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ASK MATT
Pester Pester Pester
July 27, 2007

Matt Demers - 13:39 EST

SO, NO WORD from Konami yet on that customer complaint. I have to give them credit, though; they have a funky customer feedback form set up. I can go in at any time to their website to review my case specifically and look at its status. If it's dealt with, there's this big "Actions you can take" window below. It's empty for me right now, so I assume no techie got around to my problem yet; either that, or there IS nothing I can do, and I'm doomed to no Lunar Knights wallpapers forever and ever. *weep*

I can't be long-winded today, since I'm traveling to the land of sushi, grilled food, crab legs, and altogether great Chinese food. Yes, it's the Mandarin buffet, and while it's kinda pricy, there is nothing else like it in the world. Regardless of WHY I have to go, I do, and so I have to have this up before 4 in the afternoon. I have a time limit and it's ticking down!

So ah, why am I dicking around here still? Letter-time!




LETTERS
No! Backlog end... in SIGHT!? Preposterous.


Hey Matt,

It is quite a RPG lull for me, at least until DQM-J, DQ9 and Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (for which I'm mildly surprised they didn't go with Disembodied Sundial) come out. I might check out Mega Man Star Force, but so far I'm undecidd.

For some reason, this seems to happen every summer, where a lot of RPGs come out during the rest of the year, and then not a lot during the summer, at least for high quality RPGs. Is this just my imagination or does it seem true to you too?

Vyselocke

Matt

At the current rate, there are bound to be about 300,000 Zelda games by the time my deathbed rolls around (I won't go down without a fight; mark my words). However, with SO many games, they're definitely going to start getting creative with their adjective-noun combinations. Disembodied Sundial, Raccoon-like Yo-Yo, Gelatinous Ogre-Child... they're all up for grabs.

And, of course. Developers like to release things at the end of the year, because that's just the time when mommies and daddies (and that jolly old Saint Nick, of course, ho ho ho, *hack*) go looking for potential presents for greedy little children. The STARTS of years are also big, because the lazy parents just go buy a gift card instead of trying to get a present that's truly from the heart. So, people have dollars to burn after the holidays, too, and thus big-name releases get clustered between September and March. The smaller, potentially less-exciting games made by smaller, hole-in-the-wall companies release in the summer in the hopes of not being overshadowed by big guys, but the tactics rarely work, because everyone would rather complain about an RPG lull.

It's true, though. I only have two real games left on my DS to get through, and one of them- only one- is an RPG. There must be some reason for that.



More on the quiet dog days of summah.


I don't think we're in a lull yet. The PS2 is starting to finally wind down, there are still a few gems on the horizon, but not many. I'd be more worried about next year, after the PS2 stops getting new RPGs but the next gen systems don't have a steady supply of them yet. We're just starting to get PS3 RPG announcements. It's going to be a while before they get here. Most RPG playing next year may be done on portables, with a few next gen monsters here and there. I may need to get a portable myself.

Matt

Hey- the REALLY scary thing is that though the PS2 is starting to wind down slowly, it still has a far longer roster of RPG titles looming than its spoiled little brother, the ought-to-be-gold-gilded PLAYSTATION 3. Just check out our upcoming games link here for living (okay, it's not living, I don't know why I said that) proof. I'm sure the list will improve with age, but it has a long, long, long, long, long way to go.

I've still got a pile of PS2 games I still want to get. Persona 3's probably next on my hit list. I still need to finish Odin Sphere. There's still the second .hack trilogy I haven't even started yet. I'm 2 Atelier Iris games behind, I'm playing Ar Tonelico right now, I haven't even touched Digital Devil Saga 2 yet, and all the other SMT games I don't even own yet, I still need to grab Xenosaga 3 and Valkyrie Profile 2. I still haven't even tried a Tales game. I still haven't gotten through Phantasy Star 2-4 on that Genesis collection, I haven't tried La Pucelle, I want to give Rogue Galaxy, Okami, and Metal Saga a try. There's probably something I missed. And if I need a few more, I could break down and get a handheld. And I still want to start importing PS2 games. Front Mission 5...I want it...

I should be okay. And I would suggest to anyone worried about a lull to go grab some of those PS2 games you missed. And Ar Tonelico 2 should be out here eventually.

