Sorry in advance here. I was originally planning on doing my racing game round up just in time for the weekend, but something else has come up that is much more deserving of my attention. I’ve made my jabs in other posts talking about games writing, but maybe it’s time I dedicated a whole post to it. Much like my post on dealing with Crash Override and the fallout from that, you can choose to believe me or not, I don’t care. I’m simply putting my story out there.
Before I get into SaGa Frontier, there’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while in regards to the current state of the games industry. It’s been an issue for some time now, but it’s really been ramping up over the last few years.
Rereleases. Remasters. Remakes. As far as mainstream AAA video games go, it feels like every other game being released this year is something we’ve already played before, but with a fresh coat of paint. There’s a remake of The Last of Us coming out, despite that fact there already is a PS4 version available right now. Why is there a remake of Spider-Man PS4? Spider-Man came out in 2018! Not only is that such a stupid idea to remake something a few years old, the remake looks worse, despite being better hardware! In fact, a lot of these games look worse. Spider-Man, Mass Effect, Demon’s Souls. Games that really didn’t need a remake in the first place, getting a fucked up Mickey Rourke facelift and shoved into the hands of the general public, who have been conditioned that the future of games is its recent past. I remember thinking, years back, that too many sequels were suffocating to the medium. Sequel-itis seems preferable to this, as at least we’re getting a new end product. I am chomping at the bit for Resident Evil 8, to the point of pre-purchasing the game (helped that the pre-purchase price was $10 less than if I had bought it normally), and even if the game turns out to be bad, it’s still better than the fucking nightmare that would be a potential Resident Evil 4 remake. Resident Evil 4 does not need a remake! Leave it alone!
Of course, not to say that every remake or remaster is bad. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 was fantastic. The Yakuza Collection was worth it for reintroducing content cut from the US version of Yakuza 3. The Switch release of Baroque is a second chance for a little-known game in a niche genre, assuming that Sting will ever release it outside of Japan, and they fucking better. Hell, I recently spent an awful lot of words talking about how great the PC-Engine remake of Tower of Druaga is, and made a few mentions of the Resident Evil remake. If it’s done sparingly, or for something that should have been better received than it was, remaking something can be great.
That leads to the focus of today’s post: SaGa Frontier Remastered. This is the perfect example of a game being remade/remastered/whatever. A second chance for a game that was demolished in the gaming press (Western press, naturally) at the time, was released unfinished, and didn’t reach the fond memories that so many other Squaresoft games on the Playstation did. SaGa Frontier was a game that I hadn’t spent much time with over the years, mostly due to its reputation of being a bad game. In the subsequent decades since, I’ve learned to love the SaGa games (Final Fantasy Legend 2 being a particular favorite), and a remaster of another one of its entries that included characters and quests that had been cut from the original game got my interest. As far as the “remaster” part goes, it’s pretty great. The prerendered backgrounds have been AI enhanced, there’s a number of quality of life changes that can be turned on or off (I turn them off because I am America’s Most Important Gamer), and the best thing, a cryptic hint system that nudges you in the direction you need to go rather than leaving you to wander around for hours.
Yes, SaGa Frontier is an extremely open world game. There are seven scenarios to pick from (including a hidden eighth one), each having a different degree of linearity. Some will lead down a straight line for a majority of time, and others will let you explore the entire world at once, leaving you to figure out how you want to take things.
Anyways. That’s it for the “is this a good remaster?” part. If you’ve already played SaGa Frontier, you want to get this.
SaGa Frontier is a great game. SaGa Frontier is a game about watching numbers go up, in its own weird, anti-RPG way. Listen to an internet radio show (sorry, but I fucking hate the word “podcast,” despite being a co-host of two of them) or an ASMR video while you do some stat grinding. It’s great, because it is an RPG that does not give a fuck. There’s no overarching theme. There’s no coming together to fight a Big Evil at the end. There are eight characters, all vastly different from one another, who have their own shit to deal with. And when that shit is done? Their story is over, roll credits. No long, elaborate cutscenes or extra-long dialogue to sit through. No lengthy exposition, which is both good and bad. Good in that there’s less cruft, and everything moves much more smoothly. Bad in that maybe characters don’t get as much personality as their peers in other RPGs do. I feel like the main characters get just enough time to show enough personality to keep you interested, but maybe they could have stood to get a little more time. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The main character of SaGa Frontier is the world that everyone inhabits, the playable characters are bit players in showcasing this gorgeous and strange mirror to our own world, much like you and I being bit players on Earth.
