Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Fall of Tradition: A Practical Discussion of Conservative and Liberal Policies in Government as Observed in Far Cry 4

While video games are typically platforms for entertainment first and foremost, there are often alternative goals and functions at play. In the case of Far Cry 4, there is an interesting dynamic between governing bodies that serves as a sort of exploration of political policies on a micro scale. Though the main story of the game is mostly set, there are a series of decisions that the player can make to affect side story lines around the leadership of the Kyrat people.
The political situation of Kyrat during the events of Far Cry 4 is a dire one. Pagan Min serves as the reigning power, the King of Kyrat. The Golden Path, a rebel movement, seeks to dethrone Min and reclaim Kyrat under their own leadership. Due to stagnation, the Golden Path is in a tumultuous position without a singular leader and direction.
There are two main contenders for the head of the Golden Path, Sabal and Amita. Coincidentally (or at the design of the game’s creators), Sabal and Amita take drastically different stances on how the Golden Path should be led. Sabal is chiefly concerned with the tradition of the Golden Path, and seeks primarily to follow this tradition. It follows, he therefore tends to be more conservative with his stances and actions for the Golden Path. In stark contrast, Amita cares solely about the continued and future success of the Golden Path. She cares nothing for the traditions of the Golden Path, and will willingly oppose tradition for options that will garner success for the movement.
As such, there is a prime example of differing government opinions, and how they affect the general motion of government. With Min serving as a mostly neutral current power, and opposing contenders for the rebellion, the player serves an active role in how the future government of Kyrat will function. In this competition of tradition versus progress, there are numerous decisions that the player must face without a clear good or bad option. These “Choose Your Golden Pathmissions allow the player to pick whether they will side with Sabal and Amita for decisions regarding Golden Path leadership.

Passive or Active - The Plight of Caring for Others

The first Choose Your Golden Path mission opens with a Kyrat village under attack by the Royal Army of Pagan Min. Sabal and Amita are torn in how to handle the situation. In favor of defending the people of the village, Sabal suggests that the player go with some Golden Path soldiers to combat the Royal Army. Concerned more with the overall success of the Golden Path, Amita is content with letting the residents of this village die, in order obtain intelligence from a currently unprotected Royal Army location.
Though it is an extreme example, this dynamic parallels the taxing of the wealthiest individuals in a more stable and less belligerent society. The progressive option, in line with Amita’s goal, would be to tax the wealthy for the benefit of everyone else. Though the residents of this village pay with their lives, a more standard government policy would be to take a percentage of tax from residents to provide for those less fortunate. Sabal’s preference, the more conservative option, would be to defend this specific village at the cost of intel that would help the Golden Path in general. In contrast to Amita’s option, defending this village is roughly equivalent to a hands-off government style where individuals must look out for themselves. There is no redistribution of wealth, or help for the poor and needy from the wealthy.

Moral or Economic - Which Needs are More Important?

The second and third missions in the Choose Your Golden Path line are a pair, in which the player must decide what becomes of an opium field and drug refinery. Seeing this drug operation as a valuable source of revenue for the Kyrat people, Amita encourages the player to seize control of the properties and employ Kyrat workers. Disregarding the financial benefits of drug production, Sabal suggests that the player should destroy both in order to prevent Kyrat residents from becoming addicted to the drugs.
As with defending the village or using the distraction for gain, the opposing opinions of the fate of the drug operation speak volumes of the government styles of Amita and Sabal. A liberal stance tends to keep out of the moral behavior of a society. Instead, financial stability is prioritized over the possible moral shortcomings with the source of the income. The conservative alternative is to ban immoral behaviors and actions, in order to ensure a morally wholesome society.

Religion - The Separation of Church and State

The final Choose Your Golden Path mission, in which the player must side with Amita or Sabal permanently, revolves around the presence of a religious shrine in Kyrat. Sabal sees these shrines as a source of encouragement and moral order for the Golden Path. Amita views them as a hinderance to progress and seeks to destroy them. The player holds the power to either assist Amita in dismantling the shrine, or helping Sabal to protect it from Amita’s attack.
Though governments rarely take such a dramatic approach to state religion or lack thereof, it is a decision that holds a place in leadership. To establish a state religion creates cohesion within a people, provided the majority of the population falls in line. If a government instead leaves an open door to religion, it creates less religious cooperation, but also allows those of any faith to be productive and welcomed members of society.

