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ASK ETHOS
Attack of the Newbie
June 17, 2008

Ethan Pipher - 01:31 EST

So, in a delightful fit of irony, the week that you all figured out that Oliver was answering your letters, the wise and grandiose Ethan "Ethos" Pipher "The Brave" (myself) has swooped in to take on the column for this week and this week only. Oliver told me to accurately relay his valid excuse. Unfortunately this means "Riddles was too busy SLEEPING" was turned down. Also "Riddles was too busy LOOKING FOR SUITABLE MATES" didn't make the cut. And my personal favourite, "Riddles is busy SNIFFING FOR TRUFFLES" was sadly given the thumbs down. So I must give you the truth in that Oliver is valiantly and selflessly working far too many hours at his non-RPGamer job. He misses you all dearly and I had to knock him out with the smell of Gysahl Pickles to finally take over the column for the week to give him the well-deserved break.

SPEAKING of Gysahl Pickles, my guest appearance comes in perfect timing with this new trend of Final Fantasy IX speak. For I am of the entirely unbiased, objective opinion that it is the finest in the series! Alright, so I know the "best of the FFs" is a debate that will never be won, but I truly believe in the shockingly unappreciated merits of the last PSX iteration.

So please enjoy my little guest adventure into this column. I will try to refrain from TOO many FFIX letters, and please feel free to comment on how you think I perform as a guest to the column. If you don't recognize me at all, don't feel silly for I am relatively new to the site, but feel free to check out my newly posted Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard review to get a feel for my writing style. I assure you that you will not read a finer review this year! ...Until I write my next one.

Enough of my brash narcissism, onto the letters! If you don't see yours, keep trying: there was quite a large number this week and even some of the upmost quality had to be cut.





The Letters
Oh the speculative ramblings of the likely unqualified


Hey, Oliver,

Ethan

I am Ethan, not Riddles. But I will forgive THIS ONCE!

Boy, every time I read the column, another question just pops into my head. But who knows when the questions will dry up? Anyway, here we go: Iím glad youíre having so much fun with Bioshock, though unfortunately this also emphasizes how little experience I have with the game (two magnificent hours at a friendís house). Iím also glad all your teeth have now been reattached to your head. Iím not even remotely sure how these two subjects relate...

Ethan

The subjects do not relate. Also, I have never played Bioshock. Also, my teeth were never unattached from my head. Also, I wish for a can of Dr. Pepper. Are you able to provide this?

I was also wondering if I should take a break from writing to Q&A, to open up the column for some other hapless RPGamer whoís gnawing his fingernails into nonexistence while waiting for his letter to be published. But surely this scenario is only the product of an over-imaginative writerís mind? Surely the Q&A letters arenít quite rolling in, are they?

Ethan

Actually, as mentioned before, I would say that they ARE quite rolling in, and it is a fine trend. But to keep the readers' interest, Riddles and I agree that we should answer five letters a week until circumstances become so extreme that we can start spelling them "XTREME". But I have barely given you a chance to give me a Dr. Pepper. Please continue.

Anyway, I shall cut the rambling off right this moment. The line is drawn. My question today is: If by some lucky alignment of the planets you were placed at the head of FFXIIIís programming team, how would you endeavor to design the gameís battle system? I suppose you could provide an already existing game for example, to speed things along, but itís not necessary. Let only your creativity be your guide!

Ethan

Ooo! Everything's coming up Ethan: this is a great question to answer. FFXIII shows so much promise, not only because Lightning is super-attractive (and I, unlike most, don't mind the name), but also because the ultimate goal of the characters is not to save the world! Finally developers will realize that it's not superlative plot points that draw one into a game world.

But I digress! I have been quite pleased with the battle system from every single player Final Fantasy since 9, and I think XIII should take the style from XII and hike-up the context-sensitive action. Let me give you an example. Think of the train battle in the trailer. Like XII, Lightning springs into action around enemies and a button will bring up a menu, but now it only brings the battle into extreme slow-motion instead of a stop and players will have to quickly and effectively review their situation. While in slow motion you could potentially set up chain attacks depending on the positions of your enemies or guard because you see an enemy prepare an attack. I'm aware that you could bring up your menu without stopping the action at all in XII, but I don't know if that would be a viable option in the system I just described.

