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Googleshng - September 19 '02- 2:00 Eastern Standard Time

Rise from your grave oh guest hosting! Oh right, you already did. With the slight hitch of leaving out the guest's intro and closing. Ah well, I can cover that bit I suppose. This is Paul Koehler, part of RPGamer's review team. Now then, on to the letters! Oh wait, NOW I can snag an intro from him.

Paul: I'll make this brief - need to make a run to a hiragana review session. This is Paul "Amish" Koehler from the Reviews section (otherwise known as "Points of View"). Thanks to our vast resources, site boss Mikel Tidwell was able to conjure a review for Kingdom Hearts. Check it out!

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Xenogears and Legend of Dragoon spoilers
Hello. this is my first time asking all of you a question. i just wanted to know what's the name of the xenogear that "id" pilots. thank you have a nice day.

Paul:
Weltall 2, if I'm not mistaken. It's so great to look back at one of the first games that allowed for "quint-9" damage (aka, 99999).

Googleshng:
If you want to get technical about it, Weltall 2 is never piloted by Id. It's the upgraded version of Fei's gear, with a very nice upgrade. Id just pilots plain ol' ordinary Weltall. Oh, and while I'm on the subject of technicalities, gear isn't short for Xenogear. Xenogears is the name of a particular gear from late in the game.

also. In the game "legend of Dragoon". why does dart's final transformation looks so deflicted. I mean, the right side of him is a wing and the other a a freakin' bazooka or somethin'. Just wanted to ask, thanks!

Paul:
In defense of Legend of Dragoon, Dart is not the first main character to make such a quirky transformation. While the PlayStation only helped augment Dart's wierdness, nothing can really compare next to Cecil. A rainbow-colored paladin? Now that's different.

Googleshng:
It's a pretty standard rule when you're getting into any artistic style where things are arbitrarily asymmetrical and spiky that the better something is, the weirder it has to look.

 
Luck

I think that the guy who was complaining about the 1000 XP per level in FF8 was a little mixed up about how the whole thing works. The monsters level up to MATCH YOUR LEVEL. You're actually better off levelling as little as possible which is a challenge in and of itself. I thought it was an interesting way to set it up, myself.

Paul:
Yes - and even there were some built-in restrictions just by design of the Junction System. Expect to get somewhere without spells such as Curaga and the like equipped? I don't think so.

Googleshng:
Well there again we get to my point. If you aren't getting an edge from going up levels, why not just skip the levels?

Also, as I was sitting there killing hundreds of monsters to get another level and getting bored out of my gourd, I thought of (IMHO) an cool setup for XP. Imagine, if you will, a case where your current XP determines a certain probability of levelling up. As you get more XP, it becomes more likely that that you will level up. That way after every battle, you'd be waiting in anticipation of MAYBE getting a level. A heck of a lot better than thinking "Ok, only have to kill 200 more slimes to level up." I dunno, just a thought.

Paul:
Interesting idea, but will there come a point where your character will level up regardless of luck? The slime analogy is all to appropriate, the main character in my Dragon Warrior 7 game took 70 hours of gameplay to master the Hero class, and that was with skimping all the mini-games in between. While the luck idea would make things a little easier, it might make things a little too easy. Keep in mind games with insane levelling requirements like DW7 or (dare I say it) Hoshigami are few and far between. They are for the most patient of us.

Googleshng:
I've never even been a fan of getting random stat bonuses at level up. Going up levels based on luck is even worse. There'd be a chance of having a character on level 99 before the first boss, and probably a chance of having hideously underleveled characters at the end. This hasn't stopped people from trying such systems though. Take a look at the SaGa series some time, or Kanon's special moves in WA2.

 
This topic is going to last a while I see.

I agree with the Anti-Experience as well. I liked the general idea of leveling up in Dungeon Siege but think that it could have been paired down even more. Basically I would say have your characters get a little bit stronger with whatever their proficiency is as they go along. For example having an archer that has about a 50% accuracy in the beginning of the game to one that can hit a vital spot every time. You can balance this by making it so that there are only a few vital spots on monsters towards the end of the game and they are very small. You could also make it so someone with a sword has to inflict a wound that said archer can shoot into.

Paul:
If games like Dungeon Siege are a future indication of what some PC RPGs look like, I can see a character building system like that become a possibility. One really early game that used a primitive system of level-building based on weapon usage was Final Fantasy 2 (the Japanese Famicom title). Unfortunately, one of the best tactics to level-up characters in that game was to damage your own party intentionally to near-fatal levels, thereby using their HP (and increasing it after the battle in many cases.) It was pretty warped, but considering the times - understandable. Fortunately, hardware is no longer a limiting factor in this area.

Googleshng:
You know, you just pretty much explained how combat works in Panzer Dragoon Saga.

