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ASK WHEELS
This Week, Are You Sick of Me Talking About Tales Yet?
October 20th, 2010

10/20 - 12:00PM EST

  Alright I'm skipping my usual start because you're probably sick of me welcoming you. Unless this is the first episode you're reading, in which case, welcome! Anyway, this week we've got some questions about, well you'll see it's the first letter. We'll also be talking Square-Enix, Tales, and Kawazu! Some of my favorite topics. I also just got Fallout: New Vegas which is cool so far. Still plenty of great RPGs to come this year, including Oath in Felghana! Anyway, on to your letters.





The Letters
My Performance Review?

Mr. Wheels
 
This e-mail is to inform you that management has completed your annual performance review.  We realize that this can be a stressful time of year and we thank you for your cooperation.


Wheels

Well yeah of course it's a stressful time, I mean it's my first performance review! Wait a second...... who is this?

We are happy to report that overall you scored adequately as our new answerer of questions.  That said, there are a few issues we would like to bring to your attention so that you might improve your processes.


Wheels

Alright this is starting off on a good note, let's see where this is going. I do like the idea of changing my official title to "Answerer of Questions". Has a certain ring to it.

First of all is the issue of favoritism.  You seem to have a sort of hero-worship complex with this "Kawazu" fellow.  While we do not discourage your enjoyment of this obscure developer, perhaps you could give your thoughts on other decidedly "different" game designers as well, such as Gochi Suda, or Peter Molyneux?


Wheels

While Suda is certainly a crazy developer, is Peter Molyneux honestly a "different" developer? Certainly he knows how to talk the talk, making all kinds of crazy statements about what his games will be. However, I don't think any of his games have exactly delivered on these promises. Certainly they've all been fantastic games, I love both Fable and Black and White, but by and large, they do not break all that far from the mold of western game design. I'd be happy to talk more Fable though!

We also regret to note that you do not often cover games with billions of screaming fangirls.  we realize that you may find screaming fangirls amazingly annoying, but they represent a large portion of our annual revenues.  Bearing this in mind, perhaps you could appease that demographic by bringing up the game with the most screaming fangirls, Kingdom Hearts?


Wheels

You know, I planned on responding to this by saying of course I've talked about Kingdom Hearts, but the more I think about it, I really haven't. I enjoy the series, despite how convoluted the mythos is getting,  the series has really delivered several fantastic Action RPGs. Maybe I'll get some letters after this, possibly from screaming girls?

Finally, we have noticed that you have a tendency to run letters by unsavory characters, namely someone going by the alias "Beat".  It is management's policy to allow you to pick your own letters, but the contents of his correspondence seems upsettingly focused on mudslinging political campaigns, getting mauled to death by the monster of black river trail, and amazingly bad poetry.  We hope that you will show more digression in the future.
 
Thank you very much for your time,
 
Benjamin Edwards Addison-Taivs.
Partner, Q&A reviews LTD.


Wheels

You don't want me to answer your letters anymore Beat? I'm afraid I can't do that. It's too much fun!


Square-Enix Times

Dearest... Who?
 
Q&A has had so many different hosts... How many have there been? I don't even remember who was doing it last time I wrote it. Either way, kudos. You're doing a fine job Wheels.
 
Now I shall tackle every hot topic! Y'know... The questions. Not the stores.
 
1. Squeenix/Mana - I didn't really play a lot of the Mana games, but the couple that I did play (Secret and Legend I think) were fantastic and I think it'd be beneficial to see the series come back on the PS3 or 360 (no love for the Wii). Though, given the history of all Square-Enix owned properties, I think they would be better off focusing on a third Chrono installment. Perhaps a direct sequel to the first? Surely I'm not the only one that would like to travel through time on the 360...?

Wheels

Yes, there certainly have been a ton of hosts! However that's neither here nor there.

Well you're already in my good graces because you enjoyed the Kawazu Mana game! Anyway, I think the series could still have some sway if they could just make a good co-op Action RPG that reminds people of Secret of Mana. Dawn of Mana showed what the series could look like with higher-res graphics, but it certainly did not deliver in the gameplay department. Perhaps rather than spending a ton on development though, maybe they could make a downloadable game that plays similar to the old games as a way to test if there's still some interest in the series. Then again, perhaps that's what they're doing with the iPhone version of Secret of Mana. We shall see!

