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ASK OLIVER
Caffeine and Chocolate
September 07, 2008

9/07 - 11:06 PM CST

Busy, busy, busy! Egads, the life of being a full-time student and having a full-time job. At times, it can be intensely unpleasant. But, as always, I deal.

Unfortunately, as a result of this lifestyle, I am still under 10 hours in Tales of Vesperia, and I have not played any other games in the meantime. Doesn't that suck? I think I may be able to find some time tomorrow, but with my luck, I'll end up in front of my computer doing... some form of work.

On to the letters!





The Letters
Behind the times


Hello Oliver!

I've been a regular reader of the column for years now, and had a few letters of my own printed by previous hosts. As always, you have quite a good column, and an intriguing read. Thus, I thought I would chime in with some opinions, and join the discussion!

Oliver

Well, it's good to see you again! Thank you for the compliments, they are always appreciated.

I know Xenogears/Xenosaga talk has died down a bit, but I'd really like to add my intake. As a die-hard fan of PS1 RPGs (which I simply adore the most) I played through Xenogears for about seven hours.... and was horrified. The game was so blah, and the system and controls so awkward that I simply quit, something I RARELY do with any game. I'll get heat for this, but it was total garbage, and a waste of my money if you ask me. I'm glad and happy for anyone who enjoyed the game, really I am, as RPGs are a work of art. However, I could not stomach that mess of a game. I will hold off on judging Xenosaga, as I've only played game 1. Interesting game, but with my backlog of superior titles, I do not crave more at this point.

Oliver

"Add your intake?" Generally speaking, I don't deign to correct my readers, especially long-timers such as yourself. But I think you mean "add your input." Just sayin'.

Well, I think you're the first one to write in with genuine Xenogears hatred. However, you are in the minority. And I would like to see what is in this backlog of yours that you deem so superior to the Xenosaga trilogy!

Honestly, I hope a new Breath of Fire is released, along with a new Grandia. I love and cherish all of the games in both titles, with an emphasis on BoF 3, and Grandia Xtreme. Most point fingers the most at these two gems as not very good, but I loved them fiercely, and still play through them frequently. What do you think about these games Oliver? How about your readers?

Oliver

Oh dear, two games I've never played. Grandia is a series I've wanted to try for some time, but somehow I've never gotten around to it. Breath of Fire is a series I know almost nothing about, although I've heard good things about III. Or was it III...? I don't even know. Sorry man, can't help you out. Maybe some of my readers have something to contribute on the matter?

Hmm... about a FF 7 remake. Sounds interesting, but I'd like to point out that if they did go through with it, Square Enix had better be verrrrrrry careful. Why? Well, I loved 7 as much as the next gamer, but if there was even one flaw in the final product, I very much fear that the fans will cry outrage, as the almighty FF 7 was tarnished from its former glory. Just my opinion, however...

Oliver

Well of course they'll have to be careful. But I don't necessarily want a carbon copy of the PlayStation game with shiny graphics. That would still be awesome, but in my mind, it would not be ideal. The story, I believe, should remain untouched, save for a better translation and perhaps some added scenes and dialogue to flesh the plot out. As far as the gameplay is concerned, I think some slight changes in the battle system and skill system could breathe some new life into the game. How about a FFXII style combat system? And in some way or another, they really need to make the characters more unique. By that I mean that they should have unique and useful abilities in battle outside of their limit breaks.

Moving on, I'm a gamer who really enjoys vintage over modern games. Give me Dragon Warrior over anything... However, can you, or your readers recommend about 5 or 6 good XBox 360 RPGs? I'm ready to jump ship on my wonderful PS2 collection, and go next gen. I'll admit that I do not follow new releases, thus perhaps you could help me out?