Matt

I tend to agree. While my handheld backlog is amazingly nearing completion, I still have an asston of console games just bursting out of their packaging with the desire to be played. I'm bursting with desire to play most of them too, but we'll see how that goes. Valkyrie Profile 2 (heh, another PS2-er): You're next up.

Thanks much!



Now Approaching System 5: ALGOL


Hello!

I've been reading your column for a while now, was quite impressed by its entertainment value, and have recently found myself with a desire to write in about my two cents. For a time there was no action, then, just yesterday of all days, I realized that both the planets in our star system and the planets in the Algol system had aligned, the currents of destiny converged and my consciousness was suddenly propelled into a place of space/time indescribable. Enabled from the experience, I shall now convey my thoughts... in normal english!

Matt

Yeah, don't try me; I dropped out of Theoretical Physics for a reason. Anyway, welcome back to Earth.

So, Final Fantasy X. To be honest, I'm kinda surprised that its still being discussed so much these days. I for one really enjoyed FF X quite a lot. Well, not when I first played it... I was influenced by the opinion that it was "just off" somehow. Thankfully I played it again more recently and I really liked almost everything that people criticize it for: linearity, Seymour!, the voice acting, blitzball, the limited item-customization (its distracting when it's too complex... but many people like it that way it seems) and the easy difficulty level. I'll touch on some of these later.

Matt

I've often wondered if I should just pick up Final Fantasy X again and give it a second chance. The first time I played it, I was almost forced to rush through it because I could only play while I was at home- I didn't have the time or the room in my tiny university residence to bring my PS2 along, back in first year. Man, that was almost six years ago now? Ugh, time, TIME, where hast thou gone?

Back to your list of negative factors, remember that a lot of people think that most or all of those things are actually very good aspects of the game. I think that naysayers like myself are in the minority.

Now to my next item: are linear or non-linear game better? Well, I have to agree with what someone said a while ago that there has to be some balance between elements of each to make a game good, not to mention to let it sell well in today's MMORPG-centric market. I liked Final Fantasy XII's approach to this, espeically with hunting Marks (managed to beat rickster mark at level 30!... well, not sure if that's impressive or not but I sure got a massive dose of superiority from it). After all, for me its really the story that makes playing a game worthwhile and linearity usually helps in this department. I do, however, respect non-linear open-ended game design since it does really give you a lot to do and explore. The big down side, at least as I see it, is that such non-focused gameplay and story telling has become so popular that chances of more Xeno-esque gaming seems more and more sparse these days.

Matt

Nah. Maybe it's just in the choices that you're making. Yes, there aren't many RPGs out there with such deep, in-depth stories, but that was the defining characteristic of the Xeno-series. I suggest you pick up a game that you haven't thought of before- say, have you tried Odin Sphere? Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised. It's easy to draw conclusions based on just a few games that you've played. Trust me, I do it all the time, and then readers write in with their emotions all charged up to knock me down.

About difficulty level: I'm the type of person who likes a challenge in a game but not TOO much of a challenge. There are times when I really like playing an easy game because it lets you explore and concentrate on the plot without taking oodles of hours. But if its TOO easy, the game doesn't really seem worth it for some reason. On the other end of the spectrum, nothing beats a good tough boss battle. My most recent example has to be Digital Devil Saga 2. I think the boss is called Megamadora or something, and he was like the second last boss of the game. I must have grinded for hours and pre-planned a strategy (which I rarely do) a dozen times before I finally got it right to beat his over-leveled smug face into the 3-D textured background. It was so bind-boggingly hard that I had to show my sister that there actually was a boss-creature so horrifying in a non-bonus-dungeon capacity. Of course, it he was much harder I would have probably just quit playing the game altogether... and this would have been an example of why I don't like too-tough scenarios.

Matt

I love challenge too, but I don't appreciate it as much when it isn't done right. Throwing in a surprisingly tough battle here and there can be a good idea, but not if it's executed lamely; making an otherwise easy boss repeatedly use the same awful-status-ailment-causing attack every other turn over a half-hour battle? Not very cool.

