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ASK WHEELS
Sky and Robot
September 30th, 2011

09/30- 12:00PM EST

Welcome to another episode of Q&A. Things are a bit late this week due to craziness in the baseball season distracting me.

I'll jump straight into the letters...





The Letters
Attn: Sir/Madam

  Goodday,

This is Mr.Bobson Ray. I work for South coast Inc. South Coast Inc is an investment sub-company under Capital One Bank U.K. South Coast Inc handles all aspects of investment of customer funds on behalf of Capital One Bank U.K.


Wheels

Interesting, I have to wonder though, South Coast of what? England? South America? China? Kind of a generic name don't you think?

South Coast Inc, on behalf of Capital One Bank U.K handles all Investors Treasury Bill Deposit which gives us access to trade with our Investors Funds on Private Arrangement. In addition, we make an average turn-over of US$1.2-3 Billion United States Dollars annually through Private Trading with our Investors fund and Treasury Bill Deposit while the said funds are currently lying as a Floating Capital in our Treasury Bill Magellan Trust Account.


Wheels

Why that's quite the profit, so, I have to ask this: Can't you afford to hire someone who can write better e-mails? I mean come on! There weren't even any flashy images in this thing!

Based on recent development, I have been mandated by one of our numerous investors to find someone of your caliber who can help receive and manage his funds in our custody. Details of the said investment funds will be revealed to you upon receiving a confirmatory email from you as to your readiness to assume the task of investing the said funds in a Private arrangement that will be beneficial to all parties involved.


Wheels

By someone of my caliber, you mean someone who answers questions about RPGs? What are we investing in here, Falcom stock?

This is a fair deal without any risk attached and will be legally transacted. I look forward to hearing from you for further discussion of the pending transaction.

Thank you for the anticipated cooperation.
Kind Regards.

Bobson Ray


Wheels

Whoa whoa whoa, pending transaction? How did we already get to a pending transaction in the course of this thing? This has quickly gone from "hey it'd be cool to have you on board" to "there's a pending transaction, you better be cooperating". You have to  be kidding me. This is the worst scam letter I've ever received. I'm sorry Mr. Bobson Ray but you have to at least make it sound convincing!

Some People Call Me the Space Cowboy

Hello Wheels,

I've been playing Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 and I have to say, I'm having a blast. I gave the first one about 5 hours and could not summon any interest too keep going. I think it was due to the level design being as bland as it could possibly be, with the added weirdness of waverunning to and from different islands. What was that about? I'm not sure if you played it, but did the game ever explain why they used waverunners and not, say, boats?

Wheels

I don't think it ever did, though I didn't play much farther into the first Joker than you did. Still my experience was the same. The game felt bland, and uninteresting, and I could never get into it. Joker 2 on the other hand, has a weird "Lost" vibe to its silly story, and the locations are a lot more interesting. Plus Joker 2 has the tank from Rocket Slime as a monster somewhere in the game, which is just amazing.

DWM:J2 doesn't seem to have a setting problem at all. You start the game by crash landing on some unknown island, and spend your time rounding up crewmembers of the airship and monsters as you explore deeper and deeper into the island. Having a contiguous world to explore is much more interesting, don't you think? I don't know about you, but I'm way more interested in this game than I was in Pokemon Black or White earlier this year, and I think it's due to the monster breeding. Why doesn't Nintendo (or Game Freak, whoever) make breeding Pokemon more streamlined? And why isn't it as interesting as DQM:J2?

Wheels

The setting is just great. It has a strange kind of "Lost" vibe to it, like I said, but of course handles it in a much more humorous way. What's great about the areas I've explored so far is the huge monsters that you can run into. Not just because they make the environment more interesting, but you can actually run into a battle with them and get destroyed. It adds a sense to danger while exploring these areas that normally in a game like Pokemon would just be a bland place to capture new Pokemon. I haven't done much of the breeding yet, but so far it looks a lot like the fusion from the Shin Megami Tensei series. It has that same addicting feel to it, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what breeding rare monsters will produce. I haven't been interested in Pokemon or similar games in years, so the fact that I'm loving this game is very telling. I'm not sure why Nintendo/Game Freak can't make the Pokemon breeding system more streamlined, but it looks like they have a lot to learn from DQM:J2.

I've also never played any of the non-DS Monsters games. Have you? Are they any good? Should I track any of them down, or wait for the recently announced 3DS remake of one of them?

Thanks!

-BuckTwenty

Wheels

I'd really wait for the 3DS remake instead of going back to the older ones. I have one of the gameboy ones, and have played the Japan only gameboy advance one, and they haven't aged particularly well. Your millage may vary, but I'd only try them if you can find one of the old gameboy games on the cheap. The past games may not be amazing, but the future of this series appears to be bright.

Thanks for the letter, don't be a stranger!

