Shedding Light on My Dark Souls

In 2009, Demon’s Souls was released.  Initially a cult favorite, its popularity grew and put From Software on the map worldwide.  The game spawned four titles that the copyright lawyers assure you are only spiritual successors, as well as a host of imitators.  The series really hit the mainstream with Demon’s Souls’ immediate not-sequel Dark Souls, and its incredibly challenging, unforgiving and epic dark fantasy quests became iconic.  Until reviewers passed the title on to Crash Bandicoot and Cuphead to hide how terrible they were at old-school platformers and action shooters, Dark Souls became the go-to example of a hard game.  It was the Dark Souls of lazy and often nonsensical comparisons.

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No, seriously, they compared this to Dark Souls, look it up.

My feelings on the series (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 1-3, and Bloodborne, the fan name for the collective being Soulsborne) are… complicated.  I wanted to like the series, lengthy and challenging action-adventure games in a dark fantasy setting sounded great to me.  But with all those stats and equipment to manage, despite being Japanese I would classify the Soulsborne games (or at least the earlier ones) as really hard WRPGs.  I have no problem with hard games if they’re in a genre I like, but WRPGs are definitely not one of those genres.  And the controls and hit detection seemed too clunky for such a demanding game.  But were my complaints legitimate, or just me refusing to adapt to a series outside of my comfort zone?  I was never completely sure, which was a major reason I haven’t said much about these games before.

Well, the series offered to meet me halfway, and I accepted.  Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 addressed some of my major issues (the characters move faster and checkpoints are a little more sane), and I managed to beat both of them.  For reference, I made it around a quarter of the way through Demon’s Souls before giving up, and only played a little bit of a friend’s copy of Dark Souls to confirm it hadn’t fixed my issues.  I didn’t bother trying Dark Souls 2.  I’m not claiming to be an expert on the series, but am I a fan?  I’m still not completely sure, which is why I’m writing this article.  While playing Dark Souls 3 (I beat that very recently, while Bloodborne was a couple years ago), I switched several times between finding it an enjoyable and satisfying game, and being furious at it and wanting to quit.  But either way, it was addictive and dominated my gaming time.  When I finished it, I felt a wave of emotion that was part accomplishment and part relief.  I’ve been trying to understand and articulate my thoughts on the series, and I think I’ve finally gotten it.

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I hate this asshole more than any other boss in recent memory.

The Soulsborne games have a concept I love, they are in a genre that has great potential to draw me in.  I really want to like them, but I feel like there are some serious flaws that could be easily fixed.  However, many of these flaws haven’t been addressed, and I think a major reason for that is that reviewers and the gaming community are refusing to acknowledge these flaws.  As the series progresses, some of my problems are addressed, but others are completely ignored.  I trudge through these issues to get at the part of the game that I enjoy, while wishing that the genre could fix these flaws and feeling resentful towards the rabid fanbase of the series for refusing to acknowledge these issues as flaws.  As these thoughts went through my head, I realized there was a very close parallel to my feelings about Soulsborne in a different series.  Yes, for all the games that supposedly are the Dark Souls (apparently the first difficult game ever made) of their genre, Soulsborne itself fits into that mold.

Dark Souls is the Grand Theft Auto of the 2010s. 

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Forget King’s Field, this is the Dark Souls prototype.

Yes, Soulsborne lines up almost perfectly with the beloved sandbox codifier that contains my personal punching bag (Grand Theft Auto 3 will always be terrible no matter how much the series improves).  And I think I’ve pinpointed what I find so frustrating about both the Soulsborne games and the pre-Grand Theft Auto V GTA games…

Recently, I’ve grown fond of the term “quality of life” as it relates to game design.  I define quality of life as features in a game that reduce frustration and inconvenience without making the game easier.  Being able to quickly equip items or abilities in real time instead of constantly pausing, information about items and stats prominently displayed and easy to access, the ability to retry challenges on the spot instead of being forced to commit suicide if you think you’ve messed up too much to finish an area.  And I’m sorry to say that in many ways the Soulsborne games seem to pride themselves on being anti-quality of life.  Want to fight a boss again?  In the later games you can almost always run to that boss easily without enemies getting any hits on you, but every time the boss kills you have to make that run again.  To make matters worse, you have to deal with a load time that’s longer than it would be if you could just respawn in the boss room.  You aren’t allowed to have a map, which isn’t even justified by realism, explorers made their own maps.  You… you can’t even pause.  There’s an offline mode, for God’s sake, let us pause!

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Seriously, how the hell is not being able to pause an offline game acceptable?

This is in addition to things that do make the game harder, but in ways I feel aren’t legitimate.  Having one shot at collecting the souls/blood you had at your last death is an interesting feature, but something needs to be done about how it punishes you for making progress between checkpoints.  Die early?  You can easily get your experience points back.  Make lots of progress then die?  You are very likely screwed.  And don’t get me started on using an item, dying, the enemies you killed along the way respawning, and that item STILL BEING GONE.  The line between challenging and cheap is always… one of those… to draw, but I think there are some elements of the Soulsborne games that are legitimately cheap.

So, what is my overall point, what am I hoping to get out of this?  Well, it ties back to the Grand Theft Auto parallels.  In 2008, Saints Row 2 came out, and in 2012 I finally tried the “GTA rip-off.”  It was night and day, SR2 kept everything I liked about GTA and fixed all of my problems.  That’s what I want: the Saints Row 2 of Dark Souls.  A game that improves the genre so much that previous games in it feel unplayable in comparison.  Something that even makes the developer of the earlier, more famous series take notice and improve their games.

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We may have the Dark Souls of everything, but what we need is the Saints Row 2 of Dark Souls.

So, back to the question of how I feel about Soulsborne, it remains complicated.  The later games are for the most part enjoyable for me, but I’m actively hoping for a game that will make me unable to ever go back to them.  So I guess I’m a fan at the moment, but a fair amount of that comes from Stockholm Syndrome.  Soulsborne draws me in with things I love, and holds them hostage with needlessly annoying and frustrating “traditions” that its fanbase refuses to acknowledge as flaws.  I seriously saw people arguing that the pre-patch Bloodborne load times were a good thing because they punished the player for dying.  Few internet gaming opinions have aggravated me that much.  For the time being, the Soulsborne games are good, but they could be so much better.  Let’s just hope that someday a Saint-like franchise fills these Dark Souls with light.

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The Fear of Luigi

Things are looking up for Nintendo at the moment.  The Nintendo Switch has pretty much had the most successful launch anyone could expect, with critical reception and third party support going better for a Nintendo console than they have in a long time.  The Switch hasn’t even set off a wave of anti-popularity backlash like the Wii did.  The Nintendoomed meme has officially regained its full irony status.  It’s as if the last four years never happened.  But that’s what I want to talk about, the last four years…

Now some of my more observant readers who can do basic math may be wondering why I said the last four years.  After all, Wii U launched in 2012, five years ago.  The second it came out, or even the second it was announced, the world turned on Nintendo and their confusing Fisher-Price Wii add-on, right?  Not exactly.  While the Wii U’s launch certainly wasn’t the explosive success that the Wii and Switch enjoyed, it wasn’t bad either.  Wii U sold a decent amount during the 2012 holiday season, and if it had kept on track it wouldn’t have been a huge success, but it would have been a reasonably sized one.  Things didn’t go wrong until 2013.  On February 14th, 2013 it was revealed that the Wii U had sold only 55,000 units in North America during January 2013.  This was a pathetically low amount, and marked the start of disastrous console sales numbers that the Wii U never recovered from and that would cast a dark cloud over Nintendo for years to come.

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Hot buttered popcorn, what a curse!

You know what else happened that exact.  Same.  Freaking.  Day?  The Year of Luigi.  On February 14th, 2013 Nintendo announced that in honor of Luigi’s 30th anniversary, the year 2013 would be dedicated to the second best green Mario series character (Yoshi being the first, of course).  Luigi marked the year that sent Nintendo into a dark age.  The Year of Luigi was the year of what can best be described as a curse being inflicted on Nintendo.  Luigi is the symbol of every bad thing that happened to Nintendo from 2013 to 2016, and the poor Wii U never recovered from the darkness of that year, that specific day.

Well, is it really fair to blame Luigi for all of that?  It’s not like 13 is renowned for being a lucky number.  But let’s look at some of Luigi’s other big years.  1983, the year he debuted?  The North American video game crash hit in full force.  1993, 10th anniversary?  Worst year for SNES in its console war.  2003?  For Luigi’s 20th birthday Nintendo fell into third place in a console war for the first time ever.  2008?  The year of Wii Music’s E3 and the height of fears that Nintendo had abandoned their fans.  In addition to anniversaries, Luigi was the star of Nintendo’s big launch game for the GameCube, the worst selling Nintendo console until he cursed Wii U.  When did Nintendo 64’s launch hype wear off and set Nintendo on course for their first console war loss?  Early 1997, the same time Luigi made his first appearance on the system in Mario Kart 64.

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He knew exactly what he was doing.

When we look at the evidence, it’s clear: there is and always was something ominous about Luigi, a kind of darkness inside that is inexplicable and frightening.  Luigi’s insecurity, envy, cowardice, what have they been molded into inside the mind of the tall green plumber?  Is Luigi the sympathetic, comedic figure he is often portrayed as?  Is Mario oppressing Luigi by saving the world at great personal risk as a grand manipulation to make sure his brother never gets the glory?  Or is he protecting us, knowing what would happen if Luigi got the glory and power that his twisted heart desires?  I haven’t seen the true form of Luigi, I don’t know his real motives, but I… can feel them.

There is a bleak dryness inside and around Luigi.  A constant feeling of despair and dissatisfaction that eats away at you, distracts you, makes you unable to fight the darkness overlaying you, your view of the world.  Luigi knows he can’t do what Mario does, and it consumes him, he is a being of jealousy and bitterness.  But he has other talents, he can do things that heroes like Mario and Yoshi could never do, and would never want to do.  He manipulates people, makes them feel sorry for him.  Mario risks his life again and again for the sake of others, yet Luigi has a sizable percentage of gamers convinced that he is the victim because he does not receive as much credit as his brother.  The fear Luigi demonstrates, it isn’t real, it is a psychological manipulation technique.  Luigi puts others on edge, plants seeds of anxiety in them.  Luigi makes everyone around him weaker, and less able to counter the darkness he sows.

