The Fantasy of Phantasy: We Return to Pioneer II

on 7/14/2012

I ended up going forward with playing a HUmar (human hunter), despite servo’s recommendation. I was already leaning toward this decision, but big pushed me over the edge by recalling how he thought it was boring to stand back and time shots. I agree. I like to be in the thick of the battle, at least in PSO. You not only have to take more hits, but you actually get to see enemies close up and in greater detail. You see their attack animations more often too. Sure, some of the rifles and shotguns look pretty awesome, but the same goes with the giant swords and halberds.

As I started the game up, I was assaulted by nostalgia. The music, the menu, the character creation process, everything about it triggered memories of the times I first played it. Remember that load screen where you could move the little light thing around? Of course you do. I decided to give my hunter a pony tail, turquoise hair and a black costume. It felt a little bittersweet to see “online mode” and “download quests”. What a shame that many games, where online was a big part of the experience, can never be experienced in their native state again. I’m reading War and Peace, which was published in 1869. I probably enjoy and appreciate it just as much as people did back then. But PSO? Someone that didn’t grow up with Dreamcast can never enjoy its online presence. They’ll simply never know. It’s too bad, since many mid-90s PC games still have an online presence.

Running around the classic, beautiful city of Pioneer II was fun. It’s small, but that simplicity is a nice change of pace. Every game seems to try to provide bigger and more detailed cities. That can be fun, when I want to be completely immersed in that world’s realism. But sometimes the smaller area is actually a better experience. You become familiar with each NPC standing around, the architecture, the signs, the cityscape in the background. I remember I used to hang around in town, looking at the towering buildings and all their lights, contemplating the world of PSO. Take a game like Assassin’s Creed, with big, sprawling cities. Nothing stood out to me. They served their purpose, and did so very well, but going back to the same area over and over breeds a familiarity that will eventually blossom into sentimental memories. Purple, green, blue and orange vendors. If you played PSO, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The Principle’s office. The medical bay. The hunter’s lounge. The bank. The two guards standing watch near the portal, with the door that automatically raises. Those automatic doors are pulled off perfectly. They open at just the right moment, make just the right sound, and have just the right animation. It all just feels right, in the same way the gait of PSO characters does too. They walk and run at just the right pace and heft.

Aesthetically, it still looks pretty good, especially through VGA. This game looked so incredibly beautiful to me when it was released, POLYGONS, it’s nice to look at it again and remember those feelings. Kids these days will never be able to experience what we did. Watching videos of PSO, Skies of Arcadia and Grandia II is what convinced me to buy a Dreamcast in the first place. The games looked so beautiful, fun and in-depth that I just had to have them. All three have aged pretty well.

I’ve already played three hours, but I’m going to have to split this into another entry. Next up will be the tales of the forest, my journies in questing, and an encounter with a dragon.

Final Fantasy VI - the Blog! Part V

on 7/13/2012

The paths have once again crossed.

EDGAR, TERRA, and BANON are now on shore, a short distance away from Narshe. Going into the town, they have not yet had the Empire take over. Instead they claim neutrality, and repeatedly kick us out. They are fools! It doesn’t seem like there’s anything else to do here, so I cross the continent in search of other places to go.

Of course, I don’t find anything except blocked paths. Coming back to Narshe I go a bit to the left and remember in the beginning of the game LOCKE and TERRA escaped through there. The party reaches an inn where the town elder is holding a conference. He wants Narshe to maintain neutrality, but EDGAR and BANON warn them of the coming war.

SABIN, CYAN, and GAU enter and greet everyone. Some more words are spoken, and LOCKE and CELES get introduced into the conversation. CYAN takes great offense to the fact that the party contains a former Empire general and another former Empire soldier.

Kefka and his reign of terror is coming for Narshe’s esper, and it’s up to us to stop them. We are overlooking some sort of hills where I assume the assault will take place. Coming up next: BATTLE FOR NARSHE.

Final Fantasy VI - the Blog! Part IV

on 7/9/2012

LOCKE’s path was much, much shorter than SABIN’s, but it makes up for it by being generally interesting. You begin in South Figaro, chased by guards. The city has been taken over by the Empire, and LOCKE must sneak his way through the city to FREEEEEDOM.

LOCKE enjoys stealing the clothes off merchants and soldiers apparently, so he does that a few times to get through gates, and finally the old man gets his damn cider. By getting his cider, he reveals a secret passage beneath his house. Too bad he doesn’t remember the password to give to his son. I guess “Rose Bud” first, since coincidentally I was watching the Simpsons episode called Rosebud today. The universe is a weird place.

