Posted by: metinahurricane | January 4, 2012

Rool Review — The Praetors

They believe that they have the idea of what perfection is, and want to spread it to the rest of the series’ Multiverse… by horribly mutating other beings into their forms.

I could swear that’s not what the Phyrexians did back when I played this game, yet it sounds weirdly familiar…

Jokering aside, naturally I want to go on demonstrating my good will and Christmas spirit for as long as I continue not being on hiatus – however much longer that will be (I don’t want to leave on a bum note, of course). But I’ve got a serious problem here: I can’t make bloody movesets, as I found out when I disasterously tried to work out Cacturne. It’s not that I can’t make them in such a way that I think they’ll actually appeal to anybody, it’s that I can’t make them in any way that appeals to me. And that’s much, much worse. It’s the sort of thing to lose motivation over.

Neither do I really want to do comments, because everyone and their uncle have told me that my comments are vague, deliberately cryptic, and in the end they only seem to lead to accusations of metavoting anyway. They’re kind of an attempt to squash down the thought processes of a review into a bite-sized morsel, and the results are frustrating for me to write and probably frustrating to read. And so, reviews, as one last little niche of activity I’ve closed myself into. I am indeed a dinosaur.

It wasn’t me who organized that Pokemovement and stole your thunder, FA – although I think you’ve mostly gotten over that by this point anyway – but all the same I guess this can be considered some sort of amends. The mini-MYMer review that I usually put at the start of these articles, this time I’ll disperse throughout it, mentioning your other sets here and there and wherever it’s convenient. Here we go.

Part I – Elesh Norn

So Elesh Norn is a sort of cult leader figure, with an over-the-top emphasis on order, hierarchy, structure, harmony… all those lovely ideals for a united society. And like every cult leader, she brings up zealous soldiers prepared to die for a cause, then gives creepy garbled speeches to convince them that it’s time to do it.

[or she just utterly gimps every foe who leaves the stage with her FAir]

She’s a minion character – in his comment, Junahu quite rightly said that it doesn’t innovate too much within its genre, one that’s been explored in about a hundred different directions since it first emerged in King Dedede’s FSpec. I’ve never been one to begrudge a moveset for not innovating explicitly through its playstyle when there are so many other ways to differentiate one summoner from another – through characterization, through attitude toward minions, through movesetting style, through approach to spacing. Elesh Norn is one of those old-school summoners with very great control over her summons who prefers to keep herself well clear of the battlefield most of the time; that’s the sort of summoner we already had people reacting against as early as MYM7, with Ocon’s Sho Minamimoto. But it’s no doubt fitting for a hierarchy-obsessed cultist to see it as only right that the leader stays regally apart from the hubbub, doing what she does best by god-given talent – leading, of course.

This attitude is brought across very well, with what explicitly aggressive options she has herself feeling regal and haughty – pokes and pinches and peeved cape swings – and I like the idea of having at least one minion enter the battlefield with you, so that there is no moment when she’s unattended.

And then there’s the rest, a laundry list of concerns of mine:

  • Those pinches and pokes I just praised just can’t deal serious knockback. For a pinch to deal serious knockback is the most visually incongruous thing I can imagine in Brawl – it doesn’t make sense according to any sorts of physics. It can deal a ton of damage or a ton of hitstun, but at least skimp on the knockback. And I’ll make this the bullet point for tackiness – er, that throw that forces the foe to physically bow every time they turn to Elesh Norn? I mean, maybe-just-maybe you can get away with it here because the cult-leader motif can tie into a brainwashing one, but it’s a bit of a stretch and as usual this sort of effect feels forced for playstyle convenience.
  • Now, the cape… I can’t help agreeing with Junahu that it’s an overly comic move for Elesh Norn to use to incapacitate the foe. Restricting options, closing up movement – that gets a big yes in a moveset for a white character, but in this way? The concrete wall works much better and also provides my favourite aspect of her game: standing up on high like the god you think you are and allowing your minions to keep the foe grounded down below. Again, though, we tie into the concern: from up here your cape becomes very easy to cast across the whole of the battlefield, and a very attractive option, and you can see why the structured, organized war zone you’re trying to engineer down there becomes an awkward cartoon once everybody is writhing around under a rug.
  • Here’s just something to chew on: white is the very last colour to have anything in the way of innovation. White is all about patterns, about rules, about formulas, and about doing things by the book. Perhaps Elesh Norn’s options are a few too many.