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The darkness within will claim you.

So what is Luigi truly capable of?  What is his ultimate goal?  I don’t know, deciphering the shadowy depths of this horrifying mystery is impossible.  Maybe Luigi wants everyone to be as miserable as he is, viewing himself as an evangelist for gloom and despair just as the Joker views himself as an ambassador for chaos.  Maybe he wants to use vague, creeping fear and hopelessness to do what Bowser’s minions never could and defeat Mario, taking his spot as Nintendo’s brightest star afterwards.  Maybe Luigi is an eldritch abomination who adopted the form of a green Mario and its intention is no more coherent than making children hallucinate a show about screaming puppets.  Whatever he is and whatever he wants, the curse of Luigi is a danger that we can no longer ignore.

So, what can we do about it?  How can we possibly combat the shadow of Luigi that hangs over Nintendo like the Sword of Damocles?  I wish I knew.  There are things beyond human control, beyond human comprehension.  Humanity lives at the mercy of the type of darkness that Luigi exudes.  We can only hope that our brush with him doesn’t cause complete madness, that his indecipherable whims don’t call for the total destruction of all that we hold dear.  Let’s hope that Mario can keep the darkness within his brother under control, but we’ll never be truly safe.  No matter what happens, we are destined to live in the fear of Luigi.

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We’ll never be safe.

Disclaimer:  This article is completely serious and absolutely not a creepypasta style parody written for Halloween.  The author really thinks that Luigi is a real life incomprehensible force of negative emotions while still viewing Nintendo as a video game company that makes the games Luigi stars in.  He is 100% serious when he blames Luigi for Wii U’s sales failure, the North American video game crash, Wii Music, and Trump being appointed president.  This is both serious and not at all related to the author being an only child who rarely encountered Luigi in classic Mario games and just never got why so many people love him so much.  Despite this being completely serious, he for some reason wants you to know that he wrote a similar Halloween article in the past accusing Mario of being a sociopathic attempted murderer, so it’s not just him picking on Luigi for the aforementioned reason that has nothing to do with this at all.  He will neither confirm nor deny wishing you a happy Halloween or knowing what Halloween is.

 

Turn Based #3: X, Shrugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll

SNES Master KI: Welcome to another installment of Turn Based! Today we will be tackling probably the most heated topic between myself and Professor Icepick that this series has covered so far. Ever since the original Mega Man X started the trend of new Mega Man series that coexisted with the original, people have argued over which was the best. The biggest battle in that area remained the original Mega Man series vs the X series, and Icepick and I are on opposing sides of this battle. Icepick will be representing the original Mega Man series, and I will be representing my beloved Mega Man X series. Since original came first I’ll let Icepick make the first actual argument, time for the battle where there can be no winners to commence! Who will win?

Professor Icepick: It’s easy to discount the Classic series as being “outdated” or “archaic”, but it’s obvious that it is the starting point for one of gaming’s most beloved franchises. If not for the humble release of the original Rockman on the Nintendo Famicom on December 17, 1987, the series wouldn’t exist whatsoever. Likewise, to this day, the best-selling MegaMan game of all time is MegaMan 2 on the NES, a feat which the franchise has yet to top. Classic is the most endearing branch of the MegaMan franchise, managing to claw itself back to relevance after over a decade of inactivity. Scoring not one, but two retro throwback games — before they were even cool! — as well as several spinoffs and appearances in various other forms of media, MegaMan Classic’s importance to Capcom, platformers and video games as a whole, cannot be understated.

KI: The thing is, none of that really addresses which series makes for better games. I don’t deny that the original Mega Man is the reason the series exists, but that’s true by definition of anything that has a spin-off series. Not to imply the quality gap is as large for the Mega Man games as it is for the example I’m about to give, but the Tracey Ullman show is why The Simpsons exists. The original Mega Man games are important and great games in their own right, but in my view, they were building up to something.

Mega Man X is, in my opinion, a colossal increase in quality on the level of Nintendo’s Super Nintendo sequels to NES games. Unlike the other Mega Man subseries, which are doing their own thing for the most part, MMX is an evolution of the original that shows what Mega Man can truly be. Everything the original series accomplished led up to it undergoing a super powered evolution into the SNES Mega Man X games.

Icepick: And that’s the problem, isn’t it? You’ve often told me that you consider the first game in the MMX sub-franchise to be the best by far, correct?

KI: I never said it was the best by far, it’s actually pretty close between the first four Mega Man X games. I believe that those four games, any one of them, are better than any game in the original Mega Man series. Mega Man X5 and X8 can also hold their own against many of them. Yes, there are two bad ones, but that doesn’t change the quality of the other games.

Icepick: That brings up another issue, MMX had spinoffs of its own: the Zero quadrilogy and the ZX duology. Personally, I prefer the gameplay in those two games over the X series in general. Which is where a major problem lies: through these six follow-ups, the X series lost any sense of cohesive identity. The Zero/ZX games are closer to the X series than any other branch of the MegaMan franchise in general. Therefore, while Classic can offer me something unique, I’m given the choice between the X, Zero and ZX series for that particular style of gameplay — and I’m always going to choose between the latter two series over the former.

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MegaMan’s been fighting animal-themed robots since before X was created!

KI: Zero and ZX have more differences from the X series than the X series does from the original. They may be more similar in setting, but the character customization, action-RPG and Metroid-like inspired gameplay completely changes the feel. And of course, you aren’t playing as a traditional Mega Man in those games, X played like Original with a couple new abilities, there was nothing from Original that you were missing. I’d almost argue that Mega Man series come in pairs, with Original/X, Zero/ZX, and Battle Network/Starforce all having the same basic gameplay philosophy, and Legends… well, it would probably need a third game before it got a sequel series.

Like I said, the X series plays like a (in my opinion) superior version of the original series, which is why the argument over them in the most prominent among the fanbase. I think for the purpose of this debate, we should limit our focus to the original and X series.

Icepick: Fair enough. However, when looking at both series in general, one must also account for overall quality. You casually mentioned this earlier, but X6 and X7 are generally considered to be among the worst games in the entire franchise, with dips in quality so severe, that no game in the franchise — not even the 1987 original — has as extreme of problems. Meanwhile, while you point out that MMX is generally considered the best game of the side-scrolling MegaMan series by many, the 11 mainline Classic games (yes, I’m counting MegaMan & Bass, if only because Capcom did in MM9) maintained a certain level of quality.

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See? 9 previous defeats show up in MegaMan 9! MegaMan & Bass was canon!

Many people hold the MegaMans 4 through 6 in low regard simply due to being “repetitive”, yet anyone who’s actually played them won’t hold that against the game’s inherent quality. MM7 is a weak entry in the series, but given the fact that it was developed in a mere 3 months, makes it amazing given the level of quality Capcom managed to achieve in a severely below-average development cycle. MegaMan 8 was experimental, finally taking into account the criticisms of the later NES era, only to have it explode in their face — delivering a game that managed to achieve mixed reactions. And that doesn’t even take the Game Boy games into consideration: which slowly evolved from portable cash-ins to some of the best games in the entire series.

KI: I don’t think you can give Mega Man 7 a pass for being made quickly. Who knows what the developers of X6 and X7 went through (X6 took less than a year and X7 was trying something completely new to the series). The original Mega Man games may not have lows as dramatic, but 1, 4, 6, 7, and M&B, I would say X5 and X8 (the mid-tier X games) easily beat those. I’m not holding repetitiveness against 4 and 6 for the record (and 5 is a great game), 4 had bland level design regardless of context and while 6 is my favorite of the ones I listed, it didn’t have great levels and was really easy. And you probably shouldn’t bring the GB games into this, remember the first two? They poke a big hole in the classic games never reaching truly bad quality.

So basically, I think the highs and mids of the X series are better than the original, and the lows being worse is pretty insignificant.

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The best Mega Man game in 20XX and beyond.

Icepick: The thing about the first two GB MegaMan games is that both were outsourced to outside developers. The fact that the team from Dr. Wily’s Revenge (the first Game Boy game) were able to come back from that and make IV and V, among the best in the entire series is telling. Meanwhile, X6 was built with the same team, using the engine from X5 — which itself was tweaked from X4 — and managed to create an abomination of a game, where the only redeeming factor would be its soundtrack. Yes, Capcom made Sonic ’06 before Sega — and worse yet, they didn’t even make it from scratch.

KI: But if you count GBIV and GBV, then you have to count other games from the same developer. X6 may have been from the same team, but they were clearly rushed and who knows what else went wrong. My only point with that is that we can’t give 7 a pass for being made quickly. But I think we’ve been avoiding the flame based elephant ancestor in the room for too long. I’m assuming you disagree with my assertion that the gameplay in the first four X games significantly surpasses the originals, correct? We should probably get into which series plays better when you compare the best games.

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He’s in the room, we can’t just ignore him.

Icepick: It’s been argued that the Classic games are more difficult than the X series in general. Frankly, I consider that a plus. Maybe, it’s the “hardcore gamer” in me talking, but frankly, I love a good challenge: which is part of the reason I prefer the aforementioned Zero and ZX series over the X series. Indeed, among the side-scrolling MegaMan sub-franchises, X is generally considered the easiest of the bunch.

KI: I’ve really never heard anyone argue that. Both series vary in difficulty from game to game to a significant degree. If we’re going into hardcore signaling though, the X series has more complex gameplay mechanics than the original and much more incentive to fully explore levels. Indeed, if you really want to make the game as hard as possible, you can do minimalist runs in the X games and it will affect you a lot more than it would in the original games. I’d also argue that the only times the X series really feels easier is when it avoids situations where exact tip of a ledge jumps screw you up, since you can accelerate and essentially grab ledges in the X series.

