The Legend of NASIR


Ode to Nasir

Nasir, you may have seen the name without thinking twice about it. He was a popular programmer back in the 80’s, we worked mainly on Apple 2 computer games, the guy was had a genius knack for building games on that platform. The guy sold 23 000 copies of his best selling games, in 1980 …. on the personal computer market. It’s like starting a successful sushi shop, in the middle of New Mexico in 1924!

If like me you booted up Final Fantasy 1 on your NES back in the day there is a very cool little sequence that will happen once the heroes of light get the king to build a build to the next area of the game. In that little sequence like credit sequence the was a line that seamed almost out of place “PROGRAMMED BY NASIR” this kept me wondering what or who was Nasir? A programming language? A tool they used to make the game? No it was the name of a glorious legend!


This look like nothing by modern gaming standards, but it was genius work back then!


Nasir to the past

See in the early 80’s the american game market was suffering big time, the market had been flooded by junk-ware, home consoles where crappy at best and personal computer used to cost an arm and a leg. Nasir was barely able to live of his own products, the man could pump 12 games a year, games like Gorgon, viewed like some of the best title out there at the time! So in 1981 he had to close the doors of his business like many other “indies” developer of the time.


Back then that machine was a real miracle engine. Alas for Nasir this was a dead end market

Nasir decided to travel the world and chill a bit for a while. But that guy had a reputation of being a mad demi-god genius and so in 1986 he was called back from his travel by friends in the goal of meeting some interesting people in Japan. Nintendo in their usual fashion did not recognize that they where standing in front the second coming and did not hire this shiny golden god.

Hironobu Shikaguchi from Square on the other hand knew that the man before him could perform miracles with code and thus Nasir went on and worked his divine magic various projects such as Rad-Racer and 3d-worldrunner and then when working on a small project named… Final Fantasy. Funny thing Nasir was an action game type of guy, shooters, side scrollers and platformer where easy for him to understand and code, however he was not very understanding of the RPG mechanics, hit points and other similar mechanic where a very foreign for him. But nevertheless he made it happen, without him it’s easy to say that Square was doomed.


PROGRAMMED BY NASIR, you know the guy deserved his name to be read atop of the flagship series that would made Square live for the next 25 years.


You see the story does not stop there Nasir is some sort of modern wandering code-knight, never really stepping in the spotlight but always saving the day. He went on and coded Final Fantasy two and three for the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System in Japan) and then he vanished from the face of the earth again, probably using his divine abilities to stop to cold war or something. So in 1992 (Need I remind everyone that the cold war stopped in 1991? Coincidence I think not!) Nasir was tasked to work on an action RPG game for Square: Secret of Mana.

The Nasir conspiracy 

Here is my crazy theory on how things when at Square after he left, they tried their best start developing something too complex for them and they had to beg for him to come back. Secret of Mana was to be one of the first CD game to be released on the super Famicom CD system, the coders they had where good and had good experience making RPGs, but they lacked the expertise to do a very complex action title. Secret of Mana had to be forged by the same divine hands that had built Final Fantasy. But alas the CD add on system for the Super Nintendo was cancelled and the game had to be heavily modified to fit on a SNES cartridge, I do think that without Nasir at the helm, the project would have survived that drastic changes. The game was translated in 30 days and sent to North America, and a few days later I had the chance to play that master piece.

Nasir pretty much retired after that, Square must have paid him a a king ransom for his services and he went back traveling the world/chilling in California. Here is my other crazy theory: Secret of Mana 2 was basically developed exactly on the same engine and most of the big features have been cut down because that without Nasir they where too hard to recycle or readapt. Thus we lost grass cutting, using a whip to traverse ledges and many other little game mechanics that made the first game so unique.

Praise thy Nasir

Nasir Gabelli, AKA the reason why we have Final Fantasy today, the reason you played Secret of Mana and most probably the reason why Square (and Square-enix) managed to become the behemoth it is today. It’s insane to think how much one skillful individual can accomplish and still never really get the real praise of these accomplishments. He his the real miracle behind Final Fantasy, he his the prodigy that mad Secret of Mana reality! In the end he’s a unsung hero from the video game world!

Not only he was smart, he  had style!
Not only was he smart, he had sick style back in the day!

5 letters heroes – Breath of fire 2

If there is one thing I liked as a kid, it’s was to browse in the video store through the different game box arts. My local video club did not have an exhaustive collection of super Nintendo games, but I can recite by heart the 12 they had:

Lufia 2
Paladin Quest’s
Ogre Battle
Rock and roll racing
Zelda: A link to the past
Super Mario All stars
That crappy 7-up character game
Lion King
Power Rangers
and of course Breath of fire 2!

