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ASK WHEELS
Staff Appreciation Day
September 23nd, 2011

09/23- 12:00PM EST

Welcome to another episode of Q&A. This week is the host to a special staff question day. RPGamer's staff is a hard working bunch, and the least I can do is take the time to answer their interesting (and lengthy) questions!

On to the letters...





The Letters
Megaold Games

Dear Wheels,
 
Yes, I know it's been a while since my last letter. I'd like to say that I'll write in more often in the future, but that's a promise I should probably stop making, since I can never keep it. Please don't take this to mean I will stop sending in letters or anything! Just that I may never be able to send them on a regular basis.


Wheels

No worries!

Anyway, as I recently picked up Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, my very first 3DS game, I have started to do a bit of reading up on the Megami Tensei franchise. This may surprise you, (if you don't know already, I may have mentioned it once or twice in passing) but the original DS game was my first foray into this storied series. What's strange, at least on my end is how much I love Devil Survivor, as I tend to prefer light hearted games over more grim-dark titles, so my interest in the rest of the series is odd. It's a really intriguing franchise, made up so many various sub-series and standalone titles, some of which have only the vaguest links among each other. You may already know this, but many games that get called "Shin Megami Tensei" here in the west were not originally called that in Japan. It was obviously done for name familiarity, but at least they seem to be more connected to each other than say, Final Fantasy to SaGa or the Mana series.


Wheels

It is quite the interesting series.  I only got into it not too long ago. I had picked up Etrian Odyssey and enjoyed it a lot, so I picked up Persona PSP to try another dungeon crawling experience. Though I didn't care for that game too much, it led me to try other games in the series such as Persona 4 and Strange Journey. Certainly they are a lot more connected than series such as Final Fantasy, but at the same time I love that the games all have similar themes, gameplay systems, naming schemes, etc. in the same way that the Final Fantasy series does. Though your first SMT title may be tough to get into, it makes exploring the rest of the series much easier after that.

But anyway, for whatever reason, I feel like sharing my findings, at least on the origin of the franchise and the first two Megami Tensei games. I suppose it might be because few people talk about them, and I assume it means few people know about. If it is actually better-known information than I assumed, then I apologize for boring both you and your readers with the rest of this letter.


Wheels

Not at all, I'm sure many don't even know that there were Megami Tensei games minus the Shin. The series had fans back in the PS1 days in the west, but I don't think it really became popular here until the PS2 games like Digital Devil Saga and Persona 3 made their way over.

Anyway, the Megami Tensei franchise actually started out as a series of novels, the first titled Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei by Aya Nishitani. The novels, as well as the anime OAV adaptation are about a high school boy named Akemi Nakajima who creates a demon summoning program to get Loki to exact revenge on some students who wronged him. Of course, Loki is hardly loyal to him, and he soon manafests himself in the real world without Akemi's knowledge and starts to wreck havock. There are translations for the first two books out there. It should be easy to find by Google. The few things that these books originated that can still be found in many a MegaTen game include the demons Loki and Set, a computer program that can summon demons, and Cerberus, which looks like a cross between a white lion and a dog with a reptilian tail instead of the traditional three-headed hellhound.


Wheels

Interesting, I didn't realize the concept of a computer program to summon demons appeared so early in the series. Sounds like these books are worth checking out as well. I also didn't realize the start of the series came about from novels. Seems like I have a lot of reading to do!

The very first MegaTen game was titled Digital Devil Monagatari: Megami Tensei and it was for the NES, PC8 and MSX. It's something of a follow-up to the novels, as the game stars Akemi and the books' heroine Yumiko Shirasagi, who is the reincarnation of the Shinto goddess Izanami, from which the title "Megami Tensei" is derived. They discover that Lucifer has resurrected Loki and Set, both of whom were defeated in the novels and plans to take over the human world. They must travel through the Daedelus Tower in order to defeat them. The game is something of a dungeon crawler, with scrolling, three-dimensional dungeons like the first Phantasy Star. There wasn't much in the way of a plot (surprising, right?), but there was an automap feature. Demons were recruited like in later games, and could even be fused to create more powerful ones. They did not level-up, so you'd have to switch out your ealier demons for newer, stronger ones frequently. It's apparently fairly difficult and the encouter rates are high. What must have been a real drag, though, was the lack of a save feature, Instead you got passwords -- just imagine how long thoes had to be. :P
Megami Tensei would be the last game to have any direct ties to the original novel series. Despite the name Digital Devil Monagatari: Megami Tensei II, this game is not a sequel to the first game or the books. Instead, the original video game exists as a game in Megami Tensei II, but is retitled Devil Buster. The story occurs in a post-apoclyptic world, as nuclear misslies launched in 199X destroyed much of civilization (you know, same old, same old). Two teenagers are playing Devil Buster and after defeating the first boss, the demon Pazuzu appears to them in-game and gives the player the ability to summon demons in the form of a computer program, and tells him of a coming menace. Soon after, their shelter is attacked by demons and the two set out to save the remnant of humanity. Rather than 3D dungeon scrolling, the overworld and dungeons more resembled more familiar Famicom/NES RPGs like Dragon Quest. Like later games in the franchise, there are multiple endings, and it seems that you can ally yourself with Lucifer or YHVH, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a neutral human-focused ending as well (I can't be sure though, as I can't find much info on that). The music is apparently really good, and I am impressed with the few tracks I've heard.


