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ASK WHEELS
The Legend of Beat
August 17th, 2012

08/17- 12:00PM EST

Welcome to another edition of Ask Wheels! This week sees the return of a long lost reader who hasn't written in for quite some time. We've also got some more Zelda and Square Enix talk.

Let's jump right in!





The Letters
Villain Quest

Hey Wheels, ready to continue our conversation?

First, let's talk about pop-up final bosses. Very rarely are they considered a good thing, and that's at least in part because they rarely get an explanation for their existence. They just sort of... happen. Zeromus from Final Fantasy IV is a good example of one done right, where we at least know that Zemus the evil mastermind exists even though his first appearance is soon his last appearance. Having Zeromus coalesce out of Zemus as an avatar of his twisted psyche just works in that instance. Last week though, you mentioned the final boss of FFIX, Nekron. There's an example of "Where the smurf did this come from?" if I ever saw it. After a lot of thinking, I finally decided that it's the incarnation of Kuja's personal fear of mortality, passed onto the universe when he came in contact with the Crystal. Nothing else really makes sense, because no explanation is given for its appearance, not even a handwaving throwaway line.


Wheels

I am, this should be fun!

See I always thought that seeing how Final Fantasy IX was originally intended to be a tribute game for the rest of the series, I figured Nekron was an ode to the surprise last boss, from FFIV and other JRPGs. I can't remember the exact explination in game, but wasn't he there because the Crystal was destroyed or something? Largely the poorest story segment in the game, it's largely saved by the simple fact that Nekron is a cool boss to fight. Still, the game would have been ended much more cleanly had they provided some setup for the boss beforehand, regardless of if it was intended as a tribute or not. Zeromus was done much better for sure, but FFIV's issue was it used this gimmick already in the game when you find out that Golbez isn't really evil.

Back onto the topic of villainry, it always seemed to me that the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series took different stances on that character trait. FF games usually have (and often attempt to define themselves by) a central, major villain and/or antagonist. Whether this works well or not is beside the point. In contrast, while the DQ games usually do have a major villain in the end, the key phrase here is in the end. DQ stories are filled with incidental villains who can be real characters for the small amount of time they have in the spotlight, but in the end they aren't important to anything but their own chapter in the saga. Like in DQ9, where you had several incidental plots at the beginning (cunningly rationalized, by the way). There was the part with the succubus and the dark knight as the villains for a short while in the beginning, as well as the plague demon after that. Then in the game's second act, there were various minor villains, antagonists, and cerberuses (not actually demonic canines, but bosses placed solely to protect something) who were connected to the Goddess Fruits. It's not until the third act that a potential major villain even becomes apparent, and in the final act said villain turns out to be a puppet in the hands of someone whose existence was hinted at throughout the game, just not as a villain. There really isn't much focus on a core figure of evil in that game, which sets it apart from pretty much every modern Final Fantasy title.


Wheels

I've always enjoyed these differences between the two series, as despite their similarities at times it gives each their own unique flavor. I feel like Dragon Quest games are more about the journey than the end destination, with the stories you find along the way being more interesting and eloquent than the actual main plot may be. This is especially true in Dragon Quest IX, as the various towns have some truly heartbreaking and heartwarming tales, which people seem to want to ignore because of the weak main plot. Missing the forest for the trees, as they say.

The only DQ game I know to have a strong, central villain would be DQ8, in the form of Dhoulmagus. And oddly enough, the FF villain I would most compare him to would be Sephiroth. This is because they are both, at heart, macguffins. The heroes spend a lot of time just chasing after these guys, forcing the plot to move along in the process. The big differences here would be in how the macguffin-ness is applied. Sephiroth enters the scene while the heroes assault the Shinra corporate offices, killing the President and then vanishing. I can't even really recall why everyone decided to chase after him, though I know that a Cloud flashback had to do with it. Considering how none of Cloud's memories could be called especially accurate, that's not much reason to chase a guy halfway across the planet. And in the end, it turns out that we were chasing phantoms the whole time, and the real Sephiroth had been in a sort of mystic stasis.


Wheels

Yeah I always forget that element of the Sephiroth story, that you aren't really chasing after the real one (is this ever explained well?). Wait, so does this mean Aerith is murdered by a ghost? I'm so confused now.

