Friday, August 8, 2014

Pix'n Love's Mario Goodies Collection



There's no denying the fact that I'm a die-hard Nintendo and Super Mario fan, which is why I was super excited to check out one of Pixn' Love Publishing's Mario Goodies Collection! Pixn' Love Publishing is a French publishing company that specializes in gorgeous and informative retro gaming books which they fortunately have started to translate into English. This particular book offers a rare glimpse into the world's largest collection of Super Mario goods with high quality photos. The insane collection ranges from common items like Mario related video games to the more obscure like a Mario branded teapot!      
 

This is Mitsugu Kikai, the owner of the collection. He officially has the world's largest assortment of Super Mario related merchandise as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. When he received the title, he had 5,400 items, but that was in 2010 and according to him he has much more in his collection now. He also says he keeps a lot of undocumented pieces as a buffer in case someone else tries to challenge his record. In addition to allowing his collection to be photographed, Kikai also offers personal anecdotes at the end of each chapter about growing up as a Mario fan and how he amassed his collection.


Selection of the Japanese versions of GameBoy titles featuring Mario.


Here are some Mario related Super Famicom games! Kikai mentions that even if a game has the smallest Mario reference, he adds it to his collection. For example, he normally doesn't collect Zelda games, but in some houses in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past there are portraits of Mario hanging on the walls, so that alone is enough to warrant him purchasing it. He's definitely hardcore!


Here's a small selection of Mario related erasers that were available in Japanese capsule machines.  The book notes that these are some of the only merchandise related to Super Mario Land. They're surprisingly well sculpted for erasers and look just like the manual art! I love the quirkiness of Super Mario Land, so I kinda wish they made these into figures! Also, pictured are erasers from Wrecking Crew, Donkey Kong Jr., and Famicom Grand Prix F-1 Race.  


These are Mario plushes made around the release of Super Mario All-Stars!  I love the Frog Suit Mario and the Hammer Bros. Suit Mario ones! Both of those are my favorite power ups!  Although, the Pidjit riding the magic carpet and Birdo ones are pretty adorable too! I think this might be the only official frog suit Mario plush.


Here are some Mario Christmas ornaments and Mario themed phones! I recognize the bottom right phone (I think it came in blue too.) I wanted it when I was a kid but, unfortunately, wasn't allowed to have a phone in my room. The other one I'd never seen before and it talks! Surprisingly, it features specially recorded lines by Charles Martinet.  Here's a video of it in action. As much as I love Mario, the talking phone would probably get annoying really quick!


I love when Mario characters cross over into Japanese cultural designs and themes like the Club Nintendo Hanafuda cards.  Here are some Mario goods that were sold at Japanese PARCO department stores featuring Santa Mario and Mario wearing a formal men's kimono!     
 

Super Mario themed Karuta cards used to play Iroha Karuta.  Note the Luigi art in the bottom right which is just a palette swap of Mario!  This must have come out a little bit after the original game and before Luigi got his signature look. 


I love the old school Mario art on these otoshidama enevelopes!  Otoshidama is spending money that kids in Japan get from their family members for New Year's and are usually given in special envelopes.     
 

This is a selection of the Japanese Super Mario World board games.  The Mario UFO Crane game is pretty cool!  I wonder if it was a good method to level up your skills for actual arcade crane games?  Probably not! Also the Super Mario World Ojama Shoot (Super Mario World Block Shot) in the top left is apparently a mix of hockey and pinball, but it looks like there's some Rock'em Sock'em Robots elements too.
  

According to Kikai, this is one of the bulkiest pieces in his collection. It's the Super Mario World Terebi Denwa (Super Mario World TV Phone) arcade game. (He actually owns two!)  I've never even heard of this game before and can't find any other information on it in English! Although, I did find a low quality movie someone took while playing it, but you can't hear any of the sound. Check it out here!  (You may need to make a Niconico Douga account to watch it.) You play by helping Mario on his adventure by talking to him with the phone and answering questions and choosing where he goes next.  At the end of the game you get a cool hologram card from a set. This game looks pretty cute albeit somewhat simple. I really want to hear Mario talk in Japanese! I'm going to keep an eye out for this game to try when I'm in Japan. Although, I'm sure it's quite rare to see one in the wild at this point! 

