My Top 10 Favorite Alolan Pokémon

Pokemon Ultra Sun + Moon are releasing right around the corner, so I wanted to take a moment to rank ten of my favorite Pokemon from the latest entry. This list only includes Pokemon (and forms) that were introduced brand new in Sun + Moon. Here we go!

10. Minior (all forms)

Found exclusively on Mt. Hokulani, Minior live in the stratosphere and fall to the ground after consuming enough particles in the air. Inside every hard shell is a surprise when it’s cracked open: seven different color variations can be found along with an elusive Shiny version. Even though the different forms aren’t any different save aesthetics, I had fun trying to catch each one and add it to my collection.

9. Lunala

I won’t spoil Lunala’s origins here, but I will say that it’s my favorite of this version’s two primary Legendaries. With beautiful wings colored like the night sky, accented by crescent moons and stars, Lunala is known as “the beast that calls the moon”. I wonder if it’s met Skull Kid?

8. Comfey

In Hawaii, it’s traditional to receive lei for many special occasions: birthdays, retirements, promotions, and particularly graduations, where you’ll see beaming students barely peaking out from the piles of strung flowers, candy, and money draped around their necks. It’s fitting that Comfey was created to represent this important aspect of Hawaii’s culture. Be sure to get lei’d when you come and visit!

7. Komala

This adorable koala bear cuddling a log is one of the most unique creatures in the Pokemon universe. It spends its entire life sleeping, its movements merely a result of stimuli within their dreams. Being constantly asleep has its advantages: Komala have the ability Comatose, rendering them immune to all status afflictions (except sleep, of course), and they can still attack while sleeping. Neat!

6. Oricorio (all styles)

Oricorio, similar to Minior, have varying forms, one for each island in Alola. These Pokemon gain their unique appearances by drinking the nectar of different colored flowers, bestowing on them corresponding abilities and types. My favorite is the Red Oricorio, its plumage representative of a frilly flamenco dress.

5. Hakamo-o

I’m usually quite partial to Dragon types, and the middle evolution of this Dragon-Fighting hybrid appeals to me aesthetically more than its other forms. Its hard scales bestow the Bulletproof and Soundproof abilities, making Hakamo-o immune to many attacks. If you’re curious, “mo’o” in Hawaiian means “lizard”. Local legends are filled with mythical and sacred mo’o.

4. Alolan Muk

There’s a canal in Hawaii that has an infamous reputation: the Alawai Canal. Its waters are widely known to be filthy and contain a host of contaminants, and locals and visitors alike are warned to stay out of it. Curiously enough, it passes right alongside tourist town Waikiki before draining into the ocean. I imagine that the Alolan Muk thrive there, happily feeding off the disgusting gunk to attain its sherbet-like coloration.

3. Alolan Meowth

While standard Meowth excel in cuteness, the Alolan Meowth prefer being fabulous. These mischievous felines sleep most of the day (as cats tend to do), and become active at night to scour the dark streets for glittering coins. Dark is one of my favorite types as well, an attribute which easily secures Alolan Meowth’s high spot on my list.

2. Mimikyu

This spooky yet endearing Pokemon is one of the most recognizable creatures in Sun + Moon. Mimikyu spends its entire life hiding under a cloth, viciously guarding its true appearance from view. Those rumored to have seen it all mysteriously died soon after. This terrifying mythos reminds me of Hawaii’s Night Marchers, a procession of spirits that march to the sound of spectral drums and eerie “oli”, or chants. It’s said that simply looking at them is dangerous: if one of them meets your gaze, it could mean death for you or your loved ones.

1. Alolan Ninetales

Those of you closest to me know I have a soft spot for foxes. Vulpix and Ninetales have been two of my favorite Pokemon from the beginning. Seeing brand new, gorgeous Ice-type forms in Sun + Moon made me happy. Although Alolan Vulpix is just as beautiful (and quite cute, to boot), I chose Alolan Ninetales for my list for its regal, flowing tail and mystical, almost cloud-like appearance.

