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ASK OLIVER
The Sweat of a Man's Brow
May 25, 2008

Oliver Motok - 7:31 CST

So, how long does it take you people to adjust to a new Q&A host? This is the third week I've done it, and I still have people writing letters addressed to "whoever answers this letter," as if it's some great mystery. What makes it even stranger is that most of these letters were sent to my personal RPGamer e-mail address. Come on, people; if you send an e-mail to metaridley64@rpgamer.com, chances are that it's going to be answered by (you guessed it) ME, Oliver Motok, your friendly neighborhood Currents columnist and Q&A host.

By the way, I apologize if I came off as slightly ill-tempered in my latest Currents column. It seems that a surge of emo-ness came over me when I wrote my intro, and caused me to complain about random things. I am better now, though, so no worries.

I am playing BioShock! I vowed not to buy another game this summer, but I was convinced to break my vow by a friend of mine who raved about the game. It turned out to be a good decision though. I don't even enjoy first-person shooters, and yet I find myself all but addicted to BioShock. The plasmids are freaking awesome. I can totally snap my fingers and set people on fire, just like Roy Mustang from the Fullmetal Alchemist series. Can't get any better than that, I tell you.

On to the LETTERS, of which there are a substantial number this week.





The Letters
Do you take the time to pick up change off the ground? I do


Dear [insert appropriate name here],

Oliver

[Oliver] or [Metaridley] are appropriate. If you wish, you could refer to me by any of the numerous variations thereof, such as "Ollie" or "Meta" or "Ridley."

I haven't written in a while, but here goes. As a recent buyer of a 360 along with a copy of Lost Odyssey (great game so far) I've been wondering what I should next purchase for my budding collection. Though Smash for the Wii is taking up a nice chunk of my time currently, I'm wondering what I should consider for future rpgaming. I'm not adverse to FPS's or other action oriented games, but when it comes to my RPGs, they need to be a little more old fashioned (i.e. turn-based). That said, I am looking into Mass Effect as a potential buy.

Oliver

Well, my friend, in purchasing an Xbox 360, you have acquired the key to this generation's greatest titles. The choices before you are all but infinite, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because you will always have quality titles to choose from, but bad because you'll either a) go broke in purchasing them all or b) be tortured by the knowledge that you simply cannot purchase them all. (I fall into category "b", if anyone's wondering.)

On to your question. Good job on purchasing Lost Odyssey! That game is divine, as I'm sure you've figured out already. Please, do yourself a favor and see it to the end. And once you're done with it, perhaps you might consider Mistwalker's other 360 RPG, Blue Dragon? Now, Blue Dragon does not approach the emotional depth and maturity found in Lost Odyssey, and overall isn't nearly as good, but that's not to say the game is bad. It's a very solid, traditional RPG that fell victim to overly high expectations. Buy it knowing that it's just a solid RPG with some fun mechanics and a shallow yet enjoyable plot. It's cheap, too, so there's little reason not to. As for other titles on the RPG front I can recommend Eternal Sonata. I haven't actually played it myself, (outside of a demo) but I've heard absolutely nothing but great things about the game. I'm inclined to believe what I've heard, too, because the game is developed by Tri-Crescendo, who were partially responsible for the superb Baten Kaitos Origins.

On the non-RPG front, I have two suggestions: Assassin's Creed and BioShock. Both are must-buys. I bought and finished Assassin's Creed around the time it was released, and now my days are spent counting down for a sequel which hasn't been announced. Sure, the game is slightly repetitive, but it hardly ruins the experience like some people suggest. I just began BioShock a few nights ago and have been thoroughly impressed thus far. It was largely hailed as the best game of 2007, and for good reason, it seems.

As a side question, what do you think about developers offering post release downloadable content to games? I think that it might be encouraging developers to lay off on everything they would want to add at release just to tack it on later as pay-for content. There are a whole lot of grumbly rumblings about how there are whole locations in GTAIV that seem useless and will probably be used with DLC later on. I see the plus sides that this concept can have, but with the money it takes to produce games these days developers are starting to cut some corners where they can/have to (like with full HD resolution, as stated in the last Currents column). In concept it allows for more, but it practice it simply seems to nickel and dime consumers.

