Thursday, July 05, 2018

Each Holding An ORB: Final Fantasy 6


INTRODUCTION: Once again, an evil empire is aggressively expanding its territory, this time through the use of Magitek, a technology that apes the force of magic - magic having disappeared from the world some time before, after the legendary War of the Magi.

The Empire "recruits" a girl named Terra, who is the first human in many years to be able to use magic.  Controlling her actions with a Slave Crown, Emporer Gestahl and his deranged right hand man Kefka Palazzo send her to the remote and snowy town of Narshe.

Narshe contains two very relevant things: one, a recently-uncovered frozen creature believed to be one of the Espers, a race of highly magic-sensitive beings, and the other a resistance group called The Returners, who have sworn to bring down the Empire!

RELEASE: 2 April 1994, Nintendo Super Famicom (JPN); 11 October 1994, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (USA, as "Final Fantasy 3"); 1 March 2002, Sony PlayStation (EU, remake)

MY FIRST PLAY: 2002, naturally, again, with completion being delayed until 2004.  Chief amongst the delays for this and the last two, I now remember, was the release of Final Fantasy 10!

Courtesy Square Enix, via Logopedia.
REAL WORLD: Developed in only a year, this is the first installment not directed by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, as he had been promoted to Executive Vice President of Square.  The principal characters were conceived by at least four different members of Square's staff, and co-director Yoshinori Kitase then melded those with an overall premise from Sakaguchi to create the layered narrative.

Get ready for more numbering controversies: this was sent to America, released as Final Fantasy 3 over there (if you remember from previous entires, they'd only had FF1 and FF4 previously).  Unlike FF4, the gameplay and difficulty were not changed too drastically, though some representations of the female form as espers and monsters are presented in a more fully-clothed fashion.

THE GAME: This game begins a transition into joint fantasy/sci-fi setting for the series, mixing technology with magic in was only briefly touched upon by previosus games, particularly FF1 and FF4.  The setting is in fact 100% steampunk, with Industrial Revolution-style trappings mixing with hi-tech, such as robot enemies and a moving castle.

And if you like playable characters, hold on to your hat...  There are fourteen "main" playable characters, all but three of whom can be considered to have fully-developed storylines and arcs, and another fourteen on top of that if you count all the Moogles, General Leo, Vicks, Wedge and the mysterious ghost that joins the party in the Phantom Train.

The de facto main character, for the first time in the series' history is female - Terra is a woman with the natural ability to wield magic, whose journey is key to the storyline.  In fact an argument can be made that the de facto secondary character is Celes Chere, who is also female, and has artifically been granted the ability to wield magic.

The contrasts between the two characters, and the key moments in their progress, is the engine that powers the story along, though treasure hunter Locke, thrill-seeking gambler Setzer, sterm ronin Cyan and the two sons of the Figaro royal family also have huge stakes in the outcome.

All the characters have a fixed "job", a la FF4, so the different combinations of these you will use throughout the game - some forced, some freely - make for a vast range of different combat experiences.

This also marks the debut of what would become known as "Limit Breaks" in the next installment - a desperation attack that is immensely powerful and randomly replaces the "Fight" command when a character's HP is low.  Bizarrely, I have never, ever seen this happen myself - but I trust the eyewitness accounts are correct.

Courtesy Square Enix, via techcrunch.com
IT'S A KIND OF MAGIC: It's an MP system again, but how the spells are learned is quite different.  Characters who are magically sensitive sometimes learn spells by levelling up, but the main way to learn magic is by equipping Magicite.

Magicite is essentially an Esper's remains.  Characters can only equip one at a time, and it gives them the ability to summon that Esper (like summoned monsters in the last three entries).  Combat gleans not just EXP, gil and items, but also Magic Points, a separate upgrade system as per FF3 and FF5.  Gain enough AP with a Magicite equipped, and the character will learn spells related to that Esper's elements and personality.

MUSIC: "Dancing Mad", the final boss theme which clocks in at SEVENTEEN MINUTES, is a huge achievement - but the best bit's got to be the opera, hasn't it?

In a somewhat contrived but charming sequence, Celes replaces an opera singer she apparently bears a startling resemblance to, and has to perform said opera until it's ruined by an octopus, because reasons:


TECHNOLOGICAL DYSTOPIA RATING: 9/10

Magitek, robots, the subjugation of humans and mystical beings through technological superiority...  It's got the lot!

MEGABOSSES: There are a few things that might fulfill this in the original - for instance, there are eight dragons that can largely be avoided, but if conquered grant access to the magicite Crusader.  There's also the prospect of DoomGaze, but encountering it is so likely that I don't think I can count it as "optional".

The GameBoy Advance version added the Kaiser Dragon - or should I say, activated it, as it was an unused asset in the original code - who definitely fits the bill.

REMAKES: Again, the PlayStation version is a pretty straight port, as is that recently released on the SNES Micro, and also again, GBA owners get the best deal, with extra espers and two new end game dungeons.

WORST BIT: It's likely that you'll be grinding an awful lot in the end game - which is pretty easy, but does wreck the flow of the game a bit, as it will have been at a relatively breakneck pace throughout up until that point.

BEST BIT: The final dungeon is immense, requiring three separate parties of characters to work in unison to reach the final chamber, in which the epic final boss battle will begin.  Also worth mentioning the Floating Continent section, which is wonderfully inhuman in design.

OPINION: Here we are at the end of another console generation, banging on about the increase of scope and maximising of technological potential.  This will happen at least once more before we're done...

With the increased emphasis on character-based storytelling, the more tech-savvy setting and the introduction of a cornerstone of the combat system  for the next five entries, it's fair to say that this game represents the start of the "modern" era of Final Fantasy.

Many will tell you this is the best entry in the series - and it's damn hard to form an argument against that standpoint.  Unless, like me, you played the next one first...

Join us next time for a journey into a new dimension, including a guy that are sick, another guy that is just Mr. T and a massive bereavement still felt to this day.  Poor Cait Sith...

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Each Holding An ORB: Final Fantasy 5


INTRODUCTION: A drifter named Bartz (or "Butz", originally) is riding along on his chocobo pal Boco when he is caught in an unusual earthquake. Just then a meteor crashes and an amnesiac old man emerges, whilst a princess tries to track down her father, who has flown his dragon to the Wind Shrine to protect the Wind Crystal...

...Because (and get ready for this massive shock!): the four elemental crystals, you see, are dying (Jesus, this AGAIN?) - and with them the world.

Anyway: finding the king proves rather hard due to the becalmed sea, which leads the unlikely gang to find their fourth member: a drag king pirate whose ship is towed by a friendly sea serpent.  Of course, who else would it be?  And off they go to ADVENTURE!!!...  Which of course winds up with them fighting a talking tree, because JRPGs.

RELEASE: 6 December 1992, Nintendo Super Famicom (JPN); 30 September 1999, Sony PlayStation (USA, remake); 27 February 2002, Sony PlayStation (EU, remake)

MY FIRST PLAY: Again 2002, when the PlayStation remake hit these shores.  However it would take me until 2005 to complete it, again due to wandering attention.