There are a few more things that I like that I haven’t mentioned, though: for instance, how you simplify the tilts and aerials to function perfectly well as close-range options and only double as summons manipulators, while allowing the smashes to do most of the crazy stuff and the specials to drive her game. This is probably why the moveset feels like such a polished, well-developed take on the summoner. There’s also something oddly restrictive about the moveset that almost makes it feel like Elesh Norn is going to spend a lot of the battle not using any attacks at all – it might be that bit about the tome dude only firing his laser if she’s immobile, and other little touches like that, that signify that for her to really operate at higher levels of play your inputs are going to be used sparingly and carefully. It’s very White to be stingy with your inputs.

As I look over this moveset, I find myself recalling your first summoner, Cofagrigus, probably one of your less fondly-remembered sets from MYMX. That set, too, had a heavy emphasis on mucking up the foe’s mobility options, although it did it with no less tackiness via that awkward mummification mechanic. The idea at the set’s nucleus was just as clear there as it is here, though – and this brings me to my main theory about your movesetting, which is that really your approach to movesetting is a lot like mine. It’s always immediately evident that there’s a clear, distinctive playstyle centerpiece to your movesets, and it’s not a move or two as it often is for Warlord but really just an idea. When I say working with ideas over execution, you can say to me Kyubey, just as you can say anything from Espeon to caterpie. And for that matter, do you thrive on characters that don’t come part-and-parcel with a playstyle concept? It seems I don’t, and likewise when you work with something that doesn’t have the suggested ideas of a Gamzee or a Hoppip, you get Fruity Yummy Mummy.

I might be wrong, of course… but your movesets always strike me as pure ideas, pure unbridled creativity that sometimes strains to get across through the constraints of practical Brawl implementation. It’s almost as if the platform is inadequate for what you want to do. Or maybe I’m just projecting my own concerns. Whatever the case may be, we should explore on and keep it in the back of our minds for now.

Part II – Jin-Gitaxias

So Jin-Gitaxias is a mad scientist, intent on perfecting all life forms. Always with perfection and ideal forms with these guys, isn’t it? And with blue you’ve got to walk a fine line between restrictions and patterns – after all, these are still the sorts of people that like to follow a good textbook in their procedures – and potentially ruinous creativity, because they’re also the ones most likely to get carried away with their own cleverness. And on that account, the mix-and-match that is Jin-Gitaxias’s playstyle is pretty close to perfect. There’s a preferred procedure, of course, a series of checks and balances, but a particularly ambitious player can ditch all that altogether and go for broke, plying on every trick in the trade and making up his own process as he goes along.

So that’s very well done, and of course as an approach to the combo character this is utterly new stuff – it certainly can’t be accused of not innovating, as Elesh Norn can, and maybe that’s nice and appropriate given their colours (ooh, I love doing that!). I always thought Jason had a really great thing going with giving the foe a weapon with which to fight him but at the same time taking away options that might actually stand a better chance against him. Jin doesn’t give a weapon but a bunch of statistic changes, and the mix-and-match that ensues means that his combos don’t have the usual troubles with limitations and linearity. There’s little risk of every match coming down to the same sequences of moves. And on those grounds I can fully see why Warlord would love this set – here, at last, is a combo character that needs every input, or close enough as makes no difference.

And for my part I’m especially happy with the way you implement throwing items into the moveset – allowing him to generate items might be a bit dangerous in balance terms, but it certainly opens interesting new options for a combo game and especially when he can carry two at once. I feel like I must have missed something, though – he can carry an item and still use his standard attacks, if he has extra arms, right? And likewise I think the DSmash is somehow underwritten. Look:

So what do they do when thrown? Well, the first time they will dig into the foes flesh and release the red liquid into them, dealing 7%-24% based on charge and some nasty stun. This is impossible to infinite with, but with syringes do allow for some rather impressive combos. In particular, throwing one one up into the air will allow you to entirely restart the combo once it lands, and can serve as a quick way of extending one if thrown in the middle. Certainly allows for plenty more complex tricks if you know how to use them, but pulling out one is laggy. That said, this gives a more important use to the extra arms from the Side Special, allowing you to hold two at once for even more cruelty.