Who are YOUR favorite Alolan Pokemon? ⭐️

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Being a Social Anti-Social

I may come across as a social person on Twitter. I tweet frequently, proactively respond to replies, and build rapport with my followers. At my job, I have to work with literally everyone in the company, communicate openly, and remain approachable even during difficult or stressful days. It comes as a surprise to many people, except perhaps the ones that know me best, that I’m extremely introverted. I don’t dislike being around others, which is a common misconception about anti-social folks; it just drains a lot of my energy to be in a social environment, and I can’t keep it up for extended periods of time.

There’s a lot of factors at play here. Being bullied as a child forced a lot of protective mechanisms into place that I have to actively control. Criticism of any kind, good intentioned or otherwise, makes me want to lash out defensively. I don’t take it well when others respond with little or no empathy if I’m trying to express my feelings. When I don’t know the details about something being discussed, I have an urge to either lie or get angry, mostly because I was teased for my lack of knowledge in popular culture; my nose was always in books or video games instead. I tend to make faces when something either pleases or displeases me, so I consciously make an effort to retain an appropriate expression. It tires me out when someone carries on endlessly and dominates a conversation. I’m sure there are a lot of other things that go through my mind during interactions that I can’t think of at the moment.

With all these different pieces in motion in my head, sometimes all at the same time, I get exhausted fairly quickly. Because of the nature of my job, I interact with people constantly, whether they’re calling with questions, stopping by for discussions, or collaborating with me in meetings. There are many days when I get home and just want to curl up in a dark room and go to sleep. On the weekends, I hesitate to invite friends over or even go out of the house because I’ve had more than my fair share of socializing during the work week. Again, it’s not that I don’t want to see the people I love; it simply takes a lot of conscious effort and energy to have those interactions. I cringe when coworkers suggest going out for drinks after work, and I constantly avoid company events like the holiday parties.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cope and accept this little quirk of mine. It takes a little less effort now to subdue my internal defense mechanisms during conversations, though at this point in my life I know they’ll never be shut down for good. I’ve also found better people that understand rather than belittle my personality and don’t get miffed if I decide against hanging out sometimes. It’s easier for me to socialize in a comfortable or familiar environment like my own home, and it’s been great having friends over occasionally to play games and such.

I’m not sure why I decided to write about this. Maybe I feel misunderstood by some and had to try and explain it. Maybe I just needed an outlet for my feelings. 😌

An Odyssey in Pictures

I completed the main story of Super Mario Odyssey today, and I have nothing but praise for Nintendo’s latest entry in our mustached hero’s legacy. From start to finish, Odyssey delights. The worlds are meticulously detailed, beautifully rendered, and filled with secrets: Power Moons, purple coins, and hidden challenges. Cappy adds a new element of gameplay that not only gives Mario a new set of moves, but opens up fresh mechanics in every level. Become a dinosaur that can smash rocks, goombas that can stack, bullet bills that can fly, podoboos that can safely traverse magma, and much more.

I’m doing something different with this post, and including some screenshots of my journey. WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS INCLUDED.

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On we go!


Mario can become a wide variety of creatures in his quest, including a melon that can extend its vine-legs to reach high places and avoid danger.


You can bet I took a lot of photos of Bowser along the way. Here’s a shot of his punch-glove hat.


Mario Odyssey is a beautiful game. I took a break at the top of New Donk City after nabbing an out-of-the-way Power Moon.


One of my favorite worlds was a spooky ruin with a terrible dragon as the boss.


Each world has its own unique aesthetic, and is populated by colorful denizens. In the shot below, I took control of a Podoboo with Cappy.


Mario meets a lot of new friends in Odyssey, including these adorable chubby seals.


The final confrontation takes place under a cathedral on the Moon. You can’t get much more epic than that.


In typical outlandish fashion, Bowser makes a grand entrance at the climax of the game, complete with Peach trussed up by a hanging chain (like Super Mario RPG).


SECOND SPOILER WARNING

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The final moments include a terrific boss battle and an escape/survival sequence, ending with what I consider Nintendo’s personal love letter to me: you get to toss Cappy onto Bowser and use him to escape the crumbling base. I was grinning from ear to ear.


The post-game activities include a tour of Mushroom kingdom and Peach’s castle (Yoshi on the roof included!), and a slew of new things to find in each world: you can race with Koopas, find Peach in her travels, and uncover a slew of new Power Moons released after the destruction of Bowser’s moon base.