Extremism - Should One Side Eradicate the Other?

In the end, the player is forced with the task to kill either Amita or Sabal, after siding with the other. Though there is an option to decline this task, the offer has been put on the table as a viable and even encouraged outcome. Two parties within the same organization would go so far as to kill each other in order to ensure cooperation from the remainder of the Golden Path.
The real world equivalent of this decision explores whether either style of government is objectively “right,” and whether one style should actively seek to prevent the other. Quantifiably, the answer is “no.” This sort of extremism is exactly what has equipped and allowed such rulers as Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler. Left unchecked, either style of government can go to a logical extreme and result in negative effects for those under its rule.
For excessive conservatism, a society will ultimately stagnate and decline. A society holds so tightly to its traditions that it cannot adapt to an ever-changing world. Without keeping pace, the far-right conservative environment will eventually snuff itself out.
Excessive liberalism makes decisions in the name of “progress,” without fully examining the benefits and shortcomings of the options. While this may work for a time, there will inevitably be a decision that goes awry. Considering the fervor with which a far-left government pursues progress, many decisions can go too far to be reversed without breaking down. A government that continually pushes forward without the approval of its people risks an uprising or overthrow via coup d’etat.
What is the best option then? Surely a leader must pick one style or the other. The most ideal government is the moderate that examines the benefits of progressivism through the cautious lens of a conservative’s eye. Weighing each option as it comes along, with equal regard given to progress and tradition, gives the best chance for a government’s success. Traditions are kept where appropriate, and abandoned where progress is preferable.
Obviously, a video game is not a real world example or simulation made specifically for the study of politics. It is tailor made by those who created the game, and every single option is pre-defined. While the player does drive the process, the individual options are already in place and follow a logical sequence every time one plays Far Cry 4. However, given an environment where these styles of leadership are allowed to fully progress without innocent lives or the wellbeing of countries at stake is an interesting thought experiment.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

EarthBound - One Final Post

Finally, after all these years, I have beaten EarthBound.
The Circuitous Journey
I’ve started and restarted the game more times than I can recall. My first exposure to it was actually in the original Super Smash Bros., as seems to be the case for many younger fans of the EarthBound/Mother series. I’d never heard of Ness, nor EarthBound, when I encountered him as a playable character in SSB.
As my blog post from back in 2015 indicated, my cousin had a modded Xbox console at some point in the early 2000s, which had a number of emulators and ROM games on it. When perusing the different SNES games on his Xbox, I stumbled across EarthBound. Recognizing the name from Ness’s info page on Super Smash Bros., I decided to try it out. I played around on the game for a while, making it as far as Threed, before I lost interest and he moved out to California and brought the Xbox with him.
I restarted EarthBound numerous times through the years, across several different devices. Most recently, I grabbed an old ROM and save file from my Nexus 4 backup and loaded it onto my PSP. When I made that blog post back in February 2015, I was ecstatic about being able to play the game with physical buttons again. Surely, that would be the time that I played the game through to completion.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I did enjoy having physical buttons again, but playing on the PSP came with its own set of problems. For one, my PSP is another device to have to carry around. Sure, it isn’t that much of a hassle to throw it in my messenger bag, but it adds weight and why bother taking it out when I already have my phone on me that can do the same thing? At work, my bag is usually within a few feet of my reach, but at home it’s stashed somewhere that the kids can’t get into it, possibly even in another room. Do I really want to get up and go find it, when my phone is going to be either in my pocket or sitting somewhere near my the vast majority of the time?
Beyond the problem of keeping my PSP with me, emulation on the PSP is spotty. The sleep feature doesn’t work in emulators, which is normally a tremendous boon for me. It is so nice to be able to freeze a game in an instant and put it away for hours or even days if necessary. With Snes9x Euphoria, I had to load the game fresh each time, and manually save any time I wanted to quit playing. Considering how little time I have to dedicate to games, and the fact that I frequently have to stop playing with little to no warning, that is extremely inconvenient.
“Why not use save states,” you might ask. I tried that, but for whatever reason, they were broken with Snes9x Euphoria on the PSP. The state would save just fine. When loading it, the sound would be missing and certain events like enemy encounters would cause the software to crash. In short, save states were completely useless for me on that platform. Again, I need a platform that I can put away at a moment’s notice and resume without much work.
One benefit that became a burden was the extra battery. Instead of having to chew through my phone battery, playing games would specifically drain my PSP battery. On the surface, this sounds great, but it quickly became a hassle. The PSP battery seems to take forever to charge, several hours at least, and didn’t last long at all. I kept my charger at work, so I could play on my lunch break and charge it up before going home. If I played any little bit over the weekend, I would frequently burn through the battery and my PSP would be dead until I could charge it on Monday.
The screen on the PSP isn’t particularly bright, and this caused issues with playing on my lunch break. Sure, I could play at my desk, but I sit down for 8 hours every day. I like to use my lunch break to walk around town, just to get a little exercise. If I’m forced to choose between playing a game at my desk and walking, I’m going to choose walking most of the time.
Beyond all these problems, the Snes9x Euphoria interface just felt janky. Text was tiny and hard to read in menus, the controls felt very jumpy, and it just generally wasn’t pleasant to use. I wasn’t expecting anything as polished as the actual PlayStation XrossMediaBar (XMB), but this was just garbage. Getting a game to load felt like half the battle.
With all the issues that plagued emulation on the PSP, I just couldn’t get much game time in on it. I maybe got 10 hours of collective progress before I sat it down and moved on to other games again. I did eventually migrate back to playing The Legend of Dragoon on the PSP, but it also allowed me to use the sleep mode. Being able to stop playing at any point and quickly resume just made TLoD a much more convenient game to play.

