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ASK MATT
Word Sideways, Yo April 5, 2006

Matt - 18:23 EST

I'VE FINISHED SUPER PRINCESS PEACH and I have to report that while it was quite easy, it was a fun game that surpassed my expectations. Co-resident Tom also wants me to report in non-RPG news that "[Mario Kart DS] is a sucky game, because whenever you get into first, you get hit by a million blue shells from the computer!"

In any case, due to that victory, I've felt very pink all day today, and not because of sunburn, since nature decided to suddenly get uncomfortably cold and cloudy once again. I even went as far as to make ham for dinner and construct new juicy emoticons for instant messaging use! Peachy, no?

Now, to dive into the newest helping of letters:




L E T T E R S
HA HA HA... I AM NEOMATT, MATT'S *TRUE* TRUE FORM!


Hey Matt!

In reference to the part of my letter on endings, I'd much rather have a good epilogue to a game rather than a multi-part final boss. There's something annoying to me about fighting a final boss, beating them, and suddenly, "Whoops, I've changed into something even stronger!" It seems somewhat cheap to me. At least create some henchmen and string the final battles along with different people. However, a great epilogue, such as Lunar 2, is just the perfect icing on the cake of a game. Even an interactive ending is nice.

NeoMatt

Fair enough! I'll say that I agree with you, in that case; as long as the final battle IS made up of multiple fights, then sure, it'd be better if they weren't all in combat with the same guy, except with additional prefixes added per battle.

The only music I really liked in Xenosaga EpII was the cut scene music. I thought there were some very nice pieces there, especially the nice spin on the Song of Nephilim. I just got really annoyed by most of the looping music. Most of the town/dungeon music did nothing for me. I dunno, maybe if I took some time and took another listen to it I would have a better opinion of it.

NeoDeathMatt

You know, I've thought a lot about it while walking about on campus and while drifting off to sleep at night, and then it hit me: There ARE some musics that I guess I kind of tuned out during Episode II that do get very trying. It suddenly occurred to me that Second Miltia's town music, while upbeat, light, and airy during the first thirty seconds, becomes quickly grating after a loop-through. I guess I should specify that the music I really love most in Xenosaga: Ep.II comes from a lot of the other areas, and especially, as I mentioned before, the ones that occur during the giant dive scenes that take up a quarter of the short game. I must admit, though, that I really enjoyed the boss and battle musics, too. Oh, and the U.M.N. center's music is just too cool, even though yes, it IS really repetitive.

And then there was Sock, this time visible to those of us not clever enough to go hunting *smacks self in forehead*

164) A. Rydia's Theme
165) E. Light

Thanks!

BigWook


OmniNeoDeathMatt

Ah, don't even worry about it. You'll know for April 2007, though I'm sure I'll find a more interesting way to throw something slightly more clever into the column for kicks. Then, weak mortal, observe my name and bow before me, or I will crush you like the flea you are!! ^_^



Why did Megaman cross the road? To have another genre of websites criticize incessantly! HAHAHA *ahem*


I recently obtained Paper Mario 2 and I've been really enjoying it. In fact, when I think about it, Mario has been featured in five RPGs over the years (SMRPG for the SNES, the first Paper Mario for the N64, Paper Mario 2 for the Gamecube, Superstar Saga for the GBA, and Partners in Time for the DS), and all five have been stellar RPGs (I've played all but Partners in Time, and loved all four). Mario has always been primarily the star of action and platforming games, but his RPGs have always been loved by both critics and fans. Good for you, Mario.

Matt

And good for you, because altogether too many RPG fans are too stuck up to give them a try or treat them seriously. There was just something about Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door that was so "finished". Some people criticized it because it drags during parts, but on the whole, I think that it carried a really neat, unique atmosphere, and some of the funniest characters (and dialogue) in RPG history. (The Shadow Sirens, Peach's computer friend, and the couple on that Pirate Ship Island come to mind.) The battle systems have never failed to be fun, and Superstar Saga and PM:TTYD could even be called challenging at times. Yes, Mario has risen to become one of my favourite RPG series; I never would have believed it ten years ago!