I think that’s what I like the most out of SaGa Frontier on a narrative level. It’s not as if the characters are boring or anything. You have a Tokusatsu hero, a robot with amnesia, a shapeshifting monster, a woman brought back to life as a kinda sorta vampire, a gifted magician, a super-model turned underground thief who at one point goes undercover as a pro wrestler to infiltrate a martial arts tournament, a slacker musician recently kicked out of his mom’s house, and a member of an elite detective force. Those are all extremely interesting characters, who do get to show off some of their personality. But at the same time, they are all focused on their own individual goals, while the world keeps on going. Why is there a biological laboratory where all of the scientists have turned into hideous monsters? I don’t give a fuck, I have to get revenge on the man who framed me for murder. There’s a town where everyone is a fortune teller or a magic salesman. Great, but I’m a robot who cannot learn magic, and I need to figure out what my prime directive is. Why are the furthest reaches of outer space a surrealist landscape where everything is made out of sweets? Doesn’t matter, I need to learn more types of magic so that I can kill my brother in a preordained duel.
The narrative structure is a bit true to life that way. There’s all sorts of weird, fucked up shit happening in the real world, but we’re all focused on our own lives. Going to work, going to school, maintaining a relationship, raising a family, sitting in a dark room and jerking off to internet porn, all sorts of things. It’s not that we don’t care about the evils of the world, but there’s not really a whole lot we can do about it, unfortunately; you can’t just cut the president’s head off with a Samurai sword, or suplex the concept of white supremacy.
I like that SaGa Frontier is this thing that managed to be both grounded in reality, and completely out there. It’s a world of magic and monsters, robots and spaceships. There’s a real life super-hero running around while people make ends meet in a very obvious allegory of Kowloon’s Walled City. There’s a robot, a martial arts master, and a vampire wandering around a city literally called Manhattan, while regular folks relax in a large shopping mall. This really cool blend of the outlandish and the mundane that, frankly, pulls it off better than Final Fantasy XV did. I got this game a week ago, and in that time, I grew so resentful of the publications that told me to avoid it at all costs
SaGa Frontier is this amazing game that appeals best to weirdos and artists. Genre conventions are out the window, and in its place is a surrealist adventure that makes sense on its own terms, not yours. Even with the remaster’s user-friendly additions, SaGa Frontier remains this wild animal of a video game, bouncing off the walls and talking a mile a minute. Like other games I’ve brought up, like Tower of Druaga and Genpei Toumaden, SaGa Frontier is a game that has long since been blown open, with all of its secrets displayed to the world. We all know how to exploit a glitch that gives you infinite money, and we know how to get an unlimited supply of weapons and items from a particular shop. We know which characters can be recruited, what skills they possess, and who they work well with. This remaster puts back all of the missing content. Despite all of this, like Druaga and GT, there still remains this aura of mystery, like there’s still more to be discovered. This is what I love about video games. I love games like this, that do interesting stuff that can only be done in this medium. Movies can’t do this. Books can’t do this. Music can’t do this. Only games can do this. To tie this back to my point at the beginning of this post, I would rather have a market flooded with games like SaGa Frontier, than the murky sea of selling me the same tired ass “prestige” bull shit that I didn’t play from 2-10 years ago. I don’t need, nor do I want, Billion Dollar Crunch Culture HD Remake Exclusively On Playstation 5. Give me cheaper, weirder shit that isn’t interested in meaningless awards or the praise of some dickhead who already hates the Japanese anyway. Give me more games with a soul.
It’s that time again. That wonderful time where I go dumpster diving through every transphobes least favorite den of piracy: the Internet Archive! Let’s get fucking started!
NamCollection 50th Anniversary
NamCollection is a five-game compilation of Namco PSX games for the Playstation 2 only ever released in Japan. The games included are:
- Ridge Racer
- Ace Combat 2
- Mr. Driller
Now, while this is not the digital monument to classic games that the Namco Museum series was, it’s still pretty cool. You get all these games on one DVD, with some slightly updated textures for all of them, and in the case of Ridge Racer and Ace Combat, analog controls.
Going back and playing these games, it’s pretty incredible how good they are even now, decades after their release. Except for Tekken 1. Tekken 1 fucking sucks. Playing this, I wondered out loud how this spawned eight sequels that were all really good; like okay, Tekken 4 was not super stellar, but at least it had ambitions that only failed due to the genre it was in. Tekken 1’s controls are fucking terrible. The AI is the worst kind of SNK mind-reading bull shit. Characters have about five moves that you can never get to input right. Heihachi and Paul can straight up kill you in two hits. It sucks. If you want to play a Tekken game so bad, there are plenty of other options out there, and three of them are also available on the PS2.
