On Gaming with Joey "Roo" DeSena

There are many people making video game related videos on the internet but very few deliver as far as deep research and detail is concerned. Joey DeSena (known to many as Roo) is one of the few that goes the distance to create informative and entertaining videos that leave you gleefully content with your new found video game knowledge that he has handed down to you with every episode of 16-Bit Gems or The Way Games Work on Clan of the Gray Wolf.

VGA got in touch with Joey for an interview on gaming and he enthusiastically agreed! All of us were equally excited knowing how fantastic his answers would be. Check out the interview below to see for yourself. 😉

Video Game Auctions: What would be the top three Japan-only releases you wish had a North American release?

Joey DeSena : I’m glad you asked for three, since that’s the number that immediately popped into my mind once you asked the question.

First off, and this perhaps goes without saying, would be Mother 3, otherwise known as the sequel to EarthBound, which some people may know as one of my favorite games of all time.  Though not superior to EarthBound, in my opinion, it’s perhaps one of the most emotional games I’ve ever played.  It’s also a really solid RPG that has a lot of fun with itself.  But after the amount of time spent in the West trying to get Mother 3 “un-cancelled” (mostly through the work of fansite Starmen.Net), it’s almost cruel to make the game and not even give us a virtual console release.  I suppose we’re all lucky Nintendo stood out of Starmen.Net’s way once they decided to make a fan translation of their own, but it’s still not the same as an actual release.  I’m sure that EarthBound’s become enough of a cult classic that it would sell at least well enough to recoup costs.  Hell, offer the fan translation team a small fee and just use that – I’m sure they wouldn’t be averse to the idea.

Secondly, I’m going with Gimmick (or Mr. Gimmick, as it was titled in Scandinavia – the only country outside Japan that saw a release).  This is just an exemplary platformer that has the best physics engine I’ve ever seen for an NES game.  It’s a cute little title that had the eponymous green Kirby-esque blob of a main character bouncing past all manner of meanies on the way to saving his owner – a small girl.  But this is also one of the hardest games I’ve ever played – I could certainly imagine getting my money’s worth out of this rental as a kid.  It comes from Sunsoft, which I suppose was known for its difficult games at the time.  However, they were also known for great soundtracks, which holds here.  The music is ridiculously catchy, and among the best on the system.  This could also be due to a special sound chip that was used in the Japanese cartridges, but I digress.  On top of everything else, there were a lot of small touches that really show the amount of polish in this game.  It was one of the best platformers on the system, and NES fans owe it to themselves to play it.

But I’m going to cheat a little for my last Japan-only release, since it actually was released everywhere EXCEPT North America – and that’s Terranigma.  I’ve already talked at length about this game in a review, but it’s really sad to me that this game was hidden from such a large population for so long.  Rounding out the Gaia Trilogy, this game is one of the best that the criminally overlooked developer, Quintet, had to offer.  It’s an action adventure game with RPG elements, but also tells a very engrossing story.  Add to that incredible visuals and music, and I could easily see this making the majority of Top 10 lists for SNES games in North America.  In a strange twist, though, the game likely would not been as good if it came to us through the Nintendo of America censorship wringer.  I can see a lot of the themes of religion and rebirth being watered down – so perhaps it’s for the best that the unadulterated version is what North Americans have access to today… if they’ve even heard of it at all.

Special mentions to Mother and Sweet Home (both great RPGs for NES).


VGA: Looking back at the 16-bit console war between the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis, what pros and cons come to mind for each system?

JD: Well, technically speaking, the Super Nintendo just had superior graphics and sound – I’m sorry but it’s generally true.  That’s not to say a really well done Genesis game couldn’t outdo the majority of Super Nintendo titles, but overall, that’s just the case.  However, though Sega’s “blast processing” was a bit of a marketing gimmick, there was a ring of truth to it, since the Genesis did have a faster processor than the Super Nintendo.  Does that necessarily mean games like Sonic weren’t able to run on the SNES?  I’m not too sure, but it’s entirely possible.

Beyond that, I also have to give some props to Nintendo for finding ways of elongating the life of the SNES without using add-ons (which rarely ever sell well).  Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a CD device or 32-bit whatchamacallit piggy-backing on an otherwise dying 16-bit backbone, they came out with games like Donkey Kong Country and Star Fox, which use the existing hardware in interesting new ways without forcing the end user to buy anything extra.  That, in the end, is I think what barely pushed the SNES past the Genesis in terms of market share (elsewhere in the world, SNES left the Genesis/Mega Drive in the dust).

