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ASK MATT
In the Midst Like a Wildebeest March 15, 2006

Matt Demers - 15:21 EST

DO YOU EVER GET THAT FEELING where you're tired, but you're not sleepy? I've had that sort of feeling for much of the day, even though all in all, it was a pretty good one. It never ceases to fail me, though, how I can fall asleep on the bus every single day and sleep soundly all the way back to my apartment from campus, yet I can lay awake for half an hour at night just trying to fall asleep in my own bed, not full of other smelly people, pothole-jostlings, and with a nice soft pillow, mind you, and still not be able to fall asleep. Was that a run-on sentence? Bah, who cares; you get the point. My subconscious is evidently plotting against me.

It looks like a friend is going to be lending me Valkyrie Profile this weekend while I'm away in Toronto, so I guess that will end up extending the backlog somewhat. I hear it doesn't take long to complete, but this is a game that I should have played a LONG time ago. From the sounds of it, it's a great game, so I can't wait to play it. Sorry, sorry, Radiata Stories; I'll get to you one day, babe.

*consoles game*

Mmkay, it's time to begin!





L E T T E R S
Bah, technicalities!


Hey QNA, now with 100% more Mattiness,

Just a quick one this month, just a couple minor tidbits.

1) Your screenshot, Matt, is from Guild Wars...which has no monthly fee. You're right about how annoying server resets can be though.

Matt

Bah, monthly fees, no monthly fees, same thing!! Eheheheh...

Well, in all honesty, I can't really talk out of experience when it comes to games like these, so I certainly wouldn't know such details (evidently). I'll concede, though, that if I knew I didn't have to pay monthly fees to play, such games would become more attractive.

MMOs do have their share of downs, but there are three things I love about them: they contain an evolving, (hopefully) frequently changing world. You can create a character of your own, design their image, history, and playstyle to meet your own likes, rather then follow a premade character's exploits. That leads to a more personal stake in the characters. You really associate with them. And lastly, the obvious social aspect. Playing with others can be fun, and it's something almost entirely non-present in console RPGs. So, it's a tradeoff. I don't prefer one over another really..but I play both equally and find much to love about them.

Matt

Surely, they're two completely different worlds. I worry that MMORPGs would lack a certain something when it comes to plot and character development, though. How do I put this? I like being able to look back fondly upon a game with friends and recall fun plot moments and favourite characters. While I'm sure that players become very attached, if you will, to their own characters, I'd never be able to look back and fondly recall "the Opera scene" with another person ten years later, or be able to talk about how much I loved Etna (or whoever your favourite RPG character happens to be). Are these worries unfounded? Maybe so. I'm sure there are other things I'm missing out on, too.

The biggest strike against me, when it comes to online games, is the fact that I doubt they'd be worth it unless you had a lot of free time to spend. I don't really HAVE that right now, so that presents a roadblock right from the getgo.

2) About Status magic in RPGs....I can slaughter FFVIII thanks to status magic. Meltdown+Aura+Holy War (made from refining the Gilgamesh card, which isn't that hard to get)=keep having Squall limit break over and over, while the enemy can't touch you. Every hit does max damage no matter what, and if you're lucky, Squall hits something like 20 times with his "Lionheart" Break. Only the final form of the boss can survive that and not insta-die. You can realisitically fight the last 3 forms of the final boss without ever taking a single point of damage.

And let's not forget Vanish/Doom in FFVI. :)

Terr


Matt

That's true, huh? Final Fantasy VIII did have some nifty ideas for status magic, and I'll admit that Meltdown was certainly one of them. Also interesting was the spell of Pain, which did damage and attempted to inflict several different ailments all at the same time. The problem with spells in that game was that due to the system, it was rare that I actually decided to use them, because I'd usually have such useful spells junctioned to abilities which would FALL upon the use of those spells. Phooey. I really did love FFVIII's magic/ability/whatever system, though, a lot.

