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July 6, 2007

Matt Demers - 26:24 EST (yes, it's two hours after Friday.)

KIND OF AMAZING, that E3 kind of crept up on us just like that. This means something absolutely terrible: Q&A will not be updated next week, as you spend time absorbing all of the new and exciting announcements that are bound to occur. Yes, I know, this is absolutely terrible news for Sock enthusiasts, or devoted Q&A readers, but the rest of us will be too busy reading the news to care.

One way or another, we'll have a ton of stuff to chat about the week after, so there will be plenty of chance to catch up. For now, enjoy this, the final blast of pre-E3 letters:


Hi Matt

I know you're not much of a MMORPG fan, but I have some experience in the genre and I wanted to share my thoughts with you and your readers... My Xbox 360 died from the fatal 3 red lights of doom last week, and I turned my attention to the PC. I have already played WoW for almost a year and I considered going back to play the Burning Crusade expansion, but being a Final Fantasy fan who's always wondered what Final Fantasy XI was like, I decided to give it a try especially as it's so cheap now and you get a 30 day trial.


Man, I just read about the 360's death-red-lights last night in an article. Is it really that common of an occurrence? And if it happens, do you just *BOOM* lose everything on your hard drive? That seems only slightly brutal.

Annnyway, about FFXI?

I started installing FFXI more or less as soon as I got in on Sunday at about 4pm, and it didn't finish until 9:45. It had to download about 2 years worth of updates which alone took over 4 hours. As such I didn't really get a proper go on it until Monday night.


Oh my god! My paltry-spaced hard drive would be filled up in no time at all.

Initially it's very daunting as the starting city is huge and unlike WoW there's no quest markers so you have to talk to all the NPC's until you find one with a quest for you. Levelling up is an extemely slow process as well, as is earning money and getting anywhere with any of the professions. Basically, while FFXI and WoW are very similar on the surface, in reality everything in FFXI takes much more effort, but ultimately it more satisfying. It actually has a surprisingly good storyline for you to follow (several actually, depending on which city you choose to start in). My one main grumble is that when you die, you actually lose 10% of the EXP total for that level (so for example if you need 2000 EXP and you die, you'd lose 200), which can result in you going down a level!


Yowie, that's slightly harsh. Actually, I shouldn't talk, due to my own game's design, but it sounds like it might be very easy to die in that game if you go poking your nose in the wrong place.

It's hard for me, personally, to imagine a storyline creeping out of an online game somehow. I don't know why; does the game simply operate like any other Final Fantasy game, except with other players always running around? If so, then I could understand.

You can change to any of the 6 starting jobs at any time but each need to be levelled up independantly. At level 18 you can choose one of them as a sub-job, and at level 30, 10 more advanced jobs become available. The jobs have almost all been featured in other FF games (I'm not sure about the Corsair or Puppetmaster though). The game feels a lot like FFXII (or should that be the other way around?) with it's huge open areas that you can freely wander around, the only difference being all the people running around are real people. They seem to be a pretty helpful bunch, unlike WoW which is mostly populated by whiny American teens who will swear at you and call you a noob if you ask them anything.


Ah yes, one of the main reasons that I'm particularly turned off of online RPGs. I've watched Tom play online games before, and they're a mass of random swearing and insults. I take things too personally, and I generally don't deal well with being called a "f***ing gay f*** lol" so that aspect doesn't attract me much. Of course, if the FFXI crowd is a little more mature, I might feel a bit more inclined to play.

I have read that some people think it's really only a Final Fantasy game in name only, but it does feel like a proper FF game to me, especially after XII. You have Moogles, Chocobos, all the classic jobs, the familiar spells, and characters such as Cid that crop up in the story. To me it has done enough to justify being part of the franchise.

Hmm... that kind of turned into a mini review. Sorry about that! I know you already have half a ton of email to read but for once I had something to say.

Until next time, fare thee well
Ice^Tiger, Level 5 Black Mage (in FFXI) / Level 58 Night Elf Hunter (in WoW)


No, you know, I'm really glad you wrote in. Not many people write in about online RPGs, and it's partly my fault. I don't play about them, so I don't know much about them; the catch-22 is that since I don't know much about them, I don't play them. I'd like to try sometime, but I don't feel like I care enough to spend the time or money... and at the same time, I feel a little bit of disappointment at how much I'm likely missing.

