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ASK WHEELS
Shining in the Q&A
October 21st, 2011

10/21- 12:00PM EST

Welcome to another edition of Q&A! This week we've got all kinds of Shining talk, in addition to a really cool game pitch. Not going to blab too much, other than to say I'm finally nearing the end of Persona 3 Portable and continuing to make slow progress in Dark Souls. Not really liking the way the story in P3P is ending up, but the gameplay continues to be great.

On to the letters!





The Letters
Shining Content

Is it Mr. Big Wheels with whom I converse?  Almost certainly the answer is yes!


Wheels

I am always in wonder at how many different versions of my nickname you can come up with, what will be next?

No word on Lufia, eh?  Well, I'll give you the short dissertation based on my experiences.  The original game, Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, is well regarded by some.  I do not share those feelings, as even after playing through the whole thing I struggle to remember much.  It came across as a very generic 16-bit RPG to me, with its many dungeons blending together in a sea of mediocrity. 


Wheels

That's the feeling I always got looking at screenshots and such. One of my best friends raves about both games however, so I will certainly have to play them at some point just to form my own opinions. Anyway, let's see how you feel about them.

Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals is universally acclaimed as the high point of the series, with which I agree.  It's a still-unique specimen that did a lot right, and while it's not perfect (one apparently glitchy room comes to mind that wasn't glitchy enough to make the game be redone) it's definitely good enough to experience.  The third game on GBC I never played.  The fourth game, Ruins of Lore, impressed me mightily.  So impressed was I that out of my GBA slot it popped after a few hours and then went to someone on eBay who was willing to acquire the thing, because I never wanted to play it again.  Specifics of my ruinous time with that game are escaping me, save for one: as a portable game it was horribly designed, having a paltry number of save points and relying upon the quick-save mechanism that was mostly used by games which weren't originally made for the GBA (Breath of Fire comes to mind).  Also, it was ugly.  Then there's the fifth game, the remake of the second on DS.  I tried it a few months ago and angrily tossed it aside after a mine-cart sequence infuriating in its requirement that you precisely imitate the movements of another mine cart, with the price of failure being forced to start from the beginning again and again.  Maybe it was the fact that I played during a night where sleep eluded me, but after about the fifteenth time of having to start that asinine sequence over, I was done.  That game's gone too, and good riddance.


Wheels

I've often heard people sing the praises of the second game, specifically for its well designed puzzle dungeons. In fact, I seem to recall that Wild Arms was often compared to it. Anyway, another game which I've yet to play, though I've played a bit of the remake. We'll get back to that though.

I also had a pretty ruinous experience with the GBA game, Ruins of Lore, which I decided to try after hearing my previously mentioned friend rave about the first two games. I don't remember much of it, mostly that the battle system was horrible, and most other aspects of the game were equally so. In fact, I don't think I even made it far enough into the game to be annoyed by the save system. It did not last long in my collection.

Now as far as the remake of Lufia 2 goes, a lot of things about it confused me. Certainly if they wanted to remake the first two games, doing the second one first makes sense, since it was the first of the two chronologically. My question is, why change so much about the original game? I can understand trying out a more action oriented system, which would seem to fit in better with the puzzle dungeons, but changing the entire setting? Certainly the original's fantasy setting isn't all that unique, but changing things to an equally generic steam punk type setting doesn't exactly fix things. Considering this is from the same developer that cursed us with Shining Force Neo, maybe I shouldn't be surprised by such things.

Anyway, sounds like at the very least I should give the original Lufia 2 a go.

Ah, Shining in the Darkness.  I initially tried it about ten years ago and just couldn't get into it, because writing maps on paper has never appealed to me, and for that reason I approached Shining the Holy Ark with serious trepidation.  I ended up playing through the latter game three times, so obviously it did some things right that the former game just didn't manage.  Now, let's look at the very first Shining game, just for a little while.


Wheels

I'm happy to. Though I think it isn't a very good game, there are some things it did pretty well. For the most part, its a lot easier to play this game than just about any other first person dungeon crawler of that era. Combat was easy to figure out, dungeon layouts weren't insanely complicated, and of course you didn't have to deal with any of the annoying operating systems of that era by virtue of it not being a PC game. Too bad that these things still didn't make it all that fun.