And of course, the SNES was an RPG powerhouse – due in no small part to Square and Enix’s support.  Could they have made their blockbuster games for the Genesis?  Sure.  But I don’t think they’d be quite as good.  Nobuo Uematsu used every bit of the Super Nintendo’s 8-channel sound chip to make the most of his compositions.

However, the Genesis had a lot going for it that made it a worthy competitor.  As I said, the SNES’s sound was technically better, but in the hands of the right composer (like Yuzo Koshiro, who wrote his own freaking programming language for Streets of Rage), the Genesis was capable of some amazing tracks.  The “twanginess” of the Genesis was perfectly suited to certain titles – just not orchestral music, in my opinion.


VGA: In your video series “16-bit Gems” you look at games that have been overlooked by many over time. Are there any 8-bit gems you could recommend aside from Gimmick?

JD: Certainly.  I’ve already gone over North and South in one episode – a really fun Civil War game for the NES.  It has aspects of simulation, strategy, and platforming.  Plus it’s one of the best 2-player games on the system.  I was waiting for someone to do a review of that one, but got impatient and tackled it myself for an April Fools episode.

If it counts, I’d also say Dragon Warriors 1-3 on the NES.  Sure, they’re mostly known, but I think very few people have actually played them.  I’d include 4 in there as well, but at least that got a remade as Dragon Quest 4 on the Nintendo DS.  These are the foundations of JRPGs, and I equate them to “comfort food” – you know exactly what you’re getting with them, and sometimes that’s satisfying in of itself.


VGA: What was your first 16-bit console and what were your first few games?

JD: My first 16-Bit console was the SNES – received as a very early Christmas present.  (I bought a Genesis myself with paper route money a year or two later)  I still have almost fond memories of waiting hours for my dad to figure out how to hook the thing up – and then not knowing how to turn it on for a good 20 minutes after that.  I mean, seriously?  Who designed the on/off switch on that thing?

Of course I had Super Mario World, which absolutely blew me away.  I don’t think I could stop smiling the whole time I was playing it that first night.  Not long after that I got Pilotwings, which I also had a ton of fun with (mode 7, baby!).  Pretty soon, I was captivated by a feature in Nintendo Power on SimCity.  I didn’t have anything near a worthwhile PC until the late 90’s – so I got my share of classic PC games via console for a time.  Sid Meier’s Civilization is another such example.

However, when I went to Kay-Bee toys to find a copy of SimCity, they were out.  The salesman suggested Populus, which, granted, was also a simulation game made for the PC, so I can see why he would suggest it.  However, after taking it home and pulling my hair out in frustration over the wonky control scheme and overly complicated gameplay, I wound up taking it back and just getting SimCity once it was restocked.  As far as I can recall, this is the only video game I was so disgusted with that I actually returned it to the store.  Thus started my hate-hate relationship with Peter Molyneux games.

I loved me some SimCity, though.


VGA: In your experience with RPG’s, what have you found to be most common in breaking what could have otherwise been a great game?

JD: Many would likely say the “grinding” aspect in a lot of RPGs.  And while that can get frustrating at times, it’s relaxing to me in a strange way, and what I’ve come to expect from the genre.  It’s like playing a Mario game and saying, “What’s with all these platforms I have to jump on?  How tedious!”

More for me, the story can really break a game.  I enjoy a deep story, but if it’s way too convoluted for its own good, it’s really frustrating.  In other words, an RPG (perhaps more than any other genre) can easily be too smart by half.  If, after finishing a game, I have to read a lengthy guide on GameFAQs to decipher what in the hell just happened, then there’s something amiss.

For me, big offenders in this arena are (and I preemptively apologize to those I may offend) Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy VIII, and Xenogears.  All have great gameplay mechanics and perform admirably as games in most all other respects (well… maybe not Final Fantasy VIII), but the plots are just so out there.  You get the feeling the scenario writers were just trying too hard.

To this day, I’ve played right up to last part of Xenogears, but never finished the game.  The reason being that after I put the game down for a couple of months (I was in college at the time) and tried to pick it back up – I had no clue what was going on in the story.  My mind had forgotten all of the myriad threads and miscellanea that made up that tenuous plot.  It’s hard to get back into a late point in a game that relies so heavily on the plot when you can’t remember how you got to that point in the first place.


VGA: The Smash Bros. series pits Nintendo characters in a fight to the finish and has done very well. What other developers do you think could produce a good game of the same kind using characters you wouldn’t otherwise think to find in a fighting game?

JD: I always thought characters from the Final Fantasy universe would make sense in a fighting game.  Granted, Dissidia addressed that in some respect, but I think it might be better to have them in a more traditional fighting game.  Or even Smash Bros. style.  Plus, more characters!  Terra and Kefka are fine, but what about Celes, Cyan, and Shadow?