All in all this is an awesome book for any Mario fan! One of my only minor gripes with the book is that there are a few grammatical errors in the English descriptions, or places where I could tell the text was matched with the wrong items. However this only happens in a few spots, and really the main focus of the book is the glorious photographs of Kikai's collection. Also, I wanted to mention the anecdotes written by the collection's owner range from genuinely heartwarming to kind of depressing. For example, he mentions that his collecting hobby really takes up all of his free time, and he never goes out to have fun because he spends to much money on Mario goods. He goes on to say that he doesn't eat very much which often makes him get sick because once again he spends all his money on his collection. This kind of snapped me out of the whimsy and made me genuinely both sad and worried for him. Although, Kikai ends the book on a positive note relating that his dream is to open up a Mario themed bar so he can share his collection with other Mario fans around the world.  I hope he can achieve his dream someday!

If you want to pick up a copy of this book for yourself, it's £25 (about $42) over at Pixn' Love's website

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Highlighting Queerness in Games

After reading all the amazing positive buzz for GaymerX2, I wanted to rewatch some of the recorded panels from the original GaymerX that are uploaded on YouTube. While looking through all videos, I came across a really phenomenal talk titled "Something's a Little Queer: How Queerness is Changing Games Media" by the amazing Mattie Brice which I somehow missed while attending the convention. Mattie is a queer activist, game critic, game designer, and all around super smart lady! During her panel she discusses the positive effect minority gaming fans can have on the games media and game publishers. It's a really interesting and empowering discussion and I definitely recommend everyone check it out!    




One of the topics that Mattie mentions is how we as fans can support independent queer writers by just giving them positive comments or by passing along their articles through social media. I know she was mainly speaking about  the realm of writers and bloggers, but this inspired me and to share some information and act as cheerleader for a few awesome LGBTQ games that have come out within the past few years or will be released soon.   


First, I wanted to talk about Mattie's own game called Mainichi which she mentions in her above panel. "Mainichi" is Japanese for "everyday" and this is an autobiographical game dealing with Mattie's everyday experiences as a transgender woman and showcases typical challenges those in the trans community face daily. The game may seem short, but you are encouraged to replay it and make different choices each time. Mainichi is free and available for Windows and Mac. Go here and download it for yourself



Coming Out Simulator is an interactive visual novel style game created by Nicky Case for the #Nar8 Game Jam. Another autobiographical game were you relive the night the creator comes out to his parents as bisexual. This game hits very close to home for me and was hard to play at times, but definitely very poignant and worth a playthrough! Coming Out Simulator is free and can be played in your browser with flash.  Click here to give it a try
 
Dys4ia is made by game designer Anna Anthropy and chronicles her experiences as a transgender woman undergoing hormone replacement therapy. The game is crafted with beautiful surreal minigames and graphics that harken back to old-school computer programs. It offers a rare window into a difficult experience that many of those in the transgender community go through, but still offers a touch of humor. This game is also free and playable via flash over at Newgrounds. Click here and try this game out for yourself!



My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant is a point-and-click Adventure game made by Luke Miller with art by Joe Phillips. This is a queer themed love letter to games like Maniac Mansion and the King's Quest series. In response to gay characters being heavily unrepresented in video games, Luke turned up the queer dial to 11 with this game making almost every character, spaceship, and object completely flaming or full of camp. The game is very lighthearted and worth a playthrough for gay gamers who love the point-and-click Adventure genre. My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant is currently available through Steam for $14.99.   