I can tell you that most of my pocket money in the summer was spent renting theses games for week at a time! They will all one good day be reviewed or let’s played by yours truly, however for now let’s talk about breath of fire 2!

Breath of fire 2 box art

See, I never had the chance to play the first installment of the Breath of Fire series as a kid, however breath of fire 2 was a game that I mastered on the tip of my fingers, it is actually the first JRPG game I was old enough to fully able to comprehend what the hell I was doing playing it!

A magical time of wordy contractions

Looking at text heavy games from my childhood I can say one thing for sure, no wonder I had a hard time learning proper English! It’s like if every word had to be squeezed into the smallest of text boxes to save memory on the game cartridge! You see it take 2 to 4 Japanese symbol to describe most items in a JRPG and when you port that game to North America you have about 5 to 6 letter spaces to write the name of that item in English, Silver Sword becomes S.swrd, Flaming Armor becomes F.Armr and other times why the hell event kind of try to put all that gibberish in one word? let’s call the Emperor Sword: “Emperor”, with a bit of luck the player will understand what we mean, right? right?

This problem plague the whole game, while the dialogue is passable, the whole item, spell and equipment section of the game is a pure vortex of weird compressed text, for instance I recently figured out that some of the first helmets you can buy and equip in the game are salad bowls. Yes SALAD BOWLS, trust me you will need them! Because here is the second thing about this game: it’s not a beginner RPG and it’s very unbalanced!

Harpy boss breath of fire 2

Thermonuclear OST and graphics as usual by 90’s Capcom

Once again Capcom outdid themselves with the soundtrack of this game, I do not know who was the technical genius that was taking care of the soundtracks back then, however one thing is sure, he or she knew how to make the SNES shred! Fans of Megaman X will recognize some of the sound effects used to make the soundtrack, it has this distinct 90’s Capcom touch to it.

Graphically the game is superb, the 3/4 battle view is not only unique for the time but offer much more dynamism in term of animation and battles actions, rarely a game made me feel that my character was actually charging up for a spell or was performing a critical-hit! Every character sprite art feel unique design wise. Characters comes in different size and shape and fun fact: technically none of the playable character are Human!

The cast is composed of a half dragon boy, a man-dog, a cat like lady, a monkey, an armadillo/horse hybrid creature, a bird girl, a frog man and last but not less a plant, yeah a plant, for your own pleasure equip him/her/it the salad bowl and pour balsamic vinegar on him/her/it. My point is that the cast is colorful to a degree we rarely see in RPGs or even JRPGs back then, if you ever played “Chrono Trigger” you may remember how much Robot and Frog stood out as characters, now imagine that the whole party is composed character as colorful all of them having their very unique set of animations!

Breath of fire 2 GBA art

The battle back ground art pieces are beautiful and really the only low point graphically of the game is the lackluster menu and general interface design, there is no way to sugar coat it, it’s a mess.  Get used to that bad purple gradient, it’s there to stay in your face the whole game. There is hope however! There is a patch online that severely modify and upgrade the original ROM of the game, I will not put any of that information up here, but feel free to do some research on it. I tried the patch on actual hardware and it works fine, so if you own a “super everdrive” or other similar cartridge backup system for your SNES I would strongly recommend to use the patch. It correct the whole text (items and spells included) of the game and add a lot of major tweaks to the game to make it more balanced and fun to play.

Did it age well?

Not that well, while the graphics and music are still master pieces in their own rights, the game design and overall plot of the game get more charming with time.  It’s a lot of go to point A to point B, lose party members, gain party members, backtrack. It’s not as tedious as Phantasy Star 2 and most character are easy to get attached to, but there some huge problem with the overall flow of the game. You will often find yourself in weird situations where the player can now only control one character (I hope you did level him or her up!), or even trapped in some areas of the game with little to no opportunity to farm Experience Points and Zenny (money). Certain abilities are completely broken such as the dragon summons. Most people will abuse the same strategy: Use the Dragon attack that consume all the MP of the main character, have the other one give him MP healing items, heal up and rinse and repeat. Fun fact is that all the dragon types you can use are purely cosmetic from level 2 and up, they all deal a flat 512 point of damage versus everything, enough to destroy most common enemies in the game in one hit. The designers tried a few very interesting mechanics, such has having one character almost immediately learn the best offensive spells in the game but never really having enough max MP even to cast one of them once, thus forcing the player to explore the alternative way to raise her max MP. That alternative mechanic is to use a pleasant but badly implemented Shaman fusion system, through the game the player will find shamans that can be used to merge with most of the playable characters. This bring a very interesting way to change the statistic of these characters and often will result in impressive cosmetic changes, going to simple color pallet swap to full out character change.


