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Ether Drive!
July 18, 2007

Matt Demers - 23:31 EST

IN CLASS, I have to use overhead transparencies and write on them using markers. Inevitably, I end up with little smudges of red and blue on my hand by the end of every day. Today, however, marks a first. I got home and realized with a glance in the mirror that somehow, I managed to get a smudge of blue marker below my bottom lip. How, exactly, does that happen? I really have no clue, because I don't remember doing anything too crazy; my only conclusion is that somehow, I must have been subconsciously dancing around at the front of the class like a lunatic, and somewhere in that chaos, I wrote on myself. Very odd- it's so symmetric, too. The effect is that it looks kind of like a stereotypical Satan-beard.

No matter how it happened, it's time for OverheadMarkerSatan to answer some Q&A letters. If you're not interested... go to hell.




LETTERS
More E3 discontent.


Hey Matt!

Boy was E3 underwhelming or what?

Well, I guess it was underwhelming for us RPGers out there. Sure there was Fallout 3 (Looks sweet!), but everything else was tied to other genres this year. At least I got to see Bioshock on G4's coverage. It makes me want a new PC now.

Matt

Yeah, and most of it was stuff that I couldn't care less about. Not to be a video gaming snob or anything, but all I really care about are the RPGs and a bunch of Nintendo's stuff. The FPSes and realisticky (and real sticky) bloody gorey games are things that I'll never understand.

We've been spoiled over the past few years, though; I mean, I mentioned this yesterday, but there were more than 30 new RPGs covered nonetheless. That is many, and more than I'll ever play. So, what really is there to complain about? (Final Fantasy XIII-lessness, that's what.)

Well, I guess after releaseing 3 consols in 2 years, I guess it's just the hangover year. Still, it was nice to see what the PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 can do. With the announcement of Disgaea 3 for the PS3, I may be tempted to get that instead of a new computer. The 360 looked pretty sweet this year and the Wii has someinteresting apps on it that may make me buy it sooner or later. (Resident Evil: the Umbrella Files looks sweet! Now if they only did a full on remake of RE2 and RE3, then I would be very happy indeed!).

Let's hope that the convention Gamespy is throwing will be better...

Witecat

"Now why would a secret society set up an information booth in the mall?"

Matt

It's true! The Disgaea 3 news sprang out of nowhere just a tiny bit before I put my column up yesterday, proving that Sony is doing it's best to make me look like an ass. I have to admit that THAT game alone will help to boost the PS3's chances of making it into my bedroom one day, though the system still needs some serious RPG lovin' before I'll shell out that kind of money. That's a lot of shelling.

But, as you say, there are other game conferences where E3 came from, and we'll get to go for this ride all over again before much time is up. I'm sure that, one way or another, we'll survive and have plenty of games to play for the forseeable future.

Thanks, Witecat!



Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter!? Matt, what were you THINKING!?


gotta ask,.. what about Breath of fire dragon quarter puts it in your top 5?

Im a HUGE fan of Breath of Fire. However, Dragon quarter was so horrible I stopped playing an hour in or so. I couldnt bring myself to play any more.

Being punished with death for using the dragon powers was a gigantic turn-off, and being forced to restart the game several times to finish the story was a definit deal breaker for me.

The main draw (other great story and characters) of the BoF games for me is being able to PLAY a dragon, and use the cool dragon abilities. I felt it was a big slap in the face to be punished for it, specailly when the powers were so cool in this game.

Matt

Hmm, okay, okay. The main thing that gets me into this game is the incredible sense of RISK you get in everything you do. This "risk factor" is exactly the reason that I love old-school Dragon Quest. Do I press on with this dungeon, even though I'm in dire straits? Do I try to tackle this boss, even though it's been a long time since I've saved and I'm really feeling underpowered? Do I transform into the dragon form so that I can blow through this part with the knowledge that doing so will make things difficult later on? Or, do I give up and start fresh, knowing that the going will be slightly easier next time and that I'll get to see new elements of the storyline? There were SO many "if"s involved, and the game was delightfully designed so that all of your choices directly affected how your game would play out, despite the fact that it was incredibly linear.

