Easy Like Sunday Morning

For a couple of months now, my wife has been going to the gym with her sister on Sunday mornings. They’re usually out most of the day, so that leaves me alone with our dog (Daisy) and our cat (Ella). It’s great because I get to watch F1 and lounge around the house most of the day. However, last weekend I spent my time digging into the No Man’s Sky update because there was no F1 to watch, this weekend I wanted something else I could play while F1 was on the TV in the background. I opted for Anachronox… I’ve been doing some research into dialog and combat systems for PSX-era RPGs lately, and even delving into some earlier games that have the mechanics I’m fond of.

My routine is usually being woken up by my wife as she’s on her way out the door around 7:30–8am. I get up, decide whether or not I want, or need, coffee; move out to the couch and turn on the TV. Daisy usually follows me, she sits in front of the couch staring at me… “What? What do you want??” And then I remember that my wife probably hasn’t fed her breakfast, so I head back into the kitchen and give her a scoop of dog food, and this makes my hungry, so I make myself something to eat. Daisy doesn’t bother eating her own food, she follows me back into the living room and stares at me while I eat my food, hoping that I’ll drop something and feel sorry for her, only to share with her what I’m eating. Sometimes I give in, tossing her a morsel or two to nibble on, other times I’m annoyed, and I just ignore her. If I ignore her, eventually I see her disappear into the kitchen, and in a couple of minutes I can hear the crunch of dog food as she angrily despises the fact that she doesn’t have any human food to eat. By the time I’m done eating myself, Ella finally appears out of seemingly nowhere. She hops on the couch and begins to yell at me — ragdolls are infamous for their vocal qualite — there’s no reason for it, because I know that she has food, that’s the one bowl that I don’t need to fill when I wake up. I usually give in though, and at least pet her for a few minutes, usually this shuts her up until I’m done petting her, but she’s not done letting me pet her… This continues on until I’m over it and I shoo her off the couch (imagine a solid hour of a grown man tending to his feline companion, trying desperately to console her frustrations with the world.)

Lewis Hamilton tied Schumacher’s record for pole positions on Saturday, it was pretty exciting. Hamilton, to me, is like the Dennis Rodman of F1; he wears flashy jewelry and has neck tattoos. I wouldn’t be opposed to technicolored hair dye, but I don’t think he’d go quite that far. For anyone interested, it was a pretty good race:

Between the end of qualifying and the start of the actual race (I was watching the two back to back thanks to DVR), I stumbled upon Anachronox. I’ve actually heard of the game before, and have read a few articles on it. The game has appeared on a few top 100 RPG lists even. But I’ve never played it. When it came out I wasn’t much of a PC gamer, and the games that I did play tended to be stuff like C&C, WarCraft, StarCraft, Diablo… Well, you get the idea, Blizzard still reigns supreme when it comes to certain PC gamers. Be it WoW or Overwatch, and even Hearthstone, they’ve cornered the market for a certain segment of the populous, and this partially due in part to their amazing CG trailers as well as expertly crafted mechanics. I only bitch and complain these days due in part to the fact that I choose to game on Linux-based platforms. Herein lies the beauty of Anachronox.

It’s an old enough game that it doesn’t require much computing power. The laptop that I use is actually a Chromebook. I’ve sold out, I’m all about the Google ecosystem these days. My phone is Android, my email is actually “gmail”, my work schedule is dictated by appointments I set on my Google Calendar. The most recent versions of Chrome OS have Android app support built in. But here’s the kicker: One of the devs at Google has released a script he affectionately refers to as “crouton”, the Chrome OS Universal Chroot Environment. Once you’ve unlocked your Chromebook, it’s easy enough to install a fully-fledged Linux environment, either on the SSD supplied, or on an SD card that you can access at any time.

I’ve opted for the SD card. My Chromebook only comes pre-loaded with 8GB of storage, but it’s easily expandable to 80+GB with a simple microSD.