It's about BALANCE, and not many games get it right, even after all of these years. The one game that's always done it right is Dragon Quest. Whenever you move on to a scarier place with scarier monsters, they're scary because the arm-wrestle just gets a little tougher; it's NOT scary because they'll just kill you in one blow. You can face new and difficult enemies, but it provides a greater challenge, and perhaps lengthier battles. The other shiny side of the same coin is this: It often takes a good while for "easy" enemies to become "trivially easy" enemies, so I find that I stay involved longer. There's nothing that irritates me more than getting into fight after fight with monsters that I can just blow away in one round by pressing the same button repeatedly, especially when those monsters are obviously supposed to be at least sort of intimidating. It's disappointing.

Anyway, I think I went a bit off-topic there, but you get my point. And yes, winning against a super-hard boss battle gives you the best wash-over feeling of pleasure ever. I live for that feeling.

Well, this is getting kinda long let me summarize the last part. Current backlog: about 20 games, mostly RPGs... sold the games I had bought but realized I wasn't that interested in. Heh. Do I try and make games harder with self-imposed challenges?: Only for FF X... I managed to get to the last boss on one play through without touching the sphere grid. Yeah, so proud. RPG lull these days?: Well, no not really. I'm looking at at least one RPG game per month for the next little while, like Wild Arms 5, Eternal Sonata, Soul Nomad, Front Mission DS... and we'll worry about 2008 next year.

Matt

If that FFX thing is true, you're totally not helping the case for the "Final Fantasy X is NOT too easy" camp. Sorry.

20 games is a whole load! And it sounds like you have a whole lot more to look forward to as well. That DS lineup, it's gold. Having never played Front Mission, I'm looking forward to that so much... I've heard awesome things about it.

So that's it! Whew. So what are my chances actually getting my super-long letter in the column? Hmm... I'm going to guess about 10%... and pray for more!

Byes!

~ Riskbreaker Dragoon

Matt

Is that an actual question? Well, I guess the chances are actually 100%, since you're here right now, and I've answered your call! I usually try and respond to first-time readers, just so that I can get them completely caught up in the inescapable fishnet that is my column's allure.

Allure or not, I appreciate your letter much, and I hope you write again sometime soon. Thanks a bunch!



Valkyrie Profile 2 advice, and more!


I can't help but notice you are playing VP:Silmeria. Having played it twice in two different languages, this has prompted me to write in, for a change. (Though actually I must confess I do not read QnA as much as I used to.)

Matt

*gasp* Sacrilege!

Perhaps a healthy response to your letter is exactly what the doctor called for. Now, what about VP2?

So I'd like to warn you on how Silmeria's skill system is actually related to not button mashing. Yes, you can get through most of the story button mashing, especially if you spend hours to break the game by getting those chapter 3 and 4 super weapons, l but if you do so it will actually take you longer to get good skills. Often the first instances of a rune you need to learn a new skill is tied to some hard to hit enemy body part, so if you just button mash it will be mostly up to luck to get these. So it's a rather interesting solution to button mashing, as to get the more powerful skills as soon as possible it helps to put together a party and select the proper attacks in order to surgically remove the enemy body part of your choice. (Though you don't have to.)

Matt

I assume you get introduced to this sometime soon in the game? After all, I really haven't played for that long yet. I've noticed that you can sometimes slice off body parts, but it wasn't clear to me what good it was besides potentially disabling your opponents. I know that I'd feel a little bit incapable if one of my major appendages were hacked off mercilessly; I dunno about you.

Because of this, and how powerful enemy attacks become after the difficulty spike in chapter 3 (better master dodging enemy attack areas now, you've been warned), Tactical positioning becomes so relevant it starts to feel like a rather refreshing tRPG. This was probably one of my favorite aspects of the game. tri-Ace really ought to try and s/tRPG, they could do a really good one. (I think/hope Infinite Undiscovery is going in this direction.)

Matt

Yeah... I've made the mistake of waltzing absent-mindedly into the attack ranges of three or four enemies simultaneously, upon which I got treated to a thirty-second display that looked more like a turn-based RPG than anything else. I, of course, was always on the receiving end, much to the detriment of my HP. I've become a little more careful ever since, though generally, I'm finding that it's quickest and easiest to just dash in, go "LSDJGLSDJGLKSDJGLSDG" to the leader, and be finished the battle within 7 seconds or thereabouts. Yeah, I'll probably have to change that strategy as I go...

