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Alanna - September 9 '01- 00:05 Eastern Standard Time

Another day, another dollar, another Q&A column. I'm actually awake when I start this one, so let's see if I can manage to be a little more together today than I was yesterday.

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! Today's column contains ALANNA'S OPINION ONLY. Letters regarding any of Alanna's opinions should be sent to Alanna, and not to tomorrow's Q&A host. If I don't kill this FF8 vs. FF9 debate by tomorrow, Aegis will take me outside and staple me to the side of RPGamer HQ, and then I'll never get to host Q&A ever again. So think before you hit that email link, okay? Thanks.

I'm having a productive day. Fanfic update and Q&A column. And this is after blowing Corel up in fanfic this morning. Now that was therapeutic. So, on to the letters.

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Star Ocean: In My Pants

This might be a stupid question but here I go anyways. Um...I heard that there's a sequel to Star Ocean: The Second Story, is it true? Oh by the way, I'm new to RPGamer so, uh...please, please, please be kind in your reply, even though I'm the one that use the word "stupid". see ya.

Nathen, not "Nathan"

Alanna:
Hi Nathen!

Rest assured, I don't mock anyone unless they're asking for it. As for Star Ocean, there's Star Ocean: Blue Sphere for the Game Boy Color, but no one seems to know what's going on with it. Rumor has it that we won't be seeing it over here in the US, but that, as always, is subject to change. You might have be thinking about the Star Ocean EX anime that's in production in Japan right now. Episodes of it have been floating around on the Internet, though fansubs probably won't show up for a while, and a US release is anyone's guess.

 
It's nice under my rock, why do you ask?

What are your thoughts on Tales of Destiny 2? Will you be buying it? I think it's going to be the fun RPG that I've been waiting for all summer. Oh, and you haven't heard anything bad about it, have you?

-Adam E.

Alanna:
Remember how yesterday I said that I don't watch TV? Yeah. Um, I haven't been playing many games lately, either. Trust me, I miss the games more than I miss the TV.

At any rate, Justin got a chance to play ToD2 at E3. (I could probably fit more abbreviations into that sentence, but I'd have to work at it.) He seemed pretty impressed by it, particularly by the translation. You can find his impression here. I don't remember seeing it, but I saw a lot of stuff at E3, and after a while it all turned into one big shiny blur. With neon. Oooh, shiny. I'll probably pick it up if my life has calmed down by then.

 
What he said

Wow, hadn't seen a letter flaming Granstream Saga in a while. Personally, I loved every minute of the game. Sure, the graphics were awful, but so what? I had more fun with that game than any other "action RPG" on the Playstation aside from Legend of Mana. Yes, I liked Legend of Mana too. And I also liked 7th Saga on the SNES. Bah, everyone's a slave to their conditioning.

--Super Surlaw--

Alanna:
Never let it be said that I don't present both sides of the argument.

 
Isfacat, meet Super Surlaw. Now, you two play nice.

Greetings, O Blue-Haired One!

Well, you told me to blurt out my problems with "The Grandstream Saga", but since that *explicitive deleted* shouldn't even *explicitive deleted* exist. Now that that is out....

1. My FFT team consists of Ramza (Knight/w Wizard Spells), McPherson (Chemist/w Cure and Steal), Donna (Black Wizard/w Haste), Salome (Archer), and Mira (Black Wizard/w Slow). So far, with this team only, I've made it to the middle of Chapter 2. Is this good or bad?

2. I just imported FFX and I'm about 1/3 way through it. Very nice. And I'm addicted to Blitzball.

3. Mega Man Legends is now MINE! WOOHOO! Now if only I can find time in between college and work to play it.

4. I have a fanfic in the process of the outline. Based on Final Fantasy: TSW, the story about the 5th spirit. And it has a shocking secret, but I won't mention it until I post it on RPGamer.com

5. Was there supposed to be a number 5? Oops.

6. Best mascot of Final Fantasy? Chocobo, Mog, or Cid?

7. Of FF9, the drama scene battle music at the beginning of the game should have been the battle music, in my opinion. Don't you think so?

