I've struggled over whether I need to keep addressing the apocalypse outside whenever I write something online. On one hand, everyone I'm interested in interacting with is already well aware of how much things suck, and don't need me to remind them. On the other hand, omitting this persistent dread about everything around us feels disingenuous at best, and otherwise insensitive. My solution since 2019 has been to remove myself from that responsibility and simply lurk on social media without sharing any news or opinion of my own. But short of disconnecting completely, nothing will prevent the exhaustion of experiencing every emotion in the time it takes me to scroll through my newsfeed. It's jarring how quickly we've gotten used to seeing our high school classmate's engagement photos, news about some country's most recent human rights violations, spoiler-free reviews of Spider-Man, and trolley problem memes all in the same place and in rapid succession.
The best SRPG engine I can't share
I've wanted to make my own tactical RPG like Fire Emblem for years, but have always been disappointed by the lack of options for developing in the genre. Every few months, I'll try out another engine and someone's 12-part tutorial, only to realize again and again that I don't want to reinvent the wheel, but rather copy what my favorite games did using my own characters and stories.
In recent years, the Fire Emblem GBA romhacking community has offered a solution through its most user-friendly tool yet, which has resulted in dozens of new projects every year using these 15-year-old+ games as their canvas. Even I made quite a bit of progress this past summer designing my own characters and maps, and only stopped because I wasn't sure how my story would end. Though disappointing in its own way, I preferred it to struggling over my spaghetti code.
Despite how streamlined this creative process has become, though, it's been difficult revisiting the project knowing that I'm limited in terms of where and how I could share it. Though using game console emulators is legal, downloading and distributing ROMs is typically not, while hacking them lands in a "fair use" grey-zone – romhackers get around this headache by sharing patches, which only record changes to the original ROM, with the implicit agreement that anyone who wants to play the hack will put the pieces together themselves.
While I've heard of some instances of companies embracing (or at least tolerating) fans using their IP for their own creations and events, Nintendo has a consistent track record of cracking down on these projects. That doesn't mean you're likely to get a scary letter from them for downloading a ROM or playing a hack of a 15-year-old game on a console no longer made, but at the very least it makes it harder for anyone to enjoy these games or learn about the communities around them.
For me, working on my hack was an act of love for the source material as much as it was a form of expression I wanted to share with my friends and community. But even if I ever finished making the game, I would have to figure out how to share it so that someone other than the short list of ROM-savvy friends I know could also experience it. Perhaps the seasonal depression is to blame, but just that extra step in the way of emotional payoff makes me doubt whether it's worth the effort at all.
Make Battle Tower worth my while
Speaking of (lack of) emotional payoff, I finally made it to the Master Class rank of Battle Tower in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond. That means I spent a dozen or so hours preparing a suitable combination of Pokémon to win 49 consecutive times against the computer, only to unlock a smarter computer with better Pokémon and begin the process anew, and just enough points to redeem a couple in-game prizes. Right, I'm not sure why I did it, either.
Battle Tower has been endgame content in the series since Pokémon Crystal for the Game Boy Color, but this might be the first time that I actually tried to beat it, thanks to the quality of life improvements that have made putting together a strong team much easier. As I mentioned a few letters ago, I've also spent a lot of time during the pandemic playing Pokémon Showdown (another legally-grey-but-successful fan project) and got to appreciate the competitive side of the game, enough to start building my own competitively viable team that I'm using for Battle Tower.
I like the challenge of Battle Tower and seeing the ridiculous strategies that only a computer can pull off (even if it means I suffer for it), but it doesn't seem like there's much waiting for me upon each victory. I think that's because Battle Tower itself isn't quite the endgame, but works more like a means to an end (i.e., battling real players online) by providing credits for rare items to make our teams even stronger. But by saving these credits until the end of every seven battles, and barely providing any credits at that, the overall impression I get is that you have to work really hard before you can have fun, which – as the past 20 years of me flouting Battle Tower have shown – will actually not get me to play more.
While it's not like Pokémon is lacking a competitive scene, it would be nice to also introduce its competitive side as potentially fun space for playing with friends, in the same way that we can just pass a controller and introduce someone to Smash or just drop into Fortnite or any of its derivatives (no offense, I just know there are a lot of them). It's not like it's a novel concept in the series, either. I remember spending evenings with my cousins trying to beat Pokémon Heart Gold's Battle Factory, in which players could team up and use rental Pokémon to win 2 vs. 2 battles, taking away the work of building your own team while letting you enjoy the challenge with a friend. And I don't think it's just nostalgia speaking when I say that was some of the most fun I had playing Pokémon.
In the end, though, it is a kid-friendly game! And the 50-ish hours I spent before I started calculating stat differences catching Pokémon, beating Gym Leaders, and thwarting criminal organizations were great, back then and now. I guess I just wish I could keep that fun going!
What else am I enjoying?
Frieren: Beyond Journey's End (葬送のフリーレン) by Yamada Kanehito & Abe Tsukasa: I've always liked to imagine what happens long after the heroes save the day. This manga ventures to answer that question from the perspective of the titular Frieren, an elf who always knew she'd outlive her fellow heroes many times over. I bought and read all six volumes currently out and look forward to reading more!
Aggretsuko (Season 4): I just think it's amazing that a show about a office-working red panda who screams death metal is also the most relatable content I've seen on Netflix. Seeing Shinjuku's skyline every episode is also quite nostalgic!
Bleach JUMP FESTA Trailer: Growing up, I always thought Bleach was aesthetically the coolest compared to its shounen peers, and it's great to see this new trailer lean into that style even after a 12-year hiatus. While I wasn't thrilled with how the manga ended (not everyone has to pair off with their high school sweetheart!), I remember little enough about the journey there to look forward to watching!
Song of the Week
I was introducing MISIA to my sister this Thanksgiving and we felt something deep inside us awaken when we heard this song, which plays in the ending credits of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, a game we beat on the PS2 around 2005. As I obviously had no idea who MISIA was back then, I wonder if I ever would have ever encountered this song again if I hadn't lived in Japan and been exposed to so many artists and media there? It's a weird thought, but also satisfying to find my language studies bringing me back to my childhood.