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ASK ANDREW
Will This Wretched Game Never END? July 29th, 2005

Andrew Long - 23:57 PST

CUSTOMARILY, baseball games end within a couple of hours, and in nine innings. Not this one! I have been lamentably chained to this wretched monster of a ballgame for the past four hours, despite my having missed the first six innings. Luckily (or perhaps not), an additional twelve innings have since occurred, and it rather appears as though midnight is about to strike.

Anyhow, I really must get these columns rejigged, and as such I hereby declare this the 29th. I also hereby declare I am stealing Sunday. Nyah.

Fantastic update! Victory at midnight! A single followed by a stolen base, passed ball, and second single isn't exactly elegant, I'll grant, but after eighteen innings of copious strikeouts, popouts and the assorted detritus of a very long and nearly scoreless baseball game, I'll take what I can get.




L E T T E R S
Nothing that will make anyone particularly happy


What do you think of the Xeno series?

In my opinion, Xenogears is the greatest single game ever made. Xenosaga Episode 1 was a fairly good game but was nowhere near the level of Xenogears. Episode 2, on the other hand, is one of the worst piles of filth I have ever played.


ANDREW


I was enjoying Xenogears before I got stuck in a forest, so I will concede that it had sufficient gameplay to just maybe carry my interest through the gajillion hours of cutscenes. Xenosaga, however, not only lacked sufficiently entertaining gameplay to suit me, it also lacked enough opportunities in which gameplay could be sufficiently entertaining, and my idea of fun does not extend to wandering around a big ugly spaceship waiting for various exchanges of dialogue to trigger. Also, have I ever mentioned I hate voice acting? Because I really, really hate Xenosaga's.

So as you can see, I'm most certainly not a big fan of the series, although I haven't played Episode II, which people who liked Episode I seem to hate resoundingly, leading me to believe that I might just enjoy it.



TEH ANGST


I check the q&a on rpgamer every couple of days. Often it's good for a laugh and other times it is informative. But yesterday it just pissed me off. How can you simply agree with someone that there are no good North American RPGs?

Do I need to point out that we were up to Bards Tale 4 before Dragon Warrior 1 came out in Japan. A large majority of North American RPGs are D&D based but that doesn'r mean they aren't good RPGs. We have Baldurs Gate which was an amazing game and BG2 which was ok just no where near as good as the first. There is the Fallout series. Knights of the Old Republic. I'm sure there are plenty more but I can't think of them off the top of my head.

On your main page today you have information about Dungeon Siege 2. Wow yet another North American RPG.

Before just saying that North Americans don't make RPGs you should stop and think for a second.


ANDREW

Holy righteous anger, Batman! Too bad J didn't actually say anything of the sort! All he said was that North American developers primarily focus on games that will sell in North America, which is an entirely true statement. If you look at any domestic sales chart released in the past five years, you will see a mind-numbing succession of crappy EA sports licenses, Grand Theft Autos, and whatever the flavour-of-the-month FPS happens to be at a given time. Does saying this in any way preclude the possibility of North American developers making good RPGs? No. Does saying that Japan and Korea, in general, tend to focus more on RPGs than does North America mean that we should take a giant sneezooka and eliminate Gadget as he vacations near Tokyo Tower? Yes, frankly, but in another, more accurate sense, of course not.

All it means is that crappy sports licenses and cheap knockoff FPS titles will continue to find a huge market hereabouts because apparently we have no taste. Accordingly, a North American company would be foolish to focus its efforts on RPGs exclusively, because there is a relatively limited market for its product here, and a miniscule likelihood of breaking into the Asian market there. Hence, with game budgets rapidly climbing, a company in North America is definitely best advised not to make RPGs, and as a result, very few do.

Now, where in any of that has anyone said that North Americans don't make RPGs? Certainly, although Heuristic Park's Dungeon Lords probably wouldn't have knocked my socks off, much as it pains me to slag a company with offices right here in my own backyard, there are nevertheless plenty of decent titles out there like Diablo, Dungeon Siege, the Elder Scrolls series, the entire roster of Bioware's efforts (<3 Canadian-based companies that are actually good) and any number of other RPGs out there, to say nothing of MMOs. So please, let's just get back to you being mildly amused, occasionally informed, and not raging at me for the imagined slights of others, shall we?