Oliver

You silly man! Behind the times, behind the times. Very well, let me tell you why you need an Xbox 360. First and foremost, Lost Odyssey. Absolutely beautiful game, on that an RPGamer should not be without. Next, Blue Dragon. A good game, one that a fan of old school RPGs should enjoy. There is Eternal Sonata, which I have not played, but has received universal appraise. Mass Effect is good if you like western RPGs at all. And now, Tales of Vesperia is here, which is a must-buy for fans of the Tales series. Get a 360! No excuses!

Finally, I'd like to suggest an interesting topic for your letters. What do you, Oliver, like to do when playing through a good RPG? Such as eating a bag of pretzels while you play, or drawing maps of dungeons? Anything that isn't actually a part of the game, or mashing buttons. For me, I often drink a 2-Liter Coke to keep me going all night with a good game, or have a cup of coffee. If I beat a boss, especially a hard one, I even light up a cigarette sometimes (I know, I'm alllllllmost free of that terrible habit). Just curious what you and the readers think.

Oliver

Hmmm, well, I generally prefer to stay in the world of the game when I'm playing. However, I do enjoy some snacking while gaming. Generally some Little Debbie products, such as the oatmeal cream pies or fudge brownies. A Dr. Pepper also compliments gametime well. Other than that, I am occasionally drawn into text-message conversations while playing a game. That's actually fairly annoying at times, especially when playing a game that isn't turn-based. When the game is turn-based I can usually message and play fairly efficiently at the same time. When the game is real-time, like Tales of Vesperia, I am forced to pause the action in order to maintain some silly semblance of a social life.

Thanks for letting me rant my friend. I now order you all to go and play Ys : The Ark of Napishtim. A marvelous masterpiece, with beautiful music to match.

I'll write again soon. Take care, and keep up the superb work!
Till Next Time!
- Greg in Philly

Oliver

Thank you, Greg, and have fun with Ys. Write again if the fancy strikes you!



That soul-consuming addiction


Hello again Oliver!

Tragedy has struck! or rather, its been striking for years. I seem to find myself less and less interested in the realm of RPG gaming, it just doesn't seem to carry the flair it once used to. I have fond memories of Final Fantasies, the lunar series, Chrono games, etc. However, i can pinpoint the precise moment where my interest shifted, the introduction of MMORPG's into my life.

Oliver

MMOS ARE THE ENEMY. They move about quietly in the night, seeking to devour RPGamers. Once they have taken hold, they never let go... and, in extreme cases like yours, the RPGamer will actually lose his appetite for REAL RPGs. I've seen it happen before. Too many times, in fact. Here's what you need to do: get in touch with our PR guy, Michael Cunningham, also known as Macstorm. Most don't know this, but he's the head of RPGamer's Stop Playing MMOs Coalition. (Or... something of that nature.) Anyway, he can help you. Contact him today, and make those fond memories a reality once again!

It all started when i picked up the Ragnarok Online Alpha waaaaay back in the day, and followed it through beta and on to the pay to play release. I quit RO and had a brief romance with FFXI, but was throuroughly discusted with square on this beautiful, yet overly demanding game (sorry Lusi, i despise FFXI). I then picked up World of Warcraft upon its release and have been playing it off and on to this day. Ever since that day when i first started playing MMORPG's, traditional RPG's never left he same flavor in my mouth.

Oliver

Ugh, such a painfully typical story. You are not simply a WoW addict, (and they are bad enough) but you are, in fact, an MMO addict. And you have been for many years, it would seem. Hmmm... this does not look good.

Has anybody else undergone a similar experience? What is it about MMORPG's that is so appealing? The social aspect? The addiction of building a better and stronger character each and every day? Personally, I've never had as much fun gaming as i did back in the day of classic WoW 40 mans, the trill of downing a challenging boss, the celebratory sound of "ducks like rain" by Raffi playing in the background (look the song up on youtube, it eats brain cells), overcoming the challing of throwing 40 random people into a room, and getting them to all organize in a strick manner to overcome a serious challenge, i LOVED it.

