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ASK BOOJUM & MATT
Nu and Epsilon
July 24, 2007

Boojum - 15:20 EST

HELLO, AND WELCOME one and all to my sixth and final co-hosting earned from SOCK 1 - just one full-hosting remains before I vanish away and return you to your regularly scheduled programming. This batch of letters is about one game after another that I either never played or started and never finished, so insightful commentary is probably in short supply today. I'm really not quite such an attention-span-lacking curmudgeon as I probably come off as below - over the past few years I've enjoyed and finished quite a few games. Since this is almost my last chance at momentary fame and influence in this column, I'll take advantage of it to urge you all to try any or all of: Gladius, Baten Kaitos, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, La Pucelle, Dark Cloud 1 & 2, Fire Emblem, Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, Puzzle Quest, and Rudra No Hihou. Anyway, on to the letters!




LETTERS
Mishmashmushmeshmosh


Sirrah Boojum, we meet again. I hope you are well?

Boojum

Quite well, actually. Hope that all is well for you too.

Hokay. As I presume you've been keeping up with the PoV pipeline, you're in the know about how I favor Super Robot Taisen. Any comments on that review in particular?

Boojum

It sounds like your perspective is pretty similar to mine - appreciating a good tactical RPG, but not having any particular affinity for giant robot fetishism. That game's been on my radar for a while, but I've just never had the time to pick it up. As far as portable tactics go, I've still got half of Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones to go, as well as Yggdra Union and Advance Wars that I need to get around to, so it may be a while before I get to it.

Also: my unexpected liking for that game and the second Original Generations title has translated into me casting about for more of them (not yet, just to have on hand). Lo and behold, there are a LOT of these games and except perhaps for the PS2 redo of the two Original Generations games none of them are going to come out in English because of the massive lawsuit risk commensurate. Four more GBA titles, four SNES titles, two Saturn, one Dreamcast, even a genuine N64 RPG that stayed forever in Japan! Along with a plethora of stuff on Sony, natch. This is a big 'un.

Boojum

That's what I've heard - there's an amazing number of these games, and most of them have multiple licenses, making them a legal nightmare to release outside of Japan. I'm just as happy to get the "original generation" titles, honestly. I don't have any pre-existing affinity for a particular type of giant robots, and I think the games would just be harder to get into if they assume that you can tell the difference between different species of Gundam.

Now, I espouse the music of Treasure Hunter G possibly as its best asset, even with the unique tactical-esque combat system it utilizes. As such I feel compelled to give you a sample: http://gh.ffshrine.org/song/4291/58 This would be for Atlantis, smaller than a lost continent would be expected. What think you?

Boojum

It's a pretty nice melancholy piece. Very atmospheric, though with less emphasis on a strong central melody. I really should get around to that game at some point.

I'm weighing whether to start Black/Matrix or Vandal Hearts next. Any ideas? A bit of research has revealed that Black Matrix AD on Dreamcast is different enough from the original to probably warrant investigating, incidentally.

Boojum

You've got me there. My mental data files on those don't really extend beyond "so-so TRPG with vampires" and "so-so TRPG with lots of blood," respectively.

And that crazy Dreamcast has quite a few interesting titles that I feel like exploring given time and budget. Of course they're mostly Japan-only thanks to the poor system's death. Not that it bothers me overly.

Boojum

The Dreamcast was the only Sega system that I ever owned, and I'll agree that it didn't deserve its fate. Unfortunately, Sega just made too many business mistakes in the preceding years with the Sega CD, 32X, and Saturn, and the Dreamcast suffered for it. Again, though, there are just way too many good games to play in English for me to spend time muddling through a game I can't understand.

Guess I'll talk a bit about FEDA, yet another quality tactical title that you're probably familiar with thanks to my reviews. One interesting facet is how characters lost in combat are dealt with: they end up in a jail and must be broken out. This isn't nearly as interesting as it sounds since Brain and Ain (the main characters) must simply take out a couple of guards in order to free the character, but doing so uses up time. Time must not be wasted if the player wants to keep a high rank. And if the player's rank changes too much characters who will only stay a part of the team if it is law/chaos will leave permanently. I learned that on the SNES original, when I got tired of massacring everything and began to lose Chaos characters fairly soon.