Oliver

It's hard for me not to view optional DLC as little more than a scheme to nickel-and-dime consumers, as you said. Of course, I've downloaded exactly one piece of optional content in my gaming life, and that's the recent DLC for Lost Odyssey. It was actually pretty cool, I have to admit. The new dream was nice, as was the ability to watch all of the game's awesome cutscenes. All I really want to see is DLC that matters if you know what I mean. Something that really enhances or extends the core experience in some way. And please, keep the prices low - we already spent $60 on the game, after all. Just as long as developers deliver a finished core game that doesn't require optional DLC in order to fully enjoy it, I suppose I'm okay with it.

Anyway, I've got precious sitting on my ass to do, so I'll stop here.

-Mel

Oliver

The time to sit on one's ass is precious indeed. Sadly, it's something I can only do if I'm in front of my computer working. Like, say, right now. Thanks for the letter Mel, and keep me updated on Lost Odyssey.



Tales of Anxiety


Hey, Oliver,

Sorry to hear about your falling out with Jack Thompson, who is apparently no longer your pal. I know how much you cherished that friendship.

But let us not dwell on life's little tragedies. Let's press on to the Q&A:

Oliver

The pain... it continues to linger. Even if we can't be "pals," I was hoping we could be "buds," "chums," or perhaps even "mates." But NO. It seems he is intent on ensuring we remain ENEMIES.

But you are right, dwelling upon it will do no good. Let us proceed with the kyewing and aying.

How do you feel about the current RPG prospects on the Wii? I can't call very many to my mind right now, so I'll just go with Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World and Final Fantasy Crystal Chornicles: The Crystal Bearers. (By the way, I really do miss those idyllic days of my childhood, when RPG's were named sensibly.)

Crystal Bearers is really a shot in the dark for me, since the complete lack of information is now piquing my suspicions that the game no longer exists. Baseless fear, do you think? Any information out there that has evaded my notice?

Oliver

How do I feel about current RPG prospects on the Wii? Not so good, if you want the truth. To me, it doesn't really look like the system cares too much about RPGamers. Of course, I'm not a huge Wii fan in the first place. We do have Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, though, which is an absolutely excellent game, and while Twilight Princess isn't an RPG, it appeals to many RPGamers such as myself. I'm looking forward to Dawn of the New World, I concede. (More on that later.) As for Crystal Bearers, I have little interest in the game, as I've never played a CC title. And yeah, the lack of information for it is rather unsettling. Looking at our gamepage for it, it seems that the last time we had a real story on the game was back in E3 2007, which is just sad.

However, I am looking forward to Namco's upcoming Wii RPG, Fragile. There's virtually no info on it, but I'm intrigued simply because it's developed by Tri-Crescendo, and its offical homepage features a beautiful piece of music. I have a bad feeling that it may not see North American shores, but I sincerely hope I'm wrong.

Dawn of the New World is a little more concrete in terms of information, and so I actually have an opinion here. Firstly, no Motoi Sakuraba involvement, which is a little unnerving for me. Perhaps the amazing Go Shiina will fill his shoes? (Tales of Legendia OST FTW!)

Secondly, I absolutely adored ToS, and I am both thrilled and horrified at the idea of a sequel. it appears that the basic gameplay formula is still intact, but there are of course some lingering questions as to its merit. Will they make some ridiculous attempt at incorporating the Wiimote into battle? Will the Pokemon-esque monster feature pan out adequately, and considering the large returning cast from ToS, are monsters even necessary? Worry mounts upon worry as I sit her contemplating the game. But I sincerely hope I'll be proven wrong. Are you? (I seem to remember you're a Tales fan.)

Oliver

Yep, I'm a Tales fan. Not a rabid one, but I enjoy the games, and I frown upon those who diss the series.

I did a little research, but I cannot determine who the bloody composer for Dawn of the New World is, which GALLS me. Will they make a ridiculous attempt to incorporate the Wii-mote? Let us hope not. I suppose we could hope that they DO, and do it well, but it's safer just to hope that they don't even attempt it.

