Going back and playing FFX and FFX-2, it’s obvious that they’re products of their era– distinctly PS2 titles.
But man. They’re great. For very different reasons, but great nonetheless. FFX is one of the best young adult fantasy stories I can think of, in any medium. I’d recommend it to young people over Harry Potter or The Hunger Games or what have you any day of the week. It was a pleasure to go back to Spira again.
I continue to have a problem.
I’ve written about the Castlevania games in the context of compulsive completionism before, but in the intervening months I’ve found that my desire for achievements has all but vanished–a fact that can be explained mostly by the construction of a new PC (the first I’ve ever built myself, and the only one I’ve ever had remotely capable of playing new games!). When one’s “permanent record” is distributed over more than one system of merit badges (in my case now, XBox achievements AND Steam achievements), the weight that either one carries is dramatically reduced.
Whereas before, I could feasibly delude myself into thinking my XBox history to be a complete record of my interaction with modern games (I was somehow able to rationalize away all of the handheld games I’ve consumed), now this conceit is too far-fetched for even me to consider.
So! Cured, right? No more compulsive need to play everything!
I played this last week:
And yet I didn’t just sample them– I played them to completion. It took me approximately ninety tries to beat Dracula in Castlevania: The Adventure.
What excuse do I have for myself? I guess I don’t. Like I said, I think I have a problem.
My real mistake, from the outset, was creating a Google Doc titled “Castlevania games I have played” and compiling a list of the entire series (including the Game Boy spin-off Kid Dracula, because, let’s remember, I have a problem). I bolded the games I’d beaten and italicized the games I’d sampled but never played to completion.
And then I looked at all the titles left and said, “yeah, I could probably manage those.”
Why?! Why would I do such a thing? The truth of the matter is that all the list told me, at the outset, is that I’d beaten pretty much all of the good Castlevania games. I’ve beaten Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow and Dracula’s Curse. I’ve beaten Portrait of Ruin and Circle of the Moon and the original Castlevania. I’ve even beaten my fair share of the mediocre games, like Lament of Innocence and Harmony of Dissonance and Stampede of Elephants. (Okay, I made that last one up. But if it existed, I probably would have beaten it.)
When I looked at that list, the first thing that I should have seen was the good Castlevanias that I haven’t yet played. I should have said to myself, “Self, you haven’t yet sampled Order of Ecclesia, which is supposed to be pretty great. Nor have you played Curse of Darkness, which is supposed to be the best of the 3D lot before MercurySteam came along and really got it right with Lords of Shadow. Why don’t you track down one of those?”
But instead, what I did was look at the list and think: “Hey, those Game Boy Castlevanias are probably pretty short. I bet I could knock a couple of those out real quick and be that much closer to having played them all.” Then, I invested multiple hours in doing so. Those are hours I’m not going to get back.
Castlevania games are not Pokemon. There is no reward for catching them all.
Actually, is there a reward for catching all of the Pokemon, besides bragging rights? Maybe it’s better to say that Castlevania games aren’t Stars of Destiny.
And the worst part of all of this is that I know I have wasted my time, I know I should have done something else. And yet I still feel a twinge of pride at having bolded those two bullet points on my list. Congratulations, Nate. You’ve invested the time to beat two terrible games. Achievement unlocked!
Possibly the only thing I can say in my defense is that the remorse at having wasted my time compelled me to drop a couple bucks on Rondo of Blood for the Wii Virtual Console, which is an objectively awesome game and well worth my time (and yours).
I tell myself that my desire to play as many games as possible comes from a place of wanting to be “well played,” of wanting to foster an intimate understanding of the medium by attempting to expose myself to as much of it as possible, but I’m not entirely sure that I’ve furthered that ambition by playing these two mediocre platformers from the early 90’s. Maybe it’s possible that we can talk intelligently about games we haven’t played.
Maybe I shouldn’t have spent that dollar on Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night for iOS.
Hey! Apologies for the hiatus. I have been writing for other places.
My newest article went up at Kill Screen yesterday. It’s about Mario, his legacy as “Jumpman,” and how he’s been at the center of defining what it means to jump in a videogame. Go check it out!