Holy Ark was nice enough to grant an inventory that I never felt constrained by.  I seem to remember that there was a limit, but after the beginning of the game, when the party roster started to expand, it never mattered. Darkness on the other hand leaves exactly twelve slots for items after the equipment for each character is incorporated, and that fills up real fast. 


Wheels

Speaking of party members, that's exactly something that Darkness did quite poorly. If I recall corectly, it took a bit for the first party member to show up, so the player is stuck way too long with just the main character, who can do nothing but attack and use items. This got old very fast. Also, I don't ever remember having any issues in Holy Ark as far as inventory space goes, except when I overloaded the characters with healing items. Starting with a party of three characters right off the bat helps in this area immensely.

Darkness also has a few enemies that appear through means other than 'suddenly appearing in front of the characters.'  A couple come down from holes in the ceiling, there are crabs that come from around corners, a few nasty things that speed straight down hallways, and a recycled boss that appears from underground.  The vast majority of enemies just come out of nowhere, though, but in the few that don't the seeds of Holy Ark's encounter system can be seen.  Since I've probably been the more verbose of us thus far, I'll let you tell the (many) who are unfamiliar with Holy Ark how it works there.


Wheels

Now this is one my favorite features of Holy Ark, even if it does wear out its welcome at times thanks to a high encounter rate. Anyway, Holy Ark uses random encounters like many RPGs of that era, but instead of just a static transition into battle, the enemies will dynamically show up into battle in a large variety of interesting ways. Some examples include enemies walking around corners, jumping out of nearby water, appearing from behind you, and even water puddles and other seemingly static environmental items morphing into various types of monstrosities. It was an excellent touch, one I'm hoping to see one day in future entries of the Etrian Odyssey series. It really does do a fantastic job of mitigating the silliness that enemies appearing at random can be. I think at times enemies could even appear at the side or behind the player. Another nice though is that if a player successfully runs away, they will been spinned around, making it difficult for them to regain their bearings. Holy Ark was just a thoughtfully put together game, and I'm shocked that many of its features have never shown up in other first person dungeon crawlers.

Also, call me a graphics stylist if you will, but I kind of like to see the participants fighting in an RPG battle.  Watching flashes of light stand in for the attacks of my characters gets old quickly, and watching the enemies wiggle instead of doing something else also gets old. As for the map system of Darkness, of course it's antiquated. No first-person game of that era had a good map system. Holy Ark and its automap were still years away.
One other thing about Darkness relates to Sega's translation, which is interesting.  I've never seen a game label critical attacks "awesome blows" before.  Coming in 1991 it makes sense, but should that terminology be used again in the present day?  Having the party "run into trouble" is also an odd way to express surprising the enemy, wouldn't you say?


Wheels

Yes, getting to see the characters attack adds a lot of style to the battles in Holy Ark, and I love how the many character's attacks are animated by having the whole screen move. The style of these battle animations would go on to become a staple of the Golden Sun series in fact, and rightfully so.

Going back to Darkness, I suppose the biggest issue it has is being in a genre were the older games don't tend to age very well. It is really hard for me to go back to any of them after using many of the modern niceties that the Etrian Odyssey series has. I don't recall much about the game's translation, but it sounds like the translators either didn't have much time to do a good translation or just had some fun with it. Not that there's anything wrong with "awesome blows" dude. That's totally radical.

I can't call the game unique in having inventory problems, though.  Remember how clunky the original Shining Force's inventory was, with everything automatically going to Max and making you constantly toss things to other people?  The Shining series had its growing pains like most.The original Shining Force also had some grievous instances of moronic AI.  Remember how dumb the dwarves in early fights were, and how using ranged attacks from across a bridge would never prompt a counterattack?  Yeah, Climax (soon to be Camelot) definitely learned over the years.
While I'm on this subject, I should touch on the other Shining Force installments. Will we ever see a remake of Shining Force II like we did of the first game?  Given the apparently lousy sales of that remake, the odds are bad, but the second game doesn't really need to be spruced up either.  It's a big game, and being able to promote from level 20 to 40 makes it different from all others in the series.  Which actually makes the people who aren't promoted much much better if you have insane patience (like I did) and pump them up to level 40 first.  It requires a rougher middle stretch of the game due to the inability to equip weapons exclusive to promoted classes, but their amazing stats once it finally happens are unstoppable.


