Persona 5 is great, but its characters…

Current in-game date: 5/27

I know a lot of people are, rightly, ragging on the translation. But, honestly, I think the original script is open to criticism, too. The characters – at least in the first two months – just aren’t real or interesting or consistent enough. I think it’s totally fair to compare them to characters in Persona 4, since they’re based on the same archetypes.

In Persona 4, your Bro is Yosuke. Yosuke has a crush on an older classmate who dies early on, and the rest of his arc constantly refers back to his failures – he didn’t tell her how he felt, and he couldn’t save her. This is also complicated by his family’s background, since they run the big new department store in town which competes directly with the store run by the family of his dead crush. Yosuke has plenty of notable surface-level traits (he jokes, he complains, he’s clumsy, he’s tactless), but the game’s tragic inciting incident forces him to spend the rest of the game trying to figure out what his role is in his family, his circle of friends, and his hometown.

In Persona 5, your Bro is Ryuji. What I get about Ryuji is that he used to be a punk, and now he’s less so, but people still think he’s trouble. On paper, this fits in great with our main character’s back story and the game’s driving theme – in resisting what society makes you, you tend to become it. What’s missing is a tangible action. Ryuji’s misfortunes, it turns out, can actually be blamed on the game’s first major boss, which basically absolves Ryuji of responsibility in his own origin. So what does he have left to learn?

In Persona 4, your next two team mates are Chie and Yukiko. While they’re distinct characters, their relationship beautifully illustrates what makes that game so good. Chie’s perceived image in school is as a boisterous and outgoing (to use a loaded term) “tomboy”. Yukiko’s image is pretty, ladylike, and impenetrable. We meet them as good friend, but when it comes time to actually confront their Shadows, we learn how codependent they are, how jealous they are of each other, and how their attachment might be based on their own respective inferiority complexes. As time goes on, the same feelings that spawn their jealousy also gives rise to a true understanding in each other. It perfectly illustrates the transformation from a childhood friendship of convenience to an adult friendship based on mutual respect.

In Persona 5, Ann‘s role seems to be The Girl. And what do you do with your primary Girl? In Persona 5, I guess you figure out as many sexually comprising positions as possible and go to town. Her reactions to these situations provide no insight and make less sense as time goes on. She objects to these situations, but offers no rebuttals or alternatives because either 1) she’s an idiot or 2) the script says so, so here we are. Her thought process during these moments are never connected to her experience as a professional model. In fact, her profession basically never comes up. Almost as though it’s a flimsy excuse to have a tall, skinny, hot girl hang out with us. Add to this that she was a target of constant unwanted sexual attention just a month prior and, not only does the player and rest of the cast come off as cruel and stupid, but the story feels completely disjointed from itself. Why not use what little we know about Ann’s past experience to inform her current situation, instead falling back on, frankly, typical anime bullshit of a girl waving their arms and screeching, “You want me to do WHAAAT??”

The only party member I actually like so far is, amazingly, the animal mascot. What makes Morgana work is the simple hook in his backstory: he has all this knowledge about this strange new world, but he doesn’t remember who he used to be or what he used to look like, so he’s decided to help YOU so that you can help HIM. This noble quest of self-discovery is what makes his goofy and weird behavior funny, making use of the best parts of Teddy’s story in Persona 4 while avoiding the more, uh, unBEARable parts. It also means a lot when someone who told you up front they want to use you for their own gain starts to actually like hanging out with you.

That’s it! The difference between the Persona 4 cast and and most of the Persona 5 cast is HISTORY.

Persona 4 really captures the feeling of being new in town, because, even when you’re in the moment with your friends, you know they’re all still dealing with their own past, and you’re able to help them work through those problems.

In Persona 5, I don’t feel like I’m missing a damn thing. Ryuji and Ann don’t feel like they have mysteries to unravel. They seem to be exactly what they look like, at least until the script needs them to act some other way.

United States Gun Culture in Parasite Eve

On Day 3 of Parasite Eve’s six day journey, during a sequence of events that are peaceful as they are chilling, our blonde, blue-eyed hero Detective Aya Brea is joined by her hot-blooded partner Detective Daniel Dollis on a stroll through an evacuated Manhattan seeking to liberate resources from abandoned businesses to use in their battle against the mysterious being known as Eve and the mutated creatures at her disposal.

They are followed by a civilian biophysicist named Kunihiko Maeda, whom they’ve allowed to travel with them, since his research on a being similar to Eve from his native Japan may prove useful. And he’s also some skinny, unarmed nerd, so what harm could it do?

