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July 17, 2007

Matt Demers - 17:10 EST

WOWWWWEEE, was that underwhelming! Really, I've never been SO excited about an E3 since the year Sony's booth exploded and booth babe fragments were showered across Nintendo's floor, turning their cutesy displays into an M-rated horror show. Oh right, that never happened. Damn, E3 was boring this year, and especially for RPGamers in comparison to last year. I'm glad I didn't go.

But let's look at the things that did happen. Microsoft had some neat-looking stuff to show off, including some ridiculously nice-looking Fallout 3 screens, and a playable Eternal Sonata. Not bad. Sony had basically nothing to show off besides Fallout 3... at least for the PS3. I was QUITE disappointed that we didn't get a lick of Final Fantasy XIII information, but not terribly surprised. There are simply no games that look appealing on the way in the near future for the big brute of a system, and it's sad.

Nintendo... well, I don't know what to say. Despite the dubious "Wii Zapper" and general lack of exciting revelations, there were a few things that brought joy to my heart that I feel were swept under most of the media rug. The first? Fire Emblem Wii by the end of the year! Very, very exciting, that; it's the kind of news that almost makes me feel like I have to go to the bathroom. I was so worried that this game wouldn't end up seeing the light of day over here, because I'm paranoid and all, but here it comes. Secondly, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is going to have Wi-Fi support. This makes me completely bonkers, because finally, I'll be able to find somebody else who actually plays. The last couple of DQM games would have been way, way more fun with such a feature. Add to that the fact that the game looks gorgeous, and I can't wait.

So, in the end, I don't really know who "won" E3, and I don't really care. As long as we have good games to play for the near and far future, I'm happy.

It's time for me to visit yold mailbox now, for the first time in a week and a half. Watch, and this assortment of letters will be responded to before your very eyes, like an incessantly ringing telephone in a stuffy call centre room!




LETTERS
A rather uninspiring aftermath...


Well, E3 just ended. Overall, it was pretty dissapointing. Just how much RPG news was there? Most of the news items are just a few screenshots of games already released in Japan and just waiting for a localization. I'm not complaining about RPGamer's coverage, I'm suprised you guys got as much stuff as you did considering the situation. There just seemed to be a lot less this year. Did Square Enix show ANY of it's next gen games? Where the **** was White Knight Story? Does anybody have RPGs coming?

Matt

No. I think that everyone got all RPG'd out after last year's bloat, but that's only bad news for people like you and I. I was absolutely shocked that Square Enix had not a speck of FFXIII news. Almost all of the other next-gen stuff that was shown is stuff that I really don't care much about. Old fogey, I am. Old ENRAGED fogey.

I'm telling you, too, that White Knight was announced to look pretty and do not much else. I'm not even convinced it's a real RPG, since really, all we got were a few glamour shots of the game. I *hope* it is, but I'm not optimistic.

Ok, I know. E3 is more focused on westren devs, japanese devs save their best stuff for TGS. But in other years, they seemed to give an effort. This year, it seemed anybody who didn't have a FPS coming out this christmas didn't seem to care. Square Enix abandoned their booth a day early. I guess they didn't feel they needed to stay. Konami wasn't any better either. Ok, I expected no Suikoden VI news. But the lack of a playable MGS4, when they're going to be demoing one next week? If E3 mattered to them at all, they could have had the demo this week.

I'm sure a lot of people appreciated not having to wait in lines like last year, and not having the spectacle and booth babes everywhere, but I don't know. Maybe that spectacle could have distracted me from the lack of news.

I'm just going to grab my PS2, hide in a dark corner, and wait for TGS.

Matt

Hey, me too. I wasn't really expecting a big Suikoden announcement from Konami either. I think that a lot of these developers are still sitting back and saying "Um, okay... so we want to develop a game for your system, but it's gonna be hella expensive if we do, so we're just going to wait and make sure that the system will sell well first, 'K?" It's a tough game for developers to play, but it draws things out for the rest of us.

Anyway, the lack of real buzz makes me wonder what E3 will be like next year. Do you think it'll return to glitz, glamour, noise, and lights? Really, this was kind of a let-down, even if a subdue-eration (subduction?) was the point.



More on E2 (The "Expo" part has to be called into question at some point.)


Hey Matt!

