Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest's Characters

Well it's about damn time. I've been meaning to do one of these character rant dealies for Final Fantasy Mystic Quest since I started this damn blog.

Benjamin: Some heroes are known for their courage. Others are known for their noble spirit. Some for their relentlessness, some for their self sacrifice, some for their love, some for their pure beliefs and sacred regard for life, some for their desire to protect, and some for their ability to better the lives of all the people they connect with. There are heroes known for their quest for redemption, heroes known for their burning sense of justice, heroes known for their great mercy, heroes known for their desire to build a better future, and heroes known for their belief in humanity’s better nature. There are heroes known for their ability to inspire, and heroes known for their ability to go it alone. There are heroes known for the small, meaningful acts of good they do, and heroes known for overcoming impossible odds.

Benjamin is not one of those heroes. Benjamin is a different kind of hero. Benjamin is the kind of hero who is remembered for the way he shrugs his shoulders.

Really, that’s pretty much the only claim to fame this guy has. Sometimes he shrugs his shoulders in a sitcom-esque “What are ya gonna do?” fashion. And that’s it. That’s all Benjamin has. I mean, you can say that he has a slightly flippant personality which the shrug accentuates, but I don’t think that’s correct. I don’t think that’s what happened. FFMQ’s writer didn’t say to a spriter, “Hey, I’ve made this mildly comic and detached little guy, let’s have him do a little shrug to sell the point,” and the spriter didn’t reply, “Okay.” No, the way this character feels, I’m pretty sure it was a spriter who said to the writer, “Yo man check it out, I can make this little dude shrug his shoulders,” and the writer replied, “HOLY SHNIKEYS, I have never seen anything more amazing than that. LET’S BASE HIS ENTIRE CHARACTER AROUND THIS.”

Kaeli: Kaeli is a bit contradictory. I mean, on the one hand, when Benjamin shows her a random withered stick that he could have just picked up from goddamn anywhere and might just belong to a single, atypical plant that wasn’t doing so well because a gnome farted on it or something, Kaeli gets in a tizzy about how the forest must be dying and she needs to do something to save it. On the other hand, not 3 minutes before that moment, Kaeli had been talking about how there’s a tree blocking the northern exit of the nearby forest, and her first and only proposed method of fixing this problem was not “just have people walk around it,” but rather, “Chop that sucka down!” So I guess Kaeli is an environmentalist, up until the point where nature is in the slightest way inconvenient?

Tristam: Passed off as a member of the legendary assassins iconic for their skills in stealth and avoidance, Tristam the “ninja” dresses up in a bright white outfit, is a forthright and brash personality, and has a punchy, upbeat theme song playing every time he enters a room. He is pretty clearly a result of Squaresoft assuming that the people of the United States, whom this poorly-written, dumbed-down RPG was primarily designed for (just how insulting is that, huh?), knew absolutely goddamn nothing about what a “ninja” is. I’d be angry about that, but it turns out that this assumption was proven completely correct the following year, when the movie Surf Ninjas assaulted and brutalized movie theaters countrywide.

Phoebe: “I really, really wish nursing homes existed in RPG fantasy worlds.”

Reuben: Reuben has a mild case of Unnecessary Paternal Ties Syndrome, but I think what most people remember him for is that he’s part of a band that you can see rocking out at the end of the game. He’s not exactly a deep and rich character, but I guess I’ve seen worse RPG band members. At least he’s nothing like that whiny git Nikki from Chrono Cross.

Captain Mac: He’s not actually a party member, but Mac puzzles me enough that I have to mention him. Mac is a captain by trade, the owner of a seafaring vessel--possibly THE seafaring vessel of this world; we never see another. The thing is, he lives with his family in Foresta. What puzzles me is this: why the hell does Mac live in Foresta?