It's a strange concoction of emotions, and at the end of the day, I really shouldn't be taking my gaming so seriously (regarding this and MANY different issues, of course). There are kittens being tortured in Africa and fundamentalist regimes that are threatening to destroy the world... now those are things to feel emotion towards.

Anyway, I appreciate your letter, Tiger! Write again soon to tell me how the online-questing is treating you.


I think we really need to sit back and assess what the term video game means. Video games are meant to be played on some sort of screen and provide visual stimulation along with the interactive media. Hence the term VIDEO game, as opposed to board game, or card game. Also, we really need to think of the terms graphics and presentation. All the extremist graphics whores, and antiquated nostalgia hounds need to chill out.


Absolutely... I think that this is another area that some gamers often get their testicles tied in a knot over. Female gamers? Well, use your imagination. (Sorry to generalize, too; I just love using that expression.)

Anyone who says graphics and presentation don't matter at all is lying to themselves. Or at least they're equating graphics and presentation to state of the art 3D effects, bump mapping, anti-assimilation or whatever. Let me break it down for you.


Oh, definitely! Oftentimes, I make the error of lazily using the term "good graphics" to refer to super-amazing Xbox 360/PS3 realistic visuals. Sometimes, this is true, but often, you're right: As I brought up yesterday or the day before, a game like Disgaea has really great graphics just because of the fact that the anime-styled visuals fit the game so well (even though there is definitely no 3-D involved).

Is the game pleasant to look at? Is the interface slick and easily navigable? These questions apply to SNES and 360 games alike. For example, I still find FFVI visually appealing. The interface is user friendly, the sprites are detailed. I can tell which character is which at a glance. The dungeons all have a distinct look and feel. The music, although limited by technology is great to hear. The special effects are...well, special. Meanwhile (I'm sorry I keep doing this, Matt), DQVII is muddy looking, the 2D characters look pasted onto the 3D backgrounds, and the interface with nothing but abbreviations and that horrible font makes my eyes bleed.


Don't be sorry!! I'll be the first to admit that Dragon Warrior VII's greatest drawback is in the way the game was presented visually. The 3-D backgrounds were kind of cute, especially for a PS1 game, but the sprites really didn't fit it very well. The font didn't bother me that much, though and the restrictive nine-character name-limit, while really REALLY infuriating, wasn't a graphical issue, I'd say. However, the battle backgrounds were horrifyingly poorly textured, and the monsters did turn out looking "muddy" against it. The funny part is that some of the battle graphics, attacks, monster animations, and so forth were actually pretty good. Unfortunately, it was definitely not the nicest looking game on the block, and it's a great example of a game where a little more care, graphically, would have sent it so much further.

I fully agree that those who refuse to play RPGs pre-FFVII are lost souls, but let's not lambast games today because they look pretty. I personally feel that FFVII has a better story than FFVI, but why do I still agree that FFVI is the better game? It's all in the translation. Why did I enjoy the supposedly storyless FFXII more than any other FF? (Did I really spend 92 hrs on that?) The game was gorgeous, the complex menus were more user-friendly than I imagined they would be, the battles were streamlined without being automatic and the story was "presented" with pure precision and expertise.


I think that you've got some great points here: Lately, I've heard from a lot of people that do pass off all modern games as being inferior to those of the SNES era. While my favourites are from the SNES era (they just are), I hope that I've managed to transmit an optimistic, open-minded opinion here. I'd never knock a modern game just because it has fantastic graphics; Final Fantasy XII, Dragon Quest VIII, and Xenosaga III are my favourite games of the past couple of years, and certainly, the great visual experience of each helped to contribute to that.

Final Fantasy XII's menus... well, that's a mixed bag for me. For example, it took me a long, long, long time (90% of the game) to figure out that you could revive or heal people without awkwardly switching parties, but again, I'd hesitate to call that a "graphical" issue as much as it is an interface problem. Then again, there's another class of problems that I sometimes call "Matt's ineptitude issues." However, since my brother had the exact same problem, I don't think it's just me.

It's a double-edged sword. A pretty game with a horrible story is bad, but I don't care if the story rivals Shakespeare, I don't want it to be ugly. If graphics and presentation mean nothing in a VIDEO game, then by all means go pen and paper, or *gasp* read a book.



