Lord of the Rings: The Third Age – PS2, Game Cube, XBox

LoTR Watcher

Batting cleanup for Gandalf, who really needs to employ the “double tap” philosophy. No use being stingy with ammo when fell beasts roam the land.

Movie licensed games are like hot dogs; absolutely fucking disgusting and probably lethal if you have more than two or three per year, but somehow they still sell enough that the industry thrives like cockroaches. And yes, in spite of my declared hatred toward them, a quick glance through the menu to the right reveals that I do, occasionally, indulge in these games myself (notably unlike hot dogs). So clearly, you can swallow gold dust and shit out something sparkly enough to catch my attention, but I’ve stepped in enough piles by now that it takes an exceptionally shiny dump to get me past the smell. Clearly I’m writing about a Lord of the Rings licensed game today, so something must have gotten me to stifle my gag reflex. Whatever could have inspired that, you ask? Turning the game into an RPG. But much like a Tide Pod, it turns out that swallowing a tasty-looking package might leave you with horrible, life-threatening internal chemical burns.

LoTR Balrog

My bet? Gandalf Plows past Balrog, but loses to M. Bison in the first two rounds.

So if the thought of liquefying your organs hasn’t dissuaded you from playing Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, let me explain the story, which as best I can describe, is the J.R.R. Tolkien equivalent to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Except with out the witty dialogue. Or compelling storyline. Or philosophical overtones. In fact, it’s less like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and more like you’re playing as Gandalf’s cleanup crew. The action opens just after the Council of Elrond names the members of the Fellowship of the Ring—not in the same place, of course. God forbid you have any outcome on the plot. After Gandalf gets a commitment out of the Fellowship and puts a ring on them, he immediately starts two-timing the party for Berethor, errant knight of Gondor, contacting him psychically, telling him to follow the Fellowship so the wizard might meet him on the side. And while he entrusts Frodo with no more than a single quest—save Middle Earth and the world of men from magical enslavement by destroying the final vestige of the Lieutenant of the evil god Morgoth—Berethor gets countless tasks such as “kill three wargs,” “find a dwarf,” “rescue five elves from Uruks.” Clearly, we know who the important party is here. Especially when Gandalf faces the balrog, the foe beyond the abilities of any of the indispensable fellowship, he beckons Berethor and company to stand beside him in slaying—and getting slain by—the ancient evil.

LoTR Drums

Berethor breaks up his neighbor’s cave troll drum circle, complaining of the noise, but we all know it’s just him being racist.

At the very least, Berethor and his lower-case-f fellowship are like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in that they’re completely expendable and inconsequential to the main story. But Berethor doesn’t even seem to have a story of his own. The game forgoes traditional character conflict and development in exchange for Gandalf filling Berethor’s head with bad student films cut from the original film and dubbed with his own Tolkien-esque voice overs. Dude, even Michael Bay shows more generic diversity than you. If you’re going to do 108 short films, why not throw in a cut from Star Wars or Pulp Fiction or something? Or better yet, explain why the hell we care about the characters we’re playing as. If Frodo manages to get to Mt. Doom without his help, is there some reason to focus on Berethor? Was he pulling strings behind the scene? Did he struggle to find his purpose in a world torn by inter-species war? Did he adventure with the Eagles to the edge of Middle Earth to keep Voldemort from teaming up with Palpatine and George W Bush in order to invade the Shire while the hobbits were away? Nope. In fact, he seems to change tasks, warping from place to place like Doctor Who in Middle Earth.

LoTR Bow Legged

I’m not sure this is what they mean by “bow legged.”

It turns out there’s a reason the story sucks more than a battle between a hoover and truck stop whore, as EA Games did not hold the legal rights to use anything from Tolkien’s books that were not explicitly part of the films. And since fans’ idea of “enforcing the canon” means they feel that any deviation from the story means they get to shoot you with a canon, this story was received about as well as a gay nephew coming out at an Alabama Thanksgiving dinner. But hey, lousy stories can easily be overcome by good gameplay, right? Spoiler alert: not in this case.

LoTR Discount Characters

Discount Aragorn talks to second-rate Boromir, while shoddy immitation Arwen looks on.