Courtesy Square Enix, via Final Fantasy Wikia.
REAL WORLD: As you might have guessed from last week's entry, we have another numbering controversy here.  FF5 was intended for American release, with translation apparently starting quite soon after release, but several attempts were never finished, including a plan to release it under a different title due to the game's difficulty.  Due to this, the only way to play the game was on a Japanese Super Famicom cartridge.

This had a huge effect on import culture in gaming, with American fans importing these Japanese cartridges, modifying their machines to play them and learning Japanese or following guides to complete the game.  Unthinkable now that FF is a keenly awaited, shrewdly marketed, globe-straddling franchise - but a cool little glimpse at a charming corner of gaming past.

THE GAME: This is essentially FF3 with fixed characters.  Bartz, Galuf, Faris and Lenna (and later a fifth character) all have their own stories to be told, although Bartz's really isn't much to write home about for a de facto lead character, and Lenna's is boring.

As default, the characters have no skills except "Attack" and "Item", but can equip basically any armour or weapons they like.  They learn new skills by spending time and winning battles in a number of familiar job roles - yer usual knights, monks and thieves, new additions like rangers and dancers, plus a whole spectrum of mages and the non-threatening sounding mime, which is actually key to most end game strategies.

Once your characters have learned these skills, they can be used by the character when they're no longer in that job - but each character can only equip a maximum of four skills at once, and three of them are often automatically filled by the skills being learned in the current job.

This gives the player a really flexible system.  You could have a dancing white mage, or a summoner with cover, a ninja who can cast black magic, a knight who can, er, mime...  All of this leads to a feeling of near-infinite customisation, though you have to pity the poor guys who had to translate all of that from Japanese just to play it back in the day, desperately trying work out what was reducing and what the action was based on the animation.

Other than that there's not a great leap from FF4; there's a bunch more fancy Mode 7 rotation graphics, larger sprites (though that's helped by having four rather than five in the party) and a more pronounced ATB system aside, this is "as you were" - not necessarily a bad thing.

Courtesy Square Enix, via GameSpot.
IT'S A KIND OF MAGIC: Spells are purchased or found - the old "spellbook" approach again, one assumes - except for Blue Magic, which is learned from battles with certain enemies.  AP earned as a Black, White, Red, Blue or Time Mage increases the level of spells that can be cast.

Time Mage?  What gives?  Well, Time magic is mainly things like Haste, Slow, Stop, Old and other status magic.  I think Meteor is in there too though, so there's a big bang waiting for anyone who specialises in that relatively niche area.

MUSIC: Hmm, this soundtrack wasn't standing out in my head before a quick refresher dredged up this little gem...


TECHNOLOGICAL DYSTOPIA RATING: 5/10

There is interplanetary travel via artificial meteor, quite a bit of ancient technology and at least one robot superboss.  Plus Gilgamesh seems to travel between dimensions.  However, odd as it sounds, these don't have a great bearing on the locations, which are basically all hamlets and castles, so it's points off for that.

MEGABOSSES: Omega and Shinryu really set the bar for megabosses going forward.  One is a robotic spider, and has a presence in the game world, meaning combat is avoidable.  The other is a dragon found guarding a treasure chest, and is therefore also avoidable.  They are absolutely huge challenges, and the rewards are blatantly not worth it - so it's all for pride here.

Not content with these fiends, the GBA remake threw in Enuo, who is mentioned but not seen in the original game, along with a whole room full of Omegas, plus the new and improved Omega Mk. II for good measure!

REMAKES: The PlayStation version was more of a re-release, albeit with an English translation for the first time, and featuring a pirate accent for Faris!  As with FF4 the GameBoy Advance played host to an expanded version in 2006 (2007 for us Europeans), featuring four interesting if unnecessary new jobs, a new dungeon and new megabosses.

BEST BIT: Things go a bit mad with meteorites, voids, portals and interplanetary travel at several points, and the sheer density of the story is extremely satisfying.

WORST BIT: Mid and end game grinding, aside from feeling absolutely no affinity of affection for the characters (which is strictly a personal thing, and therefore not something I can comfortably cite as a problem).

I think the nicest thing I can say about this one is that you probably had to be there; playing this, FF4 and FF6 for the first times around the same time gives me an odd perspective on all this, as I had a more advanced and absorbing game in FF6 and one with characters and a story I simply preferred in FF4.  Nevertheless I do appreciate the effects this had on import gaming, and salute it as a landmark in that respect at the very least.

Join us next time for some six-y times, including a massive Weapon (ooo-er!) and magic and technology, together at last!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Each Holding An ORB: Final Fantasy 4 - The After Years


INTRODUCTION: Seventeen years later, King Cecil and Queen Rosa reign benevolently over Baron, and their son Ceodore struggles with his privilege, being as he is of both royal, mystic and alien blood.  Millennials, eh?  Anyway, off he goes to get his Proof of Knighthood and start his progression through the Baron Army.

Unfortunately whilst he gets the job done, the Red Wings, and Baron itself, are set upon by monsters, and a new moon appears in the sky - a portent of ill times to come.  Bahamut descends from the moon with a mysterious girl who resembles (but isn't) Rydia, and shit gets real in a hurry, with the Tower of Babil going berserk again and mysterious girls invading the Feymarch and stealing the eidolons.

Rydia herself is visiting the Feymarch when this happens, and when monsters attack her, she is rescued by Luca, the daughter of the king of the dwarves, whose fascination with dolls has made her an effective if creepy engineer, and with the mysterious girls trying to claim the dark crystal, the two set off to intervene, when a man in black introduces himself - but is he an old friend, or an old enemy?

RELEASE: 18 February 2008, mobile phones (JPN); 1 June 2009, Wii Ware (USA); 5 June 2009, Wii Ware (EU)

MY FIRST PLAY: I think around 2010, as I didn't monitor Wii Ware very closely and couldn't play it on my phone at the time.

Courtesy Square Enix, via Final Fantasy Wikia

REAL WORLD: Capitalising on the success of their first episodic mobile game, Final Fantasy 7 Before Crisis, Square decided to revisit the characters of fan favourite FF4 and tell the story of what happened after the world-changing (and world-saving) events of that game.

It was released as thirteen chapters on mobile phones and nine on Wii Ware, each containing one character's story (though often featuring cameos from some others), with the final three chapters dealing with the band getting back together and battling the new threat to their planet.

THE GAME: One of the problems with tackling this one out of release order is that I have to type the phrase "this game sees a return to the Active Time Battle (ATB) system" when we were actually only just talking about it last week.  Slight spoilers, but ATB was old news when this came out - as was 2D, the battle menu and even random encounters - so this is a nostalgia piece designed to grab older players, plus new players on mobile, due to the relative simplicity of the game engine.

