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ASK OLIVER
Yeah, I'm Still Here
February 10, 2009

02/10 - 12:39 a.m. CST

God, do I ever suck. This is, to date, the longest I have ever gone without writing a column for RPGamer. What was the cause, you might ask? Looking back over these past few months, I honestly can't pinpoint the reason. It seems a combination of the new semester, some ridiculous ongoing personal drama, and, last but not least, my own damn laziness.

An apology is in order, I suppose, though it would hardly do justice to all you faithful readers. You probably all hate me now. That's fine. I'll earn your trust and adoration back in due time. For now, just enjoy these questions and answers.





The Letters
Ah, it feels good to be back...


Hey Oliver, My good man! It's been ages since we last corresponded! Therefore, I thought it was only prudent fire off a nice little Q&A letter: Reestablish A Rapport edition. By the way, how did New Years Eve treat you? Kindly, I hope.

Oliver

It HAS been ages, oh Man of Corn! It's been ages since I've written a Q&A column, for that matter, which is a product of three factors: a) anticipating the indexing of the video Q&A at a much earlier date, b) Persona 4 and c) just plain being lazy. (Which is something I can do very well if I put my mind to it, believe it or not.)

Let's... not discuss my New Year's Eve. It did not treat me kindly, and I will say NO MORE THAN THAT HERE.

I may have mentioned this before, but I bought an XBox 360 back in August. It was probably the best game-related purchase I've ever made. (Though if I had waited but one more month, I would have caught the price drop... The pain of injustice still rankles in my heart...) As I acquired one of the more recently-made consoles, I have never experienced this deadly scourge that the world knows only as the "RRoD". I don't even know what it looks like - though it's not difficult to venture a guess. (There's a ring involved, right? And it's red?) So Oliver, as a 360 owner yourself, what is your experience with this "RRoD", if any? Any horror stories you can tell me about it?

Oliver

See? That's why I encourage all RPGamers to seriously consider the purchase of an Xbox 360. I don't believe I've ever met one who regretted the purchase. And don't feel too bad about missing the price drop, because that's practically the story of my life.

Ah, the infamous RRoD. In actuality, I've never experienced it myself. My original 360 was an older model that managed to screw up in ever imagineable way, but it never actually RRoD-ed. Discs wouldn't read, games would freeze left and right... I think the most mind-boggling problem I ever encountered was when I popped in Assassin's Creed and an error message came up on the screen telling me to "please insert this disc in an Xbox 360 disk drive" or something like that. (I freaking kid you not.)

I've had friends and acquaintances experience the RRoD, though. It's not a complete ring, actually; three of the four LED's turn solid red, and games stop running. Now, when the AC adaptor isn't connected properly to the system, a full red ring will sometimes appear, which scares the hell out of people. But the real deal isn't an actual ring... it's more like a cruel, little hook. The Red HOOK of Death, it should be called. The RHoD.

Now, this may seem like an out-of-left-field question, but... what do you think is the cause of the generally atrocious quality of grammar on the internet? An English major myself, it's difficult for me to imagine producing some of the slop I see on message boards, let alone failing to catch it in a spellcheck... I suppose it must have something to do with the low entry barrier to internet access, the way people of all ages and intellects can find their way onto it very easily, but I can't see that being the only reason. Maybe it's the anonymity effect, the way people aren't held responsible for the things they say on the internet, so maybe they don't care if their words look like a kindergartener typed them... What are your thoughts on this issue?

Oliver

Well, Cornman, the sad fact of the matter is that, generally, people possess atrocious grammar. And unlike every other media outlet in existence, the internet has no means of weeding out the idiots gramatically challenged. There's also the fact that people are generally lazy, to the point where it's infinitely more appealing to type "ur" rather than "you are" simply for the sake of a few measly seconds.

One day I will own the internet... and all of that will change. I suggest you BE THERE when that glorious day dawns.