Ridge Racer is pretty good. The thing about the series prior to Ridge Racer 4 is that I am terrible at them; I just cannot wrap my head around the way the cars handle. It feels extremely sensitive compared to other games, even more recent Ridge Racers. A big problem is that PCSX2 uh, kind of sucks when it comes to mapping analog sensitivity,so trying to use the analog sticks to drive was a hassle, as it had no problem turning to the right, while trying to turn left literally did not work unless I moved the stick all the way. I’m sure the analog stuff works fine on original hardware, but it does not here. Game is still fine, despite me being bad and my emulator refusing to cooperate with me. Only real downside is that this is the original release of Ridge Racer, locked at 30 FPS, and not the updated 60 FPS version released with Ridge Racer 4. I’m not a big FPS person; I’m fine with 30, but I feel like racing games should go as fast as possible, so it’s a shame that the 60 is not the game on this collection.
Ace Combat 2 is awesome. Ace Combat in general is great, except for that horrible American one that everyone somehow has in their game collection. While I still had the same analog troubles here as I did with Ridge Racer, it’s not as big a deal as I can handle the planes here better than I could the cars there. Being on PS2, the planes have a little more detail on them, which is cool; if I’m going to be uncritically taking part in the American War Machine (this was before Ace Combat took more of a “war is bad” stance), it might as well look nice. The action is just as wild and frenetic as it was on the original Playstation. I have nothing to complain about here, other than some control issues that are not the game’s fault.
Klonoa is one of those games that is really good, everyone agrees is really good, and I have never, ever finished. It’s one of those games that I load up in an emulator, play around with for a few levels, then I say, “yeah this is cool, I will come back to this later,” and then I never do. I really should get around to fixing that at some point. Even now, for this post, I simply played a few levels and said, “yes, good.” Sorry everyone; I will turn in my Gamer Card at the end of the post. Klonoa is good, or at least the first five levels are.
Many of you have asked what klonoa game I am playing. It's the new one on the wii. I'm at level six. I play with my pants around my ankles.
— matthew perry (@MatthewPerry) May 16, 2009
Like the older Ridge Racer games, I am fucking terrible at Mr. Driller. I have played and owned multiple versions of the game, and I am incapable of completing any stage beyond the easiest, Baby’s-First-Game level. I like Mr. Driller, but I do not understand him. I suck at it, but the game is good.
Aside from playing host to obscure video games, video game collections, and queer literature, the Internet Archive also has a bunch of racing on it! Looking around, it has Grand Prix’s dating all the way back to the late 80s, the incredibly exciting time where you got to see the rivalry between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna unfold, to the modern day, with its current attitude of “we are literally a sports manga now.” That’s awesome.
The Archive also has episodes of the Netflix documentary Drive To Survive. My introduction to F1 was a YouTube video on a gaming channel that I’m subbed to, but for normal people, this show is what got people invested in the sport of Auto Racing. Granted, reality television is a complete work, but at least this is a good work. There’s a video on YouTube that I would recommend as a supplemental material for DTS. F1 Racing is pretty cool, and you should at least watch Drive To Survive if you don’t have the patience for a longer 2-3 hour race.
Looking at more trans zines
Given recent events and me writing a big angry post telling TERFS to go die, I thought I would go back into looking up old trans publications. But rather than look at old magazines that showed off queer happiness with outdated terminology, I was looking for something angry. I went back in time to the 90s, and the early 2000s. I wanted to compare and contrast the different eras, and I was not let down.
Here’s some weird, tru-scummy bull shit from the 80s. You can tell by reading this that there is this theme of, “you will never be a real woman.” Reading through, there’s this attempt at both-sidesing the concept of being trans. It does say that you should feel free to express your gender as you please, but also says that taking hormones is totally a crutch in the world of drag queens. There’s still the reiteration that trans women are simply cross-dressing men, this constant use of “he.” Cis gays are shown in pictorials having fun and enjoying life, while anyone on HRT is shown in pornographic spreads. Now, I most certainly do not have any objection to trans porn, but there is something being said when you have these polar opposites of “here are normal people” and “here are these weird, exotic freaks who only exist as a hole to park your actually functioning dick into.” It’s kind of bull shit.
Meanwhile, going back to TranSexpress in 1996, it’s very much a “fuck you, we’ll do what we want” style. There’s a few things in here that are a bit iffy, but again, it was ’96 and it was written and published in the UK, so I would be shocked if everyone involved with this publication weren’t round up and forced to witness cisnormative culture like that one scene in A Clockwork Orange until they weren’t trans anymore.
Going forward in time even more, to 2000. This next zine I found is honestly a complete heartbreaker. The reason why is because having read through it (or at least whatever parts survived the terrible Xerox job), it shows that nothing has changed in twenty-one years.
That sucks. This was 2000. We’re still going through this fucking performative, faux-leftist “Just Asking Questions,” I-Support-You-Until-I-Actually-See-One-Of-You shit. A few years ago, I said that people might support trans women as a concept, but will just as soon join in on our harassment and marginalization and assuming that every negative stereotype about us is true. As I very angrily put a couple posts ago, I’m kind of over it. Over these cis clowns thinking that we’re monsters, and also over all the fucking “pick me!” trannies that will gladly sell you out and throw you, not under the bus, but under a moving diesel train, and have the audacity to say, “nothing personal, just business” afterwards. Fuck off, let me enjoy my PS2 games and racing in peace.
