strangers in any activity, let alone prompt a pointless transaction that may anger or annoy them, chills me to the core.

So instead, I'll just appreciate the fact that I could trade with other players at any point if I wanted to and keep on playing the game solo. It's not like I need any platinum for additional warframe slots if I'm still unable to build just one.

One of the requisites to move onto to Mercury was ten rounds on defending some dude's ice coffin. A great reward would be if that thing opens and I get a new warframe out of it.
One of the requisites to move onto to Mercury was ten rounds on defending some dude's ice coffin. A great reward would be if that thing opens and I get a new warframe out of it.

The Lotus-Cheaters

There's a sixth anniversary event going on right now! Apparently some no-good-niks have stolen Lotus's precious birthday gifts, and it's up to her favorite warframe-wielder (no, shut up, it's me) to recover them. These are all slightly tougher variants than I'm used to, including a few that seem impossible for my level and/or a single player - Defense, where you stand your ground against waves or enemies, or Interception, where you have to conquer and hold control points against a throng of respawning enemies. Still, I got a few free weapons out of the ones I could do, so I'd argue it was time well spent.

The event ends in nine days and I still can't access a couple of them - one's on Mars, the other's in "the Void" - but maybe if I keep completing nodes I can access Mars before the event ends. At the very least it means I can break up the game's grind of random node missions with... slightly tougher random node missions.

Spending Sprees (and Other Sprees of a More Murdery Nature)

Worth mentioning now that I've splurged in-game currency in the store and got myself a few other weapons to play with. I now have a set of Furis pistols (secondary weapon), the regular Braton rifle (primary weapon), an MK-1 Paris stealth bow (primary), and the special event Dex Furis pistols (same as the other Furis, though the game tracks their levels separately with regards to earning points towards mastery ranks) and Dex Darra twinblades (melee).

The thing with this game's weapon upgrade system is that all weapons start at level one and are fairly weak because you can't effectively mod them with damage boosts and the like. That means it seems inadvisable to change my entire gear loadout at the same time, especially as I've been meaning to hit the max rank with what I have before moving on. I replaced the old and busted MK-1 Braton with the new standard Braton, because it's a straight up promotion in every sense, but I might dither on trying the bow, the other secondary weapons, or the new melee weapon until I've mastered what I'm using in those slots currently.

At the same time, I'm also tempted to keep switching around just to see what these new weapon types are like. I think I'll take advantage of the game's alternative loadouts and base my weapon selection on the mission type from here on out: for example, the stealthier bow for missions like Spy and Extermination where I can afford to be more quiet, and the faster Braton for ones like Defense and Excavation where the enemy's always alerted to my presence and I need to mow down fools quickly. Maybe that'll alleviate some of the repetition-based boredom already setting in.

A valuable lesson learned this session: don't neglect your mods! Just one or two inexpensive upgrades will make them twice or thrice as effective.
A valuable lesson learned this session: don't neglect your mods! Just one or two inexpensive upgrades will make them twice or thrice as effective.

Welcome to Nightwave

I was advised to check in with the Nightwave event, which seems to be far more long-term (if not permanent) in comparison with the Lotus gifts thing above, because you can complete its various daily and weekly targets and earn points towards rewards without even realising it. The Nightwave event has a brief story about some insane escaped convicts of the Grineer, including their boss The Wolf, and players are advised to work towards unlocking various reward tiers by rounding up criminals - who are these overpowered jerks who just wander into random missions, usually when you're too busy to deal with them - and completing randomized milestones like number of stealth kills, power usage, using waypoints to mark valuable minerals, and so on.

I don't think I was in much danger of hitting a reward tier without realising it: the basic goals, which one might feasibly stumble into, only give 1000 points when you need 10,000 to unlock a single reward. It's more the case that you have to go out of your way to earn anything of higher value, including taking on multiple specific mission types - sabotage, assassination (i.e. bosses), spy, etc. - or selecting harder difficulties. Still, it never hurts to have more options to choose between, and the buttery-smooth voice of Nora "radio lady" Night praising you after completing one of these objectives is the sort of positive reinforcement that can go a long way.

Slay of the Jackal

Like Earth, Venus had its own boss fight also, though it didn't have the accompanying quest chain that lead up to it. Rather, I was just thrown into an arena with an enormous quadruped robot called the Jackal. The Corpus faction are these astronaut-looking dudes surrounded by mechs that either look like drones or gun turrets with digitigrade legs, so a mech boss was germane enough. What I didn't like so much is that it took a lot of gunfire just to knock it down for a brief period of vulnerability, all the while more drones would show up dropping mines around the arena while I was trying to focus on the spider robot trying to turn me into Swiss cheese. It was an unpleasant fight, all told, though I can't help but feel like I was let down by my own gear to some extent. Maybe I'll try again when I have some more levels or punchier weapons.