I was listening to a couple friends yesterday talking about the replay value in Chrono Trigger stemming from taking different party members through story sequences in order to see what dialogue they added to the proceedings, and I couldn’t help but furrow my brow. One of the reasons that Chrono Trigger has such high replay value, I suggested, has nothing to do with the multiple endings or the various dialogue possibilities–or anything to do with the story at all.
Because Chrono Trigger has such a limited playable cast (seven characters is relatively small when stacked up against, say, Final Fantasy VI, with its fourteen playable characters), it can get away with a detailed and intricate combo system. In fact, probably 80% of the actions you’re going to take in any given battle are techs, unless you (like me) have a perverse insistence on just hammering away at bad guys with physical attacks.
Because every different party combination has its own unique set of combo attacks, and because each of these sets of attacks is functionally different (that is, some of them are area-of-effect, some of them attack on a line, some do massive damage to a single enemy, etc.), every party you take through a given dungeon will have a slightly different way of dealing with the baddies.
It’s like playing Mass Effect as a different class–replay value stemming from evaluating gameplay options with a different skillset in each playthrough.
Abandoning this template for a more Suikoden-like approach to playable characters was one of the big mistakes that Chrono Cross made, in my opinion, and is one reason that the game is weaker than its predecessor. Without combination techs, the characters become much more interchangeable.
Who’s excited for the impending DuckTales remaster? Hands in the air.
Everyone’s hand should be in the air right now. What’s wrong with you people?
I had the opportunity to fool around with WayForward’s remake at PAX East, and I’m fairly confident that Scrooge is in good hands–it feels pretty much identical to the original, and the new visual flair that they’ve laid overtop the old mechanics doesn’t distract much from the exceptionally solid platforming that was the hallmark of the NES classic. I don’t think we’ve got another “Turtles in Time: Reshelled” situation on our hands, is what I’m saying.
One of the things that I’m most curious about with the remake is how WayForward is going to treat the original’s exceptional music. The Penny Arcade Report mentioned in its announcement that Yoshihiro Sakaguchi’s music was not going to be “replaced,” but rather “updated.” As someone who has a deep and abiding love for chiptunes, I would be quite content to have the game’s soundtrack be completely unaltered, but as someone who also has a healthy dedication to the archives over at OCRemix, I’m open to the idea of new takes on old favorites.
The music to DuckTales isn’t just nostalgia-inducing, it’s legitimately great. I’ve argued before that the Moon Theme is the pinnacle of all human musical achievement, and it’s an argument I stand by. Here, have a listen.
What will the updated version of the Moon Theme sound like? Could it possibly be altered and still retain its supremacy over all other musical endeavor?
Maybe, maybe not. If WayForward walks the path of the remixer, it might end up sounding like this OCRemix from the ever-talented Star Salzman:
Listening to this, one almost wishes that WayForward would solicit OCRemixers to redo the entire soundtrack, much like Capcom did for the HD remake of Street Fighter II. But there are other ways to update classics, too, and the Moon Theme isn’t the only brilliant piece in the original DuckTales. Here, for instance, is the music from the African Mines:
Fairly funky, no? Might WayForward, then, choose to update in a similar manner to The One-Ups, who busted out some superb sax in their rendition of the tune?
Listen to that sax! The One-Ups sure know what they’re doing, don’t they? I’ve got my fingers crossed that whatever happens to the music in DuckTales, it captures the spirit of the original pieces in much the same manner as the arrangements I’ve highlighted.
But y’know, as excited as I am to team up with Scrooge McDuck again, I can’t help but be a little forlorn. See, this is my shameful secret: as much as I love DuckTales, as much as I continue to believe that the Moon Theme is a perfect expression of musical brilliance, as much as I have dreams of one day swimming in a money bin full of coins myself, there yet remains a classic Capcom platformer that I think is tragically overlooked, that deserves more love, that is even more chock full of chiptune goodness. It’s a game that I think deserves to be remade even more than DuckTales.
What is it, you ask? What is this pinnacle of perfection, this paragon of playability?
