Category Archives: TBGNP Old vs. New

Comparisons of older franchises and how they have evolved.

Old vs. New – Adventure

Originally written on 3/28/2011

The adventure genre was one of my favorites while I was growing up. Maybe because it always stimulated my imagination more than anything else. And the gameplay style would always let you play with a cup of hot coco in hand.

Rather than go through and analyze what each game brought to the genre, milestones, revolutionary changes. I choose to analyze by era. The other way would take forever. If someone else wishes to analyze a series, they’re more than welcome.

The adventure genre had risen, fallen, mutated, and revived over the course of time

Adventure

King’s Quest 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Space Quest 1, 2, 3, 4, Leisure Suit Larry 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Star Trek The Next Generation: A Final Unity

Sam & Max Freelance Police, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tenticle, Phantasmagoria

In the beginning, Lucas Arts and Sierra dominated the adventure game market. They set the standard for a long time. The standard was good, and I enjoyed every adventure game I played. It followed the Megaman school of thought for game design. We got more and more of the same, more and more of the same awesomeness. It remained this way from the early 1980s well into the 1990s.

Action Adventure

Beyond Good & Evil

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

King’s Quest VIII

Even though I enjoyed every adventure game I ever played(except Myst, I still have no idea what that was about), I never looked for something more. But perhaps someone else did. Over time the Adventure genre began to incorporate Action elements, a little bit of swordplay here and there, a little running around and jumping. The priority of puzzle solving and item collecting decreased in favor of more action.

Now, I admit, sometimes, in the grand scheme of thinking up wild solutions to complex problems with an unusual assortment of miscellaneous items, I’d wished I could have the freedom to attempt some of the more off the wall solutions. That frustration sometimes manifested in attempting violent solutions. And I believe that desire for more freedom is what created the Action/Adventure genre, as well as the Action/RPG genre. Slowly but surely, the Adventure genre started to die out, or at least go into hibernation.

Interim Adventure

Sherlock Holmes

Under A Killing Moon

During the long winter while Adventure games slept, the occasional groundhog of a game peeked its head out. The Tex Murphy adventures and Sherlock Holmes series kept the genre alive. But just barely. For people who enjoyed the genre, these were definitely dark times.

This was a strange time for adventure games. Technology was changing, paradigms were shifting all over the place. Games were dabbling with 3D, and some genres didn’t know quite how to adapt to it yet. Some other games tried “interactive movies” with full motion videos and hired professional actors, or sprites represented by photographic models. But that idea seemed to die out and is rarely seen anymore.

New Adventure

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

Lost Horizon

King’s Quest IX: The Silver Lining

Heavy Rain

L. A. Noir

Like an endangered species, the Adventure genre seems to be coming back. The number of adventure titles released in today’s market is definitely more than it was around the late ’90s and early ’00. They’ve grown in graphical detail. The sprites were replaced with 3d models, some keep the traditional painted background images, others develop a fully 3d background and that’s just a design choice, others combine the two. They’ve also grown and tried a few new formats. The Longest Journey is a traditional Adventure game, while the sequel controlled like a 3rd person action game. It had to develop a whole new style of interface. Heavy Rain is dramatically different from anything that came before it. The future title L. A. Noir looks to continue the innovation in the Adventure genre revival.

End

It is my belief that the saturation of the Adventure genre when it was at its peak is what caused it’s own recession, like a swing of the pendulum. The stagnation of the genre led people to want more, and the Action/Adventure genre came up to fill in the void. Eventually the pendulum swung all the way back to see a revival of the Adventure genre, bigger and better than ever before.

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Old vs. New – Castlevania

Originally written on 3/16/2011

Castlevania

I saw the new Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was coming out and I was excited. My best friend, who belongs to a newer generation of gamer, wasn’t. He had never played a Castlevania game before, he didn’t know what he was missing. I wanted to get him excited, too, so I wanted to tell him what a Castlevania game was like. No sooner had I begun did I realize my problem. What IS Castlevania? Castlevania was a difficult as hell side scrolling platformer. Castlevania II was an action RPG like Zelda II. Symphony of the Night created a term used to this day, Metroid-vania. Castlevania for the N64 and PS2 were 3D platformers and brawlers, and Castlevania Judgement was a fighting game.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite episodes of the new Doctor Who, The Doctor’s Daughter. Someone asks The Doctor, “What is a Time Lord? What are they for? What do they do?” To paraphrase, The Doctor replied that it was a shared history, and a shared suffering. I believe that is the best way to describe Castlevania. Regardless of the genre, generation, console, or iteration, there should be that shared history and that shared suffering. There will always be a man, a plan, a whip, and a castle.

Castlevania NES

The story of most Castlevania games is a frame story. Every 100 years, Dracula’s castle, Castlevania, reappears and one of the Belmont bloodline is chosen to battle him. This might have inspired Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in every generation, a young woman is chosen to fight vampires and given supernatural strength and reflexes to do so.

This game is Simon Belmont’s first appearance. Simon enters the castle through the courtyard, the ballroom, the laboratory, the clock tower, and Dracula’s tower, and other creepy Gothic locations you might expect in a haunted eastern European castle. Simon is armed with the traditional Vampire Killer whip, an heirloom passed down throughout the family. There are also a series of sub-weapons that Simon uses, throwing axes, cross boomerangs, bottles of holy water, laurels of garlic, throwing daggers, and a magical time freezing stopwatch. Throughout, Simon meets nightmarish creatures from European, Mediterranean, and Western Gothic horror fiction, zombies, Medusa, Frankenstein’s creature, giant bats, animated suits of armor, mermen, the grim reaper, skeletons, and many more. Halfway through the battle with Dracula, Dracula transforms into a more demonic form. Simon finishes the fight and escapes before the castle vanishes back into the ether.

This game is one of the most difficult anyone will pick up, Contra level of difficult, but not impossible. One of the more enjoyable moments in this tour of punishment you’re about to inflict upon yourself is listening to the soundtrack. The game starts a legacy of Gothic/rock fusion that will continue throughout the series. It would not sound out of place to hear Nightwish or Evanescence do some Castlevania covers. The Gothic/rock soundtrack becomes as iconic to the series as the name Belmont, a whip, a castle, and Dracula.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest NES

In the final moments of Castlevania, Dracula puts a curse on Simon, and he will soon die. In order to remove the curse, Simon must retrieve the dismembered pieces of Dracula’s body, resurrect the Count and kill him again. Simon has to explore haunted mansion after mansion to recover the parts, talk to townspeople for clues, and navigate hostile wilderness.

This game is notoriously difficult, ridiculously cryptic, and incredibly punishing of mistakes. I wouldn’t recommend anyone try this game without having a guide already handy. Thankfully, this type of open world and this level of difficulty do not appear in any other title in the series. The soundtrack is just as strong in this installment, lessening the pain of the difficult game by a little.

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse NES

Go back several hundred years, Dracula’s evil spreads across Transylvania. Trevor Belmont, Simon’s ancestor is mystically called to do battle. He sports the same whip, and the same weapons that Simon would later wield. Trevor treks through the countryside, battling the forces of Dracula, heading to the castle that recently appeared. A new feature in this game is the introduction of multiple characters. As Trevor traverses Transylvania, he comes across people affected by Dracula’s evil. The first companion he meets is Grant DaNasty, a pirate/acrobat who’s family was killed by Dracula and he was turned into a monster. I’m not entirely sure based on his artwork. The player can swap between the two of them any time. Further on, Trevor saves Sypha, a powerful sorcerer trapped in stone and can swap partners from Grant to Sypha. Elsewhere, Trevor encounters Alucard, Dracula’s son. Alucard can transform into a bat, stop time, and shoot fireballs similar to Dracula’s. There are multiple paths to take through the game, so you may not even meet some of the characters. It’s not an open world like Castlevania II, but it’s diverse enough to make each playthrough feel fresh.

The adventurers tackle Dracula’s castle just as Simon would later. The castle has familiar environments like the courtyard, underground river, ballroom, clock tower, and Dracula’s tower. Together they take on Dracula. Halfway through the battle, Dracula transforms into a more demonic form, that can pretty much be expected halfway through every Dracula battle. But he is still defeated. The castle crumbles. Grant’s family is avenged. Sypha turns out to be a woman and settles down to live with Trevor, Alucard, the self-hating vampire, goes back to sleep.

The soundtrack for Castlevania III brings back tunes from the first two and adds some more to the Gothic/rock fusion soundtrack. The game also creates interesting characters. The Belmont is not alone in his journey. It’s not just one man against the world. We see the effect of Dracula’s evil on the countryside. The nameless victims are not nameless anymore. It creates drama by creating relationships between the characters. Each character has a separate relationship with Dracula and a motivation to destroy him.

Super Castlevania IV SNES

This title came out early in the life of the SNES. It’s a retelling of the first story with better graphics, like what would eventually happen with Metroid and Metroid Zero Mission. The castle is a little larger and more detailed. It changes its structure in each generation that it appears and that’s part of the mythos. The castle is a living entity itself. However different it is, there are still familiar areas, and then some. Besides the courtyard, ballroom, underground river, and clock tower, there is a dungeon, library, and cave system added. The soundtrack is enhanced with the SNES’s capabilities, all the old favorite songs return. It’s easier than any of the other titles, but not by much. Expect pain.

