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ASK OLIVER
Respite
December 14, 2008

12/14 - 12:00 p.m. CST

I HAVE RETURNED!

The malignant, edit-happy presence of a CERTAIN SOMEONE shall TAINT THESE PAGES NO LONGER, dear readers. Finals are over, break has begun, and the rightful heir to the throne has returned. (That's me.) I must apologize for leaving you all with him-whom-we-shall-not-name for these last few weeks, but I had no choice.

I suppose you'd like to know what I've been playing? Well, I've been failing at playing Valkyria Chronicles, for one. I finally started playing again last night after a week and a half hiatus. However, in that week and a half I managed to play and beat the new Prince of Persia! Believe it or not, I actually agree with the Nameless One in this case: It's spectacular. Do not hesitate to buy it, play it, and be amazed. I am submitting the appropriate paperwork as we speak, so with luck the series will soon be officially covered by our site. (I mean hey, we cover Mega Man don't we? Don't tell me that wasn't the result of some fanboy's pleadings.)

On to the letters!





The Letters
In which a stranger lurks


Dear Q&A,

There has been much mention of FFXII in recent columns, and the incorrect view that it is superior to FFX, that I want to address. I know not whether this letter will be read by Ethos, Bringer of Order or by Montok, The Corrupt, but rest assured, Evilpaul, Keeper of Precepts, will set both of you straight on your respective paths to enlightenment. Or to Mountain Dew: Code Red. We all have our own paths we must travel.

Oliver

I have a Code Red by my side, so I need no help there! Ethos is a different story, but it's his fault for living in a code red-less, frozen wasteland.

My opinions concerning FFXII are quite strong, so good luck trying to sway me. But this is a FORUM FOR DISCUSSION after all, so let's be on with it!

*mumble Ethan mumble mumble*

Probably FFXII's largest flaw and weakness in comparison to FFX is that it did not have a story. It had a 20 hour sidequest that made the credits roll and forced the RPGamer to restart the game from his or her save file. FFXII was actually something of a throwback to the early days of RPGs when most of the story could be found in the game's manual. Or in the case of FFXII in the game's built-in Beastiary program.

Oliver

There is little argument that FFXII's plot and characters paled in comparison to FFX. FFX contains one of my favorite videogame stories, while FFXII's story was, indeed, a disappointment. It wasn't bad, but it was a disappointment.

Claiming that the plot was found only in the bestiary is a bit harsh, though. Yeah, monster hunting was a big portion of the game, but it didn't "replace" the story, per se. It just... outshone it. Like most aspects of the gameplay did.

That's not to say that the 20 hour sidequest was bad, but it was more of a mechanism by which the player could flag new Hunts which were the majority of the actual content in the game. There was little in the way of plot twists or innovation. The ending was also more than a little anti-climatic.

FFX had a story. The character you play is also more important to the plot than a Red Shirt in a Star Trek episode.

Oliver

FFXII lacked the mind-blowing plot-twist found in most FF titles, and this was a disturbing thing indeed. The story really just didn't have a wow factor to it, y'know? Nothing that jumped off the screen and said "YOU'D BETTER START CARING ABOUT THIS PLOT/THESE CHARACTERS RIGHT NOW!" But it wasn't all bad. A few of the characters were interesting. The dialogue was extremely well-written. The cutscenes were extremely well-directed, and made you feel like you were watching an epic film. There was a very human element to the story that I enjoyed, and it made itself known in quite a few of the scenes. FFXII's narrative could have been something amazing if only they'd... y'know... narrated more of it.

So, my evil friend Paul, I agree with you that FFX outclassed FFXII in the plot/story/character areas. But I feel that I will disagree heavily with your forthcoming points.

But enough about stories. With regards to gameplay FFXII also falls behind FFX.

Oliver

EPIC FAIL

Other than letting you run away without a loading screen from random battles, and later needing to go kill random enemies to grind for money and everything else, FFXII threw away the well-balanced turn-based system in FFX for a bastardized version of the combat system from FFXI.

Oliver

1) The fact that the game allows you to run away easily is not a point in its disfavor. If people are avoiding combat too much simply because its easy to do, it's not the fault of FFXII.

2) The need to grind (something I rarely had to do) does not discredit the mechanics of the combat itself.

3) Having played FFXI and FFXII, the combat systems are... barely similar. I never have seen where this comparison comes from.

FFXII still utilizes the ATB system we know and love. The action's merely been moved to a three-dimensional battlefield.

The gambit system which it was built upon idiotically required you to find a gambit in a hundred different shops for every possible percentile of player and enemy HP and MP. Most of which were not available until late in the game. Gambits were also inflexible enough that the system required constant tweaking and micromanagement. Turning one gambit on/off or reordering them from one moment to the next.

Oliver

The gambit system could have been tightened up a little more, I admit. Some gambits were too hard to find, or came too late in the game. But all things considered, I found the system was solid and fun to play around with. I liked the fact that it was possible, and in fact necessary, to change up gambits depending on the situation. The system worked, and it worked quite well - it just required some extensive micromanagement.

