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ASK MATT
Decoder Doldrums
January 30, 2007

Matt Demers - 14:27 EST

AFTER RETURNING FROM THE SOUTHWEST of this province, I am pleased to report that Matt's Birthday '07 resulted in a pair of new Wii remotes and a funny new keychain. My search is over! No longer will I have to poke my head in and out of EB Gameses annoying the crap out of the people at the counter.

Unfortunately, I spent most of Matt's Birthday '07 marking calculus assignments. Grrr. I really can't wait until the pain of this semester is behind me, so that I get more time to play the drug that is Zelda.

No more delaying things: Q&A time is nigh, and I'm chomping at the bit to answer a question or two.




LETTERS
Potpourri (don't worry, it doesn't smell like "Mayberry" or "Freesia")


Hey Matt!

Now my exams are over (read: cancelled by mistake), I finally have time to do some regular Q+A e-mails (or should I say the lack of them a few days ago inspired me to! Besides, the whole hot topics bit gives me ideas).

Matt

Coincidentally, that's what they're there for! Something has to spur some mail in this time of socklessness and reader care-not-ishness. I know I'm boring when I don't have special features lining my column up and down, but hey, what can a guy do?

By the way, my apologies about taking a whole week and more to get back to you. I had a letter-inundation awhile back when I complained loudly, and the cleanup effort hasn't quite cleaned things up as of yet.

And score on the mistakenly cancelled finals. Why can't someone mistakenly report my thesis as submitted, approved, and successfully defended? I'm resigned to the fact that life isn't fair, but come on... I need a bone here!

First off, the whole Final Fantasy 20th Anniversary subject – why why WHY must they release FF1 and 2 AGAIN, on the PSP? I mean, you can already get it on enough systems as it is, and they only released the GBA versions a year or 2 ago. Don't get me wrong, I actually like 1 and 2, but we don't need another copy of it!

Matt

Why because the folks at Square Enix would rather squeeze every last drop of moneyjuice out of the old games. I'll bet there's really some number-crunching nerd behind the scenes who would go into maniacal peals of laughter if the sales figures for the original FF ever surpass those of FFVII. It doesn't make much sense, sure, but neither does an eighteenth re-release of the same game, in my ever-so-humble opinion. Whatever happened to Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana, hmm?

Considering it's their 20th anniversary, I'd rather see a new Final Fantasy game than a rehash of a game that we've seen already – considering Crisis Core is supposed to be being released in Japan this year, I think they should've done something like that for the 20th anniversary – something original. What do you think?

Matt

Yes, they should. Of course, Final Fantasy XIII is ambitiously slated for release later this year, so one could argue that that's a good piece of new. If I had to gamble on it, though, I'd bet that the game will be pushed back until at least seventy people own a PS3. They really wouldn't make much money off their big title otherwise, would they?

As for Crisis Core, sure, I guess. Releasing yet another FFVII title, though, seems to skirt the borderline of "original" and "ugh, can we move on now?" Does anyone agree wit' me?

Now, onto FFXII! I was really hoping that it would be a great game (after all, it took long enough to arrive!), but to be honest, I was really disappointed with it in the end. Why? The main reason is the story (call me old fashioned if you will, but if a game doesn't have a good story, I lose interest VERY quickly) – it just seems so empty and lifeless. It doesn't feel like the main story at times, either. It feels more like a side-story than the main game. Especially the side-quests. There's so much to do for them they seem to overshadow the main story anyway.

Matt

It's true, but it was a different style and while it wasn't the best one for some people, others dug right into it like a dog would dig into a steak that accidentally falls from the grill onto the ground below. Sure, Final Fantasy XII's release was no accident, but details, details.

FFXII is like the lovable ugly baby of the Final Fantasy family to me, kinda. Despite its imperfections, I played the crap out of it, and I'm more than glad to welcome it to the world of my DVD shelf.

I wasn't keen on the battle system either – I've always wanted a Final Fantasy where you can just get into fights like you can in this game, but for some reason it didn't quite meet my expectations for some reason. Just didn't feel right I guess.

I can't fully comment on it though, I lost interest about 15 hours in and stopped playing. I'll pick it up again at some point, but probably not for a while!