Naturally that’s wrong, so I have to go back to steal more clothes, and try again with “Courage”, which grants me passage beneath the town. I heard rumors of a traitorous Empire general being held in a prison somewhere, and the secret passage happens to take me to the rich man’s house which is now the Empire HQ. LOCKE sneaks his way to the prison in the basement of the house, and discovers the traitor general, CELES.

She agrees to accompany LOCKE and help the Returners. We finally escape South Figaro, and begin to wander the landscape. The only place that seems to be open is an old cave that lead me to South Figaro in the beginning of the game. There is a bizarre thunder/wave/something sound going on, but I ignore that until reaching the light at the end of the cave. It’s a massive tunnel building machine, run by the Empire.

CELES shows off a skill that forces enemies to use magic on her and she converts it to HP. This protects LOCKE long enough for him to destroy the tunnel machine, and LOCKE and CELES escape the cave. This concludes LOCKE’s path. Coming up: TERRA/EDGAR/BANON’s path.

The Fantasy of Phantasy (Again)

on 7/9/2012

Ongoing blog entries look like fun, and we can’t have an at-risk heart patient as the only guy having fun. He might die and join the VOID, the ETERNAL VOID, at any moment. It could be at the end of this sentence, then he will cease to exist forever. Not even darkness would remain. Anyway, most of the games I’m playing and/or will be playing aren’t suited for an ongoing blog series, except Final Fantasy VI. But I’ve been having an itch to play Phantasy Star Online for a while. I just won a brand new copy of it on Dreamcast for $7. When it arrives I’m going to play some on my dedicated Dreamcast LCD monitor (on the left):

I won’t focus on it, and there’s no telling how far I’ll get or how long I’ll play. I’d say it’s a good candidate for an ongoing blog, for nostalgia’s sake. Maybe that w00d guy will even read this feature.

The first order of business (since the game won’t arrive until later this week or next) is to pick a character. When the game was first released, I was partial to robots. This is likely because as a teenage boy I realized that robots are superior to humans for a wide variety of reasons. As an old man, I’ve questioned this position but chances are it still holds true. They just look cooler. However, they can’t use magic in PSO. That means the game rapidly becomes very monotonous. I’d like to opt out from playing a robot. As for those magic using gnome things, I’ve never really been enamored with them. They probably have the most variety in their gameplay, but they look silly and there is something especially appealing about slicing or shooting things with large, oversized weapons. So what does that leave? Human ranger or human hunter. I could go with either. I’m leaning toward human hunter, but I’m open to persuasion. As for gender, I’m a man, I’m 40, which means I tend to prefer male characters most of the time. Sometimes female characters are fun or better than their male counterparts, but I’ve never felt that was the case with PSO female characters. To convince me to play one of the female characters would take an incredible amount of persuasion and probably $150 cash down, 0% APR.

It’s time to decide. THOUGHTS?!

Final Fantasy VI - the Blog! Part III

on 7/7/2012

Continuing my adventure on the ghost train, my party of CYAN and SABIN defeated many ghosts until finally stopping the train. Only after defeating the Phantom Train in battle, that is. With the train stopped, we can see more people boarding. CYAN’s dead family gets onto the train and leaves CYAN with some parting words. Finally out of the woods, SABIN and CYAN do the only sensible thing left: find a cliff with a massive waterfall, and jump into it!

After having to fight piranas on the way down, SABIN and CYAN wash up on shore. A wild, bizarre, feral child/man GAU wakes them up and runs away into the field. The random battles then feature GAU popping up and declaring his hunger. I tried to give him every item I had, and nothing worked. So I work my way to Mobliz. I discover a shop selling meat, and a clue about jumping into a current that will wash us up back on the other side of the continent, but we need an item to survive underwater first.

Using the meat to lure GAU into joining my team, he talks about a shiny object that he’s looking for. The last place left to look is in a cave, and it happens to be a diving helmet or diving bell that ensures our underwater survival. Again, we must jump into the water.

Washing up in a town called Nikeah, there is a ferry available back to South Figaro. After searching the town, I take the ferry. This concludes SABIN’s path, and now I must choose between LOCKE’s path and TERRA/EDGAR/BANON’s path. I save here and will leave my decision up to the loyal FF community. First comment to this chooses my path and I will accept.

I am now roughly 4.5 hours into FFVI, and it’s glory is really beginning to show. It has a great storyline, neat little interludes to the game, breaks the fourth wall quite a bit, and has a lot of variety between characters. GAU only fights using techniques learned from enemies, SABIN has blitz which requires controller input like doing Street Fighter moves, and then typical magic and other things. You can really see the influence this game had on Super Mario RPG, which was developed by Square, and why FFVI is so highly regarded.