I'm sure after a week off you are no doubt buried under a swarm of letters, but I'll chime in my piece as well. I have to say, E3 snuck up on me just like you said, and somehow, even once I noticed it was going on, I never got that fired up about it. Maybe it's because I'm not planning on getting a next-gen system any time soon, and everyone is so focused on them.

Matt

Really? I was most excited by the DS offerings than anything that any of the consoles offered, save Fire Emblem. And that's really sad for you, since as I've come to learn, you're not a portable gamer.

Perhaps if I was into games like Killzone and Lair and the like, I'd be more enthralled. But I'm not. I wanted Final Fantasy. I wanted to hear about that sort-of-announced Star Ocean game. I wanted to hear about a new Xeno-world series. I would have killed to hear details of a new Breath of Fire game, or, god forbid, some brand new RPG series. We got none of these things. NONE! (That said, some of the Mistwalker stuff does look pretty darn good... but still.)

I have to ask, did it look like there are any last gasps for PS2? I know it's far beyond hope for GameCube, but aside from working my way through my backlog (and eventually going back and picking up some old games), I'm curious if there is anything new floating around. I know support for the original Playstations strung out for a bit, but I'm not seeing that much for PS2 nowadays. There's Persona 3 and the new .hack, but I've never really been drawn into either of those series.

Thanks!

BigWook

Matt

Well, at least it's something. There wasn't too much shown off beyond those, unless you're into Digimon, which I suspect you aren't. This year, the 360 was the console to show off the most RPGs out of the three, and even then, there weren't really any surprises in store for us; no real blood-pumping or shocking news. And we trudge onwards, towards the horizon that is the future...



And now, for some non-E3-ness.


Matt-o

Long time no speak....ok it's been about a week or so. Just wanted to chime in on the new topics you have listed.

1) FFX? I thoroughly enjoyed the game although it is not my favorite FF. That honor goes to FFVI.

Matt

Fair enough. You know my stance on the game by now: Easy, but easy on the ears (in terms of music). The voice acting, yeah, that's a bit of a different story, though an unimportant one, relatively speaking. It looked nice, too; those PS2 FMVs were crazy back in the day. That one with Tidus and Yuna being all kissy, though? Dad had to be in the room when I got there, and I nearly died. The combo attack of cheese and Japanese music left me in a cold sweat and with a bit of throw-up in my mouth, with my father looking on. You could just SMELL him thinking "What the f*** kind of games do people play nowadays?"

2) Linear vs. Non-Linear? I like my games linear as you might know by now I am a story guy so I like my games to have that constant flow. Maybe years ago I could go for some non-linear gaming, but being that game time is limited. I prefer linear.

Matt

I still think that the BEST plots are crafted by carefully balancing non-linear gameplay with a skill for storytelling: See Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI for more. That's not to say that linear games can't be great... on the contrary, they often are. (Notice, the incredible diplomatic prowess that I illustrate by walking the "yes, but no" line with abilities that only a longtime Q&A host can muster!)

5) An early memory with a RPG? That's a tough one, but I remember playing and beating a PAL copy of Terranigma (amazing game by the way) in one sitting. My PAL converter wouldn't allow me to save and it was a rainy day so I figured I might as well do it in one sitting. 8AM to about 11PM with an occasional bathroom break and a snack. Good times........good times.

Matt

Oh my god, there's a game where you don't want to die on the way to the final boss. I think that my internal patience mechanism would start beeping at about 10 hours, I'd risk system malfunction by 14, and meltdown by 18. Really, my eyeballs would be falling out; I just can't power-game like I used to. Back when I'd play Smash Brothers or Tetris Attack with my siblings for incredible lengths of time? Yeah, I need to reclaim that ability, because I seem to have lost it.

So, on a side note. What are your top five favorite RPG's? I'm sure you've answered this question before but I was just wondering. Maybe you can ask our fellow RPG enthusiasts the same question and make a poll up for the web-site. But my top 5 would be:

1) Chrono-Tigger

2) Final Fantasy VI

3) Valkyrie Profile

4) Suikoden II

5) Shining Force II

Matt

Why, why, why? This question is so hard, because it changes all the time. I'd have to say that today's version looks something like this:

Dragon Warrior IV
Final Fantasy VI
Earthbound
Final Fantasy VII
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter

Though... that's really crappy, because there are a lot of great games that are very nearly up there. Pokémon has to be somewhere in the mix, because I play the crap out of it. The GBA Fire Emblem games pretty much own my soul, as does Dragon Quest VIII, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and quite frankly, several other games out there. Wah, top five-picking is not an easy task.

