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ASK SEAN
Column 10: Post First Class Syndrome
September 8th, 2007

Sean - Sometime in the am EDT

Well there are a few pieces of news to pass on this week. Gaming-wise I have started Untold Legends with my little sister and we're having fun so far. I have progressed a bit farther into Metroid Prime 3, but my wrist still hurts every session. I haven't played Lord of the Rings Online or Overlord since last weekend, but I mean to in the coming week.

I started my classes this week. First I have a completely unenjoyable class on System Requirements Specification. The professor sucks, I don't understand the project. My other class is much better, but weirdly formatted. My final exam is in less than a month. That is in four classes. After that I have a paper, a project and a presentation. No more studying though. Neither class will have its materials ready until next week, so I pretty un-busy this weekend.

The real news is that I have decided to run a contest. While not as Spectacular as Matt's OCK2 is (I took the S out on purpose), or as big, or as fun, I do offer some nifty prizes. How do you win them? I won't tell you. You have to figure it out on your own. Take a look at the link in the sidebar for more details. And... GO! Ummm... that basically means that I start "scoring" everything starting today. Good luck!

Oh... the first win condition was uncovered. Grats! Email me to claim your prize, JuMeSyn!

Let's get to the letters!




LETTERS
Shut Up and Drive


Ah, Sean. Your column titles of last weekend were inaccurate with regard to me, for I worked every one of those days. Didn't really bother me, particularly since working on Labor Day meant 50% higher wages for the day. It still means I had little spare time for gaming. This week I will be off Saturday, which may translate into a great gaming day. My powers of prediction are pointing towards something of the sort...

Sean

I remember my days working the holidays. I didn't care much, as long as it wasn't Christmas Eve. I don't know why, but where I last worked, it seemed as if all the Christians worked Christmas, while the followers of other faiths took it off. Easter too. I don't really understand it. The extra wages were nice, though. I feel your pain, my friend!

Oh, and I'm going to give you one musical link. Just one. http://gh.ffshrine.org/song/6011/11 Delving too deeply into Dragon Ball brings back memories I'd rather not indulge currently, but I always liked this ending tune to the first movie with Cooler. Do you?

Sean

I can't stand Dragon Ball at all. It doesn't matter which incarnation it is, I just can't abide it for longer than five minutes. The artist is ok. I liked his game work. Well, at least the games I played.

The song is ok, but I don't like the start of it. It annoys me and thus does not enter my playlist. Sorry.

You may like Naruto a little too much, but conversation with a friend reveals there are people who like it so much as to insert Naruto elements into a Warcraft 3 mod. His descriptions of the characters and their abilities intrigued me. Though the idea of Kakashi taking the 4th, his teacher, down with ease is kinda silly.

Sean

Kakashi is too powerful, as are all the mentor characters. I don't like it as much as the fanboys, obviously. I just enjoy the show. I liked the first "useful Sakura" fight that just aired. Just so you know, Naruto and Bleach discussions are off limits, as I will not be watching any more episodes until Christmas (my viewing partner is away for the semester).

So you wish me to guide you through the Saturn's English catalog, eh? That I can do. We'll start with something you ought to know: Panzer Dragoon Saga is worthwhile. The game is different enough from any other RPG out there that I can't compare it very well to another title, even 9 years later. Just know that if money is no object you want this game.

Sean

I remember when that was announced--I had to have one. I looked in stores and didn't find one. The plan was to get the game, and then a Saturn. I am glad I chose that order, and not the other way around, or I would have ended up with a useless system...

I know you're skeptical with regard to the tactical genre, but Dragon Force deserves to be tried. Its style of play is different from any other tactical title that exists, and while the story is not seizure-inducing in its greatness the Working Designs translation assures some good writing. Plus the game must be played 8 times in order to truly see all of it. Give it a try and I feel satisfaction will result.

