The Anatomy of Final Fantasy VI: Episode I

Finally, at long last, I’ve kicked off the promised video companion series to Anatomy of Games. This is a complement to the text pieces, not a replacement. Please enjoy, or at the very least don’t be too nasty if you hate it.

It’s not a coincidence that I’m launching this on Thanksgiving. When I think of Final Fantasy VI, I think of getting hooked on it all over again over the Thanksgiving break, to the point that I went out and bought the strategy guide and paid way too much for the mail-order three-disc official soundtrack release….

I’ll probably put together new episodes every couple of weeks. They’re a bit involved and rather time-consuming, if you can imagine that.

Posted in Anatomy of a Game, Games. Tagged with , , , , , , , , .

A niche resource

I kicked off a small new section on my YouTube channel consisting of simple gameplay videos of the titles I’ve been covering for Game Boy World. Basically, I’ll be posting the footage I’m capturing for the retrospective videos. I don’t expect people to watch these videos for entertainment; they’re really meant to supplement the features I’ve been writing.

They’re also meant as a resource. Because people have been kind enough to support my Game Boy World endeavor — funding purchases on Patreon, donating equipment, spreading the word — I’d like to make a small contribution in return. The idea behind these videos is to provide a glimpse of actual, “ideal” game footage; ideal in the sense that this is real software running on real hardware, upscaled cleanly to HD resolution. No emulation, just clean digital/RGB video.

It’s not ideal in the sense of great gameplay, because I’m not an expert at any of these games and frankly the Super NES gamepad I own is a piece of garbage that sticks and fails to respond far too often. But still, I’m hoping to build a library of reference-quality video of “real world” play. There are already channels dedicated to complete playthroughs and flawless let’s plays and tool-assisted perfection, and that’s great. This is something else.

I’ve posted the first two videos and will upload more constantly and without fanfare. The resource is here if you need it for something. It’s Creative Commons, so do as you will.

(And yeah, I’ll be using this new Alleyway and Super Mario Land footage for remastered versions of those early Game Boy World videos.)

Posted in Games. Tagged with , , , , .

Yoshi Touch & Go

Somewhere in the bowels of a database of sits a review I wrote a very long time ago for Yoshi Touch & Go. I don’t remember what it says, and it probably doesn’t matter.

Touch & Go was actually a pretty good little game, in hindsight, but emphasis here sits on the word “little.” It was the wrong kind of game, at the wrong time, on the wrong platform, in the wrong format. Touch & Go is the sort of game we would buy today, quite cheerfully, for 99¢ on iPhone. It’s a fun, bite-sized diversion behind which sits very little substance; alas, in 2004 we didn’t really have a place for such creations.

Games of Touch & Go‘s nature were the de facto standard in the Atari 2600 days, but the latter half of the ’80s saw games grow in size and scope as memory capacity grew. The reality of Touch & Go is that it would have been lambasted as too slight as an NES game 15 years prior to its release; no wonder we — and I say “we” because I certainly wasn’t the only one to rake it over the coals — didn’t appreciate it. As something meant to be a viable, full-price, standalone release in 2004, when you could buy console-sized experiences like Advance Wars and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow on Game Boy Advance, Yoshi Touch & Go was downright unconscionable. It was basically a fancy Yoshi’s Island minigame presented as a full product. It wasn’t bad, but it was entirely too slight for its own good. I mean, minigames more substantial than this were included as bonus modes in Super Mario 64 DS!

I think Touch & Go sort of embodied everything we assumed about the DS at the time, good and bad. Yes, it allowed for original and inventive gameplay concepts and controls; guiding baby Mario with the stylus felt like a warm-up for Kirby Canvas Curse, that system-defining masterpiece. But with its recycled graphics and overall lack of substance, Touch & Go hinted at a future for the DS consisting of novelty games with little meat behind them.

