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Here's a Lovely Chest
March 30, 2007

Matt - 16:42 EST

FRIDAY IS HERE, and I've come to the conclusion that I just have major difficulties sleeping on Thursday nights. No matter what, I end up tossing and turning for literally hours, before sitting up and gaining levels on Final Fantasy VI until sleep overtakes me. I'm not sure why it is, either. See, I have to be on campus to do some tutoring earlyish on Friday mornings, so I go to bed a little bit early. It could be that my rebellious body just won't realize what's good for it, because it can be mischievous that way. Anyway, where's a good "Sleep" spell when you need one?

Okay. I'll get through as many letters as I can without drowsing away, but don't blame me if I caaaaaaasfdafvcvcccgggggzzzzzzzzzz




LETTERS
To the dictionarymobile!


Hi

Hero as defined by websters is the following:

Main Entry: he.ro
Pronunciation: 'hir-(")O
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural heroes
Etymology: Latin heros, from Greek hErOs

1 a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability b : an illustrious warrior c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities d : one that shows great courage

2 a : the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work b : the central figure in an event, period, or movement

3 plural usually heros : SUBMARINE 2

4 : an object of extreme admiration and devotion : IDOL
(hurry for the internet search engines :D)

Are these the things that define what makes a hero. Then unfortunatly many of our favorite "heroes" are in fact not heroes at all but ordenary people put into difficult situatuations. "But Mr. Arkadysmile, isn't that what makes a hero?". Well yes and no. What in my opinion makes a true hero is have the wisdom to do what he/she must for the greater good. But when someone... spoiler alert... like Van from ToA kills hunderds for what he believes to be right, does that make him a hero? Does sacrifing the many for all justify the means? I don't know. I felt the same way when Luc (Suiko 3) told us the player that he had started a war to release everyone from the "prison" he believed the runes keep them in... spoiler end.

Matt

Bah, I wouldn't think that our heroes aren't heroes! Definition 1 describes courage and achievement, and I think that it's pretty courageous to rise up against terrible villains hell-bent on taking over the world and possessing twice as much HP as any other boss in the game. Don't you? Defeating such a villain, well, that would certainly be an admirable achievement.

I think that while the main characters may not be heroes from the start, by the end of their quest, they deserve the title 99% of the time. I don't like how the definition is gender-exclusive, though I guess we could call all female heroes "heroines," couldn't we?

My personal favourite type of hero, though, is the type with a generous number of meatballs in a rich tomato sauce and topped with mozzerella and parmigiana reggiano. Oh yes. See Definition 3. ;)

Hum, I was supposed to be talking about heroes and ended up talking about villians. I guess that brings me to my next point. A hero is only difined by what enemy he fight. I mean what kind of hero would Batman be to Gotham is no crime ever happend. And thus comes full cirlce that idea that if there was no conflict could hero exist.

Matt

Of course. And given the fact that most of the time, there are bad guys in RPGs, we can generally assume this to be true. Things get more interesting when the villain is actually a hero in his/her own right, or when the roles of "good" and "bad" are not entirely clear.

Wow, I seem to have become heavy handed reading what I wrote up there. I guess a good hero to me is someone who does what they must, with what they have to the best of thier ability. And don't foget that not only is a hero defined by the villians he/she must face, but also by the friends they keep close.

So I guess... um... Cloud Strife was a good hero (that should keep those FFVII fanboys happy ;) But to be truthful I can't really think of anyone I really consider a hero. Maybe Yuri from Shadow Hearts. That guy was something else.

No I'm going to go finish up God of War II and kill a bunch of people and monsters 'cus I can. Peace out ;)

Arkadysmile

Matt

You sound so meandery in your heroes. I think that the definition you found actually does extend to many different main characters out there. If in doubt, as I always say, go smash fictional creatures. Actually, I've never said that. Have a good time doing so, anyway.



Different heroes, and new-generation RPG offerings.


What's up?

On the subject of mian characters (if you're still on it,) I like characters in general that have a lot of originality to them. There aren't a myriad of games where you find a dual-wielding character that has two conflicting dragons on his back, a life-sized voodoo doll made of straw, a vallainous spikey-shelled king of turtles from old school, or a paintbrushing dog possessed by a diety. Not as much as, say ..... how do I put this? A kid with a sword.

