Pungry Sets Sail for Summer of Zelda PPV Saturday, 5/20

Captain Pungry has declared himself a contender for some sort of title in the Summer of Zelda event put on by the Imp Zone Wrestling Federation this Saturday, 5/20, at 8:00 PM EST, 5:00 PM PST only on https://www.twitch.tv/ritoru_demon.

Update 5/15: The full card for the PPV can be found in this image.

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The Visual Novel

I’ve written before that I like visual novels. These are video games primarily focused on storytelling rather than gameplay. Of course, just like with music, video game genres are highly malleable. So while Super Paper Mario may have a visual novel parody in Chapter 4 and RPGs like Fire Emblem Engage have much in common with visual novels, I’d like to discuss games I’ve played that are primarily considered visual novels. These are games where you primarily press “confirm” to get to the next piece of text, have little-to-no control as the player to decide what to do, and spend 80 hours listening to the soundtrack as your eyes glaze over during the 4th flashback to dialogue that happened 10 minutes ago.

*Courtroom Lobby Beginning Overture plays* Remember when I said “primarily” three times in that paragraph? *Logic and Trick plays* *screen flashes, color palette goes black and white* “These are video games primarily focused on storytelling…” *screen flashes* “I’d like to discuss games I’ve played that are primarily considered visual novels” *screen flashes* “These are games where you primarily press ‘confirm’…” *screen flashes back to color* *Courtroom Lobby Beginning Overture plays* Now don’t you get it?


Alright, I suppose I can run it by you again… *Courtroom Lobby Beginning Overture plays* Remember when I said “primarily” three times in that paragraph? *Logic and Trick plays* *screen flashes, color palette goes black and white* “These are video games primarily focused on storytelling…” *screen flashes* “I’d like to discuss games I’ve played that are primarily considered visual novels” *screen flashes* “These are games where you primarily press ‘confirm’…” *screen flashes back to color* *Courtroom Lobby Beginning Overture plays* Now don’t you get it?


If you understood the formatting around that joke, you understand exactly what a visual novel is. Essentially, music, graphics and very minor choices spice up what could’ve just been plain text in a book. Imagine how much better these blog posts would be if some pretty anime babe said every line while the Ghost Trick OST played in the background.

Despite the seemingly small cross-section between someone who’d want to read a book and someone who’d want to play a video game, visual novels are aiming for an overlap between the moronic video gamer and the enlightened novel reader. Obviously, there’s a market that’s always been there–before the visual novel, PC adventure games like Myst or King’s Quest were what tapped that audience. And even before that, text-based adventure games like Zork back in the 1970s were text-only adventures where you were basically doing a Choose Your Own Adventure story, but on a computer. The visual novel eventually came to power in the mid-to-late 2000s thanks to some games I’ll be discussing, and has remained the most widely-read “reading game” these days.

The main criticism skeptics of visual novels have against the game type is the same criticism every intellectual has with regards to video games: the writing for them is terrible. As with all mediums, this is true for the majority of works in the visual novel genre, but by the same token 99% of The Next Great American Novels are also trash. Yet you don’t hear intellectuals calling anything new in that genre dead on arrival the same way haterz will throw out any and all possible merits a visual novel might have as a “novel” rather than as a piece of entertainment. That’s why I’m looking at five series of visual novels that lie somewhere on this false spectrum binary of visual novels that are either primarily entertainment or primarily a novel.

Before we begin, a novel needs some sort of baseline definition to ground us. The dictionary definition of “a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism” is too vague to be helpful. Nor is the definition “new or unusual in an interesting way” useful either. No, to me, a novel is one of those “you know it when you see it” kinds of things. The Hardy Boys books are fictitious prose narratives of book length, but I and most others would consider those “entertainments” rather than novels. On the other end is something like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Though the subject matter of “a boy in Ireland grows up in the early 1900s” is not interesting even compared to a typical Hardy Boys book, the way in which the story is told makes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man compelling and qualifies it as a “novel”.

When it comes to visual novels, the storytelling can feel very juvenile for a number of reasons; primary focus was on graphics/music/gameplay rather than the individual lines, the story is told in too straightforward a manner, there are no real themes or the themes there are extremely basic (such as good is better than evil), game development caused rewrites and cutting of content, etc. There’s really an endless number of things. But the main thing is that a number of visual novels feel like entertainment serials like Hardy Boys or Sherlock Holmes (maybe people will remember that guy instead… Hardy Boys… who the heck has even heard of them?) rather than Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. So, to recap, I’ll be looking at five of my favorite visual novel series and discussing what makes them feel closer to a Sherlock Holmes book rather than a James Joyce novel.

I do want to be clear here: games that are closer to being pure entertainment are not in some way morally superior than games that are closer to being an intellectual novel. They’re just different. You don’t need to chastise yourself or others for getting enjoyment out of a straightforward work like Nancy Drew instead of forcing themselves to read Ulysses. I like all five of these series that I’m about to talk about.

Like I said, starting off with the most pulp fiction/entertainment-focused series I like is Professor Layton. The Professor Layton series is by far the most financially successful visual novel series I’ll be discussing in this article. What do I mean by this? Well, to put it simply, every Layton game is centered around some mystery like a Sherlock Holmes story. I’ll take the second game as an example.

In Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, the professor’s friend has acquired a box that kills everyone that opens it, and his friend also plans to open it. Layton arrives too late, his friend has opened it, perished, and someone absconded with the box. In pursuit of the box, Layton arrives at a gold mining town that appears to be stuck some 50+ years in the past. It turns out that the miners found hallucinogenic gas when mining that caused all residents to somehow hallucinate the same “dream” of the town in its heyday because that’s what everyone believed the town looked like while the town was actually a decrepit pit of despair full of dilapidated buildings. The box was full of the same gas and, since people believed that opening the box would kill you, the gas ended up killing all who opened it.

This is a story that actually has a lot of elements of a novel, but it misses a key component of what makes a novel: relation to the real world. The idea of a mining town hallucinating itself in a boom while the rest of the world has passed it by is a great topic for a novel. However, this game refuses to make any sort of point with this set piece beyond window dressing for the mystery of “what is happening to Layton and his friends”. There is a rumor of the lords of the town being a group of blood-sucking vampires–another on-the-nose metaphor for the rich in general in most novels.

But the lord turns out to be a fellow hallucinator that, despite ruling this town as it falls completely apart in the gas in those 50 years, is redeemed by the power of love since the box that killed everyone was actually a custom music box meant to celebrate his relationship with another character’s grandmother. There’s no real biting criticism that a novel would have. The resolution is a contrived Hollywood ending where everyone comes out alright, including Layton’s friend who should’ve died opening that box (he ends up living). A novel would make direct parallels to similar situations in the real-world and then make some sort of point–the mining town of Folsense might’ve been inspired by Hashima Island, an abandoned mining island off of Japan, but the game doesn’t make direct reference nor make any sort of criticism of the place because it is meant as digestible entertainment.

The way of playing a Layton game also prevents them from reaching novel heights. Just like most visual novels, your main gameplay in Layton is walking from place to place and reading dialogue. However, the gimmick of Layton is that there are hundreds of small puzzles to solve. Most of these puzzles are completely unrelated to what is actually happening in the game, which is why Layton’s constant quote of “This reminds me of a puzzle” is something of a meme. Most puzzles are there to break up the literal narrative and offer some interesting gameplay.

On rare occasions, puzzles will be directly intertwined with the story, and it is these moments when gameplay and story synergize (ugh) into something greater than the sum of their parts–the final puzzle of the second game is figuring out the correct way to open the Diabolical Box so that the gas isn’t released, and the note to the vampiric lord from his loving wife can be delivered. In my mind, these moments are what the visual novel should strive for as they take advantage of video games’ interactivity in order to elevate a specific moment.

But that’s not what I’m really talking about. The important thing is that Layton games don’t feel like novels because the player is in direct control of what Layton can do… mostly. It is harder to do some novel conventions like an unreliable narrator when you, the player, are literally seeing and controlling everything the main character is doing. This means that a certain atmosphere of the novel can’t be achieved by a visual novel. Furthermore, Layton games are framed so that the player should be able to solve every puzzle. Thus, the framework of the game is a puzzle with an answer, when novels are notorious for bringing up unanswerable questions. Like, what the heck is James Joyce even trying to say in Ulysses?

Again, I want to say that I adore the Layton games. They just don’t make much of any sort of point. There’s running themes of fatherhood and inheritance throughout the games as the first game is about an inheritance dispute caused by a rich man screwing up how he’s raising his daughter, the second game has the two sons of the original mining lord fighting over the inheritance, the third game is, well, about time travel being possible through the power of love, the fourth game is about Luke getting permission from his father to be Layton’s foster child basically, the fifth game is about a presumed-dead kid enacting revenge when he finds out his inheritance was stolen by his butler, and the sixth game is about fighting over inheriting the Azran Legacy with the revelation that Layton’s dad was the big bad guy in the previous three games.

And yet there’s nothing to these themes. Layton disowns his father at the end of the 6th game for being a bad dad, but that’s just character resolution more than a moral. He doesn’t explain how his dad could’ve been better or try to reconcile like a mature novel might do–he just says, “nah, get in jail, buddy”. Which is fair since his dad did try to kill him a bunch. Heck, the whole point of the Lady Layton spinoff is also about inheritance and fatherhood as Katrielle tries to find her dad and Ernest Greaves enacts revenge on seven millionaires of London who stole his inheritance. Man, maybe the writer of the Layton games got screwed out of his dad’s will and he made up for it by writing the most financially successful visual novels of all time.

Grouped together for the next set of visual novels are Ace Attorney and Danganronpa. Both series are satires that end up being primarily entertainment. What sets them apart from Professor Layton games is that satirical premise more so than anything else because both sets of games are collections of murder mysteries. And I can assure you that the episodic character-driven stories are closer to CSI: Miami than they are to The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.

Ace Attorney is a satire of the Japanese legal system. In the games, there are so many crimes and so few lawyers that each trial must be finished within three days or less. Furthermore, there is no jury, only a judge who is… well, stupid. And the prosecutors are insane megalomaniacs that will do all sorts of underhanded things to get your client a guilty verdict. These are all exaggerations of very real problems in the Japanese legal system (and really any similar legal system like the US’s). The game uses this backdrop as the base for, again, straightforward murder mysteries that tie into individual characters’ pasts and cause character development.

On rare occasions, these details are used as part of the story. For instance, in the 4th game, the final case introduces a jury for one trial as a test to mirror what was happening in the Japanese legal system at the time. It’s used to set up a very powerful moment where you finally have the direct ability to profess an innocent as not guilty along with a bunch of other character-related things. I think Ace Attorney makes a great point about the beauty of the juror system by giving the player this extremely vindicating choice after a long, drawn-out struggle against a dark truth. It makes the player feel hope in the juror system, like how the writer was hoping a juror system in real life might ideally function. The 4th and 5th cases of the 5th game are centered around Japanese NASA in a story ripped from headlines, but that is also used as a backdrop for the case rather than anything important like the juror system in the 4th game.

Ace Attorney does a better job than the Layton games in another important way when it comes to novels–there is far more inner monologue and introspection given by the characters from the POV you are currently inhabiting. Layton games are actually super frustrating as mysteries since you never see the thought process Layton uses to deduce the absolutely ridiculous central mysteries. But you do get to hear what Phoenix Wright thinks about Ron DeLite’s constant mumbling, or how worried he is about Maya when Shelly de Killer calls in, etc. This is important to building characters in novels and, again, is missing in most Layton games–Katrielle has some inner monologue at times that you see. The other games from here on also provide some level of inner monologue, or outer monologue in the case of the final series, but I won’t mention that when I get there in order to avoid redundancy. “But then why’d you make the opening joke??” Shut it.

One last short point here about Ace Attorney. The Great Ace Attorney is a spinoff of Ace Attorney, and is a historical fiction work. It is set in the late 1800s/early 1900s primarily in London. Though the main plot being about the characters and their rather fantastic narrative, the game tries very hard to portray a realistic depiction of the time. For instance, the English voice actors for the main characters (who are Japanese) are native Japanese speakers who learned English as a second language, and they have a thick Japanese accent. Beyond that, there’s all sorts of details about Japan’s place in the world especially relative to the huge power of Great Britain with tons of British characters displaying casual racism to the Japanese, the Japanese government being forced to commit heinous acts in order to gain points with the British, and actual Japanese author Natsume Soseki as a character in the game showing just how insanely bad even the brightest Japanese were treated at the time (and how crazy that made them). All of this makes for an incredible bit of historical fiction and makes the games the most intellectual and novelesque of all Ace Attorney games. But the gameplay is still a straightforward set of mysteries with all sorts of conventions, so it’s not that novelesque. Let’s move on.

Danganronpa is a satire of the extremely competitive world of the Japanese school system. Instead of every kid competing in an abstracted, standardized test as a way to compare each other as is normal, the high school students in Danganronpa are forced to compete in a murder game. All the students are trapped at school by a megalomaniac talking bear. The only way to escape is to kill another student, then escape being accused as the murderer in a class trial where all students come together to suss out the murderer. Yes, this game came before Among Us. No, it came after Ace Attorney.

It is very similar to Ace Attorney in many ways, just a little more hardcore and unrealistic. Which is hard to say considering Ace Attorney characters have the ability to channel spirits of the dead in order to have them temporarily come back to life, among other supernatural things. The tone of Danganronpa is a bit more unhinged than Ace Attorney, which gives it more of a novel feel. Unlike Ace Attorney where most crimes/murders that occur feel pretty explicable (even when the murderer is doing something insane like dropping a statue on someone from the third floor of a building), Danganronpa characters in their extreme situation do extreme things to win at the mind games. But the main thing about both games that kind of sinks them as novels is that every (important) question needs to be answered by the player for the game to end.

A novel proceeds even when the reader has no idea what is happening. Both Ace Attorney and Danganronpa set up questions that the player must answer, and that takes away from the story at times as the player is forced to look up a walkthrough for a stupid hangman puzzle with the worst mechanics known to man, or for which statement to present the autopsy report on when it feels like it should work on all of them. Not all visual novels are like this as you’ll see, but it is vital to the gameplay of all three of the prior series we have discussed that the player must actively solve the riddles. And, again, I do want to be clear that this isn’t a bad thing necessarily: a video game is an interactive medium; not letting the player be the most important character in one feels weird. It’s more that novels have a different feel than a game because the reader has no control over what a character in a novel does.

I don’t have much to say about Danganronpa that I care about that wasn’t already covered in my long comparison essay between V3 and Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney: https://pungry.wordpress.com/2020/05/23/drv3-vs-pl-vs-pw-aa/. Danganronpa 1 and 2 had the same main point of “the Japanese education system is extremely messed up”. V3 had the far more interesting points about fictional characters being able to impact the real world among many other things in the rather insane ending. That sort of point is novelesque in my book. Heh. Book.

The Zero Escape series comprises of 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, and Zero Time Dilemma. That last one also got a very long write-up from me https://pungry.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/zero-time-dilemma/. These games get closer to reaching the feel of a novel than the other series discussed. Zero Escape is a series of games similar to Danganronpa in premise–a group of people are trapped in a stupid game in a remote location by some megalomaniac and they must fight to free themselves.

999 is a traditional visual novel where you spend hours reading text boxes. Virtue’s Last Reward allows you to read text boxes or have them read to you by voice actors. Zero Time Dilemma forces the player to sit and watch a bunch of morons and their bad 3D models stand around and talk for up to 30 minutes as a camera pans. Zero Time Dilemma really nails the feeling of being trapped in the bunker with the insane amount of time you will have to spend hearing them talk–almost makes you think you’ll run out of oxygen before the underground bunker does. What was I saying?

The Zero Escape series doesn’t have great writing, but it does do things that novels tend to do that other games don’t–it just brings up the most random crap imaginable. In Virtue’s Last Reward, there are a bunch of optional text logs that the player can read after gameplay segments are finished. This itself isn’t uncommon among games; a lot of atmospheric AAA games will have memos from unknown NPCs hanging around to give some flavor to the backstory.

In Virtue’s Last Reward, these memos are abundant and are there as red herrings or just to be cool. There’s a long file about Ice-9, in what is a Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut reference for no reason. There’s a long file about the Chinese Room Theory that can obliquely applied to a character that turns out to be a clone instead of a robot like they might seem. There’s a long file about annihilation energy that has nothing to do with anything. The stupidest one brought up is the “morphogenetic field” theory that I believed in when first reading the games that turns out to be the key to the whole game–your character accesses the morphogenetic field from 10 years in the past to get the answer from your player character 10 years in the future in order to solve a sudoku puzzle to disarm a bomb. My point is that Zero Escape does what a lot of novelists do which is throw stuff from reality they think is interesting in order to make the reader think about how it might be connected to future events in the game. Personally, I think it’s not great that a bunch of actual science and pseudoscience get mixed together into these games and convince people on Gamefaqs that they’ve somehow learned more about real life in two visual novels than 12+ years of schooling: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/641334-zero-escape-virtues-last-reward/71961202

I am letting my feelings for the Zero Escape series come through a bit much rather than trying to stick to my points. Why I think I am struggling with that is because Zero Escape is trying to both be a novel and a video game in how its narrative comes together. In my mind, a novel is allowed to end however it wants to; no closure is necessary, the timeline doesn’t have to make sense, actions don’t have to have appropriate consequences as long as whatever point it was trying to make was made. A video game has a much different audience. See, most video game players rely on Facts And Logic and play strategy games where nothing is left unexplained or to chance—a video game narrative must make sense if it is trying to tell a narrative. Otherwise, people will make 6 hour YouTube video essays about why such and such game was a failure And Here’s Why with a thumbnail of them making the pogface while wearing a fedora and looking disgusted with the game’s logo/mascot.