And, in all fairness, that’s mostly what we got during the system’s first year of life: Fun but hopelessly lightweight confections. It’s crazy to think just how much the system’s library evolved over time — within a couple of years, these little design experiments were simply offbeat elements of deeply traditional video games as the DS became the final port in the storm of the industry’s march toward high-cost, high-spec creations.

I didn’t care much for the game at the time. But if Nintendo were to give us a Touch & Go sequel as 3DSware, say for $4.99, I would be all over that.

Posted in 2D Gaming, Games. Tagged with , , .

Zoo Keeper DS

Even though I took home the site’s sole launch retail DS unit and its first batch of games, and then dragged the thing with me as I traveled home for Christmas break, I didn’t really enjoy anything on the system until January, when a review copy of Zoo Keeper DS showed up.

The match-three puzzle concept was hardly new to me. I was a “hip” and “with it” game journalist, you know, so I had played Bejeweled. But I didn’t care until Zoo Keeper DS.


The trick was in the touch screen. This was the first DS game that made me stop and say, “Wow, I get it.” Bejeweled was fun enough, sure, but a few rounds was enough to satisfy me. Add in the precision and immediacy of touchscreen controls, however, and suddenly I found myself unable to stop playing.

The DS and Zoo Keeper dropped while I was living in San Francisco’s Nob Hill district, about two miles from Ziff-Davis’ office at the time and close enough that I walked there and back nearly every day, but I started taking aimless bus rides places just so I could have the excuse to sit and play Zoo Keeper without any distractions. Ah, the magic days before smart phones, when email couldn’t track me down me anywhere on the planet.

I would occasionally stop myself and ask, “What on earth am I doing!?” That is, “Why am I seriously spending time on this game for this system, which is surely going to be dead inside of six months?” And yet there I was, ticking away at little animal heads for hours at a time. I even mentioned it to a woman I dated briefly at the time — which turned out to be a moot point. She was a lot more into the game than she was into me.

I didn’t realize I was looking at the future. Within five or six years, the best-selling games platform on the planet would consist of nothing but a touchscreen, and its popularity would hinge on match three titles. The DS gave me a front-row seat to gaming’s future. Yet I witnessed this revolution obliviously; I just wanted to swap bunnies with elephants.

Posted in Games. Tagged with , .

Old enough to be a decent scotch


Holy wow, today was the Nintendo DS’s tenth anniversary. Sega Saturn turning 20 didn’t really faze me, but this one gets me right in the ol’ sense of mortality.

Nintendo DS was the first game console launch I covered as a member of the gaming press. And I felt fairly alone in that respect, because the general attitude toward the system among everyone I knew was one of overwhelming apathy. I won’t lie — I felt more or less the same way. Aside from some vague curiosity about Super Mario 64 on a portable system (sadly, it wasn’t much fun until 3DS and its analog slider came along), the DS did not inspire me. I flew up to Seattle for a preview event a few weeks before launch and saw a handful of potentially interesting games, but basically I volunteered to take point on launch reviews because no one else had any interest and I had lodged myself into being “handheld guy.”

The launch day games did not exactly impress, but at the very least the system was a new and interesting way to play GBA software.

I had this hilarious idea to buy every DS game released in America, because I figured it would end up being a new Virtual Boy with a grand total of maybe 30-40 games and it would be kind of neat to have a full set of games for a system. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I did end up owning something like 10% of the system’s U.S. library — and I still don’t have all the greats for it.

At some point, I suppose around the time I imported Kirby: Canvas Curse, I realized I actually really liked the stupid little machine and decided to start advocating for it in earnest. In a sense, I sort of built my career on the system.

Anyway, I really do love the DS, despite its rough start and technical shortcomings. Interestingly, I found that nearly everyone who responded to my queries about their experiences with the system for today’s huge retrospective feature at USgamer had a narrative arc remarkably similar to my own.

I jokingly called the DS the best system ever today on Twitter, which of course got some folks’ hackles up (because of course it did). I don’t know if that’s true, but it may be my personal favorite system ever. So many great games. So many thousands of hours invested. So many tens of thousands of words devoted to it.