This is shaping up to be a timeless masterpiece of a game.

When Hard Mode Is All There Is

on 7/2/2012

A week ago I decided to buy Bit.Trip Runner, a very strange platforming/rhythm game I had had my eye on for some time. There was a certain allure I felt; it’s a simple, straightforward game that just keeps moving forward. I didn’t realize at the time how difficult a game it was going to be. And really, a video is all you need to have a sense of the gameplay. You have to time jumps, kicks, shields and slides to make it through the levels. There is very little room for error and any single mistake will send you back to the beginning.

There are three zones, each with twelve levels. Finishing the first zone in itself was difficult. It was around then that I decided to see what other people were saying. I am naturally gifted at playing video games, they come very easily to me. So when something is challenging, I know without any doubt that the video game population at large is really struggling with it. And oh are they ever. I read forum posts about how terrible a game it is because it’s “cheap” that a single mistake sends you back to a place where you have to do it all over again. Many players wanted checkpoints. One equated playing this game with self-inflicted torture. Some seem baffled that anyone would play this game for fun.

Really? Cheap? Most of the levels are between 90 and 120 seconds long. Checkpoints are outlandish, obviously. Yeah, it can suck that you can’t practice a spot at the end of the level without going through the entire thing each time. These people complained about how “boring” it is to get back to that spot. Nonsense. I messed up at earlier parts of levels I thought I had mastered. Even when you’ve become great at the game, you still have to pay very close attention and react quickly, the challenge is there. I’m virtually certain that these people hated dying at a hard part because then they had to go through parts again that they would continue to die at. The frustration skewed their view of the game, then gave up because they got “bored”. No, they just couldn’t do it. This game could be beat in 45 minutes.

So what difficulty level is going too far? I beat the game, from start to finish, in around eight hours. That seems a reasonable amount of time for me. These people giving up in the first zone really hadn’t got to the hardest parts of the game. I’d say I spent 3.5-4 hours to get to the final four stages. Then it took Another 4-4.5 hours to beat those. Level 3-11 took 2.5 hours to finally get around. This is a video of that level, remember, even a mistake, pressing the wrong button, being off by 0.2-0.4 seconds or so, will cause you to fail: One poster said he gave up after dying three times on one of the levels. That’s too much of a joke to even discuss.

I felt like the difficulty for most of it was well suited, although 50% of my game time shouldn’t be spent on 10% of the game, so that is my biggest gripe. But those complaining about zone 1? Shut the hell up. Some games should be hard, with only ONE difficulty, no options, no check points, nothing. Only those that put in the time and have the ability deserve to finish it. 2.2% of Steam users have beat this game. In our genme era, every Joe and his mom believe they deserve to “beat” every game they buy. I don’t agree with making games Battletoads level difficult, or even having 30-40 hour games with ridiculous difficulty (although I’d like to see more RPGs and games you can usually just plow through to have bosses or events that are bottlenecks and difficult to get around. Dragon Age felt like if you put it on harder difficulties, EVERYTHING was hard, which I’m not looking for in an RPG). But in short games, I sometimes like to test my ability to overcome the challenges at every step of the way.

These games need to exist and they need to be fun, regardless of whether you can beat them or not. Ikaruga comes to mind, although you eventually are given infinite continues. Too many checkpoints and too much hand holding has really sucked the fun out of a lot of modern games for me. And these “hard” modes often have to contrive difficulty levels where it’s simply unfair. Bit.trip Runner isn’t unfair. You know exactly what you have to do. There’s no confusion, there are no unbalanced enemies, no being overwhelmed from every side. All you have to do is press the right button at the right time. You have a full second or so to make that decision. The genme era is ruining the fun and joy of video gaming, those that just want to CONSUME, to go through the motions and “finish” a game just to say they did. I didn’t pump my fist in the air when I beat Mass Effect 3, despite the fact it is a masterpiece. I did when I beat Bit.trip Runner, and when I beat Double Dragon for NES. These games need to continue to exist, with NO OPTION but to play the hardest difficulty. Then we can separate the boys from the men.

If you want a challenging, fun, simple game, try it out. But it will test your patience, I promise you.

Final Fantasy VI - the Blog! Part II

on 7/1/2012

Stuff is really starting to pick up in FFVI! After the meeting with the Returners, Terra agreed to be their “last ray of hope”, and immediately the Empire attacked the last city I was in, South Figaro. LOCKE split from the group to go scout, while the rest of us went down the river to Narshe. The goal is for TERRA to inspect the esper and hopefully gain control over magic or something.