Back to my point about Zero Escape. 999, on its own, is a perfectly good visual novel that has a central mystery that is mostly solved by the characters in it. 999 would have honestly been fine if it was the only game in the series as a standalone game that allows the reader to think of what happened. But, some of the unsolved parts of the mystery are left for Virtue’s Last Reward to solve, which it also mostly does. But, of course, Zero Time Dilemma is left to pick up the final pieces, and at this point the trilogy is 12 years in the making and has a whole bunch of people waiting for answers because, again, the games are consumed by strategy gamers that refuse to play Hearthstone because there’s too much randomness. And Zero Time Dilemma doesn’t actually answer every question, some of the answers (like the mother and father of Phi) did not need to be known, and it goes back on answers from the other games. It is a mess of a finish to a trilogy.

Gah, I’m becoming that very video essayist I hate. My point is that a series of novels could get away with that, but a series of games can’t, and so Zero Escape as a whole is looked back with less fondness than a series with more internal consistency like Ace Attorney. Anyway, let’s talk a bit more about how else the Zero Escape series was novel-esque. The games change perspective and time much more than other games on this list. Now, though this is slightly disorienting, it’s not as disorienting as a novel because Zero Escape still puts up the dialogue portrait and name of whomever is speaking even during these switches while a novel might go a while before naming whatever character’s perspective from which you’re reading. For instance, the perspective of this blog post is actually from my dead aunt’s.

I’ll be honest, I don’t have much else to say about Zero Escape since the only one I played was Zero Time Dilemma, and I experienced the other two via the screenshot Let’s Play. My main thrusts with the series were the “it brings up random crap like a novel might” and “it can’t decide if it wants to be a game’s narrative or a novel’s narrative” things. I’ll just move on to the series that made me start thinking about all this in the first place: The Silver Case.

The Silver Case is about as close as a visual novel gets to being a novel in games I’ve played. Unlike the previous games where there is actual gameplay and consequences to “playing poorly”, The Silver Case games are extremely linear. They aren’t quite kinetic novels which are a type of “game” where all you can do is press a button to get to the next line of text, but they’re close. In The Silver Case, when not reading text, you can have your character move, look up and down, contact people, contact points of interest, or use an item. You use an item maybe 6-7 times. You look up/down exactly three times, never again after the second chapter. All you really do is move and interact with people and items.

In the sequel, The 25th Ward, you are similarly railroaded, but now there are random points in the game where it’ll stop and ask you to input a code to make sure you’ve been paying attention to the game. And the way you input the code is the most obnoxious input system ever: a large multi-sided die with every letter of the alphabet on it and some punctuation that you need to rotate until you find the letter you want. It is hilariously annoying. The other gameplay in The 25th Ward is selecting the correct dialogue options. But there’s again no danger in getting it wrong, just wasted time as you have to restart the encounter. Very different from Layton, Ace Attorney, Danganronpa, and Zero Escape where enough wrong moves added up to having to reload your save.

My point here is that the gameplay of The Silver Case series is akin to the gameplay of a novel. Or at least a novel that randomly forces you to stop and answer a question every 15 minutes in order to be able to turn the page. Through this act alone, The Silver Case is asking its “players” to be more like readers of a novel and go along with the ride. And what a ride it is.

The plot of The Silver Case series is deliberately confusing, disorienting, and distrustful. It is told in a deliberately confusing and disorienting manner. From a user interface perspective, The Silver Case is so much harder to follow than any game prior. Let’s compare some UIs. First, Ace Attorney’s.

This is the simple, elegant visual novel standard. The dialogue is at the bottom of the screen, with the text on a translucent background to let it stand out more, and the speaker’s name is just above the text box on the far left. Above the text is the visual part of the novel, which takes up most of the screen. Nice and simple. Professor Layton is next.

The Layton games have very minor differences in UI to Ace Attorney, but the basics are the same: text at bottom, visuals up top with some way of identifying the speaker. Danganronpa is the same. Virtue’s Last Reward and 999 are the same. Zero Time Dilemma is slightly different in that most dialogue is spoken in video, but the cutscenes have subtitles at the bottom and the parts with dialogue in text have the same UI.

The Silver Case plays around a ton with its UI in an effort to add to the intense and disorienting atmosphere it strives for. At times, it can have a relatively typical UI as seen below.

The dialogue is at the bottom with the character speaking clearly identified just above it, and then visuals just above that. But you may notice something slightly different about the UI even in this screenshot–the visuals in The Silver Case almost never extend the entire screen. Instead, some hypnotic gif is always playing in the background, and the gif changes as you go from chapter to chapter in the games. Each one is unique and the palette it brings adds some atmosphere itself even if it might not be consciously registered by the reader–kind of like a coat of paint. Still, this is a relatively normal UI for a visual novel. Here’s a less normal one.

I could spend the rest of this post showing screenshots of The Silver Case’s UI at different times as it changes where the text boxes appear, how large they are, and, of course, the contents of them. But the point is that the games does a lot to disorient you compared to other visual novels in a way that makes The Silver Case feel like a series of post-modern novels that play with space and meta elements that other books might not engage with.

So The Silver Case is discomforting on a meta level, but it goes out of its way to be disorienting on a visual level that other visual novels don’t do. The art in The Silver Case series is, first and foremost, dark. But secondly, it is wildly inconsistent. Here is the character portrait for Tokio Morishima when playing The Silver Case from his perspective:

Here is the character portrait of Tokio Morishima when playing The Silver Case from “your” perspective:

They’re similar, but I think it’s quite clear that Tokio Morishima thinks of himself a lot cooler than what “your character” thinks of him based solely on their dialogue portraits. There are tons of examples of this where characters do not look the same between scenes, and it is hard at times to remember who is who especially when the dialogue boxes only show the names of characters on screen for half a second before disappearing. This is something closer to what a graphic novel might do than a novel, I suppose. But this consistent inconsistency adds to the intensity.

Lastly, The Silver Case games are very dark, moody games. Compared to the colorful anime look of the prior games discussed, The Silver Case is, uh, dark. The 3D models of objects are the lowest-poly, ugliest models I’ve ever seen. On the flipside, the pictures with people in them are usually haunting and effective at getting the mood across. Like below.

Look at how horrifying the nearly-dead man in the back is. I’m not saying other games are lazy for this, but most visual novels switch between a few basic portraits to reflect the speaker’s mood–i.e., they’ll be smiling in one, or look neutral in another, etc. The Silver Case has bespoke pictures for the stuff it tries to highlight. With the real highlight being the ending video in the final chapter of the original The Silver Case being an incredible stop motion video of a guy spinning in a chair. It is hilarious and extremely cathartic. In short, the visuals of The Silver Case do so much to add to the game’s narrative in a way that a novel might capture by pointing out unsettling details of a character as that character changes throughout the story. Compare that to the static portraits of characters in the other visual novels discussed.

I don’t think I explained anything about The Silver Case series, did I? Well, simply put, it’s a lot like Ace Attorney. Instead of an attorney trying to solve murder cases, you play as different characters involved in murder cases. Most of the time, you are a cop in a Heinous Crimes Unit trying to solve the murders. Some of the time, you are Tokio, who is caught up in the murder as an investigative journalist. And, in The 25th Ward, you are some of the time part of the group not exactly controlling the murders but trying to enforce the absolutely wacko governance of The 25th Ward.

I’d explain more, but I can’t really because the games are novel-esque in this regard. The level of detail in world building is staggeringly complicated. It reminds me of the absurdist detail of the government decision making in Waiting For the Barbarians was, among other novels where there’s a pointlessly complex parody of the government.

Another level of detail that makes The Silver Case feel novel-esque compared to other games on this list is that it is truly impossible to suss out the “real truth” at the core. See, The Silver Case series is about stopping the serial murderer Kamui. Only you find out that he wasn’t behind the killings in the first chapter because he’s braindead. Only you find out that other people have latched onto Kamui as a god because of the mass media combined with the internet allowing for niches of extremists to have power. Only you find out that Kamui was originally the personality of a hitman who killed a bunch of government officials 20 years prior to the games and a bunch of other government officials tried to distill his personality and implant it into children so they created an entire shelter system to do so and the Kamui in chapter 1 that everyone is holding up as this god was just one of those children who did inherit the spirit of Kamui and it will be passed to the next.

What makes this novel-esque isn’t that it’s complicated. It’s that it doesn’t truly matter. The literal truth of The Silver Case games is not what makes them important. You do not ever get true closure in the games because that’s not the point. The point is that Suda51 and the rest of his writers all freaking love Pulp Fiction.

Well, among many other minor points. Like Dangonronpa and Ace Attorney, a lot of what The Silver Case comments on is ripped from the headlines. The shelter system is a parody of the Japanese schooling system. The shocking inability of the Heinous Crimes Unit to actually solve and prevent heinous crimes is a comment on the inability of modern police to do the same in modern society. The terrifyingly accurate depiction of the internet as a place for extremist weirdos to meet up and start a viral revolution promising doomsday that was spurred on by mass media was written in a game released in 1999. The Silver Case is a novel in how it pulls together all these individualistic ideas, fears, and beliefs about life, the government, and society into an art piece, just like a novel often does.

The Silver Case is a truly moving set of games that are somehow relevant even now despite being written from 1999-2005. I am writing this even before finishing The 25th Ward, and without playing Flower, Sun, Rain. It is hard for me to fully capture my thoughts on this subject, that The Silver Case is somehow more novel-y than other visual novels, but I hope this sort of made sense. I didn’t even discuss the dialogue or characterization of The Silver Case compares to other visual novels which are both important. Nor did I discuss how funny the games are. But the bottom line is that all five series of games here are worth playing for different reasons–it’s just that The Silver Case is the most likely to make an impact on how you think since that’s what novels do.

Oh, and by the way… I am actually the third clone of Pungry, who perished originally 6 years ago. But you can decide for yourself if you think I am telling the truth or lying. Ha ha ha.

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Bug Fables and The Origami King

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (TTYD) was the video game that got me to stay online. It wasn’t the first one to get me there–Pokemon LeafGreen gets that credit–but it was the one that directly took me down the path to where I’m at, writing about video games on a personal blog. I remember that the power was out due to heavy winds when I returned home from GameStop with TTYD, and took a rare nap to wait for it to come back on because I didn’t want to do anything else. I really loved the game. But I got stuck on some puzzle or another, and looked online for help. I found GameFAQs, a website that hosts text walkthroughs for video games written by users, and the guides were so helpful and funny that I stayed on the website’s forums and made great friends there that I’m still friends with some 15 years later. Heck, I even named my blog after a TTYD character (accidentally).

But that’s not what this is about. This is about Bug Fables. Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is an indie game that is not just the spiritual sequel to Paper Mario 64 and TTYD, it is demanding its spot as the third game in the Paper Mario series. TTYD released in 2004. Bug Fables came out in 2019, 15 years later. It was a game developed via Kickstarter funding. I wasn’t the only person who loved TTYD and wanted a sequel, a community of people contributed nearly $25,000 to the Kickstarter to prove exactly that. Sure, the game doesn’t star Mario nor does it explicitly say it is “Paper”, but there are too many callbacks, references, or downright ripoffs of Paper Mario 64 and TTYD that anyone with even passing familiarity with the games will be able to understand that Bug Fables is a Paper Mario as well. Just as a quick example, compare the screenshots below, and tell me if you spot the copy. Bug Fables is on top, TTYD is below.

It’s quite subtle, so I don’t blame you for missing it if you did. Look at the pattern on the right of the Bug Fables screenshot. The little yellow-and-orange triangle pattern. Now, look at the bottom-middle of the TTYD screenshot. Do you see it? TTYD used these strange cutouts of a path with a yellow-and-orange triangle pattern below to indicate to the player that there’s a screen transition here, and that players can follow the path to another area. Bug Fables copied that exact idea and used an extremely similar pattern. No other game I’ve ever seen has done this very small detail. It’s one of many nods to Paper Mario that Bug Fables has, and I could spend this whole post listing them all… but I won’t. Just know that the intention of Bug Fables is to be the third Paper Mario game after 15 years of no follow up to TTYD.

But here’s where it gets weird. There is already a third Paper Mario game. It is called Super Paper Mario, it came out for the Wii in 2007, and sold over twice as many copies as TTYD. Not only that, there’s a fourth Paper Mario game, called Paper Mario: Sticker Star that came out for the 3DS in 2012 and sold 2.5 million. And a fifth one, called Paper Mario: Color Splash, that came out for the Wii U in 2016 and, well, we don’t need to talk about its sales. And, most recently and half of this post’s title, a sixth Paper Mario called Paper Mario: The Origami King came out in 2020 on the Switch and sold 3 million copies. Paper Mario has never gone away. So why is Bug Fables trying to revive something that isn’t dead?

Well… the answer is pretty simple. From Super Paper Mario and on, the gameplay of Paper Mario became radically different from Paper Mario 64 and TTYD. I’m sorry for hyping this up so much. Super Paper Mario was a bizarre hybrid of platforming from 2D/3D Mario, numbers/action RPG elements from Paper Mario TTYD/64, and stupidly overwrought emotional storytelling from Twilight. Sticker Star and Color Splash were strange adventure-game-esque experimental games that had enough elements of the old Paper Mario in artstyle, battle system, and, well, name to piss everyone off with everything else that changed. Sticker Star in particular was an extreme betrayal as it was originally planned to be similar to TTYD but Miyamoto kicked in the door to the development staff at UNIntelligent Systems and told them that he’d murder everyone’s pets if they didn’t make the game bad on purpose. Color Splash was agreed to be a much better game but by then the damage to Paper Mario had been done, and fans of 64/TTYD felt that there would never be a proper sequel ever again. So fans decided to take matters into their own paper hands.

And you can re-read the second paragraph of this to remind yourself of what happened. The Panamanian developers at Moonsprout Games were able to get enough angry nostalgic Paper Mario fans to fund their dream game. Now, I personally didn’t pay any money, as I had no idea it was happening nor have I ever paid money for a Kickstarter… except for when I paid $15 for Brawl in the Family’s “Too Bad, Waluigi Time” book because I absolutely adored the comic.

ANYWAY, my digital friends whom I met through TTYD also didn’t even know about it while the Kickstarter was going on. The direction the Paper Mario series ended up going has been a long, long point of contention between us. I personally think Super Paper Mario, Sticker Star, and Color Splash are all good games. I have one person on there who agrees with me. The other 7 range from “will never forgive Miyamoto ever again” to “will never touch another Paper Mario even though a friend gave it to him after said friend got divorced (don’t ask)” to “willing to play and able to accept new Paper Mario games as good games but still mad about everything they did to the series”. It’s rare for a video game series to reboot like this and receive such unending vitriol–even I was able to forgive Spyro for the sins of The New Beginning trilogy when the Reignited Trilogy was made.

All of this is to say that Bug Fables has an audience that will gladly eat up whatever PM64/TTYD sequel slop that might be there, good or bad. And I’m very pleased to say that Bug Fables is a very good game. Its letdowns are the usual Kickstarter indie problems of “lack of spectacle” and “weirdo NPCs that someone paid to get them put in”, as well as the unfortunate issue of boring scenarios and a very underwhelming main story. But that’s about all the game does poorly. The 2D “paper” sprites are extremely good looking and have awesome animation. The character writing is absolutely phenomenal as the writers wrote unique lines for every one of the three main characters for literally every room, every NPC, and even every enemy. And, most importantly, the gameplay core and loop is just really fun.

There are a couple of things about TTYD I really loved that Bug Fables gets right. Namely, that your characters unlock “field abilities” to make it through dungeons, grant them a new attack, and “unlock” new areas on the overworld. It is so so so satisfying to make a tour of Bugaria every time someone of Kabbu, Vi, and Leif can do something new, like walking on the spiked floors in the Golden Settlement with Leif’s bubble shield to get to a hidden boss and some badges.

Speaking of, the other thing Bug Fables gets right is the battle system. Even I will admit Sticker Star and Color Splash’s battle systems are pretty poor. Bug Fables evolves a little on the original 64/TTYD concept of Mario and a partner fighting enemies by having your trio fighting enemies, but it’s still the same core: your team goes first, your attacks require timed inputs to do increased damage, you have a shared pool of Team Points (Flower Points) to execute stronger attacks, you equip Medals (badges) to give your team unique abilities or strengthen their basic statistics, you press the A button while the enemy attacks to decrease the damage taken, etc. The most interesting evolutions are the Turn Relay system which lets one of your 3 party members pass their turn to someone else who already acted with the penalty of the new character losing 1 attack due to being tired, and that some moves are powerful team attacks that require multiple members to use up their turn to use. The numbers in battles are higher than PM64 or TTYD’s numbers but not overwhelmingly higher like the base triple digits involved in Final Fantasy games. And the battles themselves require more thought than a typical Paper Mario fight, which also makes sense–indie games love being just slightly harder than what they’re inspired by. Finally, the bosses are fun, and I really appreciate that there are a bunch of optional boss fights that you can fight really early for challenging fights or wait until your team feels strong enough to take them on. I think it’s more satisfying to do everything as soon as possible, so doing the Devourer after chapter 2 was quite difficult. Regardless, I’m getting a bit in the weeds–the battle system is fun because everything is slightly more difficult and complex than a typical Paper Mario fight was, but not in an inaccessible way.