Back to Game Boy Emulation on Android

In my lull from playing emulated games on my PSP, I decided to load an emulator on my phone again. I’ve said before that I tremendously dislike touchscreen controls. However, their convenience in being available on a phone as is, with no need for other peripherals has its worth. For games that aren’t very urgent or time sensitive, mostly RPG and nothing else, it’s manageable.
I grabbed a Game Boy Color emulator, and grabbed a ROM of Pokemon Blue version. As much as I love Pokemon, I hadn’t played a first generation game in years. Sure enough, the simple controls and lack of urgency made it genuinely alright to play without physical buttons. Maybe it was due to the fact that the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color only had a D-pad and 4 buttons, but I rarely mispressed anything.
With my success in emulating Pokemon Blue Version, I then continued onto the Pokemon Trading Card Game. Though I have never played the Pokemon TCG video game in its original cartridge format, I had played it once before in college. Revisiting it on my phone, I was able to play it through to completion. Maybe these touchscreen controls weren’t all that terrible.
After finishing Pokemon Trading Card Game, I decided to be a little more ambitious. I loaded up The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX. Zelda games are certainly more input intensive than your typical RPG, but I figured it might be a small enough step that I could manage. I quickly learned that I was mistaken. With touchscreen controls, the game was too cumbersome to enjoy. It was far too easy to die, with the lack of responsive controls, and the input limitation made it literally impossible for me to save the game normally. I had to die and select save from the game over screen. Before very long, I decided to stop playing.
From Link’s Awakening, I moved onto Final Fantasy Legend. I went into the game not really knowing what to expect. Early Final Fantasy games were all much more clunky than more recent titles in the series, but I figured it was worth playing. Take it from me, Final Fantasy Legend is not worth playing. There is no experience system, you spend more gil restoring health than actually buying useful items, and weapons have durability that causes them to break after a number of uses. The small profit that you make from fighting enemies goes toward recovering your health and replacing weapons. No, thank you.
I searched for another Game Boy or Game Boy Color RPG to play on my phone. It was too soon for another Pokemon game, and I couldn’t think of many other options. Finally, I picked up Dragon Warrior/Quest. Technically the first game in the Dragon Quest series, it was rebranded as Dragon Warrior in the North American region. It was fun, if very simple. I did have to cheat and download a map that I found online, but I did play the game to completion.

