I'm Playing One Of The Worst Final Fantasy Games Ever Made For Ten Hours... FOR CHARITY!

Intro

It's time to do some good in this world!
It's time to do some good in this world!

Why, hello there! As the title of this blog might suggest, I will be a participant in the Giant Bomb Community Endurance, the yearly springtime user-run charity effort on the site! This year, the Giant Bomb Community Endurance Run (i.e., GBCER) will be returning to its regular charity, Pencils of Promise. Pencils of Promise is an education-based charity that works with developing nations to establish literacy programs and bring clean access to water to parts of the world where that's not currently in place. Countries they are currently working with include Ghana, Guatemala, and Laos. Should you donate, 100% of your donation goes to their charitable efforts and NOT executive pay. If you feel motivated to contribute, here's a link to my donation page!

DONATE NOW OVER HERE: https://fundraise.pencilsofpromise.org/fundraiser/3170776

Now, this being a charity effort connected to a video game website can only mean one thing: a soul-crushing amount of video game-based livestreaming! Yup, across the three days that the GBCER will be held, I will be streaming on every single one of these days. I'll be going one step further and be streaming an additional day to bring more attention to the event in general and get a head start on a "filler game" that will serve as a backup should any of my other plans go wrong. As is usually the case, most of the selected games are meant to inflict some form of torture upon me. While some games are indeed "good shit," how I will be playing them all but guarantees I will have a "bad time." If you want to get round-the-clock updates of when my streams will be starting, here's a link to my Twitch that you can follow!

ZombiePie's Twitch Account

Day #0 (Thursday, April 8th; 4:30 pm PDT) - Walden, a game

Starting off with a
Starting off with a "show stopper."

Ah, Henry David Thoreau, who would have predicted you becoming every under-graduate literary class's whipping boy? Thoreau's "Walden" is accepted as both a seminal work of American literature and an indictment against the man's well-documented hypocrisy. For me, that will all come to a head as I play anywhere between three to four hours of Walden, a game. Yes, they indeed made a walking simulator in which you play out the life of Thoreau as they debate such things as the necessity of taxes and the inhumanity of the American slave trade. What's better, I will be subjecting myself to these lectures while also mending clothes, tending to a bean field, and catching fish. This is, of course, a video game.

There will be no notable "donation incentives" for this stream. As such, feel free to join me when you can and marvel at the sheer audacity of Walden, a game. If you want a taste of what to expect, be aware, Thoreau's stamina meter is labeled "Inspiration." You replenish this "inspiration" by relaxing in front of campfires, listening to the sounds of nature, or reading books. There are also cutscenes in which we will watch Thoreau recollect his memories about going to jail for tax evasion. Moreover, we can meet up with Thoreau's long-time friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is voiced by, of all people, Jim Cummings. I'm not joking about that! This video game got funding from the American National Endowment for the Arts to snag a well-established voice actor. It's a wildly pretentious video game, and I hope you can revel in the pretension with me.

Day #1 (Friday, April 9th; 4:30 pm PDT) - King of Dragon Pass

No Caption Provided

And now we come to the one game I am genuinely looking forward to during the GBCER: King of Dragon Pass. For those of you who have never heard of King of Dragon Pass, goodness, you are missing out on the most remarkable Frankenstein's Monster in the history of video games. King of Dragon Pass is one of those video games that is its own genre. It cannot be encapsulated under any current umbrella terms, and no video game captures all of its ideas and genres into a single package. It is a passion project that tanked when it was first released and later got a second wind when it came to Steam. It's an oddity that must be seen to be believed, and most importantly, it has duck people who have offended the gods in their hedonistic way of life.

Donation Incentive - DONATE $2 TO RANDOMIZE MY JOURNEY!

Alright, so here's my plan. No matter what my selections may be in the start of the game, there will be a TON of choices to make. As such, anyone who donates $2 or more should include the letters "A," "B," "C," "D," "E," or "F" in their comment. Should you do so, you will hard lock me into picking that option, regardless of the circumstances, and force me to live with the consequences. Trust me when I say this, if I get enough donations, it will lead to only the funniest shit in this game. Some choices could immediately doom my playthrough within the first in-game year, whereas others will take time to bit me in the ass. If you have never heard seen this game in-action before, tune in because it's going to be a fun time!

Day #2 [THE MAIN EVENT] (Saturday, April 10th; 11 am PDT) - Final Fantasy II

And before you ask, no, this is not the
And before you ask, no, this is not the "good" Final Fantasy II.

Whelp, here we go! On Saturday, I will be in a one-on-one race to get as far as possible in Final Fantasy II, a game I have called one of the worst video games I have ever played to completion. As I once mused about many years ago, how the Final Fantasy franchise managed to survive Final Fantasy II and III is one of life's great mysteries. It's an insultingly bad game and one whose best ideas were never carried over into future entries. Yes, Final Fantasy II has novel mechanics that laid the groundwork for things to come. I get that. Nevertheless, Final Fantasy II is a wasted opportunity. It is a game Square-Enix honestly wants you to forget about, and some, including myself, would argue for good reason. If you're going to watch the cavalcade of dark pain that is this game, then buckle up. You are not prepared; no one can prepare themselves for Final Fantasy II.

It's a bad time. Even if you approach it as a weird experiment that didn't pan out, it's a tiresome and annoying experience from beginning to end. Worse, I will be making my experience all the more miserable by applying the rules of the "Nuzlocke Challenge" to my Final Fantasy II playthrough. That's right, should a character die during my stream they are effectively "dead" forever. In an RPG like Final Fantasy II, that is effectively a GG. To make matters worse, I am turning this into a "race" wherein my close friend @thatpinguino will be playing alongside me. However, I will be playing the fan translation of the NES version of Final Fantasy II, whereas he will be playing the PS1 Origins port. Before you ask, yes, there will be a slight advantage in his favor considering his version of the game is less broken and runs faster. But do you want to know what I have? Heart.

Why do I do this to myself?
Why do I do this to myself?

Donation Incentive - DONATE TO NAME MY PARTY!

The donation incentive here is pretty simple. There are four namable characters in Final Fantasy II. If you place a bid and request a name, I will name that character in your honor. The nameable characters are Firion, Maria, Guy, and Leon. However, nothing is set in stone, and this will be a bit of an auction. If, for example, someone donates $50 to name Guy after their dog, someone else can donate $51 to call that character something different.

Day #3 (Sunday, April 11th; 12 pm PDT) - OpenRCT2

Two out of four games being
Two out of four games being "kosher" is better than nothing. There was that time when I played FF13 for two days....

And we now transition to the game that I have the least information about as specific challenges are purposefully a mystery right now. For those of you that tuned into my Extra Life charity stream last year, you may recall thatpinguino and I attempting to create the most nightmarish theme park possible in OpenRCT2, the community-made total conversion mod for RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. For Sunday, the two of us will be doing something similar, but this time around, Gino will be torturing me with a variety of tricks and challenges that I will not know about until the stream starts. If you have any nostalgia for the old RollerCoaster Tycoon games, or maybe enjoy dabbling in Planet Coaster, it should be a hilarious time.

There are no donation incentives for this stream unless Gino permits them. And again, I wish I could tell you what this stream will entail, but I honestly do not know. I can only assume that I will be making at least one Vakoma SLC whose sole purpose is to knock your spine out of your body. Like my Extra Life stream, I will confirm that only the worst coaster models and variants will be allowed. So, if you want to watch me create nauseating Heartline Twister Coasters or Corkscrew Coasters that look like they would give you a migraine, this should be right up your alley! Hopefully, all of this sounds fun! With that in mind, here's another reminder to donate to my Pencils of Promise Page and to check out the GBCER Announcement Thread for more details!

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The PlayStation Store Closures Are Not As Bad As I Feared, But They Are Still Pretty Awful!

Preamble

WHELP!
WHELP!

So, it's happening. Sony is sunsetting the PlayStation Store for the PS3, PSP, and Vita at varying dates depending on the platform. As this blog's title suggests, the full details are not nearly as bad as I was initially fearing. Sony appears to be using its cross-buy and cross-play programs to bring old titles to their suite of modern platforms. Likewise, the initial fear was that impacted marketplaces would just shut down without warning, leaving consumers high and dry. With the current announcement, you still can purchase games that you might have missed out on for a while, and it appears your ability to redownload titles, for now, will not be impacted. Now, don't mistake any of this as a sign of my support of Sony's current decision-making. This situation is awful and bodes poorly for consumer rights of digital goods and video game preservation in general.

I understand many people view the present situation as a sign that backward compatibility is a higher priority than its critics might contend. However, it is hard for me to write an exhaustive missive about something I'd like Sony to add to their consoles when they have made it abundantly clear they are not interested. However, I feel like there's something to be said about my present ability to purchase original Xbox games on the 360 and how being able to do this should be an industry standard. Nonetheless, there are many talking points that others have brought up related to this news that warrants greater exploration. Likewise, there are related issues to this decision that directly impact the industry and consumers.

Sony Doing This While Selling An All Digital Model Of The PS5 Is WILD!

One of these things is very much not like the other.
One of these things is very much not like the other.

Last year, if you had asked me why I would advise against buying the "All Digital" PS5, it would have been my skepticism regarding its default hard drive being an appropriate amount given ballooning download and patch sizes. Obviously, that has changed. When news first broke about these shutdowns, my first immediate reaction was directed at the disc-less SKU of the PS5. From a PR and marketing perspective, Sony's decision to shut down these digital marketplaces kneecaps their efforts to bill the disc-less PS5 as a legitimate console. Time and time again, console manufacturers have experimented with cheaper SKUs to lower console prices, and this generation is no different. However, even before Sony poisoned the well, history has shown that digital-only hardware is still an unproven direction for the industry. For one thing, both consumers and console manufacturers aren't entirely ready to make this leap. The all-digital Xbox One S is a recent instance, but a more direct example inside Sony's wheelhouse would be the PSP Go. Laugh all you want about how ill-fated the handheld was from the get-go, but your reaction furthers a point I want to re-iterate. It is incredibly easy to parse out when a manufacturer treats an SKU as a red-headed stepchild. Trust me, I know this as a Switch Lite owner.

Additionally, every time a new console in an established line of hardware is introduced, sunsetting is bound to occur. As a result, at what point will the disc-less PS5 be made utterly inert? Online services get pulled from older consoles all the time, but that doesn't make them worthless or the owner unable to return to them. For example, the original Wii had its online store shuttered in 2019, and while I still decry that decision, the Wii, at the very least, has an optical disc drive as a backup. That said, using the Wii and other platforms as a metric, developers usually pull the plug on the online features of their legacy consoles after about ten to fifteen years. That timeline fits this announcement, and it is one that Nintendo has utilized repeatedly. So, in roughly ten years, what happens to the disc-less PS5? Consoles that preserve all of their online servers are few and far between. What's more, there is no industry trend or precedent to guarantee that an all-digital console will retain its value outside of the generation it inhabits, and Sony's recent decisions make that nakedly transparent.

Even a company like Microsoft, which has received a lot of credit recently for promoting backward compatibility, has some skeletons in its closet. For one thing, the original Xbox is no longer able to play games online. While there was a legitimate reason to pull Xbox Live from their original platform, that does not ignore the fact the Xbox has lost functionality. Again, this approach is nothing new. This year, we witnessed Nintendo pulling online servers for multiple Wii U titles, with the most recent example being Mario Maker losing its online map sharing ability. The loss of that feature halves that game's value, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. The frequency of these situations underscores the crystalized fact that console manufacturers remove features and utilities when they are no longer convenient to them. Additionally, they owe you and me nothing. As such, I cannot imagine a scenario where I view the All Digital PS5 as an appropriate investment of my money. I shouldn't have to worry about a doomsday clock whenever I buy a video game console, especially if it costs me $400.

Buying As Many Games As Possible Before Everything Shuts Down Is Not The Solution Everyone Claims It Might Be

Before we jump into the main argument I'd like to make, I want to share a bit of a side tangent. Back when I commented about the timed exclusivity of the Switch releases of Fire Emblem 1 and Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a lot of users took umbrage with my advocacy in that blog. Some viewed my attempts to implore users to pick up those titles as indirectly excusing Nintendo's shitty business practices. It was a fair point to make, but if you were one of those who commented as such, I sure hope you are not preparing to purchase soon-to-be unavailable PSN titles. You cannot argue, in good conscience, that me buying a timed-exclusive copy of a never-before localized port of an NES title is an unconscionable act while you are actively scanning the PSN directory for PS3 or PSP titles that are about to disappear. Certainly, both companies are in the wrong, but I have seen no less than three users who gave me a hard time on my Fire Emblem blog then admit they are planning on buying a ton of PSN titles in light of this news. One person even went so far as to say they were "excited" about the possibility of a PSN sale. To which I can only reply, what the fuck are we even doing?

To return to the topic at hand, Sony has yet to address two significant points of order on their sunsetting of their digital marketplaces. Yes, their cross-play and cross-buy programs are to be commended, but there are holes in this stop-gap approach. For one thing, many PS3, PSP, or Vita titles never got full cross-buy support. Additionally, Sony's communication about which games have cross-buy or cross-play permissions, and even the fundamental difference of either program, has been terrible since their introduction. Finally, indie game developers, which we will talk about shortly, are all but left in the lurch, with Sony unlikely to come to their aid. But that's beside the immediate issue of how PSN titles work, and the looming tempest consumers are likely to face in the coming years.

The Tweet that I have linked above might seem confusing to some, so here's the abbreviated explanation. There are declared expiration tokens on stuff you redeemed through PS+ or even purchased through PSN. The way things work on the PS3 is that you get an added year or so to every game with a token set to expire whenever you renew your PS+ subscription or, in the case of PSN purchases, whenever you establish an internet connection on your console. Should you fail to renew your subscription or establish an internet connection, a kernel is set to make that game "disappear." If Sony pulls online support for these platforms without removing this kernel, everyone's fucked. Currently, I have heard mixed reports that Sony is aware of this problem and plan to ensure it does not affect consumers. Moreover, it is worth mentioning Sony is not alone in employing clock-based kernels to curate digital titles. Microsoft, for example, uses similar kernels to make sure you are re-upping your Game Pass or Xbox Live Gold subscription whenever you snatch their free batch of games every month. The difference here, however, is that there is a future risk of the entire system going to shit.

And before anyone accuses me of playing favorites, let it be known I lost hundreds of dollars on this failed program.
And before anyone accuses me of playing favorites, let it be known I lost hundreds of dollars on this failed program.

To make matters worse, Sony has said absolutely NOTHING about how long people will be able to continue to redownload their PSN purchases. Sure, you can download these titles now, but for how long will Sony allow you to do this? Given present circumstances, I don't think you're going to be able to redownload PS3 PSN titles in perpetuity. Sony's previous track record about honoring purchases on discontinued platforms or marketplaces isn't exactly stellar. When they shut down PlayStation Mobile, there was no off-site process to redownload those purchases on a then-supported platform. You just lost your shit. Unfortunately for consumers, this is an unspoken industry standard of sorts. When GameStop bought Impulse, people who bought games on that marketplace lost everything when it was discontinued three years after its purchase. When Microsoft shit-canned Games for Windows Live in favor of a PC shell of the Xbox Marketplace, people simply lost their old PC game purchases. Maybe you are more optimistic that things will be different this time around, but personally I don't see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

So Many Of These PSN Games On PS3, Vita, And PSP Have ZERO Chance Of Being Re-Released

The above Tweet is by a former designer on the PSP and Vita ports of Jetpack Joyride. Their comments echo something that has been repeatedly said on social media by many developers who worked on PSP and Vita titles. Many of the dev teams that worked with these handhelds were sub-groups of larger teams working on bigger things. This is important because you cannot rely on developers looking at the current situation and seeing it as an opportunity to revive long-forgotten titles or impacted releases. Many were cash-grabs from the onset, but that doesn't mean they should be erased from the history books. I mention this because many of these portable games have exclusive features and modes. And we can expand this discussion beyond games if we want. Backgrounds, soundtracks, and DLC purchases are likely NOT going to get any consumer-friendly love as Sony eyes the button that shuts down all of these storefronts.

The situation gets even worse when you think about all of the exclusive titles that came out on the PS3, PSP, and Vita. Here's a list of just RPGs that are exclusive to these platforms. Likely, the exclusivity contracts on some of these games are bound to have expired. However, Sony still holds the publishing rights on many more, and unless they feel charitable, these games will live and die on these platforms. And we have to consider the technological hurdles no one wants to solve in translating these games onto modern technology. The number of people who even know of the existence of Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman is likely small, so the odds of it turning up on the PS5 are low by default. Even if a developer wanted to emulate it for a Steam or PS5 release, it's an experience that requires a tactical handheld-based control scheme. Therefore, it's "stuck" on two platforms that are essentially "dead," and your ability to find a physical copy a bit of an ordeal. The same can be said about PSP or Vita exclusives like Tearaway, which are games I cannot imagine emulating well on a console or PC.

If Sony is not going to support Backward Compatibility, then I would love to see them revive the old PSOne Classic Program
If Sony is not going to support Backward Compatibility, then I would love to see them revive the old PSOne Classic Program

Speaking of which, the circumstances surrounding the Vita are even more lamentable. Now, say what you will about the much-maligned handheld, but it got a largely unreported second wind. Some of you may recall a recurring blog series on the site by BlackLagoon wherein they listed all of the digital-only titles that released on the Vita every month. Seriously, give some of their blogs a read and marvel at the breadth of support the Vita got even after Sony pulled the plug on new physical releases. The Japanese indie dev scene fell in love with the Vita, and the homebrew community certainly kept it afloat as well. However, most of these games only came out digitally. The immediate consequence of shutting down the Vita's online store is that many of these titles are not bound to get official releases on newer platforms. Furthermore, a majority of the Vita's digital-only releases came from doujin hobbyists who may or may not still be active members of the industry. As a result, you cannot reasonably expect hobbyists to make the financial investment necessary to localize and release their works on Steam or the Epic Games Store.

But what about the potential of HD remasters? First, I think there's a lot of wishful thinking that goes into devising a free market-driven solution to this problem. Likewise, not every developer or publisher is bound to view their catalog as highly as members of the internet might suggest. To the defense of these publishers, games like Jumping Flash or Pain exist due to extenuating circumstances. And to be honest, there's a lot of trash on the PS3. Nevertheless, these titles are a part of gaming culture so a market must exist for some games to get the HD Remaster treatment. Unfortunately, there's something to be said about how spoiled the gaming community has become about HD remasters. Few consumers appreciate the effort that goes into these titles. However, the standards and expectations for these sorts of projects are high. You're not going to see something like Game Room come out to "save" the PSP's catalog because no one is supporting a half-assed effort to preserve legacy titles. Worse, should remasters come out, you can bet your bottom dollar that the PSP and Vita will get the short end of the stick. Even before his ousting, Kojima repeatedly stated he wanted the Metal Gear Acid games to get console remasters. He even used every interview opportunity he had for a bit to talk about why he thought those games deserved a second chance, but that was back in 2008.

No Matter What, There Will Be A LOT Of Lost Media

It's all fun and games until indie devs get screwed.
It's all fun and games until indie devs get screwed.

What will booting up a PS3 look like five years from now? Before you answer that I want you to consider some things. Do you think your purchased backgrounds and wallpapers will still be there? Will your wishlist of game titles be available? How many features on the start screen will become wholly unusable? Think about the amount of customizability that will no longer be available to you in five years' time. Think about how much of that customizability required an investment of money. Sure, there are bound to be many of you who will say you never bought into any of these ecosystems or that their demise will not affect you in the future. However, my argument here is that this is a foolish perspective to have.

Let's say you pop in a game disc into your PS3 seven years from now. For argument's sake, let's use Asura's Wrath as a case study. In this scenario, you reach the end of the game and are prompted to explore the game's epilogue through DLC. With the shutdown of the PS3's store, you cannot do that. I know Asura's Wrath is a bit of an egregious and extreme example of a game that requires the purchase of DLC to get "the full experience." Still, this scenario applies to any game that had cosmetic DLC or even full-fledged expansion packs. When you try to play old titles that have yet to leap to modern consoles, there is the chance you will not be able to consume everything that the game originally had to offer. If you review the press release they published earlier this week, Sony was rather mum about the availability of microtransactions or DLC, and that paints a pretty bleak picture for the future. Games like LittleBigPlanet had a TON of cosmetic paid packages that you are unlikely to get a hold of if you do not act quickly and guarantee your saved data remains safe. And if you have been enjoying Alex's Rock Band streams, I cannot imagine how frustrating this situation is to someone who potentially invested hundreds of dollars on song packs.

Though, it is worth mentioning a lot of LittleBigPlanet's cross-media promotional DLC has already been pulled for rights reasons.
Though, it is worth mentioning a lot of LittleBigPlanet's cross-media promotional DLC has already been pulled for rights reasons.

Then we have the one-off programs that Sony and other developers pioneered in previous generations that have no continuity on the PS4 or PS5. The most notable example, by far, has to be the PS1 and PS2 Classics programs. Through these efforts, old titles were released with minimal technical issues on the PS3. To many, these ports still stand as the definitive versions of their respective games. However, Sony's efforts to provide an olive branch to long-time fans never extended beyond the PS3. Titles like Chrono Cross have no continuity, beyond emulation, to the PS4 or PS5. Then you have weird programs like PSP Minis which attempted to build a community of indie devs around Sony's handhelds. Those games have no fucking hope of making a comeback anytime soon with the shutdown of these stores. Ultimately, for anyone trying to recapture their gaming past or explore older titles they may have missed, your only option is emulation if your income is limited.

There's no denying that we live in a different era than when the PS3 first launched. Nevertheless, in a world where in-app purchases reign supreme, I think there's a larger reckoning to be had about consumers and their rights when it comes to digital goods. I know it sounds weird to get emotional about a Patapon background on the PS3, but with these goods potentially gone forever, I can't help but feel like I have lost something. I feel a similar sense of ownership over my saved data and the ability to re-enact moments of my gaming past. Unfortunately, all signs point to this becoming the "new normal" for digital video game goods.

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How Should Every Faction Change For Warhammer III? Part 2 (Tomb Kings, Empire, Dwarfs, Greenskins, and Vampire Counts)

Preamble

Here we go again!
Here we go again!

Why, hello there! It has been a while since we last talked about Total War: Warhammer II's current meta in anticipation of Total War: Warhammer III, but I am happy to see you nonetheless. In case you missed it last time, I am starting a three-part series where I run down the current faction roster in Total War: Warhammer II and speculate what I think Creative Assembly is planning for each in Total War: Warhammer III. Certainly, I am entirely aware Warhammer III's "Mortal Empires" campaign will not be a part of the game at launch and will likely be sold as DLC in 2022. Regardless, some New World and Old World factions are bound to appear in Warhammer III's version of the Vortex Campaign, and that inevitably means changes are in store for many well-established races and figures.

If you missed part 1, wherein I discussed possible changes for the High Elves, Lizardmen, Dark Elves, Skaven, and Vampire Coast, here's a link! Otherwise, you'll notice I oscillate between pie-in-the-sky fantasies and grounded pragmatic predictions. For the most part, the factions we will be looking at this week do not require a mountain of work in prep for Warhammer III. The big recurring theme, in fact, will involve better starting positions and extra Legendary Lords. As you review some of my requests, feel free to share what you hope to see will happen to your favorite factions! Without further ado, let's jump into it!

Tomb Kings

And we start this episode off with a huge W!
And we start this episode off with a huge W!

Current State: PERFECT

To the handful of you who have avoided Warhammer II's DLC, I financially envy you, but at the same time, I think you are missing out on some of the best factions and mechanics in the game. Case in point, the Tomb Kings are a ton of fun and justify their high asking price. They play unlike any other race in the game in that they require the player to turtle for upwards of twenty or so turns before making treks outside of their dune-drenched borders. Likewise, their resource-poor economy is bound to throw Empire and Elven players for a loop. They inhabit fun portions of the map and are spread apart enough that Creative Assembly will not have a hard time having them interact with Warhammer III's world. That said, there are a few changes I wouldn't mind seeing when it comes to the Tomb Kings.

Change #1: Completely Rehaul Their Lores Of Magic

First, I want to make something clear; I LOVE how the Tomb King's current economy works in Warhammer II. I know many Warhammer II players loathe how long it takes to buy anything with the Tomb Kings, especially when it comes to Arkhan the Black. However, when you consider the Tomb Kings have virtually no upkeep for the vast majority of their unit roster, I find them one of the more compelling "build tall" factions in the game. There is, however, one significant black mark against the Tomb Kings:their faction-specific Lore of Magic sucks ass. When you stop and compare the Lore of Nehekhara to the rest of the undead lores of magic, it simply does not stack up. To add insult to injury, the current bevy of passive heals for the Lore of Nehekhara are a carbon copy of those found in the Lore of the Vampires.

The big issue with the Lore of Nehekhara is how almost all of its damage-dealing spells are confined to single targets and cannot be overcast to do AOE damage. By the mid-game, single target magic spells are only truly useful in defeating heroes or lords or healing specific units. Worse, some of the best buffs with this lore of magic (i.e., Djaf's Incantation of Cursed Blades) only target single allies rather than areas with multiple units. Sure, the Tomb Kings are great at sniping, but in sieges or battles where enemies have reinforcements, their magic can be more of a liability. The end result is that using magic as the Tomb Kings becomes an absolute afterthought by the late-game. With Chaos likely getting a massive buff, none of this can stand as the Tomb Kings already have a hard enough time treading water in specific scenarios or matchups, especially during a Chaos Invasion.