To put a bow on Bug Fables (but not Bow, the PM64 party member), it is a fine indie recreation of the magic of PM64 and TTYD as games. But it is not as good a recreation of PM64’s and especially TTYD’s scenario design. Bug Fables has some interesting ideas, mostly relegated to the conceptual level: the central conceit of the setting Bugaria is that it is some random human’s backyard, the Great Awakening gave some bugs sentience but not all, the identity of what the heck the Dead Landers are… these are interesting concepts. Yet the actual pseudopods on the ground story of finding artifacts for the Ant Queen and the ways in which you get the artifacts are, well, boring.

Enter Paper Mario: The Origami King (TOK). TOK is an inverted Bug Fables. The focus of the game is on scenarios, spectacle, and jokes, while it mostly disregards its battle system and cares very little about in-depth character writing. Paper Mario games have made battles a lose-only proposition since Sticker Star. The only thing you get winning a normal battle in TOK is money; there’s no leveling up. At the very least, TOK’s new battle system is a step up from Sticker Star and Color Splash’s slogs of consumable-based fights. Every normal battle in TOK is designed to finish within 1 turn. Mario is placed in the middle of a circular grid and the player has a limited amount of time to manipulate the enemies into standing into particular ways that allow Mario to attack and defeat all enemies at once. It’s an interesting idea that just doesn’t get expanded upon at all throughout the game, making it stale within the second chapter.

Boss battles on the other hand are extremely interesting in TOK. They flip the concept of normal battles and now have Mario outside the circular grid manipulating said grid to lead him to the middle or other spaces on the grid to attack the boss. Again, limited time frame to do this, and limited moves of the grid. These are super fun other than two stinkers. They might be the best boss fights in any RPG I’ve played. Now, I realize I’ve spent a lot of time talking about something I said TOK “mostly disregards”, so let’s get back to what TOK actively regards while tying it in with the boss battles: TOK loves jokes.

The main force that Prince Olly sends after Mario is the Legion of Stationery, comprised of Colored Pencils, Rubber Band, Hole Punch, Tape, Scissors, and Stapler. And, no, these aren’t characters “inspired by” these tools. They are literally the tools themselves.

The nefarious Colored Pencils.

Each of these bosses has a bombastic personality with a bunch of funny jokes attached to them. I know Office Space fans reading this are hoping that the jokes get anywhere near as funny as “you have my stapler”, and I can tell you that the jokes “go up to 11”, to borrow another Office Space line. It’s a bunch of puns and one-liners, something PM64 and TTYD were really good at as well. The sense of humor for TOK is more than just these easy jokes. There’s great visual gags such as the premise for the White Streamer chapter beginning with Bowser Jr. literally drained of color and crumpled up after the Legion of Stationery struck him down. The game makes constant paper jokes, and most of them land (like a tree being cut for paper!!!!). There’s also running gags like Luigi spending the entire game searching for a key to a door in Peach’s castle and only finding unrelated keys that you needed. It’s great!

Even though I said that TOK is mostly about humor in its writing, it takes time to be serious. And the crazy thing is that I think it nails both of the main “serious” moments. Bobby the Bob-omb is mainly a joke character. But there’s a scene with him that made me (and many others) cry. And it didn’t stop with his scene–the part right after with Olivia coping with what had happened is very powerful too, as Mario becomes a silent therapist to help her work out her feelings. I don’t want to talk about it more specifically because it is the best piece of serious writing in any Mario game ever, and probably my pick for best serious writing in any game. Or, at the very least, up there with the Ace Attornies and Ghost Trick. But the crazy thing about it? A minute after the Olivia scene happens, there’s a gag about infomercials overselling the stupidest things and it’s very funny. This game is extremely well-written.

I’ll just briefly use this time to say that TOK writes very good scenarios. Just like Bug Fables and every other Paper Mario, you are to go to different locations to do something with the magical item deigned by the game. TOK makes the journey feel far more interesting than the typical “go here, do dungeon” routine that Bug Fables fell into. For instance, chapter 4 is a sailing chapter where you explore a vast ocean to find the magical item. Chapter 2 has you traverse a Japanese-style theme park that ends with a recreation of Swan Lake featuring Birdo. Chapter 5 puts you in Shangri-La, a heaven full of hot springs that requires you to team up with Bowser Jr. and Kamek, usually your enemies. And the end of chapter 5 has Bowser’s Castle and the creepiest things I’ve seen in any Mario game. Other than chapter 1 being pretty typical (but still has weird and interesting stuff like the trees that do a dance number), TOK is doing extremely fun and unique things and asking the player to join it.

Paper Mario: The Origami King sold well. It is the best selling Paper Mario game. Most people liked it. Yet there are those that continue to cling to PM64 and TTYD as the series pinnacle that refuse to give the game a shot. And there are those who played all three games and found themselves enjoying TOK but desperately wished it had been closer to PM64 and TTYD in gameplay. I know this because I’m in a Discord with all three of these types of people. Heck, the guy who refuses to give the game a shot got the game for free because his friend got divorced (true story) and his constant refusal to play the game led to someone else that we’ve all been friends with for 13 years to leave the Discord (true story) and then I found $50 and everyone stood up and clapped (true story).

And I think that the people who wish the game was closer to TTYD and PM64 in gameplay and in allowing-the-game-makers-to-make-creative-looking-character-designs are in the right. I genuinely believe TOK is the best game in the Paper Mario series because the writing is THAT good. But the gameplay other than the 15 or so boss fights is not very interesting. If Paper Mario simply hired Bug Fables’ team to make the battle system for the next game and the Paper Mario team took care of all the writing, I think the perfect RPG could be made. After all, that’s basically TTYD, and that’s why I’m still online.

I ran out of steam with this post around the TOK part, to be honest. Just to summarize my main points, Bug Fables is great for its battle system, world-building, and character writing. TOK is great for its jokes, scenario writing, and boss fights. I do worry that if the games were combined that everything would be perfect except for every optional quest would be a fetch quest that requires the player to go to every location in the game to talk to one NPC in a stupid, arbitrary row for no real benefit. Because that’s a real staple (Legion of Stationery joke) of the games.

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Fire Emblem: Engage

Fire Emblem: Engage is just the perfect name. As the 13th official entry into the war strategy RPG series, “engage” holds three significant meanings for the franchise. First is the obvious: to engage is to fight. An engagement is a skirmish. Fire Emblem games are made up of numerous engagements between warring armies. The second use of “engage” is what has made Fire Emblem unique among strategy RPGs, and that is to engage in conversation. See, the soldiers in Fire Emblem are people, not pawns. Every character in a Fire Emblem game has a backstory that is revealed by building support between pairs of units as they engage in the war. Such a feature of Fire Emblem has players like me rewinding time any time one of these soldiers might perish because it feels truly awful to lose anyone. The final use of the word “engage” is to engage in celebration. Fire Emblem: Engage is a love letter to its predecessors. The story contains countless references and characters from prior Fire Emblem games, and comes off as almost a loving parody of the games–it feels like an old-timey play where the audience is expected to either recognize every mask as a callback to a prior play or for someone in the crowd to explain their significance. I am not here to do that, as I have only played a few Fire Emblems, but I can tell you that Engage is as refined and grand any Fire Emblem game I’ve ever played.

Fire Emblem: Engage was born under a bad star. Nintendo pushed the game in its initial ads on the Nintendo Direct as partially an advertisement for the mobile game, Fire Emblem Heroes. People who didn’t like Heroes figured that Engage was just a console clone of the watered-down, gacha-fied mechanics. Then, when the character designs were revealed, people immediately hated the main character’s look. “Pepsi-chan”, they called the blue-and-red main character that you can see in the center of the picture above. And, lastly, Nintendo just… stopped promoting the game in the four months between announcement and release. The online fanbase of Fire Emblem was dreading this as a shallow cash grab that traded on nostalgia, name, and gacha gambling to get sales rather than the great gameplay the series is known for. Lastly, Fire Emblem: Engage was the first mainline Fire Emblem since the runaway success of Fire Emblem: Three Houses which traded away some of the core focus on the strategy gaming for an increased importance on the social interactions and characters of Fire Emblem. Fans were unsure what direction Fire Emblem: Engage would take. The great news is that Fire Emblem: Engage truly blows all of that fear away.

Fire Emblem: Engage does trade on nostalgia, but, as I said earlier, not in a cynical “look at how much better things were back in previous games when your parents weren’t divorced and milk tasted good!” way. But in a loving way to augment the here-and-now present of Fire Emblem: Engage itself. In the base game, the main characters of the previous twelve Fire Emblem games are in Engage’s universe as “Emblem Rings”. They are spirits that can assist either friend or foe, but aren’t there to upstage what is happening in Engage–just to augment it. When they are at their most relevant is when your main character dies for a second time, and the twelve Emblem Rings decide to revive your main character as the 13th Emblem Ring, the Fire Emblem. Engage is given priority and importance by the past games in a ceremonial way that you really never see in any video game. Usually, present games revere the past and place them on a pedestal as something greater to them, but Engage literally presents itself ascending into the heavens as equally important. It’s refreshingly sincere. Similarly, every single Emblem Ring has an optional chapter that reuses a map from that Emblem Ring’s game. These maps aren’t used for lazy padding; they’re increasing the bond between Engage and the rest of the series in a literal gameplay sense (your max bond ability with each Emblem Ring goes up after completing) and in a figurative ludonarrative sense (not sure what that word means but I think that’s right). It’s truly beautiful.

I got very in the weeds with Fire Emblem: Engage just then, so let me back up. First of all, Fire Emblem: Engage is, well, the 13th Fire Emblem game. Fire Emblem is a series of strategy RPGs in which you lead a small army of “real people” in fights against some other army. These fights are conducted on a grid where you and the opposing army take turns moving your units and taking actions like fighting opposing members with said units. Combat is all numbers-based with zero skill needed in execution; you simply move a unit near an enemy and ask them to attack it. Damage calculation is based on each individual’s stats, weapons, skills, terrain effects, and so much more. That’s where the real strategy of Fire Emblem comes from: moving your units into situations where they can fight most efficiently without being killed. It’s like if chess had one billion more mechanics, basically.

But the combat and actual skirmishes are only one part of Fire Emblem as a series. The most important part, arguably, but not the only part. I mentioned it earlier that Three Houses placed a huge emphasis on character and story compared to past Fire Emblems, but every Fire Emblem game has a story. Even if you don’t want to acknowledge the slop of Fates’ work as a “story”. Three Houses split the player’s time between the fights and a Monastery hub world where players were teachers to their student army (don’t think about that) and could do many activities with them to bond. This side of Three Houses had extreme mass appeal, and, as such, Three Houses was by far the best-selling Fire Emblem game ever. Fire Emblem: Engage is a return to the traditional Fire Emblem in a few ways, but does carry over some Three Houses influence in that there is a central hub where you can hang out with characters, fish, and just take a break from the war stuff. But it isn’t nearly the focus. And you can speed through the important things in the Somniel by just going straight to the next chapter unlike with Garreg Mach Monastery which had 4 weeks of classes between maps. But, as someone who adored running around the Monastery and doing stupid nonsense, the Somniel was still robust enough and had enough dumb lost items to pick up to appeal to me.

The cast of Fire Emblem: Engage was under tons of scrutiny the moment Alear, the main character, was revealed. And, though I’ve not seen them, I’m under the impression that pre-release footage of the cast was frustrating to people expecting the in-depth, well-written people in Three Houses. I’m not going to mince words: the people in Fire Emblem: Engage are all insane. They have more depth than the truly one-note and forgettable cast of Fire Emblem: Fates, but do not reach the depth of the Three Houses’ cast. But Fire Emblem: Engage does make every character quite charming. Clanne and Framme are adorable fanchildren of the main character. Timerra is a singing magical girl princess straight out of Sailor Moon. Yunaka is a bizarre former assassin that talks in cutesy phrases like “hiya papaya” in between slamming down drinks and saying how haunted she is by her past. I think they’re all wonderful in their own ways, though I understand why people are turned off by the early cast of Alfred and Vander as super freaking boring (but necessary) characters. Though it is funny that I benched them super early and they showed up in cutscenes until the end of the game.

Alright alright alright I’ll stop delaying. Fire Emblem: Engage is a video game. What do I think about the gameplay? Well, I think Fire Emblem: Engage is the best Fire Emblem game ever, gameplay-wise. Ever since Fire Emblem: Awakening, the map design of Fire Emblem has felt to be in a rut. Every map felt the same. It was either a boring “rout the enemy” or “defeat the boss” map with little challenge due to overpowered characters, broken-in-the-player’s-favor mechanics like Pair Up, and just uninteresting map design in that it’d be funneling your army at the target in a straight line. Three Houses especially seemed to not care outside of a handful of optional chapters that shook things up. Engage is back to making interesting maps. Even though only like… 2 chapters aren’t “defeat the boss”/”route the enemy”, the way that you’re forced to split your team up or navigate the map is far more interesting this time around. Chapter 25 is an endless slog that puts a clock on your units to get far enough forward to kill the boss before a pincer attack from behind catches you. Chapter 7 forces you to navigate a dark area with enemies hidden as you try and find the boss. Chapter 16 throws you in a gauntlet of six bosses as the town around you burns. And so on. I really enjoyed that every optional chapter was “defeat the boss” as it makes for insanely intense gameplay where you extend your army to try and kill the boss before the rest of the opposing army overwhelms your units.

The minutiae of the gameplay is also more interesting than ever. The classic rock-paper-scissors mechanic of the weapon triangle is back and slightly tweaked to be more punishing–a unit that is bested in the triangle loses the ability to counterattack the next time someone initiates combat with them. There’s a new combo attack system that allows nearby allies to do chip damage to an enemy if they are in range of said enemy while an ally is attacking. There’s the entire Engage mechanic itself where you can equip units with Emblem Rings that they can then “engage” with to boost their stats, give them extra abilities, and use an ultimate attack/action, but this only lasts three turns before needing to be charged again. And what makes all these systems much more interesting is that your enemies can and do use them against you. They force you to think even harder than the usual strategy of “place General with 50 defense at chokepoint against physical attackers” because chain attacks will do damage through that armor. The real nice thing is that you can just turn back time if you screw up, which allows the game makers to put in some devious traps like the corrupted villages on chapter 19 since you can rewind up to 10 times per battle. It sounds like cheating, but it really is there to allow the developers to make the game harder. And, unlike Three Houses, the game nails the difficulty. It’s just really fun to engage with the systems in Engage.

I want to circle back to the story briefly. It’s a very straightforward story of “there is bad guy, defeat bad guy” with a lot of insane twists at the end to add flavor. But it takes a long time to get there, and people check out of the story after chapter 5 thinking it’ll be a boring “go to every country and save every ruler before fighting the big bad”. But what saves even the most boring scenes is the voice acting. Just an incredible job done by all the voice actors to salvage the early stage, and then nail the extremely stupid melodrama of the chapters in the 20s. Like when your main character dies twice, she dies first as a human, then dies as a corrupted (think zombie), and then is revived by the Emblems and transformed into an Emblem herself. It’s very silly! And the game didn’t have much budget for cutscene animation–it doesn’t show a character getting slapped, for instance–so all the emotion and intrigue has to be carried by the voice acting. Again, kind of like an old play when the importance was the words and not the blocking. And these voice actors really sell it. But, yes, just to sum up the story: you gotta stick with it. It gets interesting once Veyle is more involved, and builds up extremely cool moments for chapters 10, 20, and 22-26. Even if those moments are super manufactured at times based on “what would be epic for the win” rather than “what would make sense”.

Fire Emblem is a series that I enjoy for its rhythm. Completing a map in Engage took an average of 40 minutes to an hour where I have to focus. Then I can spend about 20-30 minutes at the Somniel doing things that take way less focus and I can just relax and let support conversations play. Every Fire Emblem game has some similar rhythm of battle and not battle, and it’s only recent titles that tilt in the direction of not battle. For me, it’s nice. I really appreciated the reprieves starting with Fates, and I played the 80 hours it took of Engage in about 3 weeks because of this rhythm. It’s not something I hear people refer to when talking about Fire Emblem, but I think the series’ structure and rhythm does so much to elevate the games. It’s hard for me to appreciate Fire Emblem 7, the first Fire Emblem to release in America, because there is too much battle time and not enough not battle time. But I digress.

Fire Emblem: Engage is just good, folks. It has something for everyone, but never feels like it’s overly pandering to the diehard fans of the classics or to casual fans of having teatime in the new ones. It strikes a near-perfect balance in celebrating the past while proving its case as a game worthy of being celebrated. If you’re a newcomer to Fire Emblem, I think Engage is a great starting point as it is accessible but has a lot of spice and difficulty if you want it. And if you’re a veteran, this game should melt even the most cynical of diehard’s hearts between its reverence for the past and engaging gameplay. If you have the slightest interest in it, I cannot recommend it enough.

