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Trial By Fire
August 28, 2007

Matthew Demers - 09:54 EST

ALL RIGHT! I'm back! It was, as usual, a really quick week at home, and I wish I had about a thousand more of them. Unfortunately, I'm back in Guelph for the rest of the week, fulfilling my existence as a prospective Ph.D. student and only semi-willing programmer. Drudgery. Augh, I don't want to think about it.

I played the hell out of Etrian Odyssey while I was away. It's really... I don't know. It's not that great. However, it's incredibly addictive. It feels like a one-dimensional Shadowgate, except with poorly-balanced Dragon Questesque battles. Somehow, despite the mediocrity, it is positively ensnaring. Etrian Odyssey is thus quite like a big bag of pretzels... they're really not very good, but you can't stop eating them just because the bag is there and open. What keeps me coming back? I think it's the elements that are most like old-school Dragon Quest, and I'm not talking about the battle system. I'm talking about the great senses of exploration and risk that you experience every time you venture a little further into the unknown, because in that respect, the game performs beautifully. And, I think, that's the whole point.

One more thing: I'm back with a little bit of a warning. I try to answer everybody's letters and do the best job that I can. I cannot, however, guarantee that your letter will get posted, let alone within one column of you sending it! There are dozens of people who are waiting, and so please be patient. Snide or inconsiderate messages will not accelerate the process any, that much is certain.

Anyway, it's good to be back! Let's see what you've all writ.

Mega Men

Yo, Matt.

First letter I managed to submit to the column. Though I read your column regularly, I've never written in because my gaming credentials are so pathetic they're ridiculous: the only console I've ever owned was the Genesis, and the rare instances I get to handle the PS2 - at my uncle's house - I visit him about twice a year - I invariably exercise my better judgement and stay away from the RPGs, knowing that I can't possibly get far in one day. Kingdom Hearts... FFXII... sigh...


Well, you're unique among RPGamers, that's for sure. Considering how cheaply you can purchase a PS2 these days, though, you really should consider it! There's lots to discover, even beyond those big titles you've mentioned.

Anyway. To the topic. This is not about to break Square Enix's strangehold on the RPG market anytime soon, but my favourite RPG character of all time would have to be... FFVI's Celes.

To some people, 16-bit era characters don't cut it as hot (fueled sometimes by badly drawn character portraits) but I think there're plenty of them: Seiken Densetsu 3's Lise, Chrono Trigger's Marle, and FFIV's Rydia just to name a few. Oh yes, and I almost clean forgot: FFTA's Shara (for some unexplainable reason, I'm crazy about girls with big ears. That also explains Lise in my list - though technically not her ears, the way she flicks them makes me half-mad.)


Uh-oh. Maybe it's a good thing you haven't played FFXII yet... I sense a Frantastic situation brewing!

Anyway, I always thought that the 8-bit and 16-bit generations were good because they left some things, like detailed character portraits and voices, to the imagination. You could make characters into whatever you wanted them to be! Actually, back in my teenage years, I drew pencil sketches of all of the FFVI characters specifically to visualize how I saw them. I had a fun time with it, but I don't have the drawings anymore; my mother probably trashed them, passing 'em off as "more of his video game junk" or something.

Back to Celes. Sprites and portrait aren't the best for their age, but there's definitely something that make the girl smoulderingly hot: the fact that she is one of only three out of 14 characters who can use magic without Espers, perhaps. Or that her Runic ability is dead useful. Also, she's got one of the most thorough character developments in the cast (the World of Ruin opens with her alone in your party, making her almost like a main character in that sense). Or, maybe it's got to do with the fact that she's chained to the wall and tortured when you first see her. Mmm....


Kinky. Linky, too, perhaps.

There's another reason actually. Celes is a very unique character because her theme isn't introduced when you first meet her, but only AFTER the opera house - the Aria di Mezzo Carrattere, probably the first song in the FF series, and that was before the era of the likes of FFVIII's Eyes on Me.


That is a unique characteristic. Being a musical guy like yourself, I'm not surprised that you would have noticed that, but you're absolutely right. Now I'm trying to think of other examples of this, but with limited success. It is notable that when I went back and listened to many character themes from FFX right after finishing the game, I didn't even remember hearing many of them. Is that significant? I dunno.

Among the characters of the 3D era, I like FFVIII's characters - particularly Rinoa, though her personality is a bit saccharine - and also FFXII's Fran. (Told you I was crazy about girls with big ears.) Anyway I'm going to end my rant right here and go off to get some practice in. Mmm... Bach cello suites.



