Tuesday, June 8, 2010

on majora's mask

I never finished Majora's Mask. The farthest I ever got was the end of Great Bay Temple, five or six years ago, where I was mercilessly slaughtered by Gyorg and could never muster up the will to go all the way through the dungeon again.

Recently, I played through all of Ocarina of Time in one eleven-hour sitting. I didn't use any guides, and I didn't 100% the game, though I did get a good amount of heart pieces (probably 20+) and 50+ gold skulltulas (which is all you need as far as rewards go -- you just get infinite rupees for getting all 100). There was, of course, no way I was going through all the effort of getting the Ice Arrows, seeing as they're utterly useless. Still, I got all the important things (sans the Biggoron Sword), and I even reflected Ganondorf's energy blasts with an empty bottle for laughs.

When I was done, I wanted to play Majora's Mask. So, after a lengthy and satisfying sleep, that's what I did. I wanted to play it on my N64, but when I turned the game on and started playing, it was, well... really ugly. Emulated, it looks pretty nice due to all the texture upscaling, filtering and anti-aliasing. That way I could also use save states to overcome the game's dreadful save system, because I'm all for utilizing technology to subvert bad game design.

You've probably read a lot of blog entries online about the artistic merit buried in Majora's Mask, and I definitely agree with those sentiments. It's a beautifully dark, abstract and surprisingly grotesque game, filled with all kinds of bleak imagery and general melancholy. The game revolves around the concept of having three days to stop the moon from falling and subsequently destroying the world, giving you a constant sense of urgency even though, in reality, you have plenty of time, assuming you use the Inverted Song of Time. Before those three days are up, of course, you can play the Song of Time to reset everything and start again from the first day, keeping any important key items you may have gained from completing dungeons and other side quests. I started to notice a lot of parallels with Chrono Cross as I played, actually -- they're both sequels to beloved games that depart quite drastically from their established formulas, and both feature a much darker tone than their predecessors.

One thing I picked up on the first time I played the game was the fact that, after completing a dungeon, the surrounding area is released from its darkly cursed state, changing the music back to the standard Termina Field music rather than the dreary, plodding melody that lingers beforehand. Then, since unless you're a skilled speedrunner, you can't finish all the dungeons in one three-day cycle, you reset time and everything is back to being depressing. It adds a sense that you're not making any real progress until you stop that moon, and it's always there, staring into your soul.

There's also the constant theme of masks running through the heart of the narrative: "mask" is in the title, after all. The three transformational masks which turn Link into a Deku, Goron or Zora are obtained by "healing" dying warriors of their respective races with the Song of Healing. They then retreat peacefully to the after life after a very interesting and somehow touching scene involving the warrior being sent off by his brethren. The whole process is actually quite beautiful with the combined imagery and music. When Link actually dons said masks to transform, you see him scream in pain as his body contorts into its new shape -- a constrastingly haunting image.

The overall mood of the game can be describe as nothing short of bizarre, with one of the stranger highlights being someone's long, pale arm poking out of a toilet asking you for paper -- in a humorous turn of events, you oblige him by handing him a title deed.

There's definitely something esoteric running through the entirety of the game's design, from its narrative to its structure to its level design. The dungeons of Majora's Mask are the most difficult in the entire series, though there's only really four of them -- and I'm not sure if it's because they're cleverly or badly designed. Probably a bit of both. Snowhead Temple in particular has a massive room in the middle that spans every floor of the dungeon, and if you're at the top and you fall down, you basically have to go through the entire dungeon over again. That is terrible. The thing is, that can very easily happen, with sections that require you to roll along the walls as Goron Link. Great Bay Temple is extremely confusing, as anything that deals with the flow of water usually is. Stone Tower Temple involves flipping the entire dungeon upside down repeatedly, so that by itself gives you an idea of how complex it is -- in short, Majora's dungeons, much like the rest of the game, are intimidating.

The game is, as a whole, obtusely designed; it's not just the dungeons. Several of the quests have unclear objectives and, due to the game's time-sensitive nature, are extremely time-consuming to retry if you fail (case in point: the entire Romani Ranch quest). Since things happen on specific schedules, you often find yourself just waiting around for extended periods of time -- you can advance time instantly by playing the Song of Double Time, but it only advances you to the next day transition -- that is, either 6 AM or 6 PM, and most time-sensitive events are at awkward hours like midnight or 1 AM. If you plan to 100% the game, you're forced to do several of the game's quests more than once, even one that spans an entire cycle and requires very precise timing, twice.

This brings us back to the save system, which is functionally broken and completely unhelpful. Here's how it works: The only time you can save the game is when you reset the three-day cycle with the Song of Time. Alternatively, you can do a sort of "quick save" at one of the owl statues, but that forces you to quit the game, and you can only load it once before it's automatically deleted. Sound terrible? Now imagine you just waited about 10 minutes between 6 PM and 1 AM for the Romani Ranch alien invasion event. The aliens reach the barn and you fail. Your first instinct? "Reload and try again," right? But you can't. You have to reset the cycle, go buy another powder keg for 100 rupees, blow up the rock on Milk Road, talk to Romani, wait around for a while, then you can try again.

To be honest, it's not a very good game. It's designed in a way that frustrates easily because it's difficult for the wrong reasons, like several small design missteps that quickly snowball and clumsy dungeon design. The save system, of course, and so many reused characters from Ocarina of Time that look exactly the same as before but are apparently different people -- something that is never explained. It's perplexing, though, because to say it favors style over substance isn't correct. The story and atmosphere actually have substance, more than most games, in fact. The structure of the levels in general is lazy and frustrating, but the controls themselves have been improved from Ocarina of Time, and the various masks add a lot of gameplay variety. Every time I think about playing the game, I get a sinking feeling because everything about it is so obnoxious, but when I think about the plot and atmosphere, it makes me wish the game itself was a lot better.

My current file sits me at the start of Stone Tower Temple, and I don't want to continue. The game has burned me out after wading through countless obnoxious fetch quests and inconveniently designed objectives, and I just can't take it anymore. Getting the Mirror Shield was one of the most annoying things I've ever had to do in a Zelda game, and I can't imagine how awful the Zora Egg quest would have been if I didn't have five bottles.

Don't listen to the hipster kids who say "Majora's Mask is the best Zelda cuz it's art, bro," because games aren't supposed to be measured on their aesthetic alone, and Majora's Mask is fundamentally broken in other, more important aspects. That's not to say it isn't worth playing, because it definitely is. It's not as replayable as Ocarina of Time because as a game, it's not as good, and it's not paced nearly as well. In fact, the pacing is one of those broken aspects, possibly intentionally so. However, as an overall experience, it's something you should play at least once if you're a fan of Zelda, or a fan of games with a unique aesthetic that actually feels meaningful and genuine.

I suppose Majora's Mask was an interesting experiment in focusing on the development of character's personalities and fleshing out the world of Termina, as most of the side quests involve helping people with personal issues and learning about their backstories. Termina is a bit smaller than Ocarina's Hyrule, so it's a more compact world with more detail. It was good they tried it once, but I'm glad it didn't become a trend. Wind Waker tried new things in its own way, and Twilight Princess revisited the old Link to the Past/Ocarina of Time formula with mixed results.

It's been rumored that the next Wii Zelda is taking a lot of inspiration from Majora's Mask, and I really hope it's not in the form of a time limit or annoying scheduled events -- on the other hand, it'd be a great idea to expand on that aesthetic style. On the other other hand, I find Zelda is at its best when it's experimenting and trying new things, even if it's not always successful. Twilight Princess was good, but it was a bit too familiar, so it felt like it was missing something. Ocarina of Time was so great because it took A Link to the Past's structure and brought it into a new dimension. Since they haven't invented 4D gaming yet, it's time to develop something new and innovative, and I think they'll find a way. That's how Nintendo rolls.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

in a world where everything is gray and/or white...