Matt

That happens when they choose to make gambits things you actually have to find. This was a rather mind-boggling decision, to me. Why wrest the control of your allies from the player only to force the player to find or buy commands for them? The full roster (and more) of targets should have been available, no questions asked, from the start, as far as I'm concerned. Why "more"? Where in the eff was the "Enemy: Item Stolen" gambit? Where in the gee was the "Party: Average HP < 50%" gambit? Where in the aitch was the "Ally: Status abnormal" gambit? And why in the igh and jay respectively were the options to automatically change weapons or not do anything not available? The gambit system was darn confining at times, and while it got the job done, it could have been way better.

The console wars – that's a tough one. Right now, the Wii is ahead of everything else (I can rattle of a list of people longer than I can remember who either have or have been trying to get a Wii, but I can't think of anyone at all that wants a PS3!) but I think the PS3 does have a chance once some better games come out (FF XIII, GTA IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Resident Evil 5 etc.). Considering that the PS2 was great for RPG's, I'm hoping that the PS3 has many great titles in the long run!

Personally, if I could afford either (and right now, I can't!) I'd get the PS3 instead of the Wii. In the long run, it's got more games that I like right now, I have space for it (I definitely don't have the room to go swinging the Wiimote everywhere!) and it's a lot safer (again, the Wiimote seems to cause a lot of damage, to both people and property!).

Matt

Enh, I've been whacked a few times by the controllers. They mostly just wake you up and get your attention, and then you can get angry at your friend/family member/random person and counterattack. They don't really hurt that much, and they're so light, I really don't understand how they could possibly go through a TV screen. I'm pretty sure those first images were phonier-balonier than Dolly P's boobs.

Now that the PS3's pricing has been announced for overseas, I can't help but mourn for you. We thought that $600 was a lot of money, but yeee... the UK and Europe will show North Americans the true definition of "zomg expensive". And while you're looking forward to a few PS3 games, I really don't care much for any of those games outside of FFXIII. Wake me up when something more interesting creeps into the picture, and perhaps I'll take notice then.

You've probably noticed that I haven't mentioned the 360 – I'm staying outta that one, I don't really know anything about it anyway.

Matt

Yeah. I know a grand total of one person that owns a 360, and they're definitely the ah, how do you say? Typical guy-gamer who cares only for "intense" or "sick" graphics. You lose, guy. If only Blue Dragon were released for other systems, I'd feel completely okay about bashing the hell out of it, but alas, it is not.

Upcoming RPG's ... Can't say I know of many for the PS2 – I've seen a lot of stuff for Rogue Galaxy though. It's definitely caught my interest and I'm going to get it as soon as I can!

It's been cool writing in, and I will again!

Dracus

P.S. – How long does your maths course last for? It's almost like you've been doing it forever!

Matt

Forever, that's how long! That would also explain why it seems I've been doing it forever, and forever is how much longer I have to go. Every time I make a smidgen of progress, I get this wall that slams down in front of my face so close that I can feel a breeze. It's really frustrating.

Rogue Galaxy looks like a lot of fun, and it's been getting decent ratings from many different websites. After all the waiting, I'm looking forward to seeing what people have to say about it in future letters.

And yes, write in again, if you please! My inbox requires periodic nourishment.



To our co-host of a week and a half ago:


don't know how to contact Chris, but had something to reply to regarding something he said in the column.

Chris said, "Yeah, I got the Sega Genesis Collection myself with my Christmas gift card. I had two concerns, though: I've now got an eight game backlog (counting the three Phantasy Star games), and I don't know where I'm going to find PS1. I don't know how they could leave it out of the collection, but it leaves me frustrated."

It's actually quite simple. They left PS1 out of the collection because it wasn't a Sega Genesis game, it was a Sega Master System game. I can see why it would be frustrating not to have it though.

-TBB

Matt

That would make sense, Mr/Mrs/Mlle/Ms TBB. I'm personally waiting to see if it makes the Wii's Virtual Console list, which also buys me some time to get through the many, many games that I still have all queued up. It's a no-fail plan, except that the plan will fail if the game doesn't make the cut for the VC. So I guess it's not a no-fail plan after all. Hmm.

You'll find it one day, BigWook, and you'll get to bask in the glory that is the original Phantasy Star! Do not despair.



360 degrees of separation.