Er… wait, so what do they do when thrown? Damage and hitstun? “The first time”? What about the second time? And why does this allow for combos with syringes, just because their hurtbox is all screwy? I can’t imagine what complex tricks you could be talking about. They sound like generic throwing items with slightly longer hitstun to me. Something must be going over my head.

Those interrogations aside, I also find the one transformation on the tilts/aerials, that UTilt, jarring. Similarly the DAir feels like you’re really reaching – I mean, fighting with dirt is so primitive, and so utterly beneath the scientific ubermind that is Jin-Gitaxias – and I’m a mite bothered by the way the UAir feels compelled to force an effect if used against a specific transformation. Again, this is a level of complexity that feels out-of-place on an aerial, given the way you designed this moveset.

Naturally these are petty quibbles. Jin is very polished and very well-done, although I find him rather more claustrophobic than Elesh Norn in terms of how his playstyle unfolds. Anyway here again we have a very clear idea nucleus – mutating the foe to enable your combos – and then the execution built around it. If I trip up at balance, you seem to do it more often at internal logic, which is why Junahu had so many bones to pick. That’s his thing, after all.

A few words about Hoppip, now, which I bring up because this is a set that appeals to Warlord and that was a set that half-convinced me that you were Warlord. I never for a second thought you were DM – you write nothing like him, nor was the style of design in the moveset anything like what he’s been doing for the last year or so. But Hoppip! Now when I look back, it reminds me of CB’s Shelmet. It’s flow 101, applied not without skill to a very basic character who can and should get away with a very “small” playstyle. It’s perfect that Hoppip’s playstyle should involve pushing cotton spores around and then childishly lifting them up, up and away. That’s why this moveset put such a chip on your shoulder, not because it’s such an amazing playstyle but because it’s so well-suited for Hoppip that there’s simply no arguing with it. Nobody has seriously denied that the ideas behind any of your playstyles since have been interesting – the question has always been whether they’re A) pulled off well and B) well-suited to the character at hand. Or, I guess, C) simply too much to swallow, a la Wailord, who convinces the reader at the outset that this is a joke set and doesn’t really do anything to dispell that other than provide an interesting and (arguably) deep playstyle. He’s still way too big for Brawl and utterly out-of-place next to every other character. He’s still effectively playing a different game from Brawl. But for me, with all my concern for characters that play out cinematically, Wailord, with his stalwart flight to freedom, is a weirdly moving set. Anyway I wrote more eloquently about it (and nine other sets) in my MYMX Top Ten. He was #7. My feelings haven’t changed. I like dealing with pure ideas once in a while, and I like movesets that write their own game modes. See my review of Pachirisu for much more of that.

Part III – Sheoldred

So Sheoldred is this sort of manipulative, untrustworthy politician, the sort of captain who would refuse to go down with her sinking ship and instead flee to go on surviving and scheming? Back when I played, they seemed to find it all to easy to make villainous black characters, but compared to Jin and Elesh Norn, Sheoldred seems downright likable. She’s also awkwardly huge. Here goes yet another giant FA character (that I will end up liking more than your more serious normal-sized characters to your unending chagrin).

The first thing I notice about this set is that Sheoldred seems too fiendishly gleeful with her own torture schemes to bother with trifles like good English:

A whoosh of wind is the heard and anything directly behind her is pushed back 1 Battlefield platform

And she doesn’t seem to want to bother with elaboration on important points, either:

This severing has her body take half normal knockback when it is separated. Really, on the surface the cord doesn’t serve a purpose at all.