DuckTales 2, of course.
Yes! Scrooge had a second outing on the NES, and it was every bit as fine-tuned and brilliantly balanced as the first. Maybe even more so. It gets overlooked, often, because it came out in ’93, at the twilight of the NES’s life cycle. Admittedly, it didn’t improve on the formula much, but when your source material is as brilliant as DuckTales, you don’t really need to.
And the most important thing, of course, is that DuckTales 2, like its predecessor, had some totally rockin’ chiptune music. Without the Moon Theme it’ll never have as much cultural cache as the original, but just listen to some of these tracks and try to tell me I’m wrong:
Glomgold’s pirate ship:
And, perhaps my favorite, the music from the final screen (this version is from the Game Boy port):
It may be a madman’s hope, but all I want is for the sales of the DuckTales Remaster to be so overwhelming that Capcom remembers the lonely, forgotten sequel to its masterpiece and finds it in its heart to gussy it up and trot it out just like they’re doing for its big brother.
I’m not going to hold my breath, of course, but then– what does the song say? “Everyday, they’re out there making DuckTales.”
A guy can dream.
Now that Bioshock Infinite is finally here, I’ve had Bioshock on the brain. Not wanting to spoil anything about Irrational’s latest, I’ll save talking about it for later, but it seemed as good a time as any to do a little reminiscing about the original Bioshock, which is unquestionably one of the best games of all time. It’s been dissected and analyzed in eighty-million different ways, but I thought that I’d try a simpler take on it. Much simpler. To that end, I’ve made an attempt at explaining the plot of the original Bioshock using Randall Munroe’s “Up-Goer Five” linguistic limitation: explaining something complicated using only the “ten hundred” most common words in the English language. This was done with the aid of Theo Sanderson’s “Up-Goer Five Text Editor,” which I highly recommend you play around with. (It’s worth noting that this post spoils the entirety of the plot of Bioshock, albeit in somewhat obfuscated language.) —————————————– In the game, the player takes on the person of a no-name guy who is in a flying sky car that falls into the middle of the big water. In the middle of the big water, the player finds themselves near a light house which offers their only means of getting saved. Inside of the building they find a one-person under water car which takes them to the Best City, a place under the waves. The player learns that the Best City was built by a Man of Ideas who wanted to escape from the up-on-top world. The Best City is amazing and pretty, but dark and something is wrong. It quickly becomes clear that not everything in the Best City is as it should be, and the player almost gets killed at the hands of mean angry guys who are not quite human. The player escapes thanks to a strange voice on the talking help box. Help Box Guy explains to the player that things in the Best City have gone bad and he needs help for his family. Talking Help Box Guy shows the player through different little towns of the Best City, and the player meets and fights many bad things and mean people, none the least of which are the very bad “Big Dads,” tall and big men with lit heads and sometimes guns which follow and help and sometimes fight for “Little Sisters,” small, once-human girls who now act to find and take the thing that allows people to change and make better their own self-making living stuff. When the player finally gets to the under water car that holds the family of Talking Help Box Guy, the bad friends of Idea Man blow it up as the player watches, and a really mad Talking Box Guy explains that the only means left to escape the Best City is through the Man of Ideas. The player sets off to walk quietly into the house of the Idea Man, along the way learning more about the story of the Best City: the Man of Ideas, a business guy, grew mad at the ideas of important people in the up-on-top world who wanted him to always share and give, and so he decided to build the Best City to be his own idea of a perfect world. He asked people who ran businesses, people who thought deep things, and people who made art to share in his perfect city, a place where they would not be told what to do by the big people of the up-on-top world, where they would be free to make better their big thinking until it was as good as it could be. It becomes clear to the player, however, that even in a perfect city, someone has to worry about cleaning work and other hard things to do, and bad and dark thoughts between the people begin to grow in the city. These bad thoughts are made worse by the coming of a man who wants to use other people, who sees the chance to use the people of the Perfect City to his own ends. Soon the business of trying to make a perfect world changes in a bad way into class fighting, fighting against the Idea Man, and in the end, everyone fighting everyone. Most people die. When the player finally reaches the Idea Man, they learn that they are not