More like, Fire Emblem DISengage. Because no one is going to read that many words. Yep. Makes me glad we aren’t mere words ourselves. If only I could turn you into an Emblem Ring and engage with you so that you could pay me… What was that, unpaid intern? You want me to go back in time using the Draconic Time Crystal to the 1910s with labor laws that afforded even less protection? Haha, of course not! Everything is perfect. That’s what I thought.

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Stop Keeping Spyro 4 Hostage

Hey! You! Yeah, you! Mr. Tim Activision Blizzard King! I’m Pungry, CEO of Pungry Industries. But that’s not important. No, what’s far more important is that I’m head of Spyro 4Ever, a grassroots, sunrise-spring campaign to Take Back Spyro from your corrupt hands and to the people. We’re sick and tired of you jerkfaces holding Spyro hostage. And I must say that we’re quite good at taking back dragon hostages. All of us here have 100%ed Spyro the Dragon 1. But while we put Spyro the Dragon 1st, you all seem to put him last. And we’re tired of this eternal night. It’s time for the dawn of the dragon… for a new beginning! Of Spyro.

Currently, Spyro 4Ever sees you, Mr. Tim King Blizzard Activision, as Hunter the Cheetah. Someone who claims to be on Spyro’s side, yet withholds the all-important Orbs and Dragon Eggs until we ride your stupid pet manta ray through some air bubbles. Yet you don’t even define any sort of minigames for us to complete. We play World of Warcraft Classic to level 60, but do not find a Spyro raid boss. We play Candy Crush to level 10520 without boosters, yet are not connected to Candy Lane from Spyro 2: Season of Flame afterwards. We even get Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 for the third time its been released, and there’s no additional campaign based on Agent 9’s level in the Fireworks Factory. We are done meeting with you all on your terms. It is time for you all to bend to our collective will and be subject to our elemental furies. No, not furries.

For too long the Spyroheads have been fighting like the Land Blubbers and the Breezebuilders, and it’s time to come together like Spyro Orange. Except with less repetitive minigames. We know that you Mr. King Blizzard Activision Tim are the Moneybags, and we’re about to flame your butt and chase you until you give us back Spyro 4. “Oh, Pungry,” you say in the same voice as Breezebuilder Juliet, “what if Spyro 4 doesn’t actually exist even as a loosely-compiled alpha?” Well, first off, I take away all your magic beans, and then to that I say that there’s no freaking way Youtuber Canadian Guy Eh has simply been making up all his unsourced, unverified rumors the past 5 years just to get clicks, engagement, and money. He’s Canadian. And, unlike Bianca, he wouldn’t lie to me for personal gain.

Bottom line, Mr. Blizzard Activision Tim King, is that Spyro 4Ever isn’t going to stop until we get Spyro 4. Or if we get the cancelled The Legend of Spyro movie that was directed by Peter Jackson and supposed to come out on Christmas Day. I will take either one. And, for your information, I am more likely to cry at that movie. But what will make everyone else cry, other than hearing “trouble with the trolley, eh”, is complete silence on Spyro through 2023. The Reignited Trilogy came out in 2018, and according to Wikipedia, “publisher Activision… stated Spyro Reignited Trilogy ‘performed well’ in its initial release”. Now that people have seemed to mostly forget the scandal after scandal your garbage, unfairly merged company was embroiled in, it’s time to fully win everyone back by releasing Spyro 4 starring Sgt. Byrd.

Wow, it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from the editor and the intern. Not long enough! Great. Well, the main writer for this–which is me, the unpaid intern–thanks for re-explaining the lore. As I was saying, the main writer for this has been… engaged this past month. Congrats to them! When’s the wedding. Oh, they aren’t getting married. They’ve just been playing a video game with the word “Engage” in the title. Can you get married in the game? No. Terrible title, then. Anyway, that writer–which is me again. Very weird how you’re trying to put distance between that fact and how you’re speaking–are you finished? And why did you pretend you didn’t know I was talking about–whatever. The writer is engaged and will probably write a bunch of words on another video game next month. Look forward to another 1500 words of useless information and opinions on a video game! You’re 1500 words of useless information.

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The World Is Open

Welcome to the Great Plateau of this post. You can read any paragraph–any sentence, even–of this article in any order you want. Of course, you could always do that, for written works are far easier to experience non-linearly compared to a video game. Well, most video games, anyway. For today we shall be discussing open world games. I don’t have a lot to say that’s interesting, and I’m really just trying to put something out there by the end of the month, and I’ve been playing a lot of Pokemon Scarlet, and I’ve been thinking about Pokemon Legends, and I’ve been thinking about Breath of the Wild, and

Movement in an open world game is the most important thing to nail. A well-designed world might be what you’d expect to be most important, but the act of actually moving has to be engaging so that the player will want to see the entire well-designed world. Movement has always been crucial since the first real-time video games. It feels really fun simply having Mario run from left to right in Super Mario Bros because the game is at a speed that is fast but not difficult to keep up with mentally. Compare that to other 2D platformers: Mega Man games feel very stiff because the titular robot has no sense of momentum–he stops dead in his tracks once the input is gone. Sonic games feel very loose because it’s even more about momentum than Mario. This translated to 3D games as well. Super Mario 64 was famously developed in a way that the devs refused to create the levels until Mario’s movement in a 3D plane felt good enough.

The three key features of Pokemon Scarlet’s open world are Gyms, Titans, and Bases. The two key features of Breath of the Wild’s open world are Sacred Beasts, and Shrines. The only shared key feature across Pokemon Legends’ areas are the Pokemon themselves–individual landmarks in the areas aren’t reused. Each game uses something different to entice the player to explore with a central goal at the end of it. Scarlet dangles the mystery of the crater of Paldea. Breath of the Wild has the central figure of Calamity Ganon to stop. Legends has a paper-thin excuse of a plot to motivate the player. These all have their advantages and disadvantages. I appreciate Legends’ uniqueness across regions but found that there really could’ve been some sort of metaprogression to find other than Pokemon. I think Scarlet might have made too many goals for their open world and thus made the world too big to compensate for the relatively less engaging movement compared to Legends and Breath of the Wild, but honestly I adored the density of respawning collectibles. And Breath of the Wild has by far the best style and movement and I really loved that exploration was usually done by the player simply because exploring was fun, but I have to relent and say it could’ve used maybe one more thing to fill some of the space.

In these three games, you are a human exploring a world. Scarlet is closest to an old mascot platformer like Spyro the Dragon in that you will do the bulk of your movement across the world on an agile animal, but you are still a human on top of this animal. Breath of the Wild allows you to use a horse to traverse Hyrule, but I say “neigh” to that because I love the freedom of controlling Link. Legends also provides steeds to ride that are generally useful, but I also rarely used them since I wanted to roleplay what it felt like to be a human in the world, and the game supported that usually. All three games allow the player to climb. However, in Scarlet and Legends, a Pokemon is climbing with limitless stamina, while Link must use his own two hands and will fall if his stamina runs out. Somehow, despite the inconvenience, climbing with Link is the most gripping experience, pun intended. I think a lot of joy from a well-designed open world comes from grappling (again, pun intended) with minor inconveniences to reach the goal. All video games are like that, actually. But open world games are usually the ones that make you tackle minutiae that most games automate. And Breath of the Wild making the player use wits and patience to climb a mountain is just more fun than having Koraidon scale it.

It’s unfair to actually call Pokemon Legends: Arceus an open world game, because it was never billed as one. People who saw the initial trailers and hype definitely felt it was going to be open world while Nintendo quietly released a statement a few months before the game released stating that it was an “open area” game instead. Open area just means that Legends has 7 or so large areas to explore that are connected by a menu rather than by, well, walking from one into another. Presumably, this is more convenient for developers since they can just build one area and not have to worry about the tectonic digital plates causing earthquakes when put together. It does make Legends feel… I don’t know, just a little less than it could’ve been. It’s very strange, but I, and presumably others, would’ve liked it more if they just… actually put the levels together. Scarlet can do it when it would’ve been easy for the devs to have all the Areas not connected and instead have them accessed via menu. Breath of the Wild is a bit harder to imagine being traversed via menu. Though I guess having the ability to teleport to specific spots in Breath of the Wild and Pokemon Scarlet kind of make them open area games in a very cynical interpretation of the idea.

Combat is in most open world games. Some open world games are also “walking simulators” with no conflict and that is perfectly valid. But Scarlet, Legends, and Breath of the Wild have combat to spice up the constant walking. The conceit of Pokemon has always been that your loving pets are the ones to fight for you which hasn’t changed. And that’s why Breath of the Wild’s combat, while flawed, is slightly more fulfilling–it’s “you” fighting. I also prefer the speed and simplicity of Legends’ fights compared to Scarlet. Battles go by super quick. Scarlet is by far the slowest of the games since it is trying to be a traditional Pokemon game, which has always placed a ton of emphasis on its battle system, while Legends was free from those constraints. I can appreciate the complexity of Scarlet’s battling, but it feels incongruous with wanting to explore the world, and the 10 seconds wasted by Koraidon crashing into a tiny Pokemon leading to animations of the battle starting before I can run away adds up and is super annoying. The game could’ve used repels and some way of turning animations off but oh well.

Stuff to do and an enticing layout are parts of an open world. But the world must also feel “lived in” else it comes across as Jolly Roger Bay from Super Mario 64. Pokemon Legends is the one that fails here. There are very few details in the environment because it is about the player being the first to really explore and interact with the world you find yourself in. Funnily enough, one of those few details is an abandoned, beached ship like Jolly Roger Bay. Legends could’ve still salvaged the feeling of a lived in world if the Pokemon interacted with each other, but, alas, they feel as they are part of another world than the people and other Pokemon around them. Scarlet has great details. While exploring part of the game’s vast ocean, I came across a rocky island with Pelipper (think Pelicans), and a Magikarp nearly fell on me after escaping a Pelipper’s mouth. I found a Raichu, an electric Pokemon, on a sandy beach in the middle of the ocean, nearby. It knew the move Surf thus showing to me how that thing got there. There’s a lot of little stuff like this that makes Paldea feel real. Breath of the Wild had very fine details in text, environments, and enemy interactions that have slipped from my mind, but also added to the world feeling real.

On that note, the core environmental narratives of the three are interesting comparisons. Legends is a pre-industrial revolution game–the technology is steampunk (down to the Poke Balls emitting steam when used), the land is unexplored, and the people are scared of Pokemon due to their mystery. It is up to the player to be the first person to positively interact with Pokemon and assuage others’ fears of the creatures. Breath of the Wild is a post-apocalypse game where the people are afraid of going out because the world has ended. It is up to you to thwart the vestiges of what ended the world so that others may gain the confidence to return. Finally, Scarlet is… set in modern day Spain. Where many people have already traversed the world before you, and it is even an officially-named and recognized process to explore the world in the universe of Scarlet. It is quite unique as an open world game in this regard. The feeling of being the first to explore an area is super enticing and a common premise for open world games. But everywhere you go in Scarlet, you’ll run into another trainer. Well, save for one place, which is the game’s promise that your character will be unique should they get there. It’s kind of refreshing.

Music and sound design. A video game is first and foremost about the sights. Ears are the easiest way to augment that. All three games have quite good sound design. Breath of the Wild’s smack of weapons as they strike their target is extremely satisfying. The sound effect you’ll hear most in Legends is of a Poke Ball hitting some poor sap in the back, and it is great. Scarlet has the weakest sound effects because it is required to carry many traditional effects over and overall it works but fails to add much. For instance, there really should be a better sound for pulling out stakes since it lacks an animation, so having the sound do the storytelling when you cannot see it would do a lot. The music in Breath of the Wild is deliberately sparse, alienating, lonely, and, well, sad. It sells the post-apocalypse. Legends Arceus kind of goes for that same vibe but it doesn’t quite jibe with the game’s tone as a pre-apocalypse, pre-explored world environment. Scarlet also has very traditional music for the most part alongside some very good new themes. It has a lot more melodies and actual songs compared to Breath’s and Legends’ tracks of “hit random keys on a piano in a discordant manner” and it fits with the atmosphere. I won’t go out of my way to listen to Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack, but it adds so much to the game’s overall package. Legends is a bland imitation that has some good tracks, and Scarlet has very good music.

This is a strange commonality, but you can glide in all three games. And it is super satisfying in Breath of the Wild and Scarlet, and quite satisfying in Legends. The sad thing about Legends is that you get the glide super late. Or, well, I got it super late because I refused to progress in that game unless I got done with the research on every Pokemon in a given area, and the glide is received in the final zone. Scarlet’s glide comes after conquering 4 titans. Both Pokemon games have you ride Pokemon to glide. Legends’ birds are great at gliding. Scarlet’s glider stars nosediving quickly which is too bad because there’s so many glides I want to make that they refuse to make. But it’s still very very satisfying to glide somewhere you don’t think you’re intended to go, like a stake that is barely reachable by gliding off a tower. Breath of the Wild’s glider is the best and most satisfying because you can glide, hit a mountain, and start climbing that mountain while the Pokemon slide off. I cannot express how fun it is to climb in Breath of the Wild. It is so rewarding. All these small things that Breath of the Wild does to make the overall open world feel full and fun to navigate are what make it the best open world game. The Pokemon games are awesome games in their own rights, but not quite as good at being an open world. But they have the appeal of the actual Pokemon to make up for it and are extremely good games as well. In short, all three games are really good and loveable. Breath of the Wild nailed a lot of things first try while Legends and Scarlet could use some polish, but they’re all extremely good.

Writing in an open world game is a tricky subject. There are many open world games that have a billion books of lore that are lying around and will each be 200 pages of backstory like “Lord Griffon came to the Veldt Core nearly 175 years ago and created the Order of Magiscribes to snuff out the Den of Inquiety” and it’s just terrible. Breath of the Wild had a little of that, but mostly balanced the depressing post-apocalyptic world you could feel every step outside a town with a collection of super cheery towns filled with happy residents. It’s a nice balance. Legends’ has a smattering of NPCs, mostly concentrated in the central town, that aren’t the most interesting to talk to since they usually say “egads! a Pokemon!” and then faint. But I love how the central town builds itself up as you progress into a more populated place with people that aren’t quite as scared. Scarlet has standard Pokemon writing to go with the standard Pokemon tone, and it’s fine. I appreciate how many of them have their vapid dialogue appear without having to actually press A and wait a second to load the dialogue.

Legends and Breath of the Wild are deliberately lonely games for single players. Scarlet is a traditional Pokemon game that is in a series that has always forced players to ask other players to play with them to complete the Pokedex. As such, Scarlet is unique in this group as a deliberately cooperative game. You can at any time connect to the internet and link up with strangers or friends to roam Paldea. I think it’s very cute but not what I look for in an open world game. I think the loneliness is important in making my character’s actions feel special. But I do understand how crucial such a thing is for Scarlet as a traditional Pokemon game and do not hold it against it.

Graphics aren’t everything. But artstyle is super important. I really like how everything that isn’t a Pokemon or piece of environment looks in Legends. It’s super sleek, snappy, and gets out of the way quick, which fits with the game’s breakneck pace. Scarlet’s look is just… boring? It doesn’t really have an artstyle. But it does have a lot more fun animations and little graphical touches compared to Legends. Like the insane designs of the Gym Leaders like Larry, or the genuinely really well-designed cities that dot the map like Porto Marinada. They all feel very unique and fun to explore because of that. The Pokemon themselves look good. But, man, every Pokemon game, people will take Gamefreak to task for how sad the animations are, the general blandness of environments, and the many graphical bugs that pop up. Scarlet is a way worse offender than Legends which has blandness but not many bugs. Scarlet has a lot of bugs. I haven’t mentioned Breath of the Wild once here but all I can say is that the game has immaculate art design. It might be the best in any game, period. It looks super good. I don’t know how they did it. As a launch Switch game, it has performance issues, but is gorgeous and has stunning locales. I especially love the Zora Domain with its mix of waterfalls, stone, and embedded artifacts with script on them–it is beautiful.

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OMORI, which I will be referring to as “Omori” from now on, represents the potential of storytelling through video games at its best, and highlights the extreme limitations the medium has at its worst. I want to be clear: Omori is a great game. It has a ton of ambition and tells a very meaningful story. I look back at this game and believe it did many things right. But one question about the game somewhat haunts me: did it need to be a video game at all?

Omori has two cores. One is its story, which is a very tough examination of a teenage shut-in, and his imagination, who has not left his house in four years. This core has special modern relevance as it’s based on the hikikomori (see what they did there?), alienated, isolated lifestyle many modern people live. The other is its gameplay, which is about as antiquated as it gets as a traditional sprite-based JRPG with a silent protagonist set in a real-worldish setting like Earthbound, or Pokemon Red/Blue. There’s also splotches of Undertale, references to Paper Mario, and a billion other predecessor video games that Omori makes homage to in its gameplay and writing.

These cores are at odds with each other. Many storytelling tricks that Omori hopes to accomplish with its tale can be done much easier in a movie or a book where the creators have complete control over how a consumer will consume their content. But a video game creator can relinquish some control of the plot over to the player. There are many games with linear narratives that do not allow this–Earthbound and Pokemon Red/Blue for instance do not let you choose to advance in the game without taking down Giygas or beating Team Rocket. There are even plot-first games that are wildly beloved by fans that also do not allow the player to make meaningful decisions in how the plot advances, like my favorite visual novel series of Ace Attorney.