As for the monster collecting bit, my concerns mirror yours. The game has several new characters, plus the entire cast of the original minus Kratos. Why in the bloody hell would I want to stick a random monster in my party? Who knows, maybe they'll kick all kinds of ass and make the human characters look sickly. Dragon Quest VIII gave you the ability to put together a monster team, and they were actually semi-useful. You could call them in once per battle, they'd do a fair amount of damage, and take a few hits before leaving.

My greatest worry is that Dawn of the New World will end up as little more than a crappy cash-in on the most popular Tales title ever released. The fact that it's on the Wii only adds to my worry, since that system acts as a boarding house for crappy cash-ins of all kinds. I'm still looking forward to it, but I'll likely read a few reviews before buying. (i.e, I'll let some of my fellow RPGamers play it first. Adriaan will oblige, I'm sure.)

Here I end my letter rather abruptly--but with praise for the site's podcast, aptly named RPGCast, in hopes that anyone who reads this will immediately go out and download them all.

Oliver

LISTEN TO THIS MAN. He is wise. I don't believe I appear until episode 19 though, which I'm sure is quite off-putting for my many fans.

I eagerly await the next Q&A column,

Cornman89

P.S. If there are any other promising Wii RPG's on the horizon, which there surely must be, please feel free to mention them.

Oliver

I already DID you inattentive sod. Please refer to Answer Box #2.

Thanks for writing in, Cornman! Your readership is much appreciated, I assure you. Send another letter my way if you ever find the time.



I am now OFFICIALLY the QnA host.


Alrighty Oliver, seems you need letters. I can oblige.

There's a question I have to ask every host of Q&A, so here goes. What's your Sega experience? Doesn't even have to be RPG-related, just throw it all down

Oliver

I wish I could give you some kind of satisfactory answer here, my friend, but my Sega experience is much the same as every other Q&A host you've ever spoken to: none. In truth, this fact galls me, because Sega experience is something I'd very much like to have under my belt for a variety of reasons. Firstly, since I wish to work among the circles of videogame journalism, Sega experience would likely be a valuable thing. Secondly, some of the games I've seen (including some you've mentioned over the years) actually look somewhat interesting.

So some games with a mighty high reputation have been officially given the localization nod; the Dragon Quest IV-VI trilogy. I'll certainly pick them up when able, but given Matt's state of glee upon this announcement I figured your reaction ought to be recorded.

Oliver

I'm excited. My Dragon Quest experience is quite limited, as I've only played VIII. Since then, I've been looking for a good way to further familiarize myself with the series, and these DS remakes look like an excellent way to do so. Dragon Quest VII looks intimidating, and the Game Boy Color ports of the first three games are hard to find, and I don't have a GBA right now anyways. I'll probably buy all three of the DS titles as soon as they're released.

And that topic brings me to another of my questions for every Q&A host: how close have you ever come to playing a title that doesn't exist in English (officially, at least)? My reviews list ought to make clear where I'm coming from on this subject. Naturally I've been playing an obscure game you've never heard of recently, called Terra Phantastica on the Saturn. Massive details can await the review I'll do shortly. Essentially it's a tactical game with some elements I've never seen before. Every unit has a certain number of Action Points per turn, and each Action Point corresponds to doing one thing: moving, attacking, using a non-combat spell, searching, replenishing elan. So if a unit has three action points it can move three times, move twice and attack once, etc. Once combat is engaged in the player must determine from further options in combat: those are to simply attack, to charge (which is more powerful but uses more elan and is not available to all troop types), to use magic (which is generally quite powerful but oh-so-easy to drain), to change troop formation, to defend, or to retreat. In a head-to-head combat each side gets three moves during a single attack decision. That is reduced to two moves for the defender if that unit was taken in the flank, and one move if the unit was hit from the rear. And a unit turns to face in the direction of its attacker, making it easy for either you or the AI to get cheap. Elan plays a role in how many moves a side gets during an attack phase (drain enough elan and it goes to only two) and influences how likely retreating is to work.