The Tomb Kings have the best animations in Warhammer II.
The Tomb Kings have the best animations in Warhammer II.

Change #2: Tons Of Small Fixes To Their Meta And Starting Positions

To further highlight how good a position the Tomb Kings are in, my only other significant suggestion is to give them better armor-piercing units and possibly make the Casket of Souls less expensive. Currently, in Warhammer II, the Tomb Kings spend A LOT of time fucking about with Brettonia and Lizardmen and getting their asses handed to them. There's nothing entirely wrong with this outcome, but given what both rival factions can recruit in the late-game, I think the Tomb Kings need a more diverse late-game unit roster. In particular, their armor-piercing options are paltry, which is a huge problem whenever they go up against Repanse de Lyonesse or Stegosaurs. Finally, I love the Casket of Souls, but HOT DAMN is it downright impossible to have more than two until turn fifty. I think the cost of the Casket of Souls needs to drop or, at the very least, for the Tomb Kings to have other cheaper alternatives.

Regarding their starting positions, I think the easiest solution is the best: put one Tomb King leader on every significant continent or "theater" of war. This, in turn, means the Tomb Kings will warrant lord packs in Warhammer III, and I think that is the case given that their current total of four lords leaves a lot of room for experimentation. Apophas, the Cursed Scarab Lord, is a perfect opportunity for future DLC. If he is added, I look forward to seeing how Creative Assembly animate him, given his entire body is a swarm of locusts. There is something to be said about how FUCKED Arkhan the Black's starting position is compared to the rest of the Tomb King's roster. However, I genuinely enjoy how he has no hope of beating the Knights of the Flame, even if they are his starting target. I know this is a bit of a wild tangent, but I think there should be more variability regarding difficulty within every faction. I think it would benefit Warhammer III if every race had an "easy" and "hard" lord in its version of the Vortex campaign.

The Empire

Oh Wulfhart, I wish I enjoyed playing your campaign.
Oh Wulfhart, I wish I enjoyed playing your campaign.

Current State: Great for Karl Franz; BIG "Ehhhhhh" for Markus Wulfhart; AND EVERYONE ELSE IS TERRIBLE

Some could say the variability of experiences with the different lords for The Empire suits them perfectly. Karl Franz is many people's first impression of Warhammer II's Mortal Empires campaign, and Markus Wulfhart provides an incredibly unique experience. However, things are decidedly rough for Volkmar the Grim and Balthasar Gelt. Since Creative Assembly re-tooled the computer's aggression in the Greenskin update, nine times out of ten, I see Mannfred steamroll The Empire and wipe out Balthasar Gelt. In some cases, I have witnessed Mannfred destroy three elector counts and push Gelt to his starting settlement by turn twenty-five. Furthermore, because of how close each of The Empire's Legendary Lords are to one another, it is easy for their rivals to take down multiple factions in a single battle.

Change #1: Nerf The Confederation Penalties For The Empire

The Empire is a hodgepodge of states that refuse to see eye-to-eye on anything other than their love for Sigmar. I don't necessarily want to change that, but it wouldn't hurt if Creative Assembly leaned into The Empire's inspiration being the Holy Roman Empire. Each Legendary Lord in their roster should be vying for influence, and the support of various elector counts through feats and heroics. That's mostly the case in Warhammer II, but then we have the prickly issue of the confederation mechanic. When you confederate a faction or settlement, you have to stomach a significant penalty to your diplomatic relations as well as an additional debuff to your public order. The latter of which is incredibly bothersome in the early game when you are unlikely to have unlocked any lord's public order buffs on their skill tree.

Given that The Empire is a collection of elector counts, it makes sense to skew them into favoring confederation more than any other faction. As a result, I think the penalties for confederating a settlement or minor faction should be outright eliminated for them. Likewise, I believe the Imperial Authority mechanic should be more responsive whenever an Empire faction achieves a heroic or significant victory against a Chaos-aligned faction. To illustrate, when I beat a full-stack army under Sigvald or Archaeon in the campaign, I should have elector counts begging me to confederate them without penalty. The Empire is, of course, the faction that encourages building "wide" more than any other nation or race in the game. Let players go ham and live with the consequences of overextending themselves later. When you stop to think about it, The Empire should be the strongest faction in the campaign from the onset, with their rivals slowly making up the difference as things progress.

I would like it if Warhammer didn't try its poor man's Crusader Knights impression every time I play Empire.
I would like it if Warhammer didn't try its poor man's Crusader Knights impression every time I play Empire.

Change #2: More Different Starting Positions And Legendary Lords

Let's return to Volkmar the Grim for a bit. Volkmar starts right next to Karl Franz, which is a problem because he is inferior to Franz in almost every regard. More importantly, it leads to every Empire campaign feeling "cramped" as you have all of their lords near one another. This makes completing your mission objectives incredibly annoying as the AI will often take out your targets before you even get started. With Kislev coming into the picture, I think it makes a ton of sense to send Volkmar on a "crusade" to their aid. Conversely, you have to imagine someone is bound to represent The Empire to Grand Cathay in the style of Commodore Matthew C. Perry. The Empire's whole mantra is that they don't just want their hand in one imperial or continental cookie jar; they want their hand in EVERY cookie jar. While I think a full-on crusade mechanic is better suited for Bretonnia, and more on that next episode, I hope Creative Assembly leans more into the religious zealotry of The Empire in Warhammer III.

Finally, I think The Empire needs more Legendary Lords. Given that The Empire is usually most people's first impression of any given Warhammer game, they should have a full roster of six Legendary Lords. Creative Assembly has teased the idea of making Boris Todbringer a fully realized Legendary Lord for ages, and goddamn, they should make it happen at this point. As for the other possible new Legendary Lord, I think it is about time for the Cult of Ulric to make a qualified appearance. With the focus turning to Kislev, I think Norsca is bound to get a massive buff and a more in-depth roster. Having a Norse-themed sub-faction aligned to the forces of Order benefits The Empire AND Norsca. Norsca has a more immediate rival and target, which they so desperately need, and the Empire gets a new starting position far away from Reikland. Let's call it a proverbial "win-win" and move on to the next faction.

Dwarfs

And now it is time for hate mail worthy
And now it is time for hate mail worthy "hot takes."

Current State: Poor (i.e., I THINK THEY ARE BORING AS FUUUUUUUUUUUCK!)

THE DWARFS ARE FUCKING BORING #CHANGEMYMIND! Playing a faction with no magic options is not what I signed up for in a Warhammer video game. That's especially when you reach the late-game, and the dwarfs increasingly rely on mono hero units (i.e., Thanes and Master Engineers). Once you get to that stage of the game, you take your stack of hero units and march them to the opposing army and occasionally pop a few buffs so they can tank everything into oblivion. If that's your idea of "fun," more power to you, but for me, I find the dwarfs boring and tedious. What's more, the Dwarfs, more than any other faction besides Warriors of Chaos or Beastmen, feel left behind as all of their rivals and enemies have gotten bonuses and new mechanics. They are a sad, sick little puppy that desperately needs a shot of antibiotics.

Change #1: Add Master Engineer And Master Brewer Legendary Lords

Part of the reason why I find dwarfs so dull is that their bevy of Legendary Lords feels incredibly uninspired. I know many people like their leaders, but to me, so many feel like all they do is hold their own in combat. And if that is all you are getting out of a Legendary Lord, what is the fucking point? More importantly, when you look at every other faction in the game, their lords all provide a different playstyle compared to the alternatives. That's not the case with the dwarfs, and all four of their lords are front-line battle-harden veterans that want to charge into battle. As things stand, they are BEGGING to get at least one new lord who is a Master Engineer. At least that way, you have a lord that lets you play around with the dwarf's magic adjacent buffs and cooldowns.

Then you have Josef Bugman; the most demanded Total War Warhammer Legendary Lord short of Thanquol. Now, the reasons for this are relatively straightforward. Josef Bugman is a Master Brewer who throws kegs of exploding ale at people and increases his troops' morale by making them shotgun beer. I'm not joking; that's what he does, and I want to see that in Warhammer III. For those wondering, Master Brewers are Warhammer Fantasy's equivalent of the Artificer class in Dungeons and Dragons, and Josef Bugman is the most legendary of these Master Brewers. As we will discuss shortly, including brewers in the dwarfs' unit roster in Warhammer III is almost a given as they desperately need better anti-magic options. Finally, in a game where Chaos Dwarfs exist, order-aligned Dwarfs need new and more varying playstyles if they wish to remain a viable pick among players.

give. me. josef. bugman.
give. me. josef. bugman.

Change #2: Better Starting Positions & Victory Conditions

As a point of reference, let me tell you my favorite Dwarf Legendary Lord in Warhammer II: Belegar Ironhammer. I like how he has a communicated mission in the campaign. Additionally, I find the inclusion of debuffs until he accomplishes that mission incredibly clever. For this reason, I think each of the playable Dwarf sub-factions should have something similar to encourage greater exploration of the in-game map. Likewise, the current troupe of Legendary Lords desperately need starting positions that match their variable end-goals. For example, GIVE GROMBRINDAL A UNIQUE START TO FIGHT ELVES! HIS COMBAT BUFFS ARE FOR FIGHTING ELVES, BUT HE'S IN A POSITION WHERE IT TAKES HIM FOREVER TO ENCOUNTER HIS FIRST MAGICAL FOREST! WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE EVEN DOING AT THIS POINT?!

Additionally, the current Runeforge feels like a complete missed opportunity. First, it is a palette swap of the Mortuary Cult, and Creative Assembly isn't even ashamed to admit that point. Second, the Runeforge should be a rallying cry for the Dwarfs to explore different portions of the map so they can acquire new gems and resources that unlock better equipment and weapons. Unfortunately, that's only partially the case, and very often, Dwarfs are forced to turtle their settlements as waves of Greenskins or Skaven swarm their colonies. Finally, which Dwarf Legendary Lord is taking on the Chaos Dwarfs, and how will the Runeforge help that effort? There needs to be at least one immediate matchup between Dwarfs and Chaos Dwarfs, and I think the likely candidate is Thorgrim Grudgebearer. However, how do you change his starting position while allowing him to keep Karaz-a-Karak? Or, how do you bring the Chaos Dwarfs to him?

I would also really appreciate if sieges in a Total War game got marginally more fun to play and less cheesy.
I would also really appreciate if sieges in a Total War game got marginally more fun to play and less cheesy.

Change #3: More Anti-Magic Options

I only suggest three fixes when I think a faction is in murky waters, and that's the case with Dwarfs. There are so many matchup nightmares for the Dwarfs it is not even funny. When Mortal Empires first dropped, Dwarfs were a top-tier race due to their magical immunities. However, that came at the cost of their inability to perform magic. As it stands now, they struggle against Skaven as they are susceptible to plague and Greenskins are a complete menace. Furthermore, with the looming threat of Chaos Dwarfs swaying like a Sword of Damocles, the Dwarfs are not a faction Creative Assembly can merely copy and paste into Warhammer III. All of their enemies have strong Lores of Magic which are only bound to get better in a campaign focusing on Chaos.

The solution here, at least in my mind, returns us to Josef Bugman. Not only do I think Master Brewers would be a perfect fit for Dwarfs in Warhammer III, but I think more Dwarf guilds should be represented in the game in general. Previous Warhammer games spent most of their energy surfacing engineers. Still, if the bearded ones have any hope of remaining a viable pick, they need weird and wacky shit like brewers, runesmiths, and artisans. And yes, I know runesmiths already exist in Warhammer II, but I want them to do more than nullify magic, and there should be more variety to them than the one or two units they represent in the game. The driving motivation here is that vanilla Dwarfs are bound to be a target for Chaos Dwarfs, and they need more tools to avoid getting wrecked.

Greenskins

I too would raid the world for the best food.
I too would raid the world for the best food.

Current State: Very Good

Before The Warden and The Paunch DLC, my opinion of the Greenskins was negative. However, everything changed when Grom the Paunch came into the picture, his recipe mechanic included. Grom's Cauldron is one of my all-time favorite faction-specific mechanics in Warhammer II, short of Ikit Claw's Forbidden Workshop. However, this has led to the unintended consequence of making their non-DLC Legendary Lords feel forgotten. Azhag and Grimgor are no fun to play, and I struggle to consider them when Grom or Wurrzag are right next to them. That aside, the current Waaagh mechanic is almost too good. Waaagh units can be two to three levels better than the units of your neighbors, and you can stack Waaagh in-battle buffs to the goddamn sky. The Raidin' Camp ability allows the Greenskins to raid with reckless abandon, which is a nice thing to have, considering they cannot establish trade routes. All in all, they are one of the best Old World factions in the entire game. Which is an accomplishment in and of itself considering how bad things were for them at launch.

Change #1: Give The Non-DLC Lords Some Love

One of Warhammer II's recurring criticisms is that its DLC has put several of its "vanilla" factions and leaders at a severe disadvantage. That criticism is especially pointed when you look at the current state of the Greenskins after their most recent update. As suggested earlier, Wurrzag and Grom are simply on a whole different level when you compare them to Grimgor or Azhag. The most significant point of contention being Grom the Paunch, whose cauldron introduces a completely new tech tree that makes him more powerful than his peers and more fun to play. The unfortunate "truth" here is that Creative Assembly makes more money on their DLC packs if their DLC lords are objectively better than the base-game lords. As a result, it is HIGHLY unlikely that someone like Grimgor will ever get a mechanic as in-depth as Grom's Cauldron.

But this is my blog, and goddamn it, I think the non-DLC Legendary Lords are worth making relevant. Grimgor, to me at least, is an "easy fix" in that his Waaagh bonus should be made far more potent in the campaign. If truth be told, Creative Assembly could harken back to the Crusade/Jihad mechanic in Medieval II. Why not have every unit under Grimgor's control have zero upkeep if participating in a Waaagh? Skarsnik, on the other hand, is a bit of a different case. Prior to the Greenskin update, he was one of the more useful Legendary Lords because of his public order buffs. Now that public order is less of an issue, he doesn't have the niche you'd expect him to have in a regular campaign. His hate boner for Dwarves leads to exciting matchups, but his Lore of Magic is just "okay." Fixing that issue shouldn't be that big of a problem. Simply put, Skarsnik needs a little more spice in his stew, and the same could be said for Azhag. I like playing Azhag as much as I enjoy playing Throgg for Norsca, which is to say I hate Azhag. There's nothing wrong with him in theory, but his buffs and starting position are just dull. Besides, if you are playing Orcs and Big 'Uns in the late campaign, you have fucked up.

Breath of the Wild can't hold a candle to Grom's Cauldron.
Breath of the Wild can't hold a candle to Grom's Cauldron.

Change #2: Give Them A Reason To Interact With The New Parts Of The Map

Let's talk about one of my big pet peeves with the Greenskins in Warhammer II! In the Vortex Campaign, Grom starts on the Southlands, but in Mortal Empires, he joins the rest of the Greenskins on the Old World. This, in my humble opinion, fucking sucks. The issue here is that Greenskins always end up in the same early-game matchups, regardless of who you play, in Mortal Empires. Likewise, it takes FOREVER for the Greenskins to get their first real opportunity to explore and interact with the New World. With the world of Total Warhammer only getting bigger, this needs to change. Luckily, physically moving the Greenskins should not prove too complicated, and the reformed Waaagh mechanic is bound to make things even easier. The only issue is providing campaign alternatives to the Greenskins' usual targets on the Old World when setting up Waaaghs.

Speaking of which, let's return to Warhammer III's initial campaign map. When you look at the map of where Warhammer III is bound to occur, the Greenskins are going to need at least one starting position on the Southlands and another in proximity to the Ogre Kingdoms. Warhammer Fantasy places a special Greenskin faction near the Chaos Dwarfs called the "Black Orcs." They are former slaves of the Chaos Dwarfs that rebelled before the events of the main-canon and are constantly fighting back their former masters. Now, before you ask, these Orcs and Goblins are still aligned towards Chaos even if they hate the Chaos Dwarfs. However, I hope Warhammer III plays up the prospect of showing animosity and conflict between the Chaos-aligned factions. To highlight, if the Chaos Gods start with alliances with each other and do not have objectives to shit on each other's cake, then Creative Assembly has dun fucked up.

Vampire Counts

At least Mannfred isn't as big a whiny pissbaby as Malekith.
At least Mannfred isn't as big a whiny pissbaby as Malekith.

Current Status: Great

I love the Vampire Counts, but two very obvious pitfalls hamper them. First, they are not a ton of fun to play in the early game unless you like throwing blobs of skeleton or zombie spam at every problem the game sends at you. Personally, things don't get exciting with the Vampire Counts until you can start casting Wind of Death like it is on tap. Their second issue is one due to their current geography: their starting positions suck shit. All of their Legendary Lords are too close to each other, and you end up in the same Old World matchups for eons regardless of who you play. That said, and I cannot emphasize this point any harder, their hero units are AMAZING, and their unique Lore of Magic is an absolute blast to use! In fact, when people tell me they are "not good" at using spells in Warhammer II, I usually direct them to check out the Vampire Counts as they are one of the more "forgiving" magic-based factions. However, let's return to those two "problems" I mentioned earlier.

Change #1: Teardown And Purge The Legendary Lord Roster

I'm going to shoot my shot because this will likely get me a ton of flack. For the Vampire Counts, Creative Assembly should keep Mannfred and Vlad and then shitcan everyone else. Helman Ghorst is trash, and I don't care if he is really good in multiplayer. His starting position is shit, and his playstyle is even worse. The fact the generic necromancers are better than him at summoning zombies and skeletons is the primary reason why I think Creative Assembly should set him on fire and forget he exists. Now, I don't have nearly as much venom for Heinrich Kemmler and the Barrow Legion as I do for Ghorst. Nonetheless, I still stand by my belief Kemmler does not have a place on the Vampire Counts' roster. Kemmler makes more sense as a Legendary Lord for an eventual Nagash-led faction. People have been asking for Nagash to be added to the game for ages, and it makes way more sense in Warhammer III now that there are mono Chaos God factions. My best guess is that Nagash is a likely year two DLC Lord rather than one at the top of Creative Assembly's priority list.

Then we have Isabella. Now, I know there are many people who like Isabella and feel like there are not enough female faction leaders in Warhammer Fantasy. I emphatically agree with that last point, but I also think Isabella should be made a minor lord alongside Vlad. Her starting position when leading the Von Carstein faction doesn't feel distinct enough as it stands. Shit, nine times out of ten, even the A.I. confederates her with Mannfred by turn twenty. Don't get me wrong; if Isabella is made a minor lord, she should be one of the best in the game. If Creative Assembly instead continues to have her be a Legendary Lord in Warhammer III's Mortal Empires campaign, which I predict they will, she needs a unique starting position. Likewise, she desperately needs an early target that is not a mirror of whoever Vlad is going for in the first five turns.

I would also be okay with the Strigoi getting their own sub-faction.
I would also be okay with the Strigoi getting their own sub-faction.

Change #2: Add The Red Duke And Mousillon (And Maybe Konrad)

So, if I got my way and cut the Vampire Counts' roster in half, what would I do to fill up that void? Well, for one thing, I would stop fucking around and make the Red Duke a full-fledged Legendary Lord. Yes, he does exist in the current campaign as a unique minor-faction you can confederate as the Vampire Counts. However, much like Sarthorael the Everwatcher, I find Creative Assembly's refusal to make him an actual in-game option utterly baffling. His position at Mousillon is an interesting alternative to Slyvannia, and his cavalry-based unit focus makes playing him a refreshing formula break. Additionally, adding Mousillon as a playable faction gives Brettonia an undead enemy and early threat before the Chaos Gods start landing on their shores. Also, adding the Red Duke would allow Creative Assembly to re-introduce the chivalry/dread mechanic from Medieval II. Obviously, Brettonian Lords would build up chivalry, whereas the Red Duke would use dread.

On the other hand, adding Konrad von Carstein is a bit more of a stretch. I think he's bound to show up in Warhammer III eventually, but he's undoubtedly low on the priority list. But HOT DAMN would I love seeing Konrad in Warhammer III! For those unaware, while Vlad and Mannfred are "cultured" vampire lords and The Red Duke is the antithesis of Brettonia, Konrad is just a big stupid vampire that likes killing people. Konrad is basically if an Orc and a Vampire made a baby. He is incapable of using magic and instead prefers charging into battle on foot, much like Grimgor Ironhide or Sigvald. The worry here is that every dualling-based lord in the game (i.e., Legendary Lords that specialize in killing other Legendary Lords) is bad. Regardless, I want there to be a "mindless" faction leader for the Vampire Counts where players are actively discouraged from engaging in the game's diplomacy system. Again, there are a ton of pitfalls for Creative Assembly to consider, but fuck it, I think adding Konrad would be fun!

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Friendly Reminder! Fire Emblem 1 & Super Mario 3D All-Stars Are About To Disappear Into Nintendo's Vault!

Introduction

What a Hell of a way to celebrate the most iconic video game character of all-time....
What a Hell of a way to celebrate the most iconic video game character of all-time....

I think we can all agree that Nintendo has been around the block. Because of its longevity, it has had several significant video game anniversaries over the past few years. Last year, they celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Super Mario franchise and this year the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda. These commemorations usually coincide with repackagings of old games with new textures and a bevy of bonus goodies. That was the case last year with the Switch releases of Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. The latter of which is the first official English translation of Fire Emblem 1 and marked the 30th anniversary of the franchise. However, Nintendo is set to remove both of these titles from their marketplace at the end of the month.

I'm not going to beat around the bush. I think Nintendo's decision to make these games "timed sensitive" sets a horrible precedent and an annoying blow to video game preservation. Sure, an argument could be made that there might be a hope these titles get sold piecemeal later down the road. Another could be made that Nintendo will have these games pop-up in their Nintendo Switch Online program after allowing consumers about a year to buy them wholesale. As you can probably tell from my tone, I am rather pessimistic about either of these scenarios and think the likeliest outcome is that after March 31st, 2021, consumers will be shit out of luck. When you look at every time Nintendo has ported older games to platforms, you'll notice that rarely if ever, they go back and make those releases available on newer platforms. And this applies to EVERY landmark title or franchise in Nintendo's wheelhouse! For example, despite Mario's cache as an industry icon, the GBA Super Mario Advance games live and die on that handheld and have never been made available elsewhere.

However, there's no doubting that Nintendo does play favorites. I think the odds of the games in Super Mario 3D All-Stars turning up on the Switch store are a lot better than that of Fire Emblem 1's. Which, if we are being honest, is what inspired me to write this blog. I am downright furious that the original Fire Emblem will disappear for what I worry is forever as I prefer the older Fire Emblem games to the current titles (i.e., Three Houses or Fates). I know that sounds "weird," but I am a sick person who enjoys the byzantine character recruitment requirements and the balls-hard difficulty curve of the Shouzou Kaga-helmed titles. I am obviously in the minority in that regard, but hey, to each their own. The Switch release of Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light is the only game in the Fire Emblem franchise in the past fifteen years that pines for that old-school aesthetic and gameplay that I enjoy. Until Thracia 776 or Genealogy of the Holy War get their much-deserved official translations, I am shit out of luck after March 31st in terms of legally buying a Fire Emblem game I want to play. Yes, I currently have a copy on the Switch, but if an unfortunate series of events caused me to need to create a new Nintendo account after March 31st, I would not be able to own this game.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars Might Not Be Great, But It Shouldn't Disappear

I will bet good money if/when these games re-release separately none this shit will be included.
I will bet good money if/when these games re-release separately none this shit will be included.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a $60 title on the Nintendo Switch and contains "remasters" of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. When this package was released, it was met with a fair amount of derision and for a good reason. The ports are of questionable quality, with the Super Mario 64 part of the compilation being the most dubious. Personally, when I booted up the Super Mario 64 port, I thought it looked like dogshit. I immediately felt like the textures were over-compressed and found the attempts at visual fidelity groan-inducing. However, my most significant issues are with the Switch Lite ports of Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. In both, you can only pick up collectibles by tapping the screen on the Switch Lite. There's no button prompt to collect everything littered on the screen during action scenes or platforming levels. Instead, you need to come to a full stop in-game and tap your screen to pick up anything that needs collecting. As a Switch Liter owner, I can tell you this makes both Sunshine and Galaxy nigh unplayable.

All this bellyaching aside, Nintendo pulling this title at the end of the month is a shitty thing to do. For one thing, this compilation pack is the only way for Mario fans to play any of these titles on the Switch until further notice. To add insult to injury, if you search for Super Mario 64 on Nintendo's website, the only result you get is the Wii U port of the DS port of Super Mario 64. Before we move on, I want you to know the awkwardness of that last sentence is entirely intentional, and I hope it profoundly hurts you to read as much as it hurt me to write. Back to the matter at hand, for new consumers or platform adopters, this sucks. If Nintendo makes any of these titles available later down the road, they will likely NOT be sold in a single package. The best-case scenario is that you will be able to buy the HD Remasters of Super Mario 64, Sunshine, or Galaxy separately but not together and certainly not as a single executable. Finally, it remains to be seen if all of the anniversary trimmings will translate into these supposed later releases.

