846 reviews liked by dwardman


Oh man, U Saga... so immediately after finishing and loving RomaSaGa 1, I decided to just jump into the most contentious one. I was interested as a new saga fan, but perhaps more as a designer I wanted to see why this game was so divisive.

So let's start off: I understand the appeal of this game and why some people like it. It feels like a very long, single-player board game with separate storylines and enough randomness in the gameplay to shake things up or allow for challenge runs. The game is about slowly turning things in your favor so as to produce better outcomes from the wide variety of mechanics that are dice rolls: be this the items that pop up in shops (whose materials are needed to forge strong items), the chests you manage to open, the combos you pull off in battle, the skills you learn in battle, the upgrade panels you pull at the end of levels.

The texture of progressing in this game felt very similar to playing those competitive board games where everyone's scrambling and trading for resources. As you learn the ins and outs of the system, how to make micro-optimizations, choosing which adventures to go on, I could see this game becoming fun. It feels classically Romancing SaGa: you're preparing your party for the ridiculous final boss at the end. How will you get there and build your party?

Now here is the key difference: board games play out and end in an hour or two. It will take you at least 3-4 hours to learn the rules of Unlimited SaGa through FAQs/word of mouth, another 10-15 to fumble through a playthrough, and THEN you can start to perhaps play it as a game, making good decisions on your own.

On top of that, you still have to deal with a poorly organized UI, slow load times for what is just loading PNGs, etc. I only managed about 6-8 hours into a Mythe playthrough (I KNOW he's bad to start with, but I made sure I got far enough that I learned how viable party-building worked, getting good weapons, etc), with like 3-4 hours of research, before I decided to call it quits.

Why? Well, like I said, this is more like a single-player board game... many of those have interesting narrative conceits (or are learnable/fast enough to enjoy without much narrative involved). but... the narrative beats of Mythe felt more like a bonus in-between dungeons and party-optimization sections. The game's portrayal of the world through small illustrations and a board is an interesting limitation, and something I enjoyed, but I feel like it's missing the layer of evocative description that a dungeon master might provide. The result is that there's not much appealing from a narrative standpoint in the way Saga1 or romasaga1 were.

Assuming you don't mind that, and you can deal with the speed of the game, that just leaves the battle systems. Again the appeal of this game is being able to turn random chance into your favor. Battling the proper way to increase odds for a certain skill panel: picking the right adventures to obtain magic tablets. The game's battle system is dense at a glance, because it really puts the focus on future preparation. In other words, it's not a very reactive RPG, it's the kind that rewards familiarity with its components parts and levels. If you know you'll get access to a side quest with a hard, but optional boss in it, you can use that to try sparking certain skills, etc.

For me though... I couldn't really get into this battle system, although it has a lot of interesting ideas going for it. For one, it really tries to create a sense of physical reality. If you use a certain attack at the wrong distance, it takes longer to use, which allows enemies to get more attacks in, maybe comboing you. But in turn, that leaves the enemies tired...so you can combo them. Whereas, if you just spam attacks one after another, you'll probably hit the enemy head-on and combo each-other. Kind of like when two people in smash swing swords at each other at the same time.

There's a volleyball-like rhythm to it. You use a slasher to take out enemy HP, setting up your party for a piercer to come and have a higher chance of taking out enemy's LP and killing it. Winning is about working together. There's no health bars shown, so it's all based on intuition from your past encounters with the enemy. How fast do they act? How many times? Etc. As you build upon this knowledge, you gain an intuition for the combat which can almost feel like an action game.

--

But despite these interesting gameplay textures, idk if it works all that well for me. There was something very strict-feeling about how success in fights worked, and very burdensome with also having to remember to keep your durability and HP topped up. As is, it feels like a so-so medium between a more traditional fight system and something extremely puzzly (which it seems Scarlet Grace/Emerald Beyond explore to great success). But, U Saga hides a lot of the info from you, so you have to intuit the puzzle.

Not to mention that you have to select five actions every turn, navigating a bunch of menus, THEN you still have to do the reel inputs while waiting for enemy turns. Even if it's a simple encounter...

---

But yeah overall, hmm.. fascinating game, it just doesn't... really manage to make anything work all that well, for me at least. But the way the world is laid out, how the visuals work, the board game interface, the unique combat and way party-building works, how the reel system goes a step beyond mere dice rolls - I'm honestly all on-board for those kinds of ideas! Just, uh.. maybe in some other kind of combination. Sorry Kawazu...