But why haven't other popular action series made successful RPG crossovers while Mario has enjoyed so much success? I'm a huge Mega Man fan, but the Battle Network games have all been lacking, and MMX: Command Mission did not at all live up to its potential. The Castlevania games have been getting more and more RPG-like (and arguably better) the past decade or so, but Konami has never dared to cross the line and make a hardcore RPG using Castlevania characters. In fact, most action series have been adding more and more RPG elements over time, but Mario is the only really prominent action star to have successfully spun off into the realm of RPGs with consistent quality games. The next-best example I can think of is the Panzer Dragoon series hitting a home run back in the day with the classic Panzer Dragoon Saga, but Panzer Dragoon is not nearly as prestigious a series as Mario is, to say the least.

Matt

Yeah, but Capcom has made a habit of half-assing their Megaman games, until they really learned their lesson in the incomprehensibly bad X7 and started to shape up a tad in X8. Unfortunately, I think this tendency towards mediocrity spilled over into Megaman X: Command Mission. While the battle system has the potential of being fantastic, it doesn't live up to that potential, and with the paltry story and who-gives-a-crap characters, the end result is a bit of a disappointment. I'm less familiar with the Battle Network games, though I think they're pretty popular, all around.

So here's a question for you: which big series has the most ptential to successfully spin off into a hardcore RPG? I'm not talking a quick cameo like Dante in that Megaten game or that Namco vs. Capcom barrage of fanservice, but a full-blown RPG focusing on a major franchise. Personally, I think that the Devil May Cry and Zelda series would stand excellent chances of a good hardcore RPG. Both series feature a variety of nifty characters, interesting mythology and storyline (Devil May Cry 3, in my humble opinion, has the most well-executed storyline and cinematic elements of any pure action game ever made, and strong enough fanbases to welcome a change (at least Zelda does, as it's quite possibly the most popular series of video games in the world).

Matt

See, my first reaction is to say that I'm not so hot on the idea of Zelda diverging to that extent and becoming a more "mainstream" RPG that cuts its link (no pun intended) to the "adventure" genre a bit more. But, when I think about it a bit, I realize that I was happy with every new experiment they've tried; Zelda II, while incredibly different, was a lot of fun. Majora's Mask really deviated from the norm, but this is many people's favourite game ever. Perhaps another mutation of the series would work out well.

As for Devil May Cry, I had to go and look it up, because I'm inept and I've never played it before. It looks like one hell of a kick-ass game, too. Although I'm completely uneducated on the subject, based on this article, I'd say that if Castlevania could make it big as an RPG, then this could definitely have the same (or greater) potential.

Other series? Something totally, totally different; we have to think outside the bun. Oh, damn, that's Taco Bell's current jingle, isn't it? Or maybe it's KFC's. BAH, stupid commercial world, tripping me up!

What about Shinobi? Sure, it isn't the most popular series out there, but there could be some cool potential ideas to be found there. How about reaching further back into the days of the NES? Kid Icarus, anyone? How about Wizards and Warriors!? That could be exciting...

A lot of people in the past have suggested Metroid, but I just don't like that idea much, for some reason; besides, the format of Metroid already slightly overlaps the RPG genre already (like Zelda, except less).

DMC's potential as an RPG series resides with pacing - all three DMC games are wicked-fast and intense, and the trick to making a solid DMC RPG would rely on preserving the series' slick style while not slowing down Dante too much; a Tales/Star Ocean action game would suit DMC better than a more traditional RPG, but the idea of DMC action elements executed in a party-oriented battle system excites me. Hopefully Capcom would give Dante a supporting cast worthy of such great RPG potential, as in more Lady and Vergil and less Lucia; the lameness of X and Zero's supporting cast in Command Mission was a disappointment, but hopefully they've since learned their lesson in RPG character design.

Zelda would need less help, as the series has always had more of a strategic edge and plays a click slower than many other action series. I can see it now, though, the quality dungeons we've always seen in the Zelda series, but broadening strategic combat elements with multiple characters, expanded ability sets, and all of the variety of fun items and equipment in the Zelda series. Nintendo's Mario RPGs have been so great, I have every confidence that they could make a Zelda RPG something really special.

So yeah, that's what I have. So what non-RPG series would you like to see try a new genre?