Matt

Ahhh! I only know two of those references off the top of my head; Ashton from Star Ocean: The Second Story, and Bowser, obviously. I really want to see that paintbrushing dog, though, becaues that just sounds wicked.

It is rather nice when games stray slightly from the tried-and-true-sixteen-thousand-four-hundred-and-eighteen-times-over formula. You know the one: Hero = strong fighter with some magic and limited personality; Second = soldier-type with tofu for brains but the HP of a sasquatch; Third = soft-spoken, shy (76.6% of the time female) white mage with a pure heart; Fourth, the cool and calculating black mage that has astounding intelligence and a curious amount of insight into most situations. It's been done before, many times.

Basically, games with more depth in their characters are more likely to have more background to them; the why's and how's. And I agree, the quicker the characters are thrown at you from the start of the game, the more it's just going to seem like a motley crew of people trying to save the world (ironically quoting Baten Kaitos.)

Matt

Heh heh. Yes. I really miss the great Final Fantasy IV format of getting people and losing people without having a choice in the matter. I especially love it in games like FFIX, where you're given control of non-important characters for extended periods of time (like Marcus, I think) and different characters branch off into "meanwhile"-style different scenarios. Plus, when people leave the party, you miss them, and you care about them because you wonder what happened to them. It's not essential to a good RPG, but it's an aspect that I personally miss very greatly.

Now, as for the 360. It kind of bugs me that people won't consider the turnaround Microsoft is taking to appeal to more gamers. The 360 is coming out with more RPGs so far this year than almost the other two next-gens combined, the former Sqaresoft team is on the Xbox now while the current S-E is freezing up, and though it's still a little expensive, the Xbox360 is priced less than PS3. Gamers of the RPG had all the best titles appearing on the PS2 previously, while Nintendo owners could survive with Pokemon, Zelda, and SSB alone. And with such a huge switch, all people can think is, "maybe, maybe, maybe," as if there's no possibility or potential for RPGs on the 360. In my opinion, everyone should do less thinking and more knowing. (I don't have a 360, by the way.)

Matt

It's true that the Xbox 360 will have a good little showing of RPGs over the next year or so, but remember that it is now in the second year of its cycle! Nintendo and Sony are both just getting into the swing of things; both have only been out for a mere few months. Perhaps once they've been on the shelves for as long, the landscape will look a little different.

To be fair, I wouldn't quite call the 360 a hotbed of RPGs. Yeah, there are a few really great-looking ones on the way, but I would hardly call it RPGamer heaven. Nintendo has a few that are on the horizon, too; besides Zelda, there's an awesome looking Fire Emblem game coming out, Super Paper Mario (in less than two weeks OMG OMG OMG!!), a Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles and a Dragon Quest game in development, on top of Pokémon whatever it is coming out this summer and that "Opoona" game that was just announced. That's a pretty good lineup too, I think.

Best RPGs of 2007? I'm still playing Chrono Trigger on my SNES to this day, so no question.

Later!
dshwshr55

Matt

Eh... if that were the criteria for determining "RPG of the Year," Dragon Warrior IV or Final Fantasy VI would probably have won for me about six or seven times apiece.

Anyway, thanks, Mr. Dishwasher. (Or Deshwasher, if you feel like hopping in the shower with a certain Final Fantasy III hero.) <3



The disc is a canvas, and developers are the painters, or something.


Hey Matt!

Ahhh, nothing like 21 hours of tutoring on top of my regular job and a bit of overtime last week to eat up all my free time. FFXII is almost at a standstill. Between all the stuff to do, the size of the game, and how stretched out the plot is, I can barely remember what is going on anymore. Plus, I had to pick up most of last week's columns on the weekend. But, it means I have a nice, healthy sized letter to pour out.

Matt

Yeah, I hear you. I'm just sorry it took me a full week or more to get back to you. What can I say? There is no excuse for my iniquities.