Yet Omori does let the player make meaningful choices in how the plot plays out. And I think it is here where the fact that Omori is a video game rather than a movie or book somewhat lets the endeavor down. Maybe some larger context about the plot would help with what I am trying to say. Obviously, there are large spoilers ahead, so you shouldn’t read them if you have any interest in playing the game. Everyone else who is here by accident or cares enough about the game to read a review about it but not enough to consider playing it, you can continue.

I said before that Omori is about a shut-in. Omori is the nickname of Sunny, a seventeen year old boy who decided to not come out of his house ever again after some incident four years prior to the start of the game. Not only that, Sunny has gone effectively mute during this time. He does not speak during the game at any point. This is an homage to the “silent protagonist” trope JRPGs love, but makes sense in-game for Sunny to be silent. The game opens with Sunny alone in his parents’ house with everything in the house boxed up in cardboard boxes because he and his mom are moving out in three days. A light bit of psychological horror occurs to Sunny as he walks around the dark, empty house, and he falls asleep. He wakes up in White Space, a bright, cheerful imaginative realm that has the bulk of the “actual gameplay” of Omori. In White Space, Sunny goes by “Omori” and spends the time in White Space hanging out with his three childhood friends, Hero, Kel, and Aubrey; his sister, Mari, is the party’s main support. After some lighthearted fun, the last member of Omori’s core group of friends, Basil, is taken away in another psychological horror segment. The plot of the White Space in general is attempting to rescue Basil.

When the game feels it reaches a good climax in the White Space, Sunny wakes up, and this is when the player is given an extremely large amount of control as to how the game goes and where the fact that Omori is a video game is a problem for its storytelling. Sunny wakes up and hears a knock at his door. You, the player, are given the choice to either open the door or keep it closed and wait for it to go away. Reminder that Sunny has been a complete shut-in for four years. There is zero reason he would ever open this door going by his character up to this point. He has his imagination to live in with the White Space. His mother tends to his physical needs for food and shelter. There is nothing to entice him opening that door.

But you, the player, can tell him to do so. And opening the door is required to understand what happened in Sunny’s life that led him to this extreme anti-social state. This sort of decision would not work in a movie nor a book. It simply does not make sense. But a video game creator can make an extreme amount of tension between a playable character’s personality and backstory and what you, the player, can make them do. Take Pokemon as an example. Characters in Pokemon games will always, always praise the main character as a very kind individual that takes very good care of their Pokemon. But there is a stat called “Happiness” every Pokemon has that players can purposely lower by purposely feeding them bitter medicine or getting them knocked out, and there is a move called “Frustration” that does more damage the lower the Happiness stat is. And yet if you beat the Elite Four and Champion with a team of fully frustrated Pokemon, the professor will still call you a kind soul that believed in their Pokemon. It’s silly! But also demonstrates one of the very hard things game makers have to do when crafting a story: making the player’s choices understandable in context.

I think Omori fails at establishing a good reason why Sunny is even able to open this door. Heck, one of the early horror scenes is him being unable to make it down the stairs in his own house due to fear. It is purely by the fact that I, the player, could control him and make him open that door. Other indie games have grappled with this idea of the player being an active character in the game that non-playable characters (NPCs) will try to talk to (the player). Undertale is one of those indie games that does it lightly; the final boss will call out the player by whatever name they input at the start of the game. Doki Doki Literature Club goes way further in examining the NPC-player dynamic by having an NPC fully take over the game as if they were the player in control of everything. Omori doesn’t acknowledge the player’s influence in the game. The closest it gets is characters in White Space indirectly referencing Sunny as they know it is Sunny’s imagination that White Space is in. I think it’s fine that Omori, the game, doesn’t try to grapple with the metafiction of players controlling a game, but it needed something to make Sunny’s decision to open this door make sense in-universe.

Why am I harping so much on this door? Well, like I said, so much of the game’s narrative hinges (door joke) on whether the player chooses to open the door or not. If you open the door, it turns out that Kel was the one knocking on it, and he drags you out of the house to do random stuff because he wants to hang out during these last three days before Sunny moves. It also triggers an in-game flag that lets you, the player, go down the route for the “best ending” to Omori. Should you keep the door closed like Sunny would probably do, you go back to the White Space. Sunny’s imagination gets a lot more disturbed. You, the player, will be locked out of the best ending and have one of four unsatisfying endings in comparison. This sort of storytelling is acceptable in choose-your-own-adventure books, but can you imagine if you were watching Citizen Kane and were told what Rosebud meant only if you answered a trivia question correctly?

But video games are really just jazzed up choose-your-own-adventure books, so they’re allowed to get away with it. In fact, they should be encouraged to get away with it even more, and at very granular levels. One of the huge limitations for storytelling in video games is exactly this. In theory, a creator could make a game that allows the player to do ANYTHING and create a satisfying set of consequences for every action made like in real-life. This is obviously very hard to do, but it hasn’t stopped game makers from trying. Detroit: Become Human is a great example of a game having that sort of ambition with every scenarios in the game having multiple endings that lead the player down very different paths. And from a game perspective, it gives a huge amount of freedom to the player in leading the narrative in a way that is impossible compared to books or movies. The main letdown is that every scenario and all the writing in Detroit: Become Human is absolutely godawful.

Omori has very good writing. As the game plot unfolds and more about the incident that drove this group of six best friends apart and sent two of them spiraling into anti-social depression that they cannot get out of, the more you really care about the characters and wanting them to heal past it. And besides the overarching plot, there is so much clever and funny incidental dialogue and situations. Just like a good Earthbound or Undertale spiritual successor should be, Omori can switch between funny and serious at the drop of a hat. You’ll go get life-saving medicine for a neighborly grandma and then meet her parody of a grandson 20 seconds later. And it works because that is the sort of tone-flipping that is expected from a Game Like This.

Going back to my overall criticism, Omori is a great story with a great gameplay hook but the two are usually at odds with each other. There are a few times where Omori being a video game absolutely works in its favor for storytelling. The first goes back to my earlier topic of the tension between the player getting to choose what the characters do, and what choices game creators provide players. There are a few times when Omori (not Sunny) is stuck in a room with nothing to do to advance the game, save one thing. CONTENT WARNING SELF HARM The player is forced to pause and make Omori stab himself with a steak knife to advance the game. It’s a lot like the trolley problem where it feels so bad to make the decision to have Omori stab himself rather than have the game go into a cutscene where Omori stabs himself with no control from the player. Though I will say the game goes back to the well one or two too many times as it gets less impactful.

Another great merge of gameplay and story in Omori, the game, is when you enter Black Space. White Space was Sunny’s imagination creating a playful area to cope with the incident four years ago, but it wasn’t the first thing that Sunny imagined in the wake of the event. Black Space is the much darker and scary version of Sunny’s imagination. Players must trudge through at least 10 or so of these horrific scenarios imagined by Sunny at his lowest with the ability to go through another 10 or so if they’d like to see everything in there. The scenarios are sick and depraved and full of very disturbing imagery and spritework. It’s a very chilling dreamscape exploration. It’s too bad that Yume Nikki did this sort of thing prior to Omori since Omori does a much better job contextualizing the dreamscapes compared to the very loose “game” that was Yume Nikki. It almost feels like the creators of Omori wanted to make Yume Nikki But With Plot. Anyway, I think that letting the player experience Black Space however they wish is what makes it a very effective storytelling device compared to similar explorations of a dark mind in a movie–it’s not that movies can’t do this effectively, it’s that the added control a player has on seeing the scenarios as much as they want and in the ways they want that makes them more personally impactful for a given player.

The last noteworthy merge of gameplay and story for me was a very small touch 30 seconds before the ending of the game. Due to a string of events, Sunny winds up in the hospital. If you chose to open the door and go out and help people in Faraway Town where Sunny lives, the people helped send Sunny flowers with personalized thank you notes detailing the impact Sunny (and thereby you, the player) had on them. This is something only video games can do. It’s truly a beautiful touch.

But speaking of things only video games can do, we are 15 paragraphs in, and only now am I going to discuss the moment-to-moment gameplay of Omori. As said a long time ago, Omori is a traditional turn-based JRPG exactly like Earthbound with quirky enemies, real-world items like Soda Pop and Jacks as your combat tools, and the standard slew of HP/MP/Attack/Defense/Speed stats. It does two slightly unique things on top of a very basic battle system. #1 is that your party builds up a heart meter every time a party member is hit by an attack, and those points on the heart meter can be used for a special combination attack with 12 unique combinations. It’s pretty cute and I liked the addition. #2 is a Fire Emblem-esque weapon triangle but with the emotions of Happy, Sad, and Angry. I never interacted with this part of the battle system. I think it was a cute idea but just not very important.

Yet I must say that the game’s biggest fault is that the moment-to-moment dream world/White Space gameplay that takes up 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the game’s time ultimately feels superfluous as far as the main plot is concerned. Again, White Space is Sunny’s imagination. It has no bearing on the real world. There’s a lot of very cute flourishes in the White Space. Basically every character in it that isn’t one of the core six in Sunny’s group of friends is a slightly-off cartoon inspiration of a character from the real world. Like the annoying Sweetheart in White Space is candy shop owner Miss Smiley. And the White Space has two pretty fun dungeons with Sweetheart’s Castle and Humphrey the Whale, but… they’re just filler. They have no bearing on Sunny. They reflect Sunny’s emotions, and the White Space gets scarier if Sunny is scared of the real world, but the White Space doesn’t contribute to Sunny’s growth. I guess that’s the point of White Space in the end, that it was a safety blanket that was doing much more harm than good, but I, the player, wasted 15-20 hours in it so it feels a little disappointing that it didn’t do much good.

The battle system feels like it was made simply to set up the old Earthbound final boss trick where the only winning move is to Pray. The game has like 5-6 fights where that’s the moral. Strangely enough, they’re all in your head, and you’re expected to beat up Aubrey in the real world rather than try to forgive her in the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I love Earthbound’s final boss, and I think every time you’re asked to spare someone in Omori makes sense, it just also gets cheaper and cheaper the more it’s done. And I think it was done 2 times too many. Bottom line, I just wasn’t convinced that there needed to be any battling or leveling up in Omori–it could’ve told the story just as effectively without it since all the setup for the “Calm Down” “”fights”” didn’t justify the entire battle system in my opinion.

My final complaints are that I think the character writing for Mari is a little weak. She’s too perfect. Which I get is why Omori shutting himself off because of what happened to her, but it stands out when the core party members of Kel, Hero, and Aubrey all feel very human compared to her. I also found the character of Basil very strange once I learned his role in the incident. He had so much guilt over an incident in which he really didn’t do much, but I wasn’t in his situation when I was 12 so I can’t judge him too much.

I want to circle back to an earlier point that the game’s biggest problem is that the choices are too limited and the consequences are too far-reaching. If you don’t open that door, you’ll play another 15 hours or so of a slow-paced JRPG and just not know why anyone did anything they did, including why Sunny shut himself off. That’s frustrating. And it’s frustrating that you’d be expected to play through the 3-5 hours of prologue to get back to that choice and then play the next 15-20 hours to see what happened, presumably with a guide this time. I am fortunate that I am very well attuned to what game makers typically want their players to do and found my way to the super secret good ending where everything is explained and everyone gets their happy ending, but the developers can’t expect everyone can get there. I think it’s great that players do have a lot of choice as to how this game goes–I simply wish it was more upfront somehow about the consequences, and also telegraphed the “right thing to do” in a better way.

Finally, to close out the review, I think it’s important to discuss the game’s music and graphics. The music is very good in-the-moment but I didn’t hear a single standout track that I’d want to go look up and listen to on my own time. The graphics are an incredible mix between sprites and hand-drawn animation. They are extremely beautiful when they want to be, and extremely unnerving when they want to be. Omori has the best graphics and animations of any game I’ve played. It is truly something special. So many little touches and animations that make it great.

In short, Omori is an extremely good game that shows some of the potential of games as a storytelling medium and runs into a lot of pitfalls that current game developers fall into when trying to make video games with good narratives. It is absolutely worth playing despite my complaints about opening a door. The animation alone is worth the $20 you’ll spend on it. Thanks for reading.

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Being Funny in a Foreign Language

No, that’s not a satirical headline I came up with while studying abroad in Paris, it’s the name of The 1975’s new album. And to be thematic with that album, I will immediately apologize for making that joke without saying I’ll trying to do better. No, I’m not saying that this album is bad (ooh, that’s twice that I’ve done this exact sentence structure in three sentences!), I’m saying this to bring up the lyrics in the album that let me down the most.

I’ve loved The 1975 since they weren’t self-aware and making simple synthrock (debut), since they weren’t self-aware and making “intellectual” synthrock (I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It), since they became self-aware and were making hyperaware, hyperpop, hyperactive music in all genres (A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, Notes on a Conditional Form), and I continue to love them as they desperately try to turn off their self-awareness, make amends, and create sincere, straightforward pop rock again for Being Funny in a Foreign Language.

This transition of creative processes is super tough. I would know, as someone who went through the same thing making this blog the past 12 years. I started off without any real self-awareness, just writing whatever, then learned that trait and struggled to write anything I was happy with, had a pretty bad moment where that all came to a head and I pulled everything on here down, and then have tried to come back and push something out every month without thinking too hard about it. Of course, I’m just projecting etc. etc. etc. But more important than knowing for sure that Matt and I are similar in that way is the fact that I think we are similar. This is how parasocial relationships start–taking shoes off in the back of my van. And there’s a joke reference to “Sex” by The 1975 to deflect from getting too personal. God I’m so good at this.

The first six songs of this album are incredible. “The 1975” once again is the first song on the album, just like every other album. This time, it’s an LCD Soundsystem hook ripoff of a manic, unresolving piano with Matt at his finest lyrically over it. He mumbles about how he has been stripping and mining his worst parts to sell, just like everyone else does in modern society, and apologizes over and over to the teenagers listening. This album has Matt’s best lyrics of all their album, but The 1975 is when he feels most personal and heartfelt.

“Happiness” follows. It was the second single off the album. It’s a really fun jam that harkens back to “The Sound” or even “Girls” from early The 1975. Jack Antonoff brings out the saxophone as he’s expected to do, but The 1975 have always liked using that instrument for exactly this kind of song. See also “Heart Out”. Anyway, not much to say about “Happiness” since the only lyric that has any sort of interest is a sample of Matt saying “I’m happiest when I’m doing something that I know is good” since it shows he knows that this type of song is what a large portion of The 1975 fans listen to his records for. It will be very fun to see it live in December on their At Their Very Best tour.

“Looking for Somebody (To Love)” is a clever song about toxic masculinity. Quite frankly, it does exactly what “Pumped Up Kicks” was trying to do in a much better way. For one, it’s fun to listen to! For two, it captures the self-image and actual image incels these days have: “The type you just don’t ****/A supreme gentleman with a gun in his hand lo-lo-looking for somebody to love”. Perfectly captures the incel right down to the chorus having the incel say “Oh they ran, oh they ran (there’s that callout of Pumped Up Kicks)/You should have seen how they all ran when I was looking for somebody to love” as if he was bragging to the rest of the incels on their private Discord server. Great song.

“Part of the Band” was the first single. It’s The 1975’s most interesting song written to date and the best song off the album. Maybe their best song ever. Definitely if you’re into “maturity” rather than “fun”. The lyrics are mostly just fun details and jokes one after the other that only get self-reflective at the end when Matt grapples with his place in the world as just “some skinny post-coke, average skinny bloke/calling [his] ego imagination”. It’s an unresolved question in the song, and really not something he’ll ever be able to resolve himself. The string hook here is beautiful. At first, I thought it was going to be The 1975’s version of Viva La Vida, but it goes for the atmospheric Bon Iver-esque chorus instead. Which I was underwhelmed by at first, but have grown to enjoy it far more as I listened to it over and over. There’s so much nuance in the lyrics, singing, and instrumental work here that you really could listen to it 10 times and hear something new every time.

“Oh Caroline” goes back to the fun synthrock that’s a little more intellectual than “Happiness”. Just like it, it’s not a song about anything really. “Caroline” isn’t the name of anyone really, it’s just the only one that Matt could get to rhyme as he admits in the bridge. It’s just a fun love song about a person too in love with someone who doesn’t love them back, like some of The 1975’s best (“If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know”, among others). And the sixth and final song on the immaculate first half of Being Funny in a Foreign Language is “I’m In Love With You”. It was the third single. The music video for it makes it the sequel to the sad “Change of Heart” off their second album, but the first lyric and delivery of “Heartbeat” as well as the groovy sound makes it the sequel to “Heart Out” off their first album. It’s a very fun song that has the simplest and straightforward chorus that I imagine every single person at this concert in December will be singing along with.

Songs 7 and 9 are such annoying letdowns on an otherwise great album. If Matt Healy wants to talk sincerity, I will have to be sincere as well. I do not like it when The 1975 try to do slow, simple songs. They can do slow moody songs extremely well. “Me”, “If I Believe You”, “I Couldn’t Be More In Love”, “The Birthday Party”, and probably others I’m forgetting are great examples of that. But “All I Need to Hear” is the sequel to “Be My Mistake” I really didn’t need, and “Human Too” is a frustrating non-apology of an apology song. You cannot say something like “I’m sorry about the bomb thing” in a song with a chorus of “Don’t you know I’m a human too?” and expect it to come off sincere. I’m sure it was. But it comes off as a classic “sorry if you’re offended” apology there. But most of all, “Human Too” and “All I Need to Hear” are really boring. And I am NOT sorry if you’re offended, Healy.