Sincerely (and annoyingly persistent),
~Lazzie


Matt

Well, see above, mostly. I've decided that Kid Icarus would be most wonderful if updated in flashy new graphics and an RPG feel. Escaping from an underworld to go and defeat evil badness ruling over the heavens is just too different of an idea to go wrong; swirl some extra storyline into the mix and a few other characters, and you could be left with a kooky, completely original RPG idea. I'm really only half joking; I'd buy that game, honestly.

It's a great topic, though, to start talking about, because everyone has their favourite non-RPG series. Thanks for bringing it up, Lazzie!



We've got a witty one!


I don't know that this means anything, but I remember almost none of the music from either Xenosaga game. And I just replayed the first one when I played the second one...how long ago did that come out? I don't even remember that.

Matt

Episode I was unleashed back at the start of 2003, more than three years ago now. Episode II was released in February of 2005. The only reason I remember both of these is that my roommates back in second year were absolutely obsessed with the game, and bought it upon its release, before playing through it and giving up. I, the Xenovirgin, stepped in and beat the game before they got around to it, in the end, because it looked so awesome to me. Then I was the one who waited for Episode II and bought it in a moment's notice the day it hit stores last year. You don't even remember any of the music though? That's sad, or at least saddish.

In fact...and I'm sure somebody somewhere will hit me for this...I may not have even been listening to the music when playing either game. I may have had it muted, and only turned on the sound for the cutscenes.

I do that with some games, if I'm not particularly impressed with what I heard so far, or if other people are around and I don't want the noise to disturb them. Though typically I keep the music going for my first time through a game, and only use the mute button when I'm replaying, unless I really, really like the soundtrack. I may have had the music going for these recent Xenosaga playthroughs, but I seriously recall almost nothing about it. Except that one creepy theme with the single high voice carrying the melody. And I don't even remember where in the game that pops up.

Hell, maybe that's not even the right game.


Matt

Mmm... the Song of Nephilim is one of the most amazing atmosphere-producing themes of all time. It's so eerie, I got goosebumps listening to it the first time, in all honesty. And yes, you've got the right game.

I know several people who can stand to turn music down to a minimum or mute it entirely. I just can't do it; generally, if my mom or sisters tell me to "TURN IT DOWN!" my response is usually to turn it off instead before bitterly going into the den to bang on the piano. Even if the music is terribly bad, I can't play a muted game. The sound is just necessary for me; without it, I'm only getting half the experience.

I DO, however, remember FFX-2's music. Mostly because of how odd it was to traverse the same areas without the dramatic bombast of your typical FF soundtrack, instead with these often light-hearted, upbeat and largely unremarkable tunes. And, of course, the requisite J-pop from the opener.

Matt

Some of X-2's music was unremarkable, but I think that the soundtrack as a whole is largely underrated and often simply dismissed entirely without consideration, due to the fact that Uematsu didn't do the composing.

Incidentally, that scene performed a valuable service for me: it made it plain right from the start that any hope I might have retained that FFX-2 would be a respectable FF title was without merit. Not that I didn't enjoy the game, or that it wasn't actually quite good for what it was. And I was glad to revisit the story of some of my favorite RPG characters ever, albeit in a strange, watered-down, alternate-universe sort of way.

Nor is it the worst Final Fantasy gaiden title (as I've come to think of it; I apologize if I'm using the term incorrectly and my dumbness is showing) out there...that would be Crystal Chronicles, worse in its single-player campaign, I felt, than even Final Fantasy Mystic Quest.

At least Mystic Quest wasn't designed in such a way as to punish a player unless he paid roughly $100 extra to get the stuff necessary to play the game with at least one more person. Nor did Mystic Quest eat my memory card and everything it had contained.

Matt

Zing! Yeah, and I think they're creating a sequel, too, eh? Pretty sad, eh? I'm Canadian, eh? Ugh. I know; the fact that Crystal Chronicles is the only console GC game to be produced by Square Enix is a bit of a slap in the face. It doesn't even come close to the quality of the main series, even in four-player mode, which was moderately cool for the first two dungeons before it just got old and boring. I played with those very same roommates I mentioned above before we just stopped about halfway through. It was awfully mindless and hacky-slashy for my tastes.

