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ASK OLIVER
Beware of Spoilerz
October 5, 2008

10/05 - 7:55 PM CST

Y'know, when you play a game for four or five weeks and only garner 25 hours of playtime, it still feels like you've been playing the game for weeks. What I'm trying to say is that, after playing a game for five weeks or so, it's hard not to get bored. So, I'm afraid that I must take a short respite from Tales of Vesperia. Amazing game, but the fact that I'm moving so slowly through it is making the game feel slow.

So what have I been playing? Indigo Prophecy! Man, what a weird game. It's like... an interactive movie. Good thing it's such a good movie. If you're looking for something really different, and something very heavy on story, give Indigo Prophecy a shot.

Before we dive into the letters, allow me to apologize for the lack of Q&A last week. If you're interested in knowing the reason for it, I spent the entirety of last weekend a) working approximately 25 hours and b) writing one of THE WORST PAPERS I've written since high school. Oh God... it was bad.

On to the letters!





The Letters
A shiny New Letter


Hello Oliver,

I've played a great deal more of Tales of Vesperia since my last letter, and so that game will be at the crux of this one, written in my signature 'directionless rambling' style. But first, I wanted to discuss some non-Tales things.

Oliver

Well, shoot. You didn't give me a chance to answer the aforementioned last letter. And now that you've sent me a shiny new one, I'm obliged to use it. But hey, it's no big deal. What's up?

First, I wanted to know if you could tell me anything about this Square Enix game called Sigma Harmonics (DS), which I know virtually nothing about (the OST's outta this world, though), but after the fantastic The World Ends with You, I'm ready to jump on any S-E project that appears to be outside the proverbial box. From what little I've heard, it's supposed to be a sort of card-battling RPG/murder mystery, played holding the DS sideways, like a book. No confirmed US release date yet, as usual, but I remain naively optimistic. Here's hoping S-E decides to send it over to our shores!

Oliver

Sigma Harmonics was released in Japan on August 21, and to my knowledge, there has been no talk of a North American release. It seems to be quite a unique title. The plot has to do with solving a string of murder mysteries and resetting the timeline to its proper state, or some nonsense like that. It seems to have some impressive team members behind it too, such as Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroki Chiba (the co-event planner on Chrono Trigger.) Perhaps a bit too offbeat for American shores, but these days, it seems like everytime I say that, I get proven wrong.

As for the actual gameplay, I can't find too much information on it. It's a blend of puzzle-solving, which is required to solve the murder mysteries, and some light card-based combat. Sounds intriguing.

WARNING: BEWARE OF BIOSHOCK SPOILERZ.

I beat Bioshock! I think it's a truly fantastic game, and that's saying something, because I generally don't even like FPSs. Now, let's see if I can discuss this without getting to spoilerific: when you find out you're a _______ in Andrew Ryan's office, the revelation honestly hit me like a ton of bricks. I also didn't expect _______ to double-cross me, either. A very well-done plot twist. But I must admit, much of the journey after Ryan's office felt a bit too much like Take Two was trying to pad out the game's play time, and it had perhaps one (er, I mean two) of the most disappointing endings in video game history. So I guess I'm saying that Bioshock started out strong, kicked into overdrive around Ryan's office, but then the game just didn't know when to end... Well, I guess you've got to take the good with the bad, and Bioshock definitely offered more of the former. I'll probably be replaying it soon enough.

Oliver

Yeah, after the absolutely spectacular buildup that led to the killer moment in Andrew Ryan's office, BioShock slowed down quite a bit and didn't really manage to get back up to speed. It was kinda like the game ran out of breath around that point, after going so fast for so long. You gotta admit though, the end boss was pretty awesome. Also, the "good" ending is quite a bit better than the "evil" ending. (I'm assuming that's what you saw.)