Fair enough. I still think that in some cases, or for some people, the interactivity transcends the need for graphics. I know that a lot of Xenogears fans, for instance, would very quickly say that the mediocre graphics are definitely worth the rich story. Some people out there really did enjoy Dragon Warrior VII. But, it doesn't matter who you are... I think that everyone will agree that given having a good game, and having the EXACT same good game but with a better visual experience, you'd choose the latter. Wouldn't you?

What are your thoughts, everybody? It's an interesting topic to discuss, since Jonezy is right. These are games that are presented on a form of media that is half-based on visuals. Thus, they must be at least somewhat important, shouldn't they?

Thanks for another letter, Jonezy! Much appreciated, as always.


Hey Matt!!

Ah, Final Fantasy X. It was the game I got a PS2 for. Has it been six years since it came out? Wow.


Yeah, it's disgusting. That's one-quarter of my life ago, which is nuts, because it seems like yesterday.

To me, FFX has a special place in my heart. It was the first game I had my girlfriend try out. You see, my girlfriend likes things that have a good story to it. Most of her favorite novels, movies and TV shows have some good stories. When I told her how good the story was for FFX, she asked me to let her try it out. After the opening cut scene, she was hooked on trying to find out what would happen next to Tidus and crew. I helped her out when she got stuck, but after a while, she got the hang of it and was able to get a better completion rating than me! After that, she got hooked on RPGs.


YAY! I love getting people hooked on RPGs too. I haven't done it in a long, long time though; my last huge success was with my friend Lesley back in my first year of university. I had her play Final Fantasy VI after she saw me playing FFX one day. She wanted to know more about RPGs, and before I knew it, she ended up playing through most of the FF series, Disgaea, and Xenosaga: Episode I. I haven't talked to her in so long, though...

I also have a soft spot for this game as well. To me, I thought it had one of the more interesting stories in the series (I still liked FFVI better, though!). I also thought that the way each character was designed added a much needed level of strategy. It was cool that you needed one character to take out the flying enemies and another one to handle the speedier ones. It was also cool how each character's fighting style reflected their personality (Tidus was speedy and athletic, Auron was strong and stoic, Lulu was analytical and level headed, Kimari was mysterious, Wakka was good natured and protective, Riku was mischievious and Yuna was sacrficing and gentle). I loved the way character development was reflected both in their abilities and their experiences on the pilgramage. It was too bad that the crew from FFXII weren't as colorful...


They definitely weren't as varied; that's for sure. I'm hoping that FFXIII brings back some good distinction between characters, because other than graphically, the characters of XII were more similar to each other than they've been in every previous Final Fantasy since FFV. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I like to see differences.

It was cool, then, that Final Fantasy X did draw those lines neatly in the sand at the beginning of the game. It's just highly unfortunate that it was so EASY to change characters and one-hit-KO every single monster. The system was too easy to abuse, and so even though it was clever, it got boring to me.

In terms of characters rather than battle abilities, I'm torn as to which I like better. I would have liked to know more about some of the personalities in BOTH games, frankly. Overall, I think that the character development in games like Final Fantasy VI, VII, and even VIII was far superior to that of both X and XII.

Was FFX linear? Of course it was, but that doesn't mean that it was any less of a game. I like a tight story over random wandering around any day. All I have to say is that the linear story helped players stay on track without getting them lost too far into it. I have seen games that have done this and hated them for it (Elder Scrolls series anyone?). Let's hope that the next Final Fantasy have as decent a story and fun characters like FFX.


"Is Lulu holding a muggle?"
"Uh... I think it's called a moogle..."


I hope that Final Fantasy XIII is very successful too! Frankly, the PS3's success as an RPGaming machine depends on it. And with this possible price cut in the works, perhaps the console will be a little more affordable by the time it finally arrives... though it's anybody's guess as to whether that will happen this decade or next.

Thanks, Witecat!


Hiya Matt!

Long time no serious letter write! Or silly for that matter...


It's true, you used to be like the Q&A Queen, if ever such a title there was. It's good to get some mail from you! So, what's happening?

Just thought I'd put in my thoughts on your comment from yesterday about post game feelings/attitude. When I beat a game, most notoriously RPGs, I get all giddy for the first few moments, I mean, I just beat a game I've invest a large amount of time in! But then I go through a weird depressive period shortly thereafter, that lasts way longer than the joy.