Oliver

I have not undergone a similar experience. The draw of the MMO, in my eyes, is simply the Quest for Power. You are constantly being rewarded, be it however small and insignificant. There are "tangible" goals to achieve, and they all go towards making the ULTIMATE DOOD. People get addicted to it. And after they make one ultimate dude, they want to make another. The social aspect is part of it perhaps, but it is a small part methinks.

I'm still a fan of Ragnarok Online, but the game is a bit dated now. I do find it odd that they are releasing a DS multiplayer dungeon crawler based off the MMO, it could be alot of fun! though i doubt the US will ever see a release. Gravity did well when employing a Yoko Kanno soundtrack into Ragnarok Online 2, but from what i can tell, the rest of the game is currently terrible (and yet to be in english). Any other Ragnarok fans out there? I know there are plenty of WoW fans, so i'm not asking that question.

Tangents aside, are you much of a fan of MMO's? Have they in any way altered your taste for classic gaming? I would strongly urge those of you who have yet to play MMORPG's, but are curious to use caution: while MMO's can be great fun, they may change, or totally ruin your perception of gaming entirely..

Oliver

I have never played Ragnarok Online, but I imagine that many of my readers have. If so, they are welcome to chime in about their experience.

I am NOT much of an MMO fan. At Lusipurr's behest, I briefly forayed in the world of Vana'Diel, and attempted to get into this MMO thing. I had some fun, I concede. But it was sooooo time consuming, that I did not have any time for console games. I then realized that I loved console games and did not want to forsake them. So I quit FFXI. And I don't think I'll be trying my hand at other MMOs. Console games rule. You hear me? CONSOLE GAMES RULEZ. How sad that you have lost your taste for them.

Michael Cunningham. RPGamer Stop Playing MMOs Coalition. Do not hesitate!

Also, on the formally retired subject of gamer girls, maintain hope! They are in fact out there! I am marrying one in 3 days and couldn't be happier! In fact, we met at a LAN party! I too had given up hope, but great things happen when you least expect them.. Take care Ollie!
-Mark

Oliver

Pah, don't talk to me of women at this moment. Hearing your happy story fills me with DISGUST.

Nah, I'm kidding. Glad to hear it man, and I hope you both live happily ever after. Y'know, like they do in all teh RPGs. Thanks for writing in!



The Crisis of Modernity


Before I begin, I would like to say that this is my first time submitting to you, and I hope I am doing this correctly. First off, Good luck to you and your sophomore year of college (I'm a senior, this is my final semester then its off to Graduate school, I hope), and I would say only two of the games on your list actually interest me. Persona 4 (because of Persona 3) has me excited, and Valkyria Chronicles looks unique. I can't say that Vesperia (the Tales games are always hit or miss with me) or Infinite Undiscovery (honestly, what's with the title? It sounds like a way of saying "nothing new here") look that appealing to me. Anyways, on to your questions!

Oliver

Sending a letter to the Q&A inbox is generally the correct thing to do if you want to be featured in Q&A. Good job, I'm glad to see you here!

Infinite Undiscovery has gone from looking appealing to looking... not so much. I don't know why I was excited about it, honestly. I think it was Chris and Mikel who came home from E3 and raved about it. The universally mediocre reviews it has received have dampened my desire for the game. Perhaps when the price comes down. (I really wish I hadn't put $5 down on the game, now...)

Perhaps using a title used by conservative thinkers to demonstrate their malaise over society today is a bit extreme, but this is probably an apt title to express my own distress over this generation of gaming. In thinking about what is wrong with gaming today however, I think your question regarding the emphasis on side material might point to something. Oblivion and Mass Effect (the only two western RPGs I have played as of late), however wonderful they are, place more emphasis (Oblivion more than Mass Effect) on exploring and trying to attain this status of "being everything" than to provide a compelling story with a rich setting (a conjunction between the two, rather than one or the other). With RPGs of this type, I would say that the side material is definitely constricting the game's own abilities in terms of providing an experience that places the player in a world where they feel compelled not only to discover the history of the world, but to play on and see how the characters influence the fate of the world. Perhaps my own quibbles are fallacious, but I never felt compelled to do discover the history or care much about the main plot in either of these games even though I enjoyed both thoroughly.