Oliver

Intriguing. The "action points" concept brings Xenosaga Episode I to mind, which isn't a tactical game. I honestly don't see how you spend all this time on these obscure little games, JuMeSyn. I don't begrudge you for it of course, but still...

To answer your question, though, I've actually never played a game that wasn't an official english release. I've never played an import, and I've never played an emulation or fan-translation of any kind. I've considered it before, (Mother 3 and a few Tales games come to mind) but when faced with the glut of "real" games that I want to play, it seems silly to pine after such forbidden fruits. Of course, I certainly understand those who do, but I just don't consider it worthy of my time.

JToo much information? Probably. Just remember this: never have I seen a game in which units attack with bananas. And bananas with greater range than archers! Another unit attacks with melons, though the melons sadly do not have the range of bananas. Also one of the major villains is named Dark Child, which must have taken two seconds to come up with at the drawing board.

Oliver

Attacking with bananas? I'm sold. Melons are intriguing as well, but it's difficult to see how someone could chuck them very far. I would venture a guess that the best way to use them would be to drop them on people's heads from higher ground. You know, like from a tree or a castle wall.

This should be enough. Think of your current job as a purgatory to earn you dispensation from having to do this ever again; it's what gets me through ugly days.

JuMeSyn

Oliver

Given your apparent Sega fetish, I doubt you'll take my advice, but I'll give it anyway: go buy a PlayStation 2. They're cheap, there's tons of games on it, and then you can talk about games that people here have actually played. Out of curiosity, why haven't you done so already? Do you have a grudge against Sony? Do you harbor malice towards any games or consoles that don't bear the Sega logo? I'm confused.

But in any case, thanks for writing in, JuMeSyn. In truth, I'm somewhat envious of your vast experience with these obscure videogame gems. Write in again anytime.



Whoever I am


Oliver

No, you don't. It's me, Oliver.

Dear whoever you are,

Oliver

IT'S OLIVER, DAMMIT

A few months back I bought 2 new copies of Persona 3, mainly as an investment. I wanted one for myself, and one to keep as a new copy to sell years later. Anyway, with the new release of FES, I'm kind of confused, should I keep my origional in the wrapping? I noticed the prices for it dramatically declined when FES was released (Ebay, Amazon, etc).

Oliver

Heh... If I was smart, I'd buy three copies of every Atlus title that came down the pipe. But, in the spirit of short-term gratification, I spend the money on games I actually want to play instead.

Keep your sealed copy, dude. The prices seem to have dipped somewhat, but soon enough they will shoot back up. Why? Because the "original" Persona 3 will be that much more desirable, given the existence of a "reprint." Also, the original game comes with the art book and soundtrack, which are sure to add much value to it. Given the $29.99 price tag on FES, chances are that a bunch of people will pick it up, and a lot of them will subsequently sell it back to GameStop. It will be rare too, I'm sure, but not as much so as the original. Of course, I could be COMPLETELY WRONG, so don't take my words to the bank. Beneath your mattress will suffice.

Also, I just got around to trying it the other day(I'm bored with Crisis Core), and I must say I was missing out on a lot. I'm really enjoying the game. Have you tried it out? Are the differences between this and the FES one worth buying the FES version and starting over?

Baba Booey.

Oliver

I am playing FES right now. I never played the original, so in truth, I don't even know what the differences are. I believe you can transfer your save from the original Persona 3 to FES, so if you feel like dropping $29.99 for some extra features, go for it. I don't think it makes a huge difference, though; the main attractions for FES are "The Answer," which is a little mini-sequel to the original, and the cheap price tag.

Thanks for writing, Booey. Awesome name, by the way.



Can you write better than a middle schooler?


While I anticipate this letter being answered by Oliver, it is catered more towards old-skool Lusipurr (not watered-down, pander-to-the-man Lusipurr 2.0), and for that reason may come across as senseless mudflinging (which Lusi 1.0 would have endorsed). I see this as an issue of relative importance, however, especially considering the consistent vibe of desperation that seems to emanate from all corners of RPGamer. Maybe my radar is just busted, but the constant shuffling of Q&A hosts and rescheduling of columns to accommodate diminishing readership has given me a definite sensation of downward inertia.