Well, that's all I have, Oliver! Oh wait... I should also mention that I beat Prince of Persia this morning. Without question, the easiest game I've played all year. (And no, I'm not talking about the "you can never die" thing, because I don't think that really effects the game too much, beyond its minor functional convenience. I'm talking about the challenge presented by the game itself. Which is negligible.) But... I suppose it would be fair to compare it to a Zelda game: it's a game almost completely devoid of difficuty, but you play it anyway because it's not really even about the challenge. It's about the experience. And in that sense, Prince of Persia was a great experience. So... did you get any games for Christmas, Oliver? Which ones? Was Prince of Persia among them?

C U L8R! Cornman89

Oliver

As you should well know, I bought Prince of Persia the day of its release and beat it shortly thereafter. I absolutely loved every second of it, although after a great deal of deliberation on the issue, I will say that it's not as well-designed a game as the previous three entries. I do, however, recognize the fact that the series desperately needed a reboot, and I think Ubisoft did a brilliant job of it. There was no challenge at all, which galled me, but like you said, the experience was beyond epic. I cannot wait to see what else is in store for this new Prince.

As always, thanks very much for your contribution CM. Hope to see you soon.



Mmmm... strawberry


Hello Oliver!

Even though I am writing this email at nearly 2:30 AM, I thought I should start while I had a few ideas as to what to write about bouncing around in my head. You see aside from being busy, I often won't send it a letter unless I have a few things I want to write in about.

Oliver

I feel bad that I don't recognize this email address, since apparently you're a familiar face... but you forgot to sign your name, so I have no clue who this could be!

But whomever you may be, WELCOME BACK! 2:30 a.m.? That's a great time to do anything, in my opinion. Ask away!

Anyway, to start things off, I'd thought I make a sort of very late reply to what you said about my last letter. As you may or not not recall, I said that I often take a ridiculous amount of time to complete my first play-throughs of RPGs and rattled off a few examples. In response you asked if I "literally spend time running [my] little avatar around in circles?" Even though I know that was mostly a joke, I thought I'd respond anyway. While I over-extend the amount of time I take to finish many games, there are always different reasons. In Tales of Symphonia for instance, I spent hours upon hours using Colette's Item Thief to steal pellets from monsters so I could complete the Figurine Book in one game. Even though I gave her that compound Exskill that allows her to steal an item every time successfully, it was still a lot of pellets. In Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, I spent hours gathering specific material from bosses to make powerful weapons, armor and accessorie s. I had to earn a ballpark range amount of points (for instance, between 150 and 175 or something along those lines) in order for the bosses to drop these item, points earned by killing monsters, using (or not using) magic, collecting item, etc. The annoying thing was, it took me several tries because I didn't realize I needed to get a score within a certain range and kept getting items I didn't need. It's activities like these that make me take so long to complete a game...though perhaps running around stealing pellets from monsters and watching my points as I run through a dungeon, isn't all that much different from running around in circles, ha ha.

Oliver

If you're the type who finds such inane, monotonous tasks amusing then more power to ya sweetheart. I still don't remember who you are, but I think you're a woman. If not, you can disregard the "sweetheart."

And to answer your question, such things really aren't much more significant than running in circles.

Also, after having finally completed the excellent Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (75 hours isn't that much longer than it should take to complete it, right?) I have begun Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. I'm not terribly far into it, just on chapter 2 and unless I can spend a lot of time with in the next week, I likely will not be able to finish it before the Spring Semester starts, leaving me with only four hours total to play a consol game in a given week (or less if I have exams or papers). I know it has been brought up before in Q&A, but I wanted to add my two cents (or maybe one cent).

Oliver

Ah, Radiant Dawn. Such an amazing game... I'm almost jealous that you managed to milk about 25 more hours out of it than I did.

I sympathize with your lack of game time. At the time of this writing, it has literally been 13 days since I touched a videogame console. Disgusting thought, isn't it? That's what my life has BECOME, you see.