HA! Toldja. I like Final Fantasy VIII's characters too; it's one of the things about the game that I absolutely love, even if a few other elements aren't quite up to snuff. Interestingly, Rinoa's probably my least favourite of the game, probably exactly because of that saccharineness, but also because I love a lot of the others, particularly Quistis, from a personality standpoint. Lookswise, well... that's a different story. ^^

Thanks for writing to me, Virtuoso! I really appreciate the mail.

A few non-pineapple-related tidbits

Been a while, dunno why, but here goes!

-Why are so many RPGamers only into Final Fantasy?

Simple, it's the most widely known, easiest to get, and even those that don't even PLAY RPGs have 9 times out of 10 heard of A FF game. Think about the last 5 (if you even have seen 5) RPG commercials you've seen, how many of them we're FF related? It's like sports video game players who only play madden and need for speed, it's popular, and so it seems a safe bet to buy because so many people have bought it.


Yeah, you're probably right. It still seems strange to me, in a way, that so many people who consider themselves hardcore RPGamers are still not open to trying new games outside of the FF series, though. I'll bet that a good third of people who come to RPGamer regularly have played nothing but FF, even though we cover all sorts of games.

-Which RPG series have you been afraid to try? Why?

Ugh... It has to be .hack. I can remember picking up one of the first .hack games ever, and all I remember is walking around a forest or something, and the screen kept blinking, and blinking, and oh my god it's still blinking.... I turned it of and never looked back. 400 some-odd .hack games later (exageration obviously) and I still don't care. No one has given me a reason too, but I'm open to change, I just needs me some persuadin'.


I think that .hack's loyal fanbase has decreased over time, too. The games have never looked that inspiring to me anyway, so I haven't played them either, outside a little bit of a demo at E3 2006. It's not that I was closed-minded about it or anything, and I'd probably give the series a try if I had more time to. As it is, I'm forced to pick and choose the games that I give my precious hours of life to. Regrettably.

-Which games have really touched you inappropriately, er, emotionally?

*snifff* Oh Altered Beast, MUST I power up?*sniff*

Ahem, anyway, for me, the game that I have connected with emotionally has got to be FFVIII. When I got my hands on FFVIII, I had just gotten over the worst part of my life at that point, I had been depressed for over 2 years, but had come out of it, and made some lifelongs friends.

Picking up FFVIII, and seeing Squall, whiny loaner that he was, reminded me a lot of myself. Of COURSE the designers intend for us to indentify with the characters in some way, as a means of really connecting to the game, but this was nuts for me. I was introverted, allowed myself to be around to and listen to people, but I rarely talked, and never opend myself up. Like I said, after making some amazing friends, a few I still hold dear to this day, I came out of it, much like Squall, who left his morose stupor behind to really enjoy life, and I'm doing just that.


It was the same thing for me! I think I told this story a few weeks ago, but that last movie, where you really see the panic sweep over Squall's eyes as he wanders, all alone... it was strangely heartwrenching. Oh, and congratulations about life, too. More people would do well to similarly wake up.

Whew, all done! It's nice that we did this, so son't be a stranger, mkay?

You stay classy Slime Diego,

|= |=


I shall do my best! From a farm boy to a Fram boy, I hope to hear from you again soon!

RPG, or not RPG? That is the question.

A SOCK question today made me think of this. There are plenty of games these days that use RPG trappings, especially character development stuff like levels, XP, and HP, when they aren't really RPGs - FF: Dirge of Cerberus, ironically enough, is based on a REAL RPG.

So I wonder, are RPG fans more likely to play such games than those of the same genre without the trappings? How much RPG "stuff" can you put into a game before it becomes part RPG? And is there a point to it, other than a convenient way to keep track of character development? Do some makers WANT such a game to "feel" RPG-ish?


I think that the lesson to be learned here is that RPGs are not the nerdy genre they once were. Sure, hardcore RPGs might be somewhat niche still, but with the burst of popularity in the mid-90's, I think that developers realized that they had a lot to gain by incorporating RPG elements into their games, because things like character growth, etc, really do deepen the gameplay experience, I think.

So, you ask, do games that use such ideas ever become RPGs? I'm not into the idea of labels, myself, so I'd personally prefer to group such games into multiple categories. I think that that's the strategy the media has taken lately, giving us such interesting hybrid genres as "Adventure/RPG" (Zelda games, Okami maybe), "Shooter/RPG" (Dirge of Cerberus, as you mention), "Platformer/RPG" (Paper Mario, Mega Man: Network Transmission), and so on. It's a lot easier to do things this way than to try and solidly classify shades-of-grey games into black boxes and white boxes.

Shin Megami Terrifying!

Hey Matt,

I have to admit that I have been avoiding Shin Megami Tenshi as well. I am cool with games where bosses and the occasional monster can really hand you your head, or where dungeons are so long that you have to make multiple trips to survive, but my understanding is that in those games, every fight can be a struggle to survive. I like an area to be new and exciting once I enter, but on return trips, I like to be able to mindlessly level.