When the player takes control, the trio will eventually end up standing in front of Sams [sic] Gun Shop. When approached, Maeda rubs the crown of his head and says, “They weren’t kidding when they said they sell guns here in America, were they…”and then reverts to a looped animation of furtive glances to the left and right.

When the door to the shop is examined, Aya will notice that it’s locked. Her partner Daniel tells her to step to one side.

“Daniel, no…” says Aya. “Sorry, but it’s the only way,” Daniel responds.

With a flourish, Daniel pulls out his concealed firearm and shoots at the glass of the door surrounding its handle. Aya knows to cover her ears and turn away from the breaking glass. Maeda doesn’t have time to react, and so makes no move until after Daniel already holsters his gun.

“Are… are you really a cop?” he asks.

“We think so,” Aya says. “But we don’t have scientific proof, if that’s what you’re asking.”

As the player peruses the the shop for ammunition, Aya can find Daniel casually glancing between two products, and waves his arm out generously when approached. “Go ahead and pick your favorite accessories, ladies!”

Maeda, hunched over, peers through the protective glass at the bounty of weaponry, small and large: “This is just too much.”

__________

There are are two NYPD officers who manage the weapons dispensary at Aya’s Precinct 17 offices. The first the player meets, Wayne, coolly and possessively spreads his arms along the width of the front desk. “So what’ll it be… Shotgun? Rocket Launcher?”

Wayne stands at attention when his supervisor, Torres, walks in to reprimand him. “Idiots like you are the reason why guns won’t disappear from this country!” Torres tells Wayne to get his ass back to the storage room, and let a responsible adult handle the registration process.

That’s right: the officer in charge of registering and dispensing new firearms to other cops HATES guns. He’s not too obstinate though, and recognizes that gun violence is systemic, referring to it as a “vicious cycle” of law enforcement relying on guns because criminals do, and vice versa. Moreover, he recognizes that it’s fair to bring heavy weaponry to a battle against an unstoppable, mutated terror.

Once Aya leaves, she’s met by Wayne gain. Although Torres will only modify Aya’s firearm with a permit, Wayne bypasses Torres’ authority by letting her know that she can tune weapons on her own through the game’s Tool system, the mechanic the player will use most to overcome mitochondrial monstrosities. “Trust me,” Wayne says, “you can never have too much firepower”.

__________

During the events of Day 3, Precinct 17 comes under attack by Eve’s mutated creatures. As the player makes through way through the hostile territories, they reach the weapons dispensary and find Wayne over a fatally wounded Torres. “Why didn’t ya shoot, man?!” Wayne asks him. Torres reveals that he hasn’t even fired a gun since his daughter died. “Torres, you can’t blame guns for that!”

“I suppose… you’re right…” Torres concedes. He encourages Wayne to take good care of the place, and then dies.

Afterward, Wayne hands Torres’ gun over to Aya, a decent weapon that he always kept in top working condition, although he never used it. Wayne reveals that, although Torres was an excellent shot, after his daughter’s accidental death he stopped using guns – and, in fact, he relocated to Precinct 17 for the express purpose of filling the dispensary position and keeping all the guns in check out of a sense of duty.

And so the gun safety expert, constantly surrounded by weapons that could be used for self-defense, dies because he is unwilling to use one. Meanwhile, the brash gun enthusiast lives on because of his love for weaponry.

________

Parasite Eve is one of the few games by Square to take place in a world not framed by fantasty or cyberpunk aesthetics, and the very first to take place in a representation an actual real world, current time location. In a Square game, a player often makes use of magical items and equipment to surmount obstacles. Of course, magic doesn’t exist in 1997 New York City – aside from the magic of Rockefeller Center at Christmastime. In lieu of giant swords or glowing crystals, the player uses something much more down-to-earth: guns.

Even then, firearms in Parasite Eve are treated with the same pomp and reverence as any mystical weaponry. Some of them even have fantastical qualities that sound feasible with the right wording – some ammunition is corrosive and deals acid damage, some grenades explode into… ice, and deal cold damage.

Consider that, to the average player within the originally intended Japanese audience, an actual gun might as while be a magic sword, and that playing Parasite Eve might be as close they will get to gun ownership.

Parasite Eve only briefly meditates on gun ownership and the use of firearms, but the choices made clearly indicate the game’s origins. Maeda, the only Japanese character in the game, can rather easily explain concepts related to genetics and biochemistry, but can’t quite wrap his head around the nature of American gun culture or the behavior of a New York City police officer.

