RPG-Mania

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Collage by thereelbt

Having finally beaten “Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door” not long ago and after finishing “Earthbound” last night (seriously, what a gem of a game), my thoughts have turned to the next game I’m aiming to play, “Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam.” Of course, I’m partially into that one for the Paper Mario aesthetics, but I also wanna give the Mario & Luigi series another shot. I only ever tried “Partners in Time”, but back then I was less tolerant of grinding and thus was severely underleveled for most of the boss fights. I’ve learned my lesson since then and have gotten my fiance into that series in the meantime, but this may be my chance to jump back into it as well.

I don’t think I’ve ever played two RPGs back to back, let alone three as I have within the past couple months. This got me thinking about how I’ve mostly ignored the genre as a whole. Aside from the Pokemon series, the first “Paper Mario” and dabbling in “Final Fantasy VII” one time, I never played many of them as a kid or into my teenage years. I always found grinding way too tedious and those with turn-based combat a bit slow (ironic, seeing as I now consider those my fave type of RPG). But this year, I feel like it’s time I gave more of them a chance.

Of course, the three games I’ve mentioned ended up on my to-do list, but I’ve been looking into others as well. I’ve decided I’m going to finally tackle “Super Mario RPG”, a game I’ve contemplated playing ever since I got the hang of the Paper Mario games and saw a Let’s Play of it as well. It’s known for being an amazing game, so I figure since I enjoyed the RPGs that came after it (yes, despite my lack of grinding and not completing it, I did like “Partners in Time”), why not go to the one that basically started them all? On top of that, since I REALLY enjoyed “Earthbound,” I’m definitely going to try the English-translated version of “Mother 3”. I may add more classic RPGs to the list, but I’m not planning to spend all of 2016 playing nothing but RPGs either.

As for newer games, aside from “Paper Jam”, I’m re-thinking my decision to ignore the upcoming “Fire Emblem Fates” games. I’m sure hardcore FE fans will diss me for this, but being new to the strategy genre, I played through “FE: Awakening” on Casual/Normal mode. I wasn’t very good at the good in some areas, but my main takeaway was that I had a lot of fun without the pressures of perma-death or Hard mode getting in the way. I may revisit that game some day to try both, but going back to “FE Fates”, I’m now thinking of picking up the Birthright edition. I do like some of the character designs of the Nohr edition (still undecided about getting the third DLC edition), but with it being more for FE veterans plus apparently having a few more defense missions (which I despise in any game), Birthright is looking more up my alley. It helps that Birthright is being considered on par if not slightly harder than Awakening was, though I’ll probably still play through it on Casual to get a feel for everything first.

I’ve still got plenty of non-RPG games to enjoy, but I’m taking advantage of this newfound urge to play RPGs while I can. Like I said, I’m not going to play them all year round, mainly because I know I’d reach burnout on them eventually. However, I figure as long as I stick to a few series I’ve enjoyed first, that may pave the way for me to keep exploring the genre from here on out. After all, the only way to know if you’ll like something is to give it a try.

My Current Obsession: Earthbound

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It might seem like blasphemy, given that I’ve been a huge Nintendo fan all my life, but I never knew “Earthbound” existed. I had a VERY small amount of SNES games back in the day and it wasn’t until I played “Super Smash Bros.” for the N64 that I discovered Ness and by proxy the game everyone knew him from. After that, I’d heard plenty of good things about the game, but I never bothered to track down a copy or even watch other people play. With “Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam” coming out tomorrow, I decided as part of 2016 to jump into playing more RPGs, whether strategy-based like the Fire Emblem series or just ones I overlooked as a kid. And thanks to the wonders of emulation, I now know the appeal of “Earthbound.”

The basic premise of the game is as follows: You play as a young boy named Ness (or whatever you choose to call him) and come across a sinister alien invasion plot. With the help of your psychic abilities and a few friends, you travel through the world of Eagleland to defeat strange enemies and restore each town. There’s plenty more to the story, but since I’m roughly halfway through the game, I won’t spoil what I’ve personally experienced. Needless to say, the plot’s a bit quirky, but it does a great job at setting up this child-like and yet kinda dark adventure.

I really love the atmosphere in this game. The tone is mostly upbeat, but underneath it is some pretty intense stuff. There are a surprising amount of adult stuff (not TOO adult, mine you) hidden in the dialogue, which people would only discover if they took the time to talk to the NPCs. I personally enjoy exploring in RPGs and doing that sort of thing, even if it does eat up a lot of time. The characters involved have nice touches of personality sprinkled in their dialogue, and while the plot seems simplistic, I’ve already found it takes some interesting turns. The quirky humor the game is known for is also a lot of fun and it’s neat to see all the crazy enemies that pop up with each new area.