You hear that, Crystal Chronicles? I rebuke you! And if my mind hadn't blocked out any memory of your awfulness as a self-defense mechanism, I would have remembered to mention you the other day as one of the most colossal game disappointments I've ever encountered. Nintendo and Square finally make up and play nice, and THIS is what we get? A poorly-designed multiplayer gimmick to sell GBAs and link cables? With a THREE HOUR LONG final boss fight if you play it by yourself, that if you die near the end of, you have to start over at the beginning? Oh my god, Crystal Chronicles. Why don't you just die?! And reimburse me for my memory card, gods damn you!

Matt

*offers a tranquilizer*

It'll be okay. The silver lining to every bad game is that bad games allow us to appreciate great games even more. And considering how much you seem to loathe Crystal Chronicles, just imagine how amazing the next good game you pick up will be! ;)

Excuse me, got sidetracked there.

Anyway, the X-2 music was more or less perfectly suited to the game. There was no imminent threat for much of the plot; the world was still sort of basking in the recent defeat of Sin, so Yuna's traipse around the globe was (mostly) as light-hearted as it was scantily-clad.

Which is another thing right there: lush, dramatic music simply wouldn't mesh well with the odd, upsetting, yet persistent sight of Rikku's thong straps; a graphical detail that perhaps sums the title up even better than the opening sequence.

All in all, I'd say the music was a success in a strange sort of way: not particularly good, not particularly memorable, but suited to the tone of the game, and not so engaging as to distract those that are so inclined from staring at all the digitized, imaginary flesh. But I kid sub-par, unnecessary sequels to excellent games.

-TV's Adam


Matt

I think that while a lot of the music was "full of merriment", my favourite tracks of FFX-2 were the ones that were more serious. The clicky-clocky ticky-tocky theme of the last place was creepy as "Sin" (g'fufufu), and I really liked the boss music, cave music, and other scary musics, like the one that plays in that billion-level dungeon under Bevelle.

All in all, I'm sure you know if you're a regular reader that I'd much prefer brand new FF games to spinoffs like CC and X-2 alike, but at the same time, I do like to look out for the good points in games, and to be honest, the music in both of these titles was, to me, one of the least offensive things about them.

Thanks, Mr. Adam, for writing in!



A letter from some damn fool. No, really!


Greetings, Slime of Wondrousness.

I'm a long-time reader, first time writer. I started following QNA waay back when goog was running the place, but (and no offense meant to Google or Andrew) I believe the column is much improved since your tenure began.

Matt

Thanks very much; I appreciate the comments. I do try my hardest to keep Q&A fresh and interesting for everybody, and believe me when I say that there is no subject that I don't have the time to try and tackle or learn more about. I only hope that I can continue to do the best I can in the months to come, because the moment that this column becomes dry and boring is the moment that I'm not doing my job properly. You guys deserve more!

A few people have written in on the subject of "RPGaymers"--one of which I'm not, which provoked the question: do us straight gamers get a title? RPstraightmers? Doesn't have the same ring...meh, oh well. I guess we'll make do without a catchy, pun-esque title.

Matt

Hahaha, well, of course. RPnotGaymers? Nahh... how about "Everybody else"? Because I have to, you could express it in a mathier version: In set notation, write {x | x is an element of {RPGamers \ RPGaymers}}. If you think of anything better, let me know about it.

--Anyhow, I got to thinking...I've never seen any homosexuals in any video game besides possibly at the gym in Wall Market in FF7, and even then it's an *atypical* portrayal, what with the cross-dressing...you'd think that, especially in RPGs--games that typically span at least one entire world, sometimes several, that statistics would dictate at least one homosexual couple would be present in the game's NPC population. I'd like to see a game where at least one of the main characters was GLBT... because it doesn't really seem appropriate for issues such as world-saving (and potentially deity-eliminating) to the stereotypical heterosexual teenaged male warriors and large-breasted female magic-users--especially in futuristic settings, which seem to be gaining popularity (I hope to God [even though I don't believe there is one] that three thousand years from now people look back and say "What the @#$% were they thinking...?" when the current bigotry against the GLBT community shows up in discussion).