For a company so worried about copyright infringement that they’d crap out a story like this, it’s surprising that they lifted the battle system so blatantly from Final Fantasy X that it’s a wonder they didn’t name the characters Yunalas, Kimharimir, Gimlulu and Wakkagorn. On the surface, I’m fine with that. Final Fantasy X was an awesome game and the combat was part of the reason for that. But while battles in FFX were fast-paced and zippy, Third Age animations are reminiscent of yoga instructors on Ambien. Characters are sluggish, skill points are awarded like birthday money from your grandma who hasn’t adjusted for inflation since 1953, and attacks connect with the striking accuracy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra keeping time using an incoming Morse code signal.

LoTR - MoreLembasAnd…that’s it. That’s all there is to the game. There are no towns. No NPCs to talk to. No shops to buy items or equipment. I’d say there are no safe zones at all, but the game has a method for random encounters that feels like you can’t bribe enemies to attack you if you waved a raw, juicy shank of man flesh under their noses. So the game gives you a series of disjointed locales with the occasional story battle that takes place in a pool of clam chowder. The lack of shops means treasure chests inundate you with basic healing items, but since leveling up and saving both restore full HP and AP, you end up with a backpack full of lembas bread in full fungal bloom. There’s also a crafting system wherein you can make items—but only in battle. Personally, I’d like to tell my dwarf that facing down a hoard of murderous Uruk-hai may not be the best time to knead your dough and wait for the loaf to rise, but the game tells me I have to bake 125 loaves of lembas bread in order to gain the eloquently named “elf medicine,” then I’m just going to have to take out Saruman’s hoards with delicious bread smells. I haven’t been this bored since role-playing as the merchant in Dragon Quest IV. But maybe that’s it…maybe The Third Age wants you to role-play as a baker. God knows that’s exactly why I’ve always wanted to live in Middle Earth.

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Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade – GBA

 

FE - Stab

Quit poking me.

Oh god, when does the Fire Emblem madness end?

FE - Big Bird

What the hell, dude? I just asked if you could tell me how to get to Sesame Street!

Now. It ends now. I have Path of Radiance sitting on my shelf, ready to go, but like for firearms, it might be a good idea to impose a mandatory cool-down period, lest I totally flip my lid, fling the disc in the air, shoot it like skeet, then use its shards on a murderous rampage. But knowing Fire Emblem rules for weapon degradation, it’ll probably do enough damage to leave an unbleeding flap of skin on my first victim’s thumb before the disc completely disintegrates, leaving me defenseless against the inevitable counter-pummeling I’d then receive. Damn, I know Fire Emblem games have a reputation for being hard, but I’ve played six of them now, and the Binding Blade is easily the worst of them all. This game is more punishing than growing up with an ex-military hockey coach dad and a rampaging tiger mom (And trust me; growing up with just a hockey coach dad, we had our own gulag set up in the basement for bringing home any grade lower than a B.).

FE - Handsome

And I am conceited.

So first, some background on the Binding Blade—or “Fuin no Tsurugi,” or “The Sword of Seals” or “The Sealed Sword”–was never released in the U.S. Naturally, Fire Emblem was only released in the U.S. at all on account of Marth and Roy appearing in Smash Bros., so why Nintendo’s refusal to release Roy’s game is akin to a drug dealer lacing a joint with crack, and then selling you nothing but Xanax and Advil when you come back for more. So the Binding Blade is only available as a fan translation. Now, I’ve played some great fan translations before, but back when I was listing off the different titles, you may have noticed that “The Sealed Sword” doesn’t quite mean the same thing as “The Sword of Seals” and “The Binding Blade.” Personally, translators who can’t tell the difference between the genetive and a participle (which, for non-grammarians out there is like not knowing the difference between a 4th-grade Valentine card and a restraining order) probably should be kept far, far away from a Fire Emblem story. Even the well-translated games read like someone chucked Game of Thrones fan fiction through a wood chipper. The Binding Blade feels like after they did that, they threw it in a hot bath with a Risk board and some discount Anime figurines named after T.H. White characters.

FE - Kage Bunshin

Kage bunshin no jutsu!

Aside from writing that flows naturally as a story arc for Wheel of Fortune, the gameplay hits one of my battered, raw RPG nerve endings—low accuracy rate. Missing needs to be an option for video game combat. It adds a random bit of chance into battles, a little flavor on top of mathematically predictable fight scenes. So if missing is the spice to add flavor to battle, the accuracy rate in The Binding Blade is a full-on turmeric overdose. Rather than trading blows in a nice, even manner to progress the game, characters stand on opposite sides of a tornado and chuck Nerf darts at each other. Using save states, I actually began to manipulate the RNG just to get through the game, and it seems like some weapons are glitched to hit far less often than their accuracy rate, and there is little that can make a game more tedious than rushing into battle with Ray Charles, Helen Keller, and the entire pre-op ward of a cataract surgeon’s clinic.