I agree that there are certainly many who want to see a new Chrono game, but at this point I don't know if a direct sequel would be the best route. Regardless, a new time traveling RPG would certainly get people's attention, and as we can see with the success of Chrono Trigger on the DS, there is some interest. I can assure you that you and I are not the only ones who want some time traveling times on our 360/PS3 etc.


2. SaGa - Lately it seems Square-Enix can't make a decent RPG unless they're remaking it... Even then it can sometimes be a little awkward (like the lack of changes in the Chrono Trigger "remake"). Granted I've never played the Romancing SaGa titles, but just taking into account the stuff Squeenix has been doing lately makes me think they should stick to remakes until they get a new game plan (pun intended with severity). That said, are there any non-FF titles you'd like to see remade?


Wheels

I disagree with you here, I think many of their new RPGs have been quite fantastic, and aped many of their old games. I'd take Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XIII over just about any classic Final Fantasy game, except maybe V or VI. The problem, as I see it, is that this gen, like more of Japan, a lot of their efforts have gone into portable games, where you will find many fantastic and original titles from them. Most of their bad High-Def RPGs are in fact Tri-Ace games. Last Remnant is the exception of course, but if you play the PC version, which is not marred by technical issues, you'll find a damn fine RPG.  We're going to disagree widely on Final Fantasy XIII, but I'll save comments on that for the next section. I'd like to see some new stuff from the SaGa series, but the DS remakes certainly give more people in Japan a chance to check out the series. It's a huge shame we'll probably not get either. I think continuing along the process of remaking the Final Fantasy series, portable or otherwise is a good business plan, and gives fans plenty of different takes on the series. However, other than Secret of Mana, I'd really rather see Square-Enix do more quirky titles that are kind of "faux" 8 and 16 bit rpgs with modern graphics like 4 Heroes of Light. I really can't recommend it to people enough (to those that love the 8-bit Final Fantasies anyway).

As far as Chrono Trigger DS, did they advertise it as a remake? I think most people just wanted the original game in some form. Chances are they wanted to be careful and see if the series could still sell as well. I think most fans are happy with the DS version regardless.

3. FFXIII - I absolutely hated everything about the thirteenth Final Fantasy and it looks like the fourteenth is going to be just as bad, if not worse. The gameplay, story, characters, battle system, and especially the music was dreadful to me. If I were Square I would've abandoned the Fabula Nova Crystallis project as soon as XIII was playable. It was like they looked at a tunnel and said "let's make that our story, and the only fun along the way will be a bunch of optional bosses near the end". I don't know what's happened to Squeenix lately, but I have given up on them as a company. Back in the 90's you could play a non-Square game (or Enix) and feel like you weren't playing the best... Playing through FFXIII I just felt bad because I knew there were better games that deserved my attention. Does that make any sense? You ever feel that way?


Wheels

Well I couldn't disagree with you more. I thought the battle system was the finest the series has seen. It was no more linear than many games in the series, and I thought the characters were great. It has to have the best localization I've ever seen. The music isn't as memorable in many instances, and more atmospheric, but they don't have Uematsu anymore, so you're just going to have to deal with some growing pains trying to find out who's going to compose the series from now on. I'm not going to say more, because we aren't going to agree. I'd say don't ignore the other FFXIII games though, as I'm going to bet you'll find something to enjoy there, be it Agito or Versus. As far as FFXIV though, what does that have to do with anything? It's done by MMO people, who aren't going to work on the single player series, and it being bad doesn't mean anything about future FF games developed by completely different teams. This is the Final Fantasy series, every changing and morphing, and there's no way fans are going to love every game in the series. Ignore XIV and wait for news on XV.

I have felt that way in the past by the way, playing Cross Edge, which I wanted to try and enjoy because I wasted money on the thing!