A while ago, I tried to make a real time "live blog" type thing of myself playing through Xenosaga ep.1. I couldn't finish it. Here's what I managed to get down. Note that it is profanity-laden and reads like an IRC log or something. There are probably spoilers too.

-opening cutscene

20XX? really

kenya, lol


he knew it!



don't look surprised bro, you knew this would happen.

4000 years later. :|


i like how they show off how bad their character design is, then the name of the character designer pops up.

this opening scene is like... 10 minutes long so far, btw. you can skip cutscenes in xenosaga, but why would you? you'd be left with a 10 hour jrpg with a mediocre battle system...

of course the password is "ye shall be as gods." anything else would be un-pretentious!

somehow i think if the military built a hyper proficient battle android, they wouldn't make it look like a super hot blue-haired chick

this cutscene is still going. creeping up on 15 minutes.

-encephalon simulator
shion lv1
kos-mos lv1

finally i get to play the game.

oh wait, no, tutorials.

ok, here we go.

this battle theme is so fucking awesome. wasted on such a shitty battle system

another cutscene. if this one is longer than a minute...

allen and shion, sitting in tree, etcetera

jesus fucking...

finally back to gameplay

yeah, yeah, blow up objects, etc...

battles in xenogears were more interesting than this shit

I COLLECTED SOME GOOD DATA ok i get it she's a scientist


another god damn cutscene

k, got the mission key, opened the gate...

guess what? cutscene.

boss fight. "drone gx"


well that was easy.



hey look it's elly

shion lv3
kos-mos lv3

-cutscene: dudes on a spaceship (expect many sequels)

unnecesarily long scene depicting spaceships coming out of warp speed

johnny yong bosch! he's everywhere, ladies and gentleman

this is... fucking boring.

back to shion and co.

more boring shit.

i wish i could skip this. i mean i could, but i have to watch it for this. :(

with all this voice acting, how did they fit this game on one disc? geez...

-aboard the woglinde

janis tells you about a red box in the encephawhatever. can i go back in there?

i got an email. an email. :|

allen so wants to hit that.

WHAT THE FUCK that guy has a giant x painted on his face... didn't a guy in xenogears have that too? don't remember

elly again. lol. shion is having some trippy out of body experience, like most rpg protagonists have at some point

wow this x-face guy is a real asshole. just goes around punching people in the face for looking at stuff

go to shion's room, get something, whatever

manufactered humans? called realians here

virgil is a freaky prick-face

lol i just noticed the awful lip synching. hilarious

this dialogue is so hammy

"he wasn't always like that... until the accident."

shion getting yelled at, lol.

went back into the encephalon simulator to find that red box... found one of those red doors, no box yet though.

oh i found it, was where the boss fight happened. had a battle passport in it. no idea what that does...

apparently it lets you play a minigame. huh.

impossible to figure out where anything is on this god damn ship

some assholes made me play tag with them. really?

i sure hope the gnosis don't attack while shion is resting!

shion keeps seeing elly

kos-mos is awake! gnosis are attacking! i did not see this coming!

yes, distract scary inter-dimensional monster with television...

this whole scene is terribly mundane... avoid the scary monsters, find friends. seen this in so many other games.

my ass they didn't hit her.

oh dear lord, they can possess the mechs.

shion is a total pussy, man. I WONT LEAVE ALONE ;_;

predictable cutscene with noble captain going down with the ship

lol the gnosis ship looks like a giant space whale


i guess this is supposed to be disturbing, but it's actually just kind of funny. dead realians being re-animated to hold off gnosis


this is all very existential and all, but i am bored can i please continue playing.

hahaha yeah they can fly, dick.

let me guess: kos-mos saves the day


boss: cyclops

easy enough, trick is to not use any ether attacks...

kos-mos is pretty smart, lol.

sure are a lot of bullets in those magazines.

friendly fire is hilarious!


boss: minotaur & 2x sky fish

still pretty easy. standard stuff...


i submit that kos-mos is the only good thing about xenosaga.

here's that infamous saving in mid-cutscene

shion lv6
kos-mos lv6

-cutscene: dudes on a spaceship part 2: the revenge

oh god, this guy has a hat that says "CAUTION I AM A BOOZER"

this dude, hammer, has fucking crazy hair too. he must be named after the demi-human hammer from xenogears

she's... not... dead...!

god, this guy says "ya moron" a lot

kos-mos is pushy as fuck, man.

his name is chaos? :|

why don't they ever capitalize chaos' name? >_>

"the captain... no one holds a greater amount of debt than the captain." lol.

mid-cutscene save: part 2

i have 5:22 playtime right now, 3 of those hours must be cutscenes, and another 45 minutes or so of idle time while i was eating or taking a shit or something.

fifth jerusalem? ._.

what is this, religious zealots railing against mental science?

oh look, it's ziggy stardust. seriously. this guy was modeled and named after david bowie

enter momo, lolicon of mass destruction

btw this cutscene has been going on for about 40 minutes, i think.

ziggy lv7

what a lame cloaking device, anyone would be able to see you

not much going on here, just some really unnecessary stealth sections

idk ziggy is kinda cool.

have to find a key to get momo out of her cell. typical

seems like ziggy's "ignition" attack crits every time it hits. abuse inc

... i just got killed by poison. it did EIGHTY DAMAGE. i have about 400 hp. so what, poison does 20% of my max hp in damage? as in it'll kill you in five turns? this is obnoxious. time to do the whole stealth sequence over again.

actually found a couple other secrets this time... one of those red doors, #4. need the key

found the key to door 11, but not 4. huh.

alright back to where i was.

boss fight (i guess?): gardis M1

dunno if that was a boss fight, but it was kind of a pain in the ass. got the master key

i actually kind of like the minimalist approach to music in the dungeons so far. there's just a sort of ambience indicative of being in outer space, which is nice

momo joins @lv5


last time i played this game, i think i died here and never played it again.

boss fight (i guess? again): zolfo & 2x mercurio

ah, trick to this battle is sleeping the mercurios. the zolfo shoots them to wake them up, doing pretty huge damage. not so bad after figuring that out.

oh it's that voice actor who always plays noble-but-evil dudes in rpgs. like gizel's dad in suikoden 5.

or not, this shit must be unwinnable

i hope it is, because i'm done trying to survive.

yeah, unwinnable.

things explode! ziggy and momo flee!

-aboard the elsa
shion lv8

back to shion's group.

lol, i just noticed how chaos looks like a sonic character... reminds me of silver from sonic 06 or something. indicative of how bad this character design is.

this game is sexist as fuck, lol. in a nutshell, they just said that because they have no women on their ship, they never get to eat good food

and now i'm supposed to take curry to commander whatshisface. what a girl

i turned away for a minute and now i have no idea what's happening. some people are taking kos-mos? idk man. i think this is a flashback. she's totally murdering everyone now though

back to the present, and curry delivering

can't... find... commanderguy...

there's this huge cutscene going on but i was watching highlights of the matrix rifftrax instead, sorry.

uh cerebral sciences, vector, concrete evidence... i dunno what's going on.

this is awful

this is the dumbest... cutscene...


boss fight: domo carrier

this is... difficult. high damage aoe, self-healing. you apparently have to keep an eye on the boost thing for this, which is... stupid for more than a few reasons. awful fight

k, upgraded my AGWS and stuff. also momo and ziggy joined shion's group, and we're apparently heading to second miltia...