Castlevania V: Vampire’s Kiss, Dracula X, Rhondo of Blood, Castlevania Chronicles SNES, CD, PSP

This entry was released multiple times on multiple systems. Each one details the adventure of Richter, the Belmont in blue, and his journey into the castle. If you want the full experience, I recommend the PSP version. The whole story was reduced, watered down, and diluted for the less powerful systems at the time.

Castlevania has appeared early. While Dracula is gathering his strength to return to the world, another power hungry individual seeks to steal Dracula’s power for his own. Part of this villain’s plan is to kidnap young women for sacrificing. Richter travels to the castle, he might rescue the women(depending on the player’s skill and paths chosen), and defeats the villain. There is a second character available in the PSP version, a characteristic from Castlevania III.

I borrowed a PSP temporarily and this game. This is the right level of difficulty for people who think games are too easy nowadays. Which is still fair to say since this is a re re re release of an old, and more difficult, game. The Gothic/rock fusion soundtrack is the best it’s ever been. The controls are a bit more responsive, Richter is more agile than the other Belmonts. The multiple paths mix up different playthroughs. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night PSX

I eventually moved in with a roommate who had an old PS2. I knew it was backwards compatible, so I ordered an old used copy from Amazon. This was one of the few Playstation games I’ve actually played, but I haven’t played it all the way through. The PS1 memory card I ordered along with the game must have been faulty or worn out. It couldn’t hold a save game.

The game is a great departure from the previous entries in the series. The game starts off with the last moments of Richter Belmont facing Dracula in his tower. The prologue mentions that soon after, Richter has disappeared, and the castle once again reappears ahead of schedule. What happened? Why? Alucard, the ally of Trevor Belmont from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, having sensed the evil, wakes up to investigate.

You play as Alucard in a side scrolling platforming action RPG. You defeat monsters, earn experience points, level up, collect armor, weapons, learn magic spells, and explore the castle. When you explore a certain wing, there may be a powerup, item, ability, or lever which will allow you to unlock the next wing. People who were gaming aficianados recognized that the playstyle was very similar to the Metroid franchise. Because of this, this is the game that coined the term, “Metroid-Vania.” At one point it was just a prefix, calling this Castlevania game a Metroid clone. Now, it refers to the Metroid/Castlevania game play style as a whole since there are more than a few Castlevania games that follow this formula. It may be a clone, but it’s a clone of something that was awesome. It had been a very long time since Samus Aran from Metroid had made an appearance anywhere on any console. Players had been starved for this gameplay type. There was nothing else out on the market like it at the time.

It takes some new chances, but the environment of the castle is familiar enough that it “feels” like Castlevania. When you beat the game, you can play as Richter through the castle, so you’ve got your Belmont, your whip, your castle, Dracula, and the soundtrack. It’s like coming home.

It’s a classic that everyone should play at least once. And if you buy the Castlevania Chronicles for the PSP, the entirety of Symphony of the Night is an unlockable bonus.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence PS2, Castlevania 64 Gold

Unfortunately, these had slipped by me. There’s only so many games any one person can play. Hopefully a reader can comment on these.

Bloodlines GEN

I never had much of a Genesis collection, certainly not as large as my SNES or NES collection. I was introduced to Castlevania long after this came out, but I did my reading. Since the castle Castlevania reappears every 100 years, there is a distinct leap forward in each game. This one takes place much closer to modern day. It also ties the Castlevania legacy together with Bram Stoker’s book Dracula, using some characters descended from those in the book.

Circle of the Moon/Aria of Sorrow GBA

This one was kind of weird. I think it has to do with the art style changing. Everyone started looking like effeminate “pretty boys.” I was not fond of that. But the gameplay was strong enough to keep me playing to the end. It followed the Symphony of the Night formula closely. It was more of the same, but more of the same awesomeness.

The story is a little off, too. The Castle appearances coincide with eclipses. The main character, Soma Cruz is a student, and some mysterious stranger tells him that he is the reincarnated spirit of Dracula, and he has to collect the souls of all the monsters in his castle. He struggles with the idea, rejects it, then embraces it when he meets someone else in the castle, running about, also trying to claim the power of the castle. Strange that in the later games, Dracula seems to play a less important role and more and more often it’s other people trying to steal their power.

Why? Why do people want Dracula’s power? Every time Dracula appears, he gets is heart handed to him on a wooden stake. Why not, just, you know, commit crime? Murder? Nothing really stops that. It’s been running strong for centuries without end.

Portrait of Ruin DS

My DS library is pretty small. It’s mostly made up of classic franchises, Mario, Zelda, Star Fox and the like. Castlevania seemed to be headed to portable platforms for a while, so I bought this along with Circle of the Moon.

The game takes place during World War I. The game follows a duo of heroes, one of them holds the Vampire Killer whip but cannot use it without it draining his life, the other is a sorceress, like Sypha from Castlevania III. You can swap between either one, or let AI control the other. The game plays and controls similar to Symphony of the Night with the fighting, collecting weapons, armor, leveling up, learning spells, and everything that made Symphony spectacular.

The story features a vampire named Brauner as the villain. Brauner, like the Dark Priest, Shaft, villain from Castlevania V, wants to take Dracula’s power, and the castle, for his own. So the heroes have to face several fearsome vampires residing in the castle. This Brauner is an artist, and has created worlds within his paintings. The paintings are a source of Brauner’s power, so to defeat him, the duo must first destroy them from the inside out. Like Mario 64. So besides the castle, there’s many more environments to explore.

There’s so much more to this game than it appears. There are a few obscure mysteries that look like they belong in Castelvania II, but they’re not critical to finishing the game. When you do finish the game, you unlock more playable characters to tackle the castle. There is also a boss rush mode where you fight the bosses one after another. The soundtrack is one of the best, most of the favorites and then some. This is a great game, with great extras.

Castlevania: Judgement Wii

The concept for the game was solid, a mash up of characters plucked from the Castlevania universe in some cross over event, and it’s a fighting game. Okay, new, interesting, I would bite(no pun intended). But I couldn’t help but feel like it was a disaster waiting to happen. How would a fighting game work on the Wii? Then, I saw the art style and wanted to vomit. They turned Simon Belmont from a badass European Middle-Ages monster hunter, into an effeminate Japanese S&M pinup model that belongs in a shojo or yaoi comic. The whip in this case takes on a whole new symbolism.

Has anyone tried it? Was anyone bold enough to spend the money? I think it would be great fun with the Wiimote to start whipping it around. Is Castlevania: Judgement another excellent example of a good game that was killed with poor reviews? Or was this one justified? And how was the soundtrack?

Order of Ecclasia DS

I never picked up this one. I was waiting for the price to drop. Can anyone vouch for this title? Does is carry on the Castlevania legacy?

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow PS3

This game was the reason I wrote this entry.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence attempted to establish the origin of the series with the first Belmont to wield the Vampire Killer whip and face Dracula. All I know about that game was a few moments watching someone play it, and the Castlevania retrospective from Game Trailers(one of my few trusted review sites). It looks good, I’ll have to pick it up when I have the spare time. But as far as I know, Lords of Shadow is the origin of the mythology.

Well, there’s a man, a plan, a whip, some vampires, and a castle. After playing titles like God of War and Dante’s Inferno, I had low expectations for this game. It looked exactly like the other two, lots of Quick-Time Events, a flailing weapon, 7x single-button combos, unlockable progressive skill tree. It had just about everything I disliked about modern action games. But since it had the Castlevania title to it, I thought it deserved a shot.

It might be fair to say it cloned God of War, but then it also cloned Metroid, Zelda 2, and even itself several times. I felt that this was the best iteration of the 3rd person brawler yet, though it could be personal bias. It’s a great brawler, but is it Castlevania? In comparison to my experiences with other action brawlers, I definitely had to fight with more strategy, caution, and wisdom than Dante or Kratos.

The Gothic/rock soundtrack is gone, it’s replaced with a full symphony orchestra. The returning favorites aren’t here, however, I admit, the soundtrack stands strong on its own. I’m glad I bought the collector’s edition that comes with the soundtrack. I expected one thing, but accidentally ended up with something comparably delightful.

The story begins in a bleak peasant village. Evil roams the land. The connection between the heavens and the Earth has supposedly been severed. Gabriel Belmont, dressed like Simon from Castlevania II, is seeking pieces of a mask that can supposedly bring the dead back to life, his recently departed wife. The pieces are possessed by the Lords of Shadow, powerful creatures of darkness. Gabriel passes through the domains of each lord, the werewolves, the vampires, and the land of the dead. The rest of the subweapons were missed. The soundtrack was missed. The familiar locations inside the castle were missed. The traditional bosses were missed. Only a few enemies appear from older games. All the while I was thinking to myself, this game should have its own title and not borrow Castlevania.