This same outside perspective, though, offers a measure of moderation that isn’t often seen in the national conversation regarding gun violence – a willingness to admit that the right answer isn’t always obvious.

Wayne and Torres clearly both represent the opposite perspectives on guns in the country, with Wayne seeing no problem with putting limitless firepower in the hands of a citizen who wants it, and Torres not even believing that law enforcement should be using such weapons. It could be said that Torres, who dies, is the loser this debate. His ideas, though, live on in other officers at Precinct 17, who clearly had great respect for him, and in Wayne, who must take on his responsibilities. Although he did die during this one unbelievable situation, for the most part, aside from battles against monsters, his mediation on the vicious cycle of gun violence rings true.

That said… Wayne is much more cavalier about dispensing firearm modifications to Aya than Wayne was, going so far as to give them out in return for trading cards. What kind of trading cards? Trading cards with pictures of guns on them.

You can train someone to be responsible, and you can put obstacles in the way of someone who wants a firearm, but in the end, gun culture is bigger than any law or any one person.

Tifa and Aeris

There is one single moment that tells you everything you need to know about Tifa and Aeris, and the kind of people they are.

The calculations that go into deciding who Cloud dates at the Golden Saucer is based on how many invisible “affinity points” a given character has. Based on certain actions and dialogue choices, Tifa, Aeris, Yuffie, or Barret can gain or lose points.

When my wife and I played the game again this past year, we were determined to date Barret. We were successful — with the help of a handy guide. Rather than spoiling the fun, the guide actually provided a lot of funny insight, like how romantic or gruesome particular decisions were interpreted based on the amount of points gained or lost.

But the biggest revelation comes pretty early on in disc one, when you have to infiltrate Don Corneo’s lair.

If Aeris is chosen as Don Corneo’s date, you can say to Tifa:

“You alright?” and lose 2 points for Tifa
or
“We gotta help Aeris!” and gain 3 points for Tifa.

If Tifa is chosen as Don Corneo’s date, you can say to Aeris:

“You alright?” and GAIN 3 points for Aeris
or
“We gotta help Tifa!” and LOSE 2 points for Aeris.

Aeris and Tifa don’t even know each other yet, but Tifa is still ready to help her, and Aeris doesn’t give a shit.

That even the behind the scenes MATH of the game supports the characterization is fucking INSPIRING to me.

But still, it shows what good characters they both are. They’ve both had tumultuous pasts, but Tifa had the luxury of a stable home life for her formative years. Aeris, meanwhile, has had to run, hide, and mistrust all sorts of authority figures to stay alive and sane. Indeed, it could be seen as admirable that she’s maintained her kindness despite so much trauma, but her somewhat arrested development shows that she was not unscathed. Her penchant for pink, her coyness, her fixation on guys in uniforms, making a living in a busy city selling flowers at 22 (?!) years old… all seem to bely an unwillingness to grow up because, well, her actual childhood sucked! While Cloud lacks a strong identity, Aeris actively manufactures her own. This, ironically, is what allows her do commit her most heroic act, and also her most dangerously naive: sacrifice herself for the sake of the world. Could it be that Aeris simply wasn’t very happy inside?

Tifa, meanwhile, had her most traumatic experience at the cusp of adulthood. Because she has strong ideals ingrained on her by her family and her teacher and her peers, she is able to hold onto them and carry on, even after tremendous loss. This leads her to being somewhat reticent at times, like Cloud, but unlike Cloud, she is also sincere and usually more honest about her feelings.

I love these characters. Not just because the have crazy destinies and origin stories, but, besides all that, they’re fucked up in the tragically banal way that lots of real young adults actually are. And they still carry on and care about each other.

From my comment on this

Robin Williams and the Hero of Time


In my mind, this commercial was for A Link Between Worlds, not Ocarina of Time. For me, as Zelda games go, Robin Williams is more strongly connected to A Link Between Worlds.

Because here was the first celebrity death in my life to make me shed tears and the first Zelda game to make me shed tears.

As Egoraptor said, The Legend of Zelda has for many years been reduced to a series of symbols without attention given to their context. The treasure opening sound effect, the keys, the boomerangs, and of course, Zelda and Link, themselves symbols of wisdom and courage.

Zelda – a lot like the American comic book in its Silver Age – became stale and predictable. So something has to give. There has to be a desire for growth. What if we took these symbols and deconstructed their purpose? What if Zelda had a Bronze Age?

