I triple dog dare you to send a letter to
Yikes friends. School kicked me around most unmercifully
today. If you don't mind, I'm going to just post some
letters with brief commentary. But no matter what boulders
Life hurls my way, I promise to hurdle them all and provide
you with a daily column filled to the brim with your keen
insight and probing questions.
The Character Criticisms
Everyone keeps saying that FFVII had two dimensional
characters. Does anyone else think that this is completely
wrong? I mean look at disc one. Cloud is almost completely
serious about everything until he meets Aeris in the church.
Then, as they're running away from the Turks and jumping
across the junk heaps, Cloud says, "I thought you were cut
out to be in Soldier." The first lighthearted thing he says
in the game. It wasn't a complete change of heart, but it
was a definite sign that Aeris brought out Cloud's human
side. After Aeris dies Cloud is overwhelmingly sad at first
and then descends into anger and hatred and then eventually
questions his and abandons his humanity.
FFVII is full of stuff like this. I find the story is
actually rather complex on a level that I think eluded a lot
of people. No it wasn't 100% perfect, but I have yet to see
an RPG where the story was.
But why don't people see this the way I do? There are
myriad reasons, different for each person. But overall I
think there are 2 major reasons...
1.) FFVII is the newest and best looking game in a
popular series, and is therefore in the limelight. For this
reason, people feel obligated to knock at it. Since RPGs are
noted for having great stories, saying that the characters
are "underdeveloped" is just an easy shot to take at it
since any story's characters could theoretically be argued
2.)Square uses much less "in your face" melodrama than
previous FFs. In an older FF Cloud might have said something
like, "Woe is me! My poor Aeris is dead . . . but I must
move on!" (maybe not quite THAT stilted . . . but you get
the idea) Where as in FFVII he said, "She was smiling right
to the end." This gets the same basic point across in more
subtle and natural fashion. Unfortunately, it doesn't jump
out at you as much, so I think a lot of people used to the
older way of doing things missed it.
Joshua: You make some great points in this letter,
Rkeener. Personally, I believe many would agree that Cloud
is pretty complex for a video game, but the bulk of
criticisms--rightly so, I believe--have been aimed at
characters like Cait Sith and Yuffie. Sometimes a flat
character fills a comic role or a specific niche, but any
player character should never be as random and shallow as
that stuffed Mog. What makes FFVII so frustrating for me is
that it was such a wonderful attempt, but could have been so
much better . The beautiful graphics, FMV, and--at certain
times--brilliant script made the games' weaknesses seem even
more grievous by contrast. I have read books that I could
not criticize without seeming petty, but I have not
encountered a RPG of the same caliber. Yet I'll keep
playing, and hoping . . .
Is it just me or is there a real lack of challenge in
today's RPGs? About the only decent challenging RPG for the
new systems was Shinning the Holy Ark. Most have no-brainer
battles until the very last 10% of the game, if that. I miss
the old days of just making out of a battle with one guy
alive with 2 HP and everyone else in the party has bit the
big one. Building up your characters a bit because the next
area has such tough fights. Thinking about what your next
move should be in a battle.
What do you think?
Joshua: Some of you may have noticed
Xenogears is Squaresoft's attempt to recreate that sense of
tension in battles. I call this new approach "Gimmick"
battles (gimmick appears a lot in these columns, because RPG
designers are obsessed with gimmicks). Gimmick battles are
fights where the boss has a special attack or special
weakness you have to figure out to defeat him properly.
Usually this takes dying, resetting, and equipping the right
kind of armor or weapon next time, and feeling very
I miss the bosses that were tough, but had a multitude of
ways to beat them. I enjoyed the bosses you had to think
your way through (as you pointed out Kel), sweating as they
pummeled you, in lieu of, "oh, this guy's impossible unless
I equip the ___ armor." Remember the Delta Sisters in FFIV?
The boss in Cyan's Dream in FFVI? There were many strategies
you could adopt to destroy them.
I think the main reason why there is no challenge is
because players can attain God-mode through level-building
enhancers like the Experience Egg, or finding cheesy
combinations that are relatively unstoppable against any
enemy. Xenogears has tried to curb these practices by
putting you in situations where you can't level up before a
boss fight, or you have to weather a series of battles. I
respect the game for these attempts at innovation, but you
may find them, as I did, to be a little annoying when used
over and over again. Maybe the answer is for Square to
design a boss that really adjusts according to your
I want my FFVIII!