BioShock has earned a spot on my top 10 list, although I'm not precisely sure where. Like yourself, I am not a fan of first person shooters, so the fact that I enjoyed the game so much is pretty stunning. I will be waiting with bated breath to see what Take-Two dreams up for the eventual Bioshock 2. However, after the game's ending, and after the experience of BioShock as a whole, I am left wondering: what exactly would a sequel be? Or do? Any ideas?

END OF TEH BIOSHOCK SPOILERZ

And I also hear Universal Studios is planning to adapt it to film? This is concerning... Normally, I would be horrified at the prospect of another embarassingly bad video game movie, but this one appears to have all the right ingredients: screenwriter John Logan -- he wrote freakin' Gladiator, for chrissakes! So he's got my confidence already. Oh, and director Gore Verbinsky of Pirates of the Caribbean fame is also onboard. (Let's just pretend At World's End never happened, though...) Lastly, Bioshock has the rare advantage of being a video game whose story isn't complete rubbish. How could this possibly go wrong?

Oliver

What was wrong with At World's End? That is my favorite of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Also, for the record, the name is spelled with an "I." Gore Verbinksi.

I, too, am wondering how a BioShock film could go wrong. It would, in fact, be a greater achievement to make a bad film. But, unfortunately, if there is any possible way to destroy it, Hollywood will find it. We know this.

Now on to Tales of Vesperia. I just finished Part 2, so I think I've played enough of the game to accurately judge how good it is. And my verdict, based on my limited experience with the Tales series, is this: just about on-par with Abyss, but several thousand lightyears ahead of Symphonia. Not that I have anything against Symphonia, but I feel as if the its glaring flaws go largely ignored simply because it was the best RPG on the Gamecube, which is hardly a compliment considering how RPG-starved that system was. (I personally believe Baten Kaitos Origins deserves that title, anyway, but alas...)

Oliver

Bah, you are probably miles ahead of me by now. I sit with a measly 23 hours on my clock.

I am quite positive that Vesperia will end up topping both Abyss and Symphonia. The main reason that it is better than Abyss? The pacing is FAR superior, and they have cut out the copious amounts of stupid, pointless dialogue that plagued both cutscenes and skits in Abyss. I am also enjoying the plot and characters more.

I agree with you on Symphonia, if the game had been released on the PS2, it would have been received QUITE differently. Such horrible main characters, such a derivative plot... I would expound, but I've likely invoked the wrath of Omegabyte already.

Anyway, I find myself unwilling at the moment to dissect each individual part of Vesperia's quality, but obviously one could assume that I'm enjoying it. The one thing I will say is that... well, using all the different characters at your disposal in battle is great fun. Shockingly great fun. It's always a good time trying to master the art of mid-air combat with Judith, or mixing Raven's long- and short-range fighting styles, or yelling at Karol because he's moving slower than half-frozen molasses. This variety in gameplay is what makes the Tales games so much fun to play, and the lack of it is something I'm currently holding against Infinite Undiscovery. You'd think with a cast of EIGHTEEN characters, you just might be allowed to control more than one of them in battle, wouldn't you?

Oliver

Another hit against Infinite Undiscovery. Definitely a bargain-bin buy for me.

Maybe I'm just lazy, but outside of Yuri, Judith is the only playable character I've experimented with. Stuff like that slips my mind. I really do want to give ol' Raven a try though, because he's teh awesome. I just wish they'd stop calling him "old man," because where I come from, 35 does not qualify you as old.

One thing that surprised me, though, is that at least for the first half of the game, Vesperia's story is severely lacking in drive and focus. (It picks up near the end of Part 2, though.) Perhaps I've been spoiled by Abyss in this area. There was a lot of potential at one pont when Yuri starts doing shady things, and complex themes like the morals of vigilantism get thrown into the mix, but so far as I know, they get thrown right back out when the story leaps back into fantasy. The characters -- both protagonists and antagonists -- have also gotten far less attention than I would have liked, which baffles me, considering the fact that this is probably the longest Tales to date. Even the Yuri/Flynn rivalry is subdued and undeveloped. And it's a darn shame, too, because I really do love this cast. Not even one purely annoying person in the bunch! (See: Lloyd, Collette, Anise). On this front, I am somewhat disappointed, and I have few expectations that these matters will be addressed in Part 3, as the last part of an RPG is traditionally little more than a trek to the final dungeon.