Oliver

I've never been overly attracted to those "open-world" type games, although Mass Effect seems to have an actualy story behind it. (And you noted that it is the less guilty of the two.) Gameplay like that is better suited for the MMO world. And, as I've already established, I'm not a big fan of the MMO world.

In my opinion, the Japanese RPG has been suffering from ills of the other extreme. I never had the opportunity to play Blue Dragon (quite frankly it didn't interest me) but I have managed to play through nearly all of Lost Odyssey and Eternal Sonata -- two of the more recent JRPG releases this generation. Instead, with these games, it seems as though they want us to care too much about the story. They would like us to care about characters we have only just come to know when they die thirty minutes later. Because of the extreme level of drama, pseudo-intellectual, and pseudo-existentialist (i.e. Eternal Sonata) "themes", I simply find myself driven away from taking the game seriously. For a moment, I found myself disoriented in the world of gaming with no place to turn. I was pleased with neither of these outcomes, which I suppose brings me where I found sanctuary.

Oliver

I have not played Eternal Sonata, but I have played and beaten Lost Odyssey. I'll concede that its brand of storytelling could be a bit heavy-handed at times, but I never felt "forced" to care about anything. In truth, the character development in that game was extremely well done, and the use of emotional appeal succeeded brilliantly. A shame that you could not enjoy it, a shame indeed.

If you don't like being forced to care about characters or story, Blue Dragon may be right up you alley. If you can find it within yourself to give a twopenny damn about any of those soulless bots (other than Zola becuz she's hawt), then I'd be impressed. The same can be said of the cookie-cutter plot.

If this were a letter discussing politics, it would sound rather conservative (ironic, in my own case) but I have found myself returning to portable remakes on the PSP and the DS (back to those good old days, when God was in his heaven and all was right with the world). So, yes, I would love a remake of FFVII. I would be pleased to see it remade on the PSP, maybe using something similar to the graphics engine of Crisis Core (with greatly improved environments). FFVII was my second RPG (I was 12 or 13 when it was released), and it is still, next to Tactics, one of my all-time favorites in the Final Fantasy series. In fact, being somewhat of a purist I would like to see it almost completely intact, maybe with a few additions to make the game feel fresh. I would love nothing more to play as Cloud again, and to fight Sephiroth (I still have yet to find an RPG villain that I feel I can "love to hate" more than Sephiroth). Perhaps they should use the recent remakes of IV (which is just wonderful) and III as models with which to make such a remake. In other words, taking the same game, updating its graphics, its sound, and perhaps (especially in the case of FF7) make it a challenging game.

Oliver

Ah, so you have found solace in the remakes that so many people despise. Good for you, I suppose. I like remakes as well, although I do not share your disdain for newer titles such as LO.

And yes, who doesn't want a FFVII remake? Like I stated earlier, I want the story untouched save for some additional bits that would serve to flesh the plot and characters out, and perhaps some slight gameplay modifications to make it feel FRESH. Stepping back into the role of Cloud, this time in beautiful HD, would be quite the experience. And I have to agree about Sephiroth, he's one of the best RPG villains ever conceived.

As for Prince of Persia, I have played games in the series before, and I have to say, in terms of action games they were some of the finer games I have ever played. I especially remember the Sands of Time. I often found the game difficult, but that only gave me the desire to try again and again, something I feel is lacking in many games today. So, I will probably attempt to play the new game when it comes out. However, games that are not RPGs tend to be forgotten because, as a poor college student (you may understand), I only have so much money that can actually be used towards these things. However, I am looking forward to it, and loved the music I've heard used in various trailers for the new addition to the series.