Hey Matt,

Seeing as how I don't own an XBOX360, Blue Dragon never interested me in the least so I never looked at more than maybe a couple pictures of it at most. In the recent Game Informer(issue 166) Blue Dragon is the cover story with 10 pages of detailed goodness. The reason I decided to email you about it is that after reading it, unlike Final Fantasy 5's job class system which they state, it seems far more closer to Dragon Warrior 7's.

Matt

It does, kinda, doesn't it? Once a character learns an ability, it doesn't randomly fall out of their brain upon changing their clothing. It's hard to imagine, maybe, but this is the RPG world after all.

So anyways Matt. Have you had a chance to look into Blue Dragon? What are your opinions of it and its class system? If I had an XBOX360 I'd pick this game up as soon as it came out, but as I don't have the system with this and Dead orAlive 4 being the only two games that interest me that don't come on the PS3(the system has more games for it that I'm interested in) then I'm pretty much going to have to skip this game altogether as I'm not getting the system(which I have nothing wrong with the system, it just has nothing that interests me and it's been out over a year --- although it is getting Mobile Suit Gundam: Mobile Ops the One Year War which will add yet another game I want.)

And why does everyone have to look like Toriyama's Male and Female stereotypes. They all look like Gohan or Bulma once again! ARGGGGHHH. Okay. I'm done.

-andrew- -kupomogli-

Matt

Well, exactly. What are RPGamers supposed to do, invest in a console for a single game? That's a pretty expensive thing to do, unless you have one of those money trees I keep talking about. Blue Dragon looks absolutely beautiful, but when you consider the fact that the only other RPGs that are out for the system are, um, Enchanted Arms o' mediocrity, and Oblivion o' yawnfulness, it would be a generally stupid idea to invest in a 360 console, at least for a guy like me.

So, I don't really blame you, but I can't help but look with desire upon this awesome-awesome game. Yeah, Toriyama's characters all look like Toriyama characters, but I think that it's more endearing than irritating, personally. (I want another Dragon Quest game...)

Anyway, screw you, Xbox 360 owners. I hate you all. <3



GU-GU-GUD!


Hmm, it's a toughie. I certainly liked the ease of the "you only have to see it done" Lore system of FFVI, though the "targeted, but survive" system has its value - I sort of like the need to "work together" with a monster controller job. And, of course, the "Eat" command of FFIX has its charms as well. And, getting outside FF, the photography system of Shadow Hearts: Covenant killed two birds with one stone: it both gave you the blue magic and fulfilled an alternate purpose (enemy stats and completionism). I liked that as well.

I'm hard pressed to declare a "winner" here. If I absolutely had to pick one, I'd go with the "targeted, but survive" system. It makes blue magic a minigame in of itself, and requires a little more thought than other systems that give it to you more automatically.

Matt

I see. I'd have to agree with you, though on the whole, I find that I have to "try" to use Blue Magic, generally. It's usefulness doesn't come naturally, like Black or White magic, or the suckling instinct. I think it's because in several games, it's highly underpowered and comes with no easily-obtained method of healing. I remember playing through the abomination of Wild Arms: ACF last year and discovering that not only was Blue Magic useless, it cost the green-haired doctor girl, whatever her name was, about three hundred kazillion MP to use any single enemy skill. Definitely not a good deal, no.

What Blue Mages need is an ability to magnetize themselves to receive attacks more easily, because I hate waiting in battle for half an hour for a monster to target them. Trust me, such things are in the works for a certain second competition, coming to a column near you, in just a couple of months. Isn't it a MARVELOUS plan?

As for your comments about FFT, here's a question that came to mind: how much character customizability is "too much," before it becomes just a case of "every character can be the same as every other character"? It's certainly noticable in various FF's, so what about FFT?

Matt

Final Fantasy Tactics' system is hugely expansive enough that that never has to happen. There are so many classes and so many skills that you could gain JP until the end of the world and still have unique characters (if you wanted them to be unique). FFXII, on the other hand, has such a jail-cell of a License board that is almost impossible to not have your characters "identicalize" over time. It's unfortunate, but hey, that's life.

As for .hack//GU, I'm a little nervous too. I've written to Namco's CustServ e-mail to plead a case. However, folks claim on the GameFAQs message boards that voice actors have said that they've already recorded dialogue for at least two games, all three in some cases, so I'm going to assume that means that they're not going to swallow their losses. Hopefully the .hack fans are properly galvanized...

Matt

Be nervous no more. I saw an update claiming that Volume II is indeed headed to North American shores; I caught it this morning at 1up.com, the greatest second-greatest RPG news source on the web.



