Review: Pokémon Go (Launch Edition)

The latest “unless you’ve been living under a rock” craze of 2016 is a simple augmented reality game starring one of Nintendo’s most lucrative ensembles, Pokémon. Once it hit in selected markets, the rest of the world clamored to get it through any means necessary before it saw proper release in their market. It’s been the highlight of countless kids’ summer breaks, and pushed as many adults outside into the hottest temperatures of July.

Is the game any good? Not really. It’s actually bad in many aspects.

But that’s not what’s important here.

Fueled By Nostalgia

Growing up in the nineties I remember the way Pokémon swept through my elementary schools. I saw the little batches of animal-shaped pixels and colorful trading cards supplant the death-grip POGs had upon our school yard. Frankly, watching unexpected coworkers and acquaintances hunt the same creatures in the middle of my daily routine is very similar.

Back then, I asked for the Game Boy games as gifts; whether my parents had heard what a deep rabbit hole of cash it was, or we couldn’t afford them that year, or what, I never did end up joining in on the fad. I claimed I was too old for such a childish property to hide my outsider angst and peeked over the shoulders of friends and cousins when they battled gyms or sought Mewtwo in his lair. Later I caught up with the franchise on the DS and have since amassed a “living dex” in the current generation of games. So I approached this game with some interest: being Canadian I had to wait a week for the opportunity to play it legit, and I wanted to see what the hubbub was about.

After a week of playing it somewhat casually, I’m still not sure what it’s about. The game caters to the nostalgia of my specific generation while exploiting our dependence on our smartphones, or simply offers children something neat to do with a new technological experience. Once you’re hooked the compulsion to reach higher levels will push you to wander your neighborhood, catch stronger monsters, and challenge gyms.

Look past the gimmick and the mobile game hysteria, however, and you begin to see the game’s massive flaws. Players are forced to capture hordes of useless, weak, and undesirable monsters like Ratatas, Pidgeys, and Weedles just for the chance to capture slightly stronger clones of the same species, and maybe a rarer breed in the process. The actual battles are best played as frantic screen-tappers with the barest minimum of strategy. Team development is a joke, a tedious experience that shames many old school RPGs – catch monsters for candy, “transfer” monsters for candy, repeat.

And yet, despite this shallow gameplay, the world is hooked.

The Medium is the Message

It’s not the game itself that’s important; it’s the experience. Pokémon Go may shamelessly appeal to your inner child to lure you in, but it also fulfills the greatest daydream of those halcyon days – finding those monsters in your everyday life. You could find your beloved Charmander on your own front step, or Ponyta in your backyard, or the Magikarp you eventually evolve into Gyarados at your favourite real-world fishing spot. For many, it’s a childhood wish brought to life.

Debatedly, the most important feature is its teams. The war between the three coloured factions does so much to add incentive and replay value. When players aren’t playing, they’re debating which team is better and strategizing with teammates to take down local gyms.

The most tremendous thing it has accomplished is getting kids out and about. Older generations like to complain about how kids are glued to their smartphones and televisions, rarely leaving the house or engaging in the old pasttimes; now kids are glued to their smartphones outside, exploring their neighborhoods. I have seen such a dramatic spike in the number of kids outside enjoying the summer over the last week, like roaming packs of scooter-bound Pokémon hunters. Coworkers have marveled at the family time they’ve spent, walking 5-10km in a single night with kids who, a week prior, complained of boredom while refusing to do anything fun.

It’s the ultimate compromise between the old ways and the new, like a grand scavenger hunt, a turf war, and an MMORPG rolled into one package, played in the real world. Players are exploring the real world with a technological tool as a lens, and in the process enhancing their engagement with both worlds. The game itself may be a piece of trash in its current state, but it’s also so much more than the sum of its code; as an overall experience, it’s the most influential game in decades.


