Rundown (5/23-5/29) Natalie’s Anti-Redhead Agenda

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Wherein I discuss a bizarre bias, a 15-year-old fighter remade, the existential nightmare of Pokémon, a PowerPoint reveal, the grand Dragon Quest Fest, and a Sonic-style announcement spiel.

While I try to keep my characters a diverse bunch, I have an unspoken rule dictating that none of my original characters can have natural, or unnatural, red hair. This might seem like a particularly odd rule, especially when considering that I am a natural redhead, but this is precisely the reason why I have this rule. Growing up, I was basically one of three redheads in my school. There was me, some dude named Fritz, and a dainty girl who I never shared a class with. Neither of my parents, and nobody in my immediate family, had or has ever had red hair. 

This all made me feel like an anomaly growing up, and I was for that and a lot of other reasons, but it also caused me to internalize the idea that red hair was something that was only for me and a few others.

I initially thought that would be the end of it when I decided on this topic… but no, I have distinct gender-specific reasons why I do not like using redhead characters.

For female redheads, in a lot of ‘nerd culture,’ female redheads are incredibly common, whether they be in the form of characters or prolific female members of said community. There are disproportionately more redheaded females in nerd culture than there are in the rest of the world, and this caused me to view redheaded female characters as rather cliche. But I think what really sealed this for me was when the canon female Commander Shepard design seen in Mass Effect 3. They had loads of potential designs, and while I know some people really like this design, it always struck me as exceptionally… plain, boring, and overly safe. 

As for male redheads, I don’t like them because they remind me of my pre-transition self. I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody this, but I struggle to remember facial features, even my own. I don’t have prosopagnosia or anything like that, but it is hard for me to internalize these things, and if two people have the same hairstyle, clothes, skin color, and body shape, then I view them as basically the same person. Because of how strongly I associate red hair as part of my physical identity, I always look at a male redhead and think that they, in some way, look like pre-transition self… and I do not like to think about my pre-transition self for obvious reasons.

I have stayed true to this anti-redhead-agenda for the entire duration of Nigma Box, but some of my particularly dedicated readers might point out the character Vivi Gaimz from Verde’s Doohickey and The Malice of Abigale Quinlan is a redhead of my creation. But that is not necessarily true. 

To veer this topic in an unintended direction, during the early days of GamerGate I did not necessarily understand what the controversy was about and its negative repercussions. I just understood that there was a furor of people demanding that video games media, that they were trying to distance themselves from the typical gamer identity, and that independent game developer Zoe Quinn was a sort of scapegoat for this all. In retrospect, GamerGate truly was little more than an attempt by right-wing individuals to rally up a large swath of the gaming community into their community, much to the detriment of gaming discourse and culture. Don’t get me wrong, things were bad before, but they got worse after GamerGate.

Anyway, before it was clear to me what GamerGate actually was, while in the storm of controversy, the movement attempted to pitch a mascot character by the name of Vivian James, who was basically the type of person a typical 4Channer would actually want as a girlfriend. A fellow trash gremlin who, despite being unkempt, is rather cute.

I do not believe that this character ever had a firm personality, but I liked her design and name so much that I stole it. …Or at least I stole it as much as one can steal a character with no true owner. Since she was a communal creation and used as a site mascot, she really does not have any owner and, as far as I’m concerned, that makes her public domain. And using something within the public domain is, by definition, not stealing. Meaning that I’m not really a plagiarist! I just smell like one

When I originally finished Verde’s Doohickey in 2015, she kept the name Vivian James, but when I re-edited the story in 2016, back when I understood what GamerGate actually was, I changed her name to Vivi Gaimz. Which is a double reference to Vivi from Final Fantasy IX and Kamen Rider Gaim.

Also, the second redhead character in the header image is Gaia Gonzalez from my short story, Grandpappy Pyra. A character who was given the body of Pyra from Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Which, by definition, makes her not a truly original character of mine. 