the free player that they had thought they were, and they have been used by a person they could not see. The Idea Man drives the point home by offering the player a means to kill him and asking them to try and stop listening to the orders of the one who makes them do things. He does this with his now well-known line: “A man picks one thing or another. A person owned by another person does what that other person says.” The player finds that whether they want to or not, they have to kill the Idea Man by beating him to death. Having gotten what he wanted, Talking Help Box Guy shows himself to be none other than the Man Who Uses People, and explains that he has been using the player to get control of the Best City for himself. After thanking the player for their help, the Man Who Uses People orders his friends to kill the player, who is saved, however, by a woman who has been caring for and making better again the Little Sisters that the player has helped. With the help of the Woman Who Saves Little Girls, the player finds a way to break free of the Man Who Uses People’s mind control and fight him. In the end, the player must turn themselves into a Big Dad in order to fight. In a last big fight, the player beats the Man Who Uses People and, with the help of the Little Sisters, escapes the Best City to find a new life in the world above.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Castlevania music lately. Specifically, I’m catching up on back episodes of Brett Elston’s superb video game music podcase, VGMpire. He did a thing about six months ago where he took his listeners on a grand tour of the entire Castlevania musical oeuvre, and even as someone who is a die-hard fan of the franchise, I learned a thing or two (apparently Order of Ecclesia has some fabulous music! Who knew?).
Still, the thing that most struck me as I listened to track after track of awesome chiptune goodness was how much I really, really like the opening track from Circle of the Moon, titled “Awake.” I may or may not have stopped cleaning the house to do a little rocking out when one of the episodes opened with it.
The GBA doesn’t have great sound quality, and even the cleanest recordings sound like you’re hearing them broadcast from space through a battery-powered transmitter, but some of the compositions on the system were superb regardless (I point out here Advance Wars, in particular, along with the score to Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga), and Circle of the Moon, as a launch title, is particularly impressive.
Through the fog of memory, I can’t recall whether I purchased my GBA because I desperately needed to play Circle of the Moon or, as is more likely, that I had a good bit of pizza-delivery money burning a hole in my pocket and was anxious to be an early adopter of a system, but Circle of the Moon was unquestionably the only title available for the system at launch that was worth a damn. Even now, I have an inordinate fondness for the game, despite the fact that on the original GBA, the game was so dark that it was often impossible to see unless you were sitting directly underneath a bank of florescent lights. It was hard, sometimes brutally hard, and it was the first game after Symphony of the Night to ape the “Metroidvania” method of level design.
It’s tough to recommend Circle of the Moon to a new gamer (or new Castlevania fan) when there are much more accessible games available (like Symphony of the Night, and Aria/Dawn of Sorrow, and Portrait of Ruin)–but for those of us that played it back when it was originally released, Circle of the Moon was really something special.
Maybe it’s all the coffee in my system this afternoon, but I’m pretty sure I could listen to this theme on repeat for the rest of the day.
The funny thing about music in the Sonic the Hedgehog games, especially in the early levels, is that they have to hit you hard and fast because–no joke–you’re probably going to blow through Chemical Plant Zone in less than the time that it takes you to watch this YouTube video. Like, including the boss.
Sonic Team sure as hell knew how to make the Genesis’s sound chip sound great, and the music for Chemical Plant Zone is a superb example. Click the video. Have a listen. Give it twenty seconds–if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably think: “Oh, this is no big deal, I know this music inside and out. I’ve played this game a million times. This is nothing special.”
Let it sink in. Stay with it beyond the familiar initial reaction. And now– now it’s got its hooks in you. Now you can’t stop.
I have a tendency to try and get people to move to the city in which I live.
It’s not that I don’t respect the busy, rich, satisfying lives they must lead in their current cities–far from it. Many of my friends amaze me with their exploits on a near-daily basis. This desire to convince my friends to move near me isn’t borne entirely of selfishness, either: it’s not simply that I miss my friends but I am too stubborn to move myself. Instead, I blame this tendency to “recruit” my friends to come live with me on Suikoden II.