As colorful and charming as it is, A Link Between Worlds is also the closest we’ve come to looking at Hyrule from an achingly realistic perspective. Many, if not most, Zelda games deal with duality in the world – light and dark, future and past.

Lorule is the version of Hyrule in which things did not go right, in which its residents could not fully maintain their roles. Society could not stay harmonious, the Triforce could not stay whole, and the wise ruler could not stay virtuous. This leads to civil war, the destruction of their sacred treasure, the deceit and barbarous acts of Princess Hilda – Lorule’s parallel of Princess Zelda. They are fallible and imperfect, not like symbols, but like people.

Lorule allows us to see a glimpse of the characters we’ve known for years at their absolute worst – at their absolutely most honest. Desperate, selfish, shortsighted, scared.


And of course, the big question that you often forget to ask (because you’re having so much fun) is: If Lorule has an alternate Zelda, where is its alternate Link?

What does a hero do when the mantle becomes too heavy? What can a hero do when the difference between what other people see in him and what he sees in himself diverge so fully that it’s too painful to bear? Where can a hero go to escape the lie that his life has become, the lie that he himself has participated in by virtue of his existence?

If he’s lucky, he can slip away and find someone a little bit like him to help him do the things he is too afraid to do himself.


When Ravio, the bumbling merchant who’s been gouging me for rupees for hours, finally pulled off his dumb bunny hood, my heart jumped into my throat.

Ravio, for all intents and purpose, is Link at his worst, his most vulnerable. When he revealed his identity, I felt like I was looking at Link – someone who I’ve known my whole life, someone who was born in 1987, the same year as me – for the very first time.

Only now, only after all of these years, only after seeing him at his most selfish, his most cowardly, his most honest, did I feel like I truly understood him.

Being a hero, being someone who others rely on to make their lives safe and happy, must be terribly hard.

Please take care of your heroes.

In defense of Nash from Lunar

You don’t know Nash, because you didn’t play Lunar, but you can assume that he is a complete douchebag.

[Trigger Warning: Nash.]

You meet Nash in a forest, stuck under one of those stick-and-box traps from cartoons. He is obviously a huge idiot, but he pretends that he’s not only not an idiot, but incredibly benevolent, smarter than you, and he assumes you are stupid enough to fall for a similar trap.

He believes he is also trustworthy and professional, and name-drops his boss, the leader of the prestigious Magic Guild of the Floating City of Vane, who trusted him with a mission to the dirty surface world. So Nash is also a classist, elitist, opportunistic asshole.

Nash is also a coward. He has a crushing infatuation for the guild leader’s daughter, but denies it at every turn. Instead of telling her, he is over-protective and condescending toward her. Even after spending a lot of time in harrowing situations with her, he never admits his true feelings.

Nash is so cowardly that, even after a long journey together, he leaves the party and willingly betrays her, you, and your entire traveling party to help the worst person in the world carry out his evil plans and seek mercy from him.

I hate Nash. I love Nash. We need more Nashes.

The other day, USGamer had a bit on the nature of localization in Square Enix games, and how it can improve. I recognized this for the trick question that it is: a translation can never be truly good if the thing being translated is actually bad.

(I say this, of course, trying not to forget that my understanding of Lunar is based on its famously contentious English localization)

It all comes down to the story, and in an RPG that means it all comes down to the characters, and writing characters means writing an ensemble.

Many the relationships in popular Western RPGs are based on mistrust, desperation, and manipulation. Fallout and Elder Scrolls has you constantly second-guessing people’s motives, and fooling people into giving you what you want. In Mass Effect, the crew assembled on the Normandy is made up of people with grudges and trust issues, and some don’t even want to be there. True camaraderie is something that can only be established after these issues are overcome.

In poorly written JPRGs, this is a one-and-done deal. “Oh, we beat that first boss together? Great: friends forever, now. We’ll never disagree again.” Every scene after that is just people standing in a row, being polite to each other and basically all having different visual designs but basically the exact same outlook. Nobody does ever does anything you don’t expect them to. Even good games fall into this trap, like Bravely Default and, by the end of it, Persona 4.

It’s fucking boring, pointless, and possibly a cultural thing, which makes it all the more depressing. Maybe Japanese gamers just want to see beautiful people be nice to each other all of the time, I don’t know.