The best immersive sim of the last fifteen years, floating drowned a slurry of misplaced ambition and creative cowardice. Artlessly derivative: it borrows without really understanding its source material, and forms a sort of mismatched accumulation of videogame aesthetics and conventions with no regard for their overall effect. The desperate severity of so many of the main missions is juxtaposed against side content written like something out of a Saints' Row or an adult animated comedy: at its lowest moments the game feels like High on Life. The love interests each get an enormous amount of screen time, most of it devoted to their own characterization, and yet come away feeling as uncomplicated, inoffensive and sexless as Bioware companions. This sort of machine-learning approach to game development is best illustrated by the Fingers sequence, in which a morally unimpeachable lesbian punk straight from the Steven Universe mines is placed in conversation with a comically homophobic representation of a predatory gay man. The fact that the two characters are each representative of irreconcilable worldviews doesn't seem register in the framing of the scene: they are two archetypes blind plucked from popular culture.

The urban space which is the game's great technical achievement is meticulous detailed and aesthetically complex: it's varied, it has history, and it's utterly dead. There's not even the barest pretense of making Night City more than an assembly of discreet levels and visual setpieces, none of the sense of living, relevant space that the progression structure of a Morrowind or a Shenmue was able to achieve. Cyberpunk takes it as a given that a city in a videogame can be no more mechanically nuanced than the Ubisoft-Rockstar open world model allows.

A few of the gigs, the missions least hemmed-in by the game's cinematic conceits, show that the system supports the 0451 approach to level design: an openness in how a level can be physically traversed and a certain allowance for original problem solving. The game's reluctance elsewhere to go more than a few minutes without a cutscene, however, keeps most levels insultingly linear and short. Choice of approach is generally limited to the Bethesda standard of stealth or gunplay, with little in the way of mechanical crunch and almost no sense of danger, even on harder difficulties, after the first few missions.

There's a sense of pacing, tonal focus and of mechanical variety in that opening sequence, the promise of which makes the fluffiness that follows all the more disappointing. There's a distinct lack of content in the game following this: gameplay feels more like an occasional and brief interruption to a script which could be less than half its length without losing anything meaningful. Despite its scale, the game's almost content-free: even the ending sequence was in effect one long cutscene with about a dozen indistinct enemies thrown in.

I liked the game, in spite of all this, because of how well and how lovingly it adapts its source material. Finding that the game had a full, playable adaptation of Never Fade Away as part of the main quest was a completely successful bit of fanservice, and each of the legacy characters gets a level of nuance and an edge which the game denies the rest of the cast. My first impression of Keanu was how noticeably amateur his performance sounded alongside the rest of the cast, but while his range is extremely limited I came away from the game thinking he was its strongest asset. The relationship between V and Johnny is the only aspect of the game which feels complete, original and stylish: where the sheer volume of dialogue is actually matched by variety and substance. In spite of the narrative limits of nonlinear mission structure there's a real sense over the course of the game of this relationship evolving, and of the two characters changing in ways which aren't rigid or obvious. So much of the game is mired in the worst qualities of videogame writing, but this one aspect feels completely free of it. There is something to be said for a successful dramatic approach to a relationship whose closest parallel is probably Dee and Dennis from Always Sunny.

Honestly an incredible game (played EN-patched SNES version). If you'd like to try, skip my review and see my notes at the bottom.

Short review: What if you could preemptively end a fetch quest chain by killing the quest-giver? What if the steps and exploration you have to take to accomplish this felt really narratively meaningful in a self-imagination way?

Longer review:
I think this game is worth writing a longer post on, but romasaga does this style of 'sorta guided but not too much' roleplaying really well. You recruit other heroes, sometimes you glimpse shards of their storylines, but ultimately you're crafting the story and arc of your chosen hero, making sense and imagining the strange details of the dungeons, the towns, the empty corners, why your character's theme (I chose Jamil https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7i6gAnOz0wE&list=OLAK5uy_ldnQBujO4m2dEuFWNPYNWcW9gNonE1ALs&index=6) plays in every moment possible..

I think that's really the fun of it, and the chaos of events happening out of nowhere really makes the game feel like the uncertainties of life itself. It's up to your imagination as to what you want to make possible...

There feels like a lot of intentionality, humor, crafted into most screens.. that even with almost no words, I had a lot of great moments with the game.

