Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 5: Ashen Wolves)

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4)

oh, right, I was doing this whole thing

uh

Well, there’s only four characters left, so here they are: the Ashen Wolves. They’re the “secret fourth house” that live in the basement and never talk to anyone. There’s apparently an entire hidden town called “Abyss” hidden underneath the school/monastery/fortress where you and all the other characters live, filled with outlaws, refugees, dispossessed nobles and assorted other fugitives who collectively decided that the best place to hide from the law was literally in the Pope’s basement. These four kooky kids can join you no matter which of the other “houses” you’re aligned with, as long as you’ve bought the “Cindered Shadows” DLC and completed an extra chapter of the story focused on them. And here they are:

Yuri Leclerc

  • Commoner adopted by a minor noble family, grew up to become some kind of mob boss
    • Basically runs Abyss in the absence of any more reasonable authority figure
  • Could probably arrange for you to be murdered in your sleep
    • Has definitely thought about it
  • Is too gay to put up with your bull$#!t
  • Kind to children; will shank you if you find out about it
  • Difficult to be friends with, but extremely worth it
  • He is perfect and I love him

Favoured types: Flying, Dark, Normal
Yuri’s mob nickname is “the savage mockingbird,” and if you teach him magic (which you probably will, since his “default” class is a hybrid caster) he mainly learns wind spells.  He was born a commoner and is still devoted to helping ordinary people, hence Normal, but regularly does so through… less than ethical means, hence Dark.

Disfavoured types: Fairy, Ground, Bug
Yuri’s biggest mob rival is a gang that identifies its members with scorpion tattoos.  He’s not good with Fairy-types since he’s so cynical, and doesn’t like the bulky, solid nature of Ground-types.

Partner: Honchkrow
Honchkrow is a bird who is a mob boss, which is basically Yuri’s entire aesthetic; they’re made for each other.

Other Pokémon: Toucannon, Dodrio, Crobat, Raticate (Alolan), Liepard

Yuri likes Flying Pokémon with great speed, manoeuvrability and physical power.  Raticate is another mobster Pokémon to help him run his gang, and Liepard is just very good at shanking people.

Continue reading “Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 5: Ashen Wolves)”

Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 4: Church of Seiros)

(Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3)

Welcome back to this thing I’m apparently doing, where I create Pokémon teams for all the characters of this other game I really enjoyed, which has loads and loads of characters. We’ve covered the titular “Three Houses,” so part 4 (of 5, although 5 will be a pretty short one) is for the characters who are part of the Church of Seiros, the dominant organised religion of Fantasy Europe, which has worked with the nations of the continent to maintain peace and order for a thousand years (to greater or lesser degrees of success). As part of that effort, their headquarters, Garreg Mach monastery, plays host to the fantasy RPG school where all the kids we’ve met so far are studying, theoretically ensuring that the young nobles of the rival countries are all friends with each other and might be less willing to start a massive bloody war. Fingers crossed on that one.

Rhea

  • Archbishop of Garreg Mach monastery, which basically makes her the Fantasy Pope
  • Wise and mysterious mentor figure
  • Kind and nurturing to those in her care, but has a worrying tendency to go extremely “Spanish inquisition” on rebels and heretics
    • Might somehow turn out to be the villain
  • Really likes Byleth for some reason she seems unwilling to explain
    • Strictly speaking this is probably a good thing but it still feels ominous
  • She is perfect and I am terrified of her

Favoured types: Dragon, Fire, Ghost
Most of my reasons for the Pokémon I’ve chosen for Rhea are pretty spoiler-heavy.  Let’s say that dragons and fire both have religious significance in this world, and that reverence for the dead is important for Rhea, and leave it at that.

Disfavoured types: Dark, Bug, Normal
Rhea has a very Knight Templar attitude to anything she perceives as dark, evil or heretical.  Her extremely high station also means she sometimes has trouble connecting with the day-to-day lives of ordinary people.

Partner: Reshiram
She’s the Pope.  She gets to have a holy white dragon as her partner; I think that’s fair (if you’ve played the whole game you will recognise… additional reasons… for this choice).