Sean

A game that forced me to play it twice (read: Radiata Stories) is not too appreciated. I don't have time to play the games I haven't tried yet, let alone to finish one I have multiple times. And a tactical RPG? I only finished Final Fantasy Tactics the one time, and this one I loved to death.

Albert Odyssey is perfectly conventional and easy to play, although its music is pretty enough that I recommend keeping distractions at bay. The thing about the game is its out-and-out comedic translation. Not many 'yo' mama' jokes make their way into RPGs.

Sean

Yeah, I know. Brave Story has some modern joking in it. It was a lot of fun to play, that Brave Story.

I can't wholeheartedly recommend Dark Savior simply because the game seems to entice such highly varied reactions from players. I'm not going out on a limb to recommend something only to have you come back and berate me on how you hated it. The game is most assuredly different from any other action-RPG I've come across. Combat is infrequent and navigation is far more common, though wrestling with that damned isometric view gets old. Still, since money is not an issue I'd have you pick it up and judge for yourself.

Sean

Money is no object for *good* games. I don't want crap. Action RPGs need lots of action or they get boring. Next!

Shining the Holy Ark you would do well to seek. As a first-person title it works in a lot of ways, and though it isn't terribly unique in its combat the battles do keep a steady challenge throughout. Plus I dig Motoi Sakuraba's music. If you don't, that's a minus.

Sean

Is that like the Shining in the Darkness game that came out for the VC? Is that one even any good?

Magic Knight Rayearth is cute and fun and short. Again, since money is no object I'd advise you pick it up. Hardly the top of action-RPG titles but enjoyable while it lasts.

Guardian Heroes is essentially what happens when an RPG meets a beat-em-up. No game Treasure has made plays in a fashion seen prior (though Gunstar Super Heroes comes close), but if you enjoyed Gunstar Heroes then you know Treasure is spot-on with controls. Which is absolutely vital in a game that depends upon reflexes.

Sean

I think the Guardian Heroes might sell a portion of a Saturn to me. I would need a good ten "system points" to pick one up, and between it and Panzer Dragoon Saga I would have three. For those that are counting, Mass Effect + Blue Dragon + Eternal Sonata + Lost Odyssey = 3 + 0.5 + 1 + 1 = 5.5, so the 360 has a ways to go. And the PS3 was purchased since Heavenly Sword = 10 on its own. I just hope it is as good as I want it to be.

Is the Magic Knights game anything like the one on the SNES? I liked that show, even though I thought Hikaru was simply too short for Landis (spelling?). I used to make widecracks about her never needing to kneel...

There are a few others, along with my traditional SFIII push, but they can wait. This little list ought to satisfy in the interim. The Saturn didn't fail because it lacked good games (save for the MANY good games that never left Japan) but for a myriad of other reasons. Upon this point I stand firm.

JuMeSyn

Sean

I think the Saturn failed because it was stupidly marketed, and had performance and stability problems. Thanks for writing in, JuMeSyn! I assume to hear from you soon.



Bubbly


Hey Matt,

What are you thoughts on unwinable fights? I can understand from a story perspective, that it doesn't work if the party kills the big boss in an early fight, but they really bother me. It wouldn't be that hard to write a few extra lines of dialogue about you being stronger then he expected that they can use if the player defeats the boss.

Sean

Or make the fight end at 50% with the boss using his mega-super-secret skill to wipe out your party. I hate these fights. I always burn way too much time and items on them. What I hate worse though is when you are fighting a hard boss that you think is unbeatable, only he is, and you just are way too weak. The Game Over screen is none too pretty then.

Then again there are the unwinnable fights where if you lose too fast, you get Game Over'd. These piss me off too.

I think the worst fight ever was in Star Ocean 2 at the end of Disc 1. There were two bosses running around smacking you for mega-chunks of damage, that took zero damage from every hit... and if you died it was a game over. You had to just run around like a headless chicken for around 2 minutes with no indication to tell you that it was a timed survival fight.