It didn't help that the License Grid made every character virtually identical with far less variation you find in the characters you can recruit at a bar in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Vaan is a Hume. Fran is a Viera. What's the difference between them in the battle system? None, whatsoever.

FFX had the Sphere Grid. Which while also not perfect and you could eventually, if you wasted sufficient time, have every character learn every spell and ability you couldn't do it half way through the game without even trying.

Oliver

Yeah, the license grid was crap, I admit. And I've publicly lambasted it on several occassions, if you recall. By the end of the game, everyone will be exactly the same in terms of combat prowess, and that's not right.

FFX's sphere grid was better, if only because it kept characters distinct from eachother. Besides that it really was nothing special - you followed a given path and grabbed whatever new abilities you came across. No real customization to speak of. Honestly, it didn't add much to the game. Characters essentially learned skills automatically, and the Sphere Grid was just an attractive set piece to cover this fact.

That's not to say FFXII improved nothing over FFX. The voice-acting in FFX was usually a combination of goofy, wince-inducing, whiny, and annoying. FFXII had the Judges who were as convincingly sadistic, noble, or furious as the situation called for. Cid was also much better in XII. Like some sort of Charles Manson with a magic ray gun or something. While the scale seemed less epic I think it's the closest thing to another Kefka, in terms of a demented and depraved but more or less normal human being as a villain, in a FF game in a while.

Oliver

The voice acting was spectacular, the Judges were all different kinds of awesome, and Cid was spectacular. I just wish the game would have focused on him a bit more. FFXII really lacked a solid, villainous presence.

FFXII is a short game with an OK-ish storyline and a huge, optional extra dungeon called "Hunts." Now recant your mistaken beliefs, and be saved Ethos and/or Montok!

Oliver

FFXII is an epic and beautiful game, containing the finest gameplay to be found in the series, and an enjoyable but disappointingly thin narrative. And I have a secret for you: you don't have to do any hunts.

...Although Ethos needs no saving, for he is a god among men, a peacock among pidgeons, a Kuja among Sephiroths.

Cheers, Evilpaul

Oliver

...

...I sense a disturbance in the force...

This feeling... something I have not felt since...

ETHAN PIPHER!

SHOW YOURSELF, YOU SHIFTING SLIME! I KNOW YOU'RE HERE!


Ethan

I HAVE BEEN UNVEILED!!
But see how long it took you? You didn't even notice that I edited this letter until my foolish giveaway at the end.


Oliver

W-wait... you... edited that?

Like... the whole thing?

How DARE you! Do NOT forget your place, peon! Return that letter to its rightful form POSTHASTE!


Ethan

Fine. *sigh*. Here goes, you buzzkill.



In which articulation dies a quick death


Dear Poop and Circumstance,

I wantz to talk about FFXII! I think be it very not better than 10! Let me gives all my Mountan Due 2 Ethos and knock out Montok wif a sledgehammer!

FFXII SO HAX0RZ! Lik, i never once said "zomg" the WHOLE GAME. It was STOOPID, man! kay, lik, in 10, u get to fight ur dad! but ur dad is sin, man! it's suuuu deep! But in 12, u just quest around the side! itz dum.

12 also made u gamble! im not allowed 2 gamble, man! my mom wud KILL ME, LOL!!

and, lik, u need a license to even get 2 da grid, d00d! im already in da hood! Why doo i need da grid?

ne way, dey talked nice in 12, so i GUESS ur not a compleet stoopud 4 thinking itz good, lol

also, ethos iz da bomb.

Cheers,
Evilpaul

Oliver

WHAT MADNESS IS THIS? ETHAN?!


Ethan

Whaaaaaaaat?
Is that not legit?

...

FINE! Here's your smelly unedited letter.


Oliver

Note to self: never let Ethan write anything for RPGamer ever again, under any circumstances.

Two weeks doing Q&A and he's essentially pitched tent in my office.

And worst of all HE ATE ALL MY LITTLE CHOCOLATE MINTS!



In which the truth needs few words


Dear E&M,

-Ethos: cool
-Montok: a pain
-FFXII: DURRRHHH

Oliver

GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!


Ethan

B-but...


Oliver

No buts, Ethan. It's time for you to go. I begrudgingly thank you for filling in for me these past few weeks, but your services are no longer required. Return to that dark place where the peons mingle.


Ethan

Although I DO like that place, I was growing quite fond of it here. But for some grand ironic reason, I have no authority over you. I take my leave.

*exit*


Oliver

Well THAT'S over. Sheesh.

...

The hell happened to all my Code Red?



Since Ethos is gone, these titles will not invariably begin with "in which"


Sir Oliver, we meet again. Has anything of consequence transpired since last we corresponded?

Oliver

Well, the Fall semester ended, thank God. Also, I beat the new Prince of Persia, as I mentioned already. Other than that, nah.

