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ASK MATT
Sony's Big Day
November 17, 2006

Matthew Demers - 16:59 EST

WHAT CAN I SAY? If you don't know the big news for today by now, you can't possibly be that into video gaming. If today's major release wasn't enough, we get to do it all over again on Sunday! I can't imagine the pain that electronics stores employees must be experiencing right about now...

Sucks to be them, I suppose! I'll concentrate on my own job, in any case, and start answering some mail.




LETTERS
PS3 stuff... and a few minor Final Fantasy XII spoilers (read at your own risk!)


Matt-
I was actually not planning on waiting in line for a PS3, but I happened to be up so I decided to swing by Best Buy. I got there around 6:40am. There were quite a few tents lined up on the sidewalk, and it seemed like it had been raining all night although it had stopped by the time I got there. Around 7:00am they announced to the crowd that the first thirty-two or so people who had started to camp out in line at midnight on Thursday would be the only ones getting a PS3.

Matt

I never even came close to a line today (or yesterday, for that matter). It was an icy 5 degrees outside, with wind blowing and rain pelting forth. I much preferred the company of Final Fantasy XII in my cozy, relatively warm basement apartment, though I spent much of the night on my oh-so-fun Dynamical Systems assignment too. I have to hand it to those people, though; it takes a lot of dedication to wait hours and days for something like that. You'd have to want it PRETTY darn bad!

Anyway, I do have a question regarding FFXII. I'm not all that far into the game, and I'm not sure what to think about the available techniques (or "technicks") such as Horology and Souleater, etc, etc. I don't really have any problems dealing out damage just with regular attacks and magic, so I haven't seen the need to pay out all that gil. I am about to enter a new area, however ... not sure how much it would give away to name the place itself, but it's way west of Rabanastre ... and I'm wondering if I might want to invest in some of these techniques before I go in there. I also haven't gotten any quickenings yet, but I have tons of LP stored up for everyone so that'd be no problem if those would be a better bet.

About where are you in the game so far?

- D.J. Watts


Matt

I haven't really found much use for many of those Technicks yet either, other than the basic Steal, which I use all the time, and Libra, of course, which is very, very useful. But yes, I've forgone the others that I've encountered so far, mostly, because you're right: You DO have to fork over the Gil to get them. It's up to you how you want to play the game, but don't get ahead of yourself. I think that good weapons and armour should definitely be your number one priority, since no matter how many LP you have saved up, money is definitely scarce.

So far, I've got about 14 hours on the clock, and I just got to, ah, a certain point in the game that is reminiscent of a previous game in the series, whereupon I received access to six different group members at once. I hate to be so cryptically vague, but I obviously don't want to offend anyone with unnecessary spoilers!



We've got a gusher!


Matt!

It's been too long. After some difficulties during which I had no internet service for two weeks, and then getting addicted to FFXII shortly thereafter, I just haven't had the time to write into Q&A.

Matt

Never fear, good sir. I'm only glad that you returned, like a prodigal son, a well-thrown boomerang, or a glitchy gaming console. Welcome home!

Okay, first things first: FFXII. I love it. I'm addicted to it. IT OWNS MY SOUL. Seriously, it's been a good while since I've been so addicted to a game, and it feels so good. I'm not sure if it's good that it feels good, but....well, at any rate, it just feels good. I was never one of the naysayers of FFXII, but I always had my reservations about it. (Who didn't?) As it is now, they've been cast into the wind, never to return.

Matt

That's a lot to say! Wow. I have to say that I had many worries that have been completely obliterated. For instance, the game's difficulty. Remember me ranting and raving about how easy it was looking to be? Definitely not easy in the end, as I'm sure you've come to find.