While you're free to do whatever, the game still has guardrails on that extent, compared to a game where you can kill everyone, etc. I think this works well - you still feel like you're playing a author-crafted story, just one that isn't being completely told or dictated.

It's a game that understands abstraction: in a game it should feel like anything is possible - but anything should not actually be possible. It's this balance between 'accurate realism' and 'total abstract numbers' that creates a great game!

Notes if you're gonna play:

- If you come into this game with a mindset that the Battle System Should Be Good or Quest Chains Should Be Clearly Communicated, you're not going to like it. I would adopt a different attitude and you'll have a good time.

- Don't worry, Buddy!! Just Be Okay with whatever happens.. a quest chain bugs out... a write your own canon as to why. Have Fun.

- There are frankly a ton of encounters in this game - I honestly wouldn't recommend playing the game unless you are Extremely Patient or have a hotkeyed speed-up option on your emulator. Basically speed-up turned my 50 hour file into probably a 8-10 hour playthrough and I don't feel I missed much

- The most important thing playing this game is to really, truly, roll with whatever happens, and only use a guide if you really are stuck, or for things like shop inventories/weapon skill descriptions/battle systems. But being stuck and doing something else - and going down that thread instead - is IMO the intended design of this game. The point of this game is less the tiny little skeletal stories you can find, but the story you craft yourself with the characters you choose and how that overlaps with all these designed narrative vignettes. The more you lean into that (rather than bringing expectations from single-story-driven RPGs) the more you can understand/enjoy romasaga 1!

- The hardest bits of the game might be opening hours until you get 3-4 members. Just run from fights that are clearly too hard, save scum, etc.

- Despite what you might hear about battle rank (the game getting harder as you kill more monsters), it is really hard to truly get softlocked in this game - short of saving at the end of a dungeon with zero resources, or abandoning all your party members. The workaround for that is to keep a save at a town.


Sure, present-day me has some qualms over the design and such, but Metroid Prime still stands as one of the AAA game industry's great achievements in pushing the FPS to new and interesting spaces. And it's a successful collaboration between an American studio and Nintendo, which is interesting. I love the relatively short 15-hour length, too, and the way the game's world feels just nonlinear enough that you're surprised when you can go to new depths, and it was always cool how well the scan visor slotted into the whole experience.

As for my design issues... I guess they're fairly minor, the game is strong overall. The musical and art direction are still amazing, over 20 years on!

The combat in MP is fun, when considered as a simple (and accessible!) FPS. And it's really cool when the game slips into a 'survival horror'-esque register - like going for the Thermal Visor or that late-game Phazon Mines gauntlet as you look for the Power Bombs (I think?). I feel like a modern Metroid Prime could look to various shooters like Amid Evil, DOOM mods, etc, for inspiration in enemy layouts in the more combat-intense sections, though. Or to modern metroidvanias in terms of structure inspiration? I always felt MP1 was really on to something.

At times the enemies feel too cut-and-paste - fire 4 missiles, aim a single super missile, etc. I also feel like a sparser experience, upgrade-wise, could be fun? To convey more of a sense of alien planet rather than perfectly laid out loop corridors that power you up. I always did feel the game shifted too much to exploring Space Pirate stuff as the game went on.

I played this game so often that I started having nightmares about it

“We are living in a crisis of heroism that reaches into every aspect of our social life… just as there are useless self-sacrifices in unjust wars, so too is there an ignoble heroics of whole societies...”

I first played Final Fantasy VII on the PSP, during the time in my life when games most took up an escapist, asocial place in my life. When I finished Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Gregar I felt a chill that no other piece of fiction had given me at that age, I realized as their stories came to a close that I was more emotionally invested in the futures of these few dozen representational pixels than I was those of most of the few dozen people that I knew in my real life. I played Half Minute Hero on the sidelines of an ice-skating rink, I played Locoroco and No Heroes Allowed at church events. A friend invited me to hang out with girls in the middle of the night and I spent most of that night playing FFVII, and I didn't even like it. I remember being in the car with my dad one evening, in the Starbucks drive-through, grinding in the Cosmo Canyon caves, and telling him that I wasn't sure if I actually liked playing video games at all, or if I only liked the story, the music, the graphics.

