|One Year of Madness
|July 29th, 2011
07/29- 12:00PM EST
Ask Wheels is now one year old, can you believe it? I want to
thank all of you who have written in, be it one time or many, as
you've all helped make this thing possible. I know in the modern realm
of twitter and forums and the like, a Q&A column is a bit quaint,
but I hope I've done a decent job providing you all a little bit of
weekly entertainment (and the occasional chance at free stuff).
Now let's get to the good stuff!
Greetings again Wheels,
I’ll admit, I didn’t expect my previous 6 degrees
challenge to be quite so difficult and I’m thoroughly intimidated by
your 7 hours trying, so I’ll let it rest.
Well, it didn't exactly take seven hours, but it did take a good long
time. No worries however! I thank you for the challenging task.
Also, in light of the recent discussion of a giant monster RPG, I would
make a brief proposal for something rather Katamari Damacy-esqe. An
action RPG where you start as a small newt (or spider or moth or etc.
that could give you different classes) and get to run around eating
things (after beating them up if necessary). Eating would allow
you to grow (especially the radioactive things), the equivalent of
leveling. When you grew in size you would: a) reach a new level
of scale to eat new things, and b) gain new abilities, perhaps based on
what you’ve been eating the most of (eat fire to gain fire breath,
sticks/trees/hard things to gain armor, long metal poles to gain
That actually sounds like a brilliant game! Some kind of strange Katamari-Rampage cross over? I'd buy it
certainly. It sounds like it could have the addictive gameplay of Katamari and combine it with the
further addictive gameplay of getting to smash things as a giant
monster. This needs to happen.
Regardless, that’s not my primary motive for writing today. I’m
here to write about a sequel proposal. Now that’s awfully open
ended, no caveats or restrictions or anything, but I’ll see what I can
So first a little background. CIMA: the enemy was an obscure RPG
from Natsume for the GBA with a lot of cool unique features. The
setting was a sort of sci-fi/fantasy hybrid with a strong Wild West
flavor (kind of like Wild Arms).
was that humanity was under attack by CIMA,
interdimensional beings that fed off hope. You played as Arc-J
and Ivy-H, young guardians (part of the organization devoted to
fighting the CIMA) in charge of protecting a train of immigrants to the
frontier. Of course that train is sucked into a CIMA dungeon in
an alternate dimension, and everyone is scattered so you must save
everyone else and return to the real world (which is possible because
CIMA always leave an exit to their dungeons so they can feed off the
hope before killing you). The game play was real-time rpg with
almost Lemmings-like puzzle
solving, except you had to save everyone,
and it had a pretty neat relationship-building system with all the
diverse supporting cast of characters you rescued.
Ultimately, CIMA: the enemy
is ripe for a sequel (although none will ever happen) because the plot
was written with a sequel planned and although the main story wrapped
up, massive numbers of questions were left unanswered. Also the
game play is unique enough that even with identical mechanics it would
be more original than many standalone games on the market, and with
some refinement (especially to the interface) it could be
Very interesting, I think I may have first heard of CIMA here on Q&A at some point,
though I haven't yet played it. Anyway, the RPG genre could use some
new types of settings, and it sounds like a CIMA sequel could provide this. I
do enjoy the idea of Lemmings-like
So without further ado, I present:
CIMA2: The Betrayal
CIMA2 will pick up
where the first game left off with Arc J and Ivy-H having overcome many
obstacles, including their initial dislike for each other, to rescue
their train from the CIMA dungeon and reach the frontier town of
Rinton. For the first few months life was fairly straight
forward, and Arc-J and Ivy-H have been waiting a train and summons tor
return to HQ for a new assignment. But then townsfolk started to
vanish, and to make things worse, many of the townsfolk started blaming
Ivy and thus Arc by association when he comes to her defense (I don’t
want to spoil the first game, so I won’t divulge the reason
here). It doesn’t take long to discover that the CIMA are behind
it, but by then more than half the town has vanished. As the
remaining townsfolk secretly gather in city hall without the
protagonists to discuss plans, the building itself vanishes before Ivy
and Arc’s eyes, leaving them the only two remaining. There is a
portal left in its place; however, so Arc and Ivy dive in to do their
duty and bring the townsfolk back. The CIMA, however, have found
a new emotion to draw power from: suspicion, and little do Arc and Ivy
know that this abduction is more than just an ordinary CIMA attack on
the frontier but could change the very nature of the war.