FE - No Arms

Murdock has overcome great adversity, not having any arms sprouting from his giant shoulders.

Low cash flow, breakable weapons, and few chances for experience are staples of Fire Emblem games, but again, the Binding Blade expands this to the absurd. There are inner-city school districts with more funding than Roy’s army. So even though the game quite regularly springs for an extra hoard or two of enemies halfway through each battle, units have to lie on their resumes for experience. This is becoming a constant theme on my blog, but if I wanted to live surrounded by shoddy items, less financially solvent than most crows, fighting a futile battle to get more experience to change all that, I’d just shut off the goddamn game and write a few cover letters.

FE - Animal House

These are getting a little lazy. Rutger…filed his income tax. Marcus…had cake for breakfast. Roy…I don’t know. Went to bed early or something.

I feel at this point, it’s still not clear just what kind of a blinding rage this game threw me into, so let me make this point: in order to finish the game on a reasonable timeline—which still took probably more than 50 hours—I had to use over 280 save states. That’s right, the sheer number of save states I used to get through this Fire Emblem game would have caused binary overflow on an NES. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier I had to learn how to manipulate the RNG. If I have to go into full research mode, read what people have written about the game mechanics, delve through the game’s coding, run controlled experiments with each unit on each turn and (optional) publish a dissertation on my findings, chances are this will be a difficult game to enjoy, to say the least.

FE - Report Card

I haven’t been this pissed off over a report card since I got a C in 8th Grade English.

Okami – PS2, Wii, PS4

OkamiTitle
Sweet Jesus’ dildo, do you know how exhausting it is to write about every damn game I play? Here’s my latest: Okami. The story of how the great Shinto goddess, Amaterasu, transcends to the corporeal plane to cleanse the evil plaguing us, and chooses a form that immediately gets scolded for dragging her butt across the carpet. Okay, okay. I get that Okami is a pun that both means “great god” and “wolf” in Japanese, and I also get that I’m coming at the game from the perspective of someone who is so much a cat person that you might expect my closet to be lined with white linen hoods with whiskers and double peaks for ears, but still, in a game renowned for it’s beautiful art style, why would Capcom so prominently animate Amaterasu’s sphincter? I guess the trail of flowers that bloom in her wake sprout up less as a result of her divinity and more from the constant spray of Miracle Grow, warning you to watch where you step as you traverse the fields of Nippon.

OkamiOrochi

The first step to solving your drinking problem is for all eight of your heads to admit they have a drinking problem.

The game opens in the most engaging way possible; a 30-minute long epic showdown between the great hero, Nagi, his lupine astral companion, Shiranui, and their arch-nemesis, the octocephaline serpent, Orochi. It’s such an exciting scene that my only real complaint with it is that instead of thrusting the player into a high-stakes tutorial level, they decide to narrate it with still-images in the style of traditional Japanese sumi-e and text that crawls slow enough that even Dick and Jane would get bored, read something else to pass the time, and learn how to discuss the finer points of Herman Melville by the time the cut scene ends. In all fairness, though, by the end of the game the last thing I wanted was yet one more identical boss fight with Orochi. Okami knows it has excellent boss fights and forces you to replay them over and over, much in the same way that the pretty girl who knows she’s pretty will constantly throw you into picking a fight with the manager of the restaurant; in both cases, they know if you leave, you’re not likely to get something quite as attractive on the rebound.

Okami2

Yeah, it’s a beautiful game, but it KNOWS it’s beautiful. Just look at that dog sitting there, watching it.

At the very least, Okami can pacify some of the hardcore jackassery that associates video games with violence. Amaterasu doesn’t level up by fighting monsters. Instead, she earns experience by feeding animals, doing favors for people, and bringing dead things back to life. Pretty much the only thing fighting monsters is good for is looting their corpses for spare change, and since money in Okami is as useful as the brown chunks of ice you kick off your tire wells in the winter, enemies are little more than minor obstacles to dodge as you rocket through the world map. Combat is relatively simple—no matter your level of experience or the amount of skills you purchased, half the time all you have to do is waggle the Wii-mote until carpal tunnel sets in and the battle is as good as won. Most of the weapons and items I collected along the way went unused, and are now probably just gathering dust in the sun goddess’s basement, along with a dozen boxes of ammo from Silent Hill, a small habitat of jinjos from Banjo Kazooie, and an old Triforce that I lost the instruction book for and can’t figure out how it works.

