Misadventures in Romancing SaGa, part 1 of ???

In retrospect, my attempt to do a SaGa theme month for November was… well, not a bad idea, really, but terribly misguided. Here I was, thinking I’d be able to blow through Romancing SaGa 1, 3, and the heavily SaGa-inspired Legend of Legacy all in the course of a month. Not only did that not happen, but I learned a very hard lesson: SaGa games beyond the initial batch of localized Final Fantasy Legend titles require an intense persistence and dedication on the part of the player. The only way these games reward you is if you’re willing to put a hefty amount of time and effort into learning their weird quirks.

Not only that, but you have to be prepared to mess up. Like, a lot.

So in the time I’d hoped to have completed three games, I wound up kind-of-completing… one. Sort of. Actually, I didn’t finish Romancing SaGa at all. Instead, I got to a point where I realized “Holy crap, going into this totally blind was a real bad idea and I’m gonna start over now that I’ve learned what it is I should actually be doing.”

Yep, you heard me. I’m going to toss all my Romancing SaGa progress out the window and restart again at some point down the line. I’m thinking in… March or so? So consider this Part One of a continuing RS1 travelogue, with a continuation down the line once I’ve played through a few other SaGa titles and had some time to read over guides more thoroughly.1

So, the question is: What went wrong this time through, and what did I learn from it?

Continue reading

  1. I was offered a copy of the PS2 Romancing SaGa remake, as well, which I’ll likely also play through at some point.

This is the post about Undertale (feel free to visit it anytime)

(Header art by ellenalsop from tumblr)

So it’s come to this: I’m writing about Undertale, as is seemingly required of any games journalist worth their salt at the moment. Not that I mind at all – Undertale was genuinely one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had all year, and a game worth analyzing with a critical lens on numerous levels. (I’m only sad that my pile of paid reviews prevented me from getting to it sooner than I actually did, because I could only go into it about 85% fresh rather than 100% fresh.)

I’ve played and finished Undertale on the Neutral and Pacifist endings1. I’ve come to realize that it’s nearly impossible to really talk about Undertale without massive spoilers for the experience, because Undertale is considerably more dense than its short playtime (5-7 hours for each ending in my case) might make it seem. Everything feels deliberately designed to build the game’s world without any dull padding or superfluous filler, which is why the whole thing just feels so darn good – but also why even talking in more than the vaguest terms about the game can detract from the experience. So lemme just go ahead and put this here:

SPOILER WARNING: HOLY CRAP IS THERE GONNA BE SPOILERS HERE, just play the game already if you haven’t it’s real good

 

Ahem. Anyhow!

There have already been a bazillion posts written along the lines of “Undertale made me feels so hard that it took me on a feels trip to the Feeld of Dreams where Officer Fielmann arrested me for feelsing myself in public etc,” so I’m opting for something a bit different in this article. It’s clear Undertale takes a lot of influences from other games – the Mother/Earthbound series in particular – but there are a lot of interesting parallels and influences from other titles that don’t seem to have been picked up on as much. I’m going to point a few of these out – and say why I feel the comparison is valid, in some cases.

So, where to start…

Continue reading

  1. I watched slowbeef play the “genocide” route because hell no I couldn’t do that, I’m not a horrible enough person

Disturbing Game Overs, Part II: YOU ARE DEAD

We recently covered the phenomena of arcade games using the implication of terrible things happening to the hero and/or the world, so now it’s time to move on to the second kind of disturbing game over: games that rub it in extra hard when you’ve run out of time, lives, and continues. You’ve really screwed the pooch now, and by god, you are going to have to face the consequences!

In the interests of keeping this from getting much too long, I’ve decided to forgo game overs from survival horror games. Bloody, horrifying deaths come with the territory in those games, so it’s not particularly interesting to investigate them, in my opinion.1 In a way, it’s a more shocking if the creepy and/or shaming elements come completely out of left field than it is if you’ve dealt with the threat of evisceration for your entire playtime.

There are also a few more obscure samples I want to include, but I lack the capability to capture them myself at the moment, and all the pre-existing images and footage of them online are woefully sub-par in quality. There’s a good chance this feature will be revised in the future to include these once I’m able to adequately showcase them, so keep your eyes on the Gaming.moe Twitter for updates.