Robert Carlyle as Gabriel Belmont was outstanding. Patrick Stewart actually plays second fiddle, and does a great job. The voice acting is spectacular, but the animation is very… Japanese. When the character which Patrick Stewart voices is giving a speech, he sound great. But the way he emotes with his hands, the way he walks, all his body language does not match what we know Patrick Stewart to be. In this case, less would have been more. He emoted and moved too much.

I played Megaman Zero because it had the Megaman name attached to it. None of it made any sense or had any relation to the previous games in the series. I was always hoping that something somewhere down the line somehow a connection would be made to make sense of it all and tie it all together. Nothing ever materialized. Castlevania Lords of Shadow was the same way until after the end credits. It delivers a nice teaser for a sequel, and I’ll look forward to it. But it’s unsatisfying, too little too late.

Old vs. New – Metroid

 Originally written on 3/15/2011

The Metroid franchise is infamous for the original twist ending. If you managed to beat the game within a certain amount of time, the ending shows the main character, Samus Aran, removing the helmet of a spacesuit, revealing Samus to be a woman. The hours and hours poured into the game, were all based on a simple assumption that the main character was a man. Even the game’s instruction manual used the pronouns he, him, and his. Most gamers were young males, so seeing a woman in a role outside of “kidnapped princess” or “damsel in distress” was revolutionary for the early 1980s. And sadly, it remained that way for a long long time. The list of leading ladies is still shorter than it should be.

Metroid NES

The original Metroid had one screen to explain it’s story. Further details were in the game’s manual, but it was all icing on the cake. A deadly creature called a Metroid was discovered in the planet SR-388 and the planet was quarantined. Space pirates broke the quarantine, retrieved several specimens at great cost of life, and are now threatening galactic safety by threatening to release them on a populated planet unless a ransom is paid. The normal galactic armed forces cannot intervene and issues an open call to anyone who can help defuse the situation. Samus takes up the call and spelunkers into the planet Zebus to face them.

Along the way, alone, Samus explores the surface and depths of the planet. She explores ecosystems unlike any Earth has ever seen. Since she’s alone, there is not much dialogue. So the player identifies with her muteness. The player’s words become her words. The player’s thoughts are her thoughts since she does not offer any herself to override or contradict them. This is a great example of how a mute protagonist should be used.

Metroid Zero Mission Gameboy Advance

This was a total remake of the original game. It’s not just a port, but a remake using the technology of the time. It adds a little more flare and concrete lore to what was established or hinted at in later games. Zebus was Samus’s stomping grounds when she was a child. The animation was enhanced with many more frames and colors than the original. There were a few new powerups that were seen in later games but not in the original. After you reach the point of where the original NES game ended, there is an additional area to explore. The story up until that point remains the same. Samus is stripped of all her powers and armor and has to stealthily explore and escape the ship.

Metroid Prime Gamecube, Metroid Prime 2 Echoes Gamecube, Metroid Prime 2 Hunters DS, Metroid Prime 3 Corruption Wii

I have not played these, so I cannot comment on the virtue of their storytelling methods. I’ve only watched sections of Metroid Prime 1 and 3 played at length and read the Wikipedia summary on the others.

Metroid II Return of Samus Gameboy

The story of Samus continues in this sequel. The metroids were originally discovered on planet SR-388. To prevent them from ever being used as a biological weapon again, there is a bounty offered for every metroid kill. Samus volunteers to goto the planet and wipe out every last one. She explores this planet, much like Zebus, blasting Metroids as she finds them. At one point, one of the Metroids looks sick, warbles around, and collapses to the ground. From the core, another creature erupts from the metroid cell membrane. This creature resembles a metroid in some superficial way. It can be inferred that this is an “older” metroid. This is part of the natural life cycle of the metroid. As she delves deeper into the planet, they will only get bigger and meaner. All the threats she faced before, they were just babies.

At the end of her journey, after killing the last metroid, Samus causes a cave-in, trapping her in a chamber made out of some kind of impenetrable resin. Then, her metroid detector goes off. She traces the signal and comes to an egg. A baby metroid hatches. After a moment of learning how to float, Samus raises her arm cannon. It rushes straight at her, and around her, over her, under her, orbiting her. The baby metroid thinks Samus is its mother. Soon, the baby metroid hatchling is hungry, and begins to devour the resin walls, leading her out. The species Samus had just nearly wiped out, just saved her life. Besides teaching players a lesson in biology, it also introduces younger players to irony. Samus brings the hatchling with her and delivers it to a research station for study.

None of this is spelled out at all. The story is told entirely through visuals, no text at all. It’s up to the player to make these discoveries and interpret these events. This is game storytelling at its best. Some games today rely too much on exposition, text, or in-game encyclopedias. This was made for the original gameboy, which is even more impressive since graphics were not the gameboy’s strong point.

Super Metroid SNES

This game picks up immediately where Metroid II left off. After Samus drops the baby metroid hatchling off at a research station, she receives a distress call from that station. U-turning around, she finds everyone on board the station dead. She rushes to find the hatchling and finds an old enemy waiting for her, bigger and meaner than ever, Ridley. Ridley, a giant flying reddish-purplish terror flying predatory dinosaur lookalike, appeared in the original Metroid game and was one of the leaders of the Space Pirates. It’s revealed in Zero Mission that Ridley led the pirate attack that killed Samus’s colonist parents. They explore their feelings, Ridley flees with Samus’s “baby” and sets off a time bomb. Samus evacuates and follows Ridley back to Zebus, the planet from the first game. Samus goes back into the planet, searching for a new pirate base.

Maybe it can be inferred that Samus explores Zebus with silent awe at the different biomes and environmental ecosystems. The storytelling method of pantomime is in strong form again. I do not wish to further spoil the experience for anyone, so I will cease with the story details. Suffice it to say that there is a much larger story at work here than there was in Metroid II, an unforgettable and touching one.

Metroid Fusion Gameboy Advance

This marks, chronologically, the last of Samus’s adventures. Samus returns to SR-388 as a bodyguard for scientists exploring the planet, now that all the metroids had been wiped out. In the beginning of the expedition, Samus is forced to kill a hostile predator. Out of the predator corpse, a splotchy purple glob flies out and attaches itself to Samus’s suit. Shortly thereafter, it seeps in, and Samus collapses. She is rushed back to the nearest medical facility and has her power suit removed to facilitate treatment. The glob is analyzed and discovered to be a parasite. This parasite takes on certain biological characteristics of its host, varying itself. It’s from this variable nature, it’s given the name, X Parasite. The samples recovered from the scientific expedition reveal that the X Parasite is exceptionally proliferate. It has infected nearly every form of life on the planet. It’s deduced that the metroids were the natural predators of the X Parasite, keeping their numbers in check. The readings gained from the baby metroid hatchling that were saved gave scientists enough data to create an X vaccine and save Samus.

Lesson of this game: don’t mess with the ecosystem and food chain. Japan produced a similar series of cautionary movies with the discovery of the harmful effects of radiation; Godzilla.

This story is the first in the series that begins to use text to tell a story. Samus converses with an AI while on board a space station. She and the AI work together to restore control to the medical station that treated her, and is now swarming with X Parasites that were attached to her suit. The skin particles on her suit were also absorbed by the X Parasite and mimiced her. She must play a game of cat and mouse with her old power suit, the Samus Aran X Parasite, SA-X. Every time Samus explores a new zone, she has an inner monologue while in the elevator. Everytime she reaches a save point, she talks with the AI. The discussions are limited to the topic at hand and her past.

So, for the first time, in something other than an intro, we have a story written and spelled out. We have sections of the story spelled out for us. Though this is also a new source of drama. Samus has previously killed everyone from the previous games. Drama is created by relationships, so there had to be a new relationship created. The relationship created is with the AI. And the drama goes beyond just fighting, we see a different side to Samus. We’ve seen since Metroid 1 that artificial brains, like the Mother Brain, can be created. Metroid 3 shows that the programs can be copied and backed up. Metroid Fusion shows us that the brain patterns can be copied from living people. The AI is discovered to be the pattern of one of Samus’s former commanding officers from her short time in the Galactic Federation military, Adam Malkovich.

Metroid: Other M Wii

This takes place before Metroid Fusion but after Super Metroid. I have to list it last because of its importance, because of the changes it makes to the character. The relationship between Samus and Adam is explored further, as well as parental relationships between parents and children as a whole, how it can go right, and how it can go terribly, terribly wrong. Metroid had previously explored dangerous issues in the environment and biology. Fusion and Other M explore in a new direction, our behavior as a people. I didn’t see that before in my first Other M or Fusion playthrough, and perhaps judged them too harshly.

I always projected a personality of my own design onto Samus as long as she was a mute protagonist. Now, Fusion, and especially Other M, imprint a personality onto Samus. Up until these two games, Samus has always been an unshakable, brave, bad ass, warrior. I assumed she was charged with emotion and adrenaline during the fight scenes with Ridley. The opening of Other M shows the final fight in Super Metroid in a flashback, and she’s incredibly calm, no emotion at all. That wasn’t the Samus I’d imagined. In every narration, Samus is cold and emotionless. How am I supposed to get excited if the main character cannot? Jennifer Hale is a great voice actress, and there’s probably loads of “bad” takes where she’s actually emotional that were discarded. I would have thought she’d play Samus as more of an older Detective Ivy from Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego. Instead, she’s an indecisive, insecure, child.

