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Magitechnology...Absolutely Fantastic!

Andrew Long - July 16, 2004 02:43 EDT

A SEAGULL IS CAWING IN THE BACKGROUND, and while I am reasonably certain it isn't a lesbian seagull, it may in fact be cawing some sort of mating caw. Birdies notwithstanding, the world of Tales of Symphonia is a magitechnological place indeed, and when the developers weren't coming up with goofy things for the characters to say, they were actually piecing together a damned good game. The battle system is that rarest of pastiches, one that actually improves upon the other systems it rips off, and while the world map looks kind of like ass, the sluglike enemies remind me of Zelda II, so it's not all bad. As I am also a big sucker for cel shading, I am very very happy at this time.

I may even manage to play all the way through this one, as opposed to leaving off after a couple levels like I did with Four Swords and FF:CC. That said, my progress in any game of late has been torpid at best, since my Warcraft addiction has flared up to new heights. Even so, it has been remarkably difficult to tear myself away from ToS just to type out this intro, so let's get going before I relapse!



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The Edge? How insulting...

Hey Cast,

Just to help ol' Shroudie out a little bit on the Canadian band front, here's some really wicked groups on the less mainstream side of things. I mean, I can understand The Tragically Hip and Sam Roberts if the Edge is your only source of new music but here are some other great ones to check out: Alexisonfire, Billy Talent, Silverstein, Rosesdead, Closet Monster, Jersey, Protest The Hero. Warning: bands may not be for everyone. If Finger Eleven is your favourite group and all you want are Linkin Park wannabes then you won't like the aforementioned bands.

But then again Shrouded, why restrict yourself to our Canadian music? Some great bands come from the States too: Thrice, Thursday, A Static Lullaby, As I Lay Dying, Matchbook Romance, Coheed and Cambria, Taking Back Sunday, Glassjaw... just to name a few. On the UK front, check out: Funeral For a Friend and Lostprophets.


You really didn't read my response very carefully, did you? I said I don't like the Tragically Hip, and besides, I don't see how that's any less ridiculous a recommendation than Billy Talent... But I digress... We could sit here throwing around names like Do Make Say Think and By Divine Right and The Postal Service in an effort to out1337 each other into the dirt, but instead, I'll just leave this pile of names here and hope Shroudie investimagates some of them, at least.

M-m-m-more meat!

Canadian musical groups, eh, Andrew? I don't suppose you ever heard of Big Bad Brass and the Funny Boys Three? They were a fairly decent Canadian swing/ska band that broke up a couple of years ago. I was slightly into them for a little, in a dowload-their-mp3's-off-mp3-dot-com kind of way. But onward to topics more appropriate for an RPG site Q&A column. I play more T-RPG's and straight RPG's than action RPG's (I must say that Kingdom Hearts didn't really do anything for me). Basically, when I want to play an RPG, what I'm really looking for is something that's challenging and will tax my strategic thinking, yet still leave me enough freedom to tailor my tactics creatively. Without a boatload of inventory management and needless hassle. A-RPG's seem to achieve the latter well, but they challenge your dexterity more than your thinking...and when I want a challenge to my dexterity, I crack out my NES emu and play some old-school 8-bit goodness. Ever play Metalstorm? That game rocks!

Most sincerely,
Jackson Ferrell

P.S. I do not especially enjoy spitting in others' faces, although it has its time and place. How about you?

Regrettably, I missed the ska boat, largely because at that point I didn't seek out music on my own and my sister was still suckling at the teat of Nine Inch Nails. On the topic of RPGs, it sounds like Tales of Symphonia is just what you're looking for! Yes, it's customizable, has limited inventory management, and has the added advantage of the option to TURN OFF THE VOICE ACTING! Oddly, although I tend to detest voice acting, I've left it on for now, simply for the comic effect of certain lines like the title of this column, and also since if I'm going to review it eventually I should have something approaching a knowledgable opinion on it.

Sailing the seven seas of the internet

Ok, so my brother wants to join the Navy. I dont see that as being interesting for a video game nerd. So I suggested that he go out on the internet, and volunteer to do some bug-finding for various groups. always has about a thousand game developers whod love to have some help with bug-finding. And I figured that if he did that for a few months, he might be able to start charging the more prosperous groups, eventually working up to a corporate position somewhere (say, in 6-8 years).

But my question for the community becomes, since it came up, since Im planning on writing some bits and pieces of software (the little cheap programs that I expect to make around $20/month with, if that), what would be a good pricing scheme for paying people to find bugs? I was thinking a nickel for minor bugs, and maybe a quarter or fifty cents for major ones. Remembering that Id expect a production-level piece of software to have several hundred bugs in it.