Without further ado, it’s time to venture into a world of shame and failure!

Continue reading

  1. Well, that and a lot of the survival horror game over footage available online come from accounts that seem really creepily obsessed with collecting death clips of female game characters. Nope nope nope

Disturbing Game Overs, part I: A Quarter Can Save a Life

It’s been argued that one of the most interesting things about games is that they allow the person engaging them to feel guilt and responsibility for their actions, something that can’t be done in more passive forms of media. Designers have actually been utilizing this since the early days of the medium as a way to belittle players’ lack of skill (and, hopefully, inspire them to invest more time/money to get better): think of how Missile Command used “THE END” when you lost all cities instead of “GAME OVER.” Guess what, jerk, your failure with the trackball just doomed humanity! Even a small change like that left a big impact on player psyches, and the medium has since evolved, finding plenty of new and exciting ways to make you feel really bad about what you do in games.

But for whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated by the game over guilt trip. While most games just come to a screeching halt once the lives and health have run dry, others really go the extra mile to make you feel awful about your failure. I’ve spent a great deal of time over the years looking into these , and over the course of my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two types of disturbing game overs:

A. Things are exceptionally grim, and only the power of a continue can stave off this impending doom! You will continue, right? You don’t want this horrible thing to happen, right?

B. YOU DONE FUCKED UP BUDDY, NOW DEAL WITH IT

Both of these are fascinating in their own way, but as a fan of old arcade games, A is particularly interesting. Arcade games are about spending money for play time, and the end goal for the operator is to maximize profits, so keeping play time down (so other folks can spend money for a turn on the machine) is an ideal. Continues might seem opposed to this concept, but they actually play right into it: You’d get more time-for-money-spent value if you started the game over than you would if you credit-fed, as difficulty tends to scale higher the further you get and credits usually last for shorter and shorter stretches of time. It’s why the one-credit clear is such a mark of pride among the biggest arcade: you’ve basically given “the man” trying to squeeze you for money the middle finger with your mad arcade game skillz.

So, in the interests of getting players to continue more, the devs began to put in continue screens that insinuate that a terrible fate awaits if you don’t put that next quarter/yencoin in. Some, like Blue’s Journey/Raguy by ADK, make a heartfelt emotional plea (and then call you names).

Others, meanwhile, place your character – or their loved ones – in more immediate danger. Won’t you spare a quarter to save our heroes from their doom?

Continue reading

Game Commercial Music Highlight: Shakunetsu no Fire Dance

I made my third guest appearance on Laser Time’s Vidjagame Apocalypse podcast this week to talk about all manner of subjects. Since the show actually isn’t live yet as of this writing, I’m going to try not to spoil too much, but at one point I start going off into the history of Compile and the Puyo Puyo puzzle game series. Puyo Puyo Tsuu/2 was a massive hit in Japan and still considered a pinnacle of the series by many, but it also marks the apex of Compile’s meteoric, Puyo-fueled rise and fall into massive financial problems.

But that’s not the focus of this little featurette, given that I babbled about it at length on the program. Instead, I’m here to talk about Puyo Puyo Tsuu’s commercials; Specifically, a song that was used in them: Shakunetsu no Fire Dance (“Red-Hot Fire Dance”).

51mAoCqFjUL._SL500_SX300_

We’re used to songs being used to promote products in North American television commercials, but usually it’s stuff that’s already established as familiar through months or years of airplay. Japan has a tendency to tie new songs and talent more directly to products, often launching singles to accompany a shiny new ad campaign for a product. This is beneficial to both parties involved: the product being advertised gets association with a potentially hot up-and-coming talent, and the artist/song get additional exposure as people remember the catchy song snippet that played on TV and think, “hey, I should seek out the whole thing!” (The commercials display the song title and artist name specifically to help people remember what they heard.) Games utilize this tie-in strategy fairly often. Just look at Final Fantasy as an example: All of the single-player installments since 8 have prominently featured a vocal song in Japanese advertisements and in-game.