A nice story setup, that almost makes it sound like you're going for a Soulblazer or Dark Cloud type setup, but we shall
see if that is the case. Anyway, setting up the story this way seems
like a good way to get fans of the original into it right away, but
also allow those who didn't play the original to easily get into the
The core gameplay of a simple real-time rpg with puzzle-heavy dungeons
requiring the management of numerous civilians would remain the same,
as Arc and Ivy search the alternate world for the missing villagers and
try to return them to town. As in the original, the puzzles will
require the proper use of each character’s unique abilities, such as
the gunslinger’s gun to kill enemies at a distance, the children’s
light weight to cross weak bridges, the doctor’s medical skills, or the
archaeologist’s ability to dig up treasure. The DS’s two screens
would display the locations of different parties and could be quickly
cycled through making managing separate the groups required by some
puzzles much easier. The other big innovation is you would be
allowed to take direct control of NPCs if they trust you, giving you
better control of your party.
Sounds like a mix of Zelda
type puzzle dungeons combined with a stronger RPG focus. We need more
RPGs with a heavy focus on puzzle dungeons. Sounds like you have a
great foundation here.
Two gameplay elements of the original would be heavily expanded
upon. First, the relationship system. NPCs would start with
varying levels of trust depending on their personality, etc, and this
would increase or decrease depending on your actions. For
example, let them be attacked, trust decreases. Kill nearby
monsters, trust increases a little. Find their lost child, trust
increases significantly. Trust would influence a wide range of
things in the game, such as their reactions to you in dialogue, how
well they perform, if you can control them directly as noted above, if
they will join you for missions into side dungeons, or if they will
craft for you.
You could also allow for some kind of paranoia to develop if trust gets
really low with an NPC, and have that lead to stronger enemies or
something along those lines, meaning that relationship status can't
just be ignored.
Which brings me to the other big gameplay element to expand on.
The original game had an ambiguous but simple crafting system using
crystals called majesties dropped by enemies as its primary growth
system which will be greatly expanded on for CIMA2. In CIMA2, different majesties will be
associated with different emotions, such joy, anger and sorrow.
If NPCs trust you enough, they can combine different majesties to craft
and improve items for you. For example, the red anger majesty
would increase weapon damage or create single-use explosives, while the
white compassion majesty would be used for healing potions, and
calmness would improve armor. Further, different emotions could
be combined for greater effect, such as adding sorrow and fear to a
weapon so that it paralyzes enemies.
Good crafting systems can make a good RPG feel quite incredible. Heck,
the Atelier series even uses
it as a primary focus. This would provide nice depth to combat, to
compliment the complex puzzle dungeons featured in the game.
Basic majesties can be acquired through killing monsters and
other simple activities, but the most powerful, stronger versions are
produced by scenes and character interactions involving the associated
emotion. Thus, even though the end goal is fixed, Arc-J and Ivy-H
are responsible for saving everyone and will need their trust to do it,
the choices you make in doing so will still matter. If you give
into a parent’s demands and rush into danger to save their child you’ll
receive joy and impatience majesties, while if you wait to prepare
instead, you’ll receive calmness for your own actions and anger from
the parent. You can be successful either way and still earn their
trust, but your decisions will influence how they react in the meantime
and how you can improve your character.
what do you think?
I think it sounds like a brilliant RPG, with enough complexity to keep
things from getting stale without going too far. Without even having
played the original, I'd love for someone to make this game so I could
play it. There aren't enough original RPGs like this out there!