All in all, Odyssey was a delightful experience that’s continuing to deliver. I’ve got a lot more to do and plenty of things to find. There still seems to be one final destination waiting for me out there, so I’m off to find it!

Thank you Nintendo for the fantastic Mario entry. ❤️

My Top 5 Favorite Mario Platformers

With Super Mario Odyssey’s October 27 release date closing in, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect back on my five favorite Mario platformers. This list excludes all the spin-off titles and different genres that Mario has ventured into thus far, and Super Mario Maker (which to me is on another level completely). As Mario would say, “Here we go!”

5. Super Mario 3D World – Wii U

Probably my favorite iteration of simultaneous multiplayer experiences in Mario games, Super Mario 3D World expanded on the gameplay of the New Super Mario Bros. series and placed our beloved heroes back into a 3D environment. The addition of Peach as a playable character (complete with her floating ability), a fun competitive points system, a tantalizing world map full of little secrets, and a set of hidden collectibles to find in each stage easily makes Super Mario 3D World my favorite multiplayer Mario game.

4. Super Mario Bros. 3 – NES

Back in the good old days of the NES, Super Mario Bros. 3 reigned supreme as my favorite Mario title. Coming off the good but completely different Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3 added the world map that we’re all familiar with today, and sprinkled it generously with secret Toad houses, alternate paths, and powerful items. The wacky Koopa Kids made their first appearances here, assisting Bowser in his princess-napping ways. We got some of the best power ups in Mario history in this entry, too: the Tanuki Suit, the Frog Suit, the Hammer Bros. Suit, and Kuribo’s Shoe, to name a few!

3. Super Mario Galaxy – Wii

Super Mario Galaxy took the 3D environments introduced in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine and gave us something on an even larger scale: planets in outer space. The nuances of planetary gravity and the round shape of many locales marked a unique and satisfying outing for Mario that felt so much bigger than previous games. We also met the beautiful and regal Rosalina along with a brand new race of star-creatures called Lumas. Rosalina has since become a staple in Mario spin off titles, securing her place alongside Peach and Daisy as recognizable Mushroom Kingdom royalty.

2. Super Mario World – SNES

Building on the foundation of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World transports Mario into the 16-bit era and adds a slew of fun features. While the power ups were toned down a bit from 3, we get to meet Yoshi in his first platformer and explore a world map rife with secrets: stages often had more than one exit to discover, opening alternate paths and hidden levels. Some of my favorite things to do included scouring each “red dot” in search of elusive keys, and finding the star-shaped transporters that sent you up to the challenging Star Road.

1. Super Mario 64 – N64

Ranking consistently as one of my favorite games of all time, Super Mario 64 was Mario’s first foray into 3D. At the time, the (somewhat awkward) polygonal graphics and expansive environments were a sight to behold, especially with the novelty of its design during that era of gaming. With Peach’s castle as the hub, Mario could leap through paintings into a variety of different worlds, searching for Power Stars to gain access to deeper parts of the castle. Fields, mountains, oceans, deserts, volcanoes and ice fields sprung to life and were a joy to explore. This entry marks the first time we hear the voices of Mario, Peach, and Bowser, with Charles Martinet taking on his iconic role as Mario for the first time in a video game.

Mario Odyssey is SO CLOSE! What Mario games were YOUR favorites?

My Dream Pokemon Game

With Ultra Sun and Moon on the horizon, I’ve been thinking back on my experience with the OG Sun and Moon. In truth, I was let down by this latest outing. On one hand, I thoroughly appreciated the obvious nod to Hawaii and its unique blend of cultures; I got to educate a lot of you about malasadas and how delectable they are, for starters. I never felt stereotyped or offended by the game’s representation of my home state, and the effort put into research and fact checking was clearly recognizable. The cast of characters were a fun and colorful bunch; Team Skull lead the charge with their over the top hand gestures and theme music. Speaking of music, Sun and Moon’s soundtrack is easily one of the best in the series. The final battle theme, “Battle on the Summit”, has become one of my favorite video game songs.

