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Evil is Lurking!
May 31, 2007

Matt Demers - 23:46 EST

THURSDAYS ARE FUN days for me. I don't have any lecture to worry about, and the weekend is just a stone's throw away. In a way, that makes Thursdays seem kind of like the REAL start of my weekend, at least over this summer.

How did I celebrate?

Well, I spent the first part of today lazing around playing Pokémon Leaf Green while watching Anna Olson on Food Network Canada, because she's just awesome and I love the things she makes. Yeah, I just bought it too... I told you I was obsessed.

Hmm, and now I shall write you the day's column, because well, why not?

Boo! It's Boojum.

Hey Matt and Arpijy (on the off-chance this makes it in time for the co-hosting),


Enh, you're stuck with me. Oh well... I'm sure Arpijy appreciates the thought.

Is it just me, or has the past month or so been insanely good for RPGs? It seems like most years, there are a few games that miss Christmas and come out early in the year, but then everything pretty much dries up from March to September. Just recently, though, we've gotten Super Paper Mario, Puzzle Quest, Pokemon, and Atlus's double whammy of Etrian Odyssey and Odin Sphere (and I guess you could throw in Dawn of Mana, although it's been getting pretty bad reviews).


Tragically, might I add. But yeah, this has been a busy RPGaming month, come to think of it. It wasn't really obvious that it would be beforehand, for some reason, but that's the way it goes. It feels a little more RPG-y to me, too, because I've actually had time to play the darn games (imagine that!) ... last semester, that would have seemed like a dream.

Anyway, I did pick up Etrian Odyssey on release day, since I was about to fly cross-country to attend a college graduation, and have played through the first stratum (5 floors of the dungeon). This game is absolutely amazing for anyone like me who prioritizes exploration and an interesting battle system over an elaborate story in their RPGs. If you're at all interested, I would highly suggest grabbing it now, since once word of mouth gets around, it's sure to become a rarity (particularly with Atlus's history of limited production runs -- you were just mentioning how you haven't been able to find Yggdra Union).


Though Yggdra Union was already at a doubly-severe disadvantage for being released on the GBA in an age where GBA displays are nowhere to be seen in game stores. Sucks to be Yggdra Union, I guess.

I actually bought it last week, so I have nothing to fear. It's ahhh... a ways down my portable roster right now, but I'll be there in no time, I'm sure, since I'm a) bound to get sick of Pokémon sometime (aren't I?) and b) Lunar Knights is looking like it'll be a quick and fun game to buzz through as well.

Character selection and development is very flexible, with some fun options to ensure that each person's play experience will be different.. You can take five characters at a time, and there are seven classes available to start out, with two more that I haven't unlocked yet. Not only that, but each class has some very divergent ways that they can develop (for example, my Dark Hunter has developed whip skills, but I'm considering starting another one using swords since the available skills are totally different). You'll also find that you won't want to just make a party of five and stick with it -- certain areas and monsters are best handled by a particular set of skills, so I've wound up changing my party makeup pretty much every time I'm back in town, which is easy since the game gives you 15 slots for characters you create.


That's fun! Actually, that's almost a Pokémon-like aspect of the game, not to overuse the poor game as an example. But, I just never would have guessed. Awesome.

The level of challenge is also very refreshing. On a couple of occasions I descended to a new level only to have to quickly retreat and change tactics to handle the monsters there. It's particularly nice that the challenge isn't just "these monsters have bigger stats so you have to level-grind for a while before you can beat them", but there's a good variety of skills, status effects, and resistances, so altering your approach can pay off. Special mention also has to go to the FOEs, the bosses of the dungeon. This is the only RPG I can think of where I was defeated by the very first boss I encountered. Most monsters are encountered randomly, but FOEs can be seen in the dungeon and on the map. Many of them are tough enough that you're better off trying to sneak around them and continue exploring rather than fighting them immediately. Whenever you take a step, each FOE does too, so they will often chase you around once they see you. Even more interestingly, if you get into a battle, they will take a step for each round of combat, so you'd better not just win, but win quickly if you don't want to let them catch up. It adds a real element of suspense and danger that's often missing from current games.