I sure hope I live long enough to get to DS on Game Boy World.

Posted in Games. Tagged with , .

The Anatomy of Final Fantasy VI | 7 | M-m-m-m-magic


The party’s escape from Kefka’s assault on Figaro involves yet another fixed, mandatory fight. All appearances to the contrary, these are not the norm for Final Fantasy VI. They seem to be heavily front-loaded, or at least attached to major plot events… which are heavily front-loaded.

This time around, you the player are on the receiving end of Magitek Armor… which also get a pre-emptive attack on you, since they’re in pursuit of you (hence their appearing on the right side of the screen, where the player’s party normally lines up). Despite the sheer havoc you wreaked on Narshe with a trio of Magitek suits in the prologue, though, these guys don’t immediately stomp you into an ugly paste.

This isn’t as inconsistent as it may seem at first glance, because the different between that scenario and this one boils down to which side Terra happens to be on. Much ado has been made about the importance of her innate powers, and this battle helps to reinforce that idea…


…especially if you happen to have her cast a spell during the fight, which brings the battle to an improbable halt so that Edgar and Locke can share a whispered aside about her spell-slinging capabilities. Courteous of the Magitek soldiers to oblige, eh?

This sequence consists of Edgar freaking out about Terra’s magic powers and realization slowly dawning on Locke that all the spells she’s been casting as they travel together are kind of a big deal. You get the impression he’s maybe not the sharpest rake in the shed, since he didn’t really blink at teaming up with an army of moogles, either. Edgar, on the other hand, realizes exactly why people have been making such a big deal about Terra, though he tries not to make her feel bad about being a petite weapon of mass destruction.

This conversation doesn’t have to happen here; in fact, it doesn’t necessarily have to happen at all. If Terra uses magic during the events of this particular update, while traveling with Edgar and Locke to escape Figaro, you’ll see it. Otherwise, if you somehow decide “Eh, it’s too much trouble to bother using the features that make this character unique in combat” and just mash attack and heal with Potions, it’ll never happen. It’s an optional, though fairly likely, dialogue event meant for world-building.


Whether or not you trigger the event, once you destroy the Magitek soldiers, a short scene plays out in which the men make their case for Terra to at least consider hearing their side’s story. Again, even though you’re ostensibly taking up the role of Terra as your point-of-view lead for now, you don’t have a choice but to accompany them. FFVI isn’t in the business of giving you multiple or branching plot lines, though as the optional m-m-m-m-magic cut scene demonstrates, it is in the business of letting you uncover additional context or meaning through your actions — something that will become especially apparent in the second half of the game.


The road ahead sends you through the guarded cave; with King Edgar in the party, the dude at the entrance can’t really turn you away any longer.

So let’s talk a little about Edgar.


Edgar’s role in the game is “Machinist.” Even though FFVI steps away from Final Fantasy V‘s Job System, characters still belong to a given class. Final Fantasy IV did this as well, with each party member slotting into one of Final Fantasy III‘s Job roles — Cecil as Dark Knight then Paladin, Tellah as Sage, Rydia as Evoker then Summoner, Edge as Ninja, etc. — though FFVI doesn’t really map to FFV‘s classes. Sure, Locke is just a euphemistic Thief, but there was no equivalent to a “Magitek Elite” or “Machinist” in FFV.

FFVI‘s character customization feature will unfold in the fullness of time, and once it does it renders these class distinctions more or less moot. But that customization comes fairly late in the game; FFIII and FFV open up their respective Job Systems after their first proper dungeons, but FFVI‘s system doesn’t become available until nearly a third of the way through the story. Until then, each hero’s class-specific skill plays a fairly major role in both defining the cast’s combat capabilities as well as maintaining some variety in battle, as only a quarter of the characters wield an innate command of magic.