With regards to your last couple of points, Lion Heart is one of the most ridiculous attacks I've ever seen in any game, ever, and the Vanish/Doom trick was a glitch, I swear! Nothing so cheap should ever be "legal" in a game!! Sure, I want my status spells to be more effective, but Doom is a kind of exception. If it works ALL the time, then why do anything else? I'd bet that the developers never meant for that to slide under their noses.



What to say about Atelier? That SHOULD rhyme... if it doesn't, you're pronouncing it wrong, I say.


Hey Matt

Is atelier Iris good or bad.I am thinking of buying it it looks good So what do you think of atelier iris.And are you going to buy atelier iris2.


Matt

Well, let's see here. I played through Atelier Iris last fall; it was the last thing that I played through before the great Dragon Quest VIII that I'm so fond of. My opinion, overall, was somewhat negative. It wasn't the worst RPG I've ever played, by any means, but I've played many, many better games.

Atelier Iris is funny, though, because it has prompted a great deal of different reactions. Some people really enjoyed it, and I've even read some reviews that said that it "could be the game of the year", if I remember correctly. I found personally that it had a weak central plot, blah characters, a dull battle system, a serious lack of challenge, shoddy graphics, and unmemorable music, for a sum-total of a slightly worse-than-average game that just happens to have terrible play control to top it all off (an issue that RPGs shouldn't have, as far as I'm concerned). On the other hand, if you're into the idea of item-collecting, ingredient hunting, recipe-concocting, side-story discovering, getting involved in dozens of mini-quests (small and large scope), and a light-hearted script that's funny and charming at times, then there might be something in it for you. Give it a rental and see... this one is hit or miss, I think, in that you could either love it or hate it. I, though, won't be buying the sequel, mostly because there are other series that look more interesting to me right now.



Nostalgia and challenge... like peanut butter and jam. Chunky peanut butter and cherry jam, of course.


Hiya Matt,

I was thinking about the whole nostalgia in RPGs thing. Now, I'm pretty nostalgic about games like FFI, IV, VI, Dragon Warrior, Secret of Mana, Chronotrigger, Xenogears, etc., but I'm not of the 'No one can make a game as cool as game X from 1991' type. So anyway, I was thinking why nostalgia happens, and for me I broke it down to 2 things, one practical and one (admittedly) biased. 10+ years ago, there were fewer platforms and fewer developers, therefore fewer games, especially in the realm of RPGs. Also, most developers were not as established and loaded as they are now, so if they were going to commit to producing a game, it needed to at least have a good concept behind it. A bad game could sink a major developer back in the day, while now a Squeenix or Capcom or EA or whatever can make several mediocre games and still do fine, since someone will always buy them, and they have their established blockbuster franchises to fall back on. So basically we played fewer RPGs back in the day, and there was a decent chance that playing them would yield a fair bit of excitement (partly because of quality control, partly because the game ideas weren't as overused as many are today). The second thing for me is the difficulty of games. Sure, there were easy and hard games way back when, but many of the games I adore had at least some point in the game where you thought you might die (DW1 and FF1 almost all the time, FFVI and Xenogears at the end come to mind). It seems I've played a lot of somewhat recent RPGs that are so easy, it blows my mind. I enjoyed FFVIII, but a few months ago I played through it without using summons OR spells, just drawing magic and doing physical attacks. Maybe that's a severe example :) Anyway, recently I've enjoyed games like the recent DWs and BoFV, I think partly because I got back that 'this random enemy could seriously wipe me out right now and I haven't saved in 2 hours' feeling that adds something to games. BoFV left me running through the last 4-5 hours of the game, complete with the string of 7-8 bosses you fight, without a single save token....yikes. Anyway, that's my 2 cents on the nostalgia issue, which became a little winded. Does difficulty play a role for you in loving a game versus calling it mediocre?