Well... I'm not so sure they'd pay you a by-the-bug rate, since it's probably cheaper to just give you, say, 20 or 50 bucks per title. Nevertheless, don't let my cynicism keep you from exploring the possibilities, because there might just be an internet millionaire or two left kicking around who has scads of cash just waiting to be wasted - because if there's one thing internet millionaires do well, it's waste scads of cash.


Hey Andrew,

Have you ever had a game that you totally injoyed, And then just when you get to the end you save, and went to bed and when you woke up in the morning to finish the game you find out it was stolen along with the rest of your games and system? Doesnt that just tick you off?


It would tick me off, yes, but having never experienced such a calamity I can only nod solemnly and back slowly away, hoping you don't have a knife like your namesake.

Creamsicle... fudge? Isn't that just fudgsicle?


Well, my attempts to track you down to have a solid conversation, but it seems my skills are slipping just a tad. Since I can't really explain everything.... They have creamsicle fudge at work. It's actually not bad. I stole half a pound and gulfed it down on my way to check out. Quite delicious. I still say you should come on down and enjoy my grand chasing! I also have to mention there's a cut-out of that soon-to-be dead, dancing guy that you can pose with for picture taking. Inappropriate gestures galore, mmmkay? Moving on, my sexy friend, to today's topic. Action RPGs are quite fun. LoZs, mostly ALttP and OoT, and Kingdom Hearts make the battle environment and system more orientated to making quick decisions and greater player involvement. With that said, there's still a line between them and the actual action genre. TRPGs are still good as well. I don't know, I can't really favor one over the other. It all depends on how well the game is for me to make a definite conclusion. I guess that's it for now, for I must catch you on irc to continue our sensual, midnight rendevouz.

Mmm...creamsicle fudge!,

O' Shrouded One

This coming down you speak of is likely quite unfeasible, given my lack of cash and tetheredness to my robust salt mining career, but if you could possibly take a picture with that cutout guy and send it to the column, that would be super great!

I think there's a number of purists who would probably disagree with you on your definition of Zelda, sadly. Then again, those same purists are the ones who think Action RPG is a faulty definition, so maybe they can just go suck on some... pure, pure lemons! Yes, they're 99% pure! Which really isn't pure at all, but I make the rules around here, so there. How do you like them apples?

The Lizard speaks, which is remarkable since most lizards just hiss

I thank all who complimented my wonderful writing skills on my Male Teen Species log and I spit in the faces to those who thought it sucked (Yeah, I'm talking to you. Beware, I might know were you live). Sadly, that log was from a moment of inspiration but if I ever have another encounter with the male teen species, I'll be sure to let you know with glorious overly-dramatic paragraphs! Weee!

And, yes, I do like spitting in other peoples faces. Word of advise: Don't do it often.

Thanks for sharing, Lizard.

Action Rpgs? To me, if a game has a good storyline and the combat and graphics are bearable, I'll play it. Whether it's tactical, action, or whatever, I'll play a game if it has a good storyline. This includes games that aren't really considered rpg's. The storyline is there, it's just not the main focus. For example, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. This game is a puzzle game at it's core but I really enjoyed the storyline. Though the storyline wasn't the main focus, it was still there and very enjoyable. Of course, everything about that game was great, but I digress.

Liking RPGs for their plots seems to be the going theme here, which to me doesn't make too much sense since really, most Action RPGs use some variation on "collect all seven of the magical somethings to unlock the gate of doom!" There are usually a handful of wholly expected twists and maybe some mixing around of elements here and there, but at the core, most action RPGs will follow this formula to some degree. Nevertheless, it's a comforting formula, and it certainly beats robots in space, since those robots tend to take forever to get to the point for some reason.

There are some exceptions to my rule though. I have a hard time with horror games. I have yet to work up the nerve to play the new Silent Hill! Call me a wuss if you want, I'll just spit in your face!

Now that that's out of the way, lets get to the question! What's the most obscure and/or ridiculous thing you've ever read on the letter columns? And is it possible to surpass it? Also, what game company do you think is going downhill? And what games began their demise? See how I made this letter interactive for you, Andrew. You can thank me later.
-The Lizard

Thanks Lizzy, assuming this is later enough. The most obscure thing I've ever encountered in this column? Probably one or two of those musical groups in the first letter. The most ridiculous? There have been so many things in the unfit for print pile, it's too hard to pick just one. Still, you could easily surpass it, since whichever one is fresh in my memory is most likely to be remembered. As to game companies on the decline, I haven't seen anything particularly impressive from S-E since FFX, so they're gonna have to shape things up posthaste, cuz FFTA just didn't cut it (though the boobie festival in FFX-2 probably epitomizes the trend in my mind).