So what, precisely, does a Machinist do? Well, he wields an arsenal of machines, obviously. Specifically, the tools that were available for sale in Figaro. (If you didn’t buy them in Figaro, which now has vanished into the sand, you’re stuck with only the Auto Crossbow until you reach South Figaro). At the moment, you have up to three different tools available for Edgar’s use.

These devices are, to be somewhat honestly, practically game-breaking at this point. Edgar’s tool command has no cost; the weapons aren’t consumable, nor do they draw from a mana pool (because, after all, only Terra has the ability to use magic). The first three weapons you acquire hit all enemies with powerful effects. The Auto Crossbow alone can end most battles in the cave that lies ahead in a single turn.

But that’s fair enough for the moment; this is meant to be the player’s first real dungeon adventure, and as such the game is still easing you into things. The cave you must traverse is considerably larger than those behind Narshe (at least so far as you’ve seen to this point) and features a number of dead-end branches. Having Edgar on hand to wipe things out means this amounts, more or less, to an extension of the tutorial phase of the game; though, of course, using the Tool command is left to the player’s discretion, so you can fight through the traditional way if you prefer.


Edgar’s Noiseblaster does no damage to foes, but it has an extremely high probability of causing confusion status to the entire enemy party. Because status effects like confusion are binary, tougher foes have a lower probability of being stricken by it (you’ll almost never confuse a boss, for example). The efficacy of skills like Noiseblaster (or their magic equivalents) are determined by various unstated mathematical formulae that involve your character’s level and the innate level of the enemy, which you can scan with the appropriate skill; but basically, like Steal, this sort of power has greater effect against less powerful foes and lesser effect against stronger ones.


You can tell when an enemy is confused, because its sprite becomes mirrored — in effect, it becomes a temporary member of your party, facing off against its former allies until it suffers physical damage (which jars confused enemies and party members like to their senses) or the confusion wears off on its own.

Then again, why mess with status effects when you have access to the Auto Crossbow, a preposterously effective device that hits every enemy for several times the amount of damage a standard attack can deliver? It can kill every foe at this point in the game with a single shot, and because of affinities and weaknesses and such it delivers even greater damage to flying foes. Basically, if you want to cruise through the Figaro cave practically unharmed, just have Edgar use Auto Crossbow every round.


But where’s the fun in that? It’s always nice to mix things up. The Bioblaster handily combines the damage-dealing effect of the Auto Crossbow with the status ailments of the Noiseblaster: It delivers a poison attack as pure HP damage, then causes poison status to linger, steadily draining the health of afflicted enemies each round.

This attack will remind you the Bio Blast ability Terra had access to in her Magitek armor, and not coincidentally: The idea is the same. I believe the visual effect is the same as well. Again, it’s a case of story being expressed through game mechanics. What Edgar can do with a machine specifically designed for the purpose, Terra can do innately when augmented by technology. Science has reproduced many of the effects of magic in this world over the past millennium, but having access who can do all this and more by herself would be a huge advantage for a power-hunger warmonger.


Edgar Roni “Instant Win” Figaro; at this point in the game, basic attacks hit for 50-70 HP, making the Auto Crossbow hilariously overpowered.


If you deign to let enemies take a turn in combat, you’ll see a new effect in battle: The furry eyeball monsters, Fopers, use a skill called Forty Winks that, yes, causes a party member to fall asleep.


Sleep status isn’t quite as debilitating here as in, say, Shin Megami Tensei, where a sleeping character’s defenses drop to zero. Still, sleep takes that part member out of the action until they’re struck.


Or until the effect wears off on its own, which happens when a tapir comes and eats your character’s dream.


The Figaro cave, again, is lengthy and convoluted compared to what’s already come. However, the layout branches from a couple of fairly central points, meaning the recovery spring at the beginning of the cave — which restores both health and Terra’s mana — is never too far away.