Puyo Puyo 2’s advertising hopped on the song tie-in bandwagon even earlier than Square did. They didn’t look too far outside of the firm for composition and vocal talent, however – they enlisted Katsumi Tanaka, one of their in-house composers,1 to do the vocals for the song they would use to promote Puyo Puyo 2 in various ads (and sell as a CD single later on). The result is Shakunetsu no Fire Dance, an infectiously catchy little dance number that ranks among my favorite pieces of promotional game music.

Since commercials are so short, however, you could only hear the whole thing on CD, in music videos,  and in live show. Here’s a  bonus video from the Saturn version of Puyo Puyo Tsuu featuring a (very heavily compressed) FMV of a live performance:

Even better: There are multiple language versions of the song! First off is the Korean version:

And guess what, there’s an English version too! Turn on the Japanese comments on Nico to see the subtitles with the transcribed English lyrics – they’re definitely off in that grammatically incorrect direct translation way, but at the same time, they actually do make sense. That’s more than you can say for a lot of English versions of Japanese songs.

The song’s legacy didn’t end with ads and performances in the mid-90s, however: it also features as Arle’s theme in Puyo Puyo Da!, the (rightfully) ignored dancing game spinoff of the Puyo series.

That’s more than anyone else has written about this weird little footnote in Puyo history in English, I think. How about we wrap this up with a Vocaloid cover?

  1. He composed the fantastic Musha Aleste soundtrack, among many other things!

Incompletionism: The Games I Wanted to Review

One thing I’ve learned as a professional reviewer is that people will give you a huge ration of shit if they even think you haven’t beaten a game you’ve reviewed. In most cases, I feel like this shouldn’t even be an issue. Yes, you should certainly make a good-faith effort to play through as much of the game as possible, because there are many excellent games that are slow starters – and some with midgame sequences that are miserable and drag the product down. There are extremely few games that come to mind where the ending sequence really, really damages the product to the point where I’d actually give the game a lower score as a result (looking at you, Devil Survivor)1. Really, when you sit down and think about it, saying something like “I didn’t finish this game because of reasons x, y, and z” can be very helpful in a review context! But that doesn’t matter – unless you were totally thorough to some nebulous standard in your playthrough, your opinion is invalid in the eyes of many a reader.

Even when I’m writing on here, my personal site, I still feel like if I don’t spend as much time with a game as possible, I’ve somehow “failed” the criteria for reviewing it. I’m always looking for stuff to cover on this site that wouldn’t really fit with any of the pro outlets I work for. I’ve started and finished quite a few games that I intend to write about more thoroughly (like Phantasm, I swear!), but there are other games I picked up with the express intent of reviewing them on the site… and then never finished them, and have no real desire to finish them. So instead of writing “proper” reviews for these games where I give a general overview of a product and evaluate various aspects of it, I’m going to tell you why I’m not going to finish them. Short and to the point… mostly.

Continue reading

  1. I bet somebody who is still REALLY ANGRY about Mass Effect is gonna come barging in here, I can feel it. Time to let it go, buddy.

Talkin’ about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

Well, to be specific, I’m talkin’ about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure parts 4 and 6. If you’re following the anime adaptations but not the manga, there will be spoilers, though I’ll try to keep them under toggle. (Click the tiny pluses to show them!)

In the last, oh, six months or so, I’ve been revisiting parts of Jojo I haven’t read in quite some time – stuff that hasn’t yet seen an anime adaptation, and won’t be published officially in English for a good while yet. I read through all of part four again and am a little over halfway through part six. I feel like it’s always good to revisit stuff like this after a long period, because it lets you re-examine it under the different perspective that years of partaking in other media gives you. In my case, re-reading Jojo part 4 after having played Persona 4 was rather eye-opening: it’s very clear the influence the former had on the development of the setting and progression of the latter. That’s not to say P4 wholly ripped off JJBA in an unflattering way – rather, it utilizes a lot of the same elements that make this portion of the manga so great to make one of the best JRPGs of the last decade.

In fact, I remember not liking Part 4 all that much when I first went through it, but now that I’ve finished it off again it might be my favorite piece of Jojo in terms of how it handles its setting and character development.