Beautiful setting and presentation aside, Pokemon Sun and Moon fell short in a few key areas. Progress felt awkward, and besting Trials didn’t feel as rewarding as collecting those shiny gym badges. They were definitely novel ideas, but failed to deliver the challenge and sense of accomplishment I desired. Hau was a likable yet ineffective rival who seemed to always be a few steps behind you. The composition of the Elite Four wasn’t much of surprise, which took away a lot of that feeling of awe since you’d seen most of them before. The post-game content felt empty and lifeless, an afterthought held together poorly by a handful of interesting new Pokemon. One new mechanic I did enjoy was the Ride system, which eliminated the need for pesky HMs and the oftentimes weak, hard-to-Forget moves they contained.

It sounds like a Pokemon for Switch is in the works, and here’s a list of what I’d like to see implemented and/or return from previous entries.

Gyms: This is an obvious one in light of my previous comments. I liked Gyms. They were these grand setups put together by the best Pokemon Trainers of each region, and were designed to test your mettle as a trainer. If they make a return, I want to see more from them: more engaging puzzle elements, tougher crony trainers, and Gym Leaders that use teams not only focusing on certain types, but built to deal with counters to their chosen types, as well.

Smarter Battle AI: It’s easy to take down most trainers in a Pokemon game by throwing out the right type counters, but what if the opposing AI-controlled trainers detected your strategy and reacted appropriately? What if your foes switched Pokemon to avoid weaknesses, always picked moves that are super effective against your Pokemon (and alternatively never used moves that produce “No Effect” or “Not Very Effective”), and made better use of status altering moves and items? As a way to keep the game accessible for all audiences, it would be great to include this as an optional “Hard” or “Expert” mode for seasoned Pokemon players who want a more difficult challenge from single player.

Customizable Home Base: The Secret Base was a cool feature from Ruby and Sapphire that could be fleshed out a bit more. Not only should you be able to collect all kinds of Pokemon knick knacks from your adventures and display them in any way you choose, but also show off trophies of your accomplishments, assemble teams of your favorite Pokemon for other trainers to test their mettle against (AI-controlled while you’re not present), grow and harvest Berries, purchase available items (i.e. ones in shops you’ve already visited) from a mail order catalog, and send/receive mail and/or gifts to players on your friends list. Your Home Base should be a place you can retreat to during your adventure to take stock in what you’ve done and prepare for the next leg of your journey.

All-Pokemon Safari: While this may be a stretch, I would love to see an area you could go to (most certainly post-game) where you have a chance to catch ANY Pokemon from the venerable series, save perhaps the Legendaries which might be released on a limited rotation and require certain items or tasks to be completed. Imagine the teams you could build with full access to all the series’ Pokemon! It would require work and dedication, but this would give newer and veteran players alike a chance to truly “Catch ‘em All!” without relying completely on Wonder Trade.

Class / Career Path System: One idea I frequently have about Pokemon is a job/class or career path system. Your trainer could have different skills or bonuses depending on your choice at the beginning of the game. Pokemon Trainers (in the traditional sense) might give bonuses to the IV potential of a specific Type they choose when creating their character; Breeders’ Pokemon might have a greater chance to see positive effects in battle from strong bonds with their Pokemon; Nurses (think Nurse Joy) could use an ability that fully heals all the Pokemon on their team, which recharges after a reasonable cool down period; Scientists could see greater effects from using items in battle and have a chance to get multiple uses out of one; the possibilities are limited only by the imagination.

Defending Your Champion Seat: It would be neat to occasionally defend your supremacy from other trainers vying for the top spot in the region. As part of the post-game activities, you can sit in your Champion’s throne and take on a gauntlet of challengers, receiving items and other bonuses for winning. Losing wouldn’t be an option!

Photo Booth Mode: Take selfies of yourself and your Pokemon (one or multiple), all with customizable poses, frames, props, backgrounds, environments, filters, and lighting effects. You could post the pictures in your home base or share them online, adding a taste of creativity and personal flavor to your experience. I know several of you who would go gaga over this mode.

These are just a few of the ideas I have in my head about the potential for Pokemon Switch. What do you want to see in the next Pokemon entry?

National Coming Out Day

Coming Out was a long process. As a young kid, I didn’t think about sexuality much, if at all. Part of that came from being sheltered as an only child. Sure, I gravitated towards characters like Sabin from Final Fantasy 6, and something about the Orcs in Warcraft 2 was profoundly intriguing, but preteen me never connected the dots to my sexual orientation. I simply liked what I liked and didn’t question it.