SNES Emulation on Android

Having exhausted most of my options on Game Boy and Game Boy Color, I decided it was time to get a SNES emulator on my phone. Several people recommended Chrono Trigger, but I was originally reluctant to play it because I wanted to stick with my Game Boy Color emulator. The last time I played a SNES game on my phone, it just didn’t feel right.
Eventually, I decided to try it and downloaded Snes9x EX+ from the Play Store. I grabbed a Chrono Trigger ROM and started playing it. Initially, I didn’t really like it, but it grew on me over time. Especially with the ability to customize controls so that my broken touchscreen didn’t inhibit play, it really wasn’t bad. I played maybe 10 hours into it before I remembered that I planned on playing EarthBound again after finishing The Legend of Dragoon. Since Chrono Trigger played so well on my phone, maybe EarthBound would be better on my phone than my PSP.
I pulled the contents of my PSP onto my desktop, and loaded the ROM and save file from it onto my phone. Would the same save file be compatible across different emulators? Sure, a ROM is a ROM, but maybe different emulators managed save data differently. Fortunately, I used emulators from the same family on both devices, so I figured my chances were good. I moved the files into the proper location and launched the SNES Emulator on my phone. Upon selecting EarthBound from my list of games, the start screen loaded and lo and behold, there was my saved game. I loaded the file, and there I was in Onett, where I had previously left off.
The controls felt decent, even without my bluetooth controller. I occasionally made accidental button presses, but nothing that would make the game unplayable. In landscape mode with the top of the phone held to the left, the only buttons that become inaccessible in Snes9x EX+ are the A and R buttons. Fortunately, EarthBound can be played completely without these buttons (as far as I’m aware). In any instances that I might need to use them, I could simply flip the phone around and lose access to L and D-Pad Left temporarily. Janky, sure, but I’ve taken that as par for the course until I get another phone.

Finishing this Fight

I soon learned that I was already quite close to the end of the game. Over the course of a few weeks, since I didn’t get to play quite as much as I would’ve preferred, I reached the end. With only 2 dungeons and the final fight sequence to go, I probably could’ve finished in one or two sessions if I wanted to. Plus, it didn’t help matters that I spent a few hours grinding in the final dungeon before proceeding to the end of the game.
Much like The Legend of Dragoon, the amount of time I’ve actually spent playing EarthBound is probably nowhere near as long as one would think given the number of years I’ve been playing it off and on. I didn’t notice any sort of game time indicator, but I definitely spent less than 100 total hours on the game. It felt like a very average length for an RPG, I just took a really long time to finish it. Considering I definitely first tried it before 2007, it’s been at least a decade since I first played EarthBound, probably a little longer. Not the same save file through the entire time, but that’s still a while to play at the same game without finishing it.
I met my goal of beating EarthBound before Summer Games Done Quick 2017, in order to watch the EarthBound run by UltimoIce without risk of spoilers. Although I had no concern that I couldn’t finish in the course of several months, I didn’t want to let myself brush the game aside again. It was time to finish what I started some long years ago, and appreciate the game as one who has finished it, and not a player who stopped partway through.
EarthBound is a weird game. It’s neat, it’s fun, and the combat is actually really interesting, but it is just a strange piece of media. It isn’t a parody of Americana culture, as much as it is a representation of how the culture of the United States is seen from the perspective of Japanese video game developers. Yes, it is every bit as peculiar as that sounds. I don’t think it quite deserves the huge cult following that it has garnered, but it also seems like a game that any RPG fan should play. It isn’t amazing, but it is quirky enough to be worth experiencing, even some 2 decades and some change later.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Moral Dilemma of Save States in Emulators

I recently installed a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) emulator on my phone, and I’ve struggled a lot with the ethics of using save states.


Previously, I used a Game Boy emulator, but save states were a paid feature and I just ignored them completely. When I got the SNES emulator, I didn’t even bother looking. I was so accustomed to *not* using save states, I didn’t care if they were even available. The actual games didn’t have save states, so avoiding them is more true to the original experience.