Okami4

Amaterasu teams up with Japanese Popeye

Funny though that I should bring up Zelda, as the game feels very much like a unique take on Nintendo’s tired old formula. Instead of Hyrule, it’s set in a fairy-tale version of Japan. Instead of a Peter Pan cosplayer, it stars a dog that moves forward via the power of foliage flatulence, and instead of collecting a small hardware store full of junk, you carry a magical paintbrush and work on becoming the Van Gough of cell-shaded canines. Before I continue, you may have noted that I played the Wii port of the game, not the original PS2 version. Makes sense, right? A game with a painting mechanic should let you take full control of those natural brush strokes, only possible through the Wii’s motion control. Now let’s just take this game that requires precision technique and put it on a system that emulates the feel of being an epileptic toddler in a 7.2 earthquake.

Okami3

Just your average sun goddess dog flying around on a sword to fight an evil nine-tailed fox. God, I don’t know what they smoke in Japan but I want some.

The celestial brush techniques take the place of Zelda’s items, and had the potential to make the game great, but as it turns out, most of the thirteen techniques you learn are some form of draw-a-circle-around-a-thing or connect-the-thing-to-the-thing. It’s a bit of a letdown to realize you’re going to be granted lightning power, to hope that you’ll get to draw a zig-zag to rain down the wrath of Raijen upon your unsuspecting demon foes, only to realize that all you do is find a source of electricity, then draw a line to what needs to be powered like some sort of divine Shinto electrician. The fact that this is exactly the same as your water power (divine Shinto plumbing) your earth power (Shinto gardening) and your fire power (apparently Amaterasu moonlights in arson), kind of gives the impression that you’re less of a holy being and more of a hardcore DIY-er on a fixer-upper spree through feudal Japan.

After a while I did figure out a few tricks for brush techniques (draw spirals to activate the wind, rather than loops, and the Z-button helps drawing straight lines, albeit with the practiced grace of a seasoned drunk driver), and the game actually became pretty fun. Boss fights used techniques well, and didn’t hold you to repeating a technique ad nauseum once you’d figured out the trick, even if it did somehow ask you to repeat entire boss fights as though Amaterasu was a transfer student whose transcripts got lost in the mail and had to repeat entire grades on a technicality. The final boss, I though, was exceptionally brilliant, in that it asked me to utilize every single technique I picked up throughout the game, while still giving me a few options to feel like I was fighting creatively. Granted, this doesn’t mean I want to get to the end of a Zelda game and have Gannon checking off my report card to make sure I can bludgeon him just right with my boomerang, fishing pole, and spinner, and to make sure I’m not blowing any flat notes on my spirit flute.

Okami1

Dog.

I enjoyed Okami. Maybe not to the point where I think it deserves to be polished by critics until its steaming dog droppings sparkle like a pearl, but it was pretty good. The game did suffer from pacing, most notably the text speed which said “I have a five-year-old reading level” even while the sexual overtones said “I have a seventeen-year-old’s hormonal lust” to the point where the comically cartoonish women said “I’d jack off to a mannequin I found in the dumpster behind the Gap if one were available.” However, the more people I meet, the more I suspect Okami may have finally nailed the U.S.A. as a target audience.

Fire Emblem Awakening – 3DS

FEA Marth

Doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Ishmael.” On the other hand, Moby Dick never inspired me to read anything Melville wrote, let alone play an entire series of games.

Oh god…this is what happens when you play too many games from the same franchise. Fire Emblem Awakening plays so much like a rough draft of Fire Emblem Fates, that I seriously considered just posting a draft for my article on Fates and calling it a day. Fortunately for you, I’m so lazy when it comes to blogging that I never revise, and therefore already posted my draft a few weeks back. Even more fortunately, I’m lazy enough to have written two paragraphs, put it aside for several months, and then just gave up when it came time to schedule the post. So here’s a mini-review, more to add a notch in my belt of games on this blog than to actually inform you of anything.

FEA Squares

It’s a good thing the natural world created so many zones of colored tiles for them to work with.