“A Jedi, Like My Father Before Me” – The “Luke Turns” Theory Examined

We’re less than a fortnight away from the first movie in the long-heralded Star Wars “sequel trilogy” (also the first in the post-Lucas Disney era) and speculation is running wild. Fans are nitpicking every frame of every trailer for clues. One theory which has picked up speed in the last month comes from Rob Conery, who proposes that Return of the Jedi does not show us the ultimate bittersweet victory of Luke Skywalker but rather the tragic fall of the saga’s hero to the Dark Side of the Force.

You can read Conery’s thoughts here. MatPat of Game Theory & Film Theory summarizes the theory beautifully here, as well.

In short, the “Luke Turns” Theory (as I call it) suggests that Luke’s decision to leave Yoda and his traumatic battle with Vader in The Empire Strikes Back start him on the path to the Dark Side. His actions in Return of the Jedi set the stage for his fall, and the machinations of Emperor Palpatine finally bring him to the path of the Sith. Luke comes to desire the promise Vader offered, that he could “rule the galaxy as father and son,” but he has that chance taken away with Vader’s death; he ultimately succumbs to hatred for nothing.

To think our intrepid hero could have become a villain can be jarring. Was Conery on to something, though?

Before the Duel

When we first see Luke at the beginning of Jedi, he’s dressed in black and has a confident, even arrogant air about him. He threatens Jabba, pushes his guards with the Force, and even barters with his friends’ lives. It’s a far cry from the mopey Skywalker we saw in A New Hope or the brave front he put on in Empire.

We’re programmed to associate dark attire like his new robes with villains, or at least antiheroes of questionable allegiance. It could be construed as a clue to his fate – or it could just signify his inner turmoil and despair at the bleak state of the Rebellion. He lost his hand, his best friend is trapped in carbonite, his mentor is dead, and he’s just had his world shattered by the news of his father’s true identity. Luke’s had a hard go; surely we can let him tap into his angsty side.

The persona he shows to Jabba is not entirely unbecoming of a Jedi, either. The Hutt is not an opponent to be underestimated. If he shows any sign of weakness, the entire plan could be ruined. Furthermore, we’ve seen other Jedi act this condescending to others on a handful of other occasions.

When looking for proof of Luke’s fall, these instances can seem like foreshadowing – and yet they don’t mean much.

Intent vs. Final Product

One of the cornerstones of this theory is the original outline for Jedi as devised by George Lucas and Gary Kurtz. During the outlining phase, the film was meant to be radically different – Han died, Leia struggled with her new leadership duties, and Luke became an ambivalent gunslinger archetype. Lucas eventually changed this angsty conclusion for the happy little bow of an ending we know now, dreading the cut the dark tone could hurt the series’ lucrative toy sales.

It should also be noted, I think, that in one of these early drafts Obi-Wan was supposed to remanifest in a corporeal form, literally willing himself back to life to help finish the fight against Vader. These unpolished outlines sound … really bad. There’s a reason stories go through several drafts. Jedi‘s ending, as shown, is undeniably hokey, but at least the final product has a sense of closure that doesn’t undercut much of the saga.

Parts of this original intent, however, survived in the final product. Hamill has stated before (including one round-table conversation with Kevin Smith and J.J. Abrams, director of The Force Awakens) that he thought this was a much more interesting end to Luke’s story, and when you watch Jedi through the lens of this theory you can see him tapping into this idea during the climactic battle.

The Truth of Battle

Whatever the original drafts or moments of foreshadowing suggest, the true deciding moment is the battle between Vader and Luke, father and son. (You can watch the whole showdown here, without the other storylines getting in the way.)

The fight proper begins when Luke makes an attempt on Palpatine’s life. On one hand, taking another’s life deliberately can be seen as an evil, un-Jedilike action. Yet again, this is the big evil mastermind of the series that he tries to kill. Any evil in talking Palpatine’s life is drastically worth the lives saved by removing him from the galactic equation. This is a move for the greater good, and we cannot consider this a move toward the Dark Side.

