Monthly Archives: June 2012

Retrospective: Final Fantasy 6

Final Fantasy 6 stands tall over most of the RPGs I played as a kid.

I grew up on console role-playing games. Today, there is a pretty big distinction between Japanese RPGS (JRPGs) and Western RPGs (WRPGs). For the Super Nintendo, JRPGs were the only game in town since all RPGs created by Western developers were made almost exclusively for DOS/PC.

JRPGs differ from WRPGs in a lot of ways but, most importantly, male characters have weird-ass and nigh-impossible haircuts.

FF7’s Cloud would have been a much better character if he had an unflattering bowl cut.

A lot of the clichés in JRPGs are protagonist related. Unlikely hero, extremely young, parents dead, raised by aunt/uncle, clearly the chosen one, that sort of thing. Final Fantasy 6 is hardly free from any tropes—and this substantial list proves it—but it doesn’t contain a character that could be considered the protagonist.

Instead, players control a rebel force instead of following the destiny of a single character. The game boasts 14 characters (the most of any entry in the Final Fantasy series) and players are free swap members in and out of their 4-person party. This blew my mind as a kid. You mean I don’t have to use the former general of the Empire who was artificially infused with magic? And I can use a fucking yeti instead?

If you didn’t use this guy, you were doing it wrong.

Chrono Trigger, another 16-bit RPG darling, hits a point towards the end where players are no longer required to include main-protagonist-and-red-haired-samurai-dude Crono in their party. But it’s hardly the same: the game favors Crono so much and he synergizes so well with every other party member that it seems stupid not to use him. It’s Playstation sequel, Chrono Cross, suffers from too many playable characters (45!) and some of them are simply…underwhelming.

I’m not saying its easy to come up with compelling characters, but this guy’s name is literally Funguy.

But even compared to modern games, FF6 hits the playable character sweet spot. The game’s cast offers players a good amount of choices and, most importantly, players aren’t forced to use certain characters except for plot purposes during specific parts of the game.

Oh, and you can suplex a train.


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Let’s Talk About Speed Runs

The problem with video game speed runs is that they aren’t particularly impressive unless you know the game. Watching some dude beast Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts in less than 40 minutes doesn’t translate well to a general audience. If anything, the fact I see some intrinsic value in such a feat will likely distance me from normal people. And then they will push me down and no one will ask me to the Sadie Hawkins dance.

Fortunately, The King of Kong has done a nice job of injecting an understanding of video game world records into the public consciousness. This is mostly because King of Kong isn’t a documentary about video games as it is a story of good vs. evil or, at the very least, a story of adorkable vs. douche-incarnate.

You don’t need to know anything about Super Mario 64 to appreciate the world record holder for fastest 120 Star run.  Clocking in at 1:47:10, Twtich TV’s Siglemic record breaking run is an interesting watch simply because how calculated every single second is. Watching the whole thing is completely unnecessary; skipping to any part of the video below should suffice.

Watch as he pimp slaps my childhood.

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Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

I know a lot of obscure facets of American pop culture. Unlike some, this is not a point of pride for me and I generally keep that shit locked down.

Unless I’m drunk. In which case, I’m the guy at the bar whose talking too loudly about how Maximum Overdrive is the best movie ever because a soda machine kills a little league coach and knocks out some of the kids on the team.

I firmly believe my effortless access to this kind of stuff comes at the expense of other more marketable skills, like math or not parking like an asshole.

That being said, I had no idea there was a Moonwalker arcade game and have never been more disappointed in myself. Partially because it’s profoundly weird but mainly because it’s a surprisingly solid game that is different than the crappy Genesis and GameGear versions.

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is a product of 90’s; for one, it’s celebrity centered not unlike Michael Jordon: Chaos in the Windy City or the infamous Shaq-Fu. Secondly, the plot of the game consists of Michael Jackson saving children from kidnappers. No need to explain why this is unfortunate.

Honestly, the game’s premise is like listening to your grandfather refer to gay people as “poofs.” Uncomfortable but ultimately a product of a different time so you just shut up and deal with cognitive dissonance.

Moonwalker is an isometric shooter, where 1-3 players control Jackson and up to 2 differently dressed Jacksons as they defeat gangsters circa-1930 Chicago and creepily phallic robots. Jackson defeats enemies by shooting lightning from his hands because why the fuck not.

There’s nothing Freudian about this. That robot has dick. Image: 

Players can also charge their attacks up to release a powerful long distance blast. As an added bonus, Jackson moonwalks as the attack charges. Players also have a limited stock of a dance attack that causes all the enemies to dance along with Jackson before they exploding. Players receive more dance attacks when they rescue children

When players collect Jackson’s beloved monkey Bubbles, they turn into a robot that fires lasers from his crotch. The crotch seems a weird place to shoot lasers from but I’ve never built a robot—Robo-Jackson or otherwise—so I’m not really qualified to comment.

Additionally, there’s also only 3 sprites for the captured children. Repeating sprites are understandable because of hardware limitations, but I would like to believe Jackson is constantly rescuing the same 3 kids. I mean, players don’t do anything beyond freeing the kids from their electro-shackles. This leaves the children to fend for themselves even though there are killing machines and dudes with guns everywhere. 