Boojum

Sounds pretty fun, and kind of reminiscent of Ogre Battle, where you have to pay attention to your reputation and alignment rather than just winning every battle as quickly as possible.

I'm limiting the music today in an effort not to irritate to many people, but one other game I strongly assert has a high-quality soundtrack is Tengai Makyou Zero. Thus I submit this track to you: http://gh.ffshrine.org/soundtracks/7248/22. It comes from the point at which Hisui the fairy must give her essence to her successor Subaru, for these fairies live 20 years and then give their life force to the next.

Boojum

Sorry, that link just takes me to an error page.

What, the game beyond the music? Pretty hard. I was level 81 and the final boss still gave me a workout. Lots of nasty opponents throughout. One of them had a strange move that removed my readout of my character statuses, meaning I had to either quickly write down the damages and status changes or else have a good memory. Only one person was still alive when I unexpectedly dealt the final blow...

Boojum

That's one of the more creative status ailments I've heard of, and a very cool idea. I love games that toy with the interface with the player, as long as they do it effectively, and that sounds like it would be a great way to keep you on the edge of your seat. Kind of reminds me of Baten Kaitos, where you select attacks by using the right analog stick to pick one of several numbers around the outside of cards, and status effects could scramble the numbers or make them constantly move around, increasing the likelihood of mistakes.

Matt

Ah, finally something I feel the need to comment on! Say what you will about Xenosaga: Episode II, but when you fight Albedo mid-game, and he used an attack to make me blind to my own HP/EP, I got a RUSH of joy. I totally agree, Boojum- interface-muckers are crazy-cool, and way too rare.

I'm pretty tired, so I decide this is an acceptable ending. Clearly you're not going to sleep right now, but fare thee well.

JuMeSyn

Boojum

Same to you! Thanks for writing in.



And some quests, on the side.


Hey Matt!

I've been thinking. As good as an RPG may be, sometimes they can get dragged down by pathetic side quests. I do like taking on a good side quest now and then, but in somegames, they seem to cheapen the experience.

Matt

Yeah. I don't know about you, but I love taking time out of my emotional and dramatic trip through Memoria to stop and play a useless card game with some random spirits. I'm a master! A Tetra Master...

One of the best examples of a good use of side quests was in Chrono Trigger. Everything you did after the Ocean Palace was really a set of sub quests to beef you up in preparation for the final battle with Lavos. It was able to clear up some character's storylines (Especially Marle and her father, and trying to change the aftermath of what happened in the Ocean Palace). We got to see the characters develop more and face their individual challenges head on. Not to mention most of them were really satisfying.

Matt

Totally 100% agreed. They made up half of the game in Chrono Trigger, but none of them were useless and random. Final Fantasy VI adopted a very similar approach, though in a slightly less all-over-the-place-and-time way. Both games were expertly crafted, and there haven't been many games since to marry sidequest and storyline so perfectly.

One of the examples of Side Quests was Final Fantasy X. As much as I liked the game, most of the subquests were either really tedious (Blitzball!) or totally not worth the effort (Ultimate weapons that sucked, even after you got the crests needed to use them!). Whenever there was an option to play blitzball, I totally bypassed it. It was a sub quest that could potentially max out Waka's Overdrives and get him an ultimate weapon, but they really weren't necessary since his initial overdrive was pretty powerful to begin with! The colliseum was a neat concept, but fell flat on its face because the prizes offered were often kind of lousy. Too bad most of the Side Quests didn't flesh out the characters (Except for Auron). It would have made going after them worthwhile.

Matt

I kind of agree, because I did the same thing. I felt like Blitzball was an incredibly neat idea, but was a bit over-thought and more complicated than necessary, as if they "tried too hard." On the other hand, though, I know a couple of people who became absolutely obsessed with it, spending the majority of their playtime on Blitzball and nothing but. Crazy, eh? I'll never understand it. (Hey, Blitzball and the Polish language have something in common!)

Well, subquests are here to stay. Let's hope the developeres can be creative with them.

Witecat

"Gar like green tea. Gar civilized!"