I appreciate several things about this. First of all, yeah, being the dragon was super cool and way powerful and such. However, if there WASN'T a major cost involved in such a transformation, the game becomes Final Fantasy X-ized in terms of difficulty (summon big powers for little/no cost? Ugh). The costs AND power involved made this form super-risky, but simultaneously cooler than ever before in the series by far. Frankly, Ryu's D-forms in Breath of Fire II weren't very exciting, amounting to basically simple attacks, and transformations in BoF IV weren't too involving for me either. In this game, the dragon really, finally felt extraordinarily powerful. And using that form felt even more extra-special as well, because of the very fact that you couldn't waltz around doing it all the time. It took careful judgment and expert timing to figure out exactly when to use it.

The restarts weren't that painful for me, either, because the game, on the whole, is very short. During the second time through, getting to allocate party experience strategically, obtaining stored-away items, and seeing new plotline events made the experience at least as exciting for me. When you add the extra layers to the picture: A -fantastic- soundtrack, a really neat visual style, and a completely original storyline, I can't help but feel that this game is incredibly strong and highly underrated.

I like how ALL the games (even 4 which is a genesis story) are part of a history, even if a few are a thousand or more years apart (the only other series comperable in this reguard would be Phantasy Star). It adds a real sense of history, AND nastalgia to a new game in the series. Im afraid I didnt get that feel from dragon quarter either. :(

Matt

Well, the game went in a completely different direction from its predecessors. I don't mean to be obnoxious, but to be fair, this kind of begs the question if you're qualified to make this judgment anyway, since you only played the game for an hour or so.

Time limits are also a big turn off for me. Even miniqests that involve them. So having one be an integral part of the main gameplay raised my hackles immediately. I like to relax and do things at my own pace.

For me, a perfect example of "innovative" gameplay completly ruining a game.

Matt

Hmm... I don't know. I suppose that this might be an instance of "different folks, different strokes" because I think that experimenting with the tried-and-true formula was a very healthy thing. Breath of Fire IV seemed so stale and lifeless. It was FINE, but it wasn't a mind-blowingly fantastic RPG to me. The time limit aspect? Some people, who love to explore every nook and cranny and find every last secret, might be driven crazy. However, I think that the D% countdown helped to add to that wonderful feeling of risk that welled up through the course of the game.

It's hard to embrace originality, and sometimes, you just don't want to. I can understand that; I was going to throw a really huge fit when Dragon Quest IX was first announced to be an Action RPG. Sometimes going off the beaten path works, sometimes it doesn't, and oftentimes people will disagree... but I think it's most important to keep an open mind.

On a positive note, the Anime intro for the game was good :)

Oh, and whats up with Nina lately? seems like she gets younger and more "jail-baitish" in every installment of the game. Call me crazy but I prefer the old school Bof 1 and 2 "non-10 year old" versons of her. The new ones (dragon quarter in particular) are just creepy in my opinion.

-Doug

Matt

I'll agree with you there. And the sounds that Nina made while spellcasting in Dragon Quarter? It sounded like she was trying with difficulty to pass an extremely large piece of waste, to put it nicely.

To be honest, the Ninas have never really been my favourite characters... they've always been too pretty-girly for my tastes, even those of the past.

Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter has always been a divisive game, ever since it was released. Some of us just "get it," I guess. Others, not so much.



Burning Final Fantasy questions!


I have heard rumor that Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy Versus XIII are going to be multi platform and be on both the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Have you heard anything about this and if so what are your feelings on this? What do you think will happen if Sony does lose their exclusive rights to Final Fantasy. I also heard the Xbox 360 is getting its own exclusive Final Fantasy title. I have been coming to this site for years. But I need answers! these rumors are driving me crazy!

Matt

Well, rumours have been flying for quite awhile now. Sony claimed not long ago to have them anchored as PS3-exclusives, but Sony says a lot of things (recall: price cuts of two weeks ago). The problem with the idea of an Xbox 360 Final Fantasy XIII is that these versions would only be practically useful for the company in North America. Xboxes aren't selling in Japan, and the slow-to-start PS3 has done much better there. Since Japan is Square-Enix central, you'd think that they'd port the game to the 360 only if it would be profitable there.