Icepick: Didn’t you once say that the platforming in Classic felt “cheaper” (i.e. more difficult) compared to the X series, due to the Classic having less abilities than his futuristic counterpart? Likewise, you’d also have to consider that X’s difficult is split between doing “minimalist runs” and “100% runs”, which run counter to one another: much of the difficulty in the X games are paradoxical. Going out of one’s way to find the hard to reach power-ups irreversibly powers up X, thus making the rest of the game easier.

KI: The X series has levels designed around the greater powers, and most of the powerups just bring you up to original Mega Man’s strength level (maxing out health gives you what you start with in original games, sub-tanks are basically E-tanks). The X level design removes the parts I felt were cheap, but adds new challenges (vertical sections relying on the wall climb being the most prominent example). I only mentioned the minimalist runs as a choice people have if they really want excessive difficulty, the games are not balanced around them and games like X3 and X5 can be pretty challenging even when you get everything.

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X may have more abilities, but the level design can keep up.

Moving on from difficulty for a second, I’d just like to point out the massive quality of life upgrade in the X games. Every X game has shoulder button weapon swapping, you can leave already completed levels whenever you want, picking up weapon energy automatically goes to the weapon that needs it the most if you don’t have a special weapon equipped. These all show up in most post-X1 original games, but the latter two have to be paid for or found. Doing that for QoL features that don’t make the game any easier, just more enjoyable to play, infuriates me.

Icepick: Honestly, I never really minded the lack of the ability to exit cleared levels in Classic games: in most cases, there weren’t collectables hidden in each stage, which made repeat visits kind of pointless in the first place. All the same, these feel like minor criticisms in the grand scheme of things.

Circling back to an earlier point you made, I disagree with simply claiming that X and Classic are strictly linked. In fact, I’d argue that the Zero games definitely had more of an impact on the later games in the franchise, due to their shift from a darker future than the setting of the Classic series to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The point is, Inafune wanted to end that series at X5 and it looks like Capcom didn’t have any ideas on how to progress afterwards, thus leading the franchise to lose its identity in an effort to stay relevant.

KI: Later original games gave you incentive to revisit levels, especially 7, 8, and Bass. I’m not sure what you mean by Zero having a greater impact on later games as a counter for original and X being linked, it seems to support my point. And regardless of what happened behind the scenes or the later context of the X games’ identity, it doesn’t change the games themselves.

Icepick: And yet, I’d argue it did. X6 and X7 had no idea what they wanted to be, attempting to continue from X5’s attempt at closure. X8 may have rebounded, but by that point, the damage had been done.

KI: But we’re comparing the games that exist. After Mega Man’s hibernation finally ends, there’s a good chance that we’ll just get a new series or reboot, so there isn’t much impact on the future. I don’t think X6 and X7’s problems came from the story, the story was a mess, but neither original or X depend on story. X6 was rushed and X7 tried to do something new in gameplay that was much more the fault of the sixth generation’s antipathy towards 2D console games than any story issues. And it definitely doesn’t change the first five X games in any way.

Icepick: Maybe, but the point is that we’re only comparing games that presently exist. And considering the fact that an entire quarter of the X series is substantially worse than even the weakest Classic entry must be taken into account.

KI: But we were comparing the best examples in quality at this point. My stance is that half the X series is better than anything in the classic series, and another quarter is better than a majority of the games in the classic series. You can use statistics and fractions to make any point you want when the numbers are this low (80% of people know that), I’d say that two below average X games are better than almost two thirds of the classic series.

Icepick: Personally, I always found X2 to be utterly forgettable. Falls right out of my head the second after I’m done playing it or watching a playthrough. X3 had promise, but ultimately its version of Zero was a let-down. X4 is my favorite game in the X series for obvious reasons. Having said all of that, I think that saying that two-thirds of the Classic franchise are inferior to the outright “mediocre” X games is an overstatement. But I think it’s time to wrap things up.

KI: Well, we’re probably not going to reach a conclusion, which is expected. No shouting or the text equivalent this time though, so that’s progress. I think we should each make one last statement on why we feel our preferred series is superior, without arguing against each other’s. Want to go first for chronological reasons?

Icepick: That seems fair.

The point is, Classic’s definitely the more important of the two franchises, no matter what’s been said. Likewise, just due to the interesting turns the series has taken when ditching the 8-bit aesthetic — MM7, MM8 and MM&B were all experiments in their own right — I feel like the Classic series also has more potential when it comes to adapting to modern gaming conventions. Most fans of the X series want a strict throwback to either the SNES or PS1-era games, which the unjustified backlash against MM10 likely means that any future installment in the Classic series will attempt something new. MegaMan Classic adapted in ways that the X series only wishes it could, as shown by the poor reception to X7.

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The worst part is, this isn’t even the first MegaMan game with a shmup section.

KI: The X series is simply better designed than the Classic series. It has every gameplay strength the classic series has, added a couple huge new features (the dash and wall climb) that were implemented perfectly, and polished the game with quality of life enhancements and reasons to fully explore levels. The original style X games are considered the best because they essentially perfected the Mega Man formula, nothing since has matched them from any Mega Man series. I’m sure that in a perfect situation a team could pull a Super Mario Galaxy and make a new type of MMX game that surpassed the SNES ones, but as of right now I believe the X series has the four best Mega Man games, period, and two more that are high tier. It comes down to the games, and games come down to gameplay, and the X series has reached highs in that that no other Mega Man series, and very few video game series at all, have achieved.

As per usual, KI and I have come to yet another stalemate. I don’t honestly foresee any of these articles ending any other way, but that’s not a problem: Turn Based is more about discussion than changing opinions anyway. But what do you think? Did X improve on its predecessors or are the old ways the best? Feel free to sound off in the comments. — Professor Icepick

2017: Reclaim Your Happy Ending

The state of gaming goes up and down, the state of everything does. As much as I love the idea of the Earn Your Happy Ending trope, it’s obvious that in real life, nothing is ever stuck in a permanent state, positive or negative. But that’s not an easy thing to accept. After Nintendo, platformers, linearity, and 2D games made a comeback in the seventh generation, especially the second half, I desperately wanted to keep what we had gotten back. But even though the game releases in 2013 were incredible, it was clear that night was on the horizon. While trying to convince myself it wasn’t happening, I saw what I loved in gaming go into free fall from 2013-2016. Sure, there were still good and even great games released, but fewer and fewer ones that were what I really wanted. No matter how much I wanted things to freeze the way they were, that didn’t happen and a mix of denial and gloom descended over me (considering how the internet reacts to everything, I have no way of telling if this happened to other people or if that’s just how the gaming community would have reacted anyway).

But you know the good thing about nothing staying the same? After enough time, things also get better. As some of my previous article this years have shown, I’ve seen some very positive developments and trends this year for gaming, especially parts of it that I care about which were slumping in previous years (Japanese games, Nintendo). Even before this year started, the announced games gave me a feeling of true optimism for the first time in years (see my part of the 2017 top 10 lists). While not every game on that list delivered or is making it out this year (same as every year we’ve done those lists), those are more than made up for by both ones that personally surprised me and that were surprise announcements made after the year had started. 2017 for me has made gaming a phoenix rising out of the ashes, both in releases and announcements for 2018 and beyond.

As shown by the previous articles, there are many reasons for this. But why are they converging in the same year, and why have some frankly miraculous things happened against all odds? I always thought Switch had the potential to repeat the history of the original Wii, but I was never certain until it happened, and there are things I never would have guessed in my wildest dreams (Bethesda’s strong commitment, did they make a single game on a Nintendo system before Switch?). Nier went from being a critically-panned example of how JRPGs have cooties in 2010 to a cult classic to… a multi-million seller that already has Square-Enix hiring for its sequel and saying it has franchise potential!? Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy became a mega-hit out of nowhere and along with Mario’s triumphant return could easily spark a resurgence in retail platformers. After pleas for SNES Remix were ignored during the dark days, we not only get SNES Classic, but it has a never before released game on it! So many franchises I missed that hadn’t been seen since 2013 or earlier either returned or had games announced in 2017.

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He’s cool again, no matter how dark his souls apparently became.

So the question is, why? Well, I can’t explain exactly what happened, but I do have a few theories to explain some of it. For the Nintendo stuff, it isn’t hard that hard to figure out. After their big push to turn Wii U around in 2014 didn’t work (E3 2014 just gives me a creepy aura of false hope these days), they went into cocoon mode. The Switch’s formal reveal in 2017 was their chance to come back, to show that they were still the strongest publisher in gaming and that they were not going to become a mobile focused developer (I’ve almost forgotten their mobile games exist in recent months), to prove that they could still make a successful console and that the original Wii wasn’t a fluke. They did it, and achieved things they had been trying for so long that nobody ever expected them to actually happen. Switch didn’t have a post-launch drought, they finally did it! With the delay of learning to make HD games behind them, Nintendo has been releasing and announcing Switch games at a rapid-fire pace. Not only that, there’s been a strong emphasis on giving fans what they had been asking for, which is miraculously working this time. Open world Zelda, sandbox Mario (with enough actual platforming that I’m not upset), Xenoblade and Splatoon sequels faster than anyone thought possible, Metroid Prime 4, mainline console Pokemon. And after I got scared they would minimize platformers because people complained about them on Wii U, they announced a new Kirby and Yoshi at the same E3. Switch is on track to become the best Nintendo system since SNES, and if it keeps it up, maybe, just maybe…

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And all the doom and gloom was simply switched off.

I don’t have as many guesses for the other positive developments, but I have some general theories. Japanese companies as a whole seemed to have trouble adapting to HD, not just Nintendo, so that could explain boosts to companies like Capcom and Square-Enix. PS1 and PS2 nostalgia kicking into high gear could be why Crash N. Sane Trilogy sold so insanely well, and bodes well for Japanese games in general, since they dominated those eras. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One took a while to get going, just like their predecessors, and we’re past that hurdle so their best days have started. I can’t think of much rationalization for long running Japanese series getting so much more western attention all of a sudden, but as long as it’s happening, I’ll gladly take it.