Awakening follows the exploits of the player’s avatar, defautly named Robin, and his/her own personal Batman, Chrom (possibly named after the personal god of Conan. The barbarian, that is, not O’Brien.). Chrom first encounters Robin passed out in a field, having blacked out most of his own personal history, save for his name, the ability to speak English, and a Ph.D.-level education in fantasy medieval tactics. Shortly afterward, an army of zombies from the future shows up. Even in a fantasy world, this is about as commonplace as, say, sentient carrots from outer space slaughtering our millionaire class for the purpose of overhauling our methods for packaging retail items, so their appearance coincidentally creates a job opening for a tactician in Chrom’s armies. Personally, I immediately felt a connection with Robin, not only because I personalized him as my avatar, but also because he set up realistic expectations of what has to happen before someone will fucking give me a job. The first battle with these future zombies, though, proves to be too much to handle even for Robin, and Chrom’s forces have to be bailed out by fucking Trunks from Dragonball Z. What follows is a wacky, zany tale filled with convoluted political intrigue, Dragonball time-travel rules, and an entire army fornicating on the job that doesn’t somehow turn out with more sexual harassment scandals than the American political/entertainment world.

FEA Harassment

That’s sexual harassment, and I don’t have to take it.

Later seen in Fates, Fire Emblem Awakening introduced the series to the philosophy that the family that slays together, stays together. Upon realizing just how many extra battles are available should I choose to play the game less like a military campaign and more like medieval Tinder (which, from experience, is no less brutal than feudal warfare), I decided to play matchmaker and pair up as many characters as possible. Also like Fates, each marriage between characters produces a child for you to press into service like your own personal Khmer Rouge. Still, even without the genocide, to say that marching into combat with an army of adolescents is a morally gray area is like saying we might want to consider the ramifications of exposing food to raw uranium before installing nuclear kitchens in every elementary school in the country. (And yes, I know that in the middle ages, the age of adulthood was 12 and that the leper king of Jerusalem had reached the pinnacle of his military career by 15.) Awakening solves this dilemma (…three years before Fates introduced it) by sending all your children back from the future as fully grown adults. Honestly, the only disappointing thing about this is that while Fates gave you the Lannister/Targaryen incest option to marry your siblings, Awakening passed up a perfectly good Back to the Future vibe by denying moms the chance to woo their sons.

Star Fox Adventures – Game Cube

SFA Shrek Rock

Star Fox meets stone Shrek. Because sure. Why not? At this point, who cares?

Let’s take a break from all the Fire Emblem madness, shall we? Today I’d like to focus on Star Fox Adventure, the black sheep of the Star Fox family. And why not? Fox should get the chance to adventure just like anyone else. Just because he’s some hotshot pilot doesn’t mean he never needs to get out and stretch his furry little, possibly amputated, metal legs. Sure, sure, there’s that whole business of usurping the entirely unrelated “Dinosaur Planet” game, swooping in like some colonial power to slaughter the locals, swipe their resources, and rape their disturbingly sexy fox women to a borderline-pornographic jazz saxophone soundtrack—all in the name of saving them from themselves.

SFA Combat

You go Fox! That’ll teach him to not be able to regulate his internal body temperature!

Usually I take some time to explain the storyline, but as our resident colonial power, Nintendo, demanded the story be drastically rewritten, the Star Fox cannon accepts this story with the poetic grace of a beautiful sixteen-year-old losing her virginity to a hydraulic pile driver. As this was the final game Rare developed before Microsoft purchased them to be slaughtered, then resurrected by their head voodoo priestess, let’s start with their typical formula: begin with a cute, furry, mammalian protagonist, pit them against a villain who is reptilian, green, or otherwise unappealing based on sight or stereotypical representation, and litter the landscape with enough macguffins to draw the wrath of environmental protesters. (For all their stellar reputation, Rare fell into kind of a rut after Goldeneye) From there, replace one of the heroes with Fox McCloud, sleeves ripped off his flight jacket to give him that butch just-out-of-prison look, and sex up the other hero like a prehistoric escort girl with a muzzle (because apparently “the Legend of Zelda meets Jurassic Park” can’t motivate men to action unless we also throw in “the Discovery Channel.”). Throw in some bizarre idea of gravity working backwards as an excuse to fly through space once in a while, and as long as we’re usurping the original game, let’s boot out the primary antagonist at the last minute to wedge in a final boss fight with the space love-child of King Kong and Rafiki from the Lion King using a style of gameplay entirely different from what we’ve played for 99% of the game.