Geez.. You'd think that after almost two years people would know my name <.<


Dear Q&A person of the day/week!

My question was in regards to Co-op multiplayer games. There was an editorial recently by a fellow claiming to be a big fan of Co-op multiplayer games - to the point he would 'hurt' himself by playing any poorly-made game which featured this attribute.

My questions are - 1. Are there really so few co-op multiplayer RPGs? 2. Is this feature really so disdained/unpopular? 3. Are the co-op multiplayer RPGs that -do- exist really that poor?

I can only think of a few off the top of my head, Secret of Mana, Tales of Symphonia, and Shining Tears. And while Shining Tears isn't an amazing game, the others are rather popular! (And I found Shining Tears' multiplayer mode the best part of that title!)

I personally find co-op multiplayer pretty entertaining - changing the normally-solo RPG experience to a more social event.

Thanks for your time!
-DJ

"1x BlueSlime busts up in this joint!"


ANDREW

To answer your questions: One, yes, cooperative RPGs are few and far between, although the odd Final Fantasy has the option to share characters and annoy yourself and your friends by allowing both of you the ability to steer the party at the same time. Two, I wouldn't say the feature is unpopular, exactly, but RPGs are by nature a solitary endeavour; they don't have to be, I suppose, but convention has made them such and twenty years of Dragon Warrior, fifteen of Final Fantasy and who knows how many of Ultima have made this a difficult nut to crack. Third, no, not really, it's just that games like FFVI that include half-assed options to allow more than one player to join in the fun tend to be more trouble than they're worth, and in my eyes end up achieving the precisely opposite effect that they were no doubt intended for; rather than increasing the fun factor, a poorly executed co-operative RPG is more likely to suck all the enjoyment out of it.

In any event, I too enjoy the co-op experience and have many fond memories of Secret of Mana for this reason, even if my friend did like to wander off with the Sprite at critical moments. Hopefully there will continue to be the odd game that falls within this category, because it's a welcome change from the solitary nature of most RPGs.



...Apparently nobody does ;_;


Yo q&a person of the day!

In response to the question posed by SK on Thursday about American companies making good RPGs, all I can say is "yes, some do". Consider Bethesda (or Zendimax if you want to get all corporate-sensitive), the makers of The Elder Scrolls series. Morrowind has to be one of the best, most non-linear games I've ever played. Sure, it's really difficult to play through without at least one good weapon and armor skill, but man, that game is just HUGE! The story may be a bit trite, but the amount of effort put into creating the backstory of the world, the various texts that you can find, and the variety of equipment more than make up for it. Heck, it even runs well on a mid- to low-end P3 with sane amounts of RAM.

Unfortunately I can't really say too much about American companies making console RPGs. They seem to be much more interested in making sports games and FPSs.

Now, as for a question of my own... Do you think we'll ever get to the point where the eye-candy factor is maxed out and developers will be forced to start working on good stories and varied characters again? As much as FFX was a good game, it suffered the same fatal flaw that a lot of recent RPGs have: the characters were simply far too similar. I'm tired of having a party of three or four people who are virtually identical except for who uses what weapon. Why can't I have a new game where only one person (or two) can use magic? Where only one guy is a tough warrior? (Actually, now that I think about it, FFIX was much better about this).

~Puff the rambling microbiologist


ANDREW

Look at the next generation of consoles; while it certainly looks nicer, it's already becoming apparent that it really isn't that big a change over the previous round, and so I would expect that the focus will shift in this direction to some degree, although I can't imagine games getting much more routine than they are now, which means that I'm not saying much, in the end. Either way, don't expect any major changes anytime soon; as long as game budgets are at their current levels, I can't imagine anyone trying anything out of the safe and ordinary, which means that fantastic innovation is unlikely to be a new craze. On the upside, with all these nutjob wags wandering around decrying the evils of video games, maybe we won't even have to worry about these things in a year or two!