I first came to Suikoden on a whim: waiting desperately for the release of the next game from Square (a game which, if memory serves, was SaGa Frontier II, which is unique and worthwhile in its own right), I found myself at the mall with some money in my hands outside the door to “Electronics Boutique.” Recalling that my gaming magazine of choice (the long-defunct “Next Generation“) had given the recently-released Suikoden II four out of five stars, I decided to give it a go.
I confess to being a tad disoriented and underwhelmed at first. Flush after the cinematic overstimulation of Final Fantasy VII, adjusting to a game that was entirely two-dimensional, in which you couldn’t move diagonally, was a bit of a challenge. The fast-paced battles and charming characters went a long way to sell me on it, but I think that I probably got less than ten hours in before SaGa Frontier dropped and I got distracted.
It took me about a month or two to get back to it, and to this day I’m not entirely sure what I could have been thinking at the time. To have tasted the succulent fruit of Suikoden II and then walked away from the table? Unconscionable! Suikoden II is easily one of the ten best games I’ve ever played. It’s the strongest entry in a series that’s filled with compelling narratives about war, family, and destiny.
So how did it change how I think about my friendships? Well, that’s a little more complicated. Have you ever heard of Dunbar’s Number? It’s a concept which signifies the number of significant relationships the human brain can maintain and process at any given time. According to the Wikipedia article, it falls somewhere between a hundred and just over two hundred. So: more than just your housemates and your co-workers, but probably shy of the “Friends” tally you’re currently sporting on the ol’ Facebook.
When I first heard of Dunbar’s Number, the concept seemed curiously familiar to me, and it took me a little while to understand why. A hundred important relationships? A hundred people significant to me? Why did that strike a chord?
As with so many things, Suikoden held the answer. The Suikoden series, you see, revolves around a hero and his friends (or sometimes several heroes and their friends) collecting a mythical assembly known as the 108 Stars of Destiny. These Stars are characters who vary greatly in nature and disposition, from exuberant mercenaries to earnest chefs, brooding vampires, and at least one flying squirrel, and they all serve to aid you in your cause to resist the forces of tyranny, violence, and oppression.
And so, when I learned about Dunbar’s Number, something immediately came into focus for me: I was only going to be able to maintain just over a hundred relationships, and I was going to have to value each and every one of them, because these were going to be the hundred and eight people that were going to help me save the world.
Is that a bit of hyperbole? Of course. I didn’t have to like all of my Stars of Destiny (remember the flying squirrel?). But the beautiful, wonderful thing about the Suikoden games–a thing which I desperately wish was so obviously true about real life–is that everyone you recruit, each Star with whom you have a relationship, is there for a reason.
There’s the chef who runs your kitchens. The ferryman who gives you boat rides to neighboring towns. The man who installs your spa. There are countless warriors who join your party willing to risk their lives for your cause (or, if you want, you could take the chef into battle with you. Suikoden doesn’t care.).
For all of the brilliant plot twists and moments of narrative tension in the series, there is perhaps one instance in each Suikoden game that trumps even the most climactic battle: the moment when you are first given your castle. Far from a simple real estate transaction, the moment in which you are given your castle signifies the beginning of an enormous and epic endeavor–the beginning of your quest to seek out and recruit every useful person in the world and get them to move in with you.
Someone’s got to run your library. Someone’s got to upgrade your weapons. Someone’s got to be your cartographer. Seemingly every person you meet has a talent that they’re enthusiastic about contributing to the cause, even if that talent is changing the sound of your menu cursor into a quacking duck.
And I’m not a hundred percent sure when it happened, but this attitude about collecting all of my allies began to bleed into everyday life, and now I catch myself wondering what criteria I need to fulfill before my librarian friend, my blacksmith friend, my musician friend, my flying squirrel friend, will move into my castle so I can chisel their name on the great stone tablet that chronicles my Stars.
Is this selfish thinking? Perhaps a little bit. But there are few sensations in all of gaming that I find so pleasurable as running through a bustling castle town full of cheerful, productive inhabitants, and knowing that I had a hand in bringing them all together.