Other Pokémon: Dragonite, Runerigus, Golurk, Ninetales (K), Charizard

Runerigus and Golurk both relate to some tricks she’s got up her sleeve for the second half of the game.  In a way, so do Charizard and Dragonite.  Ninetales has mystic powers and a vengeful bent that suits Rhea’s darker side.

Continue reading “Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 4: Church of Seiros)”

Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 3: Golden Deer)

(Part 1 and Part 2)

The third of this game’s titular “three houses” are the Golden Deer, students from the Leicester Alliance, which is a federation of nobles who rejected the monarchical traditions of both of the continent’s other nations and formed a new country in the east. They’re slightly more egalitarian, so this house has more low-born students than the others.

Claude von Riegan

  • Future Grand Duke of the Fantasy Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
    • my real-world analogies in this series are extremely loose but, y’know what, I stand by this one
  • Apparently didn’t even know he was a noble until a couple of years ago because his mother decided, quite early on in her life, “fµ¢£ this $#!t; I’m out”
  • Extremely pretty, master of sass
    • Canonically straight, which is some serious bull$#!t
    • I mean, look at him
  • Slytherin AF; has about a dozen zany schemes going at any given time and brews experimental poisons as a hobby
  • Gets on Edelgard and Dimitri’s nerves a lot, but I think secretly they love him
  • Addresses Byleth as “Teach,” which is not as endearing as he thinks it is
  • He is perfect and I love him

Favoured types: Dark, Poison, Flying
Claude is good at (among other things) trickery, poisons and aerial combat.

Disfavoured types: Fighting, Ground, Fairy
Claude will never fight fair if he can help it, and doesn’t like Pokémon who are either too reliant on brute strength or bound by conventional ideas of nobility.

Partner: Naganadel
Claude’s “default” progression makes him a wyvern rider, which Naganadel plays into quite well; being an “outsider” is an important theme of his story, so having an Ultra Beast as a partner rather than a traditional legendary Pokémon seems fitting; and Claude loves Naganadel’s repertoire of poisons.

Other Pokémon: Zoroark, Muk (Alolan), Vivillon, Salazzle, Aerodactyl

Muk and Salazzle provide raw materials for Claude’s poison experiments (I’d specifically like him to have a shiny Salazzle because he gets an albino wyvern later, and shiny Salazzle is white).  Vivillon fits his ambition to break down barriers between peoples of different regions.  Zoroark is an excellent zany scheme enabler.  Aerodactyl is just a great wyvern-ish Pokémon to have with you in the air.

Continue reading “Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 3: Golden Deer)”

Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 2: Blue Lions)

(Part 1 here)

Welcome back to this ridiculous series where I create Pokémon teams for the ludicrous number of characters in this game I really enjoyed, because that is a thing I do now I guess??

The game’s called “Three Houses” so obviously there need to be three houses, and number two are the Blue Lions, from Faerghus, a kingdom in the northwest part of the continent that broke away from the southern Empire long ago and are now its major rival/frenemy.

Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd

  • Future King of Fantasy Prussia
    • Although going by his name he might be half-Greek and half-Welsh
  • Parents and several of his closest friends were killed a few years ago in a terrorist attack by a neighbouring allied country
    • Kinda fµ¢£ed him up a bit
    • As, y’know, any one of us might reasonably be fµ¢£ed up by that
  • Dutiful, loyal, kind, cares a lot about growing up to be a worthy king
    • Believes in protecting the weak from oppression
    • Wants classmates to treat him as an equal rather than a king, which not all of them can realistically do
  • Struggles to balance moral abhorrence toward violence with seething desire for blood-soaked vengeance
  • He is perfect and I love him

Favoured types: Ice, Ghost, Fighting
Vengeance for the dead is an important theme in Dimitri’s story, as is fighting for a cause, which Fighting-types value.  Ice because he’s from a cold part of the world and dislikes hot climates.