The major issues with that game-play mechanic is that if one of these merged character get K.O. in combat they will revert to their original state and that some shaman are almost impossible to find without a guide, but that is why we had Nintendo Power for right? Did I also mention that you HAVE to be in one specific location in the game to perform these fusions, if you ever get one of your characters removed from your party somehow, they will revert back to their normal form and you will have to backtrack ALL the way back to your hometown to fuse them again. This peculiar issue is a pain as halfway through the game FINAL and HARDEST dungeon your party get separated and they will automatically be un-fused, this implies to go back to the surface, travel back to your hometown, fuse your team back, walk back to the halfway point of the dungeon and pray that nobody will get K.O. by some random enemy before the final bosses.

The whole game feature a bunch of other pleasant but half done/thought mechanics and designs. A full fledged town building mini-game where you recruit people to build a village, where it’s impossible to fire people and that one wrong choice will cost the player key items. A fishing mini-game that can get you some of the best gear and items in the game, that if you miss one peculiar fishing spot at some point in the plot it will be impossible to get the best weapon in the game. A boss battle just after you get the ultimate attack in the game and that if you use it you will lose the chance to have the best ending in the game. It’s like if the designers willfully wanted the player to be able to miss as much content and good items possible in the game if they did not use a guide. However they had a few good points! Often it’s possible to completely skip some tedious quests by paying tremendous amount of money to key people in the game, do not want to fight the special boss battle that give you a special bait to capture a quest item fish? Pay 100K Zenny and get yourself some! There is about 2-3 instances like this in the game and I enjoy seeing these as the prototype for micro-transactions in modern games.

Final Notes

Breath of Fire 2 showcase Capcom lack of ability to make proper user interface, this will plague them for a long time (take a look at the first devil may cry or resident evil!), most RPG release by them will show you how horrific and bad any non-Megaman title will have a bad design when it comes to interactivity and menu manipulations. Breath of Fire 3 and 4 suffer from the same ill. However thanks to it’s very stylized graphics and great chip tunes this game aged well and still look great to the eye now days, if you ever want to play it (legally) I strongly suggest to get it on the Wii store and avoid the atrocious GBA version of it.

Have fun, play safe, don’t get burned! (fire pun, cauz dragons you know!)

10 things that Dark Souls taught me


In anticipation of getting my hands on Dark Souls 2, here a few  things playing over 150 hours  of Dark Souls “the first” taught me:

1. Practice makes perfect

This one is a bit self explanatory, Dark Souls will punch you in the balls, but once you know how it will try to do so and how to not get that feeling of surreal pain through your groin. With the pain and the suffering and the frustration, you will forge your mind as a cutting edge weapon that nothing will stop.


Except hackers in PVP, screw these guys! There is nothing to learn or practice there but hatred and cursing.

2. Resting allows better knowledge absorption

After dying 15 times, losing all your humanity and souls, it’s normal that you will feel like the world want you to cry a bit. Actually it’s your brain trying to calculate new possibilities, new stratagems and to do so, you need to rest, take a nap, go play outside, read a book, ride a tiger, join the navy, but please for the love of god stop playing! Like any exercise rest is paramount to success and progression.

3. Confidence will cause you to make mistakes

I can probably beat the Capra demon with my fists. Should I really do it? Should I do it with 305K souls and 99 humanity on NG+5? The answers are yes, no and no. Confidence is the first true error most player will commit in Dark Souls, contrary to most errors there is little to no knowledge to be gained of such practices. The only lesson to be learned is humility and most people are not able to deal with that.

4. Never underestimate anyone or anything

Look at the beautiful sea shell on the beach!


I remember the first time I fought the Man Eater Shell enemy in the ash lake. “How hard can they be” and “there is no way they can outreach me if I use my halberd!” where the 2 first toughs in my head followed by: “well crap, at least it was not the hydra that killed me this time”

5. Sometimes your worst enemy is yourself

I think that about 50% of the deaths I had while playing Dark Souls where the direct consequences of me playing actively recklessly. be it by charging through an area out of sheer frustration, obsessing about getting a parry against an enemy I could just as easily slay in one hit or simply put trying to use a sub-optimal strategy willingly with low chance of success. Because you know, on the spot, these skeleton wheel guys are not too bad, if you do not face them….. all at once …. in a open area….with no shield…. and a 2 handed slow hitting weapon!

6. When in doubt use fire

I cannot calculate the amount of time I did not think about pyromancy, the game practically throw in in your face! If you ever face an enemy extremely resilient to normal weapons, you should develop the reflex to try to melt it’s face out, be it with pyromancy, fire bombs or charcoal pine resin.  The fact is that a large quantity of enemy in the game are vulnerable to one element or the other and that pyromancy is one of the most inexpensive way to to exploit these weaknesses.

6.a. When fire does not work use electricity

Quick side note, most demons are very resilient to fire, in such cases feel free to use gold pine resin or lighting elementally aligned weapons.