The character reverts to a childlike state, seemingly stripped of all the self-confidence, strength, and badassery displayed in every other title to date. It’s like every other game never happened. Our heroine didn’t grow, she got youth-anized. Maybe that was the point. Showing her in a subordinate child-like state, in comparison to the other lead child-like state that is introduced to the game, and contrasting them, showing how differently the two can develop, based on their parental figures. I should play through again with that in mind, see if the game makes more sense, and hope the next one shows Samus return to form as a strong individual and positive role model.

I’ve other problems with the method of storytelling, how so much is spelled out for you and forced on you. But if the story was meant to be analyzed from that comparative point of view, it may be difficult to tell any other way. The game plays well enough, as good as any of the classics and early generations of the series. The battles are as dramatic as the battles of the past. As a game, I don’t have many complaints. There are segments to advance the story where you must zoom in and analyze a small random area of the room. Finding it and zeroing in on it is difficult when it’s forced upon you. It stops the action dead. I thought there was a glitch, like a door wouldn’t open. Then there’s the power bomb. I was fighting a familiar boss and knew exactly what to do, the tutorial on exactly what to do popped up and disappeared before I could read it because I was already pressing buttons. And it wouldn’t pop up again on the next playthrough. I was stuck for days thinking it was a glitch.

I was very unhappy with Other M my first time through. I didn’t like having my icon Samus destroyed. But typing this out helped me see it a different way. It reminds me of Bill Watterson, author of Calvin & Hobbs and Jim Davis, author of Garfield. Garfield was merchandised, serialized, animated, there were movies, plush toys, and pretty much over exposed without the negative backlash. Bill Watterson was approached with the same opportunity, an animated series, plush toys suction cupped on every car windshield, but he declined. Watterson felt that readers imposed their own imagined voices onto Calvin & Hobbs, and by providing one with an animated series, it would reduce the sense of attachment readers had when they hear the “wrong” voice coming from Hobbs or Calvin, or his parents. I completely understand and agree with Watterson’s choice. Fans, myself included, would lose a sense of ownership of the characters.

Old vs. New – Brawlers

 Originally written on 3/7/2011

Brawlers

Double Dragon was one of the first brawlers or beat ’em ups that I ever played. A friend brought it over to show me. It didn’t have a two-player simultaneous mode like in the arcade, it had a switch-off where when one player died, the other took over. But there was also a special two-player mode that allowed players to pick from the enemy and boss characters and fight it out that way. The next time I ever saw that option was in TMNT IV, and you couldn’t pick boss characters. The game was hard, no question about that. I was never able to beat it. You started out being able to punch and kick, but the more points you score, the more moves you unlock like jump kicking and the hurricane kick.

Double Dragon II was a step forward in graphics, gameplay, and story. The boss fight mode did not reappear, but you could play in a mode that let you attack each other. Perhaps the limited space on the cartridge forbid the programmers from adding playable bosses. The game shone in every other respect. The music was incredible, I’ve got more than a few remixes on my iPod. They always get me psyched up for a workout or a hard run. It’s classic American 1980s rock. There are more levels and a larger repertoire of moves that you can perform at any time, you don’t have to build up to them. Nowadays, action and brawler games draw more from DDI and make you earn moves over time. Strange.

Double Dragon III The Sacred Stones was as hard as the first, originally. I was so used to the controls from DDII, that I had trouble adjusting. This game introduced two new playable characters that you could hot swap out at any time. That added a little diversity, though it didn’t make things any easier. Each character had their own life bar, so you effectively had a life bar 3 times the size of normal. And boy, I needed every last hit point.

Double Dragon IV was a 2D fighting game based on the short lived Saturday morning animated series. The series was kind of corny in an “after school special” kind of way and wasn’t nearly as violent as the games were. There were a lot of magic and technological tropes thrown in that you’d probably seen in other Saturday morning cartoons. The game was nothing special or impressive. I suppose if you were a big fan of the TV series, it might appeal to you.

Double Dragon V was a triumphant return to form! It mostly resembled Double Dragon II. You had all the traditional Double Dragon moves at the start of the game, and added a few new ones never seen before. There was a two-player simultaneous mode, it took the great parts and kept them, like the Megaman formula. The soundtrack wasn’t 1980s American rock, so it’s not my favorite game in the series.

Battletoads I only sampled. I could beat level 1 easily enough. The speeder bike took some lives from me, but then that level sliding down the ropes with the crows finished me off. It was a strong action game that I’m not sure why it’s only had two real games in the series, the original and Battlemaniacs for the SNES. There was that Battletoads meets Double Dragon cross over, but I don’t think that represented the DD side very well. The controls seemed too loose for me. The franchise as a whole seems ripe for a reboot.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first arcade game, and first turtles game I ever played. I accidentally purchased the first Turtles NES game, thinking it was this. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game was a challenging game for its time, or any other time. There weren’t as many moves available to you as there were in Double Dragon; attack, jump kick, special attack. Every turtle was the same, just palate swaps of each other and different weapon sprites. Despite all these limitations, it was awesome. The music was Turtles, or perhaps it set the standard for what Turtle music should be. The bosses were mostly taken from the 80s television series, and that was the strongest point of the game. As I established before in my Megaman comparison, it’s the relationships between characters that create depth, not just one character’s backstory, written with an attempt to be badass. The Turtles’ fight against the Shredder was already established, all the characters were already defined and didn’t need any introduction or explanation. Mikey was my favorite.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was an upgrade on every front, better graphics, better rockin’ soundtrack, more moves, more levels, more foot soldiers, more enemy types, more bosses, more extra lives(thankfully), more everything. I might pick up II every now and again for nostalgia’s sake, I think the graphics were a bit more colorful in that one. But III definitely had better gameplay. The turtles were all still palete swaps of each other, but they had different special moves they could use, some more powerful than others, and that created a difference. Mikey was my favorite.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time was the strongest entry in the franchise that I played. Like Double Dragon II, you had a ton of moves at your disposal right from the start, a jamming soundtrack that has since found a place on my iPod. There were unique special moves like TMNT III. The bosses were mostly taken from the 80s TV series. I remember I mastered this game back in the day and could beat it on the hardest difficulty. From each Turtles game, II to III, to IV, the way Foot Soldiers appear and weapons they carry get more and more outrageous as time goes on. Mikey was my favorite.

Final Fight was a game a friend introduced me to in a 7-Eleven. I was never very good at anything in the arcade, and never had enough quarters on me to learn how to play well. Though I still had fond memories of my time playing it. So when I saw the SNES version available, I had to buy it. It removed two of the best elements that it had going for it, multiplayer and an extra playable character. The game still stood strong without them, not AS strong as it could have, but strong nonetheless. It had what I appreciated about DDII and TMNT IV, a bunch of fighting and brawling moves available to you right out of the starting gate. The two playable characters were a pro-wrestler and a martial artist. They played differently from each other, trading speed for strength. Even without a manual to read about the different moves, anyone can get the hang of this game with minimal effort. It controls very intuitively.

Final Fight 2 & Final Fight 3 I never played, so I’m not sure how different they are, or how similar they are to the original. Did they try to be innovative and change up a winning formula? Or did they go the Megaman approach and give us more of the same awesomeness we loved before?

Just a funny note about this series, specifically the first game. The two main characters are Mike Haggar, a former pro-wrestler turned mayor of Metro City, and Cody the boyfriend of Haggar’s kidnapped daughter. After the events of the first game, Cody goes to prison, as is seen in Street Fighter IV and Final Fight Streetwise. Apparently you can’t go around the city beating the snot out of hundreds of people suspected of being gang members and expect to get away with it… Unless you’re the mayor. 

X-Men The Arcade Game I remember playing once or twice when I needed to kill time before a movie, or waiting for someone at the mall. But it was only once or twice since I never had enough quarters and didn’t ever master a joystick. It has the same strengths as the Turtles games by already having a series of relationships established with the characters and the antagonists. There weren’t many moves available, but the special mutant powers mixed things up. When it appeared on the PS Store, my sense of nostalgia overwhelmed me. It seems my memories were a strong force in influencing my purchase as the game was not as good as I remember it. It was quite a shallow experience compared to what came out after it. But since it was a simple port, I shouldn’t have expected much. A new game built on the old premise like an X-Men brawler would do even better. Nightcrawler was my favorite.