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I didn’t hype it, I didn’t play it, but if one person calls it weeb garbage, I’ll raise hell!

So, there’s my self-therapy session for the day (hey, not like there are tons of readers for me to focus on instead). But I’m not just trying to trick myself into being happy, 2017 really has been an incredible year for gaming in both releases and announcements. No one can ever say for sure what the future holds, but I think we have landed on the bright side of the coin, and hopefully we will stay there for many years to come. We need gaming now more than ever, and 2017 has been more than fulfilling that need.

Top Ten Sony Franchises in Need of Sequels

There are plenty of publishers out there with huge vaults of beloved IPs that sadly have no guarantee of ever again seeing the light of day.  Capcom, Konami, Sega, Square-Enix, and I think there’s a playing card company who makes games or something.  But there is one company who rarely gets mentioned when this topic comes up, but really should.  Yeah, the one in the title.  Sony actually has a vast collection of quality series, and their annoying habit of throwing series under the bus once they have three games has led to a lot of unjustly hibernating franchises from their camp.  Although not technically a Sony series, the recent revival of Crash Bandicoot has pushed this to the forefront of my mind recently. I’ve decided to rank the top ten absent Sony franchises that need sequels.  To qualify for this list, a game or series needs to have never had a new incarnation in its main series on an HD system.  Meaning HD remasters and cameos in Move mini-game compilations or Smash Bros. clones don’t count.  So, let’s jump in.  I’ll disclose that I’m not an expert on some of the lower ranked series, but everything on this list at least deserves a chance.

10.  Vib-Ribbon

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The only game on this list that I haven’t played, in large part because the original release never left Japan, I was still fascinated by this game simply from reading previews of it.  Vib-Ribbon is a very simple rhythm game, with its hook being that you can use music CDs to create levels in the game based on any song you want.  Now imagine being able to do this with digital music files or streaming sites, and you can see how much potential this concept has on an internet enabled system.  The original may have finally gotten a worldwide release, but there’s so much more a completely new game in the series could do.

9. Omega Boost

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To be honest I didn’t play this game very much (look, no one wants to do a top 7 or 8 list, I needed 10 dammit!), but the genre alone makes me want it to get another chance.  Rail shooters where you control a character instead of just a reticule are a rare breed, and Omega Boost is a well-liked entry in that genre.  I can’t give a huge amount of details on what I’d want the sequel to be like, but a flashy mech rail shooter with PS4’s power could easily be an enjoyable experience.  Give this game the second chance I haven’t yet, Sony.

8. Wild Arms

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Yes, I actually have finished a game in this series.  Of course, this series has several games, but still.  Wild Arms combines turn based combat with Zelda style items and puzzles, something I wish more turn-based RPGs would do, it does wonders for avoiding monotony.  With fantastic music and a fairly unique Wild West/steampunk setting, Wild Arms is one of the better RPGs on the PS1, and what I’ve played of the first sequel seemed even better.  Wild Arms managed to survive multiple generations in its true form, which already puts it ahead of the curve for Sony series, so I think there’s plenty of justification for giving this series another chance.  Maybe crossover with Wild Guns, no one can keep their names straight anyway.

7. MediEvil

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While this may seem like a generic 5th-gen platformer at first sight, MediEvil is actually an interesting genre hybrid.  Platforming, adventure game style puzzles, melee combat that’s pretty involved for a game of its time period and RPG elements, there aren’t many games exactly like MediEvil.  While it definitely shows its age in some places, the game is certainly playable.  But with melee action games having made colossal strides since the 5th generation, there is a huge amount of potential locked away in this game and its expensive sequel, which was never rereleased on PSN, unfortunately.  As long as it took inspiration from the right games, a new MediEvil could be a fantastic addition to PS4’s library, and fill a seldom used niche these days (horror themed game that isn’t bleak or ultra-violent).  Sony, we need MediEvil: Dan of the Third Day!

6. Alundra

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Back when almost all role-playing games on consoles were JRPGs, there was an obnoxious trend to call every single action-RPG a Zelda-style game.  These games often had clunky combat that was practically turn based and barely any puzzles, which meant I was usually disappointed when I played the “Zelda-style” game.  Alundra, though, has thoroughly earned the label of Zelda-like.  Alundra is intensely difficult in both combat and puzzles, has a sometimes crushingly depressing story, but is a huge and satisfying game.  The gameplay is very similar to the 2D Zelda games with the addition of a platforming element, and that is definitely a good thing.  I haven’t played the sequel, which is apparently vastly different and much less well regarded, so I’d say Sony should just give us a direct sequel to the first game.  Even without Working Designs around to translate it, a worthy sequel to Alundra would be a dream come true, and not the bleak, prophetic kind the game features.

5. Ape Escape

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I’m half convinced the right analog stick on the original analog/DualShock controller was added solely so Sony could claim it had more stuff on it than the Nintendo 64 controller.  I can understand why Sony didn’t want to use it much, it couldn’t be easily replaced by the d-pad on a non-analog PS1 controller like the left stick could, and no one wants to require accessories.  Still, waiting almost two years for anything to use the right analog stick (at least in a meaningful way) is pretty bizarre.  But at least the first game to require it was a good one.  Ape Escape is a fairly standard 5th-generation collection based platformer, with its hook being that you can aim your weapons and items while moving normally thanks to the right analog stick.  The collectables (escaped apes) all need to be caught by using a right analog stick controlled net, so the gimmick definitely gets used enough to justify the controller requirement.  The sequels never felt quite as tight in gameplay as the original Ape Escape, but they aren’t bad games and there’s no reason a new game couldn’t match the original.  This barrel of monkeys has been sealed too long, it needs to be opened again.

4. Skyblazer

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That’s right, even in an article entirely dedicated to Sony, the Super Nintendo still manages to crash the party.  The only pre-PlayStation game on the list, Skyblazer is a hidden gem on SNES that has needed more attention for decades.  Skyblazer can best be described as MegaMan, MegaMan X specifically, with melee combat and a magic based setting.  You jump, punch, and wall climb your way through levels, some of which you can choose the order of, and kill some great bosses to get special moves from them.  The game is begging for a modern big budget character action game/platformer hybrid, Skyblazer with the budget and scale of God of War could be absolutely amazing.  I’m not expecting this game to ever actually get a sequel, but that hasn’t stopped some other games I loved, so there’s always hope.  In the meantime, if you haven’t played this game, try to track it down, a growing cult following is the first step to a series getting a miraculous sequel.

3. Jumping Flash

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Is the robotic rabbit you play as in this a jackrabbit?  Was I missing a reference pun this whole time?  Either way, Jumping Flash was ahead of its time and holds up amazingly well considering.  Before Quake or Super Mario 64, Jumping Flash is a first person fully 3D platformer that showed up with PlayStation 1’s western launch in 1995.  Controlling a projectile and rocket equipped robotic rabbit, Jumping Flash and its very direct sequel (can’t say anything certain about the Japan only third game) are quality platformers that manage to still play well today despite how many opportunities there were to screw things up in hindsight.  With DOOM 2016 hopefully igniting a resurgence in non-realistic, action based first person shooters, now would be the perfect time for Jumping Flash to return.  The game’s signature gigantic jumps combined with dual analog shooting and current-gen draw distance make me salivate.  This is another long shot (well, most of this list is), but a new Jumping Flash would be a… no, I’m not making that song reference, it would just be painful.

2.  Parappa the Rapper/UmJammer Lammy

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See, not everything in the top five is a platformer!  In 1997, I was extremely loyal to Nintendo, the playground “my system can beat up your system!” kind of blind devotion.  Despite hating everything PlayStation related on principle, Parappa the Rapper was so unique and charming that I still wanted to play it.  I actually rented a PlayStation just to play it (the system or game was defective and I had to return it the same day, that didn’t help my system war issues).  By the time I got over my one company mindset and actually got a PS1 of my own, the sequel/spiritual successor Umjammer Lammy had been released, which I loved even more.  I didn’t love Parappa 2, but the PS1 games have some of the best music and characters of all time.  The gameplay needs some work, which is precisely why we need a new game!  Describing exactly what happens in the games feels like a disservice to anyone who hasn’t played them, but if you have played them before, I guarantee you remember them.  While I’d prefer Umjammer Lammy 2 (Parappa had his chance and I just like Lammy’s music style better), any return for these paper pop stars would be incredibly welcome.

1. Jak

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The newest game on this list, the Jak series got a decent amount of attention in its heyday, but I think it still deserved more.  For one thing, are you wondering why I said Jak instead of Jak and Daxter?  That’s because Jak 2 dramatically improved the series and never got the credit it should have.  Yes, it’s darker and clearly took some influence from Grand Theft Auto, that doesn’t change that the gameplay is dramatically improved from the original’s fairly generic collect-a-thon style.  Jak 2 and 3 have tons of variety, some of the best platforming of their generation, and great stories that are not just angsting.  Jak 3 may have resolved the story arc of the trilogy, but it also set up a new story arc that was never given any games.  Naughty Dog became obsessed with realism (which apparently makes dark tones okay while Jak is nothing but an edgelord) and auto-platforming while the Jak series got nothing except lower profile sequels of varying quality that never advanced the story in any real way.  I don’t know if we’re ever going to get Naughty Dog back to their platforming glory, but someone needs to make a real Jak 4, fans of the series have waited way more than long enough.  I’m still furious that Naughty Dog taunted fans of the series by saying they almost made a Jak 4 but canceled it to make The Last of Us (and that they planned to make it play like Uncharted), Jak is number one on this list not only because it’s my favorite series listed but because I feel that Sony genuinely owes its fanbase a new game.  People have been shown to still really love Crash, a 3D Mario platformer is getting more hype than anything in its genre has in at least a decade; it is time Sony, give us Jak 4.