See, Foresta is situated on the lower left quadrant of the FFMQ world map, and as such it, like the upper right and left quadrants, is on a raised continent of land whose borders are all extremely sheer cliffs that are clearly like 50 miles above the sea below. There’s no port visible at or around Foresta, nor does it appear that such a thing would be possible, given the huge drop from the edge of the land to the sea. This means that in order for Captain Mac to get to his ship to do whatever sea things he does to earn his living and title, he has to go through a forest, and then follow the edge of a desert until he gets to Focus Tower. Then he needs to go in, take the door on the right, and follow it out to this huge rope bridge roughly six towns long, after which he travels through another forest. Once he gets out of that, Mac will have to cross a few smaller, yet still comparatively long rope bridges connecting several small raised islands, until finally, finally, he reaches the town of Windia, the only settlement on the map by the sea where his boat could dock. And this is assuming, assuming based on no evidence, that Windia actually has its own functioning port. If, as is suggested by looking at the town, there is nowhere actually at the town for Mac to dock his ship at, then he must take the extra step of breaking into 1 particular residence in town, heading down to its basement, and stepping onto a glowing magic tile, which, provided he is carrying an extremely rare magical crest, will teleport him to the only docking area seen in the game.* Here, I’ve reconstructed the course he must take below:

Mighty MS Paint Skills!

And you thought your commute to work was bad.

Dark King: The main villain is about what you’d expect for a dull, pointless little time-waster like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Sits in his Main Boss Room all day, does absolutely nothing for himself, is only introduced to the audience in the game’s last few seconds, no back history, no depth, no goddamn anything. Of course, with Final Fantasy, that's about par for the course. I know this game is very strongly separated from the rest of the FF series, but you sure wouldn’t know it from the villain--he’s only a little worse in this regard than Zemus, Ajora, Yu Yevon, and Ultimecia, and hell, the Dark King’s on equal footing with Raem and Necron.

Still, as crappy as this guy is as an antagonist, I can’t help but have a certain soft spot for the Dark King. First of all, he’s got 1 of the greatest final boss themes of all time. Listen to it and try to tell me it’s not awesome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMYXYewC0Y0. And secondly, he does have a moment of serious coolness despite his limited time and depth. Benjamin’s entire quest has been prompted by the idea that Benjamin is the hero spoken of in legend, a chosen hero to save the world and heal the sick and turn water into puppies and all that generic drivel. Well, when Benny comes swaggering up to the Dark King, ol’ Kingy tells him gleefully that this legend around which Benjamin’s destiny-protected heroism is based was nothing more than a rumor the Dark King himself started ages ago. Though Benjamin predictably (due to the lousy and lazy writing of the game) shows no reaction to this truth bomb, I like to privately imagine that his pants abruptly become a few ounces heavier at that moment. So, lame and otherwise forgettable as the Dark King is as a final villain, I gotta give him props for his kickass battle theme, and for putting an unexpected, creative little spin on the tired old destined hero cliche.

* Said docking area is a small, uninhabited island only a little bigger than my backyard which is completely isolated from any other piece of land, so don’t go thinking there’s any other land-based method of reaching it but the magic crest.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fallout 3's Tenpenny Tower Quest

Wow, this totally was not supposed to be this long a rant. Oh well, all the better with which to be controversial. This one’s probably going to replace the Fallout: New Vegas Karma rant for Anons coming out of the woodwork to tell me I’m wrong and an idiot. Even my sister, without whom this rant blog would entirely be an unreadable mass of garbage, disagrees with my stance on this issue. Ah, well. Let the anger begin!

It’s no secret that I love me some Fallout. It’s an intelligent, deep series that examines the heart and soul of the United States against the most engaging, cool example of a post-nuclear apocalypse setting you’re likely to find anywhere, with solid plots and characters who are iconic for the aspects of humanity and culture that they represent. And of the Fallout games, my favorite is Fallout 3 (though they’re all very close to one another in terms of quality). Of them all, I think it uses the setting the best, and has the most epic story and characters of the series, with the strongest thematic power. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

No, Fallout 3 does have its problems. The Mothership Zeta DLC is an empty time-waster of a sidequest that fails entirely in its mission to elicit even the tiniest chuckle from you. The ending, while no longer utterly horrible as it originally was thanks to the Broken Steel add-on, is a short, dissatisfying shadow of the endings for all the rest of the Fallout games. As much as I love the Capital Wasteland, much more could have been done to expand the exploration of it (why the hell are there so damn many buildings that are boarded up and thus completely unable to be explored?). And, of course, there’s the Tenpenny Tower quest.