I liked the idea of looking for the spell book. I would say have the mage then get progressively better at the fireball spell. Perhaps make it so that he can barely melt the ice early on but with study and "experience" he can create a massive fireball that'll incinerate his surroundings, balance this with having more strain put onto the mage, or use more MP if you want to keep it more of a console based idea.

Antimodes

Paul:
Either one would work. In the case of Dungeon Siege, each successive level in a spell category increased the cost of a spell, but the effects gained by that increased level offset the cost in most cases. Even a fairly low-level Combat Magic spell in the game, Soul Lance, proved to be a potent force throughout the entire single-player campaign. In many ways, what you suggested on magic has been used in one form or another.

Googleshng:
Again, I feel I should point out that the reason I suggested chucking experience systems out the window is that ever since random monsters stopped being an actual threat in RPGs, fighting them has become a mindless time consuming chore which either A- must be performed for several hour stretches several times in the course of the game, or B- leaves you so overpowered there's no challenge posed by anything in the game. Games focusing on customization rather than straight level ups don't really solve this problem. Of course, I still prefer'em to straight level-ups, in principle if not in practice.

 
Note to future guest hosts: Wait until the end of a paragraph to stick in your replies.

I found your comments on taking experience out of games very interesting, and as a computer science student who was considering getting into game design, I've long thought that the problem of trying to predict what levels characters were likely to be at tended to be the thing most affecting difficulty. This especially seems true with some of the RPGs which seem to be more difficult in the earlier parts or when you try to rush through, because you're at more predictable levels then. (The general trend does seem to be easier games in general, though, so this isn't a catch-all explanation).

Paul:
A wise observation. Fortunately for veterans, there are some games that buck the overall trend of dumbing down the genre (not that dumbing down isn't bad - the overall fan base has increased because of it). Dragon Warrior 7 is one fairly recent title that comes to mind - but it is one of few since such titles are a risk from a business standpoint. Looking at some famous examples back in the day, Final Fantasy 1 and 4 come to mind. It is entirely possible to rush through FF4 and get to the final dungeon around level 35-40, only to find out that your party is so severely underpowered for the final crawl that it is difficult to move on. Oh, need I say the original Dragon Warrior as well?

Googleshng:
What's really nasty is when the difficulty on a game is so low you can rush through everything... until you hit the last dungeon.

I've been starting to think that experience is too statistic-oriented. Why is it that over the course of many RPG that HP virtually goes up by a factor of 10, 20, or more? Why should strength virtually double, or defense, or most of the attributes for that matter. I'd like to see experience focus far more on abilities and result in far more subdued increases in attributes. Designing a game this way would seem to me to force more importance on abilities and using them in a tactically sound manner rather than level up so your characters can absorb all attacks without a problem. Naturally, characters with the better abilities would still have an easier time defeating enemies, but really high experience wouldn't be quite so unbalancing.

Paul:
That was one of the admirable traits of FF8, IMHO. It was an attempt to do just that. Anyone with a ridiculous amount of free time can level their parties to a godlike level. Fortunately, some developers are devising tactics to combat this without ditching a traditional-like experience system. Speaking from play experience, in Final Fantasy X - the last monster in the Arena is Nemesis. Even with a party of Tidus, Auron, and Yuna who have all their best equipment and their sphere grids maxxed completely (not a short task) - raw power does not win that battle. Strategy does though. So it seems some developers are getting smart to the tactic. What'll be nice to see is if they carry it to the regular games itself, like you mentioned.

Googleshng:
The problem there is that it's a whole lot easier to just work out a curve for stat increases than to come up with a hundred or so spells for each character to learn.

I also agree that experience should be awarded based on more gameplay elements than just combat - in fact, you should have options either than combat for certain situations that can result in about the same amount of experience. For example, if you have to get into a fortress, you should be able to get the same amount of experience by sneaking past or fooling the guards somehow as you would by charging them at the front gate. Of course, this is my preference. I would still enjoy the type of advancement you were suggesting as well, if not simply for the fact it'd be unique. :)

- Dumpshock (Shadowrun reference in case you're wondering).

Paul:
This is where the pencil-and-paper world comes in - what would be an easier event to dole out experience for as a DM? Again, with some of the new hardware - this might be a possibility, especially in the PC realm. Console development might take a little longer for that though.

Googleshng:
Getting experience for non-combat situations is a decidedly paper/PC RPG sort of concept.I seem to recall Bioware likes to throw that sort of things into their games.

 
More super length here...

Hizzle to the shizzle to the Gee-double Oh-Gee... werd

Paul:
Our resident slime is being juxtaposed with Jay-Z. Wow. Now we've seen everything :)

You've been talking about Shadow Hearts a lot, and I was wondering a few things. First of all, how is it, difficulty-wise? I browsed through the archives, since someone mentioned difficulty in RPGs as a topic of discussion, and was just curious.

