Let’s Talk – Spark The Electric Jester – Like A Bolt From The Blue

I heard about this game a couple weeks ago… no, that’s a lie. A couple months ago, more exactly. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, but I bought it this last Monday and played through the entire first story mode.

I’m pleasantly happy with the result.

Spark The Electric Jester is what would happen if you took a fast-paced platformer like Sonic and gave it a splash of Kirby power. It’s a concept that actually flows kinda well.

The main platforming itself is more based on Freedom Planet, a Sonic-like that was released a few years ago. You can run, jump, wall-jump, dash, and swat things with some basic attacks. Touch damage is non-existent; Enemies need to actively launch an attack to hurt you. And Spark himself has a bit of both speed and combat potential to make the gameplay a relatively painless experience.

And then you take the various powers at Sparky’s disposal.

Unlike Kirby, Spark doesn’t assimilate, inhale, or osmose powers from enemies. Said powers are found throughout the stages, in either glass boxes or lying around in hidden (or not-so-hidden) corners. They take many forms, and give Spark new powers, like air dashing, wall running, projectiles, or straight up defying the laws of physics themselves.

You can hold two powers on your jester at any time, and mixing various sets is going to make or break your time in the game. Some powers are better suited to moving through stages, and others are made for beating up the various robotic enemies you’ll be fighting (or bypassing, as the case may be).

Oh, by the way. The plot of the game is that Spark lost his job to a look-alike robot named Fark, so he sets out on a mission to punch his circuits out and get his job back. The story gets a little more involved than that, but it honestly serves as nothing more as an excuse to dash and bash all the things.

My recommendation though, is playing the game, like any platformer, with a controller. I couldn’t do that, and while using a keyboard/mouse combo isn’t the worst thing you can do, the fact that you have to constantly, and constantly, rebind the keys for a more comfortable experience because the game cannot save keyboard configurations, is honestly rather annoying. That, and the general ease in using a D-Pad for eight-directional movement (if the case calls for it), is typically smoother than using WASD or arrow keys.

By the way, I can’t take WASD as a word seriously. It sounds like someone trying too hard to be cool.

Getting down to it though, only the final stage has any sort of unfair types of platforming/hazard combinations. The other fourteen (Yes, there are fifteen stages in total, and some of them have sub-stages) stages more or less serve as a gradual increase in difficulty in platforming and enemy variety, which is appreciated in a game like this.

You know, provided that you don’t fly through the air with the greatest of ease with Gravity.

The music ranges from peppy, to rocking, to smooth as funk. I can get down with some of the more energetic tracks in this game.

Despite the seeming length of the game with it’s fifteen stages, it only took me about… four hours to beat the first story. And beating that unlocks a second story, and beating that unlocks some bonus challenges as well, so some replay for mastery is offered. The only thing it’s really missing is a boss selector/Arena mode, for practicing bosses or just messing around with various powers.

Spark The Electric Jester promises an enjoyable time with some speedy platforming hijinks with a versatile power system that you can pick from to suit your own playstyle. If you’re a fan of either Sonic or Kirby games, you’ll have a pretty good time with this one.

There’s really not a lot more I can say about the game. It’s a simple, fun, platformer you can spend an afternoon playing. And really, I think that sums it up quite tidily.

You can grab the game on Steam from here: Jester Is Number One!

(This is totally not a filler review by any means. I promise to have something more substantial next time.)

Fire Emblem Awakening’s Greatest Flaw

In the late 2000’s and early ’10’s, Intelligent Systems knew one thing for sure: Fire Emblem, their series of strategy RPG’s with a respectable twelve mainstay entries, was dying. New entries were no longer garnering the attention they once did, and remakes such as Shadow Dragon went out practically unnoticed. By 2012, Intelligent Systems was ready to call it quits.

They had spent a couple of years sure in this knowledge, in fact, and had thrown everything into one last project, a swan song for the Fire Emblem franchise they had been building on since 1990. It would be their biggest project yet, with more characters than anybody knew what to do with and nigh-unlimited supports to go with them. The game would incorporate facets from older entries as well, such as the marriage and child mechanics from Genealogy of the Holy War and the overworld map and “random” battles of Sacred Stones and Gaiden. Everything was set into place for Fire Emblem to go out with a big bang, Final Fantasy-style.