…I seriously did not expect this Rundown preamble to go in this direction, but it did. Anyhow, it’s been a busy Pre-E3 time in the games industry, so let’s cut the tatters and get on with the news!

About two months ago, the Korean ratings board revealed the existence of a PS4 rendition of Virtua Fighter 5. When reporting on this story, I viewed this as more or less a confirmation that this meant that Sega was bringing this lauded and 15-year-old fighting game to modern systems, and with an announcement this past week, I was proven to be correct. Except instead of just being yet another port, this release, Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is a full-on note-for-note recreation of the game. The title now runs off of the Dragon Engine introduced with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, the graphical elements were recreated from scratch, and every stage has new background music. All of which sounds like an incredible amount of work when the developers could have just taken and updated the original game. 

Considering this reconstruction is being handled by Sega AM2 and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, I think it’s safe to say that it is in good hands, and will likely be the definitive edition of Virtua Fighter 5 when it debuts as a Playstation Plus title on June 1st for PS4. No other platforms were named, but the announcement only confirmed that this title was a “console” exclusive, so a PC release is likely.

This alone would all be cause to rejoice, as the game is now far more accessible, but upon hearing and seeing just how much work the developers put into this title makes it all too easy to assume that this game is merely a prelude for Virtua Fighter 6. Why else would Sega put so many resources into this port or cut a deal with Sony to give this game to millions? It’s certainly not just so they can toss the game back in the Sega IP dumpster.

On the polar end of things, The Pokémon Company saw fit to offer customers with an update on their upcoming slate of titles, but only offered release dates that will impact my loose and malleable schedule come year end. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl will both debut on November 19th, while Pokémon Legends Arceus will come out on January 28th. Meaning that two console Pokémon RPGs are coming out within a 3 month span and that… honestly makes me groan with a particularly potent displeasure.

Like many people who grew up and followed the Pokémon series for the overwhelming majority of their life, I have a very complicated relationship with the games. At its best, the Pokémon series is incredible, delightful, and fills me with all sorts of positive and happy feelings. But at its worst, it is one of the most frustratingly antiquated pieces of software that I have the displeasure of interacting with. There are innumerous little things about the series that annoy me mechanically, and come from an inherited design philosophy that I desperately want to see renovated and reworked. For a slightly dated and elongated summary of these quibbles, please consult my reviews of Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee and Pokémon Shield, along with Natalie Rambles About Pokémon.

Knowing my history with the last… decade’s worth of Pokémon games, I know I will be in a bad mental place after going through both of these games in such a close proximity, and this news also spurs me to get around to the DLC for Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, which I only dipped my toes in a short while ago. Meaning I have three Pokémon experiences to go through in about a 7 month time span. That realization would have elated me earlier in my life, but now it leaves me questioning if I should abandon this series and deprive myself of the immense joy each new game brings me, if only to avoid the inevitable wave of frustration I fall into whenever I so much as think about the pre-battle transitions, and how universally better these games are when played via emulation.

Golly, I really am not even trying to hide my PC bias nowadays, am I? Well, what can I say? Games are better when they are more modular and let users customize them to their liking, and that is the greatest singular aspect of PC games. More settings, modability, and there’s always the option to use Cheat Engine or a save editor to eliminate the crap… assuming the game is offline. If the game is online, do not use any cheat devices, because you will be banned and will make the experience worse for the playerbase overall.

Anyway, this segway is meant to ease into the surprise and unintended reveal that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is coming to PC, as part of Sony’s continued effort to bring their first-party offerings to PC. Not unlike former PS4 exclusive, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, this announcement came from a slide in an investor presentation, and seeing as how this is an internally produced document, there’s a 99.9% chance that this is going to be a thing, and it would make sense if so. 

