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ASK OLIVER
Symphony of Chocolate
July 14, 2008

7/11 - 3:40 PM CST

I hope you all weren't too disappointed by the absence of a Currents column last week. I'm afraid it wasn't a possibility. Hopefully this will change next week, but at the time of this writing I am unsure!

I did manage to get a decent amount of gaming in, though. I received my Diablo Battlechest earlier in the week, and despite all the many people who told me not to bother, I started the original Diablo. I did it mostly out of rebellion, and also to prove that I'm made of TOUGHER STUFF than most seem to give me credit for. (The Symphony of the Night debacle has tarnished my image, you see.) Interestingly enough, I'm actually enjoying the game quite a bit. It's very simple, it's very dated, but it's very fun. In a mindless, "just a few more minutes of slaying," kind of way, it's a lot of fun. I like it, and I intend to see it through.

Of course, I've also been cracking down on Persona 3: FES lately, which means I don't have a terrible amount of time to play Diablo. That's fine though, since P3 is teh awesome. I just finished the event in Yakushima. It's been a very long time since I've laughed so hard at a TV screen.

As always, there's a nice, healthy bunch of letters to be addressed this week. Let us delve into them!





The Letters
The man... the Man... THE man...?


Oliver, bonjour. No intro comes to mind so let's cut straight to the substance.

Oliver

Let's, let's. What's on your mind today, friend?

I feel compelled to rant a bit regarding Fire Emblem. First of all, you owe it to yourself at least to play through Hector's story after Eliwood. Several battles are entirely new, and though most of them are the same battleground they don't feature the same enemies in the same places. Hector's mode is more challenging than Eliwood's also. The story isn't all that different, but Hector's take on events is quite different from Eliwood's.

Oliver

I see. Well, that's good news: an extra mode that's actually worth a damn. I'll be sure to check it out. Sadly, I haven't touched Fire Emblem in about a week, due to my current obsession with Persona 3 and Diablo.

And as to the lack of challenge you perceive, the final few battles (say around chapter 26 or so) do get more challenging. Though again, Hector and his Hard modes are what you need for a real workout. Eliwood Hard Mode is more annoying than challenging, thanks to the game getting really strict about the experience characters earn being directly dependent upon the difference between their level and the enemy's. Killing enemies much lower in level doesn't garner much experience. Oh, and if you haven't gone too far in the story, try getting an A support with Eliwood and Ninian. It changes the ending somewhat and just feels like a good pairing.

Oliver

Good. I relish a challenge. Radiant Dawn had challenge out the wazoo, sometimes to the point of utter absurdity. But I loved it! And yes, Eliwood and Ninian seem like a good pairing. But I think support links in the GBA FE's are a pain in the ass, so I don't bother with them.

I would tell you of the newest title I'm playing on the Saturn, Linkle Liver Story, but I haven't really spent enough time to give it a good rundown yet.
...Wait, yes I have. Just not a detailed rundown. The title is the first clue that this never came out in English; some will try to claim this game is actually called Wrinkle River Story, but clearly written in Roman letters on the case is Linkle Liver Story. Which is an action RPG that so far bears one claim to fame; when picking locations on the world map, you actually spin a globe around to do so. Otherwise it plays in a manner easy to pick up. And stars a fox-girl, which seems to be a popular motif among certain artists in Japan for no reason I can understand.

Oliver

Linkle Liver Story? That name has no meaning in our fine English language. Change it plz...

Oooh, you spin a globe? That's novel, I suppose. Sounds like more fun than selecting a dot on a map, at any rate. And fox girls are teh hawt.

Well, I'm into the World of Ruin and the lack of shoulder buttons has not become more than a minor inconvenience. Though being unable to run save with smoke bombs means I may be a trifle overleveled, which certainly has an effect.

Oliver

Well, you just think you're a badass doncha? DONCHA? Playing through FFVI without shoulder buttons... pah. Never heard of such nonsense in all my days.