--chappy--


Matt

Absolutely, Sir Chappy... you have no idea how important to me a good challenge is in a game. An RPG's difficulty can make a boredom-instilling game into an addictive "can't-put-it-down-until-I-beat-this-boss" game. Maybe I do get it from older games, since yeah, I'd agree that on average, NES and SNES games were much more challenging, and those are the ones that I was brought up on.

Your statements ring true perfectly though, and I bet we have very similar states of mind. That element of risk you describe; that "Ah, I haven't saved in forever and I might die!!" feeling makes you care more about what you're doing instead of blindly trudging through area after area, storyline-piece after storyline-piece. In Dragon Quest games, that feeling is underscored by the fact that if a character dies, you could be screwed, since not everyone has warp-to-safety magic, and revival is difficult for much of the game. Compare Final Fantasy, where the only thing stopping you from keeping 99 Phoenix Downs in stock is your financial state; an easy problem to overcome. Of course, Final Fantasy is alluring and addictive for different reasons; character development and juicy plotlines come to mind. Challenge, though, is something that I'm hungry for in RPGs lately, and just like you, this helped me to enjoy even more RPGs such as Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter and DQVIII.

The conclusion of this is: Final Fantasy XII had better not be a cakewalk. Thank you much for writing in!



A vote for GRAND


Hello Matt,

Well, in keeping with my current pace of sending in about one letter a month, its about time I wrote to you again. Just have a few questions and comments.

Before I jump into my letter though, you mentioned that you've never played a Grandia game before. Well Matt, now is the time to buy Grandia III, because its one of the best games I've ever played!

Matt

Wowee, that's quite a powerful bit of praise. It's funny, you know, since this is a game that I've heard some people glow about, while many other people kinda don't really like it much at all; this is much akin to the debate we had going a few months back about Radiata Stories. Most commonly, I've heard that the plot is subspectacular, but that several other elements are done really well. Anyway, you have more to say, so I'll let you talk more before I continue. Sorry for the little interruption. <3

Moving on. I know that many people do not like games that re-hash the same story factors over and over again, such as a boy waking up on a beach with amnesia trying to save the world. However, I wanted to get your opinion on if games that copy ideas from each other tick you off. Personally, I feel that ideas are running out among the game developers. However, take Grandia III for example. Like I mentioned above, it is a pleasure to play, but does go along a predictable path story-wise.

I do not mind this. Why? Because I fall in love with everything else about a game, if done right. Music. Voice acting. Battle system. Exploration and playability. Then... the story. Well, every game is different, and I love tradition, so no, I don't mind finishing off demons trying to destroy the world. What do you think?

Matt

Heh heh, so indeed I spoke too soon, and you are a prime example of the above. As a regular reader of this column, I'm sure you have come to find that I tend to place gameplay/battle system/challenge above plotline in importance when it comes to choosing my favourite games. Yeah, music is vitally important to me, too.

I don't necessarily think that game developers are running out of ideas, though; really, there are an infinite number of possible stories to choose from. It bothers me MORE, frankly, when people accuse games of "ripping off" other games when similar plotline elements occur. If we want to point fingers at rip-offers, we could honestly travel all the way back to the very first RPG ever made and say that all RPGs are "ripped off" that one. Yes, many games have castles and kings and kidnapped princesses; many games have villains that are in some way connected with the hero; you'll probably have to recover stolen items, search through random people's cupboards, travel to more natural caves than would ever exist realistically, and summon creatures that come from some other dimension for whatever reason. No RPG is without its clichés. I also argue that creatively built storylines don't necessarily have to be devoid of these clichés, though.

To answer your question, no. While a refreshing plot is often nice, it isn't nearly as important to me as the actual fun-ness of the game itself.

Then along came Shadow Hearts : From the New World. Fresh story, and already a classic. Matt, play this series. Readers of this column, play this series. Its that dang good!

I believe that Shadow Hearts is the next great franchise, and although I'll get grief for this, I think that it is the next Final Fantasy, and in all honesty, is leagues beyond the last few FFs. There are many, many opportunities for this series to grow and thrive.