Disfavoured types: Fire, Dark, Poison
Dimitri values honour highly and won’t stoop to the methods of Dark and Poison Pokémon.  Fire as an opposite to Ice, and because he acts as a foil to Edelgard.

Partner: Kyurem
My reasons for picking Kyurem as Dimitri’s partner are mostly related to the second half of his story, which I’m not going to explain.  Kyurem is a legendary Pokémon, so appropriate for one of the house leaders.  It represents emptiness and brokenness, and also has kind of a savage reputation.

Other Pokémon: Banette, Froslass, Sandslash (Alolan), Primeape, Hitmonlee

Banette and Froslass because Dimitri has a lot of vengeful ghosts in his life, and it’s unclear how literal that statement is.  In a fight he likes to get up close and skewer enemies with a spear; Alolan Sandslash feels like a particularly good fit with its icy spines, while Hitmonlee and Primeape are both powerful melee fighters who also provide a contrast between discipline and boiling rage.

Continue reading “Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 2: Blue Lions)”

Watch our stream!

So today Jim and I tried out streaming Final Fantasy X and chatting about it, and you can watch the result on-demand here:

I am clearly not good at this but we’re going to keep doing it every week, and maybe develop our, uh… live entertainment skills. So if you find this passingly amusing, stop by next week (8-9:30 pm Friday in the UK, 7-8:30 am Saturday in New Zealand); it’ll probably get better!

I guess this is also the first time anyone who reads this blog will have heard my voice? Except the handful of you who also know me in real life, obviously. I dunno if that’s a huge selling point for you. It’s a weird voice. Jim’s is much more representative of a New Zealand accent, mine is all over the place.

so yeah, that’s this thing

Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 1: Black Eagles)

I’m dramatically late to the party for doing anything related to Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but I’m going to write something anyway because I loved this game and its characters and story.  Because I’m a Pokémon person, I think the best way for me to talk about it is through the medium of creating Pokémon teams for all the characters!

If you haven’t played this game, the setup is that you are a mercenary (your character can be either male or female, and their default name is Byleth) in a continent loosely inspired by late mediaeval/renaissance Europe, divided between three major nations that are historically rivals but share a common language, culture and religion, and have united against external threats in the past.  Shortly after the beginning of the game, you visit a sword-and-sorcery academy, located in neutral ground at the centre of the continent, where nobles of all three nations send their kids to learn how to be JRPG badasses.  The academy is part of a monastery where the Fantasy Pope, Archbishop Rhea, lives.  She decides, unexpectedly and despite your total lack of relevant qualifications, to appoint you to a teaching position; thus the plot begins in earnest.  The students are organised into “houses” according to which nation they come from (so the “Three Houses” of the title are, like, school “houses,” but also noble “houses;” the word “house” is beginning to lose all meaning for me), and this year just happens to be the year the future rulers of all three nations are starting their training, so they get to be class president of each house.  You’re asked to pick a house to be in charge of, and mainly interact with the eight students of that house, but can become friends with others and get them to transfer to your class as well.  You then guide them through the plot, gaining their confidence and affection, teaching them to be fantasy RPG protagonists, fighting bad guys, traumatising them and yourself through exposure to the horrors of war, and so on and so forth.  As a real-life educator this premise scratches a very specific “I am so proud of all of you” itch that I have.  I’ve played through the entire game at the head of all three houses, but in case you haven’t played it and think you might, I’m going to avoid revealing details of the plot or any character development past roughly the first third of the story.

So, without further ado, here’s the first instalment: the students of the Black Eagle House, who come from Adrestia, which is the Fantasy Holy Roman Empire (used to rule the entire continent but has since lost a lot of its power; founded with the blessing of the church but has fallen out with them over time; looks to the past and tradition for its authority and strength).

Edelgard von Hresvelg

  • Future Emperor of the Fantasy Holy Roman Empire
  • Natural leader; charismatic, decisive, supportive
  • Progressive socio-economic agenda
    • I mean, she still plans to rule as an absolute monarch and everything, but they’re a mediaeval empire whose hierarchy appears to have been largely unaltered for about 1000 years; baby steps
  • Has a Dark and Tragic BackstoryTM but channels it into determination to save the world
  • Extremely scary if she gets her hands on a battle-axe; capable of wearing five times her own body weight in plate armour
  • She is perfect and I love her

Favoured types: Fire, Steel, Dark
Fire for spoilery reasons; Steel because she wears about a ton of it; Dark because she can use dark magic and isn’t afraid to achieve her goals by… questionable means.