For the rest of the second half of the album, “Wintering” is very unfortunately placed between those two tracks, and is a very fun, manic family reunion of a song. It was actually written by The 1975 before they were The 1975, back when they were an emo band called Drive Like I Do. I’m not a true The 1975 historian so I can’t tell you more there. Only that this is a “postcard of Christmas scenes” that Matt experienced coming home for the holidays while at university. And the manic lyrics about having to deal with family is well-matched by the manic acoustic guitar that Matt excitedly-but-slightly-anxiously sings over. I will use manic as many times as I want to if The 1975 is allowed to write “I’m in love with you” as the only line in a chorus for a single.

“About You” is track ten. It’s a sequel to “Robbers” but really just rips off “With or Without You” by U2 as admitted by Healy himself. But it sounds really good. I don’t have much to say about the content. I do think it’s a great song that proves The 1975 still can reach back and get that self-unaware intellectual sound from “I Like It When You Sleep for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It” with songs like “Paris” or “Somebody Else”. It is definitely the true standout from this half of the album.

And finally, “When We Are Together” closes it out. Now, all my complaints about “Human Too” and “All I Need to Hear” could be regurgitated here. It’s a slow, straightforward, sappy song with questionable lyrics about Healy’s controversial figure. But before I try some mental gymnastics about those lyrics, the core of why I like “When We Are Together” and not the other two tracks is because The 1975 sound a lot better making folky acoustic guitar tracks (“She Lays Down”, “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America”) than 1950s crooning tracks (“Be My Mistake”) or whatever genre “Human Too” is supposed to be. Lyrically, I prefer “When We Are Together” is just a cute vignette of a song the same way “Wintering” was. It’s about Matty’s romantic relationship with FKA Twigs that lasted about as long as the making of this record. Coincidence? Eh, I’m not a tabloid.

Anyway, in between the cute pictures of kissing at Wal-mart, there’s an awkward couplet where he sings “It was poorly handled/the day we got cancelled/Because I’m racist and you’re some kind of a slag”. Now, here’s the important thing to me, instead of defending himself or saying “sorry you got offended” like in “Human Too”, he just moves on to the cute chorus of “You ask about the cows, wearing my sweater/It’s something about the weather that makes them lie down”. He owns up to poorly handling the criticism and then makes a cute reference to another band that was once considered The 1975’s contemporaries, The Neighbourhood and their big hit “Sweater Weather”. He doesn’t kick himself for what he did, or complain that other people got him wrong. He acknowledges fault and moves on. And he does it again later when he says “I thought we were fightin’/but it seems I was gaslightin’/I didn’t know it had its own word” before going back to the sweater chorus. Again, he’s owning up to his fault, accepts the consequences, and moves on.

I’m not asking Matt Healy to be perfect. I’m asking him to write good music with good lyrics. And 9 out of 11 tracks on here are exactly that. It’s very hard for him to thread the needle of writing good lyrics when he’s burdened with this extreme self-awareness that–okay, I’m projecting here. If I had the level of fame Matt had and was tasked to write these songs, I couldn’t do it. I’d be too self-aware to do anything but offer non-stop apologies in all 11 tracks. Heck, I’m way too self-aware to want to publish any of this review. So I truly commend Matt for being able to once again brave public opinion and put out another incredible album. 9/11, would recommend.

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Spyro: Shadow Legacy

I’ve written at length about Spyro 5, A Hero’s Tail, but it was not the final Spyro game in the original canon. Spyro: Shadow Legacy is the sixth and final Spyro game pre-reboot for A New Beginning, Skylanders, and Reignited. It was the second Spyro game made by Vivendi and, weirdly enough, only released for the DS. But there is so many other things about this game that are weird. For one, I’ve never played it. That’s not too outlandish since Shadow Legacy got basically zero marketing since Vivendi was internally preparing for A New Beginning’s release the following year, but still. I was only made aware of it from a paragraph-long review in Game Informer. From that review, I was made vaguely aware that it wasn’t a traditional Spyro game, but closer to a Zelda-like dungeon crawler. But I never got the chance to play it… until now!

I wrote that paragraph before actually playing the game. Now that I’ve played the game, I can confidently say that this is a fascinating game. It is the most average game I’ve played. But not average in the typical sense of games that don’t try anything new like Madden ’23 or whatever. Average in that this game makes a ton of ambitious choices for a 2005 DS game that results in a con for every pro it has. And I think that makes it a lot cooler of a game than just another handheld Spyro game like Season of Ice/Flame/Attack of the Rhynocs.

I have a ton of respect for the Shadow Legacy devs for trying to pack so much into a DS game one year after the DS’s release when nobody really knew what to do with it. Nintendo was releasing mobile game shovelware on that thing in the form of Yoshi Touch and Go and Pokemon Dash the same year of Shadow Legacy, and these guys are out here making an action RPG! Absolutely incredible choice by Amaze Entertainment on so many levels. Shadow Legacy is the perfect bridge from the old collect-a-thon platformers of Spyro games 1-5 (and the GBA ones) to the new beat-em-up narrative action games of the A New Beginning trilogy in gameplay and tone. There’s still the collecting fun of old games with a ton of fetch quests you have to do for NPCs and general level exploration, but there’s this new heavy emphasis on combat where you’re required to beat up groups of enemies with an insane variety of moves to unlock these quests in the first place. It’s really cool in concept, and I think it’s also pretty well-executed.

Now, I said that for every pro this game had, there is a con. As much as I like this core gameplay of Shadow Legacy where it goes back and forth between action RPG beat-em-up segments and level exploration, the gameplay has a core problem: the DS is straight-up not powerful enough for it. There is so much slowdown in the game, especially in the introduction, that the game feels like it is moving at 75% of its intended speed. It is brutal. I do not know if it is slowdown or if by design that Spyro is this slow. I am going to say it is because the DS is not powerful enough because who would make a player suffer through the awful speed Spyro walks and charges? But I do have two unfortunate reasons that they may have designed Spyro to be this slow: 1) The levels are really really small, and they wanted to hide it; 2) Spyro’s fully upgraded charge actually goes quite fast and the animation for his melee attacks is really fast and smooth even in the areas with the worst slowdown. But, again, I will just claim it is because they were too ambitious that the DS can’t handle it, and Spyro appears to be slow due to general slowdown rather than by design.

I can also nitpick specifics of the core gameplay. You can run the same strategy for every mob fight in the game by simply mashing the melee attack button and stunlocking them to death. The level design is sometimes really unclear and it can be very hard to tell where exactly you go to traverse something, such as getting up the factory in Bear Forest or trying to glide to the tall ledge in the Skelos Badlands or (my least favorite) intuiting that the weird flat stone-looking things are actually puddles of water you can freeze and stand on to get up to a higher ledge in Avalar’s Savannah. But the levels are so small and it is so easy to teleport away and back when you want a break that I don’t have much of an issue with stuff like this. There really is only so many places the game can hide something in a zone that’s like 15 Spyros high by 40 Spyros wide.

A game design decision that I have very few nitpicks on is how Shadow Legacy uses the touch screen. When no contemporary DS game developer could figure out how to use the real estate, here comes Spyro with a masterful set of tabs. There’s a tab for using your magic spells by drawing a simple shape; I can nitpick this by saying the shape-detection isn’t perfect, but it’s fine enough. There’s a tab for looking at your inventory which lets you use healing items by tapping them and also check what crystals you have equipped. There’s a tab that has the world map that also lists all your quests which is great, even if the map isn’t detailed. And there’s a tab where you can check Spyro’s stats such as max HP, how far from a level up he is, and the levels of your skills.

Which brings me to another core gameplay thing that has pros and cons. You choose what moves Spyro learns as the game goes on. There are a few that the game railroads you into learning–gliding and teleporting–but you can choose whatever else. And there are a ton of moves for a DS action RPG where, again, you can just press one button and stunlock every mob fight into oblivion. I really like that you have this freedom. There’s three small problems: 1) again, none of them are necessary combat-wise; 2) there are some moves that actually interact with the overworld in meaningful-but-optional ways that the game doesn’t highlight (the upgraded charge moves breaking large rocks, for instance); 3) the fire and ice breaths do not work in the shadow realm, which is where you do the majority of the combat, so why would you ever upgrade them.

Ooh, that reminds me. I forgot to explain the central gimmick of Shadow Legacy. See, someone has been trapping everyone in the Dragon Realms in the Shadow Realm, a horrible parallel dimension that sucks the life and magic away from anyone that steps foot in it. Spyro is tasked with being the one to go into the Shadow Realm and rescuing all the NPCs banished there since he is the only one with strong enough magic as well as the only one with a special stone to survive in there. You travel to the shadow realm by phasing in and out of it via portals on the ground. So the first time you go through a level, you’ll go through it in shadow mode as you walk around finding the cages guarded by the nefarious shadow dwellers such as the Long Legs seen below.

I will talk more about the art soon enough. Anyway, once you save everyone in there, you use the same portal to get back to the “normal” version of the level where you talk to NPCs and get quests from them. You get experience points as well as the items that unlock bosses by doing these quests, so they are mandatory, even if the game does not do a good job of making that clear. I do all the quests anyway because it’s the right thing to do.

Quick note on the bosses. As fun as it is to fight mobs (and I do mean that; mobs get very fun as you unlock more moves; I loved the endgame groups that I easily wiped by using a Roar followed by spin attacking until they all died), the bosses are unfun in the other direction. The Fire Minion and Ice Minion are extremely boring and unsatisfying “puzzle fights” where the puzzle is avoiding one set of their moves and then figuring out where the weakpoint is… once. And the final boss is a snoozer where you use a spell to reflect his attack six times and are never in any danger otherwise. Awful bosses.

Now, back to the NPCs. I said at the start that Shadow Legacy is the 6th and final game in the original Spyro canon. It uses a ton of its history to make up the game. For instance, you start in the Dragon Realms (Spyro 1’s home), travel to Avalar (Spyro 2’s home), and end in the Forgotten Realms (Spyro 3’s home). You are under the impression most of the game that Red (Spyro 5’s antagonist) is the one behind everything here. You see and rescue Hunter, Bianca, Blink, Zoe, Moneybags, and a bunch of Spyro 1 Dragon Elders. There are a TON of callbacks in this game. Which makes the characters that aren’t strict callbacks stick out like weird sore thumbs.

For instance, you rescue longtime staple of Spyro games Moneybags in the Bear Forest. But in this game, Moneybags is now somehow married with children, so you have to rescue his wife and kids as well. He is also written as a racist businessman who doesn’t want to sell to Armadillos rather than the shrewd businessman who played both sides of the conflict in Spyro 2 and 3 in order to maximize profits, which is odd. Then, in Avalar’s Savannah, you rescue Hunter. But now Hunter is the son of the leader of a tribe of cheetahs and the rest of the tribe throw him and Spyro in jail because they think he is the cause of the issues. My main problem here is that you have to get Hunter out of jail, when he should be locked up forever. Bianca is again an adept and intelligent spellcaster, but you rescue her as well as her cousins… who are all hicks who work on a farm??? Very odd. Finally, Blink from A Hero’s Tail is shown living with The Professor, who is his uncle and was part of his backstory the first time he was introduced, but now it comes out that The Professor has a super-intelligent sister named Sis who adopted an albino mole? So freaking weird. But honestly I’m glad that the game went for the weirdness with this sort of character writing. Like everything else in the game, the developers are very clearly trying to do something interesting, it just has mixed results in practice. I didn’t even mention how they changed Ember’s character from being creepily into Spyro into loving an Armadillo named Bandit who sent her one love letter AND THEY HAVE NEVER MET AND NEVER MEET IN THE GAME.

I’ve got to wrap this up soon, but I cannot finish talking about this game without talking about the art. It is really bad. Well, that’s unfair. The 3D models actually look somewhat decent. Like look at this action shot of the Ice Minion fight.

That’s pretty good looking for 2005 DS! No, it’s really the 2D portraits where the quality hits the absolute nadir. Look at this amazing still from the final cutscene in the game when you find out who has been pulling all the strings (it is the Sorcerer, not the Sorceress as you might expect from a game filled with callbacks, but instead some new villain that you beat and then the ending drops a sequel hook claiming he’ll be back stronger than ever but of course they never made a direct sequel to this game, they just went to A New Beginning and the reboot)!

Incredibly haunting. Bianca is forced to look up slightly while getting zapped with a lightning bolt. But, hey, it’s kind of cool. You can kind of get behind the quality of this one. No, it’s really the character portraits where the true direness of the game’s artstyle lies. I’ll give you the entire sheet of character portraits, then pick out my two favorites.

Find yours? Well, here’s mine.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR ARMS AND LEGS CHILD? This is supposed to be an armadillo. I am 1000% sure that the artist heard the name “armadillo” and thought that they were named that way because they were mostly arm.

This is one of Moneybags’ children. They all look like this. The poor sick man neglects his family for profit so badly that they all ended up malnourished and cross-eyed. The funniest part about the whole Moneybags saga is that you rescue him and his family… and then never see Moneybags again. He just walks off for a pack of smokes. His children set up the shops that you use! What a jerk. I am glad that they never made a direct Shadow Legacy sequel so that we never had to see Moneybags again.

All in all, I am glad that I played Shadow Legacy. It is such a weird game on its own merits, let alone as the sixth and final game of the original Spyro canon. I really like what the game did as a bridge between the old lighthearted level exploration of past Spyro and the “dark” combat-intense gameplay of New Beginning and Skylanders Spyro. It deserved to be made for the GameCube or PS2 or any system that could handle its intense artistic style because the general slowness of Spyro at the start of the game drags this game so far down. I think Spyro 4 could absolutely be a direct sequel in terms of mechanics to Shadow Legacy, but it’s too different from the Reignited Trilogy that I don’t think there’s any chance Spyro 4 will crib anything off it. Which is fine. It’s a decidedly average game. But a cool average game, not a boring one, and I am truly glad that I gave this overlooked piece of Spyro history a try finally.

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The Best of the Second Half of Subpar Season XX

And here’s the rest of the game recaps I liked from the Subpar Season. Feel free to comment, like, subscribe, hit that bell, etc.


Tadashi woke up to his house being on fire. “Guh!? I can’t believe the incivility of our nation has burned my house!” he said, nonchalantly starting to save things from the flames while the crowd cheered. Suddenly, the doorbell rang. “Who could it be? My new neighbors, the Burninators?” he asked, as the crowd laughed. He opened the door. “Hello, it is I, your new neighbor, the Burninator,” said Robert Deadford as the crowd applauded, recognizing the cameo. “Excuse me for being rude, but have you noticed that MY FREAKING HOUSE IS ON FIRE?” tadashi exclaimed as the crowd laughed. “Oh, yes, terribly sorry about that. My barbecue accidentally tipped over while I was grilling some spicy kielbasa, and it spread over to your property,” said Robert Deadford. “Well, I’m gonna kielbasa you if you don’t help me BBQ-lean this place up!” said tadashi as the crowd laughed. The screen faded to black as a bassline played.

As the shot faded in, Tadashi walked into the living room to see it was on fire. “Guh?! The clowns in Congress have torched my couch the way they’ve torched the Constitution!” he said, as the crowd laughed. Once again, a doorbell went off. “It better not be the freaking Burninators again!” he said, opening the door. “Greetingz, it ees I, Mr… uh, Rotaninrub, your friendly neighborhood watchman,” Robert Deadford said while wearing a trenchcoat, sunglasses, and a fake beard. “Mr. Rotaninrub? Sounds like a foreigner. Talks like one too. We don’t take too kindly to your kind here in Americaland, friendly or not,” said Tadashi as the crowd cheered. “But sir! Your house! It ees on fire!” said Robert Deadford. “Yeah, well, in Americaland we have a little saying. ‘Clean up your own fires’. Why don’t you go see yourself out and learn some idioms, idiot?” said Tadashi. Robert Deadford shrugged at the cameras as the crowd laughed and the screen faded to black.

The shot faded in, and Tadashi walked into the kitchen to find that it was also on fire. “Man, this just isn’t my season. Clearly, this is the work of globalists who are conspiring to keep the common man down in favor of critical race theory!” Tadashi said. The crowd laughed, and the doorbell ringed again. “Oh, I will deport that Rotaninrub myself if that’s him!” Tadashi said as the crowd laughed. On the other side of the door was a dragon. “Uh, can I help you, Mr. Dragon?” Tadashi asked. “Yeah, you can help me if I use your house for tinder,” the dragon said. “Well, sir, in Americaland, we believe in things called ‘property rights’ and it is my right that you—“ Tadashi started to say. “And it’s my right to torch your house down with all your outdated ideas,” the dragon said, as he continued to breathe fire on the place.

Tadashi proceeded to run away screaming. The dragon turned back into the human form of Robert Deadford as he shrugged at the camera and said “It’s a living!”

Game Notes: Please, both of you, get some defense. 6 errors in a game combined is unacceptable.


Eddie Collins has felt like an outcast on the Bastards since day one. KungFu Grip and the rest of the team kept calling Cocky “Steady Eddie”, which especially hurt when the consistency Collins was providing was below-replacement level batting and fielding. That, in turn, caused his performance to drop further, and he was stuck in a negative feedback loop going into the series against Les Royales de Montreal.

