Obligatory Shining carpet is go.

I've tried to avoid spoilers, but if you want to go in completely cold, I suggest reading only the first three items and saving the rest for later.

  • The light switch in the bedroom should do something significant if flipped twice. If it does not, reload or keep trying on other loops until it does, then make use of that information as you see fit. I ran into a bug where the switch simply acted normally on the second flip, and I wasted an hour trying futilely to act on incorrect knowledge.
  • The Morse code painting is a stupid aphorism and not worth deciphering.
  • THE ENDING and its terribleness have captured most of the conversation about the game - in fact, that's a big part of why I played this game: to see what everyone was talking about - but I think that concentrating on the particular aspect of the terrible ending that's received so much attention fails to explain completely why so many are coming out of this game so profoundly unsatisfied. It's more than just a single element at the end (though it is a significant element), or even that the journey proves ultimately not to be worth undertaking. The journey itself is a long exercise in frustration and unfulfillment. Twelve Minutes is extremely persnickety about timing and precision and everything-in-its-place and is not shy about resetting its time loop for the slightest offense; I got booted one time because my character shifted on a sofa. Though the game offers shortcuts for some processes, experimenting with how to progress after a certain point requires grinding every single time through an exhausting Rube Goldberg-like laundry list of setup busywork (that, of course, is prone to errors and the aforementioned resetting due to the sheer number of steps involved) to get back to the specific scenario that requires advancement. Furthermore, the game will let you chase down a number of avenues that lead to complete dead ends - there are so many "discoveries" that do absolutely nothing. Making progress is at once hair-pulling and extraordinarily tedious - the game has absolutely no respect for your time.
    If you make it through, you'll reach a point where the game's narrative could have reached a perfectly satisfactory, graceful little conclusion. It chooses instead to go for one more twist - the mean, rancid twist that turns the entire story into a malicious joke and has prompted all the "worst ending of the year" talk. But then - and no one talks about this - there's another twist that undoes everything that came before that. One of the big radioactive twists in fiction - the biggest, most hackneyed cliches. The preceding couple of sentences probably brought to your mind two possible twists. It's one of those two. And it undoes everything - except for the nasty bit of material that has everyone trash-talking the title. This is, top to bottom, a tremendously unrewarding game.
  • To expound, without spoilers, on the primary objectionable story element a bit more: it reminds me of the Kevin Smith story about meeting a director to write a Superman film, and the director starts enumerating the elements that he thinks are sine qua non for a Superman movie, elements that he's just sure big comics fan Kevin Smith will agree are indispensible, and the first three are sensible requirements for a Superman story, and the fourth is that a giant spider has to be in the movie. (The director went on to make the Wild Wild West movie, which featured in its climax a giant mechanical spider.) Of all the things on which to center a narrative, how did the writer end up focusing on this one? As Alex Navarro said on the Nextlander podcast (which I found as I was surfing around looking for reactions to this thing): "If that was the story that dude had in mind all this time, I'm amazed someone put money behind that shit."
  • I've seen a number of reviews state that the level of violence is unacceptable. What these reviews don't mention is that they're committing it themselves, unnecessarily. You will have to watch your character get strangled numerous times, which is the end of the home invasion scenario, and you do have to drug a character repeatedly to knock them out. You also have to shoot the home invader/cop in the arm at one point, which multiple outlets have deemed "torture" but I certainly did not see as such - you have the guy's wrists restrained, but even when you're trying to talk to him reasonably, he keeps trying to struggle free and fuck you up (which he will, if you don't do something); shooting him in a nonlethal area is the only way to subdue him, and as he will kill you absent intervention, I really didn't feel too bad about this. The most violent mandatory thing is that you have to watch the wife get roughed up to get a certain clue - which is absolutely not pleasant. (That said, I understand you can skip even this if you're unsuccessful enough, as someone in the spoiler threads I browsed posted that the game eventually gave them this info at the end of one of the home invasion scenarios - it usually cuts out before that.)