Wait, cord? You mean that tail of hers when she’s detached from her body? Hmm…

This is a pretty recurring issue throughout the moveset, and I can honestly say that even reading closely I come up with a ton of questions. I don’t think I get the USpec at all – so first of all, this isn’t a recovery, right? If you’re stupid enough to walk off the stage as Sheoldred’s monster body, you’re just dead, yes? So secondly, wait, what does this mean?:

Foes who go inside the ring can move through it at their normal air speed, but cannot move down inside the ring or jump out, being suspended in the air.

Foes who go… inside the ring… can move through it, but they cannot move out of it? And then later when you introduce the idea of capturing oil or spikes in these floating rings, although it sounds devilishly cool, I can’t for the life of me understand the point of it. Maybe the spikes, but the oil? Doesn’t it have its effect when the foe is standing in it?

The general rushed air of this set, which definitely sets it apart from the polish of the first two Praetors, is especially clear in the playstyle section, where you say these two things two paragraphs apart:

Sheoldred is a rather tricky sort of character to play as.

Really, your not exactly a complicated character to play.

It’s as if you’re making up your mind as to what Sheoldred is like to play as you’re writing the very playstyle section! I think it’s a hint that you didn’t think quite as much of your work here as you did in Elesh Norn and Jin-Gitaxias.

And I do have to confess that Sheoldred feels pretty scattershot and all-over-the-place. Her head-body mechanic is a fine centerpiece all on its own, but when you add her propensity for soaring through sky raining black magic, her unique (er, relatively) KO method, her  bizarre recovery, her invisibility mindgames (er, orbs are invisible when passing through oil? I neither understand how you can get a projectile to go through oil nor why this works this way, outside of convenience), her heavy stage control focus, and just the fact that she’s so massive, she has an awful lot of stuff going on that doesn’t all necessarily cohere in a satisfying way. And in fact this is just right for the black Praetor; if blue and white are supposed to do things by the book, generally speaking, this is the colour most likely to do absolutely anything, whatever pops into its head, differently every time, adapting its scheme at the drop of a pin. I’m not sure Sheoldred really has any scheme here other than hideously murdering the foe, and that means that the many ways she can play out don’t feel entirely like variations on a theme, which is no doubt how we like our versatility… but all the same there are some great moments in this moveset. I’m especially fond of the oil hot-tub she can make herself and lounge in, quite invisible, while the foe writhes around in agony just next to her.

And here of course the character who comes to mind is Vol Opt. I’m very fond of how well Vol Opt represents a massive character in Brawl; this is just about as close as it gets to a playable, implementable boss, and of course on a strictly subjective level I find the ideas here irresistable. The interactivity of creating your own fortress, or maze or whatever you want to call it, is imaginative but in the most mechanical sort of way – which is a good thing! And the similarities between Vol Opt and Sheoldred are unmistakable, both of them offering an overly clunky “main” body and a much more mobile, slippery second body meant to turn the stage around that large, vulnerable behemoth intraversable. Nobody else (majora’s Deviljho and the now-ancient Valozarg excepted) has really tried to make these giant-sized movesets, and maybe it’s because it’s the sort of idea that just sounds too risky for Brawl. It’s too distant from what we have now, too hard to balance. Only the kind of guy who would make a moveset for Wailord would ever seriously attempt this kind of thing.

Part IV – Urabrask

So Urabrask is a generic blacksmith with a temper. Fascinating.

Okay, that DSpec is probably one of the most exciting moves I’ve seen this side of Black Doom.

Red characters aren’t innovative so much as reckless. Black cheats instead of using the rulebook; red burns the rulebook and makes up its own process. There’s not really any rhyme or rhythm to a red character’s gameplan, other than a general intent to cause as much destruction and mayhem as possible. And Urabrask, who has metal blocks soaring around willy-nilly through the air, random stockpiles of hovering bubbles here and there on the stage, lava pits creeping around, and awe-inspiring structures sprouting up wherever he cares to place them – with the main intent, of course, being simply flinging them around – does this very well. Inconsistent physics, Junahu? Urabrask doesn’t care about your physics!! Urabrask just cares about BURNING things, and ZAPPING things, and SMASHING things! The moveset is terribly schizophrenic and doesn’t seem to have even the vaguest concern for consistency, and this I will excuse for the character’s sake. It’s perfectly red to have one fire stream that melts stuff, one that goes through stuff, and one that makes stuff just plain blow up.