Just some food for thought....mmmmmm food.

~Chris~

Matt

Food is good. Especially peanut butter. In fact, I've recently discovered what a fantastic snack a banana with peanut butter is. It's so fantastic... I think I'm going to go make myself one right now, to eat while reading the next letter.



Linearity versus Non: Battle!


Hey Matt,

I loved Final Fantasy X. Downright flawless! *turns head away from the abomination X-2* Its linearity is perfect for the story. It's not about some imperial war that makes you run back and forth across a massive world (*cough* FFXII *cough*), with your objectives changing faster than a traffic light. There's a single goal in mind from the beginning, so it makes perfect sense to keep deviation from the single line connecting Besaid and Zanarkand down to a minimum. As for FFX being too easy, well I can't say I have a problem with that. I did find a couple of boss fights sort of challenging, but overall, it was very easy, which helps put the focus on the story rather than gameplay. In my book, that's a thumbs-up.

Matt

I fought those bosses too: Namely, that glyphy boss (fun word, "glyphy") with the six things, and Yunalesca, which pulled the rug out from under you by sinisterly requiring you to maintain zombie status. Evil! Delightfully evil, in fact. My reasoning is simply because most "everyday" random battles are almost trivially simple. To me, that's a disappointing thing. I guess other people might think it's a good thing, but other people might also think that jumping off a bridge is a good thing; and thus you see my point. I do not follow the masses, nay. However, all of this aside, Final Fantasy X is still a stellar game, even if the star that it is doesn't shine quite as brightly for me as do some other games in the series.

Linearity overall makes a game better. I couldn't even get into Morrowind due to its lack of direction, and FFXII failed with its MMO-esque explorability. Too often, I found myself wandering into areas I didn't need to go to, just because they were there. Like the Ogir-Yensa Sandsea. I didn't have to visit every single screen, but I thought, "Hell, I paid fifty bucks for this game, I'm gonna see everything there is to see." Well, three hours later, I'd forgotten the name of the place I was heading to, as well as why I was going there to begin with. Non-linearity can be fine in a game that doesn't emphasize story, i.e. the Elder Scrolls games, or (and I can't believe I'm bringing this up in a meaningful video game discussion) GTA. When the non-linearity gets in the way of a potentially good story, though, it's not a good thing. A linear game, on the other hand, especially one with a world map, is so satisfying. Trekking across a world on a single path a la Final Fantasy VII or Xenogears is like having your own personal Frodoic quest. You know where you're going, and you're getting there one town/dungeon at a time. It's the perfect way to integrate story and gameplay into one cohesive work.

-Raaj

Matt

Oh, I hear you there. Good heavens, how many times did I explore every corner of Final Fantasy XII's ginormous world, just for the sake of seeking out every last randomly-generated treasure? The saddest thing is that I knew perfectly well by 5 hours into the game that I'd get 26 Gil or the equivalent for doing so. Ugh! Of course, I'd be hesitant to call FFXII a "nonlinear" game. Sure, you could explore the world whenever you liked, but the storyline events definitely laid out exactly where you should go next in sequence, which is in sharp contrast to a game like Chrono Cross or Dragon Warrior, which leaves the exploring and figuring-out to the player alone.

I can see your points regarding linearity, and I think that it's mostly easier for developers to build a truly great story out of a linear game. However, I don't think it's impossible to marry nonlinear with good-plot-having, and when that recipe IS put together in the right way, truly epic games can be the result.

Thanks for your letter, Raaj!



There's a place called Tycho in Risk 2210. Any connection? Hmm.


Hi Matt,

I'm almost a first time writer, long time reader, though I have once written to you in early 2006 I think, sadly without any response. I really like your columns, you have a very funny style, it's always refreshing to read, good job!

Matt

Well, thanksmuch! I apologize if I didn't get around to your letter the first time- it happens, and letters sometimes fall through the cracks. Whether it makes it into the column or not, I appreciate the mail.

So on with my opinions (and there's even one little question inside, this being Q&A after all ^^)

Matt

Schweeeet.

Final Fantasy X: Your thoughts?