Moving on to intermediate school, I was frequently accused of being gay. One boy in particular would constantly make comments about my wardrobe and associate my choices with homosexuality, which triggered staunch denials from me because I didn’t want to be any more different than I already was. It was hard enough getting picked on for being chubby, dorky, and awkward. This is probably when I decided to check myself in to that closet we all talk about, though I didn’t consciously know what I was doing back then.

As I maneuvered my way through high school, I increasingly used video games as an escape, and male characters continued to pique my interest. Seifer from Final Fantasy VIII was probably the first game character I recognized as “attractive”, even though he was a bully and a jerk. At school, I had found a small group of friends, but I was afraid to confide my confused feelings to them. I pretended to like girls because that seemed to be the right thing to do. Even so, things like being in the locker room after PE class made me uncomfortable because the hidden part of me wanted so desperately to be curious, but I was deathly afraid of what the other boys would think if they saw me peeking at them. I naturally ended up going to junior prom with a girl, my best friend at the time, which was enjoyable.

Towards the middle of my senior year, one of the boys in my little group of friends got it into his head that I was gay, and pressured me relentlessly to come out and admit it to him. By this time, another boy had come out to the entire class, and he was mercilessly bullied for his bravery. On top of the fears I already had, seeing the way my fellow classmates treated him pushed me even deeper into the proverbial closet, and my friend’s persistence began to rub me the wrong way. There came a breaking point, as you might expect, and I spent the rest of my senior year in self inflicted isolation and loneliness. Graduation night was simultaneously a relief and filled with overwhelming sadness about everything I threw away.

My college years stabilized a bit, but the various traumas from high school kept me in denial of who I really was. I met a great group of guys and gals during my time living on campus, and we spent a lot of time playing video games together and hanging out. It helped to repair my critically wounded soul, and I felt a bit more human again. I was still lying though, and even pretended to be attracted to one of the girls we hung out with, which was an awful thing to do in retrospect. In truth, I was a bit taken by the guy that lived next door to me in the dorms, and we became good friends. He was a bit dumb at times, and I spent many hours telling him that his horrible girlfriend at the time wasn’t good for him. I guess you could say he was my first crush.

In my second year, the people in charge of student housing moved me erroneously to a new place, so I had to get accustomed to an entirely new group of people. By a stroke a fate, one of my roommates was an old friend from elementary school, and his girlfriend would be the one to set me on the path to truly coming out. She was a nice girl who liked video games and Inuyasha, so I bonded with her quickly and we talked about all kinds of things. One day, we were in the dorm together, just the two of us. The guys had all gone out to get some lunch. She came and sat next to me, and asked “Travis, are you gay?” There it was. That question I had been avoiding and hoping not to hear. I denied it at first, but she politely let me know that other guys had come out to her too, so I didn’t have to be afraid. Something in my heart told me I could trust her. “Yeah, I’m gay,” I admitted. She hugged me. “When you’re ready,” she said, “I’ll help you come out to the guys, too.”

That one act of kindness took the edge off the fears I’d held on to for years, proving to me that being gay wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Within a few days, I took her up on her offer and came out to the other guys in our group, and they were completely accepting and cool about it. Over time, I became more comfortable with who I was, even openly declaring my gayness on MySpace, which is how I met my husband (though that’s another story in itself for another day). I was lucky to have that kind, caring friend to help me start my journey, which I believe is one of the reasons I advocate kindness to this day.

One last thing I wanted to touch on was coming out to my mother and the rest of my family. For some, coming out to mom and dad is a difficult and life changing experience, not always for the better. It was a mixed bag for me. Several months after I came out to my friends and to myself, I decided it was time. Her reaction was disappointing but expected. She went through a period she called her own “coming out” and we didn’t talk for a few months because of confused feelings on both sides. In time though, she came around to full acceptance and is extremely supportive of me today.

Coming out is hard. We all have different circumstances and although we can find similarities in our stories, everyone’s experience is unique. Don’t assume you understand what any particular person is going through. Be supportive of your queer friends that wear their colors proudly, and equally supportive and respectful of those who aren’t quite ready to do that yet. NEVER out anyone else, no matter what you may think or feel. Be kind today. Much love to all.

