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1:50 PM on 04.25.2015  

Let me Level with you about: Mortal Kombat X

  I’m about to discuss why I think a game I’ve never played is better than another game I've never played

            I don’t generally like fighting games. Their complex systems feel inherently outdated and exclusionary to new players. It’s almost like there’s a brick wall of skill you have to break through to get any enjoyment out of them and honestly I just don’t have the time. Of course the one exception is Super Smash Bros; because seriously, Smash Bros is my jam.

            Still though for the first time ever, I want to buy a non Smash Bros fighting game and to my surprise the game that makes me want to give the genre a try is Mortal Kombat X. Now I’m going to heap some praise onto this thing but for full disclosure’s sake I want to make it clear that I have not played the game. I’ve watched a decent amount of gameplay and I've watched the entire story mode  but I have not actually played the game. I hear it’s a competent fighter but again, I wouldn’t know.

            So what makes Mortal Kombat X stand out? This is going to sound crazy but its aesthetic design is really on point and its story mode is actually pretty well written. It’s not a master piece by any means but for what it is, it's rather entertaining and has enough heart to make the journey worthwhile.

            A lot of things make Mortal Kombat X standout from its predecessor. One of the things that immediately caught my eye was the character redesigns, specifically how the women were redesigned. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that skimpy outfits were a staple of the series but they were… noticeable after the franchise left its 2-D origins. Mortal Kombat 9 was one of the worst offenders by far.

            Mortal Kombat 9 had series mainstay Sonya Blade, wearing this


            Now not only is this just… a very poorly designed and conceived costume, it also really doesn’t make sense for Sonya’s character as she is portrayed in Mortal Kombat 9. She’s a Special Forces agent hunting down a highly dangerous criminal. Given her character, her back story, and her profession, if she was a real person, would she really dress herself this way? I tend to think not. This is troublesome to me because it’s an example of taking away Sonya’s agency. Instead of making decisions about her visual design which spring from her character, the designers make visual designs which spring from what they perceive is the desires of their demographic.

            Which like… come on guys, does anyone even really like side boob?

            Well the designers of Mortal Kombat 9 certainly like them some side boob, that’s why almost all of the ladies are showing off the side of their breasts. So you understand here is every other female character in Mortal Kombat 9.


I warned you about side boob bro

I told you dog

It just




            The amount of side boob present in this game is quite honestly astounding. When I sat down to write this I hadn’t even realized that literally every single female character was made to have the side of their breasts exposed but hey, there you go.

            So low and behold my shock when Mortal Kombat X not only cut the side boob but also seriously cut down on the amount of skimpy outfits. I can’t stress how cool it is that Sonya Blade went from this


            To this


            As a whole, compare the women of Mortal Kombat 9 to the women of Mortal Kombat X

            Again there is nothing wrong with fan service or skimpy outfits, the problem is when it clashes with character and creates a conflict of agency. I think it’s also important to balance out the skimpy outfits. Not every male character is objectified in Mortal Kombat 9, it was ridiculous that the same wasn’t true of every female character. This is another thing that makes Mortal Kombat X so cool, it’s super progressive and inclusive.

            The fact that Mortal Kombat X features the first openly gay character, the first black female, and the first Hispanic character in a Mortal Kombat game is astounding. The fact that none of them are reduced to stereotype or offensive caricature is even more fantastic.

            But even outside of the more socially progressive parts, Mortal Kombat X’s story is a step up from Mortal Kombat 9 and I think there’s one simple reason for that, quite frankly the game doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously. I think one of my biggest problems with the plot of Mortal Kombat 9 was just how dang serious everything was. Seriously look how many characters are brutally murdered in story for no reason other than “Mortal Kombat is super serious you guys… Like suuuuuuuuuuuuper serious.” But I think that tone betrays the gameplay. Mortal Kombat is inherently pulpy, with excessive and over the top gore pouring from every orifice.

            Mortal Kombat X on the other hand balances its pulpy and ridiculous elements with its more serious ones in a much better way. Awful things are happening but overall the narrative stays mostly positive, showing the main four heroes growing into better people as the story progresses. Sure some of the last game’s good guys are evil now, and in the end (spoiler alert) Raiden enters his goth phase. Watching this story and watching Cassie, Jacqui, Kung Jin, and Takeda become heroes is heartwarming. At the end of the story you have confidence in those characters and that makes the story so much better than the dour and grim dark plot of Mortal Kombat 9.