I can at least be glad that, although shit still sucks, our voices have only gotten louder and angrier. We’ve gotten meaner and more aggressive. This is a trend that will only continue.
I’ve spent this past weekend getting away from Namco stuff for a bit, and decided that it would be a good idea to play the original Resident Evil. Admittedly, I did so for reference purposes; I’ve mentioned in the past my inability to model humans in Blender, so I thought I would load the game up and see how Capcom did it. What was originally meant to be a five minute look-through turned into me playing, replaying, and unlocking every secret in the game. It wasn’t even out of nostalgia, as RE2 is the game that I know like the back of my hand, not this one. I don’t have much in the way of nostalgia for RE1. Not that I didn’t play it back in the day; of course I did, but I never got very far in it, and by the time I understood how Resident Evil worked as a game, it’s bigger and badder sequel was already out and available to rent at the Hollywood Video around the corner from my house.
Before I had even finished the game for the first time in many years, it had dawned on me: the original Resident Evil is still an absolute classic. Even now, over twenty years later, with numerous sequels, spin-offs, and easily the greatest video game remake ever in the time since, it is still a solid, well-designed game. But, in looking around online, that seems to be a minority opinion? It seems to be that the legacy of the original Resident Evil is simply bad voice acting, that horrible, horrible song in the second Director’s Cut, and little more than that. And that’s a shame. It’s a shame that something as great as this has more or less been reduced to “meme” status. Let me be clear going forward: this post is not a “defense” of Resident Evil 1. This post is a reminder that Resident Evil 1 is a tremendous piece of work.
There’s a term that gets thrown around a lot when talking about old video games: Hasn’t Aged Well. As someone who spends a lot of time writing about retro stuff, I obviously don’t agree with this. I do not believe that graphics, game mechanics, and level design age. Now, if a game has some questionable imagery or narrative regarding women, queers, or people of color, I can get behind saying that something has not aged well. For example, since I’m talking about this series, Resident Evil 5 has not aged well. In terms of actually playing the game, it’s about as solid and refined as any game, at least any of the post-RE4 action focused ones, in the series. However, as far as its depiction of Africa and Black people, though, it sucks. That has not aged well, and you can argue if it even actually aged in the first place. Otherwise, games don’t age, even if advances in technology and understanding of how games work improve upon them, they don’t age. It doesn’t matter if it’s Donkey Kong or Super Mario Odyssey, Mario still runs and jumps as well as he ever has, you know?
Resident Evil 1 is a game frequently labeled as not aging well. One would assume that it’s because of the reasons I mentioned earlier: the acting and the Dual Shock version’s terrible soundtrack, but no, it’s levied against the game’s tank controls and graphics. This is strange, considering that Resident Evil has always had tank controls, up until RE5; just because the games stopped using fixed camera angles does not suddenly mean that they stopped using tank controls too. Tank controls are fine, gamers, get over it. Graphics? Well, I guess that’s up to your personal tastes. I think they look great, especially the prerendered backgrounds. An unfortunate thing, but the days of games with prerendered backgrounds are over, and I’m sure it will never come back.
But there’s more to a game than how it plays. At worst, the mechanics in RE1 are serviceable. No, what really pushes/pushed Resident Evil and made it what it was was its narrative. Now, I get it: I can imagine that you, in 2021, find it laughable that the game that gave us “Jill Sandwich” and “Master of Unlocking” can be compelling from a storytelling standpoint. I mean, Resident Evil was originally not going to even have a story. I mentioned in my RE6 piece that the initial concept was cyborgs vs zombies in a two-player shooter. Then someone at Capcom hastily threw a story at the game, and it somehow managed to work.
This barely put-together story not only managed to compel you to see where things go (even if it was just to laugh at more bad acting), but also managed to make the game somewhat relatable. See, the thing is, while the characters are no longer cyborgs, they are all still highly-skilled super cops. The S.T.A.R.S team are all walking, talking super-heroes. I can’t relate to Chris Redfield as a person; hell, I can’t even relate to the “normal” cast members, like Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield. Now while I can’t relate to the characters, I can relate to the situation that they are in: a major corporation with ties to the government doing shady things that are and will continue to get people killed, all in the name of money. The Umbrella Corporation kidnapped homeless people off the streets, and did cruel, inhumane experiments on them, resulting in the Hunters, Chimeras, and Lickers that you have to fight.