But hey, at least I earned a part for the Rhino warframe, as promised. Most of the components I need to make it I have on-hand already, thanks to spending a lot of time robbing resource crates across Earth and Venus. To construct the part I just found - its "systems" - I need credits (check), salvage (check), a single control module and morphics (check and check, but no idea where I found them), and... 600 plastids? Wait, what are plastids? I better check the Warframe wikia...

..."Mostly found on Saturn and Uranus"?!

Hey Warframe, You Know What Else You Can Find In Uranus?

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I really don't know, you guys. My goal was to keep playing this game until I procured at least one other warframe, but I'm having a hard time imagining when that will ever happen. I've played this game for about 10-15 hours now and crossed the circumferences of two whole planets, but it's going to take that amount of time again to complete Mercury and Mars, after which I might be in visual range of the materials I need. It's not that I have anything against my old buddy Excalibur, but he's almost at max rank and I anticipated a replacement would be on the cards by now. Instead, playing this game like a cheapskate is like refusing to pay for a train ticket: hope you like spending a week walking to the same destination instead, bucko.

Fortunately, for as much as I don't care to play Warframe right now, things might change by this time next week. The shooting and movement is still a lot of fun, even if I happen to be fighting the same enemies with the same abilities over and over, instead of something more entertaining like that puddle guy or the walking synthesizer. Maybe next Monday I'll stumble onto another event where they're just giving warframes away, or maybe I'll find other pieces that are within my means to construct, or maybe I'll just find a batch of plastids as a void fissure reward, or maybe I'll stop dithering on every level looking for loot and instead run directly to the mission objective to move this whole shebang along faster. The game's unpredictability is one of its strengths, after all, and Mercury appears to have a lot going on despite its size.

On the next episode of Seeking Warframe & Fortune: Or I could just try to figure out DOTA 2 instead...

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Bucketlog March: Okage: Shadow King

Welcome to the Bucketlog! It's going to be 2019's year-long blog series, focusing on games I've been meaning to play since forever. I've put together a list derived from a mix of systems, genres, and vintages because it's starting to look like 2019 might be the first "lean" year for games in a spell (though time will tell whether that pans out to be true) and I figured this would be a fine opportunity to finally tick off a few items I've had on my various backlog lists/spreadsheets for longer than I'd care to admit.

January: No More Heroes 2 (Wii)February: Steins;Gate (PS3)March: Okage: Shadow King (PS2)

March

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  • Game: Zener Works's Okage: Shadow King.
  • System: PS2 (via PS4).
  • Original Release: 2001-03-15.
  • Time from Release to Completion: Eighteen years and sixteen days.

It's been fifteen months since I wrapped up The Top Shelf: a feature wherein I reviewed my entire PlayStation 2 library for the forty-four games that best represented both the system's deserved status as the most successful video game console of all time and my own time spent with same. However, even after processing through some 185 games, it was this bonus feature that highlighted just how much of that system I had left to discover at some future point of my life. One of those games that I neglected at the time (though in my defense, it would be more accurate to say Sony Computer Entertainment Europe was the one at fault for never releasing it here) was Zener Works's cult JRPG Okage: Shadow King.

Released in March 2001, preceding the wave of bigger JRPGs that would define the system in its early years like Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts, Okage was a deliberately off-beat game that perhaps arrived at a time when the world wasn't prepared for it. The graphics were rough, the load-times were obscene (due to the game being a CD-ROM, as many early PS2 games were), the combat is just rudimentary, and the camera is terrrrible - and these are all faults that have only become more pronounced over time. It was also too smart-mouthed by half, deconstructing the tenets of the JRPG genre for the sake of a subversive and silly story about cartoonishly evil kings, stuck-up heroes, and the world of relatively minor NPCs that surround them.

However, as was the case for Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero - another meta exercise that grated in its day but is more fondly received now - it's that unusual meta edge in conjunction with an almost Henry Selick-esuqe macabre personality that has allowed Okage: Shadow King to enjoy the sort of low-key cult appeal that would, eventually, afford it the rare privilege of joining a handful of other PS2 games on the PlayStation 4 as part of the PlayStation 2 Classics range. There's nothing quite like it elsewhere on the PS2, after all, and that became a quality all the more valuable as the system saw hundreds of cookie cutter JRPGs pass through its gates.

I really appreciated the game's sense of humor, even when it felt like its shade was aimed directly at me.
I really appreciated the game's sense of humor, even when it felt like its shade was aimed directly at me.