It's impossible to know, but I can't say it's out of the question. I know one thing only: Chances are that eventually, one day, somewhen down the road, a long long long time from now when I actually have a firstborn-son to pay for it with, I'll invest in the console that FFXIII appears on.

To answer your hypothetical question: IF Final Fantasy XIII were to appear on the 360 instead of Sony, I think that the tables would turn. The 360 might become the "RPG console of the new generation," though it's becoming more and more likely that ultimately, handhelds will rule the RPG domain for the first time in history anyway.

As for an Xbox 360-exclusive Final Fantasy? Don't wager on it. I haven't heard anything, anyway, so anything you've heard is most probably best classified in "rumour only" and isn't based in fact at all.

Sorry I can't be more help, but we all have to be a bit patient here, I'm afraid.



Rebut!


Matt,

All of this recent hullabaloo about Final Fantasy X has been quite fascinating to read, but that letter from Raaj was more than a little confusing; suffice it to say I disagree with pretty much everything in it.

Matt

Uh-oh. You've just earned yourself a place on the floor to have a good old-fashioned rant!

Story alone can't carry an RPG into the pantheon of great RPGs, particularly an absurdly easy one like FFX. On the contrary, I believe good gameplay is far and away the greatest contributor to a game's "greatness," and a lack of challenge is more of a detriment than something to extol.

Matt

Hmm. Yeah, I agree with that personally, but this is an age-old debate that people never see eye-to-eye on. There are many (maybe even a good half) RPGamers who would be just as happy to have a super-easy game that they can coast through without worry, because the story is the "point" of the whole thing for them. Others see it the other way: Story is just a backdrop, and the game is what it is. I'm somewhere in the middle, though I do think that I value gameplay over plot on most days.

Anyway, I apologize for interjecting, but I just, you know, had to.

As for the statement that "linearity makes a game better," well, that's just laughable to me. He criticizes the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind for its nonlinearity, then goes on a little farther down the paragraph about how nonlinearity works well in games like the Elder Scrolls series. Huh? Well which is it? Adding insult to injury, he says the Elder Scrolls series suffers a "lack of direction" and that they don't "emphasize story." Well, if he had played them past the first five minutes, he would have seen that there is in fact a main, very linear storyline running through both Morrowind and Oblivion that you can choose to deviate from (as most do) at your own discretion. They are very much "story-based" games, with oodles of sidequests at the periphery. I agree that completely nonlinear games can be more than a little frustrating with their lack of narrative threads, but Morrowind and Oblivion don't fit the bill.

Matt

This might be one of those personal-preference moments. It's sometimes difficult to marry your own likes and dislikes with those of others. I can't say anything about Elder Scrolls anything, because they never really interested me overmuch. It might not be a fair judgment because I really didn't give any of them a fair try... I'm just not into PC Gaming much (since I don't have a supercomputer) and I don't own an Xbox 360.

This is besides the point, though. What is the point? I'll be damned if I know. Raaj, if you did play the game, write back and tell us what in the cheese you meant. If you didn't, then bad boy! Go sit in the corner; you're like that one guy that wrote in a long time ago complaining about Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter after playing it for an hour. Heh heh, I'm so going to catch some heat for this from somebody. Note to Q&Apprentice contestants: Alienating your readers is perhaps NOT the best way to win, so keep that in mind.

And please, don't bring FFVII down by comparing it with FFX. They're not even in the same league. Yes, FFX is a good game, I can't deny it, because I really did have fun playing it. It just didn't leave much of an impression with me, and unlike most entries in the series, I have not been compelled once since completing it to pick it up for a second play through. As good as it may be, though, I could not in good conscious call Final Fantasy X "downright flawless." Check out FFVI, Chrono Trigger, or Earthbound for titles truly deserving of that superlative praise.

Matt

Well, I'd hesitate to call almost *any* RPG downright flawless. Even FFVI and Earthbound have some issues... however minor they may be. Truly, I don't think that I've played a completely perfect RPG ever, but if I ever do, you'll hear about it.