Things continue with EDGAR, TERRA, and SABIN going down the river, while protecting the Returners’ leader BANON. After a battle with a huge octopus, SABIN decides in all his wisdom to jump into the river to defeat it once and for all. However, once you get back to the map you see his body just floating away. The raft goes in another direction. Then a major bombshell thing happens…

The screen goes black and gives you a choice of which character or group to follow! It was amazing when I got here. You could take over LOCKE’s investigation of the Empire’s invasion of South Figaro, join TERRA, EDGAR, and BANON’s continuing river journey, or follow SABIN’s body down the river.

Choosing SABIN’s path, you wake up in the middle of another part of the continent with a small house nearby. There’s an insane man there, along with the mysterious badass guy from South Figaro’s bar, SHADOW (and his puppy) (and it’s not a pug).

The goal now is to go to Doma Castle, to Narsha. However the Empire is about to invade the castle. SHADOW and SABIN meet up with the ultra powerful swordfighter from Doma, CYAN, after his whole family and everyone around him dies from poisoning. The way forward is through a haunted forest, where SHADOW just up and decides to leave the party. He’s scared as FUCK.

I end this playthrough in a similarly haunted train. It sends the dead to the other side, and we have to stop the train and get out to continue the journey to Narshe.

Trigger Warning

on 6/30/2012

Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency recently raised one billion dollars with Kickstarter for a videogame series on youtube about sexist potrayals of women in videogames. Most of her fundraising was a response to the controversey created by a neckbeard blacklash who called her horrible things like “jew” when she is in fact, just a dirty Armenian. It compelled videogame sites like Kotaku and IGN, sites that make their profits by exploiting real women, to start getting high and mighty for the week when this was an issue–calling out developers as “sexist” using the same college women studies narrative they laughed at as freshmen (Though more and more humanities students are writing on these sites to complement their Starbucks jobs. There was a great, great VIDEOGAME article on Kotaku recently talking about how being a straight white male is playing life on easy mode). To be fair, I bet she had had some incredibly violent threats coming her way from communities like 4chan. Considering she would consider a leery look as strong sexual harassment, I can understand her fear of comments even I would find genuinely disgusting.

She’s not a unique commentator (her only humor is the dumb Jon Stewart deadpan rimshot after an over the top clip, standard sarcasm), and her research pretty much involves reading and applying the standard academic narrative over it, but it’s good that she’s trying to get paid for a thing she once did for semi-free. I have no problem with that, she’s a hack, but there’s a ton of paid hacks in the mainstream media.

She has yet to release a video in this series, but from her previous efforts and general knowledge of women studies 101, you can guess it from the headers for future episodes: Sexy Sidekick, Sexy Villainess, Damsel in Distress–that common tropes drive games and create a sexist and sometimes mysoginist potrayal of women, and that we should recognize, critcicize and stop the continuation of such base impulses (by destroying the Capitalist white male system that creates them in the …oh, that arguement is for later).

Well, girl, sit down on my lap: Games have a short amount of time to establish a world and a character and give you the necessary justification before letting the gameplay take over, at least, that’s what a good game should do. To do that they have to use cliches and stereotypes and the most standard storyline possible, so the good guy is a tall muscular dude, and you have to get your girlfriend or the princess from a ugly and corrupt villain. Your objection is of course, that those cliches and stereotypes are harmful and perpetuate standard gender roles and a patriarchal society, and that they should be offensive to us as as if a game started modeling itself after The Birth of a Nation.

Shh, shush, it’s a lot more complex than that. In one of your videos you go after Twilight for being about a woman who basically stands around while other men vie for her affection, but that’s one of the most popular movies for women, by a woman. The most popular games among women, Nintendogs and The Sims appeal to the stereotype that women care more about nurturing a playhouse instead of playing with action figures. The simplest way to get a male teenager’s attention (and they buy most of the 60 dollar games) is to give him a lot of violence and tits. There are just things that will appeal to boys more than girls, and teenage males and young adult males more than women. Why are you running away? I’m giving you some truth. GET BACK. PLEASE

(She’ll say that boys are geared towards certain gender roles by the media, so even though the Pixar movie Brave will have as much marketing as Cars did, because of cultural conditioning, boys would still rather play with a car than some fucking ginger who doesn’t understand that her womb is the most important thing she has.)