There’s also a turtle hanging out in the spring, which might seem vaguely familiar to anyone who’s played FFV; for now, though, it’s just an intriguing detail. You can’t do anything with the turtle, though seeing it there is likely to have the side benefit of drawing you closer to investigate, at which point you’ll discover the curative properties of the spring. These healing pools aren’t especially common throughout the game, but they show up just often enough that it’s good to be made aware of (or rather, to discover on your own) their existence.


The other new enemy type in Figaro’s caves is the Hornet, which basically appears to be here to demonstrate how much more powerful Auto Crossbow is against flying enemies than grounded ones. Though you may not catch on right away, because it’s all just different degrees of overkill at the moment.


The other end of the cave dumps you in a stretch of land hemmed in by mountains and sea, with one obvious point of interest: The town of South Figaro.


South Figaro is the first time you’ve visited a totally open, unguarded city. You can walk right in and go anywhere you like, and it’s a rather sprawling village for a game of this vintage. Such is your newfound freedom that you might not even notice the man dressed in black who heads toward the pub as soon as you enter town.

If you chance to follow him, though, he won’t talk to you at the bar.


Though you do get to rename him, intriguingly.

Posted in Anatomy of a Game, Games. Tagged with , , , , , .

This time Japan may have gone too far

I received a press release last night for an upcoming game called Omega Quintet, which sadly has nothing to do with Omega Boost or beloved 16-bit Enix sub-developer Quintet but rather is an Idea Factory game that has to do with managing (dating? probably both, knowing the developer) a singing group comprised entirely of teen idol girls. Besides the revelation that Idea Factory now self-publishes in the U.S., the press release also included this image, which made me deeply angry:


I mean, the overall aesthetic is pretty terrible, but look at that. There’s an emoticon in the logo. Worse, I’m absolutely certain the game’s name was selected entirely to justify using the *ω* emoticon rather than as a solemn promise that this will be history’s last moe idol simulator. They’re just messing with us, now. They’ve crossed the Rubicon.

Although I suppose it could be worse. They could have called the game HtoL#NiQ or something incomprehensible like that.

Posted in Games. Tagged with .

The Anatomy of Final Fantasy VI | 6 | The meretrix of Figaro

Once you leave Narshe, the overworld is basically walled off to give you a small amount of territory to explore, but not so much that you’ll get lost. Between Narshe, the Chocobo Stables, the blocked cave, and a castle standing in the desert to the south, you can only travel to four destinations.

Everything but the castle is just a distraction, though. You can’t move the game forward until you visit Figaro Castle. You can dawdle and grind for levels in the overworld all you want, but fairly soon your character growth will hit the wall at which even fighting those relatively valuable desert creatures will yield so little experience that you can’t gain new levels in any reasonable amount of time.

The castle stands as the sole geographic feature in the desert, so it’s fairly hard to miss. You can see if even if you stick to the grasslands and their relatively weak enemies.


The gatekeeper lets you in; evidently Locke visits Figaro often enough to be recognized on sight..

Once you enter the castle, you need to see the king. You can’t really stray from the path to the throne room yet, because once again the map is designed in such a way as to railroad you. Guards are stationed at most doors to turn you away, and the one side path that appears to be open leads to the engine room, and the castle’s chief engineer scurries over to stand in your path if you try to snoop.

It’s natural to be curious, though. What on earth does a castle need with an engine room?


Gadgetry is the prevailing theme in Figaro, though. The one side excursion you can make before seeing the king is to duck into a pair of rooms where shopkeepers dwell. The first simply offers consumables that you either have already seen in battle (Potions and Antidotes) or goods that strain your budget (Phoenix Downs and Tents).

The other shop, however, is much more interesting. A stocky bearded gentleman is selling some impressive-sounding device…


…the Auto Crossbow, Noiseblaster, and Bioblaster. The precise utility of and need for these devices isn’t quite clear yet.

Honestly, the placement of this particular shop here seems slightly ill-considered. One of these devices will be added to your inventory in short order, and because this is your first view of an equipment shop interface, you may not be aware of one of the helpful mechanics FFVI introduces (unless you were paying very closely attention during the tutorial room).