The mapping system rapidly becomes very quick and intuitive, and is actually a great addition -- there's a real primal satisfaction in finishing exploring and mapping a dungeon area that you don't quite get with an automap (and certainly not with a typical modern RPG where the dungeons have just a couple branches at most and have no need for a map. It sounds like a gimmick, but adds a lot to the experience.

The combination of challenging combat and a deep, labyrinthine dungeon is remarkably satisfying -- you get to know the dungeon really well as you manage to delve a little further into it after each trip back to town, and with no way to save and few ways to heal in the dungeon, you have to pay attention in battles and effectively manage your resources to do well in the war of attrition. It's all rounded out effectively with attractive visuals (lush, although somewhat repetitive forest scenery combined with some very nice sprite and background artwork, although it isn't animated) and pleasant music, but the gameplay is definitely the reason to keep coming back.


It definitely sounds like this game contains everything that I love about Dragon Quest series, but with some other interesting aspects swirled in for good measure. Thanks for your little synopsis! You should write a review for us once you've managed to finish the game off.

Anyway, I also picked up Odin Sphere yesterday, although I've only had time to play for the first half-hour or so. First impressions are good -- it's one of the most beautiful games I've seen yet, with stunning high-resolution sprite and background work. It really reinforces what I've felt for a long time -- the industry was way too quick to abandon 2D -- with modern resolution and memory available, it can look absolutely amazing. I haven't had much chance to get into the gameplay beyond the tutorial yet, but it seems like a fairly intriguing mix of side-scrolling hack-and-slash and RPG character development (which probably frustrates JuMeSyn, since it's a spiritual successor to Princess Crown, and is made by the same team). I'll let you know when I've had a chance to get further into it.


I'd appreciate it! And I totally agree with you. Just because a system is capable of throwing some polygons on the screen doesn't mean that every developer should up and abandon the things that already work. I'm enjoying the "return to form" that we're seeing in a lot of games. Take, for example, Dragon Quest VIII, which was "3-D" but in that wonderful cel-shaded comic book format that really suits the game better. Also consider the Final Fantasy series, which abandoned its two-dimensional roots and subsequently lost the ability to be light-hearted and silly (not that that's a bad thing... well, it IS kind of a bad thing for me, because I enjoyed the silly moments or older Final Fantasy games personally. Oh well, time to end this parenthetical.)

On the handheld front, I'm splitting my time between Etrian Odyssey (when I have a fair amount of free time) and trying to finish up Puzzle Quest (which is great for smaller bursts). The combination of really powerful items and spells for my character and my own increasing skills have led to the difficulty kind of dropping off, but I have hopes that it will pick back up again as I get closer to the end.


Cool. I never did get into Puzzle Quest, and I'm kind of glad I didn't. It sounds like it took over a few lives completely for a short while... at least until something better came along. But that game proves that there are still all sorts of fresh and original RPG ideas out there.

Hmm, I was going to tackle the hot topic about what changes I would make to a game or series, but my wordcount is sitting at 975, so that's it for now.



Well then... you just have an excuse to write back another time, yeees? Please do! Also, let me know when you'd like to do your last co-host and full host; we've got to tie those up before the Sock 2 Prizes get doled out!

More leftovers.

Hello Matthew/Arpijy!

Saw the call for letters, and figured I'd help. It's the least I can do for the hours of enjoyment you bring me semi-regularly.


Aww, that's the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long time. Hopefully I can level-up to "regularly" before too long, though I'll take what I can get.

I'm currently playing Odin Sphere, though I haven't gotten a ton of time to _really_ throw myself into the game over the past week. However, from what I've played thus far, this might be one of the deepest RPGs in a long time. At first glance, the battle system seems simple, but it's devious like that; it's really one of the most complicated systems I've seen put to game. But once you get used to it, it really just sucks you in and you spend a ridiculous amount of time balancing leveling your weapons, leveling your hit points, growing fruit, and trying out more and more alchemic combinations. Everything is beautiful in the game, and the story so far is one of the strongest I've played in awhile, and I've read in reviews that it might be the best in-game story to come out of a RPG in ages. I'm really looking forward to playing the crap out of it this weekend, since it's a wonderful three-day weekend for us U.S. peeps.