As you would expect, the soundtrack consists of 16-bit versions of Michael Jackson songs. Oddly enough, the graveyard level filled with zombies didn’t use “Thriller” and instead went with “Another Part of Me.”

A missed opportunity if there ever was one.

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Galloping Ghost

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of checking out the Galloping Ghost arcade in Brookfield, IL. The exterior of the place betrays the amount of well-kept arcade cabinets and, honestly, the volume was staggering.

At first glance, I thought their logo was a Klansman being impaled by a rocket with a horse head.

Initially, I was in awe at the simplicity of GG’s pricing structure: it costs $15 to get in the door and all the machines are free to play. The more modern cabinets actually have a free play option, but the older machines—Galaga, Asteroids, Ms. Pac-Man, etc.— were retrofitted with a button that registers each press as an inserted coin. The amount of money you would spent to get through a game served as a nice benchmark of just how much you sucked. After beating the original House of the Dead with a friend of mine, we had the grim realization that the experience would have set us back about $8 each.

Although my inner-90s child was in awe at the prospect of being able to beat every Metal Slug for a one-time free of $15,1 I slowly realized this is the only business model that makes any sense. Thanks to the ever increasing popularity of video games—especially with their proliferation on mobile devices— the idea of paying by the continue seems archaic. Then again, any dedicated arcade that’s not a Chuck E. Cheese (or wherever else kids go to shit in a ball pit)2 is a rarity.

Coincidentally, GG was hosting a Mortal Kombat tournament the same time I was there and I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Pesina, the mocap model for Johnny Cage.3

I should have asked him to write “keep reaching for that rainbow.”

The mocap guy for Shang Tsu was also there for a while, but I didn’t realize who he was until he ran off somewhere, presumably to steal souls. Evidently, he’s also a doctor.  Or at least he was signing autographs with “M.D.” at the end of his name.

1Assuming one is paying 25 cents per continue, this would cost the average person roughly $600.

2Sadly, this was something I experienced in my childhood. Not as the shitting kid, but as the victim who unknowingly wades into human feces at Discovery Zone. Really changed how I felt about birthday parties.

3“Meet” is probably the wrong word. I just kind of blankly stared at him and wondered how Johnny Cage escaped his TV prison.

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Mario Marathon

Instead of powering through my daunting work inbox, I’m watching a webcast of the 5th annual Mario Marathon.

As you probably discerned from the name, it’s a marathon wherein a bunch of people play Mario games for a Herculean amount of time. More importantly, this is being done to raise money for Child’s Play, a charity that donates video games, toys, and books to hospitals. As explained on Child Play’s website, “these donations allow for children to enjoy age-appropriate entertainment, interact with their peers, friends, and family, and can provide vital distraction from an otherwise generally unpleasant experience.”

As of writing this, they have been playing for 80 hours straight and have raised over $83k. Best of all, these charity gaming marathons are happening all the time.

Sitting on the coach has never been so noble.


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Mario is Missing!

The NES boasted two Mario-themed edutainment games: Mario is Missing! and Mario’s Time Machine. In 1st grade I bought the former at a garage sale thinking I had stumbled upon some unknown but awesome Mario game where you play as Luigi. I was expecting some fun platforming goodness wherein I commit turtle genocide but instead Missing! is about controlling Luigi as he travels the world as a concerned global citizen trying to locate Mario.

There is literally nothing stopping Mario from yelling to his idiot brother.

Along the way, the expectation is that the player will learn about geography and various cultures of the world. Instead, the game taught me the following:

  1. The woman running the garage sale is a terrible person who savors the disappointment of children like a fine wine.
  2. Fun and education are mutually exclusive.
  3. Seriously, fuck that lady.

By definition, I suppose, it still counts as a game. Somewhere in the world, Missing! was some kid’s first Mario game and he was very confused when he found out Super Mario Bros. is about saving a princess instead of talking to Italian people about their daily lives.

In case you were wondering, Mario’s Time Machine is the same damn thing except you, y’know, go back in time. Because Bowser is stealing historical monuments. Whatever.

Mario is apeshit over that time machine.

Both Mario is Missing! and Mario’s Time Machine had ports to the SNES and the PC. For whatever reason, the characters for the PC version of Missing! were hand drawn and look beyond creepy. Check out the intro below. Take notice how Mario’s neck turns almost 180 degrees to speak to Luigi.

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The undeniable strength of Nintendium

So the NES does work, it just needed some coercing. Considering all the blunt trauma the console has going through over the years—the amount of times it had fallen the top of the TV in my youth is staggering—the fact it works at all is nothing short of amazing. Or so I thought.

Evidently, early Nintendo have a penchant for being nigh-indestructible. Some listless googling brought me to a Gameboy currently housed at the Nintendo World Store in NYC that is still operational after being blown the hell up in the Gulf War.

I also owned an original Gameboy but, unfortunately, I succeeded where the Gulf War failed. My second most vivid childhood memory involves me tripping up the stairs with my Gameboy in hand. I fumbled the Gameboy and ended spiking it on tile floor at the top of the stairs because I was a huge putz. Although physically sound, it never turned on again.

Sadly, my most vivid childhood is from when I was 8 and saw a banner ad for a website that promised me pictures of women having sex with loaded firearms. As you might expect, the banner also featured a woman with a gun in her vagina.

My family’s early adoption of AOL was not without a price.


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