Basic summation of this quest: there’s a place called Tenpenny Tower, which is a functioning, intact hotel tower in the wasteland, complete with walls, a gate, and a fairly competent hired security force. It also has its own power source, and merchants happen by regularly to provide it with food and other necessities. So basically, it’s one of the most attractively safe, comfortable, and stable locations in the hellhole that is the Capital Wasteland. It’s run by a guy named Tenpenny, a foppish aristocrat-type who charges residents money to let them live in this comparative paradise. There’s a pack of ghouls who want in, and have the money to pay the residence fees, but Tenpenny’s a bit of a bigot and won’t let them. The Tenpenny Tower quest in the game is basically you getting to decide whether to help the ghouls get in or to keep them out for good. If you side with Tenpenny, you go and kill the ghouls and their leader, Roy Phillips, and that’s the end of that. If you decide to help the ghouls get into Tenpenny Tower, you can either assist them in sneaking in and killing everyone, thus taking the tower for themselves by force (or even just go in and kill all the folks living there yourself), or you can go to the tower’s residents and speak on the ghouls’ behalf, convincing the people by reason or intimidation to tell Tenpenny to give the ghouls a chance.

Obviously, there is a decent, morally sound way to go about this quest, and multiple lousy, morally bankrupt alternatives. Any player who’s a jackass, or at least playing one, has the option to solve the problem with violence and the murder of innocents, to forgo the promotion of peace and unity in favor of racial cleansing. On the other hand, if you believe in peaceful unity between peoples whose differences are only surface-deep, you have the opportunity to pursue a peaceful resolution that promotes tolerance and brotherhood, that embraces diversity instead of fearing and shunning it.

If you do the right thing, things go well. Once the ghouls settle in, the residents who gave them a chance universally agree that they’re not bad folks, and the ghouls likewise seem to enjoy not only living in this rare safe haven, but also their new neighbors. Everyone’s happy. Yay!

Well, for a few days, anyway.

After a certain period of game hours, if you return to Tenpenny Tower after making peace between human and ghoul, you’ll discover that there are no longer any humans in the place. For explanation, you’re told by Roy that there was a “disagreement” of sorts between the humans and the ghouls, and that he had the ghouls get rid of the humans for it.

Oh what the hell, Fallout 3? What the hell?

Why does this happen? This is not a reasonable result! If I take the extra trouble to solve a quest in a morally acceptable way, which is almost always, appropriately, more difficult than the evil way, then I shouldn’t have it come around to bite me in the ass like that! And it’s such a sneaky, lousy way of doing it, too. You get lulled into a false sense of security, seeing the happy ending that you expect, that you were looking for, and only after the fact does the game piss on your parade by letting you know that whatever you do a group of people are going to die.

There’s no good way to finish this quest. Even though all the residents of Tenpenny Towers are shown to get along well with the ghouls once they move in, with the only disruptive element to this peace being Roy Phillips, it’s impossible. You’d think that, armed with foreknowledge, you’d be able to get a proper, happy ending to this, but it’s out of your hands--even if you initiate the ghouls moving into the tower, then sneakily kill Roy before he gets there, the massacre will still occur, even though it will still be clear from conversation with other ghouls after the fact that Roy was responsible for the carnage. Post-mortem, somehow. That’s just bad programming! Unless the game wants to actively make Roy essential (meaning that he cannot be killed), then it should properly account for his presence or lack thereof when determining plot events that directly relate to him. It’s so shortsighted that I actually think this lack of an agreeable solution should be counted as a bug!

I mean...look. I accept most cases where a player is presented with multiple ways to resolve a conflict, but none of them will result in a happy ending and/or all options are morally questionable. I don’t hold a grudge against Fallout 3’s The Pitt DLC, for example, for forcing you to choose between 2 factions that are either immoral monsters (Ashur and the raider-slavers) who will at least properly care for the baby Marie, or a faction whose leader may be no better a man, which is dedicated to pursuing a cure for one and all, but likely with little regard for Marie’s health and happiness (Wernher and the slaves). I mean, I’d have liked to have a tidy, good-or-evil choice there, but I accept that it’s more complicated than that. But the reason I accept that is that the game is up front about the moral ambiguity. The natures of the people involved are clear to you, the dilemma and the consequences of your choice in which faction to support are made clear both by basic reasoning and by the characters’ words as they each try to argue you away from their competition. This morally grey decision is on the level with you.