For a while, I stuck with strictly RPGs. Touchscreen controls aren’t responsive or reliable enough to play platformers and adventure games proficiently, but they do alright for slower paced games. When a coworker sold me his SteelSeries Free controller, I decided to test it out on Donkey Kong Country 2. DKC2 was probably my favorite platformer on the SNES, and I hadn’t played it for years. Fortunately, the controller worked well for the game, and I decided to continue playing it for a welcome break from RPGs that I had been playing.
DKC2 consists of multiple areas or “worlds,” divided into several levels that players must navigate through in a map. Each area has a single save location, Kong Kollege, where Wrinkly Kong will allow you to save your progress. Once you enter an area, you cannot leave except by defeating the area’s boss or by hiring Funky Kong at a Funky’s Flights location. Typically, both of these services are a few levels into an area, so players must successfully complete several levels without a game over to record their progress.
Logically, it helps to grind out some lives before going to a new area. A new load from the file select screen only has 4 lives, and getting through a single level often takes multiple attempts. Occasionally, I’ll go to a new world with few lives, just to get a feel for the area before an honest to goodness attempt. Usually, if I’m going to a solid try, I’ll bank up 20 lives or so just to be safe.
In this particular instance, I had just finished Krazy Kremland, and immediately pushed on into Gloomy Gulch. I beat the first level fairly easily, and reach the second level with a couple of lives remaining. After a few attempts, I expend all of my lives and get a game over. No harm, no foul, I didn’t spend much time so I didn’t lose much progress.
I reload my save, grind out a few lives in Crocodile Cauldron, and go back to Gloomy Gulch for a serious try. I get through the first level again without much trouble. I reach the second level, Haunted Hall, and I buckle down to beat this level. Haunted Hall is a cart level, with a ghost that chases you. There is a timer on screen, and the ghost hits you when the time hits zero. Scattered throughout the level are + and - barrels that add to or subtract from the time. In a perfect run, the ghost never hits you. I, however, am not capable of a perfect run.
Over and over again, I make stupid mistakes and die. I know most of the level’s layout, and how to beat it, but I mess up my jump timing and either fall of the rails or hit too many minus barrels to reach the end of the course. Finally, with about 5 lives left, the ghost in the final stretch of the level glitched out and the timer disappeared. I continued the course as best I could, trying to hit + barrels and avoid - barrels since I still didn’t know if the timer was going to affect me. Having hit far too many negative barrels to have normally survived, I reached the end of the level. I have no clue what caused the ghost to stop following me, but I don’t know that I could’ve beat the level otherwise.


Upon exiting the level, I notice that I still haven’t reached Kong Kollege to save the game. Sitting at a very volatile stage, I eyed the save state button in the emulator menu. I honestly don’t think I would’ve beaten Haunted Hall without the glitch, and if I get a game over now, I lose any progress I had previously made. Eventually, I decide to create a save state. What’s the harm in creating the save state if I never load it? That gives me peace of mind in knowing that I can reload the state if I have to, but I still haven’t technically done anything that the original game wouldn’t allow.
With a save state, and 2 levels of Gloomy Gulch finished, I continue on to the third level. I die a few times on the third level, but eventually make it to the star barrel at the halfway point. Coming down to the wire, I have 1 more life left and spawn in at the star barrel. I can do this. I’ve persevered in the face of terrible odds before, what’s stopping me from succeeding this time? After my little internal pep talk, I push forward for my last try… and die.
As the Game Over screen appears, my heart sank. Grinding those lives, while it hadn’t taken a ton of time, turned out to be wasted effort. And having Haunted Hall glitch on me was sheer luck, and there was no chance I would be able to make it happen again. I had to start over again from the previous area, and try the whole process over again.

Or did I? I had created that save state after finishing Haunted Hall. With the press of a button, I could load state, and be right back where I beat Haunted Hall. No, that wasn’t possible on the original SNES release of DKC2, but the emulator could do it no problem. Would I be wrong for doing that? It’s not like there is any sort of morals police that would come and arrest me for using save states in an emulated game.
Eventually, I elected to load the state and try the level again. Within 1 or 2 attempts, I was able to beat the level. Sure enough, this unlocked the Kong Kollege location for Gloomy Gulch, and I was able to save the game normally, and make a record of my progress to resume later if necessary. But at what cost had I reached this save point? What moral toll had I taken on my conscience to attain this success? What had I done?