Wheels

Sounds like we missed out on a lot of gems back in the day. Not only that, but it sounds like a lot of what I thought as new for the series in the recent entries was actually pretty common. It's a real shame that we haven't gotten to experience this series from the very start (although I wouldn't have enjoyed entering massive passwords)!

Note From JuMeSyn:

While true that we missed some potentially good stuff, you should probably mention that the odds of the games on NES making it over here at the height of Nintendo's censorship were somewhere around the odds of getting the same number on four roulette tables simultaneously.

While there have been no new games simply titled "Megami Tensei" since the NES/Famicom era, there was an enhanced remake of them for the Super Famicom called Kyuuyaku (Old Testament)  Megami Tensei: Megami: Megami Tensei I - II. It featured improved graphics and sound, as well as changes made to the first game and some extras added to the second. You can actually save in Megami Tensei, some early dungeons were re-done, and there is a teleportation feature. In the second game, there are new side quests and rewards if you play the first game before it.


Wheels

Sounds like this is the version most of us would be interested in playing. I mean seriously, I can't even imagine what kinds of passwords these games would have required!

And my overview ends here. As you may have guessed, neither of these games are directly related to the following Shin Megami Tensei sub-series or any of the other games in the franchise. Still, I find it fascinating to discover the roots of long-running series. Since I haven't asked any questions, I'll shoot a few here: How would you perfer to experience the original two games? English translations of the original Famicom titles (say on the Wii or 3Ds Virtual Console)? Or maybe just translated the Super Famicom remakes? Or would you perfer entirely new remakes. Or perhaps you wouldn't want to at all? As for myself I'd probably go for the last option, though a part of me wants to at least try the very first games in their original forms.
 
Good Arceus, I don't think I've ever sent a letter in this long into Q & A. I apologize if it's too much. Take care, Wheels!
 
-Strawberry Eggs


Wheels

I think I'd prefer entirely new remakes. Since playing Etrian Odyssey and Strange Journey I've found it very hard to play dungeon crawls of this type that don't have robust map features. I mean, I think it would be cool to have a translated version of the Super Famicom remakes, but these games remade using the Strange Journey engine would just be really cool. We know Atlus likes to re-release its games, so such a remake isn't even out of the question. We shall see!

Thanks for the letter, I don't mind long ones at all!

Tales of Average Games

Yo Wheelio,

So you mentioned in staff chat that you didn't enjoy Tales of Innocence. I don't know much about this title, so what's it about, and why isn't it very good?  How do you think it can be improved in the "Reimagined" version?

Cheers,
Oce

Wheels

Well for those that don't know, Tales of Innocence was the second Tales game to be released for DS, and it was developed by Alfa System, which also does the Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology games. It is notable in that it had a fan translation released not too long ago. So what's wrong with it? Mainly, it just plays like a dumb-downed version of a console Tales game. Featuring a combat system just like recent Tales games such as Tales of the Abyss, it just doesn't feel as polished as the games it draws inspiration from. The graphics are mostly middling as well, not because they're bad 3D (for the DS), but because of uninteresting art design.  The world map definitely qualifies as bad 3D, though. Not that any of this makes it an awful game, it is a decent effort. The problem was I played it after the far more original and interesting Tales of Hearts. Hearts was designed by the Tales Studio, and feels like a game truly designed for the DS. So perhaps it's just my annoyance that Hearts isn't the game being remade that led to my initial disappointment.

That being said, I don't think there's anything that can be done to improve the game in the re-imagined version, short of radically altering the gameplay and art style. Based on the screen-shots I've seen, it doesn't appear to have either. Perhaps Innocence was just more popular than Hearts in Japan, which would be a crying shame.

Wild SaGa Frontier Arms

Hey Wheels, it felt like a good time of the month to write in, so here I go!