The big topic lately seems to be random battles. Having experience the better alternatives, I can't say I'm a fan of random battles anymore. I replayed FFIX a couple months ago, and you're right, the load times are ridiculous. It seems to be a common thread with all the Playstation Final Fantasy games, but that one is the worst. The biggest gripe I have with random battles is that they punish you for exploring. Most games with visible enemies allow you to clear them out as you explore a dungeon, so you don't pay for having to backtrack while you explore. Random battles can make exploring endless.

Matt

That's really true, but that's almost a shortcoming of the game in particular more than it is a shortcoming of the system. Many games with random battles have ways to circumvent those battles from the start, so Final Fantasy on the original is almost the exception when it comes to waiting around to finally get an "Enc-None" type ability, three-quarters of the way through the game. With both FFIX and X too, I found that the encounter rate was also a bit over the top; at least in FFX, you couldn't go grab a drink from the fridge, like you could for IX in the time it took for the camera to sweep across the battlefield six times and pan behind your characters. Yech.

At the same time, I think FFXII is a bit too liberal. I've noticed that I can go into most battles fully prepared to attack, and in some cases I can win battles without the enemy getting off a turn. It's like having continuous initiative. It would be one thing if it required strategy to do, but I manage to pull it off almost constantly. I prefer visible enemies that initiate into a battle, a la Chrono Trigger. Visible enemies, short loads, preferably without even having to change screens.

Matt

Indeed. For whatever reason, it seems that monsters don't have as big of a sphere in which you're "in range" as you do for them, if that makes any sense. With that pre-emptive attack, though, I'd usually run headstrong into combat with a stealing character, since I was big on the thievery for most of the game.

In any case, based on the bits we've heard, you might just get your wish for Final Fantasy XIII. Of course, a lot can change in a year or two (or three, or six).

Speaking of liberal, I agree that there are too many save and healing points in RPGs. Particularly the fact that more and more, the save points completely heal you (Final Fantasy, I'm looking at you). Remember when you used to have to use an item to heal at a save point, or in the overworld map? Now, there's no need to worry about your health much at all. Half the time you can see every boss coming, because there is always a save point right before them so you can go in perfectly healthy. I remember thinking that Rubicant in FFIV was the coolest boss ever because he healed you before you fought him. In-dungeon save points should not heal you, and they should be spaced out (no more than one per dungeon).

Matt

It's so true. I did get to the point in Final Fantasy XII where I became numb to challenge and felt no risk, because I figured out after the first twenty hours that I'd get a healy save point right before I fought anything worth any stress at all. It causes the whole "preserving your strength" aspect that I love about some RPGs to be completely absent from FFXII. The same was true for FFX, of course; I'm not being choosy, and actually, I think that FFX was an even worse "offender" in this regard.

Being a slightly older (edging toward my late 20s) gamer, I find myself drawn to the older, wiser supporting characters in RPGs more often than the main character. When I do like the main character, it tends to be the more mature types. Yuri in Shadow Hearts: Covenant (he's not that mature in the first one), or Shion in Xenosaga, those are the types that I identify with better. They've got a bit of success under their belt, but they still feel the need to accomplish something.

Matt

Well phrased, good sir. Yeah, the older wiser characters are sadly uncommon, though. I'm afraid that the energetic, leap-before-you-look type will outnumber the thoughtful and experienced kind for a long time to come. That might not necessarily be a bad thing, though.

And, to wrap things up, I'll tackle the idea of video games as an art form. While there are some games that stand beautifully as an art form, I don't think I see them purely as such. Do I see them equal as entertainment to things like movies and books? Increasingly so. But, especially nowadays, I don't see most movies as a true art form anymore. Yes, there are some people that take the time and craftmanship to create "art," but there are too many movies nowadays which seem to have little, even if I really enjoy them. Videogames are the same way: For every game like Okami which breathes art in every screenshot I see, there are dozens of games that are simply for enjoyment, rather than artistic appreciation.

Perhaps I have a narrowminded view of art (I recognize that I am focused mostly on the visual), but I can't see videogames being art on a large scale. Maybe I can't see myself interacting with art the way I can interact with a videogame. Maybe it is because games are such a hybrid of different styles, combining visuals with music with playability. I just can't put my heart into defending it as a true art form, although I will gladly argue their entertainment value against anything else.