7. Choke-points and bottle necks are your best assets for long term survival

Case and point let’s take an area of the game that has a minimal amount of natural choke-points: Ash Lake. This area is a purely optional area that can be accessed via a secret passage in lower blight town. Right when you exit the already very difficult decent to there, the first thing you will meet is a volley of projectiles thrown at you from the Hydra. What will most people do? Run through the whole thing, pray to the sun that they can dodge the hydra relentless assault, the monsters and reach the save point at the end of the beach without falling in the water towards a certain death. Most people will see from 2 to 15 “you died” screens while doing so.


Now what would a smart player do? Create artificial bottlenecks! The Hydra can only attack the player from certain angles, using cover and enemy AI to place oneself in a correct position in between the huge tree trunk and the dead trees at the entrance of the lake, the player can fire arrows and spells at will at the hydra while the hydra is forced to attack the player in only certain non-optimal patterns, all of this thanks to positioning oneself in between two pieces of wood. Yeah! Bottleneck!

8. Dodging is better than blocking

In PVP I have learned to exploit the defensive tactics of most players, fact is, most people that complain about back stabbing rely on their shields too much. A lot of type of damage totally bypass most popular shields, even the poison throwing dagger can be a formidable weapon against a player with a +5 Havel shield. The poison damage will bypass the shield. My favorite weapon is the shotel for this reason, since it fully bypass shields. Dodging is the most optimal way of fighting in close quarter combat, as it allows the fighter to “lead” the combat by being more proactive and less reactive!


Be like Gundam Sandrock, less shield, more SHOTEL!

9. If it as a tail, cut it off!

Most rare weapons in the game are found by cutting the tail of enemies, if the lore of Dark Souls indicate that the immortality of dragon are granted by their divine scales, it also taught me that their awesome powers come from their tails, not pun intended. My favorite one being the Dragon King Great Axe, that secondary AOE attack is awesome for soul and humanity farming late game, if you feel that you are about to slay a boss and did not cut it’s tail yet, I strongly suggest to die on purpose and try again.

10.  Sony PS3 compliance team probably never played in blight town

15 to 10 FPS!!!!!???? How did that go through QA compliance? The whole area run frame by frame by moment!!! Avoid blight town! Get the thief key and go through the backdoor way to avoid the upper level at least!

How I See Japanese Game Studios Nowdays

I work in the game industry, actually I work on the death star equivalent of the gaming industry. That is right I work on F2P games mostly!
We refine the technique to milk money out of customer by providing game as a service, it’s a cool concept, a bit like designing a laser to destroy whole planets. Now I can understand why some people would join the Empire! I always have a fun time thinking about how the Japanese market is trying to adapt themselves to this profit from this situation.

Japanese studio execs have a hard time adapting to a new market reality. They are in denial, when they have a new product they push it to some 3rd party korean/chinese/indian dev team for pennies. They refuse to have any westerner work on their IPs, they are so afraid that one westerner make a good product with their IP. Look at the Squenix publishing thing that they released to try to get some of that sweet indie scene money! none of the IP are from japan, only Eidos old dusty stuff can be used as IP!


They wont even get westerner consultants! look a FF7 Dirge of Cerberus! That was their dead serious attempt to capitalize the shooter market! Look at final fantasy all the bravest! It’s like if some CEO was like:


CEO: Hey you employee #45!


#45: Yes my liege?!

CEO: Microtransaktion-desu are making lot of money in america, we want you to do a micro-transaction-desu game with any of our popular franchises!

#45: But my liege we just finished working on Parasite Eve 3 for PSP! It took 3 more month than anticipated to include the ripping clothing mechanics in the game, the team is exhausted!


CEO: Then hire a 3rd party studio in korea, put all our final fantasy 2d art asset and music in a zip file and sent it to them, I want results in 3 weeks!

#45: But-but my liege it’s impossible! With that deadline and the fact that we never made a proper mobile game with microtransaction-desu ever before! We never even designed one in R&D!

CEO: I see….#45 you are now director of windows, look at the windows all day and write a 3 page report every day about their states! #46 You are now in charge of the microtransaction-desu projekto, also hire Gackt to do all the Voice Over and remix all the music.


This is how I imagine their design meeting to be!

How to butcher a franchise 101 : Lufia DS

I did not own any DS games until two years ago when I bought a Nintendo 3DS. One of the main appeal of such a purchase is the large backlog of DS game I would be able to acquire for a fraction of the price and my ability to build a large library of title relatively quickly (I go my hands on over 20 titles in 18 months). One day, browsing through the vast sea of games my brand new 3ds gave me access to, my heart swelled with excitement as I learned that Lufia 2 was “remade” for the DS.