Let’s ponder for a moment, how would this situation have played out if I were playing on the SNES console with the DKC2 cartridge. In that moment of tragic defeat when I lost all of my lives and got a game over, I wouldn’t have had any sort of decision to make. The game is only saved at Kong Kollege, and the last time I saved was before grinding out lives and ever stepping foot into Gloomy Gulch. My only option would have been to return to the load screen, go through the process of grinding out more lives, and starting over from the beginning of the area again.
On an emulator, though, I had literally as many chances as I could’ve needed. Sure, I got it after loading that save state only once, but I could’ve done it over and over again until I successfully beat the level. I could’ve even saved state at individual points through the level, taking it a step at a time and only saving if I had progressed perfectly. Basically, what Tool-Assisted Speedruns do, but to a significantly lesser degree.
Perhaps this difference is trivial. I’m not playing competitively against other players, or for any sort of title. I’m just playing for my own enjoyment. My issue, though, lies in the fact that I have defiled the original experience of playing the cartridge game on the SNES console. Save states were not available on the console, so I’ve done what could not be done originally.
Most people probably wouldn’t care about using save states. It is just a game, after all. I could even go so far as to chalk it up to evening the odds against the imperfections of the bluetooth controller. There is a slight delay over bluetooth, when compared to instant input from a wired controller. Plus, the controller would occasionally wig out and either buffer inputs or spontaneously force a directional input for a few seconds. It isn’t hard to justify using save states, when there are things outside of my power that make the game unfair against me.
What if this is a slippery slope? If I’ve used save states once, what’s stopping me from doing it over and over again? There are literally no penalties for using save states besides my own ethical misgivings. Instead of using save states only for the most extreme cases where I’m losing many minutes, or even hours of progress, what prevents me from using it even for the most minimal gains?
It’s a trivial concern, but it bothers me. Where do I draw the line? Am I a cheater for using save states? Does it even matter? And beyond that, where was the actual transgression? Did I only break the rules when I loaded the save state, or was actually creating it a problem as well? Even having the save state available gave me a piece of mind that players of the original game couldn’t have had. Even if I didn’t load the state, I had it there as a fallback if necessary.
This isn’t some huge affair with serious consequences. It doesn’t keep me up at night, but it is something of a moral dilemma for me. I have played the game in a way that is not true to the original cartridge. One could argue that even being able to play the game on a medium besides a SNES console hooked up to a TV isn’t the *true* experience. But alas, I’m not tracking down a SNES and DKC2 cartridge. The experience of playing the game in an emulator, with save states available, is as close as I’m getting. To use save states or not to use save states, that is the question. Avoiding them will be up to my own discipline.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

2017-05-10 Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is this coming Sunday, and it is a holiday that I have come to appreciate more and more as I’ve gotten older.
Growing up, I didn’t really care that much about Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Not that I didn’t love and appreciate my parents, but it was more or less just another day. As a child, each parent got the other a gift. Once I got to the age where I would buy them a gift myself, it was mildly stressful. I’m not good at buying people gifts, so I have a hard time getting something sentimental even for people I’m close to.
The first thing that gave me a better appreciation for Mother’s Day was the death of my father. I’ve mentioned it before, but it deserves to be mentioned here. Suddenly going from having both parents to only one really makes you appreciate the remaining parent. I may discuss my father’s absence more, but his death gave me much more gratitude for my own mother, and all she continues to do for me.
Into adulthood, I gained even awareness for Mother’s Day when my first child was born. Just being born doesn’t give you much of an opportunity to see the pain and effort that a mother goes through in childbirth. Seeing it in person, with your own significant other, and involving your own child, gives a significant gravity to what it means to be a mother.
I don’t say it enough, and one day really doesn’t give them justice, but I am tremendously thankful for all the mothers in my life.
For my own mother, I owe much of who I am today to you. You raised me from birth, through a divorce, and worked several jobs to take care of us. You equipped me with the financial skills to make a dollar go seemingly a whole month, and know the difference between a need and a want. Somehow, though, you still allowed me to experience all the same opportunities as kids from more fortunate families. I don’t know how you managed it, but I am eternally grateful that you did.
To my grandmother, you’ve been the matriarch of the family for my entire life. Everybody knows they can go to grandma’s house for a hot meal and a cup of weak coffee. Every holiday since I’ve been born has been spent with everyone congregated at your house. I don’t know of any other family that has been as close knit as ours across so many generations. Blood is no doubt thicker than water, and I genuinely think that you are to thank for that case in this family.
As for my wife and mother of my kids, you have done so much that I just cannot thank you enough for. You went through agonizing labor, you wash the mounds of clothes we go through every week, you plan outfits for every single day, and generally keep the house in working order. I literally have no idea how you do it all, but I thoroughly appreciate it. There is no way I could do even a fraction of it on my own. I just hope that you realize how much we rely on you, and how thankful I am for you and what you do.
To all the other mothers out there, you have my absolute respect and admiration. Not only the biological mothers, but adoptive mothers, and mothers without the official title, you all do a thankless job. You are responsible for creating a generation. You birth, raise, and take care of your children that become the adults of tomorrow. Know that the role you play is a vital and necessary one, and for that you have my respect and thanks.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Finishing "The Legend of Dragoon"