Throughout the first phase of the fight (before he tries to hide), Luke is noncommittal. Luke’s more interested in talking his father back to the Light than in actually fighting him. He isn’t on the slippery slope just yet. It takes a threat on Leia’s life and soul to bring out Luke’s rage.

In the second phase of the fight, Luke fights like a proper Sith Lord. From the moment he cries “never,” he is on the offensive with the upper hand. Once he gets his father against the railing he really taps into that anger – look at the way he hammers against Vader’s saber until his guard breaks and (literally) disarms (dishands?) his foe.

There’s no refuting that Luke is flirting with the Dark Side here. To act in rage (or, really, in any form of impassioned emotion) is to forsake the path of the Jedi for the path of the Sith, and there’s no emotion more suited for the dark side than rage, hate, anger. In that, the theory holds absolutely true. This is the closest Luke has come to the evil side of the Force.

He realizes what he’s doing, however, and stops himself – a very Jedi-like action. Luke puts on the brakes as the cliff approaches. Of course, this sets the stage for Palpatine’s signature Force Lightning and a conclusion that cuts the head off the Empire and removes both of his would-be Sith tutors.

If Luke is truly turning to the Dark Side in this battle, why does he refuse to kill his father? He uses his hate only to subdue the threat Vader poses, but cannot finish the deed in cold blood.

Conery suggests that Luke wants to take Vader up on his offer to “rule the galaxy as father and son.” He needs his father alive to teach him the ways of the Force, and Palpatine is a threat to them both, as well as his friends down on the forest moon of Endor. Palpatine realizes what’s going on – that he’s set up an alliance between the Chosen One and his son – and tries to neutralize the threat Luke poses. Here the theory paints Luke as a pretty diabolical figure, sustaining the effects of Palpatine’s Force Lightning but playing on his father’s emotions to save him. Not only has Luke turned, but he’s also quickly adapted the diabolical practices of the Sith.

You can see support for this in Vader’s funeral scene, where Luke sullenly watches the flames and smoke rise into the night. The average viewer sees the hero mourning the father he saved but never truly knew, but Conery sees the newly turned villain mourning a father-son alliance that could have brought the galaxy to its knees. Thanks to Hamill’s performance, either reading of the scene is valid.

There are some holes in Conery’s theory here, however. Anakin, with his last few breaths, claims that Luke has done well and saved him before the end of his life. If Luke was truly bummed that he couldn’t take over the Empire with his father, perhaps this would have been a better time to lament the lost opportunity – “we could have ruled together, father!” or something to that effect .Instead they sadly celebrate the redemption of Anakin Skywalker in those few fleeting moments they have together. There is no bitter vow to finish the evil works he set in motion. Furthermore, Luke is later visited by the spirits of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Anakin (Christensen or Shaw, depending on your preference), who show their spectral approval. If Luke has indeed embraced the dark side now, perhaps his mentors, who now dwell in the very essence of the Force itself, would sense the change in him and do more than stand by to watch the festivities. Granted, Obi-Wan and Yoda never saw the threat Palpatine posed back in the Republic…

Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes

So Conery’s theory has some legs, although they’re more contravened by the actual print of the film. If one holds to the theory, one is left to cite revised intentions and interpretations of Hamill’s performance for support. Abrams may yet turn Luke Skywalker into a villain, but for now there’s very little concrete evidence to stand on. It’s clear that Lucas did not ultimately intend this interpretation, and yet there are debatable grounds for it.

I contend that we can apply some conditions to the arguments for and against the Luke Turns Theory, at least until the world sees The Force Awakens and we know Luke’s true fate (and his connection to Kylo Ren, if any). Allow me to elaborate.

Consider the tales of Luke Skywalker post-Vader in the Expanded Universe. He establishes an academy on Yavin IV and founds a new generation of Jedi to face ongoing threats to galactic peace. He has countless brushes with the Dark Side akin to the showdown with Vader – as do most of his students. Encountering the evil within either break these new Jedi or make them all the more resolved in their convictions. Luke, for his part, stands firm in his devotion to the Jedi path.