What do you want to see? Let's shift our focus from the best Final Fantasy of all time to what could potentially take that honour! Make sure your ideas are easy to read, or I will not read them!

If I had such a lucky opportunity (because of course you want to hear my opinion, too, right?), I would draw a lot of inspiration from Grandia II. Have you heard of the series? (Donít let the disappointing Grandia III sway your opinion, though. A common mistake.) This is actually my first RPG ever, which was bought for me as a birthday present on a whim. The game impressed me in so many ways, and while it is certainly not without flaws, it will always have my heart for opening up the world of RPGís to me. Makes me wish I still had my good olí Dreamcast...

Ethan

I have definitely heard of the Grandia series though I have yet to play it. I am relatively late to the RPG game and I've been playing catch-up for a while. I still haven't forgotten about my Dr. Pepper!

I took it upon myself to read some of the siteís official reviews, and while sentiments are mixed, very few seem to dispute how involving the battle system is. Mostly, I gather it was well-received because of how the factors of space and time are incorporated in the battles. Each battle is set in a 3D battlefield, and the charactersí position in that field actually mattered. Each character moved at a certain speed, attacked from a certain distance, and had unique spells/abilities that hit in different geometric patterns (single target, circular radius, straight line, etc.). The outcome of each battle hinged on where your characters were on the battlefield, how far away they were from their target, and how much time it would take to get that particular attack off. It...was...fantastic. I marveled at how a turn-based RPG could be so exciting, and it set my bar very high for RPGís in the future.

This bar was never reached again, but I really didnít find it to be an issue until Final Fantasy XII, whose claims of an exciting new battle system piqued my interest, but soon sent them crashing to the ground again when I realized it was little more than the same old ATB system with a new visual interface.

Ethan

Yes, but done beautifully! I would level grind for hours just for the fun of it! You now owe me two Dr. Peppers!

Regrettably, this will be the second time Iíve voiced my distaste for FFXII in the Q&A column, but for a RPG that claimed to have rebuilt the series's battle system from the ground up, I found virtually no difference from the ATB system before it. Distance and positioning meant virtually nothing in battle, which was a little disappointing considering how excited we all were to finally be moving around in a FF. Iím also not sure if I can support a battle system that actively encourages automation... Anyway, these are some things I would like to see addressed in FFXIII, and I think my example of Grandia II provides some exciting ways in which S-E could do it.

Ethan

Well I do agree in some senses here. Distance and positioning were virtually ignored, and I think that my described "Matrix" context sensitive system for XIII could address it rather nicely.

Looking back at my first few paragraphs, I now realize that this letter has mutated from a rather innocently-phrased question into a full-blown anti-FFXII rant. I wish it hadnít. I liked FFXII for many reasons (Basch!), but when I finally put it down after 60 hours, I felt as if I had been deceived into thinking its battle system would actually play different. Also, not a big Hitoshi Sakimoto fan (though, curiously, I adored his work on FF Tactics). Anyway... do you think FFXIII will try to break out of the standards that have defined it so thoroughly in the past? Or will the game show us yet another mostly cosmetic change?

Hoping (perhaps stupidly) that things will be different this time,

Cornman89

Ethan

Well we all hope XIII will break out of many molds. As long as it holds true to the incredible direction standards that XII set. For a game with a boring plot and mediocre characters (sans Fran and Balthier), the voice-acting and animation in the cut-scenes really pulls you into the game. It was easily a long-awaited step in the right direction and for somebody who is rarely impressed, I was very impressed. But your letter was long and you didn't provide me a Dr. Pepper! So for all this letter's strengths, I hope the next one breaks the mould!



Jet lag.


I went to Japan for a month and can't figure out the Q&A schedule anymore. Help?

Ethan

I'm sure those in North America don't have a clue either! Oliver unfortunately had to miss a week and I am posting this on an entirely arbitrary day. Um, Wednesday? Oliver expects to resume regular duties after this so he should be able to set you straight!