Matt

You aren't the only person with this opinion, you know, and I think you'll receive less grief than you might think. I didn't get the chance to finish the first Shadow Hearts due to circumstances beyond my control, and now that game has been put back into the backlog, with Shadow Hearts II on the way as well (~one day~). I have heard a lot of good things about the third entry, so I'd say that your recommendation is a sound one. Go play it, people!

Finally, I'd like to ask one last question. Which ONE game (not series) do you feel most revolutionized RPGs, and brought them to the forefront? A game where it made it cool to play RPGs among non-players, and totally transformed the genre to the wealth we've seen in the last few years? I'm going for Chrono Trigger, which took the whole package from zero to ten in one swing. What do you and your readers think Matt?

Great columns as always Matt! Keep up the superb work!

-Greg in Philly


Matt

Thanks, Greg, for reading! Those who write in, though, are the people that make this column a superb one. Q&A wouldn't be much if I were sitting around talking to myself, now would it?

Now, your last question is interesting, because of your Chrono Trigger answer. This is the difference, though, between two questions: "Which one game most revolutionized RPGs?" versus "Which one game SHOULD HAVE?" I think that Chrono Trigger is a great answer to the second question, but there is only one answer to the question, I feel, and that's undeniably Final Fantasy VII. No matter what people want to say, no matter if they point fingers and laugh at "FF fanboys"...FFVII is the game that broke the barrier, at least in the western world, and made RPGs a more mainstream phenomenon. Nobody I knew had any idea of what an RPG was outside of a select circle of my friends back in elementary school, but now, I'd say that most people under the age of thirty would be able to identify Final Fantasy (at least) as a popular RPG. One title made the difference, and it's evident that it's FFVII; this sudden barrage of spinoffs and sequels might be an indication of the amount of buzz that surrounds the game even today, almost ten years later.

Why should Chrono Trigger have broken that barrier instead? It was incredible, fun, and deviated from the traditional RPG formula in just enough ways to make things interesting for both RPG fans and non-RPG fans alike, I think. It had one of the best-spun storylines to that point in RPG history, and still boasts one of the best plotlines even to this day. It's unfortunate that relatively few people took notice the first time around.



Head Honchos more important than even me! *gasp*


Well it's 6 am but I'll be a trooper and send ya some questions.

Seeing as Xenosaga has revealed two of the testaments what do you think is the reason for that? Are they trying to give us an idea that they will finally reveal some of the plotholes? Becuase to me it doesn't make much sense to reveal plot twists in previews of all things. Maybe they will have a bigger shocker.... I really dunno well what do you think?

Matt

It's really difficult to say, but one thing is for sure: they're running out of time! If Episode III is going to be the last of 'em (and it will be), there are a huge mess of loose ends that need some serious tying-up, and quickly. This sequel is going to have to be one heck of a hefty game, as far as I'm concerned, because it would surely be disappointing to reach the end of this series without having all of the mysteries of this convoluted storyline cracked open. Of course, I'm really going to have to go back and play Episodes I & II back to back to make sure I'm not missing anything myself. I find it difficult to keep all of the details straight, especially since it's been a year since I played Episode II and over two years since I played Episode I!

Also with this series coming to a close... My favorite writer/producer Takahashi will be outta work... This guy penned/directed Xenogears and Saga... Is there any news on what he is going to do next? And do you have a favorite director or producer in RPG's who always seem to produce quality games?


Matt

I don't know where he'll be going next, and I can't really find much information on the subject out in the great beyond. I guess we'll have to be patient and see. Personally, I don't really pay a huge amount of attention to the directors or producers of games, and I don't think that that's out of the ordinary with RPGamers (or video gamers in general). I tend to pay more attention to the companies behind development, myself. When it comes to RPGs, though, I try to keep an open mind no matter who is behind the grand scheme of things. You never know when a new and uprising star will spawn a spectacular idea!



Luckily, it's not RPGamer policy to "initiate" new Q&A writers.