Read Only Memories is a cyberpunk themed graphical adventure game, made by MidBoss, LLC which consists of some of the rad folks who founded GaymerX! The game definitely draws inspiration from Hideo Kojima's Snatcher as well as various other 90's Sci-fi video games and anime. (Side note: I loved the Shin Megami Tensei II dance club reference!)  In contrast to My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant, the LGBTQ themes are ubiquitous but understated in a really cool way. Near the beginning you are asked to choose your preferred pronoun and many characters in the game casually reference the fact that they are queer through either flirting or a passing mention of their boyfriend/girlfriend. This creates a really colorful and interesting LGBTQ inclusive world which manages to even give depth to NPCs with very small roles. You play as a reporter living in Neo-San Francisco who is tasked with finding the whereabouts of a kidnapped acquaintance. For me, one of the game's highlights is your adorable AI companion, Turing, who acts as both your investigation partner and comedic foil. The game also features really cool well animated pixel art which you especially notice during Turing's adorable facial expressions. The prologue and first chapter are currently free to play on Ouya, but the full game will release soon on Ouya, iOS, Android, Mac, and PC. You can preorder it here for Ouya or Steam here for $9.99. Also, be sure to help the game out by voting for it to be greenlit on steam! Click here to vote!    


The last game I wanted to mention is Fragments of Him which is an upcoming release from Sassybot StudioFragments of Him is an interactive narrative game that tells the story of man whose boyfriend has recently died and the rippling effects it has on his life. This release is actually an updated and expanded version of a free prototype the team created as part of the Ludum Dare Game Jam.  It definitely looks really promising, if not heartbreaking. The game is available for preorder at this link for $12.37 I think until 7/31/14, or if that deal is expired you can preorder it here for $20

I apologize I'm sure I missed mentioning a lot more LGBTQ games that are out there, but I just wanted to to highlight a few titles. Even if none of the games I mentioned look appealing to you, I encourage you to tell others about them and spread the word!

In the current gaming generation having more diverse voices in the development field can only enrich the medium as a whole.  Even if you don't have programming skills, there are resources out there like Twine or RPG Maker that give anyone the power to make a game for themselves.  I look forward to seeing more and more games from the LGBTQ community in the future!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Taking a Look at the Retron 5


I'm a big retro gamer and have been following Hyperkin's highly anticipated wonder console, the Retron 5, for a long time. Hyperkin is known for making what are essentially modern reproductions of classic game systems. This is apparently all legal due to the patents for the technology of these older consoles having expired. Hyperkin has been releasing their line of Retron reproduction consoles for awhile now and the Retron 5 is their newest showing. The system plays NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Master System (with power base converter), GameBoy, GameBoy Color, and GameBoy Advance games from all regions through an HDMI hookup!


One of the problems retro gaming enthusiasts face is how to hook up older consoles to modern TVs.  My main HDTV doesn't have any easy inputs for older retro consoles, and I've tried different signal upscalers with mixed results. Someday I hope to have a room entirely dedicated to gaming, but right now I don't have the space for an extra CRT TV specifically for retro consoles. So, having an easy method for playing all my original games with crystal clear graphics is definitely one of the biggest benefit of the Retron 5 system. 

Now comes the aspect of the Retron 5 that may make hardcore retro gamers grimace, it essentially is an Android based emulation box. After a cartridge is inserted, the Retron 5 performs a quick dump of the ROM to its hard drive which it then plays, so the system isn't technically running off the game cartridges the whole time. However, when a cart is removed, the ROM file is instantly deleted making it necessary to still own the original cartridges in order to play the games. This creates a kind of hardware and emulation hybrid system. Unfortunately, the Retron 5's Android OS has both good and bad points associated with it. I'll start by discussing some of the note-worthy positive aspects the system has to offer.

First up, the Retron 5 outputs at 720p and 60fps. You might think this sounds unnecessary for 8 and 16 bit retro games, but it makes the graphics look incredibly crisp without a hint of blurriness! Additionally, you can apply different graphical filters to the games or apply a scan line effect that mimics CRT displays for a true retro feel. Most of the filters blur or soften the hard edges of the pixels to create a more "painted" look. I honestly prefer playing with no filters, but these are fun to mess around with! Here's some comparison screen shots showcasing a few of the filters using Seiken Densetsu 3 and Sonic 2!