And indeed, it did go the way of Final Fantasy. Just like Square’s 1987 RPG epic, Fire Emblem Awakening blew up, gaining audiences Intelligent System had never thought they would be courting. There were a few major reasons for this. First and foremost was the introduction of a “Casual” gameplay mode. This allowed players to go through a map and make minor mistakes without any permanent character losses. This is often disavowed as making the game “too easy,” and while, yes, it does simplify the game a lot, it only really makes the game better for those who want to use it. In previous entries, if a character died, and you wanted to continue using them, you had to restart the map constantly until you ran it in a way where nobody died. You could easily spend 3-4 hours (if you’re as terrible at these games as I am) resetting a map to run it the one perfect way. In casual mode, there’s no need for that. If one character dies, sure, you no longer have access to them for this match, but they’ll rejoin you for the next, and if you’re like me and want to preserve every character, this setting can only be a boon. (I want to point out that, according to what I’ve heard, Heroes Of Light and Shadow, the game before, actually introduced the “Casual” mode concept. But as that is a Japan exclusive title, Awakening may as well have been the first -Ray)

The next major factor is how prettied up the game became. Previous Fire Emblem‘s had an art style with more realistic proportions. People were usually still pretty, but in a normal sort of way. Awakening went full anime. Every single character is gorgeous or handsome or at least good-looking. There’s no Bartre’s or Gonzalez’s in Awakening, is what I’m saying. This actually ties into the third major factor and the one I want to spend the most time discussing: supports.

Supports have been around since 1994’s Mystery of the Emblem, though they wouldn’t take the form we know until the first GameBoy Advance title, The Binding Blade. Essentially, when the characters fight near each other, they can build bonds which can, in turn, lead to skits which provide character development and will, afterwards, allow those units to fight with each other even more effectively. For the sake of game balance, previous entries relegated you to 5 supports per character per playthrough, which meant to see them all you would have to play the game multiple times, and focus on different characters every time. Awakening removed this stipulation for the sake of the marriage and children game mechanic, with… interesting results.

In Awakening, a big part of the story (even though only one character from this facet of the story is ever forced on your party) is that, in the future, the first generation characters are all killed by the Big Bad, and the second generation characters, their children, go back in time to attempt to avert that from happening. But for those characters to appear, they must first exist, which means some soldiers gotta get some bedsheets rockin’. That’s where the supports come in. All the children (save the plot relevant one and the Avatar’s, as the Avatar can be of either gender) are attached to a mother, so when a mother marries any eligible husband, their child will appear on the map. To get them married, you have to support.

Supporting can be a daunting task, however. With few exceptions, a character of one gender can support and marry with just about any character of the opposite gender, as a way to ensure that most everybody can get married and you won’t lose out on any children. They can then also support with about 4-5 characters of the same gender, building strong bonds of friendship to utilize on the battlefield. As well, every character can support with the Avatar, and the Avatar can support with every character.

The second half of that last sentence probably seems redundant, right? Well, it is, but it also isn’t. There is a separate connotation implied when I say “the Avatar can support with every character.” But what could that connotation possibly be, Wombat?! Well, I’ll tell you, because it’s what I’ve been leading up to this entire time: there are characters that ONLY the Avatar can support with.

In fact, every character who joins after Henry’s addition in Chapter 13 has no supports with any first generation character except the Avatar and, in the case of second generation characters, their parents. This includes the plot important Say’ri, Flavia, and Basilio, as well as side mission recruits Tiki (who is actually a returning character from the very first Fire Emblem) and Anna, and extends to SpotPass characters such as Walhart, Aversa, Gangrel, and Emmeryn, some of whom actually have deeply personal connections with other first generation characters, but regardless can only support with the Avatar. This is especially egregious with Say’ri (who shares a national background with Lon’qu, being the only citizens of Chon’sin), Tiki (who, as a thousand plus year old manakete, shares much in common with Nowi, the main manakete of Awakening), and Emmeryn (who is the main character Chrom’s and first cleric of the game Lissa’s sister), all of whom should reasonably support outside of the Avatar but don’t.

Now, some would say that supports are not actually that integral to the gameplay, and there is an argument to be made there, an argument which fire I would fan being on the opposing side. As previously addressed, supports give a boost in stats when two supported units fight near each other. This is actually amplified in Awakening with the major new gameplay mechanic introduced in the game, Pair Up. With Pair Up, two units can occupy one space and fight together as one. Pair Up could be the topic of an article all its own, what with its controversial nature, but there is no denying that it is THE driving force behind Awakening’s gameplay. Now, how does Pair Up tie into my complaint about the Avatar’s support exclusivity? It’s quite simple, really.

All those characters who can only support with the Avatar? You know, the ones you fought tooth and nail in some of the hardest maps in the entire game to acquire and add to your available roster? Well, at best, you might be able to utilize about three or four (I named nine earlier, and only touched on a little more than half the available exclusive units) of them on any given map, and that’s if you have them all stay right next to the Avatar. This is because if a character can not effectively Pair Up with other units, you are essentially handicapping yourself by using them, and the Avatar, like all other units, can only Pair Up with one character at a time. They can still lend out their support stat bonuses to nearby allies, but will not be able to join in for Pair Up abilities. This means that, for the most part, these late game units will be receiving very little use due to their lack of variety. If you can only keep them near the Avatar, why use them at all when their slot could be taken by another unit who can Pair Up with over half the army?