Each party member appears in the lower pane of the shopping window, and when you select equipment that character can use — weapons, armor, accessories — their sprite animates and you see a small icon to indicate whether that new item represents an increase or decrease in their core stats. Since you haven’t bought gear for your party at the point in the game, it may not be immediately intuitive that neither Terra nor Locke have any use for these tools.


Aside from the shops and some obstructive guards, there’s nothing else you can do in Figaro yet except meet its monarch, the regal…


…Edgar. His icon looks remarkably like the official artwork of Faris from Final Fantasy V. But rest assured that he is in fact a man rather than a woman in disguise, a fact he makes abundantly clear throughout the game.

Also, his full name is Edgar Roni Figaro. But you can call him Lando if you like.

Edgar and Locke discuss the story a bit and make it clear that while this particular kingdom has a treaty with the Gestahlian Empire, Edgar has no particular love for their allies. They dearly want Terra to join up with them, if only to deny the Empire her skills, but rather than pressuring her to agree they leave her to take the time to explore the castle and talk to people about Figaro.

Of course, you ultimately have no choice but to team up with Edgar — this isn’t Elder Scrolls — so the free-roaming time amounts to an opportunity for the game to provide more backstory and context.


You can also take a rest for free to restore Terra’s HP and MP totals.

The most interesting nugget of narrative plays out if you visit the High Priestess.


She kicks off a flashback where a younger Edgar and his brother discuss succession in the very likely event their ailing father passes.


Edgar’s brother is named Sabin (Sabin Rene Figaro, to be precise), and… I can’t come up with a punchy Star Wars-themed moniker for him. Sorry. He’s a powerful monk who doesn’t want to play by the rules, so let’s dig into the prequels and call him Qui-Gonn. Anyway, his original name from the Japanese version is always listed as “Mash,” which I thought was remarkably inconsistent with the more common Western names prevalent throughout the game until I realized it was actually meant to be “Matthew.” Romanization, folks.

Sabin and Edgar’s flashback shows them flipping a coin to see who will take up the succession; we don’t see the outcome, but we do see Edgar hanging out as king sitting next to an empty throne, so clearly Sabin split for parts unknown. At this point, the presence of the name entry screen should make it clear that Sabin will have a part to play in the game.


Otherwise, what you learn here simply sets up details about the world: The Empire is not the only power, and Figaro has a place in the global economy.


And no one seems to have seen magic in person, which makes Terra’s combat capabilities all the more intriguing.


And there’s also this bozo, who seems incidental at this junction but plays a minor role much, much further down the road.

Anyway, Terra is allowed to roam freely now, but only within the limitations of the existing game world. The cave to the east of Figaro remains blocked by a guard, and the plot won’t advance until you talk to Edgar again. On the plus side, even though the game is railroading you and Terra both, it’s being very nice about it.


Edgar may be king, but he doesn’t take anything by force. This is reinforced by his reputation as a shameless womanizer who throws himself at every woman in the kingdom, young and old alike. It’s actually kind of gross if you pay attention to the actual breadth of women who talk about his romantic attentions.


Once you speak to Edgar, the gears of plot begin to grind in motion as the kingdom receives a visitor: A guy named Kefka.


Who should look familiar. We’ve already seen Kefka a few times already: As a tiny, tiny cameo in the game’s introduction, standing with the Empire’s other generals in Terra’s flashback, and — most importantly — goading Terra into burning everything in sight and murder his army’s soldiers. He is an over-the-top monster with no remorse or redeeming features, though he also looks and dresses like a clown. So it’s a little hard to know what to make of the guy.


Though, when he sets fire to Figaro, it becomes easier to make up your mind.