I first played Final Fantasy VII on the PSP, after watching Advent Children and beating Crisis Core. This playthrough of FFVII is the first that I've done in years, the first time I've gotten past Midgar in a about a decade, and the first time I've gotten past disc 1 since my first run. I played it the way that I played FFIX when I was in high school, on a CRT, original hardware, laying down with a blanket, little by little at the end of the day. I curled up with it like a book and treated it like a piece of literature. I played it having waited long enough to have forgotten most of what happens in Compilation, for the first time being more able to see the game in its own light.

The last time I played FFVIII I was disappointed by how much of Squall I still see in myself, the emotional defenses, preemptive social disengagement. In the time I've spend playing FFVII again, I'm disappointed by how much of my old self I still see in my new self. When playing through Ocarina of Time again, needing to confront how foundational it is to my understanding of fantasy tropes and aesthetic made it feel sort of banal. Realizing how fundamental FFVII is to the lens through which I see science-fantasy on the other hand has felt absolutely revelatory.

I first played Final Fantasy VII at a time in my life when I was only just beginning to realize that the state of the world was not unquestioned good. I played FFVII around the time that I first learned about the holocaust, around the time that I first watched Fullmetal Alchemist and the leader of Amestris being a "fuhrer" didn't immediately set off alarm bells. I played FFVII in a time when I couldn't imagine any reasonable number of people having a problem with the President of the United States being black. I played FFVII thinking Sephiroth was a cool guy with a spiffy outfit and a big sword. I played FFVII as a smaller part of experiencing an expanding multimedia universe. I played FFVII, at the time only the second Final Fantasy game that I had managed to see the credits of, and I did not think a single thought regarding what the game could possibly be "about" because it seemed obvious: it's about cool guys who hit each other with swords, and big spells where a dragon puts the bad guy on a rock and then blows up the rock with its laser breath.

I first played FFVII between the release of the final Harry Potter book and the final Harry Potter movie. I never read past book 5 and I never watched past the penultimate film, but I've heard enough about how it ends and how people feel about the author to know what's up. Harry Potter, frankly, like a great deal of western fiction feels incapable of questioning things as they are, the conditions which exist in the world and which lead to the conflicts which seem to form their central narratives. I went to a charter school that went on field trips to the local RNC headquarters to watch videos about Osama Bin Laden, I went to a public high school that required me to do volunteer work for a church run by that charter school's principal. I once told my science teacher at that charter school that I thought FFVII's Midgar seemed to me to be an ideal structure for a city, and they were mortified. I've been using the same username online since I was in middle school, it's a lyric from a song I wrote at that age, a song about 9/11 not dissimilar in tone to 3 Doors Down's Citizen/Soldier.

I didn't understand at the time, so utterly entrenched in the small town American Christian echo chamber, that the reason I found stories like Final Fantasy VII and Fullmetal Alchemist so interesting was that they were capable of critique of society in ways that most of the fiction I had been exposed to were not. Obviously there are pieces of western fiction which do make meaningful statements but you often have to dig for something that has a clear enough message that it can't be willfully misshapen by someone who wants it to fit within mainstream thought. To paraphrase a paraphrasing of who knows who said what, "Japan is a post-apocalyptic society". Obviously, in a real way, America is too, though the context of who created and benefitted from that apocalypse is sort of important to each country's culture. In less than 15 years between the release of Mega Man and Mega Man: NT Warrior, nuclear weapons went from being symbolized by Albert Wily as an obviously evil implementation of technology, to being portrayed literally, as a neutral implementation of technology which could only be misused by outside evildoers. Imagine what more than 200 years of more or less continuous order does to a motherfucker.

“It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

Some have a tendency to reflexively assume that anyone at any age is personally failing society if they managed to exit the womb without a fully formed coherent notion of political reality, or at the very least managed to reach adulthood without someone having passed this knowledge onto them. Of course the truth is that a great deal of people pass through their formative years deliberately having been insulated from this by anyone with authority over them. The illusion broke for me in 2014 when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri and nobody around me seemed to think there was anything wrong, nobody around me thought for a second that the protests could possibly be justified. The heroes in our society aren't those that fight against injustice or oppression, the heroes in our society are the brave men and women who travel the world to kill in the name of oil, the heroes are the ones dispersing gas to clear mobs of the people they supposedly protect. In 2014 the Christian rock band Family Force 5 released a song called Let It Be Love, it contains the lyric "I've never seen a hurt get healed in a protest". If you check out the band's Billboard charts you can find that despite completely unremarkable sales figures, the song received more radio play than any of the band's actually popular material, and that this radio play is concentrated not around the song's release in May, but the latter half of the year. If you do a little more digging, you would find that the incident which inspired the song was actually Christians protesting a concert. The Genius annotation for this lyric currently contains a stock photo from either an Egyptian or Moroccan police crackdown.