            So ultimately, taking everything into account that isn’t the gameplay… and the dlc choices… Mortal Kombat X holds my attention and makes me invested in these characters, this world, and this mythology much more than Mortal Kombat 9, and that’s because the creators weren’t afraid to change some things from the last game. I absolutely applaud these changes because the last game was a smash hit so they didn’t have to make these changes.

            Mortal Kombat X is still a gore fetishizing piece of pulp entertainment and you know what, it’s a dang fine piece of pulp entertainment. I think people have this idea that because something is pulpy that it is somehow lesser than other, more erudite forms of entertainment. Mortal Kombat X though shows that there’s a right way to do it, and that you can produce some fun stuff if you’re willing to go the extra mile.

             Also let's be real here, Cassie Cage's selfie fatality is the best thing ever.

            Hey if you liked this, maybe check out my blog at

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1:50 PM on 01.10.2013  

So Let Me Level With You About: Mega Man's Themes

The Mega Man franchise is one of the longest running video game franchises that is still (debate-ably) going to this day. Among the pantheon of ancient icons, Mega Man stands out for having some of the strongest themes that permeate every single title. Specifically the four series (Mega Man, Mega Man X, Mega Man Zero, and Mega Man Legend) set in the main time line all carry strong themes about the nature of robotics... Even if the story for the first two series are kind of butt... OK kind of actually really super butt when you get right down to it. But still this series warrants some analysis so for Mega Man's 25th anniversary , let me level with you about some Mega Themes... Yeah I feel bad about that one too.

To clarify what I mean when I say the story of the first two series are butt I mean they were a product of a different era, and by that I mean they were a product of a simpler era. The Mega Man Classic and Mega Man X series never tried to expand their stories beyond, Wily/Sigma is out you gotta go stop him. Well I mean they did try to go beyond that once or twice with... Unspeakable results. But the point is the story isn't what's important to the themes of the series, what is important is the setting.

Now I am going to assume you know the basic story of Mega Man so I don't have to write a 13 page essay on the back story of Mega Man. Basically what's important here is that the Robots don't really have free will and when you think about it the robots in the series aren't really good or evil. Mega Man for instance isn't protecting the world out of some moral sense of right and wrong he's doing it because he's programmed to do it. By the same token the Robot Masters aren't inherently evil, they merely do evil because they were programmed to do evil. This is also displayed in terms of the personality of the robots. The robots do have a personality and they do grow and develop somewhat, but always in the ways they were intended to grow and develop.

This lack of choice is displayed in terms of gameplay, though the player has the illusion of choice in terms of choosing which stages to tackle, ultimately it will lead to the same place. This shows that though the robots do have some amount of choice those choices will all lead to the same path and inevitably the same Mega Man. The player is given choices but inevitably these choices only matter in terms of how easy the player wants each stage to be.

In Mega Man X a new race of robots are created called reploids. These reploids are different from the robots of Mega Man Classic in that they have free will and the ability to make their own choices. We primarily see this ability to grow and make choices through the mechanics of the series. In each game of the Mega Man X series, the main protagonist X has the ability to improve himself through upgrades found throughout the various stages. What makes this different from the original Mega Man's ability to copy the robot masters skills, is that (for the most part) these pieces of armor are entirely optional. By giving the player the option of seeking these pieces of armor the game is providing a symbol for the growth and development of X's character.

The player is given further options in later Mega Man X games when the player is able to choose either X or Zero as their character (I'm not going to talk about Axl because Axl is stupid and nobody likes Axl). This means there are several ways a player can now go about finishing any given mission. This reflects the growth and development of the characters.

Despite the fact that the key difference between reploids and robots is the ability to choose, the only artificial intelligences that really do grow and develop are X and Zero neither of which is ironically enough a reploid despite having free will.

Another important part of Mega Man X is the Sigma/Maverick virus which infects reploids and makes them evil. What is significant about this is that it was created by Doctor Wily from Mega Man Classic. This essentially makes it clear that when a reploid does evil it isn't really of their own free will. However to contrast this X and Zero do what they do entirely of their own choice. This ties back into the game play, because X and Zero were allowed to grow and develop they chose to work for good. This contributes to an overall message in the Mega Man franchise, that machines aren't inherently evil like our culture often portrays them as, every time a machine does evil it is almost entirely because a human forced them to do it. This is most prominently displayed with Zero who grows past his creator's insidious intentions. Which is why Zero got his own series of games... also because Zero is the coolest thing that was ever invented and that's all there is to say on the matter.