There are some change though.  Moon Phases, of which there are four, affect battle damage for certain types of attack, and can be cycled through by staying at an inn or using tents, which is an interesting if completely unnecessary mechanic, which I frankly largely ignored by using tents until I got to the phase I wanted.

There's also a ton of new character.  It being seventeen years later, Cecil and Rosa's son Ceodore and Yang's daughter Ursula (who is absolutely excellent, and almost game-breakingly brilliant at higher levels) are of an age to be involved, as is Luca.  Palom and Porom are grown up, Edge is training four new (and pretty rubbish) ninjas and Edward has a secretary who gets involved in fights for some reason.

The bonds of family, friendship and camaraderie are reflected in the very good and fitting new feature of Band attacks, whereby having certain combinations of characters in your party gives you access to group attacks that are generally much stronger and more spectacular than most other attacks.

Courtesy Square Enix, via Final Fantasy Wikia
IT'S A KIND OF MAGIC: Exactly the same as FF4, which is horrendous if you're trying to bulk out a blog post...

MUSIC: I was tempted to put "Welcome To Our Town" again to show how far things had moved on in terms of technology, but here's a tune that will send a chill down your spine after a little while playing the game - the "Mysterious Girl Battle Theme".  You'll be hearing it a lot, and it's never a good sign:



TECHNOLOGICAL DYSTOPIA RATING: 8/10

Most of the endgame takes place on an artificial moon and the final battle is against god.  God is an alien, by the way.  So yeah, we're right up there with this one I'd say.

MEGABOSSES: Well this is awkward - the main superbosses in this are from FF5 and FF6...  Whaaaat?  Without wanting to go too far into the specifics, there is a plot development that ambitiously tries to link the worlds of FF1 through to FF6, which makes a fair bit of sense when it's explained.

This gives us a section of the game spent battling bosses from the NES and SNES years, some of which must be defeated - but others, like Omega and Shinryu (FF5) and Deathgaze (FF6) are optional challenges, as indeed they are in their original games.

REMAKES: A graphically superior version was released for the PSP in 2011.  Which was pretty quick, really.

WORST BIT: The episodic nature of the game can be a bit of a pill, especially if you were waiting for the next one to drop.  All you can do once an episode is complete is continue to play it for extra loot, which is a really good idea if you can stand it, because there is grinding a-plenty to be done if that's your aim.  And that equipment will be obsolete within a couple of hours of starting the last episode anyway, so...  Yeah.

BEST BIT: It's just really nice to revisit the cast of FF4 and see what everyone's up to.

I really enjoyed this, though it is a bit of a curate's egg - a 2D classic Final Fantasy game with the graphical and musical trappings of modern technology.  If all you're after, as indeed I am, is more Final Fantasy in its previous inimitable style, this is a perfect, albeit largely pointless, diversion.

Join us next time for an end to the employment crisis, an Omega lacking an alpha and, of course, to see more Butz.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Each Holding An ORB: Final Fantasy 4


INTRODUCTION: The city state of Baron is aggressively expanding its territory...  NO!  Come back!  This is different, I promise...  By stealing the world's crystals (stick with it!) using their superior military might, particularly the feared Red Wings airship squadron.

The captain of the Red Wings, dark knight Cecil, who is also the adopted son of the King of Banon, starts to question his father's orders after a brutal raid on the magicians' village of Mysidia, and is stripped of his rank and sent to investigate the summoners' village of Mist - accompanied by his best friend, the dragon knight Kain.

On arrival, he discovers they have been tricked into destroying the village, and is determined to protect the last remaining summoner, a child named Rydia.  What he discovers about his heritage will lead him on a personal quest for salvation, then forward to battle an other-worldly threat.

RELEASE: 19 July 1991, Nintendo Super Famicom (JPN); 23 November 1991, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (USA, as "Final Fantasy 2"); 27 February 2002, Sony PlayStation (EU, remake)

MY FIRST PLAY: 2002, when the PlayStation remake hit these shores.

Courtesy Square Enix, via Final Fantasy Wikia

REAL WORLD: The fourth Final Fantasy game was originally planned for the Fmaicom, with Square deciding to develop NES (FF4) and SNES (FF5) games simultaneously.  Whilst the NES version was cancelled, it was allegedly around 80% complete and some of the ideas therein were used for the now re-purposed FF5 on the SNES, which is this game...  And was therefore retitled as FF4.

Everyone straight?  You won't be in a second.

In North America, this was released as Final Fantasy 2, since 2 and 3 didn't make it outside of Japan.  The version originally released there is known as Easytype, as the developers felt the game was too unforgiving for Western audiences and reduced the difficulty of some battles and sections.  So obviously that makes Japan's eventual FF5 America's eventual FF3...  Right?...

Stay tuned!

THE GAME: In what can be seen as a combination of FF2 and FF3, there are specific characters, but each of them has a specific job, meaning what your party can do is defined by who is in the party at that particular time, which in turn necessitates the use of a number of different strategies throughout the game.

And what a cast of characters!  Even compared to FF 2's partically-revolving roster, there's a ton of different characters, most of them mapped closely to one of FF3's jobs - so you have a dark knight, dragon knight, summoner, white mage, sage, bard, monk, another white mage (you'll need it), black mage and ninja, plus an engineer (just a fighter who uses a wrench rather than a sword, really) and...  Well without giving too much away, a sort of baldy, beardy guy.

So that's twelve characters - and whilst you essentially follow the arc of Cecil, Kain and Rydia (plus Cecil's love interest Rosa), each of them gets enough fleshing out to make them seem like a living, breathing character, with their own vendettas, romances, tragedies and obsessions driving them on through the story.  Oh, and you can now have a maximum of five characters in the party as opposed to the series' standard four.

This is also the first outing for the Active Time Battle (ATB) system - apparently inspired by Formula One, someone call Engine Blood! - which transforms a strictly turn-based game into something more dynamic.  A bar next to your character's name gradually fills, and when it's full they can take an action.

It's a small change, but it does introduce a new level of strategy, as you can time events to chain with each other, rather than just entering your actions at the start of the turn amd watching them play out in an only semi-predictable order.  It was so well received that the series would not return to a purely turn-based system until Final Fantasy 10!

Courtesy Square Enix, via Wikipedia.
IT'S A KIND OF MAGIC: MP system, essentially the same as FF3.  However, mages now learn spells by levelling up - aside from a few of the Summon spells, which are either gained by defeating the summon monster in battle or finding rare items.

MUSIC: "Welcome To Our Town" is a lovely little tune played upon...  Well...  Being welcomed into a town, really.  Ahem:


TECHNOLOGICAL DYSTOPIA RATING: 6/10

End game.  'Nuff said.

MEGABOSSES: Bahamut would seem to somewhat fit this bill, as an unnecessary fight against a very difficult enemy that nets you a great reward - the ability to summon Bahamut, the God of The Summons himself.  There's a ton in the remakes though, including Proto-Babil on the 3DS, and Zeromus EG on GBA.