Oliver

Initially, Vesperia's plot is a tad unfocused, but you have to give it points for actually, like, moving. The game moves you from one place to another with surprising speed, which always keeps things fresh. Things seem to be gaining a more narrow focus where I am now (Yeager's mansion, can't remember the exact name of it.) I don't find the characters underdeveloped at this point, although I'm not that far into the game.

And I must disagree: I have not found Karol to be anything more than a pure annoyance thus far. I'm sorry, but every time he opens his mouth I want to shove his oversized sword into it.

I've rambled for long enough. Time to wrap this up... My last question is: What is your next planned video game purchase? A while ago I would have said The Last Remnant, but for some reason I've paired that game with Infinite Undiscovery in my head, so my disappointment with the latter game is perhaps projecting badly onto the former. It's an idiotic reason to dismiss a game, though, so I'll probably end up buying it once it comes out anyway. But first I need more gameplay footage to confirm!

Would you kindly...?
Cornman89

Oliver

The Last Remnant. WITHOUT A DOUBT. Well, unless it ends up receiving a slew of less-than-favorable reviews, like IU did. By the way, Infinite Undiscovery and The Last Remnant were developed by two entirely different companies, so there's absolutely no reason to think that IU's crappiness will leak into TLR. I have great confidence in TLR, and aside from the forthcoming relaunch of the Prince of Persia series, it is my most anticipated game of the year.

A man chooses. A SLAVE OBEYS.



The Fear of Disappointment


Gíday Oliver.
I just thought Iíd write in for a gripe seeing as the lowly peons of Bandai-namco have not seen fit to release ToV in PAL regions until '09. I mean wtf? Here I was thinking the massive staggered release date discrepancies of the past had been rectified for the current console generation, and then along comes Bandai-Namco to prove me wrong. Anyways suffice to say I'm fairly shattered at the prospect of being able to play what looks to be the finest jrpg release of the current generation until next year.

Oliver

More PAL woes. Maybe if we all spend enough time bitching about it, certain Japanese game companies will hear word of it, and rectify certain inequities. But most likely not. Oh well, we can still bitch, and in this case, you have every right. Tales of Vesperia is a fine game, and it is a shame that you will be forced to wait so long before playing it. Although I think labelling it as the finest RPG of this generation may be a tad bold; have you played Lost Odyssey?

On a brighter note I have been really enjoying IU! The graphics are pretty, the battle system is fast and engaging (with no transition and loading time) , the story has turned out more appealing than I had initially expected and thus far the loading times have been very reasonable. An honourable mention really must be made for the way in which the battle system compliments level design through the implementation of situational gameplay based on the context of the environments, this really keeps the gameplay fresh and diverse. The ost is also superb, traditionally I haven't been much of a Motoi Sakuraba fan but he has really outdone himself this console generation with his work on IU and Eternal Sonata (though in most other respects Eternal Sonata was a perfectly dreadful game). This isnít however to say IU is all good however, as character animation is jerky, lip-synching is the worst I have seen in any game, there is some slowdown during battles and sometimes gamers would have to be practically clairvoyant in order to know what to do next. Nevertheless I have thus far found the game to be an overwhelmingly positive experience and would recommend the it to any fan of action rpgís after they have finished playing ToV (damn Bandai-Namco and their black hearts!). Ultimately I guess the amount of enjoyment gleaned from this title will be directly proportional to a gamerís ability to tolerate small faults....but then imo this is true for the jrpg industry as a whole and not just peculiar to IU.