Alright... enough of the questions. Thanks for the smooch, although I didn't really expect it.

A man who has unusual accounts of hairballs coming out

Isfacat

Alanna
1. Sounds reasonable to me. Hey, whatever works. As you get further on in the game, you will probably want to pick up at least a Lancer and a Summoner, but part of the beauty of Tactics is that you can beat the game with a number of combinations. Besides, it's all academic once you get T.G. Cid, anyway.

2. It's times like these that I wish I spoke more Japanese. Or, um, had a PS2.

3. I hear ya. I work 40 hours a week, run a free webhost, serve as sysadmin and primary HTML designer for mancer.net, run the fanfic department (look, ma, I updated tonight!), and try to find some time in the midst of all that to write. I think I'll just give up sleeping and live on Mountain Dew Code Red from now on.

4. I look forward to seeing it, but please, to save my sanity, anyone who's submitting a fanfic should READ THE GUIDELINES FIRST. ahem.

5. No, no, there is no rule six. Get it right.

6. My vote is for the chocobo, because then you get the fun of hearing how other RPGamers pronounce it. I've always said it "choh-koh-boh"; I've heard "chah-koh-boh", and my roommate holds out for "koh-koh-boh". The original Japanese is, phonetically, "ch'yoh-koh-boh". This provided hours of amusement at E3 as the RPGamer staff got into impassioned fistfights about whose pronunciation was right. Well, okay, it was only a few minutes and there wasn't a fistfight, but still. It was late, and we were tired.

7. Sadly, I do not remember much about FF9's soundtrack. I played it at work (back when I was allowed to do that), and the TV in the server room was drowned out by the hum of over 200 PCs. It's been overwritten in my head by Enigma's "Gravity of Love", a song to which there was an excellent FF9 music video.

 
Slutting for Levels

Nezumi has a question for you about FF IX (which is a whole lot better than you think).

It's almost time to go off to the final battle, but Nezumi's party is all below level 60 and has been reliably informed that he'll get his butt handed to him if he tries. So the question is, where's a good place to level-slut without getting bored to tears?

And an extra credit question, seeing as level-slutting was a very, very bad idea in FF VIII, should it be as scrupulously avoided in FF IX?

Alanna:
Well, when I was playing FF9, I stumbled into the final boss battle at level 51-55, walked in, sneezed on the final boss and killed him, blinked, and said "That's it??" So you might not find it as challenging as you're expecting. ^_~

If you do feel the need to level slut, though, your best bet is probably either in Kuja's Desert Palace while you're hopelessly lost and trying to find where the heck you're supposed to be; in the secret library in Daguerreo; or in the final dungeon before taking on the last boss. Or -- highlight for answer, as there are potential spoilers:
On the way to Freya's town, you have to go through a cave. There's a ladder in that cave leading to a little ridge on the mountain range outside. In the words of old mapmakers, "Here be dragons."

There's always the traditional "walk around in circles on the world map" trick, too.

Square, sadly, did away with FF8's system of having the monsters level up with you for FF9, so there shouldn't be much of a penalty for levelslutting.

Which brings me to...

 
<soapbox>

FF8 or FF9?

~~James

P.S. ~~ The hidden text hasn't been hidden to me for years now. :D

Alanna:
Thank you, James, for handing me the soapbox and giving me free reign to rant. I was hoping someone would take the bait. *grin* Now, you might want to take a few steps back, lest I spill vitriol on your shoes.

I hated FF9. Hated it. Yes, I know that this puts me quite firmly in the minority of most RPGamers. I have heard all of the arguments in FF9's favor, and I don't buy any of them. I hated it. It was cute for about ten hours, and then my teeth started rotting, I got hopelessly bored, the fetch quests started driving me mad, and I found myself sinking into a coma. The only reason I completed it was because I was playing it at work, and if I hadn't been playing the game, I would have had to actually do work.

