Now Playing: One Small Step for Man

Yeah, let’s come round back on this.

For the summary, years, years ago, I set myself on a quest to beat, or come as close as I’m capable of doing, all my games. Every single games that’s part of my collection. Group them by console generation, tackle them sequentially, don’t stop until either they’re beat or I am.

At first it went smoothly. Although I still have some older games either I forgot about at the time (basically my whole Game Boy library) or picked up after the fact, the first several console generations fell quickly. Then I’ve been stuck in the seventh console generation for what feels like ages. But I am near the end of it. In an attempt to keep myself honest moving forward, I’m making it public. Potentially opening up myself to shame but not really because I am magnificent and so don’t have to worry about that.

Last time, I moaned about not making nearly as much progress as I thought. Since then, I’ve changed the way I play games. Got more of a solid schedule to it, less just playing whatever I feel like. Also, I don’t have as much games going at once, and for the time being at least, I’m not working classic games outside of the project series I’m picking up into the rotation. I think it’s had success in moving me forwards. I’ve knocked off several titles in the short month-plus since the last time we’ve done this. Makes me hopeful I might actually get through this generation of the quest in less time than even I predicted this year. Yep, quite a turnaround from the last time we checked in. Let’s get into that.

The Recently Conquered

Final Fantasy XII

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I’m… look, I’m sorry. Can we do that again?

Final Fantasy XII

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Ohhhhh yeah. One more time. I need this.

Final Fantasy XII

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Hell yeah! The JRPGs have been the biggest things stretching out the time I’ve been spending on this generation, and I just knocked out one of the largest and bulkiest one there. I’m satisfied with this one. I didn’t just beat this game. I overcame it.

Final Fantasy XII is legendary for its production difficulties. I said it before, but the metaphor still works so well for me; those difficulties have ended up woven into the very DNA in the game. When it’s on, it can be great! It wasn’t one I appreciated when the game was new, but coming back to it now, having played some other games that have introduced me to the gameplay style this one used, I could really appreciate it! When it’s not on, though, it really drags. And there are so many times it’s not on.

The plot is the biggest casualty here. There are a lot of things that seem, if not exactly like they would have been done well, at least very interesting. The pretty boy villain completely bucks the Final Fantasy trend of being an omnicidal maniac at heart, and actually has a rather understandable reason for what he’s doing, even if what he’s doing is absolutely horrible and probably leaves way more corpses in its wake than need be. The story veers away from the typical good vs. evil trappings, having characters that seem wicked at first only for things to turn out to be a lot more complicated than they originally seem. It deals with some heavy politics, subverts a lot of common tropes for games in general and Final Fantasy in particular, and is a hugely innovative story in foundation.

The problem is that so much of it was left on the cutting room floor. I don’t often complain about gameplay to story ratio, because there’s so much room for different types that can still be successful, but Final Fantasy XII got it way wrong for the type of story it’s trying to tell. It’s a grand plot, in concept. But you just see very little of it. You will go hours and hours without a cutscene, and they don’t advance it much through basic dialogue, either. Telling tales through gameplay is absolutely out. Even beyond that, it’s missing a lot of parts. Only two of your six party members have any direct, explicit connection to the central conflict, with two more having motivations that hit the outskirts of it. The other two are only there because other characters are there. And I saw so little out of any of them that I actually forgot what most of them sound like, and I have no sense of any of their personalities. Yet the developers call one of the blandest characters their favorite, because of all that stuff that was supposed to go in there yet never did. Much of the moral ambiguity and subversive nature of the plot falls flat because it lost so much of the build up it should have had. From what it sounds like, the plans were for this to be a very different game than it actually was. And it sounds like it’s a great shame, what we lost.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles

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I don’t have much to say about this one that I didn’t say previously. I enjoyed it, but it’s designed for multiplayer and a lot of the features hold it back as a single player experience. Yet, given that multiplayer requires extra handhelds and peripherals, there’s a lot more of a barrier to entry than there should be to playing it as it’s meant to be played. Still, though, it’s a decent game in a really interesting world that I’d love to see explored more fully, but I don’t really truck with the way the other games in the series were designed.