-cutscene: dudes on a spaceship part 3: the holyman/aboard the durandal & u-tic battleship

so that's jr.? he likes to quote the bible i guess. probably a reference to his obvious emulation of billy's character design, who was a priest in xenogears

the character design in this game is... so bad. i don't know what happened. it wasn't too bad in XG...

albedo is a lol guy. terrible, terrible villain... predictably insane, nonsensical motives, annoying, all that. i'm sure he'll end up doing terrible shit. people need to realize that the best villains are the ambiguous ones that you don't want to hate. the good "true evil" villains have smooth/funny dialogue in addition to doing horrible, brutal things. albedo has none of these things.

god damn it, i hate this game

then you get thrown into a battle as jr. why couldn't this just be part of the cutscene? who designed this piece of shit?

the battle system in this game is so bad that you almost wish the game was one huge cutscene. it's like you don't *want* to play more of it...

you know, jr's design would be really good if it weren't for those puke green pants. come on, man... actually, he almost looks like a pallette swap of suiko3 luc. just give him some gloves and a mask...

jr. even seems to have billy's stance in battle. that's interesting

this was a really boring part of the game. moreso than usual, i mean... kill some guards, get some card keys, whatever.

boss: ambix

easy easy easy. down in about 3 turns

i feel like i'm getting dumber the longer these cutscenes go on. this isn't a good or interesting story.

-back on the elsa/dock colony

i'd update levels but i don't even care anymore. maybe later

my desire to skip this scene is... so intense.

allen is eating his sorrows away... what a pussy...

oh hey, dock colony. it's white, gray and metallic, just like every other place in the game

cherenkov is getting mugged or something

gonna try and grind... need money

going to pleroma i guess

ugh, money and exp is so slow here, but this is also the highest level place i can go...

xenogears is definitely better than this, and xenogears fucking sucks.

done grinding... upgraded all my AGWS, weapons and armor.

cutscene cutscene cutscene

something is wrong with the commander oh no

oh the u-tic battleship just opened up in EVS. that would have fucking helped a while ago when i was grinding.

what, we're leaving already? if i had just continued the story, we would have been here a grand total of 10 minutes.

alright! the captain says we're heading to miltia! but i bet we won't get there before something stops us!

stupid, vague cutscene with mystery girl. why do these have to exist. they tell me nothing and are not an effective method of foreshadowing

yep, something is stopping us.


oh god where the fuck are we now?

inside a gnosis. no shit.

-cathedral ship
shion lv11
kos-mos lv10
chaos lv15
ziggy lv13
momo lv12

this place looks like... well, it looks like the inside of some kind of ghost-monster. which is what the gnosis are, i guess. at least it's different from all the spaceships we've been on.

cherenkov is trippin balls.

jr. to the rescue, probably.

fucking jesus enemies have a lot of hp here.

and they don't drop any money. pretty good exp though

the giant gnosis devoured the planet! calling it.

WHAT IS GOING ON. is this a flashback? cherenkov in court or some shit and some lady stepping on his nuts

garbage (day)!

margulis is talking, but all i hear is marscal godwin

back to the dungeon.

is that a why? billboard? like the band?

i am getting really fucking sick of fighting groups of 5 high evasion enemies with drawn out attack animations.

of course there is more. why would something that is bad ever stop?

as far as i know, you can't sleep robotic enemies in this game. so why can enemies sleep kos-mos?

a waterfall? inside a ship? really?

this place is suffering hardcore from eternal sonata syndrome -- sure, enemies are onscreen and you can dodge them, but the paths are so fucking thin you might as well have them forced on you. actually, most of the game has been this way.

finally a save point. and a shop. haha. what a slap in the face. none of the enemies in here drop any money, and at the end they have the audacity to say "hey, if you need any supplies, get them now!"

but apparently the dungeon isn't over yet. sigh.

holy shit, is this a boss? it won't fucking die (perun)

it also can't seem to hit me with much of anything.

finally... christ.

this is definitely in the running for "worst dungeon in history of rpgs"

not only is it possible for dungeon crawling to be fun, it's *supposed* to be fun. monolith evidently never realized this

what the... i don't even know where i'm supposed to go at this point. this huge room is like a big circle with nothing but a couple chests in it, and i don't remember any branching paths before this. not that i'd want to go back and look for one, since all the massively obnoxious enemies respawn.

oh, i see. cutscene...

i hope there's no boss fight here. i really do. i don't want to die and have to run through like 4 rooms to get back here.

i just figured out how to learn/use deathblows (or whatever they are called in this game). battle system is now 5% more tolerable. still awful.

even inside this ridiculous brown place, there's more gray/metallic places.


okay. i think the boss is coming up. i hope. this is officially the most gameplay-centric segment of the entire game, and it sucks the fat one.

not before you're forced into more shitty battles, anyway.

yeah, let's watch the elevator descend the entire 150 foot drop while the most annoying sound ever recorded rapes our ears.

why are we surprised to see the zohar in here? kos-mos basically told us it was here a couple hours ago.

i always thought that cherenkov was a pretty transparent guy. HIOOOOOOOO

boss: gargoyle & 2x oudogogue

very tricky, but not too hard once you get the strat down.

-cutscene: dudes on a spaceship part 4: let's fighting love!

light, human race, cycle of consumption, sacks of flesh and bone... this is so melodramatic and trite...

are we supposed to feel sorry for cherenkov? we don't know anything about him and he's not presented as a primary character. now he's just rambling about how he was in the war and some other shit. it's really not effective

this is so evangelion. it's not even subtle about it.

dude's dead. quit your whining

first effective piece of dialogue in the whole game: "chaos... are we all going to end up like him?"

oh what the fuck is going on now? how did the elsa get in here? are they just floating in outer space? how are they breathing? so many questions, no answers.

fuck yeah jr.

holy shit lol, the durandal is badass. it has many guns.

kos-mos keeps it real. totally owned all those gnosis with SUPER UNKNOWN LATENT POWER

what, is she becoming a real girl now?

her belly button just turned into a weapon of mass destruction.

no idea what's going on again. jr. is running. GAIGNUUUUUUUN!!!!!11

dead cat. gaignun is his cat? what

oh it was a dream.

he has 666 tattooed on his hand? for serious?

the gnosis are made of salt? lol.

oh god this is all one big biblical allegory. the gnosis-infested galaxy is the post-eden human existence.

-aboard the durandal

this artificial park area is the closest thing to a planet this game has taken us to.

what the fuck, i just got an email about ace combat 4. rpgs are not supposed to have ingame advertising

for the record, my playtime is 26:20, but about 10 hours of that is idle time. i often have to take breaks when i play this because it's very painful.

i'm not sure where i'm supposed to go now. this ship is large.

"kos-mos is a nice person" no she's not, she's not even a person

so instead of providing the player with pretty, open-ended environments to explore, they made gargantuan spaceships for you to get lost for hours in where 80% of the space isn't used for anything and they are all the same color

sage advice from the writers of xenosaga: "it's best to rest when you're tired"

ok, more cutscene.

i'm guessing that's the kukai foundation. holy shit, it has like, natural features. like a... planet.

but it's not a planet. IT IS A SPACE STATION.

still, this is way more interesting than any other god damn place we've been to. maybe the game will now become tolerable. i doubt it.

wow, if you've ever played this game... rofl at the bullshit way the durandal docks on this thing. completely illogical and stupid.

so jr. has 666 and this sleazy businessman has 699.

oh don't say "no it can't be" and then walk off, you prick. god i hate anime cliches.

more talking about shit the player has no knowledge of.

fuck, how tall is jr.? i'm really short and i think he's smaller than i am. 4'10" maybe?

now we're at the beach, motherfuckers playing volleyball. and shion has a depressing flashback.

alright we get it, kos-mos is eventually going to have emotions and be human-like.

jr. has remote-controlled weather on his space station. t-pain aint got that shit.

shion hates thunder! what a vagina!

oh look, a black guy!

-kukai foundation

oh snap. there's a xenogears-style city map here. that's actually kind of cool

ahh, more AGWS upgrades i can't even begin to afford. let's see, how much money do i need...

at least 14,400. i have 1,400. lol. where am i supposed to grind? the cathedral ship enemies don't drop any money.