If Abrams does complete Luke Skywalker’s journey to the Dark Side, I suggest we consider the works of the Expanded Universe as two sides of a coin. On one hand, we have the now defunct timeline of the Expanded Universe, or the “Legends” timeline, to follow the new publishing convention – in this timeline, Luke Skywalker remains a good guy and trains the next generation of Jedi (including Jacen and Jaina, the twin children of Han and Leia). We would also have the current Disney canon, validating Conery, where Luke Skywalker is seduced by the Dark Side and does … whatever he’s been up to over the last thirty years. We’d have a Good Timeline and an Evil Timeline (or, to quote Community, a Darkest Timeline). This would appease long-time fans like me who were upset to see years of lore pushed aside unceremoniously.


Do you agree with Conery, Hamill, and Abrams – that Luke falling to the Dark Side is a more powerful conclusion to the saga? Or do you prefer the happy ending Lucas presented? Or are you just too excited about Episode VII to care about anything else right now? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter!




Acquisitions – Waterloo Video Game Swap, Fall 2015

A few months back I shared my experiences at past iterations of the Waterloo Video Game Swap, North America’s largest game swap event. That wonderful time of year has come round again and my collection got just a little bit bigger again.

I’ve stated my approach to collecting retro video games before – I like to go to an event or store with a particular focus and go from there. My library is pretty general compared to others; I don’t (yet) hunt for 100% complete packages, or for obscure consoles, so an event such as WVGS is open season for me. Loose cartridges abound, all kinds of rarities and oddities are available, and prices are negotiable, if not already exceptional. I could, funds provided, walk out with a stack of titles as tall as me and still have left things behind, so having a goal keeps me in line. 

I didn’t have much of a goal this time around, however. You could say moderation was my goal. After scouring the room a couple times (which could be compared to salmon swimming upstream), I set my eyes on Mario Kart: Double Dash (GCN), as I found it at three vendors for the best price I’ve seen for it, $40.

I missed this one when it first came out, for no real reason, and have been told repeatedly since that it’s the best in the franchise. Since I started filling out my once-embarrassing GameCube library, I’ve had my eye out for it. So, holes in the collection and in my gaming experience filled, two birds with one disc.

I have to admit, however, that there were fewer temptations for me this time. This is my fourth Swap and the first time I made my purchase decision so quickly. Afterwards I continued sweeping the tables for other gems (a couple of which I acted too slowly on), but I could have left after forty minutes.

Another goal I had was to trade a Bowser Jr Amiibo for something I’d prefer. Rosalina was the top of that list, but that was perhaps the only rare Amiibo I didn’t see there. Ultimately no one took me up on it, though I did nearly swap it for Shulk. My only other purchase was a couple stickers to swag out my rather plain-looking New 3DS.

It’s important for collectors to be able to show restraint. I could have splurged on some other titles, sure, but opted not to push the budget. If those extras weren’t high-priority gaps in my library or things I want to play in the short future, it’s just gratuitous.

Above and beyond the purchases, the event itself is so fun to attend. The chatter is entertaining, there are so many cool items to look at.

Better Worlds Through Terra(ria)forming, Part One

time2015-08-16It’s fair to say that I’m a moderately big fan of Terraria, the 2D sandbox/crafting game by Re-Logic. I downloaded it a couple days after it launched back in May 2011, and as you can see, I’ve sunk some time into it since then.

About 100 of those 400 hours were invested in the last month and a half, since the big version 1.3 update brought massive changes. As I did with 1.2 in September 2013, once my game was up to date I created a new world and started terraforming away.

One of the first things a player needs in any game like Terraria or Minecraft is a safe place to spawn and, if need be, hide out from enemies. (Garden-variety enemies pose no threat to me now pre-Hardmode, but I digress.) With my two prior “main worlds” I incorporated my own spawn point in with the dwellings for NPC characters. I’d started those two ventures with grand plans, but in the end was not quite satisfied with my results.

(Click on my screenshots throughout to enlarge.)