There... now that I've dissed FFX-2, I'm sure to get some lovin' tomorrow!

::Ambles in with various weaponry::


Action RPGs? Why do so many refute the magic that is an action RPG? While my favorite sub-genre of RPG has to be TRPG, Action-types have to be second. Kingdom Hearts, Mario and Luigi, Mega Man Battle Network... they embed themselves into your heart and multiply, much like that frightening beetle from Venezuela I heard about on Animal Planet a few weeks ago.

Ah, yes... Mario and Luigi! That series is rapidly becoming a subgenre all to itself, since it doesn't really qualify as an action RPG (after all, it has traditional-style battles). I guess it just goes to show - Nintendo is the greatest. Ugh.. I feel so dirty... But I can't.. stop... Nintendowhoring...Kill... me!

Ah, but yes. When most gamers nowadays have too short an attention span to endure a menu based, Dragon Warrior-style game ("You have to sit here, push the A-button for four hours through battles to get stronger? Smurf this..."), the ARPG sub-genre is truly a godsend. My 7-year old nephew got into Kingdom Hearts last year, and he kicks total ass. If I tried to teach him Final Fantasy 7 or Fire Emblem, he'd probably go berserk after maybe 15 minutes. Nice.

You have the patience to play video games with 7-year olds? The last time I tried that, I ended up with a dog humping my shin and the kid sitting on my head, which noticeably hampered my enjoyment of the situation. In conclusion, I don't babysit much anymore (and have a deep-seated aversion to Mega Man 5).

Next on the agenda, Front Mission 4. My brother got it this past weekend, but between work and moving, I've barely gotten a chance to play much of anything. From watching him, it's clear the game's gotten a lot sleeker from FM3. The system of buying skills with AP is much better than the crappy "equip a specific part and PRAY that you learn the skill, because it's purely random" system from the third game. And did I mention that you have a lot more customization? In the old game, you had (at max) 6 MEASLY slots for battle skills, My bro's at the midpoint, his characters have between 12 and 20 slots. Link system is interesting in concept, but uses a lot of AP to be effective. Still, it does look good enough to eat.

Finally, Pokemon Emerald is coming to light, is it not? Wait... Rayquaza is the "new" legendary pokemon? Uh, guys, you need to check your pokedex, 'cuz Rayquaza was already in Ruby and Sapphire. Also, what do they mean, "trainers can attack simultaneously"? Do they mean, the pokemon deliver attacks at once, or the trainers each have their own attack (a la Jade cocoon), or... help me out here! Anywhat, I'm getting Fire Red for myself, and Leaf Green for my bro for his b-day... mostly to distract him while I pounce on aforementioned wanzer game. Wheeee!

Sorry 'bout the length, but I figured you wanted to fill up your Q&A space. So quantity AND quality, that's the Neo way!

"The store is crowded with robots bursting out of people. Oh, the humanity"
-Strong Bad

Thanks for glutting on my precious space, Neo. I have to confess, what I've heard so far of FM4 doesn't exactly knock my socks off, but I may scoop it some day if it ever ends up in a $20 bin near me.

Note to Kenae: word wrap is your friend

Howdy Cast, first time caller, semi-long time listener. I find myself skipping out on "normal" RPG's all together. I used to play them for their length, involvement, and difficulty, but now, I can see that most every one, or at least all those in recent memory, is too simple. There's a formula you could use for each one, and once you figure it out, you can effectively shut down your brain. FF X had a specific enemy for each character that would show up 95% of the time, KOTOR required you to change your formula to run and heal and throw grenades the few times that death was imminent AND didn't occur five seconds into battle, and in BoF: Dragon Quarter, for all of the reviews that proclaimed it infinitely difficult without restarting, all that was needed was to conserve your D-Dive, gang up on enemies from range, and heal when you got hurt.

It may be that you can do the range and heal trick in BoF V, but I still doubt very much that you'd be able to make it through on just one playthrough, and that's where I give the game its high marks - for its layered goodness. It's like an onion, the tastiest of the sandwich meats, and honestly, if you think about it, there never really has been a terribly complex battle system. It's always the subsystems where you spend the time tinkering, and once you get down to fighting, all RPGs become a simple matter of "deal as much damage as you can while taking as little as possible". Everything else (namely, whether you go the flashy planets-collide-brains-pop-everybody-dead spells route, or just the X-Fight Genji Glove jackhammer route) is just a matter of whether you're easily amused by bright objects. Speaking of which, ooh! A POP CAN!