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is an ‘older’ PS4 title, sold well, was well received, and boasts an impressive level of fidelity. Personally, I would rather see ‘ancient’ titles hit the platform, but this is mountain-minded Sony we’re talking about, so it would be foolish to expect The Nathan Drake Collection to come to the platform instead. Even though I personally would like to see these ports start with the beginning of the series. Not the concluding chapter. 

Next up, there was a big Dragon Quest livestream that offered 4 major  announcements celebrating the series’ 35th anniversary. Starting with the announcement of Dragon Quest X Offline. After nearly a decade of support and development, Square Enix is creating a version of the MMORPG installment of the series that is not dependent on central servers and, like all other numbered titles, can be enjoyed by players without a true shelf life. …Except instead of simply taking the established base that they have been iterating on for so long, they are instead remaking the game using chibi character models and seemingly new or largely repurposed assets which is just… what?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Dragon Quest X Offline looks good. The characters models are clean, environments are detailed and cozy, and it looks a helluva lot better than some classic JRPG remakes that I mentioned earlier in this post. But I do not understand why they went with this approach. The original Dragon Quest X looks a bit rough, but it has a timeless aesthetic, and it would be infinitely easier to reuse the existing assets and technology instead of creating something new. However, this announcement does not particularly matter all that much to English speakers, as Dragon Quest X has never been localized, and the announcement stream did not indicate that Dragon Quest X Offline would leave Japan.

What will be released internationally however is Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake. Remember back when people were clamouring for the Octopath Traveler artstyle to be applied to classic JRPGs like Final Fantasy VI? Well, Square Enix decided to heed these fan desires, but with a remake of the third mainline entry of the Dragon Quest series, which is definitely up there in the JRPG pantheon. The first two Dragon Quest games, while worthy of their place in history, were these gooey and primordial examples of the JRPG genre, but Dragon Quest III is where things really hit their stride, and was one of the first JRPGs to feel as open and customizable. 

The structure was less rigid, you could change character classes, make use of a quest system, and there was even a character personality system. While it was not a true innovator on any of these things— most of these ideas were taken from games like Wizardry and Ultima— it was still a huge deal when it came out. Sadly, it never got the same reception in the west. The NES original came out after the Super Nintendo’s debut, and the far superior SNES version never received an official release. It came out for mobile and Switch eventually, but those versions had issues, and this remake looks to be Dragon Quest III done right.

It looks gorgeous, makes me wish that they remade more classic JRPGs in this style, and based on a comment made by series creator Yuji Horii, this might not be the only game remade in this style. I personally would love to go through the first six games if they gussied them up like this, and I doubt I am the only one.

Next up was Dragon Quest Treasures, a spin-off following child versions of Erik and Mia from Dragon Quest XI as they venture through a vast land for treasure and fend off against some pirate themed antagonists. Beyond that however, it is not really clear what this game is. It definitely appears to be an open ended title with an emphasis on finding goodies in a platformable 3D world… and it’s apparently still an RPG. Honestly, it’s always hard to get excited for a game like this when the primary draw is an art style and vague snippets of what the gameplay is like. I don’t really get what this game’s hook is, but it’s a Dragon Quest spin-off, so it will probably be pretty good.

The showcase then concluded with the announcement for Dragon Quest XII: The Flames of Fate, which got a logo reveal trailer, also known as the second worst type of reveal trailer. On its own, this tells us next to nothing about the game, but three interesting tidbits were revealed after this trailer went live. 

Firstly, XII will be released simultaneously worldwide, which is absolutely bonkers considering how Dragon Quest has historically forgone Japanese voice acting because of how many iterations its script goes through in development. 

Secondly, this installment will shake up the traditionalist turn-based combat system in some vague way. I do not really understand why the developers feel the need to do this, as Dragon Quest is such an excellent showcase for good turn-based combat, but I’m sure it will still remain fun and accessible no matter what they do.

And thirdly, this installment will feature darker themes and more player choices… which would have made a lot of sense if this game was being developed in the wake of the western RPG renaissance of the HD generation. Except it isn’t, so I can only assume that this too is a new creative direction the dev team is pursuing… because they feel like it. 