Nightwolf

Sean

I should finish reading these letters sometime. Sorry, I beat you to the punch. And it turns out we were both thinking the same thing. This is one of my biggest turn offs lately. Thanks for the letter, Mr. Wolf!



Fallin' For You


Dear, Sean:

There is a new rpg coming out sometime in 2009. It is A] Being devolped by Seth Green and Master P B] Devolped by Stoopid Monkey Head. It's titled "Play the Industry." C] You play a musician professional athlete, or "power broker."

Sean

Ugh. Sounds like a mega-platinum hit to me. Probably will be, but no one at RPGamer would play it, except the poor soul that needs to review it.

Other sad part, this will sell more then Xenosaga. So my question is an Rpg undeserving of its high sales? Main Characters that didn't deserve the role, Karin in Shadow hearts. I guess Yuri is the main character but she is the first one you play as.... and I got quite lost why she was even in your party, along with well 1/2 the cast.

My vote is for Devil May Cry but only if it's 3 and not 2. I haven't tried it but I'm interested in your take for Untold legends but that's a purely selfish reason.

laters Daniel.

Sean

I assume you want to know which one I think sold too much. I am not really too sure about this one, but I think FFVII is way more overrated than how I found it. It is much easier to discuss underrated games in any case. Karin is the little girl with the book? It has been a long time since i played that game. That makes me think of a possible hot topic...

I *need* to play DMC2 before DMC3 for the same reason I am suffering through Persona 1. Games need to be played chronologically. And I will let the world know what is thought of Untold Legends, of course. If I ever am giving a chance to play it again...

Thanks for writing in!



Home


Hey Matt

Numeric systems in RPGs? Although I find the extremely large numbers in Disgaea & other NIS games excessive, I definitely prefer larger numbers. I'm still not over Paper Mario only giving you the bonus you choose at level up. I mean, it boggles the mind to level up and gain no HP cause you didn't choose an HP bonus! Argh! I suppose the reason developers like it is because low HP totals make every hit against the player noticeable. It's extremely important to dodge in early areas where getting hit for 1 point of damage five times is a game over. I like a little bit more flexibility in surviving.

Sean

Actually, I liked that part of Paper Mario, but I also agree with you that the level up system sucked in that game. I like the 999 and 9999 limits. Breaking them like in FFX is ok, but Disgaea is ridiculous. Level 10000? Sure, why not.

As for nse360's recommendations, I just have to chime in on a few of them.

Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, while not a highly driven serious story, was still fun. I found the game to be light-hearted & refreshing.

Sean

I didn't like this one. It was a chore to play. Lita was cool as an angel though.

Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits has a nice non-grid, tactical system in a traditional RPG. The story is intriguing, with the opposing viewpoints, ala Suikoden III.

Dawn of Mana is wasted potential. My friends have dubbed it "Dawn of Man I Hate This Game" due to my reactions when playing it.

Sean

Haven't played either of these. I purchased Dawn though.

Ys: The Ark of Napishtim was an action RPG reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda, only with levels & equipment. Nice challenge, beautiful graphics & sound, and a decent enough plot.

Sean

Amazing game.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings & The Lost Ocean was one of my favorite games for the GameCube. The soundtrack is one of Sakuraba's best and the card-based battles are different enough to be interesting, but not too complicated to feel overwhelming.

Sean

I have the first one and no interest to play it. I picked it up at a garage sale for a pittance...

Valkryie Profile: Lenneth WHY HAVEN'T YOU PLAYED THIS GAME YET!?!?!?! I could go on for hours about how incredible this game is. I just leave this as the only game I've played that can compete with Chrono Trigger. It's that good.

Sean

Agreed. You have somewhat good taste.