I guess I'm done grouching for now. Hey, Matt, have you seen the first installment of the Final Fantasy Retrospective at Gametrailers? If not, you should definitely give it a look. It's tres cool:

http://www.gametrailers.com/player/22250.html Until next time, Adam

Matt

That IS very cool! A lot of Square's starting story is familiar, but seeing all these old screens gives me chills down my spine. Damn, things like this remind me of how much I hate it when people rag on how "bad" original games like Final Fantasy I might be.

Thanks for the link! If you're a fan of Final Fantasy, which you probably are if you're reading this, you really should take a look.



Plug it in, plug it in... to your brain, to your brain. (What?)


Hi Matt,

on the subject of early memories with RPGs, this one isn't so early, but whenever I smell a glade plugin, I get reminded of Goldun Sun 2. This is because I used to have a plugin right at the spot I used to always play the game! It's funny, because a year later, we get a scent that's the same, and I smell it and am like "wow! it smells like Golden Sun 2!" isn't that weird?

-Kharmain

Matt

That IS really weird. Though, actually, I swear that I could smell Final Fantasy IV every time that dad had porkchops on for quite some time after playing it. They do say that smell is the most associative sense, don't they?



Oh, I KNEW someone would ask me this eventually. Uwee, hee, hee.


Hey Matt,

I finally bought the AEG so expect to start getting a bunch of short letters from me. I'm really enjoying the game, and my friend is asking me what SOCK stand for. Since I didn't play in the SOCK one, I don't actually know. Can you enlighten us?

Nightwolf

Matt

SOCK was a term that I coined on the very first day that I started my column, back in October of 2005. It stands for "Spectacular Ongoing Contest of Knowledge" though of course, it has since evolved into something way way bigger than that. And now, you know!



Why not "FF10-II"?


Hi Matt.

Yes, E3 wasn't very exciting. Anyway, since I'm not about to buy any new-gen consoles, I was only interested in the DS and PS2. Not much that I wasn't going to get anyway (Front Mission, FFXII:RW).

Yesterday someone said FFX-2 is an abomination. I disagree completely. Yes it's extremely different from X. Yes, the story isn't as good and there are some incredibly cheesy bits. However, it still boasts the excellent (for its time) graphics, the gameplay is awesome, much more fun than FFX IMO, the music's pretty good (again, except for the relatively few cheesy bits), what more you could ask? Well, except for an interesting Blitzball game I suppose. I thoroughly enjoyed that quirky light-hearted title.

Matt

I've said in the past that I think that FFX-2's take on the ATB is the game's greatest asset. The battle system in that game is quick, sharp, and really fluidly fun. I always find myself at a bit of a loss because a huge part of the game was made up of these seemingly random mini-games and sidequests; indeed, they were by far what made up the most substantial portion of the game. That's not "my style" so much, and along with some of the cheesy dialogue and the rather bizarre change in Yuna's character, they brought down the game for me. At the same time, though, other elements like the battle system and the music (truly) were fantastic. So, I never know what to say.

Also, are those letters from before last week? Should you start downsizing? :-)

Zohar Gilboa

Matt

Yeah, I have a nearly endless supply of them now. It's a good sign, but please don't take it personally, anybody, if I just never get around to one of your own. I appreciate all the mail, that's for sure.

Anyway, thank YOU for writing in, Zohar; it's good to hear from you, as always!



QUICKIES

Hmmm...the only other thing I can think of is to go to the tavern in the Castle Town, talk to the barkeep and then look at the map on the table where the three other people are. That should trigger the person being just within the Snowpeak area.

Matt

Not to worry, Chiming one... I beat Twilight Princess last night. What a fantastic game!! In the end, I thought it was very satisfying, perhaps approaching or slightly surpassing Ocarina of Time in terms of funness. Yeah. Yay!



IN CLOSING

As I just mentioned, I finally bit the bullet and beat the boss last night. Twilight Princess was very satisfying all in all. That's some of the best dungeon-design of the entire series, I have to say.

So, if you aren't into talking about E3 and such, tell me what your favourite Zelda game is. Some may quibble over whether it's an RPG or not, but we cover it at the site. So, save your quibblings and just answer the question.

That's all from me today. For some Socktacular fun, head on over to the contest. For the rest of you, I'll be back in tomorrow's column!



Send a Letter!

Unanswered Letter Backlog: Too many to count!



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Matt had a crummy day teaching today.


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