Also, in regards to FFIX - I managed to time my trances so that Vivi and Eiko were almost always getting theirs at the same time. Double flare + double holy...heck, I didn't even NEED any other party members.

Carabbit

Ethan

Yes, I haven't the foggiest as to why people complain so much about the alleged "randomness" of the trance system. It was more frustrating that it could be activated at the end of battle and thus be useless as it didn't carry over. But although this was a short letter like I hoped, it didn't have enough shameless, long over-due Final Fantasy IX love! Onwards!



The fanboyism gushes in three dimensions!


I have to admit that I'm one of the people who think that FF9 is the pinnacle of the Final Fantasy series, and indeed, one of the best games I've ever played.

Ethan

This is exactly the type of letter I wished for! What a happy coincidence! Oh frabjous day!

To be frank, your criticisms of it seemed to center largely on the percentage of "emo" in its story scenes. I have to say that I have no idea what that means nor why it should be a bad thing, so perhaps you have the advantage of me in sneeriness.

Hey, it's Ethan

Hey, hey, hey, I made no such criticisms! Although I might still have the advantage on you in the sneeriness column. I still have no Dr. Pepper and I seem to be getting grumpy about it! Continue!

There are several reasons why FF9 is such a solid contender in my opinion. The first, as has been mentioned, is the story and characters. There is real character growth that takes place, far more than in practically every other game. Even better, every character is given at least some screen time to develop. The characters actually interact together, rather than being a bunch of people who happen to be headed the same direction, something which many RPGs fall prey to.

The "side scenes" which can be viewed all the time allow much more interesting depth in the characters and their dealings with each other and the world at large. The only other game I've played that does such a good job of interaction is Tales of the Abyss, and FF9's characters are far more charming and unique than those of ToA. I've found unexpected depth even in Quina and Amarant, which many dismiss as one-note ponies. (Freya does fit that mold a bit more snugly, though.) As for Vivi, he is one of the most wonderfully engaging characters I've ever seen, melding a child's innocence and unique viewpoint with the world-weariness that automatically comes out of knowledge of one's own mortality.

I'm still Ethan, can you believe it?

I entirely agree! I'm so glad you bring up the fact that Freya is the character that comes the closest to "one note". She has a really cool character design, but anytime she speaks with Zidane it feels pretty awkward. She's a bit too formal, especially considering other Burmecians are largely casual, and the fact that she's been away from her hometown for a while.

Another point on this topic that is worth mentioning is the Shakespeare-esque attention to minor characters. The fact that throw-away characters are sometimes given their own scenes (even outside of ATE) gives such a large breath of life to the world. The attention paid to the largely light-hearted nature of the characters made serious emotions and scenes all that more powerful!

It continually shocks me how many flippant and negative reactions are given to this game. I can only assume they write it off for surface reasons and miss all the depth the game has to offer! I love this column because I can finally argue for FFIX's greatness with an audience without getting a massive uproar in return. Onwards again!

As for the gameplay, I found it constantly challenging without being frustrating. Battles require individual characters to play to their strengths and play off their weaknesses with other characters. Abilities require real sacrifice to learn, as they'll often require you to equip weaker equipment to get them; and then you need to manage them effectively. It also boasts by far the most fun and interesting mini-game I've yet seen - it's fast-paced, fun, allows for exploration, merges wonderfully with the game world and offers real rewards.

As you hoped: Still Ethan!

I am going to type again! For the first time I don't entirely agree with you. I never really found the game all that challenging. It wasn't overly easy, but this might be because I grind like crazy in that game. Challenge isn't an issue for me anyway, I can thoroughly enjoy games that many claim to be "too easy" or "too hard". I'm sure the extremes of the extremes wouldn't be pleasant, but I haven't come across such games yet. But I do rather enjoy the ability system and haven't found a RPG since in which I enjoy being in the menus so much. And sure, the card thing was fun. Though I do agree that it was well intregrated. Once again: Onwards!