So there you have it, ten Sony franchises that deserve their chance to shine and bloom in HD.  Who knows if any of these will actually get that chance, but it’s not impossible (Sly Cooper not qualifying for this list was a pretty big surprise).  I don’t know why Sony is so inclined towards throwing series away once their generation and/or trilogy is over, but they have a surprisingly rich staple of franchises that could give them the true exclusives needed to make their library stand out from Xbox and PC.  As Crash N. Sane Trilogy shows, PS1 era nostalgia has arrived and PS2 era nostalgia is around the corner, take advantage of this Sony, and give these series the sequels they deserve!

Turn Based #2: Dead on Revival

Professor Icepick: Hello, and welcome to another installment of Turn Based. I’m Professor Icepick and today we’re going to be discussing bad games in established series. Specifically, is it possible for an individual game to be so bad that it effectively renders its series “dead”?

To clarify, we’re not talking about cases where the financial flop of a game manages to kill a company or forces the franchise in question to be put on hiatus for the foreseeable future. However, I will be counting cases where terrible games have had a delayed effect on killing series: ruining the sales of a follow-up, regardless of quality, and leading the series to its doom, simply because the bad game in question did end up killing it.

Now, since we originally came up with this topic, the existence of Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back — a new game from one of gaming’s most infamous series of all-time — has definitely weakened my position, so I’ll be taking a backseat this time around. As such, I leave you in the hands of my capable opponent to get things started.

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Seriously, who wanted a sequel to this?

SNES Master KI: So my basic position is that there is always hope for a series no matter how badly an entry in it is received, for one simple reason: if people care enough about a series to be upset that a game ruined it, people care enough for it to get a sequel. Apathy is the only thing that can kill a series, hatred will cause an equal but opposite reaction in most cases, hence the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Since Bubsy’s revival pretty blatantly let the cat out of the bag in that regard, I almost feel like we should move on to the other side of this topic, but I’ll give you a chance to argue this first, if you don’t think you’re just kitten yourself.

Cats.

Icepick: Ha, cat puns. I’m more of a dog person myself. You do bring up a good point about apathy, but that is probably your ultimate undoing. We’ve definitely seen cases in the past where apathy can kill franchises, but the exact opposite of love for a property isn’t hate, it’s apathy. Hate implies that you still care, while apathy implies that you’ve given up all hope on that property. A bad game, a game that the fanbase generally hates, can definitely drive its fanbase to apathy. After all, the “hive mind” for a fanbase is simple enough to manipulate. Create a game bad enough, and they’d be willing to give up on the whole thing to avoid enduring another similar disappointment.

KI: You’re underestimating how much people hate things. A game that could potentially kill a series won’t cause apathy, it will cause hatred. No one will ever stop talking about it. Even if the fanbase wanted to ignore it, they wouldn’t be able to. Imagine if Nintendo made a Mario platformer that was as bad as Bubsy 3D. I know my response wouldn’t be apathy, I don’t think that would be many people’s response. And even if I wanted the response to be apathy, trolls would never let people forget about it. People would remember it forever, and no matter how bad it was, someday, the owner of the IP would want to try again. A bad game, especially in a series with a large fandom, doesn’t cause apathy.

Icepick: You’ve got a good point there. It seems like in many cases, the worst thing for a series’ health is to grind their audiences down with similar games, rather than just killing them with one big stinker. But, in terms of large fandoms, Rock Band and Guitar Hero weren’t above death. Prior to the bold new decision of making a game based around World War II, people were chanting for Call of Duty’s demise, to the extent where Activision had to pack-in a remaster of the game that made the series popular in the first place to drive sales.

People are getting sick of franchises that started as recently as last generation, and the diminishing returns aren’t just present in the games’ sales, the quality appears to dip as well. Hell, I consider myself a huge fan of the Dead Rising series, but the fourth game makes me hope that Capcom lays it to rest, simply because I’m afraid of the horrors they may unleash on us next. Not even the massive shift of 3 caused that kind of reaction out of people, but I’m certainly not alone.

KI: People chanting for the death of a currently active series isn’t the whole picture. Sure, if they kill off the series for the present, it probably wouldn’t cause a huge outcry. But this is about the long game. Let’s say Call of Duty completely burns out, the series stops, whoever is making it now gets sold for two crayons and a carton of chocolate milk. No one seems to care for years.

Then, it’s 2027. People who grew up playing Modern Warfare are the nostalgia panderer’s prime target. Whoever owns the franchise is going to capitalize on that. Fandoms don’t stop series from dying, but they stop them from staying dead. If the fans of something huge are still alive, it’s almost certainly going to return at some point.

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The childhood of the future.

Icepick: I’m not so sure about that. After all, fans of Castlevania appeared to give up on the series after Lords of Shadow 2 and the departure of Koji “IGA” Igarashi, who had been running the series for many years. Even before his spiritual successor Bloodstained was announced, Castlevania’s video game days have seemingly been numbered. All we have to show for it now are various pachinko machines and a critically-acclaimed Netflix TV series. Revivals don’t necessarily have to remain within the original medium to exist. If Call of Duty does fall, I could it see it coming back in 10-20 years as a television miniseries, or maybe even a movie.

KI: Lords of Shadow 2 is only three years old, that’s not nearly enough time to say people truly gave up on it. I also think the rumored Switch Castlevania game is very likely to happen, but even if it doesn’t, there’s plenty of time for nostalgia to make people forget all bad experiences with the series and demand it return. This leads to a question I had already wanted to ask, what is the most popular franchise you can think of that hasn’t had a new game in at least 15 years?

Icepick: Does Kid Icarus count?

KI: No, last game was five years ago. It shows even 15 years doesn’t guarantee death, I said 15 to make it easier.

Icepick: What about MegaMan Legends?

KI: Subseries. IPs can certainly be radically different when they return, but MegaMan falls under one umbrella, only seven years since we got one.

Icepick: Fair enough. Golden Axe: Beast Rider and Sega’s Altered Beast revamp both seemed to kill any enthusiasm for either series. Though, your mileage may vary on the latter.

KI: Those were already revivals, though. Golden Axe had already had a badly received spin-off that killed it for quite a while (Golden Axe: The Duel) and I don’t understand why anyone wanted Altered Beast back to begin with, but Bubsy coming back makes it hard to argue. I still think both games could get something within 15 years of those failed attempts. But as demonstrated, sufficiently popular games/series almost inevitably get some attempt at revival. There are literally dozens of games that got sequels no one would have ever expected or at least been confident of in the last decade, IP death is never permanent.

Icepick: I’m just not so sure about that. We’ve seen several series fall by the wayside, with no clear path to resurrection. At this point, it just feels like we’re splitting hairs. Should we get back on topic?

KI: Yeah, it would take decades for either of us to actually prove our hypothesis. Let’s move on to that other topic I mentioned earlier, I’ll let you speak first this time.

Icepick: I personally do think that there are cases where games should have killed series. Bubsy 3D would be my chief exam-PAW-le. There are others, but I think it’s best to state my reasoning: if a game’s quality declines and offers nothing worth developing further, then there’s really no point to continue the series. At best, you could consider a reboot, but at that point, it might almost be better to explore new concepts with new intellectual properties behind them. MegaMan 10 being the last game in that series (at this moment in time) led to Shovel Knight, a game that blended mechanics from numerous 8-bit games to create something truly amazing.

KI: For the first point, Bubsy was never good, so I don’t think it’s really relevent. Bubsy 3D shouldn’t have killed it, the first game should have. The reason to revive a series is to bring back what was great about it, so there wasn’t much claws for reviving Bubsy. For the second point, I don’t think anyone who worked on Shovel Knight actually worked on MegaMan, I don’t think MegaMan continuing would have prevented the talent behind the game from making it. There’s only one game I’d say MegaMan’s hiatus directly caused, and I think that would be a Mighty weak game to use for your argument.

Icepick: Regardless of Bubsy’s inherent quality, 3D is considered among the worst games of all-time, well beyond the scope of all of its predecessors. As for MegaMan’s absence leading to other games, it certainly increased the profile of Inti Creates, the staff behind the Zero and ZX series, not to mention the latest games MM9 and 10. They managed to leverage that into popularity for Azure Striker Gunvolt, yet another spiritual successor.

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Not quite a Blue Bomber, but you can hardly tell the difference!

To bring up a different shade of blue, there’s the Sonic the Hedgehog reboot, charitably dubbed “Sonic ’06” to save face. If we printed our all of the thinkpieces written in the past decade about how it’s time to put the Blue Blur on ice permanently, we’d both be crushed by the weight.

KI: Sonic is a shining counter example though. After failed attempt after failed attempt after failed attempt to make Sonic games good again, Sonic Colors finally did. If they had given up, we wouldn’t have Colors, Generations, Sonic 4 Episode 2, Lost World, Mania, or Forces. Going back to Bubsy, while Bubsy 3D may be worse than the earlier games, there was still no reason to revive the older games. Since we both want MegaMan to come back, I’m not sure where you’re going with that topic.

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If at first you don’t succeed, fail again and again until you finally do.

Icepick: You seemed to be implying that MegaMan’s absence only led to a certain failed “Comcept”, when it was really a mixed bag. The point is, series can run their course and sometimes it’s better to get a fresh start as opposed to trying trying to redeem something that’s clearly a lost cause.

KI: But the people who made the good games didn’t have access to MegaMan after a certain point, they didn’t choose to make a clean break, they had no choice. There’s no reason to believe Inti Creates making MegaMan 11 or MegaMan ZX3 or my holy grail would have led to a worse result.

Icepick: The point is, losing the MegaMan license was a net positive for Inti Creates. They were able to step our of Capcom’s shadow and parlay that into original IPs and other licensing deal, most recently Blaster Master Zero from Sunsoft. To bring us back on-topic, are there no franchises you see no point in reviving.

KI: There are plenty of franchises I see no point in reviving, but not really any that I liked to begin with. Even if the developer made a better series later, I’d rather have both. I get very enthusiastic about Donkey Kong, Kirby, Yoshi, and Wario platformers, even if Mario platformers are clearly what I love the most.

