ZP's Visual Novel Torture Chamber Episode 001: It's Time To Go Full Circle With PacaPlus

Preamble (a.k.a. Why Am I Doing This?)

Some of you may recall a month ago; I played a smattering of visual novels for charity. If you have no idea what I am talking about, an archive of that stream is available in a follow-up comment. My experience during this stream encouraged me to start a new series about visual novels in between my Final Fantasy blogs. More importantly, I have a personal interest in visual novels in general and feel like, for the most part, they have a bad rap in the video game community. Now, to the internet's defense, much of this negativity is justified. By that, I mean, the genre has inundated Steam and made a mockery of its community curation tools. Obviously, rather than be an ambassador, I'll be playing the same visual novels that largely justify the genre's negative reputation.

For my inaugural entry, we are throwing things back to a "classic" Giant Bomb moment! That moment is when Drew Scanlon played Paca Plus, a dating sim in which the protagonist's girlfriend transforms into an alpaca. At the time, it was a genuinely bizarre affair, what with the images of a man nearing to kiss an alpaca wearing a Japanese schoolgirl outfit and all. With this blog, I hope to get to the bottom of a handful of burning questions from that brief "taste" of PacaPlus. For example, why does your girlfriend transform into an alpaca? Have they "fixed" the original English translation? Is this game worth playing outside of the novelty of seeing an anthropomorphic alpaca?

My answers are: It's a curse; not really; no.
My answers are: It's a curse; not really; no.

What's The Deal With The Story?

Hot damn, where do I even begin?
Hot damn, where do I even begin?

First, as you can see in the demo, there's a nigh hour-long prologue in which you go on a date with your girlfriend, Yukari, to the "Alpaca Kingdom." What that demo cuts out is another hour-long sequence in which the game painfully introduces all of its side characters. These introductions play out in excruciating detail, even if the only characters that matter are the protagonist and Yukari. Regardless, these expository and supporting characters get so much talking time in the game it's not even funny! To illustrate, when you find out the protagonist has a part-time job, you meet his boss, who then drones about the ins and outs of running a cafe! This lecture lasts for SEVEN GODFORSAKEN MINUTES! I mention this example to suggest, there's a lot of "fluff" in PacaPlus' story, and I'm not even trying to make a pun! This game is a constant exercise of patience, and it extends its straightforward premise to a breaking point! In yet another example of the game wasting your time, the story stretches the simple task of organizing a maid cafe for a school rally for the better part of three in-game chapters! All the while, you'll listen to the Student Council President instruct you about how to sew together cosplay outfits for ten minutes!

When I first saw PacaPlus, my initial reaction was to dismiss it as nothing more than a syrupy carbon copy of Saya no Uta, and congratulations to all five of you who understood that reference. Oh, how wrong I was about this game! After Yukari's "transformation," the protagonist spends about half the game taking notes and trying to confirm if the alpaca is his girlfriend. On one such occasion, he spends FIFTEEN fucking minutes observing her using her violin and marveling how her hooves don't crush the instrument into dust. It's as excruciating as it sounds on paper, and worse, the game presents blocks of poorly translated text more often than the ridiculous visuals you would expect to see in a game like this one. Nonetheless, I know what many of you are wondering! Why in the world does Yukari become an alpaca in the first place? Well, on that point, PacaPlus delivers some anime-ass nonsense I can get behind. In the game's final arc, after the player character has confessed to seeing Yukari as an animal, they begin researching Yukari's past. Eventually, they discover there's a curse on Yukari's family after a distant relative of hers hit a baby alpaca with a car and killed it in front of its mother. As a result, everyone in her family is destined to be seen as an alpaca by their "true love."

Overall, PacaPlus is anywhere between six to ten hours. Despite that, this game felt like it took an eon to complete. The shortest possible ending is the game's "bad ending," wherein you blow off Yukari, and she breaks up with you. The three additional conclusions involve you either: a) failing to break the curse and marrying Yukari in alpaca form, b) breaking the curse and living happily ever after as a human couple, and c) the curse reflecting onto the protagonist and the two of them living the rest of their lives seeing each other as alpacas. There are four dialogue choices to make in the game, and the story spreads each of these choices across such a significant continuum of time you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a kinetic novel. The interactivity is minimal, and all the while, you'll experience standard anime standbys, idioms, and tropes.

Is There A Nudity Tag?

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For Jason's sake, let's address the obvious elephant in the room: do they show "it?" And I can safely say "no," there's zero adult content in PacaPlus. While the game indeed has a handful of anime-esque set pieces and moments, nothing crosses the line into "adults-only" territory. For example, let's return to the characters needing to organize a maid cafe because, OF COURSE, THEY DO! But this moment shows how there's nothing explicit about the content or visuals in PacaPlus. Yes, you see Yukari in alpaca form dressed as a maid. Nonetheless, the game doesn't inundate you with lecherous panty shots or situations in which minors are forced into compromising positions. Though it is worth mentioning, the publisher of PacaPlus, Sekai Project, is not above producing visual novels that err towards a more adult audience. They are, if anything, the studio that continues to "green light" the Nekopara franchise!

I have to say; I was genuinely relieved Yukari's transformation didn't "spark" a carnal desire in the protagonist. Instead, he spends half the game taking notes while observing the alpaca-human hybrid and unwilling to make a move on her until he confirms it is the same person. As you can see in the demo Drew played, the protagonist spends most of the game's prologue fawning over alpacas as if they are his spirit animal. There's one "questionable" scene in which you see the alpaca version of Yukari in a pair of Japanese schoolgirl bloomers as she attempts a high jump during P.E. As was the case before, there's nothing explicit about the scene. Yet, and this is another example of how cheap this game is, you rarely see any of the characters outside of their dialogue portraits. PacaPlus provides none of the production values of a kinetic visual novel but still employs the same plodding narrative structure of one wherein you feel like banging your head on a wall because all of the characters are morons.

If anything, and it pains me to say something positive about this game as I felt like it sucked away years of my life force, it deserves credit in how it depicts the relationship between the protagonist and their girlfriend. First and foremost, the two of them are in an entirely reciprocal relationship. I'd go so far as to say Yukari is the best character as she goes out of her way to notice her boyfriend is acting out of the ordinary. Even better, there are several scenes in which she tells him that he doesn't need to push himself to reveal what's bothering him as "trust is the most important part of being in a relationship." The fact this game has a better notion of a healthy and consensual relationship than 95.99% of all video games blew my goddamn mind. Likewise, there's a scene in which they spend time together, and Yukari has to spell out to him she's open to pursuing an intimate relationship after years of platonic dating. However, he's too busy observing how soft her fleece is, and I swear this sentence makes sense in context. Nothing happens, and it's one of the few genuinely funny scenes in the game.

Does The Art Make Me Feel Like I'm Pouring Bleach Into My Eyes?

I mean, will you doubt me if I say I have played worse-looking visual novels?
I mean, will you doubt me if I say I have played worse-looking visual novels?

This next nitpick might seem odd, but whoever picked the English font for this game should be kicked in the pants. There were times where I felt like it was nigh impossible to read the text. Seriously, who the FUCK thought it was a good idea to have a white font, with a shadow effect, on a light blue text box? WHO?! As if that weren't enough, if you attempt to play the game fullscreen, you'll immediately notice the game outputs at 4:3, and everything looks stretched as if a teenager using Microsoft Word for the first time made this game. And we haven't even talked about how shitty the character and background artwork is in this game!

Maybe I expected too much out of PacaPlus. To the game's credit, there are dozens of distinct locals and backdrops. Sadly, you often forget that because the plot wastes your time by having your buffoon of a protagonist think about what is afflicting his girlfriend for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. The character work isn't horrible, but the look of the game is so dated I felt the game became a blur by the second hour. Every location has the same pink/blue/purple color palette, and the juxtapositions are sudden and awkward. You can also tell the character artist for this game spent more time on the alpaca girlfriend than any other character as she's the only one that visibly animates. And when I say "animate," I mean her dialogue portrait transitions between a happy, sad, or angry face depending on your in-game choices.

The biggest indictment you can level against PacaPlus is that it does not lean enough into its bizarre premise. Instead, it plays out like a typical romance dating sim wherein you read over mountains of text with next to no pictorials other than static character portraits. But in PacaPlus' case, you are stuck mainlining a single romance option every time. Worse, there aren't as many zany visuals in the game as you'd expect. Obviously, there's the initial shock of seeing a cutesy alpaca wearing a Japanese schoolgirl outfit, but that subsides as you see that same static image, over and over again, for ten hours. Beyond that, there's one scene, which I detailed earlier, in which the alpaca is wearing a P.E. uniform. However, that's one of two scenarios in which Yukari does something other than statically stand in front of the protagonist! The other scenario, as I have mentioned earlier, involves seeing her attend to patrons at a maid cafe. To add insult to injury, the game even repeats that same P.E. high jump cutscene TWICE! The game is so goddamn cheap it recycles the same fucking scenes over and over again!

What's The Quality Of The Writing And Gameplay?

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Alright, for those of you who remember this game from its UPF appearance many years ago, you may recall PacaPlus' original, albeit highly questionable, English translation. The publisher "updated" the game for its Steam release, which included a new and less grammatically dubious translation. But don't get too excited, as the update only marginally improves the quality of its localization. Sure, legendary sentences such as "And I'm so sad if you got hurn [sic] on my birthday," have been corrected, but that doesn't mean you're free from spending minutes upon end looking at awkward sentences trying to figure out what the fuck you're reading. Trust me, I did a live reading of the game and continuously struggled to act out the game's text as written. The basic grammar is mostly right, but the syntax is atrocious, and there is a non-stop supply of word salads.

To go back to my earlier point about this game not knowing its audience, it is far more interested in talking to you about what Yukari is doing, rather than showing you. This design choice deprives you of some of the game's funnier moments as, instead of feeding you wacky anime visuals, it serves mountains of paragraphs with questionable diction and syntax. To illustrate, there's a scene where Yukari uses a cellphone, and you don't get to see her hooves to tap away at her phone! Instead, the protagonist lectures about the anatomy of alpaca hooves for five fucking minutes. Speaking of which, there are "lectures" in this game about the biology and taxonomy of alpacas. On paper, that might sound charming, but in execution, these play out like a close reading of Wikipedia pages.

And now we need to talk about this game's nigh non-existent gameplay. If you come to the visual novel genre hoping to experience some form of player agency, you need to look elsewhere. As I suggested earlier, there are four in-game choices to make in all of PacaPlus. If you crunch the numbers, that equals to about one interactive element every two hours. What I found especially insulting was when the protagonist tries to "research" what might be afflicting him or Yukari. The game builds up this detective endeavor as the culminating story arc of the game, and yet, it provides you with next to no gameplay hooks to connect you to the events of the story. The entire investigation plays out like a fucked up PowerPoint slideshow from "Anime Hell," and all of the characters continue to behave like marionettes from a fever dream.

Should You Play This Game?

noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Even to the six or seven of you down to laugh at "wacky anime nonsense," I can safely say your time is better spent elsewhere. PacaPlus is a visually monotonous and narratively dubious experience, even at the price of $5. Based on my personal experiences with the game, I can tell you that I grew tired of it by hour two. It's bad. It's a bad game, and I feel bad for having played it. Do as I say and not as I do.

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Fighting Final Fantasy V - Part 1: Bring Back The Job System To Final Fantasy! YOU COWARDS!

Part 1: It's Time For A History Lesson

It's time for another Final Fantasy-based blogging adventure!
It's time for another Final Fantasy-based blogging adventure!

Part of what I enjoy most of all when it comes to my Final Fantasy series is when a user mentions learning about a game they'd never played before. While this blog series started as a joke, it has, more or less, become a historical research project on the ebbs and flows of Square-Enix as a developer. This time around, we will be looking at Final Fantasy V, a game that, for a variety of reasons, never released in North America until 1999. To add insult to injury, Europe would have to wait an extra three years. For those counting, that is seven to ten years after its initial launch on the Super Famicom in 1992. More gamers, however, were introduced to Final Fantasy V with its GameBoy Advance release in 2006. I say all of this because I consider Final Fantasy V one of the best JRPGs you've possibly never played.

There's a lot in Final Fantasy V that speaks to an era of Squaresoft we often forget about today. The company's reputation for being a technological trailblazer became an industry-wide accepted truth with the release of Final Fantasy VI and VII. Still, they were ahead of their time far earlier than that both mechanically and technologically. Unfortunately, the game that gets the most lip-service of the early SNES games is Final Fantasy IV. While I do not want to detract from that game's legacy, Final Fantasy V still deserves its share of credit for putting Squaresoft on a pathway to "world domination." The franchise's use of jobs, schools of magic, narrative reliance on crystals, and brisk pacing owe A LOT to Final Fantasy V.

If only I had played this version of Final Fantasy V instead of what I went with....
If only I had played this version of Final Fantasy V instead of what I went with....

This topic inevitably leads us to the issue of why Final Fantasy V originally never came out in North America and Europe. The first ding against the game involves Final Fantasy II and III not being localized. Final Fantasy V is better than both of those games by a country mile, but it harbors one commonality with them: it is a mechanics driven JRPG rather than a story-driven one. At the time of Final Fantasy V's release in Japan, most Japanese game studios maintained a self-perceived notion that the Western audience did not understand and appreciate complex and mechanically driven JRPGs. The financial failure of Dragon Quest III and IV in North America was perpetually cited as an example of this back in the day.

I know what many of you are thinking, Final Fantasy IV, which first came out in the West and Europe as Final Fantasy II, was a massive success for Square. Regrettably, that game's popularity did not do much to shake Squaresoft of its belittling view of non-Japanese markets. Final Fantasy IV was a more narrative-driven game with a simplified job system, whereas Final Fantasy V was the opposite. Additionally, there's the daunting task that localization posed. Final Fantasy V has far more text and dialogue to translate than Final Fantasy IV. Finally, Squaresoft was in an awkward position as a publisher by the time Final Fantasy V was ready for a Western launch. While Final Fantasy V could have come out in North America in 1993, by then, Square had already begun work on localizing Final Fantasy VI. If they had released Final Fantasy V in North America during that time, the refractory period between it and VI would have been a scant four to five months. Therefore, the game's well-deserved moment of glory was shit-canned.

Part 2: My Quest To Maximize My Pain

Obviously I played a version of Final Fantasy V with such visually stunning 16-bit graphics as this, right?
Obviously I played a version of Final Fantasy V with such visually stunning 16-bit graphics as this, right?

Before we continue, I want to make it abundantly clear I think everyone reading this blog should give Final Fantasy V a try. The game represents a free-loving Squaresoft that was absolutely on their "A-Game." Even so, we need to have a frank conversation about which version of Final Fantasy V I think you should play. Those of you with a proclivity for emulators or single-board computers, such as the Raspberry Pi, can play the Super Famicom version of the game. If I had to do things over again, that's the route I would have gone because I cannot stop myself from swooning over Mode 7 cutscenes and classic 16-bit graphics. Just be aware, which localization of that release you pick is incredibly essential. If you want my advice, the GBA/iOS translation does an excellent job of interpreting the game's light-hearted tone without any unneeded awkwardness. Although, if you want a more "literal" interpretation of the source material, then you are going to have to resort to fan translations.

For those of you who want to play the PlayStation One port, be warned, things are a bit murky. To this day, I do not understand for the life of me why the "PSOne Classics" program from the PS3 never fully translated to the PS4. As a result, the PlayStation Store copy of Final Fantasy V is only compatible with the PS3, PS Vita, and OG PSP. Regardless, this version is "weird" for a handful of reasons. For one thing, and this is something WE WILL TALK ABOUT SEPERATELY, the PlayStation One version has a notorious translation, and I'm not just talking about simple grammar and spelling mistakes! Lastly, the combat in the PlayStation One version has a handful of bugs and glitches which break the game sideways. Admittedly, Final Fantasy V is far from being "balanced," but with the PlayStation One port, you can stun-lock bosses ad infinitum as well as duplicate items to your heart's content.

Then, we have the version I played for this blog. Alright... I'll admit it, mistakes were made.
Then, we have the version I played for this blog. Alright... I'll admit it, mistakes were made.

As my modus operandi happens to involve maximizing my pain, I played the iOS/Steam port. Before everyone takes turns making fun of my poor life-choices, I want to say a few positive things about this version. First, I love the new character portraits that display during dialogue scenes. Full disclosure, I've never been a fan of Yoshitaka Amano's whispy and abstract character art, and these portraits do a better job of visualizing Final Fantasy V's breezy and free-spirited tone. Second, this version includes the bonus dungeon and four extra job classes from the Game Boy Advance release, but with the added benefit of having vastly superior audio. The caveat to all of this, and it is a massive caveat, is you have to play a game that looks like it ran through six or seven emulator filters.

To add insult to injury, if you want to play the game on PC, you are limited to an incredibly questionable Steam download. I say "questionable" because it is a slap-dash port of the mobile game. Worse, this version is one of the few games on Steam that does not support the Steam Overlay. Consequently, if you enjoy streaming your Steam games, then be aware, you have to EDIT its executable and MANUALLY ADD OpenGL to its folder. I shit you not! Yet again, Square-Enix continues to drop the fucking ball when it comes to making its classic games legally available on the PC. And why they refuse to make the original Super Famicom version available to markets that never got access to it, blows my goddamn mind. Every single time they have an opportunity to make one of their "classic" games accessible on current-generation technology they have to tinker with it and make it worse.

Part 3: Why The Localization Of Final Fantasy V Matters And The Oft Forgotten Legacy Of Ted Woolsey

Seriously, your enjoyment of Final Fantasy V may depend on which translation you pick.
Seriously, your enjoyment of Final Fantasy V may depend on which translation you pick.

Depending on where you live, Final Fantasy V either released before or after the launch of Final Fantasy VI in North America. If you are reading this blog, then there's a good chance you fall into the latter of those two categories. This is a critical point of contention, as Squaresoft's approach to localization changes depending on how close your version of Final Fantasy V is to the North American launch of Final Fantasy VI. With that in mind, it's time for us to have a frank discussion about Ted Woolsey and his impact on modern localization. Initially, I thought I'd have this discussion during my inevitable series on Final Fantasy VI, but either way, I'm glad to have it here as well.

Without a doubt, Ted Woolsey is one of the most important figures behind the Final Fantasy franchise's worldwide success. Unfortunately, most "modern" Square-Enix fans do not know the man even exists. For those unaware, Woolsey was in charge of Squaresoft's English localization department from 1991 to 1996. And when I say he was "in charge of the department," I mean he meticulously transcribed every game he was working on with a fine-tooth comb. The man's credits honestly speak for themself, and he's widely considered one of the reasons why Squaresoft experienced as much success in Western markets as they did during the SNES-era. Be that as it may, he's not without his share of critics. Many contend that his approach of modifying scripts to appeal to Western audiences constitutes censorship and purging the source's Japanese identity.

Ted Woolsey is a legend among men as they say!
Ted Woolsey is a legend among men as they say!

Admittedly, this conversation is a better fit for my Final Fantasy VI series. Still, it is something we need to discuss because there are TWO different official translations of Final Fantasy V, and one of them is downright dreadful! Both of these translations, however, took the Woolsey approach to localization, which is to suggest they took liberties with the original script for the sake of increasing the game's potential audience. The first of these is the PlayStation One translation, which, as I suggested earlier, should be avoided like the Bubonic Plague. The game reads like a fourth-grader in a Japanese dual-immersion program having a go at translating their first video game. Seriously, the enemy names are ATROCIOUSLY localized! Here are a handful of examples I noticed while watching a Let's Play series on the PS1 port. On the left, you'll see the "canonical" English translation, and to the right, you'll find the PS1 translation:

Mani Wizard -> Money Mage

Dechirer -> Bald Money

Sucker -> Soccer (It's an octopus)

Tonberry -> Dinglberry (I did not mistype this one!)

Princess Sarisa -> Princess Salsa

Wyvern -> Y Burn (I shit you not!)

Then we have the GBA translation, which I maintain is a perfect example of Woolsey-era localization done right! This localization effort completely avoids the grammatical errors of its predecessor, while keeping the spirit of Ted Woolsey's philosophy: diverge from the script when necessary and honor the spirit of the source at all costs. With the GBA translation, the characters are much more light-hearted than their Super Famicom counterparts. They are more likely to joke with one another and play off each other's character tropes than in the Japanese version. This approach works in large part because Final Fantasy V's story is not up to today's standard of a game bearing its namesake. As we will discuss shortly, Final Fantasy V's story feels like an attempt at making an homage to the works of Akira Toriyama, rather than a wholly original idea swimming around Square's offices.

As Joe E. Brown once put it,
As Joe E. Brown once put it, "Well, nobody's perfect."

If, however, you are the type of person who takes localization so seriously you send paid translators DMs questioning why they didn't translate the source material literally, then, relax, there's a fan translation that does precisely that. Just be aware, I think you are going to have less fun with the game if you go this route. Look, I'm trying my best to avoid the "literal vs. figurative" debate when it comes to localizing non-English video games and anime. No matter, the GBA translation makes the characters feel more grounded in the world which surrounds them. They goof around a lot because the world they envelop is ridiculous. For example, in a literal translation, the character of Galuf is a blunt and irreverent father-figure. In the GBA translation, Galuf is a hilarious homage to "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski. I know some of you might find that off-putting, but be aware, his character more appropriately fits the game's tone that way.

Part 4: Remember When Final Fantasy Games Were Fun Adventures?

I spend this time discussing Final Fantasy V's localization as a preamble to its story. The game is, without a doubt, one of the funniest and most light-hearted adventures Square has ever conceived. Yes, there's a world-ending threat you need to defeat before the game's conclusion. Still, Final Fantasy V lacks the pretensions of melodrama that have come to define virtually every game in the franchise since Final Fantasy VI. No matter, there's something about its lack of grandeur I find refreshing. Admittedly, Square shooting for the stars has produced some iconic moments like Final Fantasy VI's introduction as well as Final Fantasy X's ending. But their lack of discipline has created more than a handful of groan-inducing moments like Final Fantasy VIII's "Orphanage Scene," and everything that is Final Fantasy XIII.

Because JESUS CHRIST WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!
Because JESUS CHRIST WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!

Final Fantasy V lacks the storytelling highs of its eventual successors, but it also avoids many of the franchise's pitfalls. To underscore this point, let's look at how the game starts. Right off the bat, you control a strapping young lad named "Bartz Klauser" or "Butz" in the Japanese version. As he is traveling the world with his Chocobo companion, Boko, a meteor strikes the planet, and they set off to investigate the impact site. As Bartz enters a wooded area, he encounters a female explorer who is assailed by goblins. After rescuing her from a grisly demise, she introduces herself as "Lenna" and admits to wanting to see the meteor as well. Upon reaching the interstellar object, Bartz finds an unconscious man who seems to have forgotten everything except his name, which is Galuf. Shortly after that, Lenna announces she will be visiting the nearby "Wind Shrine" and offers to take Bartz there, but he refuses.

Everything I've described above takes place in about ten minutes, and while it doesn't sound like much, it's the little details that go the distance. In these scant few minutes, we know who the characters are, their driving motivations, as well as their characteristics and quirks. Bartz is a kind-hearted but introverted adventurer who prefers doing things alone; Lenna is a righteous but naive princess; Galuf is a crass but steady elder statesman. More importantly, the game's pace starts at eleven and never looks back! Shortly after Bartz leaves Lenna and Galuf, Boko acts as his conscience and forces him to return to them. When he does, the trio finds themselves in a pirate hideout and, as a group, attempt to steal a galleon! If that doesn't sound like a fun adventure to you, then I don't know what to say.

Have I finally convinced you that the GBA translation is FUCKING AMAZING?
Have I finally convinced you that the GBA translation is FUCKING AMAZING?

Yes, this is a boilerplate enterprise guided by MacGuffins, which, this being a classic Final Fantasy game, means you are assembling a collection of elemental crystals. Admittedly, I have a reputation for giving Final Fantasy games a hard time for relying too heavily on MacGuffins. In Final Fantasy V's case, I'm going to give the game a pass. For one thing, Final Fantasy V makes no pretense about being a heady melodrama and is more interested in providing compelling character moments and impactful one-off vignettes. And you know what? Final Fantasy V provides an excellent narrative from a moment-to-moment perspective. More importantly, Final Fantasy V has an exceptional gauge of when to hit the "pause button" on its combat so you can better appreciate your surroundings. Do you remember that pirate den I mentioned earlier? The design team placed all of the NPCs to be facing away from you, so your first "stealth mission" goes down without a hitch!

Part 5: It's All About Jobs, Except When It's Not

We should now jump into what makes Final Fantasy V an extraordinary video game: its job system. If you decide to play Final Fantasy V, you'll immediately notice how it is a time-capsule of the but-end of Squaresoft's Dungeons & Dragons roots. For those uninitiated, from Final Fantasy I through III, the series more or less plagiarized Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition with its gameplay mechanics and enemy design, but this is a topic I covered during my Final Fantasy I and II series. The name of the game here is jobs and progressing your characters down a skill tree as you would in Dungeons & Dragons. The choices the game provides are overwhelming, but the good news is that Final Fantasy V doesn't demand a lot out of its audience. Should you find a winning combination of jobs, there's no pressure in the game to leave your comfort zone.

A wise man once said, hard work pays off in the future, laziness pays off now.
A wise man once said, hard work pays off in the future, laziness pays off now.

I want to spend some time on that last point. As a CRPG player by trade, it was a breath of fresh air to play an RPG with a dynamic job system that avoids penalizing you for changing your character's assignments on the fly. In fact, with the breadth of options Final Fantasy V provides, a harsh re-spec option would've been antithetical of everything the game aims for with its mechanics. Final Fantasy V is all about having a fun time with a myriad of job classes and seeing said classes out for as much or little as you want! Each class starts with an "active" ability, which provides a new option in the menu system during a battle. To highlight, a Thief gains the ability to "Steal," and a White Mage can cast healing magic. Where things get interesting is the game's use of passive buffs and secondary skills. To gain access to even more options in combat, you'll need to level up specific jobs to utilize some of their more potent abilities. But, the hybridization of jobs is the bread-and-butter of Final Fantasy V's gameplay. In Final Fantasy V, every character is capable of "equipping" one ability mastered from any of their jobs, regardless of their present assignment. With this mechanic, you can make balanced damage dealers or hyper-specialized fiddler craps. For example, I LOVED giving my mages the secondary abilities of Monks so they could beat up everything that stood before when they ran low on MP.