I know this game and Krystal, it’s supposed would-be-hero, served as Anita Sarkeesian’s prime example of how the man-o-centric male-ocracy of video games refuses to view women in any way that prevents them from fast-forwarding to the parts with nudity, but as it turns out, the game was always supposed to have a male protagonist. Krystal, as a cat, was originally assigned a larger, more active role, but she still shared the spotlight with a male tiger named Sabre. Be it Fox or Sabre, however, the story simply feels like it needs to be about Krystal.

SFA Krystal

The pterodactyl is definitely shooting Krystal a look that says, “I’m not getting paid enough to put up with this shit.”

For starters, the game pulls a weak justification of why Fox has to use Krystal’s staff instead of his blaster—General Pepper thinks he needs to learn more subtle ways of solving problems than blasting. You know…mix it up and use blunt trauma to bludgeon the locals to death once in a while. The flight sections are fun and sort of Star Foxy, in a stripped down, take-off-your-shoes-and-step-through-the-machine sort of way, but do you know what would have been fun and made narrative sense? Flying your fire-breathing pterodactyl from place to place. They even pair up Fox with a baby styracosaurus named Tricky. You don’t have to babysit him, which automatically makes him better than Ashley Graham (score one more point for Sarkeesian’s argument), but the relationship he has with Fox displays all the warmth and camaraderie that Link has with his hookshot. He’s there to solve puzzles, giving him the functionality of an item, but at least in Zelda, the boomerang never asks you for food. On the other hand, pair him up with Krystal, who having grown up on Dinsoaur Planet has a clear investment in the culture and the dinosaurs, and Tricky could have been more endearing than that dog that made everyone cry at the end of that Futurama episode.

SFA Scales

My first guess? Check the henhouse.

So the story forces characters with sack-of-flour personalities through so many holes and circuitous twists that if you just add water you’ll likely get a bowl of corkscrew pasta. What about the gameplay? Generally, it feels like Banjo Kazooie going through an edgy, teenage Zelda phase. You still wander around the planet collecting junk like an unemployed geo-cacher, but there’s a slight emphasis on useable items. Rare clearly missed the point of item collecting in Zelda, though. Zelda items are known for their versatility, letting players interact creatively with the game. You can write life hacks with Zelda items: “Did you know you can fight Gannon with nothing but a fishing pole and a jar of rancid marmalade like some deranged dock master?” Zelda games let players live out MacGuyver fantasies, allowing them to access power ups with nothing but a boomerang, an enchanted jock strap, and a lint roller that some fairy gave them after they dropped their tuna sandwich in a fountain. Fox, on the other hand, can’t use an item at all unless there’s some pedestal with a dozen signs pointing at it telling him exactly which item to use. I’ve seriously found more uses for old house keys than the items in Star Fox Adventures.

SFA Peppy

You feeling okay Peppy? You look a little stoned there. You wanna maybe lie down for a minute or two?

So the game isn’t without a certain amount of charm, and if I ever got stuck, Slippy would give me useful hints, thus redeeming him for flying through Star Fox 64 with dead batteries in his laser and a bullseye painted on the back of his arwing. However, while I got through 80% of the game took up about 60% of my play time. Rare filled it with tedious mini-games that were tested as thoroughly as a street-corner prostitute (and not 10% as enjoyable). Let’s see…there were two speeder chases that required me to disable enemies with no guns, no way to accelerate faster than them, and in which every obstacle—including the required ramming of enemy speeders—slowed me down…there was a button-mashing mini-game that required a tube of bengay and melted the button on my controller for the speed they wanted…and there was a Tyrannosaurus that chased me around an arena for an hour, in desperate need of electroshock therapy, but giving no predictable pattern as to when he’d casually walk through the electrodes (thank my ghost fox dad, though, that it wasn’t hungry, and felt perfectly content to croon some dinosaur lounge music every time it saw me).