Unfortunately, it seems the game's ties to tRPGs do not end there. The game also has rather weak characterization, which I understand is common to tRPGs. With characters being present mainly to fulfill plot objectives, none of them really grow on you as much as they normally do in more standard jRPGs. Even more so, the Einherjar are basically just prenamed generic characters with a Bio Screen, though it is interesting to note you can find out quite a bit about the world's history by talking to them after you release them. (And find out that the bio screen, being how the character is historically remembered, can be wrong!) This is ironic and probably what was the most off putting to fans of the series as in the previous game the Einherjar were where most of the game's characterization lied. (The Einherjar were fleshed out round, yet static characters, that never developed further after joining. Meanwhile Lenneth was a flat character you knew little about, but was very dynamic in how she developed and changed in the game's good ending.)

Matt

Hmm, interesting. I have to admit that when I first got pyntie-hat in my party for the first time (Mithra, was it?), I was a bit taken aback. I didn't really realize that anyone had joined my party at all until I saw the notification on the screen, when I started thinking "WTF is up with this weird game?" Of course, now that I understand where they come from, it makes more sense, but I can definitely see where they might lack the characterization you're talking about. Still, though, that's of minor consequence. It'd be nice to see at least Silmeria/GIRL fleshed out, but the bigger picture, beyond the characters, tends to enrapture me more: The storyline itself. I'm hoping for something great.

So this brings me to the question I wish to raise. (Provided you can first make it through the convoluted maze of parenthetical comments to answer it.) What do you think about the combining of traditional jRPGs with tactical and Strategic RPGs?

Matt

I love the idea, if it's done right. Final Fantasy Tactics did it right, and there's no reason why other RPG franchises could bleed into the genre. I love tactical RPGs a ton; Fire Emblem is one of my favourite series. I'd like nothing more than for more of them to appear. If they carry a jRPG flavour to them, then all the better. Perhaps we'd get the awesome strategy, terrific challenge, AND a substantial storyline with great characters.

We'll get the chance soon, too. I haven't quite given up on the Mana series yet, but Heroes of Mana is a Tactical RPG that is due to come out very soon. We'll see how it goes, but my hopes are high. Diminishing, after so many awful Mana games of late, but high nonetheless.

IMO VP:Silmeria got the battle system right in this regard (I could go on about how I still can't decide if it's turn based or real time that is constantly paused, but for the already failed sake of brevity...), but kind of messed up with the characters (with regards to the marriage I speak of) by having them too far to the plot device end of the spectrum. (The other side of the spectrum being a likable character you can get to know who has no purpose. I think FFXII suffers from characters too far to both ends of this spectrum.) I'm one whose always disliked the shift down to 3 characters in a party with modern RPGs, and always felt with the higher processing power we should be able to control MORE characters. For me having 8 characters in the party, but only 4 usable at once, was always a limitation. (Let alone only being able to use 3 characters....) So I've always wanted a more standard jRPG that could somehow integrate multiple parties of PCs on the battle field at once. I think VP2's squad based movement might be onto something here. At least, it provides a possible solution for managing a large number of characters without relying on a menu. I could easily imagine putting 2 more squads of 4 characters into battle and then commandeering one of the shoulder buttons to switch squads. (Naturally the battles would be longer in this format and you probably want to rework the encounter frequency and item gathering to compensate.)

Matt

It sounds like you're bursting with ideas. RPG battle systems have been tweaked and tweaked again for the past twenty years. Lately, crossover ideas have been happening with greater and greater frequency, as developers try to come up with more interesting and innovative schemes. One of my favourite battle systems is that of Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, which is a unique blend of Tactical and Traditional. Yeah, the characters aren't terribly strong ones in that game in terms of personality, but the battle system rocks. I think that games like this, Grandia, VP2, and others are games that aren't afraid to rock the boat a little bit, trying new things out. It's only through this trial-and-error process that new ideas will be inspired and the genre will evolve, progressing to bigger and better things. For those of us who are stuck in the past... well, I'm sure that Square Enix will continue to remake Final Fantasy 1 until the end of time or so.