Next on the chopping block, we have Sonic Central, a super brief livestream showing off the goings on with the Sonic series and… they really did not have much of interest to show. 

After leaks pertaining to a remaster, Sonic Colors Ultimate was formerly revealed as the HD remaster of the well-liked Wii exclusive entry in the series. As I said when word about this project first got around, I am not the biggest fan of Sonic Colors, its wisp mechanics, and its 2D level design, but as always, I am glad that the title is coming to other platforms, and will be available to a new generation. The title will debut on September 7th for PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch, and the Epic Games Store.

Sonic Origins was revealed as a compilation of Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, and Sonic CD. Which really is not an exciting collection, as those games have been re-released so many times and you can get basically all of them for $10 during a Steam sale. However, what immediately struck me about the footage shown was how Sonic 1, Sonic 2, and Sonic CD ran at 16:9 resolution, implying that these are ports of the Christian Whitehead mobile versions of the games, which are considered the definitive way to explain them nowadays.

Unfortunately, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, two titles that have not been re-released in about a decade due to legal issues, are still presented at their chunky and objectively worse original 3:4 aspect ratio. This makes some sense, as there was never an updated mobile version of these titles. Christian Whitehead worked on a proof of concept, but Sega never green-lit the projects, meaning that there is no mobile port for Sega to use for this re-release. It is possible that the footage shown is still ‘in-development’ especially when considering that this bog standard re-release is not coming out until 2022, but I’d rather not get my hopes up.

After a scattering of fluffy announcements for various tat and a few promotional crossovers with other Sega titles, this show concluded with the announcement of the next new Sonic title… which was revealed via a CG trailer that showed Sonic running through some forest before fading away into a cryptic symbol that means nothing. No title, no new gameplay hook, nothing. Just a 2022 release date and a confirmation that this enigmatic title will debut on all relevant platforms. Meaning PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch, and PC.

I understand that the game might not be ready to be shown to the public, but if that’s the case, why bother with a CG trailer? Why spend at least tens of thousands on that instead of giving fans a temporary logo, some concept art, and a developer talking about what the game will be like. That costs way less to get together, and will leave fans far more satisfied. 

I don’t know, and I also don’t know why Sega is trying to hide what this game’s name is. After the trailer came out, many found metadata that referred to the game as Sonic Rangers, confirming that it was at least a temporary title. But then Sega published an early draft of a press release, where they called the game Sonic Rangers… oops!

This resurfaced an innocuous rumor that was originally posted on 4Chan back in January 2021, where a user described the game as an open world title with a skill tree system, towers to explore and unlock more of the map, and boost-style levels. On paper, it sounds like a fine evolution of the Sonic series, as we have never gotten a truly open Sonic game, and many fans at least think they want something like this. 

The 4Chan user claimed they learned of this information while focus testing the title in 2020, and they were quite… blunt with their thoughts on the early prototype they saw. They claimed it was rough, not particularly fun, and unchallenging as a whole… before mentioning how Super Sonic is playable in-game, and describing their function and unlock criteria. This last tidbit of information is where I start doubting this rumor, as that seems like an awful lot of information to give to a focus tester on an unannounced product involving such a lucrative IP. 

Could they be right? Sure! Could they also be a crock of poop? Yes! But for the time being, I’ll just wait until Sega-sama sees fit to properly announce this game, instead of teasing it and urging leakers to come out the woodworks.

Okay, that’s it for this week. Sorry again for the content drought, but things sadly aren’t going to get much better anytime soon.

I say this because my current main objective is working on Psycho Bullet Festival 2222, my sixth novel. Progress on that project is going swimmingly thus far, but I will not release it until February 2022. In the meantime, I will release reviews and other works, but this staggered ‘one thing a month’ release cycle will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Sorry, but those are the breaks.

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