Oh, if you had a Saturn there are plentiful titles that are worth playing. The system didn't fail in the US for lack of games, it failed for a number of other reasons. Though having many of its great games stranded in Japan didn't help, the launch at $400 when the PS1 launched at $300 was not a good thing. Nor was Sega making a gigantic fuss about September 9, 1995 being Saturn-day: then Sega undercut itself by surprise-launching the system in May to only a few stores, not telling anyone it was doing so, and ticking off all the stores that didn't get any systems with their skulduggery. Lots of additional mistakes were made later on (lack of sports games to lure that audience, trying to create a ton of new franchises without any old ones from the Genesis being revived to lure that audience, not playing up the Saturn's strengths in 2D to lure gamers craving more titles like that) but the early mistakes were plenty to send it into a losing battle with the PS1 over here.

Oliver

That sounds like a sad story. Maybe one day when I have multitudes of monies and nothing better to spend them on, I'll buy up some older systems that I lack. And who knows, a Saturn may one day be mine. But then, I'd have to acquire at least an elementary understanding of Japanese in order to play most of these games you speak of. Since I'm actually minoring in Japanese, (taking my first Japanese course this fall) that may actually be a possibility. We shall see!

I am forced to relate another Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation anecdote since you haven't yet added those two titles to your gameography. In order for this to make sense, a quick note on how battle animations work is necessary. Each character has his/her own battle theme that starts to be heard when s/he has a combat animation take place. The exception to this is boss fights, in which case the boss has his/her own theme that preempts your characters'. Save in one special case. There is one man who is so great, his own theme will overpower that of every boss in both games. This is that theme: http://gh.ffshrine.org/song/6680/61 He isn't necessarily the strongest attacker, but his all-around awesomeness makes him excellent for whatever robot you choose to put him in. Indeed, if you choose Ryusei's path in the first Original Generation, he will be the only character in the first battle, charged with beating down the enemies using only the fists of his mech. And he will do it, because Elzam Branstein (or Ratsel Feinschmecker, his alias in the second game) is The Man. In the second game, choosing a certain path midway through finds a battle where he is alone facing dozens of opponents. And until he has blown a gigantic proportion of them away, the battle will not progress. Again, because he is The Man.

Oliver

The Man, you say? THE Man? THE Man?!

You understand, my friend, that you make quite a claim when you call someone "The Man." There are many, many viable candidates for this position in the RPG hemisphere, and it's quite difficult to nail down precisely who is the most deserving. I've never been able to do it, personally. I have several people who I could classify as "The Men," as it were, but I can't nail down exactly who's "The Man." Is it Shadow? Link? Cloud? Auron? Hmmm, those are almost all Final Fantasy characters...

I was going to wax rhapsodic about Langrisser some more, but you're probably tired of my ranting by now. Another day then. Fare thee well good sir.
JuMeSyn

Oliver

I never tire of your ranting! Impassioned RPG rantings are always welcomed here. Thanks for the letter JuMeSyn, see ya soon.



Great Minds...


Hey Oliver,

Oliver

SUP

I'm glad we share the same opinion in regard to the Final Fantasy franchise. Sorry to change topic from FFIX, but I wanted to talk about another series that has mixed opinions - Xenosaga. I remember when I first played Xenogears I was absolutely blown away by the music and the incredibly epic and ambitious story. Here was a game that had philosophy, spirituality, psychology and was engrossing from start to finish. It never felt that the plot fell apart at any stage inspite of its complexity.

Oliver

I believe the FFIX discussion has run its course, so a topic change is not a problem. Especially since we are now talking about much better games - the Xenosaga series!

Let me take this opportunity to state, however, that I've never played the original Xenogears. Shameful, I know. It's something I hope to fix in the future.

So when I heard they were creating the Xenosaga series with an all new cast I was sad that I would have to wait until episode 5 to revisit Fei, Citan, Krelian, etc. Was I wrong! I loved Xenosaga 1 to bits. The new characters were just as good if not better and the story delivered in every aspect. Episode 2 was a travesty gameplay-wise but it kept the story going. Then came Xenosaga 3... Thatís when I knew that I never wanted the Xeno games to end. That game struck a chord with me and will go down as a fitting end to one of the best stories ever written. The games also featured some of the best voice acting I had heard probably only matched by FF12. When you have such rich characters, the voice acting needs to be incredible and it was... At no point did I feel a drop in the intensity of a scene due to the voice acting which is an achievement in itself if you've played the games. The music is so beautiful it could make you cry. Frankly enough good things cannot be said, but of course this was a game for those who liked story-heavy RPGs.