4. Persona - I can't comment on the Persona series. Not my thing.
 
5. Tales - You know what would be amazing for the Tales series? They've established a number of really different battle systems in their games and for the most part they are all enjoyable... I've always wanted to see an rpg with the ability to change it's battle system based on what the player prefers. If you want more of a real-time action kinda game (like an MMO or even to go so far as something more akin to Zelda), or something more traditional like Tales of Phantasia/Symphonia/FF/etc... The Tales games would be perfect to make that innovation because their traditional battles are very action-oriented... Perhaps I want too much, but it always seems to me like you can't please everyone unless you give them options and that is one option no one has ever given the player... How would you like your battles to play in this game?


Wheels

4. Play Persona!

5. I think this would be a really cool idea for the Tales series, I'm just not sure how feasible it would be. I agree though, that would be a great idea for the Tales series or any RPG really. I'd love to see a developer experimenting with the idea of allowing you to play its battles in multiple ways. The closest I think I've seen to this is in some Final Fantasy games, and Chrono Trigger, where you could choice to have battle continue in real time while you choose your actions, or have it pause. That's mostly a minor thing though, and I'd love to see a developer take it to a new level. Imagine a Tales game where you could switch between a 3D Battles System, 2D Tales of Hearts style system, and some kind of turn-based system similar to Arc Rise Fantasia. That would be a very interesting experiment.

Now for my question. What's new with the Suikoden series? Is there any hope for Suikoden 6 or should I stop eagerly awaiting the next installment after being blown away by 1, 2, 4, 5, (and even Tactics)? I heard about Tierkris (spelling?), was it worth picking up?

Keep on rockin' in Midgar,

Kain Vinosec
www.EmbracingFate.com


Wheels

Always keep the hope for a Suikoden VI! I mean, they made 7 games now (that came out here anyway), so people must be buying them. I think the DS game was an attempt to make the series reach a wider audience. I don't think it can though, and I hope they find away to make some low budget (don't take that term in the wrong way, I just mean it isn't realistic to do an HD Suikoden, maybe one on Wii, or 3DS?). I recommend the DS game though, it's not really a true Suikoden game (no duels or army to army battle), but as a Suikoden themed RPG, it does just fine.

Anyway, write in again!


Tales of Tales

Dear Wheels,

You really think that the Tales series is in decline? Well, if you're talking about in the North American and European markets, where a Tales game hasn't been released in more than 2 years now, then I see your point. As for the Japanese market however, it seems to be going really strong still. So I pondered about why that is so, and what I would do if I were in charge of Namco, as per hot topic #5.

Wheels

Well I don't think the Tales series has ever been big enough in the West to actually have a decline, so no, I did mean Japan. If you look at the sales numbers for some of the recent games, it's interesting to see that the main series DS titles each sold under 200k, which is not great for mothership titles, especially considering they probably spent a ton of money making two different versions of Tales of Hearts. Tales of Graces obviously didn't sell that well, likely due to word of mouth about all the bugs. Tales of Vesperia on PS3 sold great though, and Radiant Mythology 2 made "the best" line, so I guess I was too quick to judge the series as "in decline". Saying it's in a bit of a rut would likely be more accurate.

Not surprisingly, the answer I first came to was "Localize more of the games!" But of course it couldn't be that simple, or else they would have been doing it. When I look at the Tales series' media in Japan, it seems to me to be very fan-oriented. In particular, the voice actors and the characters whom they portray are always given chances to shine for and entertain the fans, even outside of the games. Go on YouTube and try searches for topics like "Viva Tales of," "Tales drama DVD," "Tales seiyuu chat," or "Tales Festival," and watch some of the videos that come up (well, you don't HAVE to do this right now, but I was hoping that you could post this letter and encourage others to do so). I would also add that the characters of the Tales games in particular are easy to fall in love with, especially with the skits in the games where you almost constantly see the characters interact and show off their respective personalities. It's little wonder that the fans fall in love with them easily, and Namco knows that, which is why these fun little DVDs are released and even entire fan festivals arranged for the fans to enjoy the characters from different games converse with each other. I even think that's the biggest reason why the Radiant Mythology games are so popular in Japan: they give players the change to REALLY play with all the characters from their favorite games, and watch them all meet each other, interacting with each other while staying true to their own personalities, which makes a lot of fan-wanted meetings and conversations happen. I think this love for the characters is part of what keeps the series' popularity alive and well, in Japan at least.