Those secondary abilities are the primary reason why I love Final Fantasy V. They add a whole new layer to the game as they foster an organic sense of mechanical exploration. Some job combinations go hand in hand, whereas others require a thorough investigation. The game doesn't provide you with any "winning combinations" from the onset, but because the game's stakes are so low for the first three acts, it doesn't punish you for hot-swapping job pairings for hours upon end. Better yet, and this is a point I'll address later, every level in the game is in service of two or three particular jobs, but that is not to suggest those specific jobs are the only solution. Often, the enemies in an environment have one explicit weakness only a few classes can take advantage of in combat. Despite that, if you want to run a party of all mages or "sword and board" types, you can do that as well.

Notice how I defeated a half dozen goblins and only got 1 ABP for my trouble. Yeah, we'll talk about that in a little bit!
Notice how I defeated a half dozen goblins and only got 1 ABP for my trouble. Yeah, we'll talk about that in a little bit!

If there is something that annoyed me endlessly, it's that the game takes its sweet-ass time to dole out some of its jobs. Your initial bevy of classes dispenses AFTER you summit the Wind Shrine. By then, you've already trekked across multiple dungeons and dealt with several boss encounters. That in and of itself isn't a huge issue except that the game feels bare without its job mechanic in full swing. Another nitpick is that maximizing the utility of these jobs isn't immediately apparent to the player within the game. Sure, one can assume classes like the Knight or Thief benefit from specific suits of armor or weapons. The same sentiment applies to the more straightforward magic-based classes like the Black Mage, White Mage, and Red Mage. Nevertheless, there are a lot of hybrid jobs where it's not obvious how you go about making them more powerful. To illustrate, it wasn't until AFTER I consulted a guide that I realized I had missed out on nearly half the summons for the Summoner because they were locked behind side quests.

Curiously, the most significant mark against Final Fantasy V's mechanics is also, at least in my opinion, its biggest draw. And that draw or flaw, depending on your perspective, is that Final Fantasy V's job system is UTTERLY BROKEN! Now, when I say "broken," I don't mean Final Fantasy V's endgame loses all semblance of difficulty, and the last boss is a joke. No, when I say "broken," I mean the entire game becomes a cakewalk by the time you get your second batch of jobs. Because your classes cover a breadth of elements and specialties, and you can swap jobs on the fly without penalty, everything remains "on the table" at all times. That means if a boss has a specific elemental weakness, the only thing stopping you from stun locking it into oblivion is your ability to identify that weakness. No joke, I was able to beat some of the mainline bosses within two to three turns because of exploits! For fuck's sake, the game gives you "Lv. 5 Death" within its first act, and there are at least a half dozen bosses that have their levels set to a number divisible by five!

Part 6: Charm Does Not Equal Storytelling, But It Doesn't Hurt

I cannot preface enough, you have not lived until you've wasted a boss on the first move using
I cannot preface enough, you have not lived until you've wasted a boss on the first move using "Lv. 5 Death."

A common complaint levied against Final Fantasy V stems from its characters and the fact they stand true to their trope-laden nature until the very end. This point is mostly valid, as, outside of a handful of character moments, the primary cast repeatedly makes light of their increasingly ridiculous circumstances. Even when you encounter Exdeath, Galuf still sees fit to crack a crass joke, and Bartz a witty retort only he finds funny. In a lot of ways, Final Fantasy V maintains the tone of a Saturday morning cartoon wherein the characters remain their archetypes from start to finish and rarely show signs of maturation. Consequently, the result is that Final Fantasy V feels distinctly Japanese as it sincerely borrows the storytelling template of a serialized shonen manga. And much like those sources of entertainment, Final Fantasy V is downright fun to watch.

Furthermore, Final Fantasy V accomplishes a lot with its limited resources. Regardless of the version you play, the game utilizes Mode 7 camera angles and cutscenes, which do a lot to establish the greater world and your party's sense of place. Moreover, the character animations, while rudimentary and overly comical, make these characters far more expressive than what you'd expect out of a game made in 1992. Altogether, the character animations, as well as the game's overall direction, reminded me of a Kabuki theater. Very often, the characters march to the center of the screen, then turn to face the player and then expressively share their two cents' worth as if they are acting on a stage. Then, when the characters have finished speaking, the camera will pan down and juxtapose to a different location or set-piece. All the while, the characters will jump for joy, tilt their heads, cry tears, or hug each other while the music swoons in the background. Despite its advancing age, I felt more emotionally invested in Final Fantasy V's first three hours than the entirety of Final Fantasy XIII!

Alas, poor Mode 7! I barely knew ye!
Alas, poor Mode 7! I barely knew ye!

Final Fantasy V also ensures that its NPCs feel like an organic extension of their surroundings. Every time you enter a new castle or town, you'll pick up on linguistic differences as well as cultural shifts between the major continents. Sadly, Final Fantasy V doesn't use any of this worldbuilding to further a big picture message or theme. Instead, it uses its environments and NPC interactions to inject added humor and camp. For example, when the player first enters the town of Tule, they'll witness Faris' merry band of pirates storming the village whilst chanting "GROG! GROG! GROG!" When you finally enter the pub, you'll find it disheveled and stripped bare of useful items. Likewise, if you attempt to play the piano there, a local dancer gives your player character a lap dance.

There's also something to be said about the game's environmental design. The levels each are iconic in their own right, and all of the towns and castles feature character interactions that feel rewarding. The vast majority of these boil down to praises of your recent adventuring exploits, but many fill out the world in a reasonably well-done manner. Later in the game, there's a town populated by wolf-people. When you interact with the citizens of this town, you discover they have their own greetings and social customs. Its little touches like those which lend to there being a "wholeness" to Final Fantasy V's world despite the fact it's by and large Squaresoft pulling from their playbook. Yes, there's an elongated desert level wherein you get attacked by a sandworm. Yes, there's a lava level full of Cthulhu-like demons. Yes, there's a mountain level that pits you against a giant dragon. Despite all of that, each environment feels like it has a functioning ecosystem and stories to tell.

I think the chibi art-style of Final Fantasy V is an
I think the chibi art-style of Final Fantasy V is an "asset" rather than a "detriment" unlike what the internet would have you believe.

By the way, I do not wish to suggest Final Fantasy V is a breezy adventure lacking a sense of "stakes." In reality, Final Fantasy V's punchier moments hit you right off the bat. For one thing, our heroes FAIL at their attempt to protect the Wind Crystal within the first three hours. Shortly after that, Faris' childhood pet, Syldra, dies while protecting the party from a massive whirlpool. Bartz even has a brief character moment wherein we discover he's an orphan whose mother died of an unknown illness right before his eyes. None of these headier scenes amount to anything longstanding in terms of changing the story's tone. Nonetheless, they provide enough storytelling hooks to allow you to look over the fact Exdeath, the game's antagonist, is a non-factor for a whole ten to fifteen hours. Speaking of which, the lack of a visible antagonist, for such a significant amount of time, is one of the few storytelling shortcomings of Final Fantasy V. Without a doubt, Final Fantasy games have a tradition of taking their sweet time to reveal their "true" villains. Still, until Exdeath's belated appearance, the story sticks with an unseen evil force far longer than it should.

Part 7: 16-Bit Level Design That Doesn't Make Me Want To Die!

If there is one slight quibble I have with Final Fantasy V's environments, it's that some of them overstay their welcome. Because the levels are often in service of providing you with opportunities to test out new character classes, the random encounter rate often jumps up without warning. I understand the intent is to give you added opportunities to get acclimated with new jobs. No matter, some of the dungeons have levels and floors on top of one another, and during the early game where your resources are scare, these dungeons lose sight of the game's relaxed appeal. Additionally, this game still exists in the era of Squaresoft, where you can piss straighter lines than the paths you walk. If you hate labyrinthine sewer sequences or forested nature walks where you snake around for upwards to half an hour, this game might not be your cup of tea.

That's not to say Final Fantasy V doesn't like to fuck you over from time to time!
That's not to say Final Fantasy V doesn't like to fuck you over from time to time!

I want to preface that Final Fantasy V's reliance on dungeons did not bother me, and I say that as someone who recently "survived" Final Fantasy II. For one thing, the puzzle-like nature of the game's levels ensures you have "easy outs" should you hit a snag. A notorious aspect of early JRPGs, the Final Fantasy series included, are mid-level death spirals. In a game like Final Fantasy I or II, you very often can find yourself stuck in the middle of a dungeon with no easy way to restore your party's HP or MP. The result involves replaying hours of mindless grinding due to "Game Over" moments coming out of nowhere. With Final Fantasy V, not only do you always feel in control of the tone of the battles, but the dungeons themselves very rarely pose a significant challenge. The reason for that is many of the early levels feel tailor-made for specific job assignments.

One of the earliest examples of the deliberative nature of Final Fantasy V's level design comes in the form of the Ship Graveyard. Usually, Final Fantasy games would hesitate to subject the player to an environment populated by undead encounters as one of its first levels. However, in Final Fantasy V's case, doing so showcases the wonderfully liberating nature of the game's job system. All four of your starting jobs are equally viable in handling this otherwise untenable environment. Knights deal single-target wiping attacks; Monks sport area-of-effect physical maneuvers; White Mages can use their curative spells to KO enemies; even a Thief can throw restorative items to cause massive damage! The list goes on, and the game plays to this strength by not discouraging you from populating your party with whatever you please.

The only levels I truly disliked were the forest levels because they had an incredibly annoying
The only levels I truly disliked were the forest levels because they had an incredibly annoying "Fog of War" effect that drove me crazy.

All of this talk is to suggest I did not abhor the emphasis on grinding in Final Fantasy V as much as I have in previous Final Fantasy games. Trash mobs are easy to manage as long as you have a good grip on your present environment. Enemies in a forest are likely to have an elemental weakness to fire-based attacks, whereas aquatic creatures are bound to be weak to lightning. That said, you're going to be playing a lot of this game if you want to get the highest of highs from the job system. If there's one annoyance I want to mention, it is the early game being way too stingy on experience points that level up your classes. Even battles against armies of trash mobs are only bound to reward you with a couple of points (i.e., ABP). When you consider each class needs to be leveled individually, the lack of early ABP grind spots makes the first handful of chapters a bit of a slog. It is during those initial moments when the game throws all of its mechanics at you, albeit, without enough of the job system's upsides.

Inevitably we need to have a brief conversation about equipment. Treasure chests litter every corner of Final Fantasy V's levels. Virtually every conceivable dead-end and crevice rewards the player with an item or trinket. I'm of two minds when it comes to the game's limitless equipment system. On the one hand, the game rewards player exploration and the completion of side quests handsomely. On the other hand, there's a ton of shit to get, and the game does a terrible job of communicating if you've missed equipment essential to your job classes. The worst offenders are the weapons and armor sets only obtainable by using the "Steal" command on bosses. It wasn't until AFTER I completed the game that I discovered my late-game struggles with the Ninja class were due to me not getting the complete "Genji Armor" set.

Oh, and one more thing, NEVER EVER EVER make the goddamn WORLD MAP a missable item in your fucking video game! For fuck's sake!
Oh, and one more thing, NEVER EVER EVER make the goddamn WORLD MAP a missable item in your fucking video game! For fuck's sake!

Part 8: Now It's Time For ZP To Nitpick A "Good" Final Fantasy Game!

I suspect some of you might be surprised to see me glowingly review the mechanics of a Final Fantasy game for once. Trust me; I'm as amazed as you are right now! That said, there are a handful of annoyances that I want to mention about Final Fantasy V's job system. First, being able to track the progress of your active jobs is a pain in the ass. If you want to have an idea of which upcoming abilities you are about to unlock, you have to open up the game's manual and flip through a bunch of cluttered codex entries. Similarly, the UI does a terrible job of giving you an idea of which character stats are more strongly associated with each corresponding job.

Not all of the storylines in Final Fantasy V are worth remembering.
Not all of the storylines in Final Fantasy V are worth remembering.

Admittedly, if you have played the previous games, you should know simple things like the "Magic" stat corresponding to the overall strength of curative spells and black magic. Even so, there are dozens of "hybrid" classes that blur the lines between your usual "sword and board" and magically-minded classes. That's doubly so with the hyper-specialized jobs like the Time Mage, Geomancer, Dancer, or Bard, which play nothing like the more straightforward options in the game. On top of that, the progression of these jobs is all over the place. Several are immediately useful to you and lose their utility as you progress the game, and others are the inverse. Additionally, there's no rhyme or reason to how many points it takes to "master" each job. I spent half of my playthrough trying to get one of my characters to acquire the final "Dual Cast" ability of the Red Mage job. By the time I accomplished this feat, one of my other characters completely master TWO of the game's starting classes.

But what drove me batty most of all was Final Fantasy V's insistence that virtually every job only gets ONE ability slot. With the innumerable choices the game provides you, this limitation is arbitrary and needlessly frustrating. I desperately wanted the game to give me more ability slots so I could better blend the various classes. Worse, the player is NOT able to change the starting command on any of their jobs. To clarify, each class in the game adds an extra input to your menu system during a battle which is often an essential ability that differentiates that job from your other choices. Unfortunately, that default ability is static, and with some roles, you end up using your secondary slot on the same job. For example, the Chemist's default in-game ability is "Drink," but the skill you want to have on hand is "Mix." Unless you've already unlocked the "Mix" ability by leveling up the Chemist job, your stuck with a Chemist "doubling up" on its own ability slots.

Also, the game does not warn you when you make redundant or even conflicting ability picks. Which, if you are not careful, can fuck you up!
Also, the game does not warn you when you make redundant or even conflicting ability picks. Which, if you are not careful, can fuck you up!

Likewise, there are a few elements about Final Fantasy V's story that did not "work" for me. For one thing, the early sub-plot of Faris being a male is off-putting and dated. Without a doubt, the game attempts to frame Faris' cross-dressing as her attempt to blend into a male-dominated profession, but it's played in-game with all the tact of an episode of Tenchi Muyo. Also, I was not impressed by the TWO gay panic scenes wherein Galuf and Bartz questioned their heterosexual orientations upon meeting, and even peeping on, Faris. Finally, the game spends WAY TOO MUCH TIME foreshadowing Faris being Lenna's long-lost sister when you can predict that revelation a mile away. And yet, the story stretches this plot point for the better part of TWO GODDAMN ACTS!

Lastly, while I was certainly impressed by the diversity of jobs in the game, not all of the classes are created equal. At no point did I enjoy playing as a Geomancer or Berserker. Furthermore, getting the additional abilities from the more "situational" classes necessitates a great deal of grinding, which ultimately culminated in a lot of "thank you, fuck you, bye" moments. I also want to say some of the secondary abilities are better than others. Alternatively, some of the passives provide quality-of-life additions that are utterly bizarre and better suited as a selectable option in the menu. To illustrate, the first passive you unlock on the Thief class is "Sprint," which allows you to run around the world at twice the speed and with half as many random encounters.

Part 9: Why I Think This Game Is "The Complete Package" For JRPG Fans

And now, shit is about to get
And now, shit is about to get "real" in Final Fantasy V.

It is around the time when the first crystal shatters, that Final Fantasy V remembers it has a story. Faris, the character who dragged the rest of our motley crew to the Wind Shrine, is the first to discover all wind in the world has ceased. Then, Lenna announces to the rest of the party, that they must travel to the Water Temple and prevent its crystal from meeting a similar fate. Though the lack of wind would typically pose a barrier to traveling the world by ship, Faris reveals a sea monster named Syldra, is capable of pulling her sloop to where we need to go. To reach the shrine, the party cruises through a canal, but an enormous whirlpool befalls them. Syldra sacrifices itself to save the party, but the vortex destroys the ship and strands our characters nonetheless.

While the party clambers through the shipwreck, we discover Faris is a female, and there are several hints she is Lenna's sister. Speaking of Lenna, during one of her lectures about the importance of the four sacred crystals, she lets slip that she is the daughter of King Tycoon, whom we saw earlier trying to save the Wind Crystal. When Lenna complains about the heavy-handed nature of her father, Bartz muses she is "lucky" to have a father at all as his parents died when he was a child. Nevertheless, after they make their way to a nearby beachhead, everyone is graced with visions of long-lost relatives and friends. However, because Galuf has amnesia, he remains unaffected and wakes everyone else from their stupor. What ensues next is a battle against Siren, who might I add, attacks our party after a shipwreck. For once, a mythological figure mimics the myth it is based on in a Final Fantasy game. I never thought I would live to see the day.

This game also
This game also "solves" the issue of not knowing what to do with support classes outside of boss battles. Here, my Thief was my secondary healer.

Again, this is just one level, and yet, the story finds a way to serve each character in addition to the main story thread. Lenna and Faris are likely long-lost sisters; Bartz is an orphan and not well-adjusted to working with others; Galuf has amnesia but has a parental relationship with the rest of his party. This emphasis on character development continues even in the interstitial set pieces. For instance, after defeating Siren, the party overhears a rumor of a sickly wind drake that sounds a lot like Lenna's childhood pet. This wind drake serves as a story lynchpin as, due to the present lack of wind, there remains no other way of reaching the Water Temple. Even so, we discover, much like Farris' relationship with Syldra, Lenna considers this dragon to be an extension of her family. This plot arc culminates in her walking through a field of poisonous plants to save her animal companion. Another notable scene involves a mercenary throwing Faris off a cliff, and Faris climbing back up by her bare hands to fight them.

Have I mentioned how BADASS this game can be?
Have I mentioned how BADASS this game can be?

Furthermore, the game's impeccable worldbuilding kicks off around this point. If you talk to the people of Carwen, you discover the city of Walz is using machinery to exploit the power of the Water Crystal. Before the shattering of the Wind Crystal, the kingdom of Tycoon was doing something similar, and Lenna surmises the Water Crystal is likely moments away from breaking. It is interesting to note the initial villain of Final Fantasy V is not Exdeath, but human selfishness. In an alternate world, I'd like to see a Final Fantasy game stick with that concept from beginning to end. In truth, after Exdeath becomes the story's focal point, it loses sight of its previous criticism of the dangers of untapped industrialization. That is especially true when Professor Cid, the source of much of this machinery, comes into the picture and uses said societal-ending technology to un-fuck the world.

Finally, Final Fantasy V has a ton of optional cutscenes and story moments you can miss if you are not careful. Undoubtedly, Final Fantasy V might have the most character arcs and cutscenes hidden behind non-compulsory content I have ever seen in the series. For example, after you acquire Lenna's wind drake, if you make a beeline to the next temple, you'll miss out on a scene where Lenna confronts Faris and calls her "sister." The absolute worst example of this odd storytelling structure is when the game puts Bartz's entire character arc in an optional location that you can easily miss if you do not consult a guide. Not only that, but the environment is time-sensitive and "disappears" after a certain point in the story. No matter, using the wind drake, our band of misfits flies to Walz and warns the king of the Water Crystal's impending destruction. The king dismisses Lenna's alert, but another meteor lands nearby and motivates the king to check on the crystal nonetheless.

Worth noting, Cid manages to break out of his prison cell by making a cache of explosives. This story is WILD!
Worth noting, Cid manages to break out of his prison cell by making a cache of explosives. This story is WILD!

Part 10: Have I Mentioned How This Game FUCKING CLAPS?!

Eventually, Lenna and company make their way to Walse Tower, where the Water Crystal resides. As they navigate the tower, they come across a mammoth-like creature that attacks everyone in the room as if an evil spirit is possessing it. After the beast is defeated, the Water Crystal shatters and bestows them with another set of jobs. These jobs are Red Mage, Time Mage, Summoner, Berserker, and Sorcerer/Mystic Knight. Personally, these were some of my favorite classes, except for the Berserker, as they dynamically play into the game's passive ability system. Also, and we will talk about this point in the next episode, the Summoner class is FUCKING BROKEN! Nonetheless, I do feel compelled to mention how these classes are a definite step-up when it comes to the game's more nuanced mechanics. Classes like the Time Mage and Mystic Knight are far more complicated to wrap your mind around than your initial batch of jobs, and the game isn't as transparent about when these situational jobs should be utilized.

Unfortunately, just as Lenna comes to terms with her latest failure, Walse Tower begins shaking, and Bartz announces the tower is collapsing. As the party attempts to navigate out, Slydra rescues them and uses the last of their life to tow them once again to safety. Next, the foursome decides to investigate the meteor that crashed near Walse. While exploring the interior of the meteorite, which is suspiciously hollow, our company of buffoons stumbles upon a warp panel. This device teleports everyone to a city near the Fire Crystal, but the soldiers there arrest them almost immediately. While in prison, they encounter Professor Cid, who reveals the nearby town of Karnak, and the surrounding world for that matter, quickly industrialized after using his technological inventions to harness the power of the crystals. When he realized the potential consequences of his devices, he attempted to put a stop to their use, but instead, was thrown in prison. Shortly after that, a chancellor releases everyone when he announces one of Cid's contraptions has gone haywire and is risking the destruction of the Fire Crystal.

Gee, thanks Cid! Thank you so much for making a steamship full of monsters! How considerate of you!
Gee, thanks Cid! Thank you so much for making a steamship full of monsters! How considerate of you!

Upon entering an ironclad, you encounter the Queen of Karnak, who, like the mammoth from earlier, appears to be possessed by an evil spirit. She summons an enormous flame monster whom you fight in the form of a boss battle. After defeating this creature, the queen passes out, and the party continues to the crystal chamber at a nearby tower. Upon reaching the top of the castle, they discover another soldier messing around with the machinery surrounding the Fire Crystal. The crystal is promptly overwhelmed and shatters. What ensues next is one of the more distinctive set pieces in the game. As the object explodes, the tower begins to shake, and a timer appears on the screen. While I'm not a massive fan of timed-missions, this one gets a pass for being a tour de force of video game direction and cinematography. Not only do you watch flames slowly consume the surrounding environment, but it also cements an incredibly compelling sense of risk/reward. There are treasure chests with armor and weapons that are helpful to a handful of classes, but because you cannot acquire all of them given the time constraints, you have to decide which jobs reap the most significant rewards.

After examining the ruins of Karnak Castle, you collect the first half of your jobs from the Fire Crystal before setting out to find Cid. This quest eventually sends our explorers to the Library of Ancients, which is another "authored" environment that plays into the game's strengths. While here, you fight possessed books which, depending on the page number they open up to, will spawn one of four possible enemy encounters. Speaking of which, in another example of the designers knowing how to gauge their levels, you pick up a fire-based summon at the library. This command allows the Summoner to have the ability to one-shot virtually everything in the Library of the Ancients. Again, some might call this "busted," but I LOVED having a "get out of Dodge" option at all times.

Like fire. Hellfire This fire in my skin.
Like fire. Hellfire This fire in my skin.

Eventually, we encounter Cid's grandson, Mid, and learn more about the mysterious events surrounding the world. He reveals that long ago, an evil sorcerer named Exdeath was sealed away using the four elemental crystals. Exdeath now seeks to destroy the luminous objects in the hope of once again ruling the world. Knowing one gem is all that remains in preventing Exdeath's release, the newly crowned "Four Warriors of Light" set out to find the Earth Crystal, whose location is not immediately known. Before they can do that, the party must first track down Cid. This task directs them into an encounter with a Black Chocobo who barfs out the remaining jobs from the Fire Crystal, which in total includes the Ninja, Hunter, Geomancer, Beastmaster/Trainer, and Bard classes.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Tetsuya Nomura did a majority of the enemy designs in this game! I know I have a reputation of giving Nomura a ton of flak in terms of his limited style-set and well-known design shortcomings, but I have nothing negative to say about his work in this game. Surprise! When Nomura has a supervisor and is required to work within a limited thematic, he performs admirably. From top to bottom, Final Fantasy V is an entertaining adventure. Undoubtedly, it fails to innovate and instead prefers to hone the template set forth by its predecessors. Still, there's nothing wrong with a game aiming for a target and hitting that target perfectly. So, it is on that shockingly positive note I wrap up this episode. When we next meet, we are going to talk about THE BEST GODDAMN SONG IN FINAL FUCKING FANTASY HISTORY!

Final note, here's a link to a podcast I recorded in which I talk about Final Fantasy II in more depth with my fellow Giant Bomb users @thatpinguino and @jeffrud!

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The Art of Roleplaying Civilization VI - Tips, Tricks, and Everything You Need To Know

Preamble

There's no place like home....
There's no place like home....

A while back, Alex hosted a stream featuring Civilization VI, and I made it known to the community I play the game with a roleplaying group. After a few inquiries from community members, I shared some of the "House Rules" I use, as well as tips on how to have the best possible roleplaying experience with the game. From the sounds of it, people were interested in reading a full-fledged guide on how to spice up a Civilization VI game with a bit of RPing! And before you ask, this blog is intended for all types of players. While I believe the game is more fun to play with real people, I also understand many Civilization fans prefer to play it offline. As such, I'll try to offer solo-only suggestions when I can think of any.

Nevertheless, before we talk about my group's "House Rules," I wanted to share a few tips and tricks for roleplaying Civilization VI in general. However, we also need to have an uncomfortable discussion about the game's two expansions and the myriad of DLC packages. If you are going to play the game exclusively on your own, then I'd advise you to buy the Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm expansion and pass on everything else. None of the DLC is necessary unless there's a faction that jumps out to you. When it comes to Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Rise & Fall, I personally enjoy the loyalty system, but it's not so groundbreaking that I could never imagine playing the game without it. Now, if you are looking to play Civilization VI with other people, things become more complicated. Unless everyone in your group has the same DLC and expansions, you are best off setting the ruleset to a standard game and playing vanilla. Unlike other RTS or 4X developers, Firaxis will not let you play DLC content with those who do not have it. It's a bummer, yes, but it shouldn't prevent you from having a fun time.

Tip #1: Play On A "Real Earth" Map

No Caption Provided

I'm genuinely glad Alex addressed this point on his first Civilization VI Lockdown video, but I'll reiterate this point. "Real World" maps allow for an extra amount of roleplaying potential that does not exist on the more abstracted or conceptual maps. Likewise, it's incredibly important that the map you are playing on allows for a "true start." For roleplaying, it is imperative your nation works in a climate and geographic region that mimics reality as close as possible. For example, there's nothing more frustrating than playing water or naval-based factions in the middle of a desert. And before you ask, the Civilization VI mod community has you covered.