(Content!)^x

Mr. Iron Wheels, I'm back again!  Didja miss me?

Wheels

Of course I did! You always provide interesting questions. LOTS of interesting questions!

(FYI: short on time this week, so I'm saving your six degrees of separation challenges for next week)

All this furor on our forums over FFVII and FFX seems kinda silly to me, since I have no real interest in playing a newer version of either. That said, both could stand some improvement if Square Enix was intent upon doing such. Really though, VII is the one that needs help the most. I can accept that anybody who likes looking at a computer screen while playing the game can get around Sony's awful translation, but navigating the environments is needlessly convoluted EVEN WITH the arrows to note where the exits are, the graphics have aged very badly, and those animations really don't play well anymore when they take so long to complete. Sure it has some good points (even if I didn't think Uematsu's score was as great as most seem to), but to someone playing it for the first time in 2010, the result didn't impress. Oh, and the mandatory minigames were probably just as annoying back in 1997, but conveniently glossed over at the time. Unless someone wants to elucidate exactly how the terrible snowboarding sim needs to be played in order to get everything out of the game, I'll continue thinking of it (and the motorcycle quick time events, and the chocobo racing, and whatever I'm forgetting) as very not fun.

Wheels

Well part of Final Fantasy VII's appeal was how good it was compared to many other games when it originally came out, so I can understand why you couldn't get into it. The game has not aged well in the slightest. I actually enjoyed most of the mini-games, as they provided a nice way to break up the experience, but they also have not aged well. Back to the issue with the forum topic, and the topic that has been all over the web, the whole complaining is just silly. It's clear that this isn't really a "remake". HD Playstation 2 updates have been doing well, including Square Enix's own Tomb Raider Trilogy, so that's all that this FFX update is. It will show up on Vita as well, unlike the others, but it's clearly not a full on remake. So I'm just not sure what people are complaining about, Square Enix knows the power of the Final Fantasy VII brand, and they'll remake it when the time is right. People are acting like this is being done instead of a Final Fantasy VII remake, which is just silly. Not only that, but Final Fantasy X was quite popular on its own, with a sequel that sold more than five million copies. There is plenty of demand for a FFX update.

All I'm gonna say about X is that, since an International version of it exists that Square Enix could channel extra money overseas from, the HD retool is a quick way to make money.  I can always hope for lip syncing that doesn't make me remember horrible dub jobs for everything from Godzilla movies to Bruce Lee's work, let alone less time-consuming and boring puzzles in the temples, but those would require actual effort instead of what's likely to result.

Wheels

While none of those things bothered me in the original, you're right in that it's unlikely much will be changed for this update. I'd love for it to be the International version that's updated, but I'm sure it will sell well regardless. I can tell you I'm more excited for the Vita version than anything else. Portable FFX? Yes please.

Actually, I should talk a bit about Tengai Makyou III, since it DID take me over 100 hours to complete. It's nowhere near the insanity of the Saturn Tengai Makyou, though few things are. It's got a fair number of oddities, though. Take the enemy Madara, who has a technique that actually swaps the ceiling with the ground. I've been upside down in video games before, notably during the Death Egg in Sonic & Knuckles, but doing it in an RPG (a 3D one nonetheless) is noteworthy. Plus this isn't just a cosmetic thing, it inverts the strength of attacks so that weaker attacks are now stronger and vice versa.

Wheels

100 hours? That's pretty crazy. Are we talking like a legitimate 100 hours, similar to Dragon Quest VII, or is that just how much time you spent on it? Anyway, the whole ceiling swap thing sounds crazy, but at the same time, does that make the boss much easier, since you could then spam low level attacks?

Much earlier in the game is the interesting villain Idaten.  Not only does he look kinda like Bob Marley, along with having a tattoo on his tongue, this guy has some funky speed moves.  His villainous behavior mostly consists of whisking all the attractive women in a city away with a burst of wind straight out of the Looney Tunes.  When finally confronting him, he doesn't just fight, oh no.  First you have to answer his quiz questions - and they're timed!  Japanese knowledge or a great ability to guess multiple choice answers is mandatory.  Then you'll  need to bounce explosives in the air via a timed minigame, and quickly ID just how many enemies you saw rampage across the screen, before he'll finally get down to business.  Even the fight is unusual, since his speed makes landing hits harder than usual.  Until he puts on the Mayan bird mask and starts doing his weird super-fast combo that pummels everyone in succession, of course.

Wheels

Wow, that sounds pretty strange (I can't even imagine someone actually getting a tattoo on their tongue, does that actually happen?). I can tell you from the multi-choice questions in Persona 3 that I would probably fail horribly at the whole quiz portion. Not that I'm opposed to strange and interesting villains, but this guy sounds like a bit much.