Matt

It's true, but here's a place where developers really could stand to take a look back into the past and learn a thing or two from the classic games of the SNES era. It's been awhile since I've felt compelled to complete the optional stuff, but I miss those days like a baby bird that misses its regurgitative mother.



Shocking!


FFX was a huge disappointment. There were a number of issues.

Boojum

OK, Matt sent me this letter with a comment that it would give me a chance to "sound off" about my opinions on FFX. So before answering it, I should get a confession out of the way . . . I never played it. I know, shocking for an RPG fan, huh? But I kind of lost interest in the series during the PS1 era, after being underwhelmed by VII and quitting VIII 15 hours in. By the time I picked up a PS2 (about a year and a half ago), I was moderately interested in checking out X, but had heard that it was very easy, so I wound up prioritizing Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, Dark Cloud, and La Pucelle Tactics instead as my first few games. It's still hovering somewhere in my backlog, and it might move up depending on how positive other opinions about it are.

Firstly, I thought the story was really ordinary, but what made it worse was the insistence on trying to make every cutscene emotional and memorable. The result was an over the top mess, best illustrated by the "laughing cutscene".

Boojum

Sounds reminiscent of the reasons I drifted away from the series: an emphasis on presentational glitz and story (often with unlikeable, angsty characters) over varied and challenging gameplay.

Matt

And man... you'd just have to see that cutscene. I think that that alone could have single-handedly propelled other video game developers to spend more time getting the voice acting right. That was gawkward.

Secondly finding the ultimate weapons and creating the best armors was plain annoying. There is no way anyone can get the ultimate weapons without a guide. I repeat no way. And what made it worse that even after using a guide you had to play silly minigames with the hope that you get lucky on your 1000th attempt. Armor was an even more time consuming affair. For any good ability you needed to spend hours and hours collecting and then start again for the next character. Since you couldn't transfer abilities from one armor to another you'd normally go through the game with inconsequential equipment and relying largely on your stats, all the while saving the customizable items for the 4 free slot armor. That gave it a very tedious feel. Unfortunately this trend of relying on luck and grinding away has been carried forward to FFXII, which while a better game really became a chore if you wanted all the best weapons and armor.

I really felt that with the resources developers now have, they could make proper sidequests where you finish hidden dungeons to get the best weapons, etc but they seem to prefer making players go through 100 hours of grinding.

Boojum

I'll absolutely agree with you that if you're going to put in some special equipment or skill that players can get, there must be some sort of clue in-game. Forcing players to resort to guides is just bad game design. Obviously, I can't really comment on the armor customization system, but I have had a similar problem in other games that allow you to customize equipment - Since I know that each piece of gear will be obsolete soon, I wind up hoarding the best customizations rather than using them.

My favourite FF's are the trinity of 6, 7 and imo the best one is 8. I really hope Square Enix revisits those games and changes up the formula they have been following.

Boojum

I'm right with you on 6, but as I mentioned, 7 and 8 are what pushed me away from the series. On top of the annoyances I already mentioned, 3-character parties made up of characters that are nearly identical from a gameplay standpoint sucked a lot of the variety out of battles, and bracketing every battle with long load times and "dramatic" fly-ins killed the pace of play. I would love to see them go back to 6 for some inspiration, though.

On the non FF RPG front I hope they continue the Xenosaga story. Even if it's a new cast set in a Xeno-like universe, Id be happy. The stories are unparalleled. They can stay with you long after you stop playing and make you think and read up on Nietzsche, Jung, Gnosticism, etc. I think it's fantastic if a game can raise an interest which carries beyond gaming.

Boojum

It was sad to see Xenosaga brought to a premature end, especially since it seemed like some of the contributing factors were the result of bad decisions rather than a lack of appeal in the franchise (not releasing episode 1 in PAL regions, making some ill-advised gameplay changes in episode 2). With Monolithsoft now owned by Nintendo, I really doubt that they will revisit that universe. I'm sure Nintendo would rather see them start a new franchise than continue a story that players would have to have started on the PS2 to get the most out of.