Normal mode without filters:


The sqsx filter:


The hqsx filter:



Normal mode without filters:


Normal mode without filters and scanlines enabled:


Besides just offering clearer graphics, the Retron 5 also has an option that utilizes audio interpolation in order to create clearer music and sound effects. Although, it's hard for me to tell a real noticeable difference.

Another big benefit of the Retron 5 is the ability to save games even if your cartridge has a dead battery. The batteries in retro games usually have a shelf life of around 20 years and when they die, you lose the ability to save your progress. Previously, the only solution was to solder in a new battery. This requires a soldering iron, special security bits, and practice to master. The Retron 5 circumvents this by allowing you to save your games directly to its internal hard drive or an SD card potentially bringing new life to old games with a dead battery. Additionally, the Retron 5 also allows you to transfer your game saves from a cartridge to the hard drive and vice versa. This lets you preserve all your childhood saves for The Legend of Zelda forever without having to worry about losing them to a dead battery.

Another great thing about the system is it gives you the option to plug in original NES, SNES, or Genesis controllers to play the games. As long as the controller has the appropriate amount of buttons, you can also use them to play games from any system. (i.e. using a Genesis controller to play SNES games or a SNES controller to play NES games) Although, none of my original SNES controllers currently work with the system. I checked online an a few people are also having this problem. Apparently some models of the SNES controller just aren't compatible, but hopefully this will get fixed soon with a firmware update.

The Retron 5 also has a built in "cheat code" database which you can download form their website and functions like a Game Genie or Game Shark. Unfortunately, the codes aren't labeled really well, have a lot of duplicates, and aren't available for all games.

Now I want to discuss some of the negative points of the Retron 5.  Mainly the controller!   


I am not a fan of  included the controller at all! It's wireless which is nice, but it has a very boxy design and just feels extremely light and cheap. Rather than having a standard D-pad, the Retron 5 controller uses a micro switch thumb-stick kind of like the Neo Geo Pocket Color, but not nearly as high quality. Also, all the buttons produce annoyingly loud clicks when pressed or moved which can be a pain if you're playing late at night or trying to be quiet. Additionally, the controls feel really imprecise. This isn't a big deal for RPGs, but using it to play platformers or fighting games is really frustrating. Of course you can just use your original controllers instead, but it just seems like a wasted opportunity on Hyperkin's part to create something really great.

I previously mentioned about the save transfer feature, but I want to add, for the time being, use it at your own risk! This feature still has a lot of bugs, and will sometimes just erase the save files from your cartridge. I've had some success with it, but this feature has also erased my Lufia II and Final Fantasy III saves. Both of which had a lot of hours poured into them. But if you don't care about your old saves or you're playing a game for the first time this won't be an issue. 

The last negative point I wanted to mention is that the system is not yet 100% compatible with all games. Hyperkin has been releasing firmware updates every few weeks and with each update more and more games work with the system. Compared to when the console launched, the compatibility has improved a ton. Right now mostly all US released NES and SNES games should work. Similarly, a lot of my Famicom games used to be unplayable, but after the current update the only one that doesn't work for me is the original Dragon Quest which is odd considering 2, 3, and 4 all play fine.  Another thing to mention is that many reproduction and homebrew cartridges don't work either. It seems like those made from original repurposed cartridge parts work a lot more often than those made with entirely new pcb boards. Hyperkin has said they are striving for total 100% game compatibility across all fronts, so hopefully all these issues will also be completely fixed in a future firmware update.     
    
Here's a recap of all the Retron 5's good an bad points I previously mentioned with a few more added.