    Polygon stated that most of the violence is against the wife. It is if you kill her, which you do not have to do. (Granted, the game is obtuse enough where you might think: "...do I have to do this to proceed?" You do not.) The game also evidently allows you to collude with the cop when he subsequently walks in and stage her death as a suicide, which apparently leads to some grisly scenes. You can also shoot the cop more than necessary, shoot your wife or yourself, stab yourself, etc. etc. Again, though, all of these are optional. The game lets you be violent and go down dark paths, but complaining about this is a case of "stop hitting yourself." I did none of the above and was able to finish the game. Most of the violence I experienced was against my character, who was male (which does not make that violence right, obviously, but does make complaining about the game's violence against women specifically odd).
  • That said (1): The game does nearly everything in its power to make you resent your wife and treat her as an obstacle instead of a partner. She will lie to you extensively, even when it's clear your lives are at stake and survival depends on honesty. She will get you killed by insisting (not out of understandable base fear, just indignant irritation) you come and save her barehanded from the man with the gun and the knife, betraying your location (the game subscribes to that moneyed version of gender politics where the woman is nominally liberated but expects the man to do everything and thinks he can, and should, solve any problem). She will interrupt you when you're trying to get items and make preparations. She will refuse to take any measures to ensure her safety such as leaving the apartment when asked, no matter how much you plead. The game will not (until the very end) let you collude with her or make preparations for the incipient home invasion. She will insist on, and dismiss, a frustrating amount of evidence that something is awry before she'll help you. This game is going to do nothing for the declining marriage rate.
  • That said (2): The game makes it easy to kill your wife accidentally, despite indicating otherwise initially. The first time I flirted with it - it was during the phase where my progress unbeknownst to me had been impeded by a bug, when I was desperate to figure out the game's chain of logic and wondering if this, of all things, was what the game wanted - the game stopped me from going through with it. It instead had the protag note: "No coming back from this. If I do this, I'm a killer forever," which I (but apparently no one else) took as a signal that "hey, don't do this." I accidentally used knife on wife sometime subsequently, with the same result, so I assumed that that warning triggered whenever you tried to knife the wife. So in the late game, when you actually are, finally, allowed to hand things to your wife in preparation for the subsequent cop encounter, I tried to hand her the knife for self-defense, in the same manner I was handing her other items. The game interpreted this as me wanting to stab her and just launched into it, without the previous prelude. I hard quit the game before the animation could really get going, so I think it didn't count, but - what?
  • That said (3): I think some of the perceived severity of the violence stems from its realistic depiction in an everyday setting. The victims are mundane people usually rendered helpless and unable to defend themselves, and they're relatably panicky and scared when violence is anticipated (and near-inevitably arrives). The results aren't cartoony or clean, with execution and reactions often clumsy in a way that's simultaneously human (the mocap is very effective here) and unpleasant; if you opt to have your character use the gun on himself, for example, he'll eventually shoot himself in the head...but it goes wrong, and he doesn't die instantly. Despite the presence of blood when needed, it's not lurid or gratuitously gory (and the game's overhead perspective imparts a certain distance), but it doesn't shy away from depicting consequences. It's a marked difference from typical video game violence of glamorous fights between equally-armed, competent combatants.
    I think the acting is also "helping" here. I've seen numerous claims that hiring celebrities was a waste of money, since James McAvoy and Daisy Ridley, at least, aren't recognizable with the American accents they're doing. I initially agreed with this sentiment based on the recognizability factor, but I ultimately came to think that they justified their pay based on pure performance choices. Given the marquee names recruited for the voice work, I think reviewers are expecting ACTING, but they're getting situation-appropriate acting that mostly manifests itself in smaller choices. It builds on the game's "messy and panicky" approach to violence, with the focus on cultivating various degrees of "harrowing," be it slighter - Ridley as her character tensely relates a series of events from her past she doesn't want to revisit and has scant time and, given the revelations she's recently had to process and confrontations looming, mental space to enumerate, her voice nervously rising at the end of each impatiently, uncertainly-recounted sentence - or significantly greater - as with McAvoy when the husband, in the second iteration of the stabbing scene, holds his wife close and tearfully chants "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry" as he knifes her like a mantra, a feeble attempt to protect and comfort himself as much as her, creating a scene that's as wrong as it should be. The numerous scenes of the husband and wife bargaining or pleading with an apparently irrational lunatic for their or their spouse's lives are wrenching without being self-indulgently lurid and make you feel the tension and panic despite the visual distance. The acting choices are effective and disturbing, and the reviewers, despite their claims, are plainly affected by them, as they're perceiving the game's violence to be more over-the-top and transgressive than it is due to the characters' voiced reactions to it.