REMAKES: Much like its predecessor, an eventual 3D remake graced the Nintendo DS, but us European proles didn't have to wait until then to play it - the 2002 PlayStation port, which is a pretty straight port, warts and all, was our first opportunity, and came bundled with FF5 as well.

The definitive edition for me is the GameBoy Advance version released in 2005/06, which adds extra dungeons and the chance to use characters in the latter part of the game who had left your party permanently in previous versions.

WORST BIT: That bloody magnetic cave where everyone has to use non-metallic equipment or be paralysed.  I hated that bit.

BEST BIT: There's two parts in the game, which to save spoilers I'll just say are "when you meet the dwarves" and "when you find the final airship" where the scope of the game world widens unexpectedly.  And this happens TWICE, for heaven's sake.  Much like the previous entry, it's jaw-dropping that this could even fit on the cartridge.  Either that or "YOU SPOONY BARD!!!", anyway...

This is a superior entry in the canon, one that capitalises on the jump in technology to provide not just improvements in graphics, effects and sound, but an overhauled combat system, bigger gameworld and more absorbing story.  FF4 still commands a great deal of affection amongst fans - and for very good reason.

Join us next time for the next exciting instalment - quite literally, as we jump ahead to The After Years!

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Each Holding An ORB: Final Fantasy 3


INTRODUCTION: A group of four kids (Jesus, this again?) - or for the 3DS remake, one kid - has a nasty shock when they fall into a cave near their hometown, fight a giant turtle and find a massive, talking crystal that gives them the strength to go adventuring and asks them to restore balance to the world.

For the crystals, you see, are dying (Jesus, this again?) - and with them the world.  And these four children are destined to become the Warriors of Light (Jesus, this again?), and save the world from excessive darkness.

The story is actually a lot more complicated than that once it gets going - the synopsis really doesn't do it justice.  So, erm...  Let's get right to it!

RELEASE: 27 April 1990, Nintendo Famicom (JPN); 14 November 2006, Nintendo DS (USA, remake); 4 May 2007, Nintendo DS (EU, remake)

MY FIRST PLAY: 2004, NES emulator on my ancient PC (again).  A walkthrough was kept close to hand as due to character limits, the English translation turned into absolute gibberish halfway through!

Courtesy Square Enix, via Final Fantasy Wikia.

REAL WORLD: Expanding on what they'd delivered previously was a real challenge for Square.  The Super Famicom had been released, but they were still pushing the boundaries of what they could achieve on the Famicom; and so we get this.  A game that is said to fill every last bit of the cartridge.  It is the literal maximum the Famicom can cope with.

And a game, perhaps predictably, that at the time absolutely could not be translated into English - and certainly not literally, as the character count would have burst the cartridge.  An adapted translation was also canned early due to lack of manpower, and its comparatively late re-release makes this one of the least-played FF games in the west.

THE GAME: A partial return to FF1's simpler, EXP-based approach to levelling up, with the addition of Jobs.  This means that rather than fixing a character's role at the start of the game, a character can change specialisations repeatedly.

There are more different roles to choose as well; all six of the originals are back, with advanced versions thereof, and more specific variants like dragon and dark knights, vikings and scholars, and also summoners, making their debut - mage-type characters who summon huge godlike creatures into battle.

Given that the game's engine deals more with what jobs your characters are rather than who they are, it makes sense that the four player characters are anonymous in the original game, a la the first game.  They are described only as "Onion Kids", but the 3DS remake (somewhat pointlessly) gives them names and backstories: Luneth falls into the cave and fights the turtle, his best friend Arc joins to support him, Refia is the daughter of a local blacksmith and Ingus is a knight of Sasune, sworn to protect Princess Sara.

And another landmark debut, you say?  Kupo!  Yes, it's the Moogles, strange anthropomorphic cat things with tiny bat wings and pompoms on their heads.  Usually comic relief, no less than eleven of them were playable characters in FF6, and they have also technically appeared at Wrestlemania courtesy of The New Day.

Oh, and there's also Fat Chocobo!  Because body shaming gigantic birds is apparently a thing.  Fat Chocobo is a MacGuffin to get around the party's limited inventory space.  Extra items can be stored inside Fat Chocobo...  Yes, he eats the items and regurgitates them at a later date.  Don't blame me if your Elixir tastes of bird spit and stomach acid.

Courtesy Square Enix, via YouTube.
IT'S A KIND OF MAGIC: MP system, with around half the jobs in the game having some level of magical ability.  Spells are usually bought, though some are found - and Mini and Toad are storyline elements, as they allow entry to certain locations.

MUSIC: Uematsu's really getting to grips with the Famicom here, especially on "Elia, The Maiden Of Water" (although I don't think this is the Famicom version - sorry!):


TECHNOLOGICAL DYSTOPIA RATING: 4/10

Ooh, difficult.  There's no out-and-out space tech like Final Fantasy, but there is an ancient, technologically-advanced civilisation vaguely involved, and not for the first or last time.  That puts it a whisker in front of FF2 in this respect.

MEGABOSSES: There are none, to my knowledge, in the original.  You could argue that technically any of the bosses guarding the equipment in the Forbidden Land of Eureka are megabosses as they are optional, but they're only on par with, or slightly less tough than, the bosses on the run-up to the final boss, so I don't count them.  The 3DS remake whacked an Iron Giant in to fill this particular gap, so all is right with the world.

REMAKES: Well it probably won't surprise you to know that there is a 3DS remake, since I've mentioned it about twelve times already.  Released in 2006, it had a massive graphical revamp, with 3D, perhaps predictably, being the main upgrade.  This was most Western players' first exposure to the game... Legally, at least.

WORST BIT: Fighting Garuda in Saronia, and having to change your whole party to dragoons to have any effect.  That, or the caves full of enemies that divide if attacked with any weapon but a Dark Knight's blade.  Or when everyone's shrunk down and you're reliant on magicians.  Or the undersea bits when (particularly in the 3D remake) one needs at least two vikings in the party to make progress...

The list, unfortunately, goes on, and for a game offering so much choice in how it's played and what classes are used, any of these kinds of bottleneck really jar.  I can see how it's trying to push players out of their comfort ones, but it does somewhat blunt the freedom with which it seems intended to be played.

BEST BIT: The sheer epic scale, which is almost unthinkable for the NES.  Between choice of jobs, number of locations (and trust me, when you think you've seen it all, you haven't - there's a point where your horizon expands near-infinitely), and the number of sub-stores that the player will find themselves involved in, you will be fully entertained all the way through - aside from the type of moments described above, of course.

This is a fantastic technical achievement and a damn good game - though, and this might just be me being difficult, I did feel like the 3DS remake lacked the charm of the Famicom version, which stands as Square's magnum opus on the much-loved system.

Join us next time for spoony bards, pink puffs and a cathartic story of redemption...  What do you mean, put the serious ones first and follow them up with the jokes?  It's my fucking blog.  Just fuck off.  Go on: FUCK OFF!!!  (And please tune in next week, friend.)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Each Holding An ORB: Final Fantasy 2


INTRODUCTION: An evil empire is aggressively expanding its territory, enslaving the good peoples of the world and generally being a standard evil empire.  Seriously, it's all a bit predictable in that respect.