In fact, from what very little I (or anyone, for that matter) know about tri-Ace's Infinite Undiscovery they are making for the 360, it sounds like they might come close to granting my wish. I vaguely remembering an interview where the head of tri-Ace mentioned he wanted to use the 360's processing power to have a large number of characters and interactive objects interacting on screen at once.

~Xerain

Matt

It's probably still a long, long way off, but you can be sure that we'll get you the info as soon as we hear any news about it. I have to admit, it's almost strange to think of Tri-Ace developing for anything other than a Sony platform; it feels a bit weird... kind of like looking right before left while crossing the street (and ending up on some squawky old lady's windshield).

Thanks for writing in!



Tantalized, but hesitant.


I have some questions about FFXI. What are the requirements that you have to have for it to play on a PS2? Also, what are your thoughts on the game? Do you recommend it? Its the only FF game I haven't played, and I feel VERY obligated to.

Thanks,
C.NO

Matt

C.NO evil, speak no evil. Yeah, I had to.

You sound pretty much like me, Mr. C.NO. I've played every single Final Fantasy and loved most of them, but I haven't touched FFXI and its onlineness with a thirty-seven and a half foot pole.

In case you're interested, though, here's what you'll need:

  • An old-model PS2. The new slimline ones are apparently incompatible with the Hard Disk Drive, which is the next thing you'll need.
  • The PS2 HDD. This may not be a surprise, if you read the first requirement first.
  • A PS2 keyboard. I'm 99% sure that it's compatible, since I think I've heard that the game becomes a lot, a lot, a lot more playable with it in hand.
  • Loads of cash. Is it $19.99 per month? I think it is, but I'm not totally sure.

It'll be an expensive ordeal, quite possibly; apparently, it's also possible to play the game on a PS3 now, after an update not long ago, so if you have one of those already, you might be in luck. Anyway, based on the letters that I've received lately, there are a lot of people out there who truly believe that the game is worth it. The stories you carve out and the people you meet might just be worth the effort.

If you decide on anything, write back to me! If you decide to take the plunge, then you'll have to keep me updated on your progress, and I can vicariously play the game through your eyes. In any case, I'll be waiting to hear from you!



QUICKIES

Hey-o Matt,

Seems to me that there is a slight lull right now in RPGs. But that's okay, it gives me the illusion that one day I'll catch up on my ridiculous backlog. Oh, right and on Aug 21st Bioshock comes out.....so much for that backlog getting caught up.....

Ken

Matt

Man, that gives you four weeks!! Don't give up now! Go, go, go!

RPG Lull, Yes. The next game on my list to buy (and subsequemtly not pass) is Paper Mario, and the last RPG that I bought was Harvest Moon for GBA, as I'm still trying to complete my colection. A question though, what is the next RPG to be released in the NA region that you want?

Bainick just wishes that games like Etrian Odyssey would get a PAL release!

Matt

Good question. I'm actually thinking about Persona 3 a lot these days. It would be a good chance for me to get into the SMT series, and then my brother would go crazy over it and make me lend it to him.



IN CLOSING

That's all I've got for this week! Thanks very much for writing in. Your contributions make this place what it is!

Relax and do some good gaming over the next few days, and I'll be back for more next Tuesday. For next week, the new topic will be... an old topic! The PS2 has been out for over six years. Do you feel it winding down? Or does it still have more momentum than the PS3? Will a "transfer of power" ever materialize? Feel free to weigh in on this, or anything else. Just send me a letter!

Whether you decide to write in or not, take care and have a great weekend.



Send a Letter!

Unanswered Letter Backlog: 40, plus or minus epsilon.



slimey@rpgamer.com
Matt is on the ball this week!


And now, to try the Cities and Knights of Catan expansion. Squee, I'm so excited for it!

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On my Wishlist:

1. Dragon Quest IX

2. Metroid Prime 3

3. Fire Emblem: Goddess of Dawn

4. Super Smash Bros. Brawl

5. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker



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1. Etrian Odyssey

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2. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

3. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker



Hot Topics:

1. Is there an RPG lull right now? If so, what are you playing?

2. Final Fantasy XI: Played it? Liked it?

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5. Tales games galore! Yay? Or Ugh?



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