Taking an Inventory

There’s been a lot of tragedies this year, both natural and man-made. Last night’s terrible shooting in Las Vegas continues a frightening escalation of gun violence in the United States. Puerto Rico is struggling to cope with total devastation while our government tangles itself in red tape instead of providing the necessary aid. These two examples are only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg; it’s been a rough year overall.

Every time something happens, it’s disheartening to see the response of our fellow human beings, putting selfish things like wealth and/or political motive over the safety and well-being of others. After a while, it’s natural to lose faith in humanity. I certainly wouldn’t blame you. It’s a startlingly logical path that I’ve wandered down many times. It’s much too easy to fall into that vast pit of despair and hopelessness at the end.

There’s a few reasons I haven’t completely lost hope. First and foremost, there are people in my life that depend on me. They’re fighting their own personal battles and I can’t leave them on their own. I’m needed. Second, there are good people around me serving as a reminder that not all is evil in the world. Some share my passion for gaming, and others are as shocked as I am about the state of our country and the world. While I don’t have many local friends, Twitter is a welcome reminder that I’m not truly alone in the friendship arena.

My last reason may seem a little strange, or perhaps naive. I still believe, despite all the evidence against it, that human beings as a species are inherently capable of good. While there are quite a few of us that make terrible choices, as a species the good far outnumber the bad. You might scoff at me for saying this; it’s a natural reaction in this day and age. The monsters certainly get more screen-time than the heroes, which can feel overwhelming and scary.

It’s more important now than ever to focus on what you have and what you can control. I implore you today to step back and take an inventory: your family (if they’re good to you), your friends, your spouses, your children, your pets. Remind them that you love them, spend time with them, thank them, do a random act of kindness. Make it a habit and stick to it.

Then, if you have the capacity, contribute to larger causes. Donate money to relief efforts: Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida, Texas, and now Las Vegas could all use the help. Speak out for what you believe in: call congressmen, write articles, post on social media, attend protests if and only if you feel safe doing so. Most importantly, take care of yourself. You can’t be there to support the ones you love if you don’t. If you’re unable to help a larger cause, do not feel ashamed. Achieving personal growth and thriving in a world like this is one of the biggest forms of protest.

Take care of yourself, take care of each other. Much love to all.

Must Play SNES RPGs

With all the excitement surrounding the SNES Classic, I wanted to share my list of “Must Play” RPGs on the SNES I personally loved, along with a smattering of my thoughts about them. Here goes (in no particular order of preference):

Super Mario RPG

Mario’s first outing in the RPG genre is still my favorite, with Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door taking a close second. Super Mario RPG takes the lighthearted cast of the Mario Universe and immerses them in a world filled to the brim with colorful NPCs and a gang of dangerous villains. The Timed Attack mechanic used in battles was borrowed by many titles that followed and became the impetus that, in my opinion, revitalized the standard turned-based formula and began the transformation of RPG battle mechanics into what we see today in modern gaming.

Earthbound

Good old Earthbound. With its quirky humor, cartoony art style, and real-life premise, Earthbound set itself conspicuously apart from its high-fantasy competitors. Battle new age retro hippies, stray dogs, zombies, and dinosaurs in your quest to defeat a mysterious alien threat. Packaged with a strategy guide that included some stinky scratch-and-sniff stickers, strange little Earthbound didn’t captivate the American market at first, but it has gained a giant cult following over the years. Now, if we could only get an official release of Mother 3 stateside…

Final Fantasy III/VI

One of the most shocking discoveries of my high school career was the realization that Final Fantasy 3 was actually the sixth installment of the venerable series. With its diverse cast and simple engaging gameplay, I kept coming back for more, and more, and more. Kefka is one of my favorite villains to this day, and I haven’t forgotten the password for Edgar’s Chain Saw: 6:10:50… I played this game a lot. It was my first Final Fantasy game and it paved the way for my lifelong love of the franchise.