I mean, shit, there’s a ton of problems with RPGs and their stories, writing original characters and giving them all a believable excuse to stick together. But if I can give one piece of actionable advice to someone making a JRPG, to elevate even the most cliched plot: write a Nash.

The brilliant part of Nash’s character is that his betrayal is surprising at first glance, and then perfectly natural upon reflection. You might wonder how Nash even gathers the conviction to turn his back on the only thing he seems to care about, until you realize that his action is a clue to the deeper meaning behind his shallow behavior up until this point: Nash’s dread of death is deeper than his capacity for love. Typically that’s the kind of sentence you’d use to describe a RPG villain, not a RPG hero. And yet here we have a terrible person standing right next to your other faithful allies.

And even a single Nash allows for so much to play with in a story. What do other characters say about someone like him? Do they show pity or contempt? How far will they go to correct his behavior?

In the end, Mia – the meek, back row, magic-using girl that Nash has been fawning on and patronizing for hours of game time – walks up to him and smacks him in the fucking face, leaving a red handprint that I’m sure many fans still remember fondly. It is the single violent action she commits outside of battle, and it’s the moment she realizes that being docile and accommodating won’t make every problem go away.

Characters doing awful things lets other characters do amazing things. And those ups and downs break up the fucking monotony inherent to all RPGs.

I’m trying to think of any other video game character who pulls a Nash (leaving player control of his own will to act against you), and I’m having a hard time. It’s such a fucking good schtick, why does no one else do it

EDIT: Speaking of writing an ensemble with conflicting perspectivesf…

The Torres Bros. Podcast Review: Bioshock Infinite

Tim, Brendan, and I haven’t round-tabled about a game since The Third Birthday, but as soon as Tim finished Bioshock Infinite, we had to have it out.

Trigger warning for people who like Bioshock Infinite.

Bioschlock Infinitum

Part 1: Two Ways of Spelling the Same Game
We tackle the introduction, “racism”, Columbia, combat, Elizabeth as a character, and their problems.

Part 2: Grodd Only Knows
We leap between dimensions and talk about the acting, writing, plot, twists, ending, and their implications for society.

YouTube Reference Materials:
The Lighthouse Puzzle
Elizabeth, the waifu
It’s like poetry, it rhymes
Secret lullaby password
You are the demons

EDIT 1/31
additional reference materials:
Preston E. Downs
Helpful Yorda
It’s Time to Time

The Torres Bros. Podcast Review The 3rd Birthday

My brothers, Tim and Brendan, and I got together a while ago to review The 3rd Birthday, Square Enix’s worst ever treaty violation.

It was our first night together since Christmastime, so we were excited AS HELL to talk about this, and well, we started recording around 10 at night and we stopped around 2 in the morning. We cover the game with a fine-tooth comb from beginning to end, with plenty of (non-boring) tangents related to many other games (Resident Evil, Mass Effect, Illusion of Gaia, etc.) and ideas (sci-fi and art, etc.).

It’s in .mp3 format, split apart into four segments for palatable listening.

3rd Birthday Stinks and We Don’t Like It

Part One: 3rd Birthday Stinks and We Don’t Like It
Some Parasite Eve 1 talk and a lot about 3rd Birthday’s premise and setting.
Spoiler Level: Low

Part Two: The Greatest Foe Lies Within (Bad Games)
All the gameplay and the entire plot up to the ending gets dissected.
Spoiler Level: HUUUGE

Part Three: It Was the Best of Time Zero, It Was the Blurst of Time Zero
The entire ending under the microscope.
Spoiler Level: Monumental, and not just for The 3rd Birthday. PE1, PE2 and even Chrono Cross get spoiled.

Part Four: One More Final: I Need You (To Make Good Games Again)
Final thoughts, a lot of talk about recent and past Square games.
Spoiler Level: Minimal

Earthbound and Deadly Premonition

So there’s this game.

It looks like it was supposed to come out, like, 7 years before it did.

Publishers were so unconfident in its appeal, they tried to sell it based on how unappealing it seemed.

The core gameplay is basically copied directly from another game that redefined its genre,

though it also includes its own semi-realistic unique elements, like eating food and using a phone to save.

It comes from the mind of this one Japanese guy,

and takes place in his perception of the United States,

and the whole thing is filled with homages to all of the things he likes.

The story is a goofier retelling of a story that’s been told once before,

[Any game in which you have to collect 8 of something before beating the last boss]

and there are a lot of weird people doing stuff that doesn’t make sense all of the time.