Four young heroes (again) attempt to escape their town as it is invaded but are cut down as they run.  Firion, Maria and Guy are rescued by Princess Hilda's rebel militia, whilst Leon mysteriously disappears.

Funnily enough, it turns out that only the three remaining youngsters have the spunk to take on the Empire, supported by an ever-changing cast of fourth characters, and off they go on a quest to save the world, that will eventually lead them to HELL ITSELF...

RELEASE: 17 December 1988, Nintendo Famicom (JPN); 8 April 2003, Sony PlayStation (USA, remake); 14 March 2003, Sony PlayStation (EU, remake)

MY FIRST PLAY: 2002-2003, NES emulator on my ancient PC, though no longer as sick. Not completed until 2006 on the GameBoy Advance version, due to my attention seriously wandering on a number of occasions.

Courtesy Square Enix, via Final Fantasy Wikia.

REAL WORLD: Released almost exactly a year after the first game, Final Fantasy 2 takes the bold step of throwing out almost everything from the previous game, as a sequel was genuinely never envisaged.  For this reason, the story was written before the game engine, in the opposite fashion to the original.

The original Famicom version was never officially translated to English, though a fan translated ROM exists, and a partially-translated NES test cartridge for "Final Fantasy 2: Dark Shadows Over Palkia" was produced, there were problems fitting the amount of English characters into the game - Japanese pictogram writing can say more in less memory than a full-alphabet written language, so it was primarily a capacity issue - so the game released as FF2 in America was very different...  See you in two weeks' time!

THE GAME: FF2's engine and character progression system is unlike any other in the series...  But wait a minute, did we say "characters"?  As in, actual, living, breathing, not constructed at the start of the game, characters?...  Well, yes and no.

This time round your party consists of main protagonist and vanilla hero-type Firion; Maria, who is a girl and therefore described as an "archer" rather than a heavy warrior because of course she is, and Guy or Gus (depending on version), an *ahem* 'simple' gentleman who can talk to animals, mainly beavers.  Long story.  Fourth wheel Leon goes missing fifteen seconds into the game, so much of it is spent with a revolving-door approach to your fourth and final character, from princes to pirates and sages to dragoons.

Now, what about that gameplay?  Well, it's immensly divisive, but it's probably the most realistic imagining of character skill growth in the entire series.  Essentially, stats and skills get better the more you use them - so Maria uses her bow, she gets better at using her bow; Guy attacks something, his Strength might go up; Firion takes damage, his Endurance and/or Hit Points increase.

Unfortunately this makes levelling your characters up somehow less organic, and increases the chance of bumping into enemies you are ill-prepared for and getting wiped out.  It also puts in a fair few exploits, some of which were excised for the remakes, where cancelled actions would still lead to gains and beating up your own party members was the key to success.

We also get a landmark debut for the series, as this is the first appearance of Chocobos - a kind of big yellow ostrich thing that serves as a steed, increasing movement speed and sometimes allowing otherwise inaccessible terrain to be navigated, and have become an iconic symbol for the series.  In later games they would be everything from NPCs to semi-main characters to antagonists, and have technically appeared at Wrestlemania courtesy of The New Day.

Courtesy Square Enix, via Wikipedia.
IT'S A KIND OF MAGIC: Magic is handled in the same way as weapon mastery - the more you use a spell, the better (and more expensive) that skill becomes.  Expensive?  Yes, for the first time spellcasting costs MP, as would become de rigueur for most of the rest of the series.

MUSIC: The overworld theme is a lot more ominous in this one, which changes the atmosphere nicely from its predecessor's jolly lark of a magical adventure to this entry's romantically doomed fight against the odds:


TECHNOLOGICAL DYSTOPIA RATING: 3/10

And all three of those points are for The Dreadnought, a gigantic imperial airship that levels resistance towns.  It's essentially a wooden Star Destroyer.  Other than that the sheer level of classic Christian imagery and fantasy tropes at play here render technology essentially unnecessary.

MEGABOSSES: ...Erm, well, there isn't one as such.  However there are Beelzebub, Zombie Borghen, Tiamat and Astaroth, who are optional strong opponents that can be faced to get rare equipment, and the Iron Giant, a randomly-occurring battle towards the end of the game (a bit like WarMech last time out) with an opponent that is strong enough to at least partially count towards this category.

REMAKES: A mere 14 remakes here...  Worth noting though that 2003's "Final Fantasy Origins" for the PlayStation was the first time the game was available (ahem, legally) outside of Japan.

Despite that version, and that version alone, being the only FF game to contain a character called Gareth (known as Ricard in the Japanese version), "Final Fantasy I and II: Dawn of Souls" for the GameBoy Advance is the definitive version for me, and contains a near-impossible post-game dungeon which I've yet to complete.

WORST BIT: It's a hell of a grind, and without an overarching system to provide constant character growth, it can be very difficult to know both how you should improve your characters, and best to do it once you know what you want to do.  For the last few battles I was running on fumes, doing minimal damage, scarping through and not really understanding why.

In short - and I feel like the worst stick-in-the-mud for saying this - the character growth system in this game, although incredibly logical, really damages the amount of fun one can have playing it.

BEST BIT: The "Key Words" system, which makes its only appearence in the entire series, which  expands the conversations it is possible to have with NPCs - not by much, but it is appreciated.

For instance, you're told you need to get "Sunfire".  "Sunfire" then becomes a part of your vocabulary, and if you use it when talking to other characters, you might learn something useful.  It's a small thing, but it makes it feel more lifelike and organic.

It's little things like that system, and the sheer level of innovation and risk, that make me want to like this one a lot more...  But in truth, it just hasn't ever entertained me as much as the others.  It's still a very interesting play though, as a evolutionary dead end if nothing else.

Join us next time for Moogles, airship after airship after airship, and getting a damn job, you hippy.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Each Holding An ORB: Final Fantasy 1


INTRODUCTION: All four elements in the air/cymbals crashing ev-er-ee-whe-hare...  Ahem.  Sorry, that's "Hong Kong Garden" by Siouxsie And The Banshees, not a synopsis of Final Fantasy.

Anyway, all four elements - Earth, Fire, Water and Wind (note how Heart is not one of those elements, so-called Captain Planet) - are out of whack, as the crystals that produce them grow dim, and as a result the world is slowly dying.  A prophecy speaks of Four Warriors of Light, who will appear when the world needs them most.

And hark!  What is this but four young adventurers appearing over yonder, answering the King of Cornelia's appeal to rescue his daughter Sara from the dread knight Garland - each holding an ORB...

RELEASE: 18 December 1987, Nintendo Famicom (JPN); May 1990, Nintendo Entertainment System (USA); 14 March 2003, Sony PlayStation (EU, remake)

MY FIRST PLAY: 2001, off sick from work via an NES emulator on my ancient PC.