My biggest reservation, of course, was concerning the new battle system. At first I didn't think it would be anything more than some hack-and-slash using menus, but I've seen the light since that time. I like the new battle system, a lot. It's really not all that different from what we've seen before, except now it's so much faster, sleeker, and stylish. And really, I don't find myself missing the "full control" aspect at all; the gambit system is like a liberation from the monotony of the tired old ATB system. It's basically just what you would have done anyways, and really, who really misses bringing up the menu in between random encounters and throwing healing spells on the party? Who misses holding down the X button in order for your characters to attack automatically? I sure don't. None of the strategy is gone. The gambit system places more of an emphasis on planning beforehand and then playing the role of overseer, rather than micromanaging every single action your characters take at a given time. And of course, the ability to manually input commands is still there. (Press the D-pad to the left or right in order to give commands to other party members. I only say this because I know more than a few people who didn't know you could do that) In fact, during most boss battles, it's essential that you do so, because boss battles in FFXII give you one hell of a fight. They're hectic, hard-hitting, and require you to think quickly and stay on your toes. If you don't, then you'll get destroyed, plain and simple. This is a feeling that I LOVE. Difficulty is back! Enemies in FFXII can actually KILL you! I say this, and I don't say it lightly: I hope we never go back to the battle systems of old. This, to me, is the evolution of the Final Fantasy series.

Matt

Now, this is where I have to say that I'm not quite as enchanted as you are. The battle system is neat in many respects, and there's a certain pride I feel when my characters carry out actions exactly how I wanted them to. On the other hand, I'm still getting frustrated at times, even now that I'm 14 hours into the game. It happens now and then still that I get flustered in the heat of a worrisome battle and lose my head a bit about what the hell is going on. I'll go to take control of one naughty character, for example, but forget to turn the previous character's gambit on, causing them to stand around doing nothing, which I'll notice only after fifteen seconds have gone by, but exactly then, the camera will do something weird and funky if I'm backed into a corner, and then I see a game over screen. So, I think that while the strategy isn't gone at all, you really have to relinquish the idea that you're not going to play the game any differently than any past Final Fantasy games. You will play it differently, because you just have to. At least, on Active Mode, I find myself carefully monitoring everything to ensure that everyone is doing okay at their respective tasks. To be quite honest with you, I spend a far greater fraction of my time in boss fights watching the HP and MP gauges than anything else. It's not necessarily a bad thing, either. I'm just going to genuinely miss the "old style" if indeed this is what Final Fantasy turns into forevermore.

I like the license grid too, although I don't think it's my favorite form of character development in the series. It gives you a staggering amount of options, which is good. I like the rarity of gil in FFXII, because it puts a whole new level of strategy on your spending. Rather than unloading all the thousands of gil you've accumulated on the next new weapon/armor shop you find, FFXII requires to budget carefully and only spend your gil on the most needed items. Also, it makes the entire process that much more rewarding, if you ask me. When you finally get a character decked out with the latest weapons and armor, it makes you feel as if you've accomplished something.

Matt

Indeed. I think that the License Board and the scarce finances are two of my very favourite aspects of the game so far (the music is another thing I'm loving too). I keep wanting to save up all sorts of LP so that I can spend large amounts of time unlocking new stuff and upgrading my people, but I usually can't help myself, and go in to learn new things roughly once every two save points.

The story in FFXII is engaging so far, but funnily enough, it seems overshadowed by the gameplay. I'm not 100% sure, but I think there may be less dialogue in FFXII than there was in FFVII-X. The cutscenes are fairly sparse, and don't tend to last very long. That being said, the story is quite good, and the translation is absolutely flawless. Couple that with some excellent voice acting to carry the story along, and I'm happy.

Matt

Agreed. The story is a bit...not...weird enough for a Final Fantasy game, in my opinion, so far. The situation so far seems to be that of a stereotypical RPG story, though of course, I'm not that far into the game. While the voice acting is good, I'm a bit surprised at the sound quality; the voices sound strangely muffled or something, and I'd almost go as far as to say that the voices in FFX were "clearer". This, of course, is a rather minor issue in the grand scheme of things. The translation IS absolutely fantastic; it's definitely the best we've seen since Dragon Quest VIII. The neatest thing, I think, is the presence of made-up "foreign" words that are used very naturally throughout the different towns.