But as I said, the consequences of Tenpenny Tower are not on the level, at least not for the diplomatic route. It’s sneaky and underhanded. The characters on both sides are shown to, with your actions, be accepting of the situation. The immediate results lull you with the promise that everyone will get along exactly as you intended. Hell, Three Dog’s initial report on the quest before you’ve completed it is sympathetic to the ghouls’ plight and says that Tenpenny should let them in if they’re willing and able to pay, and Three Dog is, alongside James and Elder Lyons, one of the biggest, broadest icons of what’s good and right in the game, a paragon and voice for justice and morality. The game makes it very clear what the right path is supposed to be, and tricks you into thinking that it will be like every other time in the game that you choose to do the right thing, and result in a better situation for all who are decent.

And yeah, about that. This is a situation that’s very out of character for Fallout 3. I guess in some games, this unexpected turnaround of your good work might at least be consistent with the game’s narrative, but not in Fallout 3. In Fallout 3, when you go to the trouble of solving quests the paragon way, helping others, making peace, protecting the innocent, all that jazz, the reward is that you succeed in pretty much all other circumstances. If you teach the residents of Big Town how to defend themselves from their Super Mutant attackers, you watch them survive a raid, and that’s the end of the matter. You don’t find out a few days later that Big Town’s new self-defense training went awry and they all began killing each other with the weapons skills you taught them. If you save Sydney and keep her alive during the quest to acquire the Declaration of Independence, she stays alive, safe, and finds a new, better way to live her life. You don’t later come back and find out that she turned out to be a serial killer and you’ve unwittingly allowed the deaths of dozens more by saving her. If you decide to disarm the Megaton bomb instead of blowing it up and destroying the town, Megaton stays a safe, relatively prosperous community of decent people. You don’t later come back and find out that its residents are now attacking other communities and that your decision not to blow the town to bits has resulted in other communities suffering. Nowhere else in the game that I can recall do you get penalized like this for following the morally upstanding path. As a general rule, Fallout 3 is straightforward, and the results of the quests you complete properly match up to what you intended those results to be. If you intend to ruin lives, those lives are ruined. And if you intend to make the world a better place, the world is made better. This bait-and-switch bullshit is not in keeping with the game’s general style.

And of all the messages to pull this on, too! I mean, seriously? It’s not like this betrayal of your intentions in finishing a quest is happening with, say, the Blood Ties quest in Fallout 3. In Blood Ties, the peaceful, good quest solution is to negotiate an agreement between a small settlement, Arefu, and a group of outcasts who like drinking blood, wherein Arefu will get spare blood packs from merchant caravans and trade them to the poser-vampires in exchange for said posers protecting the town from the wasteland’s many dangers. That’s a good, peaceful solution that encourages acceptance of people’s differences and such, but I could much, much better understand it if a situation like that went sour. Because A, nuts who thirst for human blood and have to get together in semi-cults to teach themselves restraint, some of whom have murdered innocents in the past, are obviously not necessarily a stable, reliable bunch. And because B, it’s a solution centered around trusting the good will and self control of semi-cannibals who are essentially metaphors for alcoholics/junkies/whatever in rehab. Well, in a situation like that, showing an unintended, negative consequence of your good intentions would kind of work, a moral about exercising caution before blindly trusting those with dangerous issues. At least there would be some worth in such a lesson. I could accept such a thing, though you can bet I wouldn’t like it.

But this betrayal of your intentions in the Tenpenny Tower quest? The intent of your peaceful solution is clearly the belief that people should not be segregated by their physical appearance; it’s a message of equality and tolerance, one of the most important messages for society that can be conceived of. What does it say to have the quest’s results turn out the way they do? That you should never try to assist the less fortunate, or attempt to bring different races of people together? That no matter how close you think you are to peaceful coexistence, hate and genocide will always win out? That those of lesser means should stay that way? What kind of monstrous, bullshit lesson is that? There’s no value whatsoever to it; this quest is nothing but poison to the concept of a healthy society!