Oliver

What's this? A good word for Infinite Undiscovery in my column? Aw man. I'm all confused now.

Kidding. Glad to hear you're enjoying it. However, as it stands now, IU is still a bargain-bin buy for me. And I doubt it will be too long before the game starts clogging said bins.

It's true that you have to overlook small faults in any game, but from what I've heard, IU has an awful lot of these small faults, as well as a few big ones. Needless to say, it is best for developers to avoid these faults. It is also best not to walk barefoot across hot coals.

On the issue of a FFVII ps3 remake I would have to say I would view the prospect with equal measures of anticipation and dread. Letís face the facts SE as it exists today just doesnít have that old Squaresoft magic, ergo I am deathly afraid that they will botch one of my favourite games in line with the consistent mediocrity of the compilation. If there is a remake its visuals will likely resemble FFVII:AC, it will be packed with product placement at Yoichi Wadaís behest and it will likely scrap VIIís turn-based atb in favour of a gimped down action rpg system in order to placate add kids and sulky temperamental game "journalists" (I know whatís the difference right?). That said if there was a remake I would really like SE implement a system whereby the characters have different materia class affinities and can get bonuses (i.e. HP+10, exp bonus, auto regen etc) by using a certain class of materia exclusively (M$ word is really annoying every time I write materia it automatically changes it to material grrr). Such a change would retain the systemís inherent flexibility while giving players an incentive to specialize, hell they could even make it so that players could unlock additional spells and abilities by using the right combination of the same class of materia.

Oliver

Ah, come on, don't be so hard on Square Enix. They've got some magic left in 'em yet. I wouldn't call the complilation "consistently mediocre." I enjoyed Advent Children quite a bit (for what it was), and Crisis Core was awesome. Dirge of Cerberus was rather craptacular, though.

I would cry foul if they produced a FFVII remake with an action battle system. Perhaps something akin to FFXII's battle system would be nice, but a battle system in the vein of Crisis Core or Kingdom Hearts would NOT be a welcome addition. Although it would placate the journalists, you're right in that respect. For some reason, turn-based battles just aren't cool anymore. FPS gameplay? Fine. Hack-and-slash action? Still okay! Turn-based battles? ANTIQUATED.

I've discussed the idea of a "materia affinity" system, and I think that such a system would be a great way to make the characters of FFVII more unique and useful. Another very simple way to encourage the use of different characters would be to simply include the option to switch characters in and out during battle. Y'know, like in FFX. Always wondered why that idea didn't catch on.

Also on the remake front, I would be kinda keen to see a FFVI remake on the ds and FFVIII remake on the psp (or perhaps a current-gen console, though I donít think that would be financially viable). With VI I would love to see the world recreated in 3d and just about have a fangasm at the prospect of having the opera scene fully voiced. Looking at VIII on the other hand, I would see it as an opportunity for getting everything right and releasing the game that it should have been in the first place. (1) I would like to see them scrap the awful junction system and implement the GFs in some other way, and also do away with scaling the enemyís levels to match the party, this would rectify a huge turn-off. (2) I think voice acting would add quite a bit to this title, Squall was a fairly reticent and introverted bloke which meant that his personality didnít really come through that well in plain text without benefit of tone and inflection. It felt like he had a bit more personality in the KH games largely due to the fact that he had voice acting, and so I would like to see him receive this treatment in a remake. Ultimately however, I would prefer to see SEís lead development teams working on original titles rather than remakes.

Oliver

Blargh, there's nothing wrong with FFVIII's junction system. Keep it as-is! Do not tamper! Voice acting would be nice, though. And some added backstory to that rather lacking villainess. And MORE LAGUNA. (Because he's teh awesome.) More Quistis, too. In fact, the story should be re-written so that Squall and Quistis end up together. Rinoa can go have some more fun with Seifer.