I'm always happy to talk about a
I'm always happy to talk about a "good" game for once.

We are also all assuming these games will be made available at some point in separate packages. Unfortunately, when you stop and think about Nintendo's history regarding their hallmark anniversaries or previous ports of older games, the likelihood of that happening is rather slim. To return to my Super Mario Advance example, all of those ports made novel changes to the originals so they would control better on the GameBoy Advance. However, they have never been made legally available anywhere else. Let's stop and think about the implications of that last point for a minute. How many times have you been able to play the original Super Mario Bros. on a Nintendo console or handheld? Now, please think about your favorite version of the original Super Mario Bros. On how many Nintendo platforms can you legally buy that version?

Let's say your favorite outing of OG Super Mario Bros. is the Super Mario All-Stars version. If that's the case, you can only play that version on two platforms: the SNES, Wii, or Switch. However, because Nintendo discontinued the online Wii Shop two years ago, future digital purchases are no longer available on the Wii. There's also the Nintendo Switch Online version but for arbitrary reasons, let's assume you don't have a Nintendo account. If that is the case, then you are going to need to track down a physical copy to play it. I should also mention, Nintendo has attempted to shutdown re-sellers of cartridges of their older titles. So, by their books, if you buy an SNES copy on eBay, they think you are breaking the law. My point here is simple, Nintendo has allowed all re-releases of their "classic" titles to die a death by a thousand cuts, and it does not matter if it has Mario's name on it. They do not give a fuck. You can play those games on their intended platforms, and only if you bought them in the narrow window Nintendo sold them. To call all of this a "moral hazard" for video game preservation is an understatement. It is a fucking nightmare.

But What About Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light?

Pulling this game is a definite
Pulling this game is a definite "dick move."

Things are notably worse for the Switch "remaster" of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light. Despite the game being ostensibly the first "true" release of the original Fire Emblem in the West, it too is set to disappear from the Switch marketplace on March 31st, 2021. The reason for this decision is pretty apparent... there is no reason! What we have here is a classic case of "Nintendo being Nintendo" in the worst way possible. It is worth mentioning, but the Switch port of Fire Emblem 1 is $6, and it is not a part of a more meaningful compilation package. It is just one game with slight work done to the textures, so they don't look like shit on modern monitors. The issue here is that Western audiences do not have any alternative title to backtrack to when this game disappears from the Switch marketplace. Worse, because the original game did not get an official translation until this Switch release, if you wish to emulate the original game, you are forced to contend with fan translations, some of which are suspect at best or only partially complete.

If you want to emulate Super Mario 64, the only "real" weirdness you have to contend with is the state of N64 emulation and the refresh rate "wonkiness" associated with the platform. You don't, in general, have to worry about some random yahoo, including turn-of-the-century memes for no goddamn reason or self-inserting themselves as an NPC. Trust me, as a fan of the "classic" Fire Emblem games; I have had to deal with that for the better part of twenty years. However, let's say I want to "upgrade" my console or create a new account for personal reasons. If that happens after the end of this month, I will NEVER be able to play Fire Emblem 1. Outside of their efforts to completely shut down Twitch streamers or the Smash tournament community, this is the most profoundly stupid thing Nintendo has done this year. I do not see the point of Nintendo pulling their rendition of the "Disney Vault" on digital releases of classic video games.

Suppose you want to be generous and put yourself in the shoes of Nintendo. In that case, I can imagine there being a small modicum of fear that whenever a new Fire Emblem title comes out, people might "test out" this game and be bummed that it does not play anything like Three Houses or Fates. But you know what? Tough titties! If you want to appreciate where the franchise is today, you owe it to yourself to check out the Kaga-led Fire Emblem games. Do you think it's a pain in the ass to recruit characters in Three Houses? Come back to me when you've managed to add Xavier to your party in Thracia 776! And if people feel inspired to check out an older Fire Emblem game because they played Smash or a more modern title, why prevent them from doing that? This is, after all, the game that gives you Marth!

Also, the amount of work that was put into the translation of this port is simply astounding. It does not deserve to be a simple footnote.
Also, the amount of work that was put into the translation of this port is simply astounding. It does not deserve to be a simple footnote.

Finally, there's the argument that Nintendo is planning to add this title to their Nintendo Switch Online suite of freebies. I think this is wishful thinking as Nintendo thus far has not made any gestures of their long-term plans with any of these sorts of games. Also, even if the game does appear, how long will it be available to download before it entirely escapes into the ether? As a short case study, think back to EarthBound Beginnings. The Wii U release of Mother 1 is the only legally purchasable version of that game outside of Japan. The GBA Mother 1+2 compilation pack, which includes an extended ending, never came out in the USA or Europe. Despite the release of EarthBound Beginnings being touted as a goodwill gesture to long-time fans, the game lives and dies on the Wii U. The moment Nintendo pulls the plug on the Wii U online marketplace, as they did with the Wii, that game is dead forever. Nonetheless, at least that game didn't disappear after six or seven months!

I cannot emphasize enough, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light is a historical landmark and culturally vital to the evolution of tactical strategy games even though it was never released outside of the West. Without Fire Emblem 1, you don't get Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics. While it lacks the sweeping story or heady characterization that we now associate with the Fire Emblem franchise, it is the game that codifies a lot of the mechanical design standbys of the tactical RPG genre. By playing this game, you can find yourself in different "places" in the genre, whether it be the works of Nippon Ichi or Squaresoft. Furthermore, the indelible mark it has on the Fire Emblem series is equally undeniable. When I played the game, I was somewhat surprised to see how much of the series's DNA was intact. You have interstitial moments in-between combat sequences as well as an intricate inventory management system. The iconic "combat triangle" is not present, but all of the expected unit types are here. It is certainly not for the faint of heart, and you should not play it with the expectation that it will amount to what the series has become nowadays. Regardless, playing the game should be allowable so more people can appreciate the hard work Nintendo has done to keep this series relevant for thirty years.

Final Remarks

First, I want to clarify that by no means am I advocating for piracy or any other "illegal activities" in this blog. I will, however, gesture that I understand why such activities exist. Providing consumers with only a limited window to buy goods or services is frustrating, if not infuriating. For some people, it could be another two or three years before they have the wherewithal or knowhow to purchase or play any of these games. To take that ability away from them, even temporarily, will simply crystalize the same arguments we have heard repeatedly about why people support piracy. And with digital marketplaces setting new standards for what people expect when searching for video games, Nintendo should do better.

Lost in the mix are the games themselves. Regardless of how you feel about Super Mario 3D All-Stars, I'd rather it exist in perpetuity than be a sad endnote to a major anniversary. The release itself and Nintendo sweeping it under the rug leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and I think we can all agree Mario deserves better. The treatment of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light, on the other hand, is totally unconscionable. With every new title, more people get introduced to the Fire Emblem series. Newer fans might not be in a position to explore or appreciate the franchise's roots until another contemporary title presents itself. Furthermore, taking away the only official translation of a game, less than a year after its release, is simply unfathomable. It does not make sense from a business standpoint, nor does it make sense as a goodwill gesture to fans. These are, of course, franchises that have helped establish Nintendo as a titan of the industry. But hey, Nintendo be Nintendo, amirite?

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How Should Every Faction Change For Warhammer III? Part 1 (High Elves, Lizardmen, Dark Elves, Skaven, and Vampire Coast)

Preamble

Aw, YEAH! FUCK ME UP!
Aw, YEAH! FUCK ME UP!

Total War: Warhammer III's reveal trailer is less than a month old, but the game is already my most anticipated 2021 title. I understand the game will launch much like Warhammer II did in that it will be limited to a small-scale campaign showcasing only a handful of "new" factions. I am entirely aware Warhammer III's "Mortal Empires" campaign will not be a part of the game at launch and will likely be sold as DLC in 2022. But, fuck it; I don't care. The Warhammer III trailer got me excited in a way I have not been excited for a video game in years. I love this franchise; I love it so much it hurts. Give me more Warhammer, even if it means selling my soul to Satan!

No matter, the subject of this eventual three-part series is pretty simple. I will be looking at all of the factions that are in Warhammer II and speculate how Creative Assembly will change them to fit the theme and scope of Warhammer III. As it stands, the "new" races announced for Warhammer III include Kislev (based on Medieval Russia), Grand Cathay (based on Imperial China), and dedicated factions for each of Warhammer's Chaos Gods (Khorne, Tzeentch, Nurgle, and Slaanesh). Two additional races are coming but have yet to be announced. However, all signs point to the Ogre Kingdoms and Chaos Dwarfs filling those two slots. This means Warhammer III will definitely have a stronger emphasis on Chaos' forces, and a variety of pre-existing factions will likely change to mimic this pivot. The purpose of this blog is for me to share what I think Creative Assembly should explore and do for the 2022 combined campaign to make sure everyone gets the love and attention they deserve.

For some factions (i.e., The Empire or Skaven), I can only imagine a handful of slight modifications. However, there are more than a few factions (i.e., Warriors of Chaos or Beastmen) that MUST be fundamentally changed if Creative Assembly plan to include them in Warhammer III. Again, I understand that for many of these races, Creative Assembly has time to figure out what they want to do with them, and it would be unrealistic to expect them to be in Warhammer III's Vortex Campaign equivalent. Finally, given that Warhammer II is still being supported with new Legendary Lord packs, it is essential to note the current "meta" is evolving as we speak. Thus, things are even more interesting to speculate for the future. So, without further ado, let's jump into it!

High Elves

And we start things off on a very
And we start things off on a very "vanilla" note!

Current State: Good erring towards Great

As it stands, the high elves' legendary lords break down into one of two camps: defenders and adventurers. On the one hand, you have lords like Alarielle, who defend their settlements against clear targets and largely "turtle" for upwards of twenty turns. On the other hand, you have the Loremasters of Hoeth, who go on adventures and actively put out fires before they get out of hand. No matter which flavor of the High Elves you pick, they all have fantastic magic potential and some of the better Lores of Magic in the game. In their current state, the High Elves' diversity makes them one of the easier factions to recommend as a starting point for new players. As a result, there's not much that needs to be done to the High Elves moving from Warhammer II to III. That said, a few tweaks could make them a go-to faction even for veterans.

Change #1: Spread Everyone Out & Add More Starting Positions

You'll notice a bit of a theme with certain New World factions with this three-parter. Even when Warhammer II introduced its Mortal Empires campaign, things started to feel "cramped" less than a year after the game's release. Now with Warhammer III turning its attention to Kislev and Grand Cathay, a lot of factions are going to get some much-needed "breathing room." However, that breathing-room poses a bit of a dilemma for the High Elves as their "lore-appropriate" homeland makes it difficult for many of their heroes to interact with the new content. Creative Assembly knew this was a problem in the previous game and in Warhammer II placed some of their lords on the continent of Naggaroth to force the player into confrontations with the Dark Elves. Something similar should be done to guarantee the High Elves have immediate interactions with Kislev and Grand Cathay. The Lost Isles of Elithis are what first come to mind, and they allow at least one jumping point for the High Elves to interact with the Warhammer III portion of the map.

Additionally, with Warhammer III, I want the High Elves to feel more vulnerable. Some of their lords should be trying to achieve glorious victories in battle and immediately feel as if the odds are against them. Imrik, oddly enough, is the one Legendary Lord that goes unscathed with this criticism. He is currently the one lord closest to the "action" of Warhammer III, and his difficult start leads to a lot of fun confrontations where the player feels surrounded. Nonetheless, his situation in Warhammer II makes a lot of sense for Tyrion and Teclis. Both are elven crusaders, and both could benefit from a different starting position than their current one in Warhammer II. I say split the difference and have one go towards Grand Cathay and the other towards Kislev. The more defensively minded lords should be focused on preventing the Chaos Gods from invading their homeland. Let's be real; some terrible shit is bound to pop out of The Great Vortex from time to time in Warhammer III.

Without a doubt, Sisters of Avelorn are one of the most consequential DLC units in all of Warhammer II
Without a doubt, Sisters of Avelorn are one of the most consequential DLC units in all of Warhammer II

Change #2: Give The High Elves More Targets And Things To Do In The Late-Game

The major recurring complaint about the High Elves is one that has existed since their introduction: their campaign is dull after about fifty turns. Part of the reason for this issue stems from them not having a lot to do beyond beating up the Dark Elves and getting the Sword of Khaine. Sure, both of these tasks take time. However, the steps involved with either don't change depending on the Legendary Lord you are playing. That's why I think the sub-factions for the High Elves should each tackle a specific Chaos God, with Tyrion focusing his attention on Archaeon. Also, the process of "beating" a Chaos God should require the player to explore different parts of the map to assemble legendary weapons, much like the Sword of Khaine. With a faction like the High Elves, you have to give them a reason to interact with the rest of the world. The worst thing Creative Assembly could do, and this applies to the Dark Elves as well, is to plop them into Warhammer III in their current form and have the player color inside the lines.

Collecting trinkets aside, we also need to discuss how the Warriors of Chaos might factor into their campaign. Closing portals to the Realm of Chaos should be a priority for the High Elves. The Great Vortex should be a focal point of this and require constant attention. I can imagine a scenario where the vortex requires magical energy that can only be found through enchanted items strewn across every continent. But, as you may recall from an earlier point of mine, the High Elves also should have tasks and missions connected to the Chaos Gods. Thus, players have more choices on what they need to accomplish every turn. Time and time again, my issue with the High Elves in Warhammer II is that once you get the Sword of Khaine, they don't have a lot to do in the late-game. Obviously, I think the solution here is to give them a lot more to do, so much so that some players could feel overwhelmed. However, if the big "theme" of Warhammer III is that the forces of Chaos are a threat and have gotten their shit together, I can think of no other way to best communicate that point than to make the High Elves' campaign a clusterfuck.

Lizardmen

Sometimes when I fight Chaos, I want to show I have an anger issue.
Sometimes when I fight Chaos, I want to show I have an anger issue.

Current State: GREAT erring towards "Perfect!"

The Lizardmen are kind of in the best possible position a faction can be going from Warhammer II to III. They are fun to play and spread out across the map. Changing their starting locations to direct their Legendary Lords towards the newer portions of the map shouldn't be that hard. The only issue with the Lizardmen is that their version of "corruption" (i.e., the Geomantic Web) is boring, and the rites system leaves a lot to be desired. Speaking of which....

Change #1: Completely Reform The Rites And Geomantic Web Mechanics

You may recall a series of blogs "ranking" each of the factions in Warhammer II from ArbitraryWater a while back. In it, they caught a bit of flack when they said they found the faction-specific mechanics for the Lizardmen to be "boring," and I tend to agree. The big point of contention is the Geomantic Web, which bestows a bevy of buffs to the Lizardmen based on their provinces, buildings, and commandments. The mechanic is straightforward to a fault, and it does not meld all that well with the game's other influence and corruption mechanics (i.e., Chaos, Vampiric, or Skaven Corruption). I think the obvious solution is to have the Geomantic Web become stronger not entirely through monuments but feats of victory against Chaos Corruption. A Lizardmen province bordering a void of chaos should not add ANYTHING to the Geomantic Web, regardless of its monuments, until that void is destroyed. Provinces under the Geomantic Web should still continue to have buffs when attacked by the forces of Chaos. Including both points here provides Chaos players with focus points when invading the Lizardmen. For the Lizardmen, players will know where to pool their defensive resources when being invaded.

Then, we have the rites mechanic. I like rites, but I do have to admit the entire mechanic needs a lot of work. When the Lizardmen appear in Warhammer III, which from the onset is not a guarantee, rites should involve more than "Pay X Amount of Gold for Cool Shit." I can understand if the best hero units are tied behind this mechanic, and the Rite of Primeval Glory spawning a full stack of dinosaurs is one of the most satisfying things to do in Warhammer II. Nonetheless, debuffing enemy units with extra attrition has always felt like a waste of a rite. In the place of the buff and debuff-focused rites, I would rather see rituals that assist in ridding the map of Chaos Corruption. Finally, having the rites' cost be based on "Favour" or "Gold" has always felt weird especially considering the Lizardmen are Aztec dinosaurs. I know my next point is bound to make me sound like a crazy person, but hear me out on this one. I think the rites should involve sacrificing a percentage of your civilian population, making calling them more disadvantageous to your faction long-term. As it stands, there's no balance to the mechanic, and you often look like a fool holding on to them for more than a few turns. So, make the player debate if now really is the time to pop a rite.

And if this is your favorite part of Warhammer II... man... who hurt you?
And if this is your favorite part of Warhammer II... man... who hurt you?

Change #2: Add A Faction Start & New LL On The Dragon Isles

Looking at what we know of Warhammer III's starting campaign, it will feature four new factions aligned with each of the Chaos Gods. Additionally, the Vortex Campaign equivalent will include Kislev, Grand Cathay, and two unannounced races. The prevailing theory for these two unannounced races is that one will involve the Ogre Kingdoms, and the other will be Chaos Dwarves. Notice, however, that Creative Assembly has emphasized the words "new races" whenever people ask about Ogre Kingdoms or Chaos Dwarves. That does not mean pre-existing New and Old World factions will not exist in the vanilla Warhammer III campaign. That is why I think there is some hope for a new starting location for the Lizardmen near Grand Cathay in the form of "Savage Lizardmen" on the Dragon Isles. They wouldn't technically be a new "race," and would instead showcase a chaotic "palette swap" of the pre-existing Lizardmen roster.

Within lore, the Temple-Cities of the Southlands and Dragon Isles became cut-off from their Slanns, and as a result, its people became savage barbarians. The Dragon Isles are of particular interest for Warhammer III as they are close to Grand Cathay and could pose as an interesting early target or rival. However, why stop at just having them be a minor faction? The Lizardmen are one of the factions that need reasons to interact with the world of Warhammer III. I think giving them a playable sub-faction that everyone hates, much like Morathi for the Dark Elves, spices things up, and I'm always up for each faction having an "odd man out!" These savage Lizardmen would have a modified horde mechanic in place of the customary rites and Geomantic Web mechanics. Also, I think Grand Cathay needs more enemies, and adding a new Lizardmen sub-faction solves that problem pretty quickly.

Dark Elves

If you are currently going through a
If you are currently going through a "dark emotional stage" then Dark Elves might tickle your fancy!

Current State: Good-ish

I can't entirely explain why, but I am legitimately worried how the Dark Elves will translate into Warhammer III. They are due to get one more lord, which means they will likely be the focus of the last lord pack for Warhammer II. Nonetheless, as I suggested in my High Elves entry, the absolute worst thing Creative Assembly could do would be to plop the Dark Elves into Warhammer III's Mortal Empires campaign "as is" and hope for the best. Most Dark Elves start in incredibly isolated positions and have to work their way towards viable targets. With most of the attention moving from the New World to Kislev and Grand Cathay, the Dark Elves need a reason to explore the world map. And we will get into it, but the standard solution of aligning each lord with a Chaos God doesn't really "work" with the Dark Elves as most, while practitioners of dark magic, do not profess support for the Chaos Gods. That said, pitting them against the Chaos Gods could prove tricky. But with that in mind, let's jump into my recommendations.

Change #1: Completly Rehaul Everyone's Starting Location

When it comes to the Dark Elves, this honestly is the big "elephant in the room." The Dark Elves heavily benefited from being the main focus of Warhammer II. Their heavily isolated position on the continent of Naggaroth wasn't an issue as Creative Assembly placed the High Elves in their vicinity to create immediate threats. That will not be the case moving forward into Warhammer III, with Kislev, Grand Cathay, and Chaos Undivided being the likely focal points instead. The Dark Elves are going to need to spread out to interact with the new portions of the map, and for the more isolated factions, they need legitimate targets to aim for within turn ten. Otherwise, you end up with a dull campaign where you are stuck conquering rebel settlements for twenty turns, and no one wants that. The best course of action, in my mind at least, is to direct half of the current roster towards the High Elves and the other half towards Grand Cathay or Kislev. Maybe have more relics or enchanted items connected to the Sword of Khaine and have their parts and pieces scattered across Grand Cathay, Kislev, and even the Chaos Wastes. Khaine's Ring of Fury immediately comes to mind as something that could serve as a raison d'etre for the Dark Elves.

However, who gets moved and where is anyone's guess. Malekith can start wherever the fuck you want him, but he needs to have Naggarond as his province. Malus's current starting position is on the Dragon Isle's, and that's not going to cut it in Warhammer III. Then you have Lokhir Fellheart, a corsair known for having raided sea trade routes off the coasts of Ind and Grand Cathay. Lokhir will need a new "home" if you want him raiding the lands of Warhammer III any time soon. Then you have Morathi, a self-professed worshiper of Slaanesh. Do you remove her from the Dark Elves' roster and put her next to Sigvald and wherever the rest of Slaanesh is starting? Or, do you keep her current starting position and make her "play nice" with her shitty son and the rest of the Dark Elves' roster? There's a ton of potential with the Dark Elves, but you also have to consider how you want them to react to the forces of Chaos.

Also, tangent, but I don't know about you, but in my campaigns, Alith Anar just WASTES Morathi every time.
Also, tangent, but I don't know about you, but in my campaigns, Alith Anar just WASTES Morathi every time.

Change #2: Make Dark Elves Give A Shit About Chaos & Chaos Corruption

Right, so this is where the Dark Elves could get "messy." Except for Morathi, the Dark Elves are not aligned towards the Chaos Gods even if they practice destructive magic. Instead, they worship the elven God of Khaine, and that should put them in conflict with the Gods of Chaos. Nonetheless, and this is mostly the case in their current form in Warhammer II, the Dark Elves don't give a shit about the Warriors of Chaos. Part of the reason for this issue is that it is hard for the Warriors of Chaos or the end-game Chaos Invasion to reach them. I think the easiest fix would be to plop a portal to the realm of Chaos on their home continent and force the Dark Elves into an early confrontation so they cannot stay politically neutral as the rest of the world catches on fire. Again, I think there's a legitimate "threat" of the Dark Elves simply "turtling," especially when controlled by the A.I., for long periods unless something fucks their shit up.

Finally, with the introduction of the Chaos Gods, Warhammer III will need to reform how Chaos Corruption works in the game. In its current form, Chaos Corruption is a joke and ranks far below Vampiric and Skaven Corruption. However, when Chaos Corruption gets its much-needed buff, every faction will need a race-specific way of going about ridding it. The strategy of "purifying" a province of Chaos Corruption for Brettonia or The Empire shouldn't mirror what the Dark Elves' approach might be. The last thing I think anyone wants is for a core mechanic in Warhammer III to play exactly the same across all factions. The diversity of Warhammer II's races and nations is one of its most significant selling points. Fuck, if anything, the Dark Elves warrant their own corruption mechanic where they spread dark magic to untainted land. Furthermore, I think Morathi spreading corruption would make things interesting on the Dark Elves' home continent.

Skaven

Let's talk about a
Let's talk about a "GOOD" faction for once! Yes, yes!

Current State: PERFECT!

The Skaven have everything. They are the best faction in Warhammer II, and it is not even a contest. Besides making Tretch not a gigantic piece of shit, there's nothing you need to do with the current roster going from Warhammer II to III. Throt, Ikit Claw, and Skrolk are a ton of fun, and the way they play differently ensures no Skaven campaign will ever be the same. The Undercity mechanic makes moving around factions a cinch, and they already inhabit different parts of the map. Both of their Lores of Magic are great, and their corruption mechanic is the best in the game. If all Creative Assembly did was change each of the Skaven Legendary Lords' starting positions, I would not be salty about it. That said, I think there are a few things that should change about the faction when they do appear in Warhammer III, yes-yes.

Change #1: Move Clan Eshin & Give Everyone A Proper Forbidden Workshop Equivalent

The first point here is about as self-explanatory as it can be. Creative Assembly should change Clan Eshin's starting location and modify their undercity points to put them in direct conflict with Grand Cathay. For various reasons, Grand Cathay is Warhammer III's "wild card" as their backstory is not as fleshed out as the other announced factions. However, Clan Eshin has always been established as the Skaven Clan that "tainted" Nippon, Ind, and Cathay. I also think Deathmaster Snikch is the perfect foil to Cathay's imperial mystique and its mighty Dragon Emperor. Given that Games Workshop has signaled they are willing to let Creative Assembly go ham with Grand Cathay, I think the same creative freedom should apply to Clan Eshin's network of possible under-cities. Again, this is a simple fix, and I doubt Creative Assembly will disappoint Skaven fans.

Regarding the Forbidden Workshop, I am willing to die on the hill saying sub-faction-specific mechanics have hurt Warhammer II's meta. Don't get me wrong, I love the Forbidden Workshop and Grom's Cauldron, but the factions that do not get these mechanics always suffer when they do not have an appropriate equivalent. Things are not as bad with the Skaven as they are with the Greenskins, but Clan Skryre is my most played Skaven faction for a reason. Clan Pestilens can concoct plagues, and Clan Moulder can develop horrible mutants, but the Forbidden Workshop is still on a whole different level. Moreover, to further highlight why Tretch sucks shit, he starts with shitty stats and has no underlying mechanic to get entirely out of that hole. I'm not asking everyone to have a tech tree or upgrade system precisely like the Forbidden Workshop. Instead, Creative Assembly needs to ensure there's a greater sense of balance between the sub-faction-specific mechanics. Otherwise, I'm sticking with Ikit Claw nine times out of ten.