Disfavoured types: Dragon, Water, Ice
Dragon for spoilery reasons; Water because she can’t swim and is afraid of the ocean; Ice as an opposite element to Fire.

Partner: Heatran
As one of the house leaders, Edelgard deserves a legendary Pokémon as her partner, and Heatran’s Fire/Steel typing, heavy armour plating and willingness to either rule the world, or watch it burn, make it a perfect fit.

Other Pokémon: Emboar, Umbreon, Corviknight, Coalossal, Drapion

Edelgard favours bulky Pokémon with powerful physical defences that aren’t afraid to wade into the middle of a brutal melee.  Emboar, Coalossal and Drapion share her imposing physical presence and ability to dominate in close combat.  Corviknight gives her a “black eagle,” the insignia of her house and the empire she is heir to.  Umbreon is just as tough as her other Pokémon, but fits in better at court.

Continue reading “Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 1: Black Eagles)”

Quarantine Playtime

Soooooo, a week into pandemic lockdown, my laptop broke down, and getting it fixed is taking a bit longer than it otherwise might, so I haven’t been able to work properly for the last few days (notwithstanding the Q-and-A posts I had already written and queued). Courtesy of this disruption to my normal workflow, you’re getting a short (and for once I actually mean that, I’m drafting this entirely on my phone) review/discussion of a Nintendo Switch game I bought to amuse myself while my laptop is out of commission: Octopath Traveler.

Continue reading “Quarantine Playtime”

A Paean to an Obsolete and Underloved Game

I wish to ramble, at length and for no reason in particular, about something of absolutely no importance.

More specifically, I wish to ramble about an interesting but obscure and not particularly successful 1997 real-time strategy game that is wildly unbalanced, has clunky and unintuitive controls, is frankly kinda glitchy, and was created by a studio that went under more than 15 years ago.

You have been duly warned. Continue reading “A Paean to an Obsolete and Underloved Game”

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 10 and wrap-up

Basically all that’s left to cover now is the final boss sequence – there’s a big cave full of monsters to go through, but nothing of tremendous interest happens during that, so I’ll just cut to the chase.  Cloud and his party reach the bottom of the old Jenova impact crater, which is now open to the lifestream beneath the planet’s surface.  They fight Jenova herself, who is… anticlimactic, to be honest; she’s mostly just a great big sack of HP with a couple of slappy tentacles.  I’m still not totally sure I ‘get’ Jenova.  She’s some sort of alien, she created a plague that wiped out the Cetra, one assumes she’s quite intelligent, and this whole thing has been about her cells, which have been implanted into various humans like Sephiroth and Cloud as part of genetic experiments, trying to reassemble themselves… but what exactly does that have to do with what Sephiroth is now up to?  Has he subordinated Jenova to the demands of his own power trip?  If so, how?  Or is Jenova just a destroyer by nature, and totally on board with anything that causes more death?

Anyway, once Jenova’s dead, it’s down into the lifestream to fight Sephiroth, who promptly turns into some kind of… giant floaty angel statue thing which has to be fought with two parties at once: one group to attack his left side and breach his defences, so Cloud’s group on the right can destroy his ‘core,’ which otherwise gives him sufficient healing power to recover from just about anything you throw at him.  A bit of a pain, but throw all your summons at him and he’ll drop.  And then turn into a radiant seraph-like creature with even greater powers.  Joy.  In this form, Sephiroth has a number of nasty abilities; he can shield himself from both physical and magic damage, he can attack with his one black wing, he can dispel your beneficial magic, he can blast you with magical energy, and he can turn your party members into frogs… but certainly the most devastating is his special attack, which is to blow up the sun.  He can do this more than once, which makes me wonder how many solar systems this planet is part of.  Equally, it makes me wonder why he didn’t do that earlier.  It seems like a much more efficient way of traumatising the planet, and also probably not vulnerable to interference from Holy.  He’s certainly happy to get rid of Cloud by blowing up suns left and right; it seems like it would make a useful all-purpose solution.  Neighbour’s dog digging holes in your yard?  Blow up the sun; that’ll teach ‘im.