There are flaws (of course); the graphics look quite dated by now, battles tend to lag noticeably, and the Trance system could have been better thought out (it's not quite random, as was said in the previous column, but it is hard to plan for). I've yet to play another game which does so many things so well as FF9 does. You can quote me on that. 8-)

--Cidolfas

Ethan dances and types

"I've yet to play another game which does so many things so well as FF9 does." -Cidolfas
There! You have already been quoted! But although I superlatively enjoy our giggling, blushing, and flirting about the game, I must move on for the many readers who unfortunately have the incorrect opinion that Final Fantasy IX isn't all that great.

Remember, the Final Fantasy topic for next week is XIII! Although that is obviously not the only topic. Write in with all your other wacky topics as well. How about Kingdom Hearts? I haven't talked about that series in a while, and I sobbed when I beat the sequel. Perhaps I shouldn't have revealed that. But don't feel restricted, although I won't be the host, that shouldn't make you too discouraged. *takes a deep breath* ONWARDS!



Disagreement and Clarification


Well hello, Oliver!

Ethan

I was gracious before but my patience is now short! It is Ethan! Remember it well! May it haunt your dreams!

I felt I had to add in my two cents about Baten Kaitos, being one of the few fans out there. I have yet to play Origins; that will have to wait until I finish Phantasy Star Online Episode III and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. Sigh. Regardless, I love Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, and feel that it is more than just "average".

Ethan

Incorrect! Continue.

It's certainty not the best game out there and not even my most favorite, but it is one of them. The characters didn't feel as fleshed-out as they could have been, but they were memorable and likable nonetheless.

Ethan

Incorrect again! I forced myself to complete this game and I never liked the characters and I only remember them in my nightmares! Continue.

The story didn't always feel original, but once you got past that scene in the Lava Caves (come on, don't tell me your jaw didn't drop when Kalas revealed...eh, I won't spoil it here for any readers who haven't played the game), the plot really took off. The voices...yeah they could've been better. They weren't terrible...

Ethan

This is the most incorrect of all! I cannot allow you spew out such lies! Time after time I would turn on the voice acting praying that it would be at the very best, mediocre. It never even came close to reaching mediocre! Even at the best of times! I pity your state of denial!

...but the actors could've done a better job and was there any need for that "tin can" effect? Sure it sounds cool to simulate you as the spirit hearing the voices through someone else's ear, but in practice it just makes the voices sound tinny. And of course the music was absolutely gorgeous, the battle system one of most fun and most original I've ever come across and had some beautiful visuals (though I never liked the fact that the character models look robotic and you can never see their faces.

Ethan

Well I do agree with you here. I did really quite enjoy the battle system. And I agree that the backgrounds, at least, could be quite beautiful. I suppose it was just one of those games that I kept playing because I was waiting to love it, and waiting for something to kick in. And nothing ever did. And I suppose that I should let up a little bit on the criticism of a rarely-loved game, especially after my many defenses of Final Fantasy IX.

Oh yes, the music was decent in Baten Kaitos, which makes me remember that I never gushed about Final Fantasy IX's soundtrack! But I missed my chance. Let us move on.

Chances are though, I'll end up liking Origins more when I do play it. Especially since from what I've heard, the characters in that game are far better developed. If there's one thing I love, it's a game will well-developed, likable characters.

Ethan

I haven't played it either. I stayed away because I heard the battle system was gimped. But I will not rule it out. Now I believe you want to talk about Tales of Symphonia?

I thought I should also clarify something about Lloyd being a villain in Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. From what I've read, he allegedly led a massacre called the "Purge of Blood" in the city of Palmacosta (apparently he and the Church of Martel were battling the Sylvarant army called the Vanguard and the city was caught in the middle). How true this is and how much of it was his fault remains to be seen of course. Still, it should be interesting to see the idealist from the first game apparently become a villain. I also have to admit that Lloyd is perhaps the least-interesting character in Tales of Symphonia, and Dawn of the New World will flesh him out a bit more. Oh well, I guess will find out in December or so, if Nintendo Power's "Winter 2008" North American release is to be believed.

Ethan

Yes, I am under the impression that Lloyd inadvertently kills the hero's parents. But unfortunately I think it will end up being in the name of justice and the hero will probably end up being converted. If this is the case, I will be saddened, because I fully agree that Lloyd is a loser, and I would love to see him expanded upon. I was a fan of Tales of Symphonia despite the fact that both Lloyd and Collette were completely annoying and that the game often gives up on what is initially enticing character interactions and relationships. But enough about ToS, ask me a question!