One of the options available is to install a full Ubuntu system, if you go with XFCE you’re really not taxing the hardware much, and this is where the fun comes in. With Ubuntu repositories, or the ability to add additional repositories, you can install Lutris. Lutris is a Python script that helps in configuring and cataloging all of the games on your system. Along with that it is useful when setting up WINE prefixes. WINE is recursive acronym for “Wine Is Not a Windows Emulator”. On the contrary, it’s a compatibility layer, once you have the functionality to install Windows software on your Unix-like device, it’s fairly simple to install a Windows copy of Steam, and therefore install Windows games under it. Thankfully, Anachronox is an older game that doesn’t require much in the way of CPU or GPU acceleration.

If you’ve gone through the steps above Anachronox runs beautifully. Personally I’m running this setup on a Samsung Chromebook 3 which has been opened up via Developer Mode as well as switched over to the Beta Channel for Chrome OS… Every time that you see me online on Steam playing something like Final Fantasy VII or Anachronox, it’s because I’m running a copy of the Windows version of Steam under Wine 2.13 Staging. It runs remarkably well on such limited hardware. It also affords me most of the luxuries under which a regular Windows 7 users would have.

Needless to say, I digress… But I feel that it’s important to enunciate the system by which I engage in these older games.

Getting back to Anachronox though… I was amazed… I’m familiar with Ion Storm, as most of us are, in relation to Dai Katana at least. During that same time that John Ramero was working on his magnum opus though, Tom Hall was busy hacking away at the Quake II engine to make it function like Final Fantasy VII, in addition to incorporating on-screen enemy encounters like Chrono Trigger.

As Western effort in the vein of traditional JRPGs was not a thing when Anachronox came out. In fact, it was quite the outlier. I think this is partially why the game did so horribly. Most of us only found out about the game after it hit the bargain bins. Ironically, one of the reasons I picked it up this past weekend was partially due to the fact that it was only $7. If I had picked it up on GoG even, I could have saved another whole $1. I’m not sure what the price discrepancy is between Steam and GoG, but it really doesn’t matter much. The fact that this gem is even available in this day and digital age is a bit of a gaming miracle. Then again Square did merge with Eidos, and Square has been pretty good about putting out classic games in one port or another on either Steam or mobile platforms. Considering this was already tooled for Windows, I don’t doubt that it wasn’t difficult to make sure it met the Steam requirements.

The game does start off slow, and I’ve only spent around 6 hours of my time with it. That being said, I can already vouch for the western humor that poses to pass for a substitute of anime tropes. Hall was definitely mindful of the audience while crafting this experience, and it is too his (of those of his team’s) credit that this game lives on.

Combat and puzzles are fairly pedestrian, with mouse inputs being quite cumbersome… Keep in mind, I’m playing this on a laptop with a touchpad. And the WASD movement is a bit awkward, if not oddly familiar yet jarring for a game of this ilk. It’s an amazing fat that they turned a shooter engine into an RPG. Remarkably, the quest log does a decent job of keeping you on course, and item management is simple enough, even if it apes the FF endless bag paradigm. Meanwhile, what the game doesn’t steal from its inspiration, it pioneers. SquareSoft of the 90s would have never dreamed of doing in-engine cut scenes and vocieover work. While the majority of Anachronox is text, there is a fair amount of spoken dialog as well. I haven’t read any article yet that implies any inspiration was drawn from Metal Gear Solid, but it does much in the same way for cinematics as Kojima’s masterpiece. All of the story is told in-engine, and a cinematic camera is favored over pre-rendered extravaganzas.

The one thing that Square hasn’t done is implement achievements into the game to better suit the other games that Anachronox runs against on the Steam platform, though “The Last Remnant” doesn’t offer any such features either, and is a much newer game by comparison.

Overall I’m enjoying my time exploring this relic of the past, ever mindful of the influences and place it holds in the gaming pantheon. My only hope is that Joe Madureira’s “Battle Chasers: Night War” and “YIIK” follow suit, offering just as an engaging world and universe to explore as it does offering the same level of dedication to its source material. Anachronox is a definite purchase for any of you out there who are just as much of a nerd as I am, and appreciative of the fact that someone took the time to develop a western JRPG.