Pros:
  • Combines 10 different consoles in one system
  • Hooks up easily via HDMI with clear graphics (720p & 60 fps)
  • Allows you to save games to the hard drive even if a cartridge's battery is dead 
  • 2 GB of internal hard drive space
  • Allows "save states" for anytime quick saving or loading
  • Allows you to transfer existing save files from game cartridges to the Retron 5 and vice versa
  • Has a "fast forward" button which allows you to speed up gameplay when desired
  • Different graphical filter options available
  • Built in "cheat code" database 
  • Works with FX chip and other specialty chip games like Super Mario RPG and Castlevania III
  • The Japanese version of Castlevania III works and plays the extra sound channels
  • As of the current firmware update, Sonic & Knuckles now works properly with Sonic 2 and Sonic 3
  • Compatible with original NES, SNES, and Genesis controllers
Cons:
  • Built-in controller is imprecise and makes loud clicking sounds with any button press
  • The save transfer option is still heavily bugged and may erase your save files
  • Doesn't have 100% game compatibility yet
  • Most Japanese Mega Drive games made by Sunsoft don't fit in the system
  • Certain original SNES controllers just don't work with the system at the moment
  • Doesn't work with a lot of reproduction and homebrew cartridges
  • Not compatible with Game Genies or the Super GameBoy
  • Not all of the "cheat codes" seem to work and many are superfluous
  • Allows you to take screenshots but they are tiny
  • Essentially requires an SD card which is not included
  • Updating the firmware isn't very intuitive and may be tough for non-tech savvy people
    So in conclusion, the Retron 5 has the potential to be an amazing system but it's not quite there yet. Even though I mentioned a lot of negative aspects of the system, Hyperkin has been releasing regular firm ware updates which have the potential of fixing most of these issues. But right now, it's hard to completely recommend the Retron 5 and I would suggest waiting a bit longer until more updates roll out. Also, the first shipment of the console seems to be completely sold out and online gougers are trying to sell the system for twice the price so be careful!  The Retron 5 should retail for $140 and comes in either a SNES inspired grey and purple color scheme or a Genesis inspired black option.  I hope this review was helpful to those interested in the system!

    Friday, July 18, 2014

    BioWare's GaymerX2 Panels and LGBTQ Romance in Dragon Age

    Whenever there's a console generation shift I rarely jump on board right away. I'm already a happy Wii U owner, but I haven't yet gone through the looking glass into the magical realm of the PS4/Xbone. For me, what sells a system first and foremost are its games! However, even if no launch titles interest me, there's always that inevitable point when a game comes out that pushes me over the edge to purchase a next gen system. In the current console era for me that game is Dragon Age: Inquisition! I'm a die hard fantasy fan and Dungeons & Dragons player so anything with swords and magic already has my attention, and when you add LGBTQ inclusivity that's done right to that mix I'm instantly sold!

    During, the recent GaymerX2 convention a few of the awesome people at BioWare held two panels relating to the inclusion of LGBTQ elements in Dragon Age: Inquisition and have kindly uploaded the audio from both panels for those of us that couldn't attend!  Both are really interesting and I recommend to give them a listen if you're a Dragon Age fan! 

    The Panelists are:
    • David Gaider (Dragon Age Lead Writer)
    • Jessica Merizan (Community Manager, BioWare)
    • Robyn Theberge (Development Manager, BioWare) 
    • Karin Weekes (Lead Editor for Dragon Age: Inquisition)
    • Patrick Weekes (Dragon Age Writer)
    •  
     
    The "Building a Better Romance" Panel focuses on how character romances are written and developed with a Q&A session at the end.
     

    "Freaking Out the Neighbors" deals with the reactions of fans who don't understand the reasons for BioWare being inclusive to LGBTQ issues and how they deal with and respond to them a.k.a. how they deal with jerk internet trolls.

    I know this is old news at this point, but I thought I'd do a quick recap of all the LGBTQ romance options known so far!

    Dorian (male mage):

    Dorian is the first male companion that is an exclusive romance option for male player characters.  Sassy undercut and incomparable magical power? Sign me up!

    Sera (female rogue):

    Sera is the first female companion that is an exclusive romance option for female players. She seems really badass! I love an Elven archer!

    Iron Bull (male warrior):

    The Iron Bull is a Qunari warrior and romance option for both male and female characters. He was initially described as being bisexual, but then later clarified to be pansexual. He definitely looks like a cuddler!  #RideTheBull

    Of the eight total planned romances, only six have been revealed so far! It'll be interesting to see how BioWare handles the remaining two characters.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2014

    Adorable Japanese Toy Overload!

