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ASK OLIVER
Back to the Old Grind Again
August 26, 2008

8/26 - 12:12 PM CST

I apologize profusely for being late, I really do. You see, due to some complications, I had to delay the column until Monday. And, as fate would have it, my internet service decided to crap out on me on Monday. So here it is, Tuesday, two days after the scheduled Q&A time. Believe me, I'm even less happy than you are.

Fire Emblem for the GBA is pissing me off. I'm stuck on a chapter that seems to require a very high-level Eliwood - which I do not have. Eliwood is the game's main character, and as a fighting unit, he outright sucks. So I did not find much use for him, and consequently, he did not gain many levels. He finally received his obligatory class-change, but since he was so low in levels beforehand, he STILL sucks. Fire Emblem can be very frustrating, but in most cases, you know there's a way to beat a given mission. The only way I can see to complete this mission is to go level grinding with Eliwood - which, of course, cannot be done.

I have four grand and beautiful letters for you to enjoy today. So, without further ado, go enjoy them.





The Letters
Our contest winner!


Hey Oliver,
Itís been a while since I contributed to your Q&A column, and since Iím currently waiting on my free copy of Tales of Vesperia in the mail (Yippee!), I thought I'd write in with a Tales-themed letter.

Oliver

Good for you, man! I'm glad you won that silly little contest of ours, I really am. And yeah, it has been a while since you've contributed. I was beginning to fear that I had (gasp) OFFENDED you in some way!

So let's jump right into it: As a fan of past Tales games, what are your expectations for this one on the "story" front? My expectations are pretty in-line with my experience with Symphonia and Abyss -- which is to say, I expect a story that, while held back by a few patches of awful scriptwriting, is still quite good in its own way. I personally found Symphonia to be a bigger offender in this regard, though I still had a lot of fun playing it. But Abyss, on the oher hand, I found to be ext remely engaging, probably because of the well-developed cast (Anise notwithstanding). Itís quite gratifying to see Luke go through such a comprehensive personality change throughout such a long game, and also a change that doesnít feel forced, calculated, or rushed in any significant way. (*cough*Squall Leonhart*cough*)

Oliver

When it comes to the Tales series, here's what I expect from the story: a simple, clichéd, yet engaging tale scattered with dramatic moments, and containing a few plot twists that make you go OMGOMGOMGOMG in rapid succession. Of course, a few hours later, you realize that the plot twist has been done six or seven times in the past. But that's not the point. I found the storylines in Symphonia and Abyss to be highly entertaining, despite their simplicity and lack of originality. And where the Tales series has always won big is in its character development and character interactions. They are often brilliant, and it makes it quite a bit easier to forgive the flaws of the overarching plot when you have grown so attached to the characters participating in said plot. Would I like to see a stronger backstory? Absolutely. Will we get one? Probably not, but as I've already made clear, that's okay. As long as the moments are there, and as long as the cast is good, Tales of Vesperia will win.

For what it's worth, I mirror your opinion on Luke from Abyss. His character was brilliant, and his transformation was awesome to watch. I do NOT agree with your not-so-subtle dig at Squall, as I found him to be superior in every regard.

One area where Symphonia triumphed over Abyss, though, is in the gameís pacing. I remember several times in Abyss where I was told to go to one town, only to trigger a conversation in which Iím told to meet someone else at another location, and so on for about five more repetitions. Normally, text-heaviness is what one can expect in any RPG, but in Abyss I always seemed to be swallowing some drivel about how the "fonons" inside me are doing this or that. That part of Abyss never really earned a special place in my heart -- but then again, neither did Yuri Lowenthal. Any opinions on this matter?

Oliver

I agree 102%. Pacing was the weakest aspect of Abyss by far. There are several stretches in the game that are nothing but elongated fetch quests, which served only to distance the player from the story. A shame too, because the story was pretty good most of the time.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of "drivel" in the Tales series. Often there will be several skits that, more or less, communicate the exact same bloody thing. And then, an in-game cutscene will say the same thing again. It's very annoying. Both Symphonia and Abyss were in DIRE need of some editing.