You tell me, how do you ever say
You tell me, how do you ever say "no" to this?

Change #2: Nerf Skaven Corruption

It always feels weird advocating for a mechanic or faction to get weaker in a speculation blog, but here we are. As I hinted at in my Dark Elves section, Skaven Corruption is, by a country mile, the most potent form of corruption in Warhammer II. It allows Skaven generals and Lords to get additional uses of the Menace Below ability and inflict negative buffs on opposing generals. That last part delivers a whopping -15 leadership to afflicted armies when they attempt to fight the Skaven. However, it is the extra uses of the Menace Below ability that makes Skaven Corruption gnarly. Also, identifying Skaven Corruption is not as easy as it is with Vampiric or Chaos Corruption, and eliminating under-cities is a massive pain in the ass. Overall, it is a potent mechanic and remains a threat well into the late-game if you are not careful.

I'm not necessarily against the current buffs carrying over into Warhammer III. However, it would be a BAD LOOK if Skaven Corruption continued to outperform Chaos Corruption in a campaign where each of the Chaos Gods has their disciples stomping about and laying waste to the world of Warhammer Fantasy. As such, I think it makes sense for Chaos Corruption to have an advantage over all other forms of corruption. Chaos Corruption should spread faster than Skaven Corruption, and it should be able to overlap and overtake it more easily. Furthermore, the effects of Skaven Corruption should not impact Chaos or hoard-based faction leaders as much as it does for factions like Bretonnia or The Empire. Finally, I think it makes sense if the number of additional Menace Belows you gain from Skaven Corruption went down or was eliminated and, instead, exclusively a part of each lord's tech tree.

Change #3: Add Thanquol As A Legendary Lord

Do it, you cowards. Please, do it for the kids. You know everyone wants Thanquol as a Legendary Lord in Warhammer III. So, make it happen. I dare you. I double-dog dare you.

Vampire Coast

No Caption Provided

Current State: GREAT... as long as you forget that they are supposed to be a naval-based faction!

Alright, as the sub-headline here suggests, I am going to completely side-step the real existential issue facing Vampire Coast. That is, they are a faction whose leaders repeatedly refer to themselves as "admirals," but there's no "real" naval combat in Total Warhammer II. Obviously, there's a reason for that. As most of you know, every time Creative Assembly has tried to add naval warfare to their games, it has SUCKED SHIT! And to be perfectly honest, I do not want Warhammer III to be their third or fourth bite at that apple. I think all of the faction leaders for Vampire Coast provide so much more than naval-based trade or combat buffs that I am willing to overlook this anachronism. Seriously, they are one of the most downright fun factions to play short of the Skaven. Regardless, Vampire Coast is in an impeccable position to interact with virtually all of the Warhammer III map. Nevertheless, there are a few "balance" issues I think need addressing.

Change #1: Make Looting & Sacking Feel "Special" For Pirates

Okay, let's briefly dabble with the present meta in Warhammer II. Currently, after taking a settlement, you usually have three possible choices, and before you comment, I know things are slightly different for hordes. The options are to occupy the settlement outright, loot the settlement then occupy it, or sack the settlement and then occupy it. The difference between those last two choices is not as straightforward as you may think. Sacking a settlement always provides a lot more gold and destroys all of the buildings in the province. However, looting a settlement offers a smaller amount of gold, but it just downgrades or damages the buildings inside it. The big issue with looting is that in low-tier territories, the cost of repairing structures can be more than the amount you earn from looting. For pirate-based factions, looting, lore-wise at least, makes more sense than sacking, but it is a burden to do for much of the game.

Even if you want to argue sacking low-tier settlements should be the way to go for pirates, which I don't necessarily disagree with, then the EXP and gold bonuses from sacking should change dramatically, especially for pirates. Sacking and looting are potent tools for power-leveling Legendary Lords in the early game, but for Vampire Coast, they should get more out of sacking and looting than gold and EXP. Likewise, despite what some may tell you, Vampire Coast is STILL a non-horde faction and needs to occupy settlements to meet their victory conditions. I know I have avoided the topic of victory conditions in this blog, but it makes a lot of sense for each Vampire Coast Legendary Lord to occupy at least one settlement on every continent before kicking up their boots and declaring "mission accomplished." On a related note, I think every province should have unique loot or trinkets that can be combined or equipped to dole out special faction-wide buffs for our swashbucklers. Which leads me to my next point....

I love Warhammer II memes so much....
I love Warhammer II memes so much....

Change #2: Give Them A Grom's Cauldron Equivalent

Hopefully, this change helps people avoid what I think is one of the most common mistakes I see people make whenever they play Vampire Coast. Everyone gets tunnel vision and sticks with the first continent they invade on turn four or five instead of exploring the world like a roving band of pirates. Sure, there's plenty of treasure to get in Warhammer II, but there's nothing in-game to encourage the player to start raiding multiple targets like a true pirate king. Unless, of course, Creative Assembly introduced a new Vampire Coast mechanic that forced players to continue exploring the world even during a massive faction-based raid. As a result of pillaging, I think pirates should collect loot that differs from province to province, and these should be combinable to create better weapons or tools for the Vampire Coast's roster. If players want to get the most out of the faction, they will need to be an omnipotent threat to everyone on the map.

Like Grom's Cauldron, I think you should be able to merge these resources to create faction-wide buffs. Sure, there are already quests for Legendary Weapons, but my idea here is to allow players to equip more potent transitional weapons before getting "the good stuff." Or, if The Forbidden Workshop tickles your fancy, require players to spend different trinkets to unlock additional units or abilities on a tech tree. For example, maybe to unlock better flintlock pistols for Luther Harkon or gunnery units, a player first needs to raid a settlement in Grand Cathay for better saltpeter. The point here is also for Vampire Coast to buff their units and not just their Legendary Lords through what they do best: pillaging and razing settlements. Honestly, I think there's a lot of potential for Vampire Coast moving from Warhammer II to III if Creative Assembly wants to make them a free-floating menace.

Change #3: Add Clan Skurvy

Fucking do it! I get that Captain Roth and his Grand Alliance make more sense, but who will argue against ghost pirate Skaven?! They would be a fun hybrid faction taking the Skaven and Vampire Coast's best attributes and put them in a single package.

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Opera Omnia Clears A Very Low Bar In Being The Most "Responsible" Gacha Game I Have Ever Seen

Preamble

This is certainly something
This is certainly something "different."

Last year, many of you may recall a blog I wrote lamenting Mobius Final Fantasy's shutdown. For those who may have missed it, I spent over 100 hours playing Mobius. While I would struggle to call the game "good," it got me, and at no point did I feel exploited by its gacha mechanics. However, its closure leads to a conversation I continue to have about game preservation on the industry's mobile front. Gacha games are a dime a dozen, and few, if any, have any hope of being emulated should their dev teams pull the plug for whatever reason. It's a meaningful discussion, especially when it comes to the Final Fantasy franchise, as the series has COUNTLESS mobile efforts that have effectively become "lost media." Say what you will about such "venerated titles" like All The Bravest, Final Fantasy Agito, or Final Fantasy Airborne Brigade. Those titles are dead, and with no hope of emulation coming to the rescue, they pose a massive predicament for hobbyists and historians alike.

However, today we are not here to discuss the murky waters of mobile game preservation. Instead, we are here to talk about Dissidia: Final Fantasy Opera Omnia (i.e., Opera Omnia). Ever since Mobius died, my tolerance for gacha game "trappings" has oscillated. Sure, there's something about them that gives me a rush that other titles or genres don't provide, and I can only assume that is by design. However, the idea everything I work for can suddenly disappear rubs me the wrong way. Then there are all of the moral and ethical quandaries posed by gacha games. In my limited time playing games in 2021, Opera Omnia is both the most surprisingly good game I have played and one of the more nefarious. It is an oddly ambitious mobile title with a ton of hidden depth. Nonetheless, it is also a gacha game at its heart, and that limits my ability to appreciate it even at face value. To be perfectly blunt, whenever I play a gacha game, I feel like I have a Sword of Damocles looming over me.

Wait, There's A Story In Dissidia Final Fantasy: Opera Omnia?

Do not fret Final Fantasy XIV fans, Y'shtola does not take kindly to being called a
Do not fret Final Fantasy XIV fans, Y'shtola does not take kindly to being called a "catgirl."

As its title might suggest, Opera Omnia is a mobile game set in the Dissidia "multiverse." This point means the game features every possible Final Fantasy character imaginable, all assembled to address a cross-dimensional disaster. As with anything in the Dissidia universe, there's a bunch of referential humor. Surprisingly, the fanservice, while pandering, is well done. In fact, Opera Omnia's story is what surprised me the most. Every character has their quirks and idiosyncrasies intact, and certain characters play off each other perfectly. For example, there's a scene when all of the orphans in the Final Fantasy franchise tell Tidus that he's lucky even to have a father to reconcile with in the first place. There's another funny bit when Shantotto attempts to hit on Kuja, and her flirtatious gestures go over his head. Finally, there are the nigh dozen times when Y'shtola gets pissed off whenever someone calls her "a catgirl."

However, because this is a Dissidia game, there comes a "hard pivot" when the story turns dramatic and ramps up the stakes. While the first chapter of Opera Omnia is all about funny fanservice, the second chapter is when the game finally plays out its hand of cards. At the start of chapter two, your Mogg companion transforms into a giant dragon monster and unleashes a whole can of whoop-ass. The entire situation comes to a head when characters that are canonically "dead" in their respective games react poorly to the news. This tonal shift leads to many reflective moments in which characters debate their desire to save the world of Dissidia as doing so would likely return them to their home dimensions where they are guaranteed to meet their demise. I respect the effort that was put into these character moments and dialogue scenes. Unfortunately, I struggled to maintain my interest because of how heavy-handed all of these scenes felt.

EVERY Dissidia game makes some form of a hard pivot to make its nonsense world "work," and I hate it every time. These characters work so much better when they are just casually playing off their similarities and differences. Maybe you like the Type-0 characters, but I could not give a flying fuck about them here. That especially did not change when the game gave them nigh five dialogue sequences in which they debate their existential dread. My lack of enthusiasm also did not change when I got yet another different "flavor" of Sephiroth brooding over his progeny. These stumbling blocks highlight one of the shortcomings of Opera Omnia's story. If there are specific characters or Final Fantasy games that you do not enjoy, you are going to have to buckle up because EVERYONE gets at least ten minutes to share what they think of their station in their originating game. Sometimes these moments of introspection work, and other times, like when everyone tries to egg Tidus to forgive his father, are cringy as fuck. I will maintain with my dying breath that these games have always been at their best when they are silly fanservice nonsense with zero pretensions of greater storytelling aspirations. That's especially the case when you have Kefka elbowing Sephiroth in the background.

How Does It Play?

If your first reaction to this screenshot is that there sure is a lot of shit on the screen, you are not alone!
If your first reaction to this screenshot is that there sure is a lot of shit on the screen, you are not alone!

To no one's surprise, Opera Omnia uses the Dissidia franchise's Bravery Mechanic. For those of you who might not be familiar with this system, here's a quick summary. Every playable character in Dissidia has two health bars: health and bravery. Before you can do damage to any given enemy, you first need to eliminate their bravery. However, each character has specific moves that whittle down health or bravery, which applies to physical attacks and magical ones. The one thing about the Dissidia combat system that I have always enjoyed is that debuffs damage bravery or health on top of inflicting their status ailments. As many of you are all too familiar with, typically, you avoid using debuffs outside of boss battles as they rarely help you move forward in an enemy encounter.

What makes Opera Omnia "different" from the rest of the Dissidia series is that it is a turn-based RPG where you assemble parties of three characters. This point of differentiation allows the game to experiment with its class system, which is exhaustive given the game's massive cast of characters. Some characters, like Squall or Cloud, provide pure DPS but require assistance in collecting bravery. Conversely, there are characters like Hope, who are "Bravery Banks" whose sole purpose is to draw massive heaps of bravery and distribute them to the rest of your party. The game even has dedicated healers, magic-casters, and de-buffers. In my mind, Opera Omnia is, without a doubt, the best the Bravery System has ever looked. You feel inspired to give every character a shot before settling down on your "top three." Likewise, different encounters or missions favor different party compositions, so, you feel encouraged to try out and unlock new characters. Were it not for a handful of gacha traps, which we will discuss shortly, that alone would be enough to lead me to recommend the game. However, be warned, certain characters are better than others, and the game does a terrible job of communicating each character's utility.

While I commend the mechanics of Opera Omnia, its mission structure leaves a lot to be desired. Every act and chapter is splayed across a blurry environmental texture that involves hopping across hundreds of nodes, which dole out new characters and rewards. There will be cutscenes between the combat missions that allow a new character to present itself or for a pre-existing character to wrestle with the story's current events. After a few combat scenes, you'll see the next part of this storyline, and the payoff will occur after a boss battle or two. To call this format "safe" is an understatement. If anything, there are several occasions in which the game stretches simple character arcs well beyond their breaking points. For example, I did not need a five-act dramatic structure to let Noctis from Final Fantasy XV share his love for cooking. Luckily, the "Lost Episodes" provide new characters and character-based set pieces at a far better clip than the main story. In fact, if you are missing a Final Fantasy character you absolutely want, it is highly recommended you find their "Lost Episode" to unlock them post-haste.

What Are The Gacha Traps?

Let's just say there's a reason why this game is
Let's just say there's a reason why this game is "banned" in Belgium.

One of the main things that drove me up the wall is that this game has over twenty goddamn currencies, and each does something different. To make matters worse, the process for upgrading your characters is obtuse and incredibly frustrating, and as we will discuss shortly, I think this is a part of the game's DNA. Nonetheless, the UI is fiddly enough that I never felt like I could truly master the steps for upgrading items, equipment, and characters. The UI/UX is also painfully cluttered with notifications, health bars, and stamina meters. Finally, the in-game tutorial is atrocious. It's so bad and poorly translated it is not even funny. This flaw is highly problematic as it means players are bound to make mistakes in how they level up their characters or use their starting resources. Several of which will eventually require in-app purchases to restore or regain.

Quick aside, if you have "analysis paralysis," you will have a hard time playing Opera Omnia. There are over 100 characters, and each entails a somewhat Byzantine process to making them better. I had a hard time picking my initial trio of characters when starting the game. Even parsing out everyone's respective job classes can take a while. Right off the bat, you'll notice every character is assigned a "color," and that color signifies the type of crystal you need to expend to level them up. However, each color-coded crystal has six distinct varieties, and the amount of each type you need grows exponentially with every level. As if that were not enough, you have tokens, gems, one-use items, gil, and loot box tickets! It is a lot to take in and not for the faint of heart.

You spend a TON of time fiddling around with menu screens and comparing stats more than you'd like.
You spend a TON of time fiddling around with menu screens and comparing stats more than you'd like.

I'm not going to go over what all of these different trinkets do, but I will give you an idea of how you level up your characters. Full disclaimer, if you end up playing this game, you only need to worry about the crystals to complete the story. Nonetheless, the above image gives you a pretty good idea of what you need to go through to level up a single character. The level cap for the best characters is currently at 80, and you are going to need every type of crystal if you want to reach that cap. As you might expect, the last handful of these resources are acquired more quickly by shelling out actual money, and even if you grind for them in-game, they pop out at a snail's pace. That said, I have to commend Opera Omnia for doing two things that are not the norm with gacha games. First, it gives you enough starting resources to max out at least five or six characters if you know what you are doing. There are also one-time use Chocobo Feathers that allow you to circumnavigate the crystal system and level up characters even faster. Likewise, there are ways for you to gain everything you need without spending money. In fact, the missions that dole out the best drops and EXP are totally free, and the game directs you to them from the get-go. It is not out of the realm of possibility for you to have an army of your favorite Final Fantasy characters ready to lay waste on everything you face in Opera Omnia without spending any real-world money.

The big point of contention with any gacha game is whether it has loot boxes, and Opera Omnia indeed has them. The game rotates a fixed assortment of loot box receptacles daily and weekly. Each receptacle has the decency of listing which characters it will spew items for, but the best weapons and items' draw rates are meager. Likewise, you can tell the dev team play "favorites" as some characters are better represented in the game's blind packs than others. I played the game for around two months and never saw more than two purchasable loot boxes that did not unlock shit for Cloud. It is worth mentioning all of the playable characters are free. You can either unlock them by playing the story or through the character-specific episodes. The only character-based content that requires money or in-app purchases are alternate costumes or outfits, and before you ask, they are a waste of money.

What Makes It A "Responsible" Gacha Game?

Also, this game makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Also, this game makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

First, the main campaign is entirely beatable without spending a single dollar. I finished both acts with a party of Beatrix, Lightning, and Cloud and only on a few occasions encountered anything capable of surviving three turns. Regardless, you have upwards of fifty hours' worth of content for basically free, and again, the story is admirable in how much effort it puts in to provide everyone with their fair share. The only time I honestly felt like I had hit Opera Omnia's "paywall" was when I tried beating the game on its highest difficulty, as well as when I tried tackling some of the game's timed special events. These tasks require you to "boost" your characters, and that's only realistically possible if you buy special packages. I know there are likely a handful of Opera Omnia fans who will chime in that even these challenges are possible to complete for free if you grind out levels or resources in alternate dimensions. While correct, the amount of time this process requires is insane.

On a more positive note, and I cannot emphasize this point enough, while I gave the Type-0 and XV cast a hard time, your favorite Final Fantasy character is bound to get some love in this game. Even obscure characters like Prishe from Final Fantasy XI and Sabin from Final Fantasy VI get whole scenes and act out in the most charming and endearing way possible. There's even a character from Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, and Kadaj from Advent Children makes an appearance! To accentuate how solid the writing is, Caius Ballad gets a story arc that is more coherent and understandable than what he gets in Final Fantasy XIII-2. Even when it's not funning about, the amount of dialogue in this game is nothing to scoff at, and the consistency of its quality shocked me. If anything, it feels like an honest love letter to long-time Final Fantasy fans, but a love letter without the expected pitfalls.

No stone has been left unturned, and with constant updates, Opera Omnia is one of the best-supported mobile games I have seen in a long while. The game rotates the characters you can draw items for regularly, and the inclusion of "Lost Chapters" allows players to expedite the process of unlocking new characters if they are not up for the game's intimidating campaign. Likewise, the starting bevy of resources the game provides creates a safety net for you to try out its mechanics before feeling compelled to spend money. This again is another safeguard that Opera Omnia has included to make sure everyone can enjoy its story and world, and that's not something you always see in gacha games. Seriously, when comparing Opera Omnia to something like Genshin Impact, the latter feels like a scam. You only need to shell out money if you feel compelled to tackle the game's most formidable challenges or want to don your characters with unique outfits, which, as I have already said, is not worth it. That aside, I still have what I think is a moral obligation to issue one last "word of warning" before we wrap up this blog.

Word Of Warning: Opera Omnia Is Still A Gacha Game

Way back in 2015, Danny O'Dwyer made what I consider to be his most underrated editorial video during his tenure at GameSpot. In it, he detailed the science behind addictive gameplay mechanics and the moral questions they raise. In Danny's video, the main talking points are World of Warcraft and Destiny 1. That alone might cause some to deem it "outdated," yet, the video's commentary still holds water in a world where Fate/Grand Order generates millions of dollars every month, and people still cannot stop talking about Genshin Impact. The biggest takeaway Danny made with the original Destiny is one I hold when it comes to Opera Omnia: the proliferation of addictive gameplay mechanics raises a bunch of ethical questions. Even if you can enjoy the game for free, it still subjects you to an excessive amount of game mechanics with the intent of modifying your behavior. This includes push notifications on your mobile phones or dolling out rewards for logging into it consistently.

Yes, Opera Omnia provides new events and content every week. To people who have already sunk in hundreds of hours into it, that will feel like a fantastic value proposition. Likewise, with every update comes reams worth of new writing and dialogue with impressive character models and animations to boot. I don't want people to think that my negativity makes it seem like Square-Enix is putting in a half-assed effort whenever they add something new to Opera Omnia. The reality is quite the opposite, but there's no denying that it still eases its community into variable ratios rooted in Skinner Box behaviorism. The game still needs you to "normalize" drawing cards to get better weapons and that these items can be acquired through either hours of grinding or paying up. Even if its defenders can say that you can play it for "free," it is still a gacha game at its core. A slot machine where you put in a penny, and after seeing its reels spin, you get your penny back; is still, by definition, a slot machine.

All of these concerns raise more questions about Opera Omnia's design. The level of frustration I had navigating Opera Omnia's interface? I cannot help but wonder if that was on purpose to frustrate enough players to cause them to throw up their hands and spend money to get the resources they want or need. The myriad of currencies allows the game to bestow a dozen different variable ratios, so the player never feels like they are not engaged. No matter what you do, you are achieving something in Opera Omnia, which makes the game even more addictive. Yes, all games have mechanics designed to keep you playing for as long as possible. The difference with gacha games is that these appeals for attention continue in perpetuity rather than over the span of a finite single-player campaign. These games fight tooth and nail when you try to walk away from them, and they throw every psychological tool in the toolbox to convince you to come back. If that poses a dilemma to you or anyone you know, stay away.

But... it's still a ton of fun. The writing in it is smart and creative, and I can only imagine some of you would love playing it. So, if you have the mental fortitude, I recommend you check it out. Just remember, you should not spend a single dollar in the game. With that in mind, let's bring this blog to a close! I'll see you next time.

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My Predictions About What Square-Enix Is Doing Or Announcing In 2021

WARNING! There are moderate spoilers for Final Fantasy VII Remake in this Blog! You have been warned!

Preamble

As this blog's title might suggest, I think the next two years for Square-Enix will prove exciting. After Final Fantasy VII Remake sold like hotcakes, the studio is riding a newfound high regarding its internal development. This success was complemented by the reveal of Final Fantasy XVI and the thrilling news of Naoki Yoshida helming a non-MMORPG entry in the franchise. However, that doesn't mean things are all "rosy" in the land of Square-Enix. Marvel's Avengers has been a slow-moving train wreck with recurring issues concerning content updates, and the management of its European publishing arm continues to be a tire fire. Add all this together, and Square-Enix finds itself in an odd position. Their aspirations to convert the critical acclaim of Final Fantasy VII Remake into mainstream success and acceptance in the industry is all but known. Yet, when Square shoots for the stars, we know it can sometimes lead to disaster.

However, there are two things I want to get out of the way in this preamble before we jump into my "predictions." First, I don't think Square-Enix is working on a remaster of Crisis Core. I think Final Fantasy VII Remake's ending firmly establishes a new continuity where Square-Enix can work with the game's cast and world carte blanche. If they were to throw in a game that reminds people of the "old" continuity, it would immediately muddy the waters. Second, Square-Enix is busy micro-managing multiple projects that each require a considerable amount of time and patience. That is why you will notice I am not predicting any announcements about full-fledged new console game projects. The studio already has Final Fantasy XVI and the second episode of VII Remake on its plate. Likewise, their MMO branch is busy working on additional story content for Final Fantasy XI AND XIV. So, unless you want tri-Ace to helm a major Final Fantasy project, and you shouldn't, you are going to have to wait.

With all of that in mind, it is worth mentioning that the internet scuttlebutt is Square-Enix has a couple of big announcements planned for February and possibly March. With this blog, I will muse over what I think those announcements might be while maintaining some semblance of pragmatism. Speaking of which, I wish to issue a bit of a disclaimer. This blog is being written from a fan's perspective. I have no formal or professional sources to ensure anything I am predicting will actually happen. Likewise, for a handful of my predictions, I am shooting for the stars and am hoping for things that cannot possibly or reasonably occur. Again, this is all in the name of good fun, and I welcome you to join me in this exercise. All I ask is that you remember that nothing I am saying should be taken too seriously. Similarly, should anything I conjecture come true, I should receive zero credit.

Prediction #1: The First Soldier Is A VR Game & Ever Crisis Is A Mobile Game

Or, how about a VR version of the Golden Saucer and all of the minigames in OG Final Fantasy VII? That sounds like a very Square thing to do!
Or, how about a VR version of the Golden Saucer and all of the minigames in OG Final Fantasy VII? That sounds like a very Square thing to do!

When various circles reported on a batch of trademarks from Square-Enix a while back, I went into them with tempered expectations and found my expectations relatively met. All of the trademarks are generalized game and multimedia patents registering themselves for anything ranging from commemorative magnets and pins to jewel box CD-ROMs. As someone who has been following Square-Enix's developmental projects for a while, the only thing exceptional about these patents is they include "virtual reality game software" on top of the expected electronic applied machinery patents. Admittedly, Square started doing this way back with Final Fantasy XV, and they made good on that patent with a VR technical demo to promote the game to the public. That is why I predict that "First Soldier" will be some sword-based slashing VR game where you play as either Sephiroth or Zack and follow either's adventures leading up to the "Nibelheim Incident." Nothing too flashy or anything we haven't seen before, but as I mentioned earlier, Square-Enix isn't exactly in a position to make a proper remake of Crisis Core or invest the time and effort into an especially compelling prequel to VII Remake.