Icepick: The point is, eventually, the majority of series eventually hits a wall. If they’ve already hit their clear apex, why continue?

KI: The apex game will never be new again. Playing a game for the first time is special, and I don’t want to lose that experience in series that I love. Besides, you never know for sure what the apex is, Super Mario World was my favorite up until Super Mario Galaxy 2 almost 20 years later.

Icepick: Surprised you didn’t bring up Yoshi’s Woolly World. The point is that the height of any game series is only visible in hindsight. Why should series that are clearly well past their prime continue, while perfectly good series are snuffed out?

KI: But we don’t know that a series is truly past its prime, you just brought up Wooly World, released after 20 years of Yoshi platformers that never came close to Yoshi’s Island. As for why some series should continue and some shouldn’t, it’s usually not a choice between them, developers are usually a big factor and individual developers rarely have a huge stable of IPs to choose from. Saying I don’t want any series I like to end is an idealized statement, it’s what I want, but I’m not saying I expect every single one to flourish. However, recapturing the magic of a once great series is still a completely valid reason to make a sequel.

Icepick: Regardless, many IPs lack the ability to maintain their existence indefinitely and frankly while many companies simply choose to put their series on “indefinite hiatus”, the point is that some series just have limited potential in general. Clearly, there are many exceptions, but limitations must be kept in mind in general. Shall we move onto final thoughts?

KI: I feel like we moved away from the original point, it wasn’t whether some series should end, it was whether a game can be bad enough that the series should end because of that. I maintain that there is always hope, even if it’s a reboot 10 years later, for a series to reclaim what once made it great.

Icepick: Personally, I still think that considering the fact that we’ve seen many series go inert after a poor follow-up, it’s entirely possible for a game series, even one that’s very beloved, could be ended completely at the hands of a poor game. I’ve proven that bad games can put long-running series into statis and that ignored series can effectively end up dead due to complete activity, so I think I’ve more than proven my point here. Sufficiently bad games can definitely kill even the most beloved series.

KI: Series going into stasis is never something I argued, I said they shouldn’t and often don’t permanently kill a series. I still haven’t seen evidence of a bad game killing a truly beloved series, after years of alarmist claims Metroid just made a big return. Sonic, Tomb Raider, Yoshi, Doom, (almost certainly) Crash, the big series always find a way back, often as good as before.

As expected, once again, we decided to agree to disagree on this topic. What do you think? Do you think that a bad game can stop a long-running series cold or that we should never say die? Feel free to let us know in the comments.Professor Icepick

Becoming Cranky With Age

When Donkey Kong Country was released in 1994, I was eight years old and had never heard of the character Donkey Kong before.  Reading about the game, I learned of the original arcade game that introduced both DK and Mario to the world through the grumblings of Cranky Kong.  The old man ranting about how that newfangled Super Nintendo was stopping people from appreciating retro games was certainly not someone I could relate to on any level.  I was clearly one of the “whippersnappers” he was talking about, aside from early 90s commercials that my accelerated nostalgia gland was yearning for I didn’t have any understanding of longing for a bygone era.

 

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Back when a 2D SNES platformer somehow counted as fancy 3D.

 

 

Well, things have certainly changed since then.  While I was angry at fifth-generation systems for trying to push aside SNES less than a year after Donkey Kong Country was released, it wasn’t until Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze’s release, almost 20 years later, when I had a revelation: I could relate to Cranky Kong.  While the mass market was turning on Nintendo and Tropical Freeze was being treated as a niche, too hard to be entertaining game by many in the gaming media, it was easy to identify with the jaded old ape who complained about kids these days not appreciating gameplay.  It was more people roughly my age not appreciating gameplay, but still.

But it didn’t stop with the Donkey Kong Country series, and I was in fact inspired to write this article because of a different 90s series that recently reentered the spotlight, one with quite a few parallels to the DKC games, despite initially being the mascot for a competing platform.  That’s right, I’m talking about Dark Souls.  Or as it used to be known, Crash Bandicoot.  If you aren’t sure why I would joke about two series with nothing in common being the same, you are a luckier person than I am.  The first three Crash Bandicoot games were recently given complete graphical remakes and released as a trilogy for the PlayStation 4, and the original Crash has somehow gone from a harder than average platformer to a brutal exercise in extreme difficulty, and that exercise has in turn somehow been trademarked under the Dark Souls label.  Crash has become Dark Souls, according to an infamous review, and so many people have overreacted to its difficulty that I can’t tell which memes about this topic are mocking the claim and which sincerely believe it.

 

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This is either Crash or Dark Souls, lost the file label so I can’t tell which.

 

This is where I’d yell at those kids to get off my lawn, but I’m afraid they’ll slip and get hurt, leading to claims that my lawn has become a minefield (the Dark Souls of battlegrounds).  That, and like I said, this really isn’t about kids.  Maybe kids are mocking Bandicootborne for being an impossible to play relic while chatting in Minecraft or comparing fidget spinners, I don’t really know, but the people I’m some combination of amused and annoyed by are self-proclaimed old-school gamers that are around my age.  the people desperately trying to pinpoint the slightest physics changes in Crash N. Sane Trilogy to justify claims that it “became” Dark Souls.  The ones talking about how NST proves how much more hardcore gaming was back in the day.  The people who insist they were great at the games back on PS1 but now can’t reach the first boss in the PS4 version.  This isn’t about age, of gamers or games.

So what is it that’s making me cranky then?  It’s how people treat difficulty in games, both older and modern ones.  There’s the obvious target of people who can’t stand any difficulty in games and resent games that don’t play exactly how they expect because of that, but they’re not the only annoying group.  The people who go on about how games are so easy now and those damn kids could never beat games with REAL difficulty are just as misguided and irritating.  I got every trophy in all three Crash N. Sane Trilogy games in a week, while plenty of people online were complaining about not being able to simply get past an early level in the first game.  Does this mean all those people are scrubs I should mock and tell to git gud?  No, and not just because that would make me an asshole.

 

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I also beat this game in a week! With 100% completion! In one life! Without leaving the chair my character model is fused to!

 

There is obviously truth to the idea that playing platformers for around 25 years is going to make games like the three in the N. Sane Trilogy much easier for me than for gamers who grew up playing Halo and Call of Duty without ever touching a platformer.  But that doesn’t automatically make me more skilled as a gamer or make the platformers harder, the difficulty they present and skills they require are simply different.  Newer games aren’t easier, they’re simply challenging in different ways.  Yes, you can see the ending of pretty much any modern game if you blast through the story missions on the easiest setting, but trying to 100% them on the hardest setting is just as difficult as doing everything in classic games.  And struggling in a genre they have no experience with isn’t a sign that someone is a stupid kid who can’t compare to the “real” gamers of the 90s.  There are elements in genres I don’t play much that frustrate me and probably wouldn’t if I had grown up playing them, I doubt many people are experts at every single genre.  If younger gamers don’t understand platformers, or any other genre you loved as a child, the solution is more new games in that genre being released, not mocking people for being born later than you were.

 

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I haven’t actually beaten this game, the WRPG elements aren’t something I grew up with and they just piss me off. Assuming I labeled this correctly and didn’t accidentally post a picture of Crash again, anyway.

 

And now to tie things back into why I’m cranky.  The way people on both sides of the Crash: New Souls Trilogy issue are acting annoys me.  The people who can’t beat the Crash games and decide that the games are to blame because their lack of auto-platforming is outdated are obviously going to incur my wrath, but I’m probably more annoyed at the people in my demographic using this whole thing as an excuse for elitism.  Yes, supposedly professional reviewers marking old-school genres down because the reviewer is just bad at them deserve mockery, but don’t take it out on entire generations of games or people (like participation trophies, the kids get blamed for things adults are doing because they assume it’s what kids want).  I understand Cranky’s point of view now; but shockingly, the comic relief character from a platformer doesn’t present a robust philosophy ready to be adopted in real life.  I want those damn kids off my lawn, but I also want the adults patting themselves on the back for how much better they played on lawns to shut up and get over themselves.

Top 5 Games That Mastered Remaking

With the announcement of Metroid: Samus Returns and the recently released Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, remakes have been on my mind recently.  Now there’s quite a bit of a scale in terms of how much effort goes into video game remakes.  Sometimes you get simple remasters that basically just polish the textures so the game looks good in HD.  Sometimes the graphics are completely redone, maybe a few gameplay polishes.  And sometimes you get the holy grail, a game that takes the story, settings, and basic gameplay of an old game and makes what can basically be considered a new game.  These are my strong preference for video game remakes, but as you might expect from the amount of effort involved, they are the rarest type.  But these do exist, and so I’m going to listing my top five remakes that truly mastered the art of… re-ing.  But before we get to that, let’s look at some great game that I feel went just a little too far in their new features and have “condemned” themselves to be new games:

Punch-Out!! (2009)

Punch-Out!! on NES is a great game.  Super Punch-Out!! on SNES is better.  But Punch-Out!! on Wii annihilates the rest of the series.  With the same name as the NES game (and one of the arcade games) and almost every fighter from it, Punch-Out!! is almost a remake, but every fighter is changed so much (and almost a third of them weren’t in the NES game) that it feels more like a Mario game that uses the same level themes than a remake.

Mortal Kombat (2011)

I loved Mortal Kombat when I was a kid in the 90s, but it was more the violence taboo, dark fantasy tone, and seemingly endless secrets that intrigued me than the gameplay.  So the 2011 Mortal Kombat installment that brought back almost every character from the first three MK games (the nostalgia and image peak) and retold their stories, but this time with great gameplay, was pretty freaking fantasic.  However, it’s not really a remake, instead being a weird, nonsensical, but very entertaining in-universe reboot that continues the series’ story by changing the first three games.