God of War – God of War does everything I dislike. The main character has no connection to anyone. Kratos doesn’t have as much history to draw upon like the Turtles do, but they attempt to tell a story. Kratos could build his relationships with the other characters, but no. He just kills them. He’ll meet someone new, maybe do a task for them, and then kill them. He’ll meet someone, steal something from them, and kill them. Half the time it doesn’t even matter if they’re hostile. When Kratos meets an NPC, then their seconds are numbered. There were moments for actual character growth where Kratos could have evolved as a person, but instead the game makes him default into more violence. Your list of attacks grows over time, and boy does it grow! In fact it grows to such a length that you can’t help but press anything and make a super combo out of it. XXXXXXX is a combo, XXO is a combo, XXOX is a combo, XOXOXOXX is a combo. That’s just lazy. There’s more moves than you can legitimately use and it’s all button mashing. An older game, Bloodrayne II had a similar list, but at least you started out with all of them. Lastly, there is no second player option. And if there was one, Kratos would just kill the 2nd player out of general principle.

Dante’s Inferno is a God of War mod as far as I’m concerned. The character does not change or grow over time, he’s simply consumed with hate, anger, wrath, and rage. He has no connection to reality, shows no interest in anything other than his goal. He’s quite one-dimentional. The game takes such a radical departure from the book I have to question if anyone on the development team ever read it at all, or did they just read the back and look at the table of contents. Perhaps a faithful interpretation of the book wouldn’t make a good game? I disagree. I believe a faithful interpretation of the book wouldn’t make a good God of War game. Perhaps adventure or educational would be a better genre for this material.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow I accidentally bought, thinking it would be a Castlevania game. Shame on me. Although now we finally have a hero which legitimately uses a chain whip. All throughout the whole game I was waiting for some kind of connection that would make it “Castlevania.” It wasn’t until after the credits that it finally delivered. That was pretty weak. I was hoping to see Dracula’s castle, the familiar bosses, the awesome gothic rock soundtrack. Though the soundtrack for Lords of Shadow was good on it’s own, I was hoping for a little Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, The Raven, Simon’s Theme, or Wicked Child. I bought the collector’s edition with that hope. The soundtrack was strong on it’s own, it just didn’t have what I expected. The move and combo list grows as you progress, that’s new for Castlevania. Before the game came out, I tried to identify what exactly makes up a good Castlevania game. Castlevania II was radically different than I, III, IV, and V. Symphony of the Night and the Game Boy Advance / DS titles were action RPGs. So I was willing to accept this new direction since Castlevania never really had a definitive structure to it. But through it all, there were the music, the bosses, the castle, and the power ups. Lords of Shadow had none of those. If the sequel has the recurring elements, the relations to the past games, I’ll pick it up.

New TMNT games based on 2000 animated series

A friend of mine who was a fan of the turtles growing up bought one of the new games based on the new animated series. I was excited, and then quickly disappointed. I’ve got my own issues with the series as a whole, but I’ll stick with the game. The game was a drastic departure from the previous series of games. The combat was simplified and reduced, and you didn’t have as many moves. It was as if the Turtles lost their ninja skills somehow. A portion of the combat was replaced with environmental puzzle solving, box moving, and door opening. Because, you know, that’s what the Turtles are known for, not being ninjas. /sarcasm

Dynasty Warriors, I watched a roommate play one of the series and I can’t understand how this game has so many sequels. There’s Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, and then even Gundams(which I have issues with). Each sequel brings hosts of new characters to play, from a history full of fantastic over the top characters. At one point I figured we’d soon see “Colonial Warriors” based on the American Revolutionary War that has George Washington on horseback, slaughtering hundreds of redcoats at a time.

I gather that you pick one of the fantastical characters from the incredibly colorful Chinese or Japanese history. You gain powers over time and slaughter hundreds of hundreds of single foot soldiers at a time, occasionally fighting a few stronger than the rest. It seemed a shallow and empty game experience to me. Perhaps someone here can offer a positive experience? What was fun or enjoyable about it?

Turtles in Time Reshelled

This game is disgusting. Whoever decided to make this should be fired, or worse. It is a graphical update of TMNT IV into a 3D engine, but more than half of the moves are cut out entirely. It’s like they remade only half of the game, several levels were dropped entirely as well. It has wonderful and incredible promise, but does not deliver. It’s a bait and switch.

Castle Crashers

Got it right! ‘Nuff said!

What Went Wrong?

How did brawlers devolve from the rich Double Dragon II, Final Fight, and TMNT IV into the wide area attacking, move purchasing, cheap experiences that we have today? I think it may have to do with “what sells.” God of War sold very well. So, many games just copied the formula. However, the people who bought that game probably never experienced what a proper brawler should be.

What are some of your favorite brawlers, old and new? Why? If there’s an entry I missed that has a special place in your memory, shout it out.

Old vs. New – Megaman

Originally rewritten on 3/6/2011

I accidentally saved over my original document, which is a shame. I was quite happy with the analysis. I hope I can recreate the important parts.

This was the first article I wrote analyzing how the earlier installments of a franchise were superior to the newer installments. I’ll describe each entry into the series, highlighting the elements that made it great. Then shine a light on the later installments and where they lack, where they could have learned from the older installments, what was left out, or where they went wrong.

Megaman I

Dr Thomas Light and Dr Albert Wily were two of the most renowned robotics experts of their time. Together they constructed a series of robots to take the roles of dangerous jobs that may endanger human lives. Elecman would work in high voltage areas, Bombman would work in demolition, Iceman would work in arctic conditions, and so on. Dr Wily had more sinister intentions. He stole the robots, reprogrammed them, and held the city hostage for ransom. Rock, one of Dr Light’s other robots, volunteered to undergo modifications to be turned into a fighting robot and save the city, and became Megaman. Megaman destroys each robot and penetrates Dr Wily’s stronghold and defeats him.

Each time Megaman destroys a robot master, he gains their power and grows stronger. There is an ancient Japanese legend about seven brothers(6 masters plus Megaman? Coincidence?), out to fight a warlord. As each brother fell in battle, the others gained their power, it was split among them. Sort of sounds like Highlander to an extent. And the last brother possessed enough power to succeed. I believe that that fundamental characteristic of Megaman gaining a slain foe’s power was inspired by this old story.

At the end of the game, Megaman starts a long walk home, remembering all the other robots who were destroyed. This introspective walk becomes a regular element in the end credits of most Megaman games. Science fiction, good science fiction, typically isn’t just some story that is set in the future or some exotic location. Proper science fiction is all about examining our lifestyle through a different filter. The running theme of Megaman, the question it repeatedly asks is about, “your own kind.” What makes Megaman turn on his own “kind?” Who IS his kind? What does kind even mean? Why does Megaman side with humanity? When you see the problems our modern world has on an international scale, many of them revolve around this one basic issue, one “kind” versus another.

One of the most exceptional characteristics about the Megaman series is how they tell this story. Nothing is spelled out, at least not to the level of the heavy handed morals of today’s games. I’ve already written more text than all of the first 6 games combined. It’s left up to the player to ponder these questions. The game tells a story without words, and does an excellent job, as they all do.

Megaman II

Dr Wily attempts his plan of ransoming the city again. Instead of stealing 6 robots of Dr Light’s design, he builds 8 of his own, the deadliest that he can think of. Megaman again takes up his battle armor and faces Wily. In the aftermath, Megaman takes the long silent walk, remembering everyone who had perished in the conflict.

Megaman III

This installment makes some of the most dramatic additions to the series. Dr Light builds Megaman a robot companion, a dog named Rush. (That crazy old mad scientist has a thing for music) Dr Wily appears to have reconciled with Dr Light and they build a colossal “peacekeeping” robot called Gamma. But the parts necessary were possessed by another set of robots. Megaman volunteered to “retrieve” the parts, no matter what. While pursuing several of the parts, Megaman confronted a red robot, similar to himself in design, calling itself Break Man.Who was this robot? Why was he trying to stop Megaman? When Megaman asks Dr Light about it, he tells Megaman about a robot that he built first, a prototype robot called Blues or Protoman. Protoman was the prototype for all the robots that Dr Light and Wily built. But he was imperfect, there was an fault in his energy core that if left untreated, could destroy him. Protoman was also an experiment in free will. He exercised that free will and ran away before Dr Light could fix him. Protoman believed that the fault meant that he was mortal, that he could live and die, just like a human. Dr Light saw it and thought of it as a fault, a mistake. To Protoman, that was the greatest gift Dr Light could have ever given him and would not surrender it.

While Megaman and Dr Light have this heart to heart, Dr Wily steals the colossal “peacekeeping” robot Gamma and uses it as a weapon of destruction. In the climax of the game, Megaman destroys Gamma, Dr Wily’s fortress, and causes it to collapse. Some of the debris land on Megaman, trapping him, crushing him. Protoman arrived and pulled Megaman from the rubble. In the end, Megaman takes an extra long walk, thinking particularly about this new “brother.”

It’s a touching and sentimental scene, even without words. You know there is a lot happening under the surface, internally.

Megaman IV

8 new robots appear to threaten the city. Megaman goes back into action. He’s armed with Rush, the dog has learned some new tricks. Dr Light also upgraded Megaman’s arm cannon to fire charged bursts, the Mega Buster. In addition to Rush and the cannon, Megaman is aided by a new companion, Eddie, a mobile storage container that delivers power ups and refreshments to Megaman when he’s out in the field. These 8 new robots masters are the inventions of a Doctor Cossack. When Megaman scraps them all, he confronts Doc Cossack. Moments before Cossack’s defeat, he confesses that someone kidnapped his daughter and forced him to build those robots. He had no choice. Suddenly, Protoman enters with Kalinka, the doctor’s daughter. It was Wily at the heart of the matter. Since his designs failed in the past, he tried to recruit talent from another robotics expert. Knowing this new information, where Kalinka was being held, Megaman storms Wily’s fortress and does what he does best. As the dust settles, Megaman takes a walk.