Wheels

Yes, the AI in that first Shining Force game is a far cry from the merciless and aggressive AI in its sequel. I remember many instances where I was saved from utter destruction in some battles in that game not from smart moves, but from the AI being incredibly stupid. The inventory system was certainly awful in that game, but I don't think it was that much better in the sequel. They really needed to have some kind of central inventory.

Sadly I don't think we'll ever see a remake of the second game. The most I'm hoping for at this point is an iPhone re-release of that game, but given how long the first has been on that platform with no release of its sequel, even that is seeming unlikely. At this point, Sega seems content to re-release the Genesis games whenever possible for some easy cash. Let's not even talk about the newer "Shining" games that really have nothing to do with the older games. It is not a great time to be a Shining fan.

I never realized that waiting till level 40 to promote made that much of a difference. I am going to have to try that out the next time I play through it!

Then there's Shining Force CD, which I'll talk about in lieu of most of the Game Gear titles.  The roots of this game being (mostly) two Game Gear titles are found in the very streamlined approach.  Instead of being able to wander around towns and talk to people, you're shepherded from battle to battle with a shop that appears between battles.  The first half of the game is based on a Game Gear installment that never came over on that system, the second half did find its way onto the English Game Gear, and the third 'book' is only six battles long but allows you to take the characters from both the first two parts and mix & match your favorites for some fairly challenging fights.  Then there's a final battle with all of the bosses from the game, which is only for those who want a long and context-less fight. 


Wheels

I like the Game Gear titles, and this collection of two of them as well. They work well as portable titles, and the simplified towns were a nice touch, as well as a throwback to Shining in the Darkness. I'd like to see Sega re-release the Sega CD game in some form. Being essentially Genesis games with more storage space this really wouldn't be difficult to do.

Due to the lack of interaction outside battle, there are only a few secret characters in Shining Force CD.  One of them is our favorite magic-slinging, flying jellyfish Domingo though, except his amazingly armored hide from the first game is no longer proof against most blunt instruments.  Too bad.
The Game Gear saw another title, Shining Force: Final Conflict.  I've never played it, mostly because I never had a Game Gear.  I don't like emulating games, so that's out.  This one apparently stitched the plots of all the early games together, and even had Oddeye join your team at the end (a one-time-only event, natch).  Maybe if I owned a Game Gear I'd track the thing down, but it's a rare cartridge.
I can't remember a thing about Shining Wisdom except that I didn't care for what little I played.  Naturally, the action-RPG style of this was what Sega kept emulating when Camelot and the Shining games ceased to be linked.


Wheels

I remember there being a few cool ones in the second book of Shining Force CD (I originally played the Game Gear version), I think there was a ninja of some kind? The games were fun despite some really bad AI, at least in the Game Gear versions. I can't recall if they fixed that at all on the superior hardware available for the Sega CD collection. Final Conflict is one of those titles I was very glad to see a fan translation, but have never been able to play through the whole thing. The translation is a decent enough effort, but playing an emulated Game Gear game on a computer screen isn't all that fun at times. If you ever have a Game Gear you should track it down, as it is worth playing.

I'm not sure why they kept emulating it though. I never found Wisdom that interesting. Being translated by Working Designs and not being able to use the original character names certainly didn't help, but the game itself wasn't all that fun. Not that I mind action games or anything, it just seems out of place with the style of other Shining titles.