The most popular mod that provides a "Real Earth" map is Moda's Huge Earth Map Pack. This mod is still in active development, and it takes a lot of the responsibility of setting things up, off your shoulders. For one thing, I have not witnessed a faction spawning too far from where I felt comfortable setting up camp. In fact, with some of the factions, you can convert your settler into a city on the first turn. Likewise, because the starting locations for each nation are static, it makes planning who gets to play which leaders far easier. Something you may have noticed during Alex's stream, is he limits each continent to no more than three to four leaders. I strongly recommend you do the same. If your group is having issues with who gets to play what, might I recommend setting up a lottery? For my group, we like to select nations using a lottery one week before starting our online matches. That way, you have some time to learn the nuances of your leader and their "gimmicks." And if your roleplaying session is solo, abide by the rule of thumb of three to four leaders on the significant continents, and two to three for Australia/Oceania.

Which reminds me,the continent of Australia/Oceania is a bit "problematic." First, a majority of the factions that would be there are locked behind DLC and expansions. If you do not have a ton of options, go ahead and leave the continent empty and available as a target for colonization. However, if you do have the DLC, then you have an even bigger issue. Because the leader of Australia is a beast, the country can come out of nowhere and dominate the late-game. To address this issue, some in the RPing community have resorted to buying the Indonesia and Khmer DLC and assigning both civs to be in a "Perma-war" with Australia. I have had better success with requiring the Māori civilization to be active if someone or the A.I. plays as Australia. The only issue there is that the A.I. is dogshit at playing the Māori.

Tip #2: You Are Going To Need To Download Other Mods

There are probably about five of you who get why this image is a
There are probably about five of you who get why this image is a "BIG DEAL."

This next tip is optional, depending on your playstyle. One of the most common complaints about Moda's Huge Earth Map Pack is that it does not assign map resources and city names based on their geography. To highlight, if you go back and watch Alex's stream, you'll notice the city of Stockholm is farming rice and oranges. Again, maybe this issue bugs you, but for me, I value balance over historical correctness. Nonetheless, if you want a HARDCORE Civilization VI roleplaying session, rest assured, there are mods for you on Civilization VI's Steamworkshop page. For solo players, I advise you to scan the top mods for the game and see which ones tickle your fancy. For multiplayer players, have a group agreement as to which non-map mods everyone can have active during sessions.

Additionally, there are a few mods I strongly recommend you use in conjunction with Moda's Huge Earth Map Pack. The first of these is the "YnAMP - Closer Cities" mod which allows you to place cities in closer proximity to one another, while not entirely waiving the rules against city placement. Although, if you were wondering, there is also a mod that completely removes the regulations regarding city proximity. I like this mod, because, as we will address shortly, some nations like Portugal, have starting national borders and house rules that almost force them to build cities near one another. One point worth discussing, and this is for solo players, be warned that the "YnAMP - Closer Cities" mod can fuck up the A.I. if you are not careful. In many cases, I have seen A.I. nations end up with more free cities than owned ones because this mod ruins the loyalty system.

The next two mods I recommend are quality of life additions. The first is the "Loyal Capitals" mod, which sets all capitals to the maximum loyalty level at all times. This mod is a GODSEND for those who have the Rise and Fall expansion and dislike the loyalty mechanic. To be honest, I use this mod during "normal" campaigns as I find losing loyalty in capital cities to be incredibly annoying. Also, this is one of the mods I strongly recommend you have if you are playing with real people. With this mod active, capital cities and city-states cannot be flipped through the loyalty mechanic and are immune to revolts. I know some will say this takes away some of the difficulty in playing Civilization VI, but at the same time, as you will be playing with "House Rules," you are going to have enough on your plate. Finally, there are DOZENS of mods that allow you to "waive" the limits on how many leaders you can have on a single map. Feel free to use these if you want, but I would not recommend you try them on your first go at Civilization RPing.

Tip #3: Play Your Favorite Faction Single-Player With Easy A.I. Several Times Before Going Online

Again, I strongly recommend you buy the Gathering Storm Expansion.
Again, I strongly recommend you buy the Gathering Storm Expansion.

Alright, now we need to address some Civilization roleplay "housekeeping." First, I strongly recommend playing an online match with real people to be your end-goal. I understand a lot of people have anxiety about playing strategy games online. I appreciate this anxiety because I too have it. Enough of the RTS/4X community goes out of its way to be as unwelcoming to beginners and newcomers as possible that I think some of them view it as their hobby. Nonetheless, while roleplaying a Civilization VI game with A.I. is "fun," it's nowhere near as fulfilling as the "full monty." The obvious issue is that the A.I. will not play by the rules you'd typically set down for everyone else to follow, but there are other benefits to playing the game with real people.

Nevertheless, it is incredibly important to play as your nation BEFORE you start your online matches. And most important of all, you should have a good grasp of how you are going to address your "house rules" before your roleplay session starts. When it comes to those, ask yourself questions as you play against some easy A.I. opponents. Are there any wonders or great works you need to build before a specific age or era? Are there victory conditions that you need to spec your nation towards right from the getgo? The people within my RP group give me crap because I will prepare pages of notes before starting a session. You don't need to go as far as me, but having a general idea of what you want to build or recruit for your first ten turns is strongly recommended.

However, the most crucial reason for playing your leader before you pit them up against real people is to understand if they are better suited for a horizontal/wide or vertical/tall build path. Rest assured, in roleplaying sessions, I have seen vertical empires as small as three to four cities crush the competition. On the other hand, I have also seen empires blot more than half of the world map before the dawn of the Modern Era. What you do not want to do is force a leader that is better suited for one particular build path down the opposite direction. Also, for those of you planning to stick with solo games only, I have a tip to keep things interesting. Once you have a grasp on the idea of playing with "house rules," try setting the nations nearest to you at a higher difficulty setting. The reasoning for this is that doing so will force you to feel more "stretched" as you struggle to defend your borders AND meet your house rule.

Speaking of which....

Tip #4: Develop House Rules For Every Faction

Also, when you play with House Rules, be aware your cities are going to look a lot weirder.
Also, when you play with House Rules, be aware your cities are going to look a lot weirder.

Now we reach the part of my blog many of you have been looking forward to since the beginning! Before we jump into my roleplaying group's "House Rules," let's talk about why these are incredibly important. Part of their appeal is to make any campaign, even ones against easy A.I., difficult. Furthermore, these rules serve as a friendly reminder of what type of character you should act like when engaging in diplomacy, whether it be with robots or real people. Nevertheless, these are not just here to make your game harder, but to give you a goal or motivation to consider whenever it's your turn. The point is to force you from making the "best" decision, and instead, make the choice that fits your leader.

Finally, I cannot take full credit for all of these "House Rules" as many have been pulled from my Civ 6 group and other fansites, most notably, this post from civfanatics.com. So, I want to thank everyone who helped me in developing this list, and if you can think of any ways of improving some of these rules, feel free to drop a comment. As you will notice quickly, there are some leaders and nations my group and I prefer playing, hence, why some of these factions are better defined than others.

English: Only three cities are allowed on your home continent. Every city beyond the third must be built on another continent. Before the start of the Industrial-Age, you must have at least ten luxury resources within your trade network. Perma-war with Scotland, until the start of the Modern Era.

Scottish: No archer units, even horse archers, as they're "unmanly," and every city must be built on a hill or inside a forest tile. Perma-war with England until the start of the Modern Age.

Australian: The first seven cities you establish must be on the island of Australia before establishing colonies elsewhere. All cities must be built on a desert tile or a coastline. Cannot declare war on other nations, but every seven turns, you must insult or annoy one leader of your choice.

Aztecs: Every twelve turns, all of your builders must be deleted as a sacrifice to the Gods. Additionally, after turn twenty, you are not allowed to have fewer than fifteen age/era-appropriate military units. In the event you get below this amount, you have ten turns to get back to fifteen units. You are also in a Perma-war with Spain and any other Meso-American civs.

Sumerian: You must beeline for the Nationalism Civic. After getting it, all armies must be in a corps. Military units not in a corps cannot be used in combat. You are not allowed any cavalry other than Warcarts. Perma-war with Scythia.

Scythian: Scythians were "people of the steppe," and as such, cities must be built on grassland or plains ONLY. More than half of your military units MUST be calvary or archers—Perma-war with Sumeria and Persia.

Russian: The only religion you're allowed to adopt is Eastern Orthodoxy. You're not allowed to attack anyone with the Eastern Orthodoxy religion. Cities founded using settlers cannot be more than four tiles away from a tundra or snow tile; cities gained through war or diplomacy are exempt—Perma-war with Mongolia.

Chinese - Perma war with Mongolia. You must have at least two builders working on the "Great Wall" improvement if it is not complete. Once/if the Great Wall improvement is complete, you must delete half of your builders. Upon reaching the Industrial Age, you must make a beeline to "Steam Power." Starting with the Modern Era, all rivers MUST have a canal.

Indian- Regardless of your leader, religion must be Hinduism, and by the Industrial Era, you must be generating 100 Faith per turn. With Gandhi, you cannot start a war with anyone. As Chandragupta, you must start a war with any neighbors (i.e. civs that border you), and you cannot end wars unless you are victorious, or the peace deal gives you new land.

Khmer: Every city must have an aqueduct and a Holy Site. New cities must have these two districts for their first two slots. You must have at least five cities at a pop of 15 by the Industrial-Age. (Could use improvement because no one in my group likes playing as them)

German: You must declare war on every city-state that you meet. You must make a beeline for the "Apprenticeship" tech, after which all new cities must have their first district be a Hansa. After researching the "Industrialization" tech, all cities must have factories or be in the process of building/upgrading one. You always develop strategic resources before anything else.

France: In the medieval era, the only military unit allowed is knights. If an English archer/ranged unit damages any knights/calvary units, the French unit automatically disbands, UNLESS it's within the Great General radius of Joan of Arc. Perma-war with England in the medieval and Renaissance era. The first district in any city must be a theatre square. Otherwise, the only building you can build is a monument.

Indonesian: Every city must be on a coast or an island. You cannot accept inland cities as part of a peace deal or diplomacy. Navy must be twice the size of your military. Starting in the medieval era, declare war on anyone who doesn't have a coastal city.

Dutch: Every city must be on a river and within four tiles of the coast. Upon reaching the Industrial Age, you must make a beeline to "Steam Power." Starting with the Modern Era, all rivers MUST have a canal, and before the start of the Industrial Era, your trade route capacity must be greater than or equal to ten.

Phoenician: All cities must be settled on the coast. By the Modern Era, you must have two colonies on each of the seven continents. Your navy must be at least twice the size of your army, starting in the Classical Era. Perma-war with Rome.

Roman: Perma-war with Phoenicia. Whenever you enter a new era, you must disband half your military units on the first turn, and the other half seven turns afterward, as they've become obsolete. YOU GOT THOSE MARIAN REFORMS, BABY! Also, the first five ships that you build must be disbanded within ten turns of being made, as they've been lost to storms.

Greeks: The only ancient/classical era military land unit you're allowed is your Unique Unit. Your first district in any city must be either a campus or a theatre square. You must build the Oracle. For Pericles, you must have five city-states in you Suzerainty by the start of the Industrial and Modern Eras. For Gorgo, you can never accept a peace deal in which you give up items or cities, and you can never initial a peace deal.

Macedonians: You must declare war on any civ with a World Wonder. Perma-war with Persia. No archers allowed, and a city's first district must be an encampment, and you can go no more than five turns without an ongoing war.

Persian: No infantry unit allowed other than the immortal and your starting warrior. Perma-war with Macedonia. Also, if a Greek unit on Greek territory damages any of your units, it must be disbanded. You MUST build the Hanging Gardens.

Japanese: Only religion allowed is Shinto-ism or Buddhism. Sailing must be your first tech, your first three cities must be by the coast, and you must improve fish before anything else. Perma-war with Korea, and you must raze the cities you conquer.

Swedish: You must have at least 4 Great People by the Renaissance. Have three Archaeological Museums and three Art Museums with the theming bonus before the end of the Industrial and Modern Eras.

Korean: You cannot conquer any foreign cities, though you can raze them. After researching "Writing," all cities must have a Seowon, and you cannot be on friendly terms with any nation with less than half your science output, and you must declare war on anyone with less than 25% of your science output. Perma-war with Japan.

Norwegian: You must raze at least three cities with Berserkers before the start of the Industrial Era. You must pillage a settlement or trade route, which can include city-states, every five turns.

Ottomans: After the end of the Classical Era, you cannot recruit any settlers. All new cities in your empire after the Classical Era must be conquered; loyalty flips are permitted. Before the end of the Industrial Age, you must have five conquered cities.

Zulu: For land-based military, you're restricted to spearmen class units. You are automatically at war with anyone on your continent that attempts to establish a colony (i.e., a nation from a different continent establishes a city on your continent).

Spanish: Only religion allowed in your nation is Catholicism. You can only found three cities on your starting continent, but cannot expand to other continents before gaining Catholicism. You have to convert all your cities to Catholicism before you can conquer a new city. Perma-war with Aztecs and Mapuches.

Mapuche: Perma-war with America and Aztecs. You can only pillage or raze cities. However, you're allowed to keep the city if you get it through a loyalty flip or diplomacy. Have two cities through a loyalty flip by the start of the Industrial Era and five by the Modern Era.

Nubian: Every city must be within three tiles of a desert. More than half of your army must be archers, and you are in perma-war with Egypt. Always develop luxury resources before other resources.

Egyptian: Any unit damaged by a Persian, Roman, Greek, or Macedon unit on YOUR territory is automatically disbanded. You must build the Pyramids, and all cities must be adjacent to a river until unlocking the "canal" ability.

Mongolian: Perma-war with Russia and China. For everyone else, you must declare war on them within 15 turns of meeting them. Only cavalry-class units and archers are allowed. You're allowed to build siege units only AFTER you conquer a neighboring civ with siege technology.

Georgian: Your challenge is to play Georgia....

Alright, fine! You must build at least three of your unique Unique Buildings before the start of the Industrial era. Also, select "Exodus of the Evangelists" whenever it appears as a Dedication.

Brazilian: You must have acquired at least 4 Great People by the time the Renaissance starts. By the Industrial Era, you must recruit two of each type of Great Person, and the first district in every city must be the Street Carnival.

Kongolese: Every city must be within three tiles of a rainforest. The Theater Square is always the first district in any city. Have every religion present within your borders before the end of the Industrial Era.

America: For the first ten turns, the only military unit you can recruit is a scout. Also, every war you fight must have at least one ally except for your perma-war; perma-war with Mapuche. Every ten turns, you must use half your budget on buying neighboring tiles.

Polish: Only religion allowed is Catholicism. Any unit damaged by a Russian or German unit in the industrial or modern era is automatically disbanded. Starting in the Industrial Age, the first two districts in all new cities must be an encampment and fort in whatever order you prefer.

Cree: Experience a Golden Age before the end of the Classical Era. The first district you build is always a commercial hub. You cannot start a war without the support of an ally.

Arabs: Islam must be your state religion. Once you get the Islam religion, you must convert at least one other city to it every ten turns. No conquest allowed until you have Islam.

Hungarian: Military consists solely of levied units from city-states, Black Armies, or Huszár. (Could use suggestions because I hate playing as them)

Maori: Can only settle on islands. Cities do not stop building fishing boats until all ocean improvement tiles are developed. Also, this faction is so unique by default; they do not need that many house-rules.

Canadian: Must have America as an ally beginning in the Modern Era. From the Classical to Industrial Eras, every ten turns, you must chop down a forest. Upon researching "Colonialism," build fifteen hockey rinks before the end of the Atomic Era. (Note: Canada is one of the rougher factions to play online as its immunity to Surprise Wars does not apply in multiplayer)

Inca: Must settle on mountain ranges, perma-war with Mapuche and Spain. Must have a surplus of 300 gold by the starts and ends of the Renaissance, Industrial, and Modern Eras. You cannot deliberately start or end one of these eras if you do not have 300 gold.

Mali: Must give half your gold away to every civ you meet. Your first two districts in any city must be a Holy Site and Commercial Hub. The order is your choice. Always develop luxury resources before other resources. To start a new era beginning with the Renaissance, you must have 400 surplus gold.

Final Words

And no matter what, always try to have fun!
And no matter what, always try to have fun!

One point of housekeeping that many of you may have noticed: most of the house rules predominantly apply to the middle and early-late game eras. This decision is very much deliberate. For most, the beginning two ages are all about getting your bearings straight and feeling out the people or civilizations surrounding you. When it comes to the late-game eras, you'll find you've come to grips with how you should be roleplaying even if you do not have any mechanical hooks keeping you occupied. Likewise, the late-game is usually a mad-dash to reach victory conditions, regardless of how you play Civilization VI. Speaking of which, the only victory condition I advise you to disable is the Score Victory. Everything else should be fair game given they play into the strengths of individual leaders and nations.

Hopefully, all of this information helps you to understand the appeal of roleplaying in Civilization VI. Sometimes when I boot up the game and play it on my own, I'll pick a random nation and see if there are any edits I can make to my group's house rule list. As you can see, some are better than others, but that's a reflection of nations I downright hate playing. If there are any Hungary players out there, I'm all ears on how to make playing them more fun! Anyways, I'll catch you all later, and if you have any questions, I'm here to answer them!

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I'm Streaming Roller Coasters, Final Fantasy, And Questionable Visual Novels In The Name Of COVID-19 Relief!

Let's Set The Scene

Can't stop, won't stop!
Can't stop, won't stop!

Alright, some of you may or may not have heard about the 10th annual Giant Bomb Community Endurance Run! It's the latest edition of a yearly community-run spring-time charity event, and despite the current pandemic, it is STILL HAPPENING NEXT WEEKEND! This year, however, the fundraiser has pivoted to help COVID-19 relief. With the support of Abby and @thatpinguino, I have decided to join them in supporting this cause! Also, because I'm one of those "COOL KIDS," I set my initial donation goal for $666! Yeah, what can I say? My badge might say I'm a moderator, but my heart tells me I'm still a troll.

Now, this is the part where I make an emotional plea for your support. However, if you are going through a rough patch, I want you to keep your money, and stay safe. I know these are challenging times; I get it. Nevertheless, if you are able to part with even a small amount of your time or income, I would greatly appreciate it. The streams I have planned for this event should be fun to watch, and I plan to put as many smiles on people's faces as possible. If you have ever been entertained by my blogs, Spotlights, or activities on Twitter, it would mean the world to me if you supported my efforts. Down below, you'll find the donation link to my page. Even small amounts are much appreciated, and if you cannot donate, spreading the word is equally helpful! So, without further ado, let's talk about what I have planned for the event!

LINKS!!!

Rollercoaster Tycoon 2: Coaster Designer MADNESS - April 17th (6:00 P.M. PDT to 12:00 A.M. PDT)

For my Friday charity streams, I always prefer to play a game I can speak about with some authority. This year, I want to share my love for the RollerCoaster Tycoon franchise. And not just that, but OpenRCT2, an open-source re-implementation of RollerCoaster Tycoon 2! For those unaware, OpenRCT2 is a total conversion mod that fixes bugs and even adds-in a ton of new features to Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 "vanilla." However, to better show off some of these features. I'll be designing roller coasters in real-time!

I'm about to blow your minds with some roller coaster action!
I'm about to blow your minds with some roller coaster action!

Nonetheless, watching me make roller coaster designs from scratch can only be entertaining for so long. To address that problem, I plan to spice things up by adding-in a randomizer element! The way this will work is simple! Every coaster in the game has three base stats, and they are: Excitement, Intensity, and Nausea. Before starting a new coaster, I will use a random number generator, ranging from one to ten, to select each of the "base stats," and I will have to create something that meets those requirements. The results should be incredibly exciting, and specific results from the random number generator will force me to build different types of coasters. For example, if I am forced to make a coaster with a low excitement score, but high intensity and nausea scores, then, I'm making a "vomit comet!" To add another "spicy" element to this stream, I have a "DONATION INCENTIVE!"

Donation Incentive:

For every $25 donated, If I cannot make a design within 30 minutes, I will have to re-roll one of the three base stats for the coaster design I am working on at the moment. More than likely, a re-roll will result in me needing to scrap my current plan entirely, which makes this stream both torturous and more entertaining to watch.

Final Fantasy X-2 x Bud Light Seltzer Torture Chamber - April 18th (9 A.M. PDT to ???)

FINALLY! THE FINAL FANTASY GAME EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT THESE DAYS!
FINALLY! THE FINAL FANTASY GAME EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT THESE DAYS!

For those unaware, @thatpinguino will be livestreaming a Final Fantasy X "speedrun" on April 18th! While his speedrun will not set any records, it will most certainly involve him breaking the game sideways. However, I'm not about to let him take away my status as Giant Bomb's "Final Fantasy Community Expert!" Nonetheless, I'm not much of a speedrunner either. So, in an effort to give the people what they want, I plan to do a "normal" playthrough of Final Fantasy X-2 in tandem to thatpinguino's highly "professional" livestream of Final Fantasy X. And when I say "normal," I mean I'm getting drunk as a skunk! And my poison of choice this time, as the title might suggest, is Bud Light Seltzer!You know... a quality product that screams "high class!"

I COLLECTED THEM ALL LIKE THEY WERE POCKET MONSTERS!
I COLLECTED THEM ALL LIKE THEY WERE POCKET MONSTERS!

Did you ever want to watch the sloppiest playthrough of Final Fantasy X-2 in human history?! WELL, THEN TUNE IN ON APRIL 18TH! Also, unlike thatpinguino, I have done virtually ZERO preparation for my stream! I felt like doing so would "ruin" the whole appeal of me playing the game "buzzed." That said, if you are concerned about my health, relax, because I have contingency plans to prevent me from getting sick. Each downing of the seltzer will be spread apart by two hours. Also, be aware these things have 5% alcohol by volume. But luckily for me, they are both "Gluten-Free" and have "No Artificial Flavors!" Oh, and my donation incentives below further add to the nightmare!

Donation Incentives

  • Upon Reaching 20% of My Fundraising Goal: I will drink the Strawberry Seltzer and provide a live review in-stream.
  • Upon Reaching 40% of My Fundraising Goal: I will drink the Black Cherry Seltzer and provide a live review in-stream.
  • Upon Reaching 60% of My Fundraising Goal: I will drink the Lemon-Lime Seltzer and provide a live review in-stream.
  • Upon Reaching 80% of My Fundraising Goal: I will drink the Mango Seltzer and provide a live review in-stream.
  • Upon Reaching 100% of My Fundraising Goal: I will play Final Fantasy X-2 for an extra TWO HOURS! This means TWELVE WHOLE HOURS of Final Fantasy X-2!

Visual Novel Torture Chamber: FINISH THE FIGHT EDITION!!! - April 19th (10:30 A.M. PDT to 4:30 P.M. PDT)

One of the greatest injustices in the history of Giant Bomb, at least in my opinion, comes from Drew Scanlon. And that injustice is the fact he never finished that Alpaca dating sim from many UPFs ago. Whelp, I found that game on Steam, and I plan to FINISH THE GODDAMN FIGHT! THAT'S RIGHT, I'M PLAYING Paca Plus! IT IS TIME FOR THE GIANT BOMB COMMUNITY TO KNOW THE STUNNING CONCLUSION OF YUKARI TURNING INTO AN ALPACA! WILL SHE EVER TRANSFORM BACK INTO A PERSON? I DO NOT KNOW IF YOU NEED THIS, BUT I DEFINITELY DO!

HOOK THIS NONSENSE DIRECTLY INTO MY VEINS!
HOOK THIS NONSENSE DIRECTLY INTO MY VEINS!

Upon doing some research, I discovered PacaPlus might not fill out the six hours I have planned for my Sunday stream. If this issue presents itself, rest assured, I have a back-up plan! Speaking of which, let me tell you about "NATIONAL PARK GIRLS!" You heard that right; they made a visual novel where you "interact" with the personifications of the national parks of the United States of America! ISN'T CAPITALISM FUCKING AMAZING! I fully intend for this stream to be a complete nightmare, but you can rest assured, there will not be any "adult" visual novel content! Unlike what you may have heard about me, I'm not exactly excited about the prospect of getting banned from Twitch! Nonetheless, this nightmare should be thoroughly entertaining!

Donation Incentive

Upon Reaching 100% of my Fundraising Goal: I will dramatically read whatever visual novel I am playing.

Final Word

Again, if you have ever been entertained by my blogs, Spotlights, or activities on Twitter; please, consider donating to my campaign for COVID-19 relief! Additionally, I want to thank Abby for bringing this charity to my attention, and thatpinguino for once again hosting the Giant Bomb Community Endurance Run! I hope to see you next weekend, and stay safe everyone!

1 Comments

I Don't Want To Play This Game Online With Real People

Let's Set The Scene

Also, all the screencaps in this blog share community creations that hopefully brighten you day. (image by Giant Bomb user Damaged6)
Also, all the screencaps in this blog share community creations that hopefully brighten you day. (image by Giant Bomb user Damaged6)

Full disclosure, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the first Animal Crossing game I have played in over ten years. Animal Crossing on the Gamecube was a quintessential moment in my gaming development, and its colorful world and charming characters supported me through several rough patches during my younger years. However, after effectively walking away from portable gaming, my ability to follow the series became limited. I missed all of the DS releases, and for a variety of reasons, City Folk wasn't my cup of tea. Flash forward to a few weeks ago, and I decided to give New Horizons a try!

So far, I'm in love with the world and look of the game, but have found the endless number of sub-systems incredibly overwhelming. Wherever I go or whatever I do, I feel like New Horizons funnels me into a gameplay feedback loop. Whether it's exploring islands or interacting with neighbors, the game constantly reminds me of unfinished business, and that occasionally makes appreciating my surroundings challenging. On top of that, the new mechanics are finicky enough that I sometimes don't look forward to physically playing the game. The classic example many have bandied about is not being able to make multiple items, like bait, in a single session. Nonetheless, the game is a delight to play and a welcomed break from my work obligations during the global pandemic.

Hence, why I think it is vital for me to establish my approach to playing Animal Crossing. Personally, I view Animal Crossing games as a year-long commitment, and very rarely do my sessions last longer than an hour. Additionally, I don't make an effort to get all the bugs, fruit, or fossils immediately because I enjoy playing the game at a slower pace. Furthermore, the collecting aspect of Animal Crossing hasn't been my favorite aspect of the series. For me, it's the day-to-day interactions and sense of exploration that gets my motor running. That said, I want to make something abundantly clear: there is no right or wrong way to play Animal Crossing. To the people who power level and mine resources like their lives depend on it, you do you.

Nonetheless, there is a "wrong way" in expressing why you enjoy how you play Animal Crossing, and that's what I want to talk about on this blog. As I said earlier, I've been out of the loop when it comes to Animal Crossing for a while. As a result, I never had previous interactions with the surrounding sub-groups that closely follow Animal Crossing. And I have to be honest with you, some of these run-ins have not been entirely positive. In fact, some of these interactions have soured me on the prospect of playing the game online with other people. Now, before you ask, I'm not going to "out" anyone in this blog because that would be infinitely shitty on my part. Likewise, and this is more than what I want to say on a gaming blog, some of the people I'm about to talk about are long-standing childhood friends and family members. I thought I knew these people, but for some reason, Animal Crossing brought out a side of them I had never seen before, and I'm not entirely sure why that's the case.