Look forward to hearing from you again.
The (Awful) Sound of Music
I hate to sound like just another nostalgia fan whose head is still in
the late nineties/first five years of the last decade, but over the
last five years or so, I've noticed a sharp drop in the quality of the
way music is used in rpgs. The music itself hasn't lost much in
the way of quality. There haven't really been any truly
spectacular soundtracks either, but the art of using music to enhance
or create the moods in an rpg seems to have been lost entirely, for the
In this regard, you are not wrong in
the slightest. There are a good number of exceptions, but for the
most part something has been lost with the upgrade in music quality,
which is quite strange. I actually think a lot of smaller companies
haven't lost this (Falcom, Atlus, Gust), and this fits into the overall
picture, as I'll get to in a bit.
My personal observation is that this failure started when voice-acting
became the norm for Japanese rpgs on console. Because the voices
were there, with their tones indicating the moods of the characters and
the general conversation, it is like the game-makers simply forgot
about their other tool, the background music. In particular, I
notice this failure in the big-budget games like FFXII and FFXIII, as well as SO4... Square creates a technical
masterpiece in terms of music, then seems to fail utterly to understand
how to use it, even though games like the early FF games and the Chrono series
proved that they knew very well how to do so.
agree, I think the soundtracks for both FFXII and FFX were still phenomenal despite
the voice acting. Obviously we disagree on FFXII, but I thought it did a
brilliant job creating new themes that fit in nicely with the other
Ivalice games. Now, I think the issue, in addition to problems caused
by voice acting, is related to an increase in music quality. Uematsu
made this point in an interview (I believe here on RPGamer), if I
remember correctly, essentially saying that in the older days they had
to be more creative with music due to limited tools,
disc/cartridge capacity, etc. I guess when you've got orchestras at
composers are more inclined to play it safe?
I'm not saying that all the jrpg companies have failed that way... Gust
did a great job with the Ar Tonelico
series on that aspect (though it had other problems, from a lot of
peoples' perspectives), and Nier
was a masterpiece in terms of the musical side. However, those
are glaring exceptions amongst the sea of mediocrity... and I am
greatly saddened by this.
Well I think mentioning Gust and Nier illustrates something
interesting. Gust games are generally lower budget, and certainly Nier couldn't have had an amazing
budget. Another example, look at the quality music in Atlus games, and
the amazing soundtrack for Crystal
Bearers. It seems that with a lower budget developers actually
have a lot more freedom to be creative with their music (or in Crystal Bearers case they may have
just been allowed to go crazy). That's not to say they aren't high
quality soundtracks, but they also aren't, say, the fully orchestrated
soundtrack of Dragon Quest VIII.
that's not to say that any composer with high quality tools to
work with will produce only mediocrity, I just mean that low budget
games seem more likely to have memorable tracks.
My final opinion is that the skill probably hasn't been lost... its
just been buried by the proliferation of new tools that have fallen
into video-game makers' hands over the past ten years.
Voice-acting, improved graphics that allow for more varied facial
expressions, and the like have lessened the importance of properly
utilizing music in the enhancement of the game experience, most likely
without the game-makers being fully aware of it. And this has led
to a less-satisfying experience, even when a game's plot might have
been equal to the ones of old from a simple readers' perspective.
I look forward to the day when the big companies wake up and finally
take a good hard look at how they use all their tools, not just their
You're pretty much spot on here. It
could even just be something as simple as lack of creative control. As
the business has grown, I'm sure music composition has gotten more
strict, just like a lot of other things in the industry. Video games of
course being a creative industry, such restrictions wouldn't be good.
Of course I don't know any of this for sure, I'm just speculating, but
there is no doubt that something is not right.
Great letter, look forward to hearing from you again!
I Know You Are but What Am I?
IS THE BEST GAME
ALSO YOU ARE A DOODYFACE
Well, I may be a doodyface, but Majora's Mask is neither the best
game, nor the best Zelda game.
