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Happy Homes for Garden Gnomes
July 5, 2007

Matt Demers - 22:21 EST

IT'S THURSDAY ALREADY? I love weeks shortened by national holidays. Furthermore, I don't really have any big plans for the weekend... perhaps I'll finally get in some quality Zelda-playing action. Here we are, in July already, and I haven't finished a single game in my summer backlog. Lunar Knights? No. Zelda? No. I'm longing to play Etrian Odyssey and finally get to Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, but it seems like getting to them is an unattainable goal at best. Phooey.

For now, I'll answer some more questions, and then get to my true summer RPG: Sock 2. What a wicked game this is turning out to be...

Ahh, two weeks old!

Dear Matt

I pretty much agree with what you said about FFIII. I actually very much enjoyed the aspect of using spells outside of battle to navigate rooms or solve puzzles that too few RPGs employ. This was actually one of my favorite aspects of the Golden Sun games, and I loved how the puzzles in those games had a whole other dimension to them thanks to how you had to think about how to use your Psynergy to solve them. Granted, Golden Sun is a lot more forgiving than FFIII, since your Psynergy easily replenishes itself, AND that changing classes in the former is much easier for various reasons (no penalty, classes that you aren't using still grow with your characters, etc.). Who knows, if FFIII were also like that, then maybe they could have designed more puzzles that require the use of magic, and design rooms and dungeons with this in mind. Either way, I still think that this can be a really, really fun aspect in an RPG. It can open up a whole new dimension for puzzle and dungeon design, and again, I feel that it's done far too seldom.


I agree! That aspect was definitely my favourite part of the two-game Golden Sun series, and it made the dungeon design nothing short of fantastic. The graphics and music were also incredible... if it weren't for the at-times idiotic battle system, I'd consider putting the game among my top-favourite RPGs of all time.

Um, yeah, not enough games use this idea either, and it doesn't make any sense. A lot of those spells would come in really handy outside of battle. Why not cast Fire on some underbrush to get it out of your hair? Why not cast Slow on those stupid Mime-top-hat-dudes in the Zone Eater/Gogo's Domain in Final Fantasy VI? (Remember how annoying it is to get across that bridge?) Including spells outside of battle only makes sense, as far as I'm concerned.

Now this may seem like an odd question to ask, though I've been meaning to ask it for a while: in the current RPGamer poll about Run to the Sun, which company did you vote for as the one that you were most impressed by? The reason I ask is because, from my point of view, I can't see why Square-Enix is on top. This is strictly my opinion, but I wasn't that impressed by them. They only had two games to show, both of which we already knew of. For their interview, they didn't really tell us much that we didn't already know (and for me, it seemed rather underwhelming too, what with all the "sorry, but I can't say," or "we don't have any plans for that" kind of short answers).


Oh, I know! This irritated me too. This is going back awhile now, but I think I voted for NIS America, just because their interview was intriguing. When asked about a DS Disgaea, and they said something to the effect that "we can look forward to it," it seemed like a wonderful, roundabout teaser that made me a little bit happy. But yeah, Square Enix failed to knock the socks off of me either. I'm 99% sure that a large majority of RPGamers are still, even in 2007, only willing to play SE RPGs in the first place for some odd, closed-minded, fanpersonish reason. Certainly, the majority don't know who XSEED or NIS even are, sadly, and so their exhibitions probably went largely ignored by many.

I actually voted for Atlus, because I was genuinely impressed by them. For their four games, I felt like I learned a great deal of new stuff, like how they play, how their localizations were being handled, and possible challenges that Atlus faced with them. In their interview, I felt like they answered their questions with a great deal of enthusiasm, and their answers were definitely longer and more involved than those of Square-Enix. This made them seem the most excited and passionate about their games and the future, something that felt more lacking from the rest.

That I was much more impressed by Atlus than Square-Enix is the reason I wonder why the latter is on top again. I can't help feeling that Atlus was robbed here in the poll. Is the Square-Enix name so popular that they would win even in cases where they lose? Is their brand name so powerful in instantly inducing support and votes from people the moment they read that name? Once again, I'm not saying that anyone is wrong. I just want to know what those 950 people who voted for Square-Enix are thinking, and if they really were genuinely impressed by them, then I merely want to know why, as my opinion varies from theirs so much. That's all.