INVINCIBLE GIANT ROBOT. at this point, i'm starting to miss WE ARE MEN OF THE SEA

oh, and i need even more money for weapons an armor. probably another 5k or so.

according to this faq, playing poker is a good way to make money. i did not even know you could play poker.

of course, i can't even get the casino pass thing because they won't let me explore the durandal.

so you go to the inn, rest, and then you have to go back to the elsa, which is docked on the durandal, which is docked in kukai foundation.

now i can go get the god damn casino pass. geez.

having more fun playing poker than i am the rest of the game

ok done, time to go shopping

again, i can't stress enough how annoying it is not to be able to compare equipment in shops.

alright all upgraded... that was some dragon quest shit.

there was a big cutscene i didn't take any notes about, but in a nutshell the federation thinks the kukai foundation and miltia are conspiring against them, or so they say, but they're really trying to frame them or something. and something about u-tic. i don't even know what u-tic is, i just know i raided one of their ships at some point in the game. some chick is apparently undercover in the federation and helped shion and co. escape from custody so that they could prove their innocence by doing some shit with kos-mos' records. okay, back to playing.

-durandal again

this doesn't make sense to me. we're trying to get to kos-mos so we can prove our innocence, but we have no qualms with murdering federation soldiers on the way?

"yeah, that's great that you have proof you're innocent. too bad you killed like 15 people getting it. enjoy your 25-life"

i could almost understand if this was in a more medieval setting where the laws aren't so refined, but... really? this is in the year 4000 or whatever.

a common folly of roleplaying villainry: hide your prisoners' weapons in a room just down the hall!

man... jr's coin snap attack. he throws a coin into the air and then ricochets a bullet off it. do i really need to elaborate on how fucking bullshit that is?

the elsa is locked. how do i get in

i hate... and i mean hate, how you can't hit backrow enemies with long range weapons. what kind of sense does that make.

oh of course, you get in by going where the enemies are.

there just happens to be an unlocked hatch on the roof of the elsa. right.

back into the encephalon!


wahhhh thunder

elly says cryptic shit! again!

meanwhile, jr., momo and ziggy watch random soldiers march to battle

and they all looked like jr.


no, you are not nephilim. fuck you. you're elly.

urgh. forced to use momo and ziggy. good thing i upgraded their equips i guess. they still have no tech attacks

looks like another awful dungeon.

god damn momo sucks.

lol he gets angry when people are concerned for him, doesn't he

back to boring storytime with elly

yay, enemy encounters with five targets and a central enemy who has aoe cure. eyes glazing over

the small ones also have high evasion. who thought this was a good idea

fyi, battle systems like this are why so many people hold the misconception that plot is important in an rpg. because you know, playing this game certainly isn't fun. why else does it exist?

this is some of the most boring, tedious dungeon crawling i've ever experienced. and i played both lunars. monolith should not be allowed to make games.

asshole stands on top of building, quotes bible; audience groans

i don't know how anyone can think this is good science fiction. you don't even have to look very far to see it done right. star wars? mass effect? star ocean has more compelling narratives than this, save 4.

more sci-fi better than xenosaga: star trek. cheesy entertainment is still entertainment.

now we are in a forest. and there are more enemies. and i desperately wish to be dead and buried.

i have used almost 20 escape packs in this dungeon. i am not amused.

funnily enough, this game wasn't worth the $4 i spent on it.

oh god damn it momo, stop crying this is virtual reality.

albedo also looked just like jr. as a youngun

you know, i haven't fought a boss in whi- SHIT

boss: tiamat

pretty easy

oh look, kos-mos is crucified. sigh. spare me the symbolism

shion is this... oblivious, bland character. there's nothing interesting about her at all.

i... can't take this anymore. i'm done.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

no pictures (FFXIII spoilers)

I finished Final Fantasy XIII the other day, and I liked it. It was a beautiful, intense journey through the worlds of Cocoon and Pulse, showing flashes of where the JRPG genre may be heading as a whole. It was concise and to the point, the battle system was fantastic, the music and graphics were beautiful, and once you finally got down to the rolling plains of Gran Pulse, the game really did open up and give you a ton of stuff to do.

I didn't like everything about it, though. I'm not going to spend eight paragraphs whining about the linearity of the game, because I was expecting the next Kitase/Nomura Final Fantasy to be linear before we knew anything significant about XIII. Instead, I'm going to run through a list of things that actually detracted from my experience.

Lightning died of cholera

FFXIII's pacing is completely, unequivocally terrible. When people complain about the linearity, this is what they're really talking about; the lack of towns and the feeling of being on the run create a grueling pace that doesn't let up until you hit Pulse. This may be a good thing for action games, but for an RPG where so much effort is funneled into crafting beautiful worlds with rich histories, it's a good idea to, you know, give the player some time to lay back and take it all in. FFXIII does not do this until 20 hours in, where it allows you to run around the Archylte Steppe and do a few side missions before pushing you off toward the next story event by hard capping your character progression, meaning you can't do more than the most basic ones.

FFX got by with this amount of linearity by providing sufficient down time to learn about Spira, its inhabitants and their way of life. I have completed FFXIII, and I know next to nothing about the people and lifestyles of Cocoon's residents, much less the ruined landscapes of Pulse. I don't know anything about the technology that keeps Cocoon afloat, or anything about how and why it was built aside from some vague legends seen in the datalog. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not, but regardless, it was a failure on Square's part.

Shin Megami Tensei syndrome

FFXIII's battle system is fantastic, but there's one thing about it that I can't stand. You've seen it in Shin Megami Tensei, now it's in Final Fantasy: main character death = game over. Or in this case, controlled character death.

Phil and I have argued about this on multiple occasions, so I'll break down both sides of it for you: Phil's argument is that it creates a sort of metagame for you to play, where the real challenge is keeping your controlled character alive. He argues that it adds an extra challenge to the battles, making them more intense and strategic.

My argument is that -- aside from the fact that at face value, the concept itself makes no sense whatsoever from a plot or gameplay standpoint (why can't my party members just toss me a phoenix down?) -- it doesn't add any real challenge to the game because you get to a point where the only reason you can't win a battle is because your controlled character keeps dying, i.e., the fight itself isn't hard, you're just getting boned by a ridiculous gameplay mechanic. When you start being forced to alter your party makeup so that you're controlling a high-HP character, like Snow, and using the sentinel role the entire fight just so you don't eat it, you've completely lost me. It puts a huge strain on what you're able to do with the character you control, putting a damper on the experience as a whole. It's just not as fun. Not to mention all the frustration you'll have getting completely tooled in one hit by some of the ridiculously difficult bosses because you made a slight mistake, or didn't switch paradigms fast enough, or the boss decided to cast a death spell on you and it just happened to stick (seriously -- this can happen, on the final boss no less).

Speaking of ridiculously difficult bosses, this is something else that pertains to the title up there: the difficulty takes a massive hike upwards at the end of chapter 9. Much like Shin Megami Tensei, you'll have 30 minute boss fights that could end at any time because the boss decides it wants to OHKO your controlled party member. That is if you can keep up the healing to get that far, constantly getting reamed by AoE attacks and status effects. The thing is, all that would be fine and dandy if it weren't for that god awful game over mechanic. The fights would still be challenging, they'd just be fair. This isn't Valkyrie Profile 2, the battle doesn't end when you kill the enemy party's "leader." Why does it work that way for my party and not theirs? Too many questions, no answers. Bad design choice.

To its credit, FFXIII does have a very forgiving nature, in that if you do get a game over, you can simply retry instantly with no penalty, which is a great idea that more games should look into. It's interesting, though, that they would make the later boss fights so maddeningly difficult if they were trying to cater to a wider audience with this game. Because, you know, if that's what they were going for... it probably didn't work. This is by far the hardest game in the entire series. It's not close.

In every JRPG, some Snow must fall

I hate Snow Villiers. Not so much the character itself, but what he represents -- that is, the entire plague that destroys the plot of every JRPG in existence.

A bold statement, you might think. Well, let me explain. Snow Villiers is a typical anime archetype, an overconfident guy with his head in the clouds who likes to give speeches about "hope" and "destiny" and "following the path in your heart." You've heard this before, right? Right. In the beginning, most of the characters resist his idealistic notions. Lightning famously punches him in the face when he starts going off on his silly tangents early in the game. The thing is, later in the game, everyone sees him as some kind of moral leader, and they all adopt his idealistic outlook on their whole situation. This is where the problem is. Here's why.