But because you spend so much time with them, you start to really care about them,

and as things get more and more earnest, as the end draws closer, the emotional weight of everything has been built up so subtly that you did not expect the sudden urge to cry at the mind-bending climax.

There are more significant parallels, still, but that would mean spoilers for both, and you’re not ready for that yet.

So ever since Earthbound came out on the Wii U’s Virtual Console – which is an incredible concession on Nintendo’s part, but since none of the music in the game has been removed, clearly Nintendo of America’s insistence that the game could not be re-released due to copyrighted song samples was a huuuuge lie – everybody’s jumpin’ back onto the bandwagon that I’ve been carting all on my lonesome.

Amongst all this, though, some good reading has appeared. Not only did Nintendo give Earthbound its own site and sweet promotional video, there’s also a brief essay (no, more like poem) from Itoi himself, reflecting on Earthbound and its purpose.

There’s also more than one interview online with Marcus Lindblom, the man who almost single-handedly localized Earthbound for the West.

These things made me realize that all of my favorite games, to some degree, are like Earthbound; in that they not only make great use of the interactive and long-form nature of the medium, but also are unafraid to include the strange, personal things that other single-minded, artist-driven mediums have been using for many years.

With Earthbound’s re-release, there is a new layer of purpose to my writing. Now that people are actually playing it, we can actually discuss its importance – what it got right, what others have ignored, and who has been paying attention.

It is my belief that SWERY paid attention.

Earthbound fans – please, play Deadly Premonition.

Deadly Premonition fans – please, play Earthbound.

You all clearly have a masochistic streak, so it should be easy for you.

Holy cow, I just realized something about Metal Gear Solid 2

Metal Gear Solid 2 is about legacies. About passing the torch.

I mean, I always knew this, but I never knew just how deep it went.

The most obvious torch is the one passed from Snake to Raiden. The whole purpose of the S3 project to recreate Raiden in the image of Solid Snake. Although the Patriots are the ones in charge of the project, Snake himself ultimately sees Raiden through his transformation into a hero, both for the day and for Metal Gear as a series.

Though Solidus tries to pass his own torch to Raiden on more than one occasion. Raiden and other child soldiers fought under Solidus in the Liberian Civil War. At the end of the game, Raiden is then victim to expository monologues by both Solidus and the Patriots’ malevolent AI with the goal of getting him to appreciate their perspective.

Of course, Solidus has been a father and light-bearer in more than one way. Not only is he former United States President George Sears, he is also the leader of Dead Cell, a former SEAL group that become the terrorists holding the Big Shell hostage in wanting with the demands of Solidus, their founder.

Though members of Dead Cell have their own torches to bear, as well – some more successfully than others. Fortune’s father, Marine Corps Commandant Scott Dolph, is killed in the Tanker incident, and she harbors a hatred for Solid Snake as a result. Her husband, former Dead Cell leader Colonel [no first name given] Jackson, is convicted of mishandling government funds and dies in prison. Also, her mother commits suicide. Fortune picks up Colonel Jackson’s mantle and leads Dead Cell toward its terrorist destiny. And her superpower of extreme luck – succeeding in every mission with suffering any injury – she believes was inherited from the ghost of her father.

Then there’s Peter Stillman, the bomb disposal expert who faked an injury to gain sympathy from others in spite of the fact that he trained Dead Cell member Fat Man in bomb disposal – in the end, equipping him perfectly to become the mad bomber of the story. Fat Man agrees to the mission specifically hoping to show up his former mentor. Stillman dies wishing that he had held onto that torch.

Then there’s Otacon and Emma. Part of me remembered Otacon teaching Emma what he knew, and then realized that it’s Emma who creates the virus that disables Arsenal Gear. In a way, they each inherit something from the other. Moreover, they both have to the carry the fucked-up history of their parents. Not to mention Otacon’s whole family history when it comes to war crimes.

And then there’s the babies, the literal genetic heirs of the previous generation. All of Olga’s work as a double (triple??) agent with Snake were a means to expose the Patriots and discover the whereabouts of her daughter, Sunny, whom they had taken hostage. Before she dies, she gives Snake and Raiden the task of saving Sunny.

Sunny, ultimately, becomes Snake and Otacon’s adoptive daughter and becomes a technical genius under Otacon’s tutelage, avenging others whose lives were ruined due to PMCs created in the Patriots’ wake.

Raiden and Rose, too, end up with a baby of their own. Raiden, who only recently took charge of his life, has to take charge of another, as well. Though he’s slow to rise to the occasion.