Games I'm looking forward to? Eternal Sonata all the way. This game has captured my attention since downloading the demo from the Japanese store months ago. Graphics are a fine example of next-gen without being hyper-realistic. Soundtrack is incredible (can you tell I'm a sucker for some good compositions?) Battle system is fun without getting overly complicated. Large cast of characters gives battle a lot of flexibility without sacrificing character distinction. Granted, there are some other games I'm looking forward to (Heavenly Sword, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, Trauma Center: New Blood, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2, Devil May Cry 4) but the only other RPGs are Soul Calibur Legends & Lost Odyssey. The only other game that currently hold a candle to Eternal Sonata is Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles and even that is a distant second.

Sending a letter while I still can,

venus577

Sean

Eternal Sonata looks nifty. I *need* Heavenly Sword. Ratchet and Clank Future is a bargain bin purchase, but only after I play 2-4. Devil May Cry 4 will only be purchased when I am done with 2 and 3. Castlevania might be purchaed before Zelda in October. I am not so sure anymore.

Thanks for writing in!



Hips Don't Lie


Hi Matt,

A numerical scale that I like... well, I first will say that I do not like the small-numbers of Super Paper Mario or Fire Emblem overall. In the Mario games, the difference between enemies that take off 1 HP or 2 is a huge jump in difficulty. It also makes random amounts of damage nearly impossible to integrate. If the extra digit was tacked on, as in Dragon Warrior and Lufia and Breath of Fire, and a lot of other games with three-digit-HPs, that allows for some greater variability. If your HP is 100, and enemies take off 10 all the time, then you know exactly when to heal and when it's safe to attack, but if three enemies deal 20 HP each, then you're in trouble. What I'm getting at is that when some enemies deal 16 damage and some deal 23, it makes things both a little less predictable and don't force you into a particular area at one time (meaning, in games with low HP amounts, you MUST go to the next area of the story or you will die - in three-digit-HP games, you can explore and live through some tougher battles, it seems). In Fire Emblem games, the low HP makes it nearly impossible to level up a weak member of the party, because they'll too frequently do zero damage.

Sean

I didn't think about this particular issue. Yes, unpredictability is a must to keep the challenge. I didn't know that about Fire Emblem. I never did give one a try.

That brings me to mega-HP-amount games, which I am also not a big fan of. In games like Disgaea, or Wild ARMs 3's airship battles (six-digit-HP), the damage you receive is usually insignificant, or way over the top. There's so little predictability in this situation that it's difficult to know when to heal or when to attack. However, it seems that in those games that once the enemy's defence is high enough, you're simply unable to damage it, no matter what randomness comes into play. So don't throw too many of those enemies into one another!

Sean

Really big numbers are just stupid. I mean... if an enemy has 100HP and you deal 6 with an attack, or if they have 100,000,000HP and you deal 6,000,000 per hit, isn't that essentially the same thing? So just keep them low!

Returning to smaller numerical scales, I do find that three-digit-HP often can be problematic. It seems like games like Lufia or Dragon Warrior start out really really small and get to about 300. But with the variations that often accompany HP (eg. a warrior having more HP than a mage), it makes those with higher HP always be the ones who live. Who dies more? Yangus or Jessica? Ragnar or Mara? Aguro or Jerin? It seems like the defence values are too insignificant.

Sean

My Yangus was always dead, so Jessica wins. I remember one round of Final Fantasy in the NES days... JINX, my devious black mage had more HP than my brave fighter until about level 25 or so. I find myself trying to understand the combat system in these games. How exactly does DEF work? Does it help you dodge hits entirely? Or is that agility/evade? Does it mitigate some damage? At least when it comes to AD&D I have a firm grasp of how all this works...