The flawed base on my first
The flawed base on my first “main” world.

My goal was to build a castle incorporating some defensive features – the parapets at the gates, the moats. Running through it all, underground, was a passageway to enable quick transport. Of course, now there’s not nearly enough room for all the potential NPCs; the defensive features don’t entirely prevent invading armies from harming my townsfolk; the symmetry’s off; and I now realize that the Hallow is not the positive force it appears to be. When 1.2 introduced so many features to the Jungle biome, I was forced to abandon this fortress for a world that could actually feature all that new content.

My attempt at recreating Yggdrasil on my second main world.
My attempt at recreating Yggdrasil on my second main world.

So I decided to try a “world tree” concept, inspired by the Living Wood Wand item. I kept putting off designing authentic-looking branches and focused on the village within the trunk, then the crafting spaces below (since gutted to supply my current main world.) This structure was safer, as enemy wizards couldn’t spawn quite so close to the NPCs when attacking me at the gates. The slope and the elevated gates have held off goblins and pirates alike with ease. Down below ground I recreated my super-tunnel, calling it the “roots of Yggdrasil;” this tunnel runs for long distances in both directions, paved with asphalt to the west and running straight through my Jungle Arena to the east. I started to build a network of teleporters for even faster transport to my bases in each biome, but never got it fully functional.

This design worked well, even if my tree-designing skills lacked. For my 1.3 world I decided to try something very similar: an underground (dwarven, if you will) fortress.

The current iteration of my base on World 3,
The current iteration of my base on World 3, “Crimtannia.”

I strip-mined dungeons from other worlds to build the base for this; I like that my base’s structure is indestructible, so meteorites can fall and dynamite can be thrown with less concern. (I’ve since taken to cutting some corners in this regard, as I was 60% done the series of biome towers I’ve built; I used the outstanding Builder’s Workshop map for quick access to full stacks of bricks, and a Drill Containment Unit for quick excavation. The only blocks obtained this way in the pic above, though, is the hellstone. I’d never complete this project otherwise. More on my biome towers next time.)

The base’s location is based off the center of the world; the throne is 0:0.

A stately throne room for the world's saviour.
A stately throne room for the world’s saviour.

Down below we have the start of what I call the Warp Zone, where the asphalt-paved highway begins. Descend from there down the plushly-appointed Hellevator.


Back up at the top, we have the grand entry hall. Outside these gates I hold off invading goblins, and the ample buffer space both keeps NPCs out of harm’s way and lends a certain grand scale.

The imposing entrance and the Hellstone Tower.
The imposing entrance and the Hellstone Tower.

The tower on top is for show, mostly; I haven’t fought the Martian Invasion event yet, and perhaps the altitude could be handy there? I wanted to represent all the biomes with their own towers, and thought making Hell’s tower above-ground would send a certain message. (As would making it cross-shaped.)

Let’s take a look at the common areas. On the west side are almost all of the NPCs one can get pre-Hardmode.

I had grand hopes for a fountain up in the right corner, but they didn't materialize.
I had grand hopes for a fountain up in the right corner, but they didn’t materialize.

Added on to the west wing is my artificial farm, which I haven’t fully built yet, but I did supply it with water (for shits-n-giggles) from the fishing hole up top.

I'll get around to setting this farming area up properly later, once I figure out what I want.
I’ll get around to setting this farming area up properly later, once I figure out what I want.

The east wing will fill up once I trigger Hardmode; for now, it doubles as an art gallery.

Oh yeah, forgot to put windows in here.
Oh yeah, forgot to put windows in here.

Note the mushroom statue and sign in the bottom right corner? Out that way is a long, narrow passage leading to an auxiliary tower and the man-made aboveground mushroom biome, ready for the Truffle NPC in Hardmode.

In Terraria, first you get the mushrooms...
In Terraria, first you get the mushrooms…

Further below are the more “personal” chambers for my character. I chose obsidian to be his signature material and crafted a special room for him – the “Obsidian Library.”