Plus, this is a Fallout game, and as such, it’s meant to tie itself strongly to the concepts, themes, history, and heart and soul of the United States of America. How does this sneaky turn-around message warning against tolerance and peace work toward that? I’ll grant you that the USA has had a shamefully spotty history of it, but one of the core principles of the USA has been the idea that it’s a melting pot of the world, that any and all are to be welcomed and embraced for their differences, that you’re free to live your life and pursue happiness regardless of what you believe in, what you look like, and where you’re from. Where the hell is that basic, core principle of the mythos of the USA here, Bethesda you jackasses?

I really just don’t know what they were thinking with this. If Bethesda wanted to show us that welcoming newcomers who look different has some sort of danger--which, to be fair, it does, in the sense that dropping your defenses and trusting ANY other human beings always carries some risk with it--they could have had a follow-up quest involving Roy Phillips doing something unpleasant by himself and needing to be stopped. They didn’t need to have him murder absolutely every human resident offscreen with no possible way of preventing the tragedy! Someone on a forum once told me that they felt that this instance was in keeping with a theme of Hell being associated with ghouls in Fallout 3 (since the ghoul city is in an old museum exhibit dedicated to the underworld, protected by a robot named Cerberus, and your ghoul companion is named Charon), since this could be seen as an example of the road to Hell being paved with good intentions. An interesting interpretation, even kind of neat, but I think it’s too much of a stretch. There are many other ghouls in Fallout 3 where the Hell/Hades theme is not present, far more, in fact, and while Fallout 3 is not always direct with its messages and sometimes requires a little thought and interpretation to get the most out of its events, characters, and dialogue, it’s definitely not so subtle as it would need to be for this road to Hell message to be intended. And even if we were to assume for a moment that my friend was correct, that this was the message and theme the writers for Fallout 3 intended, it’s STILL not good enough to excuse the stark contrast to the rest of the game’s narrative, nor just how crappy, dissatisfying, and morally unacceptable this quest conclusion is--not to mention that this lousy conclusion’s inevitability regardless of Roy Phillips being alive or not is an example of poor programming. This is a mistake, a flaw, something that Bethesda just plain did wrong.

Thankfully for those of us using a PC, there’s a solution for Bethesda’s failure: the Tenpenny Tower Alternate Ending mod. Its creator, FMod, has created a simple work-around where, so long as you kill Roy Phillips after the peace is made between the residents and their new ghoul neighbors but before he can start the slaughter, the human residents will be safe. With that done, things stay peachy for the humans and ghouls of Tenpenny Tower, just as the unaltered game promised. It’s a small, simple change, really, but I appreciate this mod a lot, because it does what the game was clearly supposed to do until some pigheaded fool on the writing staff decided to get cute.* If you haven’t yet played Fallout 3, and ever decide to give the game a shot, I definitely recommend doing so with this mod installed. This is why I play RPGs on the PC whenever I can--because if the game’s creators fail to care enough about the game to do right by it, you can always depend on the fans themselves to love the game enough to correct its mistakes. I just feel sorry for console players of Fallout 3...they’re stuck with this stupid, poorly conceived, out of place dick move of a conclusion to Tenpenny Tower.

* Much like what the Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod does for Mass Effect 3’s ending. Man, I am chomping at the bit for that one to be finished up. I’m gonna happy rant about that mod so damn hard when it’s done!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Pokemon Series's Hidden Machines

Before we begin today's rant, I'd like you fine folks to check this out. An old internet chum of mine has made a game, and wants to have Steam distribute it. It looks pretty cute and fun. If you agree that it seems neat, then do my friend a favor and hit that Yes button, and help convince Steam to carry it.

And now, on with the rant.

NOTE: For the sake of simplicity, I only mention HMs in this rant, but technically it applies to HMs AND any TMs that fit the bill (like Flash and Rock Smash).

For the love of Rempo, Game Freak! What the hell is up with the HMs in your games?