  • While I'm on the subject of praise: the game's graphical style is also effective for both gameplay and atmosphere, giving a clear view of everything while at the same time putting you at a remove from it, sinister in its depersonalization. The use of sound is right, consisting of little music and mostly ambient background noise to underline and increase tension. The approach to puzzles, despite egregious missteps, is in some ways a step in the right direction: not calling overt attention to the stuff that's relevant to solutions, incorporating timing and location to avoid the typical genre trap of "use every item on every item," hiding stuff in plain sight, and the major role played by information - who's told what and when. It's the batshit endgame of the story and how it builds on the unrewarding parts of the gameplay that wrecks it. This is a game that's much less than the sum of its parts.
  • To my knowledge (consisting of my own playthrough and of watching two others), you cannot successfully attack the cop while he is conscious and unrestrained. The game, in one of the many dead ends in which it encourages you to waste time, gives you to plenty of reason to think otherwise - numerous points, like the closet and shower, that seem ripe for an ambush; several moments where the cop meaningfully turns his back or is distracted; fight animations that seem to "evolve" and indicate you're learning the cop's moves with each loop and can eventually out-anticipate him. Unfortunately, the main character's code of honor or something requires him to square up face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder with the home invader who's killed him several times over by this point before even attempting to attack, inevitably rendering any ambush attempt moot. I wasted so much time thinking I hadn't gotten the timing just right, or that maybe a different location or scenario would help. (In fairness, the game does have your character at one point say something like, "that guy's an ox, I gotta stop trying to fight him" - but there's so much indicating you will eventually be able to fight the cop, that failure is based on something you're doing wrong.)
  • Getting back to the previous point (sorry; the dumb "combat"'s too big not to mention, but it doesn't really fit in organically): I think this studio has potential; they just need (besides some beta testers to identify the deadeningly repetitive parts of their gameplay) a better story. I don't know that anyone's going to shell out for another story from this guy, is the thing.
  • I know this can be explained storywise, but that watch looks totally cheap-ass and nothing meriting multiple homicides.
  • Regarding the endgame, which I will spoiler despite speaking in ambiguities: After the revelation, I initially tried to confess everything - the protagonist's relationship woes and his involvement in certain events eight years ago - and take the blame for everything, even though it didn't seem entirely right (I mean, it was an accident, and neither party knew their identities). Upon hearing the whole sob story, though, the cop just up and decided "Well, fuck your shit" and just started kicking the shit out of my character out of disgust, resetting the loop, which I found hilarious.
  • After getting the "real" ending, I went back one more time and got the Far Cry 4 ending where everything comes to a more amicable conclusion if you do nothing - the wife lovingly leads you out of the apartment to share one of the game's big secrets with you of her own accord just through you listening, the end. Yeah, I know, but I think the whole evening as it happens otherwise and the fallout is best just forgotten.
  • My laptop had problems running this game on High settings for no discernible reason (probably lighting effects, but who knows). First time ever, and while I don't typically play demanding games, I've never had performance issues running Ultra with, say, Layers of Fear 2 or Dead by Daylight. Going to Low to stop the chugging had no discernible impact on my experience, for what it's worth.
  • Between this, Firewatch, Telling Lies, Gorogoa (the story parts, anyhow), and What Remains of Edith Finch (which I have not played but did see the fish part that everyone just loves, and, oh, my God, it is the most condescending shit ever committed to screen, whoever wrote that deserves to be kicked and kicked and kicked in their genitals until they die), Annapurna has established itself as bar none the most insufferable indie developer. God knows how it landed Donut County.