Dhoulmagus, though, there's a guy with plenty of reason to chase. The details weren't given until later in the story, but his insane attack on Castle Trodain sets the entire plot in motion. While in pursuit, the heroes constantly have to deal with the fallout from Dhoulmagus' passing through the land. He is responsible for at least four murders with plot consequences, enrages random monsters for giggles, and when he does reach his destination he locks the heroes out, so they have to spend another major plot arc finding a way to get past the magical barriers and continue the chase. Granted, in the end he does turn out to be the cat's paw for another evil power, but he has a remarkably long run for a DQ villain.


Wheels

What I like best is when you have to deal with the fallout of his actions. There's some excellent stories that pop up, and make it really feel like this guy is really screwing up a living and breathing world. Too many games fail to get an emotional reaction out of players due to the evil actions of their villains. With it's focus on individual people and towns, Dragon Quest more than any other RPG series manages to make players feel for this little fictional towns. I'll never forget doing that quest in Dragon Quest VIII, where you have to console the young king who has lost his wife, and bring him out of his mourning.

And that's all for now! I'm always afraid I'll run your column well beyond any sane length. I'll talk at you later.
Your fellow columnist,
Gaijin


Wheels

Hey, long letters are good.  Never be afraid of length! I can always break them up between two weeks of Q&A to keep things a manageable length. Write as much as you'd like!

Twilight of the Princess

Hey wheels,

How did twilight princess get such universally good reviews(more like excellent or perfect)? For the second time I'm trying to give it a chance but the beginning of the game is so terribly long and boring. For reference, I'm 2 hours in and some light creature just told my stupid wolf thing something about other light sources or whatever, I still have 3 hearts, haven't entered a real dungeon yet, and still feel like I'm in the opening tutorial. Herding goats and fishing are stupid, I'm not a smart guy so I don't know any other way to put it. These last two hours have felt like a trial in human endurance for boredom. I feel like eventually I'll be in a dungeon with a sword, fighting monsters and solving puzzles, heck there was even an extremely short section of fun stuff during this terribly long drawn out opening. Am I just an angry old man(31) that just can't understand why the kids love the beiber and the twilight and goat herding, or did every reviewer ignore the fact that the first couple of hours of the game make you want to walk in front of a bus just to remind yourself you're alive. Please, before I play any more, assure me that the rest of the game is fantastic(with swords, bows, boomerangs, grappling hooks, and other gadgets) and there aren't too many wolf parts with the annoying gibbering guy. I just can't take this slow, boring beginning much more. What happened to the good old days when you started the game and immediately began fighting enemies and dungeon crawling, even link in time balanced fun start with enough story for it not to be mindless, or how about when the opening of a final fantasy was a couple minutes of cutscenes then bam, cecil and kain, or even cloud and barrett are battling across the landscape...*sigh*



Wheels

I can assure you that the rest of the game is not only fantastic ,but brilliant. This is why it got so many great scores. I know the beginning can be a chore, I think it's the biggest thing people complain about in the game, and it was complained about in many of the near-perfect score reviews you mentioned.  However, being such a long game by the time you reach the end you will have experienced so many amazing moments that the slow start will seem like a long distant memory. I can understand the frustration, especially having grown up with so many games that start quickly, just like you. Stick with it, and I think that you'll find it will be worth the trouble. I think Nintendo understands they made this section way too slow, as Skyward Sword has a noticeably quicker start to it. Let me know if you manage to stick with it and get to the good stuff! I'd like to hear more of your thoughts.

Been following RPGamer for almost 13-14 years and this is only the third time or so I've written in(My first question was answered by the legendary Thor many moons ago).

~Disgruntled old RPGrandpa


Wheels

Wow, that was quite some time ago! Glad to see you're still following the site. As you know, we're an all volunteer site, doing our best for y'all, and we always appreciate kind words, and of course whatever feedback you all have to help us do a better job. Keep reading, and good luck with Twilight Princess!

Tales of Square Enix

When people think square, they naturally think Final Fantasy. That is not a bad way to look at things, but it does a disservice to their other series, which do deserve more respect.

10) Valkyrie Profile - I really like this series for its uniqueness. What makes the series unique is its reliance on chain combos. Also it employs a very rare rpg side scrolling paradigm. Sprite based graphics makes this one of my favorite looking series.