Maybe my understanding of these games is incorrect, and they are not as hard as I have been led to believe. Can anyone confirm or refute this information?



Oh no- thems games, they're hard. I don't think it's quite how you represent it, though. My take is that if you go into a battle without really knowing what you're doing, you're doomed. This is because the battle system works by causing you to lose turns if you use attacks that are not very effective against your foes, if I recall correctly. Also, I believe that if you get surprised by your enemies, the result can be disastrous, though that's not really unique to SMT games. From the sounds of it, the challenge is tempered by fairly frequent save points and a rich and wholly unique story. I really want to try a DDS game out, personally- Persona 3 looks good too.

Hopefully my advice is accurate. Not having played the game myself means that everything I say is second-hand information, which means that it's third-hand information for you. Seeing as people don't have three hands, this metaphor isn't going anywhere.

Thanks Draconn!

Big flagships. Departing flagships.

Matt, Thank you not putting my last letter on your Q&A....jerk. I'm just kidding, your Q&A your choice. I wanted to answer your question about why "we" focus so much on the Final Fantasy series. This obviously stems from the original Playstation. FFVII was the first Final Fantasy to get huge marketing publicity here in America, even though I vaguely remember a commercial for FF3. Also, you have to figure from the time the first Final Fantasy was released up to the release of FFVII, only three Final Fantasies were localized and that was in 10 years give or take. But since FFVII was released, how many Final Fantasies have been released and re-released 48 Billion? I lost count along the way. There hasn't been another RPG that flooded the market like Final Fantasy and that is why I believe "we" tend to focus on Final Fantasy so much.


Interestingly, though, during those ten years, Square committed a lesser (maybe greater?) evil: They released other games over here, but slapped the name "Final Fantasy" on them with the hopes of generating extra sales. For more, see Final Fantasy Adventure, Final Fantasy Legend I, II, and III, and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (well, this one is arguable... I guess).

But you're right. Somehow, Final Fantasy VII's campaign was massively successful, turning a reasonably popular RPG series into a blockbuster. I don't know if I've ever wanted a game that I couldn't have more than I wanted Final Fantasy VII; back when it was released and I was a wee teenager, I definitely did not own a PlayStation.

I do not focus solely on the Final Fantasy franchise, as when I wrote to you a while ago my favorite RPG is Chrono-Trigger. And I feel that anyone who says they focus only on the FF franchise is either a chain-yanker or maybe just a casual RPG-gamer. Heck, when I worked in a game shop many moons ago I was recommending Suikoden over FFVII after playing both. Just my opinion.

I am not weird.......I'm normal



Well, good for you! And certainly, people shouldn't be taken aback by my comments in recent columns, since there are a lot of gamers who have a wide range of RPG tastes. It's not even like there's anything inherently wrong with only giving Final Fantasy games a chance; I just think that such people are missing out on some real gems. This is especially true in recent years; we've had such an incredible variety of new titles that just about anyone is bound to find SOME likable non-FF RPG out there.

Anyway, sorry if I missed your past letter, but it's difficult to get around to everybody, and I like to rotate the spotlight now and then. It's really tough to keep everybody happy in this respect; if you don't believe me, supersede me as a Q&A host when I retire this winter and you'll see exactly what I mean.

Thanks, Chris!


Hey Matt,

As much as the game as a whole seemed unimpressive, the world of FFXII is arguably one of the best. Finally, a game where the world actually seems vast and complicated and where I probably didn't walk over every square inch of continent at one time or another. (That kills the OCD part of me.) Um, never mind the weirdly abrupt transitions between many locations.

'Til next time!



OK, this is a Quickie, but only because you've been trying so hard.

FFXII did have a big, huge world. I especially liked the fact that there were several "pointless" areas that you didn't even need to visit to finish the game; it's more realistic that way. I mean, just imagine if you had to visit every possible location on the real Earth before dying!

I just have one thing to reply to your one thing to say.


Bainick loves his mother very much!


Yes, we had a very nice time with her, making her a fun birthday cake (I made a lemon sauce for it without a recipe or an instant mix!) and a great supper to go with it. I think she appreciated the gesture!


Well, it's been fun. I'm going to try posting this week's columns in the morning, because it'll be a busy, busy week and I won't get the chance to post at all unless they go up in the ay-em. Speaking of Auntie Em, we got some tornadoes very near home last week. Scary stuff. And so today I ask you this question: Have any acts of nature caused blackouts, destroyed homes, or other cataclysms that have led to horrifying losses of RPG data? I remember this one icestorm when... okay, I'll save it for tomorrow.

Until then, adieu! To yeu and yeu and yeu.

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