Well they switched his costume around but how bad could they have screwed this up?
Well they switched his costume around but how bad could they have screwed this up? … Right? …. RIGHT ?!?!?

They had me at “Lufia”, I swear I did not even check the newly man-ga-ized box art, I did not even care that they changed what used to be a masterpiece of a box art into an expose about how to design anime character for your typical adventure game. Blend and generic pose for the hero and heroine, two very emotive and tragic character on the top left and right part of the box with even more blend facial expression and what is up with Selan (the girl on the right)? Back in the SNES game she had green hair! I guess Green is the new Blue!

Take a few second and observe the majesty of the Japanese box art for Lufia 2:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you strike an epic pose.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you strike an epic pose with your adventuring party.

A red flag

What could go wrong? Box art means nothing, they are just a way the publisher uses to maximize the potential revenue for a game, it needs to be flashy and attract the eye. No need for it to be super representative of game play or story direction, it only needs to feel pretty and shinny. But in this one case I should have seen seen at first sign of trouble and the things to come. To better understand the radical transformation process this game went through here is a list of some of the innovative features  included in Lufia 2 first release in 1995:

– Complex and well developed limit break system that puts Final Fantasy 7 to shame.

– A very sophisticated on map non-random encounter system when exploring dungeons.

– Pokemon type capsule monsters system, before Pokemon was ever released!

– The Ancient Cave, a randomly generated 99 marathon dungeon that changes each time you access it, think Diablo 2 but bigger.

IP system
With the IP break system it’s possible to customize special attacks when equipping gear, very similar to Final Fantasy 9 equipment system, however using the ability require a special gauge to be filled by taking punishment from enemy very similar to Final Fantasy 7 limit break system.
Lufia 2 Capsule monster system
Lufia 2 give the option to get a special 5th party member in combat, this “Capsule Monster” controlled by AI can evolve and change forms depending on what you feed them. They also learn new attack as they level up. I could be angry at GameFreaks but they got that system from the previous dragon quest.

Needless to say that if one would have acquired this game back 1995 this person was set for months, you could simply spend 30 hours and finish the game, or spend 200 hour exploring and getting rare items from a 99 floor dungeon that changes every time you step in it. Every aspect of the game was finely crafted and tailored, it’s the kind of polish that even AAA titles today have a hard time to giving their players due to the sheer amount of resources demanded to perfect a game to this level. The experience is the pinnacle of what the console RPG had to offer at the times, it’s sitting up there with Chrono trigger and Final Fantasy 6 as the holy trinity of SNES RPGs. Alas it never got the same success than these 2 other titles, Natsume the publisher of this game did not have the resources to push a game out there like Squaresoft did back in the day. Either way, this game should be dissected in every aspect in game design classes around the world, it represent everything the genre has to offer on every level, be it the music, graphical art style, story, game mechanics and features.

Have a blast and listen to the original composition of this gem, it rivals Zelda Link to the Past with ease.


So what do you do with a franchise with a rich history like this one? You try to make another sequel! MOAR MONEY! woooooot!
Alas they failed miserably, Lufia 3 on Game Boy color fails to recapture the essence of the second game and pulls a Chrono Cross by adding too many characters, it’s in fact possible to battle with up to 9 characters on the screen at once. This game was followed by Lufia the ruins of lore on Game Boy Advance, the game is badly executed and very plain in comparison of the rest of the franchise and this leads us to the 2010 remake of Lufia 2: Lufia the Curse of the Sinistrals.

Why ignore that there was a first game before hands? Why not keep the same name? Another Red Flag that I should have seen.

The development team dropped the entire story, disfigured the characters and tried to create some sort of cheap action RPG with puzzle mechanics. Key element of the plot where changed to accommodate the radically changed game mechanics.


I think one of the biggest insult was to rewrite the strong leads female character into some sort of maid fantasy, they used to be women with strong convictions and life goal, now they are represented as a bunch of groupies for the main character. In the original game, the main character settle down mid game and marries one of his companions, get a kid and then start adventuring again with his wife, even after becoming a mother this character decide to not be a at home mom and take up her sword to fight evil (he she is damn good at it!). Now Selan, the previously described character, is a teenage troublemaker that falls hopelessly in love with the main character she’s hyper sexualised and look like she 13-14 year old with the breasts of a 30 year old porn star.
Every character that look like they just barely turned 16 year old, even the old professor of the original version look like he’s not even mid 20!

Even after forcing myself through more than half the game I can honestly say that this was probably made on a very  low budget and by a very junior team of developers, whoever green lighted this project had no idea of what was the original game was and what to do with it. The puzzle are blend and dull, the combat is not exciting an badly made. What is even more frustrating is that this is the final nail in the coffin for the franchise. I can only hope that some publisher buys it back and make a proper sequel or reboot, if SquEnix can get away with re releasing FF 4 about 10 times, somewhere there must be somebody with enough budget to make a proper Lufia game.