In fact I'm still going through a post period like that. I finished KHII a couple of months ago, and have yet to pick up a brand new RPG again. Can't convince myself that I want to start up another one... Probably because I don't want to finish another one just to go through happiness withdrawal again. I have managed to play some FFIV in the meantime, but I've already played it an beat it before, so there isn't so much of a withdrawal problem post game.

So that's it; Catch 22 time. Play another game, beat it, then be happy and then sad again? Or just laze in the haze of the previous completion sadness?


That's kind of weird!! See, I can totally feel for you at times; I can go through a sad period when I'm coming off a great game that I thoroughly enjoyed. Dragon Quest VIII, for example, left me with a feeling of anguish. Even though it was a fantastic game, I knew with my final blow on the boss that it would be years before my next fresh Dragon Quest experience. It's bittersweet.

Then, on the other hand, finishing off some games can be like ushering certain annoying guests out the door of your place of residence. It's good to have them over for change of pace, but at the end of the day, you're perfectly happy to see them go bye-bye.

Anyway, the only way to get back into the groove is to pick up another game and play it. You'll find the magic again, even if it leaves you with another wallop of withdrawal fun upon its conclusion.

I still do enjoy playing games though! I keep going back cause I love the stories, the music, the graphics, the whole package! Such a vicious circle. I can't be the only one who goes through such an odd occurrence, though.


Nah... I think that there are a lot of RPGamers around here who have similar disorders-of-sorts. You're not alone! Perhaps we should start a support group of some kind, complete with its very own 1-800 number. (I've always wanted one of those.)

Maybe I will start up Zelda: The Minish Cap. My sis gave it to me for my birthday recently. That should be light, fun, and enjoyable.


Yes, absolutely. Not many people have played the game, in comparison with other Zeldas. However, I haven't really heard much in the way of "bad" about it. Consider this an assignment: Report back on your findings!

Other than that, any recommendations for some recent, light-hearted RPGs to lift me from my gaming doldrums?



There are many, Maggie, and for a variety of systems. It's a bit easy, but Super Paper Mario is nothing but light-hearted and quirky, and full of some neat ideas. For the DS, Lunar Knights and Dragon Quest Heroes are also really simple to pick up and anything but heavy. The PS2 has a lot of more serious games that have come out, lately, but if you haven't tried the sequel to Disgaea, that might be a good one for you. The PSP has the Final Fantasy I remake, if you're up for the prettiest-looking rendition of the ultimate, classic, non-brainbusting RPG. Really, there are all sorts of games out there, no matter what systems you might have. Take your pick, and hopefully it's a goodie.

Best of luck!


Hi Matt,

In France, some RPG's came with strategy booklets that had most information on the game, it was kinda cool. Anyway, after my parents bought me Secret of Mana, which came with such a book, we were packing up to go home. My mum packed the booklet in their suitcase, next to one of her perfume bottles. During the plane ride, the bottle broke or leaked, and the booklet soaked up the stuff. It smelled good, and for the longest time I just associated SoM with that smell. I can sort of remember the smell, but it's fading from memory now. So sad! I wish I could find that book again in my house...


SWEET. (What a terrible reply...)

Isn't it funny how smells can be so incredibly powerful? My friend Kim Northcott had an NES a long time before I ever did, and I loved to go over to her place and drive her crazy by always wanting to play with it. Anyway, as we grew older, she stopped playing, and eventually, she sold me her old system for $20 as a backup before having the house totally renovated (though the damn NES never did work in the end anyway). I still have it, though, and TO THIS DAY, it retains a scent about it that immediately reminds me of Kim's old unrenovated house. Somehow, the fragrance of *something* melded with the plastic to produce this effect, and it kind of amazes me.

Boring story? I dunno, probably. Bite me.

(2) I think most RPGamers tend to hoard their items, especially the rarer ones. However, since I always end up with a bunch of them at the end without having used them, I'm consciously making an effort to just use them if I'm in a bad spot. It also makes the battle/boss feel tougher kinda, like "Man, I had to use a Megalixir on that one!" I got pretty annoyed in FFX-2 because one of the girls was confused, and then she used up one of my Turbo Ethers. Then I figured that it's not a big deal because there will be more in the game, and it's true anyway.