I've talked a lot about Shining Force III before, so I'll limit it to another instance of how the games connect for this session.  Remember in Scenario 1 when Synbios is assaulted by Fiale's forces while trying to see his father Conrad, who has just been used as bait for a trap?  Fiale had a ship key in that battle, and hitting him would make him drop it.  If Synbios got it from him, Zero will come along and take it back to Medion.  See, Fiale teleported off to make Synbios's life miserable right after he'd been doing the same for Medion, and what he had just done was trap general Rogan in a sinking ship (the same ship Medion just seized by assault from Crewart, which I described awhile back in another column).  If Zero gets that key, Rogan is saved and accompanies Domaric during all of his appearances on the battlefield.  If not, Rogan went down with the ship.


Wheels

I am still surprised whenever you bring one these things up. How is this game (or games if you want to look at each part individually) not regarded as an absolute classic? Again, little things that don't change the overall outcome of the story I'm sure, but such things, like we've discussed go a long way towards making a game experience feel unique to the player. This is the same reason people love the Mass Effect games so much. I really can't keep delaying my full playthrough of Shining Force 3, I need to get on this.

A similar incident occurs in Scenario 3.  Remember late in the Scenario 1, the showdown with Basanda in the sewer under the Aspinian capital?  Spiriel appeared in that fight, and leaving her alive sends her off into a confused journey which she gets over when Julian goes north and joins his force.  Or, Synbios can kill her (she hits hard, so leaving her alive is not a simple proposition).


Wheels

Yet, that makes her sound like she'd be an awesome character to have! I'll have to remember to keep her alive...

A nifty fight early in Scenario 3 I also feel like mentioning.  Julian has to get out of Imperial territory, and doing so requires going straight through a fortress commanded by a decent guy named Defender who has to fight against you if his family is to remain safe.  The assault finds your force split in two: Julian and Gracia (the two people who cannot fall in combat) are with half the force in the courtyard attracting all the attention, and Donhort (a centaur who will be very familiar to you by this point) commands the other half, assaulting one of the battlements.  What's interesting here is that cannons of the enemy get to attack you every turn, and the only way to take them out is to have Donhort's people take over a couple of cannons on their battlement and use them.  Those cannons are also the only way to finish the fight, as a few hits from them will blow down the fortress gate and make Defender himself appear to be beaten.


Wheels

Interesting, it sounds like Scenario 3 may have the best battles in the series. It is a shame that Camelot hasn't made an SRPG since. I have a feeling they still have a lot of good ideas. Come on Camelot, why not make Golden Sun Force or something?

Oh, yeah, Tengai Makyou III.  First of all, while I'm fairly sure the game can be completed in less time than the 109 hours it took me, it's NOT short.  75 to 80 hours is probably a respectable estimate of how long it will take if you try to power through.  Each new continent is big and has multiple parts to complete.  Also, while I was around level 84 for every character at the final boss, it was definitely not a cakewalk. Skip ahead a few minutes to see Himiko. Then watch the fight with "Power of Fire" to see the true last boss, just so you can gape at the background which looks like Tron mixed with The Matrix


Wheels

This game continues to look and sound completely insane. What system was this on again? Dreamcast? It's a shame this never came out in the US, as I'd surely like to figure out what the heck its all about. Also 75 hours is still nuts!

Oh, and you wondered about Manto.  Well, in the fourth game on the Saturn, he is indeed the King of Lake Tahoe, which as we all know is the only way to get from Montana (the state in which Seattle and Portland are located, in case you didn't know) to the bulk of California.  After successfully mastering "Manto's Challenge the Trap - IN USA!" he flees to his day job - the biggest film star of 1899!  As you will see in a quick movie clip of him smacking around a giant monster and then basking in the adoration of women.  Oh, and you'll fight him using the majestic Robo Geisha (composed of the Sashimi Marine, the Sukiyaki Tank, and the Tempura Fly) in Death Valley.  See what I mean about the fourth game being absolutely insane? 


Wheels

Yes, yes I do see this, and I kind of want to play it, despite the fact it would fail a geography course. Only the Japanese could come up with such a thing. Do you have any other crazy stories about it?

Hm.  I have to come up with something else before signing off.  Tempt me to play Knights of the Old Republic right now, won't you?

...That may have been a bit much for one column.  Oops.
JuMeSyn


Wheels

Knights of the Old Republic made up for the awful prequel movies. That should suffice.