I have said it twice already, but I will repeat it: what makes Resident Evil scary, and therefore also good, is the knowledge that the creatures you are killing were once human. The fast moving, bipedal reptile about to rip your head off was once someone down on their luck, sleeping in an alley somewhere. The freakish insect thing on the ceiling birthing larvae and maggots could have once been someone struggling with a drug problem. I can’t relate to big guys punching boulders, but I can relate to being a person cast off by society. I can relate to Big Business fucking people lives up to line their pockets just a little bit more. It’s not zombie dogs bursting through a window that makes Resident Evil so terrifying, it’s the more mundane aspects of greed and a desire for power at any cost. A bunch of rich shitheads with a love of eugenics used other human beings as test subjects for their biological weapons, and eventually the entire world would feel the effects. Despite being a sci-fi/horror setting, it’s not too far-fetched to believe that a large company could very well end up doing the same in our world; how long until Tesla or SpaceX start working with the military (assuming that they aren’t already), or have their own weapons program? And it’s not like the US government hasn’t experimented on people in the past, what with forced sterilizations of Black and Latino women, testing nuclear weapons on their own soldiers, testing the side effects of drugs and pesticides in low-income neighborhoods, among other things. Only difference between them and Umbrella is that we don’t have a ten foot tall man infected by a giant worm and carrying a rocket launcher around, but the similarities are no less monstrous.
Resident Evil is a game about exploring a large, opulent mansion full of ostentatious decorations, and finding a horrible secret underneath it. The political commentary is as subtle as a drunkards’ punch. It’s about ironically casting you as a cop, while also telling you not to trust authority. Other games would feature government bailouts, corrupt police forces, and exploitation of people and resources. That is what makes the series so good, even when some of the games have been less than stellar. And that’s what makes Resident Evil 1 a timeless classic: it had a point and that point meant something. Yes, it does have a remake, which is also the absolute best remake in the history of video games. But even in the face of that remake, that does not change the fact that the original game is still amazing, and didn’t age a single day since 1996. The fact that it plays well enough, and the exploration and sense of progression make sense doesn’t hurt, either. At the very least, Resident Evil deserves to be recognized as something other than a meme, or Resident Evil 2’s prequel.
I’ve spent this past week dealing with the aftermath of being bitten by the Namco bug. If I’m not playing an old Namco arcade game, I’m playing an entry in the Namco Museum series, or I’m playing Tekken 7, or I’m playing Ridge Racer 7. Turns out, at risk of sounding like I’m fangirling over a major corporation, I just really like Namco stuff. I like Namco stuff bad enough to spend actual money on the free-to-play Pac-Man 99. Worth it.
Namco also made a bunch of games for the PC-Engine, God’s Favorite Video Game Entertainment System. 25 to be precise. Thought I’d cover a few here.
Genpei Toumaden- Kan no Ni/Samurai Ghost (US Name)
I’ve written about Genpei Toumaden before. Multiple times. It’s a strange, frustrating, tedious, awesome, wonderful, amazing game that pisses me off and also kicks ass. It also got a sequel exclusive to the PC-Engine. Kan no Ni takes place entirely in “Big Mode” from the first game; large, individually animated sprites getting into sword fights with each other. There’s no more platform-based “Small Mode,” or the overhead transitional levels where you could change your progression route. There’s no more worrying about keeping your sword sharp, so you can swing and hit as many rocks and armored enemies as you want. There’s no more dealing with the underworld and Enma-Daioh if you fall down a pit. Money has a significantly reduced use. It’s all action with mild platform navigation. Kan no Ni is a much more focused, straight-forward game as a result.
The weird thing about that is that it is both a better and worse game as a result. Better in that it’s arguably a better game to play, having less bull shit to deal with and worry about before you make it to the end of the game. But it is worse in the sense that Genpei Toumaden’s personality is gone, leaving a game that looks cool and plays fairly well, but it’s not the same. The original game was fucking weird, even by the standards of skee-whoa wacky Japan, and was awesome for it. It was like playing someone’s fucked up dream. What made it, and other Namco of the era by extension, so great was that these were all games that looked simple to play, but were all weird as fuck, and had all this cool hidden shit underneath the surface; Genpei Toumaden had hidden levels where the development team would pop up and leave you a message, for example. Even when you found everything the game had to offer, explored every route and every variation of those routes, is still feels like there is more that players have yet to discover. I love that. I love games that can maintain a sense of mystery despite literally decades of having been blown wide open. Kan no Ni doesn’t have this. It is extremely cut and dry, and again, while it is a good game, it’s not the same experience. It’s too normal. That being said, it’s still worth trying out. I mean, it’s still a pretty good game to play, but not a good one to experience.
Bravoman is a port of an arcade game that really isn’t all that good. It still maintains that sense of Namco Weirdness, with its control set up using six-buttons like a fighting game, dedicated to how far you punch and how high you jump, and generally looking weird and having animation that is way too fluid for its own good. It plays like shit, but it’s maybe worth checking out in MAME for a couple levels.