Can ya find out for me why it takes Square over six
months to translate FFVIII? I'm dyin' for that game and six
months might just be enough time for me to learn
--your fellow RPGamer
Joshua: Why does it take over six months to
translate FFVIII? Probably because the script is very long
and very Japanese. I also considered learning some Japanese
for that same reason, but I don't think that language is all
that easy to master, and playing a game with a script isn't
half as fun. I know it's hard to sit here twiddling your
thumbs when those enviable Asians are playing to their
hearts content, but you've got company. See if all the other
great games coming out between now and then can satiate you.
Remember, there will be a demo in BFM, which is only a week
or so away. Here's another compelling reason to wait till
the import: Maybe U.S. FFVIII will have extra goodies like
the American FFVII did. Remember Emerald Weapon? You
couldn't fight it in the Japanese version.
I really disagree with you about FFIV's ending. While,
like you, I am certainly a sentimental fool and cried at the
end of, hmm lemme see, FFIV, VI, and VII (V's ending wasn't
very dramatic, which I'll get to in a minute), I still
preach that FFVII's ending is the best. You want closure in
your ending? FFVII's is the ultimate: Everyone dies (except
Red XIII). I don't want to drag up old arguments, but I
truly believe that art of the message of FFVII was how
humanity will eventually destroy itself. Bugenhagen even
says that Holy "will do what's best for the planet" and that
it will destroy "maybe even ourselves." Then there's the big
flash at the end and then you see Aeris (as Cloud finally
gets to see her again in the afterlife).
I really didn't like FFIV's ending, mostly because there
was _too_ much closure, which made it rather hoaky. You see
Edge rebuilding the castle, Kain goes off to purge the evil
within himself, Cecil and Rosa tie the knot, Rydia helps
bridge the gap between humans and summoned monsters, etc,
adnauseum. It ended up making it feel altogether too planned
out. In shouldn't all happen like that. There would at least
be some lag time in between all these events. Then we get to
FFVI's ending. Oh gawd . . . the only reason I got teary
eyed was because of the whole Strago/Shadow/Relm
relationship. I found it so sad that Relm never gets to find
out her connection to Shadow because he basically commits
suicide. In VII's ending, the beauty was that the closure
for each character had happened, and the only thing
remaining was to save the planet.
I also feel that endings aren't the most integral part of
the game. For instance, FFV's entire story was extremely
weak. Very little character development, although we see the
Lenna/Faris (vague enough to not be a spoiler?), Butz's
relationship with his father, and the Cara & Galuf saga
(again, purposefully vague). The ending was also weak, but
again I liked it in a deep way because, like FFVII, it gives
the feeling that everything has gone full circle, and that
life is a cycle, how the four spirits live on to fight again
another day. But despite the fact the ending really wasn't
great, FFV is still my favorite RPG. Why? The gameplay! I
just couldn't get enough of the class system. It's the best
thing in a combat system I've ever seen. As for people who
complain about making "super-characters," you can do that in
every other RPG. In FFIV my party is at level 99 with
9999HP/999MP (even Kain) thanks to the items in the Japanese
version, in FFVI every character knows all the spells and is
at level 99, in FFVII all my people are at level 99 and they
all have 3 master materia each, and in Chrono Trigger all my
people are at level 99 and Power/Speed/Magic tabbed to max.
The beauty of FF5V's class system was you could make the
characters what _you_ wanted them to be. Their abilities in
battle didn't affect the outside story, so you could mold
them to your liking.
Joshua: Whoa. That's a lot to digest. I'm not
going to add to eyesore---I think this piece speaks for
itself. Any reactions?
Oh great RPGuru, might I ask you why Xenogears has
received next to none attention from any sort of media or
anything. They have this campaign for Parasite Eve which
isn't even half the game that Xenogears is. Xeno isn't even
advertised in the ad papers and IMO it is one of the best
games to date. So why, why must they ignore this great game
which kicks MGS [butt]? Also, my Saga Frontier cd
makes the perfect coaster. Just thought you might like to
Joshua: You want to know why Xenogears has been
neglected? Breast Factor. I do not lie. Games can't sell
anymore unless they have Breast Factor. Tomb Raider
marshaled in this new phenomenon with style. How many of you
hang Lara Croft posters on your walls? Don't fib! I know
they are there. Look at Dead or Alive, that fighting game
where one of their own characters are quoted on the back
(it's hilarious--check it out). Blatant exploitation of
Breast Factor. You see it everywhere. Baywatch thrives on
Xenogears doesn't cut it because Elly doesn't have the
Breast Factor. I'm sorry. Tifa did, Aya did, Elly doesn't.
If the lack of BF doesn't spell doom for a game, then
Xenogears' Crabbit Factor seals the coffin lid.