So in short, I’m not saying that every Star Fox game needs to put me in the pilot seat and tell me to do barrel rolls until I feel like Donkey Kong’s best weapon against Mario. I’m just saying that between Nintendo and Rare, someone screwed up this game to the point that the most memorable thing about it was the air freshener I was supposed to give out at Sam Goody every time someone bought the game. And since no one ever did, I had plenty of those pungent little foxes freshening up my car back in college.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – 3DS

FE Cover

The reason you don’t see more reviews on Mega Man games on this site is not because I don’t ever play the games. In fact, I’m a huge fan of Mega Man, especially in those earlier Marvel vs Capcom games. For all the complex combos that characters in fighting games can pull off, I often found it was better just to slide-kick opponents with Mega Man, thus ensuring they never stand long enough to pull off their own complex super-moves (and that my friends give me less social contact than your average plague victim). It’s a well-known (and rarely implemented) concept among game design that you have to make those difficult moves worth it, otherwise players will just do the simplest and easiest moves. On that note, it takes a certain masochistic spirit to keep writing completely new entries when the “find and replace” feature would work perfectly well. Writing new jokes is hard, and in the time I usually spend staring blankly at my computer screen, I could easily learn a new language, clean my house, conduct an extensive and painstaking research project to develop cold fusion and advance humanity to the next era, or—more likely—play another video game. But then I’d have to write about it. That all being said, here’s an entry on Fire Emblem, a game just like every other installment in the series!

FE Celica

There’s a dirty joke in here somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I’m too smitten to find it.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Fire Emblem: Echoes: Shadows of Valentia differs from its peers in that it has a title that sounds like someone pulled it from a flow chart. Aside from that, its pretty standard fare: a turn-based tactical strategy game that makes me feel just a little bit better for not being able to beat 6th-graders at chess. Play alternates between two characters: Alm and Celica, who are close childhood friends and totally not secret heirs to the thrones of Valentia’s two kingdoms, Rigel and Zofia. Alm’s story starts when Lucas comes to his village looking for recruits for “The Deliverance,” a band of rugged, backwater warriors who totally want to make their enemies squeal like a pig, even if not a damn one of them plays banjo. Alm and his friends sign up, free Zofia on their way to training, and discover that the Deliverance consists of pretty much just three guys, one of whom tenders his resignation after their leader’s decision to turn control of their entire forces over to this random kid who shows up claiming to be the main character. Celica, on the other hand, has a bad dream and decides to follow up on it in the morning, which serves as the impetus for eventually taking down a cult of religious fanatics hell-bent on spreading chaos. The last time I followed up on a bad dream, Anne grunted incoherently, then told me to go back to sleep.

FE Tiles

Even the USMC is taught to distinguish blue tiles from red.

Also unique for a tactical game, players can explore three-dimensional dungeons, complete with RPG tropes like money falling out of grass, characters who feel its easier to obliterate boxes than to simply open the lids, and lots and lots of random enemy encounters. In games where single battles can run upwards of forty minutes, the idea of placing a string of fights between save points sounds about as enjoyable as masturbation with a box of sandpaper instead of tissues. But the game solves this potential tedium grind by nerfing the fuck out of all the enemies. While story battles retain some semblance of the challenge the series is known for, monsters in dungeon battles go down like termite-infested Jenga towers. I got through most battles within two rounds, and regularly finished without enemies having a chance to act at all. I’ve gotten more resistance from targets at archery ranges.

FE Celica 2

When on fire, wave your hands wildly in front of you like sparklers.

Combat does have some interesting mechanics, such as mages casting spells with HP instead of MP. It only makes sense, after all, that someone blasting a lightning bolt from the palm of their hand might inadvertently complete a circuit. This changes strategy more than you’d think. One nice by-product is that you don’t have to slaughter enemy mages—just whittle them down to less HP than it takes to cast their most basic spell. At that point, they’ll just stand on the field and put up less of a fuss than your average soccer fan. Of course, it often feels like enemies exploit this mechanic, supporting a few high-level magic users with a small fleet of high-level healers. But still, you’ll want to stock up on your own spell casters because finally the nerds are busting out of their lockers and coming for the jocks.

FE Dragon

Always be sure to clean out your fire breathing dragon after every use, or this may happen.

But if the mages are overpowered, it’s because they get to memorize a book of spells, while all characters in the game are limited to carrying one item. Oh, they’ll get a default weapon if they don’t have one equipped, but these basic armaments pack all the punch of that broken rock-em-sock-em robot that can’t quite knock the other one’s head off. So if they’ll have to chose between their high-level, blacksmith-modded lightning sword (if they want to stay alive in battle) or a hunk of stale, leftover bread (if they want to stay alive in general). And I’m not actually making that up—leftover bread is an item in the game, and it takes so much effort to carry that your seasoned warrior just doesn’t have the strength to strap on a sword to his belt.