Oliver

"Pander-to-the-man Lusipurr 2.0"? HA! That's a good one, actually. I think quite a few of us (myself included) were disappointed when Lusipurr abandoned his delightfully malicious and disparaging ways, but in truth, it was quite necessary. It was when he became the sole Q&A host, you see, and it was important that he encouraged discussion (the lifeblood on Q&A) in his columns. Hilarious as Lusipurr 1.0 may have been, you must concede that he all but stifled discussion. When he spoke, nobody dared dispute his words. If they valued their pathetic existences, that is.

Yes, Q&A has had a bit of a rough time holding down a solid host these days, and this is not a good thing. However, it has little to do with this "diminishing readership" you speak of, I can assure you of that. Sean was here for over 50 columns, which is quite respectable. Lusipurr had quite a run as well, and would still be here if he could spare the time from his many duties. He is RPGamer's Head of Interaction, after all, and he was basically performing two jobs for the site, in addition to his studies at University. He offered me the position for the summer, and I gladly accepted. Why? Because I love Q&A!

My point in bringing all of this to light (and in potentially incurring the wrath of some of you involved in the site's upkeep) is to identify what I see as the main force behind this downward spiral: bad writing. That is not to say that all of the writing is bad - there are some writers whose reviews and columns are informative, interesting, and thereby useful - but there are an unfortunate number of pieces that come across as amateur, which can only work to the detriment of a site that is designed to deliver informed opinions to a critical audience. It is also important to remember that, in this case, as lifelong players of literary and strategically complex games, the critical audience is exceptionally discerning. When a (small) percentage of editorials and letters trump quality level of the staff-provided content, something's rotten in Denmark. And I know what's rotten in Denmark. It's the bad writing.

Oliver

I see. Bad writing, eh? I assume what you meant to say in the second-to-last sentence is that a small percentage of reader-submitted content surpasses the quality of our staff content.

I'll let you continue before I deign to comment.

When an RPGamer review of a new game (or an old game, for that matter) reads as though it was written by an eighth grader, the credibility of that review and of that reviewer is considerably damaged. Perplexingly, middle school writing tends to be a central theme to many of the staff reviews, and I have not discounted the possibility that RPGamer is, in fact, maintained by middle schoolers, in which case I apologize for my crass remarks. I find it difficult to take seriously the opinions of a reviewer who communicates in sentence fragments and other grammatical anomalies. An example from a review posted today: "There's almost no point to listen to the game at all as nothing heard will remotely stick around afterward." I understand the basic message of the sentence, but I was stunned that such an awkwardly and incorrectly worded phrase could bypass the editorial filter, and that the phrase in question was provided by a staff writer. Grammar aside, the level of hyperbole and lack of any useful descriptive elements render the the commentary almost useless.

Oliver

I wish you were an idiot complaining about a review score. They're so much easier to deal with.

Kidding. Much of what you're saying is impossible to argue with, but I think you go a bit far in stating that middle-school writing is a "central theme" to many of our staff reviews. I can assure you, good sir, that RPGamer is not staffed with middle-schoolers. In truth, I'm the youngest one here - I'm 18 years old and a sophomore in college.

Unfortunately, less-than-stellar writing does manage to find its way onto our site from time to time. Speaking personally, there have been plenty of occasions in which I've sighed deeply and shaken my head upon reading a staff review or editorial. And, to be fair, there have been plenty of times in which I've gone back over my own writings and shuddered in disgust at a particular sentence or paragraph. RPGamer is actually quite concerned with quality control, you see, but it's very hard to maintain a spotless record when our staff is a team of unpaid volunteers, and full-time editors are nowhere to be seen. That sounds like a lame excuse, but it's simply the truth.

"Then hire some editors," you may say. Well, in concept, that's a brilliant idea. But it wouldn't work. Picture this: RPGamer posts a Hiring Call for a "designated proofer" or simply an editor. This individual would be responsible for thoroughly reading and proofing the work of others, and approving it for posting on the site. The reward? Nothing, really. Maybe your name would appear somewhere on the review or editorial you proofed. You would receive no real fame or recognition, you would produce no real work of your own, and you certainly wouldn't be paid. Now, how many people out there would jump at the chance to take on such a task? I can answer that: none whatsoever.