Good to hear! I hope that the weekend was fun for you after all.

I think that the best RPG systems are the ones that are deceptively simple at first, with many layers of underlying complexity. It produces a wonderful "easy to learn, impossible to master" learning curve that you don't find too often. What games am I talking about? Hmmm... Fire Emblem games and Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter would be two EXCELLENT examples.

As for games that I've played and I'd like to change? I'd make Suikoden III and IV a lot more like I, II, and V. Let me just say that the return of the world map was one of the most joyous moments I've had for a game when V re-introduced it. I'd like Kouldelka to be closer in gameplay to it's sequels (Shadow Hearts 1 - 3, in case you didn't know), as the story itself leads right into Shadow Hearts, but the grid-based battle system Kouldelka uses just drives me right up a wall. Finally, I'd make Final Fantasy X a LOT less linear, and a lot more open-ended overall than it tends to be. I actually enjoyed Final Fantasy X-2 a bit more than it's predecessor because of it's more open-ended gameplay.

Hope you get a nice glut of letters, guys!

Brian J. Blottie


Fair enough. We all have things that we wish could be different about the games we know (and possibly love). I have heard from many Suikoden fans that III and IV could stand to be a lot more like their sibling-games, and while I haven't played Koudelka, I totally agree with you on the Final Fantasy X thing; you know that the linearity is a little bit over the top when the world itself is, more or less, a straight line. Yech.

Whyyyyy must I justify myself?

"It's a little bit funny this feeling inside
I'm not one of those who can easily hide
Don't have much money but boy if I did
I'd buy a big house where we both could live..."

Please tell me you haven't lived inside a cave your entire life and are familiar with that song, Matt.


Well, I kind of did live in a cave up until about a month ago. Perhaps now that I'm on the top floor of a high-rise apartment building, my knowledge of random musical lyrics will significantly change. (Doubtful.)

I could do a Google search and lie and say I know, but I won't, because I don't, and why should I not be honest? Non-video game music just isn't my thing, and I've mentioned that many times before. If you or anybody else has a problem with this, I suggest hiring someone to dunk your head in a toilet while flushing repeatedly.

Of late it seems you're unable/unwilling to listen to unfamiliar music. Has your ascendancy into the bourgeoisie coincided with a personality shift into one of conservative unwillingness to experience phenomena unfamiliar? Discuss this potentiality!


No, I'm simply fed up with spending an hour of my life downloading 50 MB of music with every single one of your letters. Like it or not, there's more to my life than this column, believe me!

Well now, I've been playing Wachenroder lately. In the VERY likely event you do not know this game, it is a tactical title for our good friend the Saturn that (naturally) was not translated. There are several interesting points to its combat, the most distinctive being steam. Every character wields a steam-powered weapon that can overheat if used too much. If it overheats, that character cannot attack at all for awhile. Everything in combat uses the 99AP each character has per turn, from attacking to moving to interacting with the battlefield. Enemies also have 99AP, and if a character is directly adjacent to the foe can expect a ferocious beating while if the enemy has to walk around not much AP will be left for the attack. It's respectably deep and enjoyable, with a bit of German to fit its name.


Wunderbar! That AP system sounds remarkably similar to the move/attack system that Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter uses, actually, and I loved that. Too bad, though, that the odds of this puppy being translated to english remain at about three hundred trillion to one.

Funny you mentioned Cool Runnings - that is exactly what Bob says upon leaving Mexico and his company. But if you think TMIV leaves Americans alone, you are ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. The thing is set in America! Let us take Ace the cowboy. He joins the party for awhile in Arizona, where you first meet him defending the right of people not to stuff themselves into gluttony at a Phoenix bar. He joins for good in Texas, and his most ... interesting attack is Rodeo. Yep, he rides a horse around in a 2 second FMV clip (that doesn't need to load) and it somehow harms the enemy! He also attacks with Rope and Roulette (armed with a six-shooter, y'see).