The PC-Engine port? Whoa, that is its own animal. It’s more or less the same, in terms of level design. No, where Bravoman shines is that it looks, sounds, and plays like it’s a bootleg; as if some pirates took Galaxian hardware (a once-popular arcade board to make bootlegs from) and made an ill-executed attempt at a mascot game. Namco is and was a company with a lot of money. They have some of the best artists in the business under their employ. A number of their games from the 80s and 90s look good today, and it’s funny that Bravoman is as ugly and low-tech as it is. I don’t bring any of this up as a complaint, mind you. I love it! I love how Bravoman looks so incredibly amateurish!
I love Bravoman’s aesthetic because it gives off this chaotic energy that I love about video games. This concept of simply making shit. Does it look like shit? Yes. Does it play even worse? Oh yeah, you better believe it. Does any of this matter, as the game itself is at least an interesting mess? Fuck no! Bravoman is Kusoge to the max. It is dogshit, and it is amazing. Punch a telephone box in stage one, and it talks to you. If you keep punching your ally who delivers health-restoring rice balls, he will get mad and actually stop showing up at the end of stages. It’s the little details. It’s a damn shame Bravoman hasn’t been seen in any games since, at least outside of Namco x Capcom, a game that deserves either a re-release outside of Japan, or a fan translation that isn’t absolutely unreadable bull shit.
Tower of Druaga
Unlike the sequels and ports so far, Tower of Druaga on PC-Engine is a full fledged remake of the original arcade game. Back when the word “remake” meant something other than “95% of 2021’s release calendar.” Here’s the thing: Druaga is one of those games, like Hydlide, that is absolutely beloved in Japan, and thoroughly hated over here. And like Hydlide, I fucking love Tower of Druaga. Yes, the game is obtuse. Yes, the first two floors are an absolutely slow-ass drag. I don’t care, Tower of Druaga is amazing. It’s my favorite game in Namco Museum Volume 3, I love the Game Boy version, it’s my current “theme” in Pac-Man 99, and it’s my favorite game in this post.
Aside from updating the art, Druaga PCE, as I will call it, because I do not want to type out “Tower of Druaga PC-Engine Version” over and over, made a couple quality of life changes. The first one is that the default walking speed has been increased, meaning that you don’t have to find the hidden treasure chest in level 2 to move at a faster speed than a story being told by Grandpa Simpson. The other change is that you get a cryptic hint at the beginning of every level. For those who have not played Tower of Druaga, most levels would have a secret treasure chest. In order to actually finish the game, you needed a specific set of items that could only be acquired through these chests. To actually find said chests, you would have to do any number of things: killing certain enemies, standing still for five seconds, hitting a wall, walking in specific and unmarked parts of the level, taking damage, all sorts of things. Of course, the original game never actually told you that these chests existed, let alone how to find them. This led to communities forming in arcades, as players would try to find the solution to any given level, and share these secrets in notebooks and such. But obviously, because Druaga PCE is a console game pre-internet, you can’t really not be that obtuse to the player. At least not without also being a tremendous dickhead.
Much as I love the original Druaga, it is a pain to have to have notes nearby while I play, because I don’t have the capacity to remember how to find secrets in 60 fucking levels, so Druaga PCE is sometimes the better alternative. Plus it has something the other versions of the game don’t have: HARDCORE NUDITY!!
I’ve been a bit back-handed about the other two games in this post, but I am telling you right now: Play Fucking Druaga PCE. Definitely among the best Namco games on the system, and one of the better games on the system in general. It was never officially released in English, but there is a good fan translation that you can find pretty easily by clicking here.
That’s it for this one. I’ll come back to the PC-Engine again soon enough. Until then.
Something that may come as a shock to the readers of this site: I enjoy playing video games. After sitting down and putting some thought to it, of the video games I enjoy, I’ve realized that my favorite series is Resident Evil. I love all of them, and even have a soft spot for the bad ones. Resident Evil 6 is widely considered a bad one. It’s even arguably considered to be the worst one. The purpose of this post is to both agree with this assessment, and also wildly disagree with it. This sounds confusing, I know. Do I like Resident Evil 6? Do I hate Resident Evil 6? The answer is yes.