Oliver

Again, I agree with you almost 100%. The Xenosaga trilogy is a veritable monument in gaming, and one of the greatest sci-fi works ever written. The lack of recognition the series received galls me to no end, and the fact that it was cut short makes me sad. Episode I is my favorite of the three, and playing it is one of my very fondest videogame memories. I remember being instantly drawn in by the epic, movie-quality cutscenes, and the extremely likeable and realistic characters. On the gameplay side of things, I absolutely loved the battle system in the first Xenosaga. It was a refreshing change from the typical turn-based affairs, and allowed for a good deal of customization and skill management.

II was largely crap as far as gameplay was concerned. The battle system.... sucked. It had some good ideas, but somehow it just managed to suck. It was insultingly easy, repetitive, slow... the list could go on. But, like you said, the story carried on. Or at least it TRIED to, since all the wussies at Namco decided they had better listen to the complainers and reduce cutscene length. As a result, even the storytelling, while superb, was a step down from that of Episode I.

III was a return to grace. I was doubtful that they could wrap up the multitude of loose ends in a single game, but somehow they managed to do it, and it really did feel like a conclusion. I and III are pretty much tied for me, but if forced to give a favorite, I'd have to say I.

Voice acting was largely superb across all three games. I have to give especial praise to Crispin Freeman, and the incredible job he did voicing Albedo. To this day, Albedo is my all-time favorite RPG villain, and one of my favorite RPG characters period. The series' music is also beautiful across the three games, but Episode III takes home the gold medal. One of my all-time favorite soundtracks. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.

So when it was announced that Nintendo was buying out Monolith Soft from Namco it cast the future of the series in doubt. I wanted to see a continuation in the saga of Shion and co. or at least a game set in a Xeno- universe. If Nintendo is good at one thing itís the business side of games. That was Monolith's biggest weakness as far as the Xeno games were concerned (the infamous disc 2 of Xenogears). So if Nintendo can manage to find a balance who knows... I'm not sure about the copyrights and the intellectual property rights but I really hope they make it happen.

-Rahul

Oliver

I hope so too, my friend, but at this point I have my doubts. Plot-laden RPGs are NOT something that you generally see on a Nintendo console, and sadly, the Xenosaga trilogy had little commercial success. Episode III, especially, sold crappily. Besides, I think Nintendo is too busy prostituting themselves to the "casual gamers" to care about a franchise like Xenosaga. Sad, but true.

Thanks for the letter Rahul. Write again soon!



There ARE other genres, after all...


Oliver! Word em up deuce! First things first man, thanks for bringing the column back to my life. For awhile it seems, I didin't like too many of the hosts, they're lack of consistency, or bias opinions toward consoles, left to much salt in my gaming digest? Yeah, gaming digest. It's nice to have a host that plays other games besides RPG's or strictly Sega consoles/games.

Oliver

Well, I am happy to hear that I have REVITALIZED the column for you. Personally, I was more than happy with the hosts who preceded me, but I shall accept the praise nonetheless! GIVE ME LAUD!

So the 98 hours of playtime in Persona frightened you? Dude, I spent 123 hours finishing up all the missions in Final Fantasy XII. I remember being way stoked the first time I heard Yasumi Matsuno was directing it(Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, Ogre). By far one of the best directors around the videogame town. Last I heard he got sick and quit Square? I hope that dude is all right, definately opened my mind to what a game really could be. It was all I could do to stay safe and survive til' the game came out, whew, I made it.

Oliver

I spent just under 90 hours in Final Fantasy XII. I did ALMOST everything. I did not complete some of the more difficult quests. (Read: those that required you to be level 99.) Of course, that was also two years ago, when I had all the time in the bloody world. Oh, if only I could return to those halcyon days of my youth...

Yes, Mr. Matsuno stepped down from Square Enix (presumably) due to health issues. He has been out of the public eye for quite some time now, but I did find this little shred of info. According to FFXII/FFT composer, Hitoshi Sakimoto, him and Mr. Matsuno are currently working on a project together. Weird...