It's sad, but true. In this age of incredible talent across the board, people still flock in hordes to the names they know and support them no matter what. No matter what, Square Enix is the undisputed king of RPGs, and it will be for a long while, from the looks of it. It's too bad, because I think that if some people were to open their minds a bit and try something new and different, they'd enjoy the ride.

Other companies have a long, long way to go.

Thanks a bunch, and sorry this took so long to get around to. It's a good letter with some great points that many of us would do well to think about!

Saving things for later...

Last column I wrote to you was about sidequests and you called me Mr Person, and nameless. I'm sorry about that, hi Maat, my name is Chris.


Ah yes, I remember you. How's it going? The name is "Matt" by the way, with two "t"s.

This time I write to you about graphics in role playing games. Are they essential to the games success? I think, in a very general sense, yes. They can make or break any game. Lets look at some examples.

Odin Sphere. The recently released RPG title for PS2 that was made in 2D. I think there isn't much needed to be said here, we all know the game is gorgeous. So does 3D really matter? I think it all depends on how far the developer wants to take it. Obviously Vanillaware went a long way to make Odin Sphere look good, and it really was one of its underground selling points (word from the grapevine, that is). most RPG fans who knew about it, knew it had amazing 2D graphics and hi-res sprites, even though the game never really advertised much about them. So in this case, the graphics helped spark a lot of interest in the game, mostly by word of mouth.

Graphics don't make the game though, in my opinion. Oblivion for exmaple, was, and still is, one of the most immersive and beutiful RPG worlds to be created for the console. But, in my humble opinion, the RPG element in the game is lacking. Balance issues, itemization, how the creatures level with you, etc, all are essential RPG elements that seem to have been mostly overlooked, and/or ported straight from morrowind (in terms of stats and how you level). even the gameplay is overall lacking to me. You swing a sword, cool, but no real techinical abilites? Sure, making yourself invisible (even though really everyone can still see you) is cool and all, but it definatly isn't all that fun.

Graphics certainly are a point of interest though, I like to me immersed in my games. Most of the time though, on top of great graphics, what really works for me is good ambience.

Anyways, I'm sure I'll write more from now on.



You bring up some good points here, and so I do think it's time for a good healthy analogy.

I'm becoming more and more aware that for most people, video gaming is quite like a relationship, and graphics are like looks. Games that look good get noticed more quickly and obtain more media-buzz. Of course, if a guy is hot or a girl is hot (whichever might apply to you), they are more easily noticed too. That initial attraction is what brings gamers/games or people/people together, but what actually makes the relationship a GOOD one is the meat of it; that is, the other qualities of the game (or personality of the hottie).

So, in a sense, they are very important, and especially to game companies. A game that doesn't get noticed is a game that is destined for limited commercial success. Since video games are, at the end of the day, an industry, this is obviously an important thing.

Of course, Nintendo has been trying to turn this 'noticed' thing around, by trying to shift the emphasis to interesting control schemes and the like. It seems to be working for now, but we'll have to see what the future holds as we march ahead.

Thanks for the letter!

The future is within.

Dear Matt,

Well, I've wrote to Andrew a couple of months ago. I keep telling myself to write into you, but I'm lazy. Obviously, I've finally motivated myself to write in.


Hey, I appreciate the effort, and especially if it was a grand one. I've been feeling incredibly lazy these days too, possibly due to summertime, but it could be because someone is dropping sleeping pills in my breakfast cereal. I don't really know why anyone would do that, but it seemed like a fun thing to say.

In Adam's letter, you brought up the growing debate of old vs. new. Well, I'd like to say I might be able to help in this debate. While I'm a few years too old to fit the 12-year-old position you hoped for, I am still a teenager, so I might be able to shed some light on the subject. As much as this might sound as heresy, I only really became a gamer, specificially RPGs, about three to four years ago. Now, I'm the type that likes to go back and check out classics. And, you all have sort of helped me with that. So, while playing some modern RPGs, I'm playing some of your favorites as well (except DQ, sorry).

