Sunday, July 1, 2012

An Open Letter to Retronauts

Wow, so first let me say thanks. This is the third time one of my comments/letters has been featured on an episode of Retronauts, which is my all-time favorite game podcast that I totally respect way too much to ever rip off in even the slightest way. And it was the second time I was publicly shamed by show-creator and resident curmudgeon, Jeremy Parish!

In a way, being the subject of Parish's scorn is the highest honor a Retronauts listener could hope for. But in another, more accurate way, I wish he'd lambast me for something I actually said, rather than the even dumber things he thinks he heard.

Here's the comment:
Let's say there's a college course, JRPGs 101. (Listen up, University of Phoenix!) It's a survey, an introduction to the vast world of JRPG studies. Its very first assignment, the introduction to the introduction, should be Final Fantasy IV. Not because FF4 is a masterpiece or a milestone, but because it is the purest iteration of the JRPG style and formula. It is the point of reference by which any other game in that genre can be discussed and understood. Tone, plot, everything. If there was a big angsty machine that cranked out JRPGs, FF4 would be the default settings: 
Dying world? CHECK 
Misappropriated European myths? CHECK 
Suicide? CHECK 
The first four Dragon Quest games were probably more influential, innovative, etc. But that series is so self-consciously Dragon Quest that it feels more like a genre unto itself. FF4 feels generic, like an eight-piece box of Crayolas. There's no Salmon Pink, just Red.
Note that I didn't claim FF4 was the first to do anything. In fact, I said something close to the opposite. (Although, as you will learn from Mr. Parish's excellent retrospective on the game, it did give us the Active-Time Battle system, which is braggable.) So I have no idea why Jeremy simply says that I obviously haven't played the old Megami Tensei games, because they did all that misappropriation of european myths stuff before FF4.

I don't want to pick on anyone here, least of all Parish, who writes great stuff and is always fun to listen to. But if Retronauts Live is going to solicit questions from the unwashed masses, maybe the answers should be a bit more diplomatic. Even if I really had said that FF4 is the most original console RPG on the planet, why simply correct me when you could also suggest earlier games that might surprise and enlighten?

(And seriously, Megaten? How many Retronauts hosts have spent more than an hour with it? The Famicom games STILL haven't been fan-translated. And at any rate, why not count Zelda's assorted crucifixes, Dragon Warrior's wyverns and golems, or any number of bizarre uses of the Star of David? Hell, the original Final Fantasy is only a few months younger than Megami Tensei, and it robbed Gary Gygax blind. There, that felt good! Nerd-rage satisfied.)

New players are born every day, and all these old games are only getting dustier and less accessible. Yet among those of us who love this stuff, there's a weird impulse to keep it hidden, to speak only for those initiated in the retro mysteries. I'm as guilty of it as anyone. But at its best, Retronauts doesn't just talk about old games, it evangelizes for them. My absolute favorite episodes got me interested in games I've never thought to play. (The Deus Ex podcast comes to mind, one of Bob Mackey's first shows. Kudos, Bob!)

What I love about Retronauts is that you tell us where the good stuff is. And if it's not good, you tell us why it's at least interesting. That's the "hey lookit this!" spirit that got me reading HG101 years ago, which in turn hipped me to your show. I listen on my way to work, and more than once have written the name of a new old game on my hand because Jeremy or Chris or Jose or Bob or Kat or Ray or Christian or Shane or somebody talked it up. It's okay to make fun of twits like me, but please don't discourage the budding retronauts out there.

Just keep sharing the love.

Yours Truly, 


NOTE: Sorry to those who posted thoughtful comments, but I don't want even the slightest bit of vitriol associated with me or this post. Rather than carefully weigh the relative merits of each comment, I figured I'd just throw a tarp over the whole thing. Ever play Robowarrior? Not a great game, but a good enough one. And a better use of your time than reading or writing mean things about good people.