Also recently I played Evolution on the Dreamcast. As this and its sequel were redone for GC as Evolution Worlds, the possibility exists that you might play it. Sadly, this has to be Sting's least worthwhile output. The randomly generated dungeons are incredibly boring - they all look the same. Aggravating the shortness of the game is the fact that, while regular enemies are easy to down, several bosses are nastily frustrating - against my expectation going in. The final boss is particularly infuriating because you cannot leave the final area once entered, and if preparations aren't all they could be that's just too bad. I had to resort to grinding and even then I got lucky, because he can heal himself for significant amounts. Having said that - the characters have interesting names. Linear Cannon, Chain Gun, Pepper Box and my favorite Gre Nade are all playable.


Ewwww, healing final bosses... those are never fun. Neither are randomly-generated dungeons. Actually, if your aim here was to try and get me interested in the game, you've pretty much done the opposite of that. It sounds like it's unbalanced and lazily designed, for a grand sum of goodness approximately equal to zero.

Quiz time, hotshot! What do you know about Tengai Makyou (series)? Better not be nothing!


It's Japanese and silly and you talk about it often. Satisfactory?

I buy lots of games, certainly. Thing is, I WILL play everything I own eventually. I bought Der Langrisser, Treasure Hunter G and FEDA in 2001 before finally playing them this spring. They were all worth it, too. Sure I've got a gigantic backlog (and I WILL enumerate it one day...) but I don't stress over it.


Well, good for you! I'm becoming increasingly convinced that I don't have a snowball's chance in hell, to use an overused cliché, of following suit. I mean, the chance of becoming chronically ill or unable to work or completely lazy is always there, but I'd say it's highly unlikely that I'll ever get the year I need to take care of my old unfinished business... at least until I'm 65 and the Playstation 11 is out (and probably not backwards-compatible with the poor old ANCIENT PS2).

That brings me to a redefining of my system philosophy. As long as there are games I haven't played that interest me on the systems I own, why do I need to get any others? Can you honestly tell me that there is nothing else on the Super Nintendo (or any other system owned at one point by you) you want to play and haven't yet? I recognize this puts me into a very small category of RPGamer. Oh well, I can deal. That's what being an English Saturn supporter always was.



But I think that there's something to be said about "living in the past." I like to stay current with my gaming because eventually, you'll get past all of these old games, or worse, you won't be able to play them on anything because console lifespans are needlessly short. When you're finally forced to upgrade and try out new and "modern" games, you might find it difficult to have an appreciation for them.

Think of those Mario levels, JuMeSyn, where the map is constantly auto-scrolling. There's a big pile of coins to grab, but when you go to get them all, what ends up happening? You get squashed, or you're forced to fall into a hole; you're screwed.

So, what can I say? I think it's good to appreciate and celebrate old games... and important too. However, I think that if you don't keep up with the times, you might be missing out on new great experiences. When you go to a restaurant, you can't try everything on the menu- you have to pick and choose (unless you're really rich and have the appetite of a woolly mammoth).

Enough with the analogies of limited effectiveness. You get my point. Now begone, and I'm sure I'll hear from you later. ;)


Alright, Matt, I guess you deserve a letter...(even if your little SOCK f(r)iends keep picking on me ;^) )

So first of all, I'm glad to see lots of support out there for Settlers of Catan. To me, it's probably the best board game ever. Also, if you (and anyone else out there) like it, I recommend another game called Citadels. Fabulous.


It is great, and addictive too. I suspect that we'll be playing a lot of it when I go home tomorrow. (Yes, another weekend at home! I might not get Sock 2 up tomorrow, though...)

I'm also really glad to see Odin Sphere getting great reviews. I cannot wait to pick it up, but I'm set on making myself re-learn how to be patient and wait until I finish something.


See, I always used to have the same philosophy: "Good things come to those who wait." And then I applied it to Disgaea and had one HELL of a time finding it. Yeah, they redistributed it to stores before too long, but I was really panicky at the time. Hopefully you have nothing to fear, though, as it just hit stores very recently.

Like a few other readers though, I'm sad about the Atelier Iris 3 review. I'll probably still give it a shot though, and I encourage the others to as well. How can we get other opinions on it if everyone is scared away by one bad review? And at least now my expectations are lowered, so I have a better chance of being pleasantly surprised than of being horribly disappointed, right? Plus, I remind myself how much I love SoE even though it got trashed. So there you go.