Interaction #1: I Know Someone Who CONSTANTLY Talks About The Clock Exploit

It goes without saying, the "Clock Exploit" is a controversial topic among Animal Crossing's fan-base. However, I'm not about to pick a side in this debate. This hill is not something I plan to die on, but I will raise a concern that I have not seen others address. My only complaint is that people who use the "Clock Exploit" will not stop talking about it. Seriously, "Pro Clock Exploit" fans are on par with Raspberry Pi users as people who find ways to weave their exploits and experiences into every conversation. For example, when I consulted the Animal Crossing Reddit, I found the same users over and over again, citing the exploit as a solution to every question posed by community members.

Lo and behold, one of those people happens to be a part of an online chess club I frequent. And goddamn, this guy is driving me crazy. I asked him once for tips on fishing, and he will not let go that I didn't catch all of the fish from the previous month. He's even sent me multiple DMs with links to YouTube videos showing how I can reset the internal clock of my Switch to go back and get missing critters. On top of that, when I dared to say I didn't mind the Easter Event, he told me all about every single holiday event in the game. And let me tell you something, that is not cool.

Look, if you enjoy going through the hoops needed to get everything in the game before the end of month two, good for you. I'm not here to rain on your parade. What I do ask is that people who take the collection aspect of Animal Crossing seriously, to leave the rest of us alone. On top of that, I view every day as a new "surprise." The fact I now have to avoid forums and Discords for potential "spoilers" is a bummer. There's no other way around it; I'm not psyched that I now have a perfect picture of the Christmas-day event. Sure, everyone's experience is guided by the town and citizens you manage to collect on your island. But goddamn, come on people, there has to be a better way to share how you've "gamed the system," than telling everyone you know about it every single day.

Image provided by GerbilsInSpace
Image provided by GerbilsInSpace

Interaction #2: The Family Friend Who Gave Me Crap For Not Having All The Fruit

I want to address my earlier point about me only playing this game for about an hour per day. I understand that it may not seem like a ton of time, and that's because it is. However, I do want to mention I am a full-time teacher when I'm not moderating this website. And if you wanted to know, "Distance Learning" isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world to develop or administer. Instead, I'd argue this is the hardest I've ever worked, day-to-day at least, for my profession. However, this isn't a contest, and I know others are working around the clock to make daily comforts in society possible during this pandemic.

How any of this information relates to Animal Crossing is simple: my town is mostly a mess because of my inability to play the game for long swaths of time. Weeds still litter the fields of my island, and there's a distinct lack of foliage wherever I go. Again, I want to make it clear that if you have turned your island into a teeming metropolis or manicured wildlife reserve, you are fantastic! I will not deny scouring Twitter and fawning over your majestic works with envy. However, I'm proud of being able to "tame" one corner of my island as nature continues to reclaim the rest of my map. It's not a lot, yes, but it's what I've managed to accomplish given these trying times. And I think I'm afforded that sense of pride.

So, color me a bit peeved when I let some of my personal friends on my island, and they would not stop talking about my lack of upgrades. I warned them that I hadn't been able to put in a ton of time into my town. Nonetheless, the first thing someone said was a snide remark that I did not have any peaches on my island. If you must know, I held my ground and said I'd get around to collecting the fruit on my own time. As I said that, each of them dropped fruit I was missing next to my house, and the rest of the session became an elongated quest to see what else I was missing in the game. This ordeal went on for about ten minutes, and I think we can all agree you should NOT be these people to anyone. The world of New Horizon is self-absorbing and occasionally awe-inspiring. To many, it's the only part of their day-to-day routine they maintain full control over. Nonetheless, you should never assume everyone you know can dedicate the same amount of time to their tropical abode, and that's certainly the case with me.

Image provided by... JohnnyV on Twitter
Image provided by... JohnnyV on Twitter

Interaction #3: I Posted An Image Of My House On Facebook And Had Multiple People Give Me Shit About My House

I understand the most likely response to this blog is to recommend I be more careful about who I interact with when it comes to video games. It's a fair point, but I want to reiterate that all of the people I interacted with were friends and family I was acquainted with for years. I didn't brazenly post my Switch ID as a random post on an online forum. Furthermore, most of the people who have set foot on my island are my own family. Which reminds me, be careful about which members of your family you share your island with because my experiences almost sent me into a fit.

I want to say I'm careful about who I friend on Facebook. Given my line of work, I have to be vigilant. So, for the most part, the only people who see my Facebook are close friends and family. On a whim, I decided to share a screencap of the exterior of my house. The first three comments, all boiled down to people giving me shit about how my house wasn't fully upgraded. Two of those three comments came from my extended family. I felt so bad I ended up deleting the picture. I know the intent was to be humorous. Trust me, I know my family. That said, after everything proceeding me posting that image, I finally just had enough. I didn't have the energy to stand by my way of playing Animal Crossing. If I wasn't safe to network my slow but steady approach on Facebook, then there's probably nowhere for me to share my island.

Before we move on, I want to underscore that family-induced anxiety is a real thing, and I don't want a mostly humorous blog about Animal Crossing to make light of that issue. I still maintain an incredibly healthy relationship with my family, and that's something I am eternally grateful for every day I wake up in the morning. I know that's a privilege not everyone has on this site, let alone around the world. Hell, despite this "incident," this pandemic has brought me closer to some of those very commenters that convinced me to stop playing Animal Crossing online. Indeed, I wish the circumstances were different, but in the end, my family comes before a fun game with anthropomorphic animals.

Also, I was tired of explaining why this designed littered my town anyways (QR Code provided by @_cckirby)
Also, I was tired of explaining why this designed littered my town anyways (QR Code provided by @_cckirby)

My Final Takeaways

At this point, I've realized that Animal Crossing works on the same systems as mobile games. The only difference with Animal Crossing is that the solution to its roadblocks is to dedicate even more of one's time to get back into one of its myriad of Skinner Box sub-systems. Mercifully, it's designed to not sucker more money out of its audience outside of its initial asking price. All the same, every time you fall off a positive feedback loop, your experience sucks shit. My driving theory is that because of that, people take the Animal Crossing games seriously, and I mean REALLY SERIOUSLY.

As such, I've just come to terms with the fact I will never play New Horizons with other people. It doesn't help the networking options are GARBAGE, and Nintendo's Draconian online policies are bananas. But in the end, my messy little island was always for me in the first place. Once I closed off my island from the outside world, I finally felt like I could appreciate it more. My paltry few neighbors didn't become an indictment against my lack of time. My lack of amenities stopped being an embarrassing point of contention. And in the end, if I love my weed-covered underdeveloped island, isn't that all that matters?

Image provided by Twitter user @Brinty_
Image provided by Twitter user @Brinty_

9 Comments

Seven "Burning Questions" I Still Have For Final Fantasy VII Remake

Preamble

Look... let's just say
Look... let's just say "mistakes were made" and move on with the blog.

Hello, Giant Bomb community! With the release of the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo and documentary, I thought it was high time for me to talk about the game and get my mind off of this global pandemic. After giving the demo a whirl, I have to say I left with a more favorable impression than I anticipated. It's a flashy package, and I genuinely enjoyed the new combat system. Narratively, it seems Square-Enix is striking a decent balance between the spirit of the original and modern video game storytelling. Still, I continue to maintain that I don't think Square-Enix should be making this game. First and foremost, the company is in a creative dessert and is staying afloat financially, mainly thanks to Final Fantasy XIV and a handful of mobile games. Dedicating as much development time to this project, as they have, is not a viable long-term strategy.

Additionally, I do not trust the current head honchos at Square to make all of the "correct" creative decisions in translating the original game. Yes, I am aware Final Fantasy VII is available on every conceivable platform imaginable, and it wouldn't surprise me if my refrigerator eventually could play the game. Notwithstanding, something doesn't "feel right." The Square-Enix of today has virtually NONE of the staff who made Final Fantasy VII a work of art. Admittedly, I'm not going to suggest Final Fantasy VII is an impeccable diamond free of imperfections. The game is a messy, convoluted, and occasionally bewildering experience; but, I think that's part of the game's charm. And I do not believe the Square-Enix of today knows how to best address Final Fantasy VII's original suite of shortcomings without losing a part of the original's appeal.

The sanctity of the Gold Saucer must never be defiled!
The sanctity of the Gold Saucer must never be defiled!

That said, don't let my nihilistic point of view bum you out if you are looking forward to the game! As I have always said, you do you. I am but an amateur blogger who, for the most part, wouldn't know their head from their ass when it comes to making video games. Likewise, I cannot envision this game being an objectively terrible experience. Square has attached some of its brightest and most talented minds to the project, and its creative leads appear passionate enough about bringing this game to the forefront. Furthermore, I honestly hope the game proves me wrong because I think it could serve as a critical jumping point for Square-Enix as a developer. An additional "best-case scenario" is a new generation of gamers ends up checking out the rest of the Final Fantasy franchise following this game's release.

However, let's jump into the "meat and potatoes" of this blog! Regardless of how I feel about the thing, there are a handful of unanswered questions that will, at some point, come up during episode one. These "burning questions" are significant issues that Square will not be able to dance around, and whose answers will determine the complexion of the entire experience and all episodes following it. Furthermore, there are no "right" or "wrong" answers here, and whatever course Square takes will undoubtedly prove to be possible points of differentiation between the remake and original. And I want to make it clear that I do not think differentiating this game from the original is a bad thing. In fact, I hope that's the case. However, before we jump into that, I'll list the additional unanswered questions I have that do not warrant deep introspection. Also, I want to warn anyone reading this blog that there will be SPOILERS about Final Fantasy VII and its supporting media!

  • How is the relationship mechanic going to work, and is it more visible to the player than in the original game?
  • Will the characters from Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII ever make an appearance?
  • What about that Japan-only mobile game? Characters from that game make an appearance?
  • Will there be a "teaser" for episode two at the end?
  • Do I have to worry about carrying over my save data to episode two?
  • Will there be any references to Kingdom Hearts?
  • Is Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII still the bookend of the Final Fantasy VII timeline?

Burning Question #1: How Much "Original" Content Is There?

During one of Square-Enix's promotional videos for Final Fantasy VII Remake, they showed off something that caught a lot of people's attention. During a teaser trailer, the game showcases optional side quests that did not exist in the original game. Of the many changes they have shown, this is one I happily applaud. As someone who recently replayed the original game, I found Midgar, as a level, to be shockingly linear. There are few, if any, side quests to complete during the game's first romp through the industrial cityscape, but to its defense, that is by design. The environment as a whole is less about providing you the usual JRPG trappings and more about setting the mood and tone of the overall narrative. Nonetheless, the lack of side quests is a shocking gap in the game's overall flawless worldbuilding.

Please do tell me more about your
Please do tell me more about your "rat problem."

At any rate, what this additional content culminates towards is anyone's guess! Will completing these fetch quests expose you to storyline characters earlier than usual? Will some of the game's "deeper cuts" be hidden behind these side quests? Will there be "secret" cutscenes only viewable if you complete a series of menial tasks? If Square wants to put extra fanservice into the game, then these sorts of missions are the best way to do it. People who wish to mainline the game can do so, whereas others who like playing around with the Materia System have the option of doing that as well. Speaking of the Materia System, the real question here is if the game is going to provide more combat-oriented missions. If that's the case, then the original game's pace of delivering Materia and abilities needs to be thrown out the window. In case you've forgotten, the game doesn't provide a ton of magic-based options until AFTER your party leaves Midgar. Then you have the game's summons, which also does not come to the forefront until AFTER the overworld becomes accessible.

Which leads me to another concern, and that's the game's overall pace and sense of progression. One of the benefits of Midgar in the original game is that it does not provide a lot of situations where you feel like you need to stop everything and grind levels. As such, the game progresses at a decent pace, and you never feel motivated to stray too far away from the story's critical path. If Square puts in a bunch of fetch quests or optional tasks, I worry they are going to ruin the game's breezy pace for the sake of making the game more akin to a traditional JRPG. What's more, they're going to have to play around with the game's random encounters if they want players to feel motivated to complete these missions.

Burning Question #2: How Much Of Advent Children Is Actually Canon?

It seems odd to question the canonicity of an official Square-Enix product, if not ostentatious. Nonetheless, a lot has happened regarding the state of Final Fantasy VII since Advent Children's release way back in 2005. Now, as you can see below, Square-Enix has addressed this issue repeatedly during interviews and press-releases. So, that's "case closed," and we can all move on with our lives, right? Well, not so fast, my dear readers. In terms of surface-level changes, Square-Enix has mercifully shit-canned the character designs from Advent Children and instead elected to reinterpret them using entirely new technology. This choice might seem like a no-brainer, but it also raises plenty of questions on how much of the film holds water in the remake. Furthermore, if Square-Enix is going to lean into the remake honoring the spirit of Final Fantasy VII, then a lot more of Advent Children needs to be shown the door.

Sure, it's really as simple as you make it seem.
Sure, it's really as simple as you make it seem.

First, Advent Children's tone is going to be a massive issue. The film's grimdark, almost post-apocalyptic tone was an enormous deviation from the game it is based on, and a departure I can only imagine Square will avoid with the remake. I know a lot of you will likely respond Advent Children takes place AFTER the events of Final Fantasy VII, and therefore, doesn't represent that significant of a tonal shift. And you know what, that's a fair point I fully appreciate. Nonetheless, the "temperament" of the remake is still a significant question mark, and that's doubly so when it comes to its characters. As I will discuss shortly, we have seen over a dozen different extrapolations of Cloud Strife, and none of them are even remotely complimentary. But the tone of Advent Children isn't the only issue at hand here. The film also makes some decidedly "controversial" decisions about Final Fantasy VII's canon that Square has been rather flippant about in recent years.

You might have forgotten this, but Advent Children takes a handful of narrative stances, which profoundly impact Final Fantasy VII's canon. Some of these, such as bringing Tseng back to life, can be dismissed as originating from a translation error. On the other hand, you also have characters like Rufus surviving a goddamn nuclear explosion. However, the most important of these "stances" would, by a country mile, be the film retconning Aerith as Cloud's primary love-interest and relegating Tifa to the role of the proverbial "girl-next-door." This point of contention is relatively minor for the remake's initial outing, but as the story progresses, things will only get more complicated. Especially when you consider the original game's revelatory moment in the Lifestream has an entirely different meaning if you pursue a relationship with Tifa. Will the remake honor the player's agency in pursuing the romances they see fit, or will it try to find a compromise that satisfies no one? Only time will tell. Finally, you have Jenova, who has always been a "messy" character in Final Fantasy VII. However, as we will discuss later, Advent Children somehow makes this already convoluted character even more confusing.

Burning Question #3: Which Versions Of These Characters Are We Getting?

Speaking of Advent Children making things a convoluted mess, we need to return to the issue of "tone." If my previous chapter made it seem like I'm not a fan of Advent Children, that's because I hate the damn thing. However, if there's something I must give the film credit for, it's that it fully commits to its grim/emo tone. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about OG Final Fantasy VII. The game, in its original form, has bewildering tonal shifts, sometimes within minutes of each other. At the time, this was by design as Squaresoft was trying to "cast a wide net," much like a Summer Blockbuster. The consequence, however, is that the remake will have to do a better job of managing these pivots. Based on what I played of the demo, all signs point to Square, knowing where that middle ground is, but things will only get more arduous as the story progresses.

BRING BACK
BRING BACK "GOOFY CLOUD!"

This point inevitably leads us to the issue of "characterization." For some characters like Barret, the options on the table do Square's job for them. In his case, we have either see him as a racist caricature or a kind-hearted freedom fighter. However, other characters have evolved MASSIVELY since their first outing way back in 1997. As mentioned earlier, Aerith has gone from being a free-loving storytelling lynchpin to Cloud's canonical love-interest. In Final Fantasy VII, she often jokes and teases Cloud and acts like a normal-ass young adult. However, she avoids outright swooning on Cloud as we have seen her do in some of Final Fantasy VII's supporting media, Kingdom Hearts included. Tifa, on the other hand, isn't the hot-headed badass we think of her as in OG Final Fantasy VII. Instead, she has a TON of moments where she attempts to level with Cloud and expose her emotional vulnerabilities.

But the million-dollar question I want to know is which version of Cloud Strife are we getting in the remake! What sometimes gets lost when people ruminate about their Final Fantasy VII memories, is the game's emotional diversity. Even a character like Cloud had moments of levity where they cracked jokes to lighten the story's mood. Since 1997, Square has forgotten this Cloud even exists. Thus, which version of the blonde-haired golden boy are we getting? Are we getting the emo grimdark Cloud from Advent Children? Are we getting the soulless Sephiroth-killing meatbag from Kingdom Hearts? And before any of you chime in that, they should just interpret the character as depicted in the original game; I want you to think about what you're saying. In OG Final Fantasy VII, Cloud oscillates between being comedic-relief, a standoffish asshole, an action badass, and a level-headed "straight man." Sometimes he even rotates between these stock characters within the same scene. So, to Square-Enix's defense, it's not like there's a coherent character to adapt in the first place!

Burning Question #4: Will This Game Finally Settle The Sephiroth vs. Jenova Debate?

A Final Fantasy game is not complete without a good old-fashioned fan debate. Final Fantasy VIII fans have been weighing the merits of the "Squall is Dead" fan theory for over twenty years, and crazy people have written entire dissertations about Necron's role in Final Fantasy IX. In Final Fantasy VII's case, the point of contention among fans comes down to whether Sephiroth or Jenova is the game's "true" antagonist. Now, before we jump into this rabbit hole, I want to warn you, some fans have researched their positions as if they are Nobel laureates trying to solve the Riemann hypothesis. To keep things simple, "Camp Jenova" argues Sephiroth is dead before the events of the game, and Jenova steers the course of the story using an army of doppelgangers. "Camp Sephiroth" maintains that a "real" Sephiroth exists in the Lifestream and employs an army of doppelgangers to manipulate and control Jenova.

Oh, Jenova, Square-Enix have done you dirty the past thirty years....
Oh, Jenova, Square-Enix have done you dirty the past thirty years....

To an outsider looking in, this kerfuffle might seem like an exhausting argument over semantics. Nonetheless, similar to a few of my earlier points, the issue here reiterates the daunting task facing Square. For one thing, Square has jumped back and forth between both camps in the last thirty-plus years. In Advent Children, they retconned Jenova to be the franchise's primary antagonist and framed them to be more like Lavos from Chrono Trigger. Unfortunately, in virtually every OTHER source of Final Fantasy VII supporting media, Sephiroth is a real person with clearly articulated motivations. Simply put, Square can't have things both ways, but the standard response of "just leave things ambiguous like in the original" probably will not pan out either. I do not think for a fucking minute the company is going to forego twenty years of supporting media, they have made from the ground up, mind you, with the release of this game.

Luckily for them, this is a question they can punt until the next episode. Still, we all know about THAT SCENE with Jenova at the Shinra Headquarters. You know, the scene that gave you nightmares as a kid when you first played Final Fantasy VII. In the remake, will this juxtaposition be a quick moment, or will it be a segue for something more substantial? Additionally, there are plenty of flashbacks and internal monologues (which, DO NOT WORRY MY SWEET CHILD, we will talk about shortly) that play around with the idea of Sephiroth and Jenova's existence and role in the greater world. More importantly, each interpretation plays an essential role in setting the "temperature" for Cloud's moment of self-actualization in the Lifestream. Is his human existence being challenged by an alien from another planet or a silver-haired asshole? Your guess is as good as mine!

Burning Question #5: Is Any Part Of Crisis Core Going To Be Addressed in The Game?

Speaking of characters Square-Enix cannot make up their minds about, let's talk about Zack Fair! Part of why I outright reject fan requests for the remake to adapt the source material literally is because things are not as simple as they seem. Some characters, such as the Turks, Barret, and Zack, have benefited MASSIVELY from Square's "Compilation of Final Fantasy VII." Take, for example, the namesake for this chapter, Zack. In OG Final Fantasy VII, Zack is a character who barely exists if you only follow the game's mainline story. To learn more about the man and his relationship to Cloud, you have to explore several backdrops and environments at different portions of the story. It would be incredibly STUPID if Square-Enix maintains this structure for Final Fantasy VII Remake.

When it comes to the original, we only get a few passing remarks and flashbacks to Zack. However, his ghost LOOMS LARGE over the shoulders of Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith even during the game's opening chapters. Lest we not forget, part of the reason why the Turks avoid outright kidnapping Aerith is because they fear Zack is still alive and protecting her. As with before, the issue here isn't how much light episode one will shed on Zack, but which interpretation of the character it decides to use. The Zack of Final Fantasy VII is a "nothing burger," who is less a genuine character and more a vessel for Cloud's moment of self-actualization. The Zack of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, on the other hand, is one of the most profoundly tragic figures in all of video games and one of the best characters conceived by post-Sakaguchi Square-Enix. I'm not fucking around here; the ending of Crisis Core is FUCKING AMAZING!

COME AT ME, YOU HATERS! I'M READY TO TAKE YOU ALL ON!
COME AT ME, YOU HATERS! I'M READY TO TAKE YOU ALL ON!

Seriously, if you have not yet seen the ending of Crisis Core, do yourself a favor and fix that! With that in mind, I think it would be a missed opportunity if the remake completely ignored every storytelling contribution of Crisis Core. Virtually every character, including the Turks, benefits from elements of Crisis Core being present in some form in this game. Furthermore, it would be incredibly stupid if Square-Enix didn't at least use the Crisis Core version of Zack, as doing so would add so much more authenticity to the emotional core of the game. Yes, this issue doesn't need to be addressed right off the bat, but at some point, Square needs to decide on how to structure Zack's moments within an episodic format. Are we learning more about the history of the Buster Sword via a series of side quests? Personally, I think that sounds astonishingly moronic! All joking aside, I believe it is imperative Square makes his story arc a part of the game's critical path.

Burning Question #6: How Are They Going To Handle The Flashbacks and Internal Monologues?

As I have hinted, Final Fantasy VII is an awkward but magical by-product of the era it was made. Nothing pleads this case better than a quick examination of the storytelling structure of Cloud's story arc. There, his character evolution progresses through a series of pre-rendered cutscenes, in-engine set pieces, flashy boss battles, and quiet interstitial moments. The only tricky part for Square will be figuring out how to handle his flashbacks and internal monologues. In case you've forgotten the first monologue pop-offs during the second reactor attack. Likewise, after you escape the first reactor, the game spends a decent amount of time in the past as Tifa and Cloud reminisce about their childhoods.

The flashbacks will be the easier part of this puzzle. All they require is the same attention to detail Square has put into the rest of what we have seen of Midgar, and things will be peachy. Though I must admit, I'm curious to see how Square-Enix handles the voice acting for a young Cloud. The internal monologues, however, will prove to be trickier. Part of what makes those monologues impactful is that you do not know where they are coming from right off the bat. Discovering they are a manifestation of Cloud's consciousness and suppressed childhood, isn't just a shock; it reframes entire parts of the story under a new light. What I worry about is how Square-Enix will handle those monologues in a world where voice acting exists. As we all know, Final Fantasy's track record of having child voice actors is poor.

It's a bad dark dark dark dark dark daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark track record!
It's a bad dark dark dark dark dark daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark track record!

This concern isn't simply about me not wanting to eat my own eyeballs while listening to people talk in Final Fantasy VII Remake. The reveal that Cloud has been talking to his past is a powerful moment that defines the heart of Final Fantasy VII. If Square-Enix has these monologues spoken to you by a child, it will immediately spoil one of the best moments in the entire game. I am, of course, talking about Tifa and Cloud's revelation in the Lifestream. Cloud's whole character arc culminates towards this moment, and it plays a HUGE ROLE in adding emotional weight to the game's final two acts. Yes, Aerith's death is more iconic, but the moment in the Lifestream is no slouch, either. And unlike Aerith's death, I think Square has an opportunity to preserve the surprise of this scene for newcomers. Even if that isn't possible, I'm not 100% privy to having an omnipotent child spell out what should be a surprise ten or twelve hours too early.

Burning Question #7: How Will We Have To Wait For Episode Two?

This question is the proverbial "big one." When Final Fantasy VII Remake releases on April 10, 2020, it will cap-off a nigh five-year-long wait for Final Fantasy fans. However, its release will be even more celebrated at Square-Enix as the game's development has been nothing but a nightmare. Indeed, a significant reason for this wait wasn't entirely the game's fault. Square encountered problems with the original studio tapped to make it, and these issues culminated in Square switching to in-house development in 2017. However, if Square honestly thinks fans will be as forgiving of delays and production issues for episodes two or three, then they will be up for a rude awakening. It's okay they are going a more deliberate route this time around, but if they want this game to be their lottery ticket back into the public consciousness, then the next two episodes better come out on a faster clip.

Fingers crossed we get to see the end of this game before the collapse of society as we know it!
Fingers crossed we get to see the end of this game before the collapse of society as we know it!

What I think is the even more significant "elephant in the room" is whether or not Square has even BEGUN MAKING episodes two or three. A recurring fear I have expressed regarding the remake is that Square hasn't adequately planned or mapped out their next steps or what the logical stopping points for the future episodes will be. Sure, there have been quick teasers here and there of characters and moments from later portions of Final Fantasy VII, but nothing significant enough to assuage my overall concerns. What I think fans forget is how WEIRD the middle act of Final Fantasy VII gets, and I worry modern-day Square has forgotten this as well. Which reminds me, the next two episodes are going to be FAR HARDER to adapt than a scenic tour through Midgar!

Adapting Midgar for current-generation technology IS THE EASY PART of making Final Fantasy VII Remake! After Midgar, you have a TON of interstitial levels and set pieces that cause the pace of the story to slow to a crawl. For the sake of the game's worldbuilding, they serve their role admirably. But the Square-Enix of today doesn't have a great handle on with the mechanics and structure of 1990s era Squaresoft game design. Will the game have a traditional overworld? How will the optional summons dole out? Will I have to chase down Yuffie like in the original game? Speaking of Yuffie, when will I be able to visit Wutai? And what about the excessive amount of minigames that LITTER whole swaths of the mid to late game? As long as Square-Enix is willing to sink in the time to provide excellent production values, there will always be a fanbase for Final Fantasy VII Remake. That said, considering our time on this planet might be more precious than we all could have imagined, I honestly hope they get their shit together for future episodes.