Continue reading

Do Run Run: The Overlooked Runs of Summer Games Done Quick 2015

Last week, another fine Games Done Quick event went down in the books, and as always, there were plenty of highlights: Swordless Zelda! More high-speed Tetris TGM! Races upon races with photo finishes! We watched, we stared in awe at amazing gaming skill, and we collectively raised $1.2 million dollars for Doctors Without Borders – a new record for the SGDQ events. But, as always, there are a lot of fantastic runs scheduled during an event that goes on for seven straight days that people with jobs and sleep schedules have to miss, particularly of games that might not be headliners like the Megamans and Marios and Metroids of the world. I’ve gone through and picked out some of my favorite runs from the event that you may have overlooked. Grab a drink, sit down, and watch some awesome folks play through some obscure (and a few not-as-obscure) games with amazing speed!

Continue reading

The Gaming Figures of Summer Wonder Festival 2015

Oh boy, it’s Wonder Festival time again! Yes, Japan’s twice-yearly figure and modelling extravaganza just had its annual summer outing, and there’s plenty of great new stuff on display – especially if you like games! It’s a bit tough to find the interesting gaming figures amongst the massive amount of goodies on display, however.

That’s where I come in to help! I’ve been carefully searching for info on gaming-related figures from the show, and I’ve collected everything I’ve dug up here on this page to serve as a one-stop information source to know what kind of delightful game character figures you can expect to see go up for preorder from your favorite importer/exporter in the near future.

You might notice that this list doesn’t include *all* the gaming figures shown at the event. Like I said last time I did this feature, I understand that I’m omitting a lot of stuff from series like Im@s, Love Live, KanColle, Tony’s Shining stuff, etc. I’m not going to argue something stupid like “these properties aren’t games” because they are, obviously! But there are just so damn many of them that they’d dominate the list. I’d rather give the focus to more obscure stuff because hey, obscurity is our lifeblood here! I’m also skipping over stuff that’s already out for preorder, was shown elsewhere very recently, and/or hasn’t changed significantly since its last showing (i.e. that Orchid Seed Sorceress from Dragon’s Crown that still lacks a color prototype).

Images are sourced from Akiba Hobby (possibly NSFW), Dengeki Online, MFC, Figsoku twitter and website, WHL4U, the Hobby Search blog, and the AmiAmi Blog. As always, if I’ve missed anything, let me know and I’ll add it ASAP!

So normally I try to sort by manufacturer, but this time I’m going to put what are by far the MOST IMPORTANT figure announcements first. I’m not even “Read more”-ing them, this is how important they are!

wf2015_082_cs1w1_400x wf2015_083_cs1w1_400x

Yes, it’s Sarah and Akira! From the original Virtua Fighter! In their beautiful circa 1993 blocky polygon glory! In figma form! Holy crap, FREEing, you know how to get this girl’s attention (and, inevitably, money). Besides the crazy Sega nostalgia on display, this also means we are that much closer to the Vanessa figma thousands of fans are craving! (I count for thousands of fans, trust me.)

And now, everything else.

Continue reading

Thank you, Iwata

This is going to be much more stream-of-consciousness than most posts on here, but that’s the way writing from raw emotion is, I suppose. I’m writing this the morning after news of Iwata’s death broke.

I’ve talked with a fair few folks from Nintendo over the course of my career, but I never had the honor of speaking to Mr. Iwata himself. I already know that this will go down in my list of life regrets. People like Iwata are rare in the modern game industry.

I’ve made it very clear that I dislike most of the corporate leadership at game publishers. I loathe the fact that these people who don’t play games, who’ve never played games, and have no idea what makes a game good are telling the rank-and-file developers and coders beneath them what to do based on charts and buzzwords that cross their desk. These people have never written a line of code in their life, but are sure they know that you can ship a product with expansive features by a certain date, and if it’s still a buggy mess then screw it, release now and patch later! Employees, morale, creative energy, and quality products that actually work when you take them out of the box mean nothing to these people in search of the coveted bottom line to please shareholders.