    I got a little personal in my last post, so this time I'm going to counterbalance it by talking about cute Japanese toys that were announced recently!




    First up, the European company, 1UP2P, has some out with some officially licensed Bubble Bobble plush toys of both Bub and Bob that are beyond adorable! I've always loved Bubble Bobble and have fond memories of late night gaming sessions with my friends where we managed to beat the final boss! European residents should be able to nab them soon from 1UP2P's website and those in the US can get them from Unbox Industries. (I guess these plushies aren't technically Japanese but they're licensed from a Japanese company so close enough!)  


    (Via Nintendo Life)

    Next, new EarthBound / Mother 2 figures are coming out in Japan in honor of the game's 20th anniversary! (Oh, god!  Has it really been 20 years??) The figures are of the main cast and Mr. Saturn! I love the Mother series, so I have a feeling I'm going to be trolling gachapon machines in October trying to collect these!

    (Via Akihabara News and apricotsushi)

    Finally, Japanese convenience store chain, Lawson, has teamed up with San-X to make these crazy Rilakkuma vegetable plushies! (Rilakkuma is an adorable relaxation loving teddy bear mascot character whose name is a portmanteau of the English word "relax" and the Japanese word for "bear") I can't take how cute these are especially the eggplant Korilakkuma one!! I've loved Japanese cartoon eggplants ever since playing Kid Icarus and Ice Climber! Sadly, it looks like these are only sold in Lawson convenience stores, so you're out of luck unless you're in Japan.

    That's all for now, but maybe I'll make this a recurring series!

    Sunday, July 13, 2014

    GaymerX and the Power of Safe Spaces

    It's the final day of GaymerX2! Unfortunately, I didn't go this year because of my upcoming Japan trip, but In honor of this awesome con I thought I'd write about my own experience at last year's inaugural outing!

    So before I get started, I'll give some background on myself. Real talk here, guys, get ready.... I'm gay. Shocking I know! Especially given my blog's title and rainbow colored marquee! I'm also from a small town in a small state and come from a very religious family. My parents don't just go to church every Sunday, but every day! Suffice to say they are not the most accepting of me and from a very young age I learned to guard myself as a survival mechanism. This "guard" is more like a constant awareness of my surroundings and careful analysis of any new person I encounter. Sort of like a constant stream of questions that runs through the back of my head when I meet someone: Is this person "safe"? If they find out I'm gay will they beat me up or verbally harass me? I don't want to speak for everyone in the LGBTQ community here, but I feel like this is something a lot of us can relate to in our daily life. As I've gotten older and moved to a really liberal city, I've learned to relax more and more, but I still feel like this guard is always looming in the back of my mind.

    Growing up, the fact that I'm gay always made me feel like an outsider in my family, but then because of my gamer status I didn't always find solace in the gay community either. Matt Conn, One of the founders of GaymerX, has mentioned being a gamer in the gay community almost requires a second "coming out" which is very true. On revealing my passion for gaming, I've had LGBTQ folks act like I'm a weirdo or sometimes have even met with instant dismissal if it comes up in a dating situation. (Although with my boyfriend, I made sure to lay everything out in the open from the start, "Hi there! I'm a Scorpio, I like long walks on the beach, and here's how many different GameBoys I own!") But even though both examples I mentioned are very different situations, it's possible for an LGBTQ gamer to almost feel like a double outsider.

    Despite all this, an awesome thing happened when I attended the first GaymerX. I felt an overwhelmingly positive sense of community even with total strangers. Whether they were lesbian, straight, transgender, or gay everyone was there to celebrate their passion for all things nerdy and were just basking in all the love and support. I saw couples holding hands without judgment, strangers swapping tips for Dark Souls while waiting in line, random games of Magic: The Gathering popping up, and most importantly everyone just being respectful to one another. I've never been in a new situation before when all my mental blaster shields were down and I could completely be myself. When the famous GLaDOS assisted proposal happened, there were very few dry eyes in the room and it felt like a large group of friends sharing a touching moment together.