Artea difference between remakes
From Badass to crybaby.
General rule of transition between the original and the remake. The fact that they dropped the finely drawn water color art to switch to the mass produced anime type character shows the lack of understanding of the root of this franchise.

Final notes

The original game is available on the Wii virtual console, take a look if you are a lover of traditional JRPGs, hours of fun ahead I guarantee it. Skip the DS remake at all cost.

Thank you for reading, feel free to comment!

– Player 1 – out!

5 letters heroes – Phantasy star 2

Here is the first post of something I hope will become a long standing tradition in this little blog of mine. The 5 letter heroes corner as only one goal in mind: Review those great games for the past where you could only name your main character with 5 (or less) letters!


Phantasy star 2, released in 1991 is one of the world first “true” 16-bit RPG, it took a radical step forward by embracing the science fiction genre as opposed to the more common medieval fantasy theme that where so omnipresent in console RPGs back then.
Swords and spells are still present but so are laser pistols, rocket launchers and psychic powers.

Phantasy star 2 Box art got the first Megaman treatment in North America.  The Japanese version feel so much more dark than epic, a better reflection of the in-game content.
Phantasy star 2 Box art got the first Megaman treatment in North America. The Japanese version feel so much more dark than epic, a better reflection of the in-game content.

Technical difficulties

Full disclaimer! This game is limited on the technical level, there is ONE battle theme, ONE backdrop art for the battleground and there is THREE boss battle only in the whole game, that’s it that’s all. The battle system is super streamlined and simple and overall it feel more likes a dungeon crawler like “Wizardry” with an top down world perspective. If you ever get the chance to play it, you may not enjoy the game at all.

After naming your protagonist with the limited space of 4 character you are presented with a glorious mini-cut-scene retelling a bit the elements of the first game, then it’s up to you to move around and get the story going. The plot is not super thick, you recruit new character by going back to your home in the first town of the game every time you explore a new town (Hellooooooo back and forth!)

Naming menu of Phantasy star 2
The default name of the main character is “Rolf”, however I cannot resits to change it to silly things since it’s the only character you can rename in the whole game, name him something like “Puke” or “Dick” if you want to have a blast!

Overall Game Design

The game establish a very clear pattern: Go to a new town, backtrack to the first town, hire new character, go explore a dungeon, get key item if any, unlock next dungeon with key item and or ability. Rinse and repeat! Mechanically you cannot get a player flow more streamlined than that. The hidden beauty of this game is into the exploring, you truly feel immersed in a world where you stand alone, a dangerous world where the wrong turn could be your last, walking through various facilities to fight mutated bio-monster and machine send by the government to slay. The difficulty does not lies within the actual fights but with the resource management required to complete the game, not having enough curative items will cost you a trip back to town, cancelling any progress made in a dungeon, way worse than a game over screen.

Combat sample from Phanatsy star 2
Here is the kind of enemy the player as to face in the game, high tech tanks and something that look like a metal gear MK. I

Advanced idea mechanics

There is whole second layer of advanced mechanics in the game, for instance it is possible an recruit a thief that will sometimes steal item from item shops when entering in them, she then leaves your party without your consent and escape back to your house in the first town in the game. At some point she did this to me as I was on another planet, I had to backtrack there (a 45 minute traveling time) get the item she stole for me (a very good end-game healing item) then switch character because I did not want to make that trip another time.Then there is that guy who has a wide array of techniques that only works against machine and his counterpart a guy that has a wide array of spells that works well versus organic monsters. Alternating them at key point in the game will save the player a lot of trouble.

But nowhere those mechanic are explicitly explained or showcased, the only hints to those mechanics where when you recruit these new characters for the first time and they give the player a small intro speech on their skills and abilities (a very generic one due to the limited text space in the game). However all these frustrations are dashed by one core concept of the game: Intelligent effort is recompensed. If as a player you think straight, calculate your risks and grind just enough, the whole game is a breeze, it’s all about preparation. Game now-day have cookie cutter tutorials and mechanics only a few title like Dark Souls make the player feel real accomplishment when performing a huge task or taking down a powerful foe, there is a distinct lack of a calculated risk mechanic in most new RPG and action titles. There is distinct lack of contrast between a good strategy and just rushing through a portion of a game, especially when looking a mainstream releases. Phantasy star 2 is a key game to understand this core concept of gaming and this is why I strongly press people to try it a bit, not even for the nostalgia factor. This game manage to showcase a very cinematic and dark atmosphere that is very hard to mimic, it’s darkness and trans-humanist themes are overwhelming by moments and the next second the cheesiness of this game will make your tv-screen smell like mozzarella.