Chrono Trigger

This classic RPG frequently finds itself at the apex of my Top X lists, and for good reason. With its diverse cast and skillfully executed time travel premise, Chrono Trigger delivers superior quality on all fronts. The environments are intricately detailed, the music is extraordinary and memorable, and the battle system introduces Double and Triple techs, skills that can be used by two or three characters simultaneously, making careful party selection imperative. Every RPG fan needs to give Chrono Trigger a try at least once in their lives.

Illusion of Gaia

Although more akin to Legend of Zelda than your standard RPG, Illusion of Gaia is a lesser known gem everyone should try. Your adventure takes you across the globe to locales based on the real world, and you can ponder the secrets of the ancient Incas or explore the ruins of Angkor Wat. Although the dialogue is a bit awkward at times, the overall experience is solid. Being able to switch between characters to tackle different situations adds variety to the gameplay. One of my good Twitter friends, Brasel the Gamer, did a review of Illusion of Gaia as one of his first videos. Check it out and his other awesome material too!

Secret of Mana

With a surprise remake on the horizon, a new generation of gamers can soon enjoy the wonder and beauty of Secret of Mana. It was a pioneer in many ways: combat unfolds in real time, and you can play with up to three players simultaneously with a Multitap. Check out my recent blog post for more of my thoughts on this iconic game.

Breath of Fire / Breath of Fire 2

Although not radically innovative, Breath of Fire and its sequel, Breath of Fire 2, bring classic RPG gameplay to the SNES, with half-human races and large fantasy worlds to explore. Battles are simple and turn based, with the second entry adding shaman fusions and improved character progression. Localization isa bit weak, but its honestly part of the charm. Being an avid lover of mythical reptilian beasts (why do you think I like Bowser so much), the dragons of Breath of Fire are what truly captured my heart.

Lufia and the Fortress of Doom / Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals

I unfortunately haven’t dipped enough into the extensive JRPG catalog on the SNES, but I was lucky enough to discover the Lufia series (Estopolis in Japan). The story follows a group of heroes against a foursome of villains known as the Sinistrals. While the first game is good, the sequel (a prequel, story-wise) improves vastly on the original, speeding up gameplay and adding engaging puzzle and dungeon elements, closely resembling a Zelda game.

Yes, my list is overwhelmingly Square-Enix (or Squaresoft, as they were called in this era), but these were the ones I played over and over again as a kid.

What are your favorite RPGs on the good old SNES?

The True Secret of Mana is in the Multiplayer

One of the most exciting pieces of gaming news I got recently was the announcement of a full-on remake of Secret of Mana, one of my most beloved games from my childhood. I was lucky enough to experience multiplayer from beginning to end with one (sometimes two!) of my cousins. It was the best reason for owning a Multitap besides Super Bomberman 2. The graphics and music have undergone a complete overhaul, and the result is a spectacular and seemingly faithful reimagining.

At its core, Secret of Mana is a JRPG, and with its action-based gameplay, a pioneer of its era. Battles are fought in real time with minimal menu use, and each player controls one of three characters: the Boy, the Girl, and Sprite, who were curiously unnamed with no default options in the stateside SNES release. The game proceeds in a familiar fashion: you travel through the wilderness fighting bad guys, tour towns and cities, and eventually dive into dungeons to take down boss monsters, all with the story driven goal of restoring the power of the Mana Sword.

Combat is probably the most enjoyable part of multiplayer, with each participant selecting a different favorite weapon to dispatch enemies. As the lucky one to always have to play the Boy, I insisted on the Sword – fast, powerful, and reliable. Casting spells and using items were a bit cumbersome because you had to open a menu and interrupt the action to access those functions (something I’m not sure the remake has addressed as of yet). Magic was also a tad bit overpowered especially in the hands of the Sprite, who could easily spam bosses to death with a magical barrage of the appropriate element type.

Those weaknesses aside, Secret of Mana is an extremely beautiful production. With some people playing this game for the very first time (which is unbelievably exciting to me), I won’t spoil any of the story elements. I will say, however, that it spins a wonderful and poignant tale rich in fantasy, with a cast of despicable villains and a surprisingly bittersweet premise. The locales were lovely to explore with bright colors and interesting details painted into the environments, even back on the SNES. The musical score is one of the best I’ve heard in my gaming career. It may get a bit repetitive at times because the selection of tracks is small (at least, it WAS in the original game), but I never tired of them.