He slumbers surrounded by lost lore.
He slumbers surrounded by lost lore.

Across from his quarters is the crafting room and item hoarde. It was quite the endeavour to empty my vaults in my prior worlds and haul everything over, but the new inventory management options – simple as they are – made everything much better. It’s super satisfying to jump into the middle of all those chests and click the quick-stack button.

With all the specialty crafting stations I'm considering expanding this room to accommodate them.
With all the new specialty crafting stations I’m considering expanding this room to accommodate them.

There it is, my fortress away from home. Connected to this central hub are a series of biome-specific towers, but I’ll take you on a tour of them next time.

Just a taste of the Corruption biome (and yes, this is a Crimson world...)
Just a taste of the Corruption biome (and yes, this is a Crimson world…)

How do you approach base-building when you start a new world? What’s your favourite style of base? Do you have any signature design features in yours?

Supply & Diimand

Another wave of Nintendo’s Amiibo figures launched at the end of May, but if you walk into your local game store you might not see any confirmation of that. What stock was available was quickly decimated by savvy gamers and scalpers. (I had an opportunity to look for the Lucina figure about an hour after stores opened and there was hardly any new stock available, save the less popular options.)

If you’ve heard anything about these little plastic cash-sinks (on this blog, for instance) you should not be surprised. Nintendo’s supply has been laughable from the product line’s launch in November; every subsequent wave has been met with consumer frenzy; and opportunistic merchants have pillaged stores for eBay fodder. If you knew nothing about the figures and saw their display in a store, you might think Amiibo were only for the classic characters of the Super Mario franchise – not for lesser known characters appearing in Smash Bros, like the Animal Crossing Villager or Fire Emblem protagonists.

The situation is officially out of hand now.

I eventually found one off Kijiji, from a rare re-seller who didn't charge triple MSRP.
I eventually found one off Kijiji, from a rare re-seller who didn’t charge triple MSRP.

Organized Chaos

After the frustrations of the first launch, it was easy to point fingers at Nintendo for under-stocking retailers, or at a port strike in the US for clogging up imports. The Big N was simply following its usual business practices, however. It’s been a long-standing tactic to keep supply low in order to drive demand higher – it’s Business 101 executed immaculately. It worked for the Super Nintendo, it worked for the Wii, and it’s worked incredibly well for Amiibos.

I was disappointed in Nintendo at the start too. To undersupply consoles, or even games, is one thing; they sell at a higher price at a one-time-per-household rate. The Amiibo, however, are a much cheaper collectible item. The dedicated collector wants to obtain at least one of each (the obsessive might get two, one to use and one to preserve); the casual gamer who hops on the bandwagon probably wants two or three of his favourite characters.

It seemed, back in November, like a pretty big blunder. One of the hottest figures was for Marth, a staple of the Smash Bros competitive scene for over a decade, and his figure remains unattainable. I will forever kick myself for not buying one at the Smash Bros for Wii U midnight launch – but that’s the rub. “That figure looks cool, but I don’t need it right now,” I told myself. “I’ll try out the Link figure, and if these things are fun maybe I’ll grab him later.” Silly me for assuming a company would supply its product sufficiently, right? I’ve got a small cluster of Disney Infinity figures and have never had a problem finding a specific one. As Disney Infinity 3.0 producer John Vignocchi recently said, when asked if his game would be affected by the Amiibo craze:

There is never an intention to create a shortage of any [Infinity] figures. It is irresponsible and rude to your hardcore fans. They don’t want to create frustration or the hunt. So they will be stocking the shelves well!

This is what displays should look like.
This is what displays should look like.

Now, however, it’s important to remember this was (mostly) a deliberate move by Big N. In a way, the current sky-high demand for the plastic statues is ideal for them. The masses clamour and scour stores weekly in hopes of finding that elusive piece for their collection.  Once again Nintendo has smartly played the market – but it’s time to change strategies.