A few weeks ago I went on a trip to St. Louis, Missouri to see a concert with some friends. It was the longest trip I’ve been on as an adult, the furthest I’ve ever been from home without a family member. It was the first concert I’d been to since the pandemic, it was the first concert I’ve been to that was without restriction or compromise an artist I’d actually wanted to see, rather than just “the coolest thing my parents would let me go to”.

Six hours either way is a long drive, long enough to have a lot of conversations, long enough to run out of things to talk about and spend a lot of time looking out the window in silence. It’s a long enough drive that you’ll need to make some stops to refuel both the vehicle and your own bodies. The friend who drove the car commented that they were glad the trip was more or less a straight shot. You don’t remember the miles on a trip like that, you remember the stops you made along the way, you remember the traffic, the situations that impeded your progress, you remember the turns you had to take once you reached the city. You remember rummaging through your friend’s purse to find her vape pen, you remember awkwardly not knowing where to wait for your order at an unfamiliar restaurant, or how nice or rude the strangers you briefly interacted with were.

That’s something that games have lost now, even before the doors were blown wide open world. The increased physicality and “realness” of virtual spaces, the fact that a place can simply be built means that space no longer has to be created. In my FFVIII review I touched on how the tricks these games can play with scale allow them to create a great implied space. By boiling down an entire planet’s worth of roads into nothing but turns, the people who made these games were able to make worlds that felt complete and total in a way that modern games, or even most of the last 4 generations of games at this point, cannot actually compete with. Removing the punctuation, removing the seams, has only resulted in new games largely having absolutely terrible pacing and hours of wasted time, a completely backwards signal-to-noise ratio.

“The automobile not only seals its occupants in a metal and glass cocoon, cutting them off from the outside world, but it has a way of actually decreasing the sense of movement through space. Loss of the sense of movement comes not only from insulation from road surfaces and noise but is visual as well. The driver on the freeway moves in a stream of traffic while visual detail at close distances is blurred by speed.”

When we first drove into St. Louis on the night of the concert, there was a terrible thunderstorm. The shape and scale of the city were completely obscured by dense fog, any fascination I might have had for the tangle of interchanges unlike anything I’d ever seen in person was overruled by the stress of the situation.

We arrived at the venue and I immediately recognized that they were playing Spiritualized over the PA system. Just before the main act took the stage, they played, back to back, a Slowdive song, and a My Bloody Valentine song (see, it all relates back to FFVII, this isn’t just an excuse to put a travel blog somewhere people might read it, I swear). As an artist I was sort of disgusted. Could you imagine being in that position? You’re about to take the stage and whoever is running the show has just invited comparison to the best to ever do it? As an audience member I felt like I was having keys dangled in my face.

The first act to play that night was a shoegaze group I hadn’t heard of until my friends invited me to the concert. This was the first time I had heard live shoegaze, despite making multiple albums in the genre myself, despite owning plenty of guitars, pedals, and rack mountable effects processors, I’ve never actually plugged any of them into an amplifier. The air in the room was strange, something was off. I felt like my feet had left the ground, the entire time they played I had that odd sensation you get when you walk out of the theater after a long movie. I got the sense that most of the crowd wasn’t as into it as I was. When the band stopped playing, one of my friends leaned in to snarkily ask if they had ever really started.

When the main act took the stage the energy shifted, and I realized just how out of my element I was. Whatever you wanna call this guy’s stuff, shoegaze, dream pop, hypnagogic pop, vaporwave, trip hop, whatever, I realized I had a completely different relationship to it from everyone else in this room. Yeah, maybe this is just me being stupid, or out of touch and getting older, or whatever. I stood there almost motionless, slowly feeling the proxemic field of the crowd push me further away from the stage. This music, which I had seriously contemplated, which I viewed as best experienced almost as a form of sensory deprivation, which I pored over to try and find how a particular sound was accomplished, which at one point had been described as some sort of critique of capitalist pop art’s stagnation and regurgitation of the same ideas, of false promised futures, music which had been compared to that Calvin and Hobbes strip where he plays easy-listening real quiet as a form of protest, had been party music the whole time. I found myself on the edge of a mosh pit feeling like a sleeper agent undercover cop, watching people disregard the clearly posted signs telling them not to smoke or vape, wondering how long my ears would hiss when this was over, wondering how my knees would feel in the morning. I looked at the Dragonball and Mobile Suit Gundam clips playing on the stacks of CRT televisions at either end of the stage and wondered about the logistics of this blatant copyright infringement, or how, as the meme goes, this serious story of human compassion in the face of the horrors of war was being robbed of it context and reduced to an image of a cool robot.