DO NOT TARNISH THE NAME OF YURI LOWENTHAL IN MY COLUMN. Lowenthal is quite possibly my favorite voice actor of all time. I have never, ever disliked a role he played. He was brilliant as Luke. He was brilliant as the Prince in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. He was brilliant in his various roles in Persona 3. He was brilliant in the Ergo Proxy anime series. I could go on.

On to character designs. For some reason, Iím really not liking what Iím seeing for Vesperia. Kosuke Fujishima seems more determined than ever this time to use all the colors in his crayon box, and when I look at the combined party portrait, I somehow feel as if Iím witnessing some kind of 9th grade art class explosion. The pink one is particularly painful to look at. However, I suspect theyíll look a lot better in game, so maybe I'm just full of hot air, eh? You decide.

(Just to make sure I'm giving credit where creditís due, the in-game character models do look pretty amazing, and I'm sure Iíll warm up to them after a few hours of play.)

Oliver

Eh, I wouldn't say that I'm disliking the art I've seen in Vesperia, but I will say that nothing in particular has stood out to me so far. I'm sure that will change as I play the game. Fujishima is an excellent, excellent artist, but if he's smart, he'll retire soon. If he goes on much longer, he'll become another Akira Toriyama - in other words, he will become a hack.

...Wow, that was a very stream-of-consciousness letter. Well, anyway, these were just a few thoughts that came to mind while waiting anxiously for the 26th, and I thought Iíd stuff them in a letter. In summary, despite knowing the seriesí shortfalls and limitations, Iím still nursing some very high hopes for Tales of Vesperia, and Iím anxious to see how the actual game matches up.

Looking forward to the 26th,
Cornman89

Oliver

I am convinced that Tales of Vesperia will maintain the status quo. The haters will continue to hate, and the fans will continue to enjoy. In other words, you and I are set. Everyone else can go eat a wet sock. I cannot wait until Tales of Vesperia, and I cannot wait to hear what you think of it. Let me know ASAP!



Questions of protocol


Greetings Sir um ... Oliver? Is that polite enough? Should be something more manorial.

Oliver

Simply Oliver is fine, or Ollie. Or Metaridley if you like internet screen names. Anyhow, I am not Lusipurr, so there is no need to address me in a "manorial" fashion.

Geez, it's been so long I have written a letter to QnA that I don't really know what I should talk about so let's just get along with current topics.

Oliver

Speak your mind! Say what you will! Or just follow the hot topics, that's cool too. That's why I provide them, after all!

Do you seriously think all loose endings had been tied up in Xenosaga 3? Aside from the things created for a possible sequel of course. Don't get me wrong, it's a great game but the way of telling the story and the ending, something just felt awkward and a little bit wrong.

Oliver

*Shrug* I felt pretty good about Xenosaga III's ending. Okay, so maybe not EVERYTHING was perfectly, 100% tied up... but taken as a whole, it was quite satisfactory. I can't really talk about specifics here though, because OMG SPOILERZ

A different question: I somehow have the feeling that newer RPGs are taking too long and are filled with too many sidequests and everything. I mean more things to do and a richer environment are great (I love the Elder Scroll series) but e.g. I played 100 hours of Final Fantasy XII and with all the sidequests at the end the whole game felt somehow shallow. Do you think that too many sidequests (during the first playthrough not after you have beaten) the game) "outshine" the main plot? That's one of the reasons why I have such a hard time recommending newer games to beginners, because it might scare them away, like it once scared me away when I was younger, at least until Chrono Trigger came along.

Since you are a gamer of a younger generation (first RPG FF X?) what's your opinion? Am I just an old gamer who's too used to earlier RPGs or are newer games sacrificing well thought-out stories and coherence for more playtime and "side-quest grinding"?