Copyright Square Enix, via surprisinglycompetentmedia.com

REAL WORLD: Odd as it may be these days, with Square Enix firnly established as a staggeringly successful developer, back in 1987 Square were suffering.  Hironobu Sakaguchi envisiged this as his last shot at the videogame market - and so "Fighting Fantasy" became "Final Fantasy".  Although that probably has a fair bit to do with the popular Choose Your Own Adventure franchise of the former name as well!

He envisaged something along the lines of the early eighties' Ultima and Wizardry series of home computer RPGs, which was then given a battle system similar to Dungeons & Dragons.  Whilst Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior's success was definitely instrumental in getting the project off the ground, the incorporation of western influences helped Final Fantasy to stand out - and the rest is history...

THE GAME: This sets the standard for the entire rest of the 8-bit era and beyond, so settle in, we've got a fair bit to cover.

The game begins with you creating four heroes, in the style of the tabletop RPGs of the time albeit with more limited options.  Each character will have one of six classes: Fighter (uses heavy weapons and armour), Black Belt (unarmed combatant), Thief (sort of between the two), White Mage (uses healing and beneficial magic), Black Mage (uses damaging and negative magic) and Red Mage (sort of between the two, but with a significantly cooler hat).

You control a person walking on what is essentially a big game board.  That board contains features such as towns, castles and caves, and when you move your person onto these, they open up into their own boards, a bit like you're zooming in.  You'll encounter a ton of non-player characters (NPCs) to chat to, of all different shapes and sizes - humans, dwarves, elves, gender non-specific merpeople (alright, alright, they're blatantly mermaids), dragons and robots, to name but a few.

Whilst walking in almost all areas, you will randomly encounter enemies - most of them have no physical presence on the board, and combat will happen according to internal calculations.  This takes you to a battle screen, where you assign actions to your team (attack, magic, item and so forth).

Enemies and your party members have a limited number of Hit Points (HP), which are decreased by attacks from the opposition and can be increased through White magic like Cure and Heal, and items like Potions.  When a combatant's HP is exhausted, they are killed.

Win the battle by killing all enemies, and your team gains experience points which "level up" your party, making them stronger, an amount of gil (the in-game currency) and sometimes other useful items, and off you go on your way.  Lose, by getting all your party members killed, and it's simply Game Over.

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2117465
IT'S A KIND OF MAGIC: Spells can be used by Black, White and Red mages (and later, Ninjas, Wizards and Knights), and are split into White and Black magic, roughly along the lines of all beneficial magic being White and all combat magic being Black, with a few exceptions - White magic includes spells that damage undead creatures, for instance.

The spells themselves - I always pictured them as spellbooks - can be bought from shops in most towns, and are split into eight levels, roughly by power.  Magic users have a fixed number of spells per level they can use, and as they level up, they gain more uses.  Their magic uses can be regenerated, along with the party's HP, by resting at a town.

MUSIC: Nobuo Uematsu was the lead (and sometimes only) composer and musician for Final Fantasy's soundtracks throughout the years.  Despite the limitations of the NES chipset, he played an absolute blinder in creating not only two theme tunes for the series that would last basically the entire franchise, but also a dynamic overworld song, stirring battle themes and my particular favourite, "Matoya's Cave":


TECHNOLOGICAL DYSTOPIA RATING: 4/10
This has one of the most traditionally medieval fantasy-based setting in the series...  Until the robots turn up and you go to what is tantermount to a space station for a bit.  The Lefeinish might be aliens too, it's not 100% clear.

MEGABOSSES: WarMech (or Death Machine, in later translations) has a one in 64 chance of appearing in the final area of the floating castle.  A bipedal robot reminiscent of a Warhammer 40k Chaos Dreadnought, it is head and shoulders above anything you've encountered to this point and the final boss itself.  And here began the tradition of sticking a creature even more fearsome than the final boss in a part of the game (or lately, the post game).

Take it down and you get:  a sense of achievement.  Yay?  Remakes have added a possible drop of Genji Armour as an added incentive.  Ooh, and speaking of remakes...

REMAKES: There have been 18 separate releases of the original Final Fantasy game, so I'm clearly not going to look at all of them.  The standouts for me are "Final Fantasy Origins" for the PlayStation and "Final Fantasy I and II: Dawn of Souls" for the GameBoy Advance, the latter of which swaps in a Magic Point (MP) system that replaces the spell uses with an HP-like cost for casting, and adds four bonus dungeons containing bosses from Final Fantasy 2 to 6.

WORST BIT: Probably the sheer amount of "grinding" - seemingly endless fighting of random monsters to increase your levels, particularly around Elfland and the Ice Cavern.  Things get a bit better after you give Bahamut the Rat's Tail and your characters receive a pretty awesome boost, but until then it's a ballache.

BEST BIT: With great grinding comes great reward however. and there are a fair few moments where satisfaction matches effort - the secret at the heart of the Ice Cavern that busts the game wide open, the discovery of the visitor from the stars, Bahamut's class boost after completing the Castle of Ordeals, which I can tell you is appropriately named...

But the greatest fistpump momet comes right near the start, when the King of Corneria builds a bridge to the mainland to celebrate the return of his daughter, and the theme from Final Fantasy strikes up for the first time ever.

It may be the first, but it's hardly the worst - now join me on a journey, why not, through every non-online numbered entry in the series!  You'll laugh at spoony bards, you'll cry at the deaths of major characters and the linearity of FF13 (stay tuned), you'll learn a bit about why Snow is a twat, and if you're really lucky, I might trouble myself to do Chrono Trigger as well.

Off we go to adventure - each holding an ORB!!!

Join us next time for...  Well, Final Fantasy 2, obviously.  You big dummy.  But in general: chocobos, hell and a logical if flawed character growth system.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number One - “Sir, I need some business hammocks.”

Season 8, Episode 2
“You Only Move Twice”
First Broadcast: November 3, 1996

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

A new company named Globex Corporation is headhunting experienced nuclear industry workers.  After Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s longest-tenured employee Waylon Smithers turns down the opportunity to move to Cypress Creek, their idyllic workers' village, with a much increased income, they turn to the next longest server – one Homer Simpson.

Homer meets his new boss Hank Scorpio very early on.  Hank is an extremely personable manager, always available for a chat, quick with a joke and more than happy to reward loyal service.  He is also a megalomaniacal supervillain who is holding the world to ransom with his superweapon, Project Arcturus.  Homer, who is largely responsible for motivation and management of a small team working on one isolated aspect of the product, is utterly oblivious to this.

Homer is having the time of his life – respected, useful and effective at work, finally pulling down Tom Landry’s Hat money, and edging ever closer to his dream of owning the Dallas Cowboys.  But the rest of the family are unfulfilled, with Bart in the “Leg Up” programme and going slower to catch up, Lisa allergic to everything, and Marge so bored she drinks less than the recommended amount of wine per day.