Once Sephiroth falls and the party is about to leave, Cloud’s soul unexpectedly leaves his body and backflips into the lifestream for one final round against Sephiroth, but this seems to be unloseable; Cloud just kicks the cr@p out of him, then has a vision of Aeris before waking up – now certain that he’ll be able to meet her again in the promised land (I’m… still pretty sure the promised land is a Cetra metaphor for death, but whatever floats his boat, I guess).  The party zeppelins out on the edge of a huge explosion as the power of Aeris’ final spell, Holy, is released at last.  So, that should stop the meteor, right?  Well… no.  No, apparently not.  It’s too close.  Its proximity is already tearing the city of Midgar apart, and the Holy pulse only makes things worse, whipping up a vortex of doom across the entire massive city.  Nice going, Aeris.  GREAT plan.  Just GREAT.  At this point, countless tendrils of green light – the power of the lifestream – burst out of the ground from all across the landscape and converge on Midgar.  For a moment, we see Aeris’ face, surrounded by the green light of the lifestream.  And… then the credits roll.

…so what happened?

After the credits finish, there’s a short scene depicting Red XIII five hundred years later, along with two children (I guess he wasn’t quite the last of the last of his kind…) running through a canyon and cresting a ridge to see Midgar on the other side.  The city is in ruins, but it’s been overgrown by beautiful, thriving jungle.

Hmm.  Well, Sephiroth explained earlier that when the planet is wounded it uses the lifestream to heal itself.  That was the whole purpose of his plan, except that he was supposed to be at the epicentre to absorb the energy.  I guess that’s exactly what we saw happening.  It sort of seems like the whole ‘Holy’ thing was kind of a bust, because in the end it only caused more damage instead of stopping the meteor, so I guess that was a terrible plan after all, Aeris, but at least we killed Sephiroth and prevented him from following through with his plan to take control of the lifestream.  And anyway it’s all good because Aeris is… in the lifestream now.  Possibly… directing it.  Um… Aeris…?  Did you… get yourself killed on purpose so that you could reach the ‘promised land’ first and do what he was trying to?  Because if Aeris is seriously going to tell me that traumatising poor Cloud by being brutally murdered right in front of him was all part of the plan, then so help me, I- I-

…I really have to congratulate her.  Sephiroth struck her down, and she became more powerful than he could possibly imagine (well, okay, that’s going a bit far; Sephiroth has an unusually vibrant imagination when it comes to power, but you take my meaning), because she just ‘got’ the whole ‘lifestream’ thing about ten times better than him.  Go Aeris.