Hmm.. Seems we have a topic here


Heyya J,

I think we all know about CTRL+C, CTRL+P x 200 :P (lol) Seriously though, I'd like to comment on American born RPGs (in response to SK, "RPG companies"). The pen & paper RPG was born in NA, and has had a very large (somewhat cultish) following. It was for this fan base that NA RPGs seemed to be developed. I think this has caused the distinction between the development of RP video games here and in Japan. Now don't get me wrong, I love Japanese RPGs much more than your typical NA ones but that is a matter of choice. I like the story telling and linear plot lines that the Japanese RPGs usually implement. But there have been a huge number of amazingly succesfuly RPGs on our home front.

In recent years Blizzard has stepped up to the plate and I tend to giggle at their success from time to time. You can't argue with 1.5 million World of Warcraft subscriptions in China, all within 1 month, as well as a 4.5 million user population. The Diablo franchise has also been in #1 spots for years and continues to win awards.

Looking way back there have always been gems coming from NA, the first I can remember is Hero's Quest (Quest for Glory 1) released by Sierra. It was a classic and will always be an amazing RPG in my books, and the series continued to release entertaining RPGs into the mid 90s. The BBS community from way back before the internet used to enjoy lots of time spent playing test-based RPGs such as LORD (legend of the red dragon) and if that game was too limiting, there were many MUDs available as well. There have been a slew of developers that have made games based on the Dungeons and Dragons, Forgotten Realms, etc with mixed success as well.

The distinction to me, has always been that NA born RPGs have a stronger non-linear pull. (That is not to say that there aren't any non-linear Japanese RPGs, just a smaller percentage compared to NA ones). Japanese games have always seemed to offer rewards in the form of loot, story-telling or experience to draw a player further. NA games, too me have typically offered much less story-driven (and movie-scene) incentive to play instead relying on that pen-and-paper mentality of players to want and discover on their own accord. Things have been changing though, and the success of the Japanese game market has definately impacted the way RPGs are developped here.

That was just my 2 cents

Marshall


ANDREW

Thanks for sharing, Marshall. It's true when you say one has influenced the other; the emphasis on story found in most Japanese RPGs has forced some companies, at least, to at least nod in the direction of storytelling when developing titles (and few developers have missed the popularity of FMVs, within and without the RPG market). That said, Japanese RPGs, when you get right down to it, still follow the same old D&D mechanics; they just hid them better faster, and gave players other stats to fumble around with.

And yes, mad props to Blizzard for being so hellaciously successful with nearly every title it releases; a company that does not release bad games is a rarity, and it's a testament to the development strategy employed by that company that has kept it so successful, even with fairly significant changes in its leadership and talent.



Good old open-ended questions


Cast,

I am sending this email from my psp. Now that it has more concrete web browsing capabilities, what do you want to see it do next?

J_Sensei


ANDREW

What indeed...I think I would like to see Sony develop replicator technology so my PSP can pour coffee on unsuspecting strangers with no warning! Now that's a dream worth having! If you are restricting me to realistic answers, some sort of camera-style functionality would be keen.



Ah, V&B... I knew it well


Sensei,

I was wondering if you have ever heard of an RPG called Venus & Braves? I heard about it awhile back (like maybe 2 years ago) and was really excited but then suddenly...gone. I know it came out in Japan but no word of it coming here. Would you know if it will be coming to the US?

Shelia


ANDREW

Ah, yes, Venus & Braves. Back in my days as an eager young newsie with a dark secret (I secretly longed to eat muffin after muffin until my tears tasted like muffins) V&B caught my eye, and nothing would do but for me to cover it as much as possible. I even did a media update, I liked the looks of it so much, although come to think of it I might just have hoodwinked an erstwhile mediaite by the nick of Pikala to do it for me. In any event, my friend was in Japan in the months following its release, so I asked him if he could pick it up for me, but he told me it wasn't really that well received in Japan, so my dreams were shattered, along with my youthful illusions.

So here we are a few years later. I'm a bitter bitter man because of that game, and I'd managed to repress it until you came along. Thanks a lot, Shelia! Now I have to tell someone else the horrible truth: Venus & Braves has about as much chance of coming out here as I have of winning the Tour de France. I swear, if I see another one of those yellow bracelets I'm going to set it on fire.