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ZombiePie's Games Of The Decade Superlatives - Part II

Preamble

Hello there dear reader! Here's the second, and final part of my "Game of the Decade" series. For those who may have missed the first episode, give it a read using the link below! Also, be aware, my approach to the whole "Game of the Decade" gimmick is a bit unorthodox. Instead of systematically ranking my favorite games from the 2010s, I'm handing out "superlatives" to what I think are the notable moments and events of the decade. Undoubtedly, there's a decent amount of "wiggle room" when it comes to several of my awards. So, please keep that in mind, and if you can think of a game that is more deserving of any of my personal choices, feel free to drop a comment.

Best Meme Game - Moonbase Alpha

JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN
JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN JOHN MADDEN

I miss the internet of yesteryear. Sure, the internet of today is faster and more diverse than what it was ten years ago, but that doesn't stop me from being nostalgic. I long for the days when the top sites on the World Wide Web were Geocities, Ebaumsworld, Newgrounds, AlbinoBlackSheep, and Myspace. I miss the pure anarchy of "Web 2.0" before it became weaponized by fascistic regimes or racist scumbags. I miss when "viral videos" were stupid shit that made no sense instead of vain attempts at internet glory. And you know what? Moonbase Alpha is a video game that encapsulates those heady days perfectly.

There's not a single video game that speaks to the early-phases of the 2010s "internet boundary setting" quite like Moonbase Alpha. An ACTUAL educational tool from NASA becoming "famous" because a bunch of random bozos recorded themselves saying random nonsense, speaks to a more "pure" era of the internet. You didn't see someone from Moonbase Alpha go on to promote their podcast, which had two to three-minute advertisements for dick pills. Instead, Moonbase Alpha was a fun playground where everyone shouted "John Madden" while attempting to survive the inhospitable surface of the moon. That's not to say people did not exploit the anonymity they enjoyed while playing Moonbase Alpha. Nonetheless, you were more likely to hear someone spout quotes from Metal Gear Solid than homophobic slurs.

Runner-up: Goat Simulator

There's a lot one can say about the "legacy" of Goat Simulator, and not all of it is positive. While, yes, the game provided a handful of cheap thrills, there was an associated cost to that. It gave rise to a handful of early YouTube and Twitch influencers and all but paved the way for the glut of parody simulation games we have to deal with today. Nonetheless, the mixed legacy of Goat Simulator, if anything, speaks volumes of the decade that was the 2010s.

Most Catastrophically Ill-advised Piece Of Hardware - uDraw GameTablet

"Unjustified activities always end in bankruptcy."

I know the Kinect seems like the heir apparent for this award. However, many forget how successful the Kinect was on the Xbox 360. While most, myself included, would argue the accessory never controlled particularly well, it was popular enough with children and families that it enjoyed a relatively long lifespan. The Kinect on the Xbox One is a different, but also surprisingly positive story. Yes, the addition vaulted Microsoft down a dark path that initially hampered their reputation, but they have remarkably turned things around. Likewise, Microsoft released a non-gaming version of the device, and it continues to have value among medical professionals.

The uDraw GameTablet, on the other hand, bankrupted an entire video game publisher and drove hundreds into unemployment. The device resulted in THQ netting a loss of around $100 million. Furthermore, THQ's demise was, in many ways, the death knell of the "B-Tier" game. With indie games already cutting into it's bottom-line, THQ betting hard on the success of the uDraw Tablet proved to be one of the most disastrous financial decisions within the video game industry during the 2010s. What was once a rival to Activision quickly became a carcass picked apart by vultures in bankruptcy court. It was a sad fate but also a reminder of the brutality of the video game industry.

Runner-up: Xbox One Kinect

Even with my previous statements defending the Kinect, there's no denying the piece of hardware had an overall negative impact on the Xbox One's prospects. It was an unreliable and frustrating device that drove up the price of the Xbox One at the time of its release. It played a massive role in the ousting of Don Mattrick as well as the rise of Phil Spencer, who eventually helped the brand rediscover its identity.

Hey, Mobile Games Are Still A Threat - Clash of Clans

"To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering."

I honestly had a difficult time with this category. On the one hand, Clash of Clans enjoyed global ubiquity, andits profit model continues to influence the design of AAA games. On the other hand, Fate/Grand Order was the "final nail in the coffin" in shifting the majority of Japan's game studios towards mobile game development. I eventually went with the former rather than the latter because of a point I brought up on my previous blog. We are entering the 2020s still unclear as to which micro-transactions "get a pass," and which ones qualify as gambling. Much of that uncertainty originates from Clash of Clans.

Just as a fun case study, I want you to think about the last multiplayer-focused video game you played. Next, I want you to answer if it had a one-time use consumable that would "boost" the performance of your character. Regardless if you can pay for those consumables or not, you are playing a game influenced by Clash of Clans. Yes, Clash of Clans wasn't the first mobile game to feature micro-transactions, but games like Candy Crush or Angry Birds didn't permeate into the fabric of AAA game development as Clash of Clans did. The result is, by hook or by crook, some part of Clash of Clans will continue to follow us throughout the 2020s and possibly further. Unless by pure happenstance, another mobile game finds an even more exploitative manner in which to squeeze money out of consumers, Clash of Clans is the video game cockroach that will refuse to die.

Runner-up: Fate/Grand Order

$236,495,616. That's the amount of revenue Fate/Grand Order generated in 2019 ALONE! It was the highest-grossing game in Japan by a country mile as the second-place game, Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle, generated LESS THAN HALF of that. Numbers aside, Fate/Grand Order has a dubious legacy, much like Clash of Clans. If you have been listening to the 8-4 Podcast, then you'd know large swaths of Japanese game development is converting en masse to churn out gacha games much in the style of Grand Order. With signs that the appeal of these games is starting to wane, it's a scary bubble I can only assume will pop within the next decade.

Most Revelatory Moment - Fez

I also consider the downfall of Fez II as one of the biggest
I also consider the downfall of Fez II as one of the biggest "bummers" of the decade.

Crowing a "most revelatory moment" is a bit tricky. Much like life itself, your mileage may vary, but with Fez, its bait-and-switch deserves some commendation. In that regard, I maintain that deciphering Fez's secret language is a proverbial "Inverted Castle Moment," but for a new generation of gamers. No other video game drove players to explore their surroundings more than Fez. For literal YEARS people scoured the game hoping to uncover a new secret, and to that extent, a new meaning to what they were playing. For the most part, these investigative efforts proved to be nothing more than navel-gazing. Nonetheless, Fez inspired people to reconsider their previous interactions with the game and try again at every puzzle.

Figuring out the "secret" in Fez is unique in other regards. Suddenly, you realize your relationship with the game runs deeper than you'd initially thought. It shifts your perspective and forces you to understand the random etchings of graffiti in the world are so much more than that. Moreover, the world becomes alive, and whole levels become portals to life-altering experiential moments. The game shifts away from being a fun little indie platformer to that of a mysterious archeological expedition. It was an incredibly impactful moment way back in 2012, and it's a revelation I believe will hold up for years to come.

Runner-up: Doki Doki Literature Club

The twist in Doki Doki Literature Club is far more nefarious than Fez's. While Fez slowly builds up a sense of mystery, DDLC jump-starts its wild trek into insanity at the drop of a hat. That said, DDLC still deserves credit for shocking audiences and causing them to question their limits, especially when playing otherwise innocuous visual novels.

Most Important Translation - Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale

Milton Friedman would be proud!
Milton Friedman would be proud!

So, let's set the scene: Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale originally came out in Japan way back in 2007. Aspiring game developers, Andrew Dice and Robin Light-Williams, who met on the Something Awful forums, encountered the game during a trip to Japan. After putting the game through its paces, they decided to have a go at localizing it for Western audiences. Neither of them had any professional experience with translation, let alone game development. However, on a wing and a prayer, they contacted the developer with an offer to translate the game into English at a below-market rate. To their surprise, EasyGameStation, the developer, took them up on their offer.

What ensued next were two friends, miles apart from each other, spending months of their lives translating a game many at the time considered too niche for North America and Europe. On top of that, the game featured numerous idioms and idiosyncrasies that would only make sense to a Japanese audience. Dice and Light-Williams, however, were strong supporters of Ted Woolsey and viewed such language as a fun challenge. Hence, why "Capitalism HO!" is a thing some on the internet enjoy repeating. Finally, when it came to publishing the game, it exceeded everyone's expectations. Not only did the game sell well on every platform it launched on, but it also paved the way for more doujinshi games to release on Steam and other digital marketplaces.

Runner-up: Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F

Alright, this runner-up is NOT WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR, but that doesn't mean it's not essential to video game history. Project DIVA F wasn't merely the first game in the series to be multi-platform. It created an easy template for other J-Pop rhythm games to follow for localization purposes. Had it not been for Project DIVA F, DOZENS of Japanese-styled rhythm games would not have seen the light of day outside of Japan. For that, I tip my hat to Hatsune Miku.

Greatest Comeback Story - Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

And before you ask, this is the most you will see me talk about FFXIV this year.
And before you ask, this is the most you will see me talk about FFXIV this year.

Fuck it, Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn isn't merely the greatest comeback story of the decade, it's the greatest comeback story in the entire history of video games. When Final Fantasy XIV first released in 2010, audiences panned the game across the board. The UI was clunky; the world was a fucking nightmare to navigate; the loot-grind feedback loop was atrocious; the game engine was ill-suited for an MMO; overall, the game was a bad time through and through. And yet, Square-Enix held on and, after a significant leadership change, embarked on the Herculean task of rebuilding the game. It wasn't an immediate change of scenery, and some fans of Final Fantasy XIV forget the game was virtually free to play for a whole year, but one that shook the entire video game industry to its core.

Most of the credit for this turnaround goes to Naoki Yoshida, who did everything right when he was given free rein to rebuild Final Fantasy XIV. Right from the get-go, he increased transparency and embarked on a significant effort to restore goodwill with the game's player base. But the man's unorthodox approach to MMORPG design shouldn't be ignored either. Not only does the game appeal to veteran MMORPG players with its in-depth content and customizability options, but it's also one of the more accessible MMORPGs for newcomers. The game features the most seamless keyboard-to-controller options I have ever seen, and it does not require the massive time sink one normally associates with this genre. The rise and fall and rise again of Final Fantasy XIV is by far one of the greatest "feel good" stories of the 2010s, and I'm grateful things worked out for the game.

Runner-up: No Man's Sky

As I mentioned on my last blog, I wholeheartedly admit No Man's Sky is still a far cry away from what it promised in 2014. Nonetheless, a lot of credit should go to Sean Murray and Hello Games for remaining committed to improving No Man's Sky before the end of the decade. And, for the most part, their efforts worked. The Atlas Rises update transformed No Man's Sky into something most players can get behind. For example, its murder-mystery inspired third act provides some of the best science-fiction writing of the decade.

Best Use Of Licensed Music - Hotline Miami

The fact most of you know which musical track plays during this title card speaks volumes.
The fact most of you know which musical track plays during this title card speaks volumes.

Licensed soundtracks often go ignored with video game fans. We place a rightfully higher value to game studios who take the time to craft original soundtracks. However, Hotline Miami proved that licensed soundtracks have their advantages as well. When it comes to games that use their music to support a robust aesthetic choice, no game comes to mind as immediately as Hotline Miami. The game's primarily licensed soundtrack did almost as much to compliment the game's psychedelic feel as its graphics. Often while playing it, you found yourself moving in the world to the beat of the music. Or, the throbbing drops would perfectly juxtapose to the brutal violence you were witnessing on your screen.

Additionally, it's important to note how Hotline Miami served as many people's first introduction to modern synthwave. While, yes, everyone has seen those endless synthwave video streams trending on YouTube, Hotline Miami still played a significant role in making this musical sub-genre trendy with mainstream audiences. Previously niche musical acts, such as Sun Araw and M|O|O|N, became widely talked about names thanks in part to their inclusion in Hotline Miami's OST. To suggest one particular video game played a role in the explosion of 1980s styled electronic music would be ridiculous. Nonetheless, Hotline Miami spawned dozens of clones, which furthered the genre's growth even more.

Runner-up: Saints Row: The Third

Saints Row: The Third took a more straightforward approach to its licensed soundtrack. Obviously, as a GTA-styled clone, it has the expected assortment of radio stations. However, what makes Saints Row: The Third more noteworthy is its use of licensed music to reinforce story set pieces. The most notable examples include parachuting to a party to the tune of Kayne's "Power" and racing to save Shaundi while Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero" blares in the background.

Best Use Of Couch Co-Op - Portal 2

I'd love to see these two doofuses make a comeback.
I'd love to see these two doofuses make a comeback.

The 2010s were not kind to couch co-op. What was once an almost default feature has quickly become a luxury item. Today, games that do have local cooperative modes are usually ones that go out of their way to provide that experience from the get-go, with Josef Fares' A Way Out being a notable example. Portal 2 found itself at a happy medium between the split-screen co-op of yesteryear and the carefully crafted co-op modes of today. Certainly, the game can still be enjoyed as a solo experience as its single-player campaign provides great thrills and compelling storytelling set pieces. However, its cooperative mode is a genuinely unique experience worth seeing for yourself.

Part of what makes Portal 2's co-op so memorable is its robotic characters, Atlas and P-body. The couple is entirely adorable as they navigate one hazardous obstacle course after another. On top of that, their adventure feels anything but "tacked on." Their interactions with GLaDOS and other Portal 2 standbys do a lot to fill in the game's storytelling gaps. Moreover, because your interactions with them require you to be next to another person, that sense of discovery as you progress throughout the game feels more genuine. Needing to deduce the conceit of puzzles with a partner provides opportunities to bond, and that's an experience one shouldn't dismiss.

Runner-up: Rocket League

Rocket League provides pure unadulterated fun for gaming groups. Even if you are awful at pulling off tricks or aerial maneuvers, you'd be hard-pressed say it isn't a fun time. Furthermore, Rocket League was accessible to non-gamers and helped address equity with non-traditional social groups. Anyone could pick up a controller and have a fun time with the game, and that's a rarity even today.

Game That Most Deserves Credit For Pioneering A Genre - Dark Souls

Dark Souls is also the winner of the
Dark Souls is also the winner of the "Game That Caused More Gamers to Scream At Their T.V." Award.

What more can be said about Dark Souls' legacy that hasn't already been said? Right off the bat, I am aware that Dark Souls wasn't the "first" game to play around with its mechanics, and other games like Demon's Souls laid the groundwork for its meteoric rise. But in the end, when a game has recurring death, a hard as nails difficulty scale, and an open-world format, we don't compare them to Demon's Souls. No, we refer to them in comparison to Dark Souls because that's the game that put all of the pieces of the "Souls Formula" into a single compelling package. More importantly, Dark Souls innervated standard environmental worldbuilding and encouraged action-adventure games to throw out everything they knew about play-testing. Upon its release, Dark Souls was broken, buggy, and downright frustrating to play. And yet, that made the game even more iconic.

What continues to resonate with me is how seamlessly the different worlds and levels transition to one another. Every connection that led to another area felt like a natural progression. Sure, they were often cleverly disguised loading screens, but that didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. And in terms of storytelling, Dark Souls proved that you did not need to have big flashy cutscenes to establish a game's mood and tone. The lands you explore in Dark Souls are cursed, but also teeming with a diverse ecosystem. Unlike other games from the 2010s, I can name specific levels from Dark Souls without the help of Google.

Runner-up: PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is another game that needs no introduction. Its online multiplayer battle royale mode has become a staple with virtually all multiplayer-focused video games. It was the game that shifted gamers and studios away from your usual mix of deathmatch and team deathmatch.

Weirdest Crossover That Works - Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

Sometimes
Sometimes "Style Over Substance" isn't a bad thing!

Of my many categories, this award is the one I admit courts the highest degree of subjectivity. Undoubtedly, what is "weird" to one person is the norm to another. Nonetheless, Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE feels like a game only possible in the dark world of fan-fiction. Only a mad scientist would want to combine the harebrained insanity of Shin Megami Tensei with the boilerplate strategy and dating sim framework of Fire Emblem. Nevertheless, Tokyo Mirage Sessions does precisely that, and it "works." Somehow, it blends the straightforward mechanics of Fire Emblem with the style of Shin Megami Tensei

PERFECTLY!

I want to put extra emphasis on Tokyo Mirage Sessions' sense of style. The game's use of J-Pop and musical numbers lends to a colorful journey populated by neon-drenched backdrops. All the while, you are graced with a cast of memorable, albeit trope heavy, characters that eventually make their way into your heart. It's a game that shouldn't work, but somehow, probably by the brute force of its charm, does. Thankfully, the game has gotten a much-deserved second wind following its release on the Nintendo Switch. Which, by the way, I strongly recommend to anyone seeking a compelling JRPG experience!

Runner-up: Pokémon Conquest

God DAMN! What I would do for another Pokémon Conquest game! And before you laugh, Pokémon Conquest was fun and way more in-depth than anyone could have predicted. No doubt, it was a wacky game, but that did impede it from being a memorable experience I think worthy of a sequel.

The "Holy Shit, That's Right, That Came Out" Award - Duke Nukem Forever

Some video game characters age like wine, but Duke Nukem has aged like milk.
Some video game characters age like wine, but Duke Nukem has aged like milk.

I can only imagine an alternate universe where Duke Nukem Forever was heralded as a monumental accomplishment in game development. If we are honest, part of me wishes Duke Nukem Forever never came out in 2011. It was far more enjoyable as both an industry-wide joke as well as a cautionary tale on the pitfalls of game development. Had that been the case, you and I could have told our children's children what Duke Nukem Forever looked like back our day as the game's release continued to be talked about in hushed tones. Instead, we have this shitty game. A shitty game, mind you, that does very little of note and avoids being so bad it's "good."

It's honestly offensive how boring Duke Nukem Forever ended up being. If the game was going to be awful, it should have attempted to be the worst thing since Superman 64. Instead, it's a plodding tram-ride tour of over twenty years of first-person shooter design. Parts and pieces of it reek of outdated game design, and not in a positive way. The result is what was once a major talking point among gamers, becoming a forgotten memory. Now that Duke Nukem Forever has come out, no one talks about it anymore. Seriously, did any of you know the game ended up getting THREE DLC packages?!

Runner-up: Postal III

Never before have I seen a game so desperately try to court "outrage culture" as pitifully as Postal III. The first two Postal games were reported across the usual sources of news media. They crossed several cultural boundaries and pushed the limits of "good taste" for better or worse. At any rate, Postal III was a nightmare most people pretend never happened. As Ryan Davis once put it, "You've kinda shown your hand Postal III; you are fucked up, unfinished, and not goddamn funny at all!"

Most Tragic Example Of A Video Game Killing A Franchise - Mass Effect: Andromeda

We now end this blog with the ultimate bummer of the 2010s: Mass Effect: Andromeda. While admittedly, Mass Effect 3's specific controversies are nothing to scoff at, they pale in comparison to Andromeda's shit show of a launch. First, while the previous trilogy of Mass Effect games weren't precisely "bug-free," they were not the technical horror show that was Andromeda. On top of that, part of what defined Mass Effect as a franchise was its impeccable cast of characters and its postmodern interpretation of a space opera. That wasn't representative of Andromeda either. Rather, what audiences got was a melodrama more fit for an episode of Degrassi. Andromeda felt less like a legitimate Mass Effect game, and more a cheap facsimile churned out after a year of development.

Nevertheless, Andromeda had been in development for more than five years! The game irreparably damaged BioWare's reputation and led to an existential crisis at the studio it's still attempting to address. The prospect of the once-legendary game studio being shuttered is a prospect we may witness before the end of the 2020s. On top of that, the Mass Effect franchise as a whole couldn't be in a worse position. BioWare is currently attempting to rejigger its staff to pump out Dragon Age 4, and it didn't even deliver on all of the single-player DLC initially promised to day-one supporters. Which, by the way, was infuriating for anyone who bought a season pass for Andromeda thinking the game would get the same post-release support Mass Effect 2 and 3 received. It was such a disappointment to see Mass Effect die before our eyes the way it did. The staff of this very website put it best when they awarded Andromeda "Worst Game (That We Played)" in 2017:

"It may be unprecedented in the history of this site for the same game to win both Most Disappointing and Worst Game, but Mass Effect: Andromeda was up to the challenge."

"To go from winning Giant Bomb's 2010 Game of the Year award to "winning" Worst Game in the space of two installments is really something. They killed Mass Effect, and it's not clear when or even if they'll manage to resurrect it."

Runner-up: SimCity (2013)

In any other decade, SimCity (2013), would likely be the most disappointing game of that decade. Regrettably, Mass Effect: Andromeda exists. In SimCity's case, it failed to deliver on virtually all of its promises. On top of that, many of its defining features, such as the game's use of a persistent internet connection, hampered people's ability to play and enjoy the game. What makes SimCity's case even sadder is how thoroughly the franchise has been "replaced" by other alternatives such as Cities: Skylines. Even if someone is willing to have another go at SimCity, whether anyone will care is up for debate.

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ZombiePie's Games Of The Decade Superlatives - Part I

Preamble

Hey everyone, before I transition into a new Final Fantasy blog series, I thought I'd give general blogging a quick try. Now, relax, I have big plans for 2020 in regards to my Final Fantasy blog series. Obviously, I'm not going to pretend the Final Fantasy VII Remake isn't around the corner, and that can only mean I have to go down the dark rabbit that is the "Compilation of Final Fantasy VII." However, if you were wondering, my next "traditional" series will be for Final Fantasy V.

With regards to this blog at hand, I decided to have a go at the whole "Game of the Decade" gimmick, but with my own spin. Instead of systematically ranking my favorite games from the 2010s, I'm handing out "superlatives" to what I think are the notable moments and events of the decade. Undoubtedly, there's a decent amount of "wiggle room" when it comes to several of my awards. So, please keep that in mind, and if you can think of a game that is more deserving of any of my personal choices, feel free to drop a comment. Also, if you enjoyed this blog, here's a link to the second part:

Best Dark Middle Chapter - Mass Effect 2

Oh, how I would like to go on one more adventure with these scallywags.
Oh, how I would like to go on one more adventure with these scallywags.

The original Mass Effect will always be near and dear to my heart. However, after rewatching Alex's hilarious playthrough, even I have to admit it's a bit "limiting" in terms of scope and tone. The universe of Mass Effect 1 feels more like a love letter to a bygone era of science fiction than a wholly realized first step for a multi-media franchise. It's sterile and shockingly monotonous, and luckily for all involved, BioWare knew this and learned from it. No game did more to set up the industry tradition last decade for massive video game trilogies quite like Mass Effect 2. The game was a media sensation and did more to establish BioWare as a pre-eminent game studio than any other game in their catalog. And I say that as someone who still thinks their best RPG is Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. But Mass Effect 2 was unique. It had grit as well as a bubbly crew of characters you never wanted to see go away.

There are a lot of ways one can characterize Mass Effect 2's legacy, and I'm not about to issue grandiose soliloquies on what I think that may be. What Mass Effect 2 does deserve extensive credit for, is doing more to set the tone and mood of an entire franchise and breeding a new generation of gamers interested in science fiction and role-playing. Mass Effect 2 didn't just set high expectations of what future entries of the franchise could hold; it also set a new standard for trilogies regardless of their respective genre. The game's proverbial "Suicide Mission" is an iconic final act to a game that riveted audiences with jaw-dropping set-pieces, one after another. Few games from the previous decade felt as complete as Mass Effect 2 did, and that's despite a few granular nitpicks about its de-emphasis on traditional role-playing structures and tropes.

Runner-up: The Witcher 2

While most would consider The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to be the emotional high-water mark of the franchise, the series' second outing deserves credit for getting all of its shit together. Also, "Broche" for life and any of you who sided with Iorveth are dead to me forever.

Game Which Best Demonstrates The Benefits Of Crowdfunding - FTL: Faster Than Light

This is a literal screencap of my first successful attempt at beating the Rebel Flagship on the hardest difficulty setting.
This is a literal screencap of my first successful attempt at beating the Rebel Flagship on the hardest difficulty setting.

As you can see below, the runner-up for this category is Shovel Knight, and while I probably would say it is a "better" game, FTL: Faster Than Light still gets this award for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I don't think FTL would have been given the "green light" in the previous decade without the advent of Kickstarter. While many, including myself, will claim we are currently under siege by an endless deluge of indie roguelikes, there's no denying how much of a breath of fresh air FTL was at the time of its release. Back then, the roguelike genre was primarily "inside baseball" for a majority of gamers. Moreover, FTL perfectly showed how having modest goals with realistic expectations was a recipe for success on Kickstarter. Unlike many fool-hardy Kickstarter developers, the makers of FTL never promised backers the world.

Alternatively, developer Subset Games made it public they wanted to make an homage for an underappreciated genre with a setting few would have considered at the time. And when the game came out, it exceeded everyone's expectations. After its release, dozens of would-be developers came out of the woodwork to explore other "dead" genres and intellectual properties. Likewise, FTL was one of the most important early success stories to come out of Kickstarter. In a lot of ways, it paved the way for hundreds, if not thousands, of Kickstarter video game projects. Yes, the majority of these projects were terrible, but for years FTL would serve as a general "rule of thumb" for future video game-based Kickstarters. This fact alone cannot and should not go ignored.

Runner-up: Shovel Knight

Again, Shovel Knight is probably a "better" game, but FTL gets the nod for being the first successful Kickstarter game that took the world by storm. Nonetheless, Shovel Knight's developer certainly deserves props for supporting the game for the better part of the decade and keeping the game alive far longer than anyone could have expected.

Best Trailer - Dead Island

I want to make this clear from the onset; I never played Dead Island. Based on what I saw in the final game, it never reached the emotional heights of this trailer. The game becoming a mindless multiplayer zombie survival game bummed me out then, and it still bums me out today. However, to return to this trailer, never have I ever seen a video game trailer carry as much emotional weight as Dead Island's original teaser. Not only is Dead Island's trailer emotionally touching, but it also conveys a riveting story all in about three minutes. And if you weren't following games at the time, you may have even missed out on the industry-wide discussion about its contents and if it "went too far." This trailer also influenced the industry in a lot of interesting ways. For one thing, this trailer did a lot to move game studios away from the tech-demo centric teasers that had all but become the norm at the time.

This trailer, for better or worse, is a work of art and should go down in video game history as such. For fuck's sake, how many goddamned video game trailers have their OWN WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE?! On top of that, I cannot think of a trailer sparking as strong an emotional reaction online as much as Dead Island did. If the game had even captured half of the drama conveyed in this trailer, it would have improved the final game by order of magnitude. Sadly, that didn't happen, and regrettably, it only spawned an endless mob of parodies and cheap knockoffs. Though, the parody trailer for Goat Simulator is definitely "good shit."