By the way, yesterday you seemed to be having some trouble with Mist Quickenings! Allow me to give you some advice. First of all, unless every character in your active party has a Quickening, then it really isn't worth it. However, if everyone has one, this will allow you to create "mist chain." You may notice the little prompt to "press R2" while performing a quickening. Pressing R2 allows you to cycle through your character's available mists. They each correspond to a certain button on the controller. (X, Triangle, or Square.) Keep your eyes on the little list of your party members; when a button symbol appears next to their name, tap it to launch another Quickening. You do, however, have a time limit; the idea is to pull off as many Quickening attacks as you can before the time is up. If you manage to pull off at least three, then you will trigger a super attack, and this is where the big damage comes from. It's a good thing, actually, that it's a bit of a challenge to pull off mist chains, because if it wasn't, they'd be a ticket to victory in every case.

Matt

Yes, yes, yes, I figured them out finally, thanks to all of you. I don't understand why they couldn't have explained them a little more clearly, but, well, whatever.

Anyway, YES. Holy crap; they're really powerful. In my gaming yesterday, I only used one once when I was in a really tight spot, and once again during a certain boss. Sadly, the boss died in one hit. I worry that they might be so powerful that they throw the balance some, but at the same time, you don't get an infinite number of them to work with in any given battle. I'm undecided!

32:44 on FFXII so far. Not bad, but not good enough. Especially with the impending release of the Twilight Princess.

Okay, in closing, why don't you give me a mini-review of Xenosaga III? I just finished number 2 a couple of weeks before FFXII, and I have III scheduled for play in....say, early February.

Keep it up, Matt
-Oliver.

Matt

Xenosaga: Episode III, huh? Well, let's see.

I feel that Episode III was, by and large, the best game in the trilogy. The game does a more-than-adequate job at tying up many (most) of the loose ends of the storyline left by the first two episodes, and it does so in a very elegant manner, too.

Most everything in the game represents a remarkable improvement over both of its predecessors. The stylized characters from Episode II are gone and replaced with more expressive faces, many of the strong voice actors (those of Shion and KOS-MOS from Episode I, for example) have returned, and both the graphics and musical score are, in my opinion, very impressive.

The battle system is almost completely new, but it still manages to retain that see-saw thumb-war type of gameplay where having just ONE person fall can spell disaster for your entire party. Battle is extremely fast paced and quite simplified from past versions, and I think that the change is, for the most part, welcome. The skill system takes the individuality from Episode I and smashes it together with the customizability from Episode II. Indeed, the skill system in XSIII feels like almost an average of the two, and I think that it is the strongest of the series (you'll see).

All in all, the game was extremely satisfying; it took me about 45 hours to get from start to finish, and I quite enjoyed the ride. Hopefully, you will too!



Do you hear voices in your head?


I'm a fairly recent reader of this site and I noticed that the sub or dub debate is still alive and kicking. I honestly don't feel that dubbing is the evil that most people make it out to be. Most of the english actors these days are professionals that do quite a good job of making their lines work. FFXII is a stunning example. I would just like to share my criteria that I use for games, anime, whatever.

1. If the characters aren't Japanese, they shouldn't be speaking it. (ex. Disgaea, Cowboy Bebop, and voice-acted RPG with non-Japanese characters)

2. If the characters are Japanese, they should be speaking it. (ex. Onimusha series, any voice-acted RPG with Japanese characters)

3. Use whatever audio option is best (ex. Samurai Champloo Japanese DTS mix over English Dolby Digital)

There. I hope this makes it easier for those whose hearts aren't set one way or the other. I just feel that characters should stick with whatever nationality they are.

Jonezy


Matt

Dubbing isn't ALL bad, surely. In movies, I prefer subtitles, but in RPGs, it would really depend on the game. The dubbing is only really noticeable for Final Fantasy X and XII because of the amount of detail that is put into the character graphics when they speak. It would be absolutely unreasonable, I feel, to ask Square Enix to totally re-do the character graphics every time someone opens their mouth, just to make the english fit. On the other hand, too, I think the game would lose something without the voices. They add a bit of individuality to the characters that you just can't get as easily using only text.

