Cats love a bit of platforming. Whether it’s climbing a tree, jumping on the couch, over rooftops, or climbing up your leg at dinner time, they are always up for a challenge. Now imagine the platforming possibilities when a monkey steals your cat’s favourite gem, and you have to go through 7 worlds to get it back.
This campaign takes place 500 years before the events of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on an ancient titan, Torna. It’s a land threatened by war but largely indifferent to the idea of fighting. A lot was happening across Alrest, but Torna was focused on its own spiritual growth. Everyone got along with each other as builders, artists and chefs all shared their works out in the open and tried to enjoy their day. Times were simpler, gacha systems hadn’t been invented, and Drivers and Blades met in person.
It is a smaller game than Xenoblade Chronicles 2 but a more personal one. Let me put into context what “small” means though, in this case. It’s a “small” version of one of the biggest JRPGs ever made. Torna’s story takes place on two gigantic titans with several fields and horizons beyond horizons. It’s only small compared to the scope of XC2 which takes place on five titans and has several population’s worth of stories intertwining. This is solely from the perspective of Torna at an important time in history. The scale of the events is just as big, and the feeling of purpose remains high.
I’ve wasted far too much time. Ever since I slayed my first cockroach as a kid, I knew I wanted to hunt monsters. The thrill of approaching something dangerous, the strategy and preparation, the intense skill of combat, they all made me feel alive. I was tired of my safe life in the forest eating tree bark. With nothing to do, I strolled into the nearest town and caught wind of a place called Bhernha Village on the notice board. They were looking for hunters to help with their research, and it felt like this was my calling.
What is Picross? This is your life on a 10×10 grid. You are going to fill this grid with your experiences and one step at a time, you’ll get where you want to be and find your true inner self.
I don’t want to die. After a very difficult series of jumps and dashes, I was down to my last husk of health. I sat upon the single platform that wouldn’t kill me and felt the magnitude of the situation. With no safety in sight, my next action was critical. Hitting any of these spikes would mean instant death, and even worse, replaying that awful section again and losing progress. I thought that maybe, after a dozen downward-stab jumps across spiked enemies, the hard part was over and some kind of safe passage or reward would await me here. I was a fool. Curiosity had its way with me once again, and now my only way back was even more dangerous and uncertain than the journey that left me in this state.
I braced myself. The way forward was right there through those spikes, and I just had to do a flying dash through it. A regular dash wouldn’t make it. Regular jumps wouldn’t take me far enough. I knew it had to be a flying dash but the problem was, I couldn’t see far enough to see where my landing would be. With no other option, I started charging the dash.
In Super Metroid there is a trick that allows you to somersault across a room with great speed. When you take damage from the environment, the game’s natural reaction is to “eject” you from the situation before you lose all your HP. This can throw you awkwardly around the room and lead to more problems. However, you can also benefit from this mechanic if you learn how to control it. If you hold the jump button and a direction, you’ll go flying backwards in the direction you’re NOT facing. This means tapping left to face away, holding jump at the right time, then holding right to fly. It’s hard to pull off but when you get it right during a speedrun, it feels amazing. It’s faster than normal movement and allows you to reach some places normal jumps can’t.
A Damage Boost could be the most effective way to get out of a bad situation. For example, losing a job or ending a bad relationship might take away some of your health, but you can use the momentum of the ejection to find yourself in a better place you could not reach before, with better people. It’s just not worth struggling in those flower traps when you can take a quick spike to the head.
After bouncing across a room of spikes, you need to look for resources to restore this health immediately. Your eyes change and you start to see more of the world, with different layers revealing themselves. A big room of enemies is suddenly a farm. You become better at making choices, and you see opportunities you normally wouldn’t need. Health management is not immediately evident to casual speedrunners, viewers, or people without problems, but it is an essential part of going fast. Super Metroid is a difficult game even without tricks, with unforgiving boss fights and death traps, but with every bit of pain you learn something. You get used to those sleepless nights and know exactly how much coffee you need the next day.
You could consider “upgrades” as the safe, logical way to progress, but not everybody has the perfect script to their life. We can play a videogame perfectly but we can’t play life perfectly, and that is why I think the concept of Damage Boosting is applicable to every day life as a way of keeping your head up. Not in a violent sense, but an opportunistic one. Life has its own way of ejecting you out of situations and you may as well use that speed to fly in the right direction.
Damage Boosting is very hard to do, and the difficulty and impracticality means most people will overlook it. Who’s gonna take damage on purpose, right? Well, people who have to. People who made a few bad choices. People without all the upgrades. People who just want to go fast. You can spend 5 years getting the grapple beam, or learn how to do a quick shine spark. I’ve spent hours practicing Damage Boosts in Super Metroid and still can’t do them consistently. It feels great when it works though, soaring over your troubles. As I sit here jumping into spikes in Super Metroid, I realise I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’ve spent my whole life practicing Damage Boosting, just by working jobs I didn’t like, festering bad habits, and ending up nowhere. That’s not failure though, it’s practice. I might be a screw-up but I feel like I’ve become very good at fucking things up, and pretty soon I’ll be able to land wherever I want.
I really like being an Oddish. You’d think my little legs would be all puffed out with people trying to catch me, but I’m doing a lot less running these days. Trainers finally have a device to spot me without having to dig up the ground, and as a result I’ve had tons of energy to run around outside in the sun.
I’ve picked up a bad reputation as a “weed” over the years, because people like their gardens to look clean and plain. I understand that, but it has left me with very few places to live. Even in public parks I’ve been dragged out of my soil bed and thrown into bins before I can even say “Oddish Odd!“. I can’t get out of most bins if the lid is closed, because I’m not strong enough. With no sunlight coming through I have no access to my Solar Beam, which is probably my only attack strong enough to open the lid. Cut does nothing on this strange unnatural surface and makes me dizzy. With no effective moves to use inside a bin, I just have to use Rest until somebody dumps me outside again. There’s not much to look forward to. A new, unfamiliar place is just as scary as the prospect of a slow death. I’m lucky to still be alive though. I’m lucky to be an Oddish.
I’ve always put on a brave face but the last two decades have been hard. Living with a constant fear of being plucked from the ground, even those nights I do get sleep are not so great. I have to spend a lot of time with my body in the soil because it just feels really comfy, and it’s also where I sleep. If I don’t get enough sleep I start oozing poison powder, and I don’t really like that move. It just annoys everybody and makes it hard to make friends. As a grass and poison type Pokemon, I’m stuck with a lot of unpleasant abilities, but as long as I get enough rest my little legs can get me around to use which ever moves I please.
My life changed in the past month as trainers started approaching me differently. The Pokedex must have got an upgrade, because now people approach me with a smile instead of disgust. I really can’t explain it. I have to admit, I still have this primal urge to run away from people and protect myself. That’s why when you see me, it’s really important that you smile. I am finally feeling comfortable as an Oddish knowing that people want to be my friend. I’ve even made friends with other Oddish, and discovered there are a lot more in my area that have been hiding. We all feel a bit safer now that people like us.
There has never been a better time to be an Oddish. If anyone wants a leafy friend I hope you come out and play with me. I’m a lot of fun, and can evolve into Gloom, Vileplume and Bellossom. Personally though, I would prefer to stay an Oddish. When you get to know me, hopefully you feel the same. There’s nothing else I’d rather be.