That was an insane amount of content, and I've moved the connection challenges to next week as well. Not that I'm complaining!

War of the Daniels

Hey Wheels,

Last Q&A felt like I was facing Shadow Daniel... Or perhaps I was Shadow Daniel and he was the one in green clothes. Or perhaps it was a totally different series and either one of us should now be called "Other Daniel" with "Other Daniel X" being released shortly thereafter with extra content and possibly an art book and an OST CD. I dunno... anyways, it doesn't matter, because the point (RPG is a misnomer) isn't really one that is very close to my heart. I could turn it into a debate but to what avail?


Wheels

I dunno, crazy pointless debates can be a lot of fun! I dare you to come up with a track list for this soundtrack, using only music from the 90s. GO

So, I apologize for any harm done. It was not my intention! He ought not worry either, I am very well aware of the roots from which our beloved genre springs. As a matter of fact, I am writing my very own tabletop RPG rulesets which sort of goes full circle to take inspiration from console RPGs... But that is an entirely different matter.


Wheels

No need to apologize, I don't think either of you Daniels ever made the issue contentious. Plus I want to hear more about this tabletop ruleset.

Unless I am going to write a campaign system to turn it into something Shining Force-esque... Hmm... That would mean we could have our Shining Force again, only on the table. Wonder how that would fly. One note though, my game is not grid-based but open movement (kind of like Phantom Brave I suppose), but that wouldn't change much, now would it?


Wheels

You picked the perfect week to bring up Shining Force, as this is a very Shining focused Q&A apparently. I like the idea of getting rid of the grid as, issues with Phantom Brave aside, I think that game showed a lot of potential for the idea. It would certainly work well in a table top game. Don't the Warhammer tabletop games work that way?

Since we are on the subject of Shining Force, I do too love the fact that it wasn't at all about micromanagement. It certainly didn't make the game less enjoyable or even less difficult. It was still a pretty tough game. It could've done with a better story though... However, I only really played it when it was released on the Virtual Console, so that does skew my view of the game.


Wheels

The story wasn't the strongest point, even back in the day, so that's not something that has only changed with age. I think the second one did a better job, but still a long way from the great storytelling Shining Force 3 and later the Golden Sun games do. Great gameplay systems have always been Camelot's strongest development skill.

But yeah, a new game like Shining Force in set-up would be great. If it has a better story, all the better. I wouldn't even care if it had the same graphics, but that's probably just me. Maybe some indie developer reads this and thinks "hey, great idea!". As long as it doesn't ooze RPGMaker I am fine.


Wheels

Agreed! We've seen enough RPGMaker looking games. I'm surprised we don't see more indie and small developer games like this, as both the earlier Shining Games and the Fire Emblem series seem to have a decent audience. More to the point, why has Camelot never returned to this style with a Golden Sun spinoff? Oh well, hopefully the recent Golden Sun game will mean more RPGs from Camelot in the near future. I've always thought Sega should try to do a Shining game similar in style to Valkyria Chronicles, and it looks like we may be getting that in Shining Blade, so I guess there's still hope for the Shining games!

There should be more, better, free RPG creation systems, including programs for making music... But I am too lazy anyways so...
 
Amazing how I can jump from subject to subject, eh?
 
Cheers,
Other Shadow Daniel X


Wheels

Your subject jumping skills are unmatched Dan...err Other Shadow Daniel X. I would love more RPG creation systems, some company needs to get on that. Then perhaps the game Other Daniel X could become a reality?


The East-West Challenge

Hello again Wheels,

You posted another make a game challenge (even though not to me), and I felt inspired to try it anyway.  So here's my East-West crossover of my two favorite indie RPGs:

Recettion (or Basettear if you prefer)
Rebuilding the world, one sale at a time.


Wheels

You have me already with the title alone. Where can I pre-order this? Seriously, I wasn't expected an indie cross over! I'm impressed.

