Boss Fight Books 17/19: advance reviews

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Books 17 and 19 of Boss Fight Books series happen to be from two different seasons. Book 17: Katamari Damacy is the final book of season 3 while Book 19: Shovel Knight is the second book of Season 4. Having read all the books released thus far, it’s quite striking to notice the difference in feel among them. Season 4 of BFB is dubbed “Creator Access Edition”. As the name suggests it focuses most on the different studios and people involved in the creation of the chosen focus of the books. In contrast, many of the past books in this series were so much more about describing the games themselves in their intimate entirety in regards to narrative, but also the relationship of the author to said games. I should point out then that one of the books which most related to the author was Spelunky, Book 11, written by Derek Yu….the games creator!

As a backer of the season 4 of Boss Fight Books on Kickstarter, I am entitled to the entirety of the series up to the current season. Nevertheless, I received advance copies of both books for the purpose of this review. A big thanks to BFB and Gabe Durham for this opportunity! On with the books…

**Katamari Damacy

kata

Katamari Damacy is one those strange quirky games that your best friends may frown upon when they see you playing it, but secretly itching to get their hands on the controller. In my mind, I have difficulty dissociating it from Patapon which elicited similar reactions from my peers whenever I was found enjoying it. As the author points out in this books, this is a work leaning most on great gameplay, novelty and fun. It is a work of art in that it can be interpreted in depth despite its simplicity, it presents not the shallowness often coupled to the superficial fluff of improved graphics at the time. To this day I do not really always care about how pretty a game can be; a lot of people are rediscovering this fact in themselves, the critical acclaim and the sales of Octopath Traveler attest to that.

As the final book of Season 3, Katamari Damacy takes an approach more similar to the books of Season 4. It focused a lot on the creator’s journey up to and beyond the release of the game. I felt a great parallel between it and Shovel Knight which releases with it in a few days. The author did a solid overview of certain culture particularities related to the Japanese which quite frankly would have gone way over our western heads had he not written about them. Those part are some of the most interesting, more creators should, with their cultures, be this unapologetic about their unique aspects.

**Shovel Knight

Shovel

This book takes a very investigative approach to its subject. It is very more in line with my thoughts on what creator access should be, and very special in that it is as much the story of WayForward (WF) as a company as it is about the IP itself. Many publishers have had their story told and retold in a way that we could actually recite them verbatim. Examples of this are Id Software, Nintendo, Square-Enix. The story of WF relates as they represent in a way the dreams of many of us gamers who dreamt of being creators, and at the same time, they have lived through some of the hard times that we can easily imagine happens when one takes the route of independent development. It is not difficult to understand that many such teams of developers never survived beyond a game or two. Following their journey towards themselves as a group of friends and colleagues become something bigger, then towards their dream which culminated in one awesome modern NES game, was a blast. Theirs was a true journey, with many downs but their ups reached some interesting peaks to balance everything out. I would not mean to spoil anything from the narrative, nevertheless, I must that it was amazingly serendipitous that so many of their favourite creators from the golden era of the NES/SNES could meet with them, even collaborate in Shovel Knight!

Both of these books achieve their goal and the research/interviews were well done for me. Naturally, I do find myself partial to any story of an indie studio, whether of success or failure. If Katamari Damacy had focused more on the big publisher (Namco) instead of the true creator hidden behind this corporate juggernaut, I would not have like it as much. I enjoyed both books, and I recommend both, especially Shovel Knight simply for the fascinating tale of Wayforward Studios. Both Boss Fight Books come out in a couple of days. They can be easily found on Amazon: Katamari Damacy (Boss Fight Books Book 17) and Shovel Knight (Boss Fight Books) or at Boss Fight Books.

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Boss Fight Books: Kingdom Hearts II

Alexa Ray Corriea, the author of the 16th Boss Fight Books entry, has long worked in this industry, most notably as an editor at Gamespot, and currently at FANDOM. This entry in the series is focused on Kingdom Hearts II, part of one of the most unlikely and confusing crossover story in gaming. As the author so points out, it’s rather hard to have imagined that a fusion of Disney and Square-Enix could actually result in anything good. And yet, they pulled it off expertly, both in terms of gameplay and narrative.

As a reminder of how many of the books work: they are almost always a mix of the author’s experience of the game, input from the creators or members of the developing team and often a slow recap of the narrative or game progression. Some readers have complained about this last element, mostly because they went in without knowledge of it being part of how Boss Fight Books are structured.

I never actually got to play Kingdom Hearts, the first, simply due to the fact that I did not have a PlayStation 2 console. I eventually did get one extremely late in its life cycle, secondhand. What spurred me to jump again on the console-owning bandwagon was another RPG: Persona 4 was announced and I wanted to be ready!