A letter from a scholastic relative; an alumnic brother.


Hey Matt! How're things at Guelph? I haven't been on Campus since I graduated... have they finally finished that Chemistry building yet?

Matt

Yes, and it's lavishly furnished with granite water fountains and stainless steel stair banisters. The homey MacNaughton building, on the other hand, is falling apart with people getting caught in the dysfunctional elevator for hours at a time almost biweekly. Great plan, no? Good work, U of G.

So anyways, I wouldn't be worried at all about DQ IX's "action" emphasis... I mean really, when's the last time you played a really good Action RPG? The last true Action RPG I can think of that filled this niche is Secret of Mana! I kid ye not. Generally, what people would consider Action RPGs, I would actually consider four separate "genres". Here goes:

1. Hack and Slash
Diablo, Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance, etc fall into this category. Usually swarms of monsters, fast-paced button mashing, and a dedicated potion button. I personally can't stand these games.

2. Action Adventures
Zelda, Alundra, Soul Blazer, Terranigma, etc. Fantastic games, but usually more emphasis on puzzles, hidden items, etc. Some blur the line a bit, but you never have a party in this sorta game. Almost always emphasize dodging attacks entirely than soaking up the damage based on your level (if levels even exist).

3. Action-Based Battle Systems
Star Ocean, Tales, Radiata Stories. Generally fun, but constantly transitioning to battle engines gets tiresome. Otherwise quite traditional.

4. "True" Action RPGs
Secret of Mana, Other Mana games qualify too, but I can't think of any real standouts from anyone else. Usually slower-paced, with a party, but otherwise still story-driven. Battles take place on the field, which makes the game flow much better (as in FFXII, though not action-based)

Matt

Oho! Would Crystalis be one of these? I think it would.

So yeah, just think about how fun Secret of Mana was, and how cool a Dragon Quest game could be in the same sort of style. I'm not worried, are you?

Matt

Truth be told, it's very hard to say for sure what we're looking forward to at all. We've seen a trailer, but that's it. I'll be much eagerer to say how I feel once I know how I feel, but given that Level 5 is in charge, I feel more confident than I might otherwise, and I think that rings true for a lot of people. Long live Dragon Quest!

Incidentally, Final Fantasy 5 rules. I'm currently in the last Dungeon (which is the most inventive last Dungeon I can recall), and I loved every second of it. I forgot to do the Phoenix Tower (once I looked up how to get in), but I can always do that after the endgame, but before the bonus dungeon. Here's my current party:

Bartz:
Mastered: Mystic Knight, Knight, White Mage
Currently Learning: Gladiator
Dabbled in: Geomancer

Lenna:
Mastered: Summoner
Currently Learning: White Mage (almost there!)
Dabbled in: Ranger, Monk

Krile
Mastered: Black Mage, Time Mage
Currently Learning: Red Mage (2X cast will be mine!!)
Dabbled: Samurai, Dragoon

Faris
Mastered: Thief, Ninja, Dragoon (2X Spear Jump rules you!)
Currently Learning: Dancer (hell, why not?)
Dabbled: Red Mage

Matt

That's quite the varied party! You're in good hands. Just don't forget to change out to the Freelancer class before the final battle, if you haven't tried already. Yeah, I know I'm behind in my letters, so I'm probably a week too late. Ohhh well.

So anyways, I've got to stop putting off my assault on Rhapethorne..I dunno what it is, but I just feel dread about tackling this flying castle only to have to do the whole thing again if I lose the boss battle. At least I get to keep my ex and half the gold, but sometimes I really wish I could just have a save point; tradition be damned! I'm not really sure if I'm going to tackle the bonus content. Even if it ties into the story, it sounds like I would just get frustrated at a ridiculous final-final boss.

Matt

It's an understandable point of view, but believe me: If you're not doing too badly in the citadel with the enemies, you'll likely be okay at the big boss. Plus, the whole big place is a little less mazey than it might seem at first glance, especially once you've frolicked through it two or three times. Those levers I hope you've pulled every now and then are there so that you can just walk right up the centre stairs if you come back, instead of wandering all over the place like a zombie with things to do.