That said, I can say with some certainty that at least one of these projects will be a mobile game. Mobile development is the one division of Square-Enix that continues to grow every year, and it is an underreported behemoth when it comes to making the studio money. With a name like "Ever Crisis," I think Square is throwing a bone to the very vocal thousands of fans who followed and continue to call for a remake of Before Crisis. However, I do not think for a minute that Ever Crisis is going to be a shot-for-shot remake of Before Crisis. Instead, I think what is more likely to happen is that Tetsuya Nomura will get out his Final Fantasy VII coloring book and work on a project starring his favorite group of characters, The Turks. In this game, you're going to follow a random assortment of Turks that allow Nomura to inject a lethal dose of zippers and leather belts into the VII Remake's continuity. In fact, I think that's the point with these newly registered trademarks: Square-Enix wants to add more media to the new continuity they have created with VII Remake rather than remaster old projects that are more in service of the original game's continuity.

Prediction #2: The Most Square-Enix Shows Of Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 Is One Teaser Trailer With No Gameplay

I will eat my shoe if this is not the final visual of the first teaser trailer for Part 2.
I will eat my shoe if this is not the final visual of the first teaser trailer for Part 2.

With Final Fantasy VII Remake taking many by surprise and Square-Enix collecting a good number of GOTY commendations, a lot of people have projected ambitious goals for the studio regarding the next "episode." I think it is wholly unrealistic to expect the developer to churn out significant revelations about Part Two less than a year after the first episode's release. Admittedly, I don't think Square-Enix will show nothing this year because they cannot afford Remake's troubled development cycle a second time. However, I do believe it isn't sensible to believe they will establish the scope and sequence of a massive AAA game they are actively developing as we speak. Shit, they STILL haven't addressed the big "elephant in the room" when it comes to Part 2's next steps. That burning question being if the second episode will either: a) follow the events of the original OR b) completely disregard the structure of the original and blaze its own path. With this crucial question still in play, I think the most Square will show is a CG trailer reconveying the events of the "Nibelheim Incident," with the last visual of the teaser being THAT SHOT of Sephiroth.

I cannot emphasize enough, this "inflection point" that Square-Enix has boxed themselves into is nothing to scoff at in a blase manner. If you are asking me, it is my theory the last two chapters of Remake send a clear message that the next episode(s) will be very different, and anything is possible. I do not even think there's a guarantee Part Two will even feature the Golden Saucer or North Corel. One of the original Final Fantasy VII's selling points was its massive world. Final Fantasy VII Remake would not benefit from such an open world and instead begs for guided level design so it can dole out scripted character-based set pieces. Likewise, as someone who genuinely prefers playing Final Fantasy VII Remake in real-time, there are a ton of gameplay and mechanical trappings from the original that Square-Enix needs to throw in the trash. I swear, if we see any gameplay of episode two this or next year, and there's a world map, I will think they have thoroughly fucked up. But, I don't know if Kitase and Nomura have it within them to challenge their audience and NOT create a shot-by-shot retelling. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; I think there are SEVERAL existential discussions to be had before they show a single teaser trailer. As a result, I don't think we will see much of Episode Two for years.

Otherwise, do people think Square-Enix will decide whether the next episode will have an overworld versus some real-time world exploration system in less than a year? How is that in any way a reasonable expectation? Square-Enix can barely wrap their mind around consistent character designs or outfits, let alone fundamental gameplay decisions they will need to make now that Cloud and company are out of Midgar! I have said it before, but recreating Midgar is the "easy part" of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Dealing with the Golden Saucer, Junon Parade, Temple of the Ancients, or Northern Crater, should they decide to feature such levels, will be ten times harder, and I think Square-Enix knows that. Logically speaking, the second episode should take place at Calm, likely starting with a flashback to Cloud's first telling of the events at Nibelheim. In this scenario, it would make sense for Part 2 to stop at Junon Harbor with the planet's summoning of the Weapons. People saying episode two will get to the Northern Crater are CRAZY PEOPLE who expect way too much of Square-Enix and don't understand how game development works. Again, that is all contingent Episode 2 follows in the footsteps of the original game, which I don't think is a sure bet.

Prediction #3: Final Fantasy XVI Gets A Weird Playable Demo Similar To Final Fantasy XV

Remember this weird fucking thing? I'm expecting more stuff like this down the road
Remember this weird fucking thing? I'm expecting more stuff like this down the road

Alright, hear me out for this prediction before you laugh at my face. Yes, it feels like Square-Enix announced Final Fantasy XVI yesterday, and the game is bound to be barely past the alpha stages of development at this point. However, if Final Fantasy XV is any metric for the non-MMO Final Fantasy games' future, I think a sliver of Final Fantasy XVI is bound to reach the public either this or next year. Remember, years before the official console release of Final Fantasy XV, Square-Enix released a playable "technical demo" which allowed players to toggle weather effects and pop-off summons in visually stunning backdrops with little connection to the actual story. At the time, Square-Enix's experiment paid off with people being enamored by XV's visuals and flashy real-time combat systems, and you'd be hard-pressed to think they're not bound to do the same with Final Fantasy XVI. Fuck, I wouldn't put it past Square-Enix to have Final Fantasy XVI enter "Early Access" next year and stay there for half a decade before "officially" launching.

Plus, we have to consider the big-name Square-Enix is putting behind Final Fantasy XVI to get long-time fans back on-board with numbered entries of the series: Naoki Yoshida. Yoshi-P's whole schtick is making the development process of everything he works on as transparent as possible to fans. It would be incredibly foolish if Square-Enix, to maintain the "mystery" of Final Fantasy's developmental process, prevented Naoki Yoshida from being the Yoshi-P that has engendered himself to millions of people. The "fireside chats" that assuaged concerned Final Fantasy XIV fans during their game's darkest days? Yeah, do that shit for Final Fantasy XVI! Besides, Square almost has to do this, given that the Final Fantasy XIV team that is joining Naoki Yoshida has proven they work best when they receive player input in real-time. Yoshi-P has shown time and time again that he is more of a reactionary developer than a proactive one. Yes, he deserves credit for revolutionizing the MMORPG landscape, but that came on the heels of massive community input and feedback. So, let the guy and his team make a bunch of high-concept sandboxes and let them level with their fans to see which ideas stick.

Prediction #4: PC And Xbox Series X/S Versions Of Final Fantasy VII Remake Get Announced

LET PC FANS MOD CLOUDS APARTMENT DOOR! YOU COWARDS!
LET PC FANS MOD CLOUDS APARTMENT DOOR! YOU COWARDS!

Of my predictions, this is the one I am confident is going to happen. There is no logical reason for Square-Enix to let the timed exclusivity of Final Fantasy VII Remake lapse in April 2021 and NOT immediately announce new console and PC releases. It makes no sense unless Square-Enix GETS PAID to renew that exclusivity contract in perpetuity, and I do not think that's happening. The game was one of the biggest releases of 2020, and that price tag is bound to be high enough Sony will not payout, or Square-Enix is not motivated to take their money. Unless they GET PAID, letting the game remain a console exclusive makes no goddamn sense. Sure, Sony might hedge their bets and buy the next-gen console exclusivity rights, but I highly doubt they'd also buy out the rights to block the game from releasing on PC. Nonetheless, the game was such a massive success I think they are bound to cast a large net and announce Xbox and PC versions this year. Though, I highly doubt the game will ever grace a Nintendo platform. Even the most diehard PlayStation fans can deny Square-Enix needs the money from added console sales to offset their other losses from 2020, which, mark my words, we will discuss shortly.

This is around the time when some people cite console sales numbers or suggest Square-Enix is still holding on to some notion of the 90's era system wars. To that, I point to my physical copy of the Nintendo Switch combo pack for Final Fantasy VII & VIII. If Square-Enix gave a FUCK about their "allegiance" to Sony, why the fuck can I play OG Final Fantasy VII on virtually everything, including my mother's LG smart refrigerator? Square-Enix is not turning down millions of dollars out of the kindness of their heart to Sony platform owners. Furthermore, the game getting out to more consumers is good for the franchise. It means Square-Enix can shore up more funds to add in bigger and better stuff for the next game, and it ensures the franchise remains in the zeitgeist even when it is not launching new titles. If holding on to some notion of yesteryear's console wars is what keeps you alive, shit, more power to you. Nevertheless, I am genuinely excited to talk about Final Fantasy VII Remake with more friends and family members if it becomes more easily accessible.

Prediction: #5: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Switch Port & All Of The DS Ports Of Classic Final Fantasy Games Are Coming To Various Online Shops

THIS. IS. THE. MOST. UNDERRATED. FINAL. FANTASY. GAME. EVER. MADE.
THIS. IS. THE. MOST. UNDERRATED. FINAL. FANTASY. GAME. EVER. MADE.

Earlier, I suggested I had severe doubts about Square-Enix announcing a Switch port of Final Fantasy VII Remake, but that does not mean I think Switch owners will be left in the lurch. That said, I don't think the company has anything too surprising for Switch owners, and their recent activity on the platform is a tell-tale sign. As some of you may recall, the last time we had a proper E3, Square-Enix spent 80% of their press conference announcing remakes and remasters of their past games for the Switch (i.e., SaGa Frontier & Crystal Chronicles). However, if you search "Final Fantasy" on the online Switch marketplace, you'll notice things are a bit barren. In 2021 I expect the "enhanced remasters" of III, IV, V, and VI to hit the digital Switch store. The remasters of III and IV are no-brainers as those enhanced remakes launched on the DS, and there's a precedent for former DS titles appearing on the Switch store. The V and VI releases are bound to be the awful iOS/Android ports, even though it would be better for Square-Enix to release the original SNES versions. Mark my words, if any of these games come to the Switch, NONE OF THEM will be the original NES or SNES versions because Square-Enix hates releasing the versions of games people want to play.

I'm also going to include Theatrhythm Final Fantasy on a wing and a prayer. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is one of the few rhythm games I enjoy outside of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and nowadays, it is becoming increasingly harder to play. With the state of EVERY Nintendo-based online marketplace at risk of evaporating and the iOS version of the game shutting down, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is in dire need of a revival. As suggested, there is a trend of DS and 3DS titles coming out on the Switch, but in the case of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, I think Square-Enix should pull out all the stops in a total remaster that takes advantage of the Switch's hardware. The touch-based rhythm mechanics are an almost perfect fit for the console, and there's plenty of DLC potential if that tickles Square-Enix's fancy. Slight tangent, but if you live near a Round 1 entertainment complex, you should consider seeing if your location has the Theatrhythm arcade game after the pandemic. I can safely say it is one of the best arcade games I have played in at least twenty years, and there are exciting mechanics in it worth exploring. For example, I hope the multiplayer modes and online leaderboards from that version translate into a possible Switch port, as adding them would increase the game's longevity exponentially.

Prediction #6: Square Remains Committed to Marvel's Avengers Regardless Of It Being A Money Sink

And now for something completely different!
And now for something completely different!

We transition from the fun and exciting predictions to the giant skeleton in Square-Enix's closet, Marvel's Avengers. Without a doubt, the game had a rocky launch and still has not yet "turned things around" when it comes to its dwindling online community. To say Marvel's Avengers was a "disaster" is both unfair to the game and an understatement of Square's folly. Back in November of 2020, Square-Enix revealed to its shareholders Marvel's Avengers had not "recouped its cost," which came as no surprise to those following the game. Nonetheless, that same year-to-date business brief asserted that Square-Enix was not giving up on the game, and they maintained next-generation console ports could turn things around. Whether or not you believe Square's authenticity or even that their claim is possible, we know for a fact Crystal Dynamics has not stopped development on the game, and new updates are right around the corner. So, for whatever reason, Square-Enix is letting Crystal Dynamics have another solid stab at reviving the game and its community.

My guess, and this is only my very humble and smug guess, is the game goes free to play at some point this or next year. The "base game" will go "free," and all additional content gets packaged in DLC or microtransactions. Furthermore, there's something to be said about Marvel's Avengers getting on GamePass or PS+ to build up its player base. The logical thing to do in my mind is put the game on GamePass or PS+ for about six months and get some front and center advertising on said platforms. Then, after more people check out the game, pull it, but complement this with the announcement of a F2P version. And before anyone freaks out at me; I'm more or less talking about a free to play model similar to most non-World of Warcraft MMORPGs. Make a good chunk of the game "free," but have late-game content and more obscure characters and costumes locked behind a paywall. Yes, this is exactly what Square did with Final Fantasy XIV. The fact Square-Enix has pulled this off before is why I am not entirely ready to discount Marvel's Avengers pulling off a comeback.

Prediction #7: Massive Layoffs At Square Enix Europe; Crystal Dynamics Is Shuttered

It also does not help Square-Enix's arcade game division reported MAJOR drops in 2020.
It also does not help Square-Enix's arcade game division reported MAJOR drops in 2020.

Square-Enix's management of Square Enix Europe, formerly Eidos Interactive, continues to be one of the weirdest recurring storylines in the video game industry. When Square first purchased Eidos way back in 2009, it was seen as a "power move" and their attempt to compete against North American and European publishers in the industry. Since then, while the titles published by Edios have been mainly good, Square-Enix's self-inflicted wounds have plagued their repeated attempts at competing against the likes of Activision or EA. The revived Tomb Raider games don't get the proper credit I think they deserve in striking a balance between the old school ideals of the series's past with new era sensibilities. Nonetheless, Square-Enix's inability to properly promote any of the prequel games and instead relying on word of mouth doomed all three game's chances of meeting their ridiculous sales targets. The same sentiment applies to the revived Deus Ex games, and let's not forget their meddlesome insistence that Hitman (2016) needed to be episodic. Speaking of which, Square-Enix's decision to let IO Interactive walk away for pennies is looking incredibly stupid right about now.

Under the backdrop of Vicarious Visions losing their independence or Gearbox selling out to a larger holding company, I cannot fathom a world where some restructuring does not occur at Square-Enix Europe. It will not surprise me if this year Eidos' former development teams hard pivot to become high-poly render farms for cinematics on future Kingdom Hearts games. It is important to note, the North American divisions of Square-Enix experienced a massive restructuring effort way back in 2014. Nonetheless, what all of this means is that a ton of legacy IPs are wallowing away with no signs of that changing. The fact Square-Enix Europe doesn't have any Deus Ex project in active development while the cyberpunk theme is at an all-time high is a massive wasted opportunity. And with open-world and massively multiplayer online sandbox games more popular than ever, I have to ask, where the fuck is the next Just Cause game? The Thief, Tomb Raider, and Legacy of Kain IPs are just sitting there waiting for something to happen to them. Yet, none of these games have seen any movement in years, and that suggests a level of disfunction I think even Square-Enix HQ can see. But with that, I think we will "call it" for this blog.

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ZombiePie's End Of The Year 2020 Multimedia Extravaganza!

Author's Note: Hello there! My name is ZombiePie, and I am a Giant Bomb forum and wiki moderator. Every year I look at the various sources of entertainment I enjoyed and disliked. My awards are more "special commendations" and are open to any medium. During my awards show, I pit games, television shows, animes, athletics, albums, board games, and movies in a fight to the death! Additionally, you can expect to see classic and current works of entertainment vying for the top positions. Oh, and one more thing, there are SPOILERS in this blog! Keep that in mind before reading any of my justifications. Also, have your pitchforks ready as things get a little "spicy" from time to time!

Most Creative Award: Neil Cicierega's "Mouth Dreams"

Mouth Dreams is by far the oddest creative endeavor I partook in all year. It is a musical accomplishment I have a difficult time explaining because it is one of those rare works you have to see for yourself to understand fully. Right on the tin, Neil Cicierega describes their latest album as a collection of songs about dreaming and sleeping, but obviously, it is far more than that in execution. For one thing, the album's inordinate number of "Easter Eggs" led to an internet scavenger hunt spanning the entire globe, the likes of which we have not seen since the launch of Doki Doki Literature Club. It took months before the internet fully "cracked" Mouth Dreams, and even then, people are still uncovering secrets and references to this day. I can only imagine the time it must have took to cram so much creative output into a single album and the mental fortitude it requires to accept some of it may never be seen or heard.

Lost in the mix are the musical tracks, which range a gamut of every possible emotion from rage to utter bliss. Honestly, no one thing from this year made me howl in laughter quite like Mouth Dreams. As was the case in Cicierega's previous works, some of the mashups feel almost "sacrilegious" in their musical marriages. "Spongerock" takes Queen's beloved "We Will Rock You" and merges it with the intro and ending themes of SpongeBob SquarePants, and it is a testament to Cicierega's creative mind that it ends up working. Likewise, songs like "Cannibals" and "The Outsiders" feature so many musical cameos I couldn't help but listen to them more than once. The results are often incredibly stupid, but always dumb in a way that kept me wanting to listen to more. For that, I cannot help but commend Cicierega for putting this album out during the time in which they did.

Runner-up: Umurangi Generation -

In a similar vein to Mouth Dreams, Umurangi Generation crams a lot into a small package. The worlds it showcases are drenched with environmental storytelling and compelling storylines where you least expect them. Furthermore, it is a game with a dark tale that slowly descends into madness. Even more, it keeps on twisting its knife as you watch its previously idyllic world shatter to bits.

Pandemic Guilty Pleasure Of The Year Award: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Fuck you, Blathers.
Fuck you, Blathers.

I feel like this entry will require some justification on my part. First, I concede Animal Crossing: New Horizons is by no stretch of the word a "bad" game, but it certainly is a "frustrating" one. Outside of this pandemic stricken year, there are only a few times during my adult life when I would have considered stomaching through New Horizons' bullshit. I would go so far as to say the grind of days one through five provides one of the worst gameplay experiences in a AAA title this year. Like many others, there was a time when I had a mountain of bug cages and fish aquariums next to my tent as I waited for Blathers to get his shit together. Then there were my MANY heart-breaking walks next to unnavigable cliffs until I unlocked and crafted the jumping pole. Even when I got to the point when the world finally opened up, little things like not being able to give Blathers more than one fossil continually proved irritating. All of this is to suggest, New Horizons pissed me off to no end.

And everything new in the game proved to be a mixed bag as well. The Nook Mile system cleverly directs players to check out the game's more obtuse mechanics. However, the system is fiddly, and it quickly proves overwhelming by day three. Redeeming Nook Tickets to explore mystery islands is fun until you start getting island repeats that are of no value to you. The world that you inhabit in the game is still charming; there's no denying that. Also worth praising are the "little touches" that add a sense of homeliness that other life simulators often lack. I loved designing new homes, and the crafting system proved to be fun, if not tiresome. I did enjoy this game and ended up sinking in a considerable amount of time into it for obvious reasons. It is very much the Animal Crossing we all know and love. Nonetheless, for me, at the very least, the label "guilty pleasure" fits it better than "Game of the Year."

Runner-up: Tiger King -

I have said it before and am more than happy to repeat my stance for this show: Tiger King is one of the most entertaining things you will watch from 2020, but I'll be damned if I EVER call it a "documentary." It is a reality television comedy-drama pieced together through editing and masquerading as a documentary. Yes, the larger-than-life people it highlights exist in reality, but that doesn't mean we should ignore the editing hatchet job its directors did to further a pre-selected storyline they were gunning for before the first episode aired. All the same, I watched every episode and couldn't stop myself from talking about it with friends and family.

Biggest Middle Finger To Switch Lite Users Award: Super Mario 3D All-Stars

I want you to know how much harder it is for me to experience this joy. I need you to know.
I want you to know how much harder it is for me to experience this joy. I need you to know.

I am a Switch Lite owner and make no qualms about it. I have not been a massive follower of Nintendo's consoles since the Wii, but I felt like some of the Switch's titles were right up my alley. So, when Nintendo announced the Switch Lite at an incredibly affordable price range, I decided to take the plunge. Since then, my experience with the console-handheld hybrid has been mostly positive. However, there's no denying that the Switch Lite is the bastard son Nintendo rarely thinks about when it puts out significant titles. Numerous games run like shit on the Switch Lite, and the modified control schemes you often deal with leave a lot to be desired. This year, the doyenne of these shoddy port jobs by far has to be Super Mario 3D All-Stars, an already questionable release that is even worse on the Switch Lite.

Right off the rip, Super Mario 64 looks like over-compressed garbage on the Switch Lite. You can experience this for yourself by playing it in handheld-mode on a standard Switch. However, this quibble pales compared to a particular control decision Nintendo made with the Switch Lite versions of Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. In both, you can only pick up collectibles by tapping the screen. I'm not kidding. There's no button prompt to collect everything littered on the screen during action scenes or platforming levels. Instead, you need to come to a full stop in-game and tap your screen to pick up anything that needs collecting. You also need to tap the items in question one at a time. Even if you are in the middle of a boss fight or a "problematic" platforming section, you have to tap the screen to pick up bits and objects. Inevitably, this means that Switch Lite owners like myself are always in health and currency trouble because you have to stop moving whenever you need to pick something up. I know it might sound like histrionics, but this design decision makes two of the games in this "All-Stars" package nigh unplayable.

Runner-up: Burnout Paradise Remastered -

Burnout Paradise Remastered presents a more common issue plagued by Switch Lite owners: vastly inferior graphics. I want to commend the developers for finding a way for the game to output at a consistent 60 FPS. However, the resolution scaling is evident the moment you go over 50 MPH, and it gets worse the faster you go. Often, I found my screen to be a blurry nightmare by the time my car reached 90 MPH, and let me tell you, that's not going to allow you to win any of the late-game content.

Anime Of The Year Award: Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

The only
The only "Big Three" from 2020 worth talking about!

No one character perfectly captures the anxiety, malaise, and heartache of trying to make your dreams a reality quite like Midori Asakusa. The emotional rollercoaster she experiences as she attempts to make the anime show of her dreams a reality feels so close to the human experience that when it errs towards the more fantastical, you cannot help but think about possible real-world comparisons. In fact, that's one of the remarkable things about Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken; even though it aims most of its targets at the grind of working in the anime and entertainment industry, its wit and biting satire feel as if it can apply to any profession with a groan-inducing amount of bureaucratic red-tape. A fisher or steelworker can likely relate to Asakusa Midori's bewilderment of being asked to moderate their passion project as much as an artist or writer. Though, there's no denying that artists and filmmakers will be able to get a lot of life-affirmation watching Eizouken from start to finish.

I also want to commend the supporting cast surrounding Asakusa Midori like many already have. Most of this praise has been directed at Sayaka Kanamori, the money-driven realist of the show's "Big Three." She has a timeless capitalistic spirit that would make Elon Musk proud. Additionally, her often brutal negotiation tactics, while often fantastical, seem like something pulled from a tech upstart's playbook. Tsubame Mizusaki acts as the cipher for anyone who has struggled to find their identity under the shadow of their parents. There aren't any real "misses" when it comes to the cast of Eizouken as they all feel like they have real-world counterparts. Even the lazy Mr. Fujimoto speaks to anyone who has suffered under a disaffected or negligent manager. If there is one thing worth criticizing, Eizouken feels a tad bit nonconfrontational given its subject matter. On the other hand, this "feel good" quality also ensures it's one of the easiest to recommend animes of the year.

Runner-up: Jujutsu Kaisen -

I have a soft spot for well-paced shonen action shows with impressive visual design. Jujutsu Kaisen is far from the most ambitious action anime from 2020, but it might be the most consistent. Its characters feel well-developed, and it progresses at a reasonable clip. Though reliant on tried and true anime tropes, its story is a perfect vessel for some of the better action set pieces in 2020.

The Thing I Would Enjoy A Lot More If It Had Less Fanservice Award: Fire Force (Season 2)

I want to say, getting
I want to say, getting "tame" images from Fire Force was not easy.

I have always been a fan of pyromancy. The Demon's Souls Remake reawakened my love for all things related to controlling flames of destruction. That's why I have gravitated towards Fire Force the past two years. When it decides to cut the shit and showcase all sorts of fire-based havoc, it's a visual treat that gets my blood pumping. However, it's a show that induces a lot of humming and hawing whenever I am presented with an opportunity to recommend it to a friend or family member. The main issue is Tamaki Kotatsu, who walks around with a bikini top and conveniently gets her clothing burned off at least once per episode. As if that were not enough, a lecherous male background character swoons and gushes blood from their nose whenever said bikini-clad fire mage is in an embarrassing predicament. These scenes happen like clockwork, and they cannot be "skipped" due to their frequency.

It doesn't help these scenes are shot in the dog shit worst way possible rather than being shot comedically like a throwback to Tenchi Muyo. To make matters worse, the other female leads are framed to accentuate their bodies and exploit the male gaze in the most blatant manner possible. This includes a chesty dress-wearing and fan-toting fire mage that looks a lot like Mai Shiranui from King of Fighters fame. There's also a nun character who I don't even need to describe because when I say "generic chesty anime nun," you can probably get close enough on your own. And before you ask, yes, she has blonde hair and blue eyes. Oh, and there's a scene in which said nun gets her clothes burned off, is draped in a white sheet, and right on cue, gets soaked in water. I want to point out; this horseshit happens during a rather dire action scene when one of the main characters almost dies. I will not deny enjoying the innate stupidity of Fire Force's concept and theme, but I will be damned if I defend any of its fanservice tomfooleries.