Wheels

This should be fun!

Well I'm confused, the first game has those aspects for sure, but isn't the second game more 3D? Also the SRPG game in the series has no side scrolling aspects. Regardless, it's a series I have sadly neglected, which is something I need to fix. I've heard nothing but good things about the first game and have greatly enjoyed my limited time with it thus far.

9) Star Ocean - I like this series because its like anime star trek. And for those of you who dont know. Anime rocks, Star trek rocks. I also like how all the games are super connected.


Wheels

The games being connected is what originally brought me to the series, and as you know, my original experience (Star Ocean 3) did not go so well. Still, I've enjoyed the first game in the series and have heard the second is far better. I even greatly enjoy the battle system in the fourth entry. There's value in this series that I think Square Enix and tri-Ace have severely under-used. If they can make another very good entry in the series with a stronger emphasis on space exploration I think they could have something special. Of course, at this point I think they should just ditch the connected history of the original games.

8) The World Ends with You - One game on the DS for now, but it isnt going to stay that way. I think we are destined to see a sequel at tgs this year. What I loved about it was not only the combat system which is totally unique as it utilizes both screens. But the setting. Taking place in today's japan. It utilizes real regions.


Wheels

Not a series yet, but as many on staff are huge fans of this game I think we're with you in hoping it does become a series.


7) Kingdom Hearts - Yeah it has some FF characters, but it has nothing to do with that franchise. What some people hate about it I love. I love that its spread on alot of different platforms like gba, ds, psp, ps2, 3ds because it makes the series seem way larger than it really is. The action rpg gameplay is super deep and fun. Who doesnt want to slay jafar again?


Wheels

The series is still very popular, and despite a convoluted narrative I still love the action RPG combat and the Disney nostalgia. There's a lot this series can still do, and I think people complain about it a bit too much. We of course could have done without some of the side games, but that's alright. Birth By Sleep and 3D have put the series back on the right track.

6) Soft Boiled Hero - This is the one series probably nobody knows about as its japanese only and the last entry in the series was on the DS in 2005. Its an rpg/rts series, with humor not unsimilar to the mario & luigi series.

This is what the game looked like on the ds

soft boiled
                                hero

Absurd right?


Wheels

I don't think I've ever heard of this series.Looks quirky and fun, so I need to read up more on it. Shame we've never gotten an entry.

5) Bravely Default: Flying Fairy - Another entry thats solo in its budding series, and not even out yet, but looks so good I had to give it a nod. Its classic rpg..........jobs, turn based, party of 4, towns, worldmap, its all there. Set to be released on the 3ds this year in japan, I pray every night it gets localized.


Wheels

Not sure if this really counts as a series, but being a spiritual successor to Four Warriors of Light, which I loved, I'm all for more of this.

4) Ogre Battle - A series which consists of Ogre battle, Ogre 64, tactics ogre, tactics ogre knights of lodis, and a japanese only wonderswan gaiden, this series has been the wet dream for many a strategy gamer, myself included. In 2010 we saw a remake of tactics ogre on the psp, which is by far the definitive version of the game. This is a unique series because not only is the gameplay flawless, but so is the story.


Wheels

Ogre Battle is brilliant, and I don't really need to say any more about this series.

3) Chrono Trigger - Was there any doubt this would be here? Really? There is a reason why Chrono trigger is known as the best rpg of all time. It was made with a literal dream team of japanese talent. The rpg is my favorite on the snes for how innovative it is. Different endings, team combo attacks, deep sub plots, ect. The game had a sequel on the psx, and a remake of the first game was fairly recently done on the DS which is the best version of that game.


Wheels

Chrono Trigger is a brilliant game that I hope most RPG fans have played by now. I'd really like to see Square Enix make another game like it, not necessarily connected by story as time travel makes that insanely difficult. Even if the series is never revived again, at least it gave us one of the best RPGs of all time.

2) Front Mission - I am sure people didnt anticipate this to be my number 2. But I am a sucker for mechs in a neo'ish kind of environment. In America only games 1 ( this gen in a ds remake) ,3,4 are localized, while 2,5,2089 remain in japan. Unfortunatly most people will remember this gen for that aweful shooter side game, the newest main line title 2089, was spectacular. The most well known aspect of this series and what I love, is the difficulty, its maddening.