My fav RPGs this gen:

Xenosaga 3 (although you need to play the previous iterations to truly appreciate it)

SMT Nocturne

DQ8

Rahul

Boojum

I haven't gotten around to Xenosaga yet, but Nocturne would definitely make my list as well. Gladius is another that would certainly make the cut, and the third spot comes down to a tossup between Baten Kaitos and Dark Cloud 2. I'm about 20 hours into DQ8 so far, and am enjoying it quite a bit, but it's been pushed aside for the moment in favor of Odin Sphere. Anyway, thanks for writing in, Rahul.



Tales of Tales.


Hey Matt, I've been reading your Q&A for a while and it's nice to know that there's people like me out there that get every single item and go through every single ridiculously time consuming side quests and horde all the items (elixirs, stat boosting items) instead of using them. Unfortunately my condition goes a little beyond that. I can't move onto another game even if "completing" my current game has become a chore, you know, when the story is all done and you're just constantly leveling up to beat that big extra boss or getting useless rare items in some mini game you hate. In such cases I tend to play another genres to fool myself to thinking I'm not "cheating", which is why I've been playing fighting far more than RPGs lately.

Matt

Oh, me too, totally. And I know that whenever I DO just move on, I never end up going back to the old one, and it gets lost in the abyss forevermore. Poor Shadow Hearts, Zelda: Majora's Mask, and more...

I don't know that it would leave me playing Fighting games though, because they usually don't do much for me. Puzzle games are probably my version of this, though; I've been playing an hour of Puzzle League every night, obsessed with the goal of trying to crack 100,000 points in 2 minutes. Will it ever happen?? STAY TUNED.

Anyways, I'm a big fan of the Tales games, so I was both surprised and dissapointed by the new Tales news. First the Tales of Destiny: Director's Cut thing... why? The game itself is a complete remake and the last version is not even a year old. What could they have changed or added in so little time? I feel silly for investing over 80 hours on that game now. About the other 3 games I can't say I'm too excited because I don't own either of the three systems. The dissapointing news for me was that they announced that the Nintendo DS was going to be the new home of the Tales series. You've been saying for a while how great the DS is and how it can become the new RPG console of choice but I didn't expect it to happen this fast and with franchise as big as Tales. While the great plot and gameplay will be spared, the change to a handheld, less powerful console like the DS will affect the graphics, and more importantly for me personally, the amount of voice acting in the series. If there's something that gave the Tales series a special place was the amount of great quality voice acting in almost almost every single story event ever since the Tales of Eternia days. I'll probably keep playing them though, and this piece of news made me decide to get a DS over a PSP, which I couldnt decide since forever.

Later Matt, and sorry for the huge letter.

Epyon-01
--
Ernesto Herrera

Matt

Hey Ernesto, it's okay- and it's not that huge.

The thing is, that it already has happened. The sequel to Final Fantasy XII is coming to the DS. The next main-series Dragon Quest is coming to the DS, for heaven's sakes, and that's one of the biggest RPG series in the whole wide world. It's not to say that the PSP isn't a happy home for RPGamers; au contraire. In fact, I'm almost willing to say that it's the second-best choice out of all systems if you're a fan of the RPG. Why "almost"? Shining Force just came out on Wii's virtual console, just as I predicted it might. Yeah. I know. CRAZY. SO incredible.

Anyway, I appreciate your letter, Ernesto. And yeah, it wasn't that long, so do not worry.



Ouch- two critical hits!


My favorite Zelda? It is surely Wind Waker. The game has one one flaw I can think of: It is too short, about 10 hours. It hits in all areas: Graphics, gameplay, story, sound/music. The pacing is excellent. Critics will say the combat is too easy, but I didn't mind that. Which one is your favorite?