The Mega Man Zero series is easily the most thematically rich series within the Mega Man Franchise. This series is not only something unique in the Mega Man franchise it's something that is extremely rare in the video game world itself. At its heart Mega Man Zero is a character piece, centered around Zero. Though giving Zero his own series was most likely a move to gain sales, it has the benefit of neatly tying the the themes of the franchise together.

The Mega Man Zero series takes place a little more than 1ěě years after the end of the Mega Man X series. In the time between the two series, a war broke out that cost the world 9ě% of its reploid population and 6ě% of its human population. In the wake of this war a safe haven for humans was established called Neo Arcadia. It's led by an exact copy of X, who has ruled that all reploids not associated with Neo Aracdia have gone Maverick and therefore must be hunted and destroyed.

The villains of the first game in the Mega Man Zero series seem to be a brutal deconstruction of the popular "Humans are special" trope commonly found in fiction featuring artificial intelligence. In Mega Man Zero, X's need to protect human life at all costs have been warped and twisted into a dictatorship.

It almost seems like Mega Man Zero is deconstructing the very notion of an artificial intelligence uprising. The reploids are trying to gain power over the humans, but it isn't out of some sense of inherent hatred for humanity, it is instead because humanity has persecuted them and has given the reploids no other option but to revolt.

If the first two games main antagonist of Neo Arcadia represents a societal barrier for artificial intelligence to advance, the last two games main antagonist of Doctor Weil and Omega represent a personal barrier. Throughout the franchise Zero is haunted by his own past, and this past is made manifest by; Omega which is Zero's old body without its mind, and Doctor Weil who is a clear allusion to Zero's creator Dr.Wily.

By defeating these two, Zero has finally allowed himself to advance past his artificial nature. At the conclusion of Mega Man Zero 4 (which is the last game in the series) Zero makes a sacrifice to save humanity as well as reploids and though it appears this sacrifice may have cost him his life, it is never out right stated and it is even hinted that he may still be alive. The last image of the Mega Man Zero series is extremely important to its themes.

It's a little difficult to tell in this screen shot, but if you look closely you can make out a humanoid silhouette in the sun. To me it always seemed like Zero's "death" in Mega Man Zero 4 was more of a symbolic rebirth. Now that Zero has advanced, he sheds his old form and heads in to the sunset to start a new life as something the world hasn't seen before, something better than both a human and a reploid. At the conclusion of the Zero franchise Zero has all the strengths of humanity as well all the strength of reploids and we see what affect this advancement has on the world in the next series chronologically, Mega Man Legends.

Mega Man Legends takes place thousands of years after the conclusion of Mega Man Zero. In the world of Mega Man Legends humanity is essentially extinct and have been replaced by beings known as Carbons. Carbons are artificially created humans with cybernetic enhancements.

Because humanity and artificial intelligence have finally merged, Mega Man Legends takes place in a period of time known as the Halcyon days. Unlike the previous series which all took place during wars, Mega Man Legends takes place in a time of peace.

The main conflict of the series comes in the form of humanity's last bastion, the floating continent Elysium. In addition to housing the last human, Elysium is a machine designed to keep humanity alive at any cost. This need to protect humanity comes in the form of the Carbon re-initialization program which would wipe out all carbons and use their material to restart the human population. In Mega Man Legends, humanity's fear of becoming obsolete leads them to disregard the life of other life forms. This resonates with the themes of the franchise because it shows humanity's paranoia impeding progress.

The fact that artificial life is no longer barred from advancing by humanity is also reflected in the game play. The large amount of choice present in Legends reflects the fact that artificial life is now free from the shackles of societal pressure. By allowing the player a large sand box environment the creators are showing that for the first time Artificial Life is truly free.

If the Mega Man franchise was a play, Classic would be the prologue, X would be the rising the action, Zero would be the climax, and Legends would be the epilogue. Mega Man Legends is all about taking what we should of learned from the previous series and showing how it leads to positive changes.

Despite most of the franchise having relatively simple plots, the Mega Man Franchise carries some surprisingly deep themes. By showing artificial intelligence advance over time, Capcom crafts a message of machine tolerance that resonates throughout the franchise. This level of machine tolerance goes against common portrayals of artificial intelligence as malevolent beings and shows that it is ultimately humanity's paranoia that causes artificial intelligences to turn against us. The Mega Man franchise has the bravery to suggest that machine and artificial intelligence can improve our lives and enrich them if we just allow them to.