Megaman V

Robots run amok in what appears to be an organized crime ring. 8 robot masters seem to be led by none other than… Protoman? This creates a dramatic element. What is Megaman thinking about when faced with the possibility that his brother has gone rogue? Have his internal systems malfunctioned? Why has he chosen this path? Megaman sets out to stop the destructive robots and then confront his brother. Megaman is aided by Rush, Eddie, and a new robot companion, a bird named Beat. When he finally reaches Protoman, the two inevitably fight, with deadly force. Before Megaman is destroyed, the door to the chamber that he’d come through opens and there stands… Protoman? The new Protoman fires at the other, revealing it to be an impostor. The robot was similar to a design by Dr Wily. Since Protoman had ruined Wily’s plans with Dr Cossack, Wily sought to ruin Protoman’s good name and destroy his reputation, and make him a hunted robot. Megaman defeats the impostor and destroys Wily’s new fortress.(How does he keep building them?) Wily escapes at the last moment. Megaman walks home.

Megaman VI

Talent like Dr Light, Dr Cossack, and Dr Wily is unmatched. But there are still very talented robotics experts out there. A tournament is held for aspiring robotics designers to submit their best combat models. The world’s best all submit their ideas. When the competitors dwindle down to 8, the tournament organizer, Mr X, announces that he has stolen them, and will hold the city for ransom. Now, Megaman must fight the 8 best robots in the world, all designed for combat. Each of them must already have a moderate collection of kills, made up of the rest of the world’s best. Yet Megaman still steps forward to stop them. What a courageous robot. After they are destroyed, Mr X turns out to be Dr W(ily) all along. The tournament was a ruse to get the world’s strongest under his control. When Megaman reaches Wily, he does not escape. Megaman has been fooled by trap doors, holograms, android look-a-likes, but this time, he apprehends Wily and sends him to jail.

Megaman VII

This entry in the series is as revolutionary as III was compared to II. Wily had created a series of “dead man switches” to go off if he were ever incarcerated. If these super robots did not receive a signal from Wily every so often, then they would activate and begin the search for him. Large robots begin attacking the city, causing a diversion, while others go to recover Wily. Megaman attempts to stop the destruction to the city and heads to the diversion. While fighting, he comes across another powerful robot, and they fight each other to a standstill. Each one had mistaken each other to be one of Wily’s designs. Who is this new robot? Who built him? Was there another undiscovered talented designer like Cossack out there? Has Megaman found a kindred spirit and ally? It’s this desire for kinship that could lead anyone to their downfall, including Megaman.

The new robot’s name was Bass, with a robot wolf companion named Treble. He was attempting to help, when they encountered each other. They agree to use Dr Light’s laboratory as a base of operations while they go out and search for the new robot masters that are causing havoc. When the masters are defeated, Megaman returns to Dr Light’s lab to find it in ruins. Bass had been one of the robots designed by Dr Wily. He’d ransacked the lab and stolen the latest upgrades Dr Light had designed for Megaman. Now, as Megaman continues to search for Dr Wily, he knows that he is a hunted robot. And somewhere out there, is a robot armed with Dr Light’s finest weaponry. Megaman has always relied on Dr Light’s upgrades in the past, his robot companions Rush, Eddie, and Beat, the mega buster. How will he compete with a superior model? Does Megaman possess enough courage to overcome the fear and absolute terror he must be feeling at the thought? Of course he does. He defeats Bass and Treble and continues on to Wily’s fortress. Megaman is going to need an extra long walk after this.

Megaman VIII

I confess that I never played this entry. I hope someone here can add to it. I never owned a Playstation, so this title passed me by. I must pick it up someday for my own sense of completion. All I really know about this is that it introduces a new character called Duo. Who or what he is, I have no real understanding.

Megaman & Bass

This is a great entry that lets us into the psychology of one of the villains. You have the choice of playing as either Megaman or Bass through this game. Megaman destroys all the robots and stops Wily as normal. His motivations are “true blue” and obvious. Bass, on the other hand, is still distraught from his defeat at the hands of an “inferior” model. Bass attempts to disrupt Wily’s plans. He figures that if he can defeat the 8 robot masters, succeeding where Megaman fails, he will prove himself superior. Wily will never need another robot. He is seeking validation for himself and from his creator. This is what happens when someone programs artificial intelligence, we get artificial mental hangups and character flaws.

Megaman 9 & Megaman 10

Note the numbers instead of Roman numerals. They shouldn’t be confused with the chronologically later Megaman X series. X is a model number, not the roman numeral 10. These two games passed me by since I did not have a console when they came out. They were modern games created in the original “retro” style of the first six, before the Super Nintendo and Playstation pushed the graphics forward. I do not know how they advance the story. Hopefully someone reading this can help fill in the gaps so we can all grow as an audience.

Megaman Legends

I never had a Playstation, so this one passed me by. I simply don’t know what I’m missing. This was an attempt to get Megaman in on the 3d revolution. Lots of gaming icons started making the leap to 3D by this time. Some fared better than others. I’ve only heard bad things about this game, but those bad things only come from magazines. No one I know ever bought it, because the magazines said it was terrible. Has anyone here played it? Can you say something positive about it? Are the reviews wrong? Is this one of the games that supports my reasons for starting this website to begin with? Is this anyone’s favorite? Are there really problems with it? Or are the review mags blowing it out of proportion?

Megaman X

Every few games, a Megaman game comes along to shake up the status quo, like III, like VII, this is the next one. This takes place a generation later. Dr Light had begun work on a new android model, X. This robot, similar to Megaman, was built to exceed that original design. X was an experiment in free will. Though to test him, Dr Light designed a computer program to stress test his ethical subroutines over and over until he could be sure, as sure as he could be, that X would not turn on humanity. Dr Light did not want X to be used for evil, like his original creations were. The time it would take for the tests to complete would be beyond Dr Light’s lifetime, and he knew it. Dr Light hoped that the future would be better for X than it was for Megaman, who was forced into a life of fighting and repeated conflict. Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst, Dr Light left a series of messages in a bottle and upgrades for X if he were ever fated to fight. You just can’t keep a good scientist down.

Sometime after Dr Light’s passing, there was a great cataclysm. Civilization was in shambles and had to recover. X’s capsule was lost in the lab’s ruins. The eventual fate of Megaman, Protoman, Dr Wily, and Dr Light are all unknown.

A new scientist, Dr Cain, was exploring the ruins and discovered X. The “new” X design was a rediscovery of technology that lifted civilization out of a dark age. Dr Cain studied the design after he released X from the capsule(before the ethical subroutine test could be completed). A whole series of robots were designed based off of X called Reploids.

These Reploids became integrated into society, performing dangerous and hazardous jobs that would endanger human lives, the dream Dr Light had always hoped for. After a time, everything seemed to be okay. But it never lasts. There were instances of Reploids attacking humans, going berserk or “maverick” as they called it. A series of Reploids were built to solve that problem, trained to be Maverick Hunters.

The greatest of all these Maverick Hunters was Sigma(a peacekeeping robot named after a Greek letter? Does that sound familiar to anyone?). Though even he inexplicably turned Maverick one day and became the leader of the Mavericks.

In one Maverick attack, X couldn’t stand by. He was overcome with the desire to help and stepped up to fight the Mavericks. But he was only the 1.0 model. Every single Reploid that had been built since himself had been improved upon and designed to be better, stronger, more capable with lessons learned from the last. He was severely outmatched. When he confronted the lieutenant in charge of the attack, Vile, he was nearly destroyed. Vile attacked X in a massive suit of mechanical armor. Vile picked up the limp body of X and began to crush him. Out of nowhere, another robot appears, blasting the arm off of Vile’s armor, saving X. Vile retreats.

X’s mysterious savior was Zero(X and 0, get it?), a robot in red armor with long blond hair. Zero was the 2nd best Maverick Hunter, behind Sigma. Before running off in hot pursuit of Vile, Zero tells X to grow stronger, and together they can take down Sigma. X begins his dangerous journey of defeating the less powerful Maverick leaders, growing stronger, discovering the capsules Dr Light had left for him, and improving himself until he can stand with Zero against Sigma.

The time comes for the duo to attack Sigma’s stronghold. Not far beyond the gates, Vile is waiting for them. Zero goes in first to confront Vile. A few moments later, there is silence within the room. With trepidation, X enters Vile’s chamber to see the outcome of the battle. Zero was defeated and captured. Now, X has to face off against the source of a traumatic fear for him. Again, X is still defeated. Zero bursts from his cage and damages Vile’s power core, causing it to detonate, throwing them both clear. Vile is injured, but still standing. X now has to face Vile again. This time, X overcomes Vile and goes to offer aid to Zero. But it’s too late, Zero was destroyed. Now, more determined, X goes to finish the fight.