    (Chris and Koen's adorable Portal themed proposal officiated by the fabulous Ellen McLain.)

    During the closing ceremonies the head of security announced there were zero incidents where they had to intervene and zero reports of harassment during the whole convention. This is the essence of a safe space. I immediately thought back to times when my female friends faced harassment at other conventions or times where I had to pretend to be their boyfriend in order to rebuke unwanted advances from a pushy stranger. I wanted to run and tell them everything about GaymerX and to bring them next year to share the experience.   

    Sadly, I wasn't able to come back for GaymerX2 but I'm glad to see that many other people are having a blast there right now and feeling the same sense of safety and acceptance that I experienced last year. It's a shame this is the last annual GaymerX, but I can only imagine the amount of effort that goes into pulling a three-day convention together and it's totally understandable that the volunteers can't keep it up every year. I feel like after just two years the con has done a ton for the LGBTQ gaming community through visibility alone. It's also shined a spotlight on queer gamers everywhere and showed gaming companies that inclusivity matters. I know the ideal is to not have a need for safe spaces like this, but until we reach that point I hope GaymerX will still continue on through smaller events or become the inspiration for other conventions. 

    Thursday, July 10, 2014

    JRPG July: The Final Fantasy Legend

    Has the summer video game drought got you down? Champing at the bit waiting for Monster Hunter 4? Well, the super cool apricotsushi of the Chic Pixel Blog has the solution! The JRPG Community Game Along! Each month she organizes these online community game along events where everyone is encouraged pick a game from the monthly selected genre and play along or document it with the appropriate hashtag. This is a great reason to pick up a game that's been sitting on your pile of shame for a long time or to just try something you've always wanted to play! The JRPG genre is one of my favorites (and I have a monster backlog), so I had to join in on the fun! I decided to play The Final Fantasy Legend released by Square in the US in 1990 for the Game Boy!


    In my younger years I was an avid reader of Nintendo Power and vividly remember pouring over articles with any coverage of the Final Fantasy Legend games while trying to re-draw the monster sprites in my sketchbook. Even though Final Fantasy Legend III is probably my favorite Game Boy game of all time, I never ended up getting a copy of the flagship title in the series. Back before the age of the internet, if you weren't lucky enough to get a game when it first came out and readily available in stores, then it was extremely hard to find unless you stumbled across it in a flea market somewhere. I never got around to nabbing a copy until recently and I've always wanted to play it, so I figured it was a prime candidate for the JRPG Game Along!

    As most people probably know this wasn't actually a Final Fantasy game in Japan but rather the first game in the "SaGa" series (of Romancing SaGa and SaGa Frontier fame) with it's original name being, Makai Toushi ~ SA・GA (often translated as, "Warrior in the Tower of the Spirit World ~ SA・GA") Besides being the first game in the SaGa series, it's also the very first RPG released for the Game Boy in the US, and features a score composed by the amazing Nobuo Uematsu.


    (This is the "Title Theme" and my favorite piece of music from the game.)

    Basically, the story is you're an inhabitant of a town that sits at the base of a massive sealed tower. According to legend, anyone who climbs to the top of the tower will reach paradise. So, you gather a party of adventurers and set off to try and find out what awaits you on the highest floor!

    You start the game by picking your hero and three other party members from one of the three classes: human, mutant (esper in Japanese), or monster. Humans are can use all weapons and armor but no magic, mutants can equip spellbooks and learn magic randomly in battle, and monsters have different rechargeable physical and magic skills depending on their type. I really like how you can actually pick the gender of your characters and have a badass spell slinging sword wielding all female party if you want! It's a nice bit of customization that's missing from a lot of JRPGs from this era. Growing up, most of my gamer friends were ladies and I know they'd appreciate this option. (It's actually beneficial to make a female main character because they start with the powerful "saber" weapon that you can sell for a ton of cash and then fully outfit your entire party with equipment. This completely negates the need for early money grinding!)


    (Here's the main character selection screen. Other monster options are available when creating your other party members.)