Or, even better, how about some Square-Enix all stars?  Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger…  You can’t tell me you wouldn’t want to see the full universe of characters at play there.  I think RPGs in general lend themselves well to becoming source material for a fighting game – colorful and fleshed out worlds that have a wealth of characters who spend the vast majority of their time fighting – just normally with menus and numbers instead of fatalities.


VGA: What would you say is the most difficult side scroller?

JD: Again, Gimmick is just ridiculously hard.  I’ve still never beat it without cheating.  But it’s a very fulfilling game that is hard without being unfair or overly frustrating.  You just need to be on the top of your game in order to beat it – that’s all.  The really crazy thing is that there are secret treasures in each level that are required to get the “good” ending.  And I do mean good ending – the alternative ending has Gimmick scouring the world without finding the little girl who is his owner – a hollow victory to say the least.  But to get these treasures, you have to go through a lot of clever acrobatics in order to even discover their secret rooms.  Oh yeah, and did I mention that if you ever lose all your lives and need to continue, you loose all the accumulated treasures?  Yeah, there’s that too.

On top of everything, the AI is far and away one of the best I’ve ever encountered.  Boss battles aren’t just exercises in find the pattern and exploit it – bosses react to your movements, and it’s up to you to find an opening if and when they expose themselves.  If you just sit back and wait for the boss to open up a big glowing “hit me” point randomly, you’re going to be waiting a long time.  More likely, he’s just going to sit back and wait for you to do the same thing.

If we’re sticking with games actually released in North America – I’d have to say Super Ghouls and Ghosts probably handed me my butt more than any other side scroller I’ve owned.  There’s very little mercy in that game.

Also, here’s a requisite mention for Battletoads.  A very hard game, to be sure – but not the hardest.  And truthfully… not even that great of a game.  Overrated in several categories.  *cue hate mail*


VGA: What future release is currently at the top of your must-have list?

JD: I just recently heard a rumor that Final Fantasy VI may finally be remade for the Nintendo 3DS to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Final Fantasy.  And though the term “remake” usually makes me shudder at the horrible possibilities that may open up, I have to say I’d be pretty excited to see the result.  If for no other reason than because Square-Enix has done very well with it’s 16-Bit RPG remakes on the DS (Final Fantasy IV, Dragon Quests 4, 5, & 6).  It would certainly make me buy a 3DS for no other reason than to be able to play some sweet updated FF6 goodness.

In terms of games that have actually been announced – I think I’ll have to go with the South Park RPG.  The show has overall remained consistently funny for years (with highs and lows, of course), and I think Parker and Stone’s deep involvement with this game will bear some hilarious fruit.  Add to that the fact that they’re gamers and have actual opinions on what makes a good video game, and that’s just the cherry on top.  I mean, look at the different media these guys have dipped into: animation, puppetry, Broadway… I have absolute confidence that when they throw themselves into a project, good things happen.  I don’t have a lot of time anymore to play RPGs – outside of the DS, since it’s mobile (read: able to go with me to the bathroom) – but I’d block out some time to play this game on a console, for sure.

Thanks from all of us at VGA to Joey for this great interview! I hope we touched on a topic or two that peaked everyone’s interest.

For every episode of 16-Bit Gems, The Way Games Work, and much more (including live podcasts twice a month) check out ClanoftheGrayWolf.com.

Clan of the Gray Wolf

Sorry Joey, just had to add this picture. It makes me laugh every time I see it…

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  1. I love Roo’s videos! Some of my favorites being his “Painful Moments in Gaming History”. I also really like how informative they are, sometimes he gets off topic, but that’s what makes them hilarious!

    By the way, Chrono Cross did have a really convoluted story. It’s like new plot points, breaks and curves were thrown at you every couple of minutes :/ But in the end, it was still fun, and it had some very memorable characters 🙂

  2. Those are some awesome responses! What’s great is that Roo’s a fellow RPGer so I enjoyed his technical responses. Also, I think that everyone can agree with the fact that what creates an amazing RPG is the story. I mean if an RPG game had no unique story to tell what else is left? The graphics or fighting platform? I’m trying to think of certain titles but nothing comes to mind :(. I’ve never played Chrono Cross before or Xenogears (even though I own them!), but I’d like to give them a shot. I’ve always heard good and bad things about the game and now after they were mentioned here I’m very curious. Time to put some time aside for an RPG weekend!

  3. Yeah, I figured that, there was some sarcasm in my phrase. No one understands my sarcasm better then myself 🙂

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