Thanks for your criteria. Perhaps some studio director is reading this even as we speak, and your words will be more influential than you think!



A Final Fantasy progress report


Matt,

Long letter time.

About quickenings. Yes, I had the same problem. Here's the deal. Quickenings are designed as a way to create a chain combos. The more you have available, the more options you have.

Think of it as a slot machine for this example. Vaan has one quickening, the rest have none. Your party includes Vaan, Basch, and Fran. When Vaan starts his quickening you will see a list of names (in this example Vaan, Basch, and Fran) at the bottom with a quickening beside them. If that quickening is available, you can press either Triangle, Square, or X to active it to be next in the combo. If none are available, then you need to hit R2 to run the slot machine again. If Vaan is the only one with a quickening, you just have to hope to get his again. You continue pressing R2 until you get something to trigger.

If others had quickenings, you would have a better chance and could chain them together into one large combo. The higher the combo chain, the better "Concurrence" you will trigger. This is post quickening damage. There is more to it, but this is a basic rundown.

Matt

Yep. When I gave it another shot last night, I pulled off a four-in-a-row combo on my first try and did literally about 50 times as much damage as I had ever done before in the strange world of Mist Quickenings. Matt hath finally figured this puzzle out!

All in all, the gameplay and battle system is everything that I had ever hoped for. Is it perfect? No, but it is the most fun I've had in a long time. I love the change from being tied to random battles. I've never felt like just a supervisor during my time playing. I suppose you could if you never changed your play style, but I do. I'm playing in wait mode, but at the highest battle speed and I always have something to do. It's not like it gives my characters perfect AI. Gambits just cut down on the mundane things that need to happen. If I attack something, I want my characters to attack it as well. If someone is about to die and my focus is elsewhere, then I want someone casting cure and at the time that I specified. It's not like I don't have full control, it just saves me from from a lot of manual inputting of commands by allowing me to make those commands up front.

Matt

Perhaps. Plus, with such a fast-paced, more realtime system, it seems like it would be awfully inefficient to have to put in everybody's commands every time you want to attack something. That said, I have to say that I don't really find the need to change my playing style all that often, so I do oftentimes feel like I'm watching over my characters rather than controlling them. It's okay; it's just really different.

Are there things I don't like about FFXII? Yes. The story to play ratio is about the reverse of a Xeno-game. Not that I don't like the amount of playtime I have, I just wish there was even more story to go on top of it. If there is ten minutes of story for every hour of play, then just keep the ratio and increase everything. The license board isn't bad, but I would have liked to have seen more options on it. I can't say exactly what I would do differently, but maybe less of a focus on needing LP for armor and weapons and more of a focus on using it for other things. I don't know. I just know that I love the formula and would love to see it tweaked and used again.

Matt

Interesting. So some people think that the License Board offers a huge number of options, while others not so much. I think I'm somewhere in the middle; I must admit that while I love the idea, I feel like I've uncovered way too much of the board given how much time I've put into the game so far.

On the other side of FF, I have FFVa and FFIII now as well. I've played a good chunk of FFVa and just a tad of FFIII. I think I'm going to have to focus on one or I'll never get through either. FFVa is much more enjoyable to me in portable format. It's like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance; I can play it in bursts on the go. FFIII will take some time, that's for sure, so it might go on the back burner until I can get through FFVa. I love job systems. Bringing it back to FFXII for a second, I've found it to be much more enjoyable to assign strict jobs to my characters. Penelo is a Paladin and will never know direct damage magic and Basch is a Dark Knight, never knowing healing magic. I like making them unique, not just a team of Red Mages.

Oh well, that's all for now.

Matt

Me too! I have a single character who will act as a "jack of all trades", while others focus heavily in magicks, another in technicks, and still another in powerful weaponry. I love customizing in this way, because I agree with you- having a party where everybody is the same makes for a boring game (plus, I'd be more likely to forget who possesses which abilities, etc).

As for FFV and FFIII, I'm loving both of them, but they're not games that I have the chance to play every day. Final Fantasy III is just spectacular so far, while it's so nice to see a half-decent North American version of Final Fantasy V, at long last. You rock, Square Enix!