Now then, I need to throw out a question. This is Q&A and I always that I must ask a question, however random it may be...ah, here's one! When it comes to RPG music, do you tend to enjoy boss battle themes more than others? In my case, my favorite pieces of RPG music tend to be boss battle themes. "Sad Monster" from Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, "End of a Thought" from Tales of Symphonia, "Chaotic Dance" from Baten Kaitos, "Cry for IDOLA, the Holy" from Phantasy Star Online, "The Decisive Battle" From Final Fantasy VI, just to name a few. Or maybe it's just me?

Ethan

Y'know, dear reader/writer/questioner, I can't say that I do prefer the boss battle music. But that could be because I have so many favourite RPG tunes that I play on the piano over and over again and none of them happen to be boss battle numbers. It could also be that boss battle music tends to include out-of-place guitar solos and is often more complicated than it needs to be. But surprise, surprise, I love the Final Fantasy Piano Collections version of the final boss music in Final Fantasy IX. I should know the name of it since I own the OST and every page of sheet music available for the game, but alas I do not!

Now since I've been on such a roll of predicting what you will say next, I command you to give me a Dr. Pepper and remember that my name is Ethan!

Well, that's all from me. Take Care, Oliver!

Strawberry Eggs

Ethan

Drat it all! What a dreadful time to lose my predicting power. Away with you and bring on the final letter!



Rumour crushing


Hylo oliver
I'm Ethan

*sigh*

While looking through my games i saw one of my suikoden games and remembered how amazing it was playing the series (barring one which i shan't mention). So in a bid to dind out whether the world of suikoden will grow further i typed "suikoden 6" into a reliable search engine and came upon a recent rumour in a Neogaf forum saying that in a recent article released in a japanese (bless em) magazine saying that suikoden 6 is in production for the wii as we speak. Although i felt a rush of excitement i realised that over the last couple of years i've heard a few of these rumours but i failed to believe them. Is there any hope that konami will be announcing this any details of the game, or why (if its true) have they left playstation in the cold (Rpgs now flee at the mere mention of the word Playstation).

Ethan

While I have yet to play through the series (it is definitely on my list), through my minor research and asking those who would know about such things here at RPGamer, I will have to ... *drum roll* CRUSH YOUR RUMOUR. You'll have to wait just a bit longer to hear more about the sequel you are waiting for!

Do you have rumour-related questions? If Oliver decides to bring me on as a guest, I could GLORIFY or CRUSH YOUR RUMOUR. Of course you shouldn't live by my words. But then again, you should.

>From Crimsonlion

Ethan

Wait, what?! That's it? My power trip is finished? Oh no, I still have a final blurb. You are not rid of me yet! ONWARDS!



IN CLOSING

Thank you all for your many letters!

I will openly admit that although there were quite a few letters regarding Final Fantasy IX which were well-worded and perhaps weren't as positive as the ones I published. I will also openly admit that it was a desperate attempt to shed some (extremely) positive light on the title before the nay-saying RPGamer staff members hide me away and send me off to review more games. So I appreciate your indulgence despite my perpetual lack of Dr. Pepper!

I look forward to reading your responses to this column although I will not be the host. I have been honoured to be with you this week and now I must fly away to play...Harvest Moon DS Cute. *groans*. FAREWELL!

-Ethos



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What I can't wait for:

1. A Final Fantasy IX Remake!

2. Too Human

3. Dragon Quest IV DS

4. Final Fantasy XIII

5. Kingdom Hearts 3 announcement



On my Playlist:

1. Harvest Moon DS Cute

2. Chrono Trigger

3. Final Fantasy IX!



Hot Topics:

1. Final Fantasy IX (see a trend?)

2. How would you design a Final Fantasy battle system?

3. Is Lloyd finally going to get some charater?

4. Why doesn't Ethan have a Dr. Pepper?

5. Where is Oliver?!?!

6. CRUSHING RUMOURS



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