Flamethrower

Boojum

Ooh, you guys are just determined to expose gaps in my RPG credentials today, aren't you? Wind Waker is the only console Zelda game that I never finished (well, technically, I'm still in the middle of Twilight Princess, but that's new, so it doesn't count). I got a few hours in, and just had a hard time maintaining interest because of the sailing portions. Actually, come to think of it, the big overworlds that take a long time to get around and don't have all that many points of interest have been my least favorite aspect of all the 3D Zeldas. I kept meaning to go back to it, but something else came out (I think it was Fire Emblem), and I got distracted. That said, I loved the visual style, and am excited to see it come back in Phantom Hourglass, especially with all the positive buzz and reviews that the gameplay is getting. I know you cite short length as a problem with Wind Waker, but ironically, that makes me more interested in going back to finish it up, since it's less of a time commitment. Anyway, my favorite Zelda would have to be A Link to the Past - it just had a perfect balance of exploration, puzzles, and combat, and was paced ideally. The light/dark world mechanic was also really well-executed, and I felt that the way it touched so many aspects of the game made it work better than any of the subsequent "twists" in the series. Its attractive, clear, and colorful graphics and memorable music were also big points in its favor. Thanks for writing in, Flamethrower!

Matt

I have to agree with you here, Boojum. Link to the Past was just fantastic, and there hasn't been anything quite like it since. Ocarina of Time was good, but I did feel like the world was sort of big and empty. Twilight Princess is pretty similar in that regard, but I think that the dungeons are better, so for me, it gets slightly bigger points. Link to the Past, though, gets top marks. Eff tee doubleyou.



More Tales!


Matt/Boojum

On the announcement of all the new Tales games and the lukewarm response from people, well, it doesn't seem that different from when Final Fantasy ports and remakes are announced. We just need to go back to Q&A columns of a few months ago to see people's reactions to the PSP/DS announcements for FFI, FFII, and FFIV. To me, they seem very much like the early responses to these Tales ports and remakes. And even though people initially complained about those FF rehashes, I bet many still bought them anyway. (I know I did!) And I recall you, Matt, also admitting that you would probably buy them too, so I'm sure you can understand how these Tales fans are feeling, even if you haven't played a game in the series yet. I think many of these complaining Tales fans are going to buy these games anyway, and I know that I'm going to be buying them when they're released (I adore Tales).

Matt

Yeah, for sure. I guess more of my pissy rant, looking back, should have been directed towards the people who were whining about the new titles. If you're tired of new RPGs, then go play remakes and be happy; I'll enjoy the new material. It's true that I'd appreciate a brand NEW series, but if we're going to get new Tales games, I'd rather them be brand new experiences than rehashes, and I think that most people should agree with that.

Then again, I have to think about their chances of actually getting released here. Now the only two "main-series" (non-spinoff) installments of Tales that aren't available in North America in any shape or form are Tales of Destiny 2 and Tales of Rebirth. And there's something that these two have in common: they're both sprite-based PS2 games. I remember hearing a few years ago that SCEA somehow has some kind of grudge against sprite-based games on the PS2. I don't know if that's still true, or if it's true at all. However, looking at how the only two sprite-based, PS2 installments of the main Tales series are also the same two main-series games to never get localized here, seems to support that anti-sprite notion (Tales of Legendia and The Abyss on PS2 were localized, and they used polygons). The same even goes for the PSP, with the sole polygon-based Tales game on it, Radiant Mythology, being the only localized one on the system. It sure is frustrating to be a Tales fan in North America. At least I'm learning Japanese, but I assume that many other fans aren't, which is a pity.

FirstAid

Matt

Hey, I'd LOVE to learn Japanese as much as the next avid gamer, but it's not exactly something that can be easily fit into a busy guy's schedule.

As for the chances that these will be brought to North America? I'd say that they're pretty good. The DS is doing extremely well everywhere in the world, so what do they have to lose by releasing it here? On top of that, Tales of Symphonia was, in the eyes of many, the Gamecube's flagship RPGs and, I believe, the strongest-North-American-selling Tales game ever to be released. They'd be stupid not to release the Wii sequel, based on this. The Playstation 2 remake is probably the least likely to be released here, but it's hard to say.

Any way you cut it though, Tales fans have a whole lot to celebrate. Crack open the champagne, have a toast, and get ready to play!



Still more Tales!


Hey-o Matt,

I've sort of got a love hate relationship with the Tales series. I bought Tales of Destiny way back on the PS1 and loved it quite a lot. The story and game play were amazing.

Boojum

Tales seems to be a very polarizing franchise - quite a few people love it, while others are left unimpressed.

Then I played Tales of Destiny II(it was called something else in Japan) and was slightly disappointed. It played similarly, but it felt like re-treading over the first game. In many ways good, but in a lot of ways bad.