All right, now that's off my chest, I will attempt to back this up with some reasoning. This is, as always, my opinion only. I am fully aware that I am in the minority, and I'm not trying to change anyone's mind about things.

Final Fantasy 8 was easily the most technical of the series, with a "feel" much like that of a science-fiction novel than a fantasy title. A number of people violently disliked it for that reason. I thought that it was a refreshing change from the glut of fantasy-based RPGs. There were some serious innovations in the gameplay, such as the fact that the Junction system forced you to sacrifice strong magical power for strong physical power, or vice-versa. There was Triple Triad, which wasn't at all necessary for the plot, but was a hell of a lot of fun to play. ("Where am I? What day is it? And why am I playing cards with you?" "...Uh, Squall, you might want to go, you know, rescue the girl." "After I get this damn card!" Ah, the fun of playing games in large groups with a bunch of smartasses.) There were the characters, who were real people -- and real teenagers! -- who reacted the way real people would react in that situation. (I swear, I went to college with a guy who could have been the model for Zell.)

And the plot. There were just so many moments that grabbed me and threw me across the room. Attempting to be as spoiler-free as possible, but if you haven't played the game, you might want to skip this paragraph:

The troop-ship landing at Dollet, with Squall standing on the bridge, looking out over the horizon, wondering if he'd still be alive when the sun set. Irvine's hands shaking as he lifted the gun to take aim at Edea, the thoughts can I do this? and why don't they remember? chasing each other through his mind. The fear that the game was about to use one of the oldest cliches in the book, only to sit in stunned silence as they yanked the rug out from under you and showed you how even cliches can hurt. Squall walking halfway across the world with Rinoa on his back, each step taking him further and further away from the life he'd been raised for. Waking up and finding that you've become the latest member of the last minority in the world that it's okay to hate, that it's okay to kill. Squall cutting Rinoa loose, only to have her fall into his arms, and the look on his face as he lifted his hand to her hair, wondering what did I just do?.

The characters in FF9 were nothing but cardboard cutouts of the Classic Square Stereotypes. It was refreshing to see a main character who did not fit the surly-heroboy prototype that Cloud and Squall fell into, but other than that, the only character I really connected with was Vivi, who was the most precious thing on God's green earth. RPGs, for me, are very character-driven. If I can't care about the characters, I don't really care about the game.

FF9 had that wretched card game that made no sense at all, was poorly explained, and was necessary to the plot, which meant that I couldn't ignore it properly. The gameplay took a serious step back, in my opinion, to the days when character class and character types were a game-dictated entity, while I prefer being able to customize the characters to do what I want them to do. Square was shooting for nostalgia with the game, to please the people who were disappointed with FF8's technorealism, but I seriously think they overshot. The chibi character designs in previous FF games were due to the limitations of the console systems. The PSX didn't have those limitations, and to see such lovingly detailed backgrounds populated by characters whose heads made them look like encephalitis victims made suspension of disbelief impossible. The game was short -- I beat it at about 40 hours, and that's with time out for exploration, sidequests, and getting lost in the $&#*$ Desert Palace. The dialogue, though mostly free of the translation problems that plagued early Square titles, was flat and lifeless in a lot of places. The plot was going along rather predictably, until all of a sudden it took a nose-dive into left field and tried to throw some pseudo-science technobabble into the standard fantasy setting, and it wound up feeling grafted on and gratuitous.

I could go on, but this answer is long enough already.

Were there flaws in FF8? Of course. For one, the Guardian Forces made the game too easy if you relied on them constantly, and once you got Eden, the game was pretty much over. For another, if you weren't an obsessive Junction-tweaker like yours truly, you could wind up with some seriously underpowered characters. It took a long time to really master the Junction system, and a lot of people were upset with having to sit and Draw magic constantly. (I wasn't; I just put the game on cursor-memory and held down the Confirm button with my toes while I did web design. This was my strategy for attacking Tonberries, as well. Hey, it worked.) The supporting characters got the short end of the character-development stick in a lot of places, while the game concentrated on Squall and Rinoa. It had "Eyes On Me" -- enough said. ("Arrgh! It's that song! Hit the mute, hit the mute, where's the remote?")