Wait, makeshift PK starstorm? What the hell? That’s the best thing I ever heard!

And then his throwgame, naturally, involves him just throwing stuff around. He’ll throw a foe, a block, or a bloody ball of lava if he so pleases. There’s a lot of room for playing around in this moveset, and in fact Urabrask seems to make a playhouse of the stage with an almost childlike glee. The characterization here is topnotch.

And this is how I justify how much I liked this moveset, that and one other: this moveset is utterly unconcerned with execution. Like I said earlier, instead of having trouble with balance you sometimes have trouble with making your animations consistent. This moveset just chews those problems up, spits them into a lava pool, pummels the pool with rocks, zaps it with lightning, throws it into the sky and blows it to smithereens. In the sense that this is just pure unbridled creativity with hardly the most passing concern for feasibility or internal logic, it’s the most FA moveset ever made. And damn if I don’t love it when people amp their style up to 11 – why do you think I liked Sid’s Toys so much? These are uncompromising works, and I never like it when people compromise their approaches for one another’s sakes.

I’m not going to be like Warlord, then, and say that there’s nothing to complain about here – that’s ridiculous. If I adjusted my perspective just a bit, I could find a great many things to complain about. But none of them are relevant to what the moveset is trying to be, and on that front it fills me with a sort of manic enthusiasm I don’t think I’ve felt since Warlord and I were last on the same page regarding what’s good in a moveset. I pretend I’m above it, but really I’m still a sucker for pure creativity. Urabrask offers that in gobs, in an endlessly fascinating weave of a playstyle which I can’t by rights call restrictive in any way – rather, I’d like to view it as a journey of discovery, leaving it to the player to mess around with each different fire stream or lightning bolt on each different target and discover the awesome, eventually rewarding results for themselves.

If this reminds me of any other set you’ve made, it’s Gamzee. I find that moveset devilishly weird and hard to make heads or tails of; the utterly casual way in which you introduce some really bizarre and unique concepts is jarring, in a good way – I mean, an FSmash that instantly breaks shields? A tiny, low-detail special in which Gamzee just vanishes from the battlefield? This sort of thing just isn’t done! Scandalous! Unbelievable! And it’s all pretty intoxicating stuff, which I find even more alluring on a reread. It’s another moveset that doesn’t burden itself with trying to work out what’s practical. No wonder you like it more than most of your own sets. It’s another no-compromise work.

Part V – Vorinclex

So Vorinclex is just a massive monster that eats things. Perfection via natural selection – a nice enough idea, but not really how it works, I think. And it’s kind of neat how we come full circle to an organization that’s slightly off, as with Elesh Norn, while the middle three all had a very strandardized Praetorian organization. Could it be because Blue/Black/Red are more commonly the colours of Phyrexia, with white and green as outliers?

And his playstyle is suitably gigantic; it’s hard to imagine a bigger playstyle than this, a playstyle farther apart from the humility of Hoppip. Vorinclex is terraforming the stage as he hustles about, and when he charges it’s hard not to be imposed (which you reinforce nicely by making him a truly unpredictable threat as he dashes toward you). I also really appreciate his slithery, reptilian wall-crawling game.

After that, though, I can’t help viewing it as anticlimactic after all the bombast and gloriously unrestrained inspiration of Urabrask. I can only feebly echo Junahu, wondering why Vorinclex doesn’t do any actual eating, and also cluck a bit about the tackiness of seeing mountains sliding about the stage. It’s a solid, workmanlike moveset, and in that it suits green very nicely. I always found this colour hellishly boring.

