So last week, I uploaded a second post on the story mode for Street Fighter V. Nothing out of the ordinary, of course, but the Destructoid dashboard told me that that was the 100th post I’d written for the community blogs. Granted I knew it was coming, and I was thinking about ways to truly celebrate such a momentous occasion . There was a part of me that wanted to use that slot to cement my status as a heel and take shots at the industry’s golden boy (you know, the one with all the fortune and stands above all of us). But that would’ve ostensibly involved me being a total shitbird, so I’ll keep that bullet in the chamber for later.
More pressingly, there was something more important I should’ve done by now. I tossed in a line naming that SFV post as the 100th, and took some time to offer thanks while linking to a song from The Wonderful 101 -- and let’s ignore the fact that I should’ve used this jingle instead. But the plan was to leave a hefty comment with more in-depth thanks, as a way to show gratitude for anybody who had the goodwill, patience, and courage to make it through even one of my posts. That didn’t happen. So I’m going to make up for it here and now. And with this being a video game website, I should probably talk about a game somewhere down the line.
I don’t know, though. I’m having such a hard time thinking of what to bring up. If only there was a post title I could read, or a paragraph above this I could skim.
I’ve been coming to Destructoid for a while now -- probably thanks to Jim Sterling’s review of Final Fantasy 13, AKA one of the few outlets willing to dip below the 8-9 score range for such a major release. It should come as no surprise that it’s one of my top-visited sites (if the Google Chrome front page is to be believed), because it’s got virtually everything a gamer could ask for. News! Jokes! Reviews! A cool mascot! No shortage of the color green! Okay, that last one’s a personal bonus for me, but you get the idea. I’d rather come here -- and do come here -- despite any number of other choices. Cripes, I can’t even remember the last time I thought “let’s see what’s on IGN.”
What I do remember is that in early 2012, there was a call for bloggers -- one of many, naturally. Since I had just started up my own blog and needed to begin building a platform, I figured I might as well jump in. Why not become a part of this community? Pretty much the only thing I can do quickly (or competently, take your pick) is writing; it seemed as if I could juggle two word repositories at once. And I have for years now. Granted I don’t post here all the time, but I try to have something up every now and then. It all started here with a post on the Ace Attorney series, and the rest was history.
I want to give a heartfelt thanks to all of you guys here, whether you read my stuff, glance at a couple of lines, or jump over them as you would a deep chasm filled with dog poo. Near as I can tell, this is absolutely one of the best sites for open discourse on games -- something that’s sorely needed in the face of a fledgling-yet-developing medium. I see it in the Cblogs, I see it in the comments, and I see it in the articles themselves. It’s true that things can get hot and heavy here, but it’s never to the level of some of the other sites out there; here, I’m more likely to see jokes, snark and absurd gifs than I am a steaming pot of piss and vinegar.
You don’t know how much that means to me. As a guy who lives with a brother who’s less than ideal as a debate opponent (with stellar retorts like “Only you and 12-year-olds like Skyward Sword!”), I appreciate it so much when people are actually trying to make a statement, make a case, and make a point -- in jest or otherwise. The mere existence of this site proves that the internet can be used as more than just a shouting arena, and the gamers behind their keyboards -- men and women alike from all walks of life -- go thousands of miles beyond the stereotypical neckbeard. Or dudebro. Or 12-year-old screaming on Xbox Live. Boy, there are a lot of negative gamer stereotypes.
Also, I feel like gaming kids get a bad rap. I played an Overwatch match with one -- a Torbjorn user -- and he was by leaps and bounds one of the most competent leaders I’ve seen to date.
I know there’s an episode of South Park about “safe spaces” -- complete with song -- but Destructoid comes off as a more positive version of that. It’s less of a safeguard against reality, and more of an example of it; if you say something witty or intelligent (and do it well enough), then people will engage with you. Those same people will call you out and disagree, with a level of respect that matches the quality of your work. To my knowledge, no one here has taken time out of their busy schedules to call me an “overly sanctimonious asshole” just because I didn’t like something they like. That doesn’t mean people have refused to disagree with me (for fear of hurting my feeeeeeeeliiiiiiiiiiings), but that’s just it. There’s a level of civility that makes coming here so pleasant. Valuable. Enlightening, even.
So in case it wasn’t obvious, I’ll say it plainly. Even if Dtoid is geared toward dishing out the latest gaming news and reviews -- even if its community and style are merry little coincidences -- this site makes me happy. I can pop in to read stuff that interests me, and I don’t have to worry about anyone trying to play The Bring-Down Game just ‘cause. I absolutely adore that, and all of you deserve praise for helping to make that possible. The site may be a mass of data and coding, but it’s the people here that give it its soul.