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10:43 PM on 12.12.2012  

So Let Me Level With You About: Final Fantasy VI

The Final Fantasy series has fallen on some dire straights as of late. With the latest releases in the main franchise getting either tepid or horrendous reviews a lot of ill will has been thrown Square Enix's way. In particular Final Fantasy XIII and XIV have caused many in the gaming community to write off the whole franchise as a series of trite JRPGs. To anyone who has stuck with the franchise, it is abundantly clear that these people have never played Final Fantasy VI (or IV, IX, and XII for that matter).

So, let me level with you about Final Fantasy VI.

Final Fantasy VI is widely regarded as the best game in the franchise by those who have stuck with it since the beginning, the problem is that it is also commonly over shadowed by the testical bursting popularity of its sequel Final Fantasy VII. I think because of the mega popularity of VII, people often forget just how magnificent VI really is.

Final Fantasy VI has some of the most brilliant themes, characters, and mechanics of the franchise, all of which are supported by a breathtaking musical score. Almost every element of Final Fantasy VI works together to form this odd mixture of quite frankly profound ideas that permeate the entirety of the experience that is Final Fantasy VI. Much like the characters it revolves around this hodge podge of seemingly mismatched ideas coalesce into something greater. Final Fantasy VI is at its heart a tale about the value of life and what it means to live in a dying world and it conveys that not just through plot but through the characters and game play.

Pictured: Beautiful story telling, and the value of life

Part of what makes Final Fantasy VI so special is the playable characters, of which there are a metric butt ton (apparently a metric butt ton measures out to be around 14). Each playable character in Final Fantasy VI (with the exception of two hidden characters) gets a fair deal of back story and character development. Though your initial character Terra is often cited as the primary protagonist of Final Fantasy VI, I would hesitate to call any of the playable characters the chief protagonist because of how well developed each character is. Every character has moments in the story dedicated to developing them and because of this the audience grows attached to this merry band of misfits.

If each character was unique in writing alone that would be fantastic, the fact that Square managed to make each character unique from a gameplay standpoint also serves to enhance the player's love for the characters. Each character in the game gets some unique mechanic, from having to input Street Fighter-esque button combinations for Sabin, trying your luck with Setzer's slots, or filling up Cyan's Sword Tech guage. This sense of mechanical identity not only contributes to the player's knowledge of these characters it makes each character useful in some way, which gives the player more of a reason to use a wide variety of different characters in different situations.

Because JRPG's have such a large focus on characters, the way the characters are designed mechanically has a huge impact on how the player feels about that character. If a character isn't useful to the player then the player is less inclined to be interested in that character. In Final Fantasy VI every character has their uses and this gives the player more reason to use all of the characters and ultimately become attached to all of the characters.

Even though each character has their own mechanical identity the player still has room to customize each character through the fantastic Relic and Esper systems. These systems allow the player to give the characters special attributes, control which magic they learn, or affect their stat growth. Because the customization is so light the characters don't feel homogeneous while still giving the player some choice in how these characters develop. All this goes a long way to make the usually mundane turn based combat actually something that player isn't constantly avoiding, because the player wants to see these characters get stronger and learn better spells to help you out in combat.

The high excitement of clicking through menus to make things happen

Final Fantasy VI goes out of its way to give the player the chance to use each of these unique characters as well. A common problem in JRPGs is that they encourage the player to pick three or four favorite characters and stick to using just them, but not Final Fantasy VI. Not only is the roster of available characters constantly changing, at several points the player will be asked to use all available characters when forming three parties that the player has to switch off between. This makes the player constantly rethink their strategy, instead of just relying on the interplay of 4 characters the player has to evaluate how each character will interact with each other character because its very probable that those characters will be forced into a party together.

Look, the design in Final Fantasy VI is astounding. The developers clearly put so much time and love into designing the characters both from a narrative and a mechanic standpoint and because of that the player cares about the characters. Some of the recent Final Fantasy's have taken the focus away from developing all of the playable characters instead choosing to focus on one or two lead characters. When something like this happens it either leaves the player playing a story that focuses on a character they don't care about, or leaves them wishing another character got more development. Often times these characters are also completely homogeneous in terms of game mechanics which just makes the characters seem less unique and encourages the player to stick to only three or four characters. So yeah, if you're going to criticize the Final Fantasy series at least give the best in the series a chance? Also maybe play IV, IX, XII, or Tactics? Those are all pretty good... so go play those too I guess?

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6:10 PM on 08.29.2012  

Earthbound: Or why I am this game's abused wife

Earthbound is one of the most under played games on the Super Nintendo. With sharp writing, a memorable soundtrack, and one of the most brutally macabre boss fights ever put into a video game, Earthbound was one of the most over looked games during the 16 bit era.