Speaking of Aeris, a couple of people have been wanting me to watch the Game Theory video on her death, which I have now done.  I gotta say… I am extremely sceptical.  Jim described it as “a waste of internet” and not “worth the megabytes taken to download it, let alone the time [we’ll] never get back,” and I don’t think I’d go that far, but I sort of have a hard time going along with it.  In case you’re not in a position to watch the video, the argument is as follows: Aeris did not die when Sephiroth stabbed her in the Cetra shrine, but collapsed and went into shock when his sword severed her spinal cord, dying only as a result of Cloud’s touching but misguided water burial.  The evidence presented is that Aeris does not visibly bleed when skewered (suggesting that the sword blow miraculously missed all her major blood vessels and internal organs) and that her body sinks like a stone when Cloud releases it (dead bodies are usually more buoyant than living ones).  The video does anticipate the obvious counterargument to the absence of blood (i.e. the developers thought it would be too graphic and avoided it) by noting two prominent and deliberate uses of blood in other parts of the game (namely, the aftermath of the slaughter in the Shinra building, and streaked all over Sephiroth’s face after his final dream-duel with Cloud in the lifestream).  I think there’s actually an even more obvious reason they forgot, though: the blood in the examples given by Game Theory is not moving; it’s texture, whereas blood spilling from Aeris’ perforated torso would necessarily have to be in motion.  Flowing liquids are notoriously difficult to model in computer animation, and this game was made over a decade ago.  Based on what I’ve seen of  Final Fantasy VII’s graphical capabilities, I don’t think the game designers could have shown Aeris bleeding in a realistic manner even if they’d wanted to; in fact, I think any attempt would have appeared almost comical and seriously detracted from the gravity of the scene – as good a reason as any not to do it.  For the water burial likewise, there is a perfectly good reason for Aeris’ body to sink: because it looks right.  There are only so many ways to get rid of a dead body.  Cloud could have buried Aeris, or cremated her, but somehow I just don’t think that seeing Cloud dig a grave for Aeris, or seeing her body burn, would have produced the same effect of serenity as seeing her body sink slowly into the clear water, with her hair fanning out around her.  The water burial also fits with the marine motifs of the City of the Ancients (I still have no idea why the City of the Ancients has a marine theme, but given that it does…).  In short, there are perfectly compelling artistic reasons for the anomalies noticed by Game Theory, and I think these are much more likely to have been on the developers’ minds than obscure anatomical trivia.  I just don’t buy it.

Anyway, the game.

So, I liked this game.  It was fun.  And stuff.

For me, it wasn’t a big turning point in how I view games or anything, though perhaps it might have had a greater impact on me if I had played it in the 90’s when it was first released.  The plot is intricate (at times a little too intricate for my taste, to be honest, and I feel like there are still loose ends there – which I guess is the reason this game has a movie sequel, Advent Children… which I guess I should watch… later…), the characters are compelling (even Cait Sith has his moments, I feel – though I think I’m in the minority on that one), and as I’ve said before this game has a really good handle on atmosphere; the music does a great job of backing up the action, there are a good number of very powerful moments in the story, and the game milks the extremely basic character models for all the expressiveness they can muster and then some.  I mean… I certainly can’t say there’s nothing I would have done differently, but in terms of story and atmosphere it’s undoubtedly well put-together.  I’m kind of neither here nor there about the battle system.  Although it produces some interesting tactical considerations, I’m not a huge fan of the materia system, partly because it makes switching party members such a pain, but also because it makes it rather difficult to see what each character actually brings to the table in terms of skills and abilities.  The characters have different stats, sure, which makes some better at certain roles than others, but even Barret and Tifa aren’t that bad at magic, even Aeris and Cait Sith aren’t that bad at hitting stuff, and most of the other characters are pretty competent at both.  That just leaves their limit break powers, the vast majority of which are pretty straightforward: Aeris’ limit breaks heal and protect the party while Vincent’s allow him to transform into various horrifying monsters, but aside from them, most of everyone else’s skills basically amount to “I hit the monster lots of times really hard.”  Of course, for most of the game, that’s all you really need – I thought Pokémon was generally pretty easy, but Final Fantasy VII was a walk in the park up until the last four or five boss battles, when things rather suddenly became much more interesting (and apparently my party was dramatically under-levelled compared to Jim’s normal experience of this game because I spent very little time training, finishing with no-one above level 60 except for Cloud).  Is that a bad thing?  I’m not really sure.

In short?  I guess I have mixed feelings about this game.  I can see why it’s considered a classic, though.  It got a lot of things right – and, well, compare it to what Pokémon was doing in the same year.  Obviously comparing gameplay and mechanical complexity isn’t entirely fair because the demands of their respective consoles are very different, and I’d still side with Pokémon on creature design and diversity, but in terms of story and characterisation… well, Yellow version made some important advances on its predecessors, but was still kinda ‘meh.’  I mean, Final Fantasy’s going to have to do a lot more than that to convert this Pokémaniac, but I’m still glad I played this game, I think.  Beats the $#!t out of doing actual WORK, anyway…