I seem to recall your having an interest in my playing of the Super Famicom Fire Emblems. I am nowhere near ready to review either game I possess, but can grant you with an introduction to how Monshou no Nazo and Seisen no Keifu differ from later games in the series. Shall I proceed?

Oliver

Oh, please do.

Fire Emblem 3, aka Monshou no Nazo, lacks the weapons triangle. This means weapons are evaluated solely on their base statistics and the inaccuracy of most axes means axe wielders get shortchanged. Doubly so in fact, thanks to what would become the Warrior class having no promotion. Shops thus far do not sell magical tomes either, which means careful organization of magical items is vital.

Oliver

Yeah, according to some independent Wikipedia research I just performed, the Weapons Triangle system didn't exist until the fourth game. Strange to consider, since it's essentially the basis of Fire Emblem's combat strategy. Another fun fact: the first Fire Emblem title didn't even have the colored tiles that indicate a unit's movement range. You just had to keep moving until your character stopped.

I would imagine that, without the Weapon Triangle gracing them with an advantage over spears, axe-wielders would be almost entirely useless.

There is also an interesting aspect of mounted characters which must be explained. In this game, any character riding a steed must dismount in order to use swords and remount to use lances. The one indoor chapter I played was truly bizarre, however, thanks to its forcing all mounted characters to be on foot. This meant none of them could use lances indoors, and only my armor knight (whose name I currently forget) being able to use this weapon. Mounted characters includes pegasus knights, so poor Sheeda had to traipse around on foot also.

Oliver

Haha, that's almost humorous. Perhaps slightly more realistic, but it sounds like a major pain.

Fire Emblem 4, aka Seisen no Keifu, introduced the weapons and magic triangles. In some respects it plays like a newer Fire Emblem game, in others it is very different. I am only on the first battlefield and it is easily the size of something from near the end of either GBA English release. This immense size must be why it is possible to save at the beginning of each turn. But ONLY at the beginning, making abuse a bit harder. Villages are different as well - they are much bigger and consist of multiple parts that bandits burn a chunk of each turn. Money is awarded for saving the village, more being awarded for more of the thing being intact.

Oliver

Ah, fiddlesticks, I Wikipedia-d for nothing.

Yeah, Radiant Dawn on the Wii featured hard battle saves, as you probably know. Funny thing is, that game is STILL the most challenging in the series, by my experience (which, like most, is limited to the 4 that have reached North America). And you'll still have to start over plenty of times because you'll often realize that an entirely new strategy is in order.

As I have not gotten very far I cannot comment on the relationship aspect yet, but apparently it works something like Supports do in the GBA titles. The game will have a time skip in the middle and the children of people I use in the first half will become my army, with their statistics influenced by their parents. Then there is the Skill aspect, which again I cannot comment much on but can observe the potential of. A certain skill allows five attacks in a row, another makes the character gain double experience, another allows double attacks. You read that right; no matter what the relative speeds are of the opponents, one must have this Skill in order to attack again. Parents seem to bequeath certain Skills to their offspring from what I read.

Now you may ask: why did I start 3 and not finish it? Because the foul cartridge decided to freeze on me and erase my save data upon restart! I made a snap decision to acquire a new FE3 and send the uncooperative one off to the lucky bidder on eBay, so the fellow in Saskatchewan is welcome to it.

Oliver

...you sold your busted-ass copy of FE3 to some hapless eBay bidder?

In SASKATCHEWAN?!

Evil. I like it. (And Saskatchewan is fun to say. Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan...)

As to my eBaying of late: I have long known that my belongings were too expansive. Just about everything I've sold in recent weeks was something I would either never play again or never play, period. Along with a number of VHS cassettes that my stupid VCR has tried to eat - if I cannot use them, best sell. Rest assured that my game library, while diminished, is still quite sizable and certain key items will not be departing.

Oliver

You should never sell anything, ever. You should instead dig an underground storehouse and utilize it.

Seems lengthy letters irritate some, so I'll wrap it up by asking you to sing a quick ode of praise (or scream a quick oath of hatred) to a game you have never mentioned in Q&A before.
JuMeSyn

Oliver

HMMMM.... an intriguing challenge! I'm sure there are plenty of games I haven't mentioned, but I must take a moment to think of one!

Perchance... have I never mentioned Shadow of the Colossus in the past? If I did, I can't remember it. SotC happens to be one of my all-time favorite games, you see; easily somewhere in my top 10. Oozing with one of the greatest atmospheres ever created, spectacular gameplay that is innovative and intuitive, and one of the most brilliant ending sequences I've ever seen, this is a game no one should miss.

And that all comes from the heart. I promise. SCEA is not throwing any cash my way.

Always a pleasure, JMS.

IN CLOSING

Well I do hope you all enjoyed the column that marked my TRIUMPHANT RETURN to the halls of Q&A. Ethan has been temporarily put in his place, but I have no doubt that he will attempt more ill-conceived uprisings in the future. But fear not, dear readers, I will be here to stand in his way.

Well it's time to put the finishing touches on and get this thing up. I'll see you folks next week.

-Oliver



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