The Lunatics Run the Asylum

An Amiibo retails for $14 CDN. Ideally you should be able to walk into a store and pay $42 to pick up the Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer figures. Instead, look at the reality in this eBay listing:

Yup, these figures (called “the Holy Trinity” by some) as a lot go for nearly ten times the MSRP. If this seller paid retail price for them, he stands to make about $330 off the sale, by Canadian dollar standards.

And this is the problem with the ongoing Amiibo shortage. Demand is through the roof, certainly higher than even Nintendo’s most optimistic executive hoped, because of the artificial shortage – mission accomplished there. But now it’s not Nintendo making money off the product, it’s the legion of scalpers and hunters snapping up rare figures and exploiting others for insane profits.

Back in 1991, Nintendo could withhold Super Nintendos from retailers to ensure its subsequent shipments would be snapped up quickly without much interference from opportunists like this. The internet didn’t exist and scalpers could only prey upon people nearby. eBay and its ilk allow these sharks to exploit people all around the world nowadays.

Now, whenever someone sells a Marth figure for $100 or more, the bar is pushed a little bit higher. One shark sees another score that price and starts his auctions around the same price.

I’d wager that the vast majority of these opportunists aren’t even Nintendo fans, or at least have no interest in the actual application of the figures. So they score the figures at retail price and sell them back to dedicated fans or collectors for many times their investment – and now both fans and Nintendo are losing out. An incredible greed has accumulated around the entire Amiibo line, and it’s become little more than a cash-grab for opportunists.

Show Us Riispect

Nintendo truly needs to step up its production game now. The product is a great success in supply/demand terms, yes, but the company is no longer profiting from their own success. Those $330 profits aren’t coming back to them, or their retailers. Worst of all, there’s a wall of extortion between their dedicated consumers and their product. The Big N does itself and its customers a disservice. It’s past time to abandon the artificial shortages and get sufficient stock back on the shelves, or else scalpers will continue to exploit both supplier and consumer.

The Warrior of Light vs. the Hero of Time (Final Fantasy Union)


Over the last two weeks the excellent people at Final Fantasy Union graciously hosted a two-part case study I wrote, comparing the Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda franchises in terms of game design and narrative, dissecting each franchise’s approach to gameplay and story to see what each could learn from the other. If you missed these articles, you can read them here:

Part One

Part Two

(Final Fantasy Union is an excellent source for news on the franchise. In addition to their great monthly podcast and up-to-the-minute coverage, Lauren and Darryl have recently been interviewing the entire English cast of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. Check out their site!)

Art by firebird97 on
Art by firebird97 on

I found this article very interesting to produce, from the original concept back in March to its publication this month. I cut my teeth on both franchises back on the NES; I took more to FF, but spent a lot of time with LOZ and its sequel as well. Since then I’ve devoured the entire main line of FF games and soaked up a lot of the Zelda series (Hyrule Warriors on Wii U has kept me enthralled since its launch, which is the longest I’ve played one game reliably in… ever).

The more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by the difference in their approaches. I love the limit-breaking, nihilistic, brooding themes of FF; ambition is one of the series’ strongest traits, but I began to realize it was a downfall as well. Each game gambles, in a way. For example, Cloud’s broken psyche is a hallmark of the most popular game in the series, but the same trait didn’t necessarily score a win for Squall and Lightning to follow. Each game tries a lot of new ideas, which keeps things fresh and innovative, but ultimately each game has more to prove and lose.

I claim in the article that Legend of Zelda can be a little less inventive and more formulaic in some ways; I know this is a very broad stroke and reductionist, but I feel justified in making it. Most of the core games can be boiled down to the same general story arc (excluding black sheep like Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask). And yet, despite the slightly predictable trajectory, I feel the series has an impeccable reputation far and above Final Fantasy‘s. Perhaps fans know what to expect (is anyone ever truly surprised when Ganondorf is involved? Excluding Skyward Sword‘s implications, that is), but they eat it up gladly and come back for more.