At this point, the game gives you temporary control of Edgar — though your options are even more limited here than we’ve seen in other situations where the game needs to drive the plot forward. You can talk to your soldiers, Kefka’s soldiers, or Kefka. Speaking to the castle’s chancellor toward the back will continue the plot’s momentum: Figaro Castle submerges beneath the sand (hence the need for an engine room), while Edgar, Terra, and Locke leap onto chocobos and race to freedom.


Not bad for a perverted sex fiend.

This little scene is really unusual for an RPG of this era: It’s a dramatic action that involves quite a bit of movement and even changing scenery. You definitely didn’t see this sort of thing in PC and cart-based console RPGs, and disc-based RPGs like those on Sega CD or Turbo CD used animated cut-scenes to convey this sort of action. There’s a lot happening here, and FFVI really goes out of its way to keep the pace lively. The trade-off for this, as we’ve seen, is an unusual degree of limitations and linearity. Nearly an hour into FFVI, and there’s been exceedingly little freedom. This definitely puts FFVI at odds with the normal sensibilities of the genre. Not necessarily a bad thing… more the shape of things to come for a huge percentage of the genre.

Let’s break down the game so far: After the opening dialogue and credit role to set the stage and mood, you controlled a girl and two soldiers through a series of escalating battles with fixed locations and enemy parties. Soon, your team is demolished and you’re left with just the woman, Terra, minus her soldier pals and her snazzy suit of mech armor. As Terra, you can only travel through a short, linear cave, but now the battles are random in nature. The scene changes to Locke, a thief, who teams up with a gaggle of moogles to defend Terra while teaching you about the game’s (uncommon but nevertheless essential) party-swap mechanic, stealthily introducing a future party member (Mog) and the opportunity to try out both characters’ unique skills (Steal and Dance).

At this point, you’re ushered out of the city you invaded and finally get a chance to experience a proper tutorial — if you want. Otherwise, you enter the game world proper and experience the overworld’s workings, such as random battles that change as moving through scenery leads you through different environments. You can also rent a chocobo before reaching the game’s first proper “town,” Figaro Castle, where you learn more about the world, team up with a new character (Edgar), and have a proper meeting with the villain of the piece (Kefka).

That’s a huge amount of story and gameplay information to absorb in the space of an hour, but FFVI does an excellent job of doling it out in small, easy-to-digest pieces. For veteran RPG and Final Fantasy fans, this sequence offers a breezy chance to enjoy some flashy storytelling; for newcomers, though, the flashiness puts an accessible face to a traditionally complex and arcane genre. Meanwhile, the low difficulty and gated design of the world prevent the inexperienced from wandering off course and dying unexpectedly, minimizing frustration. While you can argue FFVI takes a little too long to open up its design to players, this prologue perfectly demonstrates how to introduce players to a world, its characters, and its game mechanics, setting up story and play hooks for the rest of the adventure, without forcing didactic tutorials into the mix. There are a lot of reasons some people consider FFVI the greatest RPG ever, and in many cases it’s because it served as their entry point to the genre. The excellent design of opening hour pulled them in.

Posted in Anatomy of a Game, Games. Tagged with , , , , , , .

Or rewrite history

Mike Williams and I reviewed Assassin’s Creed Unity today. It’s… hmm. It’s complicated. I really like a lot of things about Assassin’s Creed and have from the beginning, but the series still suffers from a lot of the same problems that have plagued it from the start. It’s worth slogging through those issues in order to be able to stroll through elaborately rendered recreations of historical cities, but I really wish they would shore up the weakness.

But I know they won’t, because it’s one of those series that has become too big to fail. The changes I’d like to see would make the games less “accessible,” meaning less likely to sell the requisite five million copies per entry or whatever. As they say in Unity, c’est la vie.

Or as my computer’s autocorrect wants me to say, chest la vie. But enough about Senran Kagura!

Speaking of violently killing people, I managed to finish up the editing on my next Game Boy World entry: Fist of the North Star.

As a game, it’s not all that great. However, it did give me the opportunity to talk about early manga localization for five minutes, so that’s pretty rad.