FFVI in 3D is something many of us want, but I do not want to see it on the DS. The original 2D presentations are far, far more attractive than those grainy DS remakes. Just go all-out! Make a FFVI remake for the PS3 or 360! Or, at the very least, put it on the PSP. Yeah, I know that will likely never happen, but I can dream.

Yes, original titles are best. The Last Remnant is coming!

In closing Iím gonna have to mention a few games approaching release which have me really excited. World Destruction is about to release in Japan which has me eagerly anticipating a western release date, Valkyria Chronicles is looking like the game that will finally get me to spend some time on a srpg, and White Knight Chronicles looks appropriately epic and will hopefully have my ps3 paying for itself in spades. Lastly the game I am most dying to play is The Last Remnant, I love that gameís visual style and I find the prospect of large-scale battles an intrigueing albeit complex proposition. I guess the danger is that due to the number party members in battle and the inherent complexity of this system, it may be a little hard for them to get the balancing right. If on the other hand the 25 character unions are implemented well, then I could definitely see this title leading a resurgence of next-generation turn based combat systems, allowing much larger battles then action rpgís ever could.

Later,
SiliconNooB.

Oliver

I've been keeping my excitement over The Last Remnant largely to myself, for fear of being disappointed and subsequently mocked. But in truth, I think this game could be the first "real" next-gen RPG. This could be the next big thing, if you take my meaning. Something we've never seen before. Honestly, it's impossible to know, but I have a really good feeling about TLR. Let's just hope I don't end up dissapointed.

Thanks for the letter, Noob. Write again soon.



Flare Star


Dear Ollie,

I'm a long time reader and this is my first time writing. Why you might ask, because like many college student I should be doing my homework and writing an English paper but I don't want to. Also, I have no idea on what to write about but I do have topics to discuss when it comes to my love of RPG's.

Oliver

Bahahaha, I hear ya man. Worry not, Q&A is always here to provide an alternative to boring college coursework. And who knows, perhaps after penning this letter, a great wave of INSPIRATION will come upon you, and you'll show that English paper who's boss.

First, on the topic of Sephiroth, he is a totally awesome bad guy but he's not the best bad guy out there, even in the final fantasy series. The best bad guy and I might be bias because I love this game so much is Kefka from Final Fantasy 6. The guy was 6 different kinds of crazy and half way thru the game gains the power of a god then he REALLY loses it. He's so evil and crazy that his grand master plan is to make a monument to nothingness. The scary part about the whole thing is he has the power to do it. Not he's gaining it or almost has it. He has the power but he'd rather toy with the world and slowly kill it. It's hard to get more evil and crazy then that. Comparatively Sephiroth "I'm taking the planet back for my mother." seems kinda weak. Also the laugh, if anyone ever played FF6 you know what I'm talking about. He has the creepiest laugh 16 bit gaming ever put out.

Oliver

Kefka was a great villain. Evil to the very core, and a highly entertaining character as well. Truthfully, him and Sephiroth are pretty close in my eyes. Some days, I might like Kefka a little more. The truth is that Sephiroth's subplot was a tad weak, although I thought that it more than sufficed. He didn't want to take back the planet for his "mother," necessarily. He stated that he wanted to take it back for the Cetra - his entire race. (But we all know that Sephy wasn't really one of the Cetra, now don't we?) He had a true hatred for all of humanity, which was a big part of what made him such a good villain.

Also Kuja as a good villain please, Kuja never really demonstrated any initiative with being evil or really mad. He did do a few evil thing and blew up a planet but I never felt he really wanted it. He didn't feel like the bad guy just the wanna be bad guy that has issues. I just never felt like I would be scared to be in the same room as Kuja like I did with Sephiroth or Kefka. Also he wasn't even the final boss the final boss was some creature that just decided that people weren't not worth keeping around. Then decides he's going to end the world. That was the biggest WTF I've ever seen in a RPG and not in a good way.