Okage: Shadow King's protagonist is a player-named boy (the default is Ari) who is presented as something of a face in the crowd; someone who has never stood out, has never really been assertive or courageous in the eyes of his peers, and frequently allowed others to take the limelight. This is lampshaded early on when he realizes that his girl-next-door childhood crush also reciprocated those feelings, though not because she saw his inner depth and strength of spirit but rather because she wanted a pushover milksop of a husband that she could manipulate and exploit to her heart's content. It's only when Ari's sister Annie becomes the recipient of a "pig-latin curse" by the Evil King Stanley Hihat Trinidad XIV (Stan for short) and Ari jumps on the grenade by allowing the ghostly Stan to assume his shadow that Ari himself starts to change for the better, becoming more confident in spite of his new forlorn status as the eternal slave of a demonic tyrant. Ari then meets and recruits other eccentric characters, including the closest this world has to a protagonist - Rosalyn, the parasol-sporting hero-for-hire - whom the game spends no time in establishing as the pivotal protagonist of this world, rather than some quiet kid with a monstrous shadow following him around. This subversion is cleverly echoed by the game's story itself, which begins as a quest to recover Evil King Stan's powers by defeating colorful "Evil King pretenders", like a Fish Evil King, a Sewer Evil King, a Chairman Evil King (which is a goof that still very much plays today), a Teen Idol Evil King (despite being female), and a flamboyant Phantom Evil King - however, the true culprit is revealed in one of the game's more surprising twists, which for a time transforms the protagonist into someone so inessential to this world of heroes and demons that he might as well not exist.

However, even outside the art style and meta story, the game has this strange mix of clever mechanical innovations and some really tedious dungeon-crawling and turn-based combat that helps to cement its status as a true one-off in the lengthy history of this genre. The combat uses a variant of Final Fantasy's classic active time battle system, where enemies and player characters trade blows in real-time but with tactical pauses to allow the player to assign actions. Meanwhile, the character progression and experience point system is borrowed straight from Suikoden: every level-up requires 1000 experience points exactly, but the amount you earn from a battle is dependent on the enemy's strength relative to your own. This was a system devised to allow Suikoden's many playable characters to quickly catch up to the current area's enemy level, as well as the level of their more long-term companions, but it occasionally appears in other games too. In a very old-school move, many enemies move in "stacks" rather than as separate entities, and single-target attacks against enemies within those stacks are randomly distributed. You can also cast group spells which affect everything within a single stack. The most unusual, and kind of smart, choice by the game's combat design is to pool the entire party's mana together as one stat that everyone can access: this allows the party's healer (usually the protagonist) to channel most of the party's total magical power towards restoration, if necessary.

Other elements that have helped the game's preservation is a lack of random encounters - enemies will spawn on the overworld and can be avoided, and the "escape battle" function is very reliable also in case evasion is impossible - and the fact save points replenish all health, allowing low-level players to grind near one if needed. Enemies stop spawning in dungeons once you've cleared a floor's "urn" enemies, each of which stays put and needs to be sought out and destroyed to make progress. It's a relatively short game also: it took me about 40 hours to complete, though without the idling and occasional grind sessions for trophy-related purposes I might put it closer to 30.

The game's funny on purpose enough of time, but sometimes you gotta make your own (8th-grader) fun.
The game's funny on purpose enough of time, but sometimes you gotta make your own (8th-grader) fun.

Of course, there are areas where the game hasn't aged well at all. One of these is a lack of direction in some areas where you need to talk to the right townsperson to trigger the next event, or the aforementioned terrible camera that regularly gets stuck behind walls and other scenery and can't easily be raised or lowered manually but will occasionally automatically glitch to different and sometimes more preferable bird's eye positions. Weaker enemies will still constantly spawn around you in low-level areas, and there's no quick battle function that I could find to speed up these pointless encounters. The best weapon in the game requires completing a fetch quest where the invisible collectibles could only be found by contour-hugging the game's few overworld field maps. I might also say that they could've taken another run at the localization at some point; for 2001 standards it's probably around average, but there were times where a line or clue got lost in translation or an alternative to some obscure Japanese joke (it is a deliberately funny game, after all) landed with a thud.

Overall, I think Okage would've been the type of JRPG I adored in its day for its divergent choices, its aesthetic, its subversive humor, and its novelty value. Now, it's more the case that I am only able to appreciate its core appeal through several obfuscating layers of antiquated (but still occasionally brilliant) design and unpleasant early-PS2 graphical coarseness without the benefit of nostalgia goggles smoothing the rough edges off. There are still plenty of PS2 games I hope to see before too long, not least of which are Grandia III and Tales of Legendia, but Okage: Shadow King is an odd little game without a whole lot of presence here in Europe that I was glad to have finally seen for myself.