After several years of playing off and on, I’ve finally reached the end of The Legend of Dragoon.
For those unfamiliar with The Legend of Dragoon, it was a JRPG released on the original PlayStation back in 1999. Though never as popular as Final Fantasy, it was a solid game and got a lot of attention in both Japan and the United States. It’s become something of a cult classic or sleeper hit, with fans raving about it still.
I first played the game many years ago with the original PlayStation disc. Though I didn’t play it on the PSX (which I never owned), the PS2 was backwards compatible, so I played it on that. It’s been so long ago, that the details are hazy. I didn’t own the game, it belonged to my cousins who did own an original PlayStation. I didn’t get very far, probably not even through the first disc, but it was enough to make me want to finish the game. However, I eventually migrated fully to my PS3, and the original discs for The Legend of Dragoon were either lost, sold, or otherwise disappeared.
For a few years, my interest waned. As much as I enjoyed the game, I almost forgot about it. I was too busy playing new releases on a modern console. Then, in May of 2012, I started thinking about the game again. Surely, as much of a cult following as it had garnered, Sony would eventually see about releasing a remake or sequel of some kind. Doing a little research, I discovered that the game had been ported to PS3 and PSP, and had been released on the PlayStation Store just earlier that month. What a coincidence!
Obviously, I purchased the game immediately. With the opportunity to play it again on a modern generation console, surely I would finish it this time. Though PSX games were available on both the PS3 and PSP, I preferred the portability of the PSP. I downloaded the game and started again from the beginning.
At first, I played it feverishly. Not only is The Legend of Dragoon a great game in and of itself, I was experiencing an extreme case of nostalgia. It had been years since I last touched the game, so finally playing it again was fantastic. But eventually, that nostalgia was satiated and the excitement for getting to play the game again wore off. Sure, it was still a good game, but I tend to get bored of handheld games very quickly. Even in the situation of The Legend of Dragoon, originally released on a home console, but playing it on a handheld system, I rarely stick with them.
After a while, I put it down. By December 15, 2012, I was done with the game for a while. I just stopped playing it. There were other things to play at home, and other things I could be doing while away from home. It didn’t help matters that the 2012-2013 school year had me working an internship, doing research for my data mining honors senior thesis, AND finishing up all my other classwork for my senior year. I had a lot going on, and not a lot of free time to play games or anything else.
In January of 2016, over 3 years since I last played The Legend of Dragoon, I picked up my PSP again and continued where I had left off. I had made it through the first disc, at least, so why would I start over? Unfortunately, I experienced the same burnout very quickly and stopped playing again for some weeks or months.
I repeated this cycle over and over again, several times over the years. Each time, I would continue where I last left off. Sure, it would take me a little while to figure out where I was and what I was doing, but I could usually refresh my memory pretty quickly. Besides, why would I start the game over again when I already had a save file pretty far into the game?
The most recent time I picked up the game again from a break, I was clueless about my position in the game. Fortunately, I stumbled into a scripted interaction in Feltz, which gave me the opportunity to read up on the story thus far and figure out what I was doing again. At that point, I swore that I would play the game to completion this time.
Upon finishing the content on disc 2, I looked into Stardust, a collectible key item in The Legend of Dragoon. I found a guide, and discovered that I had missed a few pieces here and there. I decided that I would try to get all 50 pieces of Stardust, and pursue the optional boss at the end of the game. I was conveniently able to backtrack and grab the few that I had missed before continuing on to disc 3 and the rest of the game.
At one point during this stint, a coworker mentioned that it would be terrible for him to delete my save file. I casually mentioned that I only had about 60 hours in the game at that point, which is minimal for most RPG titles I’ve played. However, the number of years that those hours were stretched across is insane. I would be losing only a few days worth of time, but it would be progress that I had been working on since 2012. Progress that I started when I was still a student, before I got married, and had kids, and bought a house of my own.
Sure enough, I stuck to my word this time. I played the game to the end. I finished all of the content, from disc 2, through disc 3, and to the end of disc 4. There were days, and occasionally a few weeks that I didn’t get a chance to play any, but my PSP stayed in my messenger bag, and I made a point to keep the battery topped up and play whenever I got a chance.
On Tuesday, April 18, I finally beat the game with just over 85 hours. The hours leading up to the final boss are extremely dense, story-wise, and it's fairly obvious that you're creeping up in the end. Upon finishing the final fight and seeing the credits begin, I was filled with an immense feeling of satisfaction, and almost relief. Don't get me wrong, the game was continually fun, it just felt like I was never going to reach the end. To succeed after so many years was a weight lifted.