Hi Matt,

I must admit I've only been reading your column for the past few weeks. Normally I don't read a web site's Q&As, but you have a great writing style (and sense of humor), which is very enjoyable to read.

Matt

Well, thank you!! I only hope that you're not writing in a dialect in which the word "great" actually means "terrible", and "enjoyable" actually means "detestable". Barring that unlikely possibility, I'm glad you're reading!

As a female gamer, I've also noticed the near lack of female protagonists. It used to bother me before, but now I'd much rather developers stick to what they know instead of trying to create a lead female character and not do such a great job (e.g. FFX-2). Strangely, I rather enjoy playing a lead male character, and even in games where you have an option to chose your character's gender (as in most PC RPGs), I invariably choose male.

Matt

Oh my, but you're really okay with them sticking to the status quo for that reason? I think that despite Final Fantasy X-2's "feel", it is possible to have a seriously-themed, great RPG starring a female hero. While I enjoyed many things about FFX-2, I think that it did very little to raise females to equal status as far as RPGs are concerned because of the fact that they were largely portrayed in a "silly" manner (and I'm sure you understand what I mean by saying that).

It's interesting that you choose male when given the choice. While the saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" comes to mind, I'd say that I most often choose the character that appears to be least traditional when given the option.

Like you, I am also playing Wild Arms: ACF. I haven't finished it yet (about 2/3 done), but I can say it's fantastic! I loved the original Wild Arms, having picked it up shortly after it came out. Back then, the only RPGs available were Beyond the Beyond (ugh, don't get me started on that!), Suikoden (good, but waaaaaay too short), and Persona (which was just plain weird). So Wild Arms was a great game that really tided me over until FFVII. The one storyline I really loved in the original was Jack's, and I wish it had been developed more. Well, it seems that ACF is doing just that, so I am extremely happy. There are some changes in ACF that don't thrill me, such as the elimination of different equipment - weapons, armors, accessories, etc. Eliminating this or severely reducing the variety seems to be a bit of a trend in games these days. Personally, one of my favorite parts of RPGs is getting better equipment, and it's a bit disappointing when a character is using the same sword they started with at the beginning of the game. All in all, though, I'm really loving ACF.

Matt

What can I say? I feel like Wild Arms: Alter Code F is ahead of the game when it comes to several things. Graphically, the game is really nice, especially in towns and villages. Cave and dungeon design, I think, is very strong too. I find that the game unfortunately suffers from its translation, which I think prevents the plot of the game from flowing as smoothly as it could; it also contains the occasional really annoying spelling error, including a "you're/your" mess-up that I discovered last time I played. The game is also a little too easy for my tastes, and a few other things bother me too, such as an extreme encounter rate, a mysteriously nonsensical echolocation system, and a serious lack of depth when it comes to battles.

I want to say that the game is a better-than-average one, but it's really difficult to make that judgment call at this stage of the game. Maybe by the end, I'll have a better sense; I might even impress the socks off of Sir Roku by writing a review (no promises)!

Now I'm going to say something which I thought I'd never ever say - there are too many RPGs being released!! See, back when I had all the time in the world to play video games (i.e. when I was in high school), there were sooo few. And even when more games got released, I didn't have any trouble getting in some serious game playing during undergrad and law school. However, now that I'm working, I have so little time! And there have been so many games released in the past few months which I haven't picked up - DQVIII, Shadow Hearts, Tales of Legendia, Grandia III, Wild Arms 4. Meanwhile, I'm still working on ACF, Xenosaga II, FFIV Advance, Sands of Time (non-RPG, I know), and a few DS games. My biggest challenge by far is finding a way to balance video games and work. Have you thought of any strategies for when you finish school? *sigh* If only I could get paid to play video games...