So I really hope you beat the first Devil May Cry before beating the second one. I beat the second one and quickly sold and haven't looked back since. For well into the PS2's life I hailed DMC as the best game out for the system, always trying to find the game that would 1-up it. My main beef with 2? No kick-butt attitude from Dante, some super serious Diesel Jeans modeling devil killer? WTF? Also, in the first one, the faster you hit the trigger, the faster your bullets flew...they put a lock on that, took the intesity away. My friends always tried to get me to play the 3rd which I hear was pretty good, but after the second one, I just can't go back, the story was mutilated, dev teams switched, and the list goes on. The trigger lock was taken away in the 3rd, but reappeared in the 4th's demo. As for the game that knocked DMC off it's ped? Shinobi. Straight up Shinobi. God of War was good, but it was no Shinobi.

Oliver

Oh yes, I beat the first Devil May Cry before playing Devil May Cry 2. I'm not the sort of person to play games out of order, after all. I agree, the first DMC was amazing. 2, comparatively speaking, was a disappointment. Everyone told me this, but I was determined to find out for myself. And I did... I did. I didn't think DMC2 was complete crap, but it lost a lot of the charm that the first DMC had, mostly because - like you said - Dante never freaking TALKED. His devil-may-care (mwahaha) attitude in the first game was part of what made it such a great experience. DMC2 just had no personality whatsoever, and it ended up feeling like a really long, boring dungeon crawl.

I own 3 but have yet to play it. From what I've heard, it's a return to grace. And it had damn sure better be, lemme tell you. Oh, and, uh, I've never heard of Shinobi.

Xenosaga. Another game I could NOT wait for. Oliver, if you have not played through Xenogears, you must ebay a copy and play every second of it man. That game is straight up GOLD. It's too bad that we'll never see the Perfect Works completed. Maybe in some other universe billions of years in another dimension...maybe. I like everyone else who was a fan, thought that Xenosaga would be the first in the series, as Gears was episode 5. But no. Square wouldn't give him his licenses back, therefore he created some watered down version of what was loosely based off of his masterpiece. That is not to say that Xenosaga didn't kick but, its was totally awesome, but the second one was so cheesy, I couldn't play it without crackers... Poor animation, poor voice acting, another laundry list. So, have you played Xenogears? That is my Q.

Oliver

MORE XENOSAGA LOVE! HOORAY!

No, I haven't played teh Xenogears! I'm sorry, I really am! I do plan on playing it someday, as am very interested in seeing how (and if) it connects to the Xenosaga series. It's a bit expensive, I note, but that's not a problem for someone like ME, HOHOHOHO. (I wish.)

Come on, dude... Episode II wasn't THAT bad. Sure, the battle system sucked and the storyline wasn't given ample development, but what was actually THERE was very good. The tale of Rubedo and Albedo's pasts was extremely well done, and solidified Albedo as my all-time favorite RPG villain. The ending sequence in which Rubedo and Albedo finally faced off was brilliant, and the VERY FINAL scene (can't spoil it here) gave me the chills. Oh, and aside from the crappy environment tunes, the music kicked ass. And the voice acting was just as good as it was in the other two games.

Well das it main. I'll write back in the future. Try and get the column up a little faster man...geez. It's not like your going to school or working two jobs or anything....
E N W B

Oliver

I'm trying dude, I'm trying! I swears it! I'm only two men!

Thanks for the letter E N W B. Next time you write in, can you tell me what those four letters mean?

P.S. It should be a crime to mention Cloud and pride in the same paragraph/in reference. (Not that there's anything wrong with that)

Oliver

wut?



Hey, this dude's like... my age


Greetings Oliver. This is my first letter, so please do be gentle.

Oliver

I will try. By nature, I'm a fairly intimidating fellow, but I will try.

I've never actually played Chrono Trigger, either. Well, that's technically not true. I did start playing it on an emulator once, but it just wasn't the same. And it's not exactly the easiest game to find. I mean, it came out in what? 1995? I would have been five years old at the time. I don't think I even knew what rpgs were. But now that it's been announced for the DS, I am understandably excited. I honestly don't care whether it's a port or a remake, just as long as I get to actually play it. Legally. But on to the question part. As a fellow Chrono Trigger virgin, do you think it will live up to the hype? I mean, I'm sure there's a reason so many people worship the game, but sometimes I have to wonder how much of that the game actually deserves. I'm still optimistic though.

Oliver

I would have been six years old upon the release of Chrono Trigger. The fact that it took me so long to get into the world of videogames still galls me.