Last time I beat this game was quite some time ago. I remember the final boss taking me to the limit, with me slowly plinking away at his health while I used up every resource he had, having to watch well his tells at the end because I couldn’t afford a single hit, forcing a very careful, defensive play that took quite some time. I was apprehensive going into it this time. And I crushed him. Absolutely, wasn’t even close, destroyed the final boss. Easily. I guess I’ve grown as a player.

Mortal Kombat Armageddon

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Ah, this game. It’s amazing to me how much quality can fall across a series, especially when they’re using the same engine as much better earlier games. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance was legitimately one of the best fighting games of its time. Which is a really sparse field, because there wasn’t much of note being released in the genre at the time, but still. Game is solid. It’s not one of the all time greats, but given what Mortal Kombat was beforehand, and given what fighting games were doing at the time, it’s way, way better than it has any right to be.

Mortal Kombat Armageddon uses the same engine, and came out years afterwards. But it doesn’t feel anywhere near as good. If I played them side by side, I could probably point out why that is. As is, I’m not sure. It all feels a lot looser than I remember Deadly Alliance being, although DA is plenty loose on its own. But still, playing this game just feels sloppy. Fighting games should be quick, responsive, and you should be able to develop great control over it with practice. Armageddon feels like you’re using the control to make suggestions as to what your character should do, which maybe, if you’re lucky, they’ll take. Not fun.

But I do have a lot of respect for the Mortal Kombat team. They are not afraid to try things. They will see concepts through. And Armageddon was the culmination of a whole lot for them. The end of the story line that had been running through most of the past several games where the main character died and stayed dead, all the established villains lost their places, and the whole Mortal Kombat world got shaken up. The limit and beyond of how far they could take the martial arts nerdity concept they have been working with. A game in which they put in literally every playable character and boss the series had ever had. This was a game that any sensible publisher would have kiboshed, but I’m glad it made it out there. Unfortunately, the scope of it results in it spreading itself too thin. The martial arts are way more watered down than the well-researched examples they were two games prior, fatalities are gone and a lot of the shock value the game flourishes on with it, and the huge number of characters means that each needs to make do with less. It’s sloppy, it’s watered down, it’s good for the spectacle of it, but Deadly Alliance is better in nearly every other way.

But this game does get points for finally presenting something in which I can beat Kintaro. Tigerkan ripped me apart in Mortal Kombat 2. I had literally never beaten him in his original game. Oh, revenge is mine, now.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

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Ah, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It’s a very well-regarded game. I never played it in its era, but coming back to it now, that’s really well deserved.

It feels like the most dated game of this generation I’ve played in a while. The weird audio mixing, the lack of subtitles, the weird character model, the game feels old. Until you start moving around. Then the movement just sweeps you away.

And that’s really where the game is at its best, when it has you navigating and parkouring your through some giant palace that cannot possibly be suitable for having people actually live there. Between the tight controls and the well-designed levels, it just feels so good to be getting through this game. As I mentioned in the last post, it’s all so deliberately designed, too. It feels like they only put in the best ideas they had, leaving anything that wasn’t up to a certain level of quality on the table. There is a point near the end where it’s obvious they started running out of time and resources, but until then, it’s a blast.

Except for combat. Man, the combat in this game is such a drag. It was all very samey, repetitive, at best benign and at worst frustrating. Between the lack of variety and the clumsiness of your moves, it feels like an afterthought in this game.

This is something that’s kind of become obsolete as digital distribution makes it easier to get your hands on older games, but I do have a great appreciation for games that have older titles hidden within them. I absolutely hate the classic Prince of Persia, but I still got a good thrill when I managed to unlock it.

Now Playing

X-Men Legends

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So, confession time. I’m a big comics dork. On top of the video games, art, being sexy, and changing the world, that’s one of the other things I do to pass the time. I really enjoy them. If you’ve been hanging out here for a while, you know this

Unfortunately, most of the time comics go into video games form, it’s not that great. Movie-based games, games-based movies, comics-based movie-based games, creators don’t have a great track record of shifting stories across media if they’re working video games in there. X-Men Legends is supposed to be one of the standout ones, bringing a high level of quality in there. And you know, it’s pretty solid.