Runner-up: Food Wars! The Fifth Plate -

Oh, Food Wars, what do I make of you? I love food competition shows in general and find your attempts to pay homage to modern culinary trends laudable, especially when you are willing to call out such food zeitgeists bullshit. All the same, you are still a big teeming pile of "UGH!" whenever I get to the scenes in which you insist on causing people's clothes to burst as they orgasm while eating food. There's nothing more I want to say about that issue other than I wish this show were not a total embarrassment to admit to liking on the internet. Oh, wait a minute....

Most Improved Award: Sea Of Thieves

I'm always down for some swashbuckling fun!
I'm always down for some swashbuckling fun!

Of all my awards, "Most Improved" has always driven the sharpest criticisms from my readers. The most common complaint is that the distinction appears to absolve its recipients of rocky and unsatisfying launches or broken promises by developers. By my own admission, that is a fair point to make. However, given so many games now utilize the "Early Access" moniker to absolve developers of the expected responsibilities of a "normal" launch, I think it is vital to praise the developers that endeavor to support online dependent and persistent games well after their official release. Sea Of Thieves is such an example of a developer sticking with a game and delivering its community with the content they deserve. In fact, Rare deserves credit for opening up its studio to player input and taking the time to provide content updates tailor-made to various Sea Of Thieves community members. For example, the game has some of the industry's best accessibility options, including a recently added single analog control scheme.

Let's return to the topic of Sea Of Thieves' recent batch of content updates. The last handful of these, which I hope Giant Bomb's Lockdown coverage made nakedly apparent, have been fantastic! They have added some much-needed worldbuilding and storytelling flair to a game that previously had very little. The recently added NPCs and quest givers feel like organic extensions of the world rather than bland arbiters of open-world quest design. Furthermore, the new content updates have showcased some of the best 3D puzzles and co-operative game design I have seen in a while. Many of the more recent missions have steps that require multiple players to solve environmental puzzles collaboratively. Imagine an Escape Room experience but in the scope of an MMO game. I also feel that Rare is finally starting to grapple with how best to take advantage of Sea Of Thieves' open-world and online format as the PvP content has also improved massively. If your only impressions of the game were its rocky launch, then I think you should give it another shot, but be sure to bring along a friend or two.

Runner-up: Rock Band 4 -

I want to start by saying Alex's Rock Band streams represent my second favorite "new" Giant Bomb video series this year, second only to the Minecraft streams. On the issue of Rock Band 4, Harmonix has 100% killed it this year. They added critically acclaimed singles by David Bowie and John Denver and silly nonsense like Limp Bizkit's Rollin'. I would still say Rock Band 4 is on its last leg, but at least when it finally passes away, we can be by its bedside proud knowing it went with a bang.

Fuck You In The Neck You Piece Of Shit Award: The Marauder In Doom Eternal

This fucking guy....
This fucking guy....

I struggled between the Marauder in Doom Eternal and the Zealots in Assassin's Creed Valhalla for this award. Likewise, I know some are likely to chime in that the final boss in Doom Eternal is worse than either enemy encounter. Let it be known; I respectfully disagree with the latter of these points. Sure, the Icon of Sin is monotonous, but it is a fight I feel you can manage far more than the Marauder so long as you have patience. I ended up going with the Marauder mainly due to how it impacts the flow of Doom Eternal. In a game that emphasizes running and gunning, I simply do not understand why the Marauder exists in the form it does in the game. The first issue is that it soaks up so much goddamn damage, which puts you at such a disadvantage in current and future combat situations. The main mechanic of beating it is one thing, but the Hellhounds it summons ad infinitum are just the worst. Half of the battle ends up devolving into trash mob management, and that's not fun as it causes the fight to last longer than it should.

Likewise, and this is a point a Vice article articulated perfectly, the boss battle against the Marauder feels incredibly out of place. Doom Eternal is at its best when you are flying through environments and thinking actively in pools of gore. With this confrontation, the game presents you with a fight where you need to stop and think before you act. That is an unconscionable formula break in a modern-era Doom game. I get the main gimmick is to observe how the Marauder uses its shield and to stun-lock it into oblivion. But that doesn't explain why the boss is suddenly immune to the BFG or Crucible. The fucker can't even be baited into corners or kited like any of the other boss encounters! Ultimately, the Marauder represents an unneeded genre break to a game that is at its most enjoyable when you revel in all the tools at your disposal. Which, now that I think about it is another shortcoming to the Marauder fight.

Runner-up: The Zealots In Assassin's Creed Valhalla -

Fuck the Zealots and their healing ability! That shit is garbage, and the power level system in Valhalla is such a crock of shit! Seriously, it is not even funny how off the power levels can get! When it comes to the Zealots specifically, I hate how they necessitate you having to grind away at the nigh dozen sub-systems embedded in Valhalla. Which, reminds me of something else I want to say about Assassin's Creed Valhalla!

Help I'm Trapped in Sysiphean Torment Award (a.k.a. Most Arbitrarily Long): Assassin's Creed Valhalla

What am I even looking at?
What am I even looking at?

Saying an Assassin's Creed game has too much shit in it is like saying water is wet; everyone knows it, and there's no point in making a scene about it. Yet, with Assassin's Creed Valhalla, I feel like the franchise is itching towards a breaking point in how much gameplay it crams into a single package. The hour count on my Valhalla playthrough, which clocked in at around forty hours, felt incredibly inflated on account of the long treks from one township to another just to collect tapestries and textiles. And that's the thing that frustrates me about the game: seeing any of its mechanics or sub-systems to their endpoints takes fucking forever! The towns and transportation hubs are stretched across a beautiful but massive world. So much so, simple errands that would typically take a few minutes end up taking ten to fifteen. The result is that it is easy to get overwhelmed with Valhalla, and it might be the worst starting point since Unity for new players to jump into the franchise.

Moreover, the game inundates you with more mechanics than you can shake a stick at, and that means that its story, which I enjoyed, feels incredibly disconnected. First, I often thought I needed to make a hard stop to increase my power level to tread water in new environments. Second, it is incredibly easy to get lost in the game's side quest-based positive feedback loop and completely forget its story even exists. It also doesn't help specific environments feel tailor-made for particular build paths or focus trees, prompting the player into hour-long grind sessions. None of this is to suggest I hated my time with Valhalla; quite the opposite. I look at the fancy armor I crafted for my Viking avatar with pride and viewed the game as an overall success story. Now, if only Ubisoft could find a way to make the modern-day stuff feel relevant and cut down the next game's overall playtime by at least ten hours.

Runner-up: Final Fantasy XI -

It's an MMORPG that's almost twenty years old. Based on what I played of it in 2020, which was far more than what I am willing to admit, the game is more of a loot-grind Skinner Box than an actual game. The drop rates for everything are ridiculous, and there were times when I honestly had no idea what to make of its Byzantine quest design. But more on that in a future category.

Thing That Caused Me To Swear Gratuitously At A Television Screen The Most: The Sacramento Kings

pain. pure unadulterated pain.
pain. pure unadulterated pain.

I am a Sacramento Kings fan. For those of you from the Giant Bomb Discord, you are all too familiar with this fact. For everyone else, be aware, I live in the California Bay Area and live in the shadow of one of the loudest and most annoying NBA fanbases on the planet: Golden State Warriors fans. It is a painful existence, but the one I have decided to have as a basketball fan. On a more positive note, the NBA's playoff bubble was one of the few sports-based success stories during the pandemic. The strategy provided relatively high-quality competitive play and avoided any significant outbreaks, unlike the MLB, NFL, or NHL. It also offered several teams like the Kings an opportunity to make playoff pushes that would not have existed in the league's "normal" playoff format. Yet, even with that opportunity, the Kings pissed it away with awful defense, a lack of offensive creativity, recurring injury issues, and one of the worst coaches in the league still employed.

Buddy Hield, while not a max player, is being paid to be an elite shooter. Unfortunately, with Luke Walton's hiring, his benching led to an ongoing pissing match and a considerable drop in productivity. De'Aaron Fox, the franchise's current face, was plagued with injury problems alongside Marvin Bagley III, who was drafted before Luka, mind you. These injuries left the team with Harrison Barnes as the only "stable" starter throughout the year. Even when players like Fox or Bagley returned, they never gelled thanks to Walton's awful rotations. Regrettably gone was the high-octane pace that made them must-see television two seasons ago. With the start of the current season, things looked promising, what with the much-celebrated resignation of previous General Manager, Vlade Divac. Additionally, the Kings drafted Tyrese Haliburton, who is looking like the steal of the 2020 NBA draft, but there are still the expected "KANGZ BEING KANGZ" moments. Not matching Bogdan Bogdanović's contract offer from the Atlanta Hawks was incredibly stupid, and the decision to not fire Walton before the start of the season puts the Kings' playoff viability in jeopardy. I don't ask for a lot in 2021. Just good health and the Kings to be watchable. Shit, I'll take only one of those requests if need be!

Runner-up: WWE's Retribution -

2020 was not kind to WWE. AEW presented itself as a superior product, and the consistency of its booking attracted waves of wrestling fans. The primary reason why WWE has not properly responded to its competition is, and always has been, Vince McMahon. No one storyline showcases how out of touch Vince McMahon has become with his audience, like Retribution. McMahon, who by his admission is a billionaire, not understanding why people are protesting against inequality and in favor of social justice, was consistently one of the worst things on national television all year. What makes it even sadder is how Retribution wastes otherwise outstanding wrestling talent (i.e., Mustafa Ali and Dominik Dijakovic) on a shit gimmick.

Best Supported Game That I Did Not Play, But Probably Should Have Award: Final Fantasy XIV

I dun goofed this year.
I dun goofed this year.

During my Final Fantasy XI series, I issued a much-needed public apology to Giant Bomb's Final Fantasy XIV community. Time and time again, they have attempted to get me to play the game, and instead, I continue to play absolute garbage at my expense. So, I'm sorry. No one asked to read my misery with a nigh twenty-year-old video game. Regardless, Final Fantasy XIV's support was simply a marvel to watch this year. The game provided a slew of exciting and cinematic boss battles and quality of life additions other persistent games should take note of moving forward. The game deserves all the credit in the world for lowering the barrier of entry for new players more than any other MMORPG on the market. A significant portion of the game can be experienced for free, and there's no other MMORPG out there that does more to on-ramp neophytes than it.

As a result, I want to issue the Final Fantasy XIV community a promise. I cannot guarantee that I will cover 14 in 2021, but when I do, I promise that it will be the only Final Fantasy game I cover on the site for a year. That's because when the time comes, I'm discussing every part of it, including its expansion packs and crossover events. No stone will go unturned when I get around to playing the colossal time sink that is Final Fantasy XIV. That's ultimately where my concerns lie with Final Fantasy XIV: it will demand a massive time commitment. Even with all of the re-jiggering to the end-user experience it has seen over time, it is still an MMORPG at heart. I know and understand that its community has a reputation for being one of the "nicer ones." However, the game is still an intimidating monolith that I cannot help but think about with a tinge of anxiety. No matter, it's out there waiting for me, and I'm closer to playing it than I have ever been.

Runner-up: Warframe -

This shoutout goes to community member Rapid for holding the fort with Giant Bomb's PC Warframe group. Every time I read one of their blog posts about a new community event, I get interested in checking out what the fuss is all about. Much like my hesitance with Final Fantasy XIV, my concerns are about the amount of time it will require before I get to "the good stuff." Nonetheless, three cheers to Digital Extremes for being in tune with its audience and providing them with an endless source of memories.

Worst Plot Twist Award: Chrono Cross

Also, Chrono Cross is a video game about fucking.
Also, Chrono Cross is a video game about fucking.

Where do I even begin? First, I don't know which plot twist in Chrono Cross to crown as the recipient of this award. Do I hand it to part of the game that transforms your protagonist into a furry? Maybe the process of transforming Serge back into a human tickles your fancy! Finding out the game's events are determined by a self-aware A.I. running on Robo's processor personally shook me to my core. Then there was the reveal of space dinosaurs from an alternate dimension wanting to recruit dragons to exterminate humans in a different timeline. Speaking of which, there's the reveal that one of your party members and potential love-interests is a dragon in hiding. You also have whatever the fuck the entire last boss battle is and all of the shit Lucca tells you in the final level. Or, maybe this award should go to "Baby Daught Clone?" Fuck, how about the live-action movie that only plays during the credits? I CAN KEEP GOING! WE HAVEN'T EVEN TALKED ABOUT THE MID-GAME CONCERT SCENE!

The most baffling part about Chrono Cross is how long it waits before revealing its hand to the player. The delta between the hook of its opening hours and its final act is MASSIVE! In fact, the part about the game I cannot stop thinking about is why the developers and writers wait as long as they do before they reveal the game's "driving question." The big source of our party's call to adventure and the reasons for their investigative efforts doesn't appear to the player until the game's last chapter! Worse, the game lectures you moments before the final boss about what scaffolding is keeping its story together! WHO THINKS THAT IS A GOOD IDEA?! WHY WOULD YOU EVER DO THAT?! No matter, this is all a pretense to an upcoming blog series you can expect from me in 2021.

Runner-up: Final Fantasy 7 Remake -

I want to clarify that I like Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Additionally, I'm not some weirdo who thinks the game's ending is a giant middle finger to long-term fans of Final Fantasy VII. Personally, I thought the last two chapters of the game were contrived nonsense that endangers the viability of the next episodes or games. However, at least everything leading up to that pivot was incredibly compelling. The game manages to showcase some of the best character work in a video game helmed by Square-Enix since Final Fantasy X.

Most Acceptably Mediocre Or Passable Award: Star Wars Squadrons

At least the game is great to look at when it runs at a silky smooth 60 FPS.
At least the game is great to look at when it runs at a silky smooth 60 FPS.

You may recall I gave Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order this award on my end of the year retrospective last year. There's something to be said about the state of Star Wars video games during the Disney era. Which is to say, the video game side of the franchise is treading water. Battlefront 2 eventually "got there," but its support being pulled this year put a significant damper on its thriving community. Fallen Order and Squadrons fall in the "good but not great" category. You'd be hard-pressed to brandish either as being objectively "bad," but at the same time, both struggle to address the issue of "staying power." In Squadrons' case, the game has not had enough post-launch content to keep me motivated to return to it after getting the gist of what it wanted out of me in its handful of multiplayer maps. The game launched without any annoying server issues or icky microtransactions, but the limited load-outs and starship options led to every player sticking with one of two possible combinations for every ship type. Even with the introduction of the B-Wing and TIE Defender, this problem still exists.

The more critical issue is that the game has not added any depth to its initial offering to players. Since its launch, the dev team has added one new map and a single new match type. Oh, and that new match type is nothing to write home about as it is just a "Custom Match" option. Yup, you heard that right. A multiplayer-focused dogfighting game launched without a custom match option! Furthermore, and I discussed this topic on a previous blog, the story has a lot of potential for bigger and better adventures down the road. Unfortunately, in the base-game, it merely does not give itself enough time to develop its cast of characters as well as the circumstances that surround them. It's still a lot of fun to play, and I have come around to its harsh but fair controls. Likewise, it's an impeccable looking game with each of its maps boasting awe-inducing and intricate detail work. That said, it is also a game that desperately needs an expansion pack or batch of DLC to push it from being a novel concept to a full-fledged excellent video game.

Runner-up: Final Fantasy XIII-2 -

I don't want to spoil too much on this blog as I will get around to discussing Final Fantasy XIII-2 in greater depth another time. No matter, I have to say Final Fantasy XIII-2 kind of impressed me. It not being the absolute worst thing I played in 2020 means it notably improved upon its predecessor, which I maintain is the worst Final Fantasy game ever made. That is not to suggest I think XIII-2 is a genuinely great video game. It's an almost unplayable nightmare in parts, but it is less of a nightmare than Final Fantasy XIII. An easy target to nail, but a target the game hits perfectly.

Best Writing Award: Secret Base's The History of the Seattle Mariners

Secret Base's Seattle Mariners video retrospective did something few sports-based YouTubers or beat-writers have accomplished for me: they made me care about a team I hate. If you did not pick up on it during my Kings rant, be aware, I am an Oakland and Northern California sports fan. The Oakland Athletics are the team I root for when baseball season rolls around, and the Mariners being a "rival" means they are a source of scorn and occasional hatred in my house. Nonetheless, Jon Bois and Alex Rubenstein's exhaustive look at the Seattle Mariners utterly captivated me, and I was hooked before I finished the first episode. Still images and archival footage came to life as if I was watching a Ken Burns documentary. The clearest example is the fourth episode wherein Jon Bois waxes poetically about their next topic while displaying an extreme close-up of Ichiro Suzuki's forearm. Trust me; it makes sense in context.

More admirable is how the series manages to convert known endings and conclusions into thrilling edge-of-your-seat content. For example, I watched Edgar Martinez's double in the eleventh inning of the 1995 ALDS live on television. And yet, Bois' narration and often somber tone made me briefly doubt Ken Griffey Jr. would dive to home to win the game. I grew up, as did many, watching Ichiro bat like a maniac. Even then, Rubenstein whisked me away on a stat-heavy journey on why he was a generational talent. I remember where I was when Félix Hernández pitched his perfect game. No matter, the series mesmerized me in the tragedy of his career. It is a masterclass of video and editing wizardry, and it's must-see viewing even for those of you who might not give a shit about baseball.

Runner-up: Queen's Gambit -

On a similar note, Queen's Gambit provides a compelling experience even for those who might not care about its subject matter. I know I raved about chess in a previous blog, so I'll spare you from my spiel about the beauty of the chess matches in Queen's Gambit. That said, the life and times of Beth Harmon are equal parts fascinating and tragic, and Anya Taylor-Joy's performance is simply stunning.

The Ostrich Award (a.k.a. Most Objectively Good Game I Did Not Enjoy): Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Fall Guys is just Mario Party. #changemymind
Fall Guys is just Mario Party. #changemymind

Fall Guys is mindless nonsense. That's kind of what it always has been, and the attempts to bill it as anything but mindless nonsense is beyond my comprehension. I can accept the people who say that Fall Guys provides a chaotic experience that leaves you laughing every time. I understand many people enjoyed its online social interaction elements during distance learning and sheltering in place. However, I never felt like the more in-depth "strategies" of getting better at Fall Guys were worth my time, nor did I think the game maintained my interest for more than a month. Ultimately, Fall Guys provided the same superficial experience a "summer fling" provides. And look, if that's what is helping you get through the "worst" of the pandemic, then more power to you. That said, I cannot fathom billing this game as anything more than a modern-day counterpart to Mario Party.

From a more fundamental level, the content updates and bug fixes never came out with enough regularity. Within days I felt like the limited number of match types and maps had worn their welcome. That's especially when I was not too fond of two to three of the match types. To highlight, I can count the number of times I have genuinely enjoyed "Perfect Match" and "Royal Fumble" on a single hand. And that weird three-month period when no one knew the snatch distance or hitbox for the tail for all of the tail grab modes fucking sucked. It sucked so much shit! The game released with a limited number of match types, and barely any of them worked at launch. Again, it's easy to stomach these sorts of glitches and bugs when you approach the game as a mindless time waster, but that's as far as I am willing to go with Fall Guys.

Runner-up: Hades -

I know Hades is bound to be on several people's GOTY list, so I'll be brief and civil about my issues with the game. I have always hated how Supergiant Games's stuff controls and found Hades to be more of the stiff and unresponsive arena action I hated in Bastion. In terms of storytelling, I was equally unimpressed. Honestly, I'm getting tired of Supergiant Games getting a pass on their convenient bow-tying with their games' conclusions and found it especially heinous here. At some point, I'd like them to cut the shit when it comes to providing the player with a warm and "fuzzy mittens" feeling in games about sacrifice and tragedy.

Best Deal Of 2020 Award - itch.io's Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality

Three cheers for social justice and indie games!
Three cheers for social justice and indie games!

Itch.io's Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality was a feel-good moment in 2020 for various reasons. First, it raised over $5 million for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund. That is a not-insignificant amount of money that will be put to good use and whose impacts will be felt for years to come. Second, the design and programming assets included in the bundle will hopefully inspire a wave of people to get into game development. Third, it gave a great deal of attention to smaller indie devs who benefited from being bundled with more mainstream indie titles like Night In The Woods and Celeste. Finally, it was a great deal for consumers and provided some people their first introduction to itch.io and its massive database of self-published titles.

Any way you shake it, the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality was a win-win for various stakeholders in the gaming industry and its related communities. I especially enjoyed the crop of articles from a myriad of gaming publications sharing their favorite games from the package and each article having a different batch of games. It speaks to the variety of possible experiences the bundle provided and how it spoke to virtually every person to some degree. I cannot imagine a single person or gaming community that would not have benefited from supporting and owning itch's Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. Not unless you have something against having a good time or supporting social justice. In which case, I don't know if we can be friends.

Runner-up: Xbox Game Pass -

By hook or by crook, Xbox Game Pass is changing the way we consume video games. As most of you are already aware, you immediately have over a hundred video games at your fingertips by paying a monthly fee. What makes Xbox Game Pass even better is how it works around the clock to include every imaginable genre and game. Furthermore, developers have used it to test out new and daring concepts that would likely never see the light of day in a traditional developer-publisher environment.

Worst Game Of My Year 2020: Final Fantasy XI

I cannot emphasize enough, this game ruined people's lives and almost killed its users.
I cannot emphasize enough, this game ruined people's lives and almost killed its users.

I feel like I have said my piece about Final Fantasy XI, but I'll give you the basic idea here. There is no reason for anyone who has not already invested over 100+ hours into Final Fantasy XI to start now. The game is an incomprehensible mess and struggles to patch together the different eras of MMORPG design it has presided over during its nigh twenty-year lifespan. The user interface is a nightmare to parse out, and the gameplay progresses at a snail's pace. It actively punishes you for playing it solo and instead funnels you towards raids and parties. Still, given its depleted and entrenched community, you will struggle to find people or mechanisms capable or willing to work with you on early questlines. There is no on-ram for those wishing to experience the game today, and that's a shame considering it has an interesting story and world to share with the video game community. Even then, it is a world that doesn't open up until you've invested at least forty hours.

I want to appreciate the Final Fantasy XI community members who shared their love for the game and what has enamored them for two decades. Well, I want to thank the Final Fantasy XI community members who did that and did not personally attack or threaten me on or off the site. I understand I went a little hard on the game, but I want to clarify my criticism was never directed at any specific Final Fantasy XI group or community member. It is perfectly acceptable that you love the game, and I do not want to diminish the hundreds of hours you have spent in it. That said, I don't think I can in good conscience recommend it to anyone other than those who have stood by it since its inception. There's nothing in the game, at least for someone who has yet to play it, that cannot be experienced elsewhere and in a manner that requires less frustration or time. And even when it comes to its novel attempts at storytelling, I have a hard time applauding the game when we live in a world where World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV exist.

Runner-up: Creature Romances: Kokonoe Kokoro -

This is one of the ugliest games I have ever played, and it was a mistake to support its developer by purchasing it as a joke. The writing is just the smarmiest anime drivel I have seen in a long time, and its story goes nowhere for hours upon end while splaying out the most generic anime tropes and idioms. Also, this game forces you to look at bug girl anime boobs. I just thought I should mention that as an aside.

Best Game Of My Year 2020: Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020)

Here's a game that redefined what the term
Here's a game that redefined what the term "flyover state" means to me.

A ton of talk has been made of video games as a coping mechanism for the anxiety induced by the current pandemic. Everyone on the site, and elsewhere for that matter, has a different game that helped them slog through the year that was 2020. For me, that game was Microsoft Flight Simulator. It was a game that allowed me to travel the world vicariously while responsibly sheltering in my quaint studio apartment. Yes, Microsoft Flight Simulator is far from being a perfect video game, what with entire countries like Brazil being gapping black voids for weeks upon end. The game has a much-criticized pre-install that can take hours to complete, and even then, the load-times are downright appalling. Yet, the game still manages to be innately beautiful and breathtaking even with the inherent jankiness of its Bing Maps produced rendition of planet Earth.

I needed Microsoft Flight Simulator. I needed it more than Final Fantasy VII Remake, Hades, Fall Guys, Among Us, or Spelunky 2. I know that there were plenty of games this year that provided more in-depth storytelling experiences. A laudable number of developers and games pushed the medium forward in terms of what we might have previously thought it was capable of and continue to challenge, and rightfully so, long-held gaming sensibilities. But, I needed the pure escapism of Microsoft Flight Simulator. I needed something that allowed me to travel the world without putting myself and those around me at risk of injury or poor health. Microsoft Flight Simulator does precisely that, and I am eternally grateful as a result. On a related note, I think it is praiseworthy that the game ended up being a tool for furloughed airplane pilots to practice their skills while effectively unemployed.

Runner-up: Final Fantasy V -

I love this game. Even with Final Fantasy VII Remake, I think we have forgotten the time when Squaresoft was a mechanical innovator and provided low-risk but action-packed adventures. I miss the quaint times when the Final Fantasy franchise was about light-hearted experiences free from forced sentimentality or melodrama. Final Fantasy V is pure unadulterated fun, and its job system is far more in-depth than I could have anticipated. The game's environmental design is masterfully done, and it is one of the easiest to recommend Final Fantasy games from the 16-bit era. Definitely check it out if you have yet to do so, and consider supporting the Four Job Fiesta the next time it rolls around.