Homer opts to do the right thing by his family and moves them back to their condemned home in Springfield, after saying farewell to Hank during a pitched battle against an enemy army.  Ever grateful for a good worker’s efforts, and now apparently now in charge of the entire east coast of America, Hank rewards Homer with ownership of…  The Denver Broncos.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Bart meeting his fellow students in the Leg Up Programme:


Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

The then-shocking reveal that Scorpio, who had simply seemed to be an annoyingly casual multi-millionaire in the Richard Branson mould, is a villain determined to bring the United Nations to its knees.


Any, and this cannot be stated enough, ANY of the joyful, semi-improvised encounters between Hank and Homer that pepper the episode.  Whether discussing moccasins, shopping for hammocks, looking for sugar or simply not exchanging jackets, every one of them is pure gold.

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

It's even got a great song, albeit over the closing titles - a thematically-correct (if perhaps slightly over-jaunty) parody of a Bond theme, which features an excellent line about pensions and therefore covers all of my interests:


HISTORY/LEGACY

Hank Scorpio has actually appeared briefly twice more in The Simpsons, but in blink-and-you'll-miss them cameos.  I guess when you're the current (or former) ruler of the East Coast, you can't afford to be seen out and about.

Scorpio is an iconic character, largely due to his easy back-and-forth with Homer, in dialogue that was semi-improvised by Albert Brooks and Dan Castellaneta.  There is rumoured to be a much longer version of these conversations somewhere, which means there is always the tantalising possibility of a remastered and extended version...

The character was originally pencilled in as the antagonist in "The Simpsons Movie", but was later replaced by Russ Cargill, head of EPA, also voiced by Brooks.  I think this was a smart move; Scorpio, whilst clearly cut out for supervillainy, is simply too beloved for the role, and fans still got to see a Brooks-toned bad guy lock horns with Homer.

WHY I LIKE IT

This is The One.  The ultimate episode of The Simpsons.  Just crazy enough to be hilarious; just grounded enough to have genuine heart; a gentle parody of a nearly universally-recognised film series, but told from a slightly different angle, with Homer as the kind of unwitting henchman who would be routinely slaughtered by James Bond, but here thwarts his facsimile with ease.  All basic hallmarks of a good episode, delivered here with a panache and quality that shows a show in full stride and rude health.

BUT - and there is a but, I fear a single caveat on this holiest of holy episodes - this would never be the first episode I showed somebody who had never seen The Simpsons, if indeed such a thing exists.  In fact my whole top five are deeper cuts, entries that are best viewed with a working knowledge of the show.

You can't just throw someone in to this or "Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie" - something like a "Mr Plow", "Marge Be Not Proud" or even my proper starting point, "Bart The Daredevil" would seem more appropriate, as the keep the core characters on home soil and concentrate on the familial bond enduring through relatable situations.

Then once you've got them hooked, it's time to don Tom Landry's hat, take a trip to Cypress Creek, snuggle into one of Anne's Hammocks, and enjoy this writer's favourite nigh-on half hour of television, bar none.

And that brings us to the end of 22 Short Pieces About Springfield, and off we shuffle:


Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
But do stay tuned for “Each Holding An ORB”, which is 100% definitely coming very, very soon!!!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: - G.F. Hirons And His Heavy Friends Present "Simpsons Roundtable" 3


Phil Catterall: a stupid moron with an ugly face and big butt and his butt smells and… He likes to kiss his own butt.

Favourite Episode: You Only Move Twice
I know, this is probably an obvious pick, but even twenty two years after it's initial broadcast this one still makes me howl. The central premise of Homer getting a job working for a supervillain is such a strong core to build the episode around (especially as he only gets the job by dint of having worked at the nuclear plant for longer than anyone except Smithers), but it's all the quick gags that make it for me.

The panhandler in the Cypress Creek promotional video that turns into a mailbox, the UN's response to the destruction of the 59th Street Bridge ("Maybe it just collapsed on it's own"), Hank Scorpio's apparent habit of keeping loose sugar in his pockets, Grampa's plaintive cries ("I'm cold and there are wolves after me!") - it's full of genuine laugh out loud moments.

It also has those character beats that I think lie at the heart of all the really good Simpsons episodes - in particular, the fact that Homer is actually good at his new job and it's heartbreaking when he has to abandon it (even though he's doing it in the middle of a military assault on Scorpio's facility) and go back to the drudgery of working for Mr Burns. But abandon it he does because his family are desperately unhappy, and I honestly find that more moving than the "Do It For Her" moment of "And Maggie Makes Three", because he's giving up a better job, home, salary and his happiness to give them back theirs.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
And all of this is before we even get to Hank Scorpio himself, a Bond style supervillain who is also the best boss you could ever hope to have. Sure, he's power crazed and bent on world domination, but he knows where to get the best business hammocks (the hammock district, naturally) and he'll pay for them. He looks after his people, and even though he sends Homer the wrong NFL team, you know he’d give him that job back in a second.

Favourite Moment:

This is significantly tougher, so I’m going to cheat a bit - every second there’s a Phil Hartman character on screen. Troy McClure’s filmography never fails to make me smile (I remember him from such films as “P is for Psycho” and “The President’s Neck Is Missing”), I totally get why the people of Springfield bought Lyle Lanley’s monorail (it WAS a strong song), and basically everything that comes out of Lionel Hutz’ mouth is golden.

I don’t know how much of it is Hartman’s distinctive voice and how much of it is the writers knowing exactly what they can get from him and tailoring the lines accordingly, but it all just works. I don’t think there’s a bad episode with Hartman in. Well, maybe Bart Vs. Australia.


Drew Steiner, 'the guy the audience goes mad for when he walks in the room'.

EPISODE: "Bart On The Road" - classic moment followed by classic moment.  The 'can we stop for ice cream?' bit, the cruise control bit, the wig shop in the Sunosphere bit, the Al Gore doll, just class from start to end.

CHARACTER: I think I'd have to go for Bart.  But to narrow it down to one is really difficult.  If I can have a fave 5 I'd have Disco Stu, Moe, Hitler, Mr Teenie and Chief Wiggum.T: t

MOMENT: Carl (with big obvious pyramid hat on): So er, ain't anyone gonna ask about the hat?

Lenny: Hmm, hey Carl, what's with the hat?

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Drew is chief beard coordinator for The Liverbeards, Liverpool's premier club for the facially hirsute.

Tom Williamson, skeptic, flag enthusiast, Internet wrangler and ex-scientist.

EPISODE: The Summer of 4 ft 2. It’s got everything. Homer is on top form, it’s got some great moments of fine animation, and it’s the source of the “You got the dud” meme. But most importantly the story revolving around Lisa has a warm and fuzzy ending.

CHARACTER: Lisa Simpson. I really empathised with her when I was a kid. A smart fish out of water
who subscribes to Junior Skeptic magazine, what’s not to love?


Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
MOMENT: the bit where Homer is in the cinema and he taps his drink to get the last few drops but instead gets a mouthful of ice, then pops up as if nothing happened. The craft and timing of that bit is top notch!