Thanks for the letter!



FFXII, and how Sony has shot themselves in the foot.


Hey Matt,

[more explanation of Mist Quickenings inserted here... thanks for the help ^^]

...Now, on to the reason I wrote in - the PS3 and the Wii. I can't help but feel Sony has shot themselves in the foot this time. Although I am currently loving my PS2 (mostly due to FFXII), I can't help but notice that Sony has almost done everything wrong with this launch that they possibly could:

  • Not enough systems for launch? Check
  • Priced too high? Check
  • Problems with backwards compatibility? Check
  • Low number of exclusive quality titles for launch? Check
  • Unable to have every genre represented at launch? Check

Lets not forget they also no longer have the rumble feature in their controllers. This of course means that all of your PSOne and PS2 titles that you play on the PS3 won't exactly be the same. I just hope there weren't any games out there that used the rumble function in the gameplay without any visual aids, because if there were any, those games will be completely useless on the PS3.

Matt

Paired with the trouble Sony has faced this year with flaming laptops and product recalls, it's true that these Playstation 3 problems will not help them out too much. On the other hand, let's think this through: There have been many system launches that haven't represented all genres in the past. Most recently, look at the runaway DS success story. When the DS hit the market, it was sold alongside five titles that no one really gave two pieces of crap about. Furthermore, like the PS3, the DS isn't properly backwards compatible in that the multiplayer features of GBA games cannot be utilized. As for the rumble feature... I can't really think of a single game that is dependent upon it, though they might exist.

It's true that these issues don't help Sony's case much, but I'm quite hesitant to say "Game Over" just like that.

What this all barrels down to is not that I'm mad at Sony or think badly of them. I merely wish they had thought things through more clearly and when push came to shove actually pushed the system back until it was ready (oh boy am I getting hate mail for saying that). I know this little setback won't hurt Sony at all, but with any luck, they will learn from their mistakes and make a really good PS4.

Matt

We shall see, won't we? The road will be a long and twisty one between now and then, rest assured. You never know what might happen to shake things up a bit!

Since this letter is getting too long, I'll leave things there and possibly write in again to mention my thoughts on the Wii. Keep up the good work Matt on doing QnA and I wish you luck on the quickenings.

Scott K.

Matt

Sounds good! I appreciate your letter, Scott, and thanks for the advice on Quickenings. With your help and that of about 32498 other readers, I should be well on my way to a misty success!



QUICKIES

Saw the column bit about PS3 prices over $2K and thought I'd share something I came across a short while ago.

http://tinyurl.com/yzmme3

You may begin cursing people with too much money anytime now.

--
Erunion

Matt
Gah!? OK, what are these people? Dumb? Don't they realize that there WILL be more shipments, and that they will indeed arrive long before any "real" games are released anyway? Ugh.

Harvest Moon games are well known for containing bad grammer translations but I reckon the Loin fish takes the cake!

Bianick

Matt
Ouch! That is pretty bad. Perhaps somebody at the company was just trying to be cheeky... or maybe, just maybe, someone was trying to bring new meaning to the expression "gird your loins".


MOGNET MAIL

Hi!

Macstorm

Matt
Hey, Mac! The Wi-Fi mail feature in Final Fantasy III DS doesn't really seem incredibly special, but hey, I think it's a fun new way for you guys to mail something in! For those of you who didn't catch it, my Friend Code is 515 480 192 117. Tell me yours, and you can get in on the moogly, googly fun too!



IN CLOSING

I don't have much more to say this week, and so I'll finish things off slickly and quickly. To all of you who did manage to score a Playstation 3, have fun playing... whatever you're playing. To all of you who will be waiting in line for a Wii on Sunday morning... tsk, tsk! You should be in church, like good boys and girls! To everybody else: I guess it's time to get envious and/or make a bunch of friends.

Send Ouro lots of mail, by jove! It's not like there aren't a billion things to talk about, so get out your best writing skills, and send him a letter or eight.

In any event, have a fantastic and restful weekend, everybody!



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