Thanks! BigWook

Matt

Heh heh... and isn't it interesting that a lot of movies lose the impact that they might have had just because too much energy is spent in the wrong place? What I'm getting at is that, if you take a movie like X-Men 3 (one that I didn't see), everyone and their second cousins once removed thought that it lost the essence of the others all in the name of creating supacool special "FX." In other words, the true heart of the art of the movie was lost, perhaps while trying to make a movie that would be visually orgasmic, especially to those without much of an attention span. There are obviously many better examples of movies that could be called "art" but this one just flew into my mind.

I guess the question boils down to "what IS art?" If Sony and the gang think that it's all about vivid explosions containing three-hundred thousand different shades of colour and the most realistically gooey-looking blood, then fine for them. Nintendo's games aren't art at all. For me, the true "art" of video-game-making is the ability to create a game that makes you feel great while playing it-- genuine entertainment. There's more to movies than vivid visuals, and I feel strongly that the same goes for games.

Good to hear your perspective, BigWook! More later, yes?



Mmm... meatloaf.


Heeeeeeeeeeeeeyy Matt!

Howzit?

Anyways, short and to the point, playing FF12, LOVING it. Battle system is phenominal, I love using the gambits, fun sidequests (those chicks on the airships, the Hunts, the mysterious sandstorm in the desert) and a great and engaging story. And Balthier! BRILLIANT! I doubt there is a Final Fantasy fan out there who doesn't have some sort of non-sexual crush on him. But I'm not finished yet, still got a ways to go, so I'm hoping that the standard continues.

Matt

Aye, and there are a few out there that take the crush a little too far. Why, just the other day, one of our own staffers was going on about how his voice made her melt. It doesn't do that much for me, but yeah, he's a cool character.

I'd have to say that while the story for me was engaging, it doesn't come close to being as engaging as some past Final Fantasy games. Yeah, I know, let the old fogey (me) gripe and yammer on, and eventually he'll die one day. We old fogeys are never satisfied, but playing through Final Fantasy VI on the GBA right now reminds me of just HOW great a FF game can be.

**Minor FFXII spoilers here**

One minor issue is the huge freaking crapwalk from one place to the next. Going to get a little spoilerish here, but where you have to go from Mt Bur Omaniece (or whatever it is, don't have time for spelling right now) to Archades. WHAT THE HELL!!!! Nalbina, then those highlands, then the forest, then the coast, then some more highlands, then a freaking dungeon!!!! I mean god, I love running around and battling and whatnot, but I also happen to enjoy a semi decent progression of the story.

Matt

Yeah, I really don't know what was up with that. I thought the trek was more than a bit ridiculous myself, and my first impression was that a bunch of developers had come up with these big sprawling beautiful-but-empty landscapes before they ever realized that there really weren't going to be enough places in the world/along the plotline to put them all. So, of course, they just crammed them all in a row. Boo for excessive trekking. Also, big boo for airlines that conveniently open up new routes only after you venture to the location you'd want to fly. Could you imagine if that's how airlines worked in real life? "Oh, I'm sorry, but the flight to Houston is down... UNTIL YOU FIRST GO THERE BY FOOT MWAHAHA." Bad business plan, yeah?

Anyways, now that the rant is over, I just want to respond to something I've noticed. People bag out characters such as Vaan, the 'effeminate teenager' etc etc becoming a stereotype for the 'Main character'. However, and I've noticed this in both the PS2 final fantasy's as well as a few other games, that they arent the main character, so much as the central, or focus, character. I would say that in FF12, Ashe would be more the main character than Vaan (at least, so far).. It's just that the story is told from Vaan's perspective.

Matt

Is Vaan really that effeminate? Yeah, he wears a shirt that shows off his abby tummy, and he has pretty perfect hair, but I wouldn't really say that he's girly, would you?