You may take that ironically or unironically. I live in Maine, after all. Here, the true terror begins when the snow flies.


Five Nights at Freddy's

I've finished 3 and 6 in this series after a fashion (3 by getting the incomplete bad ending, 6 by building a perfectly safe and fun pizzeria that operated utterly without incident!), but I've never actually played the original despite owning it for years. 2014 is hardly an ancient vintage, but at modern resolutions, the technical seams show a bit. There's not quite as much life imparted to the main tableau through motion and lighting as we would expect nowadays, and the font is notably jaggy. The ubiquity of the thing has also ruined most of its surprises: I imagine stuff like the trick to Foxy and the wrench it throws into your normal rounds would've been really satisfying to figure out in the day, but given how thoroughly popular knowledge has dissected FNaF, the game loop is quickly reduced to mindless chores (check Foxy's and Freddy's cameras, then the two doors; repeat ad nauseum). That said: I did not know that Freddy operated in a manner similar to Foxy; I thought he appeared only when you exhausted your power. I wish I could say I figured out how to deal with him on my own, but no; I checked an FAQ to ascertain his mechanics, as the game was wearing thin for me`at that point (Day 4) with its other secrets divulged.

I'm sounding negative here, but it's important to note that while my play experience was compromised by popular knowledge, the game gets so much stuff right about horror that's so often botched: the simple controls, which avoid distraction from onscreen events and facilitate and encourage reactions borne of primal fear; the utter lack of direction or signaling of scares; the use in a still, deserted after-hours environment of the slightest of stimuli - the sounds of shuffling feet on the carpet; staticky interruptions in video feed - to foster dread. Scott Cauthon knew how to work his limitations to his advantage. Also: while the series eventually drowned itself in depressing lore, I think one of video games' greatest jokes is the first title's complete, and wholly conscious, lack of explanation for the malevolence of those animatronics. Of course they roam the pizzeria hallways at night in search of blood. Look at them. Who wouldn't think that?


D

Hey, it's time to self-plagiarize from a Steam review again:

D was everywhere in its day, the dawn of the 3D era, and many of the reviewers at Steam (where I originally posted this review) are zeroed in on its historical import. I think two aspects are of particular note regarding its success. One, though the 3D graphics are limited (but quite good for the time), the game really illustrates how far knowledge of the language of film - editing, timing, shot composition - can go in making even a primitive 3D environment effective. D feels leaps and bounds over its contemporaries even though it's not really that much more advanced technologically. Two, though visionary director Kenji Eno's prediction of "digital actors" appearing in different roles from game to game didn't come true, his focus on his main character and her range of expression adds life where none exists in lesser titles. Eno gives the proceedings time to breathe, allows for reactions of astonishment and befuddlement and frustration and reflection from the heroine, and events seem more natural, relatable, and human for it. They go a long way in helping to tell a story largely without words.

The game does still work, I think, provided you give some latitude for the two-hour time limit and don't mind investing in a scouting-out playthrough if you're coming in cold. There's genuine tension and atmosphere, and the end of the bug flashbacks is a heck of a reveal.

If you prefer the view from the backseat, supergreatfriend's LP, which provided my first experience with the game, provides an excellent tour. (He also revisits it in a later stream with additional commentary - and pro strats!) One of my most potent memories of SGF's main runthrough came from a poster on the thread who related how he came together with his college roommates to play the game, the group entranced as they traded theories as they got a little closer to the truth each evening. They seem to have been exceptionally slow at unraveling its mysteries, but it is a testament to the game's ability, particularly in its day, to cast a spell.


Layers of Fear 2

This entire review is going to sound like I'm out of my mind, but you're going to have to trust me. You know the thing when you're in a tight space and you're trying to open a door that opens toward you, and you kind of have to squeeze yourself around the door, moving it inward as you finagle yourself around its edge, to get by? This game - this nominal horror game - is centered around replicating that experience. I'm not kidding. They made doors extremely finicky and awkward to open and get around in their engine, and then they based gameplay around negotiating them. This sounds like utter lunacy, and yet I'm not wrong, because the puzzles explicitly hinge (ha, ha) on the door parts being difficult to negotiate. They don't make sense otherwise. Like, there are several sequences where you're chased by mannequin enemies, and the only way to put enough distance between you and them is to close doors behind you, and if opening & closing doors were a straightforward process, that would be a snap, and there would be no challenge and no actual chase. But no. In fact, the vast majority of player interaction during the first half of the game consists of opening and closing an absolutely ludicrous number of doors, as if the ocean liner on which the game takes place was sponsored by Andersen.

Look: I got this game because it supposedly starred National Fucking Treasure Tony Todd, and because I found the premise intriguing - like the (unplayed-by-me) first game, it centers on the struggles of an artist, but instead of a painter, you're an actor with...actor's block, I suppose, invited aboard a cruise ship by reclusive mad director Candyman to film a life-defining role. Well, Tony Todd is barely in the dang thing; his few lines are ominous vacuities wholly unworthy of his voice; and the character's backstory consists of an extraordinarily protracted Pore Victorian Orphans routine that is really kind of ridiculous. The story is guided by four choices you make at signposted intervals, yet the game's questionable interpretation of your actions ensures your path won't reflect your character; the game outright wouldn't let make the choice I wanted at one point, and at another, it decided that I had given up and submitted to the director's instructions by, er, not doing what he wanted and going in a completely opposite direction. Then I learned that game didn't like my series of non-choices and was going to hand me a non-ending (it's one of those "moral choice" systems where your decisions have to be all one way or the other or the game throws a fit), so I made the ULTIMATE "follow my own direction" decision and opted to quit this troubled production due to creative differences.