Yeah, but it's moments like THOSE that you realize "Damn... this is so bad that I'm using them more when I don't even want to." Pretty sad.

There have been SO many times where I'll be stretching my party super-thin on MP, just to try and make it to the end of the dungeon without healing. Why? I don't know. I swear it's because I was brought up on the REAL deal; in other words, Dragon Warrior, where rationing was a hugely important part of the game. I've developed a real taste for that flavour, so I suspect that I artificially squeeze myself to try and taste it more often. That sounds kind of gross, reading that sentence over, but what I have written, I have written [PP ftw].

(3) I appreciate nice graphics, but that's not all there is to it. I still like the look of the early FF's. But I do like to have something to look at: I can't get into text-only RPG's. I think there are other things to consider though in graphical tastes: I'm sure some people dislike sprites, or cel-shaded, or polygonal graphics. Compare the look of Xenosaga and Wild Arms 3: I really like WA3's coloring pencil texture (although that may be wrong, that's what it kinda looks like to me :P).


I definitely think that some styles suit some RPGs more than others, but that each one of those styles can provide awesome graphics. I personally loved Xenosaga: Episode I's amazing mash of anime and realism. Shion's face was SO cute, until they sexified her up and turned her into a space-stripper-diva by Episodes II and III.

I saw a little bit of Wild Arms 3, even though I didn't play it, and I have to agree that the graphical style is absolutely awesome. There's a cel-shaded look to it all, and I love it; the whole thing looks really attractive, as far as I'm concerned.

(4) If the resolution of a game is good, that leaves me very happy and satisfied. I liked the ending of FFIX for that reason. FFX I liked because he had to disappear, and in the end he did: there wasn't some kind of weird plot twist to make him stick around.


Yes, RPGs are way, way to scared to kill off any major characters these days. The deaths of Tellah, Galuf, Aeris... these things DROVE us to care about the storyline, as long as I have anything to say about it. Sure, it's sad, and boohoo, and *SPTHPBPTHPBHTH* into a Kleenex, but when a main character that you have developed connections to and care about dies, it brings you to hate the villain on a more personal level, immersing you deeper into the plot.

I'd like to put forward some thoughts on FFVII. I think that the look and feel of the game was completely unique and that is part of why it remains in so many peoples' memories. The world map is kind of regular: there's nothing special about it. But the pre-rendered stuff is so rich in color! Midgar is full of blacks and greens, and most other places are vibrant with color as well. This created a unique atmosphere for the game which hasn't been recreated since, I believe.


Oh yeah. Final Fantasy VIII and IX, too, did a fabulous job; those backgrounds were absolutely gorgeous, and provided a lot more interest than many of the areas in, say, Final Fantasy X, which were often vast but devoid of much detail. Final Fantasy XII was amazing, though, because the towns WERE so incredibly detailed, even though it's clearly past the backdrop stage.

I do still miss those backdrops, however; the train station in Midgar; the materia caves; the streets of Deling City; the details of Kuja's Palace. So interesting and beautiful.

The style of music is also very different, from anything else in RPG's as well as from anything else Uematsu has written. It had a lot of synthesized stuff, which maybe helped make it popular with most people, since RPG music is generally associated with accoustic instruments (like Dragon Quest). Combine these outstanding elements with a kick-ass story of inter- and intra-social and -personal (4 things there!) conflicts and a highly customizable yet simple skill/magic system, add publicity for an RPG to an extent which hadn't been imagined before that, and you get FFVII! A sidenote: I love the character models in FFVII, even though they're the clunkiest thing and everybody looks like they're related to Popeye. Alright, that's probably enough from me. Later!



Heh heh. Yes, the game was definitely "before its time" regarding in-game 3-D graphics, and, well, it shows. There's still something incredibly endearing, however, about Cloud's fingerless polyhedral hands and overemphatic shrugs. No matter what some people might say these days about Final Fantasy VII, it will always be one of my favourite games of the series.


One reader asked about the power rush you feel when you're able to completely overwhelm your enemies.

If you get this kind of feeling, it means the enemies aren't tough enough, or the game is too easy.

I didn't get that feeling when fighting wolves in Dalmasca Estersand on level 40 - I don't think many people would.