On a completely unrelated note, then, I’d just like to say a few words about Homura, which impressed me to no end when I first read and still strikes me as inspired. The idea here is just so graceful and so interesting that it would take one hell of a wonky execution to bunk it up, and as we all know I’m more concerned with the idea anyway. In fact, this has always been your issue: is the idea at the center of your moveset good enough to survive an often-rocky practical translation? This is why the balance gurus and the Junahu will always be able to find reasons to quibble with what you do. It’s also probably why you often seem to post a moveset full of enthusiasm and soon lose faith in your own work: you’re posting it still high off your own supply, off your own ideas, and then comes along someone like Warlord to point out all the reasons it doesn’t actually work the way you had intended it to, or imagined it to. In that, you remind me of Wizzerd, who no doubt had something interesting going on in his head when he made Lucario Remix (and I still believe that purely theoretically, purely design-wise, that’s a very cool moveset) and was the first to say the moveset should just be spat on once the practical limitations were pointed out to him. Similar case with Dr Strangelove, only that was a moveset like Homura or Urabrask with enough raw creativity and ingenuity in its idea to survive those execution-related concerns.

And so when the playstyle you sort of had a foggy vision of in your head for your Gatstaf Shepherds or your Kyubeys turns out not to actually be what you wanted it to out there, in the real world, you turn your back on your own moveset. Why not? It’s not an accurate representation of you or your idea, after all. It’s a botched representation. And that sounds quite reasonable to me. Maybe I’m starting to understand why Wiz so vehemently turned his back on Slowpoke or Sukapon.

[my initial reaction to Sukapon was a hippo of epic proportions – I reckon that at the time I had the will to step away from the annoyingly dominating current of general opinion, but not the actual justification worked out yet, and so you get movesets that I champion for no reason whatsoever and I get away with it because comments are still ridiculously tiny at the time. By MYM7 I had the thinking to back up the opinions, although they’ve never stopped being contested, nor should they ever be]

With that utterly unrelated tangent/confession, I’m going to bring this beast of a review to a close. Thank you for the experience, FA, and hope you enjoyed the phony psychoanalysis.

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Responses

  1. “the balance gurus and the Junahu”
    Wow, ‘the Junahu’. Am I my own trope now?

    Your talk of colours is nice, though I think it falls into the standard Rool justification of selectively analysing something until it fits into the square hole.

    I do wonder if the sets could have done more to get me interested in their universe. I always feel like I’m missing some context with a trading card set, or an anime set, or a Metroid set.
    Presumeably traps and set-ups are a big part of the Praetors, or at least a big part of MAGIC. Personally, I’d love to hear more about the game itself, along with FA’s reasoning behind the playstyle choices he made for the 5 sets.

    • Yeah, the Junahu – you know, like the Borg, or the Predator. That sort of thing. 😉

      If you’d asked me four years ago I could have given you an endless stream of contextualizing articles. Some of them might even be interesting in a vacuum. As is I’ll have to leave it to FA. It’s not about traps so much, but there is certainly a good deal of setting up involved in getting things as huge as the Praetors into the game in earnest (and once they’re there, they tend to define the rules of the game for as long as they’re active).

      “Your talk of colours is nice, though I think it falls into the standard Rool justification of selectively analysing something until it fits into the square hole.”

      It’s funny how nicely everything in the world fits together when you analyze it selectively.

  2. I am so sorry I haven’t gotten to reply to the review yet.

    I’d love to give a more in depth comment, talking about my thoughts on each of the reviews and replying to a few of the complaints you have, but I really don’t have the time tonight and I won’t have an internet access this weekend. I’ll try to give a more detailed response then.

    For now I have two things to say. One, I am so glad you were willing to this for me, it’s a huge favor of you. I’ve always enjoyed reading your MYMer reviews, their incredibly insightful and give some darn good advice. Having one about me is quite the honor.

    Second, I’m glad to see you enjoyed Urabrask so much. I really had a blast writing that set and I’m incredibly happy with the final result. Funny, you compared it to Gamzee and those were the two sets I enjoyed writing the most. I was actually not sure you’d like it, to be honest. But yeah, once again thanks for the review, it really means a lot.

  3. To all of which I say: it was my pleasure.

  4. hey cool, a review for a bundle of 5 characters on the Bunker no less!

    😀

    🙂

    :]

    :\

    :[

    😦

    😡

    >:C

  5. FA, I’m real happy for you and I’ll let you finish

    But Joe had the HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA


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