One thing I’ve always found tedious about RPGs is grinding for levels, and while “Earthbound” doesn’t quite get away from that, it isn’t as painful as other RPGs tend to feel. However, I do feel this is one game that’s tough to shy away from grinding completely, because the enemies in each area WILL kick your butt if you’re not prepared. You can only hold so many items at a time, so relying on them isn’t always possible and you have limited PP at a time for magic attacks/healing. Even on the area I’m at now, Fourside (or at least the turning point of that “chapter”), has enemies that hit hard despite my guys being around level 35 or so. My gripe with grinding in any RPG is that I’m usually playing the game for the first time and don’t jump into the genre often, so I find it hard to know how much leveling up is enough. Despite that, it’s easy to gain experience, and dying doesn’t penalize you too harshly beyond taking some money, your PP, and sending you back to the nearest phone checkpoint. So, unlike with some RPGs I’ve played, I don’t get as frustrated with it.

I honestly didn’t plan to play “Earthbound” until a later time. I’d mainly been waiting around for “Paper Jam” to be released, but now I almost wanna hold off on playing that once I get it in favor of finishing up “Earthbound.” The game just has a ton of charm and I wish I’d known about it as a kid. Although, given that my first RPG back then was technically “Pokemon Yellow” and I had little concept of grinding levels between characters, I’m not sure I would’ve liked it as much as I do now. I’m glad I decided to give it a chance and can’t wait to play it through to the end.

My Top 10 Fave Cartoon Theme Songs

I challenged my fiance this weekend to try listing some of his favorite cartoons of all time. In return, he challenged me to something similar yet a bit easier: my favorite cartoon theme songs. Before we get to them, though, there is one big rule:

ALL songs must be from cartoons I watched even in passing while growing up. Whether I only saw a few episodes or the majority of them, these are cartoons that carry theme songs that have been memorable for me. I will be including a couple tied entries due to how similar my reasons for liking both are as well. Just remember that these are MY personal picks, not the best of the best. With that, let’s get started!

10. Darkwing Duck

I know people love this one (including my fiance) and it’s definitely one of my faves to come out of the 90’s. I didn’t catch up with most of the show until my household got both internet and satellite TV, but I definitely remember enjoying all the superhero antics Darkwing got himself into. The show was a romp and this theme song set the stage and tone from the start. Not much else to say except that it’s a great intro to a great show.

9. Animaniacs/Pinky and the Brain

Now we come to one of my tied choices. While I admit to watching more of “Pinky and the Brain” than “Animaniacs” as a kid, I like both shows for their energy and slapstick humor. I also like how the theme songs compliment the tone of each show. “Animaniacs” is incredibly zany and off-the-wall like the Warner Bros. (and their Warner sister), while “Pinky and the Brain” is goofy but scheming just like Pinky and the Brain themselves. I consider the songs as a collective whole in a way, so hence why they’re sharing this spot on the list.

8. Tiny Toon Adventures

I watched this show far more than the previous two, mainly because I watched (and still watch) a TON of the Looney Tunes back in the day. I always loved how this show appealed both to people who watched the original Looney Tunes and also newer generations with its younger cast of characters. While I liked the theme from “The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show” in particular, I always felt this one was…well, more looney and fun. It’s a fitting song for the next generation of Looney Tunes.

7. Batman: The Animated Series

Before I even saw the movie version of Batman, this was my foray into the world of superheroes. I enjoyed “Gargoyles” as well for its dark atmosphere, but “Batman: TAS” had the benefit of having both Batman and his rogue gallery in full glory. Just like with the movies at the time, the theme for this show was epic and dark. I often caught this show more than the peppy cartoons listed before it, and I was always enthralled every time. It’s a song that pumps you up for some butt-kicking action and the show almost always delivered.

6. Kim Possible

As I got into my teenage years, I had less and less time to watch cartoons or TV in general thanks to school. I mostly ended up gravitating toward bright, action-y ones. Sure, cute stuff like “Ruby Gloom” kept my interest (also a great theme song – consider it an honorary 11th spot), but it was shows like “Kim Possible” that made me anxious to do everything possible not to miss a new episode. Besides having an awesome female lead and reminding me at times of “Buffy” because of its action scenes, I really enjoyed the humor and mainly upbeat nature of the show. The theme song reflects it and, while a tad girly, also reflects Kim’s personality to a tee. It gets the point across while also getting stuck in your head.

5. Fairly Oddparents/Danny Phantom

Yep, another tie! Not long after I got into “Kim Possible,” I also stumbled across these two shows from creator Butch Hartman and fell in love with their concepts. I like the goofiness and absurdity of “Fairly Oddparents” and how it contrasts with the more serious tone (at times) of “Danny Phantom.” As for their theme songs… I’ve always loved when songs tell a story to set up a show’s premise and that’s exactly what these do. You quickly learn about Timmy’s fairy godparents and how Danny gained his ghostly powers. The only downside is that the rapping in the “Danny Phantom” theme does seem MAJORLY 90’s in hindsight, but I still can’t help liking it. These shows and their themes just go to show how one man can make two vastly different creations.