Now, up to this point all of the series Ive listed, I love alot, but in my heart of hearts, I like FF more. Not this next series. It is a true number 1.



Wheels

Another Square Enix series I have not played enough of. Not sure how I really ignored 3 back in the PS1 days, but I should fix that soon. Anyway, not sure why this series has never found much of a following in the West. With so many MechWarrior fans I thought for sure it would find a big enough following. For whatever reason, that hasn't happened.

1) Dragon Quest - Anyone who knows me knows I am a dragon quest fanboy. Like FF it has many different sub series aside from the main branch line. We have the slime series, the monster series, the mystery dungeon series, the Itadaki Street series, ect. All gold. But its the main series that really gets my motor going. Turn based combat, a deep world, characters you freakin care about, maddeningly hard bosses, grinding, it has everything. Also what is unique to this series, is, it literally only goes on the most popular systems of the gen. The top 2 usually. This gen it was wii and ds, last gen it was gba and ps2, the gen before that it was ps1 and gbc, the gen before that snes and gameboy.

To even get 1 game of this series on your platform, means your system is doing ok. I will probably be doing a top 10 list, just consisting of the games of this series.

There you have it. Another solid list of games. What are your favorite Square titles that arent Final Fantasy related?

I leave you with this

puff-puff

-Alan


Wheels

There is no doubt Dragon Quest is a classy series, and it is beloved in Japan with good reason. Thanks to Nintendo handling the series in the West, it has increased a fair bit in popularity here as well. I love the way the series sticks to tradition, even if they do so to a fault at times. Dragon Quest X is a new step for the series, so we'll see where it goes in the future.

Puff-puff!

As for my favorite Square Enix series other than Final Fantasy, I'm very particular to early Mana games, the SaGa series, and of course Thief and Deus Ex, which are now Square Enix properties. Here's hoping The World Ends With You really does become a series!

Beat

EARLIER TODAY (well a few days ago):

BEAT: Hey wheels I've been feeling creatively drained lately.  What do
you want a letter about.
Wheels: Think of your favorite game
BEAT: Bangai-O
Wheels: and imagine it as an RPG made by some shitty developers
Wheels: GO
BEAT: The very idea of Beautiful, Pure Bangai-O as
BEAT: God
BEAT: I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

Wheels you're a monster.



Wheels

Oh hi Beat, long time no see. I guess now would be a good time to describe why Majora's Mask is an awful game. I'm sure you could contribute to such a conversation.

Alright shoot. If Bangai-O, Were a terrible JRPG, the game would probably never even get to the best part, which is of course, the Giant robot that flies all over the place blowing the hell out of absolutely everything. Instead you would slowly explore top-down renditions of the levels that take place in areas with an actual atmosphere fighting robots and bad dudes with Riki and Mimi. I guess Sabu would be the horrible recurring miniboss who joins your party near the end of the game, Dark Riki would be the one on one fight, and the plot...


Wheels

So like some kind of turn based SRPG similar to the Front Mission games. What's so bad about that? You could blow up all kinds of things in a slow and strategic fashion. Why do you hate SRPGs? We can have both crazy action games and slow thoughtful SRPGs in the same world. We can have our cake an eat it slowly turn by turn! I suppose if you're just recreating Bangai-O's action directly as an SRPG without making many changes, it could be quite awful...

Actually the plot would be totally unchanged. Because Bangai-O's plot is just stupid enough to be able to fall into place in an RPG without changing a single word. Crazy, I know.

Now it's your turn punk. Your favorite Non-RPG in terrible RPG form.
Go

-BEAT


Wheels

Well that could prove troublesome, as most of my favorite Non-RPGs already have RPG entries. I'm going to go ahead and ponder what a Thief JRPG would be like. We'll start by replacing the cool protagonist with an angsty teenager. Instead of exploring a dark medieval city, let's make it a colorful metropolis run by animal people. In fact, let's go ahead and make the main character a raccoon. It'd be an action RPG, with skills gained as you level up, and it would terrible because stealth would be based on random rolls and not based on your skill at all. You'd have a turtle companion with an extremely obnoxious voice actor who would assist on lots of technical details.

Wait a second, did I just turn that into a Sly Cooper RPG?
IN CLOSING

That's it for this week folks!

-Wheels


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