Then there's the series goofball villain, Manto.  His first appearance is in a town where he attacks by... summoning a horde of rocking horses that will leave you almost dead.  Good thing he does absolutely nothing after that, allowing you to beat him into the dirt.  Then you fight him again in the place he's trying to turn into a theme park, then again where he begins the fight with a five minute monologue about all his roles in the series and how he feels gypped (I think - this is something only one fluent in Japanese can understand), then once again in Idaten's palace where he's got an experimental jet pack on his back that starts malfunctioning if you give it enough time.  He's weird, but since in the Saturn game he was the King of Lake Tahoe, this is a little bit of a come-down.

Wheels

Wait a second, the other guy wasn't the goofball villain? What the heck is this series?!?!?

The game also has a magic system I kind of liked, though it's time-consuming.  A bunch of hermits are scattered around the world, and each of them will give you a spell.  That spell can be equipped to any character, and once the character uses the spell a certain number of times (clearly shown in Roman numerals) the spell is learned and its MP cost is reduced and is about 50% more effective.  The only problem is that they can take awhile to learn.  Later healing spells take 75 or 100 reps to learn.

Wheels

Sounds somewhat similar to the esper system in Final Fantasy VI, where many of the more powerful spells took awhile to learn. 75 to 100 reps might be a bit much, but sounds like an interesting system.

Since you exclaimed about the choice between Produn and Edmund when I mentioned Shining Force III Scenario 3, I think it necessary to mention a similar part in Scenario 2. Remember Garosh, the archer Synbios encounters very early, in only his second battle while trying to escape Saraband and meeting the fake Emperor? Well, if Synbios talked to him in time, Garosh ran off to warn his government of what was taking place. If nobody got to him in time (since he's an archer surrounded by enemies, fiddling around will guarantee his death) he died. Late in Scenario 2 the consequence of this is revealed. After Medion has sent Governor Garvin scurrying off to eventually initiate his attack with a giant tank upon the Aspinian capital, Garosh will join Medion's ranks if he was left alive, as a favor to someone he knows is a friend. This means his younger brother Jade will be the boss of the next battle, since Jade is a soldier of the Republic and Medion's force IS marching through Republican territory in what looks an awful lot like an invasion (and is, since Domaric is with the force now). This path means that Jade has to die, because in Shining Force III most of the characters you kill in battle actually die. If Garosh died, then Jade will join Medion to seek vengeance against those who left him the sole member of his family.

Wheels

See, that's what makes games with choices like that so great. It sounds like every little death can have some kind of effect on the story and that just makes the world feel much more interesting, even if the effect on the overall story is minor. We need more game series where the choices you make carry over from game to game, as they make the experience feel like your own personal story.

Oh, and in Scenario 3, Julian gets some very interesting troops.  Instead of the birdmen Eldar, Fynnding, and Zero available to Synbios and Medion for flight purposes, Julian first gets Thousand (who can be killed, but why would you do that)?  Thousand is a dragon, and while he has no ranged attacks, seeing his special moves (one of which involves landing butt-first onto the enemy) is pretty darn cool.  Then Julian gets Honesty, a pegasus.  She can use spears for a ranged attack along with lances and wings (wings are like swords, so she's better against axe-users) giving her enormous usefulness.  Then late in the game he gets Primula, a fairy.  Attacking physically with her is pretty funny (since she's maybe one foot tall, it doesn't exactly do much) but she's a mage with an interesting spell list that includes Heal and the ability to summon Zephyrus.   So you've got a flying healer and magic user - very handy.

Wheels

Absolutely as far as the flying healer/magic user goes. One of the biggest problems I've always run into with magic users in the Shining Force series is their limited mobility. The Dragon/Pegasus characters sound great. I've always loved abusing characters with great mobility in Shining Force, to the point where I used all kinds of tricks to power up the turtle character in Shining Force 2.

So!  I've been playing quite a bit of Odin Sphere lately, and I understand you sampled it too.  I'll let you handle the graphics, which are most definitely gorgeous.  I have some beefs with the gameplay. The central one would be the repetition.  There are eight areas in the game (maybe a few more at the end, which I haven't reached yet) and five characters.  Each character starts from scratch with a brand-new story, and goes through seven of the eight areas.  In other words, you're going to see the same scenery (populated with the same enemies) a lot.  Each character does feel distinct, but considering the game plays rather like a beat-em-up, I wish the usual method of that genre had been employed.  In other words, letting me have a much shorter game that's amenable to replay with a different character is preferable to being forced into playing the stages over & over to pad out the game.  It's especially obnoxious when it comes to bosses, since their actions don't change regardless of the character being used. 

Wheels

Yeah as much as I like what I've played, it's a bit of a shame that this is the case. It seems like it would have been better, like you say, if the whole story plays out the first time through, and playing as different characters just gives you a different perspective, but isn't required to see the end of the story. I wonder, despite the game's popularity (it reached greatest hits status), if most people just played through a few character's stories.