Star Fox 64

Star Fox 64 has an essentially identical story to the first game, but aside from that (and the fact that doing a remake as the second installment in a franchise, only four years after the original was released would be really weird) it changes as much as any other direct sequel.  Star Fox 64 is an amazing game that aged very well for a fifth-gen game, but I don’t think it can really be called a remake.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana

I haven’t played this game (make a PS4 version, damn it!), but I’ve been assured it is a vast improvement over its basis, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, and that it has the same essential story and is now considered canon in the series.  Having played both Ys III and Ys Origin (which has the same gameplay style as Oath in Felghana), however, I can’t really consider this a true remake when the basic gameplay genre has been changed so dramatically.  But I’m sure it’s a great game, and again, want a convenient version for myself released.

Okay, with those out of the way, let’s get to the actual list!  Five games that push the remake envelope to its max without breaking it.  Not much else to say, here we go:

#5.  Ducktales Remastered

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Everyone loves the NES Ducktales game, but I’m just going to come out and say that several parts of it aged badly.  The control for the signature pogo cane is stiff, the hit detection is noticeably off, and the game is really, really short.  Well in 2013 we got a fantastic remake that may not be perfect, but fixed all of the aforementioned issues and of course was promptly condemned for not matching the deified memories people had of the NES game.  Well screw that, Ducktales Remastered is vastly superior to the original.  In addition to things technology’s march made possible (gorgeous art and animation that looks just like the show, full voice acting), the game greatly expands every level from the NES game and adds two completely new ones, making for an experience that could almost pass for Ducktales 3.  With the Ducktales cartoon’s reboot about to launch (which I’m expecting to also greatly outshine the original, the previews have done a very good job of showing the Gravity Falls influence), now is a great time to play through this game.  It’s a fitting last hurrah for the 80s Ducktales as a whole, in addition to being a great remake.

#4. Ratchet and Clank (2016)

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Straddling the line between remake and reboot, I decided to place this game on the remake side because I’m always going to place gameplay first, and no matter how much the story of the original Ratchet and Clank was changed in Ratchet and Clank 2016, it’s obvious that the original game was still the near exclusive focus.  The advancements in control and quality of life that the later games made are intact, but the levels are almost all from the original.  But like all the remakes on this list, they aren’t just graphically upgraded copies, they’re new levels using the settings and elements of the original.  Ratchet and Clank 2016 does a great job expanding the classic levels it covers and makes them feel every bit as good as new levels would.  While having less levels is a somewhat painful tradeoff and prevents this game from placing higher on the list, R&C2016 is still a polished and satisfying action platformer that can serve as a great introduction to the series for 13 year olds who weren’t alive when the original game was released and are now making you feel old.  Let’s hope we get the Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal remakes that everyone wants, and that they’re as good as this one

#3. Mega Man Powered Up

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This game is criminally underappreciated.  Unlike Maverick Hunter X, which made minimal gameplay additions and was based on a game that aged too well to really need a remake, Mega Man Powered Up takes the very first Mega Man game and adds an absurd amount of content.  You get a ton of new playable characters, a level editor, and brand new chibi-style 2.5D graphics that can be placed over an exact gameplay replica of the original game.  But the crown jewel of this game is the “New Style” mode with brand new levels based on the themes and gameplay elements of the original, in addition to two brand new bosses with their own original levels.  This game just offers everything.  Want the original game with new graphics?  You’ve got it.  Want a better game based on it?  It’s there.  Want to play as Roll or a robot master?  Go ahead.  Impossible to please?  Then make your own damn level, you can even do that.  Mega Man Powered Up needs to be rescued from its relative obscurity, it’s a must have for every Mega Man fan.

#2. Resident Evil (2002)

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One of the most positively regarded video game remakes of all time, the GameCube Resident Evil (or REmake, as it’s commonly known) took the 1996 original, which had already aged pretty badly by 2002, and turned it into one of the best games to use the classic Resident Evil formula.  The flow of the game was shaken up, the puzzles were redesigned, new enemies and areas were added, the controls were updated, a colossal amount of secrets were added, the dialogue and voice acting were made competent, and the graphics were completely redone and looked truly amazing, they still hold up today, even without the long-postponed HD remaster.  This set the standard for video game remakes, and every re-release of a Resident Evil game since has been met with wishes that another Resident Evil game would get the kind of monumental remake that the original did.  While the lack of information has made it hard to remember, we do have the mythical REmake 2 announced, hopefully we can once again get something on the level of this, the runner-up master of remaking.

#1.  Metroid: Zero Mission

Metroid Zero Mission

I debated on the order to place the previous games in, trying to decide how much weight to give how much of an improvement over the original game each remake was versus how much I enjoyed the game personally.  Thankfully, Metroid: Zero Mission excels in both areas.  The original Metroid is enormously influential, but it did not age well at all, and the lack of features and quality of life improvements that Super Metroid standardized is glaring.  Metroid: Zero Mission merges the original game with Super Metroid, adding new abilities, areas, bosses, and story elements to make something that functions as both a new entry in the Metroid series, and a replacement for the poorly-aged original.  While the game is a bit short (despite all the expansions, the aimless wandering and cheap deaths really made the NES Metroid feel longer than it was), the gameplay is just as fun and satisfying as the legendary Super Metroid.  Zero Mission is everything a remake should strive to be, the best possible outcome.  After 13 years of wishing for Metroid II to get the same treatment, we’re just months away from that finally happening, and now seems like the time to recognize both Metroid: Zero Mission and the potential of remakes in general.  If more remakes had the effort and care given to Zero Mission, the world would be a better place and the galaxy would be at peace.

So there you have it, my picks for the top five games that show the full potential of video game remakes.  I’m not saying there’s no place for remasters that simply add some modern quality of life features to a classic game, but I consider games like these five to be the holy grail of video game remakes.  There are plenty of classic but questionably aged games that could benefit from full blown remakes, hopefully we’ll get many more remakes like these five games that mastered remaking.

BeiN True to Yourself: How Nintendo Wins

I’ve been meaning to write an article like this for a while now, and with E3 having just happened, I think I can finally get started now.  As my past articles may give some ultra-subtle foreshadowing of, I am quite happy with how the Switch has been received so far.  After at least four years of almost unrelenting negativity towards Nintendo’s console division, someone finally flipped a switch and turned the light back on.  The Switch has recreated the phenomenon of the original Wii’s launch, an even more impressive feat considering it launched in March instead of November.  With Nintendo seeming to have finally fulfilled their longstanding goal of a launch year without droughts and an incredible E3 that featured a healthy mix of 2017, early 2018, and far away but ultra-exciting games, Switch’s future looks very bright.  So with Nintendo’s four most recent consoles alternating between explosive success and market failure (no, you having nostalgia for GameCube doesn’t mean it sold well, it was closer to Wii U in sales than it was to Nintendo 64, and that didn’t even win its generation), is there any way to make sense of this pattern?

Well, let’s look at the goal behind the four consoles in the most general terms.  The GameCube and Wii U had a focus on attaining something that Nintendo’s competition had in the previous generation that they lacked (disc based software and HD graphics, respectively) and bringing Nintendo back to getting the biggest third-party games and controlling the traditional gaming demographic again.  Both systems also suffered from something of an identity crisis, having drawbacks that stopped them from achieving true parity with their competitors (GCN’s smaller disc space and Wii U’s limited power compared to competing systems) and having stylistic features that conflicted with the goal of winning over the competitor’s fanbase (GameCube’s general “kiddy” image, Wii U’s tablet inspired controller).  After showing a lot of promise at launch, both systems quickly fell behind in market share and third-party support, becoming solid but niche systems you bought for Nintendo’s games.

 

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And look how well pandering to EA worked out.

 

Now let’s look at Wii and Switch.  They actually don’t seem to have fixed the problems I mentioned above, you could even argue they got worse.  Was Wii any less “kiddy” than GameCube?  Is Switch a powerhouse that obliterates or at least matches PlayStation 4 and would be giving PS5 a run for its money if the generations hadn’t gotten completely de-synced?  Did/will either one get all the AAA third party multi-plats that PlayStation/Xbox/PC share?  The answer to all those questions is no.  So why did things work out for these systems, but not their predecessors?

Because Nintendo didn’t half-try to be something they weren’t, they embraced what made them different and turned those weaknesses into strengths.  They flipped things around and succeeded at things their competitors weren’t even trying.  The Wii may have been at least as “kiddy” as GameCube, but it appealed to middle aged parents and senior citizens just as easily, it genuinely was for all ages.  The Switch may be only marginally more powerful than Wii U, but take it out of its dock and it’s a technological marvel as a portable system.  Nintendo solved their problems in ways that their competitors never would have attempted, and unlike trying to copy the other systems, this approach has been rewarded.

 

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Mocking its name just made it stronger.

 

Of course, that doesn’t mean GameCube and Wii U didn’t contribute anything to Nintendo’s future.  Remember GameCube’s bizarre controller layout and various gimmick controllers (bongos, the Game Boy Advance)?  I’m sure you remember Wii U’s attempt to get people excited to play games on the controller’s screen.  Neither of these features caught on, but Wii and Switch managed to evolve these ideas into a functional, wildly popular form.  The Wii had a new way of controlling games that got a huge amount of mainstream attention, and it being included with every system allowed it to thrive.  Wii U’s ability to stream games to its controller at a limited range turned into Switch being a true hybrid that allows you to take complete console games anywhere you want.  Instead of giving up on these ideas, Nintendo believed in them and turned them into something hugely successful.

 

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Its heart was in the right place, it just needed a few tweaks.

 

Now this section is a bit of a leftover from one of the earlier incarnations of this article, but since I’ve compared Wii and Switch so much, I think it’s worth addressing.  Some may ask if we really want Switch to turn into another Wii.  Was its success actually good for gamers?

Yes, it absolutely was!

It’s time to get over the delusion that Wii was nothing but Nintendo lazily making mini-game compilations and third parties badly copying the aforementioned mini-game compilations.  Yes, the Wii ___ series and shovelware that all market leaders attract existed, but you could and can ignore them, and there is a diamond mine hidden under them.  Nintendo made some of their best games on the Wii, and I don’t just mean the Super Mario Galaxies and Xenoblade.  Punch-Out, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Wario Land Shake-It, Metroid Prime 3, Sin and Punishment 2, Pandora’s Tower, games you should give a genuine chance like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Zelda: Skyward Sword, Nintendo absolutely did not just focus on gimmicky mini-game compilations during the Wii’s lifespan.