More defense


Hey Andrew (or whoever is answering these today),

I wanted to answer SK's letter about good American RPGs. While it is true that there aren't too many good ones for the consoles, Americans (and Canadians) have made many great ones for the PC. We don't have to look further than Might and Magic, Baldur's Gate or the many online ones that come here. Sure a lot of crappy ones are released too, but some of the best RPGs I have ever played were on the PC.

Well, let me see if I have a question... What's your favorite PC RPG?

Regards,
Sean


ANDREW

My favorite PC RPG would have to be Quest For Glory III or IV, both of which I played to obsession back when they were all my pathetic gimped out 486 could handle. I don't know if I've ever complained about my gimpy 486, but let me assure you it was by far the worst one in its age bracket. My mom, apparently convinced that my sysadmin cousin couldn't possibly help us find a better computer than her dodgy IT guy, allowed him to convince us to go to this shady little craphole out behind the highway to buy our useless orange crate of a computer. Besides such many useful features as a Vedio card and a RAM count that mysteriously read 3,986 KB, thus preventing me from playing pretty much any game ever without a boot disk, this hunk of crap came preloaded with the most virus-ridden copy of Windows 3.1 known to man, though in its defense they were all blamed on me for no good reason. At any rate, it was in the shop more often than not because we had to keep bringing it back to the shyster who sold it to us for repairs, and each time he managed to screw something else up on it. I still have that computer, and I dream of the day when we move out and I set it on fire in the middle of my front lawn.



Chippy Chippy Chip on the shouuuulder for no reason! lalala


Hi there.

Is Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children still being worked on? I mean, it's coming out in a couple of months, and there is a lot of trailers and stuff for it. If they already have a release date for it, shouldn't it be finished? I mean, if they were still working on it, wouldn't that be taking a risk?
ANDREW

Yeah, because I mean, straight-to-DVD crap has never missed a release date before! AS IF! So far as I am aware, a project that has not been released to stores is categorized as "in production" until it is sent to be mass produced and shipped to stores. As this stage of the proceedings has not yet taken place, I am confident that there is likely either production or post-production work taking place... Else they would have no reason to delay until September, since that month has never been a terribly good time to release anything.

Another thing. The guy who said he beat FFX and got everything (including maxing out the sphere grids) is pretty much right. FFX is an easy game, and it's very short. And if he got everything, that means he got the ultimate weapons and their full powers. And when you get your ultimate weapons to full power, you get triple AP (I think itís triple), meaning maxing out the grids would be easy. I know that for a fact, because I mastered Yuna's grid in a very short amount of time.

Thanks for your time.
- Noomarua


ANDREW

Good show, Noomarua! You have both impressively identified an easy game as easy without any help AND managed to brag about a feat which, if you actually subscribe to your first statement, is both meaningless and a waste of time! Not only that, you're not even as good at meaningless and time-wasting tasks as that guy from yesterday, who I can only conclude you are jealous of for being so much better than you at pointless tasks. You, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar!



Unfit for Print


what are you supposed to do at bottle grotto? I look and look around and can't figure it out.

ANDREW

Then look and look around at an FAQ, because I'm not going to do it for you! Besides having never played the game, I don't care enough about the problems of a person who can only be bothered to send me a barely coherent one-liner to help them, so I don't know exactly what you were expecting.





C L O S I N G
IN CONCLUSION:

Zoips! I seem to have become a bitterman, possibly due to extensive meowzering about perceived slights against North American game development. Word of Honor: I try to avoid blanket statements, so you don't have to send me any more diatribes against them, you're preaching to the choir (though at least I choose actual blanket statements to grow irked at, unlike some letters I could name). At any rate, I shall use the remainder of this conclusion to point you towards index, where you will notice a job posting for Q&A. If you've been waiting for your chance, now is it, so be sure to apply if you're interested. As for Googleshng, we are still not too clear on where oh where he has gone, and my attention span is fearfully short, I must confess. In any event, tomorrow we shall talk about Makai Kingdom, because it is fresh and new and out. Specifically, what are your thoughts on the game so far as it relates to prior NIS titles? Do you see them making better games, worse games, or just not changing at all? Which one is your favorite? All these things and whatever else you can dream up shall be talked about tomorrow, so don't go easy on the letters!

castomel@rpgamer.com
Andrew Long is sleepy... like the wolf.


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