Paul:
Difficulty-wise, the game is fairly simple. If you ever played through an entire FF title, you won't have any problems. Shadow Hearts is also a fairly linear title - but because of the nature of the plot and the mechanics of the game, it isn't a bad thing at all.

Googleshng:
See, here's another thing about character building. Paul here did plenty early on, I didn't, so I actually found SH to be one of the harder games in recent memory. The difficulty in Shadow Hearts comes from two main factors. First, there's the Sanity Points. You lose one SP every time your turn comes up, and when you bottom out, that character goes berserk, which is a bit like confusion in most games, except it doesn't wear off if you can't restore their SP. So if you play to defensively, you're going to lose your healer halfway through the fight. The other part of the difficulty comes from the fact that the main character can turn into various demons. Before you can turn into one, you have to fight a certain number of monsters of the proper elements (and do some extra tasks for the better ones), and then fight the demon itself. Also, you're more or less stuck with whichever form you pick first in a given fight, so there's a good deal of strategy in making the best choices for each situation.

Also, I hear it has multiple endings -always a plus(as long as the game also has well-developed or at least likeable characters)- but I'm curious about the battle system. I've seen lots of screenshots and reviews that talk about the "Judgement Ring" or whatever it is, but how does the battle system *feel?* Consistently engaging, and yet not repetitive? Or one of the latest examples of the tiresome button-and-window excercises we see so often? Just curious on that.

Paul:
Fortunately for all RPGamers' sake, its not the latter. The Judgement Ring works very well, IMHO. The closest comparison I can make to it are in the battle system of "Legend of Dragoon" and FF8's "Trigger" system (especially with Squall's Renzokuken). Though those two comparisons don't really do it true justice.

Connecting on the hit areas of the ring is not difficult at all, but the real challenge comes in when you start going for strings of "perfects". Perfects matter. While a Thera Leaf normally heals 75 HP on one character, striking a perfect in the hit area makes it heal 90 HP instead. The effect of a spell, item or attack almost always increases because of a perfect hit - and this becomes especially challenging when you start firing off some of the higher level attacks - like some of the spells from Czernobog and the Seraphic Radiance. For a turn-based battle system, it's a welcome development.

Googleshng:
That's not how I'd put it. Those require precise timing with next-to-no visual clues. In Shadow Hearts, whenever you attack, cast a spell, use an item, or even try to haggle for a discount when shopping, this big circle appears in the corner with thick colored wedges like a pie chart. A line spins around this circle once, at a pretty calm speed really. To use something successfully, you just have to hit the button while it's over each wedge. You've generally got a window over a second long for each press, so it doesn't require the sort of twitch reflexes LoD does. However, hitting the very edge of each hit area makes just about everything more effective. Between that and the myriad accessories, customization options, and items that manipulate aspects of this system, there's a general theme of greater risk=greater reward to the whole thing. Oh, and yes, there are multiple endings.

I'd also like to add that the best character skill progression system I've ever uh, experienced (no pun intended), in an RPG is probably that of the Quest for Glory series (one of the most underrated RPG series of all time.) Each action you perform has a certain "challenge level" (that's my term for it, not the game's), that relates to your skill in that area (strength, dexterity, climbing, stamina, etc.) The more you practice said skill, the more it increases in relation the "challenge level." I liked it, because I was always puzzled by how one would go about increasing their Magic or Intelligence by 5 by simply whacking monsters over and over again (and yet increasing their HP STR and DEX by only 4.)

Anywho, thanks for your time, love the column, mad props, don't forget to floss (best of luck in getting CV:HoD, by the way)

-Trav
"When a weapon comes along, you equip it,
When some armor comes along, you equip it,
So equip it, equip it good!"

Paul:
Check out our review section, one of our frequent Reviewers, Robust Stu, has a few reviews done on the Quest for Glory games. It seems the console environment in particular has never quite taken up the specific experience rewards like many PC RPGs have. It would be nice to see a melding of the two systems for a change, but PCs are still the likely candidate for this development to occur on more often.

Even though your above comment was directed towards Google, I floss regularly ;P

Googleshng:
I think we covered this topic plenty earlier.




The Last Laugh:

Paul: A shame this couldn't be done more often, anyways -
Konbanwa! (translation - good afternoon/evening!)



Later Google,
Paul

Google: Well, that was one of the longest columns in recent memory I think. Anyway, if your name is Chimerasame, I have good news for you and bad news. The good news is, you no longer have to talk like a transient. The bad news is, this column is going up a bit late for a few reasons, so I'll probably have to share some of this mail flood with you.

Oh, and if your name is Chesh, the good news is, you aren't dead and have internet access. The bad news is, your temporary replacement is getting all comfortable here, so you have to fight to the death now... or something.



Googleshng "Fall is spiffy." @rpgamer.com

Spring meanwhile sucks.

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