With my cousins now grown and distant, I’m looking forward to enjoying Secret of Mana as a new adventure with my husband and a friend. I’m looking forward to playfully fighting over the selection of weapons, “accidentally” going through doors at inconvenient times, and stealing that last Fairy Walnut. It’s all about cooperation, but it was occasionally amusing to make trouble to my teammates, them being my younger cousins and all. It would have been nice if the remake incorporated online multiplayer, but it doesn’t look like it will. For me, that’s OK. I’m always looking for more couch experiences to enjoy with people in my area (though finding more people to game with is a challenge for another blog post).

Have you played the original Secret of Mana? What did you enjoy about the game? What are you looking for in the remake? What features do you hope will be added and/or improved?

My Struggles with Body Image

As long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with body image issues. The mirror is either my best friend or my worst enemy, depending on how I’m feeling that day. I get irrationally upset when someone brings up my weight. I tend to hate myself if my clothes rip or get a little snug. I sometimes stress eat followed by bouts of crushing guilt and anger. I used to compare my body to others’ constantly: he’s in such good shape but I’m so fat, his eyes are so pretty but mine are boring, his hair is perfect but mine is a complete mess. It’s not so bad now, but I still struggle with appreciating any kind of bodily beauty without comparing it to my own perceived lack thereof.

As a kid, I was teased for my weight. I was an easy target who cried easily, so a couple of bullies in elementary school took advantage daily. I wasn’t the only chubby kid, either. I just hated myself the most for it and gave them the biggest reactions, so naturally they kept coming back for more. As I grew older, it became less about my weight and more about my plain appearance. One girl that I thought was very pretty once said to me, “Well Travis, you’re not part of the good looking crowd. That’s OK, though. You’re just not and that’s how it is.” The funny thing is, I thought she was trying show me kindness at the time. I took her misguided advice to heart and accepted that I was supposed to be invisible, and chose to dress in dark colors to disappear amongst the masses. I existed in isolation and didn’t participate in any activities with my classmates for most of my time in high school. I began to despise people and lost myself in video games.

College was a welcome reprieve. I met some nice guys who accepted me for who I was. I was still in the closet with my sexuality at this point, but that’s another story entirely. When I met my husband near the end of my schooling, it was the first time I felt wholly loved by anyone. It was a great feeling, but unfortunately not something I fully embraced or even believed for a long time. As I got to know more of the local gay community, I began to fall in with the wrong type of people. I saw how “athletic”, “fit”, and “masculine” guys were adored. I started getting a taste of some of that attention myself, as I had finally “blossomed” into a full grown adult.

I started working out, starving myself, and paying too much attention to the mirror. I craved compliments from random guys who found my newly sculpted body attractive, men who would have never batted an eye if they saw what I looked like before. I turned into a catty, petty, mean girl, MONSTER. As you can imagine, this caused a great strain on my relationship with my boyfriend (who was treated very poorly by these people, by the way), and it nearly destroyed us. It’s taken many, many years to repair the damage that was done. This goes without saying, but guess what happened to all the men who stuck around for my “good looks” when I needed some real support and friendship? They were gone with the wind, never to be seen again, and I rightfully lost the implicit trust and adoration I had from my partner. I was completely alone again and it was my own fault.

I entered a renewed phase of self hatred, and I felt stupid, worthless, and unwanted. I thought I was a terrible person for what I had become, which made me bitter and angry. I didn’t trust anyone. The world felt alien again, unwelcoming and scary. I had worked so hard to be loved, or at least what I thought was loved, and it turned out to be in vain. I had put the one man that truly loved me through the worst years of his life. With the passing of time and a lot of therapy, I’ve addressed that self hatred and anger. I’m able to love my body on some days, but not all. I can tell myself, with a great deal of conscious effort, that I’m a worthwhile human being with talents and values, despite what others may make me feel. Even though I’m back to being a chubby guy, I’m much happier and content with myself than I ever was in my entire life. On rare days, I even share selfies.

My life has been a journey. While my body image issues are only a cog in the complex inner workings of my mind, I wanted to share this particular story in the hope that someone can relate. Let’s all learn and grow together, shall we? I’m always open to talk or listen. ❤️