Now Beat, why so long since you last wrote in? We've missed your
insanity. Now, this is certainly more insanity for sure. Listen, I like
just fine and all, but it has some pretty big issues. First and
foremost is the awful intro section that is tedious and takes you
forever to get to the game proper. No one wants to do fetch quests as
shrub link sir! Then we get to the game proper. The dungeons in this
game are brilliant, there's no doubt about that. It's what comes
in-between them that has issues. The many side-quests aren't bad of
course, but the game just does a terrible job directing you where to
go. I'm all for games that force you to figure things out, but there
still needs to be a clear bread crumb trail for players to follow so
they aren't wandering around aimlessly for hours on end. There's a lot
to love about Majora's Mask for
sure, I mean just look at this crazy movie. Now I
know I'm sounding very down on the game, but it is still a brilliant
game and I just want to make the point that it is far from perfect.
I noticed that last week you were stumped by the mention of a "Deeble"
in one of your letters. Being somewhat of an expert on Deebles, I
thought I'd write in. Deebles are scavengers found frequently in
technomagical garbage dumps. They're an unfortunate mix between a
pigeon, a rat, and various pieces of animate technomagical junk, and
are used in order to both guard and break down the detrius of steampunk
society. No two Deebles quite look alike, but I have sketched an
example of one and attached it to this letter. Sadly, as Deeble
3.0 has yet to be released, we'll have to make do with 2.5. I
understand that Deeble 3.0 has put some junkyard dog into the mix, as
the booming value of scrap patluminoid alloy has led to increased
Hope this helps!
Wow, that looks like something that wouldn't look out of place in Fraggle Rock. For those
completely confused right now, go check out last week's AskWheels. I
wonder, what exactly was that person talking about when he mentioned
Deebles? Does he want Diablo 3
to go to a steampunk theme? Does he really love muppet-type things?
This is another mystery. However at least the mystery of what exactly a
Deeble is has been solved. Thank you!
@AskWheels If you had to construct a syllabi for introduction to
roleplaying (as in no experience w. genre/gaming) what would be in it?
Well I think I will just have to whip up a quick draft for the syllabus
for RPGs 101. Here we go:
Course part the first - The Early Days:
-A look at early tabletop Dungeons & Dragons
-A study of the Ultima
series, its origins and influences (Ultima
I, II, or III required playing)
-The many flavors of Rogue (Any
-Wizardry and first person
dungeon crawls (Any early Wizardry
Course part the second - The 8-bit Days:
-Dragon Quest and the birth of
console RPGs (Dragon Quest IV
required playing since I'm nice)
-Final Fantasy (Final Fantasy III required playing)
-RPGs go portable (SaGa II required
-Phantasy Star (Phantasy Star required playing)
Course part the third - The 16-bit Days:
-Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest continue to dominate (Final Fantasy VI and Dragon Quest V required playing)
-Gold Box and more D&D goodness (Eye
the Beholder and one Gold Box game required playing)
-Action RPG goodness (Illusion of Gaia,
Secret of Mana,
and Landstalker required
-Others (Super Mario RPG, Chrono
Trigger, and Phantasy Star IV)
Course part the third - The 32-bit days and more:
-The second coming of PC RPGs ( Baldurs
2 and Fallout
-Rogue for a new generation (Diablo II
-Where did Dragon Quest go? Final Fantasy is still around! (Final Fantasy VIII and a
dabling in Dragon Quest VII required)
-The good stuff (Tactics Ogre and
Course part the fifth - Select titles from more recent years:
-The Rise of Anime-style RPGs (Tales
of the Abyss)
-Open-world RPGs (Fallout 3)
-Unique (Demon's Souls, Resonance of Fate, Nier, The World Ends With You, Person 3/4)
-Oh Boy (Unlimited Saga)
-So many portable titles ( I dunno man, everything by
-Bioware (All of them)
-Everything I forget
There you go, an extremely rough syllabus you'll likely think is
@AskWheels I don't know much of Tales or SaGa, so help me! Where is the
best place to start on each? Abyss?