By far the worst aspect of the game, though, is the pacing. The game takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R to spell out an extraordinarily short plot; moving through the environments is like maneuvering a submarine through frozen butter; and the gameplay is almost nonexistent (again: most of the first half of the game consists of opening and closing dozens of doors). I don't think I've ever played a game this lugubrious. Making progress was like pulling teeth. This is bad news, because the devs behind this game were also handed the keys to the Silent Hill franchise, such as it is, and between this and The Medium (which I watched via supergreatfriend's playthrough), it's apparent they have no idea how to make a narrative compelling. And it's a pity, because the devs do understand certain elements of making a Silent Hill game. The underlying plot - not the stupid, interminable Victorian orphan part; the part about the underlying nature of the main character and how the truth is hinted throughout the game - is great! The symbolism of the mannequin enemies is great! There's a bit with switching between realities, each tinted by the character's feelings toward a different family member, that's great! The game looks great! I mean, look at this thing:

It would have been clever if the presentation and gameplay were at all functional! But they're not, and the game's not.

Let's end this on a Lunar reference. Maybe? The palette seems significant:

It's too Annie Lennox.

Following the ActRaiser kinda-remake, Yuzo Koshiro is trying to stir up hype for a similar port of Terranigma:

  1. Though it's been mercifully on hiatus for the past several years, I strongly dislike the "sign this petition if you want your favorite game to come out!" promotion tactic as employed by those on the production side, even if they're a global treasure like Yuzo Koshiro. Corporate decisions are not based on fan petitions; corporations are beholden to boring things like shareholders and balance sheets and keeping people employed and can undertake projects only if they make financial sense. Pretending otherwise is just manipulating fans' emotions to get free publicity for an already-upcoming release.

  2. I have little confidence that the Square-Enix of today could handle the ending of Terranigma. I have my own reservations about it, but it's bold and profound, dealing with the biggest of issues in an unmitigated manner, and I can't see the company respecting it - being wise enough, and resistant enough to its fascination with mobile-quality bells and whistles and bloviating for its own sake, to get out of its way. Nothing approaching the concluding sequence could come out of the studio today.

That said, the ActRaiser remake was a success in that it wasn't a complete trainwreck; its reception was mixed, and outside of the lowered bars of mobile review sites, I didn't see anyone proclaiming it as a masterpiece or worthy successor to the original by any means, but it apparently wasn't a complete a mobile-asset hack job, at least. Not completely.

Which brings me to a question - initially borne out of a mistake on my part. I thought for a bit that the studio behind Mystic Ark had created Terranigma, but that was just a failure of memory on my part - Terranigma, and Soul Blazer, were from Quintet, and I had them confused with Produce, the Mystic Ark people. But: Terranigma, like the first Mystic Ark, was a 16-bit non-Dragon Quest Enix RPG that missed a U.S. release, and Square Enix seems to have learned as of late that there's money in its back catalog, even in the long-neglected Enix half of it - including the titles that never got a U.S. release. Would I want the Mystic Ark series - the SNES game and its PlayStation sequel Theatre of Illusions, from which this site takes its name - to get a release like this?

I should properly start this with "would I want The 7th Saga to get a release like this?", as Mystic Ark started as a spiritual successor to that game - but the answer there is clear: no. That title gets a lot from its austere visual and storytelling style, which really fosters the sense of a solitary journey against overwhelming odds. More banter between the Apprentices could be fun to see (there are numerous interactions that were either cut out of the original game or are rarely seen due to stacked RNG/obscure triggers), but the game overall would not benefit from friendlier, more approachable graphics or overly-chatty characters. (It also goes without saying that the U.S. version's renowned difficulty would be nerfed into the pavement.)

The first Mystic Ark also benefits significantly from silence and austerity, namely in its silent, evocative Myst-like hub world and its mysteries, as well as its sixth world, which is doing survival horror before that genre existed in full (still spoilering that; the surprise doesn't deserve to be ruined for those unaware). Its ending, where (more spoiler text) it's suggested that the main character is in fact a past incarnation of the player and that everyone has gone through their own unacknowledged struggles just to come into this world (with parental affections and significance to our existences present even in their apparent absence in our everyday lives), would also likely be ruined in a remake by dumbly well-intentioned over-explaining. As for Theatre of Illusions, I haven't gotten past the end of the second world (of presumably seven) due to an emulation issue, but as the copious production materials in the artbook make clear, in both visuals and concepts, the game was very much the baby of artist Akihiro Yamada, and that unique creative perspective would suffer in a trip to Shiny Plastic Mobiletown.