After the climactic battle between Sigma and X, Sigma asks X why he would take up arms against his own kind? Why side with the humans? X is unsure of the answer, but knows that he will face the Mavericks again before he will find one. The game ends with a long walk down an abandoned highway, the same highway where he originally faced Vile and first met Zero, recalling the faces of everyone who fought for the future, on both sides.

I love how this story brings the question of “your kind” back to the forefront of the series. Where does one draw the line at a “kind?” Is it a race? A family name? A boundary line on a map? Does metal or meat make a difference? It raises the question and forces the player to at least work on an answer.

Megaman X2

X continues the fight against the Mavericks. Sigma’s program had been backed up and put into a new body. Dr Cain had been working on rebuilding Zero when three of Sigma’s lieutenants had stolen the remains, with the intent to reprogram him. X will recover the pieces one way or another through the game. The player has the choice of recovering the parts by either hunting down each lieutenant in addition to the Maverick leaders, or fight a rebuilt Zero in Sigma’s fortress and take them that way.

Megaman X3

This installment has Zero rebuilt. It should be noted that from this point on, Zero’s art style changes, his upper torso was taken from a defeated Maverick from the first game, Storm Eagle. As far as I can tell, it’s cosmetic only, there’s no deeper or hidden meaning, it’s just something I noticed. The game also allows Zero to be a playable character, but only for a few moments at a time. The story introduces Doctor Doppler, a cyborg. This human has apparently gone Maverick and become a Maverick leader, sending Mavericks out to rampage through the city. Dr Doppler has also rebuilt Vile, X’s traumatic first encounter with the Mavericks. When X confronts Doctor Doppler, it’s revealed that he’s being controlled by a computer virus. It was revealed in the last game that a virus is Sigma’s true form. He had been forcing Doppler to build him another body that, of course, X must destroy.

Megaman X4

This appeared on Playstation, so, I missed it. I know there is an original series and X collection available. When I have the time, I will have to add it to the list of games I should complete. All I really know that is significant about this game is from a flashback FMV sequence I saw online. Sigma, back when he was the greatest Maverick Hunter, is investigating reports of a very powerful Maverick in an isolated area. When he makes contact, it turns out to have been Zero. The two clash, Zero injures Sigma, and a familiar letter W appears in the gem centered on his forehead. What that means is left a mystery and open to interpretation and speculation. And oh boy, is there speculation about it!

Megaman X5

Since this appeared on the PC as well, I played this one through. You have the choice of playing through the whole game as either X or Zero. There is another mystery introduced in this chapter, like the mysterious W from X4. Later throughout the game, a special enemy appears throughout some stages, a floating Sigma virus. When X touches it, he is damaged and temporarily handicapped. When Zero touches it, he is temporarily empowered. Beyond the gameplay mechanics, what does that mean for the story? Speculation and interpretation abound.

Sigma is back in a body and is leading the Maverick charge again. This time, his plan is to crash an orbiting space colony onto Earth, making the planet uninhabitable for human life, leaving it for the Reploids. Sigma’s already secured facilities for rockets, fuel, guidance computers, and all that would be necessary to stop him. X and Zero plan to take those facilities from Sigma’s control head on. Depending on the player’s skill, speed, number of lives lost and attempts made at securing the facilities, the colony may or may not crash into Earth.

Somehow, Sigma has access to some of Dr Wily’s data. Deep in Sigma’s fortress, one of the bosses is a new and improved “Devil” that the original Megaman had faced off against several times. He faced the original Yellow Devil in Megaman I and III, the Green Devil in Megaman & Bass, and now the Black Devil. The Black Devil follows the pattern of the others by separating into smaller pieces, circling the room, condensing momentarily to fire a shot at Megaman, and in that one moment, he is vulnerable. This character is as much a nemesis to Megaman as Vile is to X.

Megaman X6, Megaman X7, Megaman X8, Megaman X9

Unfortunately, I have no experience with these titles. I must ask again for a reader to help fill in the gaps with personal experience, personal passion, and all in their own words. I could easily post the Wikipedia summary, but that’s just laziness. All I know is what I learned playing the demo in a store a long time ago. There is a new Maverick Hunter named Axel that joins the team. He has some mimicry power like X and Zero, but to a much less powerful extent. He can absorb the power of smaller robots, not the masters like X can.

Megaman The Power Battles & Megaman The Power Fighters

These are two very interesting titles. I played one of them in the arcade on Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. I was never very good with an arcade joystick, so I didn’t make it very far. The game recalls former bosses from the previous original Megaman games and pits you against them. No levels, just bosses. You are also given the choice of Megaman, Protoman, Duo, or Bass as your playable character.

The ending changes depending on who you pick. I remember reading that if you win with a particular character, you are treated to a scene that shows Dr Wily building a “new” robot that will surpass anything he or Dr Light had ever built, the next big thing. It would change the world. And a silhouette is shown of a red robot with long blond hair.

Megaman Battle Network

I was excited to see Megaman continue on the Gameboy Advance. I had a DS Lite, still with the GBA port on the bottom. When I looked at the back of the box, I didn’t know what I was seeing. This looked less like the re imagining of a universe like the Battlestar Galacticas, and more like a bad fan fiction story. It looked more like those 1990s movies based on 60s, 70s, and 80s properties that depended on cheap cameos, easter eggs, and winks & nods to the original, but no real substance. Have I judged this game too harshly? Is it better than I think? Is it still even Megaman? Or is this a completely different game that could do better if it had it’s own brand name, instead of borrowing the legacy of another?

Megaman Zero

Seriously, WTF is this? A friend loaned this title to me because I said I was a Megaman fan. What is with all these cyber elfs? It’s like someone took a list of proper nouns from the Megaman X series, read half of the back of a box, and used that material to make a side scrolling action platformer game. The art doesn’t look like Megaman, the story takes a bigger departure from the X series than X did from the original. It just doesn’t sit right with me. I loved Zero’s mystique in the X series, so a game all about him should be great, right? Somehow this new game just didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to like it. I played it to the end, hoping maybe for some surprise tie-in and was disappointed. I never bothered to pick up the sequels.

On a few of these analysis articles, I find I may have judged the game too harshly. I’m big enough to admit it when that happens. Is there anyone out there who knows the original series and can appreciate this one, too?

Megaman X Star Command

After seeing the likes of MM Zero and Battle Network, I didn’t even try these. Megaman was taking a direction I didn’t like. Am I cheating myself?

What Went Wrong?

I have to praise the early series for it’s storytelling and not relying on text in-game to tell the story. Sure, this was a time when game manuals contained a portion of the story in them. But that story could only tell the most superficial details, it wouldn’t spoil all that was to come. Nowadays with digital distribution taking off, in-game manuals are a thing of the past. Stories now have to be told differently.

I think my first article was better. I cannot remember the original route I took, from my original document, to arrive at this end, but I remember coming to one strong conclusion, relationships are at the heart of drama. Good storytelling is all about the relationships between people. The Megaman series has relationships that grow and change over time. Their bonds are tested, characters grow, changing their own image of themselves. This is an important lesson that modern action games have not learned. Megaman’s relationship with humanity, the relationship between Dr Wily and Dr Light, Megaman and Protoman, Bass and Megaman, and Bass and Dr Wily. It would be interesting to analyze the relationship between Protoman and Bass. It’s when these relationships are tested that the best parts of the story shine. What’s going through Megaman’s mind in MM V as he goes to confront what he thinks of as his brother, thinking he’s gone rogue? The player internalizes these thoughts, providing the outcome in his or her mind. And that personal dialogue is close to the players heart more so than anything a developer or pro writer may come up with.

As a lesson in drama, let’s take a “Perfect 10” game like God of War. Kratos has no relationships with anybody. When he meets someone, he kills them, brutally. He’s killed his way through the entire Greek pantheon of gods. That’s his only action. He never grows. If there is ever another game starring Kratos, you can bet, he’ll kill most of the main characters, and any he misses will get it extra bad in the sequel. He’s not one for words, but he’s still more vocal than Megaman. Silence and no text is not always a handicap. Even with all the voices and dialogue power at the disposal of a PS3, it’s possible to tell a shallow and uninteresting story.

Spoiler: Plot details for God of War 4: Kratos is insulted by someone who thinks he/she/it/they are more powerful than him. They attack him. Kratos strikes back by killing everyone they are associated with(along with thousands of others who are just in the wrong place at the wrong time) and then them. This may or may not take 2 games to accomplish.

Old vs. New – Final Fantasy

Originally written on 3/6/2011

Welcome to the first installment of a new column that takes a look at the long running franchises, highlighting the high points and comparing them to the recent installments. In this article I will be profiling Final Fantasy.

If you’re a long time Final Fantasy fan, then you probably know how the original came about. It was a last ditch effort to save his company that until Final Fantasy 1, had not been able to produce a well received game. If this game failed, it would mean the end of the company. The creators figuratively bet the farm on this one.