Meanwhile, kalensc had been taking a hands-off approach to moderating his baseball team, only making one move all season: drafting Alex Rodriguez. Though not quite as poor as Eddie Collins had been for the Bastards, A-Rod had been far closer to A-Fraud (USER BANNED FOR RIVALS.COM PUN) than the 12th overall pick in the Super Draft. And with the Royales drifting further and further back from contention since the selection, the rabid fans of Montreal have blamed basically everything on Rodriguez, flipping cars, starting fires, and doing all other fun Montreal sport rioters do to protest A-Rod. He too was a man isolated in a team sport.

And so it was in the bottom of the 5th that the two of them found themselves near each other. Eddie Collins slapped a single, and stole second base. “Hey, nice wheels, Cocky,” A-Rod said to Collins. “Finally, someone around here that knows my actual name, A-Rod,” Collins replied. “What’s a guy gotta do to get as fast as you?” A-Rod said. “Oh, you know, the usual sorts of things. Rolling barrels, lifting imaginary pianos, lying on the floor while moving your legs like a wheel. And, of course, smoking three packs a day,” said Collins. “Huh. I never tried any of those. What do you say we hang out after the game and swap exercise tips? I’ve got some very useful and very legal substances that would give you a boost,” said A-Rod. “I’m already taking enough heroin for my asthma,” Collins said.

The game ended with little incident in a 6-4 win for the Bastards. At the Buntsville Tavern, Collins and A-Rod were sitting at the counter. “You sure your teammates don’t care if you skip out going to the bar with them?” Collins said. A-Rod shook his head. “Nah, my teammates don’t care even a little about me. Unless I carry them to the division, everyone in Montreal will blame me for their collapse,” said A-Rod. “I know exactly what you mean. The mean folk of Buntsville keep calling me a bastard and ‘steady Eddie’ and just generally not being nice. Do they think I want to go out there and hit like Bill Bergen?” said Collins. “Yeah, I can’t go one at-bat without hearing ‘merde’ from the crowd or even my teammates. Heck, some of them have accused me of injuring Pedro Martinez, who started our little spat by saying I have no personality!” said A-Rod.

“Oh, your team’s fans and teammates do that injury blaming thing too? Every week, someone new on the Bastards gets hurt, and they blame me for it!” said Collins. “That’s pretty awful. What actually happened to them?” said A-Rod. “Oh, I don’t know. For instance, I saw that Mel Ott didn’t have his humors properly balanced, so I got the team doctor to bleed him a little. And now I’m the bad guy for looking after my teammate’s health?” said Collins. “Yeah, I get you. I tried offering some Clear to Ken Griffey Jr., and he punched me in the face saying ‘this is for the Seattle Mariners!’ What a bunch of goobers. I’m so glad I could finally find someone who understands me,” said A-Rod. “Me too,” said Collins.

Suddenly, KungFu Grip and kalensc burst in through the Buntsville Tavern doors. “Heard a Bastard of mine was hanging out with the enemy. Can’t abide that,” said KungFu Grip. “I must ban any who would use a parachute account to avoid probation,” said kalensc. “Oh no! It’s our awful owners! We got to get away, Cocky!” said A-Rod. “I’m sorry, A-Rod, but I can’t let the team down. I must turn myself in,” said Collins. “No! Don’t do it! They’ll tear you to shreds!” said A-Rod. “And while they’re doing that to me, make sure you get yourself out of here and pretend you were with the rest of the Royales all along,” said Collins. “No! I can’t just abandon a friend like this! Wait, I actually can. I’m freaking Alex Rodriguez. HEY KUNGFU GRIP, I FOUND YOUR BASTARD,” A-Rod yelled. “Thank you, mysterious friend! Hey, I think I recognize you. You’re a baseballer! How would you like to be a bastard?” said KungFu Grip. “Oh… he’s definitely a bastard. I’ll remember this, A-Fraud,” said Collins. “I’ll remember your team getting relegated, Steady Eddie,” said A-Rod as he walked away. “Yeah, you’re still getting banned, A-Rod,” said kalensc.

Game Notes: Collins and A-Rod went a combined 5 for 8 with three runs between them. Good for them!


“Neva thought I’d be back in da ring again afta dose days,” PASS THE MASH thought to himself. Yesterday, he received a letter of challenge from title-holder Beet for a four-round fight to close out the first half of the fighting season. It had been years since PASS THE MASH competed on the comma separated circuit, but, now, he was finally invited back, and by the title-holder no less. It was time to train. He ran up and down stairs, he punched the rosin bag, he broke bats over his knee, he deadlifted buckets of baseballs; heck, he even squeezed a baseball until it burst, all set to the cheapest cover of Gonna Fly Now money could buy. PASS THE MASH had been broke since his title days, you see.

But the singular day he had to train for his showdown with Beet was over, and, the next day, it was time to step into the ring. PASS THE MASH couldn’t even ask his old towel boy for one more go at it since it was on such short notice. “Not to worry, I believe that she’ll be perfectly adequate for the job,” Beet said, as he introduced the temporary coach he hired for PASS THE MASH before the bout. “Kid?!” PASS THE MASH said incredulously. “Hello, PASS THE MASH. Yes, it is I, Clown Fundamentals. The police have allowed me to continue my undercover work in trying to bring you to justice for your petty breaking and entering, but I want to help you beat this guy,” Clown Fundamentals said. “But why?!” PASS THE MASH asked. “I have to play this guy 23 times in the next three months, I could use him broken,” Clown Fundamentals said.

“Listen, I’ve read the scouting report on Beet. Nicknamed ‘The Machine’, he doesn’t break. But that’s why you got to hit him when he bends! Here, have this special energy drink,” Clown Fundamentals said, offering PASS THE MASH a water bottle. “Nah, I truly appreciate it, kid, but da only thing I can have in a fight is some mash,” PASS THE MASH said before taking out a bottle of mashed potatoes that he began to drink. “Gross. Whatever. Anyway, you have to make sure to get to Beet early—once he’s locked in to a lead, he’ll keep you down,” said Clown Fundamentals. “Thanks, kid, but I think I know what I’m doing,” PASS THE MASH said as the two of them stepped onto the ring for round 1.

Beet got to an early striking lead in the round and, despite PASS THE MASH turning on the aggression later and scoring some hits, fended off the contenda’s punches long enough to outlast him for a round one victory. PASS THE MASH went back to his corner. “Man, it’s been so long since I been out dere… how da heck did I eva do this?” he said to Clown Fundamentals. “That’s not what the contender I idolized growing up said! The PASS THE MASH I know would always dig deep and do whatever it took to win,” Clown Fundamentals said. “You’re right, kid. Pass the mash,” he said, and Clown Fundamentals gave him his mashed potato bottle.

Beet and PASS THE MASH returned to the ring for round 2. It was another close round, but, once again, Beet simply outworked and outstruck PASS THE MASH for the judge’s decision. PASS THE MASH came back to the corner exhausted. “The judges robbed me! I clearly hit him with tha uppacut!” he said. “Yeah, once. Beet hit you with that string of punches halfway through so fast that you didn’t even react. That immediately blew the round for you,” Clown Fundamentals said. “Well I ain’t letting the judges decide the next round. I’m gonna go out there and show dis Beet what a real vegetable looks like,” said PASS THE MASH, once again drinking his mashed potatoes.

PASS THE MASH was correct that the judges didn’t have to decide anything in round 3. It was a slaughter. PASS THE MASH was barely saved by the bell after the severe beating he took, and came back to the corner bloody and bruised. “Hey, you sure you can still go?” Clown Fundamentals asked, wiping the blood away. “Of course I can, kid, yougotta just work through dese dings as a contenda,” PASS THE MASH said. “Look, no one will blame you if you just forfeit this fight. You’re clearly on the ropes, and it seems inhumane to throw you back out there. You’re already a former shell of yourself due to all your concussions, and you’re only going to get more if you try to stick it out,” said Clown Fundamentals. “Pass the mash, kid,” PASS THE MASH said. “But–!” “Pass. The. Mash. I gotta do it for da family,” PASS THE MASH said, drinking again from his mashed potato bottle.

The fourth round was much different from the previous one. PASS THE MASH fought through his bloodied face and delivered blow after blow on Beet. He had built a decent lead to win the round, but knew that his only hope of winning the match at this point would be by knockout. So he continued to take risk after risk. And then, with twenty seconds to go in the round, he saw Beet in a vulnerable position and went in to strike. Beet counterpunched PASS THE MASH, and delivered the knockout blow. “Enjoy the taste of canvas. The taste of the Royal Division will be mine. The Machine, this one was for you,” Beet said as PASS THE MASH lied knocked out on the canvas. Clown Fundamentals silently walked up to PASS THE MASH with his mashed potato bottle. “Kid… was I a contenda?” PASS THE MASH asked. “Yes,” Clown Fundamentals said, with tears in her eyes. “Don’t cry for me, kid… smile… for da world,” he said, before passing out.

Game Notes: Felix was set up to fail, and deserves no blame for this loss.


Tadashi woke up on a boat. “Huh, I thought I was just snoozing, but I guess I was cruising as well,” tadashi said as the crowd laughed. He walked out of his room and came to the deck. He noticed something was off, even more so than waking up on a boat after going to bed at home. “Guh?! Why’s the boat not moving?” tadashi asked no one in particular. “Oh, yeah. Hey there. It’s Chamale again,” Chamale said. “Chamale? I thought you were never going to be heard from ever again!” tadashi said. “Nothing is Ever Given,” Chamale said, looking straight at the camera. “Dang, I thought the crowd was going to eat that one up,” Chamale said.

“Look, pal, you’re the straight guy, and I’m the funny one. Capisce?” tadashi said. “More like, ‘capsize’,” Chamale said, looking at the camera again. No response. “Man, it’s not like anything you say is actually funny,” Chamale said, and the crowd gasped. “Now, now, this is my show,” tadashi said. “And this is my boat. And your show got cancelled,” Chamale said. “And you were never heard from again,” tadashi replied. “Touché. I suppose we might as well call a truce, since we’re just filler teams right now in the grand scheme of things,” Chamale said. “And your boat is definitely a filler!” tadashi said and the crowd laughed. “Ugh, it’s like they’re all robots programmed to only respond to your voice,” Chamale said. “Nonsense! They’re a live studio audience that only laughs at what’s funny. Of course, paying them seems to open them up to finding more things funny than not,” tadashi said.

“Anyway, we’re all getting distracted from the real issue. Why am I on your boat?” tadashi asked. “Oh, you don’t remember? I was going to do some 999 stuff by kidnapping 8 people and having them go through some stupid convoluted bullshit murder mystery game, but I chickened out after kidnapping you,” Chamale said. “Uh… why?” tadashi asked. “Every game is boring for me. I’m too good at everything. Take the Super League for example. I won the Expansion Cup on my first try. I need some entertainment, and I figured kidnapping 8 people would make things interesting,” Chamale said. “You have a weirder definition for interesting than my ex-wife,” tadashi said, as the crowd laughed. “I wish I could kidnap this crowd,” Chamale said.

“So, now that you’ve got me and have given up, what are you planning next?” tadashi asked. “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get this boat unanchored and sail off into the sunset. Not much else for me to do around here,” Chamale said. “You could try to win the Sub-Par League, you know,” tadashi said as the crowd laughed. “I wasn’t even joking!” he added. This time, Chamale laughed. “It’s a bit late for that. I already have switched to playing the, well, Switch, and trying to find good co-op games. Do you have any recommendations?” Chamale asked. “The only co-op game I play is called real life,” tadashi said, as the crowd broke out into a huge standing ovation. “Alright, going back on the boat murder plan,” Chamale said as he shot tadashi.

Game Notes: The winning run was scored on a wild pitch by Joe Nathan with the bases loaded. Probably would’ve been an infuriating loss if I was a Centrists’ fan.


“Attention personnel. Landing aircraft in 5… 4… 3… 2…” The Luna Lander shook as it impacted the Earth’s surface. “You know, I really should recalibrate the damn thing to account for 4/4 time instead of 13/8. Ah well, it’s good to be back… wait, where the hell did we land?” mrnoun asked his ship. “We have landed at Christmas Island, mrnoun. There is little known about the Island recorded here in the database. I need you to fill out this exploration guide with samples of every rock, plant, animal, and especially music,” the robotic voice said. “That’s so right. There’s no point exploring a planet that doesn’t have good music,” mrnoun said. “Please, mrnoun, remember. Christmas Island is part of Earth. There is not likely to be any music with alien time signatures here,” the robotic voice said. “Fine…” mrnoun grumbled, as he put on his astronaut suit and left the ship.

Immediately, one of the locals found mrnoun. “Uh, greetings mrnoun. I knew you’d visit the sunny shores of Christmas Island again,” the local said. “I have no memory of you nor of this place,” mrnoun replied. The local rolled their eyes. “That’s what you said the last time. Once again, I’m the holy poopacy of Christmas Island, pleasure ‘meeting’ you,” the holy poopacy said. “Computer! Search all records for this ‘holy poopacy’. I need to know how to deal with these primitive locals and their religion,” mrnoun said into his suit. “You know I can hear that every time, and it upsets me every time. Why don’t you remember visiting Christmas Island? Or at least remember to avoid it?” the holy poopacy said.

“I am but a simple passenger of fate. Destined to float from one beacon to the next in search of a home that will accept me and my ways. And, I guess the Sub-Par League team kind of forces me to go here too,” mrnoun said. “If you can somehow remember the existence of the Sub-Par League, you should be able to remember the Seagoats. We’re in the Gentoo League together, you know,” the holy poopacy said. “That can’t be right. There are only nine teams in that league. I would definitely remember a team as alien-sounding as the Seagoats if I had ever played them before,” mrnoun said. The holy poopacy sighed. “Great. Looks like I’ll just have to unleash what you called the ‘Christmas Island Curse’ back on you again to get rid of this annoying harassment. Guards?” the holy poopacy said.

mrnoun didn’t know why, but he began to get chills. “Computer! I am afraid. Have any of the rock samples turned up anything?” mrnoun asked. “You never got a rock sample,” the computer replied. “No!” mrnoun slammed his fist into the ground as a musical band surrounded him and the holy poopacy. “You know, I still am unsure of whether Fear of Music or More Songs About Buildings and Roads is the best Talking Heads album. Maybe we’ll just have my friends here play the entirety of both albums and have you decide,” the holy poopacy said. “No! I cannot listen to such uninspired 4/4 pop drivel! It pretends to be alternative but is just as vapid as My Sharona! Computer! Do not take any musical samples from this hellhole, I need to burn it to the ground!” mrnoun shouted.

And so he did.

Game Notes: Sending out Dennis Eckersley two innings in a row is brave, but perhaps not wise.


“Grr! I’m a Misanthrope!” Faustoan Bargain said as he attempted to look menacing. “Uh, arf! Arf! I’m a corgi!” Jampact said while mimicking a dog’s paws with her arms. “And, scene. Great job getting into the characters, you two!” the improv teacher said. Faustoan Bargain and Jampact went and sat back down. “Wow, I never thought improv would be this tough!” Jampact said. “Yeah, it really requires you to improve yourself to fit in! Get it? Improve? Improv?” Faustoan Bargain said. “You’re going to need to improve on your jokes if you want to get me to laugh,” Jampact said. “Ooh, great one! I’ll write that down for the next scene,” Faustoan Bargain said.

“Wait, writing stuff down for improv? That completely goes against the spirit of improv! It’s all supposed to be improvised!” Jampact said. “They’re a little like stage magicians, professional improvers. They’ll use some sleight of hand to distract you, like asking the crowd for a word or a place, and then simply put that word into a pre-written scene,” Faustoan Bargain explained. “I don’t know, I’d like to believe that they aren’t fake. At the last improv show I went to, I went with Hype. One of the members of the troupe asked the crowd who the best boy in the audience was, and everyone easily picked Hype,” Jampact said. “Well, what was the sketch they did afterwards like?” Faustoan Bargain asked. “That was the best part! They invited Hype on stage and used him as a character in a murder mystery… where the damning evidence was buried… hmm. I’m starting to think that they pre-buried that bloodied bone and would’ve ‘found’ a shovel to dig it up or something if Hype wasn’t there,” Jampact said.

“See, now you’re getting it. Improv that is full improv is extremely tough. Coming up with something funny on the spot is asking a lot. But it is great to practice improv as a way of practicing real-life social situations,” Faustoan Bargain said. “What, you’re trying to be more misanthropic?” Jampact said. “Maybe. At the very least, I’d like it if my team took an improv class where every sketch was about playing baseball better,” Faustoan Bargain said. “And I’d like it if there was an improv class where every player who got hurt for the Corgis magically got better,” Jampact said. “Both of these can be easily arranged. We’ve even got 7 games against each other in a row scheduled!” Faustoan Bargain said. “Perfect! I’ll meet you in Minneapolis where we can do the theatre of our Sub-Par dreams!” Jampact said.