Boojum

That's right, I remember hearing about that being in some totally different setting, and just called Tales of Destiny II because they assumed that Americans wouldn't be able to realize that "Tales of . . ." would all be part of the same series. Although, now that I think about it, maybe that isn't too crazy. After all, Legend of Zelda, Legend of Kage, Legend of Legaia, Legend of Dragoon, etc. are all totally different.

I still enjoyed Destiny 2, but not nearly as much as Destiny. So later when Symphonia was announced I was very excited. Then I started playing it. Is it me or is the story the same as Destiny 2? I persevered for a while. But one of my friends beat it and I was only halfway through. So I asked/told him how the game would end. He told me I was spot on in every count. Which upset me a bit seeing as I had just recapped the Destiny 2 story. Killed my desire to play the rest of the game.

Boojum

I hadn't realized that it was that much of a rehash. Tales of Symphonia is my only experience with the series, and I didn't finish it. I liked the graphical style and found the story entertaining enough without really being gripping, but had a hard time staying interested in the battle system. Obviously I can't really comment on similarities to the storyline of ToD, but to me, a good storyline is pretty much gravy - it's great to have, but doesn't really help too much if the meat of the gameplay isn't up to snuff.

So I've been keeping the Tales series on the back burner. I want to have more RPGs than I can play. But I also want them to be good. I have purchased Tales of the Abyss, but have not yet played it. I wonder though at this announcement of more Tales games.

Will they bring back the joy of Destiny? Or will they simply rehash the old plot with new characters? I'm hoping for the best.

Ken

Boojum

Well, it sounds like Tales of the World will be more of a mashup of characters from the whole series than a typical new RPG. I don't remember what the other upcoming Tales games are. That said, they're definitely on the back-burner for me as well, though for different reasons. For me, it's more about the battle system. In my experience, a fun and engaging battle system for an action-RPG is extremely difficult to do well, because both sides have to be perfectly balanced. If there's too much emphasis on stats, then it gets annoying not having tight control to dodge or pull off interesting moves or attack patterns. If the emphasis is too heavy on the action elements, though, the RPG portions feel tacked-on and unnecessary. Hitting that perfect balance is, in my opinion, tougher than creating an engaging battle system for a traditional or tactical RPG, and I can only think of a handful of games that have really nailed it (Secret of Mana, Terranigma, Diablo I and II, and Odin Sphere are the ones that come to mind), and ToS's battles just left me bored. While I wouldn't mind trying another Tales game if it sounded like it had made significant improvements, it's not a series that I'm following particularly closely. Thanks for the interesting topic, Ken.



QUICKIES

As a big Super Smash Bros. fan, are you aware of this website: http://www.smashbros.com/en_us/index.html?

Daily updates!
--

Alexander M. DeMichiei

Matt

Yes, it's pretty fun. I'm not one of those people who have it bookmarked and visit religiously, but I've followed up on the announcements pretty regularly. If they can keep this up until release day, the game is going to be massive.

Hey Matt,

Zelda: Link to the Past was a really fun game, but Ocarina of Time is without question the best Zelda to be released.

Nightwolf

Matt

Oh, I question it. I think it was a great game, but... I just don't know if it can trump its older brother!



IN CLOSING

Thanks, Boojum, for another job well-done. Next time we hear from Boojum, it'll be for his big, bad, full-host position that he acquired during the original SOCK. We'll do that in a few weeks, methinks.

He hit on some great things, though. I've always thought that an engaging battle system is -vital- to the greatness of an RPG. I began playing Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria over the weekend. Now, I never played the original, but I'm really finding the battle system to be rather dull. Now, it's still near the beginning of the game, but I'm finding that the best strategy is to literally mash buttons randomly, because that's always when the best things happen. Did anybody else find this? However, the complex skill system has really intrigued me, and has helped to pick up the slack of the chaotic and brainless battle system. We'll see where this goes.

Anyway, my question to you is this: Which games have the best battle systems? And why? It sounds simple, but reach within and send me your thoughts on the subject. I'll do my best to reply to them in a new column soon.

Until then, I bid you all a fond farewell.



Send a Letter!

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