But the lack of attention those games get is nothing compared to the third-party hidden gems on Wii.  Zack and Wiki, Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands, Muramasa, Madworld, No More Heroes 2, Dead Space Extraction, A Boy and His Blob, Rabbids Go Home, Sonic Colors, Epic Mickey, Lost in Shadow, Red Steel 2, Trauma Team, House of the Dead Overkill, Goldeneye 007, Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Boom Blox Bash Party, Rodea: The Sky Soldier, there are so many third party Wii games that may not have been super hyped AAA budget games but were the type of quality mid-ware that people thought died in the seventh generation.  Switch turning out like Wii would indeed be a good thing, and fortunately, there are already signs of its portable ability bringing back some of those mid-ware style games.

 

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Have you played this game? Do you know what it is? This is Trauma Team, just one of the many underappreciated Wii games.

 

So in conclusion, I think the moral here is pretty obvious.  Nintendo systems with one syllable names do better, end of story.  In seriousness, I think it’s safe to say that Nintendo does a lot better when they focus on their strengths instead of trying to attain the strengths of others.  Directly competing on their competitor’s turf doesn’t work, and with the console generations being out of sync between companies now it is barely measurable (I defy you to find a way to compare Switch and PS4’s success that doesn’t require waiting 5+ years to judge).  While it would be nice for Nintendo to achieve the third-party dominance they had with the NES and SNES, I don’t think it’s practical right now and both Nintendo and their fans will have a better time if they focus on what worked for Wii and Switch instead of trying to bring SNES back with one fell swoop.  Wait a second, if you pronounce them “Ness” and “Sness”, those systems are also one syllable… that IS the key!

Turn Based: Random Probability Genre

Hello all. This is a bit of an experimental article, so bear with me. While having a random argument online, SNES Master KI and I actually ended up being really intrigued with the topic and decided to use it as a basis for a new series of articles, written collaboratively through an online conversation. This isn’t exactly the first time I used this style of format, but this one was far more casual than my previous attempts. – Professor Icepick

Professor Icepick: The reason I believe that turn-based RPGs are luck-based is simple: many of the game mechanics themselves rely on random number generation. The amount of damage, the hit rate, the ability to dodge, all of these elements are often tied to random numbers, which while they take static statistics into account still comprise the majority of the gameplay. The player cannot willfully manipulate these elements in order to dodge an attack or do more damage at will, they are held to the whims of the machine itself.

SNES Master KI: Those elements are to some degree luck based, but they only affect a small percentage of the actual outcome.  A fight has to be extremely close in order for a critical hit or miss to determine the winner, preparing for this is part of the process in single player games.  Luck isn’t any more of a determining factor than it is in action games where enemy AIs aren’t 100% scripted.

Furthermore, in multiplayer turn based games (where battles being close is preferred) risk assessment is a vital part of the strategy involved, and plays into the mind games that are a large part of the experience.  Just like playing poker well is a skill despite the huge luck element, accounting for the random possibilities is part of the preparation and strategy in a turn based competitive game.

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Icepick: I like that you brought up the existence of multiplayer RPGs to help your argument. While most of these battles are generally only considered fair when character level is close, this seems to favor strategy over skill. In video games, skill is generally considered the great equalizer. After all, beating Symphony of the Night at max level isn’t impressive, but doing so with as low of a level as possible definitely is. In video games, skill is generally associated with deliberate instantaneous movement. Ideal planning is generally associated with “strategy”: important but separate from skill.

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KI: I would consider strategy to be a part of skill, I would define skill as anything under the player’s control.  Strategy is the core skill in a turn based game, and is still a part of the skill used in real time games.  Although it has to be done much faster, thinking several jumps ahead in a platformer is strategy and a vital part of the skill needed to play them.

Strategy and preparation aren’t the same element, if you gave someone who didn’t know anything about the Pokémon meta-game a tournament winning team, they would still lose spectacularly to an experienced player.  Preparation is what you do before the battle, strategy is what you do during it.

Icepick: Perhaps, but I think we can both acknowledge that there is a difference in what is considered an achievement in single-player and multiplayer games. Within the realm of single-player, there are three categories that are most commonly considered when discussing mastery of a game: the speed run, the no-death run and its more extreme counterpart, the no-hit run. While speedrunning is technically possible in single-player turn-based RPGs, there are no strategies that can absolutely guarantee a no-death run, let alone a no-hit run.

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Of course, there are exceptions.

There are far too many random variables involved in order to certainly, with a small measure of doubt, avoid taking damage throughout the entire game. This is especially prominent when we take random battles, a fairly common gameplay element in the sub-genre, into account. Matters are only exacerbated when random battles come with specific conditions — take for example, the “back attack”, where the player’s party is assaulted from behind by a random assortment of monsters. Again, I must ask, when so many elements of the gameplay are reliant on events that are literally random, skill, as it is traditionally classified when discussing video games, is substantially less prominent in the traditional JRPG than they are in pretty much any other genre.

KI: While no hit runs in most turn based games aren’t practical, they do have an equivalent.  Level 1 runs of turn based JRPGs are a common mastery goal, and through strategy and full understanding of the battle system they are usually possible.  Luck may mess up some attempts, but there is still immense strategy and preparation required.  Dealing with the luck element is just an added layer of risk management.

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As for no hit runs being impossible, that isn’t about luck.  Turn based games are designed around the idea that both sides get turns aside from massively one-sided battles where one side wins in a single turn.  There’s no luck aspect there, the player knows enemies will get to attack going in.

Icepick: Perhaps, however, if I may use a different genre as an example. In the early days of implementing online play into fighting games, many developers would attempt to handle input lag the same way they did in other genres: simply slowing down the game itself in order to allow the information to catch up. Later, rollback netcode – a method that involved “rolling back” the game’s status to the last time both players were in sync – was utilized to much greater effect. Unfortunately, both methods have one major flaw: at times, players often take one action, assuming that they are correctly in sync with their opponent, while in reality, they are out of sync and rolling back an allow their opponent to capitalize on their unwittingly bad decision. When faced with poor connections, players are often forced to make poor decisions due to a lack of information, effectively causing a change in strategizing within the game itself.

This same problem is generally the case in turn-based RPGs, meaning that players generally fight with both their literal opponents, but also the game’s mechanics in general. Maybe you have a perfect attack lined up to defeat your opponent, but you randomly miss. Then your opponent strikes back with a hit you could normally survive easily, but they score a critical hit on you, killing you in a single hit. You might argue that the way to avoid such a scenario would be to create a substantial advantage over future opponents by grinding to a much higher level, but in reality, that’s more of a timesink than proper strategy. If powerlevelling can be considered skill, then what about using cheat codes or paying microtransactions?

KI: Fighting games are built around quick and immediate reactions, while using prediction to counter lag could technically be considered a skill, it is one antithetical to the genre in question, which isn’t the case in turn based games.  Similarly to how fighting game style jumping would ruin a platformer, but is not a flaw in fighting games.

The issue with cheat codes and microtransactions is that they break the game’s balance or give one player an unfair advantage.  Paying for microtransaction style benefits with in-game currency or choosing skills from a skill tree that resemble cheat codes are considered completely legitimate.  The scenario where the luck based mechanic hands the battle to one player is unfortunate, but the ideal counter to it isn’t power leveling in a multiplayer game, it’s having better strategy and risk calculation to avoid such a scenario.  There are scenarios in other genres where an extremely close match essentially comes down to luck, such as two players searching for each other and hoping to spot their opponent first in an FPS or trying to predict what rock paper scissors style attack your opponent will use in a fighting game, they just aren’t as prominent because they happen so quickly.

Icepick: The difference between those instances of luck is that they are more dependent on things that were consciously manipulated by the players in the first place. Returning to fighting games, many fighting games’ metagames revolve around “tier lists” – effectively comparing the chances one character has over beating another one, with all other things being equal. Yet, this is not an exact science: many upset victories have been achieved by players who chose characters that logically had no chance against their opponent’s choice. Meanwhile, even in multiplayer RPGs, the ability to perform well generally comes down to character stats, elements that are generally set in stone before any competition even begins. While upset victories are also possible in these scenarios, even these can generally be traced back to specific choices made in preparation of the match.

This is also prominent in the JRPG’s ancestor: the pen-and-paper RPG. Stats are determined before the scenario even begins and dice rolls – literally considered one of the most basic elements of a game of chance – are used to fully determine the success or failure of the player’s actions. This is no different from the traditional JRPG: predetermined stats and abilities, complimented with a random number generator acting as a digital stand-in for a dice roll.

KI: Creating your team/characters is something in the players control, hence why I described it as preparation and strategy.  The dice roll is a luck element, but I contend that it is only part of the experience and strategy is still vital and the deciding factor the vast majority of the time.  Overcoming bad preparation is harder in a turn based game, but that’s fully intentional, since preparation is part of the game while a fighting game is working towards the ideal of every character choice being equal (even if that never happens in practice).

Icepick: In the end, turn-based RPGs often rely upon preparation, strategy and luck. There is nothing that relies upon instantaneous feedback in the traditional iterations of the genre. As such, I can’t really say they rely on skill, as from the origins of video games themselves, skill has generally been associated with a combination of quick reflexes and the knowledge of what needs to be done in order to succeed. While RPGs often employ the latter, there are only rare instances where the former are even remotely relevant.

KI: I still define skill as anything in the player’s control.  Turn-based RPGs don’t require every skill type found in other genres, but there are skill types they greatly surpass most other genres in (preparation).  I think this mainly comes down to a difference of opinion on the definition of the word skill as it applies to video games, so there isn’t really anything left to argue about unless we get into a definition battle, and no one wants to see that, at least a civil one.


So, in the end, we just essentially decided to agree to disagree. Who do you think was right: does beating a turn-based RPG rely on luck or is there skill behind it? Sound off in the comments section below. – Icepick