Matt

Well, I hope so too, if in fact we are still alive and well in three thousand years' time (and I personally expect that we will be, in some form).

There are a couple of examples here and there of non-straight side characters, though it's usually portrayed in a colloquial, negative light. There are references to homosexuality in Shadow Hearts as well as Final Fantasy VII; there is some poking at certain characters' sexuality in a sarcastic manner in FFVIII as well. Unless I interpreted it incorrectly, Xenosaga: Episode II has a gay character that isn't portrayed negatively at all. If you talk to the right people, you can discover that good-lookin' pilot Tony of the Elsa bats for my team. All in all, though, homosexuals are definitely under-represented in the video game world.

So, though, are many other minorities; why on earth is Barret the only black character to ever grace any RPG that I can think of? In all honesty, there must literally be a hundred times as many RPG characters with blue hair than characters with a naturally dark skin tone. Really, that seems like a rather large oversight, to me...

It also got me thinking about the subject of video games' portrayal of women as well, considering that my social circle consists mainly of around a dozen bisexuals and lesbians, with myself being the random straight guy thrown in for no readily apparent reason.

Matt

Hmmm, yes, suited only for cooking, cleaning, and the occasional healing spell, you mean? Well, I'll let you speak instead. Oh, and your situation sounds rather familiar, except that mine is more like "all gay guys, except with a straight female" here and there. It's like another dimension... or not.

Xenosaga was somewhat of a step forward, I think; Shion ad KOS-MOS are pretty handy at dealing out major damage in a fight, unlike, say, 90% of other female characters in games, who tend to only be useful as mages (generally white mages at that). Shion--in Episode 1 at any rate; I have yet to play Episode 2--isn't purely eye-candy, as many game-girls are, but a determined, intelligent, and strong leader (if in the absent-minded, slightly zany scientist sort of way), as well as one of the more endearing protagonists in recent video game history.

Matt

Indeed, Xenosaga has been great at portraying strong female characters. Other games to do this very well include Final Fantasy VI, where Celes and Terra, as knights, are two of the only characters capable of equipping the heaviest swords and armour, and Star Ocean 2 & 3, where there were definitely weak magic users and strong physical attackers on both sides of the gender wall. I'm sure I could think of a couple of others if I tried.

Though some might say that, given the demographics--most RPGamers are younger, hetero, and male--that a female or homosexual lead (or supporting main character) would be difficult to relate with, I personally think that how well one relates to the character is almost up to the developer. For example, I think FF6 had some of the best character development of any game in existence, and consequently most people probably didn't have any more trouble relating with Celes than with Locke.

Matt

Definitely agreed. That game explores raw human emotion, present among both males and females. If a male gamer is having trouble relating to a female role in that game (or most others), I'd bet that they just aren't letting themselves.

Likewise, Xenosaga's characters are given complex, realistic pesonalities and the accompanying flaws. The game has generated a huge fanbase among the aforementioned teenage heterosexual male demographic, so I'm doubting that they've had much difficulty relating to Shion because she's female.

Matt

Shion is definitely a strong main character, and the nice part of the Xenosaga series is that every character has a very believably unique personality. Shion is insecure, KOS-MOS is logical, Jr. is brash, chaos is thoughtful, and MOMO is altruistic. If you can't find a way to relate to one, you'll relate to another, though in the context of their world and situation, the spin is perhaps a bit different than it might be in other RPGs.

What do you think? Do male RPgamers seriously have trouble relating to female lead characters on basis of gender alone, or is that down to the developer's care in characterisations? And do you think we'll ever see a well-made game with a positive, serious portrayal of a homosexual main character?

(I hope so, maybe if a trend gets started it'll help pull North America out of the dark ages of sexism and bigotry)


Matt

Well, to be frank, I doubt we will anytime soon, because the moment that a gay main character takes the forefront, we'll hear an awful earful from the critics of above about how terrible video games are, and I'd bet that some people would try to make the ridiculous claim that "video games are turning our kids into gays!" or something like that. The most we might see is a controllable homosexual supporting character; that would be a small victory in itself. You have to crawl before you walk, as the old saying goes, right?