Sometime later, the Faustoan Bargain and Jampact had gathered their teams at Misanthrope Meadows, where each of them attempted to use the power of improv to save their seasons. “Alright, number one rule guys, is ‘say yes’!” Faustoan Bargain instructed. “Listen, when we go out there, I don’t want to see anyone being vague and noncommittal. If you think of it in the moment, just say it!” Jampact said. “Alright, begin scene!” they said in unison. El Shaddai was the first to move. “I’m God, and I will smite all nonbelievers,” El Shaddai said. “Cut! Come on, don’t negate other people’s existences in the scene. Especially if no one else joins you first!” Jampact explained. “Alright, let’s try again people. Begin scene!” Faustoan Bargain said.

No one else moved an inch. “This is stupid,” a voice in the back of the group said. “Who said that?!” Jampact yelled. “It’s just me, Teddy Roosevelt,” Jesse Burkett said as he walked forward. “Alright, great job, Jesse. We have an actual character here that people can interact with! Now, someone else, help him out!” Faustoan Bargain said. Rube Waddell got up. “I’m Abraham Lincoln, and I think slavery should be legal again, and I hate your hippy New Deal socialism BS,” Rube Waddell said. “That is appalling, Rube. President Lincoln would have no idea what socialism was!” Jampact said. “That’s the part of that you take umbrage with?” Faustoan Bargain said. “Look, you can’t just make everything up for improv. There has to be some agreed-upon reality for a scene. And the fun of it is finding those boundaries. But temporal ones like that should be called out immediately,” Jampact said. “This is extremely stupid. We might as well play the actual game of improv we were gathered here for: baseball,” Faustoan Bargain said. “I agree, though, after our last conversation, comparing baseball to improv makes me think you’ve somehow pre-written this game’s outcome…” Jampact said. “Uh, end scene!” Faustoan Bargain said as he guiltily scurried away.

Game Notes: Rheal Cormier with the save! How about that.


Honk! Honk! mks5000 honked the Hague Hautomobile. “Let’s go Volk Hammer! Time to honk the heck out of the Tugboats!” mks5000 said. “Sir, please, I’m trying to drive. Don’t take the Hautomobile out of H, please,” Volk Hammer replied, having been resigned to driving duty after struggling to find any consistency in his bat. “Quiet, Volk. I’m trying to have a good time,” mks5000 said. “What, beating the Marmosets 3 out of 4 times in South Dakota to ice the division wasn’t good enough for you?” Volk Hammer said. “Volk, we just had to spend 4 days in South Dakota. No, it wasn’t good enough for me, and I hope it wasn’t good enough for you because that is even more depressing than your slashline this year,” mks5000 said. Volk Hammer grumbled as the Hautomobile approached the Suez Canal.

The Hautomobile swerved into Sinister Stadium’s parking lot and proceeded to crash into one of the ballpark’s walls. “Heck yeah! Nice driving, Volk!” mks5000 yelled as he got out from the roof. “You know very well that you took control of that wheel and are very much responsible for—“ Volk Hammer responded. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. We’re in the building and ready for this filler series against a filler team. But… something seems off,” mks5000 said. Despite driving a hole in the building, no security, staff, nor really anybody came to greet the Honkbalers. “Volk, this is the right place, right?” mks5000 asked. “First of all, did you see any other baseball stadiums around here? Secondly, yes I’m fucking sure. We played here a month ago!” Volk Hammer said. “Was no one here then, too?” mks5000 asked. “Yeah, there were people here. Specifically, the Tugboats. The final game was pretty memorable. The Marmosets were on a hot streak, and we weren’t doing as good against the Tugboats as we should’ve been. We actually lost after one of the Mariano Riveras couldn’t record an out and gave up 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th,” Volk Hammer said.

“Huh, I don’t remember that all. How did you remember it?” mks5000 asked. “Because you actually put me in the lineup and I hit a dinger. Anyway, I heard the Tugboats had been struggling with their absentee owner, but the players and staff weren’t absentee until now,” Volk Hammer said. “Time to explore!” mks5000 declared. And so mks5000 and Volk Hammer started walking through Sinister Stadium. “I’m pretty sure Pander’s Southpaws played in a stadium with this name, though that was definitely a sinister ballpark in the true sense of the word. This just feels like one of those abandoned amusement parks that Jake Paul decided to record a vlog in,” mks5000 said. “You mean Logan Paul,” Volk Hammer said. “Why the heck do you know which Paul brother did that?” mks5000 said. “There is a lot of free time down in the minor leagues when you’re as good as Jarred Kelenic,” Volk Hammer said.

The two of them continued to walk all over the stadium, except for the visitor’s locker room since the rest of the Honkbalers were there. “Woah, check this out. The Suez Canal Tugboats Kids Club!” mks5000 said. “’Take a picture with the Tugboats’ mascot, the Never Given’,” Volk Hammer read off a sign. Next to the sign was a cardboard cutout of a picture of the Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal with a hole that a kid could stick their head out of at the front of the ship. “You know, I’m going to say that this is more than a little tasteless between the pun and the incident it’s punning off of,” Volk Hammer said. “’Kids can drive the Ever Given every Sunday after the game as part of kids’ day’. That’s kind of cute, there’s a mini-pond over there where kids can drive a boat,” mks5000 said, pointing out said pond. At one end of it was a mini-Ever Given. The duo quickly noticed something was off. “Is it just me, or is the ship the kids can drive—“ mks5000 started. “—Is too wide to ever move down the river?” Volk Hammer finished.

mks5000 and Volk Hammer continued walking down the public concourse of the stadium but still found no Chamale nor any of his Tugboats. “Did we get the schedule wrong? Maybe we’re playing in The Hague,” mks5000 asked. “No, we’re supposed to be here… hang on, did you hear something?” Volk Hammer said, startled by a noise. “Yeah. Huh. Sounded like a door opening,” mks5000 said. Suddenly, a voice behind the two of them shouted “Boo!” mks5000 sighed. “Chamale, I appreciate the effort that went into your weird scare tactic, but trying to turn Sinister Stadium into a ghost house is not actually going to make your baseball team better,” mks5000 said. “~Ooh!~ I’m not Chamale, I’m Bropotkin! OooooooOOOOOOhhhh!” Chamale said. “Yeah, Chamale. Like I said,” mks5000 said. “Aren’t you scared? You’re in the most haunted building in the Sub-Par League, filled with souls of the danged!” Chamale asked. “Yeah, because 26 of those danged souls are you and the Tugboats. Gottem. Honk honk!” mks5000 said as the Honkbalers easily defeated the Tugboats.

Game Notes: I wonder if the Mariano Rivera that gave up 2 runs in this game was the same one that gave up 2 runs in the last Honkbalers @ Tugboats game. I also wonder if they pull a Daniel/Henrik Sedin and just constantly switch which Rivera they’re pretending to be.


“Aw man, I’ll never big the big girl on campus,” Clown Fundamentals said to herself yet again. “Why stop at the campus when you could be the big girl of space?” a voice boomed down to her. “What the? Who said that?” Clown Fundamentals asked. “It is I, master of the universe, prince of prog-rock, and sometimes-owner of the Luna Landers, mrnoun!” mrnoun said as he beamed himself down to Camden. “How the heck did you do that, mister?” Clown Fundamentals asked. “All is possible with the power of prog. Now, I believe you had a problem? Or should I say, progblem? Which is that you don’t listen to enough prog?” mrnoun asked. “Wait a minute, I talked to you before! You’re the wacko that left in a huff after I said that the Talking Heads were a good band!” Clown Fundamentals said.

mrnoun grimaced. “Hmm, are you sure it was me? There are a lot of princes of prog after all,” mrnoun said, trying to pretend that didn’t happen. “No, I am like 100% sure it was you. Although that guy didn’t say they were the master of the universe…” Clown Fundamentals was no longer as sure of her deduction. “Exactly! It couldn’t have been me. It was just… an imitator of me. Like all the prog rock imitators,” mrnoun said. “No one would ever pretend to be a prog rock band. It’s way easier to pretend you’re a trap artist to go viral on TikTok or whatever,” Clown Fundamentals said. “Tick Tock? What does a metronome have to do with a virus?” mrnoun asked. Clown Fundamentals rolled her eyes. “The master of the universe doesn’t know about TikTok, going viral, or really anything about the internet? Huh, I guess that tracks with a guy stuck in the 70s,” Clown Fundamentals said.

“Listen, I am the master of the universe, and the universe has yet to be remastered. Not my fault moronic youths have decided that triplets and hi-hats are the peak of music instead of flowing symphonies. You know Beethoven would’ve loved prog-rock,” mrnoun said. “Guh? I’m a stupid millennial that buys avocado toast, kills Circuit City, and bloats the Sub-Par League with anti free market teams. What is this ‘Beat Haven’ you are referring to?” Clown Fundamentals said with heavy sarcasm. “He was the Ninja of his time, I suppose. But that’s neither here nor there. I came down here because you asked for help becoming the big girl on campus,” mrnoun said.

Clown Fundamentals sighed. “Yeah, but I’m running out of time. Homecoming is right around the corner and I still don’t have a date nor a spot as royalty,” Clown Fundamentals said. “Have no fear, the prince of prog-rock will easily earn you royalty once those foolish ASB members see my visage,” mrnoun said. “Uh, not to deflate your confidence, but, again, we’re dumb millennials that listen to ‘crap’ music and the Applebees’ song instead of true intellectual stuff. They don’t care about your princehood in the slightest,” Clown Fundamentals said. “Maybe not my princehood itself, but I’m sure they’d be impressed by my future tech of the Luna Lander,” mrnoun said.

“I’ve got a great idea. How about you tell the organizers that they can throw Homecoming on your Luna Lander if they elect me to homecoming royalty!” Clown Fundamentals said. “Brilliant, let’s go right away to the student council president!” mrnoun said and the two of them flew over to Camden High School. “Greetings, student council president, I see that you have scheduled this year’s homecoming in an abandoned warehouse. Here is my proposal: you throw homecoming on this guy’s ship, the Luna Lander, in exchange for me being homecoming royalty!” Clown Fundamentals said. “And I get to pick the music,” mrnoun added. “And what music would you be playing?” the student council president asked. “Prog-rock,” mrnoun said. Clown Fundamentals buried her head in her hands. “Absolutely not,” the president said. “I’ll never be the big girl on campus…” Clown Fundamentals said.

Game Notes: Wanderlei Bolton can only do so much. Six runs given up with just three of them earned means he still would’ve gotten the loss with perfect defense, but still.


“Mwahaha! Finally, the plan has come fully to fruition!” Faustoan Bargain laughed to himself in a dark room. Monicro entered, and a set of candles lit up surrounding Faustoan Bargain. “Gasp!” Monicro said. “It was you all along!” she continued. “Ah… the precious hero finally makes her appearance. Well, you’re too late! The plan is already in motion!” Faustoan Bargain said. “No! I won’t allow you to bring the great evil back into the Super League!” Monicro said, as she got her sword ready. “Ah… so quick to go to violence,” Faustoan Bargain said. “It’s what anime and JRPGs taught me—the only way to stop the great evil is with swords and friendship,” Monicro said.

Faustoan Bargain looked at Monicro. “Uh, you seem to be missing one half of that equation,” he said. “Look, the season is very long, and I might need my Megalixers later. I can’t risk using them on Eddie Collins, Steve Reed, or Rube Waddell in case somebody more important dies! Like me! What if I die? How then will we have enough Megalixers to stop the great evil?” Monicro said. “Well, if the party leader dies, it’s game over. You know that, right?” Faustoan Bargain said. “I hate that game mechanic. Tris Speaker should be able to revive me easily!” Monicro said. “Alright, sure, but there’s also just four weeks left and your team is three games down in the division. I think now is exactly when you should be using your revive items,” Faustoan Bargain said. “Never! What if there’s a postgame dungeon with a superboss that wipes half the party every attack?” Monicro said.

“Listen, I don’t mean to sound rude, but you’re quite far away from the Macho Men with this party. Plus, that team uses an even more nefarious JRPG tactic of brainwashing your party members,” Faustoan Bargain said. “That wouldn’t work on my team because we have the Beacom of Light guiding us together as friends!” Monicro said. “The impression I always got from Smasher was that friendship was basically impossible in the Super League. Especially when it came to trying to win. Remember when the Cancun Tornadoes used an envelope they drafted to skip playing against the Somali Pirates? That’s basically cheating all levels of friendship and honor that your anime and JRPGs love so much,” Faustoan Bargain said. “Wrong! They simply completed a sidequest to do that!” Monicro said. “I can’t tell if I’d be annoyed or impressed by being able to skip the final boss if I completed some random sidequest. It’d have to tie into the story a lot better than ‘draft a blank envelope’ was,” Faustoan Bargain said.

“Which reminds me. I think I came in here to stop some great evil you were trying to summon,” Monicro said. “What? Oh yeah. Sorry. Uh, let me check the script… wa ha ha, hero. You’re too late. The inevitable will happen, and you will be doomed to this world below while the great evil, craigk, will be resummoned back into the Super League to cause havoc once again,” Faustoan Bargain said flatly. “You could’ve at least tried to sound more evil,” Monicro said. “I don’t really care. I’m just some filler mid-boss at the end of a dungeon 75% of the way through the game that you never saw before this point and will never see again,” Faustoan Bargain said. “Hey, I know I’ll see a palette swap of you as a regular enemy in the final dungeon!” Monicro said. “This does not make me feel any better,” Faustoan Bargain said.

And so the hero and the filler midboss dueled to the end while the great evil, craigk, continued to grow stronger and grow his division lead in the shadows.

Game Notes: Probably don’t need to 100% overreact to a seven game sample size, but scoring 2 runs a game at home and 8 runs a game on the road might be a sign to switch the stadium up next year.


“Man, this sucks! I’ll never be the big woman on campus here! But… what if… I were to try and get myself reincarnated in another world where I could be the big woman on campus?! Clown Fundamentals: this is so crazy, it just might work! Now, how do I get reincarnated… hmm, everywhere I look, they say you have to get hit by a truck. But that sounds painful. Can’t I just die tragically in an easier to access way? Like overdosing on antidepressants?” Clown Fundamentals continued to monologue to herself when shepard.shouldgo walked up behind her. “Hey,” shepard.shouldgo said. “Gah!” Clown Fundamentals fell back over her chair and passed out due to the shock.

When she woke up, she found herself in a strange forest. “Woah… where am I?” Clown Fundamentals asked. “Claude! I hear a voice over here! Maybe it’s another one that the bandits caught!” a voice said from the woods. A man who looked like shepard.shouldgo but cel-shaded and twelve years old as well as the man he called Claude came into the clearing with Clown Fundamentals. “Shepard? Is that you?” Clown Fundamentals asked. “How could some wild child like you know the honorable Shepard of House Shouldgo?” shepard.shouldgo replied. “That’s a silly question, we’re in the Sub-Par League together!” Clown Fundamentals said. “Shepard, is the Sub-Par League one of those stupid organizations that ‘appears good’ but is actually the host of the final boss?” Claude asked. “Of course not. I’ve never heard of the Sub-Par League. It seems like she hit her head bad, we should take her back to heal her,” Shepard Shouldgo said.

And so Claude and Shepard escorted the lost Clown Fundamentals back to Garreg Mach, explaining to her along the way where exactly she found herself. “Wait, you’re telling me that we’re going to a school?!” Clown Fundamentals asked. “Uh, yeah. Garreg Mach Monastery is home to the best military school in Fodlan. And like all good schools, there’s random stragglers living here with mysterious pasts. You can blend in with the masked weirdos until we figure out what’s going on with you,” Shepard said. Clown Fundamentals shook her head. “Nuh uh! I’m going to be the big woman on campus all this time!” she said. “Shepard, do you have any idea what a big woman on campus is?” Claude asked. “Uh, I’m not sure. But as the instructor for her class, I can teach her muscle building, I guess?” Shepard said.

“What? You guys don’t know what the big woman on campus is? Actually… that’s perfect! Then I can be the first big woman on campus, and everyone will look up to me!” Clown Fundamentals said. “That sounds sacrilegious. I can’t see Sothis being pleased with this,” Claude said. Clown Fundamentals didn’t hear him as she sped off into the dining hall. “Heyyyyyyy everyone! I’m Clown Fundamentals! I’m new here but I’m going to be the coolest person in Garreg Mach! Just you wait!” she yelled into the crowded cafeteria. Students stared at Clown Fundamentals, but she didn’t mind. Over the next few weeks, Clown Fundamentals did everything she could think of to boost her reputation. She hung out with the other popular kids, she let everyone borrow her notes, and she practiced military exercises harder and longer than anyone else. Soon enough, the students of Garreg Mach did know and look up to Miss Clown of House Fundamentals, despite her weird habit of calling herself the ‘big woman on campus’.

Clown Fundamentals awoke in her bed and found herself back in reality. “Wha–… no! This can’t be! I was finally the big woman on campus! Why am I back here?!” she yelled. A man sleeping in a chair beside her bed woke up. “Oh, you’re finally up? That’s good. I was very worried. You hit your head falling out of your chair when I came over, and didn’t wake up. I was just making sure you were alright,” shepard.shouldgo said. “No! My perfect life! All my dreams! Give them back! Take me out of the Sub-Par and put me back in Garreg Mach!” Clown Fundamentals said. “Oh yeah, that’s why I came over. Here, you can borrow Three Hopes now,” shepard.shouldgo said as he handed over the game’s box. “…Fine, I guess this world is fine enough,” Clown Fundamentals said as she booted up her Switch.

Game Notes: You can never trust Matlock.

And there you have it. Hopefully I never do this again.

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