I haven’t played it long enough yet to have much of an opinion on it. It’s an action-RPG in which you take four members of the titular team and have them crush their way through various oppositions. It’s fun, so far, although I find myself wishing for a bit more variety in characters than their given me. Even with everyone’s different powers, it still seems like their actually playability fits into just a few different models. When things go down, they go down in a hurry, and managing health and recovery supplies has proven to be a unwelcome challenge when things get tough, although it’s seeming that they’re introducing new features to help mitigate that as I go along. Still, though, I’m having fun so far. I enjoy the presentation, the character customization, and getting to play as one of my favorite superteams fills me with an innate sense of joy.

One minor irritation, which was present in the Ultimate X-Men universe this game was based on so it’s not really the designers fault, but something I thought I’d make a point around anyways, there’s a big distinction between the visual design of the men and women here. Your male characters are usually wearing a somewhat more militarized version of their superhero outfit. Seems a rather practical outfit while still working the fantastical constraints of the typical superhero visual design in there. Women are basically wearing stylized sports bras and yoga pants. Obviously designed with the sexy visual appeal in mind. Now, I’m definitely not one to complain about characters being sexy. There’s all sorts of good things that can come out of a character being sexy, even beyond the innate tittilation part of it. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your fanservice cheesecake either. However, if you’re going to be working your visual design around that sexy appeal, you have to use it properly. I wrote about this five years ago, and it still holds true now. If you’re going to design your characters to try and hit that level of visual appeal, to really fit in and add to your experience it needs to fit the tone of the work, add narrative value, and/or apply to everyone so it’s part of the overall visual design rather than just being targeted at one gender. When the women are the only characters explicitly designed to be sexy, and there’s no real plot or setting or characterization bit that calls to that, it becomes more of the ‘this is how we see women’ thing that’s just a bit uncomfortable. Chris Claremont, the author who made the X-men into what we know and love today, at his best was probably one of the best in the business at using that carnal visual appeal in ways that really did build into and enhanced plot, characterizations, and overall settings, but I guess that didn’t carry into the Ultimate universe.

That is way more words than I meant to write on the subject.

Bonus Round

Persona 2: Innocent Sin

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I think I’ve pretty much exhausted most of what I can say about this game.

But yeah, wanting to circle around back to the Persona Retrospective I had going years ago. I left off partway through playing Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. However, given how much the first part of the duology plays into that game, I think I need to play my way through Innocent Sin first in order to make sure I’ve got the proper perspective on this one.

I didn’t recall just how much it drags in the second act, though. Get a number of dungeons with no clear progression or conclusion, where you get to the end and they’ll send you to another one while the status quo is the same. Some of them you can even skip outright without much being different. When the plot gets on track again, though, it moves forward like a cannonball. At least for a while. Currently, I’m on the cusp of that.

Shin Megami Tensei

Again, I’ve been talking about my experiences with this a bit already.

I just found myself with an overwhelming urge to pick this up again. Again, it’s a game I have a lot of history with, but there’s a bit more too it this time. I don’t remember what it was exactly, but I remember being led to consider this series’ representation of God. It’s pretty famous/infamous for having God as a major villain throughout, and it’s not exactly a nuanced depiction because games in the series are never really about any individual deity or demon, but rather the lives of humanity in a world they’ve come to reinhabit or whatever these deities and demons represent, instead. You wouldn’t know it to talk about it on the internet, however. There’s come to be a lot of information out there taking a good look at the Megami Tensei series, but none I’ve found that analyze this component of it, or the greater ideology vs. ideology themes, to my satisfaction. So yeah, I thought to go through it myself and get my own thoughts together. Maybe that will turn into a post here in the future. Maybe it’ll be a series of posts. We’ll see.

At the very least, I do get the opportunity to play through a game that’s very important and meaningful to me in a rather personal way again. Nothing to complain about that.

The Soon To Fall

Valkyrie Profile 2

Shadow of the Colossus

Psychonauts

Beyond Good and Evil

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snaaaaaaaaaaake Eateeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrr

 

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

That list.  It’s getting shorter and shorter.  The goal was to have it done before the end of the year, but I’m starting to think that I could get it done well before then.  Of course, I’ll have the 8th Generation to deal with after that, and my collection there is massive as well, but still.  This is going to be a giant leap for me-kind.  After X-men Legends, there will be seven games to go.  And I’m staying regimented with this one.  Scheduling out my time so I’m still focusing on these quest games even as I have my side project games going on with them.