Wheels

I think you've really hit on one of the reasons people really like this series, even over here. The characters are always good, even when the main story in some of the games isn't a drawing point. You can see it in the small Tales community in the west, lots of character discussion, fan art, etc. Based on the success of things like Dissidia: Final Fantasy, and the success of NIS America's cross over releases like Cross Edge and Trinity Universe, I think there's a niche audience for these types of games. So if there ever comes a time where the Tales series is really popular here, I think these kinds of things will become more popular here. It's too bad the only fan game in the series we got is the awful Radiant Mythology, because its sequel is much better.

So once again, I wonder why this isn't true here in North America and Europe too. You don't see North Americans and Europeans enjoying these DVDs or attending Tales-centric festivals and conventions (I personally would SO go to one, if we had them that is). Now if I were in charge of Namco, I would probably try to GET Americans and Europeans to see just how lovable this series is. Maybe I would release these DVDs here too with copies of the games as pre-order bonuses, which is how a lot of them were moved in Japan. In addition, I would want to introduce the other Tales media out there. Yes, Tales is not JUST a game series in Japan; there are loads of Tales manga, drama CD sequels to the games, and even some anime. I would try localizing more of those too, even keeping the voice actors consistent for the characters across the different media, which is extra-pleasing to fans. The way I see it, if you can't seem to build a Tales audience with the games alone, try reaching the fans of other media, like those who enjoy manga and anime.

Wheels

I think you're on to something here. If you look at the popularity of things like Bleach and Naruto, the games appear to sell quite well regardless of whether they're good or not. Though there obviously aren't anime series for every game in the Tales series, if they can get one or more of the existing ones to be popular here, I think that will help with the sales of the games themselves.

Whew, I guess that was a pretty long-winded explanation of what is actually a simple idea. I apologize for that, but I guess I just get too passionate when it comes to Tales.

Wheels

It's alright! I love questions like this because I love talking about this series. I may often be negative about the chances of the series here, but I want to see it successful. I don't think it was too long-winded though, lot's of good points on your end!

At least I do have a question of sorts. Given the topic, what do you think are the chances that Namco will localize the 3DS version of Tales of the Abyss? I recall that when they announced the localization of the Phantasia OVA, they also announced the localization of the GBA game too, and we got both shortly afterward. Now they recently announced that they will bring over the Abyss anime series, AND Abyss gets announced for the 3DS a bit later. How possible do you think we will get both this time too? Again, if I were in charge of Namco, I would think that it would be a perfect cross-media opportunity to release both of these here at the same time and spark interest in the series, especially if they do it early in the 3DS's life where everyone would be talking about it, with Tales of the Abyss being the system's launch RPG. What do you think about that?

FirstAid

Wheels

I think you're on to something and I really hope that you're correct. I'm not sure thinking about it that the timing would be right. The anime is already being dubbed as we speak, and I'm not sure the 3DS version of Abyss will be ready by the time the anime is ready, unless they hold it back, or unless they're releasing it in several volumes over time. However, it certainly could work, and I don't think there's any reason for them not to give Abyss 3DS a try over here when the localization is done, there probably won't be anything extra to translate, and there likely won't be many RPGs early on for the system. Seems like a great opportunity for them, and I hope it happens. At the very least, it will be great to have the Abyss anime. I wonder if they'll get the cast from the game?

Anyway, it's been too long FirstAid! Keep writing in! I thought for awhile I scared you off after our discussion about Japanese voice overs....


Oh the Times, they are a Kawazuing

You're very vocal about your love of all things Kawazu, and some might call you Kawazy. I've played a lot of his games but I cannot say that I've ever actually -enjoyed- any of them (excluding Final Fantasy Legend 2). You see, I refuse to believe that he's a bad game designer, in the same way that I refuse to believe that Suda51 is a bad game designer--because they continually perpetuate the same 'mistakes' over and over again. What I've gathered about him as a developer is that he's got some really interesting, and unorthodox ideas, but when it comes down to implementation and execution they are severely lacking in polish and accessibility. Game systems are overly obtuse, oftentimes opaque, and they often don't "work" alongside each other very well. While his games have been met with modest success in Japan, he has a hard time reaching global success.