Thanks for writing in, and for giving me the opportunity to explore this issue further. It's not a matter of being "liberal-minded" or crazily activistic; it's a matter of wanting the world of RPGs- an alternate reality of sorts- to better reflect the real world we live in. There's no reason that minorities of any kind should be left out of the equation without bias or prejudice being involved, and video games really haven't managed to shine through in this respect to this point in time.



A quickie! Without the cute little side-by-side Andrew-style windows, regretfully.


Hi ^ . ^

Matt

Hi. ^____________________^

Are there any news about Dark Cloud 3

Best regatds ,

Drak Cloud fan


Matt

Nope, not since E3 of 2004, I'm afraid, which means that "Drak Cloud" lovers like yourself have been left in the cold for two years, now. Does that bode well for the title? Probably not, which is a shame, since the series was definitely headed in the right direction. Maybe we'll hear more one day in the future, but I'd find another series to play in the meantime.





C L O S I N G
IN CONCLUSION:

The soup's on the stove and the snow is falling outside. Yes, it feels very much like a mid-January day of staying warm inside, perfect for writing Q&A columns such as this one. Unfortunately, I tire of keeping myself wrapped up in blankets galore; I'd much prefer to go sunbathe. Vitamin D, produced by exposure to sunlight, is supposed to prevent several forms of cancer, did you know? Too bad that we'll all die of melanoma in the process, according to your favourite media source. Ah, fun times.

Flashay!


Okay! More answers to more questions will be featured presently; these are, of course, the answers to yesterday's SOCK questions. If you wrote in and got them both wrong, you'll still receive 64 consolation points, of course!

#164 is a personal pet peeve of mine; while apparently many of the themes in FFIV were messed up in the remake, according to various sources, the specific one I spoke of in the question was an ugly mistake in b) The Tower of Bab-il's Theme, which I've mentioned once or twice in the past. Such a grievous error should never have been made, at any rate, and for those that knew, 200 points have been added to your score.

#165 was Erika's submission; the character she was referring to was named Lucian, and thus the correct answer was e) light, for 175 points, except for Erika who shall be credited with 350 instead.

Question #166:
The group that you spend the first few hours of Radiata Stories with is named after what? (180 points)

a) a slimy swamp creature
b) a tree-dwelling creature
c) a barnyard creature
d) a sky-flying creature
e) a pollen-gathering creature

Question #167:
Ask KnightTrain!--> Which of the following early Greek Philosophers first proposed that the world was made up of four elememts: earth, fire, water, and air/wind (a common theme among most Final Fantasies)? (160 points)

a) Thales
b) Democritus
c) Pythagoras
d) Hippocratus
e) Empedocles


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*You may SPEND points here in order to obtain any of the following prizes- new ones may appear at any time*

1,000 points: Matt's Mom's Cookie Compilation- 6 fantastic recipes right out of Matt's mom's amazing kitchen! Yours, upon request. (5 left)

2,000 points: Intro Paragraph Cameo- If you feel like having a piece of Q&A all to yourself for a day, but you're not up for answering a bunch of questions, this option might be just for you! Say the word, and the Intro Paragraph is yours to do whatever you want with for a day. (5 left)

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25,000 points: Full Host Opportunity #1- This is it. Write your own Q&A section, without having me interrupt, break in, or steal your sunshine. Be RPGamer's new idol for a day! (1 left)

30,000 points: Your choice of Megaman X4, X5, or X6 for the PSX. If you're into the Megaman series as much as I am, and you don't own any of these, I don't need them any more, now that I have purchased the collection. You can take your pick, and I'll send it to you in the mail with a handwritten note of congratulations from myself. They aren't RPGs, for sure, but I'm working on it for the future. (Sorry, NTSC-format only) (1 left)

*********************************************************


Well, that's all for today! The notoriously crazy Bainick is going to be helping me out either tomorrow or on Friday, so make sure you tune in for that. Until then, feel free to discuss whate'er might be on your mind. There are a few touchy topics in discussion right now; do you have something to add? Also, who are your favourite "strong" women in RPGs, even if they aren't numerous? For that matter, who are your favourite "weaker" male characters? We'll see in the days to come!


slimey@rpgamer.com
***Matt is makin' mulligatawny again!


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