Well, I think it depends on the game here. Walking over your enemies can give me a rush, but only if I've worked long and hard for it. Why would I feel great success for being able to mash an enemy in the game to bits if it was the weakest enemy to begin with? No, when you've struggled under strong and daunting opponents until you finally work to achieve a certain level or certain powerful level and THEN run around bashing those opponents with ease... then you feel that wonderful power trip.

I am playing Yggdra Union now. In this TRPG, you can wipe the floor with weak enemies, because their stats are so low. The difficulty is very unbalanced though. Some setup is needed first though:

There are three main stats, TEC (Special attack power), ATK (Regular atk power), GEN (Special attack defense). Most of my guys have 3/3/3 (TEC/ATK/GEN) stats at this point. There is also a weapon triangle mechanic in effect (Axe>Spear>Sword>Axe). In one round, the game will throw enemies at you with 1/2/1 with a boss that is about 3/3/3. But in the very next round, they give you 3/3/3 enemies with a 4/4/4 boss, and to top it off, the boss has a special weapon type not available to the player which is strong against Sword, Spear, AND Axe. He also has an incredibly powerful special attack. Which is incredibly cheap to say the least.


Indeed, it sounds like it. Of course, I do love a good boss... as long as the frustrato-meter doesn't push too high off the charts, that is. That frustratometer... it's broken a few times before.

The most overused RPG cliche is of course the hero(ine) that must save the world, but I think another one that is terribly, horribly overused is the TRPG that takes place in a war-torn land. _Very_ few break the rule (Treasure Hunter G for SNES is one). All of the big franchises (Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem) follow the rule. Besides the first one I mentioned, which RPG cliche is most overused?



For me, it's still the hero. Considering all of the possible races, hair colors, genders, and ages of people, there are way, way too many spikey-haired 17-year-old white boy RPG heroes out there, and it's irritating. Damn, I'd love it if we had a "Betty Quest" where you get to control a 55-year-old housewife who has to combat monsters who have stolen her new granddaughter while also combatting the effects of a "menopause gauge" that is always counting down. Why not??

Ti do!


After reading your opinion on Final Fantasy X I would have to whole heartedly agree. Overall looking at the total scope of games or even RPGs it is a significant achievement. However when you compare it to the stronger games in the series and other, what I would consider upper echelon games like DQ 8 etc. it is considerably weak. Although I don't like my games to be to open ended with seemingly little direction (IE Oblivion) I still want the ability to have larger areas to explore and fly my various vehicles (IE FF world maps, DQ 8 FF 12). Although I don't find voice acting to be important some of the voices (Tidus) were just downright annoying and I'd rather simply read than listen to that. I also think that FFX is the easiest game in the entire series, bar none and the lack of the ATB system made strategy overly simple. The story would have had to have been absolutely stellar in order to make up for it and I felt it was mediocore at best especially with the lack of a villain that people would love to hate (or simply love for being a bad ass). I even stopped playing the game 75% of the way through and only went back to beat it later on just to say that I've beaten them all.



Oh, that's something I totally forgot about in my rants of the past couple columns: AIRSHIPS! Oh my goodness, since when is it okay to have a drop-down-list of places to go? A little take-off cutscene just doesn't cut it for me. I love the feeling of flying, and I've missed it so much in the last couple of games. Could you imagine how awesome it would have been to be able to see the world of FFXII from afar, flying through the Jagd and seeing the floating continent up-close? I really, really hope that FFXIII comes through in this department!!

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one, though, Ryan. Of course, with many different opinions about, there are many more in my bag. Maybe I'll publish a whole gamut of arguments when I get back to my column-writing, the week after next.


Hey-o Matt

I never have beaten the first Final Fantasy. Stupid NES cartridge batteries! Why must you fail me? Invariably I'd get an airship and then it was over. Ah, childhood, you were tragic!



That's tragic! Perhaps you should consider investing in one of the three hundred zillion remakes of the game to see what's in store on the northern continent...


That's all that Q&A has to say for this week, and as I mentioned above, next week E3 gets centre stage. Please enjoy the show! I'll be awaiting the announcements and surprises right alongside all of you, and I can't wait to discuss some of them when I return to resume the following Tuesday!

Stay well, everybody, and I hope to get a letter from you soon.

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