To explain for the benefit of all none of you who have never played a Pokemon game, HM is short for Hidden Machine. HMs are items in all main Pokemon games that teach specific abilities to Pokemon and can be used as many times as you wish. HM abilities are typically used to get around more easily through the game, giving Pokemon the ability to transcend or outright destroy obstacles in your path, traverse terrain they previously could not, instantly teleport to a previously visited location, blah blah blah why am I bothering with this you all know what HMs are. They’ve been there since the start of the series, they’re still there in the 6th generation games, and I’m sure that they’ll be in the next game, too. But whyyyyyyy?

Look, I know why HMs were put in the games to start with, the role which they continue to serve. They’re present mostly as a way of cutting a player’s access to the world off until the player has been to certain places and done certain things in the game. It’s an exceptionally common method in developing an RPG. How do you limit a player’s freedom to the extent necessary to tell your linear story, while still providing some illusion that they can explore the world to their satisfaction? Protect locations that come later in the plot with obstacles. Put them across the sea, so that the player can only reach them once he or she has gotten to the point in the story where the characters get their own boat--tons of games do this. Put a forest in the way, so that the player can only reach them once the nature-elemental character who can walk through forests joins the party, like with Breath of Fire 1 and 2. Block passage with rocks that require the player to have progressed through the plot to the point that they’ve got bombs with which to blow said rocks up, as with several Legend of Zelda titles. Create fissures and gaps that require the character to have found a whip, with which to somehow pull themselves over the empty space in a process that I assume must involve the invocation of some dark satanic power beyond mortal reckoning because there’s sure as hell no way that it meets with the approval of the laws of physics, like in Secret of Mana. Or just have a stupid NPC in a dungeon refuse to let you through until you throw food at him because apparently in addition to being world savior you’re also now the pizza delivery guy (old schoolers know exactly what game I’m talking about).

Yeah, so, obstacles like those that the Pokemon HMs circumvent are a pretty staple part of the diet when it comes to linear RPGs. Hell, they’re even pretty common for a lot of relatively non-linear RPGs--explore the Fallout 3 wasteland any which way and at any pace you like, but once the Enclave have occupied the Jefferson Memorial, you’re not getting back in there to complete the game without finishing the main plot events leading up to activation of Liberty Prime, as he’s the only one that can get through the Enclave barrier.

But the problem with the HMs is that the way they get rid of the obstacles in your path is to teach Pokemon moves to do it. When you want to get past the plant blocking your path in a Pokemon game, you don’t just open your menu and select the HM to do it, you need to have your Pokemon learn Cut from said HM and then have the Pokemon use it.

What’s the difference? Well, the difference is that if the HM just cut the plant down itself, you could just go forward with no problem. But having the Pokemon use the ability means that you have to inconvenience yourself by using up 1 of the precious 4 skill slots for your Pokemon on this stupid Cut ability, which is otherwise essentially useless. Consider the following facts:

- Most of the HM moves are mediocre to useless in combat (though not all; Surf’s pretty handy as a Water attack).

- There’s always 4 or 5 HM moves for passing by obstacles in each Pokemon game.

- You never know if you’ll need the use of any or all of these HM moves at your next destination.

- Once learned, HM moves are difficult to remove from your Pokemon, usually requiring a trip to a single particular NPC.

So, since you don’t know when you’ll need to use an HM move, it’s best to make sure you bring along a party of Pokemon who know most or all of the game’s HM moves available to you every time you set out into new territory, or else you may have to waste time returning later to explore paths you had to skip, or even have to turn around and redo your party because you find you can’t even continue along the main path without Cut, or Strength, or Surf, or whatever. And because HM abilities are such a pain in the ass to get rid of once they’re on your Pokemon, you won’t want to put them on your preferred combat Pokemon, both because you’ll have to eventually make a trip to the HM-removing NPC, and because the Pokemon might level up, be ready to learn a move that you actually want, and then be unable to add it to its repertoire/remove another ability you wanted from its repertoire because the slot this new technique would have gone to is steadfastly occupied by the useless HM move.

So the work-around for most people on this issue is to make an “HM Slave,” which is basically a Pokemon that can learn most of the HMs and who gets lugged around not for its ability to actually contribute to battles or any particular affection the player has for it, but rather just so that when one of these annoying obstacles comes up, the player can bypass it without having to waste time on return trips or take the risk of deleting/preventing actually useful abilities from his/her preferred Pokemon.