Yes, and in fact, I fail to understand why Vaan and Penelo remain tangled in the main story through to the end, especially because it concerns them only indirectly. Realistically, wouldn't Princess Ashe more likely respond to the aid of a couple of filthy teenagers by a "get away from me, you smelly kids"? I understand the whole wanting to take back what's theirs thing, but there is something inherently odd-feeling about the collection of characters in that game. The meatloaf feels like it's missing the egg that binds it all together, to put it culinarily.

Ok it's late, so that may not all be structured so well, but hopefully you understand my point.

Matt

Yeah, no worries. I'm the one you've got to worry about; how I could start talking about main characters and end up on the subject of dinner is beyond even me.

Also, given that this is a Q&A, and not a rant, I shall offer you a question...

Super Paper Mario. Just how bad are you looking forward to it?

I can't wait, especially as it's going to be my first forray into the Paper Mario series. I never bought a gamecube, so I've only just started playing GC games on my wii, and I cant believe what I've been missing out on.

Matt

How bad? REALLY, REALLY bad. Wow, this game looks good. Despite the trailers and everything that are out, I've barely watched any, because I just don't want to know. I want as few spoilers as is earthly possibly before I jump into the pixellated world... and I get to do so in just a couple of weeks! It's so exciting, really.

Anyways, off for my next hunt. Just waiting for it to start raining on the Giza Plains.

Final Delerium

Matt

Ugh. And when it rains, it pours...and doesn't ever stop. Despite all of those issues we've spoken about, don't think for a second that I believe FFXII to be an inadequate game. I think it's fantastic. And I hope you continue to have much fun while you're roaming the world of Ivalice in the days to come!



QUICKIES

Hey Matt,

Ken says that he doesn't like Vaan as the hero of FFXII, but you need to remember, Balthier told us several times that he was the real star.

NightWolf

Matt
Ah, Balthier. What a lovably egotistical dork. It was nice to have a character with personality, though, considering that Vaan and Penelo both fall a little bit flat in that department.

Aside from the multiplayer aspect, there are other reasons to own a GBA in addition to a DS. Backwards compatibility with GBC games and better battery life are just two. The fact that you won't have a GBA cartridge sticking out the front of your DS Lite is another.

-Jeffrey

Matt
Better battery life!! Yes, that's a great reason! You guys are good. (Too good.) But really, it's true. It's so annoying to have to recharge after every five or six hours of gameplay. I can't even imagine what a PSP would be like.

Hi Matt!

I've decided to jump on the bandwagon and buy Puzzle Quest. However, seeing as how I order games from abroad, I don't like to get just one - saves on shipping. So, any ideas for a good DS RPG I could try? I haven't played a lot at all.

Zohar Gilboa

Matt
Lunar Knights and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin are a couple of recent picks. Alternatively, you could spring for a Final Fantasy remake (take your pick), or Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, Contact, or Magical Starsign, for something on the lighter side! Happy ordering.

You have a letter from me that you're just saving, correct? I know I wrote one but I'm too damn tired to write another one until tomorrow.

JuMeSyn

Matt
Yes, yes, yes, I have one. But I'm too damn tired to answer it right now, too. I'll get around to it on Monday, but there are others who have waited a week as well, sadly. The life of a Q&A columnist... not an easy one!

IN CLOSING

My HP is too low, and my sprite has turned into the bent-over one with the sweat drops coming out, so I need to flee now, before I require Phoenix Down that doesn't actually exist. It's been a quick week though, hasn't it?

Sunday is April Fools' Day, which is a day that I really can't see Cast not taking advantage of, so hopefully you'll hear from him over the weekend. His foot is still ailing him, however, so don't count on it. You can, however, count on me returning next Tuesday with more Questions and Answers! To all those who didn't get their letters answered this week: My apologies. It's sometimes easier for me to get around to doing shorter e-mails, since I hate to have columns that consist entirely of essays. I love the big e-mails, don't get me wrong, but I like to change it up a little from time to time, just for reference.

Anyway, more later! I'm holding L and R.



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On my Wishlist:

1. Pokémon Diamond/Pearl

2. Super Paper Mario

3. Fire Emblem: Goddess of Dawn

4. Metroid Prime 3

5. Super Smash Bros. Brawl



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3. Mega Man ZX



On my Console Roster:

1. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

2. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria

3. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance



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