The subject is interesting, and generally, as games become more mainstream they’ve followed the lead of most movies in having strong women characters (though I guess she’ll have objections to those as well, see her on True Grit). I think violence in the media is an interesting subject too, but I would roll my eyes at a Lieberman type who just showed clips of violence and said that it desensitized us to the real deal or made us more likely to do it (I’m not saying those arguments aren’t correct, but he wouldn’t be proving it by just showing clips and saying it does). What I don’t get is what these people really want, do they want all expression to conform to their worldview? To have each act provide the necessary context to support their worldview? How are they different from religious nuts? I’ll give you the same warning Sarkeesian gives before she links juvenile youtube comments directed towards her: TRIGGER WARNING FOR RAPE AND SEXUAL MOLESTATION VICTIMS. A big chunk of men need to objectify–that some probably get off humiliating women but are still likely to treat women as equals in other spheres of life…like, a 13 yr old wants to play as a muscled chiseled dude to get a supermodel babe, he consumes a ton of pornography, he can’t help but ogle at legs and ass while walking down the street–there’s a complicated relationship between fantasy and reality, and I just dont think she even grasps it because she doesn’t believe in any innate traits because she, and people like her, believe human beings are totally fluid beings who are fascinated by violence and sex and rape and orgies and choking only because of reactionary and powerful elements within society.

She focuses on the most simple narrative medium possible, of a type of analysis that anyone on our esteemed foodfamitsu panel could do, because it’s EASY MODE. Doing the same with compelling historical works that have those elements like Sade, or present day works like novels by Bret Easton Ellis, movies directed by Kubrick or comics by Crumb would require substantial thought she and most people (me) don’t posses. She has nothing interesting to say and no novel way to present it, and the all the commentators posting in her wake have been even inferior. Whatever.

For an example of good commentary on the same subject, check out this series: video link

Final Fantasy VI - the Blog! Part I

on 6/29/2012

Hello dear sirs! In order to remember the events of Final Fantasy VI between playing, I will be chronicling it in blog form. How exciting for all involved. I generally only get a chance to play two or three times a week so by the time I get to play again I have to remember what the hell is going on. With that introduction, I begin.

My game today starts in a mountain range. I have just left South Figaro, unsure of where to go. In South Figaro there are two loose ends: an old man who refuses to talk to me until he gets CIDER, and a boat that is headed nowhere. I heard some stories of history from a few people, attempted to mug the man bringing the old man cider, and basically searched every possible square of South Figaro I could get to. Alas, the boat would not be unmoored from the dock, and the old man is still a piece of shit who refuses to speak.

So I headed north to the last place I could reach that has not been explored: some mountain.. Mt K-something I know it starts with a K. This is a maze of caves and ledges, and I start climbing through. There is a mysterious shadow man just ahead of me at every turn. Fighting many battles along the way, I finally reach a save point. I know something special is coming, most likely a confrontation with the shadow man.

Indeed, when I reach the bottom of the next outdoor area he is blocking my path. His name is…… shit I can’t remember. V-something. V-something attacks me with two bears in the front line. Eventually he is worn down enough and SABIN, the brother of EDGAR (the king of Castle Figaro, which is now underground running away from the evil Empire). SABIN vs V-something turns into a one on one battle, and there’s a cool new option called Blitz. Of course I have no idea how to use it, eventually SABIN gets down to 10 HP and finally the game decides to explain how blitz works. Unfortunately by that time I’m dead. So I get back down there from the save point, redo everything, and finally get the blitz right. V-something is pissed that he believes his master chose SABIN to be a successor, SABIN claims this is untrue, and destroys V-something.

Further along, we reach the rebel’s hidden HQ. They are called the Returners, and they want TERRA’s help. They believe she must make this choice on her own. Here, I hit save and put down the game for the next installment.

Banjo-Kazooie Is Teaching Women the Wrong Message

on 10/2/2011

Servo won the two man vote because he voted first. Banjo-Kazooie it is.

What’s most important in this kind of game is the storyline. This is why we play childish 3D platformers. What I’ve learned is that Banjo-Kazooie reinforces the notion that women are sex objects. Yes, that’s right. The main adversary of the game is Gruntilda; a fat, hideous green witch. What’s her evil scheme? To use her new invention to steal the beauty from a little girl bear. She abducts your sister, Tooty, and you have to go on an adventure to save her, blah blah. When you save and quit, you see a scene of Gruntilda transforming herself into a sexy, beautiful N64 woman (no, I’m not aroused, spyder), while your sister becomes this deformed obese freak creature. So that’s the premise of the game. We’re fighting over female attractiveness.

As for the less important aspect of gameplay: the game is evocative of Donkey Kong 64, albeit you don’t switch characters. There was a point where I was transformed into an ant creature, which allowed me to access new areas. It’s not as polished as DK, probably because it was released earlier, but overall, I’m really enjoying the nostalgia of N64 3D platforming. If you (servo) are looking for classic 3D platforming, it’s easy to recommend. Banjo-Tooie may be the better option though.