It's. Not. Human. Snow is alien. There is no human being in existence who would react to the dire situation of these six people the way Snow does -- Hope or Sazh's feelings of dejection are far more accurate. You have to understand: this isn't spilt milk. This is "your whole life now belongs to fal'Cie, and if you don't do what they ask, you turn into a monster. And if you do, you turn into a crystal for eternity." So basically, as far as they know, they die no matter what they do. Of course, this is on top of other major problems the party is dealing with -- Sazh's son had become a Sanctum l'Cie, Hope's mother was killed, and Snow's fiance/Lightning's sister completed her focus and was crystalized. This game wants me to believe that this guy is still an idealistic optimist after all that? I'm sorry, I don't buy it. I especially don't buy his sentiment that he actually believed there was a chance Serah would wake up from her crystal form, given that there was no evidence of it ever happening before at that time.

So how does this connect to every other JRPG? Simple: there is a character like Snow in almost every JRPG ever made, and that character almost always causes the story to shift from being a realistic drama piece to a deus ex machina-ridden mess of misguided sentimentality. Strangely, Final Fantasy is almost exempt from this aside from Aeris, Tidus and Snow, but I'll use Aeris as an example.

Aeris knows that Sephiroth is going to summon meteor. He has the black materia. That seems logical. She, however, has the white materia: holy. She apparently has a hunch that holy's purpose is to counter meteor, so she goes off on her own to the City of Ancients to use it, and we all know how that ends. So, if you will, try to follow her thought process: did she know for sure that holy would stop meteor if it was used? If so, how? Knowledge of the ancients? Probably, as is explained a bit later in the game. Then try to follow her thought process as she goes alone to use holy. Why would she do that? To protect the rest of the party? I doubt that, considering it'd be safer for everyone to go in a group. What if Sephiroth had killed her before she finished summoning it? At the very least, the rest of the party could have assured she succeeded in finishing the prayer. This whole sequence of events was highly stupid and showed how misguided she was as a person.

This ties into Snow because the entirety of FFVII's party becomes the "what would Aeris do?" troupe as soon as she dies. They want to carry on her dream and all that. When meteor is actually summoned, the party ceases its logical examination of their situation, and says "we have to fight Sephiroth," knowing full well that it won't stop meteor. They're relying completely on holy, and they don't even know if it "worked." Why? Because they all "had faith" in Aeris and "believed in her." You could argue that fighting Sephiroth was about all they could do at that point, and you'd probably be right, but there were more logical methods of reaching that conclusion than "let's just fight Sephiroth and wait for holy." Like, you know, "well, the world's probably going to end, maybe we can take down Sephiroth before we all die. Because it's all we can do." And then holy could have saved them anyway.

In essence, Aeris' presence pollutes the story and prevents it from being well-told. Prevents it from having a unique message, even. This is the effect that the "Snow" archetype has on JRPG stories: it robs them of their message and replaces it with "follow your heart and belieeeeeeeeve!" Which may have been a powerful message 25 years ago when it first showed up in a video game, but I think we're all tired of it now.

It's not hard to take Tidus' example either: he finds out Yuna will die if she finishes her pilgrimage, and convinces the rest of the party that they can kill Sin permanently. With absolutely no knowledge of any method that allows for it. "There has to be a way!" he says. Then they find a way and everyone believes!

The worst thing about this archetype is that the only reason their approach "works" is because the writer writes it that way. It's a method of covering up a lack of creativity and skill -- not because they couldn't follow a simple logical process and form a story around it, but because they couldn't do that and keep it interesting. It's a lot like Tetsuya Nomura's approach to character design -- cover up your lack of taste and creativity with an abundance of seemingly random and needless features. Belts, zippers, meet teenage idealism.

Don't get me wrong, though, I really do like the game. I'm still playing it, actually, working on maxing out the post-game crystarium so I can fight some of the harder Pulse mission enemies. It's a lot of fun. I still like FFXII (a lot) better, but FFXIII is probably only the second example of a JRPG being done very well on a current-gen console (the first being Tales of Vesperia). Granted, it's also one of the more flawed games in the series, and I honestly think the 83 it has on Metacritic is closer to what it deserves than some people think. I'd rate it higher, though, personally.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

so this guy says to me he says, "bayonetta is such a god of war ripoff"...

RPG elements. If you've read a video game review in the last five years or so, you've probably heard someone say it. What does it mean? In game industry terms, it's the implementation of a character progression system that usually includes upgradeable equipment and experience points, among other things. These are certainly RPG elements. To clearly define the full range of what "RPG elements" are, though, you have to first define what an RPG is.

This is a pretty interesting topic right now, because as more and more people flock to the former counter-culture of gaming, more and more opinions about its genres are flooding in. Frankly, many of those opinions are not opinions at all; they're misinformation. In fact, I'm not even sure anyone knows what an RPG is anymore. Perhaps that's an exaggeration. However, I know what an RPG is.

Things that do not define a roleplaying video game

Yeah, no roleplaying in roleplaying games. I know. But look, true roleplaying is only possible in tabletop RPGs. You don't get it in video games. If you want to call the lite pseudo-morality choices you make in Fallout 3 "roleplaying," well, you're wrong. That's not roleplaying. That's a small group of branching paths -- paths that don't even change the overall direction of the game. It's more like driving in a different lane on the same road -- the path through the game is always identical, even if there's differences in the dialogue or the ending. Ironically, Japanese games like Seiken Densetsu 3 and Radiata Stories have done a better job at making the game actually change based on your decisions, but it's still not like true roleplaying.

The morality systems you see in Bioware and Bethesda games don't come close to approaching the depth available in a tabletop game where you build your own character from scratch. It's not much different from having preset characters in a JRPG -- you just get to choose to be good or evil instead of having one choice. That's what every choice in those games boils down to: it's very black and white, and it's nothing like true roleplaying.

That's not to say games should be criticized for not having roleplaying in them. There's a reason for that. It would be impossible to program that many different possibilities into a single game, at least at this point in time, and even if it were technically feasible, it would take an unprecedented amount of time. So no, there is no roleplaying in video games, and certainly not in RPGs.

Deep storylines/"story-driven gameplay"
A "deep" or "intricate" storyline definitely does not define an RPG simply because it's not exclusive to RPGs. The games with the most mature, complex storylines, in fact, are largely based in the text adventure genre, a genre that is mostly on rails and, largely, has no combat. Grand Theft Auto, as a series, has a more intricate storyline than most RPGs. The same can be said for any number of action and adventure games, even some shooters.

As for RPGs that are "story-driven," can you name a game where progression isn't driven by some kind of story? Actually, you probably can. However, you'd quickly notice that this is also not something exclusive to RPGs. If you're talking about cutscene-heavy games like Xenosaga, all they've done is made the plot intrusive and self-indulgent, while missing the point of why video games are created -- to be played. And again, for every Xenosaga in the RPG genre, you've got a Metal Gear Solid in the action genre that does the exact same thing. Is MGS an RPG? No.

If I had my Johnson drop kicked every time I heard some fuckstick say "I play RPGs for story," I would lack the ability to bear children. If you're really playing RPGs for their stories, you should have stopped after you played through FFVI, FFX, the Suikoden series and Chrono Cross, because those are the only RPGs off the top of my head that approach the pet waste the boot of literary excellence stepped in. How about you play games with good stories for story and stop polluting my genre with your tryhard bullshit? Do you read reviews? Actually read them? That's how you find out which games have stories worth looking into. Better yet, why don't you move to an artistic medium where your faux-hipster ass is welcome? Thanks.

Not to be a dick or anything.