My verdict: You all aren't too far off from the mark. Yes, new games are generally prettier. But, a lot of the classic gems I've played are some of the best games I've played. Now, that doesn't mean all modern RPGs are dreadful. There are good ones there, just as some of the gems you always talk about aren't too good. See, while a lot of the gems were amazing to this day, some weren't. For example, you in particular had really built up FFIV. However, once I finally started to play it, it didn't live up to the hype created by your nostalgia.

Thus, I believe that your thesis is partly true. Yes, a lot of your classics seemed amazing because they had some sort of "new game smell". But, a lot were amazing because they are amazing. And, I bet there will be people in the next ten years that'll be talking about the "good old days of FFXII". It doesn't exactly mean that FFXII was the greatest game; it simply means that it'll be a truly fond memory to them, just like some of your childhood favorites are to you.


Yep... and mini-Clix, who is just five or six years old right now, will grow up, play Final Fantasy XII on the Microsoft PlayBox II's Nintendo Virtual Console, and conclude that it, too, is just okay. With all the newfangled holographic virrrrrtual reaaaality games on the market by 2017, the new stuff will be the games that wow people.

Err, now, I guess this is were the question part goes, right? Hmm... Oh, I know: What game in your most recent memory ending up being a let-down to you, if any?


P.S.: Hope you had a great Canada Day. I know I'll have an excellent 4th of July. I hope I get myself to write in again, but it might take a while.


Bah, Pokémon Battle Revolution is a great example of a disappointment. I was hoping that it would be a step up from Pokémon Stadium back on the N64, but it seems that they're still out to make fast money off of the addicts out there (like myself) while employing an extremely minimal amount of effort. Extremely.

Anyway, thanks for the Canada Day wishes! My weekend was very nice, and I hope your holiday was too. Don't worry about writing in... it's not like you're obligated to or anything. However, I hope to hear from you sometime in the future!

Overstocked and Undersomethinged


Your inbox is BURSTING at the seams there, friend. You'd better get some backup, and soon, or the sheer mass of your unanswered e-mails will make the intarwebs implode. You need to assemble a party and go on a letter-answering quest to stop that from happening.


It's so true. But what about a title for this quest, so that we can market our journey to stores such as Gamestop? I'd say "Q&A Quest" but that's so incredibly typical and boring. "Matt Rocks" seems less suiting, but I'm a fan.

Anyway, yes, the mail situation has gotten a bit out of hand, and so I hope that people will understand if I miss a letter here or there, or if I take awhile to get around to one in particular. I'm doing the best I can!

Matt gained a level, reaching Level 2!
Matt learned Power Reply!

I seem to be playing console RPGs with weird controller set-ups recently. Of course, first there was DQVIII with its strange menu configurations. Since I'm playing so many other games with a distinct lack of story (Etrian Odyssey being the RPG example), I set DQ aside for something a little weightier. Xenosaga I. This is my first time playing a Xenosaga game, and I've got to's got a weird set-up, too. Circle confirms? X CANCELS??? WTF? But I'm enjoying the game, don't get me wrong. It's just, what were they thinking with those controls?


I know, and with such a futuristic theme, I can't help but think that the control scheme was a bit of a play on it, along the lines of "THIS is what FUTURE games will be controlled like" just because it's slightly different. Or, perhaps I'm reading too much into it, and the control-deciding dudes at Namco are just giant dorks.

Bain should definitely not feel bad for going for the PSP. It's the best current-gen system Sony's got, and not a bad handheld at all. I mean, most of the best games for it are non-RPGs, so far, but that should change by the end of the year. I've been playing WipEout Pure (not a typo), a futuristic racing game, incessantly on my PSP. It's a weird choice for me, definitely. The last racing game I played was, er, Mario Kart DS.


Racing games aren't generally my thing either, but I do love Mario Kart. Back in the day, I'd occasionally feel the urge to rent random N64 racers. Anybody remember Extreme-G? I used to think it was awesome for some reason...

Etrian Odyssey remains sheer awesome, my friend. You need to begin playing this soon. And Atlus needs to start work on a sequel, for the Wii. Wiitrian Odyssey...with DS connectivity, a custom dungeon creator, and online play so your friends can trudge through your dungeon, facing the monsters and FOEs you put in there.