Oliver

Kuja spent most of FFIX dicking around, not doing anything of particular notice. For being the main villain, he had a very minimal role in FFIX's plot. Made it kinda hard to care about him, or take him at all seriously. And then, to top it all off, he WASN'T EVEN THE FINAL BOSS. I mean, come on. It's unfortunate too, because Trance Kuja would have made a great final fight. That guy was TOUGH. And he had a great boss theme. After such an intense battle, I was ready to watch the ending. But no... just as final proof to how useless Kuja was, we get to face off against whats-his-face.

Also on a game I would love to see remade onto Xbox360 besides FF6 is a little game called Terra-Nigma. It was released on the SNES right after the N64 came out so the game never really got it's chance to shine and it quite a little gem. It an action RPG where god sealed up and stop the world to prevent it destruction except for one tiny little village where you live. Then, like in all good RPG fashion you accidentally go and unseal the world. After that you are put in charge of saving it like always. It had a deep story with moments more emotion then you would think a 16bit game could muster. Also, the game play was fun and interesting. I would love to see it Terra-Nigma get remade just so more people could go out and buy this little classic.

Oliver

Huh, never heard of that one.

After a quick read-up, it seems that Terranigma was an RPG released in 1995 on the Super Famicom. It never received a North American release. That's likely why I never heard of it. I'm afraid you'll just have to keep dreaming for that one, man.

Also I wanna know are you excited for Fallout 3? I know I am this is the game I've been waiting for. I've wanted a sequel ever since Fallout 2 was released. Fallout series have always and some of the funnest and best dialog in an RPG. I just hope this 3rd one keeps up that tradition.

Oliver

I have never played a Fallout game, so no, I don't have a terrible amount of excitement for the third installment. The Fallout series is definitely on my list of games to check out in the future, though.

I gotta go now its getting late and still haven't touched my paper so good night Ollie and let me know if you want to write an English paper I can't pay you money but I got a lot of old PS/PS2 RPG that could use a loving home. (That's a lie I could never part with my RPG's).

Peace,
Teh_V

Oliver

Write English papers for other people? Madness, I have enough trouble trying to write my own. Sorry, but I can't help you there. Thank you for the letter V!



Corrections


Hi Oliver,

Sorry this is late, but I figured that someone would have corrected this by now. Guess not. Anyway, you and a reader state in the column that FFVII needs a materia swap option. FFVII actually has a materia swap option, and has had it since the very beginning. If you go into the materia menu you can see "Arrange" and "Exchange" menus at the top (this is from memory, you might need to highlight one to bring up a sub-menu). Exchange brings you to a screen where you can swap materia between all of your characters, either one materia at a time, a weapon or armour at a time, or even between entire characters. I admit it's a little buried, but it is there, just takes a little menu exploring.

Monion

Oliver

Blast. I stand corrected. Sorry for the misinformation, dear readers. And thank you for the correction, Monion.

IN CLOSING

The gasoline "crisis" has resolved itself. I just thought you'd all like to know.

Y'know, I haven't been excited about a licensed game for some time now, but Star Wars: The Force Unleashed looks good. Really good, actually. I downloaded the demo from PSN, and it's a blast. I don't think I'll be paying $60 for it, but when the price drops, you can bet I'll be all over that stuff. (Yes, I'm a pretty big Star Wars fan. Have been for most of my life.)

School tomorrow! GROAN! To all my fellow college students, HANG IN THERE. There's a light at the end of every tunnel. Except for the endless tunnel. Called COLLEGE.

-Oliver



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What I can't wait for:

1. The Last Remnant

2. Persona 4

3. Prince of Persia

4. Valkyria Chronicles

5. Chrono Trigger DS



On my Playlist:

1. Tales of Vesperia



Hot Topics:

1. Which RPG would you like to see remade on PS3/360?

2. Sephiroth?

3. Kuja?

4. Holy crap, The Last Remnant will be rated "M"?

5. Would you like to see MORE "M" rated RPGs?



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