The Cataclysm destroyed the entire world, and the distant city of Pensee was no exception.  There all that survived was the two business partners, Recette and Tear, and their item shop.  But what good is an item shop with no one to sell to?  As they run down the food stockpile they had planned on selling to their last can of peaches, their answer falls from the sky as the Kid so often does.  Unfortunately, the rest of the Bastion has crashed with him and broken to pieces.  Things would still seem hopeless, the Bastion was wrecked after all, but the crash of the Bastion unearthed the mysterious Forge, a device with the power to rebuild... well, seemingly anything...  Maybe even Pensee and the Bastion themselves.  It has an awful lot of buttons, though, but fortunately the crash has apparently also awoken Grebe, and odd, lizard-like critter that regards itself as the Forge's caretaker and operator.  Of course, power as great as the Forge's is likely to attract individuals with other, more malevolent intentions, but that comes later.


Wheels

Interesting, I've yet to play Bastion, but this reads like a clever mixing of the two game's stories. Certainly a good start. Certainly sounds indy!

The game combines Recettear's item selling with Bastion's broken world and dungeon crawling style and an even more in depth crafting system.
The item selling will be quite similar to Recettear's, except for the the fact that, due to the Cataclysm, you will not only have nothing to sell, but no one to sell to, initially.  Using the item crafting system, you can not only rebuild fancy new items, but everything else in the world, including places and characters.  Using the various odds and ends acquired while adventuring, you can create people to sell your other odds and ends to.  What items you use will determine who is available, and influence their shopping preferences.  Build someone using walnut bread as an ingredient, and they'll likely have a preference for buying it in the future, for example.  Build someone using a magnifying glass and they'll try to sell you more valuable, unusual items.  The more special Mementos found allowing the creation of significant NPCs (such as the adventurers from Recettear).  As you create more and more people, Pensee's economy will rebuild itself reestablishing the market for common goods, recreating the adventurer's and merchant's guilds, and of course, creating competitors for your shop (imagine the scene, Recette is reconstructing an unknown new building for Pensee, and it turns out to be... Big Bash).


Wheels

This is actually pretty brilliant, combining the open ended nature of both games. There's so many cool little interactions you could make between the two systems. I already want to play this dang game, get these indy devs together and make it happen!

The dungeoneering, on the other hand, will reflect Bastion, with the Kid as the main adventurer.  Gameplay will be quite similar to Bastion, except with a more traditional equipment style and thus more of an emphasis on equipment stats (the Tonic system will be kept on top of this).  After all, the Kid needs to buy stuff too.  Dungeons will be similar to Bastion, rebuilding themselves as you go.  Story dungeons will be made similarly to major NPCs using the Forge on important items.  You can also, however, use the forge to create unstable random dungeons from any items you want, and the items used will determine the enemies encountered and additional items found.  These dungeons can be played through with the Kid, or any other adventurer you want to hire.


Wheels

Random dungeons sound cool, but what if instead they were pseudo random, with many different factors determined by what you use to put them together? You can then make a bunch of very rare items that would be used to make the best dungeons possible.

The story itself will unfold gradually as the world is rebuilt and repopulated, and emphasize the trials associated with this process, as well as the mysteries surrounding the origins of the Forge.  It's hard to predict what will come out of the Forge, especially for unique items, so the major antagonists will have been reconstructed by Recette and the Kid.  Stylistically, the two games should mesh pretty well, visually drawing predominantly from Bastion (since it is absolutely gorgeous), but keeping Recettear's character portrait styles for scenes.  The Narrator will of course also be kept, although more on the adventuring end and less on the item sales (that would get a little silly).

So there you go.  What do you think?

Until next time,
friendOfAgnes


Wheels

I like this idea a lot. It has everything good RPGs need: story, play choice mattering, character development, etc. The game would be open ended but also very focused on its gameplay systems, and would certainly tickle the fancy of all kinds of RPG fans. You've got the idea for a big hit on your hands.

P.S. Thanks for the advice about a new system.  I'm certainly leaning towards a PSP since I also prefer portable systems.


Wheels

Glad to hear it! The PSP is a great system for RPGs, and I'd be happy to give some recommendations if you did end up picking one up!

IN CLOSING

That's it for this episode!

See you all next week!

-Wheels


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