Conversely, there were strengths in FF9. First of all, it was pretty. Gratuitous and unnecessary use of chibi aside, it was easily the most well-rendered of the FF titles; unsurprising, considering that it was a late-generation game on a console, when Square is well-known for pushing each console to its absolute technical limits. The world of FF9 was incredibly well-thought-out, and the "steampunk" flavor of it, reminiscent of FF6, made it a delight to explore. The plot wavered back and forth between interesting and dippy, but the interesting parts were really interesting. The addition of a little "!" icon over a character's head when an action was available on the map was a big help, and I hope that Square keeps it in future titles. The "short"-mode summons were also greatly appreciated, and I was glad to learn that they'll be returning in FF10.

I played them both, but I haven't touched FF9 since I first beat it, while I just finished my fourth playthrough of FF8 a few weeks ago. That should tell you how I feel about them both.

It all depends -- like so much else does -- on your personal tastes. The one thing that I've found pretty much universally is that people who really loved FF8 wound up really hating FF9, and vice versa, while people who didn't have strong opinions about one also didn't mind the other.

So, um, yeah. In conclusion, lemurs.

Please don't send hate mail to Aegis or Googleshng. I'm serious. They will kill me for hauling this debate out again. If you want to argue with me, go ahead and email me, but I'm not likely to change my mind. ^_^



Quickies

......I ALSO LIKE CHRISTINA AGUILERA.

...I'M HAPPY. NOW STOP SHOUTING.

I was watching "Star Trek IV" as I read the column today

-Galvatron

That was such a great movie, in such a dippy way. I saw it in the theaters when it first came out, and it was an audience full of Star Trek geeks.

I just finished the original Final Fantasy with a party of four black mages. What should be next: four thieves, four black belts or four red mages?

- JD

Flip a coin, or ask God! That's what my friend Ashlea does when she's trying to decide whether or not to actually go to class. The coin lets her slack off a lot more than God does.

blue hair rules.

Why, thank you. I'm rather fond of it too. ^_^

How is it that for some reason you can never just knock down locked doors and you MUST have the key? It seems odd to have spells that can blow up cities and you can't unlock a door. Also you forget that with Griever in your party he gives you some 1/12 soldiers and tissues to revive General Leo.

Imperial Mog

Well, it's obvious that doors in RPG worlds just all have 100 Ultimas junctioned to their defense stats. And yes, I did forget about that -- Griever will also give you the Nude Code for Mortal Kombat.

We have gone over your tax record. It shows that instead of reporting this money, you instead spent it on videogames. We will be auditing you next month.

--The IRS

Hey, those videogames are on my tax return. Look, look, right there, under "Miscellaneous Business Expenses"!

(I knew that working at RPGamer would come in handy...)

The Last Laugh: (02:50 EDT)

Alanna: Well, that was fun. Nothing like a good rant to get the blood stirring. This ends my stint as weekend Q&A host, and if the crazed hordes of FF9 fans don't march on RPGamer HQ in the night, I might even be allowed out of my little fanfic empire to do it again sometime. So if you've got a question (that doesn't involve FF8 vs FF9), send it along to Aegis, who'll be hosting tomorrow. He didn't leave me any topic requests, so let's try to flood him with questions about games that haven't even been released here in the US! (I'm kidding, I'm kidding ... sheesh, the rest of staff is going to murder me.)

At any rate, I'm off to listen to some more Radiohead and maybe catch up on my fanfic reading. ...Oh, who am I kidding, I'll do that at work tomorrow night. Love my job! No, really! Where else could I sit and surf the internet for 13 hours and get paid for it?

Alanna "though I miss being able to play video games at work" @rpgamer.com
And yes, FireMyst did fire me at E3 for the stated opinions on FF8 vs FF9, but he hired me right back when Googleshng convinced him that otherwise Google would have to read fan fiction. :P (Hi James!)

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