I didn’t think so much of the mecha genre when I first watched Gundam, mostly viewing it through the distorted lens of someone who still thinks Evangelion is a deconstruction of the genre rather than merely being a good show. But a lot of the symbols and themes which make Evangelion so powerful are already, implicitly if not explicitly, present in all mecha by the simple virtue of the idea of a large man, a machine with immense power, a tool of war, an immense full body mask. The robots do look cool, and they do fight, but that’s not the meat of what’s going on. In the same sense, watching the pseudo-realistic CGI anime heroes in the Compilation and Remake versions of the FFVII universe jump and fly and flail around like they’re in a shonen battle anime is just impossible to take at face value. In turn based combat, with low poly graphics, I can accept that the battle which takes place on screen is mere representation. It is not possible to take the Dyne fight seriously in real time HD combat. People got upset that a doorknob had too few triangles in Remake. I refuse to see the complaints of anyone who wanted a remake of this game as legitimate at all. If there is any single aspect of FFVII’s form that is absolutely essential to what the game is, it’s that the game is abstract by necessity, and if you take that away there is nothing left. It’s like the remake of Resident Evil 2, Rebirth might be a good game, but it is by no means at all the same game.

We went to downtown St. Louis the next day. The weather had cleared up and the skyline was revealed. We passed disused industrial structures, motionless trains, the smallest hotel on the edge of the city was bigger than the largest building in our hometown. There is no better shorthand for what this city looks like than “the opening movie of Final Fantasy VII: Remake”, that dustier daytime portrayal of Midgar is a near exact match. We seemingly happened to visit St. Louis the weekend of their city marathon, and an absurd number of roads were closed to keep people on (and cars off of) the route. We walked around this cordoned off area of the city, nearly every block occupied by a single massive building with some recognizable corporations name on it, any walkways lined with neatly trimmed grass and shimmering sculpture, each attended by uniformed maintenance men, groundskeepers, or workers of some kind walking around.

I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Hooters so I wound up exploring the city on my own for a while. I asked my phone to point me towards the nearest convenience store. Despite it being only two blocks away I needed to take a pretzel shaped path to avoid all the road and sidewalk closures. I walked under a concrete path attached to one of the buildings, past emergency exits covered in graffiti, wads of shit, towels and tupperware tucked into corners. I crossed such a thin line, a single block closer to Ferguson, and I felt like I had stepped decades into the past, into a completely different place altogether from the slick corporate image of the city. I saw more traffic cones and barricades and I gave up and started walking back to the car. A bird landed right by my feet and made no attempt to flee, my presence didn’t startle it at all, its feathers an almost lime green, a creature I had never seen before, behaving in a way I had never seen before. I started to lean down towards it, only to see in the corner of my eye a pack of marathoners heading my way. An old man asked me if I knew which way the finish line was, and I had to admit I wasn’t from here, I had no idea this event was even happening.

I got the sense that I had peered backstage, that I had wandered off the “race track” in a retail store and wound up in a stockroom by mistake. St. Louis was not the largest city I had ever visited, but I now realized that entering Chicago by train had probably allowed me to dodge the underbelly of the city completely, that I may as well have spent that entire trip inside of a shopping mall. So much of our society is built on keeping some pretense of appearances. Today’s not the day I spill all my guts, but I’ve been in the belly of the beast for a while. When the first Christmas passed I was still only a temporary employee, I was called to the office and told that because I got them out of the hole I was getting a bonus anyway. Part of my bonus was a generous number of video games and paraphernalia thereof. I have still not played the copy of The Last Guardian that I received that day, but how many people can say that they were given a free Team Ico video game by their employer? I realize now that I had basically been given an opportunity to rummage through a warehouse’s trash, and I had merely by some twist of fate happened to be the person for whom this resembled treasure. I realize now that my coworker wouldn’t wear a For Honor or Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands t-shirt out of pride or fandom, it was just a shirt they could wear to work and not worry about dirtying up. I realize now that the God of War and FIFA posters were just too high up to be worth the effort of taking them down.