Turnbased combat
The only reason RPGs used turnbased combat in their infancy was because there was no way to have a more active battle system in a board game. Unless you wanted to look really silly. Or set up a fencing match with your dungeon master every time you encountered a monster. It just wasn't viable, but if it could have been different, it would have.

The turnbased combat model became a part of the standard RPG experience, and naturally, it was kept when RPG video games were first created. No one thought to switch to an active combat system until, if I had to guess, the mid 80's.

Things that define a roleplaying video game

Character progression centered around visible statistics
STR, DEX, AGI, VIT, INT, MND, CHR, WIL, HP, MP, ATK, DEF, SPD, all that stuff. It affects the way your character performs, mostly in battle and sometimes out of battle, as seen in many WRPGs. These statistics, in varying forms, have always been one of the pillars of RPG gameplay. Going with this is the concept of leveling up, whether it's through defeating enemies for experience points or other means, and these statistics increasing for every level gained, whether the progression is set, random or chosen by the player.

Herein lies one of the grand concepts surrounding the RPG: starting out as a fairly weak adventurer and eventually building yourself into a powerful warrior. It's that sense of accomplishment and progress that makes RPGs addictive, fun and definitely not for everybody. It's the genre most demanding of your patience to truly enjoy, but it can also be the most rewarding if you're willing to take the time for it. This sense of gratification is only enhanced in MMORPGs, due to the fact that everyone else can see your progress for themselves, and the sense of companionship you build playing with other people.

I would argue that those of us who think a compelling plot is the most important thing in an RPG are really just looking for instant gratification, because they don't actually have the patience for RPG gameplay on its own. Then they cover it up with "LOL u dont play rpgs 4 gameplay, if i wanted 2 have fun i wud go play halo." You know, fake ass motherfuckers.

just sayin'

Random number generator/dice roll
The random number generator, or dice roll if you're playing a board game, is a vital element of any RPG. It helps to decide a ton of stuff, including but not limited to: damage dealt and received, encounter rate (when applicable) and item drop rate.

In determining damage, the RNG produces the element of "randomness" (though it's not truly random, we'll just call it that because it fits - look it up if you're curious) that you see in RPGs. You notice how your attacks don't always do the same damage -- that's because every attack you launch goes through a mathematical formula that includes your attack power, the enemy's defense, any special modifiers for your attack, and a random variable which is produced by the RNG. This creates a damage range for your attack to fall into.

It's the same thing for encounter rates: every step your character takes has a chance of entering you into a battle. In some games, the chance will increase with every step, while in others it's set in stone, but the timing of the battle itself is always determined by an RNG. Drop rates are the same. So are many things -- the RNG is so deeply ingrained into the gameplay of an RPG that I'm not sure you could make one without incorporating it in some way. Without it, you get Zelda, which is something many people confuse for an RPG, but it really isn't. Then again, it's used in virtually every other genre as well, including sports games. However, RPG is the one genre that uses it as a central element, with almost everything that happens during gameplay being affected by it in some way.


What, you thought there would be more? No, that's all. That's all that defines the core mechanics of an RPG, western or eastern. It's funny, because everyone thinks it's so complicated. It's not.

Oh, you want to talk about WRPGs and JRPGs? Why? That is a dead ho-

You know what, fine.

What's closer to a "true" RPG: WRPG or JRPG? Which has better storytelling, etc.?

WRPGs, or "western roleplaying games," have sat squarely at opposite ends of the RPG spectrum from JRPGs, or "Japanese roleplaying games," since the late 80's. What really separates them?

Truth be told, not as much as you think. As discussed above, WRPGs tend to give you the illusion of many different paths to take when there's usually only two, or maybe three, with the structure of the plot remaining mostly the same regardless. JRPGs don't bullshit you -- you know right off the bat that the ending is going to be the same no matter what you do, aside from arbitrary or pointless stuff that adds extra scenes to the ending, or changes it slightly, or whatever.

As far as gameplay goes, WRPGs tend to have you build a custom character with a class and stats of your choosing, then send you on a fairly non-linear quest in a horribly generic Tolkien-esque fantasy world. Other classic western franchises are sometimes ripped off too, like doing sci-fi stuff in a Star Trek-influenced universe, or actually playing within the Star Wars universe in Knights of The Old Republic. The combat is usually realtime, or "pseudo-realtime" as seen in many Bioware games, and generally has very little depth or strategy involved.

A common feature of WRPGs is the ability to perform various actions outside of battle that are influenced by your stats, such as lockpicking (DEX), computer hacking (INT) and persuading NPCs through dialogue trees (CHR).

As for storylines, you get boring, standard fantasy that seems to have been written by people who are still fascinated by dragons and stuff. You know, 12 year old shit. As a whole, storytelling in WRPGs is uninspired and dry. The Fallout series (1 and 2, mostly) is an exception to this, boasting some of the better storytelling in gaming, though it is set in a decidedly Mad Max-influenced post-apocalyptic United States. Mass Effect is another example of solid storytelling in a WRPG.

In JRPGs, you have preset characters, though many games put an emphasis on equipment and skill customization. You replace generic Tolkien world with generic animanga fantasy world. Gameplay usually has a heavy focus on high-rate random encounters, turnbased combat on a separate battle screen and flashy special attacks. JRPGs as a whole are much more linear than WRPGs, but with that, you tend to get a tighter, more polished game world.

Storywise, JRPGs are conflicting, because they generally try very hard to be complex and to appear mature, but perhaps because of the translation to English (but probably not), this effort can never seem to escape being ultimately trite and overwrought. The one-dimensional, annoying, inhuman and archetypal characters don't do any help to back it up, either. What you get is a big, sloppy mess of bad writing and a half-baked plot that's far too unbelievable to ever relate to. Any moralistic or political allegory is lost in this. Some may call it a cultural difference, I still call it awful storytelling.

They just informed him that he's going to grow up to be the lead singer in an Evangelion tribute band

Basically, they're the opposite of WRPGs -- instead of being uninspired and dry, they tend to have too many ideas and not enough talented writers to make something great out of the good ones while throwing out the bad ones.

WRPGs and JRPGs are the same under the hood. Their battle systems, storytelling, art style and pace all tend to differ, but they borrow from each other often and use the same mechanics to build their gameplay over. If I had to say which is "closer" to the "true" RPG, it's definitely the western style. I'd say that Japanese RPGs tend to have more interesting plots, if we're disregarding all the crap that gets shoveled into both sides. That's just an opinion, though.

Still, I really don't think JRPGs and WRPGs are different enough that they should be considered separate genres from each other. Different schools of the same style, sure, but not completely divided. It's a common sentiment among foolish people that JRPGs are somehow "not really RPGs." This is not true.

Sadly, most gamers are not adept at analyzing their own arguments. Or anything, really. This is the double-edged part of free speech and encouraging the exchange of ideas: misinformation is spread, and there's not a whole lot you can do to stop it. Already we have a whole generation of people who think Xenogears is good and Final Fantasy XII is bad, and it's only going farther down from there. We have people saying that Bayonneta "rips off God of War." That is beyond sad.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Let's talk about Mega Man by Jibril

No, not that new-fangled XZeroLegendsBattleNetwork stuff, the original series.

Mega Man: Rock Beats Scissors, Get It?

Mega Man was, I think, the first game to introduce non-linearity in an action-platformer context. Perhaps Metroid did it sooner, but Metroid was primarily an adventure game -- Mega Man was a true left-to-right action game. This style also offered a sort of built-in difficulty setting: the standard order of Guts-Cut-Elec-Ice-Fire-Bomb gave you a "normal" gameplay experience, allowing you to have every boss' weakness (except Guts Man), and if you picked it up in Elec Man's stage, the utiliy of Magnet Beam to get through some of the more difficult parts of the other stages, such as the disappearing blocks in Ice Man's stage. Of course, if you were looking for more of a challenge, you could play the stages in any order, deliberately ignoring any advantage that would make the game easier. Buster-only runs remain a favorite of self-imposed difficulty.