Exactly. Open-mindedness never hurt anybody. If you play it and hate it, then you'll know just how bad it really was. If you don't give it a try, that piece of you will always be wondering how good it might have been...

Finally, a question. I've been working on FFIII, and I'm having some issues with the job system. I'm about 20 hours into the game, and I feel like I shouldn't be switching my characters' jobs (I've only changed two characters' jobs once). It seems that the "adapting time" is too much of a deterrent, and I feel like I need to master one class before I start on another. Anyway, did you have a specific strategy for changing job classes? Should I find a strategy, or should I just do whatever I feel like doing with my jobs and not worry about it? Any other suggestions?



Oh Laurie, might I suggest not losing sleep over job choices in that game? In the instruction manual, they talk about how 'something great might happen if you master a job' and so I took great pains to have poor Arc stick with White Mage for the ENTIRE game. When I got to Job Level 99, I was so excited, and then I realized that that was it. Nothing happened. I mean, he was a decent White Mage, but who cares, by the end of the game? NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED that I could discern, and I wanted to cry.

If you play the game without being an idiot like me, you'll likely find yourself changing a lot to suit the circumstances. The game is good at that- you need to be magey a lot near the start to fulfill certain storyline things, but later on, a boss becomes much simpler with a Scholar in your party, and still later, another boss is nearly impossible without a party of Dragoons, and even later than that, some caves are nigh-intraversible without Dark Knights. The game is most fun when you change often, swallowing the pill and enduring the few turn-around fights, because they're nothing in the scheme of things.

Okiedokie? Good luck!


Hey Matt,

This site links to some unique handheld mods like the NES Micro and the NES Gamegear. The link is, and again, not trying to plug the site. Also, on this email I'm sending you, I see an ad for Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney on Cingular Wireless thanks to Capcom. My questions out of this are what console game would you like to see on a handheld LEGITIMATELY without emulation?


Actually, that N64 handheld looks the sweetest of the bunch. As to which handheld game I'd love to see? Dragon Quest, hands down. I can't get enough of the series, and this is why the bubbling rumours of remakes have me going bananas. Other games, such as Disgaea, would be great, which is why I'm slightly envious of PSP owners right about now...


So, as I say, I'm going to be headed off to the armpit of Ontario tomorrow evening, and thus I'll have to get my column up in the afternoon. The problem with this? No Sock 2 in the morrow. It'll be back next week though, so never fear.

I appreciate the letters, everybody. This is the one place where we can get excited together about the games that have came and the games yet-to-come, because there's nowhere else like it. I love to hear from you, and I love to hear your thoughts on what's good, what's bad, what you want, what you don't, and everything else, so keep the letters coming. I'll do my best to answer them all.

In any case, today's new hot topic? BLG asked first, so it belongs to him: Which console favourite would you love to legitimately see on a portable system? We've already been lucky enough to have favourites like Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy VI, and Disgaea released (or announced for release). What else would you like to see added to that list? My inbox and I will be waiting for you!

Until next time, I bid you all a fond farewell.

Send a Letter!

Unanswered Letter Backlog: 8 - Improving! (Slowly)
Matt wishes that he had ogrish blood.

I can't even believe the new Final Fantasy IV trailer. How dare they make me want this game so badly. Square Eniiiiix, I haaaaate you...

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On my Wishlist:

1. Dragon Quest IX

2. Fire Emblem: Goddess of Dawn

3. Super Smash Bros. Brawl

4. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker

5. Metroid Prime 3

On my Portable Playlist:

1. Pokémon Diamond

2. Lunar Knights

3. Mega Man ZX

On my Console Roster:

1. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess/Super Paper Mario

2. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria

3. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

Hot Topics:

1. Playing Odin Sphere? Tell me about it!

2. Dragon Quest remakes (possibly)?!? What are your thoughts?

3. Are handheld RPGs inherently limited in their potential for greatness?

4. What is it about an RPG that keeps you coming back for more? Graphics? Story? Gameplay?

5. Which console RPG would you like to see legitimately in handheld form?

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