It’s really exciting to me that there’s only two JRPGs left in that list.  As I said, those were the biggest time stops for me on this generation of the quest.  The rest of the games should be around 20 hours to beat at most, so I should be moving through the rest at a good clip.  I’m already planning out a rough schedule for them,  thinking Valkyrie Profile will be the next one up after X-Men Legends.  Baten Kaitos will be the last game I play, both because it’s another JRPG and I know I really enjoy it, so it will probably be the most satisfying way to close out this generation of the quest.  Shadow of the Colossus will be second last, to counter act the length that Baten Kaitos will bring, and all the rest, we’ll see what I feel like when they come up.

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6 responses to “Now Playing: One Small Step for Man

  1. It’s interesting how the biggest issue you have with Final Fantasy XII concerns its butchered plot. Most people really didn’t like the gameplay, though another common complaint is that the protagonist is more of a supporting character. I kind of suspect that storytelling device might fall into that category of storytelling tropes that work in non-interactive fiction only to hit a snag in this new medium.

    Come to think of it, Breath of Fire II was also a 16-bit game in which God was the villain. I think what helped that one slip by the radar when it was considered for localization was the fact that said god wasn’t revealed as such until quite a significant way into the experience. That and said god wasn’t technically the Abrahamic being, though it’s easy to see the church that worships him as a reference to Catholicism. Then again, the translation was so abhorrently terrible that there were probably plenty of people who didn’t pick up on this even if they did complete it.

    • I didn’t like the gameplay either, at first. Not for some long years. It did grow on me this time around, again, now that I’m more experienced with other games of its type that introduced me to just how it’s supposed to work. That said, this time around, I was often playing the game with something else, a let’s play or something, running to the side. That may have helped through the worst parts. Or the grindy parts. Of which there are many.

      But yeah, the plot feels like the biggest casualty to me. It was a risky plot that could well have been horrible, but it didn’t even have the chance to grow into what it was meant to be. That feels worse to me, that due to the production challenges, it never even had a chance to really try, than that it would have tried and failed.

      I never picked up on the Breath of Fire II parallels until it was pointed out to me later. Again, probably thanks to the bad translation. But I do think there’s a bit of a difference between using an analogue to God and using something explicitly designed as the Judeo-Christian God. One’s creative expression, other seems to be pointed. Shin Megami Tensei seems to be somewhere in the middle in intention, in that it’s more using God as a representation of deities in general rather than on his own right and isn’t made for a market for which there’s a large cultural movement this would be pointed at, but at the same time, it’s using something that’s very real for a whole lot of people and painting it in a very dark brush.

      Of course, since then, the whole ‘Western Religion is Evil’ shtick has gotten a bit tired. It feels a bit of a different circumstance now than it was then.

  2. Wow, this is some dedication. I’m way too scattershot and couldn’t stick to any sort of backlog plan like this without resenting it. Of the games you’ve got coming up, I own all of them (some of them I’ve even played!) with the exception of the second Baten Kaitos – that one never released in Europe, much to my disappointment at the time.

    You’re definitely in for some treats with Psychonauts and Shadow of the Colossus, especially if you’ve never played those before. Valkyrie Profile 2 is in my backlog too, the boxart was just way too cool to pass over in the shop! FFXII is another one I’ve yet to tackle. And as for Sands of Time… that’s a great game, replayed it recently. The sequels are good too but the original is the most tightly focused. Combat is pretty meh, as you say. The sequels try and beef it up with bosses and the like, but you have to ask… why?

    • Thanks! I used to do that all the time as a kid, play through my entire collection of games as much as I could. When I started up this quest again, I did so thinking it had been long years since I’ve done that, but I was ill-prepared both for my having my own income meaning my collection had exponentially increased and my better skill meaning I wasn’t blocked off from completing these games early. So, yeah. Been on it since. But I’m making progress. And it’s been having me play games I wouldn’t have otherwise.

      Yeah, I really would have preferred the sequels focus more on the free running aspects. That part was much, much more enjoyable than the combat. Glad to know I’ve got some good experiences ahead of me, thanks for the preview!

  3. Sounds like you are making good progress. X-Men Legends didn’t click with me, but the series got better as it went along. Marvel Ultimate Alliance was the peak of those action RPG superhero games.

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