The answer is, you shouldn’t.

Fire Emblem Awakening is a great game, and is indeed the reason I started to play not only the Fire Emblem series as a whole, but also began to give the entirety of the strategy RPG genre a chance. It has numerous flaws, some of which we touched upon here, but overall, it’s a glowing masterpiece that stands as one of the best of its kind (even if hardcore Fire Emblem fans hate it, this “waifu-simulator” has more than proven itself), and it really is just this one major issue that truly bothers me whenever I discuss the game with others. The game is built around supports and its strong character interactions, but all the characters in the second half of the game lose out on those strengths and appear shallow, pointless, and misused as a result. Even worse, characters who should have become game breakers are instead bench warmers, all because they cannot make appropriate use of one of the game’s major mechanics. It’s just sad to think about what could have been. But, in the end, Fire Emblem Awakening is still a great game. Go play it so you can nitpick as much as I do.

Just don’t play Fates. At all. Go get Shadows of Valentia.

 

(Edit: Some of these have since changed and more supports are available, but it was not that way for a long time. As well, their S-rank [marriage] supports are still limited to the Avatar.)

Understanding Where I’m At

The reason I’m writing this is because I really don’t know. Everything in my life feels as if it’s crumbling around me, and I’m desperately clutching to catch any pieces I can, only to discover that none of the pieces are tangible. They pass right through my outstretched hands as if they were holograms, displayed by some needlessly cruel puppet master, toying with his favorite victim.

My pain largely starts at the professional level. I spend more of my waking week at work than I do at home, or at least it feels as if I do. There is definitely not enough time in my day for any sort of social life, that’s for sure. And normally, that would be upsetting, but not crushing. However, most of the pressure of the store is being placed on my shoulders, as my boss is incredibly lazy and the other shift managers are either largely absent or incompetent. Sometimes they’re both at once. Compounded with the fact that, despite being a shift manager, I don’t actually get paid anymore than a regular staff member, and the fact that the store is steadily losing employees, whenever at work I am simply overwhelmed by everything going on around me. Principles alone allow me to struggle through each day, as I refuse to sacrifice work ethic to my stress overlord.

As we climb down from work, we reach my transportation situation. A couple of months ago, my car broke down outside of a post office. Due to the previously mentioned busy work life, I wasn’t able to go back to it for about five days, at which point it had been towed and kept in the towing company’s lot for four of those days. They were asking for $500 to get the car out of their lot, which would have left me with absolutely zero money to attempt to fix the car that already had several crippling issues, much less any cash to eat or pay bills. So I had to leave that car behind, and I was without transportation of my own for those two months. I had to rely on others, something I despise doing and which crushes my pride every time I do. But finally, this week, I bought a car of my own! No longer was I reliant on others, no longer did I have to schedule my life strangely to account for others’ schedules! That was, until, the car blew a tire on my way in to work today. There is no donut in my car to easily attach and continue going for a short period of time, either. Not only that, but as I attempted to remove the tire today I discovered that one bolt had been stripped nearly completely, making it impossible to remove via conventional methods (i.e. the only methods I know). So now, I do not even have the transportation I just purchased.

Next, my future living situation is a constant flip-flop. Currently, I live in a cheap apartment where I don’t have central air conditioning (I have a wall unit, which just does not reach the bedroom, and in Texas weather, that’s basically death) and where I’m constantly battling pest infestation. Even after a month of near-constant spraying, they have not completely disappeared. I was meant to move elsewhere with my ex-girlfriend a few months ago, but I believe the “ex-” prefix precludes that sad conclusion. Afterwards, I was meant to room with my best friend (that isn’t Raynar), but due to loss of my car they felt uncomfortable with my moving in and that future was nixed as well, possibly forever. Which leaves me living alone (and I don’t cope well with loneliness) and in an environment that only frustrates and upsets me.

Finally (and this is something that I’m terrified of talking about anywhere, but I know if I don’t get it out, I’ll just implode in a tangled mass of feelings), I’m consumed by my feelings for another person. Said other person has circumstances that make it impossible to address these feelings with them, but I feel like unless I do, I can’t move on. But that’s not fair to them, to subject them to my selfish feelings just because I have them. I’m just trapped in this cycle of liking them but unable to tell them that I do, but also unable to just drop the feelings and move on. It’s like my heart is caught in a vice grip, and either way I move can only lead to it being ripped open, and therefore I am forced to suffer in silence so as to not hurt others.

All of this while I’m trying to write, both a short story and the (supposedly) regular video game reviews, leaves me with no creative energy or motivation. There are things that I would like to do with my life, but circumstances only depress me and leave me incapable of doing anyrthing but half-heartedly playing video games and watching Netflix (which, incidentally, Master of None is what upset so much that I had to write this right after seeing a certain episode. Watch that show). I don’t know how to progress from this point, but this is where I’m at, and where I’m stuck for the time being.