After the credits finished, I expected some sort of save option. My understanding was that the optional boss could only be battled after completing the main story. On the final screen, I waited and waited. I began pressing buttons, and the game returned to the start menu. Maybe there was some sort of auto save during the credits? Surely, I hadn't missed some sort of prompt to continue the game and go for the optional boss. The game clearly indicated several times that there was a point of no return before the end. I figured once I beat it, it would put me somewhere that I could continue from.
After doing some research, I discovered that the optional boss actually became available at a certain story point in disc 4, not the end of the game as I previously thought. Fortunately, I had made a save branch right before this point of no return, just in case I wanted to do some more exploring before the end. This last save was at right under 80 hours, so only about 5 hours behind where I actually beat the game. Little did I know, you were supposed to return to the optional boss before the end of the game, if at all.
I loaded up that previous save and geared up to tackle the optional content. I went through the trouble of getting all the stardust, I was dang sure going to take advantage of it. Knowing of the great magical power that Faust possessed (and maybe having read a few guides), I bought Legend Casque head gear for all 3 of my party members. Guides recommended at least 1, but I had the gold and it's not like I was going to do anything else with it. Stocked up on Angel's Prayer to receive any fallen party members and I was good to go.
I spent an hour or two wandering around where I thought Faust was, only to discover that he was in a completely different area. Once I figured out where I was actually supposed to be going, it was a swift process. Trial and error through the maze before Faust, and I reached the Magician himself.
The fight with Faust was almost depressingly easy. Admittedly, the Legend Casque is extremely overpowered, greatly increasing both magical evasion and defense. Magical attacks rarely hit, and the ones that do probably only inflict a fifth or so of the damage they would've done without a Legend Casque equipped. Still, I was able to kill him with minimal effort, and in only a fraction of the time that I would expected it might take. Without any Legend Casque equipped, I don’t see how the fight is possible. With all players having Legend Casque, it was absolute cake.



When Faust died, I had a few moments of almost disbelief. As of May, I would have been playing this game for 5 years, half a decade. Same save file, and it took my 5 years to beat the game. Albeit, I only spent a little over 80 hours total, which is completely reasonable for an RPG. Something about playing a game on the same save file for 5 years off and on just has a gravity about it.
Overall, I enjoyed the game, and I’m tremendously glad that I finally finished it. There will be a full review coming eventually, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good JRPG. The story was compelling, the characters were interesting, and the gameplay was unique. It’s a great game, I’m just really happy to finish it and get it behind me.

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