Final notes

On a final note on this old and badly polished gem, take some time to enjoy the chip-tunes, I thing Sega really focused on these and managed to create a rather unique soundtrack that fits the science fiction thematic of Phantasy Star.

Thank you for reading and feel free to post comments!

Great RPG plots: Final Fantasy 4

I would like to think that I am open minded person. When I go to a restaurant I will always go the extra mile to try something new. Music wise I will always at least try to at least get to listen to a full song of your favorite band before seeing if it’s to my taste or not. Giving a second chance to things I did not like years ago to see if my taste evolved or changed somehow. I would say that I am ready to cope with a lot of shit before giving up on something, dare I say, hasty judgement are not an habit for me. Then I played 15 hours of Final Fantasy 13 … FML.

I could on and bitch about how angry I am that I bought that game for 15$ in a pawn shop, or I could talk constructively about great games that came before it right? After all getting angry about this game will not change the fact that Square Enix used enough money to end world hunger for a year to build that piece of crap. OK, I confess, I often complain about bad video game RPG plots, I hate deus -ex machina and stereotypical character make my teeth cringe. However I think it’s important to showcase and celebrate games that are able to take those elements and create experiences that are unique and enriching.

In the recent years, final fantasy 13 took a lot of heat and created a polemic argument about the linear way it approached it’s story line. The lack of character choice, lack of early “side quests” and the corridor like approach to level design  turned down a lot of veteran players. “Extremely linear” was from my perspective the main complain about this release in the series. However some of the earlier releases where plot wise very linear and yet are regarded as some of the best titles of their time. Case and point Final Fantasy 4.

*SPOILER ALERT, even if the game was released on the SNES,  playstation , wonderswan color, gba, nintendo ds, playstation store, Wii store, and the PSP *

The original release of final fantasy 4, God Square love those white boxes even back then.
The original release of final fantasy 4, God, Square loved those white boxes back then. Most FF games on the Super Famicom have white box art, even Chrono Trigger has similar art.

Final Fantasy 4 commits many of the same sins that 13 does:  Imposed party members, random lost of characters (and their precious gear), unidirectional plot line and over used stereotypical characters. However the execution shows that those elements are NECESSARY to the plot. Every Character, never-mind how cliche they are, are KEY to the PLOT of the game. The linear path is NEEDED to progress in the story. When a character is lost from your party it’s always in a MEANINGFUL and touching way. This game innovate with the introduction of the Active Battle System and the game-play is perfectly balanced around this. The North American release of this game may have been bastardized by the removal of key elements of the game, it’s still a better gem than FF13 ever will be.

Every character in the game have a reason to go forth with the plot, Cecil the dark knight searches for redemption, Kain the dragon is used as a pawn and then must prove is worth back, Rydia must face her childhood fears and grow up, Rosa wants to be at the side of the man she love and help him in his quest, Cid feel somewhat guilty of having created the airships and want to use them for good, Edge want to avenge the horrific experiment that were performed on his parents and the fall of his kingdom, Edward fight to gain courage, Tellah is ready to give his life to avenge the death of his daughter, Palom and Porom want to use their power for good, Yang want to fight with all is might to protect his and his wife and finally Fusoya feel guilty that he let evil influence of his people escape his grasp. NONE of those plot point are placed in a flashback, EVERY SINGLE ONE of those plot point happen right before the player eyes, as a player you live through those traumatizing moments, you share the casts pains, misery and sorrows and in the end you feel like not only you know them, you feel like you owe them their victory. Then as a player you connect the dots, you finally see the true mastermind behind all the suffering and agony: GOLBEZ.

Be in AWE bitches, Golbez will terrorize your adventuring party, kidnap your girlfriend and brainwash your best buddies.

Golbez will never be recognized as a unique and special villain in comparison to other entries in the FF series, but that dude is sure efficient at what he does and I like efficient villains. No half ass plans, the guys is a brilliant tactician, he’s an unstoppable behemoth in combat. Let’s look at the dude acts of villainy and sadism:

  • Accomplished a silent takeover of the world strongest military nation in the world.
  • Effectively conquered/destroyed 4 kingdoms.
  • Tricked to main character into committing a genocide.
  • Brainwashed the main character best friend and forced him to beat the living crap out of him.
  • Brainwashed the party best fighter to fight against them.
  • Kicked the ass of your party… twice.
  • Kidnapped your girlfriend and placed her on a execution type device.
  • Used said girlfriend as hostage to force the main hero to retrieve the crystal of earth. (Damn you magnetite cave!)
  • Faked un-brainwashing of said best friend only to have you stab you in the back a second time.
  • Activated doomsday device.
  • Committed acts murder an incalculable number of time.