Wheels

They certainly aren't what you would call blockbusters, even though the SaGa gameboy games did just fine in both Japan and the US. That's fine though, it's clear Kawazu's games are budgeted with this in mind, often with more artistic and less technical engines driving the gameplay. In more recent days, most of his work has been showing up on the DS. So in short, you're right, they probably will always have a hard time reaching global success, but then they're designed with modest success in mind. I think SaGa 2 DS could have been a good hit in the US though, given the nice 3D look.

Having said that, do you feel that the ingredients missing in Kawazu games are polish and accessibility?  Do you think that Japan more of a tolerance for this approach to design? Or do you feel like it's sort of a trademark of his, and that it's what makes his game's so uniquely his?

-Belmont


Wheels

I would mostly agree with these assessments to an extent. Often his game systems are not fully explained, and the player needs to figure out a lot of things on their own. Just look at the original SaGa games, there's a bunch of abilities your mutants get that don't appear to do anything. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing though. While I can't blame anyone for being annoyed that a game doesn't tell them exactly how to play it, especially considering how games are made today, but I think it really is part of the charm. The SaGa series is all about figuring out things on your own, how to unlock new abilities, what weapons work best, where to go next, etc. I'd say many Kawazu games are more akin to old PC RPGs than they are to newer console ones. Many of these classic RPGs forced the player to explore the world and figure out what they need to do on their own. I think there's a place for both hand-holding games and more hands off games, and people are way too hard on this aspect of many Kawazu games. Besides, his more action oriented games are anything but inaccessible.

As far as unpolished? I don't know how much I can agree with that. Certainly many of the early SaGa games were rough around the edges, but that was common for the time. I'd say the impression of some of his games being "unpolished" is more regarding the graphics, and not the actual gameplay mechanics. I think it's clear he doesn't always get the biggest budget to work with, and that suits his quirky titles just fine.

The sum of it is I don't blame anyone for not like his games, given the learning curve, but I don't like it when they're called bead because of that. The crazy and out of the box systems are what make Kawazu games unique.

Thanks for writing in, look forward to hearing from you again!

IN CLOSING

That's all for this week. Remember you've got until 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time to get a letter or tweet in to get into the contest. I'll be naming the winner next Wednesday. Also, old Wheels will be taking some time off in the coming holiday season, but rather than not run a column those weeks, I decided that you, the readers will basically get to write the column! So, send me in an answer for one of these special columns, and be sure to mark it as such so I don't go responding to it in the column. You can use whatever you want for the question, something from the forums, one of my hot topics, something off the top of your head, anything! I'll be using the best of these for these special columns. Anyway, see you next time!

-Wheels



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What I can't wait for:

1. Ys: Oath in Felghana for PSP

2. Tales of Graces F

3. SaGa 3 DS

4. Disgaea 4

5. Z.H.P.


On my Playlist:

1. Oath in Felghana Soundtrack

2. Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack

3. Etrian Odyssey 3 Arranged Soundtrack



Hot Topics:

1. Should Square-Enix take another shot at reviving the Mana series?

2. The Final Fantasy series is ever changing and evovling, but do you think it's time for another main series game like Final Fantasy IX, that pays homage to the past?

3. If a Final Fantasy XIII-2 is made, what changes to the battle system should be made?

4. Guys Square-Enix isn't in decline, and their newer games aren't bad. You need to seperate your dislike of the newer gmaes and objectively realize that most of them are quite good. You're giving Wheels a headache. Dragon Quest IX is amazing. SaGa 2 DS is amazing. There's plenty of good stuff to come from the company! OK I just defended you Square-Enix, now get FFXIV into shape!

5. A trend I've been seeing in a lot of the RPGs I've been enjoying of late is not using MP, though it still has it's place in many games, not having to manage it can be quite enjoyable. Do you think this should show up in more RPGs, or should it only be used when the game is carefully designed not to use MP?


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