Vesperia? SaGa Frontier?
As much as I am a fan of Tales of
the Abyss, PS2 RPGs nowadays feel extremely slow due to long
loading times. If you want to wait for the 3DS version, that will still
be your best bet, otherwise go with Vesperia.
very polished, and really represents everything good about the
series. Despite what some seem to think, it is very much a complete
game. You can even get it from Xbox games on demand, so you can just
play it off your hard drive.
As far as SaGa goes, that is
a much tougher nut to crack given how obtuse the series is. SaGa Frontier would be a decent
starting point, with some freedom on which characters you want to start
with (you don't even have to play through them all of course). However,
I'd still say SaGa 2 to start with. Being
an old gameboy RPG, its shorter, simpler to understand, and you can
create your own party. If you have the know-how you can even play the
remake, with a fan translation available. Just keep in mind that even
the DS game will feel a bit antiquated despite the many updates. The
series is worth a try, even if you don't end up liking it, so I wish
you luck in this! Let me know if you end up a fan (assuming you aren't
already and were just providing an awesome question for me).
@AskWheels Given its high acclaim both pre and post release, why do you
think Catherine has not yet
been released worldwide? You would think that if it was loved in the
gaming press outside of Japan, it would be prime to release in Europe
as well. Do Japanese games really have that little appeal in the face
of Call of Duty and other
Well thankfully there is at least a European publisher in place, but it
seems odd that this didn't happen sooner. Catherine is an odd game,
that I'm sure many gamers wont really get, but it sure has one thing
going for it: sex appeal! So the answer is I don't really know. Atlus
clearly has a market for its games in Europe, as JRPGs and other
Japanese games seem to be doing just fine in the region. It could be
that Atlus' parent company prefers to avoid the risk inherent in
creating a European branch of Atlus, so maybe a long-term publishing
deal with another company would suit them best. I know Square-Enix
published one (or more?) of the Persona
games in Europe, and certainly that would seem to be a good match. As
far as competing with western franchises, I honestly don't think they
worry about the likes of Call of Duty.
are a niche genre, and the Japanese variety even more so. It's
just like Mac publishers back in the day (which I know all about). They
certainly couldn't compete with the sales of PC games, or the sales of
Blizzard games on Mac, but they could sell enough to spin a nice
profit. Of course every now and then these niche games have a
cross-over hit (Demon's Souls,
many of Square Enix's franchises, Mario RPGs), but for the most
partthese games just have a niche appeal, and that suits them just
I'd love it if Persona was all
the rage over Call of Duty,
but what are you going to do? I think I kind of went off topic, but the
long and short of it is no, they do not have that little appeal!
That's it for this week! Again, thank you all for continuing to make
this column awesome. Now I will take the time to ask you to keep doing
so (as my backlog is now completely empty of letters)! Oh and get those
contest entries in, the deadline will be a little bit more loose, I'll
give you guys until next Wednesday. Next week I'll discuss how the
winner will be chosen.
See you all then!
June 24th: Wheels
June 30th: Wheels
July 8th: Wheels
July 22nd: Wheels
About the Host
What I can't wait for:
1. Battlefield 3 / Xenoblade
2. Disgaea 4
3. Deus Ex 3
4. El Shaddai / Skyrim
5. Tales of the Abyss 3D
On my Playlist:
1. Terrible music I'm ashamed to be listening to
2. Trails in the Sky Soundtrack
3. Crystal Bearers soundtrack
1. Is it time for Tom Clancy to make an RPG?
2. Which system will replace the PSP as the go-to JRPG platform?
3. What long dormant RPG series do you want to see make a return?
4. Do you prefer digital releases or physical releases and why?
5. What makes Falcom's games so different than other Japanese games,
and why have they been able to have success on odd platforms for so