I think I should start by talking about the context in which RE6 was made and exists in. RE6 came about during a weird time in Capcom’s history; actually, a weird time in Japanese game industry history. The “HD” era, with the success of the XBox 360, and the belated success of the PS3. Suddenly, games became bigger, more expensive to make, took longer to make, and in some cases, were harder to make. The old ways of coding a game engine from scratch, then building a game around it was not sustainable, and middleware sources like Unreal didn’t have resources for Japanese developers to use. At the same time, there was this really shitty, uncomfortable time in games “journalism” (ALWAYS TAKING SHOTS AT GAMES JOURNOS FUCK YOU) where you had multiple (white, male) critics putting the Japanese industry on blast. The Japanese were always second place to “The West.” A single level in Gears of War was now considered better than an entire decade of another countries’ output. Final Fantasy XIII was literally the worst game of all time. You had guys like Phil Fish feeling emboldened enough to tell Japanese devs, to their faces, “your games suck.” Basically, there was a time where people were paid cash money to say, “white people are better at making games than the Japanese.” It sucked.
Now, when you are a Japanese game developer, even one as large as Capcom, you still need that international exposure and acclaim, since that also equals money. As such, there were a lot of games that were made specifically so that Americans, especially those who were crying at the ending of fucking Fallout 3 of all things, would like them. I hate to say it, but a lot of these were not very good; I might be a big fan/apologist for From Software, but I’m not going to pretend that Ninja Blade was anything more than a terrible idea. To their credit, Capcom did end up taking this whole situation and making RE6’s prequel, Resident Evil 5. RE5 was huge. It was (still is) impressive on a graphical level. It had online co-op (also forgot: this was during a time where you had professional clown/thin-skinned transphobe Adam Sessler asking, “does it have online co-op?” to literally every developer at E3) It was a loud, explosive shooter staring a buff dude with guns. It was racist as fuck. All the things that could ever appeal to Americans, it did.
And…it worked! It was Capcom’s highest selling game ever, up until the release of Monster Hunter World. While Capcom was counting their money, there was a subset of fans that wished for Resident Evil to “return to form.” Go back to the days when Resident Evil was only kind of an over-the-top action game, rather than a full-blown Michael Bay movie. Bring back the horror.
Now, this post is already sort of a 600 word aside, but I think I need to take one more: Resident Evil has ALWAYS been an action game. Silent Hill is a horror game. Resident Evil is a series where highly-trained super cops use a rocket launcher to blow up a large, hulking monster. Hell, the original concept for Resident Evil 1 was a two-player co-op shooter where you played as cybernetically-enhanced soldiers shooting at zombies created by a mad scientist. It has always been fucking stupid. This is one of the reasons why I love it.
Anyways, enough ranting. People wanted either “horror” or, like me, more emphasis on exploring a large building and having to worry about ammo. Keep in mind, despite RE5’s popularity, the world at large was still very much in “Fuck Japan” mode. The only thing that had changed during the development time of RE6 was that the world went into “Fuck Japan, except for Dark Souls, which is now the only game that has ever existed” mode. Capcom was still aiming for acceptance, like this large company was a bullied, unloved child.
ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT RESIDENT EVIL 6 NOW
The thing about Resident Evil 6, and why it got so fucking ravaged in reviews, is simple: it wanted to do everything, and accomplished nothing. It wanted the old-school style of looking for keys and emblems to fit into perfectly shaped holes. But it also wanted the frenetic action of RE5. But it also wanted a combination of the two, while you were being chased by a large, invincible monster like in RE2 and RE3. It wanted to be a big fan-servicey thing that brought back old beloved characters. But it also wanted to bring in a whole host of new characters to lead Resident Evil into the next generation.
As a result of this, RE6 is all over the place. There’s no real identity. Leon Kennedy’s story campaign involves methodically searching for keys while shooting a large horde of zombies in-between. Chris Redfield’s campaign is straight up Call of Duty but now with zombies (wait, fuck). Sherry Birkin’s campaign is a combination of the two, but now you have to contend with being stalked by something that looks like a 90s Image Comics character. Even with all these differences, they all meld into bang-bang shooty game by the end. Now, I’m not someone who has an aversion to shooters, or even games that are repetitive, but the thing about RE6 is that it does all these in a really boring way. Levels are not very well designed, and the set pieces are really generic and cliched. Doesn’t help that each campaign is about a million hours long. Right, RE6’s length is fucking ridiculous; in the time it takes to get half-way through a single campaign, you could finish about two actual Resident Evil games. It’s way too long, way too boring, and the story itself sucks so bad.
The thing about Resident Evil is that no matter how ridiculous it got, or how simplistic its delivery is, it was consistent. There really wasn’t a whole lot in the way of plot holes. At its heart, Resident Evil is a commentary on capitalistic greed and the fallout of Unit 731. It’s about a corporation that performs cruel experiments on people, and get away with it because they have friends in high places. Resident Evil 6 says fuck all this. Fuck it, Wesker has an adult son who inherited his super-strength, even though the timeline of events doesn’t match up (his son Jake was born in 1992, and Wesker didn’t inject and then gain his T-Virus abilities until 1998), let alone Wesker actually settling down to have a child with someone in the first place. There are now secret societies that run the world like supervillains, rather than the much more relatable story of “big corporation does shitty thing that kills people.” It’s a lot easier to hate Tesla and Amazon than the Illuminati. Ada Wong has a clone now, solely created because Evil Illuminati Man responsible for everything going to shit in RE6 was horny for her, and she told him no. Yes, really. A viral outbreak occurs in three different parts of the world because an incel couldn’t take rejection. At least the body horror element that Resident Evil is so good at is still very much awesome here. When I complained about the RE2 Remake, I mentioned that killing things that were once human or animal is where the real horror lies.