I seem very negative here, and in hashing out my feelings on this and the potential screw-ups, I suppose I am. I can't deny that I would like to see the games brought to a larger audience, though, and I would like to see what someone could do with new Mystic Ark content 20, 25 years on, even if the results are likely to be monkey's-paw in nature. I think part of this desire stems from not only the titles' obscurity but my lack of the degree of involvement I have with more beloved titles. There are parts of Mystic Ark that speak to me greatly (lonely atmospheres, understated stories, some smart storytelling moments), but the games also make significant missteps (that stupid, interminable pirate cat chapter in the first game). There's a space in my heart for it, but it wouldn't wound my soul if parts were handled incorrectly (like, say, a poorly-depicted Ghaleon would).

But then I look at this pastiche, from the Romancing Saga 3 Steam release:

The character is in standard 16-bit resolution; the barrels and trees are 32-bit; the houses and walls are 32-bit, but with some sort of smoothing filter applied; the business signs seems to be computer art that's been fed through a light pixellation filter; the illumination of the lanterns is the result of some sort of non-pixelated lighting effect; and the windows seem to be a flat CG underlay. It does have care put into it - and, significantly, many of its flaws are masked on a tiny, high-res mobile screen - but it's also wrong in a fundamental, very obvious way that demonstrates profound not getting it.

Square's most recent effort (the ActRaiser thing) is a bit more successful - but would I really want any game for which I significantly cared subjected to that treatment, even if it means new content and a wider audience? Even after mulling it over, I still can't say.

I was browsing Akari Funato's Twitter account, and I ran across a promotion of a re-release of Vheen Hikuusen on the DMM digital platform. It seems a straight export of the Birz reprint that accompanied Harmony of Silver Star's release. The art's as crisp as day and as beautiful as you'll ever see it, and the DMM reader has a much better zoom-and-enhance functionality than Amazon Japan's in-browser Kindle app - I'm seriously tempted to get it just in case I need to snip any panels. The thing is, while DMM does have its tentacles into selling all sorts of media, it's by far most renowned as a clearinghouse for every kind of Japanese porn video humanity could want. I dunno, man - I'm not an artist, and Funato's gotta do what she's gotta do, but for selling her stuff privately, God bless her, she seems to have a knack for teaming up with the most questionable companies.

Anyhow, the real reason I'm posting: I checked out the comments to see if there were any hot author convos about my most favorite game-related thing ever - and there was a hot author convo, but not about Hikuusen specifically. Someone mentioned adoring Vheen Hikuseen but never having played Lunar, and Funato let slip that she hadn't gotten the chance to play the PSP version of Silver Star yet - even though she drew the portraits for the game:

Oh, man. I always thought that Ghaleon (in his Premier outfit) looked like a cocker spaniel in Harmony, and I took the off-model art as proof that Kubooka just couldn't do his old style well enough to draw Lunar anymore. It wasn't Kubooka. It was Funato. I can't wholly blame her, as, despite drawing key frames for Mia's intro in SSS, cel stuff was never her milieu. I tried going back to Ghaleon's PSP portraits to try to find some Funato touches I missed earlier while ignorant of her involvement, but (save for him showing a little mazoku fang in that Four Heroes portrait where he's gritting his teeth) no, no - he just looks bad.

(ETA on this a month later: I took another look at the portraits, and I see that a lot of the offness comes from Funato heavily outlining the tops and sides of Ghaleon's eyes - to make him look more evil, I suppose. The most natural Ghaleon looks is in his collapsed portrait in his final boss outfit, which completely lacks those heavy lines. As Funato's intuition usually isn't off when it comes to Ghaleon, I wonder if the lines were a studio-mandated revision to make Ghaleon appear more overtly villainous.)

At least we know how they managed to get Dyne's nose right in the game.

I also found the Skeb Ghaleon pic without the "SAMPLE" watermark, though with a different watermark, in a less-obnoxious location but now opaque, appended:

Smaller res, though, even if you do the small -> orig trick on Twitter.