I actually find the monster-raising part of the game to be interesting. I'd much prefer to have four permanent character and have the characters from the original ToS be able to join the part from time to time, but the monsters are not so bad. Then again, I'm a big Pokemon fan, so perhaps that's not so surprising.

Oliver

Made by and for Pokemon fanatics!

So far I've encountered two older character with changed voices: Lloyd and Zelos. From what I heard, Raine and Regal. Though I'm not entirely comfortable with the changes (and Regal no longer being voiced by Crispin Freeman, my most favorite English voice actors means I've lost about 50% of the reason I liked the character), the new actors are pretty good. Johnny Young Bosch is excellent as Emil (both when he's kind, if a bit wimpy and when he becomes aggressive) as is Laura Bailey as Marta (I should've realized it was her sooner seeing as she did Tohru's voice in Fruits Basket). I don't know who does Tenebrae, the black panther-like creature that accompanies them, but he's very good, too. It's too early for me to say if the overall acting is better than the first ToS's, but there seems to be a heck of a lot more of it. Even the skits are voiced (not having played Tales of Vesperia, I wouldn't know if the skits were voiced there or not, but it's the first Tales game I've played that had them).

Oliver

No Crispin Freeman?! Well, Namco-Bandai just lost my business. I love that guy. Him and Yuri Lowenthal are gods among voice actors. Laura Bailey, however, is the goddess who reigns over them all.

It is disappointing when new voice actors are brought in. The worst example I can think of would be KOS-MOS's replacement for Xenosaga Episode II. Absolutely God-F**king-Awful; her deliciously "mechanical" voice was replaced with that of a PHONE OPERATOR. Shion's replacement wasn't that great either. They were wise to bring them both back for Episode III. They were even more wise to bring in Yuri Lowenthal for Episode III.

Just to clarify, Tales of Vesperia did, indeed, have voiced skits. And some damned fine ones at that.

As for the new characters themselves, I really like Emil and unlike other people I know who've played DofNW, I actually like Marta. The way she's heads over heels for Emil and how she over-inflates his good points are unrealistic, but it makes her and scenes between her and Emil quite funny. I can't dislike anyone I think is funny, be he or she a real-life person or a video game character. Marta also acts like a very exaggerated version of my sister, so I'm kind of use to it. It's far from my favorite video game romance and it will take a lot of convincing before I agree with Adriaan den Oeden that it's the "best romance in the Tales series", but I find the two of them cute all the same.

Oliver

EW GROSS MUSHY STUFF NO LIKE EW

Meh, who am I kidding... I'm a sucker for cheesy videogame romances. The Tales series generally features fairly subdued romantic subplots, which kinda gets on my nerves sometimes, but whatever. My personal favorite is Luke and Tear from Tales of the Abyss, but I haven't played DotNW yet.

Now since I touched upon it, I thought I'd talk a bit about voice actors, too (well, more like ask a few questions). I believe on a Podcast you said your favorite voice actor (or one you liked a lot anyway) was Yuri Lowenthal. Am I correct in saying this? Who are some of your other favorite English VAs? As for myself, I already said I loved Crispin Freeman. He's done quite a few favorite characters of mine, not the least of which is the main character from my anime namesake, Hibiki Amawa of I My Me! Strawberry Eggs. I also really like Christ Patton, Tony Oliver, Greg Ayres, Lisa Ortiz, Luci Christian, Julie Maddalena, Wendee Lee, Jessica Calvello, Steve Blum, Kari Walhgren, Vic Mignogna, and more (yes, that includes Yuri).

Oliver

Well you have an awful lot of MY personal faves up there, particularly Steve Blum, Vic Mignogna, and Kari Walhgren. I've already mentioned my adoration of Lowenthal and Freeman. I think I'll throw Troy Baker and Liam O' Brian into the mix as well, though. Baker I've discovered fairly recently - he voiced Yuri in Tales of Vesperia and now Kanji in Persona 4. He's amazing in both. O' Brian has been in a ton of stuff; my two favorite roles by him are Vincent from Ergo Proxy and Akihiko in Persona 3.