And now I have a question to ask: am I making you guys happy?
I’m asking as much because, well, I feel like I’m overdue for a progress report. I’m pretty sure there’s a rule mandated by the heavens that every writer should fret over the quality of their works; hell, it’s probably carved into their DNA. So yeah, I’m always concerned about what I toss up here -- like one day, I’m going to upload a true stinker, or something that’s absolutely unforgivable in the eyes of readers. Not everything I’ve written is pure platinum, I know, but I’d like to think that I’ve managed to uphold at least some level of quality over the years.
But sometimes, I doubt myself. Am I being informative enough? Am I being clear enough? Am I being thorough enough? Maybe. But the real problems come in when I remember that I’m not writing some major treatise or manifesto; a lot of my stuff is about video games, and I should write in line with my audience. So that begs a whole new set of questions: am I being funny enough? Am I being entertaining enough? Am I being friendly enough? I’m no JonTron or Dunkey, after all; I can’t mirror their absurdity or charisma in text, and certainly not in videos. Maybe I don’t have to be, but something tells me that there’s a reason why they’ve got millions of subscribers and views.
The core issue is that I take art very seriously, whether it’s mine or others’. I put a lot of effort into the stuff I write, because even if only one person reads it -- which I assume is the case most days -- then I want that one person to be delighted. I don’t want them feeling like they wasted their time. Do I need them to walk away from their computer or pocketing their phone while wiping away tears of laughter? It’d be nice, but I can do without. I just hope that they feel as if they’ve gained something -- and that something was enough to leave them satisfied. Uplifted. Happy.
That’s part of why I take art seriously as well, video games or otherwise. As I’ve said before, my dream is to be a writer; I doubt I’d be a very good one if I couldn’t parse through stories and figure out what makes them tick. Beyond that, though? Even if I’m nobody special (for now), I expect that those in power should use their resources to make something worthwhile. To make art is to take on a massive responsibility; it shapes the minds of the people in ways that even the most dedicated teacher can’t. That’s exactly why we need -- and want -- the best art possible. Art can change the world, just like the people behind it. It shouldn’t just exist to cash in on brands or gimmicks. Nor should it just exist to turn an audience into undiscerning customers. One way or another, it should make people happy -- which is exactly what I want to do, with my posts and stories alike.
There’s more that I can say on art, but I’ll save that for another day. So I think it’s time to switch gears.
I won’t sit here and tell you that The Wonderful 101 is the greatest game ever. Like any game, it has its faults, and it’s not even close to being something everyone can enjoy. Even on the normal difficulty, it’s a challenge that can turn plenty of people off; some of its mechanics are never competently explained, and God help you if you never learn about your defensive options. Some of the Wii U-specific gimmicks and puzzles don’t work as well as intended -- and while you can punch your way through stages by drawing the requisite symbols, there is frustration to be had in those moments where they don’t work. The camera isn’t 100% typical of, or accommodating to, the usual character action game. You can die -- and have your perfect record/rank ruined -- simply because you didn’t know what you were supposed to do at a certain juncture.
And all of that sidesteps the fact that The Wonderful 101’s story conceits might as well be poison to some. For the uninitiated, it comes off as Saturday morning cartoon fare. You spend a huge chunk of the game caring for a screechy little kid whose personality might make players want to offer him as tribute to the alien hordes. Characterization is more than a little half-assed, given that several of the heroes on the box art have most of their lines in their introductory cutscenes. Also, I hope you like lampshade hanging -- because there’s a heaping helping of it.
But you know what? Even if The Wonderful 101 isn’t the greatest game ever, I absolutely love it.
This isn’t just me talking as a fan of tokusatsu fare like Kamen Rider or Super Sentai (or even more obscure fare like Tomica Hero: Rescue Force). I played through The Wonderful 101 right before I seriously got into that stuff, and I can say with some confidence that the former is 100% enjoyable on its own terms, regardless of what you’re into. The issues with the story are easy to overlook because of the generally high quality throughout, which shouldn’t be possible given that it stars a bunch of baby-proportioned heroes in skintight suits. And even if there are some gameplay annoyances, I refuse to dock points when it features some of the finest fighting I’ve ever experienced.