This game has a long storied history that isn't particularly germane to this topic so here's what you need to know in a nut shell; Earthbound is the second game in an RPG series known as Mother and it sold poorly in America because Nintendo kind of fails at advertising sometimes.

The quirkiness here is rated at a whopping 4 Zoey Deschanels

With all this quirk brimming out of every corner, Earthbound was almost destined to become a cult classic and now with the magic power of the internet coupled with amazing new technologies that have unlocked the potential within each and every one of us to become 18th an century naval based thief with dubious hygiene, Earthbound has finally been receiving the praise it deserves.

Now I dove into Earthbound knowing none of that, I had played as Ness (the main character of Earthbound) in Smash Bros and that's about it. Other than the little bit of information I read on Wikipedia I knew next to nothing about the game so I went in completely blind. Once I had finished playing it I was blown away. Nearly everything about the game blew my mind the themes were engaging, the the symbolism was clever, and comedy was subtly hilarious. Special mentions goes out to the last boss battle which is without a doubt one of the best and most surprising moments in gaming history. Now all this might lead you to believe that Earthbound is an amazing game that deserves the highest praise, and in a way it does but all of it serves to hide one secret, one aspect of the game that becomes abundantly clear the second you start playing the game. For all of its brilliant writing, for all of its comedy Earthbound can't escape one terrible fact... Earthbound just plain isn't that fun to play.

I know I was amazed too. For all the good that Earthbound does its chief gameplay mechanic (turn based battles) is easily the least fun aspect of the game. You can instantly tell what is wrong with the battle system by just looking at any given battle screen.

Notice anything about that screen? Notice how your character is represented by a box? Notice the static enemy image (you can't tell from looking at the picture but yeah that guy ain't movin from that pose even if hell is raining down on him)? Notice the nondescript background composed entirely of wavy lines? Well get used to those because strictly on a game play level this is what Earthbound is, you go into a menu, pick something to do, and imagine really hard that it's getting done. Oh wait I forgot there are special attacks called psi that actually do feature animations that add some flare to the battles, and these psi moves are composed entirely of... abstract polygons and lines.... Oh dear.

But I mean this is how all turn based RPGs are right? Even Final Fantasy which people love is composed of just selecting moves from a menu. But there is a key difference: Final Fantasy recognizes the inherent flaws of the turn based battle system so it goes out of its way to engage the player as much as possible; attacks are flashy, character models are distinct, your character's weapon sprite changes when you change weapons, and the active time system puts the player under pressure to act quickly. Just look at this battle screen from Final Fantasy VI

It seems more interesting right? More is happening and there is an actual background. The game play in Final Fantasy isn't particularly all that fun but it was still interesting. The game went out of its way to make the player interested in battles; you wanted to go into a battle to test out a new summon and see its epic animation as it completely devastated your enemies, you wanted to go into battle to see what a new a spell looked like, or to see how certain characters interacted with one another. These elements made the player care more about battles and leveling up. Players wanted to level up to see what their new spells and abilities look like in battle and this motivation kept the battles relevant.

In Earthbound all this motivation is completely gone. New abilities all look relatively similar, there are only four characters to play as in the game so there isn't much room for strategy, and you never actually see your characters in battle. As a result of this Earthbound's combat never feels satisfying and the player never feels really involved in the battles.

When you look at all these elements it starts to make sense why Earthbound didn't sell as well as its contemporaries. Despite having highly entertaining writing and truly inspired themes, most players wouldn't get past the first hours before getting bored. Every time I get bored by a long stretch of battle the game comes at me with its sharp wit as if it's trying to tell me "No man it's OK just stay a little while, don't worry about battling. See that writing isn't that hilarious?" and then it slaps me with a whole string of battles and the whole experience is exhausting.

Now in the sequel, Mother 3, the creators tried to remedy this by adding in the ability to press buttons at certain times while an attack is being performed to get an extra attack, and though it works slightly better than Earthbound's combat it still feels largely uninteresting (mostly due to the difficult to discern timing of when to press the buttons).

Don't think any of this means I hate Earthbound or that I think it's a bad game, I love Earthbound and it still remains one my favorite things I've played, but I love it more as an experience than I do as a game. I think if the creators had spent more time on the battle system in addition to the great writing Earthbound could of been one of the best games ever made, but instead Earthbound feels like a chore to play through during the sections where you actually play through it.

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