Oliver

FFXII's gameplay and sidequests DID outshine the main plot. This isn't because there were "too many sidequests," per se, but rather because the gameplay in FFXII was superb, while the story was rather average. Not enough character or plot development was present in FFXII, but the gameplay was there in spades.

I would still recommend FFXII over most older RPGs, though. Lots of older RPGs generally have a light and/or simple story, accompanied by hours of grinding. Not much different from FFXII in the end. The best RPGs, generally speaking, are those that find a balance between the two. A rich world with tons of stuff to do is a good thing, but it needs to be backed up by a solid storyline for the player to follow. It's a good thing FFXII was so much fun to play, because it definitely failed to achieve this balance.

Chrono Trigger remake? Oh yes! I had just hoped they would use updated graphics like with Final Fantasy IV but it doesn't seem like this, maybe the DS is not capable of it with a game which has so much more memory? Though I have to say the FF IV one for the DS is really superb. I have been playing it several months now (I hardly had any time to play games, do you think I had time to already beat it?) and Glenn Wilson's review on this side says it all, except that I think even if you already know the plot the story still captures you, thanks to the cut scenes and the great voice acting. So what I'm anxiously awaiting for the DS is Dragon Quest V, if FF IV and DQ IV told us anything about DS remakes then that it will be great.

Oliver

I am glad they did not use "updated" graphics for Chrono Trigger DS. (If, by "updated," you refer to those God-awful 3D sprites that FFIII and FFIV used.) Anyway, the main reason for that is I don't want a remake, I want to play the game in its original form. Why? Because I've never played Chrono Trigger.

Haven't actually played FFIV DS yet. (Sigh.) Not sure if I'll ever get around to it. And for the record: the name "GLENN WILSON" says it all.

You have already played DQIV DS? An import, I take it? Well, not being fluent in Japanese myself, I shall have to wait for the AMERICANIZED version. But yes, I'm very much anticipating it as well.

And Chrono Trigger? Let me tell you something about CT (something I've already told several times but alas). I don't love Chrono Trigger, I am obsessed with it! Although I can see the faults, for example in retrospect it's way too easy, which then again makes it a good game for beginners. Concerning CT, at the moment I own: 2 copies of the original SNES English version, 1 copy of the original SNES Japanese version, 1 copy of the PSX Japanese remake, 1 copy of the PSX English remake (okay, that was a gift), and 3 original soundtrack CDs. So, will I be getting the DS remake? Yes. Will I be getting a Japanese and an English and a possible first time ever German copy? Hell yes. Will I play it till it breaks? You can bet your ...

Now if they would only make a third Chrono game ...

Oliver

What? BET MY WHAT?!

Why the hell would you buy a German copy of Chrono Trigger DS? I mean, I understand fanboyism, but sheesh. And why play it until it breaks? Then you'd have to buy a new copy.

If this DS port generates sufficient sales, then I'd wager there's a good chance that a third Chrono game will be made.

An that, as they say, is that, so please keep up the good work and till next time
Belthasar

Oliver

Thank you for the letter Belthasar. You used to write lots of Q&A letters, if my memory serves me. This was a fine tradition, and you should take it up once more.



The final word


Heya Oliver,

I've never actually written something substantive enough to send in to Q&A, but all this Xeno talk has inspired me. What I really want to focus on is the series on a macro level, as well as its potential were it not cut short.. I'll try to stay concise with the topic, but no promises. My goal is to hopefully clarify a few things for you and any fans of the series based on the columns I've been reading over the last few weeks.

Oliver

That sounds excellent. Please, continue.

First, Xenogears. Face it, man, you're just going to have to play it. I can tell you that all the talk you've heard about Disc 2 is entirely true: it's crap. The linear, constricted narrative that took over was damaging to the overall plot. However, I'm confident in saying this wasn't by choice. The switch was so sudden, awkward, and poorly managed that you can just picture the development team's office around December '97: a chorus of distressed groans in response to impending deadlines being loudly reiterated in no uncertain terms by management as workers unpack their sleeping bags over their rolling chairs while simultaneously grinding out that last bit of code that was due the day before yesterday, all the while mustering every ounce of their remaining energy in hopes of making it to the next coffee break.