These new characters are also pretty bad too. You have Jake, the aforementioned son of Wesker, who fills the role of “bald white guy who makes wisecracks” that every fucking game of the era needed. There’s Piers Nivans, the closest thing to a good character, as he was originally created for a Resident Evil manga, and therefore had effort put in to give him a personality and a design that isn’t dogshit. Then there’s Helena Harper. Fuck me, she is bad. Someone at Capcom really needed a character that managed to be both a complete idiot and a complete bitch at once. She spends a good chunk of the game acting untrustworthy, being evasive around Leon, while also lecturing and chastising him for stopping to help people. It’s clear that Helena knows more than a few things about the current viral outbreak, but refuses to straight up tell Leon “hey, some high-ranking dudes in the government are experimenting on people, including my sister,” despite that fact that she knows who Leon is, and therefore knows that he has dealt with the threat of bio-terrorism at least twice already. So she goes this whole time looking guilty as fuck, but then still telling Leon off for pulling a zombie off an elderly woman. It makes no sense.
Really, that’s all there is to it to RE6’s campaign. It’s long, boring, and badly written. An attempt at pleasing everyone that ultimately pleased nobody.
Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “okay Ramona, you said in the title that Resident Evil 6 was good. What the fuck?” This is where the second part of my critique comes in.
You see, Capcom royally fucked up here. They put all this attention and marketing towards this bull shit story that sucks. Understandably, a lot of players and reviewers would have given up during the story or after finishing it. The Resident Evil 6 Campaign is bad, true. But there is a tab on the main menu called “Extra Content.” This is where RE6 shines.
RE6’s Mercenaries mode is not only the best iteration of that mode in the entire series, it easily could have been sold as its own half-priced digital title, and been a great game by itself. What fucking kills me here is that there are entire game mechanics at play here that you can go through the entire campaign never actually using. Running, diving, melee, counter attacking. Every character is different in some way, whether it be loadout or ability. The story is designed to be this shitty third-person cover-based shooter, while Mercenaries is this frenetic, intense arcade game that encourages you to be directly in the face of the enemy, taking the fight to them in order to build that combo meter and raise that high score, all set to this pulse-pounding jam. You could be forgiven for not knowing there was a third melee finisher in the game, because the main game sure as fuck wasn’t going to tell you.
No joke, I dedicated an entire Summer to playing Mercenaries. I would come home from work, load up the PS3, and kill zombies with a rando for a good few hours. It is a very compelling mode. This experience alone made up for the million hour story that I had to suffer through to get a few of the unlockables.
And it’s not just Mercs, either. The other extra modes are well worth the cost of the game. Sucks that they were originally paid DLC. I don’t have any screenshots of them, as trying to find people playing RE6 online in 2021 is uhh, impossible. Onslaught Mode is the best of the non-Merc bunch, as it is Competitive Mercenaries. It’s Resident Evil, with the mechanics of a Puyo Puyo or a Twinkle Star Sprites; shooting shit, and making more shit appear on your opponents’ screen. Versus Mode is…not so great, as I don’t think Resident Evil is designed around PvP. Predator mode is pretty cool: a 5v1 versus mode where the 1 is Ustanak, the super-powered monster that chases Sherry and Jake. Siege mode is fun if you’re the kind of person who liked Left 4 Dead’s Versus mode, as it is more or less literally that: a team of protagonists vs a team of the game’s standard enemies. I used to get up pretty early in the morning and play Siege with Japanese players, before starting my day. That was a great experience, as you got to have fun with a bunch of people that weren’t yelling out racial slurs and (never an “or”) being shit at the game. A middle-aged Japanese woman yelling out encouragement while you’re on the verge of a comeback is an experience and a memory I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
That’s what’s so fucked about RE6. There is a great game here, but it is hidden behind a massive wall of bull shit. You have this terribly thought-out digital checklist of shit that will appeal to the mainstream that absolutely fails, which will then turn off people from wanting to see what is one of the best meta-games of the last generation lying beneath the surface. It’s sad. I was thinking about playing with players in Japan, and the occasional non-dickhead here in the states, and got sad. A lot of people never got to experience that, and seeing as how the most recent version of RE6 is a garbage port for the Switch, they probably never will. And that’s the biggest tragedy of all.