FFX was the main reason I bought my PS2, back when it was still very pricey. I imported a US PS2 to be able to play it shortly after launch (though I exclusively import all my games since 1998, because I absolutely cannot accept the PAL gaming situation and especially the often terrible german localizations, even though it tends to get better nowadays). My thoughts on it? I think it was a really great game, it didn't fail to live up to my expectations and my personal hype. I liked the linear but great presentation, it kept me well focused on the story line. Sure, it was a little too easy, but the sphere grid system was nevertheless very deep and the good (though maybe not great) story was enough to keep me playing and enjoying the game. I for one especially also liked the quasi post-game monster arena, I didn't find it in any way overly hard, just refreshingly challenging and a reason to train my characters further. I clocked around 90 hours on my first playthrough, which is much longer than I stay with most other RPGs.

Though I have to admit that in retrospect I find many flaws with the game and unlike previous Final Fantasys I feel little urge to replay the game and among FFs it ranks in the lower half for me. I think it was a great game for it's time but now I don't feel too strongly for it.

Matt

First of all, I don't know. The PAL gaming situation, does it really seem to be getting better? I mean, you guys didn't get Xenosaga I, but you DID get Episode II... so much for deep storyline continuity and everything. IF you get any RPG in particular, it's usually months and months after the fact, and for what reason? I really don't know. I think that Europe and Australia should have a revolution of some kind and get this awful problem corrected now, because damn, I wouldn't be able to tolerate it if I were you.

Also, Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid was really cool. It was a lot more interesting than Final Fantasy IX's blah system, and it represented a return to the over-complicated-looking-but-actually-really-fun feel that characterized FFVII and VIII's magic systems. Oh Junction system, how I loved thee...

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

Generally I prefer somewhat linear RPGs because I like to keep focused on the main story and don't want to get sidetracked with endless little quests. A good balanced main quest with 2-3 deep sidequests divided over the whole game is how I like it. There are some exceptions though, when the non-linear concept is very well executed like in the second half of FFVI, DQVI and of course Chrono Trigger, or just when I had one linear RPG too many in a row.

Matt

Hmm. See, I don't know about that. Linear RPGs are often full of endless little quests or minigames that have next to nothing to do with the main plot. When I think of Final Fantasy X, I remember things like the Calm Lands-based Hunter thing, the Thunder Plains lightning-hop, the Blitzball games, and so on. You could sink all sorts of hours into those things, but the game is still linear. To me, a "linear" game means that the storyline events follow a rigid sequence- you aren't free to do things out-of-step. It's still possible for embedded side material occur, especially if the side material has nothing to do with the story. At least, that's the way I see things.

Now that I think about it, the words "Linear" and "Non-linear" are actually pretty vaguely defined. What do you think comprises a Linear RPG? A Non-Linear RPG? Do you think there is more of a "continuum" of linearity? Yeah, I'm asking you, the guy named Joe eating chips.

Does game-completion make you happy? Sad? Or something else?

Unlike yourself and many of your readers, it makes me happy when I finish a game for the first time, because then I can see it as a whole and complete experience and there are always numerous other titles to delve into next. I also tend to replay games a lot, often even restarting them right after having them finished, playing the game in a different way, often with self imposed challenges thus making the game harder and interestingly new. Nowadays I replay much much more old games than I play new ones, regularly returning to the game-worlds I have grown to love, so there really is no sadness or parting farewell when finishing a game, because I can always return. The only problem with that is, that I miss out on so many new interesting games, but why always search the new when you still have so much fun with the old? For example last autumn I spent 350+ hourse doing DQVIII challenges, even though I had many new games on the shelve, but I wanted to stay with this great game so there was no reason to say good bye. Among others I finished the game low-level with everyone on level 19, now that was interesting and very challenging.

Matt

Wahh... that used to be my style, until I got old and crusty and grumpy and full of responsibility. Ever since I played the game first, I've wanted to play Dragon Quest VIII, leveling everybody up with Fisticuffs only. *sniffle*

Regarding the discussion whether today there are mostly mediocre games as opposed to the past: I think it all has to do with personal conception. As a child or teenager we are much more absorbed and fascinated with games and the games we play during that time earn a permament place in our hearts, thus remembering them as all-time great classics. But whilst growing up perspectives change, games have become somewhat more trivial to me (though I still love them), there's less carefree time to spend with games and so I don't have the opportunity to endulge myself in all the new great games.. Because in my opinion there are just as many great instant-classic games nowadays as there were in the past, possibly even more with the gaming industry vastly expanding. I often think that in todays gaming world there are just too many games, release after release, hype after hype, certainly not all great or even good but many of them are. And so, with this many promising games every month flooding the market, the individual great game isn't so special anymore unless you make it something special for yourself by playing it, enjoying it and possibly replaying it for years to come.