Despite the quality of the game, though, it was first met with a somewhat lukewarm reception. It's funny to say it now, but Mega Man's origins are that of a "cult classic" or "sleeper hit" -- unlike many other things that fall into those distinctions, though, it got a sequel that broke that mold.

Mega Man 2: Dr. Wily Strikes Again, Mega Man Not Surprised; Feels It May Become A Trend

Not without resistance from Capcom, though: Keiji Inafune and his team desperately wanted to make Mega Man 2, but the sales of the original had Capcom hesitant. Instead of waiting to get a green light, they just went ahead and made the game during off-hours. It's well-documented how Mega Man 2 was a true labor of love, and that's something you don't see in video games. Maybe once every few years.

Mega Man 2 introduced E-Tanks, which completely restore your health when used, and "Items," which are tools you can use as platforms for getting over certain obstacles. It also upped the robot master count from 6 to 8. MM2's gameplay is somewhat of a gold standard for not only the rest of the series, but for 2D platformers in general -- its underlying mechanics are so solid that it doesn't feel one bit archaic even today.

Of course, the rest is history: Mega Man 2 is widely considered one of the greatest games ever created, the soundtrack among the finest composed, Keiji Inafune becomes a gaming legend.

Mega Man 3: Lying Down And Kicking Your Legs Makes You Move Faster

Another successful sequel, Mega Man 3, didn't hurt things, either, with its silky smooth slide mechanic that melded perfectly with the run and gun gameplay of the series. It further built upon its predecessors by tweaking MM2's Items, replacing them with various functions of Rush the Dog, such as Coil, Jet and Marine. It was also the first game in the series to feature more than a few post-robot master stages, adding four "ruined" versions of Gemini Man, Spark Man, Needle Man and Shadow Man's stages. Perhaps most surprising about these stages is how punishingly difficult they were -- you had to re-fight MM2's robot masters within them, two per stage, and they were both significantly more difficult than their original incarnations (Especially Wood Man and Air Man).

There were other new additions in MM3, too, like the introduction of sub-bosses: the cats in Top Man's stage, Break Man's appearances in Shadow Man and Hard Man's stages, and the giant snakes in Snake Man's stage.

I always found it odd that so many people prefer MM2 to 3 considering how much more stuff there is in 3, all of it good. The level design, if you ask me, is a lot better in 3 as well.

Mega Man 4: Now With Kamehameha Power

The charge shot, introduced in Mega Man 4, created a sort of divide within the series: the perception was that, from 4 on, the charge shot shifted the focus from tricky platforming to simply destroying enemies. This is false, I would say, and I say that because MM4 had some of the more difficult platforming segments in the whole series, certainly much harder than anything in MM2 or 3, save Heat Man's disappearing block sequence. It was more in line with what you saw in MM1: segments of levels where falling off a platform would mean death, and the enemy spawns were designed to make that happen.

Sure, you saw this in the previous two games, but it was abbreviated and simple to overcome. In MM4, you have the swinging platforms in Bright Man's stage, where shooting one of the enemies who constantly assaults you would turn off the lights -- and while it doesn't hide anything important from view, it's disorienting nonetheless. You have the trash compactor sequence in Dust Man's stage which is very easy to get trapped in, leading to an instant death. Then there's a particularly brutal part of Drill Man's stage where you have to hit switches to make the next piece of land appear, all the while you're being pummeled by falling rocks and flying robots. Just about every stage in the game has at least one sequence like this, including the Cossack and Wily stages.

One other thing MM4 added to the formula were secret paths found in Pharaoh Man and Dive Man's stages, leading to hidden powerups -- the Balloon and the Wire. The Balloon was essentially a resprited version of Item 2 from MM2 -- very useful. The Wire allowed you to cling to the ceiling and shoot from that position... sounds like it might have been useful if there were levels designed to utilize it, but I guess that was hard to do since it was optional.

Mega Man 4 is a great game. Yeah, I said it. Pound for pound, I'd say it's a better game than MM2. The boss fights are almost all difficult with the buster and fairly easy with weaknesses -- a mark of good balance. The level design is very good, the difficulty is high (but fairly so) and it was the longest game in the series at the time. The arguments I hear for it being a bad game are almost entirely superficial nonsense like "the robot masters are lame" (which they're not) and "the music isn't that good" (which it is). Stop hating, MM4 is really, really good.

Mega Man 5: Why Did I Bother Killing These Robot Masters Again?

But there's still five more games in this series, right? Right. Mega Man 5 is interesting, because it retains the quality of MM4, expanding on the optional items concept, introducing eight letters which spellout "MEGAMANV" when collected, unlocking Beat, a bird who attacks enemies on screen. The level design remained very good -- highlights include the gravity switching sequences in Gravity Man's level and the ascending elevator sequence of Gyro Man's level.

The "interesting" part comes in because there's a pretty big problem. The robot master weapons. They are all terrible. In all four previous games, maybe two or three of the weapons weren't very useful, but MM5 took the cake -- there's only one weapon in the entire game worth using outside boss fights, and that's Gyro Attack. Other weapons are functionally broken and/or useless, such as Water Wave and Power Stone. The others are just terribly mediocre -- Gravity Hold sounds like a good idea, but it uses way too much energy and takes too many hits to kill anything. Star Crush has maybe one use, and that's getting through the sequence of Crystal Man's stage where crystals fall from the ceiling, and that's only if you have a horrible sense of timing. Charge Kick is a unique weapon, and would have been great if it provided more invincibility frames and a faster/longer dash, as well as doing more damage.

MM5 is the first game in the series that's actually justifiable to dislike. One other flaw it has is that the boss fights are, in general, very easy, and most of them are beaten with the standard Mega Buster very easily. In fact, in most cases, using the Mega Buster is faster than using any of the special weapons.

Still, the level design is solid and the music is good. It's not a bad game. You know what is a bad game?

Mega Man 6.

Mega Man 6: Americans Help Japan Create Robots, World Sighs

MM6 suffers from all the problems MM5 did: easy bosses, terrible weapons. However, it adds to those problems by removing the ability to jump out of slides. If you're unfamiliar with this, in every Mega Man game besides 6, if you slide, let go of the d-pad and press A, you'll jump. In MM6, it no longer works. This makes the game painful to play if you've become accustomed to doing this, especially for speedrunners who rely on this for saving time. If you watch Tiki's run at SDA, you can see him sliding, moving backward briefly and then jumping. That is a pain in the ass.

In this game, you replace Gyro Attack with Flame Blast. It's the only decent weapon in the whole game. It's sad, because there were a lot of promising improvements: instead of having Rush's functions, you get actual "adapters" for Mega Man which change the way he fundamentally plays -- the Jet Adapter allows you to fly for a few seconds, and the power adapter allows you to break certain barrels and do more damage with your shots, at the cost of greatly reduced range.

Still, that wasn't enough to save it. On top of that, the robot masters actually were lame this time, and the music wasn't that good. At around this time, people had been fed up with NES Mega Man games being released while the SNES had been out for a couple years.

Mega Man 7: Bass, Like The Fish, Right?

Mega Man 7, as I recall, came out somewhat under the radar. I saw it at Blockbuster one day and rented it. Didn't even know it was released.

MM7 is a return to form of sorts. It's like MM5 with better weapons plus MM6's adapter system, with the sliding mechanic fixed. Though the weapons don't get back to the point of MM2-4 where most of them were good, they at least found a new use for them: manipulating the environment. You can use Thunder Bolt to power machinery in Junk Man's stage, Scorch Wheel to burn a forest in Slash Man's stage and a couple other things. Junk Shield is by far the best shield weapon in the series to this point, and the other weapons are, for the most part, unique at least.

The Jet Adapter returns, which you get by collecting the "RUSH" letters in four of the stages. It also allows you to use the "Super Arm," which is like a powered up version of the Mega Buster -- instead of firing a blast, you fire Mega Man's arm at the enemy. This was carried over from Mega Man 5 Gameboy.