Like the Platinum games that came out before and after it, there’s plenty of spectacle to be had. It’s fantastic, as expected -- so much so that it’s hard for me to look at the average AAA game and be impressed by its cutscenes or setpieces. By the same token? Even if those games have significantly-higher budgets or power under the hood, The Wonderful 101 shines by featuring a style that’s hard to match -- all while tapping the power of the underdog Wii U. Overall, it’s a game that knows how to serious, but irresponsibly fun. Brutal, but enchanting nonetheless. Beyond that? The Wonderful 101 resonates with me personally -- because even if it’s a bunch of bits and bytes on a disc, it’s still more than capable of being something more.
It’s a game about heroes rising up to save the day. That’s not just a conceit in the story; it’s a thematic through line that affects the characters, the setting, the gameplay, the core mechanics, and even the endgame. As simplistic as that may be -- because “good guys show up to fight bad guys” is the backbone of roughly eleventy zaptillion stories -- it’s executed well enough to become something truly powerful. Being simple is no real sin, yet the earnestness of the game and the will to follow through on its creative vision produces some incredible moments. That thematic through line I just mentioned leads to one of the absolute greatest boss fights I’ve ever seen; I was blinking back tears of joy during it, because I kind of needed to focus on staying alive.
“Heroes stand strong” is the phrase used to reward players that earn top marks after a skirmish. And indeed, the heroes do stand strong. It’s something worthy of respect -- as is the mere act of being a hero. It’s part of the reason why I use the phrase “writing hero” to describe what I want to be; there’s no greater honor than to know that you mean something to someone. Or, to be more precise, there’s no greater honor than to know that your efforts -- earnest, bold, and virtuous desires -- have the power to put smiles on the faces of people. Even if you never meet face to face, and even if nobody really knows your name, you can still have a positive impact.
I’m wholly convinced that The Wonderful 101 is proof of that. Despite its flaws, it’s the embodiment of what it means to be a hero -- and becomes a hero itself in the process. And yet, it does even more than that.
I’ve praised a lot of games. I’ve complained about a lot of games, too. I’ve made my preferences pretty obvious, which is part of the reason why I hope no one ever thinks of my posts as a straight, objective review. But over time -- in my quest to develop my skills and become a hero -- I’ve come to a conclusion. Yes, there are games that infuriate me, and would love nothing more than to have them changed to reach more than just par. Here’s the thing, though: it’s not as if I expect every game to conform to my standards (which seem to be getting loftier and loftier from my seat on this high horse). I expect -- and hope -- that art will be good, especially if I’m not the one playing the mastermind. That’s the one qualifier; everything else is free.
So when I talk, or write, or complain, or ramble, it’s not as if I’m trying to narrow it down to what games should be. No, it’s all about what games can be. What can they do to excite us? To entertain us? To enlighten us? There’s no shortage of possibilities. We all know that by default, because I’d bet that anyone reading this has (or has had) a collection thicker than the average phone book. We know what the medium can do. We know what art in general can do. So we should look forward to art that can give us what we wanted -- if not something we never even knew we wanted. And if we can’t be trusted with an army of adoring fans or enough resources to feed a small island nation, then we should at least celebrate those that do a good job. Because as bleak as the world can be sometimes, and as easy as it is to fall prey to sorrows within and without, there’s always a bright spot. There are always heroes. There always will be. And they’ll always be there to put smiles on our faces.
So. It should go without saying, but this (hopefully) isn’t the last time I’ll be talking about The Wonderful 101. Step one is to actually replay the game from start to finish with a fresh file, and see if my idealism is misplaced or deserved. And from there? Hard to say. Writing a post or two would be the obvious choice, but I wonder if that’s enough to represent a game that means so much to me. It always bummed me out that the game never got the attention it deserved, and I want to do my best on its behalf. So maybe I’d make a video. I’m overdue for that anyway, so that would be a good place to start. Or maybe I’ll stick to what I know best. We’ll see. Until then? I’ll keep writing, and keep striving for more. There are a lot of things I want to do, and a lot of things I need to do. But as important as it is to try and fulfill my ambitions, I still see the light; I know that the reason I do what I do, and done what I’ve done, is to try and make people happy. What’ll it take to make that happen? Well, there’s no one way to do it. Just as there are tons of things games can be, there are a ton of things I can be. There’s more than one way to become a hero.
I hope you’ll forgive me for another post whose word count pushes the limits of your patience and endurance. And as painful as it is to hear, I won’t be quitting just yet. Not while there are hopes and dreams on the line. So as always, I’ll keep on writing -- for your sake and mine. Keep popping in to Dtoid to see me discuss video games, or use the sidebar to check out my personal blog for even more content. I’m serious about being a hero, but now more than ever, I’m serious about bringing happiness to whoever I can, whenever I can. That’s what it’s all about.
Till next time, then. Take care. Thank you. And…hey, while you’re at it? Reach for the sky.