    Even though Final Fantasy Legend plays like a standard JRPG it has a few aspects that I thought were really interesting and unique for the time. For one, there are no experience points or levels! JRPG heresy, I know! Besides using better weapons an armor, each class has a different way of getting stronger. Humans use potions to permanently increase their stats, mutants will randomly gain stat boosts and magic spells after battles depending on luck or what actions they choose, and monsters get stronger by eating meat and evolving into different types. Humans are weak at the start of the game, but have the potential to be ridiculously broken by pumping enough money into them. Although, I honestly had the most fun with the mutants and monsters. It was always fun to see which new ability the mutants would get or what crazy new type your monster would evolve into next! This can be good or bad as your mutant might replace an amazing spell with a useless one, or your monster might change from a super strong dragon into a weak (albeit possibly cute) crab.  But really if that happens, it's not a big deal and adds to the fun!

    Another thing I really like about the SaGa series is how it blends traditional medieval European fantasy, Asian fantasy, and sci-fi. You start the game in a medieval fantasy backdrop, but as you climb the tower each floor is a different world. Ranging from floating cloud cities, deserts, and even a post apocalyptic Akihabara with robots and hover bikes. (Really, who doesn't love hover bikes?) Also, the weapons you find range from traditional swords and magic books to lasers and chainsaws!


    (Japanese character art for the human male. Note the chainsaw, asymmetrical shoulder pads, and bazooka! That's a whole lotta look!)


    (I love the sassy zombie monster art!  It looks like they're giving duckface!)

    Despite all the positives and interesting aspects about the game that I mentioned, there are definitely some rough patches as well. The story is pretty simple. I'm sure this is partly due to the translators fighting with the Game Boy cartridge memory limitations at the time. From what I've read, the translation is pretty accurate to the original Japanese although any bits of humor and drama were mostly lost, but again I'm sure the localization team did what they could. (Although, a few times the game was fairly obtuse on how to proceed in certain areas, and I did end up having to check a guide.)

    Another thing worth mentioning is that nearly all weapons, spells, and shields have limited charges and will vanish when depleted. (This doesn't apply to a mutant's naturally learned spells or any of a monster's abilities. These can all be recharged at an inn for free.) Durability and breakage mechanics normally drive me crazy in RPGs, but here it didn't really bother me since weapons are fairly plentiful.

    Additionally, the game is full of glitches and bugs, although none will harm your game. For example, even though a human's Strength and Agility stats are supposed to max out at 99, you can actually pump them up to a hidden level 255 making them insanely powerful. Although, you have to be careful! If you increase their stats over 255, they reset back to 1!! Another programming error makes it possible to one-hit kill the normally crazy hard final boss with a certain weapon, and this is just naming a few.

    Despite the rough edges, I still had a lot of fun and am glad I finally decided to give Final Fantasy Legend a shot! I feel like the main draw for me was the exploration aspect of the game as well as the random and fun ways my party members evolved and got stronger. Also, any glitches in the game I found were actually kind of fun and nostalgic taking me back to the early days of the Game Boy and the "Tips & Tricks" section of Nintendo Power.

    I would definitely recommend this game to any JRPG lover who wants a fun light nostalgia trip and can look past the quirkiness and somewhat weak story. Because this game got a large reprint in 1998, finding a copy is really easy and it shouldn't cost you more than $5 for a loose cart.

    Monday, July 7, 2014

    A New Blog Draws Near. Command?

    Hello there! My name is Kaze and welcome to Gaymer Quest!! Since this is the first post, I thought I'd do a sort of introduction for this blog! Basically, I'm a "gaymer" (gay person + gamer = gaymer) and thought this would be a fun outlet to discuss all the nerdy things I'm passionate about! So expect a lot of posts about retro video games, modern video games, anime, manga, Japanese culture, gay culture, and who knows what else!

    Additionally, besides just posts about my interests, I'll be studying in Japan for a whole year starting in September and wanted a way to chronicle my adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun while keeping in touch with my friends!

    So thank you for reading this far and if any of this sounds appealing to you, feel free to have a seat, pick up a controller, and join me on my nerdy adventure!