Saturday Summaries 2019-02-09: Ranks For Everything Edition

Giant Bomb doesn't have too many mainstays these days besides the Friday night/afternoon cornerstone that is Unprofessional Fridays, but one of my favorite long-time series continues to be Ranking of Fighters. Though couched in ostensibly scientific and deeply nerdy positioning and repositioning of various fighter game classics (and "classics"), it's really just an excuse for Jason, Jeff and Ben to drag out the arcade sticks and marvel at/deride the various games from the long history of their favorite shared video game genre.

I've been contemplating what my own feature of this type would look like: which genre I would choose to thoroughly organize into a descending order of quality, and by which criteria. I'd say my three biggest areas of expertise are RPGs, platformers, and adventure games. Trouble is, to rank every RPG ever made would mean going back to the 1980s (and 70s, even, if we also include the PLATO systems) and spending approximately a thousand years getting to the end of all those incredibly archaic D&D adaptations. JRPGs are also no good; so many remain trapped behind a language barrier, and even just taking the localized ones into account would take far more time than I'm likely to commit to such a feature. Heck, if I just limited it to those RPGs released on Nintendo systems - the platforms I'm most comfortable with, after spending so much time with them for many Wiki Projects - I'd still be plugging my way through the SNES JRPG library come 2024. Besides, what would I have to look forward to after that? Quest 64? Talk about grim.

Likewise, adventure games would take a long time to get "good" by my estimations. Even skipping past the text adventures of the 1980s to the golden eras of Sierra and LucasFilm, I'd be looking at a lot of games that literally lost the plot somewhere in the many moon logic puzzles that beleaguered 90% of adventure games of any given era. The only reason the genre really recovered from the FMV nightmares of the late '90s and early '00s is because anyone who is making one these days are adamant about doing right by the genre and its proponents; they've become labors of love from a smattering of dedicated Indie developers rather than dozens of bigger publishers jumping onto the hottest trending genre and missing the point entirely. Fortunately, those publishers have now all moved onto battle royales and "games as a service", leaving single-player games in other genres to be made by and for those who appreciate them. Rants aside, I think building a Ranking of Adventures would be way too tricky to pin down criteria - Good writing? Good stories? How would you quantify that? - and, like the above, would require playing through too many ancient games with too many obsolete parsers that I have zero interest in trying to figure out.

Which leaves us with platformers. Again, perhaps too broad a subject to really cover in an amount of time measured smaller than decades. However, there is an out here, one that will allow me to narrow the field down to something I could potentially be keen enough to see through its highs and lows: 3D platformers. A relatively nascent genre - if you consider approximately 23 years of being as "nascent" - the 3D platformer flared up during the N64 and PlayStation 2 generations and then trickled down to a few ongoing franchises like Ratchet and Clank or the Traveller's Tales LEGO games for the next, and these days has the new promise of a wave of 3D platformers emerging from the Indie market. I feel like, out of all the 3D platformers that currently exist, I probably already own and have played at least half of them. It will mean poking into terrible also-rans like those that Ben has shone a disquieting blacklight on in his cursed "Tales from the Blockbuster" UPF segments, but I can take 'em. I don't have to complete these games to judge their rankiness, after all. Maybe that can be something I'll pick up later in the year, once I figure out just how long the list is and how challenging (and expensive) it will be to find copies of them all to try out.

For now, let's focus on what I've been doing this week:

Shantae: Half Genie Hero

The Indie Game of the Week was the latest Shantae game from WayForward, the bellydancing star of which is more or less their mascot at this point. I have a lot of affection for WayForward's entire oeuvre, both as a fan of spacewhippers (their preferred genre) and of their high-quality cartoonish presentations with soundtracks frequently sourced from freelance maestro Jake "virt" Kaufman. Shantae feels sort of like their version of that one song that a veteran musical act can always drag out at the end of their performance as a surefire way to bring the house down: it's both their most popular product but also their most comfortably familiar.

In that sense, the most recent Shantae rests on its laurels a bit too much for my liking, being too formulaic and not really raising the bar at all. I suspect part of that was its Kickstarter crowdsourced funding: when you have thousands of Shantae fans throwing money at you to make another one, you want to do right by them even if it means not pushing the magic carpet out too far. Still, there's no denying that the money was well spent on those high production values, and if you've never played a Shantae game (there's presently four) this would be a fine place to jump in. My indifference really just stems from being a long-time fan of this franchise and wanting more out of it than a prettier entry that treads water.