And this is only the shit he as done by himself! I am not counting every time one of his minion did something as bad or worse under his order and we are talking about pretty twisted stuff here, stuff like human experimentation and mass genocide. In terms of game mechanic he is a frightful boss! The only actual time you can fight him, he paralyze your whole party than start killing them one by one in keeping you last for his own sick pleasure. Seconds before he can kill you, you get this miracle help that allows you to not be paralyzed anymore. As a gamer you say to yourself: no worries it’s a scripted fight! Well NO! You are wrong, you have to win. The fight against him starts with 3 of your 5 party member KO and let me tell you: He just like attacking and kill again the guys you just resurrected with a phoenix down. The super Nintendo version of that fight is not too bad, Rydia can use very powerful summoning magic to deal a crap load of damage to him but on the DS version of the game they decided to kick you in the genitalia even harder. In the DS version of the title he changes elemental weaknesses after every attacks, the remaining elemental attack, he absorb them and heals. The best part of the fight is that, it’s not a fucking cut-scene, YOU fight HIM and you need to WIN to progress, the PLAYER gets to taste real and hard earned VICTORY.

Golbez be a dick
The would be pretty much to moment were I hope you saved your game before, did I mention that this combat occurs AFTER another boss battle?

To be fair the is a little trick you can do to help yourself in battle, it involves having the traito… Kain jump just before Golbez decides to paralyze everyone and kill them one by one. Nevertheless this boss battle is a key turning point in the game, it gives you this sense of relief after all the hardships your adventuring career, but like Billy Mays would says: Wait there is more! This is the mid point in the game, after this fight the abilities you gain with your party start to become immensely powerful and you somewhat feel like you deserve that. Rydia is back into your party and she will be calling forth phantom beasts to rain hell fire on your enemies, Rosa is starting to be able to cast very useful support spells making your party invincible for a few hits,  Kain jump command hits foes for for about 2000+ damage when not even an hour earlier 1000 point of damage was around the best your whole team could do and then Cecil start to find superb equipment and finally gets a nice chance to shine. The player feels that he deserve those powers, because of all the insane hardship he had to go through, not because of an emotional cut scene with bad C movie scripting where all the character try to act tough and emo at the same time showing us an awkward and inhumane emotional state. After being in the darkness for so long and losing so many people to their causes your friends are finally able to do some progress, sure there are more dark moment to come, but as a player you feel confident that you can do it, not because the game tells you so, but because that you learned how to trust your party and your skills. The game forces you to lose and gain different party members, every time somebody departs from your group it’s a sad moment, every time you get new allies they always feel welcome. Never once playing through this game the player will cheer at a party member being taken away, contrary to FF 13 where I was HOPING to not have to play with some characters because they would get on my nerves, where I would pray for some characters to become mute forever.

Vanille FF13
Yes, it’s creepy.
I think that she deserve it, she is not a human being, she is the weird sexual fantasy of some sick bastard at SquareEnix and she was put in the game to satisfy his urges. Clearly the writer never spoke to a woman/girl in his life when making her script, she talks and react like a weird Japanese sex robot. I think whomever created that character and wrote her dialogue, should go and seek a mental health specialist.

Once again the whole plot of FF4 is unidirectional, the game has maybe 4 side-quest in total, yet I keep coming back to it. It’s not the nostalgia factor: I fully completed my first full play-through 7 years ago. It’s not the 16 bits graphics: I personally like the PSP version better than all the other ones. It’s not the battle mechanics: They are clunky and overly dependent on trial/error. It’s not the story: it’s a very simple story with old school plot twists. It’s not the characters: they are over simplified archetypes. I guess that it’s a game that was made by real people with hearts and dreams, I know this may sound like sentimental bullshit however I cannot stop thinking about it. It’s the fine print, it’s the useless dancer scattered through the game, it’s the game developer room hidden within the game, it’s the quirky one liners, it’s the properly used dramatic soundtrack, it’s changing from being a bad-ass dark knight to a even more bad-ass paladin, it’s the small unexpected plot twist, it’s from Rydia becoming a full grown woman, it’s all the little Easter eggs, in the end it’s because it’s a art piece that became a product, not a product that was pushed out as an art piece.

In 10 years I will still remember FF4 and FF13 will only be that weird and awkward distant memory of a one night stand in the past. FF4 brought me a story that will stay with me, hell I could easily lie to my grandchildren and use it as a bedtime story if I wanted too, they would get the feel from it with me having to explain too much of the lore of the game. Because in the end, a good story is a good story regardless the media, FF4 could have been a card battle game, an action RPG like Secret Of Mana or a side scroller action game like Megaman and still be the gem of a game it is.

Please fell free to elaborate the topic, or bitch slap me because I think FF13 is the embodiment of everything that is wrong in the game industry.