Runner-up: No Man's Sky

Alright, look, I admit No Man's Sky is finally "getting there" after years of failing to deliver on the potential shown during its first trailer. After the better part of four years, the game and Sean Murray are finally itching towards the original promise shown to gamers way back in 2013. That said, go back to the first teaser that debuted during 2013 Game Awards and tell me you don't get chills while watching it! It is still utterly amazing to watch.

Video Game Platypus Of The Decade - Divinity: Dragon Commander

Dragon Commander had romanceable skeleton-people before it was cool!
Dragon Commander had romanceable skeleton-people before it was cool!

Let me explain this award before we continue. First, I stole the idea of this award from my fellow moderator, thatpinguino, who, on occasion, refers to video game oddities as "platypuses." His reasoning? Like the lowly platypus, sometimes when you play a game, you look at it and ask, "Why are you the way you are?" "Who designed you?" "Why is this part here?" And when I look back at the 2010s, I realize no game made me utter those sorts of questions more than Divinity: Dragon Commander, a true video game chimera.

Merely trying to explain Divinity: Dragon Commander's "genre" is a Herculean task. Ostensibly, it's a board game in the style of Risk with a card-based perk system. However, the actual battles you conduct are in real-time, and you command your armies using a human-dragon hybrid. A human-dragon hybrid, mind you, that allows you to play your RTS battles as if they are action set pieces from Drakengard. On top of that, there's a role-playing mechanic that works out like a Japanese dating-sim where all of your "romance options" are different high fantasy races strewn across a political compass. It's without a doubt, a video game peculiarity, that does not entirely tie all of its loose ends together. Despite that, I recommend you check it out if you ever see the game on sale.

Runner-up: Artifact

Before you chime in, I concede there's nothing overtly "odd" about Artifact. However, what makes Artifact especially bizarre is how Valve, with the talent and expertise they recruited to make this game, thoroughly fucked up their go at a digital collectible card game. Shit, even Gwent had a longer go at the CCG market, and that's saying something. What truly baffles me is how quickly this game imploded.

Best Example Of DLC "Done Right" - BioShock 2: Minerva's Den

I might even go so far as to suggest Minerva's Den is the second best thing to bear the Bioshock name.
I might even go so far as to suggest Minerva's Den is the second best thing to bear the Bioshock name.

BioShock 2 is an odd game in hindsight. It was a sequel to a landmark game from studio Irrational Games and creative mastermind, Ken Levine. Bioshock 2, on the other hand, came from 2K Marin, a studio whose only previous credit at the time was porting the original BioShock to the PS3. Nevertheless, this award isn't about my personal feelings about BioShock 2's right to bear its name. In fact, what often gets overlooked is how BioShock 2 gave audiences one of the most compelling templates for DLC, Minerva's Den. Never before have I seen such a perfect video game example of the "Big-fish–little-pond effect," quite like Minerva's Den.

Without a doubt, there are limitations with Minerva's Den, many of which echo thematic and mechanical issues that plague BioShock 2. Just the same, Minerva's Den conceives a small world that feels more organic than anything seen in the game it compliments. Furthermore, learning more about the "Tinker" and the characters vying to control it proved to be more compelling than the major plot beats of BioShock 2. Part of this is due to Minerva's Den's short length, which ensures it progresses at a brisk but pulse-pounding clip. At no point did I ever feel Minerva's Den slacking, and if anything, I almost wish certain parts of it were more in-depth. To me, that's a clear sign something went "right" with its design.

Runner-up: Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss

Originally, I put Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker in this spot. Then I thought of how much more worldbuilding Artorias of the Abyss brings to the table in comparison. Also, "SHE WAS MANUS!" is one of my favorite Vinny moments of the 2010s.

Most Fabulous Prank - Frog Fractions

go under the water
go under the water

Let's be honest with each other for a minute. Can you think of any other game which warrants taking this award? If you are still unconvinced, let me remind you, the late-2010 trend of "games within games" came from Frog Fractions. Games like Soda Drinker Pro and Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015: Do You Still Shower With Your Dad? DO NOT EXIST in a world where Frog Fractions never comes out to the public. On top of that, the actual "conceit" of Frog Factions has not been topped by any of these knockoffs. Personally, I'm still waiting for a game to dupe me as magnificently as Frog Fractions. That moment when I accidentally went into the water on that first level, was magical.

Equally important of note, was the entire video game community waiting with bated breath for the sequel to Frog Fractions. Year after year, Twinbeard Studios and Jim Crawford stomached the same deluge of questions about if and when a sequel was coming out. And while that sequel certainly did not equal the hilarity of the original, the fact they had to go to such great lengths to keep their follow up a secret speaks volumes of Frog Fractions' indelible mark. Furthermore, it took OVER TWO YEARS for the gaming community to fully "solve" the alternate reality game within Frog Fractions 2. Yup, for over two years, people worked non-stop to unlock the "complete" Frog Fractions 2 experience!

Runner-up: Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective

Holy shit, this game is a trip, and the fact it manages to be the most exciting thing ever done with Bubsy should come as no surprise. It's a wild game that ends up in a hilariously dark place only fitting for Bubsy.

Most Dramatic Reboot Of A Waning Franchise Or Series - Doom (2016)

Doom (2016) also wins my
Doom (2016) also wins my "Most Healthy Use of Nostalgia" Award!

I do not hate Doom 3. In fact, I am a proud pro-Doom 3 supporter. While yes, the game's nonsensical story does not mesh well with its unflinching grittiness, the game has incredible production values. Sure, it's far more reliant on "monster closets" than it should, but in terms of being a modern version of Doom as a horror FPS, I think id Software hit it out of the park. Regardless, Doom went quiet as id Software struggled to find itself after its sale to ZeniMax Media in 2009. While some would say the Wolfenstein reboot was a more notable revitalization of a beloved id franchise, Wolfenstein fans at least had Enemy Territory and the oft-forgotten Raven Software reboot to keep themselves occupied. Doom fans, on the other hand, had been champing at the bit for over a decade! Furthermore, the release of Doom 3: BFG Edition infuriated fans and bred the ill-will that made most skeptical of the Doom reboot upon its announcement.

Then the game came out, and all was forgiven. The combat sequences were gory and hypnotic. The Doom Guy felt iconic even though they never spoke. The re-imaging of the Doom enemy standbys put many, in a perpetual state of nostalgic swooning. Doom had never felt so silky smooth, and the game was so much goddamned fun to play. Moreover, the throbbing music was perfectly used and a significant reason why it felt like a Doom game from yesteryear. So satisfied were fans that they happily accepted Doom Eternal's delay so long as it led to a better Doom experience.

Runner-up: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Much like the Doom reboot, many publications, and gamers questioned whether or not Firaxis' attempt to "modernize" UFO: Enemy Unknown would bear fruit. But bear fruit it did! Not only did Firaxis silence its critics with a GOTY contender, but they also turned out an equally impressive sequel. Also, check out the XCOM board game if you haven't already. It's a surprisingly solid game that is as intense as the video game.

Most Consequential Game Release - Minecraft

And if you all will permit me to hand out double awards, then Minecraft gets my
And if you all will permit me to hand out double awards, then Minecraft gets my "Most Underrated Soundtrack" superlative.

While my original pick for this award was not Minecraft, after thinking about it for a moment, no one game changed the landscape of the video game industry as much and for as long as Minecraft. While Minecraft did not in and of itself "invent" a genre, it did buck numerous trends at the time. With most AAA studios pumping millions of dollars into sleek graphics engines and production values, Minecraft was supporting millions of concurrent players in a voxel-based world. As others put a growing emphasis on scripted action set pieces, Minecraft had no significant events to speak of for years. And when the industry debated how to structure missions in open-world environments, Minecraft shrugged that away and welcomed its players to build at their own pace.

Minecraft has continued to maintain its audience as other online-oriented games struggle to reinvent themselves. Minecraft was also ahead of its time in a lot of ways. Before Star Citizen became a joke within the industry, Minecraft was the first game to toy around with the idea of a "soft launch." The game was in "beta" for ages, and no one cared! On top of that, Minecraft changed the direction the industry was heading when it came to online multiplayer. Lest we forget, many video game companies were thinking about shit-canning private servers entirely, and Minecraft stopped that trend in its tracks.

Runner-up: Star Wars Battlefront II

Full disclosure, after its rough launch, Star Wars Battlefront II has shaped up into a decent online multiplayer shooter. What cannot be forgotten is how its loot box controversy inspired global regulations and laws. As we enter the 2020s, the debate on whether or not loot boxes qualify as a form of gambling remains unresolved, and I can only imagine that battleline will continue to draw the ire of both sides of the debate.

Game That Most Benefitted From The Age Of Streaming - Five Nights at Freddy's

Every one of you knows of at least ONE Twitch or YouTube streamer who became famous thanks to this game. Don't you fucking lie to me!
Every one of you knows of at least ONE Twitch or YouTube streamer who became famous thanks to this game. Don't you fucking lie to me!

Here's another game pick I can only imagine I'm going to have to defend. Certainly, Fortnite, PUBG, Minecraft, and Roblox are objectively better games than Five Nights at Freddy's. However, games that are the best or most entertaining to watch are not what I'm looking for with this award. This award is for the game that most benefitted from live streaming and likely would not have become a cultural landmark without its existence. Games like Fortnite, PUBG, or Minecraft would have been talking points within the gaming community regardless if internet ner do wells were spewing homophobic language or racial slurs while playing them in real-time.

Alternatively, Five Nights at Freddy's does not become a multi-media sensation without viral YouTube videos or Twitch streams. Some might go so far as to suggest that's how the game was designed. In fact, without video streaming, I doubt Five Nights at Freddy's would even exist. And if it did, it would be in such a reduced capacity that the odds of it signing a movie or television deal would be negligible. Don't lie to me when I ask you this question, but how many of your little brothers, sisters, or cousins know a thing or two about Five Nights at Freddy's thanks to Twitch?

Runner-up: Any Battle Royale Game

And we now have the one "cop-out" pick on this blog. I simply could not pick any particular Battle Royale game as the one that benefitted the most from live-streaming. They all do, and as we watch more of these games try to jokey for a slice of the live-streaming pie, I think we can all agree this is not a trend that will be stopping anytime soon.

Single Worst Story Arc - The Junk Yard Shit In Death Stranding

WHAT THE FUCK EVEN WAS THIS STORY ARC?! WHO MADE THESE NIGHTMARE PEOPLE?!
WHAT THE FUCK EVEN WAS THIS STORY ARC?! WHO MADE THESE NIGHTMARE PEOPLE?!

Holy shit, where do I even begin? Never before have I been so thoroughly gobsmacked by a single storyline quite like my time at the Junk Yard in Death Stranding. And with most of the game's critics focusing on Death Stranding's mechanical frustrations and narrative failures, I think the awfulness of this one storyline gets lost in the mix. It is fucking AWFUL! What's worse, every minute you spend with the characters involved in this storyline feels like a fucking eternity. Each time I furthered the story, I wanted to be done with it. The characters are all monsters pulled from a fever dream. I hated it, and I'm glad I never have to go through with it again.

This story arc is a special moment where I seriously wondered how a grown adult convinced themselves they were good at their job. Look, I get it. Kojima burning millions of dollars to fart in front of a camera might interest some people on the internet. No matter, the Junk Yard storyline is so atrocious; you cannot even approach it as a weird Kojima "pet project." I honestly think the man thought he was writing a tender reunion story and did not realize he missed the mark by a fucking mile. If you want to spend hours with your hands on your cheeks as if you are a character from an Edvard Munch painting, then, by all means, have at it.

Runner-up: Chocolina In Final Fantasy XIII-2 & Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Of my many awards this week, this one feels like the most lopsided. Death Stranding was winning this award, and it wasn't even a contest. That said, points to Final Fantasy XIII-2 for trying. Discovering what was up with the Chocobo-human hybrid merchant was FUCKING WILD!

Best Game You Can No Longer Play - P.T./Silent Hills

Also BY FAR the biggest
Also BY FAR the biggest "What Could Have Been Moment" of the 2010s.

After excoriating Kojima for Death Stranding, you might suspect I think the man is without creative merit. However, the truth is I respect his gall and artistic ambition on a conceptual level. Likewise, one of his earlier projects in the decade, P.T., is one of my personal favorites. The fact I'll never get to experience the original demo, let alone a fully realized version of the thing, is a continual disappointment. Now, I have been on record before that I think P.T. fails to be a schema to a coherent outline. Additionally, I found the mid to late-game puzzles to be overly obtuse and downright frustrating. Scavenging poorly lit rooms, one after another, for crumpled up picture pieces is the most obvious example of this complaint.

Nonetheless, the game's atmosphere was top-notch, and there's no denying the game also had the best jump scares of the decade! Even for moderate Kojima skeptics like myself, it was interesting to watch the man create a video game experience defined by restraint. Unlike the utter nonsense of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, P.T. didn't immediately show its goods, and instead, got a lot of mileage out of its minimalistic setting. On top of that, while the demo itself was short, when it did deliver traditional horror tropes, it did so in impeccable fashion. Again, discussing "delayed gratification" regarding a Kojima game almost seems bizarre. Which is why I think it's a complete bummer this game did not go further than it did. You got a sense that the creative team and partners Kojima was working with were helping him turn his ambitious ideas into something feasible.

Runner-up: Velvet Sundown

Velvet Sundown is a Frankenstein's Monster of a video game. It blends the conceit of a hidden role game with a dubious text-to-speech algorithm. In many ways, it was barely a game, and yet, also one of the most enthralling video game experiences of 2014. Regrettably, the developer, Tribe Studios, was bought out, and its new owner ceased paying for the license to use the text-to-speech software. As such, any attempts to play Velvet Sundown today result in a big fat goose egg.

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"Surviving" Final Fantasy II - Part 2: This Is The MOST CURSED Video Game Square Has Ever Made!

Author's Note: If you missed the previous episode, here's the link: "Surviving" Final Fantasy II - Part 1: The Kall Of Kawazu & Is This The Worst Final Fantasy Game Ever Made?

Part 11: You Never Know What The Fuck This Game Wants You To Do!

My friend, I am already in Hell!
My friend, I am already in Hell!

On the previous blog, I mentioned how I found the structure of Final Fantasy II to be "quaint." Now that I've played at least forty hours of the damn thing, I have no idea what I was thinking. Sure, connecting terms to items or characters reinforces the game's expectations of the player. Moreover, the game's flavor text injects some much-needed worldbuilding during its early phases. The unfortunate issue here stems from Final Fantasy II's lack of a mission log. Because vocabulary words and items stick with you from start to finish, it's incredibly easy to lose track of what magical trinket the game wants you to fetch. Furthermore, when you hit these inexplicable roadblocks, the game becomes an exercise of frustration.

Additionally, Final Fantasy II does a HORRIBLE job of properly pacing its dialogue system. Take, for example, your party's initial trip to Castle Diest, where they attempt to raise a baby dragon. While there, you'll need to transmit TWO proper nouns to their corresponding recipients AND collect THREE story essential items! To make matters worse, each of these trinkets is locked away in normal-ass looking treasure chests strewn about in serpentine dungeons. And as I mentioned in the previous episode, a slew of these treasure chests contain unannounced boss battles, which are profoundly harder than any of the mainline boss battles in the actual goddamn story. Think I'm fucking joking? When you attempt to destroy the Empire's dreadnought during chapter five, there's a random treasure chest that contains an "ice shield." Once you open the chest, the game forces you into an encounter against one to four giants, which are BEYOND FUCK if you are unprepared for them.

Trust me, I would know.
Trust me, I would know.

And this point returns us to the problem of never knowing what you need to do in Final Fantasy II. To illustrate, let's return to the matter of the Empire's dreadnought. After you finish your business in Kashuan Keep, there's a quick cutscene wherein you witness a massive airship raining destruction on the world. It's a lovely scene in terms of storytelling, as, should you revisit several of the game's previous environments, you'll find them in ruins. Talking to the remaining NPCs reveals a massive airship has been harassing cities not under the control of the Emperor. What is immediately frustrating is figuring out where the fuck this airship can be found. Most of the NPCs are useless and won't even direct you to a reliable source of information. Ultimately, when you harass someone with an idea of where this dreadnought is, they bluntly state "northwest of Fynn." Which, might I add, is USELESS information given the world of Final Fantasy II is a giant goddamn void of nothingness.

Even when you do manage to plop yourself in the correct location, that doesn't mean you'll immediately know what you need to do. Some of the game's worst levels leave you entirely in the dark as to how to progress the story. The worst example of this headache is when the game asks you to locate invisible walls in dungeons. For instance, during the game's midpoint, you spend a significant amount of time at Castle Fynn trying to discover its legendary treasure trove. The reason you need to do any of this nonsense is that you need to track down two masks, which will unlock the "Ultima Tome." It sounds like such a simple task, AND YET, the game manages to tack on four to five extra steps that make you want to question your human existence.

Do not worry my child, I will talk about Final Fantasy II's Ultima spell shortly.
Do not worry my child, I will talk about Final Fantasy II's Ultima spell shortly.

In this case, you start by asking Hilda about what she wants your adventurers to accomplish. She mentions in passing Minwu has not returned from his mission to Mysidia. When you inquire about Mysidia, she uses the term "Ekmet Teloess" on two occasions. Notwithstanding, when you prompt her for further details, she replies she knows nothing about what the word means. When you turn to Gordon, he weaves a tale about the "Ultima Tome," and also has NO IDEA where you need to go next. Nevertheless, you now need to juggle TWO proper nouns as you attempt to track down unmarked story-related NPCs! Eventually, you find out there's a false wall in the throne room of Fynn Castle. This magical wall of pure enlightenment is also unmarked and looks like any other wall texture you see in the level. Nonetheless, someone at Square thought it would be "fun" to force the player to run up and attempt to interact with every inch of a five-story tall castle.

Part 12: The Overworld Fucking Sucks!

To further add to my ordeal, Final Fantasy II's overworld is one of the worst in franchise history. The game's setting is MASSIVE, and only about ten percent of its floor plan is useful to the player. I'm not joking when I say one-third of the game's map is entirely unnavigable! Explorable locations and dungeons are miles apart from each other and usually tucked behind confusing and often disorienting environmental textures. Eventually, you'll gain access to an airship. However, dozens of towns and caves require you to park the airship MILES AWAY on random strips of grassland! Undoubtedly, this presents a problem as the game's encounter rate is insanely high!

It is always
It is always "fun" when an army of ghouls is scarier than any of the bosses in a game!

If you thought the random encounters in Final Fantasy I were oppressive, then you are up for a rude awakening in Final Fantasy II! In some environments, you'll often take three to four steps in-between battles. And I cannot preface enough how annoying it is to deal with these battles given the other limitations Final Fantasy II throws in your direction. First, given how THOROUGHLY FUCKED the inventory system is in this game, stocking up on Phoenix Downs or Potions isn't an option. Because ITEMS DO NOT STACK, you cannot "prep" for dungeons or random encounters like you would in any other RPG. Second, because your fourth character is a rotating party member, there are entire swaths where you play this game a "man down." Despite that, the game does not modify its encounter rate accordingly.

Conversely, much like Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy II has a "hidden" map you can access when navigating the overworld. Sadly, that's all the game gives you. What's worse, knowing the location of the next set piece can often be a red herring. The reason being, if you forget to collect essential items or use critical terms with the appropriate NPC, you can hit a roadblock halfway into a dungeon. Trust me; this issue happened to me on THREE OCCASIONS! To my defense, the game doesn't provide a handy reference guide or checklist to consult as you aimlessly wander its wastelands. Fuck, even a dictionary for the key terms, would have been a godsend. Lastly, because the game often separates each of its set pieces with hours of mindless grinding, it's incredibly easy to lose track of what you are trying to fetch.

I just... I just can't even. WHO THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA?!
I just... I just can't even. WHO THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA?!

Alright, I want all of you to spend some time looking at the picture above. The game EXPECTS YOU to travel from Point A to Point B, six or seven times. I'm not joking. Now, I want you to look at how fucking spread out every point is on this map. Notice how maliciously the designers place the mountain tiles to maximize your journey during this specific sequence. It's fucking ridiculous! Of those four points, only TWO allow you to heal without the use of potions or magic. Should you need to punch out of the Kashuan Keep, which is Point B, you need to swing around miles upon miles of swamp and forest. Why? Because the design team made it their mission not to give you a straight vector to the nearest town!

Sooner or later, you'll encounter the first Chocobo in Final Fantasy history. This creature, as you'd expect, is adorable and provides a quick way to travel between the two points in the image above. Mercifully, using this Chocobo protects you from random encounters. Unfortunately, this is the only time when the game provides you a form of "fast travel." Yes, you read that right, Final Fantasy II's fast travel system is a one-time deal! THE DESIGNERS HAD A SOLUTION TO NAVIGATING THEIR GAME'S TERRIBLE OVERWORLD, AND THEY USED IT ONCE! By the way, the musical loop that plays when you ride the Chocobo is fucking dreadful!

Part 13: Have I Mentioned This Game Plays LIKE TRASH?!

In the previous episode, I mentioned how bugs and glitches plague the original release of Final Fantasy II. Some of these glitches, like the "Target-Cancel Glitch," allow the player to circumnavigate the game's traditional leveling system by spamming the same moves. Other glitches, such as the "Dispel" command not working, make specific battles harder than they have any right to be. Still, there are several nastier issues with the game worth addressing. For example, the central two characters are, for whatever reason, programmed to be attacked more often than the other two characters. This issue is especially problematic as the game places your dedicated Black Mage in one of the middle slots. And before you ask, no, you cannot change the position of your characters.

It is always fun when this game gives you a new character with half the health of the rest of your party!
It is always fun when this game gives you a new character with half the health of the rest of your party!

More importantly, there's an overflow glitch with several critical character stats. Evasion, HP, and MP all can overflow to 0 if you level them beyond Final Fantasy II's intended caps. In a game were power-leveling is a necessity and every conceivable part of the game encourages you to do it, these glitches are downright unacceptable. Doubly so when you consider specific pieces of equipment can buff your character's stats beyond those caps. For example, when I equipped Firion with an evasion boosting shield, I noticed he was getting annihilated in every random encounter in the game. It wasn't until much later when I realized the item in question bumped his evasion beyond 99% and looped him back to 2%. I was at the penultimate level in the game when this happened.

But let's say you don't mind any of these issues and consider them "par for the course" when playing a 1980s JRPG. Fair point, but when you compound the fact the game is arbitrarily long WITH whole swaths of it not functioning as designed, it is a miserable time even when given the benefit of the doubt. As a case study, let's return to your time at Castle Diest. Down below, I'll provide a map of the location below so you can get your bearings straight. At this point of the game, you move from the city of Bafsk (Point A) to Castle Diest (Point B), and finally to the Wyvern Cavern (Point C). The issue here is the only inn where you can heal your characters is at Bafsk. Even if punch out of the Wyvern Cavern successfully, you have to drag your ass FOR MILES just for healing! Furthermore, you keep doing this because several of the healing spells don't work in combat! Moreover, if you use them out of battle, you'll level the spells up without boosting your MP pool, which is a HUGE issue!

You've got to be fucking kidding me! FUCK THIS GAME!!!
You've got to be fucking kidding me! FUCK THIS GAME!!!

Don't forget, while all of these mechanics are combusting in front of your face, the game's random encounters pop off every three to four steps. On top of that, when you reach the portion of the game where trash mobs start inflicting status effects, you'll very often find your characters stun locked into oblivion. I'm not joking when I say Final Fantasy II has some of the WORST gameplay death spirals I have ever seen in my life. Much like its predecessor, status effects like "Paralyze" and "Stone" cause your character to miss their turns. Where things become a pain in the ass is Final Fantasy II's leveling system. Unless you've been power-leveling each character's suite of white magic spells, low-level restorative abilities miss more than half the time. On top of that, the late-game guest characters arrive with next to no skills.

Part 14: The Gameplay And Progression System Is FUCKING CURSED!

Which leads me to a critical point I glossed over previously. If you play Final Fantasy II like a conventional role-playing game, then you are going to have a bad time. That is why I must advise those who wish to play this game to do so with a guide. The issue here is while Final Fantasy II borrows the iconography of its predecessor, it does JACK SHIT to remind you it plays nothing like it. Worse, if you play this game as you did in Final Fantasy I, it's possible you'll have nothing to show for it, and instead, be stuck with unplayable characters.

I want to point out, I ended up getting a Hi-Potion from this treasure chest!
I want to point out, I ended up getting a Hi-Potion from this treasure chest!

Case in point, remember selecting your jobs in Final Fantasy I? Remember how fun it was getting your advanced classes? Do you recall how cool it was to see your characters don shiny new sets of robes and armor? Yeah, Final Fantasy II doesn't have moments like those. Generally speaking, while the game expects you to discern whatever utility you want out of your characters, it provides none of the tools in-game to make that happen. As if that weren't enough, different attributes have an inverse relationship with one another. For example, let's say you want to make Guy into a Paladin. Good luck with that because if you try to level up his physically-focused attributes, they atrophy his magic-focused ones.

On top of all of these issues, Final Fantasy II is dishonest to its players. It throws Byzantine algorithms at them, but at no point does it ever communicate an intended end goal. How does the game want you to approach each of its main characters? You have no idea, but luckily there isn't a "canonical" way to interact with them. Part of that is due to the game being broken by the last three to four levels. As long as you stick with the game for thirty plus hours, it's not a matter of "if" you'll finish the game, but when. But before that happens, you're stuck feeling like you are fathoms away from "turning the corner." What I mean by that is, typically, when you play a role-playing game, there comes a moment when you feel like your characters have finally turned a corner and are ready to handle anything that faces them. Because there are no levels, you go HOURS UPON HOURS of never having positive feedback that your choices are making a difference! And in a role-playing game, that is unconscionable.

Talk is cheap, but no one bothered to tell the makers of this game that tidbit of knowledge.
Talk is cheap, but no one bothered to tell the makers of this game that tidbit of knowledge.

Part of this issue stems from Final Fantasy II's leveling system, wherein every spell and weapon can take literal HOURS before it becomes a practical tool in battle. While admittedly novel, this system defeats the whole appeal of role-playing games. Part of the reason why I find role-playing games appealing is that after I assume a role in the game, my hard work is rewarded with new toys and trinkets that make playing the game more fun. In Final Fantasy II, that NEVER HAPPENS! When the game does bother to give you a new weapon or spell, it's USELESS until you spend hours using it.