Also carrying over from the Gameboy games is the structure of progression: instead of all eight robot masters being available at the start, you have to beat the first four, play an intermission stage, then the other four become available. This detracts from the non-linearity of the game in order to, I'm guessing, add more to the narrative structure of the game -- a big mistake. Carrying over from the X series is the inclusion of a fairly redundant intro stage which, again, I can only imagine was included to add more to the story. This, really, is the only thing keeping it from being one of the better games in the series. Instead, it just sits somewhere in the middle.

Mega Man 8: OR: Coolboarders 20XX

Mega Man 8 was the first game in the classic series not released on a Nintendo console, residing on Sony's Playstation and Sega's Saturn. It shared a lot of the same problems MM7 did -- redundant intro stage, four robot masters at a time, an attempt to shove a story down the throats of people who didn't need or want one. This resulted in the now infamous Dr. Light voice acting. You know, where he sounds like Elmer Fudd? Great comedy, but a good indication that Capcom wasn't quite in touch with what people wanted out of a Mega Man game.

It played nicely, though. I would definitely say that, gameplay-wise, this was the "true" return to form. The level design was clever, the bosses were difficult, and the music was incredible, dropping the 8-bit rock-influenced style for a refined drum and bass/electronic sound with some jazz thrown in. Musically, it's by far the most mature soundtrack in the series.

What most people will remember about MM8 is probably the echos of "JUMP JUMP SLIDE SLIDE" ringing through their ears. The incredibly frustrating portions of Frost Man's stage and Wily 1 have you riding a rocket-propelled snowboard over elevated platforms while a shrill, robotic voice tells you when to jump and when to slide. It gets very confusing when the speed picks up. Tengu Man's stage has you riding Rush through an autoscrolling segment which ultimately amounts to a sidescrolling shmup stage. In Aqua Man's stage, Mega Man actually swims for the first time.

The weapons this time range from average to good, with Flash Bomb being particulary powerful. Astro Crush is good in a pinch for killing everything on screen and the invincibility frames. Thunder Claw allows you to swing across gaps provided there's something for it to latch onto. Tornado Hold is useful for puzzles in Sword Man and Astro Man's stage, as well as getting yourself up high ledges. There's also the Mega Ball, acquired in the intro stage, which is pretty much what it sounds like: fire once to drop a ball in front of you, again to kick it. Overall, there's not really any useless weapons in the arsenal. Mediocre at worst.

The difficulty of the game is actually higher than normal, partly because there are no E-Tanks, and partly because the game was just designed that way -- enemy spawns are devious, and some bosses are just plain hard to hit (Wily 1 in particular).

Despite annoyances with the storyline being forced, MM8 was a very good game -- the best since MM4. Before I talk about MM9, though, there's one lesser known game to tackle...

Mega Man & Bass: Oh, Like Bass And Treble? That Makes More Sense, Yeah

Mega Man & Bass takes MM8's graphical style and downgrades it to SNES/GBA hardware. It works out surprisingly well -- there's just some frames of animation missing, and overall it looks pretty good for what it is. They also re-used two robot masters from MM8: Tengu Man and Astro Man. I'm not really sure why. Laziness, I guess.

The whole premise of the game is that Mega Man and Bass have teamed up to stop King, some megalomaniac robot who is totally not a pawn for Dr. Wily who will end up being the true final boss. Naturally, you can actually play as Bass if you wish -- and he's actually very different from Mega Man. He can dash, like in MMX, by double-tapping left or right. He can also shoot in several directions, though initially, his shots are weaker than Mega Man's. He can double jump, which makes getting through the stages a lot easier as Bass. I like to think of Bass as "easy" and Mega Man as "hard."

Either way, though, this game is balls hard. The bosses are by far the most difficult in the entire series. There are no E-Tanks, much like MM8. Unlike MM8, though, a good amount of the bosses will absolutely hand you your ass even with their weaknesses. Burner Man, Dynamo Man and Astro Man are rough, namely. They will, however, reward you with some of the best weapons in the series.

Wave Burner is horribly powerful, killing just about anything in less than a second. Remote Mine is similar, but you can direct where it goes and then tell it when to explode. Lightning Bolt is pretty much identical to Astro Crush, but it has a lot more energy. Tengu Blade is very strong, and you can attack while dashing/sliding with it. Magic Card isn't that strong, but you can grab items and stuff with it. Ice Wall is also very strong, and you can use it as a platform to get to higher areas.

I dunno why every Mega Man game can't have weapons like this. Even the "bad" weapons, Copy Vision and Spread Drill, have their uses.

Anyway. Again with the intro stages -- at least this time it's kind of interesting, paying homage to past games in the series (Metal Man's screws, Fire Man's falling flames and fire pillars, Blizzard Man's rising/sinking ship-thing, Toad Man's rainy area). At the end you fight the Green Devil from MM8.

The way you progress in this game takes the linearity to a new level -- this time, you only have access to three bosses, and beating each one opens more, so there's a definite order you're sort of forced into.

I'll be honest: I have never gotten past the second King stage in this game. It's hard. Mega Man & Bass is harder than Mega Man 9, by a lot. It's also a lot of fun if you can handle it, has good, if different music, and some of the most fun weapons in the series. I talked about that more than I thought I would.

Mega Man 9: Like, Ten Years Later

At this point, everyone had accepted that while 7 and 8 were good, MM2 and 3 would never be surpassed, and that the classic series, which hadn't seen a new game in ten years, was done. Then there was Mega Man 9. You know the story: It was 2008, and MM9 was an NES game. Madness, etc. I really, really liked it.

Some people said it would be comparable to an MM2 ROM hack, but that couldn't be farther from the truth -- it was a totally fresh experience, even with the stripped down skillset and dated graphics. The level design was fantastic and creative, the music was the best in the series and the weapons were all good. Every single one of them.

Jewel Satellite is by far the best shield weapon in the series, and every other weapon dominates in some way or another: Concrete Shot vs. sub-bosses, Black Hole Bomb vs. normal enemies, Tornado Blow for clearing rooms/high jumping, Laser Trident vs. anything, Hornet Chaser vs. ceiling crawlers/collecting items, Magma Bazooka vs. anything. Plug Ball isn't spectacular, but it can still do its fair share of damage.

The level design stands out as being highly creative, with portals shooting you all over the place, swinging on platforms, shadow Mega Mans chasing you around, all kinds of crazy stuff. It also has great sub-bosses, with the fire dragon, the elephants, the clock flower and the rolling rock thing. It's really striking that they could make an NES game seem this... well, new -- IntiCreates is a talented group of designers, clearly; the Mega Man Zero games are actually worth playing.

Oh, and there's a female robot master -- Splash Woman -- who I find oddly attractive. Don't judge me, bro.

I have played every classic Mega Man game to death, and I have always liked MM2, 3, 4 and now 9 the best.

Mega Man's impact, legacy and place among other great video games series

There's no denying that Mega Man has been milked to death by Capcom -- six NES games, all using the same core engine? Nippon Ichi and Atlus, take notes. Is Mega Man influential, though? Important, even? Yes, of course. Its innovations ripple through several generations of action games, and they're still felt today. Its somewhat lazy development strategy is also influential -- perhaps without Mega Man, less franchises would re-use game engines and linger on dead consoles. Even today, it's trailblazing: Mega Man 9 probably cost next to nothing to make, and sold very well at a budget price. They're doing it again with Mega Man 10.

And why not? The games are inspired, fun, challenging and cheap. Sure, I'd like to see a true HD 2D Mega Man game on a current generation console, but really, why bother if these cheap NES-style games are going to be better? We've seen what happens when you try to turn Mega Man into some kind of pseudo-Batman with a million different gadgets and functions -- it's not that good. In the end, we all wish the focus was on creating fun and challenging levels to experience without any of that stuff diluting them. This is what we have now -- we don't want Mega Man turning into what Sonic has become, hell, what it already has become with several of its spin-offs. Be thankful we have this, it could be worse.