FE Mycen

Sir Mycen. Last name, Men. Tactical genius, though his plans often go awry.

While a good game overall, one major frustration made its presence known from start to finish: extremely low accuracy and extremely high evasion rates. It was as if I recruited my soldiers, warriors or mages, right out of the post-op ward for cataract surgery, shoved them into the dark and had them all start swinging at enemy ninjas with whiffle bats. Personally, I’d rather an attack connect, but deal no damage, than to feel that all my actions are literally wasted…but that’s perhaps my own quirk from having sent out one too many job applications.

Lunar 2 Eternal Blue Complete – PS1

L2 Cover
Well the past few months have definitely proven educational. Here I have a brand-new fantasy novel fine-tuned for readers, ready to go out to agents for the first step in the publication process, and what type of fortune and glory do I discover? I’d have more volunteers to test the stuff fermenting in my cat’s litter box than to read my latest fantasy-adventure epic. I’d say that being an author makes me feel like dating in high school again, but damn…by the time I was seventeen even I met a girl who let me touch her tits. Funny, now that I’m not trying to get laid, I end up getting rejected more often than a drunken hobo with eczema offering women the last swig of his whiskey if they’ll touch his penis. So…here I return to say moderately witty things about video games, where I can at least pretend than the handful of people who have liked random articles are actually regular readers and not just trying to draw traffic to their own blogs.

[sigh…anyone want the last swig of my whiskey in exchange for publishing my book?]

L2 Dance Magic

Jean is going to combat the Goblin King with a little Dance Magic Dance.

So here we go…Lunar 2: Eternal Blue. It figures that a game set on the moon would be totally eclipsed by its predecessor. Lunar: the Silver Star Story Complete, as I’ve said before, is like a magic mushroom trip in video game form: a rush of pretty sounds and colors, creative ideas, a sense that you’re doing something important, and a total euphoria culminating in the feeling that even though it lasts about 26 hours, it ended way too early. Well, fortunately Working Designs found a way to remedy that feeling of disappointment coming down from the final boss fight: requiring an additional five more hours of gameplay to get the good ending!

L2 Ghaleon

…because otherwise everyone’s going to write off the game as a crappy sequel and we won’t get any installment but Dragonsong for the next twenty years.

Quite honestly, I’m on the fence about how to describe that; either it’s like some sort of customer loyalty program throwing in a free tenth dungeon for every nine that I clear, or it’s a Nigerian Prince who ran into some unexpected red tape while trying to wire me my dear Uncle Mtumbo’s inheritance, and just needs me to crawl through a few extra dungeons before that money finally shows up. I think it all comes down to the battle system. In the first game, battles were semi-tactical. The player had to account for enemy formations, weaknesses, and the ranges and zones of their own attacks. MP had to be conserved, but if you played it right you could easily spend your way through battles and still have a little leftover to save for some rainy day boss fight. Most RPG battles tend to be so repetitive they could simulate what it’s like to have autism, but the Silver Star Story takes great pains to avoid that. Eternal Blue, on the other hand…well, you may want to avoid loud noises and watch out for antivaxxers, because Working Designs threw all that careful planning out the window. For most fights, the best option you have is just to mash the attack button like you’re trying to get an elevator door to close.

L2 Lucia

This is why you don’t see a lot of Lunar cosplayers.

I mean, I guess it’s worth playing. I did, after all, play through the bonus dungeons to get the good ending, but honestly when the girl decides to dump the hero in favor of chilling out for a few thousand years on a planet sterilized by a magical nuclear apocalypse…well, it triggers flashbacks from high school, so naturally I’m not too inclined to leave it at that. But my guess is that, while the Silver Star Story was revised and fine-tuned with love and care until it was perfect, Eternal Blue was spit-shined, wrapped in plastic, and hastily chucked on the next truck heading out for Walmart. But hell, what would Working Designs know about revision? It’s only literally what their name means.

L2 Hiro

A hero named Hiro. The most original idea since spelling Dracula’s name backwards.

Also…a general note for creative minds everywhere…stop naming heroes “Hiro.” Yes, the Japanese name sounds an awful lot like the English word “hero.” That being said, it is not insightful, funny or clever to christen your protagonist thusly. It is nothing more than a bad pun. A dad joke. It makes your story less classy than a Carrot Top comedy routine.