Wahh... I know, I know. I wish I could just freeze time and live this day Groundhog Day-style until I've caught up on certain parts of my life. Man, I'd do so much with that opportunity, you have no IDEA.

I assume you're picking up Pokemon Battle Revolution soon? Someday, I'll get back into Pearl. I stopped with two gym badges, sadly.

Still without a Wii, I remain,


Oh, that's fine and dandy. See, if you don't let it bite you, you won't ever have to become a hopeless addict like myself. I should just make myself take a month off, cold turkey. I might get the shakes, but it would give me a chance to put some other games to rest, which is exactly what I need. After so much waiting, how could I put Etrian Odyssey off so long? Argh.

Thanks, Jeff. It's good to hear from you!


Hey Matt,

I maintain that FFX is my favorite Final Fantasy. I don't understand why people complain that it's "so linear" when every single FF game is linear. I find the other games more frustratingly linear, because they pretend not to be or make you waste time wandering through the same places repeatedly. FFX has its own sidequests after a point, same as most others in the series. Anyway, to each his (or her) own.

So, a related question: which FF game would you consider the least linear and why? Was it the most enjoyable, then?

'Til next time,



Yeah, for sure, and everyone's opinions will obviously differ. Of course, as I maintained in previous days, my issue isn't so much with the linearity as it is with the difficulty, which is, in the main quest, pretty much non-existent. I've enjoyed plenty of non-linear games, and indeed, one of my very favourite RPGs is Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. If you've played that game, then you know that it's about as linear as you can get.

Which Final Fantasy is least linear? Well, both Final Fantasy V and VI are fairly nonlinear in the end, but I'd have to give the edge to VI. And while it's my favourite of the series, I don't think that it's the nonlinearity that makes the game my top pick. It's the character development, story, and so forth, probably with a small twist of nostalgia thrown in for good measure.

Thanks Josh! And now, from the other side...

...and tails.

Hey Matt,

I have to agree with you that FFX was my least favorite of the mainstream Final Fantasy's. One of my biggest beefs is that I like to keep my characters equally levelled. However, a character needs to take an action to get any experience; being in the party isn't enough, so I constantly found myself cycling characters into the party so that they could flick off one of the monsters and then be cycled back out so my 'real' party could perform the actual kill. Do you ever find yourself doing garbage like that to overcome crappy experience doling schemes?


EVERY battle, ALL the time. Of course, it was a snappy enough battle system that switching wasn't a terribly painful process, but at the same time, that incredible ease of switcherizing helped contribute to the triviality of most battles, which is, as you all know by now, my biggest beef.

Also, I am a bit of a completionist, so I was miffed by the next to impossible task of gaining the ultimate weapons for each character, which I never completed. There was way to much chance involved in them. Then, to make my completionist soul cry out even more, there was that monster place. I don't remember what it was called, but you could unlock ubermonsters by killing certain sets of monsters in various combinations. I thought this was a cool idea, except that even the weakest of these things required all of your stats to be maxed out with your armor customized out the wazoo. Again, I never killed a single one. The lengths were too great for the minimal rewards.

Now I am not against monsters that are stronger than the final boss. FFXII has tons of them, but I have not had to power-level for a single one of them. I am currently taking on Yiazmat, the final Mark with a fairly average party of level 59 I think. Yes, I've tried to explore everything, but I have never just had to sit and level for the sake of levelling. How far are you willing to go to complete 'everything' in a game?


I think that this is the way it is just by the way Final Fantasy XII is balanced. Final Fantasy X allowed you to become obscenely and bizarrely powerful, as long as you knew how to, with an enormous Sphere Grid and all of the customizable weapons and so forth. In FFXII, however, everyone covers pretty much the entire License Grid by the end of the adventure, and there is little room to grow except to get new equipment and gain more levels.