First we need to talk about games. Wild ARMs 3 and SaGa Frontier II. Why have you not yet played these games? They both have interesting and at times oddly presented methods of storytelling. For example, WA3 starts out with four complete strangers breaking into a locked compartment on a train at the same time, and only then letting the player choose which back story to see first. It then goes on to have a surprising (yet in hindsight logical) progression of villains.

Wheels

Well in the case of SaGa Frontier II, I simply never got around to it for some reason, and have recently been saving it for a rainy day. Since it is currently a rainy day, I think I will fire it up soon (especially with a SaGa Frontier episode of Backtrack coming up). As for Wild ARMs 3, I really have no excuse. I loved the first game when I was younger, and never really played any of the other games. I do own Wild ARMs 3, so I'll have to fire it up some time soon. I do know it has an amazing opening theme. The Wild ARMs PS2 games really deserve an HD collection.

SF2 is the most linear SaGa title ever made, but locks that linearity into vignettes on a set chronology which does NOT need to be gone through in complete linearity (though it's recommended). And there's the magic system. Pretty much anything that can be equipped (sans steel items) can also power magic spells in this game, and even the local environment can affect mana accessibility. It's a neat system to work with. Finally, SF2 lets the player choose between party and duel battles, both of which have pros and cons. Also, the artwork is gorgeous. The final boss is a complete SMURF, though.

Wheels

I don't mind linearity. Given my limited time and the large number of games I play, this actually sounds like a plus. Aside from the linearity, sounds like the game has the typical complex and obtuse systems that any good SaGa game has. The great artwork certainly doesn't hurt. You've pretty much settled it, I have to play this game as soon as possible.

Moving on, I thought up a new scenario for Kaijuu RamPaGe, set in northern California. Eddie "Dr. Bud" Horowitz was tending to his not-entirely-legal little grow-op when a green meteor did an air-burst above his farm. A few days after the dust settled, he noticed that his crop was growing a lot faster than normal. To "check the quality" he decided to smoke a bit, and had his mind expanded. And his forehead, too (it now measures about 12 inches vertically). From then on, Dr. Bud became a mad scientist with a mission: to free humanity from the forces of Prohibition, and spread his crop wherever possible. To that end, he built himself a mecha out of an old combine harvester (fueled with bio-fuel contaminated with green alien dust) and proceeded to conquer San Francisco. It should be mentioned that even though his apparent IQ is now somewhere around 300, he's permanently half-baked at this point. His good-natured attempts to provide pot to the citizens of SanFran results in a kaijuu-fied jungle called the Green Hell. Apparently his crop isn't as mellow as he is. Like the Ebon Ichor, the Green Hell is as much an environment as it is an enemy. The abundance of greenery holds down infrastructure, making it harder to destroy buildings and limiting the Magnetic Man's ability to attract metal to himself. Flowery monsters spew forth poisonous or hallucinogenic gasses that can affect anything with working lungs. After blasting through all this, Dr. Bud and his mecha (the Mystic Aum-buds-man), are pretty easy pickings. It's just not that easy to get to them in the first place.

Wheels

Dang it, as soon as you mentioned San Fransisco this song popped into my head and it wont go away. Anyways I don't want to say too much more to detract from the previous awesomeness.

Now, as for challenges... I did the "odd thing made core element" game challenge, so I do believe it's your turn to pose one.

Your fellow columnist, Gaijinmonogatari

Wheels

Here's your challenge for you right here: pitch a cross-over RPG between a western RPG series, and a Japanese RPG series (and don't you dare steal my Deus Ex/Persona cross-over). Good luck!

A Lesson in Falcom's History

Their own version of  Ys IV? What exactly is the story behind that game? I know there are seemingly two totally different games with the title of Ys IV, but that's about it...

Feel free to answer this at length in Ask Wheels, if need be. I know you'd be happier that way. :P

TwinBahamut



Wheels

Well as you may or may not know, Falcom has a long and strange history. It used to license ports of its games to seemingly every possible platform out there.  Now, Ys IV took things a bit farther, with Falcom licensing the development of two completely different versions, one on Super Famicom and one on PC Engine CD, from two different developers. They both had the same basic story, but took vastly different paths from there (Falcom must have given them a lot of freedom in this regard). If that wasn't enough, there was also a third version released years later by Taito, which also deviated from the other two. I think the general opinion is that the PC Engine is the best version (the only one I own and have played), but I think  frequent forum poster Wyrdwad can tell you more about the other two versions if you so desire. He knows more about Falcom than anyone!
IN CLOSING

That's it for this week! Next week we've got a letter from the King of Content, and we'll talk about the new Dragon Quest Monsters.

See you then!

-Wheels


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