Matt

You're telling me! That would certainly be up there among my dream jobs, certainly! Also, you know that the RPG world is in fairly good shape if we're complaining about the number of games being released. I think we're all in the same boat here; I'm currently debating which new series to take a stab at, since while I could afford a few new games financially, my money could be much better spent on other things. What'll it be? Suikoden V, Grandia III, or Tales of Legendia? Or, is there something else I'm totally missing? Deciding is like being at a giant huge breakfast buffet with pancakes, french toast, and waffles. You COULD get all three, but it might make you ache...

Touching on a topic that was brought up yesterday, I wholeheartedly agree that RPGs are a great supplementary educational tool. The right game can not only teach some of the skills you mentioned, but can also be a fascinating and an enjoyable read (Xenogears was better than any novel or philosophical writing I've read... and I was a philosophy major in undergrad). Does it make you a better writer? That's a tough question, but I'd say probably not, in part because the translations of many games are simply not written in sophisticated prose - nor should they be, since games are really dialogue driven, and few people ever speak the same way in which they write.

Matt

Mmhmm, so I wish that parents would step back from their constant gripe about violent video games, and instead of arguing that "all video games are evil" invalidly, they should look at the games that might prove to be beneficial for their kids.

I don't really have a favorite non-attack magic spell, but a most useful one is Permanence in the Wild Arms series. Seriously, cast a whole bunch of status-increasing spells on your party (or status-decreasing spells on the enemy), cast Permanence and you're all set! Unless the enemy knows dispel, in which case you've just wasted all your turns and MP.

Well, that's it for now. Thanks for taking the time to read my long letter. Best of luck in your studies.

Sunita


Matt

No problem at all; thank you for taking the time to send it! I haven't discovered Permanance yet, but I assume it makes status-changing spells into a stain for the duration of battle, given its name. Assuredly, that is an interesting and original idea, so I commend you for your selection. Another similarly fun spell would be one that you could cast on monsters (or yourself) to make status changes end prematurely. So many ideas, so few people to pass them off onto... it's a tough life. ;)





C L O S I N G
IN CONCLUSION:

Ugh, another test to invigilate tonight; this would be my... hmm, what would it be? Four, five, six... eight, nine, ten! It would be my tenth. I'm becoming a high-level Teacher's Assistant, am I not? Hopefully I'll learn a new fun ability soon, like "Escape", so I can get out of the boring horror that is waiting around for an hour or more to collect tests. Growr.

Flashay!


Now, za answers. On a loosely related note, "za" is apparently an acceptable short-form for the word "pizza". What an idiotic language we have.

#139 was asked by the infamous Bainick; I'm sure it had something to do with the crazy geography down-under, but yes, a) Apollo Bay is strangely the town that the Apollobay-Colac road does not lead to. Sure, it might not make sense, but according to him, it is true! Thus, thanks for the submission, my Australian friend; it's worth 280 points for you and 140 for everyone else.

#140 might have been instantly obvious to anyone who knew what the item was, but painfully unobvious to everyone else. The item in question was, of course, the attractively-named "OXYALE", and that makes the question easy. The correct answer was indeed a) Yale and b) Oxford, for 160 points.

Question #141:
Ask Belthasar2!-->Which one of the following composers is originally NOT from Austria (considering today's territory)? (120 points)

a) W. A. Mozart
b) A. Bruckner
c) J. Haydn
d) L. v. Beethoven
e) F. Schubert

Question #142:
Killer Question! --> What is the second word that the second person you can encounter inside Aktemto mine says to you, the second time you go there for storyline purposes? (290 points)

a) Something
b) Monsters
c) Foul
d) Mine
e) Help


Things to work for (the SOCK item shop!):

800 points: Tilde (infinite number remaining!)
2,000 points: Guest-co-host Opportunity #2 (2 remaining!)
5,000 points: Guest-co-host Opportunity #3 (5 remaining!)


That's all for today, but there's more to come tomorrow. Please tune in again! That princessly attire-related question will finally be dealt with tomorrow, for anyone who was left hanging today (I doubt anyone really cares, honestly). Anyway, toodles!


slimey@rpgamer.com
***Matt is currently listening to fun video game music!


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