(Calling the series “more formulaic” tends to sound like a bad thing, but somehow Nintendo has turned this trait into a strength. That the series can be so fresh and enthralling to so many while staying relatively close to its predecessors is truly an impressive feat. So many other franchises attempt to do this and fail horribly in the current market.)

Final Fantasy certainly has more to learn from Zelda than vice versa. Both embrace their legacies, but I feel the former does so predominately in an aesthetic way – throw in some visual callbacks, recycle some weapon names, and call it nostalgia. I want to keep seeing innovation, but in a more familiar way, if that makes sense – License boards and Paradigm Shifts are cool and all, but what was wrong with the Job System approach? Couldn’t Jobs have been used as a coat of paint on top of these new innovations? Look at Final Fantasy X-2: its Dresspheres were just Jobs in a (fairly sexist) disguise. In keeping with the “girl power” theme Square called a spade a club, and perhaps lost a chunk of its audience in the process.

Did they really *need* to be called dresspheres?
Did they really *need* to be called dresspheres?

And think about it: could Square-Enix make a silent protagonist as compelling and charming as Link?

Speaking of “the link” between player and game, Nintendo could learn the most from Square in this regard. Link is supposed to be our avatar in Hyrule, the connection/link between us and the virtual world – and yet we have very little connection to him. He’s a blank, silent state for us to impose our thoughts upon, sure, but this approach worked better in prior technological eras, when we didn’t have sophisticated means of bringing him to life. I don’t mean to suggest we should be able to customize his entire appearance, or that he should be fully voiced, but it would be fantastic if we could influence him a little bit. A system for influencing Link’s emotions and reactions, for instance. As I mention in the case study, he has a terrible fate or tremendous responsibility dropped on his shoulders but he never bats an eye. It’s a part of why I feel the games are formulaic: the wise sage tells Link he’s the Hero, Link (silently) says “k,” and off he goes with little more than the occasional tear.

Fans are clamouring now for a gender reversal – female Link, male Zelda, or some variation thereof. There have been some awesome propositions for how this might work. I want to see Link fail instead. Maybe he fails early on, either losing his life or being captured by Ganondorf/villain-du-jour as a consequence, and it’s up to Zelda to become the Hero. (Maybe her amazing representation in Hyrule Warriors is twisting my arm on this one, but man, would I love to play a proper game in the franchise where she explores Hyrule with rapier, baton, and rod.)

In Hyrule Warriors’ cast of badasses, Zelda stands out as one of the coolest.

Both games do so much right; I really believe their flaws are greatly overshadowed by their strengths. But both franchises are nearly thirty years old, and it seems they need to mind their pasts and futures in good proportion.

Acquisitions – Waterloo Video Game Swap, Spring 2015

Twice a year, the Video Game Collectors Community (VGCC) hosts the biggest game swap meet in North America in Waterloo, succinctly calling it the Waterloo Video Game Swap. I found out about it last winter and have attended all three shows since then. Each has been a gold mine of great rare gems from some pretty awesome vendors and I’ve had to make my selections very carefully to avoid digging a very big hole.

Last weekend was the first meet of the year. Before I share my acquisitions, I thought I’d show off what I got from the first two I attended.

Spring 2014

This was a tough decision – I missed an opportunity to get Einhänder (PSX), but added this gem instead. I was a bit of a kid in a candy store, finding every game on my wishlist at the time.

Autumn 2014

I went in with the goal of filling in some gaps in my GameCube library, but when one finds an FFIV cartridge for $40, plans change.

Spring 2015

Last week’s show was the biggest yet, with way more vendors and other collectors than ever before. (Unfortunately it was crammed into the same hall and exploring the wares was really difficult in the sea of humanity.) For once I didn’t have a clear set of priorities. I like to approach these things with some sort of ranking to help me narrow my search and limit my spending. Seeing Crystal Chronicles at a couple tables made my mind up – especially for $20, when the only place I’ve found it in my town recently jacked its price to $100. Metroid II, however, has been on my radar for some time, as the last main Metroid game I’m missing (excluding the DS games).