And before you ask, selling items is pointless because the in-game economy is broken within the story's second act. While you spend most of the first handful of hours strapped for cash, by the time you finish the third dungeon, you have nothing to spend your money on because there's NO POINT in buying new equipment or spells. You don't want to deck your characters with heavy armor because then they won't take damage, and if they don't take damage, you'll never level up their HP. Because all magic misses until it reaches levels seven to eight, there's no point in buying every spell in the game. As a result, the characters feel incredibly static as they do not change.

Part 15: The Mission Structure Is FUCKING CURSED!

Seriously needing to find invisible walls as a mechanic is such a bizarre design choice.
Seriously needing to find invisible walls as a mechanic is such a bizarre design choice.

We now need to have a long discussion about Final Fantasy II's mission structure. It's bad. It's so bad; I had to stop playing the game for a week because I thought I was getting anxiety while playing it. The first issue here is, again, the lack of traditional levels. As a consequence, it's next to impossible to know in-game if your characters are ready to progress to the following location. Unless you enjoy entering new environments and getting wasted, you are better off spending two to three hours grinding between each of the game's dungeons.

Speaking of the grinding, it fucking sucks. Yes, the battles pop off all the time, but even then, they play out at a snail's pace, and worse, there's never a guarantee you'll have something to show for your time. Because your characters' attributes level up depending on dozens of independent random number generators, it is challenging to keep all of your characters on the same page. This issue means you'll often be micromanaging your party more than you'd like even during the most straightforward battles. For me, by the game's final level, Guy had an absurd amount of health, whereas Maria always had issues with staying alive. In the case of Maria, I dropped her health to below 50% during the final level TWENTY FUCKING TIMES, and her HP only increased on FIVE occasions! How do you figure that one out?

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5
AND HAVE I MENTIONED THE LEVEL DESIGN IS AWFUL?!

In essence, I'm incredibly grateful the Final Fantasy franchise moved away from its dungeon crawler roots. The concern I have here is the same problem I had with Final Fantasy I. Every dungeon plays out the same, and the only thing differentiating each level is the enemies, which get harder and stronger as you progress. Part of the reason why this series will only be two episodes is that there's next to no storytelling to close read. Every time you enter a new set piece, you have to interact with a random assortment of NPCs, and eventually, one will direct you to where you need to go. Often, before you get to that location, you have to pick up some item or trinket to either open a door or navigate an impasse. After reaching your destination, the level culminates in a dungeon that is way too long and filled to the brim with party killing goons.

As a quick case study, let's return to the mission structure at Castle Deist. First, you need to board a ship and plot a course to a far off-island. Once there, you need to talk to the castle's citizens and discover you need to deliver a Wyvern egg to a magical babbling brook. However, before you can even consider doing that, you need to go to a cave and pick up a pendant. That pendant's sole purpose is opening the door to an invisible goddamned wall in the middle of an upcoming dungeon. After you pick up that pendant, you need to survive FIVE GODDAMN LEVELS of pure dungeon-based Hell! Finally, as you make your way to the brook, between one to four Chimeras confront you! You heard that right; some boss fights have their difficulty determined by PURE RNG! THIS VIDEO GAME IS FUCKING CURSED!

Luckily for me, the RNG goddess was merciful and only spawned one during my initial encounter.
Luckily for me, the RNG goddess was merciful and only spawned one during my initial encounter.

What's a damn shame is that Final Fantasy II's balls hard difficulty and broken ass gameplay hurt any sense of exploration you might have when playing it. Unlike any Final Fantasy game that comes after it, there's no real reason to explore Final Fantasy II's dungeons. Treasure chests often are traps, and as I reviewed last time, the optional routes usually spawn you in monster closets that can easily wipe out your party. Even when you reach cleverly designed levels like the Leviathan or Mysidia Tower, your first reaction is to get the fuck out of the level. Finally, as I suggested earlier, there comes a time when your party out-classes the game's bosses. When that happens, you're better off running away from encounters because the only thing impeding your progress is the atrocious level design.

Part 16: The Inventory System Is (STILL) FUCKING CURSED!

Remember how I said you have nothing to spend your Gil on in this game? Part of the reason for that is due to your limited number of inventory slots. For those who may have missed this rant from the previous episode, Final Fantasy II provides you with thirty-two inventory slots as the thirty-third slot is a "Delete Item" command that couldn't possibly have existed elsewhere. The issue with this number is that the game forces you to retain story items in those slots in perpetuity. For example, during the third dungeon, you need to use an ice sled to reach a specific story-related location. Once you finish this mission, this ice sled is useless but stays in your inventory nonetheless. In any event, here's a picture of my inventory right before the last boss battle.

What a clusterfuck of an inventory system.
What a clusterfuck of an inventory system.

At the mid-point of the game, the story starts dolling out these story critical items at a breakneck speed. Somewhat humorously, you even use these items during the story, and yet, they stay in your inventory regardless. Case in point, when you reach Mysidia, there is a statue where you place a White Mask on its face. However, even though you see THE ACTUAL MASK ON THE STATUE, that White Mask STAYS IN YOUR FUCKING INVENTORY! There's another scene when a magical rod breaks apart into dust but said magical rod is still there sucking up a goddamn inventory slot! A baby Wyvern that becomes redundant after you get an airship? IT STAYS WITH YOU FOR LIFE!

As if that weren't bad enough, items don't stack, meaning if you buy five Phoenix Downs, each of those items takes up separate slots in your inventory. So, the standard approach of stocking up on Hi-Potions and Ethers before adventuring into a dungeon does not fly in Final Fantasy II. On top of that, as I mentioned last time, the "Item" command in this game does not behave as it should. Each character can carry two items on their person into a battle. This frees up some space in your general inventory. However, it also leads to one significant headache throughout the game. When you want to use an item, you are limited to the items you equipped before going into a battle. That is to say; the item command does NOT open up a general list of everything you own.

What am I even looking at right now?
What am I even looking at right now?

Be that as it may, this feature does introduce you to an essential component in Final Fantasy II. Similar to Final Fantasy I, there are several items and weapons that can be equipped to cast spells ad infinitum. Using an object to cast "Heal-5" or "Fira-3" does not deplete your character's MP pool. Correspondingly, these tools allow you to play around with Final Fantasy II's basic notion of multi-classing. Unfortunately, there are two massive limitations to this feature. First, the game does a terrible job of explaining which items or weapons do what. It's not like every piece of equipment has a "tell" or naming convention that clues you into what they can do.

Second, and this issue is the real kicker, because of how Final Fantasy II is designed, it's next to impossible to retain items that are useful to you. To highlight, let's say you find a magical set of gloves that allow you to cast a powerful fire spell. By the time you start a dungeon or are about to jump into a boss battle, you are going to need to unequip those gloves to make way for restorative potions, ethers, or Pheonix Downs. On top of that, because the game hits you with a total of THIRTEEN STORY ITEMS, you'll be lucky if you even have an open slot to save those gloves! In my case, after finding a useful trinket, I sold it because I didn't have space to keep it long-term!

THE ACTUAL GAME SAYS YOU THROW THE TORCH INTO AN EXPLODING ENGINE! AND YET, YOU CARRY THIS FUCKING THING UNTIL THE END!
THE ACTUAL GAME SAYS YOU THROW THE TORCH INTO AN EXPLODING ENGINE! AND YET, YOU CARRY THIS FUCKING THING UNTIL THE END!

Part 17: The Dungeons Are FUCKING CURSED!

At this point, I think I have made it abundantly clear playing Final Fantasy II is no fun. Dozens of its mechanics do not behave as intended, and overall it feels more like a job than an actual video game. It is with these two concessions that we need to talk about the game's dungeon design. For lack of a better word, it's terrible. I've already shared a good deal of screen captures showing the game's level design, and I hope you've come to realize everything in this game is too goddamn long for its own good. The fact the game's random encounter rate is oppressively high doesn't help either.

Nonetheless, each dungeon goes an extra step to make your experience ten times worse. You may recall, during the last episode, I reviewed Final Fantasy II's use of "monster closets." For those who may have missed that, each dungeon has upwards of twenty doors, and only one is needed to progress to the next level. Should you enter the incorrect entryway, the game teleports you to the middle of a room where it subjects you to a boss battle every step you take inside the room. Before you ask, it's not fun, and a total dick move as there is nothing in the game to distinguish which door is the "correct" one. As I have said before, it's something one can only solve through the use of a guide, and that is game design malfeasance.

Don't think I have forgotten about these fucking monster closets!
Don't think I have forgotten about these fucking monster closets!

Those monster closets, however, highlight something that defines the entirety of Final Fantasy II: it's fucking cheap. Obviously, when I say the word "cheap," I do not mean the game's production values are in the toilet or that it cuts corners. No, when I say Final Fantasy II is "fucking cheap," I mean the game programs its difficulty swings in the most bogus and pitiful manner. Do you want to open treasure chests that contain fresh new items for your characters? Whelp, half of them unleash entirely unearned boss encounters. Are you teaching your black mage a potent negative status effect? Just be aware, all of the late-game bosses are immune to useful negative statuses. Are you grinding away to make your characters stronger? Have fun with that, because the monsters in the final two dungeons do percentage damage rather than variable damage.

The worst example of all this nonsense coming to a head has to be the final "boss rush." Admittedly, boss rushes are a tried and true tradition in the Final Fantasy franchise. Nonetheless, Final Fantasy II's interpretation of the trope is especially heinous in several regards. For one thing, the game flat out destroys every town in the game during the final act and forces you to rely on one rinky-dink motel for the last three levels. Second, the boss rush in this game comprises of two distinct levels and EIGHT bosses! The first level, the Jade Passage, alone is six levels long and features three ten-minute long boss battles! It alone would be enough of a capstone to end this video game! Unfortunately, there's another level, and it is ten levels long and features five bosses! Speaking of which, the final level, Pandaemonium, is the game's point of no return. As such, if you initiate it while your characters are low on HP or MP, then you are shit out of luck.

Quick piece of advice for any would be game designers out there. Don't make your levels monochromatic if you are using pixel art.
Quick piece of advice for any would be game designers out there. Don't make your levels monochromatic if you are using pixel art.

And remember when I said most of the late-game bosses are immune to a majority of your status effects and magical spells? Despite that fact, the final two levels have trash mobs which the designers saw fit to inflict every practical status effect in the game! One of those enemy-types, the Coeurl, attempts to inflict "Paralysis" on your ENTIRE PARTY upon its opening attack! Similarly, an especially fucked up enemy encounter is the "Death Rider." This fuckface, for whatever reason, can break the game's damage limit, instakilling a character no matter what. THEY FUCKING MADE A RANDOM ENCOUNTER DO MORE THAN MAX DAMAGE!

THE GAME WILL EVEN PIT YOU UP AGAINST THREE OF THEM AT A TIME!
THE GAME WILL EVEN PIT YOU UP AGAINST THREE OF THEM AT A TIME!

Part 18: The Story Tries, But Not Enough

Admittedly, Final Fantasy II compares favorably to its predecessor in a handful of regards. In terms of worldbuilding and characterization, it's leaps and bounds better than Final Fantasy I. While its overriding story arc of an evil Emperor hell-bent on taking over the world is a "nothing burger," it has an assortment of more than decent character moments. The guest character system, for example, allows the game to lend a sense of "diversity" to its world. The best instance of this is Ricard, one of the last members of the "dragoon" society.

As you eventually discover, the Emperor, viewing the dragoons as a threat, massacred their population by poisoning their only source of water. All that remains of their once-mighty society is a young boy and his mother. Should you return to Castle Deist, with Ricard in tow, he promises to marry the mother and raise her child as his own "flesh and blood." Unfortunately, when you encounter the resurrected Emperor, Ricard sacrifices himself to save your party. When you break the news to the family at Castle Deist, they thank you and leave the tower stating, "this place has too many sad memories for us to stay here."

"Too little, too late" is the best way I can describe this game's story.

There's another fun location that allows you to learn more about the world surrounding Final Fantasy II. In the town of Mysidia, you'll encounter a building that serves as the world's library. Upon consulting a random bookshelf, you can inquire about each of the "key terms" you have learned throughout the game. Typically, these key terms are learned from one NPC and applied to another to initiate a new quest. Though, when you use these words to the bookshelf, the game weaves long tales and legends about the mythos encompassing the land of Final Fantasy II. In a lot of ways, these short stories reminded me of Lost Odyssey, as they featured some of the best writing in the game. On the flip side, this library is entirely optional and missable if you do not consult a guide.

Not doubling down on novel and decent ideas is a bit of a recurring theme in Final Fantasy II. To highlight, the game features some interesting early attempts at cinematic cutscenes. To demonstrate, upon destroying the Emperor's dreadnought, the game provides a highly cinematic and enthralling epilogue as you watch your party frantically navigate the exploding airship. Similarly, the game attempts to use its environments to reinforce its story. As an illustration, when you reach the final act, you discover the world in ruins as the evil Emperor returns from the literal depths of Hell. In this case, prior locations in the game are unnavigable, and when you attempt to enter specific towns, nothing happens.

The fact you can entirely miss this one bookshelf is pure insanity.
The fact you can entirely miss this one bookshelf is pure insanity.

Unfortunately, none of this narrative scaffolding signifies anything significant in Final Fantasy II. The most regretable of these missed opportunities is its character work. Here, the guest characters each have a handful of compelling set pieces, and the game does little with these vignettes. Three of these characters die during the game. These moments are each interesting in isolation of one another, but fail to establish the game's tone or mood beyond a scant few minutes. For example, after Minwu sacrifices himself at the Tower of Mysidia, the game promptly graces you with a giddy dance sequence. Much like the mechanics, Final Fantasy II's narrative is a mess of good and bad ideas and, at no point, comes together to form anything cohesive. It is, if anything, an aberration. Its characters are formless, but each has a current which impacts the course they take. Nonetheless, their choices are all zero-sum games in a mostly zero-sum experience best left forgotten.

What is even more bizarre is the game's antagonist, the Emperor. Credit where credit is due, Final Fantasy II does not have a moronic final boss, which arbitrarily pulls the rug from underneath you. Though, much like Garland, the Emperor dies prematurely and in Final Fantasy II's case, during the game's middle act. That might sound interesting on paper, but the Emperor is barely a character, and in a franchise where the villains are almost as iconic the heroes, that's a bummer. Likewise, the return of the Emperor undercuts an interesting side-plot wherein you discover a recurring villain was Maria's long-lost brother. Even when the game has something going in its favor, it has no idea how to take advantage of that potential.

Part 19: The Ultima Spell Is Completely CURSED!

Does he know the spell is fucking useless because of bad game design?
Does he know the spell is fucking useless because of bad game design?

As it stands, there may be a small percentage of you who wish to counter my title. A handful of you might still have nightmares from playing The Bouncer, Kingdom Hearts, or possibly even Chrono Cross. And as you furiously type away your angry replies, I sit here waiting to play my "trump card." Oh, my dear sweet summer child, you are not prepared for what I am about to unleash upon you. My cute sweet summer babe, you are about to get put in your place.

First, Final Fantasy II might well be the worst end-game experience I have ever had in my life. With the mechanics in constant conflict with one another on top of the game becoming tough as balls, I honestly questioned if I would be able to finish it. No matter, as we will review in the next chapter, I ended up finding a way to accomplish what I had initially declared "impossible." Even so, the game tried its damndest to impede me. For those curious, the game's final act is around the time I had two characters "overflow" their evasion stat, and, as a result, were entirely incapable of dodging even a brick wall. Likewise, several other nasty glitches reared their ugly heads.

I do appreciate the in-game lore basically saying hundreds of people have been suckered into trying to find the Ultima Tome and failed horribly.
I do appreciate the in-game lore basically saying hundreds of people have been suckered into trying to find the Ultima Tome and failed horribly.

Notably, you can dual-wield weapons in Final Fantasy II, but there's no point. Due to a glitch in the NES version, even though the game animates the second weapon, the game only calculates damage based on the first. The issue here is that many of the late-game weapons have active and passive buffs, which you will not get credit for unless they are your character's primary option. And even when the game behaves as intended, it is thoroughly shitty. Take, for example, what happens when you reach the top of Mysidia Tower. When you reach the final floor, there are a handful of orbs that will randomly boost the stats of one of your characters. However, which characters get these stat boosts is entirely up to RNG! In my case, my Black Mage got +10 strength, my Knight got the intelligence boost, and NO ONE got a spirit boost because that particular orb is broken and will occasionally give you JACK SHIT!

Be that as it may, nothing highlights how cursed Final Fantasy II is quite like the "Ultima Tome." Before you even pick up the tome and teach the spell to one of your characters, the game bills it as a supernatural ability that will bring the Emperor to his knees. Nevertheless, when you try to use the move, it does a paltry amount of damage. Part of this is due to the spell behaving unlike any ability in the game. In theory, Ultima's damage relies on the number of spells the caster knows and their level. If your magic caster has a dozen spells at max level, it performs an impressive 500 points of damage. On the other hand, if you've relied on physical attacks, then Ultima is practically useless.

Yet again, I have to warn all of you to avoid the DemiForce translation like the Black Plague!
Yet again, I have to warn all of you to avoid the DemiForce translation like the Black Plague!

Therefore, feeling as if the game had called me to action, I spent four hours maxing out my magic. And you know what? I feel like I was lied to by Final Fantasy II! 500 damage might sound impressive, but there are other ways to inflict double that amount. As it turns out, this was entirely intentional by the development team. That's right, spending hours trying to make a spell useful in combat, only to discover it was useless, is something Akitoshi Kawazu wanted me to experience. And before any of you counter that I'm making this shit up, here's what Hironobu Sakaguchi had to say about Final Fantasy II:

When Square tested the game and saw the bug, Sakaguchi asked for it to be fixed, but the person who programmed it replied that legendary stuff that dates back to an age before "proper techniques" would look inferior from present's point-of-view, explaining Ultima's weakness. He reasoned that the struggle to acquire it only to discover it's useless mirrors real life, and thus he was not going to fix the bug. Sakaguchi was irritated by the reply and tried to fix it himself, but the programmer had ciphered the source and Ultima was left the way it was.

Part 20: The Late-Game Is BROKEN!

With all of this grousing in mind, you might think the last level of Final Fantasy II is impossibly hard. Still, you might be surprised to know that the opposite is true. For one thing, your ability to flee from random encounters is based on the highest evasion stat in your party. Unless you fucked up each of your characters, you should be able to run away from practically everything in the game. Furthermore, when you do decide to fight enemies in the final level, you'll discover they drop the best items in the game. In one instance, I beat two Death Knights and picked up two sets of "Ribbons." As a result, my party was entirely immune to status effects by the time I reached the final boss.

Hey asshole,
Hey asshole, "Somewhere near Kashuon" isn't exactly helpful!

There are also a handful of game-breaking weapons and abilities. The first of these is the "Ripper" dagger. This knife provides a base of 69 damage with an accuracy rating of 75%. That notwithstanding, what makes it especially broken is how it inflicts an additional 20 points of damage per hit. Another impressive ability is the "Osmose" spell, which completely breaks the game's magic system. With this spell, the caster can transfer MP from one or all enemies to themselves. At the end of the game, swapping a character with MP in the single digits to an enemy can ruin entire boss battles. Additionally, using the spell to bring your character to critical MP makes leveling up your magic points a breeze as the game counts that as bringing your characters to below 50%.

Comparatively, by the time you start the final level, the in-game economy is thoroughly busted. In my case, I was able to teach each of my characters every useful spell and still had plenty of Gil leftover. An unfortunate result of all of this is that my interest in exploring the final handful of levels hit an all-time low. Part of what motivates the player to explore environments in the early Final Fantasy games is the idea that you may have missed something useful. In the case of Final Fantasy II, that feeling is gone by the third level because re-jiggering your characters to use treasure is a pain in the ass. Also, when you discover a "winning formula," there's no reason for you to reconsider your strategy.

Beating the final boss in a video game within two turns is kind of hilarious in hindsight.
Beating the final boss in a video game within two turns is kind of hilarious in hindsight.

Yet, all of these items and spells PALE in comparison to the Blood Sword. Before I go any further, it is worth noting the NES and PS1 versions give you TWO of these goddamn things! With that in mind, the Blood Sword drains 1/16th of the target's HP with each hit. What makes this incredibly useful is that it performs this attack regardless of the victim's maximum HP. As if that weren't enough, the sword still does a base amount of damage determined by your character's sword stat independent from this buff. For example, the Emperor has 10,000 HP. Even before calculating the Blood Sword's base damage, its passive buff alone will do 8,125 damage with a character that hits thirteen times. I use thirteen in this example because that's how many hits Firion got by the time I reached the final level. As a result, Firion alone was able to beat everything in the game, including the final boss, within two attacks.

I mention all of this nonsense just to preface that what impedes your progress the most in Final Fantasy II's last dungeons is NOT its bosses. Instead, what is most likely to crush your spirit are trash mobs and awful level design! What should have been a climactic battle was over within two turns. When it was all said and done, I didn't feel especially great about beating Final Fantasy II. At the same time, I don't blame myself for cheesing the game. Yes, I deprived myself of an opportunity to have an empowering moment. But this game doesn't deserve more of my life force than what it has already drained.

Post-Mortem: Should You Play This Game?

no
no

Look, we live in a world where the forms of oppression are taking several different shapes. With a looming environmental catastrophe breathing down our collective necks, I want to say we all are working against a far more limiting clock than any of us would like to admit. That is why I cannot in good conscience recommend you play 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. I jumped into the game with an open mind and felt thoroughly betrayed. Every hour I put into it would have been better spent elsewhere.

I have no idea if the mad man himself, Akitoshi Kawazu, is still working in Square-Enix. In my headcanon, he's toiling away in the basement of Square-Enix, scribbling away on a new blueprint of a video game that will have all the creative ambition in the world, and yet, none of the execution to make it worthwhile. I guess in that regard; I have to tip my hat to Kawazu. Of all of the figureheads that defined Square as a company, he's the one who survived the corporate purges and staff turnover from the last decade. And maybe, just maybe, he'll have another crack at the Final Fantasy franchise. On the other hand, looking at what he's accomplished with the Romancing SaGa franchise, maybe it's best if he stays in Square's basement working on his coloring books and D&D homebrew campaigns.

And it's not like this franchise finally got its act together in the next game...
And it's not like this franchise finally got its act together in the next game...

I have a squishy joyous love for the Final Fantasy franchise. It is a love not always reciprocated, but a love nonetheless. That said, grief, anger, and disappointment are inevitable in any fandom. To expect any creator to churn out one cultural landmark after another, as if robots can make these sorts of things on an assembly line, is unhealthy for everyone involved. And yet, precise lines and levels of tolerance must not be crossed when following a series or franchise through thick and thin. Final Fantasy II is a unique game that crosses that fine line and then mocks you as it jokingly hops back and forth on that line, all the while, blowing raspberries.

How the Final Fantasy franchise managed to survive Final Fantasy II and III is one of life's great mysteries. Yes, these games have novel ideas and mechanics that laid the groundwork for things to come. I get that. Nevertheless, Final Fantasy II is a wasted opportunity. Even the game's best ideas, such as its dialogue system or rotating guest slot, were immediately discarded. It is a game Square-Enix honestly wants you to forget about, and some, including myself, would argue for good reason. I want each of you to know; I could've lived my entire life without having played Final Fantasy II and been just fine. I would have continued to go about pursuing my career and attempting to carve a momentary sense of "fame" and "legacy" on a nanite of this planet's atomic timescale. But no. Now I have to do that while knowing I spent forty hours of my life playing Final Fantasy II.

Finally, I attempted to play the Romancing SaGa remake, but I felt like my brain was collapsing into itself as I played it.
Finally, I attempted to play the Romancing SaGa remake, but I felt like my brain was collapsing into itself as I played it.

And before anyone chimes in that I should have played the Dawn of Souls version, I want you to know I could not imagine playing that port. Being able to cheese this game was the only way I could imagine completing it. The idea of playing a version of Final Fantasy II that functions as God intended, is entirely repulsive to me. Also, I understand there's a compelling New Game+ feature with that version, but as someone who wasn't impressed with the game the first time around, I just wanted to be done and over with it. Seriously, don't fucking play this game. It's bad.

Final note, here's a link to a podcast I recorded in which I talk about Final Fantasy II in more depth with my fellow Giant Bomb users @thatpinguino and @jeffrud!

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ZombiePie's End Of The Year 2019 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 award show, I pit games, television shows, animes, athletics, 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 on this blog! Keep that in mind, before reading any of my justifications. Also, have your pitchforks ready as things get a little "spicy" on this blog!

Least Improved Sequel Or Follow-Up: One-Punch Man Season Two

Did you forget this came out in 2019, because I sure as hell did!
Did you forget this came out in 2019, because I sure as hell did!

It's hard to imagine, but the second season of One-Punch Man came out in 2019. The fact I sometimes have to remind people of this is a testament to how disappointing the show's second televised outing ended up being. The most commonly cited reason for the second season's struggles was the change in animation studios from season one to two. That might explain why the second season featured a noted regression in animation quality. In fact, the first three to four episodes were downright rough to watch. However, poor animation quality doesn't explain away all of One-Punch Man's second season woes. New characters like Garou progressed at a snail's pace, and the growing animosity between Tornado and Saitama simply didn't pan out as it should have.

To the show's defense, even the manga has struggled to find a new identity following its first volume. Which reminds me, if you go back to my 2015 end of the year review, you'll see I warned fans that the material left to work with for One-Punch Man would not lend itself to an anime adaptation. Everything following the release of the franchise's first volume has been an exercise in mental chess between each of the story's background characters with punctuated moments of action. This interplay is fun to read, but a total bore to watch in real-time. Discovering more about characters like King or Tornado might be interesting in moderation. Nonetheless, it deprives the show of the frantic action most have come to associate with One-Punch Man. And trust me, if there is a third season, then it's going to have to deal with the manga spending WAY TOO MUCH TIME on Garou talking about his code of ethics, which wasn't any fun the first time around.

Runner-up: Kanye West's Jesus Is King -

The writing was on the wall Kayne's latest album wouldn't be anywhere on par with his previous works. The highly creative mind's "downfall" is often overplayed, but there's no denying Kayne is out of his element on this ego-driven attempt at gospel music.

Puzzle Games Are Still A Threat Award: Baba Is You

Trust me, this game gets harder by the minute.
Trust me, this game gets harder by the minute.