Midgar is only the most obviously stratified physical structure in FFVII, though far from the only one. Kalm seems at first like a departure, a safe haven, something outside of the world of Midgar, a normal JRPG town, but consider the subtle detail that the shops tower above the rest of the buildings and can only be reached by stairs. Junon lies beneath a cannon, symbolizing Shinra’s military might. The Golden Saucer flies above a prison work camp. Mako reactors, functional or otherwise, pepper the world and loom over the land they sap from. Cosmo Canyon looks to the stars for a higher power. People live in the shadow of the Shinra 26 rocket, a future that failed to take off. Jenova’s crater sits at the top of the world.

Consider that in 1997 virtually everyone played FFVII on the same machine, sending the same type of video signal to the same type of television. People looked at the cutscenes and asked why the whole game couldn’t look like that. From the minute that Remake released on PS4 the experience was fractured by the existence of the PS4 Pro. If FFVII made people wish for a “real” or “definitive” version, Remake fails to provide it with the compromises that must be made when choosing between performance and quality, it fails to provide it with the promise of inevitable PC ports of each part, it fails to provide it with the sheer disparity in what different people’s hardware will be capable of.

In my Ocarina of Time review I described it as an “all ages power fantasy”, a commentary on escapism where child players are able to immediately grow up and solve all the worlds problems, where adult players are able to re-enter that childish mindset, but everyone ultimately has to come back to reality when Ganon is defeated. While Ocarina of Time deals primarily with issues which affect a person in an immediate sense, natural disasters, political turmoil, racial tensions, and offers a world where these problems have simple solutions, FFVII cuts to the worm at the core. Final Fantasy VII deals directly with heroic simulation itself.

Sephiroth, the man, is dead. You are fighting against Sephiroth, the concept. You are fighting his immortal cult of personality, against the people who aspire to become him. You are fighting against the idea that Shinra, that capitalism, can produce a “hero”. Your enemy is a contradiction, a contradiction which exists within Cloud. The rocket standing erect and the pumping cannon are nothing in the face of extraterrestrial demise. The children of Hojo and Lucrecia, Gast and Ifalna, wage spiritual conflicts having already been devoured by Kronos. Sephiroth and Aerith are already dead, meteor and holy have already been cast. The planet will decide for itself what happens now. It doesn’t matter if you found Yuffie, went to Wutai, and learned more about the world before Shinra. It doesn’t matter if you found Vincent or the logs in the snow village and learned more about the origins of Sephiroth. It doesn’t matter if you defeat all the Weapons or unlock everyone’s highest level limit breaks. In this Final Fantasy game it doesn’t even matter if you found the crystals, in fact the wide variety of gameplay sequences related to obtaining them come across as if the developers wanted you to fail, even teasing you if you enter the rocket’s passcode correctly on the first try. Multiple times in the game, progress is blocked by the game just sort of vaguely telling you “go find something”. You could view this as a deliberate waste of time to pad out the game’s length, you could view this as “Nintendo Power” style guide-mongering, but I think the game is trying to encourage the player to go off the beaten path, explore, find your own fun. Go out into the world and figure out what you want to do, what you’re fighting for. If you don’t come back to fight Sephiroth, what are you actually missing, what are you actually changing? I said in my Ocarina of Time review that a game like this not saving game completion, not even returning to the menu after the credits without a reset, turns beating the game, even if it is ostensibly the end goal, into a sort of mechanical side quest, and I think defeating Sephiroth in this game fits this description even more closely. Whatever you do, do it because it’s what you want, not because you think it will save the world.