But games like Final Fantasy 4 and Star Ocean 2 suffer as well - in the former, the same thing happens. Rydia dies, and Cecil doesn't. Big Bang might kill Rydia if you go to fight the boss in a low level, but it won't kill Cecil. In the latter, everyone gets to 9999 HP eventually, and the game is kinda unbalanced anyway. (Star Ocean 3 worked, but not that well... it was too easy to get some people to 20000 HP while leaving others at 4000)

Sean

But, isn't that a property of what makes them unique? I mean, a boxer in real life would have more HP than say a professor. The buff guys (and gals) train by letting people hit them. That makes them tough. The little mages spend more time training their minds, and are therefor a little weaker in body. It is just a tradeoff. Need to protect Rydia? Put her in the backrow and be prepared for the Big Bang. Man, I hated that spell. Anyways, I don't see Cecil hitting consistenly for 9999 on multiple targets at the same time... ^_^

Therefore, my answer lies with games such as Breath of Fire 4, and Xenosagas 1 and 2. The magical scale is the 100-3000 range, and all of the games I listed achieve a great balance while making new challenges actually harder. The Xenosagas' HP ranges from MOMO to Ziggy; in XS1 the range might be 700 to 1400, and it XS2 the range might be 1200 to 2500. But! Defence actually comes into play and is balanced! MOMO can live through attacks and will take far less damage than Ziggy (at least, magical attacks, haha). Rather than Dragon Warrior, where Jessica's taking a whole eight less damage because her defenceis higher than Yangus' (equalling useless. and this is in theory), MOMO might take a couple less hundred damage. The fraction of max HP defended is much more significant, but it's still enough to make there be a balance between 'challenging' and 'walk-over-the-monsters' in an area. I hope that wasn't too confusing, haha!

Sean

I abused poor little MOMO in the three Xenosagas. I loved her. My brother thought I was weird as I kept her in the bathing suit the entire game... He just doesn't understand the bonuses!

You've hit another one of my RPG turnoffs here. I hate games which keep introducing new weapons and armor to your party, but they are negligible power ups for your party. I hate spending 10000g on a sword that gives me an extra two damage per hit, or armor that blocks two more than usual. It seems anti-climatic to me. These games tend to give all the bonuses at level ups. I like a balance of the two. A level ten fighter should do more damage than an equally equipped level nine fighter, but if he had the next sword in line, it should be a bigger increase than the level was.

Oh yeah, XS3 suffered from MOMO-Death-syndrome. That's why it wasn't included. The numbers were a little too high, and the defence didn't seem to kick in for the little realian.

Sean

Funny--MOMO was death immune in that game for me. Thanks for writing in!



QUICKIES

Hey Matt,
What would be your favorite form of currency in a video game? I liked how in Earthbound your dad paid you cash for beating up enemies.
Nightwolf

Sean
That was too cool. He must be really rich. I like the system Brave Story uses--bounties. They work very well and are a little more believable than finding coins on a snail. Then again, harvesting enemies like in MMOs and FFXII works for me too. Just don't call it Muney. Ugh.

Dear Gorne:
How do you type with boxing gloves on?
Your friend,
Sensei

Sean
My keyboard has really big keys. I just fist them.

Hmm... you know, I more I look at the Disgaea 3 media, the more I ask myself "Why the PS3?" It just seems like so much of the PS3's power is being wasted on sprite-based graphics that a Wii can handle. I think a Wii version would make more sense anyway. It would only seem viable to make it for the PS3 if they wanted to use Blu-ray to stuff a metric-ton of content in the game. If that is the case, that this game would SCARILY huge, and I don't even want to think about how much we could do in the game. If you ask me, the previous Disgaea games already had too much to do...

Sean
I agree on all points. I got bored of the first one's bonus stuff that I gave up early. Why the PS3? Sony might have bribed them into doing it that way. Also, it gives them good practice. It would be cool if you could unlock the original Disgaeas in the PS3 part. We know they do have enough room on those disks!



IN CLOSING

I am really tired now. To tell you the truth, I tend to do most of the column work the night before I post them. This helps me get enough time to make sure that I don't miss a column if something comes up. So in other words, it is late Friday night, after a full day of work and a class. I am going to bed.

Peace out!



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