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Saturday Summaries 2019-03-30: Sweet Seventeen Edition

On this week's UPF, along with four hours of eventful buffoonery, it was brought up just how packed a year 2017 was. I think we all still have games from that year that we've yet to play and still want to, and even as someone who only usually focuses on about four or five different genres my own personal 2017 wishlist is still formidable some two years later. The fact is, while I've made a huge dent in it from between the end of 2017 to now - as evinced by the list below - there's still many more I'm interested in.

To highlight this, I've prepared a table of all the 2017 games I've played in 2017, in 2018, in 2019 so far, those I own and have yet to play ("Backlog"), and those I have yet to purchase ("Wishlist"). I've arranged them in my preferred order, so you can think of them as a mini-series of top-ten lists for fifty (mostly) great games somehow all released the same year. It hopefully proves if proof were needed that 2017 really was a remarkable year for games - one where everything lined up just right, and both the Indie and AAA crowds were firing on all cylinders.

#201720182019 (as of Q2)BacklogWishlist
1NieR: AutomataSuper Mario OdysseyNiohDivinity: Original Sin IIWolfenstein II: The New Colossus
2Shovel Knight: Specter of TormentYs VIII: Lacrimosa of DanaWest of LoathingYakuza 0Trails in the Sky: The Third
3Horizon Zero DawnThe Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildStrikey SistersXenoblade Chronicles 2What Remains of Edith Finch
4The Sexy BrutaleTales of BerseriaLife is Strange: Before the StormMario + Rabbids Kingdom BattleMetroid: Samus Returns
5PreyHollow KnightSouth Park: The Fractured But WholeTokyo Xanadu Ex+Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
6Torment: Tides of NumeneraPersona 5TacomaThimbleweed ParkCuphead
7Uncharted: The Lost LegacySteamWorld Dig 2Battle Chasers: NightwarBear With Me (Ep 2 + 3)Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
8Cosmic Star HeroineA Hat in TimeAssassin's Creed OriginsAER: Memories of OldGolf Story
9Yooka-LayleeSnake PassMass Effect: AndromedaTokyo 42Night in the Woods
10Alwa's AwakeningRakuenSimulacraHoly Potatoes! We're in SpaceEver Oasis

Simulacra

The Indie Game of the Week this time felt like a creepypasta come to life, an occasionally blunt but still intriguing horror game told entirely through a smartphone interface. Taking on a vaguely voyeuristic aspect as you go through the private data of a missing woman in order to help track her down, lying to her friends for answers, and posing as her online to bait out whomever might be behind her abduction. I neglected to mention this extra layer of duplicity and "how far are you willing to go to help this stranger?" element in the review, which instead focused mostly on the game's flaws and its semi-novel approach to telling a spooky story. There's a few games of this sort, where you piece together the solution to a mystery through found footage and legacy files (Her Story and Christine Love's Analogue: A Hate Story for example, but also the previous game from Simulacra's devs: Sara is Missing for iOS/Itch.io), but I think there's a lot of room for it to grow as a sub-sub-genre.

Link here: Indie Game of the Week 112: Simulacra

Warframe

Yep, still plugging along with Warframe. I originally went with this one day per week format on principle - if it really was the time-vampire people made it out to be, establishing a limitation so I could keep playing all the other games I wanted to get around to this year was paramount - but I might have to start signing in every so often throughout the week to accommodate the game's F2P features. In succinct terms, everything you acquire in Warframe needs to be bought in blueprint form, after which its ingredients can be farmed and then the item can be built in the player's foundry. However, true to the F2P experience everything has an extraordinarily long building time: from the 24 hours it'll take to build this robotic companion I'm working on to 72 hours for each warframe component (and another 72 to assemble all these components into the warframe once we're done). If I want to finish a session with the means to build a new warframe, I'd need to pop in every three days to cycle what the foundry is working on.

Despite all that, I'm still enjoying the game's loop of dropping on a planet, dashing through with guns and swords, finding lots of loot and gaining XP for my individual weapons and warframe, and then absconding to the next adventure. It's all very quick, unless you really go out of your way for items or decide to stealth it, and now that I'm on a second planet I'm a lot closer to having enough resources to start building things. Just need to figure out a rational timetable to do so to keep this otherwise weekly schedule viable.

Link here: Seeking Warframe & Fortune (Part 2)

Okage: Shadow King

I actually don't want to get too deep into Okage right now, because I'm in the process of writing up its "Bucketlog" entry: the feature that pops up at the end of every month with some new/old blast from the past to which I've finally gotten around. Suffice it to say it's one of the more bizarre PS2 RPGs I've ever played, not just in tone and script and aesthetic but in structure too. Incredibly basic in some ways, so off-kilter in others. That novelty has managed to carry me through the game's rough patches so far (particularly the combat and difficulty spikes) and I'll have more to say about the whole enchilada in a conclusive review later this weekend, ideally before we move into April.

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