Posted in Games. Tagged with , , , .

Help! I need somebody

Not just anybody. You know I need someone… who knows a lot about Sega Saturn to send me an email at to share their wisdom for a retrospective I’m putting together on the system’s 20th anniversary. Drop me a line! And… soonish, I think, would be ideal. Won’t you please, please help me?

Speaking of help, please allow me to direct your attention to the Retro magazine year two Kickstarter. I like having a last bastion of print where my writing can appear, so if you were trying to figure out where to spend your crowdfunding dollars this month… why not there? Assuming you have any left after chipping in for Retronauts, of course. Man, so many hungry mouths to feed.

Posted in Blog. Tagged with , , , .

Apparently Nintendo gave me a bunch of money (a public service announcement)

Well, a lot of store credit, anyway. I totally forgot about the Deluxe Digital Promotion that was in place for buying a 32GB Wii U back at launch, where you’d get back a 10% credit for every digital Wii U purchase you make on the eShop through the end of 2014. But I stumbled across a mention of it online yesterday and it turns out I had… um, let’s just say a lot of credit that’s been building up for the past two years, thanks to my Virtual Console purchases. I should basically be set for eShop purchases for the rest of the year, now.

If you’re like me and forget about people offering you money for doing things you were going to do anyway, you should probably log in and see what’s up with your own account.


Speaking of Virtual Console, I registered a fun new domain name yesterday on a whim. I don’t know what to do with it, or when I’ll ever have time to do anything with it, but the poor thing was just sitting there. I needed to give it a loving home.

Posted in Blog, Games. Tagged with , .

All in a week’s work

Ah, I thought recombining GameSpite with Anatomy of Games would mean daily updates here again at long last, but I keep overestimating my ability to deal with the ever-growing stresses and duties of life. It’s the thick of fall review season — this weekend consists entirely of me playing Assassin’s Creed — so… yep. Kicking off the Retronauts crowdfunding campaign (which is nearly at the “send Bob and Jeremy and Ray somewhere for a live presentation” level now) also ate some time. And then there’s that whole “real life” thing, which has been unusually stressful lately.

I always find myself wondering how I used to have time to blog so frequently. Then I remember it’s because I wasn’t in a managerial position while also trying to produce content while also doing loads of work on the side to support two people. It’s times like these where I feel pretty dumb about that liberal arts degree. I coulda had a soul-crushing office job in finances!

I also used to post more frequently because I was content to publish, um, less than sterling material. Sometimes I want to travel back in time to scream at myself. I’d say it’s cool that I’m slowing down in my old age because people prefer quality over quantity, but we all know that’s not the case on the Internet. Based on trends over the past five years, I can predict at the end of this site, I will be writing exquisitely heartfelt and comprehensive articles of prodigious length for an audience of one. Hi, Mom!

In all seriousness, though, I appreciate those of you who continue to stick around as I continue my determined march toward irrelevance. Anyway, here were my attempts at quality over quantity this past week:

Gaming Auteurs: Akitoshi Kawazu — a sort of companion piece to the Final Fantasy Legend video from last week, I finally put my mancrush on Square Enix’s most iconoclastic designer into words.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection review — speaking of heartfelt, this analysis of an anthology of pulpy sci-fi shooters turned out to be much more personal than I expected. I guess I should have a glass of wine before every review I write.

An RPG Shotgun Wedding — I keep applying my interest in the workings of game systems to mainstream games writing yet for some reason they keep not firing me. I wonder how long that will last?

Shogi  I learned to play Shogi to record this video, and then it didn’t matter because most of the video consists of the CPU straining to make a single move. Insert comical trombone sounds.

Capcom’s 8- and 16-bit Eras — I felt a little unfaithful using the name Retronauts on a site that isn’t 1UP. But you know, I buried her a year ago. It’s time to let go and move on with my life.

Posted in Blog, Games. Tagged with , , , , , .