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I Spent My Summer Playing The Wrong Final Fantasy MMORPG - Part 2: This Is The Most Mean Spirited Game Ever Made

Author's Note: If you missed the first part of this series, here's the link:

Part 11: I Completed All Of The Starting Quests, And I Want My Goddamn Time Back

Easier said than done.
Easier said than done.

I want to weave you all a tale regarding why the highly anticipated "conclusion" to my series on Final Fantasy XI has taken as long as it has to write and publish. First, no game quite like Final Fantasy XI has ever made me feel like a useless sack. After concluding my time with the game's original questline, the game left me with an empty and unsatisfying impression. I felt as if I had seen broad brushstrokes hinting at an epic story or world, but nothing ever transpired into something grand. Sure, the base game provides an exciting story about kings and queens trying to restore their decrepit nations' former glory. However, these plotlines were tried and true tropes I have seen in countless prior Final Fantasy games. Even Final Fantasy XI's most ardent defenders will struggle to say its "vanilla" storyline is its best effort.

I spent upwards of thirty-five hours completing the initial suite of quests and was left astonished at what little I had to show for it. I had an excessive amount of raw materials for the smithing mechanic, crystals I could utilize to enchant equipment, and a myriad of class-specific weapons to use if I intended to switch things up with my character's job. What I did NOT acquire in my thirty-plus hours was a full understanding of how to play it efficiently or with any sense of satisfaction. I did NOT get a tutorial on how to set up macros. Nor did the game clue me into how to stack items or manage my inventory. Speaking of inventory management, while Final Fantasy XI taunted me with greyed out inventory slots and a promise I could somehow unlock those slots, I never knew where to make that happen. At no point did I open a secondary or alternate job. Instead, I was stuck fetching documents for foreign ambassadors as I wallowed, trying to make all of the bolted-on post-launch quality of life additions work in a game that is now eighteen years old. Final Fantasy XI is a game stuck between different eras; that much is not up for debate. Every waking minute you play it, you see distinct styles and teams that have come and gone trying to keep the game alive. It's simply astounding.

And no matter what, the combat is always a hot mess of blurry incoherent nonsense.
And no matter what, the combat is always a hot mess of blurry incoherent nonsense.

This rambling leads me to a point I made in my first post: you should avoid the vanilla questline like The Plague. Because the current meta skews so heavily towards the game's newer systems (i.e., Records of Eminence, Field Manuals, Trusts, etc.), any mission or quest from the game's launch feels like a complete waste of time. As mentioned in the previous episode, my starting hub world was San d'Oria, and most of my vanilla quests involved helping a prince modernize their crumbling empire. In one such pursuit, "Her Majesty's Garden," the primary rewards for this nigh SEVEN PART MISSION were a map of the Northlands Area, 2,000 Gil, and 2,000 EXP. For those wondering, two thousand experience points is a drop in the ocean, and you can get a comparable amount of experience points just by setting up three to four Records of Emminence. Likewise, Gil is useless as the in-game economy has utterly de-emphasized it in favor of guild specific currencies. Finally, we have the map, which you can now buy outright from a nondescript map merchant RIGHT NEXT TO THE MAIN QUEST GIVERS! It simply amazes me how Square-Enix has taken the time to make the end-user experience objectively easier without updating any of the older missions in the game!

Even worse were the times when the game would doll out rewards that were entirely irrelevant to my specific build or character. For those who may have forgotten, my Final Fantasy XI character is a warrior catgirl because if I am going to play a nigh twenty-year-old video game, then I want it to be as much a teeming nightmare as possible. And before you ask, yes, I used a Dexterity-based race for a Strength-based class. Nonetheless, to return to an earlier point, there were more than a dozen or so quests that gave me magical-based items that were all but useless on my character. The real stinger were the quests that provided summons for the Summoner class, a class, mind you, that involves completing a seven-part process, which took me about one hour to complete. Obviously, this quest was entirely separate from the main story and only unlockable after reaching level thirty with my character. So, here I was, just carrying Shiva in my pocket, with no idea on what to do with her!

I get physically upset looking at the inventory management system in this game.
I get physically upset looking at the inventory management system in this game.

That's just one way you can overshoot the intended "path" the game has for its players. With the new quality of life additions, the player has even more unintentional ways to screw themselves than ever before. For example, take me, who entered the city of Jeuno with a character at level twenty-two and ended up triggering the Crystalline Prophecy missions on accident. Normally, I wouldn't even consider exploring the Grand Duchy of Jeuno because Malboros and other horrible monsters guard its entrance. However, because I could summon a mini-army of Trusts and run at triple speed, I was able to blow past the game's standard barriers with relative ease. As a result, I had no idea these optional missions were well out of my reach. Yet, the game still allowed me to attempt them with my puny character. As you might expect, I regretted doing this because of the game's boss design, which we will discuss shortly. Nonetheless, it is another example of Final Fantasy XI not knowing what to do with its conflicting eras. By going to Jeuno and repeatedly dying before I realized I wasn't ready to tackle the city's missions, I lost hours of my time.

Part 12: The Boss Design Is Downright Cruel

Final Fantasy XI is one of the most mean-spirited video games I have ever seen in my life. This game pummeled me into oblivion. I spent months desperately trying to learn every possible macro, job, and viable character build to see as much of it as possible for this blog. I practiced techniques and strategies for hours by repeating low-level missions. I teamed up with a handful of community members with Final Fantasy XI accounts. And yet, the game still managed to make me feel like I was a sorry sack of shit. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I lost levels and experience points (do not worry, my sweet summer child, we will talk about this) due to fucked up boss encounters. And as I tried to understand what I had possibly done wrong, I discovered that this is just how Final Fantasy XI rolls. At any point, should the JRPG gods feel as if you have not provided them with sufficient tribute, Final Fantasy XI will wreck you without warning!

So many choices, so little time....
So many choices, so little time....

Mind you, the solution to many of the game's most challenging encounters is to team up with other players and coordinate raids. Unfortunately, there are two significant issues with this remedy. First, Final Fantasy XI's community is thoroughly entrenched and isn't exactly bending over backward for new players. I was able to team up with two Giant Bomb users that wanted to help me out of the kindness of their hearts, but even they recognized some of the late-game content I wanted to see would require larger teams of players. Second, even with player-based help, you still need to spend hours grinding to make your characters viable for any of the game's post-launch content. Speaking of which, you might have heard on the internet that Final Fantasy XI recently got a new story-based expansion pack. What you might not have heard is that the new content requires characters above level 100. So, for new users like myself, we are still stuck wallowing on shitty quests from 2002 before we can get to the "good shit."

Now, let's talk about the fucked up boss designs in this game. As is the case with any MMORPG of this era, every significant battle revolves around the "Holy Trinity" of MMO character classes: Tank, Healer, and DPS. Furthermore, most boss encounters require you to spend most of your time performing a series of moves to open up limited windows in which you deal damage. This trope can be found in games as old as Ultima Online and even graces modern MMORPGs like World of Warcraft or even Final Fantasy XIV. However, Final Fantasy XI takes this concept to a breaking point. First, the game's user interface is so bad it's downright impossible to tell which buffs or debuffs are on your character while they are fighting. This is a continual source of annoyance as mistiming a single debuff or buff could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Do not worry my child, we will talk about Absolute Virtue in this blog.
Do not worry my child, we will talk about Absolute Virtue in this blog.

But that pales in comparison to the most significant issue with the bosses: they are cheap as fuck. Virtually every boss in the game starts by inflicting your party and you with a ton of adverse status effects. In many cases, the game only gives you a handful of minutes to resolve these debuffs before you die. And if you are playing the game solo, which I did for the most part, may God have mercy on your soul that your Trusts remember to heal you instead of your other companions. Related, the immunities and spells the bosses have at their disposal are no laughing matter. For example, the "Shadow Lord," who is the main antagonist of the base game, can use every single element as well as darkness. Additionally, he has invincibility frames and stances that allow him to alternate between being immune to physical or magical damage. That last part is especially heinous as you'll often find yourself marching to the margins of the battle, depending on your character's class, waiting to jump in to do damage.

Another aspect of Final Fantasy XI's boss design that drives me up the wall is the game never knowing when to stop. Every single boss in this game has at least three forms, and in a handful of cases, boss battles immediately transition into other boss battles. When I was trucking through the Rise of the Zilart expansion pack, one of the earliest "Notorious Monsters" you encounter is the "Ace of Batons." It alone has two forms, and it fights in tandem with three other "clones." Likewise, after beating all four of these assholes, you immediately juxtapose to a multi-part encounter with Tatzlwurm and Yali. The game doesn't even give you a moment to catch your breath before plopping its ass on your face and shouting, "How do you like these apples?" And I haven't even mentioned how in that boss encounter, you have to worry about an NPC tagging along who can fucking die and cause your mission to fail instantly!

Part 13: The Game Punishing You Harshly For Dying Is The Worst! THE. WORST.

And I love love love love love how the first story boss is an insta-death casting eldritch abomination! That's not fucked up in any way, shape, or form.
And I love love love love love how the first story boss is an insta-death casting eldritch abomination! That's not fucked up in any way, shape, or form.

You might be wondering why I'm making such a big stink about Final Fantasy XI's bosses. Well, there are two reasons for my intolerable grousing. First, they underscore the soul-crushing amount of trial and error that defines large swaths of the game. A boss's elemental affinities are poorly communicated in-game, and their weakness and strengths are mostly unknown until you are in the thick of it. The second and more important point to make about the bosses is how harshly Final Fantasy XI penalizes you for character death. Mercifully, the game changed its rules on character death for levels one through thirty. However, upon reaching level thirty-one, the old KO penalties from yesteryear take effect.

And in case you were wondering, Final Fantasy XI's death penalties are:

A player who is Level 1-30 does not lose any EXP as of the May 2011 update.

A player who is Level 31-67 loses what would have been 8% of their max EXP for that level.

A player who is Level 68 or higher loses 2400 EXP.

Let's return to the penalties for the higher levels. I don't give a rat's ass what some of Final Fantasy XI's defenders might have to say about this, but having a static experience point penalty for character death fucking sucks. I don't care if there are a handful of status buffs I can use to mitigate this penalty. The fact remains, there are circumstances in which your character's death can drop their level. Hours of progress can be undone, at no fault of the player, within seconds. As I hope I have already shown in my previous sections, virtually every part of Final Fantasy XI is designed to work against the player's interests. Boss battles can take hours; fetch quests involve long aimless treks through desolate wastelands; random encounters can spring random TPK inflicting AOE spells. With all of this in mind, there is nothing about dropping the player's level that feels even remotely okay.

But what about the compelling story about a prince about to get stabbed in the back by his shitty brother? What will I ever do if I don't see the end of this story!
But what about the compelling story about a prince about to get stabbed in the back by his shitty brother? What will I ever do if I don't see the end of this story!

Six. That's the number of times my player character dropped a level as a result of dying. And you know what? Let me paint a more exacting picture about one specific death spiral I found myself in the game. I had just turned my character into a level 70 warrior-monk multi-class murder machine. With this "avatar," I finally felt as if I was prepared to tackle the Chains of Promathia expansion pack. However, in the nearby outskirts of Jeuno, I kept running into Malboros. Even if I ran away from one, its highly aggressive aggro allowed it to steamroll me even while I was fleeing. In one such case, I encountered a Malboro, and it inflicted my character with a paralysis-based status effect and just wailed away on them until they were dead. Upon using a warp stone to revive at my Home Point, I discovered I had lost a job level. I was then presented with a choice. I could either grind for hours on low-level enemies to regain that level or attempt to make the same trek once again and use the more challenging encounters to recover my progress.

As you might expect, I foolheartedly plotted a course for Jeuno yet again. After about thirty minutes, I was nearing the full recovery of my lost job level when you guessed it, another Malboro popped up and beat me to a bloody pulp. As a result, I lost a portion of my progress and found myself nearing the loss of another level. Almost comically, or by my stubbornness, I aimed for the same grinding position, but this time was KO-ed by a different Malboro near the area's entrance. This time, however, my death resulted in the loss of my second job level. Shattered, I decided to recover everything I had lost at a windmill farm near Jeuno, but it took nearly two hours to do so. In those two hours, I honestly was at a loss of words to describe how broken I felt. But you guessed it; I was aiming to murder at least one Malboro all by myself. I summoned trusts, popped off every imaginable buff, and even consulted an almost ten-year-old FAQ, all in the name of my bloodthirsty quest for revenge. It wasn't an intelligent thing to do, and this alone is why I lost six levels. But when I finally killed my first Malboro, it was one of the most satisfying things I have ever felt while playing Final Fantasy XI. Nevertheless, the experience reminded me of one of the most forgotten and darkest parts of Final Fantasy XI. This game can and will kill you if you allow it.

And these annoying sacks of shit continue to haunt my dreams.
And these annoying sacks of shit continue to haunt my dreams.

Part 14: Hey, Remember How This Game Almost Killed People?

The grind of Final Fantasy XI is far from a satisfying one. Unfortunately, there are few things in the game that do not lead to some form of grinding. The quests, side quests, social interactions, and horizontal progression require you to sink in hours upon hours into sub-systems embedded into sub-systems. I'm not one to talk, with me being someone on a long quest to beat every single Final Fantasy game that has ever been made. That said, my favorite entries in the franchise have a lot more going for them beyond seeing numbers go up or donning my characters with shinier armor. They usually have lived-in worlds where I feel inspired to explore and interact with NPCs or partake in mini-adventures. Final Fantasy XI provides its players with few tools to interact with its world beyond quaint dialogue sequences and cinematics, which scream their age. And even if you try to appreciate every part of its world, you are going to need to sink in a considerable amount of time to see this skillful worldbuilding.

I mentioned "horizontal progression," but that's a fancy way of saying MMORPGs should have distractions beyond leveling your character. World of Warcraft has pet battling, and Final Fantasy XIV has more distractions than it can shake a stick at, to the point where it is almost to its detriment. Final Fantasy XI does not present enough opportunities to interact with its world outside its core leveling experience. Even the ancillary events and activities are in the name of grinding for gear or eking out new levels for your primary or secondary jobs. The result is that Final Fantasy XI feels impersonal. Even when I tried to kick up my boots in my Mog House, I was immediately greeted with side quests to don my room with plants or fetch quests that would funnel a furniture store owner with raw materials for new barstools. And even then, my room didn't exist within the greater world and instead was relegated to an ethereal plane of fantasy suburbs.

Everyone who told me to set up my macros for a
Everyone who told me to set up my macros for a "better playing experience" can pound sand. This made the game like 5% better.

All Final Fantasy XI has going for it is its grind, and it is a grind that keeps going. I once equated the combat system of Final Fantasy XIII to spinning plates, and that metaphor equally applies to Final Fantasy XI. You pop buffs and debuffs on a regimen that would make a pharmacist proud. You rotate members of your party like a conga line. If I were feeling incredibly "generic," I'd quote Mr. Miyagi and say playing Final Fantasy XI is all about remembering the lesson of "wax on, wax off." Even then, when your character levels up, the numbers go up, and for many, that provides a warm tingly feeling. To the handful of you looking for a massively multiplayer experience that de-emphasizes the human element and doubles down on its mechanics, I can see you enjoying Final Fantasy XI. That's doubly so now the game has provided alternate ways for players to live out its world by themselves.

This detail leads me to the topic of this chapter: this game ruined people's lives. Every part of this game inflicts a distinct loot-grind Skinner Box, and as a result, every conceivable reward dolls out at a snail's pace. That is why it did not surprise me when people shared stories of this game sucking away their souls on my last blog. I get it, because I too, almost fell down this rabbit hole. When I traded out the rags that initially graced my character for iron greaves and scale mail, I felt good inside. The fact this minor improvement took ten real-world hours fell to the wayside, and I promptly set a new target for a dragon helm and winged boots. The job classes range an even more ridiculous gamut. Some involve minor fetch quests, whereas others entail three to four-part adventures that take DAYS to complete. For whatever reason, I decided to make my character a Paladin, and the fact it involved a detailed three-part epic quest, wherein one of the parts took three hours alone, disappeared. I got a shiny trinket, and I felt happy.

I was absolutely flabbergasted to see the game even had a Summer and Spring Event by the time I finally signed off.
I was absolutely flabbergasted to see the game even had a Summer and Spring Event by the time I finally signed off.

Well, for like three hours. At some point, I started to run up against the same fucked up bosses and ruinous random encounters. Here I was, doing what the game wanted me to do, and I was still struggling to tread water. The expansion pack content especially proved problematic as it required large parties ranging in the double-digits and characters with a doctoral dissertation worth of macros and hotkeys. My struggles felt like a reflection of what I perceive as the innate cruelty that defines Final Fantasy XI's design. No one boss best articulates this point as codified law quite like "Absolute Virtue." For those of you who do not know the "legend" of Absolute Virtue, it is by FAR the most notorious boss in Final Fantasy history. The boss's attack pattern could wipe out any "normal" party within turn two and the developers even deliberately "nerfed" any in-game tactics that would make beating it possible. The devs wanted to make a boss in the game that remained unbeatable, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. And when a team of players spent eighteen hours straight trying to beat it, with many passing out and vomiting out of exhaustion, Final Fantasy XI was forced to change its way, but only modestly. Final Fantasy XI only superficially paid for its sins, and that leads me to my next point.

Part 15: Doing Exactly What The Game Expects You To Do FUCKING SUCKS!

I mentioned earlier that I made my character into a Paladin. It is a class I have a great deal of fondness for as it is the class I used in World of Warcraft, and I have a lot of nostalgia for D&D's 3.5E Paladin. So, in this specific case, to create the avatar I wanted for role-playing purposes, I was willing to stomach Final Fantasy XI's Byzantine bullshit just for shits and giggles. Right off the rip, I have no idea why every single quest giver in this game is so fucking hard to find. The lack of quest and NPC markers certainly don't help. Still, Final Fantasy XI derives a sadistic pleasure in hiding every story or quest important NPC in non-descript nooks or far off platforms that can take HOURS to figure out how to navigate. Solemnly, I feel as if I lost a whole hour of my life trying to learn where the fuck the initial quest giver was to start my adventure towards knighthood.

Look... I really wanted this armor.
Look... I really wanted this armor.

No matter, the first task towards becoming a Paladin seemed simple enough: get this quest giver the root of some random vegetable in the surrounding area. I completed this task in about fifteen minutes and initiated the next quest to go to a waterfall. I found the waterfall in about thirty minutes but had no idea how to "prove" I had achieved my journey. I spent approximately twenty minutes aimlessly searching a surrounding cave to pick up some random quest item that would trigger the mission's next step. It was not until after I consulted a guide that I realized I had to interact with some stalactites and collect their "dew." Nowhere in the quest log was there any mention of this collectible. Luckily, the quest involved nothing but level ten enemies, so it is not as if the cave's inhabitants posed any challenge. Nonetheless, given how slow the combat progresses, even the most basic battles can absorb upwards of five to seven minutes.

All of this misery leads me to the final mission in becoming a Paladin, "A Knight's Test." Because this game truly hates me, the quest giver decides now is the time to have my mission steps to be in the form of riddles. Not having any of this shit, I pulled up a guide and discovered I would need to consult a couple of guards in Victory Square. After collecting a bunch of books, I learned that before I could become a Paladin, I would need to obtain a legendary blade called the "Knight's Soul." The last time someone saw this blade, it was in Davoi, a location THREE LEVELS AWAY from the quest's starting location! Eventually, we are going to talk about how fucked up the in-game traveling is in Final Fantasy XI. Still, I cannot emphasize enough how much of your time completing quests involves aimless walks across bleak plains, deserts, and mountain ranges. For this one quest, I would estimate 70% of my time involved walking. And it's not like the game is showcasing a bunch of visually exciting backdrops! It's the same empty fucking fields and drab forests, over and over again!

fuck. this. shit.
fuck. this. shit.

This mission is also a perfect example of how little Final Fantasy XI communicates to you when it gives you a task. Upon entering Davoi, I knew I needed to retrieve a broken sword, but nothing more. I had a general idea it could be found in a disused well, but that's it. Above, I have included a map of Davoi provided by the handy Final Fantasy XI Fandom page, which saved my ass more than once. In the picture I have provided, I will note I entered Davoi from "Junger Forest" by J-6 and needed to navigate myself to the well at E-10. With that in mind, I was hoping you could look at that map and tell me how I get to the well. Don't worry, I'm in no rush and am willing to wait for your answer. Please, take your time. Oh, and before you ask, the overlapping dark portions of the map are the underground or dungeon portions of the environment, and they do indeed overlap and block parts of the "normal" level. That is something you will notice with every single map in Final Fantasy XI, by the way!

Are you ready for the answer? Alright, first, you need to find a broken bridge over at I-8 and find a "transition point" into the underground portion of the environment. After trudging through the lake, you now need to follow the river to J-10. When you enter the "exit" at J-10, your character will warp to the entrance at D-8. From here, you need to march a short distance to a sandy alcove where you can pick up the broken sword. Does the game open a portal that instantly teleports you to the entrance of the dungeon? NOPE! Instead, you need to re-trace your steps back to the entrance a second time before you are able to leave the environment and "cash-in" the sword to unlock the Paladin job. However, the quest giver, Balasiel, then reveals that while your character can call themselves a Paladin, there are another twelve or so quests to complete before you can don the armor and equipment associated with that job. Final Fantasy XI employs this ass-pull garbage with every single one of its sub-classes and alternate jobs, and I fucking hate it so goddamn much! I went through pure Hell to unlock one job only to discover most of its upside is locked behind another ten or so quests. Fuck that noise!

Part 16: Getting Around In This Game FUCKING SUCKS!

Star-crossed lovers in a Final Fantasy game? Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!
Star-crossed lovers in a Final Fantasy game? Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!

I alluded to this topic earlier, but it is now time to discuss how much it sucks to navigate the world of Final Fantasy XI. It isn't good, and leveling up your characters makes the problem only marginally better. Disregarding walking and using a Chocobo, there are TWELVE separate fast-travel mechanics in Final Fantasy XI. For those of you reading this blog long after its publishing date, it would not surprise me that another two fast travel systems have been added. The immediate issue here is that each of these systems has its own currency. Knowing which currency coincides with the appropriate fast travel system is a complete and total shit show. When I mentioned earlier that Final Fantasy XI has a bunch of post-launch bolted-on nonsense that makes the game's UI and end-user experience WORSE, this is the clearest example!

The first of these systems, Home Points, are the easiest to explain. Throughout Vana'diel, you will find glowing crystals that you can use to warp to other activated waypoints. These Home Points are the most recently added transportation system in the game, and they are one of the few that do not require the player to invest in a dedicated currency. All the player needs to do is walk up to a crystal and activate it, and it will be added to their list of possible warp points. The only thing I will add is that you can tell these crystals were added to the game post-release because they have a higher resolution texture than the rest of the game. You also have the Survival Guides, floating books that you can use to travel to different exterior environments. These books, however, require you to spend either 1,000 Gil or 50 Valor Points. Valor Points are gained by consulting Survival Guides and killing a designated number of monsters.

And in the end, travelling the world post-haste just means you can do shit like collect bee pollen three times faster.
And in the end, travelling the world post-haste just means you can do shit like collect bee pollen three times faster.

Next, you have the "original" cadre of transportation systems. Airships and ferries still exist in Final Fantasy XI, but they have been de-emphasized to such a degree that the once burgeoning airship and ferry hubs are now deserted ghost towns. Part of the reason behind the Final Fantasy XI community abandoning these forms of travel relates to them not reflecting recent changes to the game's meta. The stopping points and "connected areas" for the airships and ferries have stayed the same since the game's launch, and they barely reflect the newer expansion packs. The expansion packs even sport their own warp crystals and dedicated transit systems that live and die within their respective environments. The Rise of the Zilart expansion pack has what it calls a "Proto-Waypoint System" that requires the use of a dedicated currency called "Kinetic Units."

The result is that every attempt Final Fantasy XI makes to "optimize" the player's experience fails miserably. Every time you navigate or discover a new city or hub, you have to go through the same mating ritual of learning the best way to explore that environment. Furthermore, the newer quality of life additions are so shamelessly bolted on that they often break the game's worldbuilding and narrative scaffolding. On occasion, you see icons or portals just hanging out in random parts of the world, and they stick out like a sore thumb. For example, the Cavernous Maws tie in with the Wings of the Goddess expansion, but they still float around the environment with no prompt to clue the player on what the fuck they do! Finally, when I eventually did try to complete the expansion packs, I often struggled to remember what gated transportation systems I needed to interact with to re-initiate those quests after returning to the base game!

Part 17: I Played The Expansion Packs, And That Was A Horrible Mistake!

These fucking guys....
These fucking guys....