And yeah, this works fine, I guess, but at the same time, doesn’t it kind of strike a blow against a major part of Pokemon’s premise and draw? I mean, a huge selling point for Pokemon is the whole team customization thing. You can make a team of any Pokemon you like out of literally hundreds of options, fine-tuning which 6 you like best/think will be most useful, and deciding which abilities they’ll use. I mean, that’s sort of the natural, implied end goal to the much-touted concept of “Gotta Catch’em All,” isn’t it? You catch’em, and you then pick the ones you like from your ensnared menagerie for personal use. Whether you do it casually,* cheaply,** obsessively,*** or somewhere in the middle,**** it’s unarguably one of the largest draws, gameplay and aesthetics-wise, to the series. This HM nonsense is forcing you to stick mostly inferior moves onto your Pokemon, and/or forcing you to lug around at least one HM Slave in your party that you probably wouldn’t have chosen to be there otherwise. It’s actually obstructing one of the major parts of whole series, one of the things that people buy these stupid games for.

Making the situation worse is that these damn HM abilities and obstacles don’t even make sense more often than not. Why the hell is Cut the only ability that can remove the small plant obstacles? You’d think the ability Slash would work just as well. I mean, it’d be different if the HM taught a move called Chop or Saw or something, y’know, used a verb that implies the plant obstacle is made of stern enough stuff that it takes persistent work to get rid of. But “Cut” implies a quick and singular incision, not a strong and repeated action, so, logically, Slash should work just as well--as well as perhaps Air Slash, Guillotine, Leaf Blade, Night Slash, Sacred Sword, Secret Sword, and X-Scissor. And what about Air Cutter, Fury Cutter, and Psycho Cut? Those attacks even have “Cut” in their damn names! And why is “cutting” the only way to get rid of the plant obstacle? Shouldn’t one of the dozens of Fire Type moves be able to burn the plant down? Why can’t some of the unimaginably physically strong Fighting Type Pokemon grab the plant with something like Seismic Toss or Vital Throw and just rip the stupid thing out by its roots and toss it aside? If I’ve got a Pokemon that knows Fly in the party, why the hell doesn’t he/she/it just fly the party over this one small obstacle? The Dig ability lets your party instantly return to the beginning of a cave dungeon, implying that the Pokemon using it creates a tunnel back to that point that the party travels through--why can’t that Pokemon dig a tunnel under or around the plant to travel through? A Blastoise can shoot water with great enough force that it can punch through solid steel, so why the hell can’t it just Hydro Pump that bush into soggy sawdust? And so on and so forth.

You know, Honedge is a Pokemon that is seriously, actually just a giant, floating sword. You're telling me this thing needs a specific device to teach it how to Cut an obstacle? Literally every single time Honedge moves it creates a cutting motion.

And keep in mind, that’s just the illogical insanity of the Cut HM situation. They all have stupid, logical inconsistencies. If you have a Pokemon with Fly, why do you have to use Surf to travel over water? Couldn’t said Pokemon just fly low over the damn water? And then, for good measure, fly high enough to reach the top of any and all waterfalls, thus negating all need for the already insanely illogical waterfall-climbing Waterfall ability?

Why is Flash the only way to light up an especially dark cave? There are like a hundred Fire Type Pokemon that are literally on fire--why the hell can’t I just have one come out and light the way, or at least hold its burny part against a stick for a few seconds? I know it’s only been around for several thousand years, but I can’t help feeling like someone at Game Freak must have heard about that inventive modern marvel called a torch. Especially considering that Delphox is holding one.*****

I can have a Pokemon in the party that can actually move a mountain--that’s word for word what some Pokedex entries say about Machamp. Yet in order to get Machamp to move some rocks around, rocks that are often inside the mountain that Machamp can move with a single hand, I have to waste one of the skill slots on the HM ability Strength. Machamp may know multiple other moves that could easily be applied to moving the rocks, like Bulldoze, Fling, Seismic Toss, or Vital Throw, but Strength is the only way allowed. Hell, there are Pokemon who can learn a move that is literally called Rock Throw, but damned if any of them can manage to move rocks in your path without Strength and Strength alone. And I could basically copy-paste the last 4 sentences and substitute only a few words to explain the problem with the HM/TM ability Rock Smash, too.