MGS2 was bearing the torch carried by MGS1, a game that defined, technically, the Playstion One, through it’s extensive real-time visuals, dual-analog controls, and hours of recorded voice. MGS2, in turn, would define the Playstation 2 by including first-person view to expand the scope of the detail of the new generation, and even making use of the Dual Shock 2’s pressure sensitive buttons. So it’s kind of like Sony is passing a torch to itself.

More than anything, though, MGS2 is a torch lit by Kojima to pass to us as both a warning and a promise. The digital age we live in now has brought with the the ability to deceive and manipulate people on a massive scale – but it also brought the tools to cut through lies and share our experiences with others, and keep us all connected, sharing the stories of our pasts with one another.

We are who we are because of those who came before us. That’s why it’s called Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

Fourside, Part 3: An Annoying Apotheosis

The moment you step out of the warehouse with the battered Mani Mani statue, Apple Kid calls you to inform you of his newest invention, a yogurt machine that only dispenses trout-flavored yogurt. He’s nice enough to send it to you via Escargo Express’ “neglected class” delivery service.

When you step out of Jackie’s Cafe, a monkey will come up and tell you that the simian guru Talah Rama is awaiting your presence at the caves in Dusty Dune Desert.

Just as the talking monkey leaves, a guy from Escargo Express comes up and tells you that he lost the yogurt dispenser in the desert, so you can go and get it yourself.

Then the moment the Escargo guy leaves, Electra, Geldegarde Monotoli’s overworked maid, drops by to tell you that she could really use some trout-flavored yogurt to serve to Mr. Monotoli’s special guests – probably the goddamn Minches.

FINALLY, once everyone’s done running on- and off-screen like a Scooby Doo hallway scene, you get control back, and it’s time to head to the Monkey Caves in the Dusty Dunes desert.

Now this shit is some ridiculous trolling. It’s not a monster-filled dungeon, but it’s just as harrowing. You have to navigate your way through this monkey maze, but the only way to access each entrance is to give a consumable item to the monkey blocking your way.

This is especially devious considering at this point you’re still hoping Paula will rejoin the party so you can start carrying more things again. Now, when inventory space is most precious, the game asks you to lug around a bunch of bullshit just so you can give it away to the these filthy monkeys.

The good news is, unlike the game’s previous cavernous troll, this one is worth the effort. The monkeys are all pretty funny, and you get some super sweet items, including a Fire Pendant, a Bag of Dragonite (Using it in battle transforms you into a dragon for one turn and do big-time damage. Yeah, this game’s mythology is all-encompassing), and the always useful revivifying Cup of Lifenoodles.

Not only that, but once you finally reach the end of cave, you meet Talah Rama, an enlightened Monkey with visions of the future who ascertains that, YES, YOU are meant to restore balance to the Earth, and he offers you an awesome power to help you. [You can accept or reject this awesome power. Talah Rama jovially supports either choice.] He also gives you the Trout Yogurt Dispenser.

Ultimately, you’ll end up following one of his monkey disciples all of the way out of the cave and onto the desert highway. Here, you are taught the ability PSI Teleport, which allows you to travel back to any place you have previously visited. Well, hot fucking damn.

What I love about PSI Teleport is that, even with the ability to travel anywhere almost instantly, you still have to put some effort in. You can only use it if you have enough space in front of you to gather speed and then “take off”. If you collide with anything before you actually teleport, the skill fails and you lose those Psychic Points.

What’s especially devious about this is that, if you were to teleport to Saturn Valley as I did when I first got this ability, you would not be able to teleport OUT of Saturn Valley, because there’s not enough room! I don’t think that’s a coincidence – it’s one of the few places in the game you can rest without spending money.

Anyway, now you never have to take a bus again! If you Teleport back to Fourside, you’ll find Electra standing outside of the Monotoli Building, who’ll swipe the Trout Yogurt Dispenser and then grant you access to the VIP elevator inside!

Up on the 48th floor are a series of hallways and meeting rooms that are eerily empty, save for creepy Sentry Robots who will come directly after you once you draw near, ask you for identification, discover you have none, and initiate battle. These guys are especially diabolical because they’re always in places where it LOOKS LIKE you can avoid them, but in all but one situation, you can’t through normal means.

You can also find a room with Electra in it. She’ll give you some trout-flavored yogurt.