Oh, and the load times can be annoying.  You'll have to let me know if the screen takes over 30 seconds to load whenever you enter a restaurant, which you will need to do because the food available there is far more effective at raising your HP level than eating what you can obtain directly on the battlefields.  

Wheels

I'll be nice and not tell you that I'm able to run the game off my PS2's hard drive and thus eliminate the long loading times...

Wax rhapsodic about the Lufia series for the readers, won't you?  Ignoring the fourth game on GBA, because even with my amazing tolerance for crap, I put it down after a few hours and haven't played it since. 
There, that should be plenty of material, don't you think?

Wheels

Well here's the thing, I've never played the Lufia games! I have a good friend who constantly tells me how good they are, but somehow I've never gotten around to it. I'll have to do so, as I'm really interested in the fact that the dungeons in the games are very puzzle focused. I will get back to you on this!

Thank you as always for the excellent content.

Suikofun

*WARNING: Suikoden 1/2 spoilers*

Suikoden is easily one of my favorite jrpg series of all time, for a number of reasons, including the unique flavor of the main series' world, the rather brutal way the influence of the True Runes tends to ruin people's lives and alter the course of history, and the very un-jrpg-like brutal reality of the wars that occur in that setting (racial pogroms, betrayals, assassinations, massacres, etc).  I'm going to be rather blunt about why I loved the series at first... I was a rather morbid, blood-loving bastard (ok, I'm still blood-loving, but I'm a bit less morbid) in my teens, when the first game came out, and a protagonist with a rune that ate the souls of the people he loved most appealed to me  on a lot of levels. 

However, after replaying the first two games recently, I was forced to recognize the most lasting value of the series is the sheer humanity of the core characters of each game, often most sharply defined by the characters that die as part of the story's progression (oddly, not an unusual factor in a lot of older jrpgs, though the practice seems to have virtually vanished as the genre has become more and more geared to dungeon-crawler addicts and a  younger audience).  Gremio, Mathiu, Pahn, Odessa, Teo, and numerous others in the first game, as well as Nanami, the old general, and even Jowy (in certain endings) in the second in many ways defined the turning points of the game, lending them an emotional impact that made permanent impressions in my memory.  Suikoden stories are above all, stories of humanity, both its best and worst aspects, and as a result, its plots were more mature than the common ruck of jrpgs, which have a tendency toward emotional surrealism that can be surprisingly shallow on closer examination in many cases. 


Wheels

I couldn't agree with you more. You've hit the nail on the head of what makes the Suikoden series so good. It has the trappings of fantasy that we know and love, but the characters and stories are much more grounded in reality. Death is a constant fear and consequence in there series, and characters have very real motivations. There's no insane super powered monsters trying to destroy the universe, and fewer real evil characters. Though Suikoden II  does include an insane evil character, he's much more complex than he appears at first. We need more games like Suikoden.

In addition, Suikoden stories were not 'save the world' stories, another distinction from the average jrpg that even now makes me go back to them... and made me so disappointed with Tierkreis, which - to be blunt - was not a Suikoden in theme or essential nature.  To be blunt, the events in Tierkreis, rather than being a mature story of war and chaos, was 'just another jrpg' with the only distinction being that the protagonist has a hundred and seven companions available to him to help save the world.  Seeing that a new side entry in the series is popping up in the same universe, I can only hope they manage to avoid it falling into the same trap, even though it is apparently not being developed by the original Suikoden team.  While Tierkreis might have been a decent jrpg... it had no business capitalizing on the Suikoden name.  I know I sound like a bitter fanboy - since that happens to be what I am - but I really do think I have a legitimate complaint in this case... in the case of a series whose greatest draws were the continuity of its unusually mature themes and deep, complex plots that were focused on a microcosm of the world rather than on some hair-brained quest to save the entirety of it. 


Sincerely,
Clephas


Wheels

You have a completely valid complaint. Though I think Tierkreis is a fine RPG, it ignores everything that made the original games so great. Now, I don't think it matters if the original Suikoden team is involved (weren't they disbanded?), there should be plenty of writers/developers at Konami who can replicate the same kind of feel. We'll see where the new game goes. I think if they try a more serious approach to the whole multiverse idea, they can make a more Suikoden-like game (I may be biased, I love multiple-universe stories). We'll have to wait and see. Personally I think Tierkreis would have been much more acceptable to Suiko-fans had it contained multiple types of combat like what is typical for the series. Hopefully the new game will include this. We shall see! At the very least, remember this: we'll always Suikoden 1/2/3/4(If it's your thing)/5!
IN CLOSING

That's it for this week! My mailbox is light, so send in some questions! Especially Suikoden questions!

See you next week!

-Wheels


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