Oliver

Yes, I know I will have to play Xenogears, and I plan to. The second disc will not scare me away, and I imagine you're exactly right about the deadline crunch. Very vivid description by the way, I applaud you.

Tetsuya Takahashi, the father of the Xeno series, stated in an interview regarding Xenosaga that it was the kind of game he "wanted" to make. We could interpret such an innocuous statement any number of ways, but I'd put money down that this line was in bitter retrospect of 'Gears. I mean, it really was a great game for its time: a battle system that, while not groundbreaking, was hardly mundane; a fresh, nuanced setting with a rich history that, as we now know, extends millennia back to our own earth; a highly intriguing and immersive plot which dove uncomfortably but truthfully into the examination of the human subconscious and unconscious; and a perfectly fitting musical score that emotionally amplified all the dramatic moments and yet at the same time had the sensibility of subtlety during those many poignant scenes of self-doubt and introspection. But it's clear that the rushed state of the game's production led to a final product which was imperfect in the eyes of its creator.

Oliver

Right so, right so. You seem to be on a roll, so I'll let you continue.

Even though we know Xenosaga was closer to Takahashi's vision, it too was plagued with internal development issues. You may already know of these issues, but they are integral to my discussion so bear with me. Episode I, as we know it, was supposed travel further down the plotline than where it ended in the final product. We can attribute this to the same production deadlines that threatened 'Gears late in its development. These scenes were appropriately added to Episode II, but it's in this episode where in-company turmoil became destructive to the series' health. While details are scarce, a dispute led to the temporary departure of creator Takahashi from the team. As well, another key designer (and Takahashi's wife) Kaori Tanaka (aka Soraya Saga) was no longer employed for the remainder of Episode II. And you're well aware how Episode II turned out. It wasn't until Episode III that the series seemed to reach equilibrium... perhaps for the first time. While Takakashi returned to fill only an executive role regarding lore and music, the game's overall quality trumps previous installments on all levels: fast-paced battles, negligible loading times, convenient menus, a battle system the player may either choose to play by the books or in a way that exploits the game's unique mechanics, etc. The aesthetic side remains of high quality, but for me this hasn't ever been a problem in the series.

Oliver

Yes, I did know about the internal development issues with Episode II. A shame, really. Soraya Saga was one of the main writers, I believe - 'twas a major bummer to lose her, methinks. I feared Episode III would suffer for it, but fortunately for us, it didn't. I still hold that Episode I was better than III though. Anyway. Continue.

And just when all seemed well... surprise, everyone, there won't be any more Xenosaga games.

It sucks being a consumer. We're at the mercy of the very rule that gives us our influence over the companies that make the things we like: supply and demand. Well, I demand more Xenosaga games. I don't really care about the millions of gamers who do not. I see a potential in the series that they don't, and perhaps can't. But potential is a concept; it is not a unit of measure that can be used to forecast the popularity of a product. No matter how artistically successful a product is, such artistic merit becomes invisible when placed side by side with last year's sales charts. Here's where a different sort of 'potential' takes center-stage... the potential for profit.

Oliver

Sir, whoever you are, I am most impressed with your letter. Very well written, very profound. In fact, I find it to be an extremely fitting close-out to this elongated Xenogears/Xenosaga discussion. I, too, demand more Xenosaga titles. And like yourself, I care nothing for the many people who do not. Sadly, though, those who do not are in the majority. I will always believe that the Xenosaga trilogy is one of the greatest and most underappreciated RPG series ever created. THE END.

Write again soon, and don't be afraid to give us your name next time. Or any name, even if it isn't really yours. This is the internet, after all.