I'm excited about the DS port, of course. It's a game I've always wanted to play, and now I'll have an easy way to do so! As for the hype, well, I can hardly believe that the game is overrated. It is universally loved, and it has some big names behind it. Yoshinori Kitase, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yasunori Mitsuda, Nobuo Uematsu - the list goes on. Besides, I've learned to tune out people who run around screaming "OVERRATED" at the top of their lungs. *coughFFVIIhaterscough* You should do the same.

I am also looking forward to Persona 4. I am perhaps the largest fan of Persona 3 I know. (Granted, that's not really saying much since, to my knowledge, I am the only one I know who has even heard of the game. *sigh*) I received the original P3 for Christmas last year and beat it about two months later. It really is a very daunting game, and I often felt like I was wasting my time or just going in circles. But it was fun and rewarding. But by far my favorite part of the game was the Personae. You see, I am a great big mythology nerd. I absolutely loved finding out about all the deities and demons and whatnot. So, oddly enough, the thing I'm most looking forward to in P4 is what new personae I'll get to see and use. So, what's your favorite persona so far? Mine was definitely Saturnus followed ever so closely by Lucifer. But I didn't get those until about the last month or so. I went through very distinct phases where I kept my favorite at the time for quite a bit longer than I probably should have. Kohryu, Suzaku, Samael, Oberon, I'm looking at you.

Oliver

Heh... other than my fellow employees at RPGamer, I know nobody who has played Persona 3. In fact, I know few people who play RPGs at all. It's sad...

I'm barely knowledgeable on mythologies and such, but I still found it cool that all the personae in the game were based on mythological creatures. I'm sure there will be new personae to play around with in 4, but honestly, you'll likely see many of the same ones recycled. From what I understand, that's what the Shin Megami games do.

Right now, my main Personas are Sati, a magician who can throw fire around like nothing else, and Titan, who has a strength stat that allows me to STRIKE DOWN MY FOES with ease. He also has Mudo, which, for some reason, took me a long time to acquire. I liked Oberon a lot, and Take-Mizakachi (I think?) is still my friend. It's always such a shame when you have to cast them aside to make room for more powerful allies, but it must be done. The game won't forgive you if you don't.

As for the rest of the year, I'm mostly looking forward to Dragon Quest IV DS and Final Fantasy IV DS. (On a side note: why were so many of the most anticipated games for this year released in the 90s?) Final Fantasy III was the first game I got for the DS, and if this game is anywhere near as good as that then I'll be a happy gamer. I finally got around to playing Dragon Quest VIII recently (you think *your* backlog is scary? I laugh at your backlog!) and it is just wonderful. I love how simple it is. No flashy gimmicks or intricate battle systems, and yet it still manages to be a challenge. And am I the only one who thinks the main overworld theme sounds a lot like Tara's theme from Gone with the Wind? With how good VIII is I really can't wait for IV.

Oliver

Can't WAIT for either of those! FFIV DS looks positively divine, and I've been hungry for more Dragon Quest since I completed VIII about a year ago.

I can't resist. Let me take this opportunity to state that Dragon Quest VIII is one of my all-time favorite RPGs. Evar. There are FEW that stand above it in my eyes. Honestly, it's traditional RPG gameplay at its very, very best. So incredibly polished in every way. Simple yet extremely engaging battles, PERFECT difficulty balance, some great skill management, tons of shopping to do (something I value greatly), a huge, vibrant world that succeeds brilliantly at drawing you in... and... uh... teh grafx were awesome. Yes, the plot was lacking, (almost non-existent) but the characters were fabulous, and a few of the story sequences were quite excellent. Charm... the game had boatloads of it. Needless to say, the game's pros far, far, outweigh its cons. I loved DQVIII from beginning to end, and any who try to disagree with me will be lucky to escape with their lives.

But yes, I want to play more DQ, and DQIV looks like it will meet that need. Cannot wait.

Just as a response to your apparent love for the game, both DQIV and FFIV had better be MILES better than FFIII DS. That game was teh sux. Okay, no it wasn't, but... I derived only the slightest enjoyment from the game. I found it to be a dull, grindy, plotless venture with zero personality or charm to speak of. I would have preferred a port of the original 2-D version.