I can see why investors like Michael Pachter hated Iwata’s business style. Just look at some of the questions Iwata got at investor meetings – people didn’t seem to understand why he ran Nintendo like he did. (Hell, we’ve all criticized Nintendo for being stubborn and old-fashioned at times.) But Iwata’s philosophy was clear: make consumers happy first and foremost. Pleasing investors was lower priority than pleasing the people who actually bought games.

It’s sad that this thinking seems so incredibly rare in the current game industry. After all, happy customers that stay happy for a long time become devoted fans, of which Nintendo has some of the most fervent out there. It was never a sprint, it was a marathon.

When Nintendo hit a rough patch a few years ago, rather than lay off employees, Iwata himself took a pay cut. He explained why:

Regarding why we have not reduced the number of the personnel, it is true that our business has its ups and downs every few years, and of course, our ideal situation is to make a profit even in the low periods, return these profits to investors and maintain a high share price. I believe we should continue working toward this ideal. If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results, however, employee morale will decrease, and I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world. I believe we can become profitable with the current business structure in consideration of exchange rate trends and popularization of our platforms in the future. We should of course cut unnecessary costs and pursue efficient business operations. I also know that some employers publicize their restructuring plan to improve their financial performance by letting a number of their employees go, but at Nintendo, employees make valuable contributions in their respective fields, so I believe that laying off a group of employees will not help to strengthen Nintendo’s business in the long run.

This is something you don’t really understand if you haven’t worked in a rank-and-file development position, as Iwata did during the 80s at HAL. Cutting you off from the people you’re creating something with abruptly is soul-crushing, and development team layoffs rarely accomplish anything but contributing to the industry’s notorious instability and career churn rates. Iwata was the rare executive who knew the game industry from numerous perspectives, from that of the lowliest code monkey to the highest public-facing representative of a major company, and that had a tremendous impact on how he ran the show at Nintendo. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when he needed to, either: the stories of him shedding his executive clothes to do some hardcore coding on games like Earthbound, Pokemon G/S, and Super Smash Bros. Melee have been making the rounds.

Having experience as a coder has another benefit when running the ship at a game company, too: you know what is and isn’t feasible to accomplish with various tools and hardware. It helps you set realistic goals: there’s a big difference between “tough, but do-able” and “literally impossible given the time and tools.” People like Iwata have the ability to push for the former and avoid the latter. Sadly, there are very few of these people in management positions in the business, leading to the disappointing, half-finished, buggy AAA releases that seem to be clogging up the shelves (both real and virtual). Every Nintendo title – even if the game turns out not to be that great – still feels like a polished, complete product, something Iwata and his peers at the company knew was important.

One of the big things on my mind right now is – did Iwata know how bad his condition was? Did he tell anyone? The former I can’t be sure about – he had his first operation for “removing a growth” on his bile duct in 2014, which was phrased to make it sound fairly benign. Obviously, it wasn’t – and looking at the terrifyingly poor survival rates for bile duct cancer, I feel like he may have known his time was coming. In retrospect, his not attending E3 this year seems less “I have to stay and handle business for the Japanese side” and more “I am literally dying here but I can’t cast a pall over what is supposed to be a really fun show.” It seems like a very Japanese thing to devote yourself wholeheartedly to your work and colleagues even in the face of death, facing it stoically as you do your duties to the very end.

But even if he did know, did anyone else? It’s hard to say – some tweets and blogposts from Iwata’s dear friend Shigesato Itoi indicate that he was as blindsided as we were. It wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t want to tell anyone. Itoi talks of Iwata’s selflessness; perhaps Iwata thought that telling people he was terminally ill would be an undue burden on them. That also strikes me as a very Japanese way of thinking.

Of course, it’s still just conjecture on my part. Unless Iwata’s widow outright says “he knew but didn’t tell anyone,” we can only theorize.

I hope that we, as an industry, will do more than pay lip service to Iwata’s memory. He was exemplary, a person in the game industry not for profit or pure personal glory, but out of a genuine love for the medium and its potential. What we need in this business is more people like him. Thank you, Iwata, for being a beacon of joy in an increasingly cynical industry. Let’s keep his light shining onwards.