For the past month or so I have felt more like a fake, a failure, and an outsider than I have in a long while. Working a job where I have the misfortune of caring, of being overeducated on the subject at hand, being more than skilled enough to do what’s expected of me but having no worthwhile credentials or experience with which to barter for something better, working exclusively with people who don’t give a shit, don’t want to learn, and don’t want to try any harder. Stumbling into family gatherings to temporarily pose as middle class while in reality I resemble more and more my impoverished coworkers every day. Trying to find the time to spend with friends, the energy to spend on hobbies. Spending time in strange places with strange people where I really don’t belong. Making music or games or writing or a website thinking that this could possibly be considered a worthwhile skill, but I don’t know how to play guitar or piano, I know how to play my songs. I don’t know how to produce audio or video, I know how to make specific things the way that I want them. I don’t know computer programming beyond what I need to know to make the specific games I’m able to make right now, I don’t know web design beyond what my website can do right now. Being able to make a singular work has zero value, being able to do anything, every day is the minimum requirement. Being able to make a meal for yourself and being able to make a meal for every customer who walks through the door just aren’t the same thing. It’s not enough for Square to make another game like Final Fantasy VII, you need to just give people FFVII again, but bigger and better this time. It needs to periodically come back, like the McRib.

ok i figured it out. whenever i play a remedy game i’m trying to pin down who tf they remind me of. that kind of association that’s forever in your mind but stuck on the tip of your tongue. not something prompted by this dlc or any specific work so much as it was the sum of many small creative tendencies observed over time. anyway, i realised it was just the wachowskis all along. idk, maybe that’s an obvious link? maybe i’m just late to this one. don’t know, don’t care.

it’s not exactly right, but for lack of something better let’s just call it the idiot savant vibe. which i know is a bit vague and can invite other comparisons; anno or kojima would be easy choices in that they each have bigtime ‘earnest dumb guy meets thoughtful visionary’ energy that leads them to craft these utterly mixed yet distinct bags. but the remedy-wachowski connection just seems the most apt for me. some examples:

both have weirdly uneven bodies of work, nearly everything they do is at least a little bit “bad” yet nonetheless fresh and fairly singular. it helps that they’re both camp as fuck and deathly allergic to the very thought of subtext. which rocks btw, but even if that’s not your thing, haters can’t deny they’re wonderfully genuine and deliberate in what they do.

both wear their influences so heavily on their sleeves. alan wake is to stephen king (via john carpenter) what the matrix is to ghost in the shell. alan wake 2 is to twin peaks what speed racer is to, uh, speed racer. hmm, wait... point is, they share a specific strain of good-natured shamelessness in how they adapt their inspirations that still somehow does right by the source material. it’s a far cry from the aronofskys and nolans of the world (those mfs never beating the satoshi kon allegations).

both have a drive towards their wacky lil passion projects which don’t go out of their way to fit a particular mould but still find something adjacent to mass appeal. they’re just doing whatever shit they think is cool, in both cases always schlocky while still exhibiting strong identities and ridiculously confident presentations. and despite their inability to find consistent success—whether critically or commercially—both have been culturally vindicated in the long run.

or, who knows. maybe i’m way off because my former child brain exploded when i saw bullet time in max payne. either way, no real point or insight here, just thought it was neat to finally put those together ‘cause it’s been nagging at me for ages.

couple things:
as a remake, the tone is way off. metroid’s whole ass vibe was conveyed through negative space, and using fusion’s sprite set to fill the blanks cartoonifies its oppressive atmosphere (a feeling even super couldn’t pull off as well as its forebear).

it can’t match either super or fusion’s endeavours and feels more like an attempt to find a Third Way, presenting something akin to the former’s loose structure (if you squint hard enough) yet ultimately revealing itself as a linear experience that lacks the compelling justification of the latter.

ok, but:
we’re talking a(n unfairly) maligned, inscrutable NES game shoved into a tiny three inch screen and made amenable to playing in short bursts. so whatever. hard to care much. chasing a series of chozo statue waypoints may be arbitrary, the tonal whiplash of its new content might be unnecessary, but it’s fine, and it’s fun. quick clip self-contained gratification stuff. good time had by all (me).

Part of the reason 64's the only Mario game that appeals to me is the way it aspires more to the aesthetic qualities of CG tech demos than the as-of-yet loosely defined aesthetic qualities of the Mario series. The remake has no interest in preserving this, but as a coda to the original that gives it a kind of a dreamlike eeriness, a quality it evokes much better than Mario 64 fangames attempting to do so deliberately.

Certain revisions do play to the game's strengths: I appreciated that most of the new mechanics were, like many of Mario 64's, presented as brief novelties rather than systems to be mastered. Though Luigi and Wario are glorified Caps, the extra steps involved in getting them make the castle, the game's best feature, feel more robustly cryptic. None of this quite makes up for the transition from an N64 controller seemingly designed in tandem with the game to the DS d-pad.

Twin Pikas: Pokéwalk with Me

It's pika I'm afraid...