On top of all that, the Pokemon that can and can’t learn these HM moves often make no sense, too. How does Venusaur Cut anything? It’s a big plant monster with stubby teeth and claws. I guess the implication is that since it can make leaves into razor projectiles, it can use those as the cutting implements, but then why the hell can’t a Pokemon just use Razor Leaf to get rid of the plant obstacle? Same deal with Raticate learning Cut--I guess we assume it uses its long teeth to do the cutting, but then why hell couldn’t it instead use Super Fang or Hyper Fang? Don’t ask me how an Infernape uses Cut. Are we meant to infer that it’s karate-chopping the plant or something? Because there are a half dozen karate chop moves in these games that could be used instead.

And why can’t Mewtwo learn Fly? It’s not like he isn’t shown flying around nearly every time he’s depicted in a movie/game, and he’s certainly got the power necessary to lift up whatever 10-year-old protagonist you’re playing as and float him/her wherever it is you want to go. In fact, considering the whole telekinesis thing, ANY sufficiently powerful Psychic Pokemon really ought to be able to use Fly. Plus, Mew can learn Fly! Mewtwo IS Mew, just genetically altered to be more powerful, so why can’t he learn the same move? Presumably he has whatever requisite it is that Mew possesses to fly around.

Jigglypuff is basically a living balloon, capable of inflating herself to stay an adorable little round ball of puff. Why can’t Jigglypuff learn Surf? She’s basically a walking, singing floatation device. Grabbing onto her and kicking to propel yourself might not be as ideal as traveling the waves on a Lapras’s back, but surely it’s not less feasible than having a human child be carried around by a single little Goldeen, Remoraid, Feebas, Luvdisc, Piplup, or any of the other Surf-learning Pokemon that don’t come up past a regular human’s knees. And Jigglypuff’d be a hell of a more comfortable ride than a Qwilfish, I’m sure.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Look, the point here is, the mechanics of Hidden Machines aren’t set up well. The list of which Pokemon can use them and which can’t is often nonsensical, and the issue of why these obstacles that the HM moves circumvent couldn’t be gotten by using other means is even more filled with logical inconsistencies. Making Pokemon abilities the key to getting around the obstacles just opens up all kinds of questions. Additionally, having to set aside ability slots and even team roster slots to squander on HMs is annoying and counter to the gameplay premise of Pokemon.

HMs are solely a frustration, not a feature or necessary balancing device, and it would be very, very easy to accomplish their purpose in a much less irksome fashion. Just do what a ton of other games do--have the obstacle-circumventing item just be an item you use when necessary! Replace the HM for Cut with a chainsaw or something, the HM for Surf with a small boat, etc. Simple, straightforward, with no more hassle than opening up the Items menu and clicking on what you need, when you need it! You don’t have to replace one of Ness’s powerful and useful abilities in Earthbound every time you want to get by a pencil monolith, you just use the Pencil Eraser item! You don’t have to force Fayt to forget an essential combat technique every time you need to get by an obstacle in Star Ocean 3, you just equip the Ring of Disintegration and let it rip!

I know I’m not the first person to gripe about this. In fact, I’d be fairly surprised if I’ve said anything in this rant that has not been mentioned before by some fan or another, probably considerably more than just 1. So why the hell is this always the same issue, over and over and over again, in every main Pokemon game published for the last, what, 20 years or so? Game Freak, the Hidden Machine nonsense is stupid and there is no excuse at this point for not improving it to be less of a tedious irritation. Get your shit together and get on it.

* “Go, Team of 6 Pikachus!”
** “A new Pokemon game? Time to import my 6 Arceuses!”
*** All that fucking EV Training, Nature-Breeding bullshit, with the Shiny icing on the cake.
**** This is me. My team is always 6 of my favorites, which include the cheap legendary Mewtwo, and I always plan out exactly how their moves compensate for weaknesses and make sure every Type an enemy can be is twice accounted for.
***** Okay, yes, Delphox was only introduced in Generation 6, and in Generation 6, Flash is used to see more of a single dungeon, instead of light places up. I still wanted to make the joke. Sue me.