Also, am I the only one that's seriously excited about Lunar Knights? I played through Boktai one lazy summer, and found it to be one of the most refreshing and well designed games I played on the GBA. I own Boktai 2, but now that I'm in an apartment, I can't really play it anywhere without people on the street staring at the guy on the balcony playing GBA (I'm only on the 3rd floor). Plus I'm not even sure if the sun shines the right way (and I'd need to wait for spring anyhow).

Matt

It looks different, for sure. There are a lot of different portable games on the way, though, so it's not surprising that it hasn't been front and centre. With announcements about Pokémon, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Mana tactical RPGs, and way more, there's altogether too much for the average joe or jane to keep straight. I don't even know when Lunar Knights is supposed to come out, though. And as for those starers, you stare 'em back down. Look into their souls and tell them "this system is 3000 times more important to me than you'll ever be, so remove your peepers, if you please."

Anyways, enough rambling from me. I'd send you my Mognet code, but I haven't played the game enough to have learned about Mognet; FF5 comes first. I'm also quite enjoying Metal Gear Solid, Portable Ops on the PSP, so I dunno if FF3 is even next.

Matt

I understand. I understand perfectly.

Yeah, my backlog is huge too. I can't very well criticize you for it, can I?

Catch 'ya later
Ryan

(PS: My fingers kept wanting to type "laster". I don't get it. I also typed your mail wrong. Go Silmey!)

Matt

Those morons at G4 covering E3 all the way back in May seemed to have the same problem with the latest Valkyrie Profile game. "Slimeria"? Respect minus eighty-eight.



Mmmmmm... fondue.


Hey Matt!

I'm not surprised at all that Squaresoft is readying a demo for 2007. After all the complaints they got over the ridiculous development time for FFXII, I think they're feeling the need to have XIII ready to go. Especially since it is the linchpin to a three game set. Besides, they need something to show off their mad skillz at programming for the PS3. My question is, who the heck is going to play this demo? It's not like there's an overwhelming number of PS3 owners running around, the darn things are sitting on shelves all over the place.

Matt

Quel surprise, considering there's about one good game for the system, a system which just happens to cost approximately the average annual income of the people of several developing nations.

Who will be playing the demo? Not me. I'd like to, but I don't own a PS3 and don't plan to anytime soon. To further complicate matters, I don't know a soul who owns one, so my chances seem pretty slim. It's depressing, but maybe Square Enix will get a hint if no one's there to play their masterpiece and do something WILD, besides announcements of their licensing of crazy-graphics-engines that few people care about.

By the way, I've really heard that the PS3 does indeed require quite incredible "skillz" to program. Perhaps that indicates that the good games that come out will be spectacular, while the rest will be awful. I'm not sure, but that's what happened to the N64, which reportedly was also difficult to work with. Hmm, hmm.

mmmm, fondue, I haven't had that in years! I wonder if my parents still have their fondue pot...

Thanks!

BigWook

Matt

Mmm. Fondue. Cheese, chocolate, oil; how can you go wrong by dipping otherwise healthy foods into your favourite high-fat warm melty dip? You can't, that's how. It was good, too.

Merci beaucoup, Mr. BigWook! We'll have your final co-hosting (for awhile, at least) in the next week or two, if you feel like it.



QUICKIES

It is so hard to find ANY Wii Hardware in Colac, that I bought WiiPlay for $50 just to get the extra remote. Now I just need to find a nunchuck extension somewhere!

Bainick sleeps with the kitties!

Matt
What is this?! Wii Play comes with an extra remote? Ugh, is this true? Why has this game not been released for we of the west? *grumbular* Careful, by the way: Those kitties can stink stink stink if they eat the wrong stuff during the day. x_x


MOGNET MAIL

If you have Final Fantasy III DS, my code is 515 480 192 117. Mail me your number, and I'll add you to my list! Then you can send all the letters you like! I'll continue this section until at least the end of February, and we'll see how it goes after that.

Hi

Master Ninja

Macstorm

Matt
Hi! Bye.



IN CLOSING

'Tis all. Write more for tomorrow. I'm slowly inching my way through the old mail, so with any luck, I'll be only a week behind by the end of this week! Of course, your letters are always welcome; they might just take a few days to get around to.

Until tomorrow, I wish you the best of luck in all of your PS2ing, DSing, and everything elseing.



Send a Letter!

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Matt has so much to do, he doesn't know what to do!


It's like the old woman in a shoe, except that I don't have any kids.

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