Now, I find BOTH the special monsters in FFX and XII to be a bit disappointing. The 2200 Gil prizes for defeating difficult marks in FFXII pissed me off incredibly, but the Calm Lands dude in FFX's special monsters were just too intimidating to even try and defeat. If my party has an average HP of 5000 and I have 100 hours on the clock, I'm not going to have the patience to try and kill something that does 15000 damage on my party in its opening attack, sorry. It would have been nice if a little smidgen of that challenge were transferred to the main quest.

But I digress, I was complaining about FFX. My biggest beef is something I can't put a finger on. The game just didn't grip me. My favorites in the series have always been IV, VI, and IX. I think the characters in those games were better developed and more likable. I prefer games where characters are doled out throughout the course of a game instead of plopped into your lap at the beginning, and I like them to be occasionally forced out of your party for whatever reason. Everything in FFX just felt contrived to me.


To me, Final Fantasy X began an irritating idea (that seems to be turning into a trend, if FFXII is any indication). You got all of your party members within the first few hours, with most of them obtained in a single giant blob. Lulu, Wakka, Kimahri... they don't get as much of a chance to 'get to know you' as characters in previous games, because they're forced to share the spotlight. So yeah, I think that's part of the reason for your feelings. I'm totally with you on the party-changes, too. As I've said before, having people leave your party makes you care about them on an interesting level, as you wonder if they're okay and wonder if you'll ever get them back. Lately, the "party dynamics" of Final Fantasy games have become terribly bland, as far as I'm concerned.

BTW, semi-spoliers ahead, I guess. A question about Tidus. Did he 'die' during the attack on Zanarkand? Is that why the faiths grabbed him? Or did the faiths kill him by bringing his spirit into the future?


Oh, it doesn't matter- no spoiler warnings are required, since this is a game that came out... wow, has it really been six years already? Yikes.

The way I know the story, I think that Tidus did indeed die in the opening attack. The fayths stuck his dream version a thousand years in the future in order to save the world. Is that right? Neat idea, but I remember being somewhat confused when I first played it, too.

So in short, I didn't have fun playing it. Final Fantasy has been going downhill. FFXI was that online garbage and FFXII's only saving grace is that I am having a blast with the sidequests. I need another FF in the veins of FFIV, FFVI, and FFIX. I only hope that FFXIII will do it for me and release it on the X360. Sigh. One can hope.

Over and out,


I'd love to see a return to form as well. To me, the Final Fantasy series isn't on a downhill slide as much as it is on a bumpy ride. I did enjoy XII more than X, I believe, and there's reason to hope that XIII will be a great game too. It's so crucial to remember that in all of this, I believe that EVERY Final Fantasy game is at least "good," but every one of them has its own faults. I just enjoyed some of them more than others!

Thanks, Draconn! I shall be awaiting your next letter with anticipation.


Hey Matt,

Assuming you've been to Snowpeak lately and got the drawing, seek out the Graveyard--I believe where you got the Zora Armor.



Hmmmm... I don't think I've actually been to Snowpeak yet, on account of a giant blizzard and an irritating Shadow girl's coaxings. Somehow, some random fish will open the path for me... or at least, that's what I had figured out last time I played.

I have a question how come u guys don't make cloud's character come back to life ever since rpg's sucked like a ehgriez 2 or somethin.


I swear that this is a real letter.


Tomorrow is already Friday! There are a lot more opinions on Final Fantasy X just waiting in my inbox; you'll be sure to hear some more of them in tomorrow's column. But here's a semi-related question for you: Which do you enjoy more? Linear or non-linear games? Do the advantages of one clearly outweigh those of the other? I'm interested to know, so please write in!

Otherwise, keep on reading, and I'll keep on responding. Until next time!

Send a Letter!

Unanswered Letter Backlog: 62 - Plenty
Matt is feeling the burn.

I don't even know what to write here today. La la la boogabee ladadladla laskgj;lsdjgl!! :D :S :(

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On my Wishlist:

1. Dragon Quest IX

2. Metroid Prime 3

3. Fire Emblem: Goddess of Dawn

4. Super Smash Bros. Brawl

5. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker

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1. Pokémon Diamond

2. Lunar Knights

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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1. Final Fantasy X: Your thoughts?

2. Linear RPGs versus Non-Linear RPGs... battle!

3. How important are graphics and presentation in RPGs?

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