"Pay your employees, then," you may reply. Oh, but how we'd love to pay our employees. (And oh, how our employees would love to get paid.) But, um, we can't at this point in time. Financially speaking, it's not a viable course of action. It's just that simple. One day, perhaps, it will be. But for right now, we rely on the hard work and dedication of those who truly love the site and wish to see it flourish, despite the lack of monetary compensation.

Editorials, as a slightly more subjective medium, are more resistant to poor writing, but that still should be no excuse for the nonsense that often finds its merry way into the column. I understand that RPGamer is thirsty for staff pieces and reader-submitted articles to keep the site supplied with content, but when such a large percentage of the content is junk, what's the point? What is the utility in publishing every single letter and editorial that JuMeSyn vomits in the site's direction when 95% of it is irrelevant to the majority of the RPGaming public?

Oliver

Well, this tackles the issue of "quantity vs. quality." I, for one, am a huge proponent of quality over quantity, and I agree that we shouldn't post shoddy work simply because we have nothing else to offer. Of course, this is not necessarily a decision handled by me in most cases. (i.e, I don't determine what editorials Mac decides to feature in the Editorials section, nor what reviews Adriaan decides to post in the Points of View section.) In writing Q&A, I am able to determine what letters I decide to answer, and what letters are left to rot in the inbox. If I was one day faced with an inbox full of letters that appeared to have been penned by a bunch of retards, (for lack of a better term) I would sooner let the Q&A column miss a week before posting a column populated with such letters. That's well within my rights after all, and I'm more interested in ensuring that Q&A remains a quality read, rather than simply ensuring that it's indexed every week.

That said, I don't believe RPGamer makes habit of posting garbage just to fill up index space. It happens from time to time, sure, but not so frequently that our very credibility as a gaming site can be called into question. I agree with your message here, but I just don't think the problem is quite as extreme as you're suggesting it is.

Keep in mind that I write this letter as a fan of the site and of RPGs in general. My intention is not to come off as condescending or as an English teacher (which I am not); I write only as a concerned reader interested in furthering useful RPG-related discourse. I sincerely believe that if a critical editor (Lusi, I'm looking at you, provided you are capable of restraining yourself from administering linguistic beatdowns) could take the reins of the site and flush out the sludge, and if a web designer could do the same with the over-crowded and somewhat redundant interface, this site would take some massive steps forward. The volume of content would be initially diminished, yes, but the increase in quality would draw more attention and, thus, better reviewers, who would write more quality reviews, etc. The ole' positive reinforcement cycle at work! A beautiful thing.

Think about it.

RUFiO

Oliver

Rufio, I can assure you that all who read your letter will be prompted to think upon what you've said, for better or for worse. For my part, I thank you for taking the time to construct a very well-written criticism that largely avoided being rude. (The middle schoolers comment was a bit much, though.) For now, all I can do is assure you that RPGamer does seek to continually improve, and seeks to provide quality work. We've come a long way, and we're well aware that we have a ways to go.



IN CLOSING

BioShock... I want to play it... and so I shall, soon after the indexing of this column.

Thank you for the letters this week, each and every one of you. In fact, I believe there were a few who weren't able to make the cut this week. Don't be discouraged by this; I don't believe I'll be including more than five letters per column, so it's inevitable that a few letters will be left by the wayside. The more often you write in, the more often you'll be published. It's as simple as that.

Now, don't just sit there! Send me a few letters! Otherwise, I'll be forced to set you aflame with my INCINERATE plasmid. I AM DEAD SERIOUS.

-Oliver



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What I can't wait for:

1. Prince of Persia: Heir Apparent

2. Tales of Vesperia

3. Fire Emblem DS

4. Final Fantasy IV DS

5. Soul Calibur IV



On my Playlist:

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2. Persona 3: FES

3. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions



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5. Is FES worth a purchase if you already have the original?



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