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Cruel Fate Makes for Good Gaming in ‘Final Fantasy Adventure’

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Much like the role-playing genre, life is a grind. Responsibility to others and the duties required by circumstance make up any honorable existence where you can’t always get what you want. It’s hard, no way around it, and it doesn’t let up until the end of the game. It’s no wonder then that many of the genre’s stories bombard the player with drama amidst a somber world’s nearing ruin. The clock is ticking on us all, but while there’s no escape from the inevitable misfortune, there is also no choice but to soldier on. Surprisingly, one of the best examples of this philosophy came in the form of a now rare Gameboy game, Square’s Final Fantasy Adventure.

Final Fantasy Adventure was not your typical example at the time of a series that was just beginning its eventual skyrocket in popularity with the release of Final Fantasy IV (or II). It’s real-time instead of turn-based, a singular protagonist instead of a party system (though some NPCs do sometimes temporarily join up), and enemies appear on screen, not through those often annoying random encounters. What it does keep is Square’s sense of the tragic as a motivating force for storytelling, and in this, it excels. The Hero (named by the player, providing instant connection and eliminating the need for heavy backstory) is a classic cosmic punching bag; he starts out in a bad way, endures loss after loss, only to be told that every sacrifice forced upon him is necessary for the good of all mankind. Not him, mind you, but everyone else. No, his role is that of reluctant martyr, someone for whom friendship is impossible because everyone he likes dies a horrible death, someone for whom happiness is never meant to be, because this stupid thing called “fate” says so.

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Nothing about this is fair.

 

Tragedy in myth or literature is often the result of faulty character, but instead of a cause for self-reflection it winds up as a way for the audience to nod their collective heads wisely while clucking their knowing tongues, mourning the unnecessary destructive acts inflicted on the unsuspecting fools at the heart of the story, all the while maintaining their own real-life superiority. After all, we aren’t as greedy, as power-hungry, or as easily manipulated as those poor saps. Tales like that of Macbeth or Othello, while certainly powerful and tragic, are kept at a slightly greater distance due to our belief in ourselves and the clearly solid understanding we have of the human nature. No, we can’t be tricked; we’re too smart for that. But bad things do happen, and if there’s one thing everyone can sympathize with, it’s that sometimes the universe is just out to get us, plain and simple. The Final Fantasy series is no stranger to themes of this kind, its plots often rife with suffering and pain caused by an uncaring fate and the uncontrollable malicious acts of those inhabiting the hateful side of the world, personifications of natural disasters, and Final Fantasy Adventure is certainly no exception. It’s this way of dealing out punishment that allows for an emotional connectivity with the audience by giving us something we can intrinsically relate to: the drawing of the short straw.

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This could be Dreamland, except for all the killing.

 

The world of Final Fantasy Adventure seems like a brutal place for just about everyone. As usual, it’s good to be the king, but regular folk have no shortage of problems. If you’re not being attacked by any number of beasts inhabiting the forest, frozen in place by a sorceress monster, mocked by ageist kids because you can’t swing a sword like you used to, or turned into a parrot because of your wonderful singing voice, your town is probably under attack by the evil Glaive Empire who have no problem razing everything you care about to the ground. So, you know, have a nice life. Still, in keeping with the general mood, complaints are few. It’s hard not to admire the fortitude of these people.

Just like in reality itself, however, it feels like no one has it worse than you, the hero, but in this case that’s actually true. The game starts off with a main character who has a sword, cool armor, and awesome hair; so far, so good. Of course, you quickly find out that you are enslaved to an evil emperor and forced to fight wild beasts to the death in gladiatorial-style combat. Your best friend Willy, after a life spent being forced to kill, is himself cut down right before the player’s eyes, uttering with his dying breath a wish for the pursuit of freedom. After that prison break you are flung off a cliff, meet a girl who gets kidnapped by a vampire innkeeper, are betrayed by the mysterious stranger who helps save the girl, lose her again, fall off an airship, and are robbed of the planet-saving MacGuffin by a former slave colleague who herself gets screwed by a tyrant. The odds would say your hero is due for a change of luck, but the universe of Final Fantasy Adventure is not kind to those who are fated to save it.

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He was your only friend. Of course he did.

And so after teaming up with that thieving back-stabber, you both track down Medusa in order to cure the woman’s brother. The fight goes wrong, the woman is changed into a gorgon, she implores you to kill her before she can hurt anyone, collect her healing tears, and tell her brother she loved him. After another fall off a mountain, your mentor breaks his back, you make a new robot friend only to watch him die saving you, kill the bad guy but in the process also the source of world peace, and finally watch the girl you like (and maybe more) become a tree in order to restore order to the land, leaving you alone once again, bound to protect her until the day you eventually die, a life dedicated to the service of some greater good that only serves to remind you of your continuous heartbreak. Like a true knight, however, you take these burdens as they come. Some human moments of weakness are only natural, but the true hero knows the difficult choice is most often the right one. Tough luck, but we all have to play the cards we’re dealt, and some are born more fortunate than others. Of course, none of those people are in this game, but nevertheless.

Hopefully gamers won’t have to wait forever for Square Enix to resurrect this classic, preferably in its original form. The world can be a bit of a maze, the puzzles aren’t as clever as a Zelda‘s, and the dialogue may seem simple compared with today’s standards, but the game still hits as satisfyingly home as ever. Final Fantasy Adventure will always be remembered as the game that started the Mana series, a blend of traditional RPG elements and real-time action, with towns to explore, dungeons to conquer, and a variety of useful weapons, but its overriding sense of the melancholy and tragic aspects of honor will always strike a harsh chord with those who enjoy picking up a sword to save a world that they themselves will never be allowed to enjoy.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

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The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

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In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

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Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror

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Resident Evil 3 Nemesis

If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.

RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.

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Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.

The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.

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The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.

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