Now I can’t say I’ve played every Final Fantasy out there. I know I’m missing some. So if someone wants to chime in, please do and help fill in all our knowledge gaps.

Final Fantasy was the progenitor of the series. It set up staples that would be seen throughout the later games. The distinctive elements from this game was the party you controlled. You get to pick your party and classes. You name your characters and assign them a class, fighter, black belt, thief, white, black, or red mage. You can stack up and have 4 fighters or 4 white mages, or any combination. Once you had them, you were stuck with them. The battles were the typical turn based that set the standard for many more years to come.

Final Fantasy 2 & 3 came out in Japan only, so I missed them. Though I understand they set up several precedents which were used later, like introducing some new, now classic, character classes. I think they’ve been re-released on the DS in North America, I’ll have to double check, but since I have no direct experience with these, I’ll leave the experts to chime in.

When the Game Boy was released, there were a few games that had the Final Fantasy title slapped on by someone who made a decision that the brand recognition would help sales. I suppose that meant Final Fantasy was officially a success. Years later, the plot points introduced in Final Fantasy Adventure for the Game Boy would be revisited in a separate series later to be called Seiken Densetsu, or Secret of Mana.

Final Fantasy IV was the one many older fans cut their teeth on. Instead of your team of 4 anonymous mute heroes, you were given 5 characters with character. They had names, history, personality, relationships, and flaws. You didn’t have any freedom to choose who was in your party, the story determined that. Having that forced interaction was a choice that helped people bond with the characters.

Final Fantasy V was one of my favorites when I bought it for my DS. You only have 4 characters, but you can make them any class you want. So they still had the individual personality of characters from FFIV, and an even greater amount of control than FFI. Once your character spends a certain amount of time as one class, he or she masters it and can take some of the innate abilities of that class and apply it to another. You could end up creating a bare fisted multi-striking counter-attacking berserker, or a fighter with healing magic, and many others. Eventually everyone can master everything, but that’ll take some grinding, there are loads of classes represented. And even then, only so many traits can be piled on top of one another, so you will still need a good endgame strategy. You won’t be able to just walk over the boss.

There’s character and control, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Final Fantasy VI

This was the one I first started with. It was a bit slow to start. I was a bit confused who the main character was. It turns out it’s really one big ensemble cast and the main character is whoever you want it to be. You have 14 characters to choose from, all have a resemblance to some class that was previously established in an earlier game, though it’s not overtly spelled out. So you can choose the characters you like and overcome their weaknesses, or load up your party based on their usefulness and power your way through. In case you did not like any of the characters in Final Fantasy V, you couldn’t just swap the character out, you could only change their class. This game gives you so many characters to choose from, the player is bound to bond with some of them.

Final Fantasy VII, this is where my fondness ends. I never had a Playstation, so I never owned it. But due to it’s success, I could not avoid it. It was the first time I ever saw lines at video game stores for the release of a particular game. It was thoroughly demoed for me by friends with Playstations and I had to hear about how incredible it was, how it was such a large step forward in graphics and gameplay. Personally I was never impressed with it visually. I still didn’t like the fact that there were loading times on CDs and old sprite graphics at that point, for me, held more character and emotion in their 2d representations than 3d was able to at that time. I was present when a friend of mine reached the infamous death scene, he shed a tear. From that point on I still didn’t like it, but respected it. A game that has that power surely is something significant. It was a turning point where games had become art.

The cast of characters can be chosen by the player throughout most of the game. And while some characters are certainly built for fighting or magic, the addition of “materia” let you shape your characters in such a way that you could have the characters you like, and to an extent, the abilities you want. I’ve never realized until now that perhaps that is why this game resonates so strongly with so many players.

Final Fantasy VIII and IX passed me by for the most part. I remember reading a bunch about them, how the general additude and feeling was that they may have been graphical upgrades, they weren’t as fun. They still sold very well, just not as endearing as VII. If anyone reading has strong feelings about them, please share why. Did these games allow you as much character customization and control as the previous entries? Tell us, with both extreme maturity and bias, if these were your early experiences with the genre, because we all have some famous firsts which we will never forget and those have the strongest impact on us.

Final Fantasy Tactics on the PS1 started a series of spin-off games that allowed you to make a small army, move them tactically around a battlefield, and use classes from the Final Fantasies that came before it. It was a neat idea, but not one that I could get behind. That was mostly because I was still prejudice against games on CD and I didn’t own a PS1 at the time. I understand that it’s a classic, there’s a bunch of fervor around it, people love it, it has a strong and lasting legacy, and the sequel was a very long time coming. Come to think of it, the top down view, use of time units, the variety of weapons, reminds me a bit of X-COM. There’s no real reason for me to avoid it. I judged it very unjustly and harshly.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles was another spin-off series that appeared on the Nintendo system of the time, the Gamecube. Since I never had one of those either, and the idea of game journalism still had much room to grow, it went by largely unnoticed by me. I hope someone else here can offer up some words of praise for what I understand to be a very neglected game. It was quite a departure.

Final Fantasy X appeared on the PS2. I also never owned a PS2 so I never played it. I remember that same friend who first showed me the infamous death scene in VII bringing over his PS2 and firing it up for the first time. It was a visual and technical marvel for its time. The character development system was new and different. It allowed each character to grow how the player chose. Some characters took longer to get there than others and resisted the change, but with enough grinding, a Final Fantasy staple, you could do it.

Final Fantasy XI was a huge departure since it was an MMO. I sampled it for a few hours and it just didn’t agree with me. I had already been spoiled by the easy learning curve and instant gratification of World of Warcraft. But I did spend hours listening to stories, watching people play, and trying to learn what the appeal was. I may give it another go someday, I’ve always had a soft spot for Dragoons.

Final Fantasy X-2 was a series first, making a direct sequel. There were 3 characters that could be any class, just like Final Fantasy V. I’ve never played it, but that was my understanding. I also understand that there is a “mission” system that lets you take on story related missions, or just do what you do best and grind. Out of all the FF games that I haven’t played, this is the first one that I’d want to pick up, for that reason. And, I have a weakness for strong women. Payne in the Dragoon armor looks incredible. As with any game here, if you can think of something that was done exceptionally well, shout it out, let people know.

Final Fantasy XII mostly went over my head. Since I’d never owned a Playstation, I’d given up on the series as a whole. Once the series had gone 3d, the characters and artwork just never had that same impact as my beloved sprites. Please, someone, say something nice about it. Or is this the beginning of where the games started to disappoint people? How was character development handled?

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Ring of Fate for the DS I played start to finish. I didn’t realize that I had bought a game designed for kids. Usually when you see Final Fantasy in the title, you expect a certain amount of hours, a certain quality of story, a certain amount of choice in character development as we’ve seen time and time again. I got none of this. This was one of those games that never would have seen the light of day if it didn’t have the FF tagged onto the title. If they had renamed it to something completely new different and original, I might not have had as much to disagree with about it.

Final Fantasy XIII, after playing through 30 hours of this, I gave up. It’s going to take a real miracle before I pick up another Final Fantasy game. This game is one of the reasons I started this blog. The mighty have fallen. A game that has Final Fantasy in the title should bring certain things to the table. It didn’t, at least not soon enough. Games are usually meant to be beaten. I know that in real-time strategy games if they introduce a new unit to you, that it’s going to be very instrumental in your success. When a game gives you no freedom of choice in the introduction, you can’t really do anything wrong, you can’t screw up, you can’t lose. That section is meant to be won with minimal effort. For the first 30 hours of FF13, it was one straight linear path, I had no choice of who was in my party, I could not upgrade my characters in any significant way, and everything was meant to be beaten. There was no challenge at all. It was like playing one big cut scene. I only put myself through it because I believed it would get better soon. Shortly after beating Bahamut, the king of dragons, traditionally one of the strongest monsters in any FF game, as part of this linear “tutorial” segment, I gave up. This game took everything Final Fantasy used to stand for and threw it out the window. I’d had enough. I was tired of the sissy little kid named Hope who is obviously going to be some symbol by the end of the game, about as subtle as naming the end boss Sin in FFX. The Japanese verbal pause/grunt would have knocked me out if I’d actually played the drinking game, “Everytime someone gasps and has nothing to say, take a drink.” And the fact you cannot control your additional 2 party members, just the leader, left me wondering, if the game plays itself most of the time, what did it need me for? The best thing I can say was that some of the characters were interesting. But that’s not enough to get me to want to put myself through that all over again. I’ll just read the story on the Final Fantasy Wikipedia someone’s bound to set up.

What Went Wrong?

Where did the series go wrong? People play RPGs to build a character and make defining deliberate choices. FF13 removed all of that. RPGs involve deeply rooted long term strategy in character development and armament. This was an incredibly shallow experience and pretty much had all the hard work done for you. This game certainly does not mark the series highpoint. We’ve analyzed the high points of the series in the past and they seem to disappear here. There’s still a story, but I can’t care about it since I was not involved in it in any way, the fights just seemed like a different dialogue screen. I didn’t shape any of it.

Please, if someone out there can find something positive to say about FFXIII, please do. I want to think of something more substantial than, “I liked the hot dragoon lady.”