I want to make it clear Final Fantasy XI does a shit job of indicating the "correct order" of its post-release content. To make matters worse, the game even starts its expansion packs in the "wrong order." In my case, I triggered the "Rhapsodies of Vana'diel" questline, which is the FINAL MAIN SCENARIO IN THE GAME, before Rise of the Zilart or Chains of Promathia. Likewise, as I wrapped up the launch story missions, I triggered the "Crystalline Prophecy," "Shantotto Ascension," and Abyssea add-ons BEFORE activating the "Treasures of Aht Urhgan." This, in turn, made the game's CONSTANT in-game prompting to gain the Puppetmaster, Corsair, and Blue Mage jobs all the more bewildering. Playing Final Fantasy XI's expansion packs reminded me of my attempts to get into Fate/Stay and A Certain Magical Index. Every second I played them; I felt like I needed to consult a flowchart to know what the fuck I was doing or watching.

What makes all of this confusion even worse is that you can start the expansion packs in any order or sequence you'd like. After getting my feet wet with Rise of the Zilart and getting the basic gist of it, I was able to fast travel to a different location and start Chains of Promathia. At no point did Chains of Promathia force me to go back and finish up my shit in the main story or any expansion content that preceded it. It goes without saying; I found this to be absolutely bananas. Worse, the game has removed the level requirements for Zilart and Promathia. However, the instancing and quest design in both have remained the same. As a result, while you can play these expansion packs at any time, doing so with a character under level eighty would be a fool's errand.

Is it sad that I remember Tenzen better as a Trust rather than an actual character of story importance?
Is it sad that I remember Tenzen better as a Trust rather than an actual character of story importance?

I understand that I am in the "minority" when it comes to playing Final Fantasy XI in the year of our Lord, 2020. However, the game still bears some responsibility in communicating with its players the requirements for its content. In the case of Promathia, there is no longer a level restriction on any Promyvion area. Yet, the game has an unmistakable idea of which order it wants you to explore these environments. So, the fact that it does NOTHING to communicate what that order may be is endlessly frustrating. Likewise, the lack of an in-game "Codex" or "Story Log" drove me fucking crazy. Often, I would initiate different story cutscenes and then be at a complete loss of who any of the characters were or what I was doing to progress their storylines. Other times, I would watch a cutscene and not know which expansion pack or add-on it was addressing, which is a shame because the storytelling in the expansion packs is stellar!

Before we can get to that, we first need to have a long talk about how you even start the expansion packs. First, none of the post-launch content should be attempted with characters below level forty, and that's doubly so if you are playing the game solo. The Rise of the Zilart missions are accessible after attaining Rank 6 in your home nation, whereas Chains of Promathia triggers the moment you install it. As my previous paragraphs have hopefully communicated, this is a problem for a new player like myself. Nonetheless, let's start with Rise of the Zilart as a case study as it is the expansion pack I had the most experience playing. Rise of Zilart pops off the moment you beat the main boss of the initial story. After defeating the Shadow Lord, you find your character magically teleported to the land of Norg. The game is not at all shameless that it could not make its expansion packs an integrated part of its pre-existing world, and I find that thoroughly hilarious. It's even worse for Chains of Promathia, wherein you need to enter the basement of an unmarked tower before the game teleports you to a different continent.

And sometimes the bosses become giant invincible behemoths! As I said, BECAUSE THIS GAME HATES YOU!
And sometimes the bosses become giant invincible behemoths! As I said, BECAUSE THIS GAME HATES YOU!

Admittedly, I went into the expansion packs with realistic expectations. I didn't anticipate they would stray too far away from what I saw from the initial batch of story quests, especially when it came to their design or scripting. I general, my anemia proved correct. Most of what I played involved long treks to collect far off MacGuffins prophesize to defeat a legendary evil. Nonetheless, I was taken aback by how obvious it was that Final Fantasy XI has seen "leadership changes" during its lifespan. While the expansion packs certainly devolve into aimless fetch quests, they also have a lot more elaborate level design than what you see in the rest of the game. Often, this works for the game's benefit, but not always. The game's newer content is trying to do far more complex things with the same tools and assets Final Fantasy XI had when it launched in 2002. In some cases, I found myself breaking the game's mission scripting or marveling at the game's internal gears grinding to a halt.

Part 18: Have I Mentioned How Much This Game Hates You?

In a little bit, I will share why I was pleasantly surprised by Rise of the Zilart and Chains of Promathia's storytelling and narrative plot beats. At the same time, I still do not think you should play either. It took me the better part of a month to create a character capable of scratching these expansion packs' surface. Each requires a massive time commitment, and I am not ashamed to admit I did not finish either. Additionally, as "quaint" as I found the game's attempts at worldbuilding, I would be hard-pressed to say it properly holds its own against other numbered Final Fantasy games. When I say Final Fantasy XI's storytelling is "cool," I mean it the same way you call an over-excited high school English teacher who enjoys teaching Kurt Vonnegut "cool." Likewise, Final Fantasy XI's pacing is downright atrocious at times. The cutscenes often feel excessive and clock in at around ten to fifteen minutes and are usually only found at the beginnings or ends of the more involved questlines.

It amazed me how quickly the pirate expansion pack sucked the wind from my sails when it revealed itself to be a raid-focused add-on.
It amazed me how quickly the pirate expansion pack sucked the wind from my sails when it revealed itself to be a raid-focused add-on.

More importantly, all of the content in the expansion packs is soul-crushingly difficult. Even the basic encounters can stun-lock your character into oblivion if you are not prepared. In the case of Rise of the Zilart, after you spend three or four missions wining and dining with the major NPCs, the game promptly plops you into a dungeon full of level sixty enemies. Somewhat humorously, the game calls this location the "Den of Rancor," and it is conveniently next to the "Sacrificial Chamber," and both thoroughly kicked my ass. Part of the reason for this is that the expansion packs are far more interested in having you solve complicated puzzles than the original game. These puzzles involve a lot of backtracking and frantically checking every corridor for a quest important object or trinket. With this, the likelihood of the game randomly springing some cheap bullshit on you jumps exponentially.

Speaking of which, we need to talk about the "Notorious Monsters." Every significant location in Final Fantasy XI has the chance of spawning a monster that is one thousand times harder than what you usually encounter in that environment. These monsters are a real issue in the expansion packs as their spawn rate is higher than in the base game. And to echo an earlier point, the penalties of dying feel especially harsh while playing the post-launch content. Getting offed by these monsters is incredibly demoralizing as you cannot plan for them as they are anachronisms when compared to their surroundings. To highlight, when I entered the "Sacrificial Chamber," I encountered a trio of level sixty Tonberries that ganked my character and then stabbed her to death. My defeat almost dropped my character an entire level, and I had to re-do about thirty minutes of quest progress due to that setback.

This guy can suck shit from a lead pipe labelled
This guy can suck shit from a lead pipe labelled "shit delivery system"

This happens all the time, and it never stops happening. Every single goddamn dungeon is happy to pull this kind of cheap bullshit on you. It is not some fucking secret that Final Fantasy XI veterans don't know about; everyone I have talked to who has played this game nods their head when I tell them about my Tonberry experience. So, because I did not know any better, I thought the solution was to continue to power grind my character and hope, at some point, they would "turn the corner" and be able to lay waste to everything that stood before them. When I started the first boss dungeon in Chains of Promathia, I discovered that one of the bosses has an ability that drops all of your party members to 5% health. That's just a thing it can do. When this happened to me the first time, my character fucking died within seconds because they were afflicted with a negative status effect that dropped them to zero health before I could do anything about it. And Final Fantasy XI's cutscenes removing all prior buffs and positive status effects upon starting a storyline boss battle is horseshit!

Another issue that always pissed me off is how easy it is to break the expansion packs' mission scripting. This game is almost twenty years old, and it still has some launch-era bugs and glitches that its development team has never fixed. Because the expansion packs are still working within the game's initial PS2 architecture, they struggle to keep their patchwork together at times. For example, during Chains of Promathia's "Below the Arks" mission, I accidentally entered a different Promyvion zone before beating the boss encounter required to end the mission. In doing so, I got credit for exploring the environment and successfully created a "memory," but the quest remained incomplete. To add insult to injury, I had to start from scratch upon re-entering the level to reach the boss again. As a result of my fuck up, Harith would not offer to convert Recollections into Anima to make the boss encounter easier. Which, I will tell you, was a massive BUMMER!

Part 19: After Fifty Hours, I Started To Understand The Appeal Of Final Fantasy XI

While discussing Final Fantasy XI's story, I will use videos from other Final Fantasy XI players to support my discussion. In the first clip, you will find a YouTuber, Ruaumoko, reviewing the current lore of Final Fantasy XI. As you watch that first video, you'll notice how complex Final Fantasy XI's inner machinations become as you get deeper into its post-launch content. With the second clip, I have a compilation video of every cinematic and cutscene in the Rise of the Zilart expansion pack. Rise of the Zilart features over an hour's worth of cutscenes and dedicated storytelling. For a pre-World of Warcraft MMORPG, that is simply amazing. I certainly think EverQuest is the MMORPG that started the industry trend towards cinematics and substantial worldbuilding with the MMO genre. Nonetheless, Final Fantasy XI deserves its share of credit for laying the groundwork for complex storytelling in an MMORPG. Now, that statement comes with a ton of caveats, but I say it both honestly and earnestly.

Admittedly, there's a ton of "noise" you need to process when you tackle Final Fantasy XI's expansion packs. The game rattles off an endless stream of proper nouns, and it rarely, if ever, provides an appropriate amount of frontloading when dolling out its lore. Characters appear and speak to you for upwards of ten to fifteen minutes, and very often, you will never have significant interactions with them again for hours upon end. That said, this is a game that impressed me with what it does with the limited toolset it has at its disposal. Despite its lack of voice acting, the characters pantomime in an expressive enough way where I never struggled to understand their intended or conveyable emotions. Likewise, the quality of the writing, while riddled with techno-babble, is incredibly well-done. Some of my favorite moments in Final Fantasy XI occurred when the game provided me with opportunities to listen to elaborate parables from wisened sages or flamboyant tales from iconic figures like Gilgamesh or Shantotto.

You are surprised that there are crystals in a Final Fantasy game? Where have you been?
You are surprised that there are crystals in a Final Fantasy game? Where have you been?

Chains of Promathia is the obvious example of the best and worst Final Fantasy XI has to offer. On the one hand, it provides a diverse ensemble cast with a vivid assortment of new environments. Each location attempts to sweep you off your feet as it conveys distinct cultures and societies that are unlike anything you have seen before. On the other hand, it is inscrutable in its design, and its ambitious narrative is often too big for its own good. I think I have already made the case that the expansion packs are cruel and unusual punishment for their difficulty, so I'll stick with that last point. Final Fantasy XI violates the classic axiom of "brevity is the soul of wit." It has a lot to tell you, and once it gets started with a new plot beat, it doesn't know when to stop. Promathia has SIX new locations, all with sub-regions and their own distinct naming conventions. On top of that, it also sports TWELVE brand spanking new "zones" that immediately get added to your fast travel system without warning, thus making an already cluttered system even busier. Then, there are the nigh dozen new named characters and the quest specific NPCs that you have to remember if you have any hope of seeing the game's end content. It's a lot to take in for veterans of Final Fantasy XI, let alone a neophyte like myself.

Again, I want to give the game credit where credit is due, but I struggle to do so because it often funneled me into death spirals or elongated cutscenes. To highlight, when I first entered the duchy of Jeuon, I had a specific task I wanted to complete. However, the game had other plans and decided to introduce the "Crystalline Prophecy" add-on. The nigh twelve-minute introductory cutscene, which has a dozen new characters and proper nouns to boot, caused me to lose track of my initial endeavor. However, this cutscene never appropriately conveyed that this add-on boiled down to a series of missions that involved slaying several Notorious Monsters. Had I known this fact from the onset, I would not have bothered with it in the first place. The same goes for Treasures of Aht Urhgan. When I saw the introductory cutscene for this expansion, my interest piqued at the prospect of living out the life of a swashbuckling pirate. However, this excitement plummeted when I discovered it was a guild-heavy add-on that emphasizes the game's raiding and fortress mechanics. There's so much beautiful storytelling to get out of this game. Unfortunately, you have to tolerate A LOT of the game's innate bullshit to see even a sliver of it.

Part 20: Don't Play Final Fantasy XI

I will say, some of the late-game worlds and environments are absolutely stunning.
I will say, some of the late-game worlds and environments are absolutely stunning.

It has been a long time since I have unequivocally told my readers to avoid a Final Fantasy game. I certainly have a reputation of being more pessimistic about the Final Fantasy franchise than most fans, but I rarely implore my viewers to straight-up "skip" a game. The last time I can think of issuing such a declaration would have to be Final Fantasy II. So, it is with little to no hesitation that I say none of you should play this game. Don't do it. Play Final Fantasy XIV instead of this messy relic of a bygone era. Every part of its design feels mean-spirited and downright cruel. While decent, the story requires an insane time-commitment I could not fathom even during my earlier years of life. And what is the upside to that investment? A handful of characters and cutscenes Final Fantasy XIV has done better ten times over?

Look, if you are someone who is currently playing Final Fantasy XI and are enjoying your time, you do you. I will not tell you to spend your time elsewhere because you've likely made your "decision," and nothing I can say will change your mind. Such is the case with anything you feel passionate about and have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours playing. Yet, if this is the first time you are reading about Final Fantasy XI, and you are looking for a fun experience with a beautiful world and memorable cast of characters, be aware, there is nothing here for you. You are going to have to wade through reams of text and low-poly textures and character sprites to find even a fragment of a good story. All the while, you will have your soul crushed time and time again by cruel boss encounters, Byzantine quests, and endless grinding that leads to nothing. Nor does Final Fantasy XI rise to the occasion as an example of "responsible game design." Instead, it expects to be the only thing you play in your life for months upon end, and if you are not willing to do that, you will NEVER see that which has enamored the community that continues to stand by it for the past eighteen years!

Come on Final Fantasy XI fans, I can take you! (P.S., I love you all very much from the bottom of my heart)
Come on Final Fantasy XI fans, I can take you! (P.S., I love you all very much from the bottom of my heart)

I can almost predict what defenders of Final Fantasy XI are going to say as they read this blog. They are going to type away that this game made sense when it first came out and that by playing it today, I lack the proper context for understanding its appeal. I heard these sorts of comments on my last blog, and I can only assume I will listen to them again with this post. Let me make something nakedly apparent to all of you: I'm sick of these comments. I'm sick of them. I'm sick of saying I hate Final Fantasy XI and countless people telling me to "relax. I'm sick of people saying I need to show respect to an almost twenty-year-old game. There's nothing "respectable" about a game whose customers collapse in exhaustion more often than fucking Life Alert's. If Final Fantasy XI was something worthy of respect, then why did none of its mechanical ideas carry over into the rest of the MMORPG landscape? What big-budgeted MMORPGs cite Final Fantasy XI's design as their source of inspiration? What from this game amounted to anything sustained and visible in both the franchise that its name comes from and the video game industry in general?

Don't tell me how to feel about this game. Fuck this game. This might have been one of the most miserable playing games bearing the Final Fantasy name I have chronicled since Final Fantasy XIII. And at least in XIII's case, it committed to a single era of game design. Final Fantasy XI, at least today, is a fucking mess. You can tell as you play it that the game's design team has turned over to a different group at least five times. There's nothing in it you are not better off experiencing elsewhere, especially considering we live in a world where Final Fantasy XIV exists. When I die, I want Final Fantasy XI to lower me into my grave so it can let me down one more time. And as I wrap this series up in a fit of rage, I'm only now beginning to come to terms with my next blog series being about Chrono Cross.

Fuck. When am I ever going to be happy on this website?
Fuck. When am I ever going to be happy on this website?

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Until G4 Reckons With Its Past, I'm Not Watching

It's sort of weird that I remember the accompanying sound effect to this image.
It's sort of weird that I remember the accompanying sound effect to this image.

As is the norm on my blogs, I want to start with a disclaimer. Despite my blog's content and tone, I wish everyone who is currently under the employ of the revived G4 channel the best. For example, Ron Funches and Austin Creed are phenomenal hires, and they are rightfully excited to showcase their "best stuff" to a wider audience. Both are bombastic personalities that warrant building a new entertainment platform around and supporting with a production crew and budget, and that sentiment applies to the other new hires. Everyone signed to the label appears to be well-known entertainers with distinct personalities and perspectives that rise above the usual Twitch streamer/influencer. Finally, I want to clarify that I do not want any of what I am about to share to justify unwarranted harassment directed at any person associated with the brand-new G4 network. My issues are mainly with the network's new leadership rather than its latest batch of talent. To everyone who has secured a job as a result of G4's attempted "comeback," I say, more power to you, and GET PAID!

With that in mind, let's go ahead and talk about G4's "A Very Special G4 Holiday Reunion Special." Like many, I streamed the event live because G4 had a presence in my household while I was growing up. The channel's original programming was something I tuned into regularly, whether it be Call For Help, X-Play, Attack Of The Show, Judgment Day, Electric Playground, or many other shows that are on the tip of my tongue. I was young then, still en route to graduate from high school, but willing to watch this content even as I began to seek video game and tech editorial content on the internet. I'll even go one step further and admit I watched a TON of the network's repackaging of Sasuke (i.e., Ninja Warrior) as its original programming began to take a back seat. I'm not going to attempt to diagnose what caused me, and millions of others, to abandon the network, as I feel it's not a secret. Nonetheless, when G4 announced its revival earlier this year, I couldn't help but feel like I had to give it a shot. So, I tuned into its "Holiday Reunion," and in doing so, reached a pretty stark conclusion: I don't think I can watch the new G4.

Before we get into my reasoning for this statement, I feel motivated to share a niggling complaint unrelated to my most significant issues with the rebooted G4. That is to say: I cannot stand how the new network is being advertised and promoted. As you can see in the image below, everything about the new G4 reeks of the same tech-bro smarmy and passive-aggressive upper-management culture that seems to have permeated every multi-media endeavor for the past fifteen years. Their "edgy" use of Twitter has all the authenticity of every "sarcastic" corporate Twitter account that has cropped up the past five years. In fact, it's a weird anachronism to see a network try and bill itself as being "on the cutting edge" of gaming culture while also employing the same social media playbook that Applebees and Sonic the Hedgehog have used time and time again. Honestly, it would not surprise me if G4 took quotes from this blog, mind you, written by an amateur, out of context as part of a shitty viral advertising blitz about how it is "listening to its fans" with the end joke being they are aware of their critics. However, the more significant issue this presents, and this is something we will jump into shortly, is that these leaders have bought into a "myth" that G4's original run was without flaw and will translate perfectly into the year of our Lord, 2020.

bleh
bleh

Speaking of which, let's return to G4's much-ballyhooed "reunion" of old-time staff and its introduction of its new presenters and personalities. As to be expected, this was accompanied by a well-produced mini-documentary annotating the history of the network and its rise. What caught my attention was its attempt to depict G4 as a "trailblazer" in providing women visible opportunities to speak their minds about games and gaming culture when other media platforms supposedly did not. Clearly, I did not buy this for a second. Instead, whole swaths of the documentary pissed me off. First, ignoring the fact Olivia Munn and Morgan Webb endured waves of sexual harassment and personal attacks, at no fault of their own, from their employer's very own online user-base, is shitty. I get it is not a topic you want to bring up, but presenting both as figureheads that came into the G4 fold without issue ignores the toxicity they faced throughout their careers. In fact, it highlights how the new G4 has no clear message on how it intends to moderate and deal with toxic behavior or sexual harassment. Which, in 2020, is a problem. Do these executives honestly think they can jump into the industry, in the middle of a console war, and believe their network can avoid these sorts of issues or topics? If that's the case, good luck with that, but I can say as someone who has been a moderator on a video game website for ten years now, that will only last for a few hours! Likewise, there's a more existential question on whether a gaming television network should only present the happy and bombastic side of gaming culture, without any of its warts.

Second, and this is something even the most ardent of G4's supporters cannot deny, the original network had a pretty heinous reputation for how it depicted women on television. Yes, there are many great examples of female presenters fighting through the noise to share their perspectives on various gaming and tech topics. Nonetheless, suppose you were to tune into G4's original run. In that case, you will find that most of the on-camera female personalities were treated like objects no differently than E3 booth babes. For fuck's sake, Judgement Day had an entire segment wherein they had models awkwardly display third-party gaming accessories, with the male hosts occasionally commenting on their attractiveness. Cutting out this part of G4's past is the right call, but the new leaders of the network should have complemented that with a statement of gender inclusivity. They can't just pretend this sort of sexism never happened during the channel's previous run! Rather, it would help if they guaranteed that the "new" G4 has learned from these mistakes and will endeavor to do better.

However, let's return to the figureheads the renewed G4 welcomed with open arms during its reunion event. Now, look, Adam Sessler probably has to be in this homecoming. And I say that as someone who has been perpetually disappointed in how he has conducted himself on Twitter since the demise of Rev3Games. You can't not include him on this rebooted network, but at the same time, providing him with a platform does not sit well with me. For those unaware, the reason for my squeamishness comes from Adam's track record of being a "grump" on Twitter and not knowing when to stop. Before G4's reboot, the guy would not stop picking fights with random Twitter accounts and being a powder keg for waves of toxic behavior. This includes when he engaged in language, some found to be transphobic and replied to the situation with a proverbial shrug. Regarding that last point, it was incredibly disheartening to see Mr. Sessler refuse to accept any accountability even when his closest allies and friends begged him to do so.

The Ron Funches part of this deal was great.
The Ron Funches part of this deal was great.

Admittedly, whenever I bring up the issue of Adam Sessler's shitty Twitter behavior, his defenders point out that he has been public about dealing with bouts of depression and anxiety since X-Play's cancellation. I get where these comments are coming from, and I certainly sympathize with someone struggling to come to terms with seeing something they worked on get ripped away from them, but that doesn't excuse transphobia. If the new G4 wants me to accept seeing Adam Sessler on camera, then he needs to prove that he understands he's hurt targeted and vulnerable communities in the past. Likewise, G4 could have AT LEAST made a public declaration on it being a safe place for LGBTQIA communities! Look, it's not fucking rocket science, and I say that as someone who has personally fucked up and needed to reflect on the impact of their behavior on others. In this regard, a little humility goes a long way.

However, this PALES IN COMPARISON to the most egregious invite the G4 reunion made. That would be the decision to invite Chris Hardwich to reminisce in a roundtable about the "Golden Age of G4" accompanied by Olivia Munn, Kevin Pereira, Adam Sessler, Morgan Webb, Sarah Underwood, and many others. After everything that has come out related to Chris Hardwich's abuse allegations and multiple other media platforms publicly dropping him, this was a choice. I know bringing up this topic will invite the usual suspects that will likely repeat the same soundbites that have been said a thousand times before. Yes, I am aware AMC and other companies closed their investigations related to Hardwich in his favor, citing "lack of evidence" as the primary reason. However, it is important to point out the victim of Hardwich's abuse elected not to cooperate with these investigations. In addition, this victim stated their intent in going public about Hardwich was to open up about a dark part of their life as part of their coping process. And before you ask, I support the victim's right to do this and trust that their testimony is true. As a result of all of this, it's tough to accept many of the new G4's claims that they are "bigger and better than ever," as this alone highlights a massive oversight on their part.

I have been running through various scenarios that involve the new executives in charge of G4 when it comes to Hardwich's resurfacing. My thought experiment has arrived at two possible conclusions. In the first scenario, the executives did no research and invited everyone with an on-screen credit during G4's original run to their holiday event. I find this prospect impossible to believe as Comcast, by the revived G4's own admission, is paying for G4's bills and wouldn't let them book someone they thought hurt their bottom line. In the second scenario, the executives reviewed the contents of Hardwich's investigation, or even conducted one of their own, and decided Hardwich was fit to air and posed no risk to them or the people around him. This is likely the "correct" scenario, and goddamn, do I not know what to say about it. At the very least, it shows a massive gap in the revived network's understanding of media accountability. It suggests they are not up to the task posed by most gaming websites or online forums in guaranteeing a safe working environment.

Finally, this preponderance of the evidence shows a very stark truth about whoever is in charge of the current version of G4: they do not have a proper grapple on the mistakes its original run made. Those mistakes, mind you, played a role in the network's eventual downfall. The new G4 cannot expect that it will get a pass on these sorts of stumbling points as it tries to bill itself as a fun place to consume video game content. Consumers today have higher standards for their media than they have had ever before. One of my criteria is that I will only consume content from a source I know will not engage in homophobic or transphobic language. This is not to suggest that the channel's new signings will engage in such behavior. Nonetheless, given the original network's past, including skits wherein Adam Sessler is publicly "emasculated" or Kevin Pereira engaging in non-stop kink-shaming, all I am asking for are "receipts" that a culture change has occurred at the renewed G4.

As I cannot ascertain if that has happened, I will wish those gainfully employed by the company the best but will refrain from watching G4 until further notice. That said, I will not discount tuning in should the company prove me wrong. If anyone in charge of the network's restoration, including its personalities, come out and do everything I am asking for in this blog, I will give them the appropriate credit. The names tapped to be a part of the revived G4 label are fantastic people, and many have commented on the issues I have brought up in this blog. So, I'm rooting for them; despite everything I have said, I want this to be something that works out for all involved. And if anyone associated with G4 finds this blog, a prospect I highly doubt, all I have to say is to go out there and make the best damn product you can and turn me into a believer.

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