Actually, you should be yelling at Squaresoft. I'm not
sure why they let this one slip through without the hu-ha
that Parasite Eve received. Then again, how much publicity
did Einhander get? Tobal No. 1? This is a decision made on
the marketing level, Kefka. Square can't afford to promote
every import like they do PE or FFVII. They make the shots.
I don't think Xenogears sales will suffer too poorly,
however. Did you need adds to know about it? To want to buy
Now if Xenogears isn't covered by the popular gaming mags
and sites with the respect it deserves, then that is truly a
travesty. Xenogears is not without its faults, but it is a
monster of a game, with a lot of fresh innovations.
RPG Women are Out
Hiya! Tell Michael Goff that he was asking the
wrong kind of person to Homecoming. Heck, if I'd been the
one he asked I would have accepted, if only because I knew
we had at least a video game in common. Remember, guys,
women who love RPG's really DO exist. We're usually plotting
the deaths of the sorority girls at our respective colleges,
so we hide a lot. But we are there.
-Toni of Boulder, Colorado
P.S. I have the ability to make the Broncos win by
not watching their games. Every time I watch one, they do
horribly. I accidentally saw part of the game yesterday,
so that's why the first half was awful. Sorry about
Joshua: Down boys down! I am not giving you Toni's
number, or her e-mail address!
It's great to hear from a woman (in general--I don't get
out much) and a roleplayer to bat. I am guessing, however,
there are a lot more women players now than companies think,
or they'd stop pitching their games to rabid adolescents
raised on Pamela Lee. Many designers are fretting over how
they can draw a female audience without "damaging" their
All right women, I have a theory. I believe that RPGs are
more popular for women than any other game genre. Why, you
ask? Only because that's the only type of games my sisters
like to play--and because women are intrinsically wiser and
have better taste than men do. I admit, my studies aren't
foolproof, but I'd like some feedback. What do you think?
How many of you readers are women? And if there is a lot of
you out there, why haven't I received more marriage
Toni, I'm sending your name to Mike Shanahan. Let's see
what he has to say about your little "ability." In the
meantime, please stop watching Denver games. Check out some
Vikings games, or Green Bay games if you want, but stay away
from Denver. Have you been an avid Washington, Philadelphia,
and Detroit watcher as well? That would explain a lot.
There wasn't a 7th Saga 2, at least to my knowledge.
YS: Actually, if you've gone by working design's web site
recently (http://www.workingdesigns.com), you'll notice that
many people have mentioned the YS series to them. I quote:
(not directly of course.) "We would love to do the YS
series, and if someone gave us the chance, we'd be there in
a heartbeat." It'll happen eventually. I hope.
Japanese games: SoM 1 was Final Fantasy Adventure on
gameboy. (Seiken Densetsu 1 over in Japan.) SoM2, or SD3, is
totally awesome, but it's not ever going to be re-released -
I don't think Square would do that just for US markets.
Soul Blazer 2 was indeed Illusion of Gaia (I think on the
British version it actually says "Soul Blazer 2: Illusion of
Gaia" on the title screen. Soul Blazer 3, if you could call
it that, is "Terranigma" - and that game is really good.
They all got released by Enix in Europe, and we didn't get
Terranigma in the US. Hope that helps some.
-Matt "talk like caveman when tired" Hanyok
I was wondering if you've ever played Terranigma. It
never came out in the US, much to my dismay. I finally got a
chance to play it and I was blown away by it. The graphics
once you are outside the original town are wonderful! If you
look at the top of the screen, you see the world reflected
in a dome! It scrolls along with you! It's just beautiful.
It's also pretty tough. I'm not more than three hours into
the game and I already have to go dungeon-hopping . . . er,
dungeon-crawling . . . through levels I've already beaten.
In other words . . . I'm stuck, and can't find the solution
. . . oh well. It'll eventually come to me (or I'll come to
it, whichever happens first . . . ). I'd say the graphics
alone on this game would probably beat FFVII, just for the
sheer intricateness (is that a word? It sounds like one. . .
) created from all the details. I told you, it's beautiful.
And I just love RPGs where you control one person who goes
dungeon crawling and gains levels through real-time
fighting. That's the best!
Joshua: Here's some information for William Burns
specifically, and anyone else who wonders about these
classic games, and a letter about Soul Blazer 3, a.k.a.
By the way Kain, if rappers can make up words, so can
you. And hitherto, I dub thee Ellipsis Knight, Defender of
Scattered Thoughts: I need a nap. Have a
wonderful, wonderful day!
- Joshua Reid