Well, back to DQVIII for me.
Ryan

Oliver

Good man. Return to DQVIII, for it loves you dearly. No, it really does! More than I do, and that's saying a lot!

Write again, my good man.



Setting feet on the right path...


Hello,

Oliver

HELLO HELLO HELLO!

You don't have to post this on your website as I'm sure you've had this question asked before, but I was wondering what are some good RPGs for people just beginning to get into the genre? I'm looking for shorter, easier games I guess is what I'm asking... Preferably on newer systems (DS, PSP, PS2, PS3, Wii etc)... If you could answer, that would be great, if not I understand you folks are busy over there at RPGamer.

Oliver

We are pretty busy over here, but since it is my job to answer questions, and since I personally have never been asked this, I am giving you the HONOR of being featured in Q&A.

Good RPGs for beginners, eh? What a great question. We were ALL beginners at one point, and it's important to get a good start. So, let me give you my PERSONAL recommendations as to what you should try:

Final Fantasy X (2001, PS2)
Lusipurr will likely slay me for recommending this, but he, along with all other FFX haters, can go suck a wet sock. Final Fantasy X was my introduction to the series, and it was an extremely positive experience for me. It gives you a fine idea of what to expect from the genre without being too huge and overwhelming. The battle system is easy to pick up and learn, and the CTB system allows you to take all the time in the world to act. The game is neither heavy nor light on plot development, and the story is quite entertaining without being too terribly complicated. While the linear design of the game was a disappointment to many, a newbie may find it comforting to know exactly where to go next. Definitely my highest recommendation for you.

Tales of Symphonia (2002, GameCube)
Any Tales game would do, I suppose, but I recommend Symphonia because it was my first one. The Tales games have an action battle system that will likely appeal to new RPGamers who may not be ready to jump into the turn-based world. Besides that, they are full-fledged RPGs and will certainly give you a good introduction to phenomenons such as skill management and overworld trekking. If you have a Wii or a GameCube, pick it up. It's a great game.

Xenosaga Episode I: Dur Wille zur Macht (2001, PS2)
This is for when you're ready to step up a little. Honestly, I don't recommend that Xenosaga be your first RPG, but after you've tested the waters a bit, try your hand the series. Xenosaga's main draw is the storyline, so be ready to watch tonnes of cutscenes. Be ready for some fairly complicated skill/character management, and be ready for some tough battles. The reason I recommend Xenosaga is because it is a shining example of what RPGs can do as far as storytelling goes. It really is a remarkable achievement, and you must at least try it.

I think I managed to give you honest recommendations... honestly, I may have just been fanboying your face off. But, then again, FFVII is nowhere on the list, so perhaps not! Give one or three of these games a try, and then GET BACK TO ME on them.

Anyways, i love the site, keep up the good work!
Steve

Oliver

The site loves YOU, my friend Steve. It loves all RPGamers, be they seasoned or aspiring.

Thanks for the letter. It ended up being quite a good contribution to the column, wouldn't ya say?



IN CLOSING

7/14 - 12:32 AM CST
Nuts. My stomach is rumbling. I hate going to bed hungry, but looks like that will be the case tonight. There's an empty shell of a Hershey's Symphony bar sitting on my desk, and it is only exacerbating the issue. In fact, I believe I shall remove it from my sight.

Well, since I was made to feel like an all-around JERK for skipping Currents last week, I will be sure not to do the same this week. But it may not appear until Thursday afternoon. In fact, I'll tell you right now that it won't! But it'll be here, I promise.

Ew, gross, I have to be at work in 10.5 hours. Guess I'd better wrap this up! Have a good day, my friends, and look for me on Thursday. DO NOT FORGET.

-Oliver



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What I can't wait for:

1. Chrono Trigger DS

2. Dragon Quest IV DS

3. A Team ICO announcement at E3 (Please, God... please)

4. Final Fantasy IV DS

5. Infinite Undiscovery



On my Playlist:

1. Persona 3: FES

2. Diablo

3. Bleh, it's hard enough to juggle two.



Hot Topics:

1. What do YOU think are the best RPGs for beginners?

2. It's time to talk Xenosaga. Sound off!

3. What are YOU looking forward to for the second half of '08?

4. E3 2008 is NEARLY UPON US!

5. Hershey's Symphony Bars. Seriously.



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