4. Steven Universe

I’ll admit I initially tried a few episodes of “Steven Universe” before stopping for a long while. Why? I wasn’t really into the episodic, slice of life feel of them. But after being convinced by my fiance to continue watching them with him, I’ve grown to appreciate the show for its complex characters and intriguing plot. The theme song is simple but effective, being very cute but also giving you all the basic information you need to jump into the show. It’s a happy, feel good song that gives you a glimpse at the show’s fluffiness, but don’t be fooled. There’s more to this one than meets the eye.

3. Gravity Falls

I’m already biased toward this show, but I adore this theme song. For a song without lyrics, it sets the tone of the show remarkably well. Its instrumental sounds a bit weird and mysterious and, combined with the visuals, pretty much tells you the basics you need to know about the show’s setup. And, like every song on this list, it’s incredibly catchy and will stay in your head long after you’ve heard it. I’ve gushed about this show in the past, and although I’m sad it’ll soon be over, I’ll always remember how awesome it and its theme song were.

2. Pokemon (Season 1)

I got into Pokemon during junior high, and that includes its anime adaptation. While I didn’t watch much beyond the Johto League, it’s the original series I have the fondest memories of. Rewatching the show a few years ago made me realize how kinda stilted and dumb some of it was, but the theme song is still awesome to me. Why is it so high on the list? Because not only does it appeal toward my gamer side as a work based off the games, but it also reminds me of how I met my best friends (specifically sharing their interest in anything Pokemon, anyway). It’s catchy, upbeat, and captures the feel of both the show and the games’ sense of adventure and companionship. There may be many Pokemon themes since then, but the original will always be my favorite.

1. The Simpsons

Is it the best show? No. Is it the best theme song? No. But for me, it makes the top spot because this show AND song were the epitome of my childhood and teenage years. Everyone knows “The Simpsons” was in top form in its earlier years, and while the show may have changed for better and for worse, that catchy, nostalgic theme song still remains. Back when I only had literally three channels of TV to watch, this was one of the only cartoons I managed to catch almost regularly. I loved the Simpsons family and their antics, and since my mom considered the show a little taboo because of its language and adult themes, it made me love it even more. This theme song has stuck with me even more than the others for the sheer fact that “The Simpsons” has been a staple throughout my life. Even today, while I don’t watch much of the newer stuff, I’ve still caught reruns and have been marathoning through the first 10 or so years of the show with my fiance. This show has a special place in my heart and that goes for its quirky and upbeat theme song as well.

And that’s my list of my top 10 fave cartoon theme songs! I know there are many more I could’ve added personally, and I’m sure others would agree/disagree with some of my choices. Feel free to post in the comments what some of YOUR fave cartoon theme songs are.

A Rant About “Pokemon Picross”

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It’s become a thing lately for Nintendo to release games for the 3DS that are “freemium.” For those who don’t know, a freemium game is free to download and play, but in-game purchases can be made to speed up game actions or unlock additional levels. I’ve tried a few of these before like “Pokemon Shuffle” and “Pokemon Rumble World,” but after a while they tend to get either boring or frustrating. Not having to pay at all can be great for the wallet, but it leads to games that take forever to accomplish anything in. And that brings me to “Pokemon Picross.”

Now, until recently, I’d never tried picross despite knowing about it. But after trying some online versions and enjoying them, I decided to give the Pokemon edition a shot when it was released. The game centers around you filling in tile puzzles that, when completed, form a Pokemon you can use later on. Each Pokemon has a special skill that can help you beat puzzles faster or more efficiently, which can be extremely helpful since you have energy that gets wasted with each tile (correct or not) you place. When I’m actually able to PLAY the puzzles, it’s fun. And then I got to a roadblock: not having enough in-game currency (known as Picrites) to continue pressing forward.

I’ve learned since I started playing that this game nearly requires you to drop money down to get anything done. The only way to press on through free play is to either get random achievements or play a once-a-day challenge to earn Picrites either way. This essentially means grinding your way to having enough to go to the next worlds, which have higher Picrite costs as you go along. I thought it was bad enough to have slow progress in the other freemium games I’ve tried, but this one takes the cake. The game has just over 30 areas and I’m stuck around the 7th or 8th one. That means if I want to progress all the way to the final area, I have to either pay up or keep grinding Picrites to do so. Neither of those sound very appealing to me.

It’s frustrating because I really like the gameplay when it comes to the puzzles. Collecting Pokemon still appeals to my inner collector and their abilities have gotten me out of some tough spots. Part of me wants to keep playing to at least try to get to the next area and subsequent puzzles, while the other part wants to say “Screw this!” and delete it. As for real money, I’ve only used up a dollar getting the bare minimum of extra Picrites, and even that feels like a waste now that I’m stuck. Until I make a decision, all I can say is I’m a lot less tolerant of these games now, and I can’t help thinking that maybe it’s time to drop 3DS freemium games completely.