So you ARE Strawberry Eggs. I had begun to suspect... seems my instincts serve me well.

Well, I think I wrote enough (yeesh, it's that late already?). I apologize once again for the randomness, but spontaneity is how I write these letters, apparently. Bye for now, Oliver!

Oliver

By for now, Eggs! Don't be a stranger!



One of the many stepping stones back down to reality


Oliver my man, how you doin' brotha? Keepin your feet planted firmly, yeah?

Oliver

I think it's safe to say that recently, my feet have been anywhere BUT the ground. However, I am well on my way back to the Earth's surface, so things should improve soon enough. This Q&A column is a step in the journey back to reality - you may note that there hasn't been one in weeks.

Thanks for asking.

Hey I was just wondering, you play any of the Suikoden games? Since the first one is now available on the PSN, you should totally download it! I've only played the first two, I'd love to play III and V... IV I'm not so sure of, but I'm sure I'll end up playing it some slow, lonely, rainy day. But seriously man, I highly regard Suikoden as a really great game. The only game in my opinion that could ever be regarded as "zen."

Oliver

I am sad to tell you that I have never played a Suikoden game in my life. I promise that one day I will give the series a shot, but who knows when that will be.

"Zen," you say? Quite a claim... if I find that such praise is undue, IT'LL BE YOUR HEAD.

Anyway, I was going to comment on Valkyria Chronicles. The game's got mojo baby, mojo, yeah? But I don't have the time for the length befitting this column. Sorry bro...

Peace in the east!!!!!!!!!!!!

E N W B

Oliver

Dude! I'm all FOR a lengthy discussion of Valkyria Chronicles! That game was the STUFF, man; there's a reason why it took home RPGamer's Game of the Year Award! It doesn't just have Mojo; it's got Guts, Spunk, and Moxy to go with it.

If that, uh... makes any sense at all. (I'm tryin', E.W.N.B. Seriously.)

Write again later and tell me EXACTLY what your thoughts are on the game. And then I'll inform you as to whether they're right or wrong. Sound good? Good.



A SEED... planted in a run-down Garden...


I don't need a video game story to be in the same league as great literature. All I need a good pacing, well-rounded characters, some plot twists here and there, and some good voice acting would help.

Oliver

Who is this mysterious man? He has not seen fit to sign his name! But no matter, his point is made very clear.

I agree with you sir. In my opinion, the characters are the most important aspect of any videogame plotline. If I'm not identifying with the characters, it affects every level of enjoyment, even the gameplay. Since videogames essentially throw you in the shoes of another dude or chick, in ways that no other entertainment medium does, that dude or chick had better be likeable.

Pacing is KEY in the videogame medium! Because it is a more active experience than, say, sitting and watching a film, a game must not "slow a gamer down," as it were. Movement! Action! And yet, there must also be the ability to stop and... smell the roses, if you will. Great examples of this? The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Bad examples of this? Pick any Dragon Quest. (Sorry, you all know I love Dragon Quest VIII, but srsly.)

And last but not least in importance, a good videogame story needs something you can remember it by. Something big, something grandiose: a plot twist or event that defines and embodies the awesomeness of the experience. The VERY BEST EXAMPLE OF THIS: The Sorceress Assassination Attempt from Final Fantasy VIII. Pure and utter brilliance. The whole sequence had me glued to my television screen in a way that no other plot event ever has.

And that's about all I've got for now. This is the part where you guys contribute to this discussion. What do you expect from a videogame narrative? What's your favorite videogame story? Least favorite? LET ME KNOW.



IN CLOSING

Ah, that felt so good. I feel slightly less useless now. Only slightly, but it's a good start on my epic journey back to self-confidence and stability.

...

Don't ask. Just keep your eyes open for more Q&A columns, k? thx. bai.

-Oliver



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