Since the release of Fez way back in 2012, environmental puzzlers have gone through significant ebbs and flows. Luckily for all involved, Baba Is You is one of the more imaginative puzzle games to come out this year. I won't deny it took me some time to wrap my mind around its use of words as a mechanic. However, once I did, I committed to seeing the game through to the end. That's an accomplishment in and of itself as I often walk away from puzzle games after encountering difficulty spikes. Nonetheless, I stuck with Baba Is You and don't regret it for a second.

Also, Baba Is You is a deceptively charming game. While many people will look at its rudimentary art style and scoff, those people are missing out on one of the most captivating games of 2019. Likewise, the game gets a lot of mileage out of simple frames of animations and background work. The world vibrating around you as you mess around with words lends itself to the handcrafted aesthetic the game aims for from the very beginning. All things considered, Baba Is You is one of the most straightforward recommendations I have on this blog as it is a game designed for practically anyone.

Runner-up: Manifold Garden -

This Escher-esque first-person puzzler isn't the best rendition of its genre as that distinction goes to Antichamber. But similar to that game, Manifold Garden blends visuals with environmental puzzles to craft a compelling experience that had me slack-jawed while playing it.

Most Improved Total Conversion Mod That Makes The Base Game Ten Times Better: Kaiserreich

I can feel the hours of my life slip away just from looking at this image.
I can feel the hours of my life slip away just from looking at this image.

Hearts of Iron IV will go down as one of my most played games of the decade. There's something hypnotic about living out every possible World War II fantasy scenario, whether it be winning the war with France or taking over the world with Peru. However, vanilla Hearts of Iron IV grows tiresome after the fortieth hour, and thus, in comes the absurdly active mod community to keep things spicy. Thanks to this busy sub-community, every conceivable nation or leader can become a superpower, though, this comes at the cost of quality. Few of these mods are worth playing for more than ten minutes. Nonetheless, if you ask any Hearts of Iron IV player which mods you should install, Kaiserreich is bound to top that list. For those unaware, Kaiserreich imagines a world where the Central Powers were victorious in World War I, and the many possible crossroads the world would have faced.

Kaiserreich is a wildly in-depth experience, even when compared to vanilla HOI4. Every member of the Central Powers and Entente has dozens of historical scenarios that play out at a well-paced clip. Unfortunately, the dev team behind Kaiserreich only updates the mod once every blue moon. But update Kaiserreich they did, and it was a total blast to revisit this year. Finally, Asian countries have focus trees that feel substantive and worth exploring. Moreover, the European sphere of the map has some exciting events you'll only experience if you explore some of the more obscure focuses. For example, I was able to get Britain to revert to being democratic after skewing the empire towards Syndicalism and causing a coup led by the Torries. It's little touches like those that show how much effort was put into this mod, and why it's worth exploring after you get your feet wet in vanilla.

Runner-up: Thrawn's Revenge -

I have talked about the Thrawn's Revenge total conversion for Empire at War before. In short, a significant update hit the mod in June, and as a result, the Imperial Warlords have storylines that match their arcs from the Star Wars Legends timeline. Few of these empires have the staying power of the main factions, but it's still a fun time all around.

Most Acceptably Mediocre: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Or maybe I should just nominate the entire state of Star Wars as a franchise.
Or maybe I should just nominate the entire state of Star Wars as a franchise.

At this point, it's a well-known fact I am a Star Wars nerd. I've covered my love for the old Star Wars Expanded Universe as well as my "nitpicks" about Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Speaking of which, I don't want any of you to interpret this award to mean I think Fallen Order is a wretched game. Instead, I feel Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a fun and visually stunning adventure that lacks an identity and brings nothing new to the table. It is a game that is the sum of its parts, no more, and no less. Its characters live and die in one-off vignettes; there's a remarkable lack of worldbuilding; the structure is about as barebones as a game like this gets. Yet, the game's production values are some of the best you'll see, and when the gameplay blends with the environments, you'll quickly find yourself enamored with what Respawn has made.

And somehow, I haven't even commented on Fallen Order's gameplay. It pains me to say this, but if you've played Sekiro, then you have experienced a better version of Fallen Order. If anything, Fallen Order exacerbates many of my issues with the works of From Software. The action set-pieces become tiresome because the variety between bosses in Fallen Order isn't as prominent as it is in Sekiro or Dark Souls. Likewise, you fight a TON of Stormtroopers just to get to those more memorable bosses. Worse, none of the worlds feel uniquely alive. The NPCs you can interact with lack any grounding in the societies they populate, and very often feel tacked on for the sake of the gameplay. To Respawn's credit, should they have another bite at this apple, Fallen Order has a decent foundation for a more in-depth and authoritative Star Wars experience. But, last I checked, you shouldn't assess the value of video games based on their potential.

Runner-up: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker -

I'm not going to stake a claim on the great debate surrounding The Rise of Skywalker. That said, I would have preferred if Abrams respected the creative choices of TLJ, but hey, Star Wars has been backtracking on its canon since its inception. In the end, Rise of Skywalker is an average popcorn flick, and maybe, that's what Star Wars has alway been. Nonetheless, I think Star Wars should focus more on self-contained stories rather than three part-long anthologies, especially if Disney lacks a long-term vision for the franchise.

Game That Came Out And I Stopped Playing In Favor Of An Older Release In The Same Franchise: Total War: Three Kingdoms

Where's the Doom Stack of Phoenix Guard and Tyrion?
Where's the Doom Stack of Phoenix Guard and Tyrion?

Right off the bat, I want to say Total War: Three Kingdoms makes a lot of improvements to the Total War franchise that should not go ignored. Three Kingdoms remarkably enhances the laughable diplomacy system from previous Total War games. Likewise, the factions feel far more in-depth from the get-go than what Creative Assembly has provided at launch in previous Total War games. There were nominal improvements to the pathfinding, though the A.I. still struggles with even the most basic sieges. I say all of this to preface Three Kingdoms is an excellent game. However, I returned to Total War: Warhammer II after playing Three Kingdoms for about two weeks. Since then, I haven't touched Three Kingdoms at all.

Usually, I am one to enjoy Creative Assembly having carte blanche with an underrepresented historical setting. However, since Warhammer II, I'm beginning to realize their skillset is better suited to fantasy backdrops. For one thing, Warhammer II has a far greater variety of factions and unit types than Three Kingdoms. Additionally, in Warhammer II, each faction requires you to wrap your mind around a different playstyle or conceit, and that's mostly absent in Three Kingdoms. A faction like the Skaven plays entirely different from the Vampire Counts, and there aren't hard swings like that in Feudal China. Instead, in Three Kingdoms, I very often felt like I was up against the same mob of peasants and horse archers far longer than I would've liked. So, here I am playing a slightly broken Total War game from 2017 instead of a cosmetically better game.

Runner-up: Devil May Cry 5 -

Much like Three Kingdoms, Devil May Cry 5 is by no stretch of the words a bad game. However, it did inspire me to check out DmC Devil May Cry one more time, and I think I enjoyed that game more than this proper outing with Dante. I much prefer the singular vision Ninja Theory had with DmC than Capcom's by the numbers "love letter" to fans. Also, I think I prefer playing one protagonist throughout an action-adventure game than a motley crew of misfits that I need to level-up independently.

Most Disappointing: Chance the Rapper's "The Big Day"

Business Dave LIED TO YOU! THIS ALBUM IS TRASH!
Business Dave LIED TO YOU! THIS ALBUM IS TRASH!

Oh, Chance, how in the world were you able to make an album without a single bopper? While Chance the Rapper isn't exactly the most creative mind, he at least deserves credit in crafting some genuinely infectious music you cannot help but hum along to as you navigate your way through a largely abandoned mall. Moreover, he became a prominent name in hip hop despite the fact he'd only released mixtapes and free albums on streaming platforms. As such, people like myself waited with bated breath as the man worked on a full-length studio album with a proper budget and production team. And GOOD GOD is this album a horrible disappointment!

How this man manages to lose his style, lyrical talent, and sense of flow in a single album is beyond my comprehension. For one thing, the damn thing is loaded with god-awful skits and guest appearances. So much so, you almost forget you're listening to a Chance the Rapper album, and instead found yourself tuning into a failed In Living Color revival. The guests provide Chance with an excuse to blend different genres with hip-hop, but he so thoroughly misses the mark in each of these opportunities it hurts. And the lyrics are awful. Seriously, who the fuck allowed Chance to get away with lyrics like these:

"If you blink you might miss it; You gotta click it or ticket."

"Used to have an obsession with the 27 club. Now I'm turning 27, wanna make it to the 2070 club."

"My next tour it got eight legs like Daddy Long"

"Fuck money, shit, fuck, shit, tell 'em, burn it

I don't wanna, get it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it

Fuck it!"

Runner-up: The 2019/2020 Sacramento Kings -

As the lovely people on the Giant Bomb Discord can report, I'm a fan of basketball and a long-ailing supporter of the Sacramento Kings. This NBA season, wherein everything was wide open for the taking, the Sacramento Kings have fallen flat on their faces. The team has underperformed to such a degree that players are already requesting trades. It's a bad situation, and one with no easy fix for the foreseeable future. If the Kings make the playoffs before the end of the 2019/2020 season, mark my words, I will eat my own dick and balls.

Best Anime Of 2019: Mob Psycho 100 II

Please do not make me wait this long again for more Mob Psycho.
Please do not make me wait this long again for more Mob Psycho.

While One-Punch Man disappointed me, Mob Psycho managed to satiate my expectations. What surprised me most of all is how seamlessly the show managed FIVE story arcs within the scope of a single season. Admittedly, a majority of these arcs transpire over two to three episodes and serve as appetizers for the season closer. That said, they do a more than admirable job of setting up the show's mood and tone after a three-year-long hiatus. Indeed, the characters are as charming as ever, and the action set pieces are both visually striking and a joy to watch.

More importantly, Mob Psycho's season two finale feels like a reasonable stopping point. If Bones never gets around to making a third season, I won't be playing out an endless number of "what if" scenarios in my head. Where Toichiro finds himself both physically and as a character is perfect, and the same goes for Mob. I know a sequel has already been partially announced, and, unlike One-Punch Man, there's ample material to work with from the manga. Nonetheless, I cannot help but feel like we are in an anime-esque Futurama scenario wherein we'll watch half a dozen endings that each seem like legitimate conclusions.

Runner-up: Carole & Tuesday -

This show is by far my "guilty pleasure" of the year. It's not the most intellectually challenging show on the block, but at the same time, that shouldn't stop you from checking it out. Carole & Tuesday is a charming, slice-of-life anime that keeps you interested with a couple of characters full of gumption and drive.

Thing That Caused Me To Swear Gratuitously At A Television Screen: WWE Hell in a Cell (2019)

Fuck off!
Fuck off!

I thought this would be the year for Bray Wyatt. After languishing with his Wyatt Family gimmick, it seemed as if creative was finally allowing him to play around with his booking. The immediate result was his Fiend gimmick, which catapulted him back into main event status. Then, Hell in a Cell 2019 rolled around and squashed whatever momentum the man had, red-tinted lights and all. Never in a million years would I have predicted a Hell in a Cell match would end in a disqualification. Why would it, when the whole point of the match is to let one wrestler run amock on the other? On top of that, yet again, WWE creative continues to think they can use their television programming to wave away their PPV mistakes. Thus, the entire promotion feels rudderless as it seriously lacks long-term vision.

Sadly, what often gets overlooked is how good Hell in a Cell started this year. The two openers both provided technical and flashy wrestling that maintained my interest even as they went on a bit too long. Yes, the middle portion of the show petered off, but that's been a tradition with WWE since the mid-2000s. However, the ending of the show is by far the dumbest shit I have seen from WWE this decade. The fact creative cannot be fucked to remember the whole point of their gimmick matches, just shows how fucking out of touch Vince and company are in the year of our Lord, 2019. Even with the revival of the XFL drawing nigh, I think the fan hope of football drawing Vince away from wrestling is all but dead.

Runner-up: Everything Involving Orange Cassidy -

Unlike the rest of my fellow wrestling fans, I have not been as impressed by AEW's television debut. To be honest, I think the promotion has a bit of an identity crisis as it flouts an amalgam of comedy wrestlers, luchadors, indie darlings, and WWE rejects. Case in point, Orange Cassidy is doing his gimmicky one-note bullshit on the same program as Cody Rhodes and Chris Jericho.

Worst Conclusion Or Ending: T.I.M.E Stories

Ppppprrrrrrrrrrtttt.....
Ppppprrrrrrrrrrtttt.....

For those of you still nominating Mouse Trap as your "Board Game of the Year," T.I.M.E Stories getting this award might seem like an odd choice. How could a board game have a "bad ending," let alone the worst ending of the year? Well, my dear readers, sit right down and let me weave you a tale about T.I.M.E Stories. First, from beginning to end, following T.I.M.E Stories costs roughly $350. That's because T.I.M.E Stories is a "Legacy" board game franchise, meaning each of its modules are single-use experiences that you cannot repeat. To T.I.M.E Stories' defense, for the first two years of its existence, it justified this format and its high price tag. The collaborative game wasn't just fun to play, but it also led to tense moments among avid board gamers. Additionally, the game was responsible for paving the way for a "Legacy" game renaissance wherein everyone, including your grandmother, was releasing a Legacy game.

Now, let's flash forward to when developer Space Cowboys announced T.I.M.E Stories would be concluding. After four years of quality experiences, T.I.M.E Stories: Madame would tie everything together into a neat bow in 2019. When the final module released earlier this year, the reviews were universally negative. For one thing, despite promises to the contrary, the ultimate episode completely ignored your party's choices in the previous modules, and instead, throttled you down a limited number of arbitrary pathways. Second, the expansion was almost entirely puzzle-based and lacked the combat-oriented action scenes from previous modules. What's more, the only major combat scene involved a short battle against a single opponent. Worse, when the game launched, some endings provided a QR Code, which due to a printing mishap, led to a 404 error. It was, for lack of a better word, a shit show.

Runner-up: Game Of Thrones -

I suspect many on this site are bound to call the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones one of the biggest "betrayals" of 2019, and that's with good reason. However, what I think most forget is how good the final season was outside of that one episode. Shit, even the series finale ends the show on a positive note.

Worst Use Of 2019 By An Entertainer Or Content Creator: Logic

These groceries should go straight to the garbage.
These groceries should go straight to the garbage.

Oh, Logic, I know you mean well. Nevertheless, your two albums this year were unforgivably lousy. Logic started the year on a rough note with "Supermarket," a musical accompaniment to a book. Which, I need you to think about before we continue. Someone, out there in the universe, wrote a book and thought they should have Logic write a soundtrack for their book. Oh, and by the way, it's a rock album. Logic, who has no experience with rock outside of a few guests on his mixtapes, thought he should try a new genre of music for the soundtrack to a book. As you might predict, it was a hot mess of conflicting musical styles and an overall disaster.

Then, back in May, Logic released a full-length album titled "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," and it's equally atrocious. An argument could be made that Logic has, since his explosion on the mixtape scene, relied on copying his fellow artists more than he should. However, on this album, while he's clearly pulling inspiration from other artists, that's not what makes the whole experience entirely disgusting. No, what makes Dangerous Mind one of the worst listening experiences of the year is the fact more than half of it is an elongated rant about why the internet is "full of haters." Additionally, on the album, Logic envisions himself in a fantasy world where he should be treated as an equal to the likes of Tyler the Creator and Meek Mills. If you thought Kanye's musical outing this year was a painful exercise of egoism, then you should stay as far away from this trainwreck as possible.

Runner-up: Bobby Lashley In WWE -

What WWE has done with Bobby Lashley in 2019 feels like a discarded script from the Attitude Era. His abhorrent angle with Lana not only has discredited him, but it has done a lot to undermine Rusev, who earlier in this decade was a monster heel only John Cena could dream of beating.

Best Mechanic: The Wild Area (Pokemon Sword/Shield)

Also, screw the haters, I LOVE THIS GAME!
Also, screw the haters, I LOVE THIS GAME!

Of the many "hot takes" on this blog, my stance on Pokémon Sword/Shield might be the second most controversial. The most contentious one is coming up shortly, but when it comes to Sword/Shield, I think the game's "reforms" to the standard Pokemon formula are a step in the right direction, albeit far from perfect. I understand long-standing Pokemon fans feel the game is too short and lacking in content. These are understandable grievances, especially when you consider the game clocks in at around twenty-ish hours.

However, I think it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Nintendo learns from this game and uses several of its mechanics as "quality of life" features in the future. Take, for example, The Wild Area in Sword/Shield, a feature I felt was a godsend to a lapse Pokemon fan like myself. I don't think hardcore fans understand everyone doesn't have thirty to forty hours to spare to get the Pokemon they want to own. The Wild Lands fixes that issue and is, by far, the most compelling accessibility feature the series has added since allowing players to fight each other online. With it, everyone can be perfectly content to show off their army of Pokemon, and not just the person who can play non-stop for fifty hours.

Runner-up: The Junction System (Final Fantasy VIII Remastered) -

I have a lot to say about Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, and not all of it is positive. However, I am forever grateful that Square-Enix did not listen to critics and remove the game's junction system. Is the mechanic broken? Yes, but removing it would gut the whole appeal of playing Final Fantasy VIII, which is, at least in my opinion, stealing people's cards, refining them into magic, and murdering everything in front of you.

Worst Piece Of Entertainment "Saved" By My Nostalgia: Final Fantasy VIII - Remastered

Square-Enix disappoints yet again!
Square-Enix disappoints yet again!

Speaking of Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, let's talk about how Final Fantasy VIII fans deserve better than what they got with this questionable remaster. First off, it's NOT a "remaster." It's a port with some HD textures and better music. None of the backgrounds have been touched up, even though Square-Enix was so proud of its ability to run an algorithmic game engine to up-res the textures for the Final Fantasy IX port. Here, you have to watch two to three different generations of technology interact with each other. It's not just hard on the eyes; it makes playing the game and appreciating its story next to impossible. The game is hard-locked to output at 16:9, and that improved soundtrack I mentioned? There are random times when the game outputs the MIDI soundtrack instead of the PlayStation One OST.

But, through thick and thin, I cannot hate this release. It's not possible for me to hate my first Final Fantasy game. And, if anything, I'm glad future generations will have some form of Final Fantasy VIII to play and break as I did when I played it for the first time. Lastly, whenever I talk about Final Fantasy VIII, I feel inspired to recite the final paragraph from my Final Fantasy VIII series to highlight why I still recommend playing it:

No game swings, misses, and keeps on swinging like Final Fantasy VIII. As a package, Final Fantasy VIII is an unmitigated failure. Its gameplay is hilariously broken, its story is a trash fire, and it is a slog to play. However, there is no game like Final Fantasy VIII. It is so earnest about what it attempts and fails to accomplish. I cannot help but look at the game with a sense of broken nostalgia. I realize it's not a great game, but I love it. You would have to be crazy to want to play Final Fantasy VIII, and that is exactly why you should.

Runner-Up: Stellaris -

Stellaris, and Paradox for that matter, have been through a bit of a roller-coaster of a year. Imperator: Rome had a rough launch, and Stellaris got another update that necessitates relearning whole gameplay mechanics. I still like playing Stellaris, especially when it comes to interacting with new alien lifeforms, but I don't think I have it within me to relearn how to play this game a fourth or fifth time.

Best Use Of 2019 By An Entertainer Or Content Creator: Chris Jericho

I'm not gonna lie, I totally thought about buying one of his gimmick bottles of sparkling wine.
I'm not gonna lie, I totally thought about buying one of his gimmick bottles of sparkling wine.

Despite my earlier grousing, there's no denying Chris Jericho's current run in AEW has exceeded the totality of his work in WWE. I'm not joking, I rank Jericho's time in AEW above his feud against Shawn Michaels, and that's saying something! If anything, it speaks volumes of how much of a worker Jericho has been in AEW. Additionally, the man deserves credit for reinventing himself and becoming a critical lynchpin to everything AEW books.

Thus far, Jericho's promos have become one of the most exciting parts of AEW. Though his strengths on the microphone shine a spotlight on the younger talent, that's not on Jericho to fix. Likewise, while many were initially disappointed when he retained the AEW World Championship, it was the right call, and he's proven as much every day he's on television. Finally, he's busted his ass to help everyone he's wrestled look good this year. Case in point, I initially thought the "10-minute challenge" was stupid, but lo and behold, Chris Jericho made me eat my words. Everything Jericho works with is a win-win for everyone involved, and it's been a pure joy to watch.

Runner-up: Lizzo -

For everything that was 2019, I desperately needed an infectious performer like Lizzo in my life. To anyone who hasn't yet listened to her debut LP, I don't think you're ready for all the self-love and confidence Lizzo exudes. And if that's something you need in your life right now, come on over and join the party!

Ostrich Award (a.k.a. Most Objectively Good Game I Did Not Enjoy): Fire Emblem: Three Houses

I told you to have you pitchforks ready, didn't I?
I told you to have you pitchforks ready, didn't I?

Alright, I did warn you there were a few "hot takes" in this blog I expect would get me in trouble. This award is undoubtedly the one I expect will get the most blowback, so, at the very least, promise not to harass my family and friends as I plead my case. First, I admit Fire Emblem: Three Houses represents a high-water mark in terms of characterization and storytelling in the Fire Emblem franchise. Likewise, for the most part, it's a pleasant game that mostly marries its JRPG and strategy gameplay to its benefit. Finally, I'm grateful this game got rid of all the waifu shit from the 3DS games that were a total embarrassment to watch. Where I start to push back is the game's painfully elongated playtime and lack of difficulty.

I think the first problem I faced when playing Three Houses is that I just do not have the hundreds of hours to see one of its, let alone three, endings. When I play games, I often have to multitask while doing so. As a result, I cannot give Fire Emblem the undying attention it demands every minute I play it. Yes, I realize this long playtime allows the game to do some compelling things with its characters. At the same time, I dislike the direction the franchise has taken since Sacred Stones, and think it's time for me to walk away from the series as a whole. Finally, the lack of balance and difficulty for large swaths of the game left me bored. I really dislike the middle act of the game and how often you go into battles knowing you are going to win, but still have to go through the same ten to fifteen-minute rigamarole.

Runner-up: Katana Zero -

I won't beat around the bush. I think this game is an inferior version of Hotline Miami with as off-putting depictions of mental health as Hotline Miami. If you are looking for something that drips style and aesthetics, then this should be right up your alley. That said, it wasn't my cup of tea.

Help I'm Trapped in Sysiphean Torment Award (a.k.a. Most Arbitrarily Long): Final Fantasy XII

I really wanted to like this game more than I did.
I really wanted to like this game more than I did.

Final Fantasy XII has a lot to cherish for Final Fantasy fans. Its ensemble cast is mostly enjoyable and features the most robust supporting cast in franchise history. Its antagonist, and his allies, are equal shareholders in a geopolitical plot that is riveting to watch. Its production values are above and beyond excellent, and its backdrops are stellar across the board. However, this game overstays its welcome by its fortieth hour and keeps on going with no end in sight.

I won't reiterate my overall dislike of Final Fantasy XII's mechanics, because I wrote a nigh 10,000-word essay on precisely that topic. However, the more I think about Final Fantasy XII, the more I realize how I would have enjoyed it more if it were ten to twenty hours shorter. For one thing, the default playing speed is atrocious. So much so, the Zodiac Age Remaster allows you to play the game four times faster than its standard rate. But even with this quality-of-life addition, the levels are still painfully long and repetitious. Every battle and dungeon requires an extra three or four steps, and the side quests are Byzantine to a fault. It was a total chore finishing this game, and the last thing I need is for video games to become work.

Runner-up: Fear Inoculum -

At eighty hours minutes, Fear Inoculum is just too long a run time even for a master like Maynard to manage. Speaking of Maynard, his usually strong vocals often fall to the wayside to make room for noodly guitar solos and bloated drum sessions. Which is apt for a musical act like John Legend or John Mayer, but not Tool.

Worst Game Of My Year 2019: Final Fantasy II

God, this fucking game. You have no idea....
God, this fucking game. You have no idea....

Holy shit, where do I even start? Right off the bat, I want all of you to know why the final entry of my Final Fantasy II blog series is perpetually on hiatus. That game, for the first time in my life, broke me. Now, I was able to finish it, but I've been looking at the same partially complete word document for two weeks and am STILL at a total loss of words of where to go next. Mark my words, I will find a way to end that series, but it's been a chore trying to avoid saying, "this fucking game sucks" eighteen million times and calling it a day.

Final Fantasy II is a broken mess of a game with little to no upside. I guess it's fascinating to play for a few hours so one can think about where the franchise could have gone, but that's saying much. I am grateful I played it, as doing so gave me a better sense of how far the series has come since its rocky inception. Nonetheless, you have no idea how fucking dreadful that game is to play. Seriously, if all you know about that game is punching yourself in the face, then you don't understand half of what makes that game terrifying. It's by far the most cursed video game Square-Enix has ever made, and I will hear no arguments to the contrary.

Runner-up: Bionic Commando -

2019 started with me playing Bionic Commando as a bit of a mental exercise. Much like Final Fantasy II, Bionic Commando is a time capsule into a period of video games that no longer exists. Its messy design is both a testament to the ambition of B-tier games of the early 2000s, as well as an indictment on why the B-tier game no longer exists.

Best Game Of My Year 2019: Outer Wilds

What a masterpiece of a video game.
What a masterpiece of a video game.

Outer Wilds is a special video game. Exploring its clock-like world in bite-sized chunks was unlike any game experience I have ever had. Furthermore, it offers a complete package of gameplay, storytelling, and creative gall. From beginning to end, I felt mechanically and intellectually challenged to utilize its structure to explore and appreciate its world. And as I did, I uncovered what I consider one of the most poignant and touching tragedies in video games. It's hard to say one "loves" such a deeply affecting story, but that's how I felt when I concluded my time with Outer Wilds.

If anything, I consider Outer Wilds a game that should be taught as a case study on what the medium is capable of accomplishing. In my opinion, it shows sandbox environments have so much more potential than being vessels for item collection. It also underscores that beautiful skyboxes are capable of conveying a wholeness to a game's world rather than just being fancy window dressing. And its story pleads the case that saying "goodbye" is an essential step in life, and nostalgia can be poisonous. Like I said, Outer Wilds is a unique game that's going to stick with me, and that's certainly worth something.

Runner-up: Disco Elysium -

On the flipside, Disco Elysium is a love letter that thoroughly warmed my heart, and I am grateful exists. It's nowhere nears as ambitious as Outer Wilds, but that doesn't stop it from crafting a complete world that showcases dozens of memorable vignettes and one-off character moments.

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