Link here: Indie Game of the Week 106: Shantae: Half Genie Hero.

Valkyria Chronicles 4

This week finishes up the last of the Squad E recruit rundowns, focusing on the big-hitters of anti-tank lancers, the deadly mortar-lobbing grenadiers, and the few vehicles that are part of your retinue. With this, I believe my coverage of Valkyria Chronicles 4 finally draws to a close. It's been a blast (so to speak) revisiting this franchise again and going deep into the weeds with strategies based on the strengths and weaknesses of VC4's eclectic group of psychologically-fragile animes. War might be hell, but there's always a time and place for a hot springs episode or skits built around romantic misunderstandings. What a dumb but also incredibly smart series. Here's hoping Valkyria Chronicles V (for Victory) can continue with the momentum Sega's built up here. Heck, why not let co-developer Media.Vision take another stab at Wild ARMs with the same tech?

Link here: Valk-tier-ia Chronicles: Part 3: Lancers & Grenadiers

Assassin's Creed Origins

Yep, still working my way through Assassin's Creed Origins and its arcane, antagonistic, animal-based Order of Ancients. For all my misgivings last week, which all very much still apply and continue to vex me on an hourly basis, there's still something captivating about traipsing over a beautiful rendition of ancient Egypt en route to the next question mark or side-quest icon on the map. For that matter, I will commend Origins for slightly better map design than most AC games: rather than plastering hundreds of chest icons and other minor valuables over the map with the activation of every synchronization point, it simply drops question marks over major locations in any given region which may have a few chests located somewhere inside. Finding the chests then becomes the way to mark a location as "complete", though you may also need to assassinate some high-ranking foes or complete some other objectives. It gives me way fewer waypoints to chase after and more to do when I get there, which I feel is a better system if not necessarily a brand new one.

Well, I say "fewer waypoints", but the map in Origins feels about three times larger than any other Assassin's Creed game I can recall. I hear Odyssey's even bigger, so maybe I'll just skip that one; like I said last time, I haven't been feeling Assassin's Creed for a long while and even "reboots" like this don't feel sufficiently improved for my liking. But hey, I tend to finish whatever games I start unless I really despise it, and I'm certainly not there yet with Origins. In spite of everything, I'm with Bayek for the long haul now and want to see how his and his wife Aya's quest for vengeance pans out in the political intrigue surrounding Cleopatra's ascent to the throne and union with Julius Caesar. There's only a few targets left - though a huge amount of fogged map remaining - and I hit max level a while ago. Probably not going to take another week, is my guess, and I can perhaps move onto February's "Bucketlog" pick or something else a bit more compact.

Parks and Recreation (Seasons 5 and 6)

At this point in the show's run, I feel the same way about Parks and Recreation that I do about Assassin's Creed: the glory days are behind it, and after all this time I'm still getting enervated by the formulaic nature and some of the same problems that have plagued it since its inception. But also, I'm enamoured enough with the franchise as a whole and its beats and characters that I keep finding myself coming back regardless.

Watching how the final few seasons of P&R are stretching out forever gave me keen insight into why showrunner Michael Schur went with the breakneck pace and unpredictability of his newest enterprise The Good Place. It's easy to fall into a rut, and to wheel out familiar episode arcs focused around common flaws of characters that do very little growing, and The Good Place seems to subvert that familiarity with every other episode. It's become almost impossible to predict where The Good Place will be five episodes from now, or even if Eleanor will continue to be a shrewd, selfish woman or Jason a lovable Floridian idiot (though I feel that latter one is as evergreen as the Everglades). I don't dislike where Parks and Recreation is now - I still love these characters, and the joke writing continues to be top-notch - but it feels it could've bowed out a season or two ago were it not for NBC's insistence on keeping it around.

Season 7 is hinting at a major upheaval at least: it's the definitive for-sure final season, which gives its showrunners and writers carte blanche to do anything with these characters now that they don't need to worry about future continuity, and it starts with a three year time-skip that has seen everyone in the titular department move onto bigger things. I'm both looking forward to and slightly sad about the show ending, and am intrigued by a fictional version of 2017 and 2018 that isn't marred by apocalpytic consternation and our shared sheer anguish at the slow and stupidly self-defeating descent of western civilization.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

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