You can find Tom’s site at www.skepticcanary.com... And, you can find me and Tom's new podcast RETROSPECTICUS - a Simpsons/modern history podcast - at http://retrospecticus.org/.

Join us next week when - FINALLY - you will get to see what Atomic Sourpuss thinks the best episode of The Simpsons is!

Thursday, May 03, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: - G.F. Hirons And His Heavy Friends Present "Simpsons Roundtable" 2

Kat Alvarado, transplant from Obama’s America (all subsequent Americas are declared null and void). Beer swiller. Less annoying but somehow angrier feminist. Unrepentant lifestyle deviant. Addicted to dumplings.

Favourite Episode:


Lisa vs Malibu Stacey. This aired when I was about 8 and it wouldn’t have been long after that I managed to first watch it. This was a very important episode for me as I was struggling with those same issues - infuriating double standards, getting the shit choices in toys and basically everything else, and not only experiencing the pressures to be A Girl™ but also the active discouragement of being anything else (like a science-loving tomboy). I saw that it wasn’t just me that thought it was bullshit!



Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Favourite Character:

From the above, it will likely be no surprise that Lisa was always my favourite character. I saw a lot of myself in her growing up, which was a double edged sword really. Her storylines gave me hope that my crazy progressive and egalitarian ideas were maybe not so crazy after all, and she helped show that it was ok to be a big nerd as a girl. Her philosophical and moral struggles were also echoed however (think Lisa the Iconoclast), which only reenforced the frustration and sometimes hopelessness that come with having to exist in society and in a reality with very few “right” answers.

Favourite Moment:


I’m veeeeery tempted by “stupid sexy Flanders!”...



Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

...But I'm going to have to go with:

Willy: Yea I bought yer mutt. And I ‘ate him!
Bart: (Gasp!)
Willy: I ‘ate his little face, I ‘ate his guts, and I 'ate the way he's always barkin’. So, I gave him to the church.
Bart: Oh, I see. You hate him, so you gave him to the church.
Willy: Aye. I also ‘ate the mess he left on me rug. Ya ‘eard me!

Find Kat @girlsgamesgrog on FB, Twitter, Meetup, and Instagram. Thank you, I owe you some dumplings x

Rich Dorries, lover AND fighter, Cheap Beer Enthusiast, destroyer of the environment one petrol tank and set of tyres at a time.

EPISODE: Very difficult for me this.  I love so many.  After wrestling with Two Bad Neighbours, Homer Goes to College and Bart vs. Australia I think it's the latter.  I'll never forgive myself for casting the other two aside like a parent choosing to keep the one child they love just a bit more than the rest.

But anyhoo, this child has Prime Minister Andy, Big Beer, definitely no Coffee (B, E . . .) Chazwozzers, Knifey Spooney, a giant Boot, and 900 Dollarydoos.  I particularly like how Homer gets behind Bart regardless of how bad he behaves through pure blind patriotism and completely in defiance and against the advice of both governments.

CHARACTER: Oh this is easy.  Let me give you the 411 on this. Like Miller said, it's Moe.  I love how horrible he is, yet loveable.  His constant social faux pas, and his passive criminality with the whales and the pandas and such.  I look forward to a Moe episode.

“Man, you go through life, you try to be nice to people, you struggle to resist the urge to punch 'em in the face, and for what?”


Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
MOMENT: Has to be in Two Bad Neighbours where it cuts to Homer at the breakfast table reading an encyclopaedia section on U.S. Presidents and then grumbling 'his story checks out' about George Bush only to immediately recognise Gerald Ford at the episodes conclusion.  As a lover of history it gets me every time that Homer wouldn't know one but would know the other.

Rich didn't give me a link, but he loves a bit of the ol' motorcycle racing, so... Er... Go and watch some?

Ben Baker, author, podcaster and ineffective goggles supplier

Favourite Episode: The 138th Episode Spectacular

It’s to the credit of show-runners and official Simpsons history geeks Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein that when faced with the grey uninvolving task of compiling a clip show to save on animation costs and increase the number of episodes Fox had for syndicating around the world they created this beautiful stew of repurposed classic moments from the series' already rich back catalogue, early scenes from when the family existed in short interstitials breaking up the sketches on "the nation's showcase for psychiatrist jokes and musical comedy numbers" "The Tracey Ullman Show" (the entirety of which have never been released despite the obvious demand, possibly due to an unpleasant court case Ullman had with the creators over getting a cut of royalties) and deleted scenes from a time where such things were discussed only in whispers and the internet or DVD had yet to make the mainstream.

As for the "twenty-three percent new footage" promised by host Troy McClure - who we may remember from "Alien Nose Job" and Five Fabulous Weeks Of "The Chevy Chase Show" - it is of a perfect vintage, half in love and half openly mocking the series and its creators.

The "early drawings" of Abe and Krusty being little more than children's scribbles alone always makes me weep laughing along with the line "they were never popular!" and the interpretation of Matt Groening as an embittered right-wing drunk. And of course it ends with what we've all come here to see - Hardcore Nudity! 

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Favourite Character: While Homer, Burns and Lisa are undoubtedly at the top of my favourites pile, I think my love for Krusty the Clown just pips the lot. A truly awful, perverse and immoral man with no qualms about endorsing a product or service and yet, over the course of the first ten years, we get to see the range of Krusty's back catalogue of television which has seemingly taken in everything from an erudite talk show to huge budget celebrity spectacular.

In fact, is it too late to change my favourite episode to "Krusty Gets Kancelled"? It is? Lousy half-brother Luke Perry. If you need me, I'll be at the Sex Cauldron…


Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Favourite Moment: The first ever episode finally airing after months of hyping. My family were fortunate, depending on how you look at it, to get a second hand Sky dish at a time when a subscription for regular channels wasn't needed and I learnt - out of sheer boredom, very much the theme of this article - that if you waggled the card around just right, you could also unscramble the movie channels too.

In my older much more aware years, I take pride in this little spit in the general direction of Rupert Murdoch and his, let’s be honest, bloody awful satellite service which now is full of new dramas and a big investment in comedy but prior to a certain yellow family moving in - more on which shortly - it was thin gruel of the old US sitcoms Channel 4 didn't want, very cheap game shows and imports from Fox TV in the States. Oh and “Lonesome Dove”.

When the Springfield five made their long awaited arrival in September 1990, I would happily watch the first Sunday showing at 6:30pm - a timeslot tradition that seems to have pleasingly held all these years - AND the same week repeats on Thursdays. Sky even had a “Simpsons week” once they'd reached enough episodes to fill five days in a row. And I'd have been there watching them all again.

It’s not even like season one is especially that good compared to what followed but it became an instant (and rare) family-centring ritual which was upheld until the end of the decade and my moving out in our household.

You can find my books including several quiz compilations and a bulging retrospective of classic British Christmas TV at benbaker.ecwid.com.

Also: Krusty saying "what the hell was that?" which is the funniest take on any line ever recorded in the history of TV.