Matt

Now that's a good point. A great example of this becomes evident when you look at E3. Here I am, complaining about the number of new releases and great RPG announcments like a whining yuppie, and how many RPGs were covered at the show? 35 is the number that I counted. Thirty-five. And I'm complaining. Back in 1992, we would have flipped over having TEN at the show, let alone 3.5x that many. With such a huge market, relatively speaking, sure, I'll believe that it's easy to get lost in the inundation. RPGs might have felt more special way back when simply because they were rarer gems than they are today. Interesting way of looking at this.

So, um, to actually ask a question: what do you think of self imposed challenges in RPGs? Do you ever do them or have you in the past? I know it's totally time consuming and you don't get to work through your backlog, but to me it's often more fun than to immerse myself into a new game which I possibly don't like as much.

Matt

Oh, as I say, I always loved them. I haven't done that sort of thing much lately, but the last one I remember was the time that I played through Super Mario RPG while REFUSING to use Peach. If I wanted a heal, I was forced to eat some fungus or turn to Mr. Mallow for a steamy shower of HP Rain. It was fun, and the game was easier than I expected it to be, despite the challenge imposed.

In general, though, I'll sort of automatically create a challenge for myself if I detect that a game is turning into an easy-show. In cases like that, I'll just start avoiding enemies in an attempt to gain levels more slowly to create a sort of artificial challenge. Sad, but true.

Right now I am replaying Breath of Fire III, first time in 7 years or so, loving it and I am already heavy planning for a low level game. From what you've been writing I've also become very interested in BoF V, that seems a very innovative game, maybe I'll pick it up sometime and make it one of my few "new" game experiences.

Oh and keep looking forward to Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, that game is so great :).

Best Regards,
Tycho

Matt

Breath of Fire V is great, very challenging, quite creative, and to top it off, it has some of the best music of any RPG out there. You might be able to find it for $15 at this point, so keep your eyes peeled.

Also, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is coming up shortly. I played a lot of Zelda over the past week, so I'm getting closer to finishing that and thus closer to starting Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria. Once that is finished, it's Fire Emblem all the way, and I can't wait.

Thanks again for writing, Tycho. Do so again soon, and I'll give you a virtual cookie.



QUICKIES

Hey-o Matt,

I own the PS1 remake, but still cannot get myself to play for very long past the airship. I think I'm afraid of what lies to the north. By-the-by, I use a Fighter, Thief, Black Mage and White Mage. Pretty standard huh?

Ken

Matt

What lies to the north? ANKYLO and R.ANKYLO, that's what. Beware! And yeah, your party choices are so meat-and-potatoes, I'm thinking of going vegetarian. I could never bring myself to use a Thief... who wants a thief that can't even thieve?

I just started playing DQVIII and I am really liking it. I am not sure if you know this but one of the enemies in the beginning is a "funghoul". Do you know what this means in Italian? If not ask someone, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Matt

I have no idea, but you have my interest piqued. I even popped it into an online translator, and it gave me a blank stare in response (i.e. there was no translation). Help me out here! Don't leave me in suspense!



IN CLOSING

So, a couple of new questions for you: First, how do you think E3 went? Which company impressed you most? Which games are you looking forward to more than any? It's hard to believe it's over, mostly because not much happened.

Secondly, what do you think the definition of a "Linear" game is, actually? Can a game be linear and have sidequests, or is that a contradiction? You heard what my opinion is above, and now I want to hear yours. So, write in and tell me!

Anyway, it's good to be back. In retrospect, I probably could have done Q&A all last week anyway, but it's too late now. Read more tomorrow, when I make some startling revelations regarding my true form... er, and answer a few more letters.

Bye, everybody!



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On my Wishlist:

1. Dragon Quest IX

2. Metroid Prime 3

3. Fire Emblem: Goddess of Dawn

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5. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker



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On my Console Roster:

1. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

2. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria

3. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance



Hot Topics:

1. Final Fantasy X: Your thoughts?

2. What exactly is the definition of a "Linear" RPG?

3. E3 2007... discuss!

4. Does game-completion make you happy? Sad? Or something else?

5. Do you associate any early memories with RPGs?



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