This is a little story for another time…..

Kingdom Hearts II wasn’t my first game in the series though. I played a lot on handhelds, and one of my favorite GBA entries was Chain of Memories. It did well to recap things for me, as well as give some preparation for the second opus. A friend of mine purchased KH2 as soon as it came out, didn’t like it as much as I hyped for it and let me play it first!!

Frankly, I did not care about the beginning being slow at all. All I could think of: this is freaking Kingdom Hearts II!!!!!!! A lot of people could have written this book and probably give off a similar feel to how the author experienced the journey. Personally, I could not have gone as in-depth as she did in her analysis of how gender is characterized. I won’t spoil by saying much, but Alexa Ray Corriea does a great job of noticing such things. I do not remember seeing it that way, maybe because I’m a guy?

Going through the sections of the book retracing Sora and Roxas’ journey, I noticed just how much I forgot. There are some worlds that I remember vividly, and the first few hours with Roxas are clear in my mind. But when she notices some parts, I was floored to find a huge abyss in my mind!

KH2, the book, goes through the motions of a good Boss Fight Book. Nevertheless, having some direct input from members of the development team or even the publisher helps us readers delve with more accuracy into their motivations and goals during the genesis of the game. PAst books have analyzed existing interviews and facts to speculate on such points. It was quite like interpreting the words of long-dead poets, how sure can one truly be that we think they meant is what they truly mean? I believe creator access sufficiently reduces doubt in this case.

Overall, this was an awesome book by a good author who reminded just how much I truly enjoyed this unlikely mashup of universes and genres. I highly recommend it and the game too! Any JRPG fan who hasn’t played it yet, if they exist, should definitely correct this grave misstep. You guys are missing out…

Boss Fight Books: Final Fantasy V

Final Fantasy V is the first book of the latest season of Boss Fight Books, written by Kotaku editor Chris Kohler. His Wikipedia page reads as: “Chris Kohler is a video game journalist and editor who has written for several publications in the past decade, including Wired, Animerica magazine, and Nintendo Official Magazine UK. After graduating from Tufts University with a degree in Japanese, Chris attended Kyoto Seika University on a Fulbright Fellowship, and completed major research for a book tentatively titled Super Mario Nation: The Cinematic Japanese Video Game. At Tufts, he taught a for-credit undergraduate course titled “A History of Video Games” and continues to study Japanese at an advanced level.”


In many ways, the author’s experience with FFV and Japanese only titles in general mirrors my own. Personally, the first time I went through it was in Japanese. I learned about the different colors (ao-mahou was my favorite, Blue Magic), I found that it was actually still possible to finish a game without understanding the plot in its entirety. I say “still because the first game that I played and beat in Japanese was a Dragon Ball game. Knowing the anime and manga, as well as most gameplay systems of the era, my friends and I deduced many of the words we saw, especially hiragana and katakana. Kanji had us beat and we could only memorize so much. The game was a lot of fun nonetheless, it followed rather faithfully the show’s narrative, so we got the gist of it and filled in the rest with our imagination or simply creating the related dialog with funny anime voices of our own. It was only after finding the fan translation that I could truly experience the narrative of FFV on my PC using emulators. The story was crazy as always and very interesting. Nevertheless, it could not beat the greatest feature of this game no matter the language you play it in the JOB SYSTEM!


The book does very well in explaining the system, it even goes as far as unveiling just how one can go about and create the ultimate team, able to mow down anything and anyone in-game in as little rounds as possible. Those strategies require some time and dedication nonetheless and should be expected to be quick cheats such as the famous Konami Code. Knowing the job system intimately is the first aspect of building the uber-party, the second: patience…

 
Overall, Chris Kohler did a good job not only retracing the history of Final Fantasy V but mostly getting first-hand information and comments from members of the team working on it. Simultaneously, much insight is given about all other titles of the series up to Final Fantasy XIII. Many of my, and his, generation, will find that reliving those moments, their recollections of the general emotions and dreams of the time echo his own. It is a very nice read for a great game, written in a passionate voice that lends well to the structure and pacing of both the game and the well researched recounting of both the real life stories of Chris and Square (now Square-Enix) over the years, centered around the point in time when Final Fantasy truly became the Hail Mary the company needed to succeed.


I received an early copy of this in e-book format as a backer of the season 4 of Boss Fight Books Kickstarter. Click on the book cover at the beginning if any wish to get it in paperback or e-book format from Amazon. Another option, of course, is to get it directly from the official Boss Fight website. Stay tuned for other reviews, the next one will probably be either the book Mega Man 3 or Bible Adventures (yes, there ARE Catholic NES games out there!!).


Cheers!