Maybe it's the nature of the RPG that prevents complexity. With all of those random battles with enemies that are essentially very much the same, the player develops the most efficient plan of attack and uses it. While this is the same for all video games, or at least those played against a computer, it's much more pronounced in RPG's, seeing as there are so many battles and hand-eye coordination and such skills aren't necessary. Even Action RPG's don't rely on skill as much as, say, Street Fighter. Granted, I don't remember most of the ones I've played all too well, but the newer Zelda games, definitely, are almost as formulaic as traditional RPG's, although they do need a bit more hand-eye coordination. The hit-and-run tactic will get you through a good portion of the games.

Perhaps, but Zelda forces you to use a number of different tactics depending upon enemy type, so I don't think you can quite squeeze it into your mold.

Strategy RPG's might be different. Hell, the name of the genre should give a clue, right? Now, I've only played both FF Tactics, so I don't know about the genre as a whole, but, at least with the first one, the battles required much more, uh, strategy. The Execution Site is a great example of a fight that didn't have a formula; there are plenty of ways to do it, depending on what kind of party you had assembled, which brings up another question. Is the variety present in the game the reason for the strategy?

I think it certainly seems so. Having weaknesses is the easiest way to add, um, since my thesaurus has failed me, strategy. There was an ever present danger of gettin' your ass kicked because you focused too much on fighting or magic, and here comes a battle chock full of guys that can exploit that. FF V, thanks to the Job system, also had this risk, which made it fun and challenging. If you didn't have a white mage when you were attacked by the Siren in the ship graveyard, it was a damn hard battle, if I remember right. Games like most of the Final Fantasies and KOTOR have really broad and strong characters that can handle anything thrown at them, which makes for a boring play. Sure, there are the basic differences, like mages with less health and more MP, and the like, but it usually doesn't make enough of a difference to matter.

Weaknesses in TRPGs are part of the strategy, to be sure, but unfortunately, battles like Execution Site generally only end up taking place early in the game for the simple reason that characters, even in TRPGs, end up being tanks by the latter stages. To take the example of FFT, I basically didn't change my party for the last ten or fifteen hours of the game, and while it is possible to play with non-story based characters, the option to do so does exist, which provides that easy road for the attention-impaired.

You know, I've noticed that the ones who are complaining the most about lack of originality and whatnot are the ones who've had the most experience with the genre. You don't hear people two games into it bitching. Once you've played enough games, there's almost nothin' new, gameplay wise. There are games like Dragon Quarter with some innovation, but no variety, so it's not revolutionary. Until something revolutionary does happen, like enemies that can change their tactics enough and adapt, people like me are gonna have to find their entertainment elsewhere.

On another note, I did actually see some creamsicles on sale. Crazy, crazy New Jersians.


Why are you guys surprised by the appearance of sweet, delicious creamsicles in local stores near you? They're the best treat on earth! Of course you can buy them in your local convenience store (or your grocer's freezer). You make an interesting point, at any rate - there really is very little variety throughout the course of games. However, I think if you look at these other letters, you'll find that a lot of people don't necessarily care all that much about a varied battle system, since it's just a means to the end of advancing the plot. It's much easier to learn how to do a set rote task and then repeat it ad infinitum if you're looking to experience a story as quickly as possible than to play against Adapty McGee and his death squad, and like it or not, there are a whole lot of people who appreciate that ability to remove all conscious thought from the gameplay side. You and I obviously aren't among that number, but at this point, I don't see things changing appreciably much, for the simple reason that innovation doesn't sell as many games as sticking to established formulas.

Speaking of action RPGs,
"Our beloved town dog has disappeared" sounds like a line from Brave Fencer Musashi. What do you think of the new Musashi game that is being created?

I think it's the bees' knees, but as the meagre results of a column devoted to it revealed, few other people are in that boat. Incidentally, you got the line, but regrettably someone else got it yesterday, so no tilde for you!


So for tomorrow we shall have branching plotlines. In our main story arc, we'll be discussing the variety vs. innovation tangent that Kenae outlined - specifically, what do you think of the idea? Do you like your battle systems comfy and your stories the main focus, or would you like to fight against a water elemental that could spontaneously develop an immunity to lightning magic, forcing you to shift your approach altogether? Yes, it'll be a real barn-burner, and so the subplot will be a nice, light discussion of Tales of Symphonia, for anyone who has questions or comments on that game. I'm about five hours in, so I can answer most basic questions. Until such a time, then, I must sleep, for yadablah, yawn. I talk too much, you know that?
Andrew Long wanted to find appropriate lyrics, but that'll have to wait.



Trust me, it'll alllll be worth it. Well, not really. But you'll keep reading the hidden text, right?

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