Finally, you end up in a room with a really doofy looking bucket o’ bolts called the Clumsy Robot. What’s funny about this guy is that, when it’s not wasting a turn doing something stupid, it fires missiles at you, doing massive damage. It’s the Mr. Magoo of boss fights.

The Clumsy Robot can also feed itself bolgna sandwiches, endlessly healing its HP to maximum. It seems like one of those stupid RPG rigged fights that you’re supposed to lose because the story says so!

But just as things seem bad, The Runaway Five bust in and the boss music changes to something rompin’ and awesome! One of the them accidentally flips the robot’s power switch, and the fight is won.

You can always count on one thing – every time you bail The Runaway Five outta debt, they always return the favor.

[The truth is, I found out, the balogna sandwich does nothing to heal the Clumsy Robot. Once the Runaway Five show up, that basically means to did enough damage to defeat him, like any other fight. But this way is so much funnier. Oh my God! Why don’t more RPGs have fights that end like this? The set piece possibilities are endless!]

In the next room, you find a broken old man who immediately begs for forgiveness and runs behind Paula, cowering.

Paula behaves just as she did the first time you rescued her from captivity, calm and optimistic. She also assures you that Monotoli actually isn’t all that bad.

Monotoli basically places all of the blame on the Mani Mani Statue, which he claims attracts evil and weakens the hearts of those who come into contact with it.

He also says that he received messages from the statue, telling him to make sure that Ness and gang never make it to the resort town, Summers, and that they never find out about the “Pyramid” or some such. He intuits that Ness definitely should go to Summers, and offers his helicopter as a means of conveyance, opening the secret door to his private helipad.

When you get out to the helipad, you find… POKEY?!

That fat fucking FUCK! Now that Monotoli is a plain old man again, Pokey has no use for him, so he steals the helicopter and flies away. Where the hell could he possibly go? Hopefully his weight throws off the helicopter’s balance and he crashes and dies. How’d he even GET out there??

When you head back inside to tell Monotoli what happened, he actually expresses concern for Pokey. I always thought this to mean that Monotoli is such a nice guy, he would even fear for the safety of someone who used him as tool and probably was the person ACTUALLY RESPONSIBLE for all of the bad attributed to his own self.

Only this time did I consider that maybe Monotoli expresses concern for Pokey because he knows something about the helicopter that we don’t…?

When you move to leave, a “!” appears over Paula’s head and everything fades to black around her.

It’s a disquieting moment, suggesting that’s Paula’s ESP is a strange and alienating thing, another facet of her feminine otherness. When things return to normal, she shrugs off the episode as a spell of dizziness and suggests that the gang heads back to the town of Threed. The Runaway Five offer you a ride there.

On your way out of the building you suddenly receive ANOTHER call from Apple Kid.

Hello! How are you? This is Apple Kid.
I think I’m a real genius… In fact, I know I’m a genius.
Why? Well, I have discovered the primary enemy of you and of all humanity.
We have to fight and defeat this being…
To do so, we need to invent a machine called the “Phase Distorter.”
I’ve got to find the wandering scientist,
Dr. Andonuts, and make the distorter. So, I may be gone for a while.
Later… *click*

I told you to remember that Phase Distorter! This is another eerie moment for me. You’ve been told about evil and darkness before, but those were by special people who have a certain spiritual awareness. Apple Kid, though a genius, is just a regular dude. Is Giygas’ evil so pervasive that even average people are starting to pick up on it?

If you still haven’t figured out what’s waiting in Threed, the Runaway Five give you a hint after they drop you off in their sweet bus: “By the way, why did you need to come back here? You must have forgotten some very important item or gadget here… How’s that for a guess? Am I close?”

Head up to the graveyard, where Jeff crash-landed the Sky Runner, and you’ll find that the members of the zombie action committee, formerly so useless, have restored the Sky Runner to working order! Hop in, and you’re on your way~~~~~~~

That was a long one, but everything in this entire sequences is basically emblematic of Earthbound.

  • Clear and intertwining objectives (Find THIS monkey to get THIS machine to rescue THIS girl to intuit THIS method of travel to reach THIS resort town…)
  • Silly fucking shit (monkeys, trout yogurt, impeccably-timed entrances, robots that eat sandwiches)
  • Arduous and sometimes clever dungeons with sweets rewards (Telportation, getting Paula back)
  • An economic use of the cast, providing depth to you, them, and the world (Apple Kid, The Runaway Five, the citizens of Threed)
  • The assertion that all people at their core are essentially good (except for Pokey)

And with that, we’re finally OUT of Fourside!!