Oliver

Yes! YES! Another Prince of Persia fan. No, they aren't RPGs, but they're miles better than many of the RPGs that came out during the last generation. I never found Sands of Time to be particularly difficult, although the second and third entries ramped up the difficulty a fair amount. I cannot WAIT to see how this new spin on the franchise will turn out.

And yeah, I can understand the college student thing, although I've managed not to become poor. I'll be buying this new Prince of Persia on day one, although given my crazy schedule, who knows if I'll have time to play it.

On to Square-Enix! Once upon a time, I was a huge, huge fan of Squaresoft. When I found out they would be merging together with Enix, another Japanese RPG company I would rave about to my friends (who care nothing for RPGs) I thought to myself that logically the two companies together would form a perfect symbiosis of RPG splendor. I was somewhat let down however, and it appears that I am probably in the minority of gamers in this front -- especially in the West. Square's new seeming emphasis on making games for the 360, seems to me, perhaps a wise choice for their involvement in the European and American markets given that between Sony and Microsoft (and it pains me to say this), Microsoft seems to be coming out on top. However, it is by no means definitive just who will, ultimately, be the winner of this "war" (rhetoric which I use disdainfully), and investing in both consoles insures them for the case in which one of these consoles ultimately is not greatly successful and it, for the time, increases their profits by appealing to a wider audience of gamers.

Oliver

I really can't see the PS3 making a miraculous comeback at this point. Who knows? I, and everyone else, may be proven wrong. But I doubt it. Sure, the PS3's fortunes have been improving, what with impressive sales figures and a software library that, while still lacking, has seen some growth. But the 360's fortunes have been improving as well, and it was never in a hole to begin with. Hardware failures seem to be becoming less and less of an issue, and third party developers are literally throwing big-name titles at the console. The menagerie of Square Enix RPGs is just one example.

In terms of the games being put out by Square, I am only really finding Solace in their classic titles. I am not impressed with Infinite Undiscovery, and the only thing keeping me from feeling the same way about FF13 is the series' reputation. As for their portable offerings -- I am eager to play Star Ocean 1 (I have never played the game) and also the Second Story (one of my all time favorites), as well as the Dragon Quest remakes which I have never had the opportunity to play. Chrono Trigger DS is another game I will likely own in the months to come. Crono, Marle, Frog, Magus, Lucca, and Robo are probably my favorite cast of characters in any RPG, and I am such a big fan I will go ahead and say it: I would buy a German copy of Chrono Trigger -- even though my German is limited to "good morning" and "goodbye".

Oliver

I've been more or less satisfied with Square Enix of late, and I really can't understand the many haters who have popped up during the last couple of years. FFXII was fantastic. Crisis Core was great. TWEWY looks very good, although sadly, I have not played it. Same with FFIV DS. Infinite Undiscovery looks as though it may end up being a disappointment, but I'll wait until RPGamer's review for the game. The Last Remnant looks very promising, and of course, I will not know true rest until Final Fantasy XIII is finally in my hands. And yeah, I'm excited about the Dragon Quest remakes as well as Chrono Trigger DS. Seriously, that's a lot of games I just rattled off. What's not to like about Square Enix?



IN CLOSING

Only three letters today! I intended to do four, but I came home from work and realized I had an absurd amount of homework to complete before tomorrow morning. So, I'm afraid that this will have to be cut short. Have a nice week, and send some letters if you find the time.

-Oliver



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What I can't wait for:

1. The Last Remnant

2. Persona 4

3. Chrono Trigger DS

4. Valkyria Chronicles

5. Prince of Persia



On my Playlist:

1. Tales of Vesperia



Hot Topics:

1. Are YOU an MMO addict?

2. Just what makes an MMO so appealing?

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4. Got Infinite Undiscovery?

5. Got Tales of Vesperia?



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