Beating around the bush


As it is my first time sending you a message, I would like to say hello! Anyway, is it just me or is Square Enix just beating around the bush when they keep re-releasing every single Final Fantasy in their repertoire except for the very one every one wants to see? I mean, the DS is getting the remake of FFIV, and then probably V and VI by 2010 but they're still unwilling to do a PS3 remake of VII? Everyone knows they CAN do it. We saw that when the dang PS3 came out as a teaser, so why aren't they doing it? Advent Children even proved it could be done and done well! For crying out loud what's their deal?

Oliver

Hello to you as well, friend. Square Enix IS beating around the bush. You're exactly right; they've remade/re-released several Final Fantasy titles, none of which are NEARLY as popular as Final Fantasy VII. But as time goes on, I'm more and more convinced that it's only a matter of time. They've stated on more than one occasion that the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII is not complete, and I doubt that Advent Children Complete will be the final chapter. In fact, Square Enix has never expressed any sort of disinterest in making a FFVII remake - quite the opposite in fact. It will happen. Maybe not soon, but it will happen. PATIENCE.

Anyway, sorry to rant about that. Anyway, love the column you do, by the way. I can't wait to see what they do for FFXIII though. That looks so cool. I wonder what the heck happened though to change the date of Last Remnant so drastically though. I thought it was supposed to be a simultaneous release for the PS3 and the 360 but now the 360's getting it first? Hmmm... maybe the latest news with FFXIII is what effected that last bit of news? What do you think?

Oliver

Compliments are good. You are on the right track.

I wouldn't say that The Last Remnant's change to a timed 360 exclusive is "because" of FFXIII, per se. Rather, both of these decisions are part of Square's new business strategy, in which they are aggressively targeting the Western market. That is to say, more than they have in the past. They have stated on multiple occasions that they wish to expand their Western market presence, and obviously, publishing RPGs on Microsoft's console is the best way to do that. In addition, I'm quite sure that the PS3 version of The Last Remnant will require a longer development period, so that is likely a factor.

Prince of Persia looks really awesome to me. I only tried one of the Sands of Time trilogy and that was a demo of the Warrior Within. It was alright but I think the art style of this next one is a heck of a lot more interesting and it looks a lot more fun than the other series.
Jon

Oliver

A demo of Warrior Within, the weakest game in the trilogy, is NOT a good way to introduce oneself to the Sands of Time trilogy. Pick up Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time for any console. It will be cheap, and likely not hard to find. It is one of the finest action adventures ever created, and as a whole, the trilogy is one of the greatest of the last generation.

I have hopes that this new take on the series will be even better. I can hardly believe that it will be worse. However, they have a LOT to live up to. And yeah, it IS a lot prettier to look at, from both a technical and artistic standpoint.

Thanks for the letter Jon! Always nice to have a first-timer write in.



IN CLOSING

Well, I suppose it's time to settle into my new position as Q&A host. Yes, I understand I've been hosting Q&A for months running now, but it was in addition to the Currents column. Now I have one, and only one thing to focus on. I suppose that's a good thing; it means I can lavish twice the love upon it.

Well, we had quite a discussion over the Xeno-games, didn't we? Edifying, most edifying indeed. Mr. Mystery Man provided us with an extremely fitting final word on the matter, so it's time we moved on. That's not to say that I was growing bored with it, but it's important to keep things relatively fresh here at Q&A. We don't want to fall victim to the evil REPITITIA, now do we?

Oh, and one last thing: classes suck, where did the summer go?

-Oliver



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What I can't wait for:

1. Tales of Vesperia

2. Valkyria Chronicles

3. Infinite Undiscovery

4. Persona 4

5. Prince of Persia



On my Playlist:

1. Fire Emblem GBA

2. Soul Calibur IV

3. Real Life: College Sophomore Edition



Hot Topics:

1. Do current RPGs place too much emphasis on "side" material?

2. Who else can't wait for a FFVII remake?

3. So who's played Prince of Persia?

4. What do you think of Square's recent shift to a Western market focus?

5. Would YOU buy a German copy of Chrono Trigger DS?



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